17. Minnesota Vikings: Laurence Maroney, RB Minnesota – Getting a player of Maroney's caliber at 17 would be an absolute steal for the Vikings. Minnesota isn't expected to re-sign Michael Bennett and Moe Williams. That leaves only Mewelde Moore and Ciatrick Fason at the running back position. New coach Brad Childress showed when he was the offensive coordinator with the Eagles that he likes to use more than one running back. Moore is a great receiver out of the backfield but he probably can't carry the load in the NFL over an entire 16-game season. Enter Maroney. A 217-pound lightning bolt who can score from anyplace on the field. Maroney was very productive in college and he has the ability to get the tough yards inside, as well as the quickness to turn the corner. If Maroney is available at 17, the Vikings probably won't be able to pass him up.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Bobby Carpenter, LB Ohio State - Bill Parcells loves big, physical linebackers with versatility so he should be drooling over Carpenter. At 6'3 and 256 pounds, Carpenter has the size Parcells seeks in his linebackers and he can play both inside and outside in the 3-4 defense. Carpenter has tremendous speed for his size and is a great pass rusher off the edge, similar to the Patriots Mike Vrabel who Carpenter said he patterns his game after. Dallas has built up their secondary and defensive line over the past couple of seasons and the linebackers are next, especially with Dat Nguyen retiring and former second round draft pick Bradie James not playing up to expectations as of yet. Dallas needs help on the offensive line and at safety but those problems will most likely be taken care of in free agency. Parcells has wanted a big linebacker in Dallas since he arrived and Carpenter has "Cowboys" written all over him. A.J. Hawk gets all the publicity but when you watch the Buckeyes defense, you see Carpenter around the ball almost as often as you see Hawk. There are probably some in the Patriots organization who are hoping the versatile linebacker slips to them.
19. San Diego Chargers: Santonio Holmes, WR Ohio State – Holmes and Chad Jackson are fighting to be the top receiver selected in this year's draft and either player would make a nice selection for the Chargers with pick 19. Even after Jackson's impressive combine, I still have Holmes rated as the best receiver in the draft. San Diego can go in a lot of different directions here but with Reche Caldwell being a free agent and Keenan McCardell a year older, receiver is a position they need to address – both now and for the future. While McCardell is still very productive, Holmes has the speed and explosiveness to be a nice compliment early in his career and emerge as a No. 1 receiver once McCardell retires. Holmes does drop some balls but he's a smooth route runner with a lot of upside. The Chargers secondary and linebackers are in need of an upgrade as well but to get a player with Holmes' ability will be tough to pass up in a draft that isn't deep at the receiver position.
20. Kansas City Chiefs: Chad Greenway, LB Iowa – Greenway is an exceptional football player and would be a steal if he lasts this long but that could happen because he doesn't have great computers numbers. Greenway didn't run well at the Combine and only did 16 reps of 225. Put Greenway on the football field, however, and he's a productive leader who plays much better than his computer numbers would indicate. When you think Chad Greenway, think Lofa Tatupu. Guys who don't wow you in the 40 but just make plays on the football field because of their intelligence and hard work. The Chiefs are expected to release Kendrell Bell. If that happens, Greenway can step right in as a rookie and be a leader for Herm Edwards' defense.
21. New England Patriots: Richard Marshall, CB Fresno State – There was talk at the Combine that the Patriots were very interested in Marshall and that was backed up by his agent when he confirmed it to me personally. Marshall really is a Patriots-kind of player. He led Fresno State in tackles last season with 78 – something rare for a corner – and he returned three interceptions for touchdowns during his college career. Marshall was moving up a lot of draft boards before the Combine but like he told the media, he would be a first rounder for sure after he ran the 40-yard dash. Marshall didn't disappoint by running an impressive 4.42. Some people may not think he's a first round pick but that is no longer the case. His combination of speed, big-play ability and toughness against the run now has Marshall rising on draft boards all over the league. Just because the Patriots have expressed interest in Marshall doesn't mean they'll draft him but when you factor in his style of play, the fact he played his college ball at Fresno State under Pat Hill, his impressive Combine performance and the Patriots situation at cornerback, Marshall makes a lot of sense for New England at this pick. If Bobby Carpenter is available we think the Patriots could select him and if they trade down it could be for Notre Dame wide receiver Maurice Stovall. Supposing the Patriots stick at 21, however, we think with all the information we've gathered from being at the Combine that right now the pick will be Marshall.
22. Denver Broncos: Chad Jackson, WR Florida – Jackson wowed people at the Combine with his 4.32 40-yard dash and that pretty much cemented his place in the first round. Jackson isn't only fast but he catches everything thrown his way. With the Terrell Owens talk dying down in Denver and Rod Smith turning 80 this year, the Broncos need a young receiver to come in and produce relatively soon. Jackson is one of the best route-runners of this receiver class and he should be able to step in and contribute as a rookie. He improved his stock the most of any player at the Combine so Jackson may go even higher than this but if he doesn't, I can't see him getting past the Broncos at 22.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston Justice, OT USC – With Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker as their current starting offensive tackles, it's obvious the Bucs need to address that position in the draft. Justice played right tackle at USC but a lot of scouts feel he can move over to the left side in the NFL if a team wants him to. A powerful blocker with quick feet, Justice is ready to step in and start for a team as a rookie. The Bucs offensive line has been horrible over the past couple of seasons so expect to see Tampa address that problem in this year's draft.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Gabe Watson, DT Michigan – The Bengals need a big space eater in the middle of their defense and at 6'3, 340 pounds, Watson will certainly eat up a lot of space. Watson's work ethic was questioned at Michigan and he was actually benched by coach Lloyd Carr for a couple of games. However, his stock has been skyrocketing since the end of the season. Watson had a great Senior Bowl week and also impressed at the Combine. When he's motivated, Watson has top ten talent and Marvin Lewis is known as a coach who gives players a second chance. Watson would fill a huge need for the Bengals on defense and if he plays up to his ability, he could be a steal down the road.
25. New York Giants: Ashton Youboty, CB Ohio State - The Giants are a pretty easy team to predict. There is a very good chance they will go after a cornerback in the first round after their secondary struggled so badly in 2005. Will Allen is a free agent and William Peterson has health issues, so the Giants need a corner who can come in and contribute. Youboty has a nice combination of size and speed. He shows a good break on the ball and other Ohio State cornerbacks have made an impression early on in their NFL career. Youboty may not be as complete a football player as some of those other Buckeye corners but he's good in coverage and he should help improve the Giants secondary instantly.
26. Chicago Bears: Sinorice Moss, WR Bears – Moss said repeatedly at the Combine that the Bears were showing a lot of interest in him and it makes sense. Moss has been compared to the Panthers Steve Smith because of his smallish stature and explosive speed. If the Bears draft Moss, they can team him with Mushin Muhammad and have the kind of deadly combination the Panthers had a couple of years ago. We already know the Bears have a great defense so adding another playmaker on offense to help out young quarterback Rex Grossman is probably the way they'll go in the first round. .
27. Carolina Panthers: Marcus McNeil, OT Auburn – The Panthers need an upgrade over Travelle Wharton at left tackle and the mammoth McNeil is a good player with upside. At 6'9 and 330 pounds, McNeil has the size to succeed in the NFL but he's also very athletic for such a big guy. McNeil may not be as polished as some of the other tackles in this draft but with his size and athletic ability, he has a chance to become a dominant left tackle. McNeil ran a 5.07 40-yard dash at the Combine and showed plenty of ability in the other drills. Carolina could go in a lot of different directions with this pick but adding a young offensive tackle is certainly one of them.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars: Manny Lawson, DE North Carolina State – I expect that Lawson will go much higher than this but I just couldn't find a fit for him before this spot. There are certainly many teams picking in the top 20 who are looking at this kid. That's what happens when you run a 4.40 40-yard dash at 260 pounds. Speed like that will turn a lot of heads. Lawson is a possibility for the Eagles, Browns, Dolphins, Cowboys and even the Patriots. However, if he were to last this long, the Jaguars would have no choice but to draft him. Jacksonville has two good defensive tackles but their ends are nothing to write home about. Lawson's speed and pass rushing ability off the edge would make an already good Jaguars defense even better.
29. Denver Broncos: Nick Mangold, C Ohio State - The Broncos re-signed center Tom Nalen but he's getting up there in age and Denver has a history of drafting linemen and getting them used to their system so they are ready to step in when called upon. That way the Denver running game doesn't miss a beat. Mangold is the top rated center in the draft and he would make a great understudy to Nalen. Mangold is technically sound and he plays with good leverage. He's used to playing in a zone-blocking scheme, the same system the Broncos have run so successfully over the years. Mangold only improved his stock at the Combine and now has a very good chance to land in round one. With two picks in the first round, the Broncos have the luxury of being able to draft for the future and getting Mangold – the best player at his position – would be a good selection for Denver.
30. Indianapolis Colts: DeMeco Ryans, LB Alabama - If the Colts lose Edgerrin James in free agency, they could trade up and try to grab one of the top running backs. If they don't move up, they'll probably look to draft defense with this pick. Outside linebacker David Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, while Gary Brackett and Cato June are both restricted free agents and there is little depth behind them. Ryans is a little on the small side but he's quick and athletic and Tony Dungy doesn't mind his linebackers being small as long as they can run. Ryans made plays all over the field for the Crimson Tide defense last year and he sheds blockers well for his size. If the Colts are going to keep spending all of their money on the offensive side of the ball, they need to keep drafting young defensive players as well. The athletic Ryans would be a welcomed addition to the improving Indianapolis defense.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Mathias Kiwanuka, DE Boston College – Kiwanuka has been slipping down draft boards after an unimpressive Senior Bowl performance but he would be a good value pick for the Seahawks at the end of the first round. Defensive end is an area where Seattle needs to get stronger. Grant Wistrom is injury-prone and Bryce Fisher is less than spectacular. Kiwanuka is a quick pass rusher off the edge; he just needs to work on his overall game a little bit. He has the ability and if he can put it everything together on a consistent basis, Kiwanuka could become a dominant pass rusher at the NFL level.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Max Jean-Gilles, G Georgia – The Steelers are always looking to bolster their offensive line and holding the last pick in the first round, they can sit back and select this year's best guard if he's still available. At 6'3, 355 pounds, Jean-Gilles is an absolute beast. This guy weighed 310 pounds in the 10th grade. Jean-Gilles has freakish strength as he showed at The Senior Bowl when he picked up the 340-pound Gabe Watson and tossed him around like a rag doll. The Steelers could stand to get younger on the offensive line and getting a road grader like Jean-Gilles at the end of round one would bode well for the future of the Steelers power running game.