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Draft King Analysis

January 6, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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You might have noticed that I've been emphasizing the date January 15, which is the final day that college juniors (or redshirt sophomores) can declare for early in the draft. Until that day, anything can happen. We saw that very clearly in the case of Kevin Smith, who held a press conference late last month proclaiming his plans to return for his senior year. But UCF lost to Mississippi State, and Smith had a change of heart.

I don't blame him at all; another year of carrying the heavy carry load at UCF would put more miles on him (to put it in car terms), and there is a limited window in which a running back can earn NFL money. The change of heart surprises me, though I've seen it happen before. That's why I learned pretty early on in the game here to presume that all juniors or redshirt sophomores are coming out and then eliminate those who actually don't.

My impression on seeing Smith play in person is something I intended to spell out in a post Liberty Bowl column, but here is as good of a place to discuss it. Smith has great lateral movement, with some quick, shifty moves. In the open field he is extremely difficult to contain. He has been able to post so many yards in no small part because of his ability to get into open space and take advantage of slower speeds by non-DBs.

On the flipside, Smith seemed tentative against Mississippi State in running the ball between the tackles, finding little success in either identifying or hitting the holes that were there. He danced a little too much instead of hitting the hole. With Mississippi State, the defense was clearly on the higher end of those UCF faced, both in size but more importantly with speed, and Smith wasn't able to break too many long runs.

To be fair, Smith had 100+ yards on the ground in the Liberty Bowl, and he is clearly a skilled athlete. His presence in the draft might convince someone else to not come out, but it also makes it quite possible that a glut of junior RBs will flood the market, which in turn could drive Smith from a second round pick to a third round pick, a big difference in money. Smith joins Texas RB Jamaal Charles in early entry; sources report that Rashard Mendenhall will apply this week for early entry. Darren McFadden looks to be a lock to come back. I wonder what Steve Slaton, Ray Rice, and Felix Jones will decide to do?

Najeh Davenport
Najeh Davenport filled in for the injured Willie Parker. (Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI)
Saturday night's Jaguars/Steelers game was quite possibly the most dramatic Jags game I've ever seen. Jacksonville was up 18 in the 4th quarter, blew the lead, and then rallied to win it at the very end. I know that in my most recent mock draft I put Jacksonville taking a defensive back, but after Saturday's showing (with three picks of Ben Roethlisberger in the first half), I think the odds are pretty good that such a move won't happen.

The Jags are heading to New England this upcoming Saturday night in what should be a very good game. After watching the Tennessee/San Diego game today, I shudder to think what the Patriots would have done to the injury-plagued Titans. And, if New England beats Jacksonville and then either Indy or San Diego, there can be no arguing that they went through the heart of the conference to make it to the Super Bowl.

Relative to the draft, there were some things that jumped out at me this weekend:

-I know they didn't get in the playoffs, but the Browns have a huge decision on what to do with Derek Anderson. He's a restricted free agent, and I had no less than four different conversations with friends trying to explain how it works, the "poison pill" battle with the Seahawks and Vikings in 2006, how the poison pill could works, and why the Browns could easily lose Anderson if they don't sign him to a long-term deal right away. Unfortunately I'm not a very patient person (my teaching skills are not a strength), so my explanations weren't ideal. But if you're a Browns fan, or the fan of a team that might try to sign Anderson, I strongly urge you to read up on it. Here's a good place to start. This could end up being the second-biggest story of free agency 2008, behind only how much Asante Samuel gets (and from what team.)

-The Titans have some tough decisions coming up with Andre Haynesworth, Antwan Odom, and Travis LaBoy all going to be unrestricted free agents. Haynesworth won't be allowed to walk (thanks to the franchise tag), but Odom and LaBoy should be able to command some attention on the open market. There are more Titans fans out there than you might think who are oblivious to this.

Chris Chambers
Chris Chambers is a former second round pick. (Icon SMI)
-San Diego traded a 2008 second round pick to Miami to acquire Chris Chambers, and that was quite possibly the biggest mid-season trade made in the last few years. Before Chambers, the Chargers had injuries at WR and were slumping. But the addition of Chambers, a legit #1 receiver, to a lineup with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, played a huge role in helping the Chargers make a strong stretch run. Chargers GM A.J. Smith caught all kinds of flack over the firing of Marty Schottenheimer, but moves like bringing in Chambers helped Smith earn the five-year, $11 million extension to his contract that he received last year.

-The Seahawks must decide what to do for their long-term future at RB. My thought with Seattle is that it could go offense in the first two rounds, landing a receiver in round one and then picking up one of the RBs who slides a bit into round two. Even if Shaun Alexander comes back with a roaring 2008 season, he is on the wrong side of 30, and having depth at RB is quite important for the team.

-By the way, my Seattle connections tell me that word from up there is that the Seahawks defense is vastly underrated -- though not to me or anyone else who saw their lineups listed on NBC and so many of them with the gold "Pro Bowl" slate on their name. The success of DE Patrick Kerney (acquired via free agency from Atlanta in the past off-season) has been vastly underplayed, in my opinion. One friend of mine told me that they (the Seahawks fan base) are looking for Matt Hasselbeck to go "full circle" from the overtime coin flip fiasco. Maybe a 180 degree switch would be in order, unless this is like something out of Groundhog Day where Hasselbeck has to keep doing that in overtime playoff games in Green Bay until it comes true.

-The Steelers will be making some majors changes on their offensive line. That was public knowledge going into the game (with Max Starks and Alan Faneca all but gone to free agency), but the need there was especially clear after last night's game.


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