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.
Okay, it’s been over two weeks now since I started this little exercise of what I would call in-depth analysis of what each team is looking at for this Aprils’ draft. So I guess it’s time to recap the first twenty one selections before I get to the Indianapolis Colts:
OT Nate Solder
And surprisingly with two weeks worth of reflection, there isn’t any early decision that now seems far-fetched to me or silly. Green and Dareus seem too good to last that long, but none of the seven guys drafted ahead of them seem likelier to last that long either. Quinn is probably the lone exception, not due to skill, but due to lingering questions about the brain tumor that he has managed to play with for the past 4 years. And with the current buzz that Watt and Jordan are getting as potential Top 10 picks, them falling out of the Top 15 doesn’t seem likely. But at the same time, if they don’t go in the Top 10, none of the teams picking between No. 11 and No. 14 have almost no need for them. So if Dallas or Washington don’t pull the trigger, then it does seem fairly likely they will slip out of the Top 15 picks.
But now it’s time to move on with the Indianapolis Colts, who pick twenty second in this year’s draft. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the last six times the Colts had their first pick in the Top 25 of the first round, they wound up selecting Dallas Clark (2003), Dwight Freeney (2002), Edgerrin James (1999), Peyton Manning (1998), Tarik Glenn (1997), and Marvin Harrison (1996). There’s a combined 33 Pro Bowl appearances between those six guys.
Luckily for the Colts despite their relatively higher draft pick, they are still a pretty solid team. The thing that plagued them in 2010 was injuries and inconsistency at wide receiver and shoddy offensive line play. The latter of the two was not a new development, as it was blamed for one of the reasons why the Colts could not pull out a victory over the New Orleans Saints a year ago in the Super Bowl. Because of that, I think the Colts will wind up taking Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder with this pick.
OT Anthony Castonzo
Despite the Chiefs success in 2010, with their playoff appearance, they have a lot of issues at several positions. They are still early in their building process under GM Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley, and while they have made serious strides in the past two years, they have more work to do before they can be expected to compete at an elite level with teams like the Patriots, Steelers, Colts, and Ravens in the AFC.
The things that went right for the Chiefs in 2010 was the solid play of QB Matt Cassel, a strong running game helmed by Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, and Cassel hooked up numerous times with Dwayne Bowe and Tony Moeaki. Up front, the additions of veterans like Casey Wiegmann and Ryan Lilja solidified their front. Defensively, they were young but Romeo Crennel got solid production from them. Rookie safety Eric Berry had a strong first year. Corners Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr are arguably the best pair of under-25 year old starters in the league at that position. Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers and Glenn Dorsey is now emerging as a gamer.
All of these things in conjunction mean that the Chiefs are headed in the right direction. But they still have their issues at most of the other areas that were not named. I think the Chiefs will choose to address their needs up front on the offensive line by taking left tackle Anthony Castonzo out of Boston College with this pick.
DE Ryan Kerrigan
Due to the emergence of Josh Freeman and several other young players on offense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ future is looking bright. Rookies LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams give the team a pair of triplets on offense that they are optimistic can be assets going forward in the tough NFC South division.
On the defensive side of the ball, their key pieces include defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Aqib Talib.
This means that the Bucs can approach the top of this year’s draft thinking they can continue to supplement the pieces around Freeman on offense, or try to bolster their young defense with more pieces with their twentieth overall selection. It’s hard to argue with either path, especially on offense where offensive line seems to be the more pressing area. But their needs on defense seem a bit more pressing and thus why I think they will go on that side of the ball and take Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan with this pick.
OG MIke Pouncey
The New York GIants hold the nineteenth overall pick in this year’s draft, and it should give them an opportunity to find a solid, young prospect to try and cement their personnel on either side of the ball.
On the defense their biggest needs seem to be in their back seven. That group was beat quite a bit in games last season. The explosive young receivers that they will likely face in Philadelphia and Dallas, and now Washington (with their potential to select Julio Jones) means that getting better in the secondary is going to have to be a priority. They also need some help at linebacker.
On the offensive side of the ball, they’ve spent a few draft picks on solidifying their receiver corps in recent years, but probably need to start looking to get back to basics by addressing their running game.
With that said, age and injuries up front on the offensive line will probably be the weaker area for the Giants, and they’ll wind up taking Florida’s Mike Pouncey to bolster their depth. Keep reading to find out why and see other options the Giants are potentially looking at with this pick.
LB Martez Wilson
Despite picking in the middle of the first round, the San Diego Chargers had a relatively strong 2010 season. By most accounts their disappointing record was on account of horrendous special teams play, not really anything that was wrong with their offense or defense.
That means that the Chargers unlike a few teams picking after them, don’t have any real pressing needs. There of course are several areas of the roster that should be address in the draft, but they don’t have one or two positions that are screaming for help right now. Which means that the Chargers can probably afford to take the best player available with their top pick, as well as being in the market to trade back in the first round. The latter possibility increases if some teams at the top of the second round are trying to trade back into the first round to get one of the quarterbacks.
But at the end of the day, I suspect the Chargers will shore up their linebacker corps with Illinois’ Martez Wilson. Keep reading for a full explanation.
DE Cameron Jordan
The Patriots are the lone team so far this year that has two first round picks, having received the seventeenth overall pick in a trade with the Oakland Raiders before the 2009 season in exchange for defensive end Richard Seymour. The Patriots also hold the twenty-eighth overall selection as well as the top selection (thirty-third) in the second round.
The Patriots are notorious for moving back in the first round of the draft, and could choose to do so again with this pick if the play they don’t love is there. But considering the team’s many defensive needs, it’s probable that the Pats will stand pat with this pick and take Cal’s Cameron Jordan.
The absence of Seymour on the roster the past two seasons has been felt by the Patriots, due to their limited pass rush and weak run defense. In 2008, their run defense ranked 9th in the league according to Football Outsiders DVOA-based efficiency rankings, but dropped to 23rd this past year. Injuries to other end stalwarts like Ty Warren and Mike Wright certainly didn’t help matters this year as well.
DE J.J. Watt
The Jaguars are stuck in the middle of the first round with several needs on the defensive side of the ball. But the good thing is that have several options to address those areas.
Their pass defense was one of the worst in the league a year ago. According to Football Outsiders DVOA-based rankings, they were dead last in overall defensive efficiency with the 30th ranked pass defense. Their biggest flaws are in the secondary, but if they can improve their pass rush that can help as well. But they also have some needs on the offensive side of the ball that they could use help on. With all that said, I think the Jaguars tab Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt as their top pick this year. Continue to read on for the explanation of why.
In such a deep defensive line class it would make sense for the Jaguars to add a pass rusher up front to help out there defense. While J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan are probably the best ends on the board, they are better fits in a 3-4 than a 4-3, although both are good enough to play there. But they may prefer a speed rusher off the corner. Someone like Ryan Kerrigan or Justin Houston make a lot of sense. But the 16th overall pick seems a bit high for both prospects. They do have some young ends on their roster that might be worth further development, but none of them are quite as good as that pair. If Aldon Smith falls to this point in the draft, he would be a good pick.
RB Mark Ingram
The Dolphins are stuck in the middle of the first round and despite their disappointing record in 2010, but they aren’t a bad team. Most of their problems stemmed from the fact that they have inconsistency at the quarterback position. And that’s something that the team is going to want to address in this year’s draft. But it’s something that the team may not be able to do given where they are picking. In the end, I think they will draft a running back in Alabama’s Mark Ingram.
Bill Parcells is no longer the godfather of the Dolphins, although his imprint is still on the organization. He’s more like Vito Corleone than Michael. It’s likely that they will adhere to his influence and style when it comes to making decisions this April. And the biggest issue will be as previously mentioned the quarterback. Parcells has four rules when it comes to drafting and evaluating quarterbacks. And when those rules are applied to this year’s draft class, TCU’s Andy Dalton is the only one of the top passers that meets those requirements. Christian Ponder fails the fourth criteria because he only won 22 games at Florida State instead of 23. But the question remains will the Dolphins look at this quarterback crop and have Dalton and Ponder at the top of their lists? They passed on Matt Ryan in 2008 not because he didn’t meet these requirements but presumably because his arm wasn’t as strong as they liked, which is why they settled for Chad Henne in the second round. Well, Dalton and Ponder aren’t known for their big arms either.
One wonders if the Dolphins adhere to the Parcells Standards at quarterback, they may be caught out in the cold once more. They’ve missed on two straight second round picks in John Beck and Chad Henne, so maybe it’s time to take a swing on a first round talent. Which means that while he doesn’t mean their standards, a player like Auburn’s Cam Newton could be in the cards. But they’d have to move up to get Newton, and it’s unlikely the Dolphins are going to roll the dice on a Jake Locker (inaccurate) or Ryan Mallett (character concerns) with the 15th overall pick.