Given that, we still enjoy the NFL draft, because that's when teams make wholesale changes to their rosters, adding several impact players and other guys whose names you'll hear for at least a couple months, and potentially for years to come. Chris Horton was a solid contributor for the Redskins last year, and he came from the 7th round.
So while I can't offer firsthand opinions on any of the guys I'm about to talk about, I can tell you that I've read a lot of material on them, and on the teams in the top 15, and I'm excited to predict the first 15 picks of the NFL draft. Alright chumps, let's do this!
- Detroit Lions - Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia. The Lions really can't afford to foul up this pick. They were the first 16-loss team ever, and they've got a tremendous recent history of blowing high draft picks. The rule that I keep hearing is that if you don't have a franchise quarterback and one is available when you draft, you take him. Daunte Culpepper is not a franchise quarterback, so there you go.
- St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith, OT, Baylor. I've found that I have to trust NFL scouts to figure out who the best offensive linemen are, because I just have no idea. Smith is the consensus best OL in the draft, and there's talk he may go #1 if the Lions can't come to a pre-draft contract agreement with Stafford. I doubt that happens, but if Stafford doesn't go to Detroit, he'll be picked here. The top two picks are a virtual lock.
- Kansas City Chiefs - Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia. I imagine I'm not the only person interested to see how Scott Pioli acts without the grim reaper Bill Belichick looking over his shoulder. My thinking is that he'll stick with a lot of the same tactics that were so successful in New England, and New England had a very strong offensive line to protect Tom Brady and new Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. Monroe is a top-tier offensive lineman (so I'm told), and since Smith will almost certainly be off the board, this is where KC will go.
- Seattle Seahawks - Mark Sanchez, QB, USC. I'm actually thinking that my ill-fated Redskins will trade up and acquire this pick so that they can pick Sanchez and the Seahawks can take a running back, but I can't realistically predict trades, so I'm going with the draft board they give me. Even with the Seahawks holding onto this pick, though, Sanchez still makes a lot of sense. He's a potential franchise quarterback, and Matt Hasselbeck seems to be on the back end of his career.
- Cleveland Browns - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest. The talk is that Braylon Edwards will be traded, and that, combined with Donte Stallworth killing a guy while drinking and driving, means that the Browns will have a very weak WR corps. That makes Michael Crabtree an intriguing pick here, but the reality is that the Browns are back in rebuild mode, and Curry falls under the category of "best available." He's among the best players, and he's also one of the best bets to be a productive player immediately and for a long time. He's a guy to build a defense around, and Cleveland could sure use one of those.
- Cincinnati Bengals - Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech. Crabtree isn't Calvin Johnson, but in all fairness, nobody is Calvin Johnson. What Crabtree can be is a great possession wide receiver who can give the Bengals the kind of player they lost when T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed with the Seahawks. Say what you will about Chad Johnson, but I have to believe the ability is still there, and Crabtree can slide into his role in a strong passing offense right away.
- Oakland Raiders - Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri. The Raiders have paid a lot to acquire a couple of disappointing wide receivers recently (Randy Moss, Javon Walker), so it shouldn't be surprising that they'd go a different route to acquire receiving talent. Maclin is faster the Crabtree, and is the consensus #2 receiver in the draft. And if you're going to give a ton of money to a quarterback (as they did with Jamarcus Russell a couple years ago), you'd better give him some targets. Maclin should be able to come in and contribute immediately.
- Jacksonville Jaguars - B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College. Raji fits into most systems because he's a big, wide defensive tackle who can slide perfectly into a 3-4 scheme. He's plenty effective in a 4-3 as well, and Jacksonville runs both at times. Raji would give them the flexibility to choose their scheme based on situation rather than personnel. Raji is one of the wild cards of this draft; he could realistically go anywhere from 4 through 12. So I figured, why not put him smack dab in the middle of 4 and 12? PS: If the Jags hadn't signed Torry Holt, they might've reached for a second-tier WR here, but as is, I seriously doubt it.
- Green Bay Packers - Andre Smith, OT, Alabama. It's fair to say that seeing Smith drop to this spot would be something of a surprise, but character issues seem to have more and more impact these days. Still, the talent is there to be as good as any offensive lineman in the draft, and Green Bay would definitely like to solidify their offensive line to allow their potent passing game plenty of time to shred opposing defenses. I don't think they'll be scared off by his skipping out of the combine, but you never can tell with the "classic" franchises. If they do pass on Smith, I'd look for Tyson Jackson to be the pick here.
- San Francisco 49ers - Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State. Maybin is a fantastic athlete with a lot of upside, but he's something of a project. Thankfully, the 49ers have plenty of time to wait. Brian Orakpo is a more polished player, but Maybin projects as the better player, and because San Francisco isn't going to be winning this year (sorry Niner fans, both of you), the long-term move is the smarter one.
- Buffalo Bills - Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU. Jackson is a balanced defensive end, capable of stopping both the run and the pass, and he'll fit into most teams' schemes. Jackson is the kind of player who might not register as much over the course of his career with big stats, but people in football will know he's a game-changer, and I expect he'll be selected for multiple Pro Bowls. The Bills also love tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but he's not an elite player like the tight ends who've been taken in the first 15 picks in recent years. The impression I get is the Bills would love to trade down a few picks, get some more picks, and nab Pettigrew. If they can't do that, I believe they'll go with the better value pick and take Jackson.
- Denver Broncos - Brian Orakpo, LB, Texas. I believe that the Broncos are hoping and praying that somehow Mark Sanchez will fall into their laps, but I have to think that if Sanchez slips past #4, someone will take him or trade up to nab him. If that's not the Broncos, I think they address their lack of playmaking ability on the defensive side of the ball and take Orakpo. He's a physical freak, he's intense, and he's a fantastic tackler. I'm not going to call him Ray Lewis, but that's really just because Lewis is an inside linebacker, and Orakpo plays outside. Seriously, he could be extremely good.
- Washington Redskins - Rey Maualuga, LB, USC. I feel like it's been too long since my Redskins went batty for a player and drafted him way earlier than he ought to have been drafted, so why not now? Maualuga could certainly be a productive player, but there are concerns about his maturity that would scare off some teams. But to the owner who signed a 32-year-old Deion Sanders for $56 million over seven years, intangibles are overrated. I'm not wild about it, but should the draft pan out the way I've predicted, this is probably what we'll see at this pick.
- New Orleans Saints - Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State. As much as I'm sure Drew Brees loved throwing the ball 635 times last season, I imagine most people in the Saints' organization would rather they didn't have to throw that often. New Orleans has spent big money and draft picks on improving their secondary without much success, and so it makes sense that they'd be looking there again in this draft. Jenkins may not be fast enough to play corner in the NFL, but he's got all the tools to be a longtime starting safety. If any other team needs a corner, though, they're probably looking at Jenkins, so the Saints may have to settle for Tyson Jackson or Everette Brown and hope that the increased push up front will help stifle opponents' passing games.
- Houston Texans - Clay Matthews, LB, USC. First things first, Clay's uncle Bruce is on the Texans' coaching staff, so you have to think that boosts his chances of landing here. But in addition to that, Matthews is a fiery player and from all accounts, a pretty good teammate. I don't know why, but I get the impression that the Texans have a lot of good teammates already, and in football (the ultimate team sport), a team is most successful when the players are all looking out for each other. Of course, if Jenkins is still on the board, the teammate bull goes out the window and they draft the best DB in the draft.