Here's the plan - I'm going to put down what I think might happen in this year's draft rather than what I want to happen, as I did last year. Next week, things may be a bit clearer, and some adjustments will be made on the eve of the draft. Then, after the draft, analysis of how wrong I was.
1. Miami Dolphins - Chris Long - DE, Virginia
I have suspected that Miami will take Howie Long's phenom son for a long time - it just makes sense. The Dolphins' defense is aging, with linebacker Zach Thomas being cut and Defensive End Jason Taylor being the subject of trade rumors because of his age, a defensive leader and perennial pro-bowler is the ideal fit. Yes - Miami's offense was pathetic after Ronnie Brown got injured, but the line did decent run blocking all year. Jake Long is also a good fit, but I believe Chris Long is the better choice.
There have been open talks with Jake Long about being the number 1 overall pick. This seems like a pointed signal that the Dolphins will take the Michigan standout with their first selection, as they don't have anyone picking ahead of them and potentially have no reason to smokescreen. However, word on the street is that Long is being low-balled by Parcells and being offered less guaranteed money than last year's first pick, JaMarcus Russell. In addition to this, new GM Jeff Ireland made what he called a "Freudian slip" at a press conference recently and said that the player should be a pillar of one's defense. When questioned he said he meant to offense or defense.
My Theory - The Dolphins know they have to go defensive. That leaves the top three candidates for defense - Chris Long, Ohio State's Vernon Gholston, and LSU's Glenn Dorsey. Glenn Dorsey is an injury risk - something the Dolphins can't gamble on - and has seen his stock fall in the past few weeks. Gholston is a workout warrior that rose to top three status after his Pro Day numbers were made public - a trait that has a reputation with bust players. So, the Dolphins, who have been looking to trade the first overall pick since day one of the offseason, feign interest in the player who won't make it past #2. They really want Chris Long, but will light a fire under teams who are reluctant to trade up by threatening to take Jake Long.
2. St. Louis Rams - Vernon Gholston - DE, Ohio State
There's a good chance that the two Longs would be taken back to back in this year's draft, but St. Louis looks to be committed to improving its defense. Orlando Pace is returning from his second consecutive season-ending injury, but is returning nonetheless and will (at least) slightly shore up The Rams' dreadful offensive line.
In addition to the return of former Pro-Bowler Pace, this draft is deep in Offensive Tackles. The Rams will have the opportunity to take a defensive stud in the first round, and have a shot at a second-tier offensive tackle in round two like Godser Cherilus. If they take Gholston, they will have back-to back selections for their defensive line (or an incredibly athletic linebacker). Because the Rams have more room to gamble, they'll take the physical specimen from Ohio State over the proven offensive tackle.
3. Atlanta Falcons - Jake Long - OT, Michigan
The Falcons find themselves in a fortunate position - a pick between the top-rated tackles for both the offensive and defensive lines. Glenn Dorsey has been projected in the top 3 since his killer season and will definitely translate to the NFL if he can avoid injuries, but offensive tackles are now a more valued commodity than ever.
Joe Thomas- another Big Ten tackle - was taken at #3 last year and instantly became a Pro-Bowler and Iron Man starter for the Cleveland browns. The Falcons had numerous offensive line problems last year and need to protect their quarterback of the future. Jake Long is not as good of a player as Thomas, but does warrant a top-3 selection.
4. Oakland Raiders - Darren McFadden - RB, Arkansas
Whether you think McFadden is an every-down back or not, you have to admit he is the best athletic talent of this draft. His game breaking ability is comparable to Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson, and Adrian Peterson - three offensive players taken by teams forgoing need picks. Combine Run DMC's freakish talent with Al Davis' pension for taking flash over production, and you have JaMarcus Russell handing off to Darren McFadden.
My one concern with projecting the Radiers taken the Arkansas standout is Michael Bush. Bush - who fell to the fourth round last year because of a broken leg, has been forgotten. If he is the great secret that Radiers players have made him out to be, it will be him paired with Justin Fargas as a two-headed rushing attack. If Bush is healthy and has returned to form, look for the Raiders to try and trade this pick, or use it on Glenn Dorsey.
5. Kansas City Chiefs - Matt Ryan - QB, Boston College
The Chiefs are a tough team to predict this year - Jared Allen is the subject of trade rumors, given his standoff with Kansas City Brass over a long-term contract. The reigning NFL sack-leader could be traded to Minnesota for first and third round picks, giving the Chiefs more flexibility in who to take at 5. There are no DEs other than Gholston and Long worth taking at 5, so I think the Chiefs will look to take the popular pick for top quarterback this year.
Brodie Croyle hasn't developed into the player the team needs him to be, and the Chiefs are looking for a leader in the rebuilding process. Drafting Ryan, who could possibly get taken at 6 by the Jets or definitely taken by the Ravens at 8, would push Croyle to work harder for the starting job. Given the value of a decent starting quarterback, the addition of Ryan would not be overkill - Think of it as a Trent Edwards - J.P. Losman situation.
6. New York Jets - Branden Albert - OG, Virginia
This is this big "Ooh Ahh" surprise pick of the draft. Albert has been rising up draft boards the last two weeks at an alarming rate (I originally thought he would go at 23 to the Steelers). The Jets recently traded the disgruntled Pete Kendall to Washington, leaving a void at guard. Albert is the top guard at the draft and could play immediately. Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and Branden Albert would be an interior line that Kellen Clemens and Thomas Jones could conceivably thrive behind.
On top of this, Albert has been projected as the Patriot's selection at 7. Given the bad blood between the two teams and the fact that they both have similar needs (Leodis McKelvin is also a likely pick for the Jets, given that they attempted to sign Asante Samuel earlier this offseason), the possibility of seeking to put a dent in the Patriots' roster is motivation enough to take Albert this high.
7. New England Patriots - Leodis McKelvin - CB, Troy
Asante Samuel is now an Eagle - even without the free agent departure of Randall Gay, the Patriots had a void in the secondary the moment the lockdown corner made a deal with Philadelphia. Leodis McKelvin has been considered the best corner in the 2008 draft for several weeks and could start right away despite the fact he played for a small school.
The Patriots are known as wheelers and dealers and without doubt attempt to trade this pick, but will come away happy if they have the chance to draft the top cornerback in the draft.
8. Baltimore Ravens - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - CB, TSU
In this scenario, the Ravens find themselves in a bind. Matt Ryan, their possible quarterback of the future was taken by the Chiefs, the top tackle and guard were taken in the first six picks, and the top corner taken right out from under them.
Given that taking Brian Brohm with the eighth overall pick, I'm projecting that the Ravens wait until the second round to select Chad Henne or Joe Flacco as their signal caller and focus on what has been their longstanding trademark - a strong defense. Last year, the Baltimore secondary was exposed as thin and aging. Cornerback is a need in this draft and they will settle for reaching for the cousin of San Diego's Antonio Cromartie.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Glenn Dorsey - DT, LSU
The idea of Glenn Dorsey falling to the 9th pick during the college football season would be labeled as ludicrous - but concerns of the top defensive tackle being injury prone and the eye-popping numbers of other defensive prospects have him falling to the Bengals.
Dorsey is a force when healthy and could be the first step in alleviating an embarrassing Cincinnati defense. If the LSU standout is taken before this pick, look for the Bengals to take the second best tackle, Sedrick Ellis of USC.
10. New Orleans Saints - Keith Rivers - LB, USC
To say that New Orleans' defense is underwhelming would be kind - the squad that went to the NFC championship in 2006 was consistently torched the following season. Keith Rivers is the top pure line backing prospect available and could join recently traded Jonathan Vilma as part of a remodeled Saints line backing corps.
11. Buffalo Bills - Derrick Harvey - DE, Florida
The rush on defensive ends is Derrick Harvey's gain - the Bills don't have a corner back or wide receiver that's worth taking at pick 11, so they shore up their defense with a quarterback's nightmare. Harvey can play either side of the line and will put pressure on division rival signal caller Tom Brady.
12. Denver Broncos - Sedrick Ellis - DT, USC
The Broncos - with the exception of corner back - have needs all over the defense. Jarvis Moss didn't pan out as a quality addition to the defensive line and Denver's rush defense was one of the league's worst last season. Ellis is a proven commodity and can make an immediate impact.
13. Carolina Panthers - Ryan Clady - OT, Boise State
Jake Delhomme's future is up in the air, but took the Panthers to a Super Bowl behind a productive line. Carolina took a step in the right direction in drafting USC Center Ryan Kalil last year and is likely to invest in young talent to kickstart their offense.
Other possibilities include a large receiver, which would be a surprising reach, or a power running back to complement speedy DeAngelo Williams.
14. Chicago Bears - Chris Williams - OT, Vanderbilt
The Bears' fantastic offensive line of yesteryear that got Rex Grossman to a Super Bowl is getting to old to maul opposing defenses like they used to. The banged up unit could be rejuvenated with the addition of the tackle that brought Denver's Jay Cutler to fame during his college years - Chris Williams of Vanderbilt.
The Bears' brass inexplicably see no problem with their stable of signal callers (or are doing a good job hiding it), and are unlikely to take a quarterback in the first half of the second round. If they do take a QB on the first day, I anticipate it being the quarterback that Atlanta and Baltimore don't take in the second round.
15. Detroit Lions - Rashard Mendenhall - RB, Illinois
Matt Millen wants to draft talented skill players and make them suffer. The Lions once again forgo the chance to draft an offensive lineman and replace oft-injured Kevin Jones with the best back this side of Darren McFadden.
Defensive end is another possibility, but given the run on the position early, I project that the Lions will go with the best player available despite needing help in several other areas. If they don't take Mendenhall here, he'll be snatched up by Arizona or Houston.
16. Arizona Cardinals - Mike Jenkins - CB, South Florida
Arizona is a step further in it's rebuilding process and looks to improve to a winning record during Ken Wisenhunt's second year. The Offensive line is still subpar, but Russ Grim has improved what used to be the joke of the NFC. Edgerrin James is aging and will need to be replaced, but Rashard Mendenhall is off the board.
The Cards chose not to trade Larry Fitzgerald to the Eagles for corner Lito Sheppard, so they will respond to the run on corners and take Mike Jenkins, who, earlier in the offseason, had been ranked as high as 7th overall. Jenkins will help Arizona rebuff teams trying to keep up with their high-powered offensive attack.