Friday, April 28, 2006

Valentine's Not So Big Board
By Ben Valentine

It’s that time of year again.

When the word on everyone’s mind is potential. When ESPN dusts off Mel Kiper Jr., his hair, big board and all and props them up at their desk at Madison Square… I mean the Radio City Music Hall in New York. It’s the time for long walks to the podiums, baseless speculation and fans getting to cheer or boo players many have never even seen.

That’s right, the NFL draft weekend has arrived.

Many are projecting this to be one of the strongest classes in recent memory. Check back in five years or so to see how that is panning out. However it does make for some interesting discussion and predictions. But rather than just dissect what I think the Jets are going to do, I decided to try my hand at a Mock Draft of the top ten picks. If I do well enough, maybe next year I’ll try the whole first round.

The format for this is quite simple, I listed who I feel the team will take and who I think they should take based on needs. The needs were determined by looking at Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) for offense and defense. While I mention the possibility of trades here, I do not try to factor them in. Who I feel the team will take is based off what I’ve read, heard and on occasion, common sense. That’s why the Detroit Lions were the toughest team for me to figure out.

So without further adieu, here’s my big board. Let’s hope I do better this Saturday with my picks than I did with my hockey one last week.

1. Houston Texans: Who they Will Take: Reggie Bush- HB-USC

Who they Should Take: D’Brickashaw Ferguson- T-Virginia

Despite some attempts at smokescreens, this has been the worst kept secret in professional sports ever since, well the Texans won the so-called “Reggie Bush Sweepstakes”. The problem for Houston isn’t that Bush isn’t a good player; he is. But the Texans’ biggest hole is on the offensive line where David Carr was sacked a league leading 68 times; that’s 19 more than the nearest player. According to Football Outsiders, the Texans line isn’t bad running the ball but is the worst in the league at pass protecting. However, even FO admit the line’s rankings in run blocking has a lot to do with the running back. In other words, when you combine that with the Texans’ lousy pass protection, there’s nothing wrong with Dominick Davis. Bush might be great, but he won’t make Houston much better than they currently are.

2. New Orleans Saints: Who they will take AJ Hawk-LB- Ohio State

Who They Should Take: AJ Hawk-LB-Ohio State

The Saints signed their QB in Drew Brees and already have a good ends in Will Smith and Charles Grant, so that should knock out Matt Leinart and Mario Williams from the equation. That leaves Ferguson and Hawk as the most viable candidates for New Orleans. Talented tackles are always at a premium unless you’ve got one so the Saints could go that route, especially since according to FO’s rankings, they were as bad on offense as they were on defense last season. Still, everything I’ve read says the Saints will go defense and while Williams is being talked about a lot, Hawk makes more sense to anyone not named Matt Millen. The Saints could also trade down with the Jets, but Hawk would most likely still be there at #4.

3. Tennessee Titans: Who they Will take: Vince Young-QB- Texas

Who They Should Take: Matt Leinart-QB- USC

I have issues with both Young and Leinart, but the problem for the Titans is not necessarily in drafting a QB but what they will do afterwards. It appears Steve McNair is on the way out, meaning the guy drafted here is most likely going to end up starting at some point in 2006.(unless you really believe Billy Volek is the answer, in which case, why are you drafting a QB here?) With that being the case, the Titans would be best served going with the polished passer who understands the offensive system; Leinart, who also played under offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s schemes at USC. Young could be a star, but he needs to spend at least a year and preferably two in an “apprentice” role. But everything I’ve read says the Titans ownership is more enamored with Young. Mark my words, if Vince Young starts at QB next year, he will end up being the biggest bust since Akili Smith.

4. New York Jets: Who they will take: Matt Leinart-QB- USC

Who they Should Take: D’Brickashaw Ferguson- T-Virginia

I am probably in the minority of Jets fans who would want them to pass on the supposed franchise caller of the future, but I have questions about the guy. His poor post Rose Bowl interviews had me questioning his makeup as a guy who can get flustered when things don’t go his way. His arm strength is a question and after Chad Pennington, maybe the Jets should look at a strong armed gunslinger. Besides, the Jets have two QBs in Pennington and Patrick Ramsey while they have no solid player at the tackle position. The Jets can find a decent QB in the later rounds; Kellen Clemens and dare I say Marcus Vick could be great values. Get the franchise left tackle here if he’s available. Unfortunately, I see the Jets going with the big name which will sell jerseys, tickets and appease the fan base. Mario Williams is also a possibility to replace John Abraham.

5. Green Bay Packers: Who they Will Take: D’Brickashaw Ferguson- T-Virginia

Who they Should Take: Mario Williams- DE- NC State

The Packers were another team that were about as bad on offense as they were on defense; ranking 23rd and 22nd in FO’s DVOA ranking respectively. So they could go either way. My guess is with Brett Favre coming back, they go with Ferguson to appease their lord and master rather than addressing the awful end play they get from which ever side Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is not on. That’s why if Mario Williams is there, they should take him. Also, as most mock drafts have, AJ Hawk, if he’s on the board, is a good fit here.

6. San Francisco 49’ers: Who They Will Take: Vernon Davis- TE- Maryland

Who they Should Take: Winston Justice- OT- USC

The Niners were terrible on defense last year, ranking second to last in FO's rankings. But they were a complete joke offensively. Consider that FO ranks the second to worst offensive team last year, the Jets, at -23.0%. The Niners, at dead last, and I mean dead, were at -46.9%. Awful, just awful. Ther'es probably no one player capable of saving that team and there’s no way Vernon Davis can, no matter how talented a TE he is. Since the Niners probably aren’t ready to pull the plug on Alex Smith and they reportedly like Frank Gore, I think they should go tackle here. USC’s Winston Justice would fit the bill here and would be a player the Niners should be familiar with because of where he went to school. San Francisco was second to last in adjusted sack rate last year so someone needs protect Alex Smith’s blindside. Obviously if Ferguson were still out there, the Niners should grab him. A WR would be possible if there were any worthy of a top ten pick. I don’t see any though.

7. Oakland Raiders: Who they Will Take: Mario Williams- DE- NC State

Who they Should Take: Mario Williams- DE- NC State

If he’s here, the Raiders have gotten themselves a minor coup. The Raiders offense was middle of the road last year; ranking 13th according to FO. And that’s with a complete mess at the QB position with Kerry Collins and terrible pass protection. However, the Raiders were a poor defensive team last year, ranking 23rd overall. Their end play was towards the bottom of the league, so they could use an infusion talent there. Williams fits the bill and has a big enough name that Al Davis will be pleased. Of course since they are the Raiders, they could do something crazy, like trading up to get Vince Young. But thankfully, if that happens, we won’t have to see Bill Romanowski wax poetic for five minutes about what a genius Davis is.

8. Buffalo Bills: Who They Will Take: Haloti Ngata-DT-Oregon

Who They Should Take: Haloti Ngata-DT- Oregon

Going into last year most people thought the Bills were a potential playoff contender if their offense was adequate. Turned out it wasn’t, as they finished 3rd to last in FO’s rankings. But their defense was awful last year as well, ranking 25th. Ngata makes sense because their line play was horrible last season; according to FO, the interior of their D-Line ranked 25th last year. Guess they really missed Pat Williams. Their QB situation is a mess, but I can’t see the Bills being willing to pay JP Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Craig Nall AND Jay Cutler.

9. Detroit Lions: Who They Will Take: Michael Huff-S-Texas

Who They Should Take: Michael Huff-S-Texas

Detroit wasn’t a good defensive team in 2005, ranking 20th in FO’s rankings. However, their greatest need is on offense, where they finished 26th. The problem is that Detroit’s biggest hole is at WR, where they’ve spent three high first rounders in three years. So where do you go from here? QB? Nope, you just spent millions on Jon Kitna and Josh McCown. RB? Nope, got Kevin Jones, another former 1st rounder from just two years ago. WR, again? Maybe, but Chad Jackson and Santonio Holmes don’t have top ten ratings. You probably have to go with the best talent on the board, and by all accounts that’s Safety Michael Huff from Texas. The Lions could also trade down, and that would probably be the best option.

10. Arizona Cardinals: Who They Will Take: Jay Cutler-QB-Vanderbilt

Who They Should Take: Winston Justice- OT- USC

The Cardinals have a lot of holes but one of the greatest looks to be offensive line. Now they are almost the Texans in reverse; awful run blocking (worst in the league) vs. solid pass protection (14th overall). So a lot of the blame goes to JJ Arrington and company. Still 14th isn’t stellar and the team already has Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James so QB and RB should be out. Winston Justice would step in and improve the line while a QB can be taken later on for the 2007 or 2008 season. However I believe Dennis Green will go for the big name over the workman position, so Cutler’s the choice here.

Those are the picks, or my best attempt at guessing. For the record if I had my ideal draft board for the Jets it would go:
4th pick- Ferguson
29th- Bobby Carpenter OLB-Ohio State
35- Sinorice Moss- WR- Miami
71-Kellen Clemens- QB- Oregon

So get out those jerseys and clear your throat for some cheering and jeering. For that one weekend in April when the football fan comes out of hibernation has arrived. And you’d better make the most of it. It’s over four months before the NFL actually kicks off the 2006 season. The countdown begins the second after “Mr. Irrelevant” is taken Sunday.

Are you ready?


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