1. Houston Texans: Reggie Bush, RB USC – As the draft draws near, it appears the Texans are set on taking the explosive Bush. One of the most dynamic players to come out in years, Bush has a chance to be special in the NFL. The knock on him is he's too small to run inside and take a pounding. However, watching tape on Bush, a lot of his runs at USC were right up the middle. The thing with Bush is he gets through the hole so quickly, he doesn't get hit a lot and once he gets in the open field, if you think he's going to take a big hit, you obviously haven't seen him play. Trying to find something wrong with Bush is kind of like when Shaq came out of LSU and people said he couldn't shoot. How's he working out?
2. New Orleans Saints: Mario Williams, DE North Carolina State – Once the Saints signed Drew Brees to a big contract, they officially bowed out of the quarterback sweepstakes. New Orleans was considered the likely future home for Matt Leinart but with Brees now in the picture, the Saints can look elsewhere in the draft. A lot of people think New Orleans will trade out of this pick but I'm not so sure. They need a difference maker on defense and Williams is the best defensive player in this draft. At 6-7, 296-pounds, Williams has great size to go along with his cat-like quickness. By drafting Williams, the Saints will have a dominant player to build their defense around. If they do trade down, Williams, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and A.J. Hawk are all possibilities.
3. Tennessee Titans: Matt Leinart, QB USC – Unless another team trades up with the Saints to grab Leinart, the Titans are also the beneficiaries of Brees signing in New Orleans. This would be a perfect place for Leinart. He would be reunited with his college coach – offensive coordinator Norm Chow – and he can sit behind Steve McNair for a year and learn the game, much like Carson Palmer did in Cincinnati. I think the Titans could be a surprise team this year but regardless of what they do this season, expect Leinart to take over the reigns as the full-time starter in 2007.
4. New York Jets: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT Virginia – The Jets were another team thought to be in the market for a quarterback but they traded for Patrick Ramsey, so it appears they will now focus their attention on the offensive line. New York could still go after Leinart but they really need to upgrade their offensive line and most scouts rate Ferguson as the best tackle in this draft. 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 them. The Brick would start at left tackle and instantly make the Jets offensive line better.
5. Green Bay Packers: A.J. Hawk, LB Ohio State – The Packers desperately need to get younger and faster on the defensive side of the ball and selecting the best linebacker in the draft will help them accomplish that. Hawk makes plays all over the field. He's versatile enough where he can rush the passer and drop back in coverage. Watching tape on the linebackers, there were a bunch of player who did a lot of things well but Hawk was the only linebacker who did everything well. He's the best linebacker in this draft at fighting through blocks and Hawk has the instincts where he knows what is going to happen before it actually happens. He would make an excellent choice for the Packers.
6. San Francisco 49ers: Vernon Davis, TE Maryland – The 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. 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: Vince Young, QB Texas – If the dynamic Young is still on the board when the Raiders select, Al Davis may wet himself. The Raiders dropped one disaster (Kerry Collins) and picked up an even bigger one (Aaron Brooks). Brooks shows flashes of potential every now and then but unless fumbles and interceptions in the end zone is what the Raiders are building their offense around, he's not the long-term answer. Young is often compared to Mike Vick but that's not really a fair comparison. Vick is a runner playing quarterback while Young is a quarterback who can run. Once Brooks fizzles out in Oakland (roughly around week six) expect the team to turn the job over to Young. Young and Randy Moss on the same team? That has the potential to be a scary combination for many years.
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's a chance Ngata won't even be on the board when the Bills draft. If the Bills don't get Ngata, look for them to try an upgrade an offensive line that's a mess right now. USC offensive tackle Winston Justice could be a possibility.
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 impressive performance at the Combine, you never know. I mean, the Lions could always use another receiver. In all seriousness, what the Lions could use is a quarterback. Joey Harrington won't be back with the team and Jon Kitna was signed to replace him. Kitna is a decent quarterback but he's nothing more than a short-term solution to a problem that has plagued the Lions for years now. 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's 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.
10. Arizona Cardinals: Winston Justice, OT USC – The Cardinals solidified their running back position when they signed Edgerrin James. Now what the team needs is someone to block for him. If you look at the Cardinals offense, it has a chance to be one of the most explosive units in the NFL next season but all that talent won't matter if the guys up front don't block better than they did last year. 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. If the Cardinals can sure up their offensive line, they have enough firepower on offense to make fantasy football players all over the world drool with excitement.
11. St. Louis Rams: Michael Huff, DB Texas - 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 the versatile Huff. Huff played both corner and safety in college but he projects more as a safety in the NFL. A big hitter with great speed, Huff was always around the ball at Texas and was the leader of the Longhorns National Championship defense. The Rams have been soft in the secondary for years now and with the loss of overrated Adam Archuleta, defensive back is a big need for them. Look for the talented Huff to add some much needed toughness to the Rams defensive backfield and make Haslett a happy man.
12. Cleveland Browns: DeAngelo Williams, RB Memphis – At the Combine, Browns head coach Romeo Crennel said the team needed four things: a run stopper, a pass rusher, a veteran wide receiver and a different kind of running back to compliment Reuben Droughns. With the signings of Ted Washington, Willie McGinest and Joe Jurevicius, they have addressed three out of those four needs. While I still expect Cleveland to select young players on the defensive side of the ball to one-day replace the aging veterans they signed, Williams is just too good to pass up at this spot. The Browns go with the best player available theory and Williams would be the best player still left on the board in my opinion, and also fill a need. Cleveland is going with young Charlie Frye at quarterback and they want to protect him with a strong running game. I think Williams is one of the top players in this draft and he will be an excellent compliment to the bruising Droughns this season and an eventual Pro Bowler down the line.
13. Baltimore Ravens: Brodrick Bunkley, DT Florida State – The Ravens lost underrated defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu to Carolina this offseason so defensive tackle is a position of need. Bunkley is an absolute beast. The guy weighs 306 pounds and doesn't have an ounce of body fat on him. Oh yeah, he can actually play football too. Bunkley doesn't only stuff the run; he can rush the quarterback from his tackle position as well. Because if injuries, the Ravens weren't their usual dominant selves on defense last season. Teaming an animal like Bunkley up with studs Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs should take care of that problem. Offensive line is also a concern for the Ravens but the talented Bunkley should get the call if he's still on the board when Baltimore selects.
14. Philadelphia Eagles: LenDale White, RB USC – Besides the obvious distractions regarding Terrell Owens last season, the Eagles biggest problem was they simply couldn't run the football. Brian Westbrook is an excellent player but he's just not an every-down back. White is the kind of road grader the Eagles need in their offense to take some of the pressure off Donovan McNabb. White is the only pure power back with a first round grade and he would be a big asset to the Eagles in every sense of the word. Defensive line and receiver are a possibility here as well but if the Eagles don't get their running game going in 2006, everything else is meaningless. The combination of Westbrook and White could give Philadelphia one of the most feared rushing attacks in the league. That would be music to McNabb's ears.
15. Denver Broncos: Chad Jackson, WR Florida – The Broncos are picking 15th because of the John Abraham trade. There's no question that receiver is a major need for the Broncos and the explosive Jackson catapulted himself into the middle of the first round with a dazzling display at the Combine. Not only did Jackson blaze a 4.32 40-yard dash, he caught everything thrown his way. Rod Smith is nearing his 85th birthday and Ashley Lelie has developed into a nice deep threat but he isn't the complete receiver the team thought he would become when they drafted him in the first round a few years ago. Jackson is one of the best route-runners of this receiver class and he should be able to step in and contribute for the Broncos as a rookie.
16. Miami Dolphins: Jimmy Williams, DB Virginia Tech – The Dolphins filled their two biggest holes on the offensive side of the ball when they signed quarterback Daunte Culpepper and offensive tackle L.J. Shelton. Miami could still use another tackle, so local product Eric Winston is a possibility, but the secondary appears to be the Dolphins biggest weakness right now. The team lost both Reggie Howard and Sam Madison, so they really need a young corner to step in and contribute as a rookie. Williams' stock has been dropping of late but he's still an excellent prospect in my opinion. A big talker who backs it up on the field, Williams is physical enough to play safety and fast enough to play corner. He may have turned some people off at the Combine but the Dolphins should consider themselves lucky if a player of Williams' caliber is still on the board at 16.
To view selections 17-32, click here: