Welcome back, Sandlot fans. Sorry I've been gone for so long, but until someone starts paying me to do this, I have to reserve these posts for my free time, and I haven't had any for the past couple of months.
Today I'll be keeping a running real-time diary of each first-round pick from this year's NFL Draft. Obviously, I'll be most interested in who the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings pick. Will either of them get one of the big three quarterbacks? Will the Rams continue to build defense? Will the Vikings shore up their offensive line? For NFL fans like me, today is like Christmas morning—some excitement, some anticipation, some joy, a little disappointment, and above all, hope for the future.
Okay, it's 11 a.m. CDT—the Houston Texans are on the clock!
#1 Houston Texans
ESPN has just broken the story that the Texans have already signed DE Mario Williams, which means Reggie Bush will not be the number one pick. This throws a huge monkey wrench into the entire draft, because many other teams may trade with New Orleans to move up to #2 and take Bush, or he might even fall to the Jets at #4. I'm waiting for the official pick now.
Here comes Paul Tagliabue..."With the first selection, the Texans select Mario Williams, defensive end, NC State." This is going to be unpopular with a lot of people, but this is a better pick for the Texans. New head coach Gary Kubiak comes from the Denver system that produces efficient and productive running backs out of low picks, so Bush may have been considered a luxury. Williams is fast and strong and should solidify the Houston pass rush.
Bush's impending problems with NCAA regarding his problems with his family living rent-free in San Diego may also have scared off highly conservative Houston owner Bob McNair. This may turn out to be good for Houston in the long run, but at the same time, Bush may go on to be a Hall of Famer. Remember, Michael Jordan wasn't picked first in the NBA, either.
Next up: New Orleans Saints—will they pick Bush, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, or trade out of the pick for someone who wants Bush so much they're willing to pay a higher price? Stay tuned!
#2 New Orleans Saints
The Saints just picked Reggie Bush. Jets fans are freaking out that they didn't trade up with the Saints to be the Heisman Trophy winner. The Saints now have Drew Brees and Reggie Bush in the their backfield. This is the best thing to happen to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit. Bush is going to be a tremendous talent with a huge chip on his shoulder as a result of dropping from the first to the second pick. This guy has incredible speed and athleticism. Woe to those with New Orleans on their schedule next year—Reggie Bush is the next Barry Sanders.
Up next: Tennessee Titans
#3 Tennessee Titans
It's Vince Young. I would have a lot more concerns about Young than Leinert. His Wonderlic scores were beyond sub-par, his arm strength is questionable, and running quarterbacks have had limited success in the NFL. Young may be the next Michael Vick, but how many times has Vick taken the Falcons to the Superbowl? Tennessee has a lot of holes on their team, especially on their offensive line. I don't think he makes that team immediatly better. Now the big question becomes, "Where will Matt Leinart go, and how far down will he fall?" Arizona? St. Louis? Will someone trade up for him?
Up next: New York Jets
#4 New York Jets
The draft is being held at Radio City Music Hall, and its full of noisy, angry Jets fans. They might riot if they don't like the pick. Here it comes...D'Brickashaw Ferguson. He's the best offensive tackle in the draft, and a solid pick for whoever is playing QB in New York. The Rams' road to the Superbowl began with their drafting of Orlando Pace. Ferguson has been compared to Pace among many commentators. Anyone who knows pro football knows that a successful team begins and ends with the offensive line. This was a solid, can't-miss, no-brainer pick.
Up next: Green Bay Packers
#5 Green Bay Packers
No surprise here, the Packers pick Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. I suppose he was the best athlete available, and a talented middle linebacker is certainly the key to most defenses. Their biggest need is still offensive line, but Hawk was the right pick in this spot; they would have overpaid for another OL at this spot. Hawk will be a good fit in the NFC North: tough, quick, vicious. He will improve the Packers defense (too bad!).
Up next: San Francisco 49ers
#6 San Francisco 49ers
Another no surprise—the Niners pick freakishly talented Maryland tight end Vernon Davis. He's a 6' 3" tight end who runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash. Imagine the size and strength of Tony Gonzalez with a speed that exceeds most team's cornerbacks. He'll be the cornerstone of any potential resurrection of the Niners' offense, and he also presents the three other NFC West teams with huge match-up problems in the defensive secondary.
Up next: Oakland
#7 Oakland Raiders
Oakland chooses Michael Huff, DB, Texas. Oakland has multiple needs on both sides of the ball, but there is certainly nothing to argue with about this pick.
Up next: Buffalo
#8 Buffalo Bills
Donte Whitner, safety, Ohio State. The Bills will continue to suck, regardless of picks.
Up next: Detroit
#9 Detroit Lions
Ernie Sims, OLS, Florida State. Matt Millen finally used a pick for the defensive side of the ball. Sims has a lot of upside and will improve the Detroit defense. I think the Lions are counting on Mike Martz to improve the offensive with what they have, so expect them to focus on the defensive side of the ball to compete with the other tough defenses in the NFC North. The big question now becomes whether Arizona will pick Matt Leinart, and here comes the pick right now...
#10 Arizona Cardinals
Matt Leinart is the heir apparent to former MVP and Superbowl champion Kurt Warner. I can't think of anyone better to tutor Leinart how to be an effective NFL quarterback. Leinart can learn under Warner without the pressure of having to start right away. Whether he has to come in as a result of a Warner injury (he is 35 years old) or in a year or two after Warner retires, he'll have an impressive tool of offensive weapons, including Edgerrin James, Larry Fitgerald and Anquan Bolden. In a couple of years, we may look back at this as the steal of the entire draft. Remember that Ben Roethisberger fell down to 15th in the draft, and that turned out all right for him.
Up next: St. Louis
#11 Denver Broncos, traded from St. Louis Rams
The Rams move down to #15 and Denver picks Jay Cutler, QB from Vanderbilt. This is a big surprise to me, although it should be no surprise that Mike Shanahan doesn't have a huge amount of confidence in Jake Plummer. If Plummer has another good season or two, then Cutler, like Leinart, has a few years to learn the system before getting thrown into the mix. Cutler may be the next long-term solution at QB in Denver. He's no John Elway, but he might have the Mile High job well into the next decade.
Up next: Cleveland
#12 Baltimore Ravens, traded from Cleveland Browns
The selection is Haloti Ngata, 335-pound DT from Oregon. This fulfills MLB Ray Lewis' desire for a huge presence on the D-line that will free Lewis to create havoc in the backfield and on the outside. Ngata is huge but fast for his size. He should thrive in the Baltimore defensive scheme, and there is no one better to teach a rookie defensive intensity than Ray Lewis.
Up next (again): Cleveland
#13 Cleveland Browns
Okay, let's try this again...The Browns take Kamerion Wimbley, DE from Florida State. Another defensive player that they hope will be a professional sack specialist. Romeo Crennel is loading up his defensive staff on the line and at the LB spot, so Wimbley should be a good fit with the host of ex-Patriots imported during free agency. I know Crennel wants to rebuild the defense, but they are going to need offensive weapons as well at some point.
Up next: Philadelphia
#14 Philadelphia Eagles
Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Florida State. Good pick. The key to winning in the NFC East is stopping the run and pressuring the QB, and Bunkley will be able to do both. The Eagles had a bad season, but Andy Reid is not the kind of coach to panic; he'll bring the Eagles back to prominance before too long. This pick is a good start.
Up next: St. Louis (from Denver)
#15 St. Louis Rams (traded down from #11 with Denver)
Rams stick with trying to rebuild their putrid defense with Tye Hill, CB from Clemson. Their competitors in the NFC West are all capable of moving the ball downfield through the air, so a potential shutdown cornerback was a big need. Hill is not tall, but he's very fast and covers the ball well. New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett certainly had some input on this pick, so if he's the guy, I'm okay with the pick. The results on the field, as always, will tell the tale.
Up next: Miami
#16 Miami Dolphins
Jason Allen, DB from Tennessee. Huh? I guess Nick Saban wants to continue to stress defense, and Allen is a 6-foot-tall D-back, but I don't know why they would pick him here; he's not the best athlete available and he doesn't serve an immediate need for Miami. I think it's too high a pick for this guy.
Up next: Minnesota
#17: Minnesota Vikings
Okay, let's all hold our breath...the Vikings take Chad Greenway, LB from Iowa. Excellent. That works similarly to Hawk to Green Bay. He solidifies the linebacker corps in Minnesota and keeps them competitive with the rest of the NFC North defenses. I think the Vikings draft room was thrilled that Greenway was still available this far down.
Up next: Dallas
#18: Dallas Cowboys
The defensive parade continues with Bobby Carpenter, OLB, Ohio State. Linebacker is always a need for most teams, and Baltimore and New England have shown year after how important that position is. Hard to argue with Bill Parcells; I still think Dallas is the favorite this year in the NFC East.
Up next: San Diego
#19 San Diego Chargers
Antonio Cromartie, DB, Florida State. It's a bit of a stretch considering he missed all of last season with a knee injury, but he's big, fast and athletic, so it may be worth the risk; he would have been gone much sooner than 19 had he played a full season. A calculated risk.
Up next: Kansas City
[had to step out of the house for a while, so I'm going to get caught up now. In real time, the Giants just made the 32nd choice]
#20 Kansas City Chiefs
Tamba Hall, DE, Penn State. There were better defensive ends available at this pick; they could have traded down and done better than this.
#21 New England Patriots
Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota. I heard last week from a Sandlot reader that Maroney may be the most athletic player in the draft. He'll thrive under Belicheck's system working with Tom Brady as the heir apparent to Corey Dillon. Can't argue with anyone Belicheck picks.
(okay, I'm only going to comment on a couple more picks of interest to me...)
#25 Pittsburgh Steelers (from trade with NY Giants)
Great trade to pick up Santonio Holmes, WR from Ohio State to replace the loss of Antoine Randel-El to free agency. This is why the Steelers are the model NFL organization.
#30 Indianapolis Colts
Joseph Addai, RB, LSU. They had to replace Edgerrin James, and Addai is probably the running back best suited athletically to fit into the Colts high-octane spread offense. He can also block some, which is crucial in protecting Peyton Manning from the 3-4 blitz schemes he's almost sure to see more of next year.
For tomorrow: I'll comment on the all of today's rounds selections by St. Louis, Minnesota, Kansas City and Indianapolis. Thanks for joining me today.