The NFL Draft is a sporting event unlike any other. Where else can you see thousands of football fans cheer for their teams without a single pass being thrown or a single yard gained. Every April, thirty-two NFL teams gather in Radio City Music Hall, huddle within their war rooms and make decisions that will dramatically affect the direction of their franchise.
Often, #1 draft picks, like Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman and John Elway, are so clear cut, they’re no-brainers. More often, however, that top pick can be more of a curse than a blessing. Insert Ki-Jana Carter, Tim Couch or Michael Vick reference here. The right moves can bring promise to a franchise in need; the wrong choice can set a team back for years.
This year, the Detroit Lions had the honor of selecting first due to their woeful and winless 2008. With that pick, they chose Georgia’s Matthew Stafford. Time will tell if he’s the missing piece to Detroit’s vast puzzle, yet only two quarterbacks selected number one in the past nineteen years have led their team to Super Bowl victories and they are both named Manning.
So if you didn’t get your fill of Mel Kiper’s polished coif over the past few weeks, here’s one final draft recap to assess how certain teams fared in either filling their needs or jeopardizing their future.
Philadelphia Eagles – Amazingly, one of college football’s hottest prospects, Jeremy Maclin, WR from Missouri, fell to the Eagles with the 19th pick. Philly must have been licking their chops as many prognosticators had Maclin as a top 10 talent. After eleven years in the NFL, Donovan McNabb may finally have someone to throw to, assuming Maclin can mature before McNabb retires. The Eagles also nabbed Pitt’s RB LeSean McCoy to help lessen Brian Westbrook’s load. Florida Gator TE Cornelius Ingram went to Philly in the 5th round.
Washington Redskins – Although team owner Daniel Snyder was unable to land the quarterback he coveted in Mark Sanchez, the ‘Skins still drafted another talent with the 13th pick, Texas’ DE Brian Orakpo, who inexplicably fell farther than expected. After twelve other teams passed him by, the Redskins wasted no time picking him when they found he was still available. In fact, Commissioner Goodell had barely left his podium, before immediately walking back to announce Washington’s selection. If every team drafted that quickly, the entire draft could be condensed to a one-hour broadcast. With Albert Haynesworth alongside him, the Skins’ defensive line should be set for years. Their questions remain on the other side of the ball.
Green Bay Packers – As the Brett Favre jerseys in Lambeau Field finally start to diminish, the Packers focused on defense early in this draft. They hit a potential home run with two picks in the opening round, drafting a combined 600 lbs of football player. The Pack took Boston College’s DT BJ Raji ninth overall then, ten picks later, chose USC’s LB Clay Matthews whose grandfather, father and uncle have all played in the NFL. Green Bay selected offensive linemen in later rounds proving they’re looking to rebuild a solid foundation.
Detroit Lions – Detroit, who has drafted miserably in recent years, was under the gun with this number one pick overall. Should they take Stafford? Should they go with an offensive lineman? Should they trade the pick? If they draft Stafford, would they be able to sign him? A broke town in a depressed economy would be watching closely. The two sides were able to get the deal done before draft day and the Lions never swayed. Detroit fans were probably happy ownership didn’t draft another wide receiver. Whether or not Stafford will pan out remains to be seen but at least the Lions can sell him as the face of their franchise. And if he wins only one game in 2009, it will still be an improvement from last year.
Dallas Cowboys – While all three other NFC East teams improved on draft day, the Cowboys did not. One can only guess they’re hoping the loss of Terrell Owens will provide the renewed camaraderie their locker room so desperately needs. Dallas didn’t do much in this draft to build upon their future but then again, Jerry Jones can always go buy himself established talent as he sees fit. Must be nice.
New York Jets – Mark Sanchez played one full season at USC, which was apparently enough for Jets brass to be sold on his talent. Not since Joe Namath will a Jet quarterback garner more face time. Carson Palmer won a Heisman Trophy at USC. Matt Leinart won that, plus a national championship. Sanchez won neither. While those two achievements do not guarantee success at the next level, New York saw enough in Sanchez to make him their arm of the future and possibly mortgage their team to trade up and get him. This move didn’t work so well when the Saints drafted Ricky Williams. Selecting Sanchez was a risky endeavor in a division where the Patriots continue to stockpile talent and the Big Tuna rebuilds the Dolphins. The Jets already sold their soul to get Brett Favre for a year and now will have to decide how early to put Sanchez behind center. If this pick is a bust, it could set the Jets back for years.
Oakland Raiders – The venerable Al Davis is hoping Oakland’s first round gamble, Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey, is explosive enough to complement their offensive future in JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden. The Raiders surprised everyone by picking Heyward-Bey over both Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, who were both more highly touted and still on the board. If this pick goes sour, it may be the final straw for Raider nation to consensually call for Davis’ head and question his commitment to excellence.
Other notable selections: Tyson Jackson (LSU) – 3rd to Kansas City; Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) – 4th to Seattle; Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech) – 10th to San Francisco; Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) – 12th to Denver; Josh Freeman (Kansas State) – 17th to Tampa Bay; Percy Harvin (Florida) – 22nd to Minnesota; Hakeem Nicks (UNC) – 29th to the Giants; Beanie Wells (Ohio State) – 31st to Arizona; James Laurinaitis (Ohio State) – 35th to St Louis; Rey Maualuga (USC) – 38th to Cincinnati; Everette Brown (FSU) – 43rd to Carolina; Pat White (West Virginia) – 44th to Miami