NFC North: Andre Smith
The Lions have indicated some interest in moving left tackle Jeff Backus to guard if they could find a suitable replacement at left tackle. That didn't happen during the draft last month, but that doesn't mean the situation couldn't be resolved via free agency. Stephen Peterman seems to be the Lions' likely starter at right guard, but I don't think you can say that anyone has the left guard position locked down at this point.
Jones, who will turn 30 in August, has been slowed by injuries in recent seasons but was once one of the better left tackles in the game. Cincinnati effectively replaced him this spring by selecting Andre Smith with the No. 6 overall pick of the draft, but he is still considered to be a starting-caliber player.
We've been talking about this thing since January. Now, we've finally made it to the eve of the NFL draft. Soon we'll be under way -- and actually getting some answers to the questions we've been asking for months.
Will the Lions actually make a pick at No. 20 and No. 33, as currently scheduled? We all know the Lions have five of the first 82 draft choices, but overall they have eight for the weekend. Given their across-the-board personnel needs, that's not a high total. (Especially when you consider they have none in the fourth or fifth rounds.) The lower third of the first round, and the top of the second, are considered high value picks and the Lions should have opportunities to trade at least one of them to accumulate more picks in the middle of the draft. Here's another question: If USC linebacker Rey Maualuga is available at No. 20, as he is in Mel Kiper Jr.'s final mock draft, do you take him or trade down?
Has Jeff Backus played his last down as a left tackle for the Lions? There has been talk of moving Backus to left guard if the Lions drafted a left tackle with the No. 1 overall pick. But assuming Stafford is the guy, Detroit might not be in position to draft a left tackle who is ready to start instantly. The Lions must hope Mississippi tackle Michael Oher falls to them at No. 20. A Stafford-Oher pairing not only would allow the Lions to move Backus to guard, but it would also give Detroit the flexibility to concentrate on defense for the remainder of the draft. For what it's worth, Kiper has Oher going to San Diego at No. 16.
Would Ted Thompson take Alabama tackle Andre Smith? The answer seems to depend on whom you talk to. I've heard from some people who don't think Thompson would take on a player with as many red flags as Smith has displayed, no matter how good a player he might be. (Smith left the scouting combine early, was out of shape at his pro day and recently changed agents.) Others consider Thompson a traditional personnel man whose top priority is football ability. If it's the latter, Smith will be a Packer if he's available. It's also possible we'll never find out. Kiper has Smith going to Cincinnati at No. 6, three spots ahead of the Packers' choice.
Where are the Packers going to get much-needed help at defensive end and linebacker if they go offense in the first round? Well, they still have an early second-round pick and two choices in the third to address those issues. For the sake of conversation, I'll pass along ESPN analyst Todd McShay's take in his seven-round mock draft. With the No. 41 overall pick, McShay had the Packers taking Cincinnati linebacker Connor Barwin. McShay also had the Packers taking Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd in the third round and USC defensive end Kyle Moore in the fourth.
Would Minnesota really pull the trigger on Florida receiver Percy Harvin? We know the Vikings have put an awful lot of work into researching Harvin's history, probably more than could be expected if it were all a smokescreen. (Would coach Brad Childress really spend a day on Florida's campus three days before the draft just to throw off other teams?) There are so many red flags on Harvin that it's hard to believe the Vikings would draft him. But they might view him as a special talent who wouldn't be available at No. 22 were it not for the issues he has encountered. Alas, the Vikings might never get a chance to make this decision. Kiper, at least, has Harvin going to the New York Jets at No. 17.
If they miss or pass on Harvin, will the Vikings still take a receiver at No. 22? The whole world seems to think so. Kiper has them taking Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt, while McShay predicts Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey. I've been slow to this bandwagon, believing the Vikings would be more likely to take an offensive tackle if all things are equal. But as it turns out, all things might not be equal. Arizona tackle Eben Britton likely will be available at No. 22, but there are some indications the Vikings aren't high on Britton at that value spot.
Will Chicago get an impact player at No. 49 overall? It probably depends on what position they draft. Unless the market tanks, you can reasonably expect at least five receivers to be off the board when the Bears' pick arrives. The chances aren't high of the draft's sixth-best receiver contributing right away. If they go with a receiver, he's more likely to be a complementary/developmental player. The same can't be said for safety, however. If things fall the right way, the Bears could have their pick of perhaps every safety in the draft. Western Michigan's Louis Delmas, Alabama's Rashad Johnson and Missouri's William Moore could all compete for a starting job right away.
We here at the ESPN Blog Network decided to have some fun and conduct our own mock draft. Its intrinsic value rates somewhere below the efforts of actual experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, but it was fun nonetheless.
I'll expand my explanations for the NFC North picks below, including one highly controversial choice for which I'm certain to absorb an unmerciful flogging. Onward...
No. 1 overall
Detroit Lions: Quarterback Matthew Stafford
Why: I think it's pretty clear the Lions have targeted Stafford over Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. Otherwise, Curry probably would be signed by now. Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith is also a candidate, but in the end it seems the Lions want to open their new era with a blue-chip building block at the game's most important position.
No. 9 overall
Green Bay Packers: Andre Smith
Why: AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky made this choice a bit easier by taking Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji off the board one pick earlier. Some of the defensive names previously connected to the Packers were still available, including Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin and LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. But in this scenario I think Packers general manager Ted Thompson would select the best player available. It just so happens Green Bay has a need at the position as well.
No. 20 overall
Lions: Running back Knowshon Moreno
Why: Ah, yes. I will accept virtual pummeling via the mailbag. I know the Lions have more pressing needs than at running back. And I'm well aware they have a good young tailback in Kevin Smith and signed veteran Maurice Morris in free agency. I guess I'm just taking coach Jim Schwartz at his word that the Lions won't allow need to trump talent in this draft. When I looked at the players left on the board at this spot, I thought Moreno was clearly the best value. The Lions aren't necessarily targeting Moreno, but I think they will seek out the best value -- regardless of position -- at every spot in this draft.
No. 22 overall
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive tackle Eben Britton
Why: I went with the best offensive tackle available even with all of the draft's second-tier receivers still available (Darrius Heyward-Bey, Percy Harvin, Kenny Britt and Hakeem Nicks among them). This might be a few spots too high to take Britton, but in the end I'm not totally convinced the Vikings are targeting a first-round receiver. And that was before news surfaced that they worked out West Virginia quarterback/receiver Pat White.
Martin Mayhew seemed prepared for the question. Detroit's new general manager was more than ready to address concerns about his apprenticeship in the failed tenure of predecessor Matt Millen.
"I would say this: Judge me by what I do," Mayhew said, "and don't judge me by who my friends are or how I got here. Judge me by my actions. To me, at the end of the day, that's what it's about. It's what happens here."
|AP Photo/Carlos Osorio|
|There is a lot riding on who Martin Mayhew and the Lions select with their No. 1 pick.|
Mayhew spoke those words in January. Three months later, Judgment Day has arrived. Mayhew's clean slate, assuming you gave him one, is about to receive its most significant etch. He has directed the Lions to an internal decision on whom to select with the No. 1 overall pick in Saturday's draft, and while the choice has yet to be revealed publicly, it will forever define his career in Detroit.
A good decision will jumpstart the Lions' resurgence. A poor choice, or even one that goes awry for reasons unforeseen today, will cement his connection to Millen and dig an even greater hole for the franchise.
Consider the shining moment in the career of Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian: Choosing quarterback Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Polian already had built a strong reputation by then, but the success of his decision catapulted him to at least 11 more years of employment with the Colts.
On the other hand, can you even name the general manager who selected quarterback Alex Smith with the top pick in 2005? (San Francisco coach Mike Nolan made the final decision.) What about the man who drafted defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000? (Cleveland general manager Dwight Clark.)
Such polarity prompted Polian to offer some sobering advice earlier this winter. Asked what he would say to Mayhew as the Lions contemplate their options at No. 1, Polian said: "Pray a lot. And recognize that you can't be right [all the time]. You're going to be wrong 50 percent of the time."
NFC North front offices are taking a few minutes out of their draft preparation this week to meet with local reporters. Don't expect anything earth-shattering to come from these interviews, but we'll check in with each nonetheless -- beginning with Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson.
(Detroit and Chicago are hosting their news conferences Tuesday. Minnesota's has not been finalized.)
I did think there was an interesting point near the end of Thompson's Q&A session. (A full transcript is available here.) Thompson laid out the thought process for evaluating a troubled but talented prospect. The obvious overtone was Alabama left tackle Andre Smith, but Thompson did not speak about the player specifically. Here's how he described the scenario in general terms:
"I think at the end of the day what we do is we try to make a decision, and maybe it is a judgment call, but at some point, it is my call, is this a good guy or a bad guy? I think everybody makes mistakes. I think there is going to be guys that you are going to read about coming through this draft, and you maybe already have, that have done things in their past and it doesn't look great, but at the end of the day we think he is more of a good guy than a bad guy. There are other people that quite frankly if we think he is a bad guy then we are not going to mess with him."
Smith was once projected as the top player in the 2009 draft, but his stock began to slip even before the end of the college football season. He recently fired agent Alvin Keels, and his lack of conditioning during pre-draft workouts has also been a concern. As a result, it seems likely Smith could be available for the Packers to consider at No. 9 overall. He would be an attractive target given the state of the Packers' tackle position; Chad Clifton is coming off a sub-par year and Mark Tauscher remains unsigned while he rehabilitates his knee.
You won't find many scouts who will knock Smith's on-field skills. The question is whether his conditioning issues are indicative of a general lack of discipline, or if Smith is simply a young kid who has been slow to get his act together. Thompson wouldn't say if the Packers had removed any players from their draft board, but it will be fascinating to see what they do if Smith is indeed available at No. 9.
It's usually a warning sign when a draft-eligible player changes agents in the middle of April, and, well, Alabama offensive lineman Andre Smith doesn't need any more red flags.
But that's exactly what has happened, writes Ian R. Rapoport of the Birmingham News. According to the report, Smith fired agent Alvin Keels over the weekend and is expected to hire Ian Greengross.
If you haven't noticed, I don't typically dig too deeply into agent news. Most of it is inside-baseball gossip that doesn't hugely impact what you see on the field. But in this case, Smith's handling of his representation is a reflection on the general disarray of his draft status over the past five months.
It's an issue on this blog because Green Bay, armed with the No. 9 overall pick, has a strong need at tackle and will face a difficult decision about whether to draft him. Or, perhaps this news will be the final hint that Smith brings too many sideshows to merit being a top-10 pick.
Smith was suspended for the Sugar Bowl because of illegal contact with an agent in December, according to ESPN.com's Chris Low and others. He didn't settle on Keels as his agent until the middle of February, and his subsequent decision to leave the annual scouting combine without working out was disastrous.
Was it Keels' fault that Smith left early, or that he showed up out of shape for his pro day? No. But for the issue to boil over so close to the draft indicates an unsettling sense of chaos. Greengross, if he is indeed Keels' replacement, has the difficult job of halting a freefall.
Let's hear from you, Packer types. Aside from the off-field drama, and the conditioning issues, Smith is considered the most talented offensive tackle in a deep draft. Do you want him at No. 9? Or is he too risky of a pick?
Team needs: Defensive end, linebacker, offensive tackle
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Would the Packers select Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith despite his disappointing offseason?|
Dream scenario: Given their spot at No. 9 overall, the Packers should be able to draft a top player at one of their need positions. And it's a good thing, because even after a shift to the 3-4 defense, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson laid off the free-agent market and saved most of his work for the draft. Texas linebacker/defensive end Brian Orakpo would be an ideal fit to serve as a multidown pass-rusher from the linebacker position. It appears Orakpo will be off the board at No. 9, but stranger things have happened. If Orakpo is gone, Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin could give the Packers an immediate starter. LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson is another possibility.
Plan B: This is where it gets interesting. Left tackle Andre Smith, once considered the top player in the draft, is likely to be available at No. 9. Smith's stock has dropped after a disastrous performance at the scouting combine, and he didn't help himself by appearing out of shape at his pro day workout. But anyone who looks at the film will tell you Smith was a dominant player in college and, from a football standpoint, projects the same way in the NFL. The Packers have a definite need at both tackle positions, where Chad Clifton is nearing the end of his career and Mark Tauscher is recovering from knee surgery. But the Packers will have to square Smith's offseason problems before deciding whether to draft him.
Scouts Inc.'s take: "I think they need to go defense, but I look at Tauscher and Clifton and sometimes it looks like they're just getting run around by defensive ends. Does an Andre Smith make sense there if he's on the board? Or with the 3-4 defense, is it maybe a guy like Maybin or Orakpo? To me, if you look at the history of drafting for the 3-4 defense, you usually can get those guys later in the draft. Look at Joey Porter.
Who has final say: Thompson enters his fifth draft as the Packers' general manager. Known for accumulating additional picks, Thompson has chosen a total of 43 players over that span. Twenty-eight remain on the roster.
Now On the Clock: Jacksonville Jaguars, April 9.
Lots of issues to delve into after a week at the NFL owners' meeting. Let's get right to it.
Talha of St. Paul writes: Hey Kevin, I am a Packers fan and this may surprise you because I live in Minnesota. I just wanted to get your thoughts on the signing of Duke Preston. How would you rate hi, as a player and also do you see him starting for the Pack this year? Thanks.
Kevin Seifert: Actually, there are so many Packers fans in Minnesota it's really amazing. No surprise to me at all. Anyway, I think Preston is a borderline starter/backup who won't embarrass you if he gets into the game. I doubt the Packers are planning to pencil him in as a starter on the first day of training camp. He provides depth at all three positions and could play anywhere if needed.
Brandon of Huntington Beach, Calif., writes: What are you thoughts on the offensive lineman "trade" the Bears made with the Browns? Did the Bears get the better deal with that or was it basically a wash? Also, do you think this changes the draft strategy back to a receiver in the first round?
Kevin Seifert: My biggest reaction is that it's always interesting how NFL teams sometimes value other teams' players more than their own. The Bears had John St. Clair for four years and have a pretty good sense for what kind of player he is. They made a financial offer to him in accordance with that evaluation, but the Browns doubled it. I'd trust the Bears' evaluation over the Browns' in this one. Unfortunately for Chicago, it leaves them with a player the Browns didn't want to continue with. The Bears' contract for Kevin Shaffer was a bit lower in value than St. Clair's. It's basically a wash, but at least the Bears paid a slightly lower figure. And I don't think this changes the Bears' need for a long-term answer at right tackle. St. Clair and Shaffer are both journeymen and short-term answers.
Ben of Iowa City writes: What do you think about the Packers taking Andre Smith at the 9th spot? They desperately need an OT, and Smith was a monster 3 straight years at Alabama. I'm willing to forgive his combine mishap. Is Ted Thompson? In my opinion, the Packers have to take him, do you agree?
Kevin Seifert: I think that's going to be one of the NFC North's questions as we head down the home stretch before the draft. The Packers' short- and long-term needs at tackle have been well-documented, with Chad Clifton seemingly nearing the end of his career and Mark Tauscher's left knee a question mark. I'm sure Thompson would like to add a big-time pass-rusher for the 3-4 defense, but everyone agrees Smith is immensely talented. If all things were equal, he'd be off the board by No. 9. I know there are concerns about his departure from the combine, but to me the biggest concern is that he was still in pretty average shape for his pro day. The Packers have a really, really difficult decision to make here.
Gerald of Jennings, La., writes: Hey Kevin, I'm not a big Lions fan, but I love to see a team that's been down succeed the following season. My concern is that everyone seems focus on the Lions taking Matthew Stafford, but I think with there position it would be a huge mistake picking a quarterback with their first pick. Its pretty obvious that after going winless they have a lot of areas to work on, but with Daunte Culpepper as quarterback it seems they have something to work with in that position for now. I believe the Lions should take the safe course like the Dolphins did last year and maybe draft an OT like Jason Smith or any other OT or maybe an LB like Aaron Curry. And with their other pick in the first pick maybe Sanchez or some OT or LB will also be available, but I'm not sure using the first pick on Stafford is a good idea. What is your take on this?
Kevin Seifert: I am still in the camp that the Lions are best off solidifying their line and other positions unless their scouts believe Stafford is a once-in-a-generation prospect. He's definitely the top quarterback in the draft, but that doesn't necessarily make him the best player overall. You also have to wonder how Stafford would develop on a team that has so many other issues from a personnel standpoint. I reserve the right to change my mind, but that's where I'm coming from now.
K. of Wisconsin writes: TE Tony Gonzalez has said that he wants out of KC. Last year he showed interest to the Packers but the organization was unwilling to give up a 2nd or 3rd rd draft pick. Should the Packers try to go at it again to try to compensate something from FA or do you think they will do well with Finley and Lee at those positions?
Kevin Seifert: To this point, we've heard nothing to suggest the Packers still have interest in Gonzalez, but the Chiefs have also said they have no plans to trade him. I think they have high hopes for Jermichael Finley at the position, even though he seemed pretty immature last year. I don't know that you make a decision on Gonzalez one way or the other because of Finley, but I don't sense the Packers consider it a primary goal right now.
Marc of Minneapolis writes: A lot of discussions are had regarding a draftee's Wonderlic test scores before and after the draft. My question is, do teams ever get players' high school and college transcripts? It seems as though finding out a prospect's class load and grades would help just as much, if not more than any other measure as to whether or not they have the ability to learn complex offensive and defensive schemes in the NFL. Thanks!
Kevin Seifert: I suppose the transcripts are available if needed. But I don't know if I'd want to base any judgments on an athlete's class load. Who knows what goes into picking the classes a player takes? To me, it's better just to judge the results of that education. You can debate whether the Wonderlic is the best way to determine that, but I like it better than a transcript review.
Wisconsin writes: Will the Vikings sign Antoine Winfield to a longer contract? I know he is going to be 32. He is still very productive.
Kevin Seifert: They're definitely working on it. It might not be imminent, but I think it's pretty likely something will happen before the regular season begins.
Steven writes: If the packers sign Duke Preston at 326 lbs, do you think that signals a move away from their mediocre version of the zone blocking scheme?
Kevin Seifert: Well, they did sign Preston after you sent this note. But I don't think it necessarily means they'll stop using the zone-blocking scheme. Mike McCarthy has talked about wanting to get bigger on the offensive line, but there are plenty of teams that zone block with bigger guys. It's not mandatory at all to be undersized when it comes to zone blocking. That's just the way Denver did it.
Kevin Seifert: For the same reason they haven't tried to get anyone else of that magnitude: Brad Childress has strong faith that Tarvaris Jackson will develop into their long-term starter.
Shawn writes: Great blog. I read your post about the Vikings stadium problem and the L.A. stadium push to maybe get the Vikes there. My question is how the fan base of our rivals in the NFC North might feel about the Vikings moving? As a Viking fan I hate the Packers and the Bears but look forward twice a year to play them. I couldn't see anyone else in the north.
Kevin Seifert: It would definitely take some getting used to. I saw one bit of speculation that the Vikings and St. Louis could switch divisions if Minnesota lost its team. I wonder whether Bears, Packers and Lions fans would want to see the Rams twice a year.
Kevin of Marshfield writes: Why are the Packers dragging their feet on signing Greg Jennings & now Nick Collins to contracts? Aaron Kampman's is coming up too. Are the Packers going to pull a Brewers and not pay there players there dew and just keep on signing cheep ones now? I am huge Packer fan but hate how the front office does their business sometimes.
Kevin Seifert: I don't think we've reached dragging-their-feet-status yet. This is the time of year when negotiations typically begin. As long as it happens before the season starts, there usually isn't much acrimony. In Collins' case, I think it's more about the Packers showing no interest in even starting talks. That will eventually subside. He knows that the longer he keeps playing well, the more his price will go up.
Noah of St. Paul writes: Why are the Vikings so reluctant to sign or retain a pro bowl caliber fullback? Although Adrian Peterson may prefer to run without a lead blocker, few would argue that the loss of Tony Richardson wasn't a significant blow to the Vikes' ground game in 2008. Now, faced with a mere $350k premium on Leonard Weaver over resigning the mediocre Naufahu Tahi, they balk again. What gives?
Kevin Seifert: I don't think they balked at Weaver's price. From what I understand, it was the other way around. Weaver didn't want to play for them.
Team needs: Right tackle, receiver, quarterback
|Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images|
|Michael Oher, if he falls to No. 22, would be an immediate starter at tackle for the Vikings.|
Plan B: If the draft shakes out the way it's currently projected, the Vikings might need to shift gears to receiver. They already attempted to upgrade the situation, but free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed with Seattle instead. It's likely that several, if not all, of the draft's top receivers will be available at No. 22 overall. The Vikings will likely have their pick of two of the following three players: Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, Florida's Percy Harvin and North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks.
Scouts Inc. take: I think Hakeem Nicks makes a lot of sense in the first round. He's a guy that is versatile and you can even play him out of the backfield. You pair him with Adrian Peterson and you have to really big, versatile threats. The Vikings' quarterback situation concerns me and that's something they need to address. But I do think that giving another option to a guy like Sage Rosenfels or even Tarvaris Jackson, who I think is still trying to learn the system. Having a guy that runs routes where the quarterbacks can get the ball out of his hands quickly is a good thing. -- Jeremy Green, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Rick Spielman enters his third draft as the Vikings' vice president of player personnel. Spielman works alongside coach Brad Childress but has authority over draft-day decisions. Ten of his 13 draft choices remain on the roster.
Now on the clock: Philadelphia Eagles, March 26.
For your peace of mind, I've separated this week's mailbag into two categories. You'll see "Objections to the Matthew Stafford/ESPN Research post" on Sunday. Today is "All Others."
Jessie of Sacramento writes: I'm a lions fan who has the opinion that we should draft matthew stafford. however, many of my fellow lions fans believe aaron curry should be the pick. now while i know he's going to be a stud in the NFL, his contract may be too large to be drafted at number 1. if he gets number 1 money, he will be instantly the highest paid LB in the league. how could anyone possibly justify picking him at 1 then? what kind of a contract would you expect him to demand at #1?
Kevin Seifert: That's an interesting angle to take. The NFL's rookie pay scale is so out of whack that the No. 1 pick almost always becomes one of the league's highest-paid players at his position. If Curry goes No. 1, he would be in line for a contract that includes about $30 million in guaranteed money. That's more than twice what Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis got in his latest contract. As it stands now, the league's highest-paid linebacker is Bart Scott of the New York Jets, who got $22 million guaranteed in his new contract.
Steve of Burlington, Ontario, writes: Do you anticipate the Lions releasing their new logo and colors prior to the draft to boost new jersey sales... hopefully Curry jerseys...they seem to be treating it like a bride on her wedding day and us long suffering fans are the groom. Give us something. We've been waiting for over a decade.
Kevin Seifert: The whole situation has been curious. Teams often acknowledge that they are planning a change to help build anticipation toward an unveiling, but the Lions have just been pretty quiet on the topic. There has been a lot of circumstantial evidence -- a big sale on 2008 merchandise and an apparent slip of the tongue by newcomer Grady Jackson -- but nothing definitive. The Lions will want to have this resolved one way or the other before the draft. Here's one cynical suggestion: Keep the old uniforms for one more year, forcing those who want to root for the No. 1 overall pick to buy an old one in 2009 and a new one in 2010.
Josh of Tuscaloosa writes: Kevin, I am a student at the University of Alabama and a Packer fan! My insight from a student stand point is that Andre Smith let his team down in their biggest moment. He is not the most loved guy on campus, or in the state for that matter. However, I can say that before he went somewhat off the deep end, he as far as we know was a model citizen here. Nick Saban has cracked down hard on players who don't tow the line but Andre was never one of those until January. I think he is young and dumb to be honest. His work ethic IS a problem. He is blessed with tremendous skill, I have watched him destroy opponents, but maybe he never took that skill to the weight room. My second part of this is as a Packer fan. As much as I want Andre to succeed, I DO NOT WANT HIM TO BE A PACKER. If you did not know, Ted Thompson was here right across the street from me. I know that he was here for Andre. Andre is not the answer to Cheeseheads' prayers Kevin. Thank you for your wonderful work. Have a good day!
Kevin Seifert: You're right, Josh. Ted Thompson himself was at the Alabama pro day, and I would imagine he wasn't happy to see Smith so out of shape. This will be a classic risk-reward decision. There seems to be little doubt that Smith can play the game. And offensive linemen don't necessarily have to be in Olympic shape to play at a high level. But what Thompson will have to determine is whether Smith's lack of conditioning is a result of laziness, bad advice or the need for a change of scenery. I just think what Smith has shown on tape is enough to merit a long look at him with the No. 9 overall pick.
Mike of Sacramento writes: Thanks for the breakdown on Andre "You Gonna Eat That?" Smith's chances of falling to the Packers at pick 9. I think we'd be better off going with defense on the first pick, then trying to get Beatty out of UConn. On that note, the ol' married couple of Kiper/McShay amazingly have formed a consensus in their latest mock that Tyson Jackson out of LSU is the best DE prospect in this year's draft for a 3-4 defense (they both have him going to Denver at 12). With Cullen Jenkins having injury problems and Johnny Jolly's interactions with Texas law enforcement, would it be considered a reach for the Packers to take Jackson at the 9 slot? Keep up the great work.
Kevin Seifert: Actually, Kiper likes Texas' Brian Orakpo as an end and McShay is high on Penn State's Aaron Maybin. I won't pretend to try to break down the pluses and minuses of Jackson, Maybin and Orakpo other than to say I think the Packers should draft the best pass-rusher and not necessarily the one they believe fits best into a 3-4 alignment. Get the player, then design a scheme around him.
Steve of Rochester writes: Kevin, I find the speculation that Jay Cutler might be available to the Vikings via trade very intriguing since I've had a private theory that in the 2006 draft Vikings coach Brad Childress was hoping to draft Cutler. Many thought Cutler was the best prospect but was predicted (correctly) to be the 3rd QB taken that year. In 2006 the Vikings had the 17th pick. Should be good enough to get the 3rd QB selected, right? After all in 2005 the 2nd QB (Rogers) was not drafted until the 24 selection and no team from the 11-16 picks should be looking to draft a QB in the first round. But the smarter Shanahan traded up from the 15th pick to the 11th to ensure that he would get Cutler. There goes Childress' franchise QB that he was going to brilliantly pick up in his first draft as an NFL head coach. So the Vikings, in a panic, have to trade up to take Jackson in round 2. Childress can't say he blew it with missing Cutler so he tells everyone (and himself) that he can mold Jackson into a starting QB. Your thoughts?
Kevin Seifert: Sounds like a good theory to me, although I've never had anyone tell me that in so many words. I think the Vikings were genuinely interested in Cutler back then, but they also put in a lot of work on Tarvaris Jackson. I believe they thought there was a pretty good chance they wouldn't get Cutler -- and/or wouldn't be willing to trade up to get him -- and would have to look elsewhere for a quarterback. That all said, I continue to think the Vikings would be silly not to explore every possibility if Cutler becomes available.
Alex of Kenosha, Wis., writes: Kevin: Huge Minnesota fan. Are the Vikings going to throw any money around this offseason? I know they were going for TJ, and lost out on Nate Washington. Harrison and Garcia are still out there, any chance they will give either of these guys a look? Thanks. Alex.
Kevin Seifert: After trading for Sage Rosenfels, I'd be shocked if they pursued Jeff Garcia. As for receiver, I'm guessing they're going to look at the draft. That could change if Torry Holt is released as expected, but at this point I'm not sensing any desire on their part to spend money just for the sake of spending.
Niraj of Chicago writes: Hi Kevin, I've been extremely disappointed that my beloved Chicago Bears have done next-to-nothing in the free agency market. Do you have any indication why this has been the case? Thanks, Niraj.
Kevin Seifert: What, you didn't like the Josh Bullocks signing? My only guess is that the Bears have committed themselves to getting better with their own players, especially the ones they signed to lucrative extensions last summer. That includes Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Devin Hester and Tommie Harris. They chose to put their money into those players, and very few teams spend lavishly on their own players while also acquiring big-name talent on the free-agent market as well.
Brad of Collinsville writes: Kevin, what is your view about Chicago's Quarterback situation. Do you think their sitting around and letting good prospects escape them or do you think they might be thinking about Michael Vick, since he might have 4 or 5 years good playing time left in him and that he is very athletic in the way he can run out of the pocket.
Kevin Seifert: No, I think they are committed to giving Kyle Orton one more year to prove himself. If he falters in 2009, you'll see a more aggressive search for a new quarterback. I assume.
Holgate writes: What are the chances of the Lions passing on a Qb with the first pick, and possibly landing Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez with the 20th pick they have in the first round?
Kevin Seifert: These things change every day, but as of now I'd say it's pretty unlikely either guy would be available at No. 20.
Tom of Midland writes: Kevin, read the blog daily and love it. Thanks! Here's a question. Why don't the Lions have an all out 2009 defensive draft. I'm talking no QB's, no OL's, just defense. We scored a decent number of points last year and even with switching quarterbacks every week. Look at the Ravens. They get pretty far with a lot of defense and a little O. That would shore up our D for years to come!
Kevin Seifert: Interesting. The only flaw is I think the Lions do need some work on the offensive line. They're not in shambles there, but the strength of the offensive tackles class means they should really take advantage to shore up that position. Otherwise, I agree the Lions have many more needs on defense than they do on offense.
John of Winston-Salem writes: With Cassel going for the #34, and Cutler upset in Denver. Is it even a reasonable speculation that Detroit could trade for Cutler by swapping their #1 for Denver's #12 and #48?
Kevin Seifert: So, basically, the Lions would get Cutler and a second-round pick in exchange for moving down 12 spots in the first round. I think it's going to take more than that. Cutler has more of a pedigree than Cassel at this point.
I know. The headaches were coming on. A few of you were getting nosebleeds. Maybe the shakes, too. But rest easy. We are here to feed your NFL draft addiction and soothe those side effects.
On Thursday, ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay released new, combined mock drafts based on their information through Wednesday's pro days. You'll need an Insider subscription to see their entire board, but I can bring you their choices for the NFC North teams at no charge to you. (Just don't tell anyone.)
And what the heck. I'll drop in a few pithy comments of my own as well.
Kiper: Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford
From the peanut gallery: McShay has argued against Stafford, but as of now he believes the Lions are leaning in that direction. I agree with Don Banks (SI.com) and Pat Kirwan (NFL.com). Baylor offensive lineman Jason Smith is looking awfully tempting right now.
From the peanut gallery: All things equal, I like the idea of adding another interior defender. That's where the Lions were at their worst last season.
Kiper: Texas defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo
McShay: Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin
From the peanut gallery: Both Kiper and McShay passed on Alabama offensive lineman Andre Smith here. I think Smith would be worth a long, hard look.
Kiper: Maryland receiver Darius Heyward-Bey
From the peanut gallery: Hard to argue with the player or his position as it relates to the Bears. But take a look at Jerry Angelo's history in drafting receivers and get back to me.
Kiper: North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks
McShay: Florida receiver Percy Harvin
From the peanut gallery: A receiver would definitely fall under the "best available player" category. Another option here, under the same guideline: USC linebacker Clay Matthews Jr.
In the video below, Kiper runs through his top 10 with Hannah Storm of SportsCenter:
Sam of San Francisco makes an interesting point, one that takes us into a discussion few would have predicted just a month ago:
Kevin, despite all the talk about the packers needing an upgrade to help out their new 3-4, isn't offensive tackle an even bigger need? Clifton is coming off two knee surgeries, Tauscher is a free agent coming of an ACL, and no one likes the idea of Daryn Colledge protecting Aaron Rodgers' blind side. They have to take a tackle somewhere, right?
Simply put, Sam, I agree strongly. Ultimately, I think it will lead to a fairly serious debate about whether the Packers should consider troubled but talented Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith with the No. 9 overall pick in next month's draft. (Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette delved into this issue a bit here.)
Clifton had what amounted to clean-up procedures on both knees after a season in which he took a notable downturn in performance. Coach Mike McCarthy said last month at the annual scouting combine that Clifton believes the surgeries will help him in 2009 and added: "He feels he'll feel better this year than he did this past year."
|Andre Smith talks about his desire and drive to play at the NFL level.|
But eventually, the Packers are going to have to identify Clifton's successor. Yet their top in-house candidate, Colledge, might also figure into the 2009 right tackle mix if Tauscher doesn't return, isn't ready to play when training camp opens or is ineffective after having his torn anterior cruciate ligament repaired in December.
The Packers also will consider 2008 draft choice Breno Giacomini at right tackle, but as the draft gets closer you would think some people will be tempted by the prospects of grabbing Smith -- once considered the top player in the draft -- with the No. 9 pick.
Smith followed a disastrous combine with a disappointing statistical performance Wednesday at his Pro Day, although NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt reported Smith "looked far better in his positional drills."
There is still a lot to be determined about Smith's draft status, but as of now there appears to be a reasonable chance he will be available at No. 9. The real question is whether his character issues, combined with an apparent lack of preparation for the physical aspects of pre-draft festivities, make him too much of a risk at No. 9. (Wednesday, ESPN.com analyst Todd McShay placed Smith in his third tier of draft prospects, meaning he is worthy of a top 20 pick.)
From a football perspective, Smith is as talented as any offensive lineman available in the draft. That leaves the Packers facing less of a football decision and more of a character evaluation.
What do you think? Is Smith worth the risk if he's available at No. 9? Or is that too high of an investment to make on a prospect who is in freefall?
Let's change things up a bit Thursday morning and lead off our coverage with some multimedia. In the video below, you'll see Jim Rome's eight-minute interview Wednesday with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz on ESPN.
A couple of highlights:
- Schwartz said the Lions have refurbished their weight room and "changed up" the locker room at their practice facility. "Basically," he said, "[players] can step in the first day and say, 'Wow, things are different around here'"
- On Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: "He still has some hoops to jump through for us." Asked to be more specific, Schwartz said: "We need to spend some time with him on the board, talking football, on a little more in-depth basis."
Here's the full video:
And now, let's march around the NFC North:
- New Bears safety Josh Bullocks is the twin brother of Detroit safety Daniel Bullocks, notes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. The total value of the one-year deal Bullocks signed Wednesday is $1.2 million, with $525,000 guaranteed.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald: "At the end of the 2008 regular season, [Bears coach] Lovie Smith said his team was close. Whatever it was Smith thought his team was close to, they're farther away from it now than when they started."
- Alabama left tackle Andre Smith might have fallen past Green Bay's No. 9 overall pick after struggling during his Pro Day on Wednesday. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette delves into the situation.
- Here's one story we missed Wednesday: Packers defensive end Mike Montgomery is mulling the team's offer to return to Green Bay. Bob McGinn and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have the story.
- John Sullivan, Minnesota's heir apparent at center, has been in regular touch with predecessor Matt Birk since Birk signed last week with Baltimore. Here are stories in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press after a series of interviews Sullivan gave Wednesday.
You know it's starting to be draft season when Mel Kiper Jr. starts adjusting the Big Board. You can view Kiper's updated ranking of the top 32 players here, but for your convenience -- and especially for those with interest in Detroit (No. 1 overall) and Green Bay (No. 9) -- here is Kiper's 10 best players in the draft as of Thursday night:
- Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry
- Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree
- Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford
- Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith
- USC quarterback Mark Sanchez
- Texas defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo
- Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe
- Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin
- Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji
- Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith
A few thoughts:
- This is not a mock draft that predicts who will draft whom. It's simply Kiper's ranking of the best players.
- Like many observers after the combine, Kiper now considers Curry the draft's best player. There have only been two linebackers taken No. 1 overall since the 1970 merger. Will Detroit make Curry the third?
- Kiper now ranks Stafford ahead of Sanchez but is giving the latter more love than a lot of analysts. Sanchez didn't have a scintillating combine and his experience remains a question mark.
- Andre Smith now ranks as Mel's 10th-best player, but the bigger question is how many teams will be scared away by his character questions.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
|The Lions are unlikely to take Alabama tackle Andre Smith.|
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you're keeping a running short list of the possibilities for Detroit's No. 1 overall pick, you're probably safe crossing off Alabama tackle Andre Smith's name.
Smith's combine experience started with concern about his weight -- which he said was 332 pounds, down from 345 -- and his decision not to work out. It continued Saturday when he was reported to have left Indianapolis altogether among conflicting reports about his plans.
Even players that skip the actual workouts typically stay in town to conduct individual interviews and meetings with the teams. Combined with his suspension for the Sugar Bowl last month year, and Smith is accumulating a few too many red flags for the No. 1 overall pick.
Lions officials have had dinner with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and lunch with USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. And if the Lions decide to look toward the tackle position, you would have to think that Baylor's Jason Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and possibly even Mississippi's Michael Oher have all leapfrogged Andre Smith in Indianapolis.
As we wrap up combine coverage Sunday, we'll endeavor to bring you a more detailed breakdown of the top of the draft.