NFL Nation: Draft Watch 2011 NFC

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Dallas Cowboys

Dream scenario: If the Cowboys play things the conventional way and sit tight at No. 9, they’ll probably be looking at either defensive end J.J. Watt or offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Either one would provide good value or fill a big need, and the Cowboys would improve. But Dallas owner Jerry Jones doesn’t always do things the conventional way. Although trading up to the top five might be difficult, Jones’ imagination could heat up if LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson makes it past the first five picks. The entire Dallas secondary had a horrible year last season, and Peterson would provide an instant upgrade. Jones might not be able to sit still if he’s within striking distance of Peterson.

Plan B: If there’s no chance at Peterson and the Cowboys aren’t excited enough about Watt or Smith, they could reach slightly and take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara. He’s the second-best cornerback in this draft, and most mocks have him going somewhere in the teens. If the Cowboys like the player enough, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to just take him. If another team is looking to move up for another player, the Cowboys could drop down a few spots and still have a shot at Amukamara.

Washington Redskins

Dream scenario: The Redskins, who need a quarterback perhaps more than any other team on the planet, would love nothing more than for something bizarre to suddenly cause Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert to start falling. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Carolina’s leaning toward Newton but hasn’t made a final decision. Even if the Panthers go with Newton, Buffalo could go with linebacker Von Miller at No. 3, and the word out of Arizona is the Cardinals probably are looking more for a pass-rusher than a quarterback. That would put the Redskins within striking distance on Gabbert, and general manager Bruce Allen and owner Daniel Snyder could try to move up to grab him. Or they could just take a chance that he’ll be available at No. 10.

Plan B: If Newton and Gabbert are gone, there’s no quarterback worthy of the No. 10 pick. Defensive tackle also is a major need, but the Redskins could fill that in free agency. Snyder enjoys making a splash, and if he can’t do it with a quarterback, he might do the next-best thing and take a guy who would catch passes from whoever ends up throwing them. With Santana Moss as a free agent and not much else in the receiving corps, Alabama’s Julio Jones could be a very nice consolation prize.

New York Giants

Dream scenario: The desperate need is at outside linebacker, but the only player who is really a sure thing is Miller, and he almost certainly will be a top-five pick. So the dream ends there and reality sets in, and the other reality is the Giants have big needs on the offensive line, where everyone but guard Chris Snee is starting to get old. Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey could really solidify the interior of the line, where the need is greatest. Tackles Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo also could be possibilities as the Giants could consider moving tackle David Diehl to guard.

Plan B: This may sound a bit off the wall because the Giants have decent running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. But what if Alabama’s Mark Ingram happens to be available? The Giants might have to consider him. He might be better than Bradshaw and Jacobs. Also, along the same lines, don’t rule out the possibility of a defensive tackle like Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson if he’s available. The Giants appear to be in good shape in the middle of the defensive line, but general manager Jerry Reese places a high value on having lots of depth, especially in the middle of the defensive line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Dream scenario: In a perfect world, the Eagles would package their first pick (No. 23 overall) with quarterback Kevin Kolb and trade their way into the top five, where they would aim for cornerback Peterson. The Eagles have a desperate need for a cornerback to play opposite Asante Samuel, and Peterson is the only sure thing in this draft. But this is not a perfect world. Unless the lockout somehow ends between now and the start of the draft, they’re not allowed to trade Kolb. If they stay put, the Eagles have to hope Amukamara somehow falls to them, or they might have to take a chance on Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, who comes with some background questions.

Plan B: The right side of the offensive line needs to be upgraded. Most teams stay clear of guards in the first round. But tackles Castonzo, Nate Solder and Carimi all could be available when the Eagles pick. Any one of them could step right into the lineup and start.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream Scenario/Plan B.

Arizona Cardinals

Dream scenario: Having Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller available at No. 5 would qualify as a dream scenario based on what we know about Arizona this offseason. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton has vowed to turn the Cardinals into more of a pressure-oriented team. The Cardinals have an obvious need to get more dynamic at outside linebacker to a degree that probably would not happen even if O'Brien Schofield and Will Davis emerged as factors.

Granted, the Cardinals need a quarterback more than they need anything else, but there's no sense to this point that Arizona would select one fifth in this draft. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said he doesn't see a Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan type among the current college prospects. Personnel director Steve Keim has said a team cannot have any reservations about a quarterback selected that early. Perhaps they are blowing smoke.

Plan B: Or, Whisenhunt might be right about not seeing a Bradford or Ryan in this draft. The Cardinals' need for a quarterback is great enough, however, for them to select one as Plan B should the pass-rusher scenario fall through. Let's assume Miller is off the board when Arizona chooses. Drafting receiver A.J. Green or cornerback Patrick Peterson would upgrade the roster, to be sure, but if a top pass-rusher were unavailable and Gabbert slipped unexpectedly, could Arizona really turn its back on a promising if imperfect passer?

San Francisco 49ers

Dream scenario: Having Miller or one of the top quarterbacks fall to the 49ers at No. 7 would surely tempt them, but that seems unrealistic even as a dream scenario.

A more realistic dream scenario would have the 49ers on the clock with a choice between top cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. The team could then draft the one it likes best, filling an obvious need, or consider trading out of the selection if another team showed strong interest in moving up the board for, say, one of the top wideouts.

The 49ers' problems in pass coverage last season were team-related and not just corner-specific. The safety play wasn't exactly stellar. As ESPN Stats & Information notes, the 49ers allowed 66.7 percent completions, 18.2 yards per attempt and a 130.1 rating on passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield between the yard-line numbers -- right where top coverage safeties are expected to make their mark. The league averages were 48.8 percent completions and 12.3 yards per attempt with a 79.9 rating.

But with cornerback Nate Clements' contract becoming untenable, there's no denying the team's need for a top corner. Adding one with the seventh overall choice would provide a needed talent upgrade in the secondary. And if Peterson eventually transitioned into becoming a top safety, as former 49ers cornerback Eric Davis suggested the case might be, the 49ers could use him there as well. Ronnie Lott made that transition famously as the eighth pick of the 1981 draft.

Plan B: It would probably entail seeking out one of the top pass-rushers after Miller. I've penciled in Robert Quinn as a possibility, but the 49ers would have to weigh risks. Quinn underwent surgery in 2007 to alleviate pressure caused by a benign tumor that remains in Quinn's brain and could affect his status.

St. Louis Rams

Dream scenario: Landing a playmaking wideout with the 14th overall selection stands as the dream scenario for the only NFC West organization that has found its long-term answer at quarterback. Conventional wisdom says there's no chance Green will be available this late, and most mock drafts seem to have Alabama receiver Julio Jones coming off the board before the 14th selection as well. The Rams can dream for the purposes of this exercise. Jones would certainly add promise to a receiving corps with quite a few injury-related question marks.

Quarterback Sam Bradford completed 59.1 percent of his passes to wide receivers last season, right at the league average. But he managed only 6.2 yards per attempt on those passes, well off the 7.8-yard NFL average. Arming Bradford with ample weapons, particularly on the outside, makes too much sense for the Rams to head in another direction unnecessarily.

Plan B: If one of the top two wideouts isn't available at No. 14, the Rams can feel good about building their depth along the defensive line. Coach Steve Spagnuolo wants to build a deep rotation of linemen along the lines of what he had when running the New York Giants' defense. While the Rams got more than expected from their defensive line last season -- Fred Robbins and James Hall were outstanding -- they could use an infusion of young talent. Auburn's Nick Fairley has the talent to go much higher than No. 14, but if he or even Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget were available, the Rams could do worse.

Seattle Seahawks

Dream scenario: General manager John Schneider came right out and said he hopes to move out of the 25th overall choice. Trading down generally would not qualify as a very exciting dream scenario, but the Seahawks need more selections. They lack a third-round choice and remain in what Schneider called the "infancy" of the building process. More picks, please.

While Seattle obviously needs a quarterback, this draft does not appear to offer slam-dunk prospects at the position, and Seattle is selecting too late for a realistic shot at one of the top ones, anyway. Trading out of the spot would allow Seattle to gain the additional picks necessary to address multiple deficiencies. Remember, Schneider came to Seattle from Green Bay, where the Packers used more draft selections than any team in the league -- 51 -- over a five-year period beginning in 2005.

Plan B: Of course, lots of teams talk about trading down and acquiring additional selections. It's easier said than done, in some cases. Plan B could entail standing pat at No. 25 and selecting the best lineman available on either side of the ball. The Seahawks need building blocks. They selected high enough in 2010 to target elite prospects at left tackle (Russell Okung) and free safety (Earl Thomas). They're in position to take a less exciting approach this year, but they can still strengthen their foundation.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Chicago Bears

Dream scenario: There is no doubt the Bears' top draft priority is to elevate their offensive line personnel, and typically tackles are valued more than guards or centers. Typically, most blue-chip tackles are off the board by the No. 29 overall pick. So the Bears can only hope that one of the draft's five or so first-round tackles drop to the bottom of the first round. They would be more than pleased to get Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Colorado's Nate Solder or even Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod. If nothing else, a first-round tackle would give the Bears more flexibility in determining the best positions for 2010 starters Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale and J'Marcus Webb.

Plan B: If all five tackles are off the board, the next step would be to identify the top guard available. The Bears' offensive line needs are equal across the board. That guard could be Danny Watkins of Baylor. But don't rule out general manager Jerry Angelo pushing hard to trade down and out of the first round if none of the tackles are available.

Detroit Lions

Dream scenario: I don't think there's any question here. The Lions should be thrilled if Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara is available at their No. 13 overall slot. He has elite speed, good cover skills, none of the baggage of Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith and fills a huge need. The Lions really don't have a surefire starting cornerback under contract at the moment.

Plan B: If Amukamara is off the board, the Lions will need to make a character decision on Smith. They brought him in for a pre-draft visit at the facility last month and presumably have a handle on what type of person he is. If they're comfortable, Smith fills the same need as Amukamara. If not, the Lions are in a position to take the best offensive or defensive lineman available.

Green Bay Packers

Dream scenario: We've noted that it would be surprising for a blue-chip offensive tackle to be available at No. 29. The likelihood drops accordingly at No. 32. But truth be told, drafting a high-caliber offensive tackle might be the Packers' best-case scenario. Bryan Bulaga, their top pick in 2010, is already entrenched at right tackle. But at some point they'll have to replace left tackle Chad Clifton as well. It's doubtful a high-caliber left tackle will drop to No. 32, but we can dream, right?

Plan B: There would be nothing wrong with drafting an outside linebacker here, especially if a prospect like UCLA's Akeem Ayers is available.

Minnesota Vikings

Dream scenario: Honestly, the dreamiest scenario is one of the top two quarterbacks dropping unexpectedly. It's so dreamy that I don't know if I can even consider it dream-scenario worthy. In all likelihood, Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert will be long gone by No. 12. But if one of them drops, the Vikings would be stunned and thrilled. Even if, say, Gabbert falls past the Arizona Cardinals at No. 5, the Vikings would have to consider it a blessing and should gladly pay the price it would take to move up.

Plan B: In all likelihood, Newton and Gabbert will be off the board. You could argue that a quarterback is so important that the Vikings should just target the next man on their list at No. 12. But given the Vikings' need, the next-best scenario would be to draft the best offensive or defensive linemen available at No. 12 and then find a way to trade back into the first round to select a quarterback somewhere below No. 20.

Draft Watch: NFC South

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Atlanta Falcons

Dream scenario: It’s no secret the Falcons are looking for a pass-rusher because John Abraham is getting older and the team has no other defenders who can consistently pressure quarterbacks. This is a draft deep in defensive ends, but there probably will be a run on them from the mid-teens into the mid-20s. If someone like Georgia’s Justin Houston or Clemson’s Da'Quan Bowers somehow fell to No. 27, the Falcons would be elated.

Plan B: Atlanta might have a better shot at getting a pass-rusher in free agency, and the Falcons showed last season with cornerback Dunta Robinson that they aren’t afraid to target a need and spend a pile of money. If the pass-rusher isn’t there, the Falcons could switch gears and go with a receiver such as Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin or Maryland’s Torrey Smith. Also, don’t completely rule out an offensive tackle. This franchise is built around quarterback Matt Ryan, and Sam Baker still hasn’t shown he’s the answer at left tackle.

Carolina Panthers

Dream scenario: All indications are the Panthers are going to shoot for the moon and draft Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the top overall pick. Although they are aware of the downside, the Panthers realize Newton’s upside could make him the type of quarterback that comes along once a decade or so. When you’re coming off a 2-14 season and trying to catch up to the rest of the NFC South by actually installing a passing game into your offense, you need to have a quarterback.

Plan B: There haven’t been any phone calls from other teams offering trades. But you never know what might happen in the days and hours leading into the draft. The chances of getting a willing trading partner are slim with the uncertainty of the lockout, but general manager Marty Hurney probably would listen to any offers. He's without a second-round pick because he traded it last season to draft Armanti Edwards. If someone were willing to help Hurney add some extra picks, he might be willing to drop down a few spots and Georgia receiver A.J. Green probably would be the alternative target. But that still would leave the Panthers with a hole at quarterback and they’d have to go out and get one in a trade or free agency as soon as the lockout ends.

New Orleans Saints

Dream scenario: If one of the defensive ends, perhaps Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, Bowers, California’s Cameron Jordan or Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, is sitting there, the Saints would be able to fill what appears to be their biggest need. Will Smith is solid on one side, but he’s getting up in years and the Saints don’t have another strong pass-rusher. Might be time to go ahead and get one.

Plan B: Defensive tackle and outside linebacker also seem to be possibilities and UCLA’s Akeem Ayers could fit nicely with Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle in the linebacker corps. But the Saints aren’t a team that fixates on filling immediate needs in the draft because they often do that in free agency. If Alabama running back Mark Ingram is available, the Saints could view him as a carbon copy of a young Deuce McAllister.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dream scenario: They’d have their pick of pass-rushers, including Bowers, Houston and Kerrigan. Any of them would fit very nicely and it would be another big building block in a defensive line foundation that was started last year when the team used its first two draft picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. Although the Bucs use the 4-3 as their base defense, that doesn’t mean they’re locked in on guys who fit the prototype of 4-3 defensive ends. Raheem Morris is a defense-minded coach and he is flexible. If there’s a strong pass-rusher available, the Bucs almost certainly will grab him.

Plan B: If a pass-rushing defensive end isn’t there, the Bucs might have to get creative. They didn’t have a playmaker in their front seven last season and that put undue pressure on the secondary. Geno Hayes and Quincy Black didn’t fully emerge as explosive outside linebackers last season and the Bucs could look at someone like Ayers to help improve the front seven.

Draft Watch: NFC South

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft philosophy.

Atlanta Falcons

General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith have been pretty open about the need to add some “explosive’’ players to the roster. Couple that with the fact that Dimitroff usually drafts for need and you can strongly surmise the Falcons will seek a pass-rushing defensive end or a big-play wide receiver with their first pick. But they’re sitting at No. 27 and that means there might not be any sure-fire prospects at either spot.

With division rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans -- also in the market for pass rushers -- sitting just ahead of them, the Falcons may consider trading up to get a defensive end. There was a time early in Dimitroff’s tenure when moving up wouldn’t have been a consideration because the Falcons were stockpiling picks to continue building through the draft. With a 13-3 team that’s largely intact, it might be time to become more aggressive. The Falcons only have a few real needs and they might package some picks to make sure they get the right fit.

Carolina Panthers

Marty Hurney still is the general manager, but coach John Fox is gone. That’s led to a major change in how the entire organization looks at things. The Panthers realize they’ve fallen behind the rest of the NFC South -- and most of the NFL -- in offense and it’s time to start catching up. In the Fox days, there was no chance of the Panthers taking a quarterback in the first round.

Now, Carolina seems to be strongly considering Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert remains in the mix. Hurney recognizes that this might be the chance to get the franchise quarterback this team has needed for so long. But Newton comes with some questions and Gabbert’s not a sure thing. Despite the eye-opening changes within the building, the real question is if Hurney actually has the nerve to go out and take a huge chance?

New Orleans Saints

General manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton have become pretty good at taking a long-term view of the draft. Their past two first-round picks were defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins in 2009 and Patrick Robinson last year. There was a sense that these guys didn’t have to play immediately and that’s worked out well. Jenkins emerged as a very good starter at free safety last season, after working as a backup cornerback as a rookie. Robinson spent his rookie year as a backup and is expected to progress next season.

That’s just evidence that the Saints like to focus on the best available player and they don’t lock into needs that can be filled if and when free agency arrives. Defensive end is New Orleans’ biggest area of need, but the history of Loomis and Payton suggest they’re not going to take someone at that position unless they’re convinced he’s the best player available. With this approach, just about any position other than quarterback is in play when the Saints pick at No. 24.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

General manager Mark Dominik has been pretty deliberate about addressing needs in his first two drafts. He traded up to get quarterback Josh Freeman in 2009 and, last year, doubled up at defensive tackle and wide receiver. Dominik drafted defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with his first two picks last year and also brought in receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams within the first four rounds.

This year, Tampa Bay’s needs are clearer than they’ve been throughout Dominik’s tenure. Getting a pass rusher is atop the list and history suggests the Bucs will go for that early on and, maybe, do it again a bit later. Dominik also needs to keep in mind the Bucs were the youngest team in the league last season and not get too carried away with the success of last year’s rookies. Some of them might have played over their heads last season and the Bucs need to keep their eyes open to keep improving the overall talent level of this team.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft Philosophy.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo has emerged from what amounted to a two-year draft hiatus following the high-profile trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams. It will be interesting to see if any philosophical shifts are detectable in what will be the Bears' first draft since Angelo overhauled his front office. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel departed, his position was dissolved and Tim Ruskell was hired to oversee the college and pro scouting departments. To this point, there has been a general sense that Angelo -- a onetime scouting director himself -- has been drawn to individual players he likes more than he has been guided by a larger plan to build a balanced team. Case in point: He has drafted 18 defensive backs and 11 offensive linemen over his tenure. Six of those 11 offensive linemen were taken in the seventh round, part of the reason the Bears are short-handed at the position this offseason.

Detroit Lions

If the Lions have proved anything under general manager Martin Mayhew, it's that they value every last drop of the draft. In some instances, Mayhew has gone to great lengths to secure an extra pick, no matter what round it is in. On at least two occasions, he has traded a player recently signed as a street free agent or claimed on waivers for a seventh-round draft pick. In several cases, Mayhew has included those picks in trades for other players. This spring, he and the Lions appealed a relatively mild NFL tampering discipline, hired a prominent attorney and achieved the slightest reduction in the penalty: A seventh-round pick lost in 2012 rather than 2011. Some teams consider seventh-round picks to be throwaways or places to grab a player otherwise destined for college free agency to avoid a bidding war on signing bonuses. Under Mayhew, the Lions use them as a daily commodity.

Green Bay Packers

Generally speaking, more is better for the Packers. It's been well-chronicled that Packers general manager Ted Thompson built his championship team almost exclusively through the draft, and that approach requires volume to gather enough depth and maximize the chances for hitting big on players. Thompson famously traded back into the 2009 first round to select linebacker Clay Matthews, but a betting man realizes it's far more likely that he will trade back in any given year to accumulate more picks. Thompson rarely pursues the hot name or flashy personalities or even flashy players. Case in point: Choosing nose tackle B.J. Raji over receiver Michael Crabtree in 2009. But there is no arguing with the Packers' approach under Thompson, which has built layers of quality -- if not elite -- depth at multiple positions across the board.

Minnesota Vikings

Every team insists that talent trumps need in the draft, but under vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, the Vikings have drafted for need more often than you might think. Consider 2010. The Vikings entered the draft knowing their depth was thin behind injured cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They also had lost backup tailback Chester Taylor via free agency. Their first two picks? Cornerback Chris Cook and running back Toby Gerhart. In 2009, they wanted to replace right tackle Ryan Cook. The answer was Phil Loadholt, their second-round pick. In 2008, the Vikings traded up to draft safety Tyrell Johnson because they knew starter Darren Sharper was entering his final season. There's a difference between taking what the draft gives you and maneuvering to make sure it gives you what you want. The Vikings lean toward the latter under Spielman.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft philosophy.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals expect their draft choices to address immediate needs even if the players they choose do not start right away. They pay less lip service to the "best player available" mantra than some teams.

"There is a line you walk between both of them, where you draft the best available player for your need," coach Ken Whisenhunt explained before the 2010 draft. "You always consider where your depth is, where your greatest margin of improvement is going to come, and that is kind of what we look toward when we do that."

The Cardinals put together two draft boards. One rates players on overall NFL potential. The other lists the 120 players Arizona would consider drafting, taking into account the Cardinals' needs as well.

San Francisco 49ers

General manager Trent Baalke puts an old-school emphasis on measurables in the belief that bigger, stronger athletes hold up better over the course of a season. His former boss, Scot McCloughan, shared the same philosophy, which he traced back to Ron Wolf.

I expect that philosophy to continue. It fits well with new coach Jim Harbaugh's belief in establishing a power running game to facilitate play-action opportunities.

The first three players San Francisco selected in the 2010 draft -- tackle Anthony Davis, guard Mike Iupati and safety Taylor Mays -- fit the "size matters" philosophy.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams feel good enough about the foundation they've built to tolerate more risk than they were willing to accept when GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo were in the early stages of remaking the roster.

We saw that last year when the Rams used a third-round choice for cornerback Jerome Murphy and a fourth-rounder for receiver Mardy Gilyard. Murphy had been suspended from his college team for violating team rules. Gilyard was more flamboyant than most recent Rams choices. Draft analysts raised potential character concerns in both cases.

This is not to suggest the Rams have abandoned their core values. They are simply far enough along in the building process to expand their options.

Side note: Over the past two seasons, the Rams have used both first-round choices on players from the Big 12 Conference and both second-rounders on players from the Big Ten.

Seattle Seahawks

Any struggling team with new leadership will be active in addressing weaknesses.

The Seahawks have taken it to another level under coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider. These guys are energetic, aggressive and unapologetic. They would rather wheel and deal than stand pat, an approach that led to multiple trades in their first draft together.

The lockout will prevent teams from trading veteran players, limiting the Seahawks' options this year.

The team is more unified philosophically this year because offensive line coach Tom Cable shares more conventional views on prospects at his position. Cable's predecessor, Alex Gibbs, was more particular in what he wanted, affecting the overall approach.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
PM ET
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft philosophy.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have used five of 10 first-round picks on defensive linemen since Andy Reid arrived as coach and top personnel man in 1999. Two more went for wide receivers. The team has taken one quarterback (Donovan McNabb), one defensive back (Lito Sheppard) and one offensive lineman (Shawn Andrews) in the first round during that time.

Reid and the Eagles like to stockpile draft choices. They have used 105 choices since 1999, tied for the fourth-highest total in the league. The figure is 31 over the past three drafts, tied with New England for most in the league.

Philadelphia moved up in the first round in each of the last two drafts. The Eagles traded up to take receiver Jeremy Maclin with the 19th pick in 2009. They traded up to the 13th spot last year, selecting defensive end Brandon Graham.


Dallas Cowboys

Obvious needs on the offensive line will test the Cowboys’ draft philosophy.

The team hasn’t used a first-round choice for the position since 1981. Dallas hasn’t used even a second-round selection for an offensive lineman since selecting Jacob Rogers in 2004.

Owner Jerry Jones has selected skill-position players twice in the past three drafts, landing receiver Dez White and running back Felix Jones.

Overall, however, Dallas has used eight of its last 10 first-round selections for defense.

The Cowboys aren’t afraid to wheel and deal. They’ve traded up or down five times in the last nine first rounds, generally coming out OK. Bryant, cornerback Mike Jenkins (2008), Jones (2008) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (2007) came to the Cowboys with first-round picks acquired from other teams.

Dallas could use help in its secondary, a position the team has periodically addressed early with Jenkins, Terence Newman (2003) and Roy Williams (2002).

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan’s personnel decisions in Denver were largely his undoing, clearing the way for him to join the Redskins beginning in 2010.

His last few drafts in Denver did produce some big hits, however. Ryan Clady, Peyton Hillis, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Elvis Dumervil became quality starters.

Shanahan has been known to focus on draft prospects at their very best, putting less weight into their struggles in the belief that a good coach should be able to realize max potential.

New York Giants

The Giants seem like one of the more methodical teams when it comes to the draft. They haven’t traded up or down in the first round since 2006.

A longtime former league executive told me he thought the Giants were more apt than most teams to target the players they brought in for pre-draft workouts.

Conventional wisdom says the Giants need to address their offensive line and linebacker situations in this draft. It’s easy to see why when looking at recent draft history.

The team has used four of its last five first-round choices for defense -- but none for linebackers -- since using the 2004 draft to select Philip Rivers and trade for Eli Manning.

The Giants have drafted only one offensive lineman and no running backs in the first three rounds since 2005. They’ve remained productive on the ground, but their veteran line could use some reinforcements. The Giants have selected a league-low four offensive linemen in the draft since 2005, a trend that might need to change.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:55
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals' top pick is No. 5 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses: ANALYSIS: The Cardinals are still taking criticism for selecting Brown fifth overall in 2007 when running back Adrian Peterson was available. Coach Ken Whisenhunt recently defended the decision, saying Brown is a good player on the rise, and the team badly needed to build up its offensive line when Whisenhunt arrived as head coach in 2007. To be fair, the Cardinals had already paid big money to running back Edgerrin James in free agency. Still, Peterson was seen as the best player available. In retrospect, adding Peterson might have made Arizona even more dangerous during its Super Bowl season.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers' top pick is No. 7 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses: ANALYSIS: The 49ers traded up to select pass-rusher Andre Carter seventh overall in 2001. They selected defensive tackle Bryant Young seventh overall in 1994. Previously, the 49ers selected tight ends Ken MacAfee (1978) and Ted Kwalick (1969) in this slot. The team landed Carter after Bill Walsh made a first-round swap with Seattle's Mike Holmgren. The 49ers came out ahead in that deal; Holmgren's Seahawks wound up with receiver Koren Robinson. Carter never became a dominant pass-rush force for San Francisco, but he did have 25.5 sacks over his first three seasons. First-year general manager Trent Baalke was with the 49ers when the team selected tight end Vernon Davis in this general range -- sixth overall -- five years ago. That decision has worked out well.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams' top pick is No. 14 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses: ANALYSIS: This is the first time the Rams have selected 14th since moving to St. Louis for the 1995 season. The Los Angeles Rams selected running back Gaston Green (1988), running back Barry Redden (1982), linebacker Jack Pardee (1957) and tight end Leon Clarke (1956) in this slot. The Rams have picked in this general range several times this decade, however. The results were generally disastrous, but the people responsible for making those decisions aren't in charge any longer. The Rams have done a much better job in the draft more recently. Looking back, however, the team selected defensive tackle Adam Carriker 13th in 2007 and cornerback Tye Hill 15th in 2006. Defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy (2003) and Damione Lewis (2001) went 12th overall to St. Louis.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' top pick is No. 25 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses: ANALYSIS: The Seahawks' previous leadership selected center Chris Spencer with the 26th pick in 2005. Ted Thompson, who mentored current Seattle general manager John Schneider, was with Seattle when the team used the 23rd choice of the 2003 draft for defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs. Tubbs was on his way to becoming a disruptive force until a knee injury cut short his career. Schneider was with the Packers in 2004 when the team used the 24th choice for Carroll, who disappointed as a cornerback. A look at the quarterbacks selected in this general range over the years lends little confidence in the prospects for Seattle finding one in 2011. There are more misses than hits, although Schneider was with Green Bay when the Packers found Aaron Rodgers with the 24th overall choice.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ top pick is No. 9 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: RB C.J. Spiller (Bills)

2009: DT B.J. Raji (Packers)

2008: LB Keith Rivers (Bengals)

2007: WR Ted Ginn Jr. (Dolphins)

2006: LB Ernie Sims (Lions)

2005: DB Carlos Rogers (Redskins)

2004: WR Reggie Williams (Jaguars)

ANALYSIS: Raji quickly has become a dominant force, although some of the other names on this list didn’t work out. The Cowboys really need to make the most of the fact they have a top-10 pick. They haven’t drafted well in recent years. Cornerback Mike Jenkins (2008) is the only Dallas draft pick from the last five years to make the Pro Bowl, and that came in 2009. Jenkins and the rest of the secondary struggled mightily last season, and there’s a strong feeling Dallas will address the defensive backfield in the draft. But the Cowboys have other needs elsewhere, and the “bust factor’’ with a top-10 pick isn’t generally as high when you go with an offensive or defensive lineman. Any time Jerry Jones and this franchise make a decision, there’s the potential for something flashy. But this might be a year where it’s best to stick to basics and upgrade either the offensive or defensive line.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins’ top pick is No. 10 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: DT Tyson Alualu (Jaguars)

2009: WR Michael Crabtree (49ers)

2008: LB Jerod Mayo (Patriots)

2007: DT Amobi Okoye (Texans)

2006: QB Matt Leinart (Cardinals)

2005: WR Mike Williams (Lions)

2004: CB Dunta Robinson (Texans)

ANALYSIS: The Redskins desperately need a quarterback, and they’re not sitting in a great spot. If you look at the recent history of the No. 10 pick, Leinart is the sole measuring stick. He was a complete bust in Arizona. With Donovan McNabb almost certainly gone, the Redskins have to find someone to run their offense. There’s a good chance Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert will be gone before Washington gets on the clock. That leaves a pool of guys like Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker, who could be huge reaches this early in the draft. The overall history of this pick isn’t great, but Mayo was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008, so there is hope. It might mean the Redskins have to look for a quarterback somewhere else. At No. 10, they might have a shot to get a quality defensive tackle -- Albert Haynesworth and Maake Kemoeatu simply haven’t been getting things done.

New York Giants

The Giants’ top pick is No. 19 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: LB Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons)

2009: WR Jeremy Maclin (Eagles)

2008: OT Jeff Otah (Panthers)

2007: S Michael Griffin (Titans)

2006: CB Antonio Cromartie (Chargers)

2005: OT Alex Barron (Rams)

2004: OT Vernon Carey (Dolphins)

ANALYSIS: If you’re Giants general manager Jerry Reese and you’re looking at this list, you have to feel very good about having the No. 19 overall pick. There’s not a single guy on this list that’s been anything close to a disappointment. In fact, look at the last three No. 19 picks -- they all play positions the Giants potentially could be looking at. A speedy outside linebacker, like Weatherspoon, could really help the defense. Maclin’s emerging nicely in Philadelphia, and the Giants have some uncertainty at receiver with Steve Smith coming off a major injury. When healthy, Otah’s been a powerful force on Carolina’s offensive line. The Giants aren’t getting any younger on the offensive line, and Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo has a chance to be available. The Giants have some familiarity with Boston College. Tom Coughlin used to coach there. He also drafted guard Chris Snee, his son-in-law, out of Boston College and that’s worked out well.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles’ top pick is No. 23 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: OT Bryan Bulaga (Packers) (started 12 games on Super Bowl winner)

2009: OT Michael Oher (Ravens)

2008: RB Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers)

2007: WR Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs)

2006: G Davin Joseph (Buccaneers)

2005: CB Fabian Washington (Raiders)

2004: DT Marcus Tubbs (Seahawks)

ANALYSIS: The Eagles have pretty glaring needs on the offensive line, particularly at right tackle and right guard. Bulaga and Oher were able to step in and help their teams right away. That could make someone like Castonzo a likely target, and the Eagles also have done a lot of homework on Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod. The rule of thumb is that guards don’t usually have as much value as tackles, but Joseph is proof you can get a very good guard at No. 23. The Eagles could reach into their own backyard in a later round and get Lehigh’s Will Rackley, who has the potential to play guard or tackle. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd attended his pro day. Right cornerback also is a high priority, and Colorado’s Jimmy Smith could be a candidate at No. 23, but there are some concerns beyond his physical ability. On passes to the side of the field covered by Asante Samuel, the Eagles allowed only 5.91 yards per attempt last season. On the other side of the field, they allowed 8.58 yards, which ranked 31st in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A dream scenario for the Eagles would be for the lockout to end before the draft. That would allow them a chance to package quarterback Kevin Kolb with the No. 23 pick to try to jump somewhere into the top five to land LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Draft Watch: NFC South

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers’ top pick is No. 1 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010 QB Sam Bradford (Rams)

2009: QB Matthew Stafford (Lions)

2008: OT Jake Long (Dolphins)

2007: QB JaMarcus Russell (Raiders)

2006: DE Mario Williams (Texans)

2005: QB Alex Smith (49ers)

2004: QB Eli Manning (Giants via Chargers)

Analysis: It’s still early, but indications are the Panthers are seriously considering taking a quarterback, and that probably narrows it down to Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert. Part of the reason the Panthers are looking down this road is because they saw what the Rams got in Bradford last year. The early results from Bradford and Stafford have been encouraging. But Russell was a tremendous flop, and Smith hasn’t been much better. Manning is the only quarterback taken No. 1 overall in this time period to make a Pro Bowl. Even before Manning, the history of quarterbacks at No. 1 is shaky for a long time. Carson Palmer and Michael Vick have had some good years and some bad ones. David Carr and Tim Couch rank right up there with Russell. To find a quarterback drafted first overall who has been an unquestioned success you have to go all the way back to Peyton Manning in 1998, and there were some people at the time who thought Ryan Leaf could be just as good. Long story short: there might not be such a thing as a sure-fire quarterback, even with the No. 1 pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers’ top pick is No. 20 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: CB Kareem Jackson (Texans)

2009: TE Brandon Pettigrew (Lions)

2008: CB Aqib Talib (Buccaneers)

2007: CB Aaron Ross (Giants)

2006: DE Tamba Hali (Chiefs)

2005: DE Marcus Spears (Cowboys)

2004: DE Kenechi Udeze (Vikings)

Analysis: The Bucs have been in this territory recently and have had tremendous results and one very big complication. The Bucs were at No. 19 heading into the 2009 draft, which was the first for general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. They feared missing out on a chance to get the guy they believed would be their franchise quarterback. That’s why they traded up to No. 17 and took Josh Freeman. You can’t question that move, because Freeman single-handedly turned the franchise around last season. Even taking Talib at No. 20 -- and it should be pointed out that move was made by former general manager Bruce Allen and coach Jon Gruden -- brought some positive results. When on the field, Talib showed flashes of being one of the best young cover corners in the game. But the latest in a series of off-field troubles means Talib is probably on his way out of Tampa Bay. The lesson to be learned here is that you can get big-time talent in the draft, but it’s wise to do your homework on the character and attitudes of players. It’s common knowledge the Bucs desperately need a defensive end. Look at Hali and Spears. They represent two ends of the spectrum. Hali came with some questions about being undersized but had no character issues, and he’s turned out to be a solid pass-rusher. Spears came with some questions about attitude and never has panned out.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints’ top pick is No. 24 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: WR Dez Bryant (Cowboys)

2009: DT Peria Jerry (Falcons)

2008: RB Chris Johnson (Titans)

2007: DB Brandon Meriweather (Patriots)

2006: CB Johnathan Joseph (Bengals)

2005: QB Aaron Rodgers (Packers)

2004: RB Steven Jackson (Rams)

Analysis: Johnson, Rodgers and Jackson are proof that you can get a big-time player this late in the draft. The Saints aren’t looking for a quarterback because they have Drew Brees. But running back isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and when you see guys like Johnson and Jackson have been available at this spot, it makes you wonder about the Saints taking a shot if Alabama’s Mark Ingram is there. Yes, defensive end and outside linebacker might be greater needs, and those positions are possibilities. Pierre Thomas re-signed, Reggie Bush is expected to stay and Chris Ivory is recovering from injury, but the Saints still have to think back to the end of last year when they basically ran out of running backs.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons’ top pick is No. 27 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: CB Devin McCourty (Patriots)

2009: RB Donald Brown (Colts)

2008: CB Antoine Cason (Cardinals)

2007: WR Robert Meachem (Saints)

2006: RB DeAngelo Williams (Panthers)

2005: WR Roddy White (Falcons)

2004: OLB/DE Jason Babin (Texans)

Analysis: Although nearly every draft guru is projecting that the Falcons will take a defensive end, it’s not out of the question that a wide receiver or running back could be the pick here. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith have talked a lot about wanting to add explosive players. If they look at their own history and the recent history of NFC South teams who have been in this spot, the idea of going with a receiver or running back could get stronger. Although it took some time for him to develop, White has turned into one of the game’s top receivers. Meachem also took some time and dealt with some injuries but has emerged as a force in the New Orleans passing game. Williams had some explosiveness as soon as he joined the Panthers.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: history in that spot.

Chicago Bears

The Bears' top pick is No. 29 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: Cornerback Kyle Wilson (New York Jets)

2009: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants)

2008: Defensive end Kentwan Balmer (San Francisco 49ers)

2007: Offensive guard Ben Grubbs (Baltimore Ravens)

2006: Center Nick Mangold (New York Jets)

2005: Defensive back Marlin Jackson (Indianapolis Colts)

2004: Wide receiver Michael Jenkins (Atlanta Falcons)

ANALYSIS: The bottom of the first round is a great place to find starting-caliber guards and centers. The top tackles are usually off the board. Fortunately for the Bears, they could use a guard or center just as much as a tackle. While coach Lovie Smith wants to bring back veteran center Olin Kreutz, a free agent, he will have to be replaced some day. And more depth at guard could allow the Bears to move 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams back to left tackle.

Detroit Lions

The Lions' top pick is No. 13 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: Defensive end Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles)

2009: Defensive end Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins)

2008: Running back Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers)

2007: Defensive lineman Adam Carriker (St. Louis Rams)

2006: Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (Cleveland Browns)

2005: Offensive lineman Jammal Brown (New Orleans Saints)

2004: Receiver Lee Evans (Buffalo Bills)

ANALYSIS: Unfortunately for the Lions, this isn't a great spot to get an elite cornerback. Those types of players are usually drafted in the top seven or eight picks. (The Lions are hoping that Nebraska's Prince Amukamara somehow slips through the cracks.) This is a nice area to draft a second-tier defensive lineman, and this year, the Lions will probably have their pick of offensive tackles as well.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers' top pick is No. 32 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: Cornerback Patrick Robinson (New Orleans Saints)

2009: Defensive tackle Ziggy Hood (Pittsburgh Steelers)

2008: Defensive end Phillip Merling (Miami Dolphins)*

2007: Receiver Anthony Gonzalez (Indianapolis Colts)

2006: Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (New York Giants)

2005: Offensive guard Logan Mankins (New England Patriots)

2004: Tight end Benjamin Watson (New England Patriots)

*First pick of second round.

ANALYSIS: There are some awfully productive players on this list. Part of the reason is that the previous year's most successful organization were in that spot and thus are more likely to make a good scouting decision. But it also tells us the Packers should have an opportunity to select a player who can make an immediate impact as long as they don't limit themselves to certain positions.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings' top pick is No. 12 overall. Here are the past seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2010: Running back Ryan Mathews (San Diego Chargers)

2009: Running back Knowshon Moreno (Denver Broncos)

2008: Offensive tackle Ryan Clady (Denver Broncos)

2007: Running back Marshawn Lynch (Buffalo Bills)

2006: Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata (Baltimore Ravens)

2005: Linebacker Shawne Merriman (San Diego Chargers)

2004: Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (New York Jets)

ANALYSIS: This list tells us what we knew already: You can get a blue-chip, impact player here if you exercise good judgment. The Vikings' decision, of course, will be complicated by their need for a quarterback. What will they do if they have, say, a potentially elite pass-rusher like North Carolina's Robert Quinn available to them? Take Quinn and look for a quarterback later? Or prioritize the quarterback?

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: decision-makers.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones remains the most hands-on owner in the NFL, as reflected by his title of general manager. That makes him more directly responsible for the Cowboys’ draft choices than a typical owner would be. Jones solicits and seems to value input from scouts and coaches. The group has been together long enough for individuals to have a good feel for one another. Tom Ciskowski, who took over the top scouting job after Jeff Ireland left for the Miami Dolphins, has been with the organization since 1992. Coach Jason Garrett, who helped make the call on drafting Felix Jones in 2008, has been with the Cowboys since 2005. Their voices matter, but Jones is the dominant personality in the organization. He makes the call and everyone knows it.

New York Giants

General manager Jerry Reese is the driving force behind the Giants’ draft decisions. He’s methodical and disciplined in his approach, as are the Giants. The team has had only three GMs since George Young first held the job in 1979. Reese has been with the organization since 1994 and has served in the GM role since replacing Ernie Accorsi before the 2007 season. The Giants’ decision to promote Reese following Accorsi’s retirement allowed them to maintain continuity and stability. Winning a Super Bowl following Reese’s first season as GM served as validation. The Giants seem to have a good thing going with Reese and coach Tom Coughlin working together.

Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Andy Reid remains the Eagles’ primary decision-maker on personnel matters. Like any coach, Reid relies upon his personnel department to do the legwork. Unlike most coaches, Reid makes the final decision on draft choices and has done so since his hiring in 1999. The Eagles’ personnel team has evolved in recent seasons. Tom Heckert, the Eagles’ personnel chief through most of Reid’s run as head coach, left to become the Cleveland Browns’ GM following the 2009 season. The Eagles promoted Howie Roseman as Heckert’s successor, a move that maintained continuity. Team president Joe Banner remains influential, but Reid makes the call.

Washington Redskins

Coach Mike Shanahan has more power than any Redskins coach since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999. He has wielded that power over defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and flexed it repeatedly in his handling of quarterback Donovan McNabb. Shanahan is the boss and everyone knows it. Snyder has taken a lower profile as a result. Bruce Allen, son of former legendary Redskins coach George Allen, has served as general manager since replacing Vinny Cerrato late in the 2009 season. He brings administrative expertise to the front office. This is Shanahan’s show, however.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Atlanta Falcons

Make no mistake, general manager Thomas Dimitroff is the man running the draft room in Atlanta. He comes with a heavy personnel background from his days as a scout with the New England Patriots and this is the time of year he enjoys most. Dimitroff has a good working relationship with coach Mike Smith and the two often watch film together. That gives Dimitroff a strong feel for what his coach wants in players. So far, this arrangement has worked very well, with the Falcons producing winning records in each of the three seasons Dimitroff and Smith have been together. One last thing on Dimitroff -- he’s not a dictator. He values the opinions of those around him and that includes more people than you’d expect. Even though the Falcons were almost certain they were going to take quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, Dimitroff was asking an Atlanta staffer who was at some of the pre-draft media events in New York for updates on the quarterback’s demeanor.

Carolina Panthers

In the early years of the regime of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, there was a lot of talk about them running an equal partnership, and that was very true. But Fox is gone and Ron Rivera is in his place. Even before Fox left, the partnership stopped being equal. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but Hurney has been calling the draft shots for at least a couple of years. That was extremely evident last year when the Panthers used a second-round pick on Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback Fox wanted no part of. Rivera and his coaching staff will have input and college scouting director Don Gregory is an important cog. But more than ever, Hurney is the person running the draft in Carolina.

New Orleans Saints

General manager Mickey Loomis isn’t a real public person and that probably prevents him from getting the full recognition he deserves. He and coach Sean Payton are very much in this together and their track record has been very impressive. Loomis is at his best as an administrator. He knows what Payton and his staff are looking for and he matches up that knowledge with what his scouts give him. Anybody can hit on first-round picks, but the Saints have had some big success in the middle (Jahri Evans and Jimmy Graham) and later (Marques Colston) rounds. That’s the mark of a machine that’s working well.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mark Dominik is the general manager and he prides himself on being a person who carries (the best) parts of people like Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell, Bruce Allen, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden in his thinking. So far, it has worked out pretty well. In his first draft, Dominik landed Josh Freeman, who has turned out to be the first true franchise quarterback this team has ever had. Amid a lot of distractions, Dominik never has taken his eye off the fact that the Bucs are building everything around Freeman. Coach Raheem Morris and scouting director Dennis Hickey play big roles in the process, but you started to see Dominik’s blueprint take hold last season when the Bucs went 10-6.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo remains in place for what will be his 10th draft with the Bears, but this will be his first under the new structure he established last spring. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel left the organization, and director of player personnel Tim Ruskell is now Angelo's right-hand man on all personnel issues. There have been some changes in the internal process, but ultimately Angelo has the final say on draft day. It's been a while since Angelo had a full complement of draft picks after gutting the past two years in trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Gaines Adams. He'll pick No. 29 overall this year, the first time he's had a first-round draft pick in three years. Angelo's success in the first round has been mixed. Two of the six players he's selected in the first round over his tenure, tight end Greg Olsen and offensive lineman Chris Williams, figure as starters in 2011.

Detroit Lions

In two drafts since the Lions named him general manager, Martin Mayhew has upgraded the team's talent level and given its fans hope for continued success. It's true that Mayhew has benefited from high selections in those drafts -- he's made four picks in the top 33 over that stretch -- but it's worth noting all of them appear set for long careers. Those who have followed the Lions closely over the years know that hasn't always been the case for high draft picks. Moreover, Mayhew has refused to allow his style to be classified. In 2009, he drafted tight end Brandon Pettigrew at No. 20 overall, his top-ranked player remaining on the board, despite bigger needs at other positions. On the other hand, he targeted tailback Jahvid Best last year as the answer to a specific need. All of which makes him difficult to predict next month, which I'm sure is just the way he likes it.

Green Bay Packers

We might as well start calling this time of year "TTT" -- "Ted Thompson Time." The Packers' general manager has steadfastly relied on the draft to build his team, eschewing veteran free agency in all but a handful of cases, and the approach paid off with last season's victory in Super Bowl XLV. Most of the Packers' top players are Thompson draft picks, from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receiver Greg Jennings to nose tackle B.J. Raji to linebacker Clay Matthews to safety Nick Collins. True to his personality, Thompson has half-jokingly lamented the time he lost to draft preparation during the Packers' Super Bowl run. He'll have a few extra hours in the first round, where he'll pick No. 32 overall thanks to that little championship thing his team won in February.

Minnesota Vikings

Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman has run the team's draft for the past four years, although former coach Brad Childress had considerable influence when it came to quarterbacks. That's a big part of the reason why the Vikings are all but barren at the most important position in the game, and that's why it's been almost a singular focus for Spielman and his staff over the past few months. Spielman has a good working relationship with new coach Leslie Frazier, but it's reasonable to assume he will have more complete control over this draft than any other in his tenure.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider