1. Houston Texans: Reggie Bush, RB USC – There are a lot of rumors being floated around about the top pick but that happens every year. Texans GM Charlie Casserly is enamored with the dynamic Bush and unless an unbelievable offer comes his way, the Heisman Trophy winner will be the first pick in the draft. Add Bush to Domanick Davis and Andre Johnson and Houston has a lot of explosive weapons on offense. Now if their offensive line can give David Carr more than one second to get them the ball, the Texans will really have something.
2. New Orleans Saints: Matt Leinart, QB USC – There are some rumblings that the Saints actually prefer Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler to Leinart but I'm not buying that at this point. Leinart is probably the safest pick in the draft and he not only gives new coach Sean Payton a young quarterback to develop, he will also sell tickets for the franchise. Leinart isn't as spectacular as Vince Young nor is he the flavor of the month like Cutler but the key to picking at the top of the draft is to take a prospect you think has upside but also has a low chance to be a bust. Leinart is that player and if the Saints pass him up for Cutler I, for one, will be shocked.
3. Tennessee Titans: Vince Young, QB Texas – Wonderlic tests aside, Young still has the most upside of any player in this year's draft and Tennessee would be a perfect fit for him. With his good friend Steve McNair coming back for one more season, the Titans have the luxury to be patient with Young. McNair will open the season as the starter and if the Titans surprise people and challenge for the playoffs, he'll remain their quarterback. If they don't, expect to see Young take over the job some time around mid-season. Comparisons to Mike Vick aren't fair to Young. Vick is a runner playing quarterback while Young is a quarterback who can run. The former Longhorn standout could easily become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and he has quarterback-coaching guru Norm Chow in Tennessee to help him develop his game.
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 draft Cutler, then Ferguson is an obvious choice here. Brick is projected as the best offensive lineman in the draft. 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.
5. Green Bay Packers: Mario Williams, DE North Carolina State – The Packers need help on defense in the worst way and Williams is the best defensive player in this year's draft. At 6'7, 296-pounds, Williams has great size to go along with his cat-like quickness. He had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss as a junior. 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. Especially ends who run under a 4.7 40-yard dash at 296 pounds. Don't expect Green Bay to pass up on the imposing Williams if he's still on the board when they select.
6. San Francisco 49ers: Vernon Davis, TE Maryland – Funny thing about the NFL is that tight ends that are 6'4, 256 pounds and run 4.38 40-yard dashes are in high demand. Unfortunately, there is only one of those players on the planet and that's Davis. Davis was the king of the Combine when he dazzled NFL scouts with his athletic ability. Eric Johnson has missed most of the last two seasons with injuries and the 49ers desperately need some big-play weapons on offense to help Alex Smith develop as a quarterback. Throwing the ball to the freak that is Vernon Davis will certainly help Smith be more productive. He pretty much just has to throw the ball some place in the stadium and the athletic Davis will do the rest. The 49ers are a team that has expressed interest in trading down so this selection could end up being one of those hot spots in the draft where teams trying to trade up will swing a deal with San Francisco.
7. 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, he should be the choice. If Jay Cutler is still available, he will get a look as well but Hawk can come in and make an impact right away for the Raiders defense. He's quick and fast but also very smart. Hawk is one of those players that seems to know what is going to happen before it actually happens. He's strong in coverage and an excellent blitzer. Most scouts believe Hawk is one of the few can't miss prospects in this year's draft.
8. Buffalo Bills: Haloti Ngata, DT Oregon - This is probably the easiest pick to project. The Bills were awful against the run last season – allowing 137.8 yards per game on the ground in 2005. Buffalo was pushed around on defense all year long so they need beef in the interior of their defensive line and at 6'5, 340 pounds, Ngata will help supply some of that. The loss of defensive tackle Pat Williams hurt more than the team anticipated and his production was never replaced. 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.
9. Detroit Lions: Jay Cutler, QB Vanderbilt – There wasn't expected to be any receivers with a high enough grade to be drafted in the top ten but after Chad Jackson's performance at the Combine, you never know. The Lions could always use another receiver. In all seriousness, what the Lions could use is a quarterback. I have never been impressed with Joey Harrington and I don't see that changing this season. Cutler is flying up draft boards to the point where some "draft experts" have him rated as the best quarterback in the draft but I'm not ready to go that far. Still, there is a good chance Cutler will be gone by this point but if he's still on the board, the Lions will consider him. Cutler has a strong arm and the kind of attitude teams like from their quarterback. He needs some work on his mechanics but he can improve on that by working with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. When Harrington falters yet again in 2006, at least the Lions will have another quarterback to fall back on. One thing to watch from the Lions is they are in love with Georgia guard Max Jean-Gilles, so there's a chance they could trade down and select him later in the first round.
10. Arizona Cardinals: LenDale White, RB USC – Dennis Green is never afraid to say publicly what he plans to do and he said at the Combine that even though the Cardinals had a lot of money to spend in free agency, they aren't planning to blow it all on one player. That could eliminate the possibility of Edgerrin James or Jamal Lewis coming to Arizona. If that's the case, look for the Cardinals to address the running back situation in the draft. Green has already expressed interest in White and like I said earlier, Denny doesn't usually blow smoke. The 238-pound battering ram is exactly that the Arizona offense needs to get their running game jump-started. White is a scoring machine – setting the all-time rushing touchdown mark at USC with 52. The one red flag about White is his weight. He ballooned up to 253 pounds for the National Championship Game and while it didn't hurt his performance, it could become an issue in the pros.
11. St. Louis Rams: Jimmy Williams, DB Virginia Tech – According to Jimmy Williams, he's the best defensive back in this year's draft by far. A big talker who backs it up on the field, Williams is physical enough to play safety and fast enough to play corner. While he played both positions in college, Williams said he wants to play cornerback in the NFL and the Rams need help in the secondary. Williams will bring the kind of physical presence on defenses the Rams have been lacking in recent years. "I knocked out like six guys this year," Williams said at the Combine. "So that made me happy." New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has been lobbying for the Rams to take a defensive player with their first pick and I think he will be very pleased if they select with the versatile Williams.
12. Cleveland Browns: Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State – Browns head coach Romeo Crennel said at the Combine the two biggest needs the team has is for a run stuffer and a pass rusher. That means the Browns could go either way here but Crennel probably wants to fix the run defense first and the imposing Bunkley will help him do just that. You should see this animal. The guy weighs 306 pounds and doesn't have an ounce of body fat on him. Oh yeah, he can play football too. Bunkley doesn't only stuff the run; he can rush the quarterback from his tackle position as well. The Browns will almost certainly go defense with this pick and if they decide to address the interior line, the fast rising Bunkley would be a great selection.
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 and the team has already said they will let Lewis hit the open market. 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. At a compact 5'9, 217 pounds, many scouts are comparing him to the likes of Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. 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 because he has the chance to be a special player.
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Tamba Hali, DE Penn State – The Eagles need help at defensive end where they have Javon Kearse and little else. Hali was a very productive player at Penn State and he impressed scouts at The Senior Bowl with his work ethic and high motor. Hali doesn't have the computer numbers of some of the other players in this draft but if you are just talking about what he does on the field, Hali is one of the premier defensive players coming out this year. Having Hali and Kearse line up opposite each other could be a scary proposition for offensive linemen in the future.
15. Atlanta Falcons: Michael Huff, S Texas - The Falcons have a stud corner in DeAngelo Hall but the rest of their secondary needs to be upgraded. Huff is a physical player who has the versatility to play either safety or corner. As the leader of the Longhorns defense last year, Huff showed great range and a nose for always being around the football. He's 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 Huff because of his toughness and versatility 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.
16. Miami Dolphins: Eric Winston, OT Miami – The Dolphins will probably solve their quarterback problems before the draft which means offensive tackle will become their biggest need. Local product Winston had a tremendous Combine, testing well in every drill. He and USC's Winston Justice are fighting to be the next tackle off the board after Ferguson and after his Combine performance; Winston has probably earned himself a spot in the middle of the first round. Nick Saban is building a playoff caliber-team in Miami and if they can get better at quarterback and on the offensive line this offseason, the Dolphins could contend with the Patriots next year in the AFC East. North Carolina State DE/OLB Manny Lawson is also a strong possibility here.