1. Detroit Lions
QB Matthew Stafford* / Georgia
The odds are against one-year wonders such as Mark Sanchez panning out in the NFL, and Stafford clearly has more physical tools. The key for new head coach Jim Schwartz will be finding an offensive coaching staff that can develop QB talent — something Mark Richt and his staff struggled to do at Georgia.
2. St. Louis Rams
OLT Eugene Monroe / Virginia
The Rams had targeted OLT Jake Long in last year’s draft but were forced to settle for DE Chris Long instead, leaving a gaping hole on an offensive line that needs to be completely rebuilt. The Rams should have their choice of tackles and will create another run on the position like there was a year ago. It would not be a surprise if Baylor’s Jason Smith wound up being the Rams’ top-rated tackle when the dust settles.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
OLB Everette Brown* / Florida State
New GM Scott Pioli is expected to put his stamp on the organization quickly and, having scouted for a 30-front most of his career, is expected to make the transition sooner than later. It may seem early for a pass rusher, but the Buccaneers seriously discussed drafting DeMarcus Ware in the week before the 2005 draft, when they wound up selecting Cadillac Williams, and instead now have a china doll in the backfield instead of the best defensive player in football. Not since the days of Derrick Thomas have the Chiefs had a pass rusher as dynamic as Brown. His character is very strong and will give Pioli comfort if he could get past the “bust” label that too many Florida State pass rushers have earned in the NFL.
4. Seattle Seahawks
OLT Jason Smith / Baylor
With Walter Jones not able to finish the season as a result of injuries, GM Tim Ruskell needs to begin thinking about securing the edges before he thinks about upgrading the QB position. The fast-learning Smith has the aggressive temperament to begin his career on the right side opposite a future Hall of Famer and eventually slide in at left tackle.
5. Cleveland Browns
RB Chris “Beanie” Wells* / Ohio State
After Vernon Gholston failed to get on the field even on special teams, Eric Mangini could be gun-shy about selecting another 3-4 rush linebacker projection. Jamal Lewis is not getting any younger, and in the black-and-blue AFC North division, the Browns sorely need a young bell cow to pound the rock inside to complement Jerome Harrison. Wells’ durability and practice habits could be issues that force his stock to slide. Still, there’s a good chance the Browns wind up with a Buckeye in the first round this year, as Wells’ teammate Malcolm Jenkins would fill a glaring need at cornerback and has the size and emotional leadership qualities so difficult to find in a cornerback.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
WR Michael Crabtree* / Texas Tech
With T.J. Houshmandzadeh hitting free agency and Chad Ocho Cinco’s mood changing every time the wind blows, the Bengals could rebuild the offense around a big-play receiver. Some questions have begun to emerge about Crabtree’s character, but owner Mike Brown has shown he is willing to roll the dice on immense talent.
7. Oakland Raiders
WR Jeremy Maclin* / Missouri
Al Davis selected JaMarcus Russell two years ago and must continue to find pieces to support his growth. Darren McFadden did not make nearly the instant impact that Adrian Peterson made in his first season, not surprisingly, but adding a versatile vertical threat like Maclin would open up the offense for Russell and McFadden and give the Raiders a dynamic group of triplets.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
OLB Aaron Curry / Wake Forest
With GM Gene Smith making the final call, expect the Jaguars to put a greater emphasis on character and recognize true value. Curry’s ability to interchange at any LB spot makes him extremely valuable for a defensive-minded head coach like Jack Del Rio.
9. Green Bay Packers
CB Malcolm Jenkins / Ohio State
With Charles Woodson likely to be transitioned to safety, as he was late this season when injuries struck the Packers’ secondary, the Packers need to bolster what was one of the NFL’s best secondaries. What better environment for a cornerback to be groomed than under the wing of a future Hall of Famer such as Woodson?
10. San Francisco 49ers
ILB Rey Maualuga / USC
Maualuga may not fit Mike Singletary’s character profile, but the Niners struck gold with the selection of a linebacker at the No. 11 spot two years ago and could have the game’s top inside linebacking tandem in the league by adding this fearless striker next to Pro Bowler Patrick Willis. What better way to begin the Samurai era by the bay than to bolster the middle of the defense?
11. Buffalo Bills
TE Brandon Pettigrew / Oklahoma State
The value of a complete tight end who can dominate as a blocker will not be lost on Dick Jauron and draft boss Tom Modrak, and after losing Kevin Everett to injury two years ago, the Bills need to address the TE position.
12. Denver Broncos
OLB Brian Orakpo / Texas
With new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan likely to install his preferred 30-front in Denver, it will be critical to have a pass-rushing dynamo off the edges, and Orakpo knows how to bring it.
13. Washington Redskins
OT-OG Andre Smith* / Alabama
Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen both are showing signs of their age and have been unable to stay healthy in recent years, creating a need to be addressed on the offensive line. Smith could wind up being best inside and begin his career at guard and potentially kick outside when needed.
14. New Orleans Saints
OLB James Laurinaitis / Ohio State
GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton tried trading up to draft A.J. Hawk four years ago. Jonathan Vilma is coming off a fine season, but he could use more help on his flanks where Laurinaitis could be best. Laurinaitis never will be a thumper, but he is big, strong and fast and has all the intangibles that Payton seeks to bring a presence to the defensive side of the ball.
15. Houston Texans
DT B.J. Raji / Boston College
Gary Kubiak knows the value of a good lineman and has made a habit of drafting in the trenches since he took over the club. Amobi Okoye has turned out to be the flash in a pan that some evaluators thought he was in college, creating a pressing need inside. Raji has the strength to hold the point and enough quickness to create some pressure and could bring value at either DT position.
The rest of the first round can be found here: