DE Cameron Heyward
The Green Bay Packers are coming off a Championship season, and many think they are at the beginning of what could potentially become a dynasty for them.
The Packers have a lot of things going in their favor, they have a relatively young franchise QB in Aaron Rodgers, who will only be 27 at the start of this season. They have some young receivers surrounding him that he can continue to grow with in Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, and Jordy Nelson. They have a solid young core of offensive linemen with Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga. Defensively, most of their key players are well under 30 such as B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, Tramon Williams, and Nick Collins.
If the Packers can add a few more pieces to the puzzle, they can solidify a team that should be a contender each and every year for the foreseeable future.
I think the piece they will look to add to that mix is Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.
CB Aaron Williams
The Pittsburgh Steelers got all the way to the Super Bowl, but a subpar game hurt their chances. They will be hoping to use this draft to shore up their weak areas to make a third run in five years under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Offensively, Steelers are a team that thrives on the shoulders of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with his improvisational skills in the pocket and big arm. But the Steelers are known for their defense, and it returned to previous levels last year where they were at the top of the league.
But both ares of their roster could improve. Their offense needs to be shored up as their offensive line was atrocious last year as injuries and subpar play decimated them. On defense, they are starting to show their age, and at several key spots could do with more infusion of youth.
With that said, I think the Steelers will use their first round pick on Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.
DT Muhammad Wilkerson
The New York Jets with their thirtieth overall selection have to find a way to get the pieces to push them over the top. Two consecutive AFC Championship Games means they’re close to winning a coveted title, but they need that last bit of umph to get them over the hump.
Most would blame QB Mark Sanchez as the biggest obstacle for them to overcome. With a solid running game, two quality receivers, and one of the league’s best offensive lines, there isn’t much to dislike about the Jets offense, except the quarterback. Sanchez is still growing up as an NFL quarterback and the Jets may be in the market to add a few more pieces to help him along.
But they could also look to shore up a defense that had some drop-off from being the best in the league in 2009 to being the sixth best. That’s still better than what most teams sport on defense, but they do have their share of weaknesses.
One of the issues the Jets face is that they were built for last year to be their Super Bowl run, with several of their key players becoming prospective free agents once the labor crisis gets settled. Wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, defensive end Shaun Ellis, safeties Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, as well as inside linebacker David Harris are all potential free agents. And since the Jets aren’t expected to bring back all of those players, their first round pick might be used on a potential replacement.
And the player I see the Jets landing at this spot is Temple defensive end/tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.
OT Gabe Carimi
The Chicago Bears pick twenty-ninth in this April’s draft and are a team that is looking to shore up its team to make another title run. The Bears were the NFC’s most unlikely title contender, making it all the way to the NFC Championship Game before the Green Bay Packers stopped them short.
The Bears success was largely on their solid defensive play, coupled with a steady offense. Additions on defense like Julius Peppers, Chris Harris, and Tim Jennings solidified their pass defense, which jumped from 24th ranked in 2009 to 5th ranked in 2010, according to Football Outsiders efficiency ratings.
Their offense didn’t really light it up, but they were able to run the ball more effectively, and Jay Cutler reduced his propensity to turn the ball over made a the Bears a good, but not great team. Now it’s time for them to try and find some greatness to put them over the top and be a challenger for Green Bay’s top spot in the division and conference.
The player that they think will provide that will be Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi.
OG Danny Watkins
According to this mock draft, with the seventeenth overall selection the Patriots nabbed California defensive end Cameron Jordan, helping to solidify their front. Now they get a second shot to improve their team and try and find the pieces that will get them back to the Super Bowl.
As stated before, the Pats need most of their help on the defensive side of the ball, but if they can get a good player in their front seven with their top pick, it frees them up to go more with best player available at this point in the draft. And that might become an offensive prospect.
I think that player will be Baylor guard Danny Watkins.
If the Patriots don’t draft a defensive end with their top pick, they could still have the potential to draft one here. Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is still on the board, as is Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. Both of those players could be solid additions to their front.
DE Justin Houston
It’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for, one that has been three weeks in the making. It’s now time that I break down what prospects the Falcons will be looking at in the first round of this year’s draft with their twenty-seventh overall selection.
I won’t pretend this will be a brief read, but I’ll try to keep this as brief as I can possibly make it without leaving you dissatisfied. I’ll try not to spend too much time re-hashing concepts that have already been discussed before. So if you haven’t already then you should go ahead and read my thoughts on why the Falcons taking an offensive linemen with their first pick is a long shot, as well as Stacking the Draft Board series at running back, wide receiver, and defensive end.
And don’t worry, this will not be the last time I discuss the Falcons thought process. I’ll definitely be getting into the nitty gritty of the Falcons options next week once I’ve completed this exercise and discussed all thirty teams approach to the draft.
But without further ado, I think the Falcons will use their top pick on Georgia defensive end Justin Houston. Please keep reading for an explanation why and who else the Falcons will be looking at.
As previously discussed, the Falcons top need this off-season is their defensive end position. John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, and Jamaal Anderson are all free agents after this season. Chauncey Davis is a one-dimensional role player, and Lawrence Sidbury is an unproven youngster. When you project that unit into 2012, the only player that is a strong bet to still be a Falcon is Biermann. And while I’m personally hopeful that Biermann will ascend to the level in 2011 that many expected him to be in 2010, it’s certainly no guarantee that he’ll be capable of anchoring the unit. And the Falcons could be looking at a situation in 2012 where their defensive end position is dire.
WR Torrey Smith
We are getting close now with the Baltimore Ravens now on the clock with the twenty-sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. Just one more day until I breakdown the Falcons, but we have to get through the Ravens first.
The Ravens are a team in a similar conundrum as the Falcons. They have a promising young quarterback and several pieces around him to make them a formidable team in their respective conference, but are looking for those last bits to push them over the top.
Fortunately for the Ravens, their defense is a lot further along than the Falcons. But there was one glaring issue in 2010 that held them back, which was their secondary play. But with the Ravens defense being considered one of the best in the league, they may decide that it is offense which is in need of the biggest improvement. And their main area of weakness is trying to generate explosive plays in the passing game, likely requiring them to address their old, slow wide receiver corps.
With that in mind, I think the Ravens will take Maryland wideout Torrey Smith with their top pick.
QB Jake Locker
Thanks to their weak division coupled with their first round upset of New Orleans, the Seattle Seahawks are probably picking much later in this draft than they care to. They are a team that talent-wise and in terms of need should be picking in the Top 15, but will have to find a way to settle for lesser talent near the end of Round One.
The Seahawks have plenty of needs, most of them occurring on the offensive side of the ball. If there was a strength to the Seahawks team last year, it was their defense. But that’s mostly relative. Football Outsiders’ DVOA-based efficiency ratings have them ranking 29th both on offense and defense. But at least on defense, they can say they have the 17th best run defense, while on offense they are ranked 29th and 28th passing and running the ball, respectively. So there is a bit more hope on defense than there is on offense going forward.
The Seahawks may be an interesting team in how this draft and the first round shapes up. They are one of the few teams outside the Top 12 picks that should be in the market for a quarterback. Which means trades could certainly be involved around their selection, resulting in them trading up or trading back in the draft. But it also means teams that do not address their quarterback issues at the top of the first round could move back into the first round to get ahead of the Seahawks to take whatever quarterback they desire.
Because of this and other factors, I think the Seahawks will wind up selecting Washington quarterback Jake Locker with their top pick.
LB Akeem Ayers
The New Orleans Saints had a disappointing 2010 in the season that they were in a position to repeat as world champions but were surprisingly upset by an inferior Seattle Seahawks team in the first round of the playoffs. The Saints overriding goals in this year’s off-season, including what to do with their twenty-fourth overall draft selection, will be directed at trying to add the pieces to get them back to that point atop the NFC South and the conference overall.
Under the leadership of Drew Brees, the Saints offense is among the strongest in the league. So it’s likely their primary focus will be on improving the defense. Their pass rush was fairly weak a year ago, and that is probably their most pressing need. They’ve already address it somewhat with the signing of Shaun Rogers, strengthening their defensive tackle position.
Their defensive success and it’s opportunistic play in 2009 was critical to their Super Bowl run, and I think they will try to get back to that by selecting UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers with this pick.
CB Jimmy Smith
As usual, because it’s the weekend, it brings a double dose of primers. Earlier today I posted who I thought the Colts would take, as well as a recap of the previous twenty-one picks. Now it’s time to move onto the Philadelphia Eagles, who hold the twenty-third pick in the first round.
Unfortunately for my soul, the Eagles had a strong season due to the play of quarterback Michael Vick. What many expected to be a rebuilding year with Kevin Kolb at the helm turned into a potential Super Bowl run with Vick. The Eagles offense was super explosive with Vick under center, and arguably the fastest pair of starting receivers on the outside in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, as well as having the super-charged LeSean McCoy in the backfield.
With their skill positions seemingly set, the Eagles will likely focus their attention on the defensive side of the ball with their top pick. And because of that, I see them taking Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith with this selection.