Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dolphins sign undrafted NT Louis Ellis

The Dolphins have officially announced nine undrafted rookie signings, and one player that had not previously been reported as Shaw defensive tackle Louis Ellis.

Background

Ellis (6-2, 320) dominated at little-known Shaw University for two seasons and was named Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association Defensive Player of the Year both years.

As a junior in 2007, Ellis recorded 75 tackles (50 solo), 24 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks and a forced fumble. During his 2008 season with the Bears, he added 73 tackles (36 solo), 24 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Analysis

Although Ellis comes from a small school and level of competition is a concern, he certainly seems to have talent on the football field and definitely has the bulk to be a 3-4 nose tackle.

Nose tackle also happens to be one of Miami's biggest needs, if not immediately then certainly in the near future. Jason Ferguson is still quite capable of starting , but the 34-year-old veteran isn't the long-term answer.

The Dolphins failed to address nose tackle in the 2009 NFL Draft, most notable passing on Western Ontario's Vaughn Martin and Stillman's Sammie Lee Hill in the fourth round in favor of Ohio State wide receiver Brandon Hartline.

In fact, Ellis is the only nose tackle added by Miami this offseason from anywhere, be it free agency, trade, the draft and undrafted free agency.

Although he's definitely a low-profile prospect, Ellis has a somewhat decent shot at earning a roster spot. (At least compared to some of the other undrafted rookies).

Third-year man Paul Soliai has repeatedly been in the staff's doghouse for off-the-field issues and has failed to live up to his potential. Meanwhile, 2008 practice-squad body Joe Cohen is a solid prospect, but has yet to show much in two pro seasons.

Ellis is certainly no lock to make the team, and may not even have a future at the professional level. Still, he's an intriguing prospect and could be someone the front office believes to be a real sleeper at the nose tackle position.

Dolphins add three more undrafted free agents

The Dolphins have added three more undrafted rookies, bringing the grand total to eight. Newly signed are Temple center Alex Derenthal, Stanford running back Anthony Kimble and Tulsa wide receiver Brennan Marion.

Alex Derenthal

A four-year starter for the Temples Owls, Derenthal started all 47 games possible during his collegiate career and earned second-team All-MAC honors as a senior in 2008.

As reported earlier on this site, Derenthal worked out for the Dolphins in late March. He was ranked the 719th prospect in the draft by NFL Draft Scout.

Update: Derenthal was not listed among Miami's signed undrafted rookies. Therefore, it is likely the reports of him signing were erroneous, and he is likely merely trying out at the team's upcoming minicamp.

Anthony Kimble

Kimble's numbers steadily improved in four seasons for the Stanford Cardinal, rushing for 244 yards and two scores as a freshman and capping things off with 717 yards and six touchdowns as a senior. He finished his collegiate career with 1,940 yards on 415 carries (a 4.7-yard average) and 18 touchdowns.

This offseason, Kimble just barely cracked Draft Countdown's list of running back prospects, ranking 27th out of 29 total backs.

Brennan Marion

A two-year starter at Tulsa after transferring from DeAnza Junior College in 2007, Marion was a tremendous deep-play threat for the Golden Hurricane, breaking the NCAA record for yards per reception as a junior at 31.9!

Topping 1,000 yards both years at Tulsa despite never catching more than 43 passes in a season, Marion finished his collegiate career with 82 receptions for 2,356 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Marion tore his ACL on the final offensive play of the Conference USA championship game in December 2008, which likely hurt his draft stock and could impact his availability in the Dolphins' offseason activities.

Interestingly, Draft Countdown had Marion as the 37th-best wide receiver prospect in this year's draft—one spot ahead of Dolphins fourth-round pick Brian Hartline.

Analysis

Of the three players discussed in this article, Marion is clearly the most talented and thus has the best chance of sticking around. He's only six months removed from the torn ACL suffered at Tulsa, so he's likely destined for the practice squad or stashed on injured reserve in 2009. Still, there's no denying his talent and he could end up being a steal for the Dolphins down the line.

Kimble's best chance at staying in Miami is on the practice squad, where he'll have to beat out 2008 sixth-rounder Lex Hilliard for a spot. Neither one of them has a realistic chance at jumping Patrick Cobbs for the No. 3 tailback job.

As it stands, Derenthal is the only other pure center on the roster behind starter Jake Grove. However, guards like Joe Berger and Andy Alleman can play center and have a lot more ability than Derenthal, so he has quite a few bodies in his way if he wants to make the team.

Derenthal is extremely borderline pro prospect and doesn't stand much chance of sticking around. He's got experience but is simply limited physically and probably doesn't have what it takes to make it in the NFL.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dolphins go for depth, special teams on draft's second day

After the Dolphins surprised us all with the Pat White selection on Day One, what would the team have in store for us for Day Two?

The Dolphins began the day by picking wide receivers in back-to-back rounds. This was significant because it said that there was more to the Pat White pick than just a potential slot receiver. GM Jeff Ireland confirmed this the day after the draft by saying that White would indeed be seeing time at quarterback.

You can imagine how heartbroken I was when one of my favorite prospects—Cal Poly receiver Ramses Barden—went to the New York Giants two picks before Miami selected USC receiver Patrick Turner. In my view, the Dolphins reached for both Turner and Hartline, which was disappointing to see.

My only other complaint of the day was the absence of a nose tackle, particularly in the fourth round. Although I like what I hear of Hartline as a special teamer, I would have preferred the team to take a defensive lineman like Vaughn Martin or Sammie Lee Hill, who went to the Chargers and Lions, respectively, a short time after Hartline was selected.

After that, the Dolphins simply took the best players available on their board, addressing depth in some areas and adding potentially significant contributors on special teams.

Also, kudos to the Dolphins for trading their other seventh-round pick to Kansas City. The team obviously didn't feel like it needed to take another player at the end of this draft, so they did well to acquire an extra pick in next year's draft.

Here's what I think about each of Miami's second-day picks:

Name: Patrick Turner
Position: Wide receiver
College: Southern California
Age: 21
Height/Weight: 6'5", 223 lb.
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 87
Projected 2009 role: Backup wide receiver

This was yet another surprise for me in this draft, as I didn't expect Turner to go off the board until the fourth round at the earliest and possibly much later than that. One has to wonder if Miami would have opted for Ramses Barden had he not gone to the Giants a few picks before.

Turner has tremendous size and good hands, but had a largely unimpressive college career. His inability to put up better numbers and dominate Pac-10 defenses on an extremely talented USC team is certainly a concern.

The reason for this pick was obvious: to be the player Ernest Wilford wasn't. The former Jaguar could barely get on the field in 2008 and was one of the front office's few free agent misses offseason.

Here's hoping Turner can be the player they envisioned Wilford being, and not the player Wilford actually was in Miami.

Name: Brian Hartline
Position: Wide receiver
College: Ohio State
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6'2", 195 lb.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 108
Projected 2009 role: Backup wide receiver, special teams

The second (or third?) receiver the Dolphins took in this draft, Hartline comes from a good program, has okay hands and decent speed.

That being the said, this pick was likely more about special teams than offense. Hartline is a standout special teams guy who loves playing that part of the game and always gives all of his effort on every play.

My only complaint with this pick is how high it was. Lots of people thought Hartline was a seventh-round pick or could possibly even go undrafted, so to take him in the fourth round is pretty surprising.

Still, Hartline can earn his draft spot by excelling on special teams and developing into a quality backup receiver.

Name: John Nalbone
Position: Tight end
College: Monmouth
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6'4", 251 lb.
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 161
Projected 2009 role: Backup tight end, special teams, possibly practice squad

Who?

I'm sure that was the question every Dolphins fan asked themselves when this pick came across the screen, as most of us had probably never heard of Nalbone.

The first player ever selected from Division I-FCS Monmouth (take that, Miles Austin!), Nalbone broke every one of the school's receiving records for tight ends. He finished his collegiate career with 101 catches for 1,079 yards and nine touchdowns.

Nalbone is a developmental guy, as is the case with many small school players. He clearly has talent as a receiver, but he's never faced competition close to anything like what he'll face in the NFL.

Although tight end is not an immediate need for the Dolphins, it's important to note that the team's top two players at the position—Anthony Fasano and David Martin—are free agents after the season.

Nalbone will likely begin his career as a backup tight end, and could possibly be headed for the practice squad in 2009 if he can't beat out Joey Haynos for the No. 3 job. There's also an outside chance Martin could be let go to accommodate the younger players, though his play significantly improved last year so that seems unlikely.

Name: Chris Clemons
Position: Safety
College: Clemson
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6', 208 lb.
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 165
Projected 2009 role: Backup free safety, special teams

Another depth pick, Clemons has good size and athleticism but is somewhat lacking in hands and instincts. He's a solid prospect who could develop into a starter over time, but that's certainly no lock.

With Gibril Wilson signed long-term at free safety, Clemons won't be asked to start soon anyway. Clemons simply provides depth and will likely focus on special teams early in his Dolphins career.

Though Clemons stands a good chance to make the club, he'll have to beat out offseason addition Ethan Kilmer for a spot. Kilmer is a skilled special teams player as well, making Clemons' performance in that area all the more vital to his longevity in Miami

Name: Andrew Gardner
Position: Offensive tackle
College: Georgia Tech
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6'7", 304 lb.
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 181
Projected 2009 role: Backup offensive tackle

Tackle depth was one of the Dolphins' biggest needs going into the draft, and they were wise to address it here.

Though not a great athlete, Gardner has extensive experience as a starting tackle in the ACC and is an intelligent, hard-working player. An injury his senior season caused him to miss some workouts before the draft, which likely hurt his stock.

This was a good pick for the team because the only real other backup tackle the Dolphins have on the roster is Nate Garner, although Brandon Frye and Ike Ndukwe can play out there as well.

Because of this, Gardner stands a reasonable chance of making the team in 2009. He's no lock and will face competition from Garner and some undrafted free agents, but my initial guess is he will stick around.

Name: J. D. Folsom
Position: Linebacker
College: Weber State
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6'3", 230 lb.
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 214
Projected 2009 role: Backup inside linebacker, special teams, possibly practice squad

Surprises in Rounds 2 and 3? Not so fun. Surprises in Round 7? Not that big a deal.

Folsom wasn't really on the map for a lot of teams and seemed likely to go undrafted, but the Dolphins obviously wanted to ensure they got the special teamer rather than face competition for his services in undrafted free agency.

Folsom will likely never be a starter in the NFL and may not even have a future in the league, but the Dolphins drafted him in hopes his work ethic would translate into a quality special teams player.

Special teams was obviously a sore spot for the Dolphins last year, which is why the team chose players almost specifically for that purpose like Hartline and Folsom.

Folsom's main competition for a roster spot will be William Kershaw, who saw some playing time late last season and even forced a fumble on special teams against Kansas City.

If he makes the team, Folsom will be limited strictly to special teams and wouldn't be higher than the fourth inside linebacker on the depth chart. My initial guess, however, is that he's destined for the practice squad this year.

Dolphins sign UDFA offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers

The Dolphins have signed their sixth undrafted free agent, inking Houston offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers to a contract.

A Conference USA All-Freshman selection in 2004, Rogers started at tackle for the Cougars until midway through the 2006 season, when a knee injury forced him out of action for the rest of the year. The same injury would keep him out of the 2007 season as well.

I'm assuming he resumed starting as a fifth-year senior in 2008, but who really knows because that information was essentially impossible to find.

At Houston's Pro Day in 2009, Rogers measured in at 6'5" and 306 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.34 seconds, the short shuttle in 4.75 second, and the three-cone drill in 7.39 seconds. He posted a29" vertical and an 8'7" broad jump.

Rogers has his work cut out for him to make the team, as he'll have to beat out second-year man Nate Garner and 2009 seventh-rounder Andrew Gardner, among others, for a backup tackle gig. Offensive tackle is one of the thinnest spots on the team depth-wise, however, so it's not inconceivable.

Remember Dolphins fans, you can now get up-to-the-minute on Dolphins news and new site postings on twitter!

Undrafted Cal QB Nate Longshore to try out for Dolphins

KFFL.com reports that former California quarterback Nate Longshore has opted to try out for the Miami Dolphins rather than the Cincinnati Bengals.

Undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft, Longshore has not been signed by the Dolphins and will try out for the team in hopes of landing a contract.

Longshore (6-5, 230) threw for 6,783 yards and 51 touchdowns with 31 interceptions in four seasons with the Golden Bears. His best year came as a sophomore in 2006, when he racked up 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

It's no surprise Longshore chose to try out for the Dolphins over the Bengals, as Cincinnati has already signed two undrafted quarterbacks in Todd Boeckman (Ohio State) and Billy Farris (Colorado State).

However, Longshore faces a tough battle to make the team even if signed. He's an extremely borderline pro prospect with a shaky collegiate career, and if the Dolphins view second-round pick Pat White as their third quarterback there simply won't be a spot available.

Remember Dolphins fans, you can now get up-to-the-minute on Dolphins news and new site postings on twitter!

Follow the Miami Dolphins Spotlight on twitter!

Yep, I'm a conformist.

Although I still (and always will) refuse to get into twitter for personal use, I thought it might actually be useful when it came to updating you regarding the site.

You can follow the site's twitter here, which I will use to post updates on Dolphins news and upcoming content for the site. Start following it now so I'm not just tweeting myself off!

Dolphins sign UDFA wide receiver Chris Williams

The Dolphins have added their fifth undrafted rookie free agent, this time signing New Mexico State wide receiver Chris Williams to a contract.

William (5-7, 170) appeared in 42 games for the Aggies and caught 246 passes for 3,265 yards and 32 touchdowns. He also amassed 1,033 kick return yards, 297 punt return yards and three return touchdowns.

Given his size, speed (mid-4.3 range in the 40-yard dash) and the ten wideouts ahead of him on the depth chart, it's safe to say Williams will be attempting to make the team as a returner. Think of him as this year's Jayson Foster.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dolphins sign UDFA linebacker Orion Martin

KFFL.com reports the Miami Dolphins have signed undrafted fee agent linebacker Orion Martin (Virginia Tech).

A college defensive end, Martin appeared in 54 games for the Hokies and recorded 166 tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss and 15.5. He set career highs in both TFL (13) and sacks (7.5) as a senior in 2008.

Martin will play outside linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme. Of the four undrafted free agents signed by Miami thus far, I'd say Martin has the best chance to make the team based purely on talent. However, he'll have to beat out a handful of guys for a job, including but not limited to Quentin Moses, Erik Walden and Tearrius George.

Dolphins sign UDFA defensive end Ryan Baker

The Dolphins have added their third undrafted free agent of the 2009 offseason, inking Purdue defensive end Ryan Baker to a contract.

A perennial Academic All-Big Ten selection, Baker (6-4, 295) appeared in 51 games over five seasons for the Boilermakers and amassed 88 tackles and eight sacks.

Baker is a prototypical 3-4 end and will attempt to earn a reserve spot ahead of guys like Lionel Dotson, Tony McDaniel and Rodrique Wright.

Dolphins sign UDFA guard Mark Lewis

The Miami Dolphins have signed undrafted free agent guard Mark Lewis (Oregon), per KFFL.com. As you may recall, Lewis worked out for the Dolphins earlier this month.

Lewis (6-4, 300) played in 35 games for the Ducks over four seasons, initially playing offensive tackle before sliding into guard.

Lewis will compete with Ike Ndukwe, Joe Berger and Shawn Murphy for a backup right guard job, but has an extremely uphill battle to make the team.

Dolphins sign UDFA tight end Jared Bronson

The first report of an undrafted rookie signing by Miami has come out, and the player is Central Washington tight end Jared Bronson.

The 6-4, 250-pound Bronson finished his collegiate career with 63 catches for 979 yards and eight touchdowns in 22 games. He was ranked the 14th tight end prospect in the draft by Draft Countdown, who projected him as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.

Bronson becomes the fifth tight end on Miami's roster and the second rookie added today, joining fifth-round pick John Nalbone from Monmouth. Bronson faces an uphill battle to make the team as a reserve tight end, but will be a candidate for the practice squad.

Stay tuned, as I'll have a lot more coverage of the Dolphins' draft and other any undrafted free agents they sign in the coming days.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Assessing the Miami Dolphins' 2009 first-day draft selections

The first day of the 2009 NFL Draft is in the books and the Dolphins have three new players on the roster, including two cornerbacks. This was a pleasant development for me, as I've felt all offseason that cornerback was our biggest need and I was happy to see it addressed quickly in this draft.

I can't say I wasn't a little thrown off by the Pat White pick, and I'm still not sure if it was the right move at that point in the draft. Time will tell though, and White's versatility could certainly be useful.

Noticeably absent from the Dolphins' draft thus far are the wide receiver and outside linebacker positions. I expect both to get addressed tomorrow, however. On the bright side, the fact that the team did not add a top rusher through the draft has to increase the chances of a Jason Taylor reunion in Miami.

I was also pleased to see one of my favorite prospects in this year's draft—Utah cornerback Sean Smith—land in Miami. As you may recall, I had Smith going to the Dolphins in the first round of my final mock draft.

I was also glad to see Miami move down five spots in the second round (from 56 to 61) and pick up an extra fifth-rounder (165th overall) from the Colts along the way. We still got our man in Smith and added another second-day pick, which is always a good thing.

Just a quick reminder before I address each of today's picks individually: The Dolphins have seven more picks in this year's draft. They are:
  • Round 3, Pick 87
  • Round 4, Pick 108 (from Raiders in Samson Satele deal)
  • Round 5, Pick 161
  • Round 5, Pick 165 (from Colts in draft-day trade down)
  • Round 6, Pick 181 (from Raiders in Samson Satele deal)
  • Round 7, Pick 214 (from Browns in Travis Daniels deal)
  • Round 7, Pick 237 (from Panthers in Josh McCown deal)
It should be an exciting second day of the draft and I can't wait to see what other players we add! (*cough* Ramses Barden and Sammie Lee Hill *cough*)

Now, on to the assessment of today's picks. You can view an up-to-the-minute version of my Dolphins projected depth chart here, which contains all of Miami's rookie additions.

Name: Vontae Davis
Position: Cornerback
College: Illinois
Age: 20
Height/Weight: 5'11", 203 lb.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 25
Projected 2009 role: Starting cornerback

When the best pure cornerback falls into you lap at the 25th pick of the draft, you take him. That's exactly what happened with Vontae Davis this year and that's exactly what the Dolphins did, and wisely so.

The younger brother of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Vontae has prototypical cornerback size and has all the tools you look for in a cover man. He's a physical specimen as well and is a sure tackler. There is no doubt he has all the talent to be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL

That's a good thing too, because cornerback was Miami's biggest need heading into the draft. Will Allen is the only proven starter of the corners on the roster and he's entering the last year of his contract.

Davis may have some attitude and work ethic concerns, but the Dolphins did their homework and met with him on multiple occasions so they must be confident the benefits outweigh those costs. All in all, the Dolphins got excellent value with this pick and made the right choice.

Name: Pat White
Position: Quarterback / Wide Receiver
College: West Virginia
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6', 197 lb.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 44
Projected 2009 role: Third-string quarterback, Wildcat quarterback, reserve wide receiver, return option

I'll admit, this pick prompted a couple quick expletives from me when it was announced on TV. I expected a receiver in the second round, but this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

The Dolphins needed (and still need) a true wideout to eventually start opposite Ted Ginn, Jr. What they get in White is a physically-skilled player who could develop into a slot receiver, but also a player who has delusions of being a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL.

I just don't see that in White's future. He certainly lacks the prototypical size and bulk for the position, he doesn't read defense well enough and there are many more examples of misses when it comes to scrambling quarterbacks than there are examples of hits.

That being said, White is certainly talented and has the versatility to be used in various ways for the Dolphins. He obviously offers more passing options out of the wildcat formation, but he also provides another slot receiver, a third-string quarterback (which could free up an extra roster spot during the season) and a potential return man.

It's not that I don't think White can be a successful pro, because I do. I just wouldn't have spent higher than a fourth-round pick on him, and if he wasn't going to last that long I just wouldn't have taken him. I would have much preferred a linebacker like Connor Barwin or Clint Sintim, or a true wideout like Mohamed Massaquoi or Juaquin Iglesias. Hopefully White proves me wrong.

Name: Sean Smith
Position: Cornerback
College: Utah
Age: 21
Height/Weight: 6'4", 215 lb.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 61
Projected 2009 role: Third or fourth cornerback

This was the guy I had Miami taking with their first-round pick and was someone I was really hoping they grabbed, so you can imagine how ecstatic I was when his named popped up on the screen toward the end of the second round.

I know I'm sounding like a broken record here, but I really think Smith has all the tools to be a very good corner in this league. His size is absolutely outstanding, his hands are fantastic (he converted from wide receiver to defensive back in 2006) and his ball skills are top-notch.

Of course, there is some concern over his speed and some think he's more of a safety in the NFL, but I consider 4.5 speed plenty for a corner (especially one as big as Smith) and think he'll do just fine there. Plus, Gibril Wilson is locked in at free safety and cornerback is the need in Miami.

Even with the selection of Davis in the first round, the Dolphins could have used another corner, so they wisely grabbed a second one on the first day of the draft. With two quality safeties signed long-term and two promising rookies added at corner, the Dolphins' secondary is looking promising even if Will Allen isn't retained beyond 2009.

Dolphins trade down with Colts

The Dolphins have traded the No. 56 overall pick to the Indianapolis Colts (used on USC defensive tackle Fili Moala) in exchange for the No. 61 pick and the No. 165 pick (in the fifth round). Good trade, picking in a fifth to move down five spots.

Dolphins select Vontae Davis 25th overall

The Dolphins have selected Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

I personally love this pick. Cornerback is our biggest need and Davis is the best pure corner in the draft. Great value at 25.

More to come...

Final 2009 NFL First Round Mock Draft

The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching, only a mere 16 hours away as I begin to type this. Although I'd like to give myself up to the minute of the draft begins tweak the mock, I figured I might as well put it up now and give people the time to see it.

Therefore, this is my final mock draft, as it will undergo no more changes from the moment it is published. Just for reference, I've gotten nine picks right the last few years (with a high of 11 right in 2005) so hopefully I can at least match that success this year. (It might not seem high, but it's consistently been better than Kiper and McShay!)

Enjoy the mock, and enjoy the draft later today! May all your teams fill their needs wonderfully, unless of course those teams are in the AFC East and not named the Dolphins!

1. Detroit Lions - Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia

Not the safest pick, but certainly a need position and Stafford has all the tools to be a successful quarterback. Only time will tell if he's able to survive in Detroit.

2. St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith, OT, Baylor

The Rams need a replacement for Orlando Pace and get their man here as Smith edges out Eugene Monroe to be the top tackle off the board.

3. Kansas City Chiefs - Tyson Jackson, DE, Louisiana State

The Chiefs would love to trade out of this spot and grab Jackson a little later, but since I'm not predicting trades I'll have to keep them at No. 3. Jackson is by far the best 3-4 end in the draft and gives GM Scott Pioli his own Richard Seymour for the new defensive scheme.

4. Seattle Seahawks - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest

Quarterback, wide receiver and offensive tackle are all strong possibilities, but in the end I think the 'Hawks take the best defensive player in the draft to team with Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.

5. Cleveland Browns - Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech

Despite the Braylon Edwards-to-Giants talks reportedly being "dead," I think they could start up again today during the draft and I think he might eventually end up being moved. If that's the case, Crabtree has to be the pick. I'm also not buying the talk that Cleveland doesn't like Crabtree.

6. Cincinnati Bengals - Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia

The team has reportedly soured on Levi Jones at left tackle and thus will need someone new to protect Carson Palmer's blind side. I've long had Andre Smith here, but with Monroe falling into their laps the Bengals would be crazy not to go the better and safer route instead.

7. Oakland Raiders - Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri

I'm not buying the recent Heyward-Bey talk for Oakland. Maclin's plenty fast for Al Davis' liking and he's also a much better prospect than DHB. He has to be the pick if Oakland goes wide receiver.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern California

The Jaguars will be fielding all kinds of trade offers if Sanchez is on the board, but since I'm not predicting trades I'll say they'll take him for themselves. David Garrard is 31 now, came back down to earth in 2008 and doesn't offer nearly as much upside as Sanchez.

9. Green Bay Packers - B. J. Raji, DT, Boston College

Other 3-4 guys like Jackson and Orakpo will get consideration if they're on the board, but Raji is an elite player at the toughest position to find in football to find. The Packers often surprise people with their picks, but this just makes too much sense not to project.

10. San Francisco 49ers - Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi

A quarterback or outside linebacker would make sense here, but the Niners really like Oher and he has as much upside as anyone in the draft. This move would allow them to move Joe Staley back to right tackle and give them two talented young guys on the edges.

11. Buffalo Bills - Andre Smith, OT, Alabama

The Bills certainly need a tackle after trading Jason Peters and word is they really like Smith. He's talented enough to play left tackle, though he could start on the right side before taking over for Langston Walker down the road.

12. Denver Broncos - Brian Orakpo, LB, Texas

The Broncos don't really have any edge rushers for their new 3-4 scheme, so it only makes sense for them to take the best one in the draft here. Of course, a fall by either Raji or Jackson would totally change this.

13. Washington Redskins - Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State

The Redskins could definitely use a pass rusher and Maybin fits the bill. He has some bust potential to him, but certainly has the physical tools to be a great player.

14. New Orleans Saints - Malcolm Jenkins, FS, Ohio State

One of the best bets in the draft, the Saints have a big need in the secondary and Jenkins is the best defensive back in the draft. A linebacker or even running back is also possible, but the Saints seem poised to draft Jenkins, who could contribute immediately at either cornerback or safety.

15. Houston Texans - Clay Matthews, LB, Southern California

The Texans are in need of linebacker help, and Matthews appears to have edged out his Trojan teammates in terms of draft stock. He'll be a great fit next to DeMeco Ryans and should be a productive player for years to come.

16. San Diego Chargers - Brian Cushing, LB, Southern California

And the next Trojan 'backer quickly goes off the board. Cushing is a safer bet than Maualuga in my opinion and has the versatility to play inside or outside in San Diego's 3-4.

17. New York Jets - Percy Harvin, WR, Florida

Josh Freeman will have to garner consideration, but in the end I think they'll look to trade for a quarterback (Jason Campbell, anyone?) and take Harvin here. He fills their wideout need, while his return skills could give them leverage in negotiations with Leon Washington.

18. Denver Broncos - Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern California

The Broncos got their outside linebacker in Orakpo at No. 12, and now get a man for the inside here with Maualuga. Free agent addition Andra Davis is just decent and a short-term fix, while Maualuga is a prototypical 3-4 inside 'backer with immense talent.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State

They just signed Byron Leftwich, but gave him no bonus and thus can cut him without penalty. The team reportedly loves Freeman and will likely jump on him if the Jets pass.

20. Detroit Lions - Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee

Linebacker is a bigger need, but there's a good chance they can grab James Laurinaitis at No. 33. Ayers is a quality overall end and fills a need for the Lions because, well, they have needs everywhere.

21. Philadelpia Eagles - Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia

Brandon Pettigrew would fill a bigger immediate need, but Moreno would still be a great pick pick in terms of talent and value. He'll be scary teamed with Brian Westbrook and may even wrestle away the starting gig eventually.

22. Minnesota Vikings - Eben Britton, OT, Arizona

My most confident pick in this mock draft (now watch it be wrong), the Vikings would love to upgrade over Ryan Cook at right tackle and Britton's the perfect man for the job. The only thing that could mess that up is Percy Harvin falling to No. 22.

23. New England Patriots - Everette Brown, LB, Florida State

A talented pass rusher who could go much higher, Brown injects some youth into the Pats' aging linebacker corps. It also wouldn't surprise me to see them pick UConn corner Darius Butler, but Brown's just too good of a value here.

24. Atlanta Falcons - Evander Hood, DT, Missouri

Now that the Falcons' addressed their tight end need with Tony Gonzalez, there's little doubt they'll go defense with this pick. (Of course, I've long had them going D here anyway because I'm amazing, brilliant and handsome.) Any position on that side of the ball could feasibly be picked, but "Ziggy" Hood's my pick because he certainly upgrades their interior line.

25. Miami Dolphins - Sean Smith, CB, Utah

Linebacker is the most popular choice for the Dolphins in the mock draft world, and that may very well happen. Still, cornerback is a bigger need for Miami. I like the second-round linebacker talent over the cornerback talent, so I'm taking Smith here in the first.

26. Baltimore Ravens - Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland

A team with few needs takes the best player available and gets a quality replacement for an aging Derrick Mason down the line.

27. Indianapolis Colts - Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi

The Colts have the talent to be able to take any position in the draft, but they get both value and a need here in Jerry. He's the perfect fit for a Colts defense that utilizes athletic, undersized defensive tackles.

28. Buffalo Bills - Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State

It's no lock he'll fall this far and the Bills might even take him at No. 11 to ensure they get him, but they'd be ecstatic if Pettigrew fell this far. Should that happen, you could bet your life (or not, up to you) that they'll grab him here.

29. New York Giants - Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina

Braylon Edwards trade or no, the Giants could still use another wideout and Nicks is probably the best on the board. Local product Kenny Britt could also draw consideration, though I like Nicks better as a prospect so he's the pick.

30. Tennessee Titans - Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut

The Titans certainly don't have many holes, but could definitely use a corner to team with Cortland Finnegan. Butler's a safer pick than Vontae Davis, so he gets the call here.

31. Arizona Cardinals - Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State

A Top-10 talent, the Cardinals would love if this guy fell into their laps and would surely grab him here. Tim Hightower is solid, but Wells is special is an absolutely fantastic value the end of the first round.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers - Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois

His talent says he should go much higher, but character concerns cause him to fall to the end of the first round. He'll help the Steelers replace Bryant McFadden and could thrive in the league's best defense.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Miami Dolphins 2009 NFL Draft Preview

The 2009 NFL Draft is just a day away, and the Miami Dolphins will be undertaking their second (and possibly final) draft under president and football czar Bill Parcells.

Despite an impressive turnaround season in 2008, the Dolphins have plenty of holes to fill. They'll be facing a much tougher schedule in 2009, the return of Tom Brady in New England and the pressure to prove their 2008 showing was not a fluke. Quite simply, to repeat last season they'll have to be much, much better than they were last season.

The Dolphins addressed a few of their needs in free agency, signing center Jake Grove and free safety Gibril Wilson. They also retained key starters in Yeremiah Bell, Vernon Carey and Channing Crowder.

Still, the weaknesses remain. Another pass rusher is needed, as is a starting cornerback for the future and someone to start opposite Ted Ginn, Jr. at wideout. That's just the tip of the iceberg really, as depth is also needed at a handful of other positions.

And so the Dolphins will look to fill some of their biggest needs in tomorrow's draft. In this article, I'll outline the Dolphins' key areas of need and explore the options at each of those positions in this year's class.

The Need: Outside Linebacker

Round 1 candidates: Brian Cushing (USC), Clay Matthews (USC), Everette Brown (Florida State), Clint Sintim (Virginia), Robert Ayers (Tennessee), Larry English (Northern Illinois)

Rounds 2-3: Larry English (Northern Illinois), Cody Brown (UConn), Connor Barwin (Cincinnati), Paul Kruger (Utah), Lawrence Sidbury, Jr. (Richmond)

Beyond: Matt Shaughnessy (Wisconsin), David Veikune (Hawaii), Brandon Williams (Texas Tech), Will Davis (Illinois), Orion Martin (Virginia Tech), Lee Robinson (Alcorn State)

Outside linebacker is one of Miami's biggest needs and, given Parcells' draft history, probably the most likely route the team will go in the first round.

The Dolphins were too reliant on Joey Porter for pressure on the quarterback last year, and although Canadian import Cameron Wake might be a hidden gem, the team certainly needs more young talent at the position.

Not all of the first-round candidates listed above will be available when Miami picks, and it's possibly only one or two will still be on the board. Cushing, Matthews and Brown in particular all have a good shot of going higher than No. 25.

Brown is probably the most purely talented of the bunch, and thus would probably be the pick if he somehow falls into Miami's lap. This is no lock however, as Brown is a potential Top 20 pick and could even theoretically go in the Top 10.

Ayers is the least sexy of the group, as he didn't have an extremely productive college career. The late-rising prospect is more of a Matt Roth type in the sense that he's not a dominant pass rusher but just an all-around solid player.

One advantage for Sintim, who will probably be one of the lowest picked in this group and may not even crack Round 1, is that he played for Parcells' colleague Al Groh at Virginia. He also had a very productive collegiate career and has plenty of experience starting in the 3-4 defense.

If the Dolphins don't go linebacker in Round 1, you can almost guarantee they will with one of their two second-round picks. If that's the case, look out for intriguing tight end/defensive end/linebacker prospect Connor Barwin from Cincinnati, Larry English from NIU or Cody Brown from UConn.

The Need: Cornerback

Round 1 candidates: Vontae Davis (Illinois), Darius Butler (UConn), Sean Smith (Utah)

Rounds 2-3: Sean Smith (Utah), Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest), Jairus Byrd (Oregon), D. J. Moore (Vanderbilt), Donald Washington (Ohio State), Coye Francies (San Jose State), Sherrod Martin (Troy), Victor Harris (Virginia Tech)

Beyond: Mike Mickens (Cincinnati), Keenan Lewis (Oregon State), Greg Toler (St. Paul's) Brandon Underwood (Cincinnati), DeAngelo Smith (Cincinnati), Domonique Johnson (Jackson State)

Cornerback just might be the Dolphins' biggest area of need. Cornerback Will Allen is a strong player but is entering the final year of his contract. Meanwhile, Eric Green is likely to replace Andre' Goodman in the starting lineup but is still largely unproven in such a role. Beyond that, Nathan Jones and Joey Thomas are nickel/dime guys at best and the rest are camp bodies.

It's quite possible all of the above first-round candidates will be available when Miami picks. Vontae Davis might be the best pure corner in the draft, but attitude/character concerns have caused him to fall and might make the Dolphins shy away from him despite his talent.

Darius Butler is probably the most likely prospect to land in Miami if they go cornerback in Round 1, and he would be a solid pick. Still, I'm a big fan of Utah's Sean Smith, and I don't consider No. 25 too early to take a 6-4 corner with 4.5 speed and good ball skills.

The Dolphins will almost certainly address corner on Day 1, so if they don't take one in the first round then look for someone like Sean Smith or Coye Francies.

Realistically, the Dolphins could use a few young additions at corner and might end up taking more than one in this draft.

The Need: Wide receiver

Round 1 candidates: Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland), Hakeem Nicks (UNC)

Rounds 2-3: Hakeem Nicks (UNC), Kenny Britt (Rutgers), Percy Harvin (Florida), Brian Robiskie (Ohio State), Juaquin Igleslias (Oklahoma), Louis Murphy (Florida), Ramses Barden (Cal Poly), Mohamed Massaquoi (UGA), Pat White (West Virginia)

Beyond: Brooks Foster (UNC), Kenny McKinley (South Carolina), Marko Mitchell (Nevada), Jarett Dillard (Rice), Johnny Knox (Abilene Christian), Patrick Turner (USC), Greg Carr (FSU)

Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess are serviceable slot guys, but the Dolphins could definitely use another quality receiver to start opposite Ted Ginn, Jr.

Although it's less likely than linebacker or cornerback in the first round given Parcells' past drafts, wideout is certainly a big enough need for Miami to consider early and Heyward-Bey and Nicks will earn long looks if they're still on the board.

Either would be a good pick, as Heyward-Bey has a tremendous blend of size and speed while Nicks has some of the surest hands in the draft. Conditioning concerns have been raised for Nicks recently, however, which could push him to Round 2.

Making it less likely the Dolphins take a wideout in Round 1 is the talent at the position beyond the elite guys like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. Theoretically, Nicks, Britt, Robiskie, Iglesias, Murphy and more could all be on the board the second round.

My personal favorites from this group are Robisikie and Barden. Robiskie, the son of a long-time NFL wide receivers coach, might not have great timed speed, but his has reliable hands and is a very polished receiver as you would expect. One of the draft's biggest sleepers, Barden has good hands, freakish size (6-6, 220) and solid speed to go along with it.

Although players like Percy Harvin and Pat White have been linked to the Dolphins as potential candidates for use in the wildcat offense, I simply don't see it happening. The Dolphins need a true wide receiver, not a speedy Reggie Bush type or a college quarterback who won't face reality.

The wildcat is being overrated by the national media, and I don't believe for one second the Dolphins will be picking players specifically for use in that scheme on the first day of the draft.

The Need: Nose tackle

Rounds 1-2 candidates: Ron Brace (Boston College)

Beyond: Chris Baker (Hampton), Terrance Taylor (Michigan), Corvey Irvin (UGA), Terrance Knighton (Temple), Sammie Lee Hill (Stillman), Dorrell Scott (Clemson)

Though not an immediate need due to the presence of Jason Ferguson, a younger, more long-term nose tackle is certainly needed and it seems likely they'll try to find that player at some point in this draft.

The Dolphins won't have a shot at the position's top guy in B. J. Raji, but his fellow linemate at Boston College, Ron Brace, is certainly an option. He's a candidate for the first round, but I suspect the Dolphins would rather go linebacker or corner there. There's a strong chance, however, the team would jump on him in the second round if he's still available.

Although a true 3-4 nose tackle is difficult to find, the Dolphins will still have some options if they don't take one on the first day of the draft. Hampton's Chris Baker—a Penn State transfer and former teammate of Dolphins defensive end Kendall Langford—and Michigan's Terrance Taylor are strong possibilities in the third and fourth rounds.

My personal favorite prospect at this position is small-school product Sammie Lee Hill. I would love to see the Dolphins grab Hill between Rounds 3-5 and develop him behind Ferguson. 3-4 nose tackles are very hard to find, and Hill has the potential to be a hidden gem.

The need: Tight end

Round 1 candidates: Brandon Pettigrew (Oklahoma State)

Rounds 2-3: Jared Cook (South Carolina), Shawn Nelson (Southern Miss), Cornelius Ingram (Florida), Chase Coffman (Missouri), James Casey (Rice)

Beyond: Anthony Hill (NC State), Cameron Morrah (Cal), Jared Bronson (Central Washington), John Phillips (Virginia)

An extremely dark-horse candidate for Miami in the first round, Pettigrew will at least be entertained by the Dolphins at No. 25 if there isn't much available at other positions and they can't trade out of the spot. Still, linebacker, cornerback and wideout are much more likely.

Although tight end might not seem like a big need for the Dolphins, both Anthony Fasano and David Martin are entering the final years of their deals. Word is the team likes former undrafted free agent Joey Haynos, but obviously he's still unproven.

Though the Dolphins are expected to fill bigger needs in the first few rounds, there will plenty of tight end talent in Round 2 and 3 if the Dolphins go that direction. It's definitely a possibility if one of these tight ends is the best player left on Miami's draft board when they're picking.

Other positions to watch

Quarterback - Former second-rounder John Beck has no real future in Miami and the team would love to trade him, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them pick up a rookie to groom as a third-stringer either later in the draft or in undrafted free agency.

Running back - Ricky Williams is on the back end of his career and Patrick Cobbs is a backup at best, while promising 2008 sixth-rounder Jalen Parmele got snatched up by the Ravens late last season. It's likely the Dolphins will add a rookie back this year, possibly as early as the third round but definitely at some point.

Fullback - The Dolphins were pleased with Lousaka Polite's performance in 2008, though he's certainly not untouchable and competition could be brought in through the draft.

Offensive tackle - The Dolphins have plenty of guys to compete for backup jobs at center and guard, but the tackle depth is quite thin. It'd make a lot of sense to draft a versatile tackle in the mid-to-late rounds to develop behind Long and Carey.

Inside linebacker - There's no immediate need here with Crowder and Akin Ayodele entrenched as starters, but Crowder signed a short-term contract and Ayodele's salary jumps the next few seasons. The Dolphins might even take an inside linebacker like Rey Maualuga in Round 1 if he's there and will certainly bring someone in through the draft.

Safety - The starters are set with Wilson and Bell both signing big-money deals this offseason, but rookie depth to challenge Courtney Bryan and Ethan Kilmer seems likely.

Punter - Before the signing of Australian Jy Bond, I would have expected the Dolphins to add a rookie punter either late in the draft or as a free agent to challenge Brandon Fields. It's still possible depending on how high they are on Bond, but a three-man competition seems unlikely.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009 First Round Mock Draft, v3.0

The 2009 NFL Draft is now less than a week away, so I thought it was important to post my second-to-last mock draft.

As always, this mock draft is subject to change, and I'll definitely be giving myself up until the point Roger Goodell walks out to that podium next Saturday afternoon to tweak is some more.

Enjoy!

1. Detroit Lions - Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia

It's a toss-up between Stafford, Aaron Curry or one of the top two left tackles, but indications are Stafford will be the guy when it's all said and done. Not a bad choice either, since Daunte Culpepper probably don't have much left in the tank.

2. St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith, OT, Baylor

With Orlando Pace out of the picture, a young franchise left tackle is greatly needed. The Rams' front office is reportedly split between the Smith and Eugene Monroe, but Smith gets the nod due to upside and health concerns with Monroe.

3. Kansas City Chiefs - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest

Curry is the best defensive player in the draft and will be a great fit in Kansas City's new 3-4. The presence of veteran Zach Thomas will help Curry develop and will allow him to be brought along a little more slowly next to Derrick Johnson inside.

4. Seattle Seahawks - Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia

The Seahawks claim they still have Sean Locklear pegged as Walter Jones' heir at left tackle, but Locklear has had a rough few years and isn't nearly on Monroe's level when it comes to talent. The Seahawks would do well to draft arguably the best tackle in the draft to eventually replace Jones.

5. Cleveland Browns - Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech

This pick assumes Cleveland ends up shipping Braylon Edwards to the Giants. If that happens, the team will have a huge need at receiver and would be wise to select to best player at the position in Crabtree. A pass-rushing outside linebacker and even Mark Sanchez are other possibilities, but Crabtree has to be the pick of Edwards is dealt.

6. Cincinnati Bengals - Andre Smith, OT, Alabama

The Bengals have never been one to shy away from a player due to character concerns, so they seem like the perfect landing spot for Smith, who has had one of the worst pre-draft periods in recent years. Levi Jones has fallen out of favor in Cincinnati, and if they can get Smith under control he could be a quality replacement.

7. Oakland Raiders - Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri

With Crabtree already off the board in this mock draft, Al Davis doesn't even have a choice to make when it comes to picking a receiver. It's just as well, as we all know Davis loves speed and gets his man in Maclin.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern California

Wide receiver is a bigger need for Jacksonville, but there's not one still available worth taking at this spot in the draft. The Jaguars don't seem to be entirely sold on David Garrard as the long-term quarterback, so they very well may pull the trigger on Sanchez.

9. Green Bay Packers - B. J. Raji, DT, Boston College

A lot of people have the Packers taking a 3-4 end like Tyson Jackson or pass rusher like Orakpo or Everette Brown, but neither of those positions is as difficult to find as a quality nose tackle. Raji is by far the best in the draft and would anchor the Packers' 3-4 for years to come.

10. San Francisco 49ers - Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi

With the top two quarterbacks off the board, the 49ers will opt for a franchise left tackle in lieu of Josh Freeman. Word is the Niners love Oher, and his presence would allow the solid but not elite Joe Staley to move back to right tackle. A pass-rushing outside linebacker like Orakpo, Maybin or Brown might be more likely, but Oher's my pick.

11. Buffalo Bills - Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State

Buffalo's pass rush has been nonexistent lately and with plenty of quality ends left on the board the Bills will grab one here. Maybin's a boom-or-bust prospect but certainly has the physical tools to be Buffalo's top sack artist.

12. Denver Broncos - Brian Orakpo, LB, Texas

One of the many teams converting the 3-4 scheme this offseason with little of the necessary pieces, the Broncos can get their first pure pass-rushing outside linebacker if they take Orakpo here. A legit top-10 talent, Orakpo would be a great value here and could really thrive in Denver's new scheme.

13. Washington Redskins - Everette Brown, DE, Florida State

The Jason Taylor trade was a bust and the Redskins are desperately in need of some pass rush. Brown has great speed and athleticism and would be a great addition to Washington's line. Another strong possibility is offensive tackle if one of the top four is still on the board.

14. New Orleans Saints - Malcolm Jenkins, FS, Ohio State

Jenkins' speed might hurt his chances of being picked higher as a cornerback, but he's still the top defensive back in the draft and has the talent to be an elite free safety. Darren Sharper is the short-term fix there in New Orleans and Jenkins would be a fine long-term solution.

15. Houston Texans - Clay Matthews, LB, Southern California

The Texans filled their need at defensive end by signing Antonio Smith, freeing them up to go after a linebacker in the draft. Matthews has had the best pre-draft period of all three USC linebackers (despite the whole "White Nation" incident) and would be a great fit at outside linebacker for the Texans.

16. San Diego Chargers - Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern California

The Chargers don't have many immediate holes to fill, which is why they can afford to take the local California product here. Although he has some maturity issues and bust potential, Maualuga's a quality talent and would be a great fit at inside linebacker in San Diego's 3-4.

17. New York Jets - Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State

The Jets clearly aren't sold on Brett Ratliff and Kellen Clemens are starting quarterbacks and there's a huge dropoff in talent after Freeman in this draft class. A wideout like Heyward-Bey will be tempting, but the Jets won't pass up on their chance to grab a franchise signal-caller.

18. Denver Broncos - Tyson Jackson, DE, Louisiana State

Another pick for their new defensive scheme, Jackson is a prototypical 3-4 end and by far the best in the draft at the position. Assuming they don't take him at No. 12 and lasts to this pick, the Broncos would be crazy not to jump on him here.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech

The perfect example of a workout warrior, many teams have soured on Johnson due to lack of consistent productivity in college. Still, the Bucs love the guy and there's no doubting his physical tools, so perhaps they can team him with Gaines Adams and turn him into a quality pro.

20. Detroit Lions - Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee

The Lions already have their franchise quarterback in Stafford and all the elite left tackles are off the board, so Detroit will have to turn elsewhere at No. 20. There's a huge need at linebacker, but they can probably grab James Laurinaitis at No. 33 so they'll opt for a defensive end instead. Ayers doesn't have impressive collegiate numbers, but he's a fast-rising prospect and a quality overall end.

21. Philadelphia Eagles - Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia

The Eagles filled their need at tackle by signing Stacy Andrews and acquiring Jason Peters, allowing them to look elsewhere with their now lone first-round pick. Moreno would be a great complement to Brian Westbrook at running back, and could eventually take over the job from the soon-to-be 30-year-old with a history of injury problems.

22. Minneosta Vikings - Eben Britton, OT, Arizona

The Vikings are looking to upgrade over Ryan Cook at right tackle, and Britton is the clear-cut best tackle left on the board. He'll be a great fit on the right side, helping open holes for Adrian Peterson and protecting the Vikings' quarterback if they ever decide to mix it up a bit and get a talented one.

23. New England Patriots - Brian Cushing, LB, Southern California

Jerod Mayo was a great pick in the first round last year, but the Patriots still need some talent and youth at both inside and outside linebacker. Cushing's a talented player with the versatility to play anywhere in New England's 3-4. A cornerback like Darius Butler is also possible here.

24. Atlanta Falcons - Evander Hood, DT, Missouri

The Atlanta offense is looking strong led by Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, but the defense has holes throughout. It's hard to pick for Atlanta here because they could feasibly take any position on that side of the ball. In the end, I settled on Missouri defensive tackle Evander "Ziggy" Hood, who provides an immediate upgrade at the interior defensive line.

25. Miami Dolphins - Sean Smith, CB, Utah

A lot of places have Smith has a second-round pick, and that may very well happen. Still, the more I think about it, the more I think a 6'3" corner with excellent ball skills and sub-4.5 speed is certainly worth a first-rounder. Everyone's talking about Miami needing an upgrade at outside linebacker, which they do. Still, I don't see a more pressing need on the team than cornerback, where the only proven starter (Will Allen) is in the last year of his contract.

26. Baltimore Ravens - Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland

General manager Ozzie Newsome is a big proponent of taking the top guy on the board, and if things unfold similarly to how I have them above, Heyward-Bey would be that guy. Derrick Mason's not getting any younger and there's little depth beyond Mason and Mark Clayton, so Heyward-Bey would be an excellent new weapon for Joe Flacco.

27. Indianapolis Colts - Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi

The Colts don't have a ton of needs, but defensive tackle has consistently been a weak spot for them in recent years and Jerry would go along way to remedy that. Jerry's size and athleticism makes him the perfect fit for Indy's defensive scheme, so he's the pick.

28. Buffalo Bills - Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State

The Bills upgraded their pass rush with their own first-round pick, and luck out here as the top tight end falls to the pick they acquired from Philadelphia in the Jason Peters deal. Buffalo is in desperate need of a tight end, and one has to imagine they'll take the top player in this year's class if he's still on the board.

29. New York Giants - Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina

This is a hard team to pick for because they have very few holes and really have the luxury of taking the best player available. Even if they acquire Braylon Edwards from Cleveland, the Giants will likely still give up a receiver (Hixon?) in return and could still use another young talent. Nicks would certainly provide that and is a definite upgrade over Mario Manningham, David Tyree and Sinorice Moss.

30. Tennessee Titans - Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut

Another team with very few holes, the Titans could use another young corner to team with Cortland Finnegan. Butler is on the cusp of the first round and gets the nod over Vontae Davis, who has some red flags on his scouting report.

31. Arizona Cardinals - Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State

Tim Hightower certainly showed ability as a rookie and is a capable short-yardage back, but he's nowhere near as talented and complete as Beanie Wells. The Cardinals need another young back to team with Hightower now that Edgerrin James is on the way out, and the Cardinals get a steal here toward the end of Round 1.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers - Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois

Attitude and motivation concerns cause Davis to drop to the bottom of the first round. It works out well for Pittsburgh though, who lost Bryant McFadden to free agency and could certainly use a good, young corner. If anyone can turn Davis into a good player, it's Steelers' defensive guru Dick LeBeau and former defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Punter From Down Under: Miami Dolphins sign Australian Jy Bond

Looking to bring in some competition for incumbent punter Brandon Fields, the Dolphins have gone down under to bring in Australian footballer Jy Bond.

Bond, 30, is the son of former Australian footballer Graeme Bond, and was drafted by his father's Richmond Tigers under the father-son rule. (No idea what that means. If someone has more info on how this all works, I'm not very familiar with it so feel free to let me know anything I might not understand!)

Bond has only played for the Tigers' reserve teams (again, no idea what that means), but has spent the past three years training to become an NFL punter. He will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Australian-to-gridiron players like Darren Bennett, Sav Rocca and Ben Graham.

It's no surprise to see the Dolphins bring in some competition as Brandon Fields finished last season 18th in punting average and 27th in net average.

Granted, those poor numbers are not entirely Fields' fault, as the Dolphins' special teams unit struggled mightily in the first half of the season. However, in two seasons with the Dolphins Fields hasn't really played up to his ability.

Bond reportedly offers very impressive hang time, which would allow the special teams unit more time to get downfield and greatly cut down on long returns. He should have every chance to beat out Fields for a job, though it's impossible to know at this point just how good he will be.

Bond received a two-year contract with the Dolphins containing base salaries of $310,000 in 2009 and $395,000 in 2010.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Zach Thomas heads to Kansas City

Long-time Dolphins great Zach Thomas will be playing for his third team in 2009 after agreeing to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs on Apr. 11.

Thomas, 35, was a free agent this offseason after spending one season with the Dallas Cowboys. He signed with Dallas prior to last season after being released by the Dolphins in February.

A 13-year veteran who played his first 12 seasons with the Dolphins, Thomas has amassed over 1,700 tackles (more than anyone currently in the Hall of Fame) on his way to seven Pro Bowl selections and five first-team All-Pro selection.

It's no surprise to see Thomas land with the Chiefs, as new general manager Scott Pioli saw him plenty during his time in the New England front office.

Kansas City will likely be transitioning to the 3-4 scheme under Pioli, meaning Thomas will man one of the team's two inside linebacker spots. Though not ideally fit for the 3-4 as an undersized linebacker, Thomas did play in the scheme with the Cowboys in 2008 and recorded 94 tackles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dorell Scott drawing interest from Dolphins

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times (via KFFL.com) reports that Clemson defensive tackle Dorell Scott has visited with the Miami Dolphins.

A three-year starter at Clemson, Scott played in 47 career games for the Tigers and recorded 161 tackles (18.5 for a loss) and 9.0 sacks. He played on the defensive line with Dolphins' 2008 second-rounder Phillip Merling for three seasons.

Draft Countdown has Scott ranked as the 21st best defensive tackle in this year's draft, directly behind another nose tackle prospect in Stillman's Sammie Lee Hill. Meanwhile, NFL Draft Scout ranks Scott the 100th overall prospect in the draft and projects him to be selected in the third or fourth round.

He's not an enormous nose tackle in the mold of a Vince Wilfork, but Scott certainly has the bulk to play the position in Miami's 3-4 scheme. While I suspect he has the size and athleticism to play end in the scheme as well, nose tackle is Miami's bigger need and Scott has room to add bulk to his already 315-pound frame.

Look for Miami to consider Scott in in the middle rounds of the draft, as nose tackle is a looming need for the team even if it's not an immediate one. Jason Ferguson is still serviceable, but at 34 doesn't have many years left ahead of him.

Oregon lineman Mark Lewis to visit

Also on the Dolphins' radar is Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Mark Lewis, who will reportedly visit with the Dolphins per KFFL.com.

A 2008 honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, Lewis teamed with potential 2009 first-round pick Max Unger to help the Ducks to the second-best rushing attack in college football. Lewis began his career at tackle before finishing at guard, appearing in 35 games over four seasons.

That being the case, Lewis is perceived as a very borderline prospect and is not really a candidate to be drafted. If he is to continue his career, he'll have to latch on somewhere as an undrafted free agent.

WR Johnny Knox to visit Dolphins

Abilene Christian wide receiver Johnny Knox is scheduled to visit the Dolphins, according to Pro Football Talk.

The 22-year-old wideout and returner played two seasons at Abilene Christian after transferring from Tyler Junior College in 2007. He was a two-time All-Lone Star Conference selection and was the conference's receiver of the year as a junior in 2007. Knox finished his ACU career with 118 receptions for 2,227 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Despite being a small school product, Knox is considered a prospect on the rise due in large part to his blazing speed. Knox impressed teams at February's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis by running a 40-yard dash clocked between 4.29 and 4.34 seconds.

NFL Draft Countdown currently has Knox ranked as the draft's 30th best receiver prospect and a possible late-round pick, though I'm guessing Wright will move him up before the draft on April 25. Wright also has Knox listed as the 15th best sleeper in this year's draft.

Meanwhile, NFL Draft Scout has Wright as the 150th overall prospect and a fourth- or fifth-round selection. This seems more appropriate given Knox's workout numbers.

Knox is certainly someone Miami will consider in the middle rounds, as they have needs at both wide receiver and returner. Knox has the ability to contribute in both areas and his return skills would allow Ted Ginn, Jr. to focus on receiver.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2009 First Round Mock Draft, v2.0

It's been over a month since I posted the first version of my mock draft, and a lot has happened with NFL free agency, trades, the combine, pro days, etc. I thought now would be a good time to post my current mock draft, as the 2009 NFL Draft is less than three weeks away. Enjoy!

1. Detroit Lions - Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia

Detroit is sorely lacking a young quarterback for the future, and Stafford's the best at his position in this year's draft. A franchise left tackle like Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe would be the alternative.

2. St. Louis Rams - Jason Smith, OT, Baylor

Orlando Pace is gone and the Rams don't really have anybody to replace him. Smith is arguably the best of the best in a great class of tackles, so he gets the nod here.

3. Kansas City Chiefs - Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest

The Chiefs are converting to the 3-4 defense under GM Scott Pioli despite lacking many of the key personnel. Curry just might be the best all-around player in this draft and would be a great fit at inside linebacker.

4. Seattle Seahawks - Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia

There's a voice in my head telling me Mark Sanchez could be the pick here, but Monroe is the more obvious choice. Walter Jones isn't getting any younger and Monroe might be the best overall tackle in the draft.

5. Cleveland Browns - Brian Orakpo, LB, Texas

Kamerion Wimbley has really declined since his rookie season and a better pass rush is needed. Orakpo has all the physical tools and has the potential to be a quality 3-4 outside linebacker.

6. Cincinnati Bengals - Andre Smith, OT, Alabama

A nose tackle like B. J. Raji is a strong possibility, but left tackle is Cincy's most glaring need with Levi Jones on the way out. Smith certainly comes with his share of concerns, but the Bengals have never really shied away from that, have they?

7. Oakland Raiders - Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri

The best offensive tackle available would make sense here. Heck, so would the best receiver. But we all know Al Davis loves speed, which is why I think he goes with Maclin over Michael Crabtree.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars - Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech

Jacksonville is toying with the idea of a quarterback, but David Garrard is still solid and a more glaring need in wide receiver. The Jaguars haven't had much luck drafting wideouts high in recent years, but Crabtree is the real deal and would be an excellent pick.

9. Denver Broncos (proj. trade with Green Bay) - Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern California

I don't normally project trades, but Green Bay's pick will be in high demand with Sanchez on the board and San Francisco waiting behind them. I see them moving down and accumulating more picks.

The Broncos got Kyle Orton in the Jay Cutler deal, but he's been shaky in his career thus far and I'm not convinced he's a long-term solution. Head coach Josh McDaniels gets his own young quarterback to groom here.

10. San Francisco 49ers - Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State

A pass-rushing outside linebacker like Everette Brown is possible here, but San Francisco needs a young franchise quarterback and will have to grab Freeman if they want to find it in this draft.

11. Buffalo Bills - Everette Brown, DE, Florida State

The Bills desperately need help getting to the quarterback and Brown possesses the qualities to be a far better pass rusher than anyone they currently have on the roster.

12. Green Bay Packers (proj. trade with Denver ) - B. J. Raji, NT, Boston College

Ryan Pickett is a capable nose tackle in Green Bay's new 3-4, but he's entering the last year of his deal and is nearing 30. The Packers pull of a great trade and still get the top 3-4 nose in the draft in Raji at 12.

13. Washington Redskins - Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi

Jon Jansen's pretty much finished and Chris Samuels isn't getting any younger. Oher is a great value here and though he has some bust potential, he may very well be a Pro Bowl left tackle and has all the tools to do it.

14. New Orleans Saints - Malcolm Jenkins, FS, Ohio State

Jenkins' speed has been a concern in the pre-draft process, but that's okay because he could still be a quality safety and that's one of New Orleans' biggest needs. Darren Sharper is the short-term fix, and Jenkins provides a great young player to hold down the position long-term.

15. Houston Texans - Clay Matthews, LB, Southern California

Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing are the more well-known USC linebacker prospects, but Matthews has had the best offseason of the bunch and his stock is on the rise. Houston has a need at linebacker and Matthews is my somewhat surprising pick here.

16. San Diego Chargers - Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern California

I'm concerned about Maualuga's maturity and he has one of the highest bust potentials in the draft in my book, but there's no denying his talent. Maualuga would be a great fit at inside linebacker in San Diego' 3-4 and could anchor the unit for years to come.

17. New York Jets - Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland

With all three of the top quarterbacks off the board, the Jets turn to their other big need of wide receiver. The team desperately needs a replacement for Laveranues Coles to start opposite Jericho Cotchery, and Heyward-Bey possesses all the necessary tools to be that guy.

18. Denver Broncos - Tyson Jackson, DE, Louisiana State

As the Broncos convert to the 3-4 scheme, they'll need more fitting personnel and Jackson is just that. He's far and away the best 3-4 end in the draft and would be a great value for Denver here.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi

Jerry is a hot prospect right now and is just Tampa's kind of defensive tackle. If Josh Freeman is off the board by the time the Bucs are picking, all indications are they'll go with Jerry.

20. Detroit Lions - Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee

Ayers doesn't have impressive collegiate numbers, but he had a great senior season and is a prospect on the rise. He's a complete defensive end that will certainly upgrade the position in Detroit.

21. Philadelphia Eagles - Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State

A luxury pick for Philadelphia, Wells provides a great complement to Brian Westbrook in what could become one of the league's best tailback tandems. Obviously, more glaring needs like offensive tackle and tight and will garner strong consideration as well.

22. Minnesota Vikings - Eben Britton, OT, Arizona

Minnesota's biggest need is right tackle and Britton is the best tackle on the board. Corner is also a possibility here, but Britton just seems like a sensible and quality pick.

23. New England Patriots - Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois

I originally had Darius Butler here, but with the best corner in the draft falling into their laps I think the Patriots would be fools to pass on Davis. Linebacker is also a need area, but cornerback is a big concern for New England and Davis would be a great addition to the secondary.

24. Atlanta Falcons - Brian Cushing, LB, Southern California

Curtis Lofton looks to be capable of holding down the middle linebacker spot in Atlanta, but the outside spots are still in need of upgrades and Cushing would be a great pick here. He very well may go higher than this, but I have him falling and Atlanta grabbing him.

25. Miami Dolphins - Larry English, LB, Northern Illinois

A corner like Darius Butler will garner strong consideration, but I think Miami goes with a 3-4 pass rusher in Round 1 and looks for someone like Utah's Sean Smith to fill the corner void in Round 2.

26. Baltimore Ravens - Aaron Maybin, LB, Penn State

Aside from Terrell Suggs, the Ravens are sorely lacking a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Cornerback might be a bigger need but general manager Ozzie Newsome usually stays true to his board and takes the best player available. Maybin could go much higher, but limited college experience and a high bust factor causes him to drop to 26.

27. Indianapolis Colts - Percy Harvin, WR, Florida

Indy doesn't have many glaring needs, and Harvin would be a great addition to a receiving corps that just lost an aging Marvin Harrison. If anyone is able to get the most out of the dynamic Harvin, it's Peyton Manning.

28. Philadelphia Eagles - William Beatty, OT, Connecticut

Offensive tackle might just be Philly's biggest need after losing both Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas in free agency, and with Britton off the board the Eagles will go with the next-best player in Beatty. A tight end like Brandon Pettigrew is also possible, though the class at that position is deep and they can address it in the next few rounds.

29. New York Giants - Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers

The Giants finally turned the page on the Plaxico Burress this week and thus are in need of a big man at receiver. Britt fits the bill and the local product out of Rutgers seems like a great fit here.

30. Tennessee Titans - Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina

The Titans lack a true No. 1 wideout and could use some young talent at the position. Nicks is a quality prospect and the best at his position still available, so he gets the nod here.

31. Arizona Cardinals - Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut

Edgerrin James is clearly on the way out and the team could use a back to pair with power rusher Tim Hightower. Georgia's Knowshown Moreno could get the nod here, but Brown's stock has been rising and I think he goes first.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers - Max Unger, C, Oregon

The Steelers obviously don't have many glaring needs, so they'll use this final pick of the first round to add depth to their offensive line. Unger is a versatile player and could push Justin Hartwig at center as early as this season.