Following is my evaluation of the 2008 NFL draft, based on personal preference of various teams. Usually I use letter grades, but that system is now in the garbage because of what Peter King wrote about how nonsensical it is. I hate nonsense.
Miami Dolphins: I like this because the character of the drafter was reflected in the picks. It was a Man's draft, make that He-Man. Big guys. Serious. Top guy on the board, Jake Long, stands 6-7 and weighs 315. The defensive end, Phillip Merling, is not what you'd call a nimble-footed pass rusher. He likes to stack 'em up at the point. A two-gapper. Oh yes, he's 6-4½, 275. The QB, drafted with Miami's second pick in the second round, Chad Henne, is 226. He's got a gun. I mean for an arm. I assume he'll challenge for the job, or something more sinister. The average of the nine chaps selected is 6-3, 274. My kind of draft, boy.
Detroit Lions: I saw their top pick, tackle Gosder Cherilus, in the Senior Bowl. He was blowing people off the line. Run blocking catches my eye. Pass blocking is like watching Dancing With the Stars with my wife. I know, I know, it's more important, the way the game is played today, but I'm old and my prejudices are meaningful to me.
Jordon Dizon, the LB picked in the second round, was an active run plugger with a lot of range. Kevin Smith, the third rounder, is a punishing 215 pounder. I guess I should say something about Matt Millen drafting Army's OLB-SS Caleb Campbell in the seventh round, mainly because his son was Campbell's teammate at West Point.
According to something said at one of the 5,000 appearances Campbell made on ESPN and NFL Network, the deal is that if he catches on in an NFL camp, he doesn't have to report for active service, which most likely includes Iraq. Tell me, please, the coach who would be evil enough to cut him?
Oakland Raiders: Mainly because I called this one right in my mock draft, and I needed wins real bad. Al Davis has a mob of runners, but none of them like McFadden. He runs a 4.33, and in the old days, the typical Raider running back, Mark Van Eeghen, Marv Hubbard, that bunch, couldn't cover 20 yards in that time. So everyone's keeping fingers crossed that the bright lights of Oakland don't ensnare the young man. Ghosts of Teddy Hendricks and John Matuszak are everywhere. I also like Oakland's third-round choice, fourth rounder Bryan Shields, the tall wideout who broke the bank at the combine workouts.
Tennessee Titans: If only on freak-show appeal alone. I don't know what a 4.24 running back looks like, but that's what Chris Johnson clocked at the combine. He's not a shrimpy little guy, either. He's 197 pounds. I mean, are there stretches when he leaves the ground entirely? I like Craig Stevens, the Cal TE (third round) as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers: I want to see Big Ben playing skyball with the second-round pick, 6-4, 217-pound Limas Sweed, the wideout. I'm interested to see what they do with Dennis Dixon, the very classy and athletic Oregon QB who was headed for first-round glory before he tore the ACL in his knee and ended up a fifth rounder. I bet they have some Kordell Stewart numbers cooked up for him. Rashard Mendenhall, to take some pressure off Fast Willie in the running game, was a good choice, too.
Philadelphia Eagles: I've kind of been following the career of Trevor Laws, their second-round DT from Notre Dame, right up through the Senior Bowl, when he put on a clinic on how to shed blockers trained on pass blocking, to stop the run. He'll be just fine in Philly's system. It'll also be interesting to see the expression on Donovan McNabb's face the first time second-round choice DeSean Jackson, who has 4.37 speed, goes out for a deep one.
Cincinnati Bengals: Once again they give us a draft without many holes in it. At No.1, Keith Rivers is a dedicated and technically correct LB. At No. 2, Jerome Simpson is a highly dedicated receiver, whose 4.42 clocking put his school, Coastal Carolina, on the map. What map? The map of the coast, of course. Patrick Sims (third round) brings 310 pounds of run stopping to address a glaring weakness.
Atlanta Falcons: Well, yeah, I guess I had to love this draft because I had Matt Ryan on my board, and the guys that had Glenn Dorsey went down in flames. When they traded up for another first-round pick to get tackle Sam Baker to block for him, I thought that was a reach, but far be it for me to criticize the team that gave me a W.
Minnesota Vikings: Are you counting DE Jared Allen, the big-league pass rusher who came from the Chiefs for draft choices? You are? Then I love their draft. But only if they help him beat the drinking problem. One DUI and it's a bad mistake. Two and it's a problem. QB John David Booty (fifth round) from USC is an interesting choice since the position is far from locked up.
Buffalo Bills: QB Trent Edwards wondered whether or not there was a big wideout with fine hands available, and mentioned how nice it would be to have one, and the conversation produced 6-5½, 216-pound James Hardy. He's not the only guy in the organization they made happy. Bobby April, the terrific special teams coach, cracked a bottle of champagne when they drafted Leodis McKelvin in the first round. Possibly the best corner available, but also a fine return man.
Dallas Cowboys: McFadden's running mate, Felix Jones, can fly; he averaged 8.7 yards a crack last season. Perfect counterpart for Marion Barber, but farther down the Cowboys got lucky when Tashard Choice, a slashing type of runner, fell to them. Mike Jenkins is a fine corner to team with Terence Newman.
Carolina Panthers: Traded up for the tackle (Jeff Otah) to block for the runner (Jonathan Stewart), which provides John Fox with the kind of attack he's most comfortable with.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Traded way up, 18 spots, to get Derrick Harvey, an edge rusher, and then devoted their second-round choice to another one, Quentin Groves. I know the whole idea is to pressure the most dangerous man in the division, Peyton Manning, but getting these guys with the eighth and 52nd picks of the entire draft is a bit of a reach.
San Francisco 49ers: Two big guys to provide a grain of toughness on both sides of the ball, For the interior defense, to keep people off their inside linebacking phenom, Patrick Willis, they got 307-pound Kentwan Balmer in the first round. Next pick was a bruising guard, Chilo Rachal, who perfected his game at USC.
New York Giants: Free safety Gibril Wilson free agents himself out of town, in comes Kenny Phillips from the U., which is Miami, where they know all about safetymen. And here are two more good picks for needs, a pair of 242-pound linebackers, Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff.
Indianapolis Colts: No first-round pick this time, which produced the oddity of three picks listed as centers. One will hold the position, one will move to guard, probably the highest one picked, Mike Pollak, and one will have to deposit his chips at the teller's window. Philip Wheeler is a speedy linebacker whose weight is now 243. Wish mine was.
Arizona Cardinals: They said they loved Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the 4.29 corner, and by golly they were one of the few teams not lying. I wish Ken Whisenhunt and his speedy corner the best of luck, and that goes for DE Calais Campbell, who has been mentioned as an underachiever, but not to him, I'll wager.
New York Jets: So what do you do when you've picked two of the finest athletes on the board, DE Vernon Gholston and TE Dustin Keller, and people are sneering at them? Great workout warriors, they say. Gholston is on and off and Keller can't block. Well, if I were Eric Mangini, I'd make sure the clippings all find a place in their lockers. Strange things following consistent nagging --such as consistency, and blocking, and consistently blocking, you understand.
Tampa Bay Bucs: The top pick, CB Aqib Talib, is so gifted as a cover man that he actually sneers at receivers, I hear. Which doesn't bother his coach, who, I've heard, sneers at writers on occasion. It's an interesting draft that landed little Dexter Jackson, who can do a 4.33, and G/T Jeremy Zuttah, a technically gifted lineman with great potential.
New England Patriots: They always take a lineman, whether offensive or defensive. Some of them, even first rounders, are only dimly known. I mean, when they took Logan Mankins I thought it was a department store. But a few years later I was putting him on my all-pro team. This year? No linemen. The pressing needs of young linebackers to spruce up an aging unit, and corners to take over for two émigrés, was too great. Enter No.1 choice, Jerod Mayo, an OLB with numbers that say 242 pounds and 4.52, and corner Terrence Wheatley, who turned in a 4.37 at the combine.
Baltimore Ravens: They wanted Ryan. Falcons got him. So we'll take our ball and go home, said Ozzie Newsome, and he packed up and pulled out of the pick. And there he was heading for the second round, when hello there, Joe Flacco, the big guy with the laser arm, was still aboard. So at 18 he became a Raven. I don't think Kyle Boller's in trouble -- yet. The kid is still too raw, and wild. And at the draft room in New York a great cheer went up when the Ravens, with their second-round pick, selected Rutgers star halfback Ray Rice, the greatest player to wear the scarlet since the great Paul Robeson.
New Orleans Saints: Same type of story. Glenn Dorsey, the terrific DT from LSU, was their man. They even traded three places up, to seven, for a shot at him. Sorry, the Chiefs got there first. So New Orleans did a volte face and picked equally devastating -- well, almost -- Sedrick Ellis of USC. One of the best DT's to come along in years. Suspecting that their corners were perhaps slowing down a bit, the Saints grabbed CB Tracy Porter (4.37) with the next selection.
Kansas City Chiefs: Stars of the war room, stars of the TV studios and the draft, that's K.C., with its cast of thousands. And yes, the names are impressive, but how about the two that are missing? Jared Allen, their right DE who led the league in sacks last year, and ... well, the name escapes me, but it was the guy I was sure the Chiefs would bring in to give Brodie Croyle a run for the QB job. Sorry, no one to push Croyle, no Allen to line up at his usual spot. It's what I call a "yes, but..." draft.
Seattle Seahawks: I can find only three interesting names, DE Lawrence Jackson and Notre Dame TE John Carlson at the top, and then a drop to the fifth round for a peek at 250-pound fullback Owen Schmitt.
San Diego Chargers: Not their fault. Only five total picks. I'll say this -- opportunistic corner Antoine Cason. Then I'll say goodbye.
Cleveland Browns: The first of five choices starts at round four with LB Bo Bell. They say he's mean. I know why. He's lonely. Earlier deals for DT Shawn Rogers (Lions) and DE Corey Williams (Packers) took their toll, which wouldn't be so bad, except that Cleveland had to throw in a gifted corner, Leigh Bodden, and I don't think that was such a good idea.
Green Bay Packers: Tell me, please, why two QB's? I mean, OK, Brian Brohm to make things interesting. But why Matt Flynn?
Houston Texans: So their venture into the O-line arena in the first round nets them a finesse guy, Duane Brown, after they traded down eight places. What I've always felt about this team is that linemen should be brought in by the truckload, not on little tippy toes.
St. Louis Rams: Chris Long is a good, safe pick at No. 1. Leonard Little's getting old, after all. Guard John Greco is too. Got to protect Mark Bulger before he's a basket case. But with every wideout on the board available for you in the second round, why take Donnie Avery. You what? You owe his father money? I've heard enough.
Washington Redskins: The first four picks and five of the first eight went for offensive players, with a punter thrown in. Never mind that age is creeping into the defense, and the death of free safety Sean Taylor left that unit depleted, so why ... ah, why bother?
Chicago Bears: A smooth, athletic offensive tackle, Chris Williams, backed up by a grinding runner, Matt Forte, makes some kind of sense at the top of the round, I guess, but not when your defense needs run stoppers and Rex Grossman needs a young QB to give him a run for his job.
Denver Broncos: Mike Shanahan feels that establishing the run (tackle Ryan Clady drafted first) is more important than stopping it, which the Broncos couldn't do last year, and far be it from me to second guess him. How about first guess?