Yahoo's Ultimate Mock Draft
1. Detroit Lions – Larry Fitzgerald, WR. The notion that a team picking first in the UMD wouldn’t select a quarterback is a somewhat fantastic one, and the next positions most likely considered would be outside pass rusher, inside run-stuffer, left tackle and shutdown corner. So what is a receiver’s name doing here? Well, first, it’s the Lions. Even with Matt Millen gone, his former lieutenants, Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, are still in the war room, and they have a tradition (albeit a mostly forgettable one) to uphold. Secondly, it’s Fitzgerald. He’s that good. “I don’t care what anybody says – he’s the most dominant player in the NFL right now,” one personnel man told me. “Every game he’s in, he dominates. You can’t deny that.”
2. St. Louis Rams – Peyton Manning, QB. The Rams, picking second in last year’s UMD, took Manning, and it’s the same hypothetical no-brainer it was a year ago. New GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo happily cede some of their authority to the game’s most autonomous quarterback, picking him over his equally decorated rival in New England because he’s the future Hall of Famer who isn’t coming off major knee surgery. Nostalgic Rams fans, bummed out that the 37-year-old Warner wasn’t the pick, boo when Manning’s name is announced.
3. Kansas City Chiefs – Tom Brady, QB. New general manager Scott Pioli gets down on his knees and kisses the floor when he realizes the man who helped make him famous in New England will be joining him in the heartland. Pioli dispatches deposed incumbent quarterback Matt Cassel to fetch Brady and his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, from the airport, then issues a decree that, upon Brady’s arrival at Arrowhead Stadium, all employees must extend the enthusiastic Gates Bar-B-Q greeting, “Hi, may I help you?”
4. Seattle Seahawks – Matt Ryan, QB. New coach Jimmy Mora craves a beast on the defensive side of the ball, but he’s also aware that spotty quarterback play by a certain future felon helped cost him his last job. The opportunity to pluck the young jewel possessed by his former boss, Arthur Blank, is impossible to resist. Besides, they love quarterbacks named Matt in Seattle, and this kid, coming off the best rookie year by a passer since Dan Marino in ’83, is going to be good for a long, long, long time.
5. Cleveland Browns – DeMarcus Ware, OLB. Eric Mangini is all about the 3-4, and there’s no more consistently disruptive edge rusher in that defense than Ware, who has an NFL best 45½ sacks over the last three seasons. As one personnel man told me, “Ware’s your No. 1 defensive guy – period. You can build a team around him.” Given that the Browns have plenty of building to do, this is an excellent choice. If Ware has the type of monster season he did in Dallas in ’08, Mangini may even acknowledge him when they pass in the hallway.
6. Cincinnati Bengals – Ben Roethlisberger, QB. Big Ben grew up in Ohio and played his college ball there, too. Now he simply owns his home state. The Steelers’ quarterback is 11-0 lifetime in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and Bengals owner Mike Brown wants it to stop. (Never mind that, for his team to succeed, Brown is the one who needs to be stopped; that’s a topic for my annual owner rankings this summer.) Some personnel men aren’t convinced that Roethlisberger is one of the league’s best 32 players, let alone in the top six. But the dude has won two Super Bowls, is coming off one of the most clutch game-winning drives in history and, like Rocky Balboa fighting Apollo Creed, simply will not go down when it counts most.
7. Oakland Raiders – Chris Johnson, RB. Yes, I am aware that Adrian Peterson is football’s best running back. I also know that the cornerback currently on the Raiders’ roster, Nnamdi Asomugha, is the league’s top cover man and would be an excellent pick here. But this is Al Davis’ show, and the man is a speed freak, albeit one with a snazzy overhead projector. When he saw Johnson race his way into the league’s top echelon of runners as a Titans rookie, Davis knew he had to have the kid. The opportunity to upset people in Tennessee – the state whose flagship university now employs Lane Kiffin – is an added bonus.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars – Albert Haynesworth, DT. As an 11-year NFL linebacker, Jags coach Jack Del Rio learned how a dominant big man up front can make running down opposing ball-carriers so much easier. As one of the Titans’ AFC South rivals, he’s seen enough of the massive Haynesworth over the years to know how ridiculously good he is. Still, the Redskins gave Haynesworth a huge free-agent deal that came with an inherent risk, as one personnel man noted: “The guy has been the best player the last two years, but he was playing for a contract. The three years before that, he did nothing. If I was going to build around one player, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable using my first pick on him.” After the Jags’ disappointing ’08 season, it’s a gamble Del Rio is willing to take.
9. Green Bay Packers – Joe Thomas, OT. Ignoring calls from approximately 46.2 percent of the Pack’s fan base to draft Brett Favre, general manager Ted Thompson chooses a homegrown former Wisconsin star who, upon entering the league two years ago, instantly became one of its top left tackles. A 6-6, 305-pound rock of stability, Thomas is a player with no apparent weaknesses. The Cheeseheads will adore him, but the ones who sit low in the end zones will pray that Thomas never recovers a football in the end zone, lest he decide to attempt the Lambeau Leap.
10. San Francisco 49ers – Adrian Peterson, RB. After more than an hour of faithfully clutching the enormous cross dangling from his neck, Niners coach Mike Singletary screams “Hallelujah!” when his prayers for the league’s most potent runner are answered. Then, upon becoming the first person in history to return Peterson’s death-grip handshake with an equal and opposite force, Singletary gets even more excited, announcing at a press conference that “Adrian Peterson will carry the ball on every single offensive play, except on the rare occasion when we decide to throw it to him out of the backfield.”
11. Buffalo Bills – Nnamdi Asomugha, CB. Dick Jauron was a great defensive back in his day, and with Champ Bailey banged up and getting older, Asomugha is The Man at cornerback right now. “He impacts a game so much, even when they don’t throw at him,” a personnel man said. “They just run him out of plays, and every now and then they make him come up and tackle. He’s big, fast and terrific.” And now he’s playing at least one game a year in Toronto.
12. Denver Broncos – Ryan Clady, OT. New coach Josh McDaniels is all set to hand in a card reading “Matt Cassel.” Owner Pat Bowlen has finally had enough. “But I need to win with my guy,” McDaniels insists. Bowlen explains that the Broncos already have a guy, picked 12th in ’08 (in the real draft, not this one) by previous coach Mike Shanahan, who looks like he’ll be one of the NFL’s best linemen for a decade or more. “If they re-did the ’08 draft, he’d go in the top three,” one personnel man said. “If I had him, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. He’s got great feet, long arms and people just can’t get by him, no matter how quick they are. And even though he’s never really lifted weights, he has enough strength to hold off power rushers.” All of which explains how Bowlen summons the strength to hold off McDaniels and newly hired GM Brian Xanders and regain control of his team (at least in my hypothetical world).
13. Washington Redskins – Jay Cutler, QB. Owner Dan Snyder and vice president Vinny Cerrato tried to trade for Cutler before the Broncos dealt him to Chicago, and they eagerly pounce on McDaniels’ scraps. Now Jason Campbell is really pissed. Some in the league might have questioned Cutler’s attitude during his feud with McDaniels, but everyone realizes he’s a huge talent who made major strides in ’08 and has a chance to be a superstar. And if you don’t think he’s motivated to stick it to his former coach, you haven’t been paying attention.
14. New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees, QB. Last year I had the Saints picking Cutler over Brees, and some Louisianans reacted as though I’d written, “Gumbo sucks.” Cutler made the Pro Bowl; Brees nearly set an NFL single-season record for passing yards. OK, so he’s Sean Payton’s guy, and we might as well extend their bond to the land of the hypothetical. Not only is Brees a hugely productive player, but he’s also the single biggest force in the team’s locker room, a no-frills hard worker who loves the game.
15. Houston Texans – Mario Williams, DE. When the Texans made Williams the first overall pick of the ’06 draft, most football fans (and, to be fair, analysts) scoffed. Now? Not so much. A huge edge rusher who seems to improve each season, Williams, in the words of one personnel executive, “is the new [Julius] Peppers. The guy’s a complete freak.” Plus, few people are scarier at a churrascaria.
16. San Diego Chargers – Jared Allen, DE. The man with the mullet plays as hard as anyone in football and has a mean streak to which general manager A.J. Smith can relate. Taking Allen allows the Chargers to run the 4-3 defense with which coordinator Ron Rivera is most comfortable and to protect itself against the possibility that pass-rushing outside linebacker Shawne Merriman may never be the same after the knee injury that cost him most of the ’08 season. Oh, and Allen has 30 sacks and six forced fumbles over the past two seasons. Only his past struggles with alcohol-related offenses kept him from going higher.
17. New York Jets – Patrick Willis, MLB. New coach Rex Ryan is tempted to take his ballhawk from Baltimore, Ed Reed, but instead he chooses to build his defense around the Next Ray Lewis. A long, explosive player with tight hips – can you tell I’ve been talking to scouts lately? – Willis is a passionate performer who has a knack for inserting himself into the middle of the action. When the pick is announced, Bill Belichick frowns even more noticeably than usual.
18. Chicago Bears – Jon Beason, MLB. Quietly, Beason ascended to Willis’ level in ’08 as he helped the Panthers to a first-round playoff bye. Explosive and versatile, Beason is the ideal player to follow Brian Urlacher as the franchise’s next great man in the middle – just as long as general manager Jerry Angelo has about 15 bodyguards with him when he breaks the news to the incumbent.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ed Reed, FS. New Bucs coach Raheem Morris was a safety at Hofstra who made his name as a defensive backs coach. Reed, when healthy (as he was in ’08), is the NFL’s foremost defensive playmaker. Come to think of it, he’s a force on special teams, too. With Reed helping over the top, cornerback Ronde Barber might be able to play another five years, and Antonio Bryant will start hearing footsteps in practice.
20. Dallas Cowboys – Carson Palmer, QB. What, you thought Jerry Jones was more devoted to Tony Romo than a certain blonde bombshell? Jones loves his franchise quarterback, but Palmer reminds him of the pinpoint passer he fell for first, Troy Aikman. Because Palmer is coming off a serious elbow injury, he’s a value pick at 20, and Jones is all over it. The owner is so excited, he even allows coach Wade Phillips to speak to reporters.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – Troy Polamalu, SS. So much for the drama surrounding Brian Dawkins’ departure. In poaching Polamalu from across Pennsylvania, coach Andy Reid makes a pick even Birds fans can’t boo. In an attempt to bond with his new teammate, quarterback Donovan McNabb grows out his Afro to a length approaching Michael Jackson’s on the cover of “Off the Wall.” When McNabb finally decides to get a haircut, two local NAACP officials brand him a sellout.
22. Minnesota Vikings – Kevin Williams, DT. “We want Romo! We want Romo!” Vikings supporters chant outside the team’s headquarters, but coach Brad Childress, as usual, has his fingers in his ears. Philip Rivers? Eli Manning? Matthew Stafford? “I’m comfortable with Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels,” Childress tells reporters. Then he picks Big Ticket, one of the two terrific defensive tackles named Williams on the Minnesota roster. Whereas Pat is an immovable middle-clogger, Kevin has the speed and agility to get after the quarterback on passing downs.
23. New England Patriots – James Harrison, OLB. If there’s anyone who has greater affection for versatile veteran linebackers than Belichick, I’ve never met him. Harrison is about to turn 31, but he has played only five legitimate NFL seasons, and just two as a starter, so he should have a lot left in his legs. The NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year and Super Bowl star is ideal for the Pats’ 3-4 defense, giving Belichick the opportunity to come up with even more innovative wrinkles to his already brainy gameplans.
24. Atlanta Falcons – DeAngelo Williams, RB. Shortly after becoming the Falcons’ GM last year, Thomas Dimitroff scored by signing halfback Michael Turner to a lucrative free-agent deal. Now, thanks to the UMD, Dimitroff can pull off an unlikely upgrade, scoring the fourth-year back who ran for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns for the divisional-rival Panthers last season. Defenders around the league dread the man with natty dreads, and with good reason: He’s 217 pounds of trouble.
25. Miami Dolphins – Shaun Rogers, DT. New owner Stephen Ross, who has said he wants to add glitz to the franchise, has his heart set on Romo. Vice president of football operations Bill Parcells, who launched the Romo era in Dallas, has other ideas: He wants a giant defensive tackle, as usual, and based on what Rogers did in Cleveland last season, that’s his 350-pound man. When Ross starts to argue, Parcells reminds his boss that his contract allows him to walk away with full pay if the owner says the word “but” more than twice in a three-hour period. Rogers, chafed by his experience with Mangini, negotiates a clause in his contract that coach Tony Sparano must say hello to him whenever they’re in the same room.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Terrell Suggs, OLB/DE. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, one of the best in the business, franchised his star pass rusher two consecutive years, even at the risk of losing linebackers Bart Scott (who indeed bolted to the Jets earlier this offseason) and Lewis. That should tell you all you need to know about T-Sizzle’s value. Capable of thriving in a 3-4 or 4-3, Suggs scored bonus points by sucking it up and playing through a painful shoulder injury in the AFC championship game.
27. Indianapolis Colts – Eli Manning, QB. Going with the time-tested theory of drafting the best Manning available, Colts president Bill Polian figures Peyton’s kid brother is the next best thing. With Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark as elite targets, Eli should look a lot more like he did in the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl run than he did in the sputtering post-Plaxico stretch last winter.
28. Carolina Panthers – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB. Sickened by the way the Cardinals shut down star wideout Steve Smith in a 33-13 playoff victory last January, Panthers coach John Fox bags the then-rookie who helped make it happen. As raw as Rodgers-Cromartie was in ’08, his talent was alarmingly apparent during Arizona’s playoff run, and he appears headed for stardom. “The guy has all the skills,” one personnel man said. “Once he starts to figure out the game, look out.”
29. New York Giants – Tony Romo, QB. GM Jerry Reese learned in Super Bowl XLII that a relentless pass rush trumps a record-setting offense, and his instincts tell him holdover Justin Tuck or Colts veteran Dwight Freeney (despite the fact that he’s in his eighth year) should be the call here. Yet the thought of Romo in the Big Apple is too hard to resist. Speaking of apples, that’s the shade of red that coach Tom Coughlin’s face will turn when Romo informs him of his plan to spend a playoff bye week vacationing with Jessica Simpson in Negril, Jamaica.
30. Tennessee Titans – Dwight Freeney, DE. Logically, coach Jeff Fisher knows that the smart play is to replace Haynesworth with a nasty, physical run-stuffer, and the Patriots’ Vince Wilfork fits the profile. But after years of watching his quarterbacks get tormented by Freeney and his killer spin move, Fisher does a 180 and adds the former soccer goalie to his already potent group of pass rushers. D-Free soon joins Nick Harper, David Thornton and Jake Scott in the “Stolen from Naptown, Even Better in Music City” club.
31. Arizona Cardinals – Mark Sanchez, QB. Would the Cards really take another USC quarterback after watching Matt Leinart struggle as a young starter? Damn right they would, if Sanchez were available. Despite a compelling argument for a wideout such as the Panthers’ Smith or the Texans’ Andre Johnson, the Cards parlay the goodwill from their Super Bowl appearance and ask their fans for patience while snagging their quarterback of the future. Said one personnel man of Sanchez, “I love his pocket mobility and his decision-making, especially when he’s on the run. The guy’s got balls. I think he’s a stud.”
32. Pittsburgh Steelers – Julius Peppers, OLB. GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin look at the impact defenders on their board, including Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs and Dolphins pass-rushing linebacker Joey Porter (just checking to see if you’re still paying attention), before deciding to choose the guy with the most talent. “You want to be a 3-4 outside backer?” Tomlin asks Peppers. “Fine. But you’re going to have to work, or Hines Ward will beat your ***.” Peppers laughs. Tomlin stares him down and puts him on the kickoff-coverage team.