Updated Feb. 8
1. Houston Texans: Reggie Bush, RB USC – Unless a team offers the Texans a monumental trade they just can't turn down, Bush will be their man and there really isn't any doubt about it. Unlike some of the other young quarterbacks in the league, David Carr has actually shown signs of potential. Two years ago he threw for 3,531 yards and 16 touchdowns. It looked like Carr would break out in 2005 but he regressed, having an awful season. However, every player on the Texans roster had a down year in 2005, that's why they're picking first. With new head coach Gary Kubiak coming over from Denver; Carr still has a chance to be a productive NFL quarterback. I don't care what Vince Young did in The Rose Bowl; Bush is the most dynamic player to come out of college in a long time. Bush is so good that his 172 total yards and a touchdown against Texas was considered a disappointment. The former USC standout is a faster version of Marshall Faulk and Faulk turned out to be pretty good. When Faulk was in his prime, he was like having two players in one. He was an outstanding running back who could also catch 80 balls a year. That's the kind of production Bush can bring to the Texans offense. For people who say Bush can't take the pounding at the NFL level, he doesn't get hit enough to take a pounding. He's so quick and elusive, Bush rarely gets hit hard and besides, he's the same size as Tiki Barber and Barber has become one of the best backs in the league. Bush has the entire package and if the Texans pass on him, they could regret it for years to come.
Other Possibilities: Trading down
2. New Orleans Saints: Matt Leinart, QB USC – The Saints appear to have given up on Aaron Brooks and with new coach Sean Payton, the team wants to go in a new direction. It's almost a guarantee the Saints will draft a quarterback; the only question is will it be Leinart or Texas' Vince Young? Right now New Orleans seems to be leaning towards Leinart. While Young has the sizzle, Leinart has the consistency in the pocket that NFL teams crave. The Saints have been the same team for the past few seasons but expect that to change under Payton. Leinart should be the poster boy for the Saints franchise for the next decade. He's a smart quarterback with a very accurate arm and with weapons like Joe Horn, Dante' Stallworth and Deuce McAllister at his disposal, Leinart has a chance to be successful early on in his NFL career. The Saints could also be in position to trade down. If they sign a quarterback in free agency or fall in love with Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler, they could opt to trade down and try to grab Cutler later in the draft.
Other Possibilities: Trading down, Vince Young, Jay Cutler
3. Tennessee Titans: Vince Young, QB Texas – This is a great situation for both Young and the Titans. With Steve McNair coming back for one more season, it will allow Young to sit and learn from one of the better quarterbacks to play in the NFL over the past 10 years. Young has all the physical abilities in the world and although he's often compared to Michael Vick, Young is a much better passer than Vick was coming into the league. Plus, with quarterback-guru Norm Chow in Tennessee, he'll be able to decide if he wants to mess with Young's delivery or not. Remember, Chow was at North Carolina State when Phillip Rivers was there and even though Rivers threw the ball a little side-armed, Chow never messed with it. Young could really change the landscape of the quarterback position. Unlike Vick – who is probably playing the wrong position – Young is an explosive runner but he always looks to pass first. That's what makes him so dangerous as a quarterback. Jeff Fisher prefers not to throw his young quarterbacks into the fire if he doesn't have to so look for McNair to begin the season as the starter and then if the Titans fall out of playoff contention, the Vince Young era will begin in Tennessee. The Titans badly need some new blood on both their offensive and defensive lines but if Young are Leinart are available when they select, it's doubtful they will be able to pass up on a quarterback of that caliber.
Other Possibilities: Matt Leinart, D'Brickashaw Ferguson
4. New York Jets: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT Virginia – With new coach Eric Mangini now in charge in the Big Apple, there are a lot of different ways the Jets could go in the draft. Let's face it; this team has a lot of needs. If Mangini decides Chad Pennington is going to be his quarterback and doesn't trade down to get Cutler, then Ferguson is an obvious choice here. Brick is by far and away the best offensive lineman in this draft. He toyed with some of the nation's best defensive ends during The Senior Bowl practices; proving he's the real deal. Ferguson is an excellent pass protector and even though his run blocking needs a little work, he has the tools to become a dominant NFL tackle. The Jets lost Kareem McKenzie in free agency last year and ended the year with Scott Gragg and Adrian Jones as their starting tackles, so drafting Ferguson makes sense for the Jets if they don't want to get their quarterback – whoever he may be – killed in 2006. If Mangini decides to stick to his roots and go defense with this pick, it will most likely be North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. That scenario could become more likely if the Jets lose John Abraham in free agency.
Other Possibilities: Trading (up or down), Jay Cutler, Mario Williams
5. Green Bay Packers: Mario Williams, DE North Carolina State – The Packers need defensive help in the worst way and Williams is the best defensive player in this year's draft. At 6'7, 290-pounds, Williams has great size to go along with his cat-like quickness. Williams had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses as a junior. He's an outstanding pass rusher who can take over a game from his defensive end position. The Packers still have Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila at one end but Aaron Kampman is going to be a free agent and he's been average at best. Williams would be a big upgrade and the anchor of the Packers defensive line. Both Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport are free agents and the team is said to be intrigued with LenDale White, so he's a possibility here as well. The Packers also need help at linebacker so expect A.J. Hawk to get a look too but defensive ends are much more coveted than linebackers. Don't expect Green Bay to pass up on the imposing Williams if he's still on the board when they select.
Other Possibilities: LenDale White, A.J. Hawk
6. Oakland Raiders: A.J. Hawk, LB Ohio State – The Raiders have arguably the slowest, least productive linebackers in the NFL so if Hawk is available when they pick, this should be a pretty easy decision. Hawk was dominant at Ohio State from his linebacker position. He's quick and fast but also very smart. Hawk is one of those players that seem to know what is going to happen before it actually happens. He's strong in coverage and an excellent blitzer. Linebackers don't usually go this high but Hawk is an exceptional talent that will be hard for the Raiders to pass up. One thing to watch for from the Raiders is a possible trade up on draft day to get local hero Matt Leinart. Kerry Collins is nearing the end of his run and Oakland has no quarterback with any potential waiting to take over. Don't be surprised if the Raiders make some noise in this year's draft.
Other Possibilities: Trading up, Mario Williams
7. San Francisco 49ers: Chad Greenway, OLB Iowa – This may seem a little high for Greenway but 49ers head coach Mike Nolan fell in love with linebacker at The Senior Bowl. I really believe the 49ers will trade down in the draft so expect this to be one of those hot spots for teams looking to move up for a particular player. That's the reason why I predicted Greenway here. I think the 49ers could very well take the former Hawkeye but will probably trade down to get him. Greenway showed at The Senior Bowl practices he was the best linebacker there. He constantly made plays all over the place and established himself as a leader on the field. The 49ers need an athletic linebacker to play in their 3-4 defense and Greenway would be a great addition. He's versatile enough where he can play either inside or outside in the 3-4. San Francisco is arguably the least talented team in the NFL so they could go in a number of different directions. Look for them to try and trade down on draft day and then address the linebacker position or the secondary.
Other Possibilities: Trading down, Michael Huff, Jimmy Williams
8. Buffalo Bills: Haloti Ngata, DT Oregon – This is probably the easiest pick to project. The Bills were awful against the run this season – allowing 137.8 yards per game on the ground in 2005. Buffalo needs beef in the interior of their defensive line and at 6'5, 340 pounds, Ngata will help supply some of that beef. The Bills were pushed around all season long on defense. The loss of defensive tackle Pat Williams hurt more than the team anticipated. Because of his rare combination of size, speed and athleticism there is a chance Ngata won't even be on the board when the Bills draft. If the 49ers decide to trade down, there could be a battle between teams trying to move ahead of Buffalo to select the mammoth defensive tackle. If Ngata doesn't get drafted by the time the Bills are on the clock, they should have their card up to the commissioner in record time because this is a perfect fit. If another team snatches Ngata from the Bills grasp, look for them to turn their attention to the offensive line instead or possibly an outside pass rusher.
Other Possibilities: Winston Justice, Tamba Hali
9. Detroit Lions: Winston Justice, OT USC – Unfortunately for the Lions, no receiver is ranked highly enough to select in the top ten this year so they will have to focus their attention elsewhere. The Lions offensive line was a disaster in 2005, giving up 31 sacks and getting their quarterbacks killed virtually every time they went back to throw the ball. Kelly Butler didn't get the job done at right tackle so that is an area of great concern for Detroit heading into the offseason. Justice is the best tackle prospect after Ferguson and he would help add some stability to the Lions offensive line. Justice played right tackle at USC but most scouts believe he will be able to move over to the left side in the NFL if he's asked to do so. A powerful blocker with quick feet, Justice is ready to step in and start for an NFL team right away. Two other areas Detroit will look at are quarterback and defensive end. If the team likes Jay Cutler, he could be the pick here, as could Tamba Hali if the Lions decide to go defense.
Other Possibilities: Jay Cutler, Tamba Hali
10. Arizona Cardinals: LenDale White, RB USC – Denny Green is kind of the exact opposite of Bill Belichick. While Belichick won't even tell people what position the Patriots are looking at, Green has no problem coming right out and telling the world who he's going to draft three months ahead of time. Remember his first year in Arizona when Green all but turned in his card with the name "Larry Fitzgerald" on it in March? Well, Green has already stated that he loves White and seeing that the Cardinals desperately need a running back, it's easy to connect the dots. In my opinion, White is one of the top five players in this draft. He has amazing vision and awareness as a runner and he can run over defenders or kick it up a gear and run by them. White broke USC's all-time record for rushing touchdowns and he shows an Emmit Smith/Shaun Alexander-kind of nose for the end zone. At 235 pounds, White can come in as a rookie and carry the load for a team that finished last in the NFL in rushing offense this season. Tight end Vernon Davis is also a possibility here but when Green says he loves a player, he usually drafts him.
Other Possibilities: Vernon Davis, whomever else Denny Green says he loves
11. St. Louis Rams: Michael Huff, S Texas – Most mock drafts have the Rams selecting Vernon Davis here but I think this team has more pressing needs than tight end and in my opinion, selecting Davis would be a reach this high for a team so bad on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams secondary really struggled in 2005 and with Adam Archuleta probably leaving as a free agent, they have a gaping hole at the safety position. There is one blue chip safety in this year's draft and that's Huff. The leader of the Longhorns defense this past season, Huff showed great range in the secondary and a nose for always being around the football. It seemed like in every game Texas played, Huff made a big play at some point. Huff has the ability to play either safety or corner, so that should make him even more valuable to a team like the Rams who have so many holes in their secondary. The Rams could go tight end or offensive line but taking Huff at this point in the draft would make a lot of sense for St. Louis.
Other Possibilities: Trading down, Vernon Davis, Marcus McNeil
12. Cleveland Browns: Tamba Hali, DE Penn State – Talk about a match made in heaven, this is it. I believe Hali could turn out to be one of the top five players taken in this draft down the road and he would be a great addition to the Browns defense. Romeo Crennel did a good job improving the Browns defense in his first season as head coach but that was done with mirrors. The Browns defensive line was horrible and you can expect Romeo will spend all offseason improving this weakness – both in free agency and through the draft. The Browns only had 23 sacks this season so it's obvious they need someone who can put pressure on the quarterback. Hali has a great work ethic and he has yet to realize his full potential. He's quick to the ball and has great instincts for a defensive end. Hali doesn't have eye-popping computer numbers but when he's on the football field, all he does is make plays as he showed at The Senior Bowl. Under Crennel's tutelage, Hali could become a future Pro Bowler. The Browns need a nose tackle as well but unless they make a move to get Ngata, expect them to take a pass rusher here.
Other Possibilities: Haloti Ngata, Manny Lawson, Mathias Kiwanuka
13. Baltimore Ravens: DeAngelo Williams, RB Memphis – This is a tough one to call because like the Patriots, the Ravens usually go with the best player on their board who is still available. If that's the case, it's hard to believe they would have a player rated higher at 13 than Williams - who would be an absolute steal at this point in the draft. Both Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor are free agents. The smart money says the team will keep Lewis and let Taylor walk but given Lewis' past, it would be risky for the Ravens to enter the season without a quality backup. Williams is a shifty runner with great instincts. He can catch the ball well out of the backfield and was probably the best overall player at The Senior Bowl. Williams would give the Ravens a home run threat and insurance behind Lewis – who is coming off of an awful 2005 season. Teams could trade up to grab Williams but if he's still on the board at this point in the draft, the Ravens will have to consider him. The team also needs help on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Other Possibilities: Marcus McNeil, Jimmy Williams
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Manny Lawson, DE North Carolina State – Lawson saw his draft stock soar after The Senior Bowl and he now projects as a mid-late first round draft pick. While not as physically gifted as his college teammate Williams, Lawson has a quick burst off the ball and showed the ability to beat some of the best offensive tackles in the country during Senior Bowl week. He's an extremely explosive pass rusher off the edge and Lawson would help an Eagles defense that finished with only 29 sacks in 2005. Other than Javon Kearse, the Eagles have very little at defensive end and their inability to get to the quarterback really hurt their defense this season. With Jon Runyan becoming a free agent, the Eagles could look at Marcus McNeil if he's still available but defensive end appears to be their top priority at this point.
Other Possibilities: Marcus McNeil, Tamba Hali, Mathias Kiwanuka
15. Atlanta Falcons: Jimmy Williams, CB Virginia Tech – The Falcons have a stud corner in DeAngelo Hall but Jason Webster isn't getting the job done on the other side. The thing to like about Williams is he's a former safety, so he has the versatility to play either safety or corner. The Falcons have a glaring need in the secondary and drafting Williams would give them options depending on what they do in free agency. At 6'3, 215 pounds, Williams has the size of a safety and the speed and instincts of a corner. Williams is also a big hitter who will be an asset against the run – something the Falcons struggled against in 2005. There are going to be a lot of teams interested in Williams so there is a chance he won't be here at this point in the draft but if he is, expect Atlanta to gobble him up. If not, look for the Falcons to turn their attention to the offensive and defensive lines.
Other Possibilities: Mathias Kiwanuka, Taitusi Lutui, Marcus McNeil
16. Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler, QB Vanderbilt – There is a good chance that a team will fall in love with Cutler before the draft and select him before this slot but right now I just can't put him in the top ten. I think he's a good quarterback with potential but to put him in the same category with Leinart and Young is really stretching it in my opinion. This is about where I have Cutler ranked and with the Dolphins looking for a young quarterback, this would be a perfect fit. Cutler is a smart quarterback with a cannon for an arm but his mechanics and footwork need to improve. I don't view Cutler as a quarterback who can come in and start as a rookie. I think he's someone with potential who needs to be coached up for a year or two and then he'll have a chance to be a successful NFL quarterback. The Dolphins will be lucky to get Cutler here because the stock of quarterbacks goes through the roof on draft day but if they can land him, Cutler would be a solid choice for an improving team. If Cutler is gone, look for Miami to go after more help on defense.
Other Possibilities: Brodrick Bunkley, Bobby Carpenter