NFL Nation: Draft Watch 40710 NFC

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have shown better draft-day discipline over the last two seasons, with positive results. The trend should continue after Arizona signed coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves to contract extensions through the 2013 season.

Graves and player personnel director Steve Keim have been with the organization since the 1990s. Arizona has stability and continuity.

The Cardinals should have learned valuable lessons in 2007, Whisenhunt's first as head coach. That was the year Arizona emphasized need over value in the first two rounds, with predictable results. The team went with tackle Levi Brown at No. 5 when running back Adrian Peterson was available. Arizona then sent the 38th and 105th choices to Oakland for the 33rd choice, a pick the team used for nose tackle Alan Branch.

Arizona holds an extra third-round choice this year, giving the team ammunition to trade up in a round. But the last couple of seasons have shown there's value in patience. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Beanie Wells landed in Arizona over the last two drafts without the Cardinals maneuvering to get them.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have taken a play-it-safe approach in the draft over the last couple of years.

Defensive end Chris Long, offensive tackle Jason Smith and linebacker James Laurinaitis were seen as low-risk selections. They also were known for high character.

The Rams have indicated they could be more open to a wider range of personalities as they seek to upgrade their talent level. Their general approach should not change, but a dire need for playmakers might make it tougher to rule out all higher-risk players. General manager Billy Devaney has said he feels much better about the culture at Rams Park, making it easier for the team to consider higher-risk prospects.

Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant comes to mind. He's a top-10 or top-15 talent whose immaturity could push him down in the draft. Could the Rams resist him if he somehow fell to them at No. 33?

The Rams could also use additional picks, and that second-round choice could hold additional value as the NFL shifts to a new television-friendly draft format. I also think there's a chance some teams could try to move into the late first round to avoid having to wait overnight. Having a team trade into the first round for a shot at quarterback Colt McCoy could affect the Rams' options at No. 33 and, in turn, their approach.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers had become a very deliberate, value-oriented drafting team under general manager Scot McCloughan. Their decision to select receiver Michael Crabtree at the expense of more pressing positional needs demonstrated the approach last year.

It's unclear how much the approach might change now that McCloughan has left the organization. Player personnel director Trent Baalke, a McCloughan confidant, shares his former boss' philosophy. One question could be to what extent others in the organization, including coach Mike Singletary, influence the process on draft day itself.

Singletary is known for his enthusiasm. What kind of poker player might he make during a draft without a true GM in place? If the 49ers reach for, say, an offensive tackle, might it be because McCloughan wasn't there to make sure the team stuck with its board?

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are a little harder to predict because they have a diverse mix of new leadership.

Coach Pete Carroll has the most personnel power ultimately, but general manager John Schneider ranks a close second and the philosophy he brings from Green Bay should help guide the draft. Offensive assistants Jeremy Bates and Alex Gibbs also could influence the approach based on the specific types of players they value.

The Packers accumulated more picks than any other NFL team once Schneider's mentor, Ted Thompson, took over for the 2005 draft. Seattle has also been accumulating choices. Schneider has described himself as more aggressive than Thompson. Carroll oozes energy and aggressiveness.

That combination could lead to a bolder approach in this draft. A trade for Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall would affirm such thinking.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft approach.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo's background is a scouting director, so for most of his Bears tenure he accumulated and guarded draft picks as if they were gold. In his first seven drafts with the Bears, he made 28 picks in the first three rounds (an average of four per year). But Angelo has changed his team-building process in the past two years, releasing that grip when offered the opportunity to acquire more established players. He gutted the top of the 2009 and 2010 drafts in trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams, supplementing those losses by signing veteran free agents to fill individual needs. It's not a bad idea when considering Angelo's current situation. The more immediate approach will either work or, after already missing the playoffs for three consecutive years, it will be a mess someone else has to clean up.

Detroit Lions

The talent gap in Detroit remains wide enough that the Lions will continue following their new mantra under general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz: Talent must trump need at every pick. That was the case last year, when the Lions considered tight end Brandon Pettigrew the best player on their board at the No. 20 overall pick, and will resume in 2010. It is the Lions' luxury and curse. Although some positions are more dire than others, the team needs help at all of them except quarterback. So while the Lions' ideal scenario would be to grab multiple linemen in the first three rounds, they can't afford to force it by passing up players they consider more talented -- no matter what position they play.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have largely sat out the free-agent market over the past four years, leaving them to fill all of their needs through the draft. As a result, general manager Ted Thompson hasn't been afraid to trade down to accumulate additional picks and provide maximum depth on his roster. This tack values volume over elite pedigree but has brought players like receiver Greg Jennings and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly to the team. Thompson did trade up last year to grab linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round, but in general that has been an exception to his rule. I'm guessing the Packers wouldn't be opposed to moving below their No. 23 overall pick this year if it means an additional choice in the late second or early third round.

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota vice president Rick Spielman inherited a relatively talented roster in 2007 and thus has used the draft to target individual players his scouts have identified for specific roles on the team. By my count, Spielman has made seven draft-day trades to position himself to take the players he wanted over the past three years. Those players include receiver Sidney Rice (2007), safety Tyrell Johnson (2008) and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (2009). Expect more of the same this year from Spielman, who has the luxury of drafting purely for value rather than need.

Draft Watch: NFC South

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Atlanta Falcons

General manager Thomas Dimitroff is one of the few executives in the league who won’t give the tired answer about drafting the “best athlete available." He freely admits the Falcons draft mainly on need, although ability is certainly a factor. The Falcons are extremely committed to building the core of their team through the draft and they’ll look to continue that this year. Dimitroff is particularly looking forward to this draft because he has flexibility that hasn’t been there before. The Falcons went almost all offense in the first year Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith were together and focused heavily on defense last year. While defensive end and outside linebacker top the list of needs, the Falcons won’t be limited to one side of the ball in this draft.

Carolina Panthers

There’s always a lot of talk about how conservative general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox are. That’s true in a lot of ways, but it’s misleading when talking about their recent drafts. Hurney’s done more wheeling and dealing than a lot of general managers and made big trades to get Everette Brown and Jeff Otah in the last two drafts. Getting Brown last year cost the Panthers their first-round pick this year. The Panthers aren’t slated to pick until the middle of the second round, but don’t rule anything out. They might not have a lot of currency, but you might see them package a few later picks to try to move up if a player they really want is available late in the first round or early in the second.

New Orleans Saints

General manager Mickey Loomis has final say with lots of input from coach Sean Payton and the scouting department. You can’t question their success since this group came together. The 2006 draft by New Orleans -- which included Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston -- is shaping up as one of the most outstanding classes in recent history. Loomis isn’t afraid to go against popular opinion. He traded up to get Thomas Morstead in the fifth round last year. The move outraged some fans, but Morestead ended up being an important part of the Saints’ march to the Super Bowl title. Loomis is in a different situation this year because the Saints have the last pick in the first round and don’t have a lot of glaring needs other than depth. The Saints haven’t been players in free agency, so don’t be surprised if Loomis tries to add some picks during the draft to get more depth.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rip on general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris for a turbulent first year in power, but you can’t really criticize their first draft. They got a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman, a surprise seventh-round contributor in receiver Sammie Stroughter and a few other players who showed some promise. Dominik is quite proud of the fact he’s stockpiled 11 draft picks and he could look to add more. This whole youth movement the Bucs are going through hasn’t been very popular with the fans, but the team remains very committed to building through the draft. The failure to do that caused the downfall of Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen and it has been a painful process to watch their collection of veterans getting cut and busted draft picks over the last year or two. But this draft is a chance for the Bucs to put some life back into the franchise.

Draft Watch: NFC East

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Dallas Cowboys

Now that Jerry Jones has released left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, there's more of a sense of urgency at those spots in the draft. The Cowboys will replace Adams with Doug Free, but they could still take an offensive tackle or guard at No. 27 overall. Safety Nate Allen and cornerback Devin McCourty are two players the Cowboys really like late in the first round.

There's a belief that safeties Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin could get the job done in a pinch, but the Cowboys will focus on that position in the draft. Last year's approach involved saving money -- if you can believe that. The Cowboys' first picks were Nos. 69 and 74. The only true impact player from the '09 draft was kickoff specialist David Buehler. In this year's draft, the Cowboys need to select players who can have a more immediate impact. If an offensive tackle starts to slip in the first round, don't be surprised if the Cowboys are there to catch him.

In the past, the Cowboys have emphasized need over value out of necessity. In this year's draft, I think staying at No. 27 and going with the best value is what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish. Releasing Hamlin and Adams certainly changed the dynamic heading into the draft, but it also provided some clarity.

New York Giants

General manager Jerry Reese almost never gets caught reaching in a draft. He doesn't normally go for project players in the first three rounds, although Ramses Barden is certainly the exception. This year's approach has to be a little different, though. The Giants were exposed on defense in several areas last season.

They can't afford to simply take the "best-player-on-the-board" philosophy. The Giants need help at linebacker and defensive tackle. And another pass-rusher would be nice. I'd be very surprised if the Giants took an offensive player at No. 15 overall. If Rolando McClain out of Alabama is there, look for Reese to take him. He's exactly the type of player Reese and Coughlin love -- remarkably intelligent and a natural leader. After losing Antonio Pierce, the Giants need more players like that.

Philadelphia Eagles

With the Sheldon Brown/Chris Gocong trade, the Eagles are now thin at cornerback and linebacker. And it's not as if they had an embarrassment of riches at those positions before the trade. In the past, the Eagles have been very open to moving down in the first round. And with the depth of talent in this year's draft, that's certainly a possibility. But at No. 24, something tells me the Eagles will stay right there and draft the best cornerback or safety available. They've taken a long look at Texas' Earl Thomas, but I don't know if he'll be available at that point.

The Eagles need more firepower at linebacker, so that's also an option in the first round. They've spent the past couple of drafts bolstering their offense with speed at the skill positions. Now it's time to start retooling that defense. I'd be very surprised if the Eagles don't take a defensive player at No. 24.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan continues to meet with quarterbacks despite the blockbuster trade for Donovan McNabb. I recall McNabb not enjoying a certain draft pick in '07, so it will be interesting to see whether Shanahan addresses the quarterback position in the draft.

Of course, the draft focus now turns to left tackle. The Redskins don't have a viable candidate there unless they sign the aging Flozell Adams. And general manager Bruce Allen said on a local radio show that he's talked to Adams' agent. But I still think left tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State is the way to go for the Redskins at No. 4 overall. The Redskins will have to wait until Saturday to pick again unless they somehow land a second-round pick in a trade.

So in reality, the Redskins will only find one immediate starter in this draft. And by the way, Shanahan needs to start drafting some larger inside linebackers. As I've said many times, London Fletcher is not going to hold up in this defense for very long. Part of that is age, but most of it is size.

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