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Draft King Analysis

January 23, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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As I prepare to rework the 2008 NFL Mock Draft on here, there have been a number of thoughts and contemplations I've had that I'd like to share with you.

Out of the box, this draft looks significantly more difficult to project than it has been in previous years. Even last year with Oakland and its typical information lockdown, it became common speculation (which proved true) that the Raiders would draft LSU QB JaMarcus Russell. Russell, with his cannon arm and large frame, proved too irresistible for Raiders owner Al Davis, despite the fact that Oakland was either unable or disinterested in signing him prior to the draft, something which ultimately lead to Russell missing all of the 2007 Raiders training camp and making him all but irrelevant this past season.

This time around, it's Bill Parcells inheriting a new situation in Miami. He's the team president, but with a hand-picked staff of relatively inexperienced people relative to their position, it seems to me to be a situation where Parcells wants total control. Not to blame Parcells for that -- the guy certainly knows what it takes to build a winner -- but that is a fact that must be given strong consideration relative to the draft.

So what will Miami do at #1? If they change to a 3-4 defense in 2008, something that Parcells (and his proteges like Romeo Crennel and Bill Belichick, and even Belichick's proteges like Eric Mangini) strongly prefer, it would not necessarily be the best fit for LSU DT Glenn Dorsey. In a 4-3, Dorsey could be a menace, but there are doubts about his ability to play nose tackle, particularly receiving #1 overall pick money. There will also be concerns about Dorsey's 2007 injuries (back, knee) that must be calmed via the combine and private workouts, not only for Miami but potentially for any team that could be in a reasonable position to draft him.

The Dolphins have a pair of second round picks, though the one they acquired from San Diego in the Chris Chambers trade is rather low in the draft. It's possible that the team could target a DT in the second round if they are unable to acquire someone for the role in free agency, and a player like Texas A&M DT Red Bryant could fit the NT role well. Miami trading down from #33 (the de facto #32 pick) to the middle of the second round and taking Bryant would not be surprising.

Miami has a great defensive end in Jason Taylor, who is aging but still one of the best in the game. The team could opt to bookend him with Virginia DE Chris Long, which would create a vicious combo. With Miami's defensive needs, particularly with personnel to stop against the run, it would really surprise me for Miami to go with anyone else in that spot. After many weeks of having Dorsey locked in for the top spot, I've begun to lean toward thinking that the Dolphins might instead go for C. Long at #1. If my next update reflects that, don't be surprised.

Arkansas RB Darren McFadden has been called "the best player in the draft" by many, and he was electrifying when I saw him in person in Little Rock against Mississippi State last year, (a team that contained Kevin Smith in the Liberty Bowl. But with Ronnie Brown on the roster, McFadden would be a luxury, and the Dolphins are not a team that can afford to indulge in luxuries right now.

Free agency can (and will) knock over the carefully constructed mock drafts that are out there, but that's an annual tradition. It's worth looking at some of the impact players who will be out there by position:

As is the norm in the NFL, there aren't any top shelf QBs preparing to enter free agency. Rex Grossman and Billy Volek (with his game-winning drive against Indy) and Daunte Culpepper are all going to be in the mix, but I would anticipate that all three will land backup jobs. Cleo Lemon may be a sleeper candidate out there, though playing for the 1-15 Dolphins didn't help him much in 2007.

The big fish is restricted free agent QB Derek Anderson of the Browns. If there are any takers out there for Anderson (and it could end up that there aren't considering that it would require not only a big contract but also giving up a first and a third round pick), a poison pill could help pry him out of Cleveland. The Browns could always hit him with the franchise tag, though that would cost considerably more than the maximum restricted free agent tender. Besides Anderson, I don't anticipate any pending free agent QBs will receive the franchise tag.

Michael Turner
Michael Turner is expected to receive plenty of attention on the open market. (Icon SMI)

Running Back
Michael Turner is the big star out of the mix; with LaDainian Tomlinson on its roster, the odds of San Diego franchising Turner is slim to none. Will he be the next Priest Holmes or the next LaMont Jordan? He had a tryout on a major stage in the playoffs and performed well, including facing a brutally tough rushing defense in New England. I anticipate that a team needing a starting RB will land him, though the loaded draft may keep him from making as much money as he would if this was a weak RB class.

Jamal Lewis bounced back from a disappointing end run in Baltimore to have a great season in Cleveland. The Browns may try to keep him, but Lewis could end up playing elsewhere next year. Was his 2007 performance his last hurrah, or can he keep it up elsewhere? He never was the same player for the Ravens after spending four months in federal prison in 2005.

There are some second-tier guys who will be available on the free agent market, including Julius Jones (Cowboys), Chris Brown (Titans), Justin Fargas (Raiders), and Ron Dayne (Texans). I wouldn't look for any to earn a starting spot, though some could end up in a split-time situation, particularly with that proving to be both a popular and successful approach in the past two years. Consider the Super Bowl teams of the past two years:

2006 season- Indianapolis (Joseph Addai/Dominic Rhodes), Chicago (Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson)
2007 season- New England (Laurence Maroney/Kevin Faulk), NY Giants (Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw)

The Patriots isn't necessarily a traditional two back attack, since Faulk is much more prolific as a receiver out of the backfield, but the bottom line is that having multiple RBs is proving to be a good thing. Ask San Diego about the difference that having Michael Turner made for them in the playoffs when the usually durable LaDainian Tomlinson finally became banged up.

One long-shot is Marion Barber, III (Dallas), but he established himself as a solid RB in the Dallas system. Also, he's a restricted free agent, and I doubt that any team would give up a first and third if Dallas gives him the highest tender possible.

Wide Receiver
The biggest story that has been ignored this year (particularly in the stretch run) is the impending free agency of Randy Moss. Would New England franchise him? Is he going to parlay the great season into a bidding war on the open market? He had a career year with the Patriots, and I know some people who swear up and down that Moss will return to New England because he wants to do so. The only person who knows that is Moss, and we'll see how it plays out.

The rest of the field isn't anything eye-popping. Bernard Berrian (Bears) and Justin Gage (Titans) may end up elsewhere, and former first round pick Bryant Johnson (Cardinals) may be able to flourish elsewhere in a system where he's not fighting two great WRs in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin for playing time. But I can't see any of the rest of the field having a major draft-changing impact.

Tight End
Dallas Clark is the biggest of the bunch at tight end, but I strongly suspect that the Colts will keep him, using the franchise tag if necessary. The rest of the field is a mixed bunch: L.J Smith (Eagles) could draw some interest, though I'd think the Eagles would work hard to keep him if they can, particularly with this being an average-at-best year for tight ends. Ben Troupe never turned into the TE for the Titans that Tennessee fans expected, but perhaps he'll find success elsewhere.

Alan Faneca
The Steelers will have to replace Alan Faneca. (Icon SMI)

Offensive Tackle
Former top ten overall pick Jordan Gross (Panthers) didn't reach the level expected in Caorlina, but he is still a player who should be able to find an opportunity or two elsewhere. Flozell Adams (Cowboys) has played his entire career in Dallas, and only missed action in one year, 2005. He's 32, so he won't be a long-term type pickup, but perhaps a team needing help in the shorter term at tackle will bring him on board. George Foster (Lions) would be joining his third team in as many years if he leaves the Lions. I'd be surprised to see any players in this group be franchised.

Offensive Guard
Pittsburgh's Alan Faneca received a very cold shoulder from the team relative to signing a new deal, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he joined former Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona in 2008. Ryan Lilja (Colts) has four years under his belt, and he started every game for Indy in 2005 and 2007. Jacob Bell (Titans) may end up elsewhere if Tennessee can't bring him back. There is more talent available at this spot than at many other positions.

Casey Wiegmann (Chiefs) is an interesting player entering free agency. He has started every game for Kansas City since 2002, though the downside for him is that he'll turn 35 before the season starts. He played great in 2007, and he clearly still "has it", but the clock is ticking on him. Jeremy Newberry (Raiders) played in 14 games, but he hasn't played a full 16 since 2003. Plus, he turns 32 in March. Overall, free agency isn't going to necessarily going to be a source for much in the way of long-term talent at center.

Tomorrow: a look at the defensive free agents who could impact the draft.


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