Given that sports gears everything towards TV advertising these days (why else would NBA Finals games start after 9:30 p.m. when future NBA fans, i.e. little kids on the East Coast, can’t watch any of it?), it was no surprise that the NFL Draft was moved to include two days of primetime TV. The Saturday of the NFL draft used to be one of my five favorite sports days of the year (March Madness opening Thursday being the clear winner) because of all the football one would absorb in the first three rounds of the draft, which always started at Noon ET. With the St. Louis Rams going on the clock at 7:32 p.m. ET tonight, it’ll be interesting to see how the draft flows now that it’s over the course of three days.
While one can argue about which way is best to absorb the draft, few will argue that the draft doesn’t exemplify greatness. It gives NFL fans a chance to absorb information about halfway through the offseason as they wait for their favorite teams to suit up in pads again. With all that in mind, here’s how I see the first round of the NFL Draft shaping up on Thursday night. (Note: I'll be on an airplane to Vegas tonight, and might have both TV and Internet, so I'll attempt to Live-Tweet the whole thing here.)
1. STL — Sam Bradford (QB, Oklahoma)
The numbers from Football Outsiders will tell you Bradford seems to be next in the line of great quarterbacks and it’d be hard to argue St. Louis doesn’t need one after what we’ve seen the last couple years.
2. DET — Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska)
Detroit’s defense needs a lot of work and Suh will at least provide them with a player other teams will need to prepare for. It’s also worth noting that not one single player drafted during Matt Millen’s tenure of 2002–2006 is still on the team.
3. TB — Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma)
Some will argue it’s a tossup between McCoy and Suh, so Tampa doesn’t lose too much by having McCoy wind up in their lap.
4. WAS — Russell Okung (OT, Oklahoma State)
Okung appears to be the last sure thing in terms of what teams are expected to do. God knows Washington could use some offensive line help these days.
5. KC — Bryan Bulaga (OT, Iowa)
While Eric Berry may be the play here, I lean to think Scott Pioli knows better than to take a safety with a top 5 pick.
6. SEA — Trent Williams (OT, Oklahoma)
Pete Carroll has sung the praises of Jimmy Clausen, but the trade for Charlie Whitehurst indicates the Seahawks will go in another direction. Like the two teams picking in front of them, the Seahawks' offensive line was rather pathetic last year.
7. CLE — Eric Berry (S, Tennessee)
Mike Holmgren will be looking to make a splash in his first year in Cleveland and Berry is the kind of playmaker to be able to do so.
8. OAK — Anthony Davis (OT, Rutgers)
No one really knows what Oakland is going to do, so your guess here is as good as mine. The smart play is to improve the line.
9. BUF — Dan Williams (NT, Tennessee)
Buffalo is in need of someone to anchor their 3-4 defense and Williams is incredibly capable of doing so.
10. JAX — Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, South Florida)
The Jaguars have been looking for a pass rusher for years now and they seem inclined to take a chance on a raw product like Pierre-Paul. There are some, Football Outsiders included, who feel like Pierre-Paul has Gholston-like bust written all over him.
11. DEN — Maurkice Pouncey (C/OG, Florida)
Leaving his twin brother behind at UF, Pouncey seems to fit the need the Broncos have on the interior of their offensive line. Even though Denver needs a receiver, I think it’s rather obvious after Marshall got traded that they have no desire to take a chance on Dez Bryant.
12. MIA — Jerry Hughes (OLB, TCU)
Bill Parcells has an eye for pass rushers. Hughes was as dominant a pass rusher as there was in college over the last two years.
13. SF — Joe Haden (CB, Florida)
When making their decision here San Francisco will consider the needs of the teams in between them and their pick at #17. Haden seems to fit the bill as a player that won’t be there when they pick again.
14. SEA — Derrick Morgan (DE, Georgia Tech)
With their second pick of the first round one would expect Seattle to take Morgan for two reasons. He’s clearly the best player available and they didn’t have a pass rush last year.
15. NYG — Rolando McClain (ILB, Alabama)
This would be the perfect world for the Giants as they need a new ILB with Antonio Pierce’s departure.
16. TEN — Brandon Graham (DE, Michigan)
Graham is a high-energy pass rusher and Tennessee is looking to fill the void with Kyle Vanden Bosch in Detroit.
17. SF — Jimmy Clausen (QB, Notre Dame)
The golden boy gets selected by the 49ers here because you can’t honestly think Alex Smith has shown enough to warrant them not looking to improve the QB position.
18. PIT — Mike Iupati (OT, Idaho)
Pittsburgh’s offensive line was rather brutal last year and they’ll need help now that they’re going to be protecting a non-Roethlisberger quarterback for the first six games of next season.
19. ATL — Sergio Kindle (OLB, Texas)
The Falcons are aging on their front seven, so Kindle will provide some youth and early production.
20. HOU — CJ Spiller (RB, Clemson)
I’ve watched Gary Kubiak screw up many a running back situation over the years, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him screw up with Spiller. Mind you, if he doesn’t, the offensive core on this ball club is flat gross.
21. CIN — Dez Bryant (WR, Oklahoma State)
Despite the acquisition of Antonio Bryant, the Bengals need to improve their receiving core and they’ve shown no issue drafting someone with perceived issues.
22. NE — Jermaine Gresham (TE, Oklahoma)
Eventually the Patriots are going to draft some high-quality players instead of continually trading down. Gresham provides Brady a nice added weapon in a passing game that just wasn’t on point last year.
23. GB — Charles Brown (OT, USC)
If you watched Aaron Rodgers take all those sacks last year, you’ll realize this is an easy choice.
24. PHI — Earl Thomas (S, Texas)
Word out of Philadelphia is that the Eagles are really gearing to take Thomas and they’ll even trade up to do so. History shows they go after the guys they want.
25. BAL — Demaryius Thomas (WR, Georgia Tech)
All signs are pointing to Thomas going to a team that needs offensive explosiveness on the exterior.
26. ARZ — Sean Witherspoon (OLB, Missouri)
Witherspoon is the most athletic linebacker in the draft and will fill the void of the departed Karlos Dansby.
27. DAL — Taylor Mays (S, USC)
Dallas just has a thing for safeties who can’t defend the pass. As long as Jerry’s in charge of the draft I see no reason to think this goes differently.
28. SD — Ryan Matthews (RB, Fresno State)
Matthews didn’t really have to catch the ball much in college, but, man, could he f*cking run the ball. Offensive Rookie of the Year in waiting right here.
29. NYJ — Jared Odrick (DT, Penn State)
The Jets need help on their front seven and will look to Odrick with no true pass rushers around.
30. MIN — Kareem Jackson (CB, Alabama)
Minnesota doesn’t have many needs, but they could use some help in the secondary and Jackson will be the best player available.
31. IND — Rodger Saffold (OT, Indiana)
The Colts always seem to fight their way through line injuries, but it will benefit them to actually have some talent back there.
32. NO — Daryl Washington (OLB, TCU)
The last pick of the night should be Washington given that everyone believes the Saints need an OLB and he’s the best available.
Wondering about where Tim Tebow, one of the greatest college players of all time, ends up? The Bills at #41 seem like a logical choice should they not take Clausen in the first round. Tebow's stock has been rising given the initial results of his adjusted throwing motion and he's shown the ability to do whatever it takes to get better. The Bills are looking for ways to energize their offense and the possibility of a Tebow future should liven up the fan base.