I would like to discuss the philosophy behind how teams draft. Specifically, should teams draft for need or do you take the best player available regardless of need? I think my Detroit Lions serve as the perfect example to answer this question. In the Matt Millen era, their record clearly shows that in the first round the Lions look the best player on their board regardless of his position or their needs (think WR's like Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams, and finally Calvin Johnson) while in the later rounds they fell in love with players at positions of need and reached or even traded up to take those players much earlier than they were projected to go. The correct answer to the question at hand is that in the early rounds teams need to take the best player available AT A POSITION OF NEED, while in the later rounds you simply have to take the best player available regardless of the position. The Lions approached the draft completely back-asswards, and as a result had some of the worst draft results in NFL history over the past 9 years.
With that being said, and after trying to sort through all of the legitimate inforamation, rumors and smokescreens, here is my final mock draft for 2009.
1. Detroit Lions - Matt Stafford - QB, Georgia; In spite of all the questions surrounding Matt Stafford, the Lions decide to mortgage their next five years on their assumption that he can be a franchise NFL QB in spite of a college career that never quite lived up to expectation.
2. St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith - T, Baylor; Alex Barron has been a disappointment thus far, so it is way too much of a reach to assume that he can transition to LT in the wake of Orlando Pace's departure. The Rams absolutely need a franchise LT, and Jason Smith has a little more upside than Eugene Monroe.
3. Kansas City Chiefs - Aaron Curry - LB, Wake Forrest; The Chiefs would like to trade down, but instead go with Curry as a dominant linebacker to anchor their new defensive scheme. I truly believe that the Tyson Jackson rumors are just a smokescreen to guage Denver's interest in him since they have two fist round picks to move up, as Kansas City needs a rush end over a run stuff end like Jackson. While Curry was not asked to rush the passer in college, he seems to have the skill-set to be able to do so in the pros if called upon.
4. Seattle Seahawks - Eugene Monroe - T, Virginia.; The QB rumors are just a smokescreen. Matt Hasselbeck appears healthy, and the team desperately needs help on the offensive line.
5. Cleveland Browns - Brian Orakpo - DE, Texas; The Browns desperately need to get to the quarterback. While they are rumoured to be interested in B.J. Raji, there is simply no way that they would start or pay a three DT's in Shawn Rogers, Corey Williams and B.J. Raji in a 3-4 scheme. Their interior DL is already set, and the Browns desperately need an outside pass rusher like Orakpo.
6. Cincinnati Bengals - Andre Smith- OT, Alabama; The Tank Johnson signing lets the Bengals concentrate on their offensive line problems. While Smith's meltdown at the Combine causes him to slide from the first to the third tackle selected in the draft, the Bengals can't pass up a windfall at their position of biggest need.
7. Oakland Raiders - Michael Crabtree, WR - Texas Tech; The Raiders need to give Jamarcus Russell a receiving threat, and Crabtree is as good as there is in this year's draft.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jeremy Maclin, WR - Missiouri; Even with Torry Holt signing in Jacksonville, a rookie receiver to play opposite and learn from him still makes sense. I think the Jags will trade down here with a suitor for Mark Sanchez, and still be able to acquire Maclin.
9. Green Bay Packers - B.J. Raji, DT - Boston College.; The Packers turn to the prototypical NT to anchor their new 3-4 defense and go for the 'tweener DE/LB's in later rounds.
10. San Francisco 49'ers - Aaron Maybin, DE/LB - Penn St; I think that the 49'ers wind up the big losers at the #10 spot. Neither Maclin nor Crabtree end up falling to them at WR, and Sanchez shoots so far up the board that San Francisco is forced to pick a hybrid DE in Maybin.
11. Buffalo Bills - Michael Oher, T - Ole Miss; After trading Jason Peters to Philly, Buffalo has an immediate need at LT. While they could use a DE or a TE like Brandon Pettigrew, there is no guarantee that a true LT will fall to their second first round pick at # 28. Accordingly, they have no choice but to go with Michael Oher, as Langston Walker simply does not project to the left side.
12. Denver Broncos - Tyson Jackson, DE - LSU; Rumor is that Jackson could now go before Denver picks at #12, which simply makes no sense since he is a run stopping end as opposed to a pass rusher. I simply can't see an end who will be off the field on third downs going in the top ten. If a team tries to bluff Denver into trading up for Jackson, I think they pass. On the other hand, with San Diego apparently having an interest in Jackson at #16, the Broncos take Jackson, a prototypical 3-4 DE, if he falls to #12 and see what other defensive needs are available at #18.
13. Washington "Pigskins" - Robert Ayers DE - Tennessee; After releasing Jason Taylor, the "Pigskins" still need a pass rush specialist.
14. New Orleans Saints - Michael Jenkins, CB/S - Ohio State; While the Saints have used free agency to plug their biggest holes at LB and CB, Jenkins' versatility in being able to play CB or S makes him too valuable to pass up.
15. Houston Texans - Brian Cushing, OLB - USC; In spite of the Texans signing some stop gap free agent linebackers, they go with a long term solution in Brian Cushing since New Orleans takes Jenkins one spot ahead of them.
16. San Diego Chargers - Rey Maualuga, MLB - USC; If Maualuga falls this far, the thought of him teaming with a healthy Sean Merriman is downright frightening.
17. New York Jets - Mark Sanchez, QB - USC; I think the Jets trade into the top ten to pick Sanchez. The team is too good and too playoff ready to rely upon Kellen Clemens as their sole option at quarterback. The more I think about the Chiefs' interest in Tyson Jackson, the more I wonder if that interest isn't at the 17th spot (following a trade with the Jets), one pick before Denver picks at #18, who are known to have an interest in Jackson as well.
18. Denver Broncos (from Chicago Bears) - Everett Brown, DE/LB - Florida State; The Broncos go with the best 3-4 pass rush DE/LB coming into the draft. The Broncos hope that he fares better than his Florida State counter parts over the past decade.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Josh Freeman, QB - Kansas State; In spite of the Byron Leftwich signing, the Bucs still need a long term answer at QB. Leftwich merely gives the team a veteran mentor/insurance policy in case Freeman happens to be gone by the time they pick.
20. Detroit Lions (from Dallas Cowboys) - Peria Jerry, DT - Ole Miss; The Lions need a run stuff defensive tackle to play opposite, and eventually take over for Grady Jackson.
21. Philadelphia Eagles - Knowshon Moreno, RB - Georgia; The Eagles solidified their offensive line by trading for Jason Peters. Assuming that they don't use their second #1 pick to trade for a WR, Knowshon Moreno seems like the choice to take over some of Brian Westbrook's between the takcles workload.
22. Minnesota Vikings - Percy Harvin, WR - Florida; Harvin's off the field issues may not be a good fit with Minnesota, but his overall talent and ability to make plays does. When it comes to talent alone, Harvin is viewed as a clear top 25 player.
23. New England Patriots - Clay Mathews, OLB - USC; New England filled their secondary holes with Lee Bodden & Shawn Springs. The Pats always need LB's in their 3-4 defense, and that is especially true this year since they are aging at that position. Clay Mathews should be able to step in and contribute right away.
24. Atlanta Falcons - Ziggy Hood, DT - Missouri; With Atlanta trading for Tony Gonzalez, they can let Pettigrew slide and concentrate on defense. I hear that Vontae Davis is not a consideration at CB because of character, and with the 3 USC LB's that they covet already off the board, they take a DT to help with their run defense.
25. Miami Dolphins - Kenny Britt, WR - Rutgers; I really have a hard time seeing Bill Parcels draft an unproven WR in the first round, but so many people are saying this I have bought in.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Darrius Heyward - Bey: WR - Maryland; While they are purported to have an interest in Pettigrew, I can't see the Ravens going in that direction with L.J. Smith, Heap, and Wilcox already on the roster. Derrick Mason is not getting any younger, and Heyward-Bey could add a deep threat while learning under his tutiledge.
27. Indianapolis Colts - James Laurinaitis, LB - Ohio State; The Colts could use a DT, but Bill Polian doesn't draft for need. He also loves Big Ten players. Laurinaitis fits in as the best available "football player" at this point in the draft.
28. Buffalo Bills - (from Carolina Panthers via the Philapelphia Eagles) - Brandon Pettigrew, TE - OK St. The Bills still need a pass rusher to compliment Aaron Schobel, but can probably wait until their first pick in the second round to target someone like Michael Johnson, Larry English, Lawrence Sidbury, Connor Barwin, or Paul Kruger.
29. New York Giants - Hackeem Nicks, WR - North Carolina; With Plaxico Burress' officially having been cut, the Giants desperately need to develop a big time receiver in order to get back to being a Super Bowl caliber team. Nix appears to have the size and hands to eventually replace Plax, assuming the G-men don't land someone like Anquan Boldin Chad Johnson via a trade before the draft. Nicks reminds me of Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City.
30. Tennessee Titans - Alphonso Smith, CB - Wake Forrest - I think it comes down Alphonso Smith or WR Kenny Britt. The Titans have already lost Chris Carr and Eric King in their secondary, so some depth at cornerback makes the most sense. While Vontae Davis might still be on the board, I get the impression that the Titans have him ranked behind Smith. Don't rule out a trade here for WR's Anquan Boldin or Chad Johnson. Defensive linemen Michael Johnson, Larry English, Lawrence Sidbury, Connor Barwin, Paul Kruger and Ron Brace may be considerations later in round two.
31. Arizona Cardinals - Donald Brown, RB - U Conn: Arizona's potent offense still has a big hole at RB. With Hightower already a proven goal line runner, an all purpose back like Brown could be the perfect compliment if Chris "Beanie" Wells is off the board.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers - Max Unger, C-G - Oregon; The Steelers could upgrade their line depth with Unger, or they could solidify their defensive backfield with someone like Vontae Davis, Darrius Butler or D.J. Moore in order to replace Bryant McFadden, although I hear that the Steelers are happy with William Gay as his replacement. With Pittsburgh freeing up enough cap space to sign Keiwan Ratliff at cornerback just before the draft, they use the last pick in the first round to sure up their offensive line. Defensive tackle is also a strong consideration if someone like "Ziggy" Hood were to slide.