'Chronicle' Mock NFL Draft
By Timothy Braun,
1:50PM, Fri. Apr. 25, 2008
I keep Patrick Rosal’s collection of frenzied-cool poetry Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive on the water tank of my toilet, along with A Brief History of Time, an episode of The Paris Review, a few well-worn issues of Austin Monthly, Stuff Magazine, and some decomposing installments of The Sporting News. When scrutinizing the 2008 draft, often between morning bran flakes and lunchtime burrito, it was Rosal’s method, his passion and candor that became insightful for this spring’s college selection process. As opposed to the dead and retired poets of the past, Rosal’s work is honest, dealing with the grandeur and futility of relationships, and it is what I like calling “now.” I’ve been writing on football, the draft specifically, for 14 years, usually predicting the first round with skill and the accuracy of Robin Hood. This isn’t arrogance, just fact, often to sad degrees (I predicted Ryan Leaf’s story before it happened). But this year I feel like a sparrow headed toward a glass window. I have no educated guess as to who the first pick will be, let alone where all the other “now” athletes will land. I’ve looked at game film, talked to players, wrote to journalists, and even enlisted my college students in an attempt to unravel this year’s simulated draft prediction.
Mock drafts are an exercise in complete futility, but like poems and relationships, mock drafts are a blast to have. I’m honest with you here, but I take little responsibility for this year’s predictions, and make no claims of reason. These are gut reactions with an emphasis on the psychology and character of each franchise. One kid might go with the second pick, or fall ten slots to eleven. I’m expecting a slam of a draft, and won’t be surprised if I get each of these picks wrong. Let’s dive in.
1) Miami Dolphins: Now under the guidance of Bill Parcells, these “Tuna” fish are said to be talking with four different cats for this top slot and will snag the man who signs on the dotted line first. Most are gossiping on offensive tackle Jake Long, the natural right tackle from Michigan to be the choice. My cash was on Chris Long (no relation to Jake), the resourceful and charismatic defensive end from Virginia. Son of Hall of Famer, Chevy spokesman, and star of the 1986 comedy Gringo Mojado, Howie Long, the little Long was coached by Parcells’ amigo, Al Groh, with 65 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 37 starts. But, what made this pick for me is Long’s agent, the veteran Martin Demoff, a no-nonsense dude who likes his Tuna. But, as of Tuesday, Jake Long was signed by the Fins to a five-year $57.75 million deal, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL before he takes his first snap.
2) St. Louis Rams: I promise I’m the only man on earth who thinks this is too high for Vernon Gholston, the speed-demon defensive end from Ohio State. Gholston is a rare athlete with 30.5 tackles for a loss and 22.5 sacks in the last two years. However, Gholston reminds me of former Boston College and Philadelphia Eagle Mike Mamula, a great athlete who played in the NFL for only six forgettable seasons. I would like to explain my reasoning for the Rams to take a defensive end; it isn’t that difficult to find quality players at almost every position later in the draft, free agency, and even Canada. But, when a team gets the opportunity to snatch a pass rusher of grand potential, they will. After Jake Long signed the deal with the Dolphins, I called St. Louis to hear how they responded. Now that Chris Long is free, I see him being the pick over Gholston.
3) Atlanta Falcons: Each night before I sleep, I imagine and pretend I’ve been hired to rebuild a failing franchise. This year, my sleepy-time-fun-team is Atlanta, they have no place to go but up, and, catch this, six picks in the top 100 selections. The new boss is Tom Dimitroff, who intends to build his gang of black birds with college kids. I’ve heard rumors that Glenn Dorsey, the Warren Sapp-like defensive tackle from LSU is wanted, and should be the pick if he falls past the Fins and Rams. I love Dorsey. He is what I call “now." In the second round, Atlanta will grab OT Sam Baker to protect the blindside of a quarterback they will also take in the second round (maybe Josh Johnson of San Diego, or Michigan’s Chad Henne) and finish their second round bounty with a shutdown corner to replace the traded DeAngelo Hall.
4) Oakland Raiders: Since moving from New York to Austin two years ago, I’ve been thinking of putting together a Shakespeare in the park summer festival, with each play representing an NFL franchise. Imagine King Lear done in silver and black, with the royal Al Davis as the title character. As I gaze upon this sad squad, I think Al Davis is more concerned with looking smart than actually being smart. The pick is troubled ‘Hogs running back Darren McFadden. The man known as “Run DMC” might be fast, but won’t last long in the NFL, and has a laundry list of off-field issues (that being nightclub misunderstandings) the likes to make Mike Tyson proud.
5) Kansas City Chiefs: If the first four picks truly go the way I claim, then the logical choice is offensive tackle at this slot. Yet the Chiefs have expressed interest in Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, who is an odd prospect. Ryan is a vocal-take command leader, with a poor arm. I think the Matt Ryan man-crush of the Chiefs is a headspin; a smoke screen at its finest to produce a trade with Baltimore. This could go in many directions, but I think the Chiefs stay in this spot and grab … oh … did I mention K.C. just traded defensive star Jared Allen? They now need a defensive end to offset his loss. Vernon Gholston is the pick here.
6) New York Jets: They covet five players, but pick here and really can’t trade up after blowing buckets of salary cap space on free agents. Going off my guts, going off that feeling one gets when a storm is about to hit, or when walking into a dive bar and just getting that feeling the three-toothed-Crown-Royal-drinkin’-cowboy-by-the-foosball-table is just lookin’ to start something nasty, I think Gang Green takes a player to make the New England boys annoyed. The Patriots want a fresh front-seven face for an aged 3-4 defense and are eyeing USC linebacker Keith Rivers. The Jets add another drop to the river of bad blood between the franchises with this selection, creating a formidable run-stuffing wall for the defense. Oh, and I think if Rivers goes here, to this team, to this market, to this scheme, he will be rookie of the year. But what do I know. I only predicted the Super Bowl correctly this February.
7) *Cincinnati Bengals (from New England, who got this pick from San Francisco): Writing of the Super Bowl, New England is in trouble. This is an old team, which lost several free agents, and they seem to have targets on their collective backs after all this cheating jazz. I think they trade out of this slot with the Bengals, but more on that in a moment. For the folks who paid attention to the free agency movement across the league this spring, you will take note that many defensive tackles were swapped. NFL general managers know something, and that something is the lack of talent at that position in this draft. Basically, there are two solid d-tackles (Dorsey, and Sedric Ellis of USC) before we see a massive drop-off in talent. The Bengals need a DT and move up to grab Ellis here before anyone else beats ‘em to the punch.
8) Baltimore Ravens: The only team to lose a game to Miami last year is looking for a fresh start and nothing says fresh start like a cute, young quarterback. Matt Ryan is the pick, if he is still available.
9) Evil (aka New England Patriots, via a predicated trade with Cincinnati): It’s important to remember this franchise is evil, not stupid. You know, like Richardo Montalban in that Start Trek movie when Spock dies. The Pats are old, and retained almost no prospects from 2007, and they know the league will be gunning for them this fall with the allegations of cheating, and being rather filthy people altogether. Evil knows one solid thing about this draft: it’s shallow at the offensive guard, safety, and tight end positions. Guard Branden Albert of Virginia is a nice fit here. He’s smart and known for his versatility. When I write the league will be gunning for them, I mean the Giants provided a blueprint on how to smoke these dudes last February when they blitzed up the middle to get to Tom Brady. Evil can take a linebacker or corner in rounds two and three, but this is the best place to grab some protection for last year's MVP. * Note: I’m currently writing a play in which an airplane loaded with Patriots “19-0” T-shirts is destroyed over the Pacific Ocean and crashes on a weird island with a smoke monster and a bunch of out-of-work character actors. I’m calling the play Justice.
10) New Orleans Saints: By the time this pick is made, the Big Easy should be home to a freshly traded Jeremy Shockey (the Saints know this draft is weak on TE’s too), but at the 10 slot New Orleans takes my favorite player in this draft, Leodis McKelvin, a lightning-fast cornerback from Troy. What makes this kid so sweet is his abilities as a return man. Imagine the Saints splendid offense consistently taking a short field. Put this young man’s name into YouTube, watch his returns, and enjoy. You can actually see McKelvin hit that extra most don’t have.
11) Buffalo Bills: The Bills draft in the oddest fashion. They draft via a committee, as opposed to coaches or a general manager pulling the trigger. The committee wants a wide receiver to take pressure off Lee Evans. I hear the committee was hot for Oklahoma’s Malcolm Kelley, but Michigan State’s Devin Thomas has taken the lead and will be the pick. Now, if you are reading this essay while watching the draft, I bet this is the only pick I have gotten correct. If so, it should be approximately 4pm Texas time, which means I’m having some Tito’s.
12) Denver Broncos: I just can’t figure what on earth has happened to this once fine franchise. Head coach Mike Shanahan has become the well-tanned poster boy of mediocrity. Sad times for a club loved across the mountain states. Shanahan needs to give quarterback Jay Cutler the opportunity to throw down field, even if the wide outs are slipping on McDonald’s wrappers. If this team expects to be back in the postseason, offensive tackle Ryan Clady from Boise State can help them get there.
13) Carolina Panthers: In the John Fox era this team has been brilliant one year, and terrible the next, which is good news for this fall, as last season was a catastrophe. Rashard Mendenhall, the running back from Illinois would be a nice fit here. Fox needs to win in 2008 and Mendenhall has impressed on tape, and the reviews USC defensive players gave him after the Rose Bowl are glowing. Mendenhall can run inside and outside, and I’ve noticed he finishes plays with aggression.
14) Chicago Bears: I have a grand idea. Once the U.S. Congress is done investigating baseball, the Patriots, and the BCS system (because we have no other issues in this country), they should look at the quarterback problems of the Bears. Offensive tackle Jeff Otah from Pitt will be the pick here, but whom he will be protecting in the fall is a mystery. Watch out for the Bears to pounce on Wheaton College’s Andy Studebaker in a late round, a DE/LB who can charge up the field and scare a quarterback’s mother.
15) Detroit Lions: Going into my final week of teaching ‘til the fall, I’m having my students look at Rosal’s poetry, and listening to Saul William’s “List of Demands” currently featured in the new Nike add. My students will construct a list of demands for President Bush as he skips out of the White House. Now, if Lions head coach Rod Marinelli had a list of demands, I promise you number one would a D-line dude for an average defense. The Motor City drafts Derrick Harvey of Florida with this pick. Harvey had 20.5 sacks in only 31 starts and the Lions must get to the quarterback in 2008 if they want to get to the playoffs. * Just a personal note, in an effort to stay as linked to my students as I possibly can, could someone please tell me who this Kim Kardashian is and why she is on the news every night? I understand she is dating Reggie Bush, and her father was buddies with former Bills and 49ers halfback O.J. Simpson, but is that any reason to be in the news? This is on my list of demands right next to world peace and a personal pony.
16) Arizona Cardinals: This is the most interesting team in the NFL, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good manner. This team has shown flashes of the brilliant, then flashes of the average. Personally, I think the desert ducks could grab the best player around at this spot and still do well. I understand the team wants to focus on the defensive side of the ball in the selection process, and I like cornerback Mike Jenkins from UCF. Jenkins has amazing feet and agility and would be a Top 10 pick if he went to a Big Ten school.
17) Kansas City from le Minnesota Vikings via a sexy Jared Allen trade. This situation makes me sad, as the Vikings scrambled for defensive line help because Kenechi Udeze has leukemia. I have it on good authority the Vikings enjoy watching film of Clemson’s Phillip Merling, terrorizing quarterbacks and abusing offensive tackles to the point of where he’s flown to Winter Park, met the whole staff, and the Vikes are now attempting to trade back into the first round to bookend Jared Allen with him. But this pick belongs to K.C. right now, and they snag Aqib Talib, a strong cover corner from Kansas. * Note: Udeze has found a bone marrow donor and is on the mend.
18) Houston Texans. Quietly, I’ve been tiptoeing around this team, trying to hear whispers of what they might do. The Texans have no second round pick (via last years Matt Schaub trade) and would love to swap out of this slot and obtain more midround picks. The Texans want an offensive tackle, a cornerback, and more front-seven help for the defense. If the Texans stay in this position they'll go safe and snag OT Chris Williams from Vanderbilt. Williams is big, strong, and could be Schaub’s bodyguard for the next decade. One name that might surprise here is wide-out Donnie Avery, the burner from U of Houston, who the team has fallen in love with.
19) Philadelphia Eagles: With 11 picks in the draft and Pro Bowl corner Lito Sheppard on the trading block, the Birds of Brotherly Love are looking to move up, maybe make a splash, but for who is my question. Don’t be surprised if a Chad Johnson trade is met here. Regardless, I like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the electric corner from Tennessee State to go here. This young man has unseen athletic ability, yet has poor technique. What worries football folk about this cat is that he has only one kidney, and, I’m not joking, no one knows how he lost the other. I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.
20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide receiver James Hardy, from Indiana, is the pick here. Maybe the best receiver in this draft, he drops because character issues. By the way, Hardy was a lights-out basketball player in high school, planned on playing b-ball for the Hoosiers (he was that good) but found his place on the gridiron. Former hard-court players, like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, often become potent red zone foil.
21) Washington Redskins: In 1976, Seattle and Tampa where inducted into the league and played a game nicknamed “The Expansion Bowl.” The two starting quarterbacks for said bowl where Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier, two of the last three head coaches for this once proud but now clearly schizophrenic team. With the Zorn lead incarnation, the ‘Skins will sit heavily on the college scouting staff. With the new personnel having ties to the Miami Hurricanes, I think this pick will be Calais Campbell, a massive 6-foot-8 defensive end who can play both the run and the pass with equal effect. * Note: I’ve heard the Lions are looking to dump former UT darling Roy Williams, and the ‘Skins are bound to make a strong offer the big receiver.
22) Dallas Cowboys (from the unbelievable Cleveland Brown trade of last spring): Let’s start with Cleveland, who’ve shipped away all of there first-day picks. It’s believed Cleveland will attempt to package current and future picks to move back into day one choosing, but for now have to deal with the fact they dropped this section for Brady Quinn last year, who looks great in vitamin commercials, but has yet to take meaningful action with his actual football team. Now, by this selection Dallas should own the rights to Pacman Jones, which rules out the drafting of a cover corner. Thus, I like Arkansas running back Felix Jones at this slot to create a two-headed rushing attack with Marion Barber.
23) Pittsburgh Steelers. Only Indianapolis relies on the draft as much to stock the lineup, and if Evil knows the weakness of this draft, you better believe the Steelers do as well. The Steelers need an offensive guard and a safety, and want a large receiving target for the red zone. But, I’ve got a big fat hunch on this one, knowing the Steelers covet 3-4 rush ends I think they select Quentin Groves of Auburn. Groves has Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart condition that has dropped his stock for all but three teams and I believe the Steelers are confident this condition will not be a concern. Groves gets after the quarterback and would give the Steelers a vicious front seven for an already strong defense. In the second round, Pittsburgh can still get offensive guard John Greco from Toledo, and defensive back Leslie Majors of Indiana in the third or fourth round. Watch out for the Steelers to take Coastal Carolina wide receiver Jerome Simpson on day two.
24) Tennessee Titans: Jerod Mayo, linebacker, University of Tennessee. Hear me out, Vince Young fans who want a wide receiver, the Titans stay at home and pick up a hyper-active slam dancer of a linebacker to fortify a staunch defense who will get the ball back into Vince Young’s hands on a consistent basis. Then in round two the Titans can seize a receiving threat.
25) Seattle Seahawks: The ‘Hawks go with defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer of North Carolina, because he not only represents a need position for a crumbling franchise, he also represents the only player the ‘Hawks have been talking about.
26) Jacksonville Jaguars: The more this team looks like the 1992 New Orleans Saints (tough head coach, mean defense, power running game, good for 11 or 12 wins) the more they look like the 1993 New Orleans Saints (desperately looking for a difference maker to take them to the next level of competition). The one thing I have noticed about this defense is solid play, but no one to scare the opposition … and I don’t mean “boo”. Jacksonville needs a hit man and the wicked Lawrence Jackson of USC could just be the intimidator north Florida has been craving.
27) San Diego Chargers: Get ready. Something dramatic will happen with this pick. Possibly a trade with Baltimore to select the second QB of the draft, and the Chargers to gain more selections. At this point in the draft, the Chargers know they can only obtain depth and role-players for an already talent-smothered team. I think the arrogance of general manager A.J. Smith starts to growl, as he attempts to prove for the most countless of times he doesn’t live in the shadow of his mentor, John Butler, and makes a splashy trade for Miami Dolphin and Dancing With the Stars celebrity Jason Taylor. If not, and I recognize the recklessness of this prediction; expect a cover corner or an offensive lineman to be the safe pick.
28) Dallas Cowboys: Malcolm Kelly, wide receiver, Oklahoma. Kelly may drop to the second round, but he’s big, blocks like a grizzly bear, and will pair well with Felix Jones for years to come.
29) San Francisco (via a wise trade with Indianapolis): The 49ers openly want to move out of this slot and obtain more picks (watch out for Cleveland to come calling here), but I think they might be stuck. Cool Joe’s old team needs much to move forward, and I like offensive tackle Gosder Cherillus here, with Penn State linebacker Dan Conner being a pick in the second round.
30) Green Bay Packers: This young, deep team really doesn’t need all that much. I like Brandon Flowers, the aggressive corner from Virginia Tech at this spot, who can grow behind Al Harris for a year. And, yes, the cheese machine will get a quarterback in a later round in case Aaron Rogers doesn’t work. Perhaps Josh Johnson of San Diego.
31) I just want to remind you, Evil had a pick here, but the league dumped it because the Pats cheated. I just love writing that. Thus, the New York Giants select here. Patrick Rosal’s very own Giants won the Super Bowl and have few needs. In fact, when looking back on the Big Blue Wrecking Crew’s postseason, I see it less as an introduction of things to come, and more a thesis statement on what the next five years will look like for the NFL. The Giants have few concerns, but do need a safety. I like the rangy Tyrell Johnson of Arkansas State. I’ve also heard the Giants are big on Appalachian State’s Corey Lynch in a later round. Remember the cat that blocked the kick against Michigan to seal the upset? Yup, it was Lynch.
Now for the Colts. Indianapolis may not have a first-round selection (they traded it to the 49ers for LT Tony Ugoh) but have nine picks in this draft, including four in the sixth round. The Colts have quietly brought wide receivers to Indy for interviews for the past two weeks. With mammoth money tied-up in Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and now tight end Dallas Clark, don’t be surprised if the Colts trade next year's first-round pick for a guy they like in this year's second round to save cash. Here is a name for you, Early Douchet, the often-injured wide receiver from LSU has drawn comparisons to Wayne, and has visited with the Colts. Don’t be shocked if the Colts make a few moves (they have made draft-day trades in each of the last five drafts) to get Douchet, then a backup running back, and pass rusher to spell Freeney and keep him fresh. The Colts are said to be high on Allen Ervin, a running back from Lambuth, and Curtis Johnson, a defensive end/outside linebacker-type from Clark Atlanta University. Those two are what I call small-school prospects. But they are also what I call “now”.
The draft starts at 2pm, Texas time, on ESPN, this Saturday April 26.