Sunday, April 27, 2008
Updated: April 28, 3:50 PM ET
Draft: 10 best marriages of talent, team needs
By Jeffri Chadiha
The end of this year's NFL draft means we finally can start giving serious thought to how these prospects might measure up in the coming season.
It's one thing to evaluate them based on how they compete at the combine or their respective pro day workouts. But the real indication of a player's success is whether he winds up in the right situation. If he doesn't land on a team that is best-suited to utilize his talents, then it really won't matter what Mel Kiper thought of him. His chances for immediate impact will be ruined.
In fact, already there are 10 players in this draft who have found the ideal places to display their talents:
1.Vernon Gholston, OLB, New York Jets
Gholston was exactly the kind of player Jets head coach Eric Mangini needed for his 3-4 defense. The Jets already added two significant defensive players in the offseason -- nose tackle Kris Jenkins and outside linebacker Calvin Pace -- and now they get an explosive pass-rusher with tremendous upside. Sure, several analysts have knocked Gholston for not playing hard on every down, but the Jets will find a way to change that immediately. The bottom line is this kid was good enough to register 21½ sacks in his final two years at Ohio State. He'll be just as devastating in the NFL.
2. Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints
The first thing you need to know about Ellis is that he's being reunited with the same position coach who recruited him to USC and coached him for two years in college (Saints defensive line coach Ed Orgeron). That means Ellis has an immediate comfort zone coming into the NFL. That's another asset for a player who was widely considered the second-best defensive tackle in this draft. Ellis could star at nose tackle or he could blossom as a "three-technique." Either way, the Saints made a major upgrade to their defensive line by trading up to snag him.
3. Jerod Mayo, LB, New England Patriots
Mayo has been a rising star ever since the offseason began. For one, he played both inside and outside at Tennessee and that kind of versatility is invaluable in Patriots coach Bill Belichick's defense. By joining New England, he also gets to learn from veteran linebackers like Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. What you have to remember here is that Belichick doesn't have a reputation for taking linebackers with high picks in the draft. Mayo was worth that kind of investment.
4. Aqib Talib, CB,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Talib couldn't have asked for a better defense to play in because he's not a gifted cover cornerback. He made his name with tremendous ball skills and excellent instincts and those are the traits that should make him a star in the Cover 2 scheme run by Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Yes, we know that Talib was tainted with character questions after he reportedly tested positive for marijuana three different times at Kansas. But head coach Jon Gruden also compared Talib to Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson -- who played under Gruden in Oakland -- and that says plenty about how much the Bucs believe in Talib's potential.
5. Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys could've taken Rashard Mendenhall with this pick, but Jones wasn't a bad choice, either. Jones has that electric speed that will make him a nice counterpart to bruising runner Marion Barber. He's also comfortable as a change-of-pace back after sharing time with Darren McFadden at Arkansas. Throw in Jones' kick return ability and his underrated pass-catching skills, and you've got a versatile weapon who can elevate an already potent offense.
6. Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants
The Giants found an ideal fit at safety after losing Gibril Wilson in free agency this offseason. Phillips has the size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) to play in the box and he's athletic enough to shift between free and strong safety. He'll also be playing for a defensive coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo) who would love to use him in the same way the Philadelphia Eagles use Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins. That might be a lot of pressure on Phillips, but Spagnuolo will put him in the best positions to succeed.
7. James Hardy, WR, Buffalo Bills
The Bills needed to find a big receiver, and Hardy (6-6, 217 pounds) should make them happy. It's true that rookie receivers have a hard time adjusting to life in the NFL, but Hardy has the benefit of joining an offense that already has an accomplished deep threat in Lee Evans. All Hardy has to do is become comfortable as an intermediate receiver who can make the tough catches in traffic. On an offense that already features a second-year quarterback (Trent Edwards) and a second-year running back (Marshawn Lynch), he'll have a chance to grow into a valuable component.
8. Tyrell Johnson, S, Minnesota Vikings
As good as Phillips is, several scouts thought Johnson was an even better prospect. He joins a Minnesota defense that already has a strong front seven and he can learn the position from a Pro Bowl-caliber veteran in Darren Sharper. It says a lot about Johnson that the Vikings were willing to trade up in the second round to select him despite not having a major need at safety. Give him a year behind Sharper and he'll eventually be the leader of that secondary.
9. Limas Sweed, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he'd love to have a big receiver in this offense. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Sweed has the size and speed to make his quarterback happy. It also helps that Sweed can learn from Hines Ward and grow with blossoming third-year wideout Santonio Holmes. Roethlisberger loved throwing to Plaxico Burress before Burress left to join the Giants in 2005. It won't take long for Big Ben to have the same affection for Sweed.
10. Steve Slaton, RB,
Houston Texans Slaton's lack of size (he's listed at 5-9 and 197 pounds) won't be as much of a hindrance in the Houston offense. You put him into assistant head coach Alex Gibbs' zone-blocking run game, and he's guaranteed to be effective. Keep in mind that Gibbs was in Atlanta when another diminutive runner -- Warrick Dunn -- enjoyed his best years as a feature back in that one-cut-and-go system. Slaton has the explosiveness and vision to enjoy similar success as a third-round steal with the Texans.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.