RENTON, Wash. -- My favorite draft weekend story: The Man Who Said No to the NFL.
I caught him as he pulled his car back onto his bucolic campus Sunday and prepared to buckle down for a long night of Italian homework. It's the kind of story we all need to hear, especially in a weekend like this one, when lives get changed forever, and visions of millions dance in 22-year-olds' heads. You see, on a New England campus, one player just said no to five teams that wanted him to come to their training camp this summer. I'll get to Scott Sicko later. But first, the news of the weekend, with some depth on the team that helped itself the most:
SEATTLE: Ever have one of those Dream Drafts that falls just right? The Seahawks did.
CLEVELAND: If you love the Colt McCoy pick, Browns fans, send a thank-you note this morning to GM Thomas Dimitroff, in care of the Atlanta Falcons.
CAROLINA: How does Jimmy Clausen fall to pick 48? The Panthers don't know, and they don't care.
Thursday, 5 p.m. PDT, Seahawks Draft Room. Nervous place. Quiet. Tense. First draft as a boss for coach Pete Carroll. First draft as a boss for GM John Schneider. Kansas City's on the clock with the fifth pick in the draft. The Chiefs are going to take either Tennessee safety Eric Berry or Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung. Carroll and Schneider want Okung. They've heard the Chiefs could go either way. Tick, tick, tick. Minutes go by, three or four of them, and the call comes into the Seahawks: It's Berry in K.C.
Schneider hugs Carroll. "Needed that!'' Schneider said. "Here we go now.''
Schneider was around Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson in Green Bay and Seattle previous to taking this gig in January, and he's a big believer in momentum in a draft. If you get your first guy exactly the way you want it, then you don't have to re-configure your board to account for a position of great need. With franchise tackle Walter Jones expected to retire in a few days, and no left tackle on the roster, and Okung the highest-rated tackle, the position, and the player, was vital. Without Okung, they'd have had to reach for a lower-rated tackle either here or with their other first-round pick. "If we don't get the tackle there,'' Schneider said later, "we'd be pressing, and maybe we'd have to make some decisions for the short-term we really don't want to.''
The nerves are about to get worse.
After the sixth pick, Seattle likes Jimmy Clausen the quarterback and C.J. Spiller the running back. But the 'Hawks needed Earl Thomas the safety. Big position of need, a quarterback for the secondary. They feared a couple of teams. Cleveland, at number seven, and rumors that Philadelphia would trade up from its spot at 24 to try to get Thomas. Cleveland cooperated, taking Florida corner Joe Haden at seven. The other teams cooperated, leaving Thomas on the board, until Denver sat there at 13. Would the Broncos pick? Would they trade? Tick, tick, tick.
A trade. Denver trades with Philadelphia. Hearts sink in the room. "It's got to be Thomas,'' Schneider said.
Roger Goodell at the podium. "With the 13th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select ... Brandon Graham, defensive end, Michigan.''
Exhale. "We got it!'' Carroll hollered, and began high-fiving scouts and coaches.
But my favorite bit of drama happened in the second round, on Friday night. On the Seattle draft board, two names sat apart from the rest as the picks began to come off the board: Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate, both of Notre Dame. Clausen seemed unlikely, because Schneider had traded for San Diego backup Charlie Whitehurst and already had Matt Hasselbeck in-house. But Carroll preached to anyone who'd listen that Seattle was in the business of taking the best player on the board.
My sense is that as these picks fell -- Seattle was at 60 in the second round, having traded down 20 spots in the round to get Whitehurst from San Diego -- there was no question Seattle would have taken Clausen if Carolina, at 48, didn't beat them to it. I'd seen Hasselbeck Thursday afternoon and told him I'd given Seattle Clausen at number 14 in my mock draft, and who knows, they loved him and they just might do it. "Whoa,'' he said. "Then I'm an ostrich. I've had my head in the sand. That would, uh, surprise me.''
Thank god for Carolina then. Look at the teams between 48 and 60, and figure one that would pick Clausen: San Francisco (maybe, but Mike Singletary loved Taylor Mays and picked him at 49), Kansas City, Houston, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay, Baltimore, Houston, Cleveland (which traded up in desperation at 59 to get running back Montario Hardesty). Maybe there'd have been a trade. Who knows?
So Clausen goes 48. Now Schneider's got to play GM. Far and away the best guy on their board now is Tate. But the calls start coming in. Lots of interesting players on the board and lots of teams trying to come up. Schneider's got an offer he likes a lot. If he'd go down a handful of spots (fewer than 15), into the upper third round, he could add two fifth-round picks. And if Tate had lasted this long, who's to say he wouldn't last an hour longer?
"You know, sometimes you reach a point in the draft -- we already had two fours and two fives -- where you say, 'How greedy do you want to be?' '' Schneider said. "There was so much separation between Tate and everybody else. Would we have lost him? I don't know. But at that point, the risk was just too great.''
They stayed at 60 and picked Tate. When Carroll called him to welcome him to the Seahawks, he told him to be ready for anything -- receiving, returning, rushing ... and yes, Wildcatting. Golden Tate might play Ronnie Brown in Seattle.
Now the Leon Washington story. (I'm skipping over LenDale White and Kevin Vickerson being handed to Seattle because flip-flopping picks in two low rounds was, in essence, Tennessee saying, "We don't want these guys any more, and if you give us a bag of footballs, they're yours.'') Interesting coincidence. The last running back/playmaker on Seattle's board early in the fourth round was Joe McKnight of USC. Carroll, obviously, recruited him. If he was still there in the fifth round, Seattle was going to take him. But the Jets took him in the middle of the fourth, meaning Washington, coming off a gruesome compound leg fracture, was now available.
"The Jets,'' said Schneider, "had several teams interested in him. They were gracious enough to let our medical people interact with theirs. When you're talking about a pick in the fifth round, and a player like Leon Washington, who we felt was going to be healthy enough to play at his level this season, the risk-reward ratio was a no-brainer.''
Most teams come out of a draft happy. Seattle came out a little north of happy. "I am jacked,'' Carroll told me as Friday ended. "If we did this right, and I think we did, we just helped our team for years to come.''
That's usually the idea. It's so sobering to realize that top draft picks have about a 50-percent washout factor.
Last point about the Seahawks: What an interesting scenario would have emerged if Seattle hadn't traded for Whitehurst (for a flip of second-round picks this year and 2011 third-round pick. Pretty high price, if you ask me, for a guy who's never thrown a regular-season pass in four years and was third on the San Diego depth chart) and still owned the 40th pick in the draft. As I said earlier, I think at 40, they would have picked Clausen. So essentially, here are the two scenarios that Seattle faced, with and without the man who bears a slight resemblance to Jesus Christ:
WITH A TRADE FOR WHITEHURST -- Seattle enters the season with Hasselbeck and Whitehurst the quarterbacks and multiple threat Tate added to a decent stable of wideouts ... but without a third-round pick in 2011.
WITHOUT A TRADE FOR WHITEHURST -- Seattle enters the season with Hasselbeck and Clausen at quarterback. But no Tate. And with the entire 2011 draft intact.
Tough call. This team would love to have Clausen for the long haul. Schneider believes in him. But my gut feeling is they'd rather have the Whitehurst/Tate combo.
I love these draft scenarios, in case you hadn't noticed. Here's another one: In Cleveland, midway through the third round, the Browns already had addressed cornerback, safety and running back; now they had two more priority positions to fill: defensive tackle and offensive tackle. They had picks 85 and 92. They had their two guys lined up from about the 70th pick on -- Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters and Arizona State tackle Shawn Lauvao. In the draft room, president Mike Holmgren, GM Tom Heckert and coach Eric Mangini, along with a few of the scouts, monitored the draft. Colt McCoy kept sliding.
"I had talked to Jon Gruden about Colt and he really liked him,'' Holmgren told me. "But Tom said we've got our plan, we like this defensive lineman and the offensive lineman, and we should go ahead and pick them. I kept saying, 'What about the quarterback?' ''
At number 83, two spots before the Browns were going to pick, Atlanta GM Dimitroff picked Peters, the defensive tackle the Browns had in their sights at 85.
"Then,'' Holmgren said, laughing, "the fates were telling me something. We had to pick him. I said to Tom, 'Let's pull the trigger.' I tried to run this draft the way Ron Wolf used to in Green Bay. Everyone contributed. But I kind of pulled rank a little bit. I said, 'Let's do this.'''
At the podium in Manhattan, Texas coach Mack Brown announced: "With the 85th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select Colt McCoy, quarterback, Texas.''
Talk about a scenario you couldn't see coming.
"I know we committed to Matt Moore,'' Carolina coach John Fox said of his presumed starter over the weekend, "but who saw this coming? I mean, Jimmy Clausen's just too good.''
He's right. Clausen with the 48th pick isn't in the same league with some of the great steals of all time (I don't think) but I think it'll end up the biggest shock of this draft when we look at it 10 years from now. The guy plays hurt, throws well on the run, is smart and productive. Maybe he's not the kind of guy you want to go on vacation with. Maybe he is full of himself. But what's Jay Cutler? Philip Rivers?
In doing pre-draft research, not that he thought he'd have a chance to get Clausen, Fox talked to Charlie Weis, his good friend and the former Irish coach. Weis and Fox are close. Fox is sure Weis wouldn't lie to him. "Charlie said he's probably the best he's ever had,'' Fox said. "He said, 'Take this guy. Trust me.' Everyone I talked to, including a couple of people at Notre Dame, said the character issue was b.s. So we picked him.''
The GM, Marty Hurney, said he was so excited awaiting the pick that he was shaking. With a strong offensive line, good running game and a defense that should hold the scores down, Carolina is a great landing spot for Clausen. "We talked after we got picked,'' Golden Tate said. "And the one thing we both agreed on is that it's a lot more important where you go than how high you go.''
Now for something completely different. Scott Sicko is a senior at the University of New Hampshire, a Football Championship Subdivision (nee Division I-AA) first-team all-America tight end and an interesting NFL prospect. At 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, he's a willing blocker with soft hands. He worked out privately for the Patriots. He was on radar screens around the league. Until last weekend.
On Saturday, he sat at home in Stillwater, N.Y., about a half-hour north of Albany, with his parents, girlfriend and some other relatives. They waited for hours, pick after pick after pick. His name wasn't called. A few picks before the final choice of the seventh round, he started discussing with his family what was in his heart.
Sicko got a scholarship to play football at New Hampshire. But he always thought he was at college to get an education, then to play football. He majored in History with a minor in Political Science. He's set to graduate on time May 22, and he's considering returning to school to finish a double-major (taking more poli-sci courses), or going for a Master's in History, and then, if all goes well, maybe a Ph.D. in History. "I love American history,'' he said. "I love knowing where we've been as a country, and how we got to where we are today. I've had so many great influences as teachers, and I think it would be fun someday to teach, maybe in college.''
So with the final few picks winding down, Sicko told his family the truth: If he didn't get drafted, he wanted to go back to college full-time and see what direction the road took him. "I love football,'' he said. "I've been playing since I was seven years old, and playing in the NFL was always a dream of mine. I can't say if I would have made it if I'd have signed with somebody and tried to make it as a free-agent. I don't know. But this ... this just felt right.''
He said he had no bitterness, no anger at teams for not picking him. But when he thought about a football life on the edge of a roster -- possibly an itinerant life of an undrafted free-agent, working out day after day to try to get a shot in an NFL camp, or moving from one NFL practice squad to another, or possibly being on an active roster -- it didn't jibe with the life he wanted to live.
"I always lived my life for family first, education second and happiness third,'' he said Sunday afternoon as he drove from his home in upstate New York back to New Hampshire. "I've found the first two lead to the third. Being away, to some that would be an adventure, and I'm not saying it wouldn't have been fun. But let's say I made it for a couple of years. You always hear players say, 'I'm going to go back and finish my education.' How many of them really do? Not many. When I thought about where I was in my life and where I wanted to go, I figured most people don't make careers of it. I gave everything I could to football. I loved every second of it. But I love my family and school too. I just thought, I'm really excited about going back to school and seeing where real life will take me.''
But first there was a problem. Thirty-two NFL teams had his phone number. When the draft ends, teams start calling undrafted prospects to try to sign them to come to training camp. The Chargers called. Dallas called. The Jets, Jacksonville and Kansas City called.
"I told them, basically, 'I'm honored you called me, but I'm not going to play football anymore. I'm going to further my education,''' he said.
A couple of the teams were surprised, but he said they respected his decision and wished him luck.
"It was tough, telling NFL teams I didn't want to be in their camps,'' he said. "But it was the right thing.''
He knows people will think he's nuts. There aren't many athletes, given a choice, who would want to go work in the real world before giving their sport a major effort. To Sicko, it doesn't feel like quitting. It feels like just choosing to do something else he loves. There wasn't a sentence in a 25-minute conversation that had regret in it.
It felt logical to ask about why a mature kid like him wouldn't want to go to a camp, just to challenge himself and see if he could do it. Wouldn't he, for the rest of his life, question his decision? Wouldn't he wake up one morning 30 years from now feeling like some Moonlight Graham, a guy who'd give anything to go back for just one chance, to see if he was really good enough? He just didn't think he would ever feel that way. If I could convey how he sounded, happy and determined are the first two words that come to mind.
"How'd you feel when you woke up this morning?'' I said. "Any sadness at all?''
"No,'' he said. "I felt excited. It's been a long process in football, and it was all fun. This is going to be fun too.''
It's nice, in the midst of a weekend when football seems more important than breathing to some, that we have a different kind of role model for our kids. I hope they read everything Scott Sicko just said here.
"Are we rockin' and rollin' or what?!''-- Seattle coach Pete Carroll, celebrating with his coaches after the Seahawks pulled off a trade with the Jets, netting running back Leon Washington on Saturday, via Seahawks.com.
"Let's get through the draft and we'll evaluate all aspects of it, including talking to our clubs and seeing what worked and what has not. We'd like to wait until we have concluded with the entire event, but to see the kind of extraordinary increase in viewership I think does reinforce the idea that we can put the draft on a bigger platform, and that's great for everyone."-- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to SI's Richard Deitsch for a story on SI.com last Friday night, talking about the future of the prime-time NFL draft. Sure sounds to me like the draft -- the first round had a 32 percent increase in ratings over last year's first round -- will stay on a weekday night in 2011.
"We got another T.O.''-- Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, after picking Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third round Friday.
Always have found it interesting that a man who appears so buttoned-up in front of the media and on the sideline in Philly can be so pithy and funny when he's not doing everything he can to say nothing in front of the Philadelphia press.
"Feed your kids! Feed your kids! Feed your kids!''-- A brief, but audible chant heard by profootballtalk's Mike Florio during the fourth round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Saturday as new Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie appeared in the hall. Cromartie has seven children by five (or six, depending on which report you believe) women.
"He went to Oxford. That's scary.''-- ESPN analyst Herman Edwards as former Florida State safety Myron Rolle, a Rhodes Scholar who spent last fall in England at Oxford University, was plummeting down the draft board.
And isn't that the perfect example of what the NFL thinks of a guy who put the draft on hold in 2009 to further his educational goals. Good for Tedy Bruschi, also on the ESPN set, for defending (as if Rolle should have to defend himself) his decision to go to Oxford for a year. "If I was as brilliant as this kid, I'd have taken the same opportunity as he did,'' Bruschi said.
Not that there's going to be much pressure on Dez Bryant in Dallas, already, but the history of the receivers Dallas used first-round picks to acquire in the last decade is beyond dismal. Checking it out:
2000 -- WR Joey Galloway from Seattle to Dallas for first-round picks in 2000 and 2001.
What Dallas got out of Galloway: 4 years, 151 catches, 12 touchdowns.What Seattle got: RB Shaun Alexander (2005 NFL MVP), WR Koren Robinson.
2008 -- *WR Roy Williams from Detroit to Dallas for first- and third-round picks in 2009.
What Dallas has gotten out of Williams: 2 years, 57 catches, 8 touchdowns.What Detroit got: TE Brandon Pettigrew, WR Derrick Williams.*Plus a swap of late-round picks.
The cost to Dallas: Galloway got $12 million guaranteed in his new 2000 contract with Dallas, while Williams signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Cowboys upon his trade in 2008. Barring an incredible turnaround by Roy Williams, six seasons and 20 touchdowns are about all the dividends the Cowboys will get out of these two awful trades.
The Cowboys long searched for a franchise receiver to replace Galloway and thought Williams was the one -- but Miles Austin emerged as Tony Romo's favorite target in 2009, and now Bryant will surely get the chance to be the complementary receiver to Austin. Williams is likely to be buried on the bench and could eventually be released, if not this year then next.
Three months ago, I wrote about dining with some sportswriter friends the night before the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans. Eight in the media gathered at Emeril's Delmonico, along with Angela Craig, the girlfriend of New Orleans Times-Picayune football writer Jeff Duncan. I proposed a pool -- we'd all put in $5 with a guess as to where Tim Tebow would land in the NFL Draft. We picked teams from coast to coast -- Jason Cole of Yahoo! picked New England, I picked San Francisco, and there were seven others in between.If no one was right, Jeff would find a New Orleans charity to give the money to.
Tebow, of course, went to Denver. Angela picked Denver.
"Shocked?'' Angela asked over the weekend. "I'd have to say yes, because I only picked the Broncos because I lived there for 10 years and that was my team for a while. But it's crazy. Can you believe I won the pool with all that football expertise at the table?''
Well, frankly, yes I can.
So I asked her: "Angela, I need to know your next prediction. We all might go to Vegas on it.''
"The Saints are going to the Super Bowl,'' she said. "Again. You can quote me on that.''
One more note, and a good reason why Angela Craig is now my favorite prognosticator in the world: She said she would donate her $45 in winnings to Five For Fighting, to support the troops overseas with the USO recreation program I've written about in this space in recent weeks.
You've got a good one there, Jeff.
Seattle is ... just different. I mean that in a good way.
The Seattle Times covered Earth Day aggressively last Thursday, writing about an 88-year-old woman, Doris Estabrooks of nearby San Juan Island, who relentlessly hounded local officials until they banned Styrofoam in the community and replaced it with biodegradable food containers. The ban took effect Thursday. On Saturday, the front page of the Times featured two stories above the fold -- one about the mayor vetoing a legislative bill on panhandling, the other headlined, "Barefoot Running Gains Traction,'' about a man trying to get joggers to eschew running shoes and run with naked feet.
And there's the Fuji apple the size of a basketball that I found at the Pike Place Market Friday and that served as a meal Sunday. And Safeco Field, which leads the major leagues (by a wide margin) in microbrews through all concourses (I'd highly recommend the Pyramid Curve Ball Blonde Ale).
"So it rains,'' Pete Carroll said to me the other day, dismissively. "There's something about every place you'd live.''
"Patriots collecting draft picks like Larry King collects wives.''-- @LASportsAgent, sports agent and attorney Mark Slough, in the midst of the Patriots' tradefest Friday night.
"Ohio U has pick before Ohio State.''-- @Coach_Eck, Ball State offensive line coach Jason Eck, making me awfully happy and swollen with Bobcat pride after the Patriots took Ohio University wide receiver Taylor Price with the 90th pick, before the first Buckeye went in the draft.
"LenDale White traded for a ham sandwich, which he ate.''-- @adbrandt, former NFL executive Andrew Brandt, now of National Football Post, after Seattle acquired the disappointing (and sometimes overweight) White and defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson simply for swapping draft spots in the fourth and sixth rounds Saturday.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of 32 teams on draft weekend. Though I am loathe to give grades, I have a few observations on each team, particularly the ones I didn't cover much in the top of this column:
(Click on team names for entire draft class.)
•Arizona. Liked the draft for the long haul. No one can dispute the pick of Dan Williams at 26, and the value he gives the Cards. Tremendous pick, tutored by Monte Kiffin last year at Tennessee and shaped up for the pro rigors. The Saints had Daryl Washington, the Cardinals second-round pick, as their top-rated outside 'backer in the draft, and he should give some pass-rush help immediately. Hidden gem: Wisconsin LB O'Brien Schofield, who blew out his knee in the winter prepping for the draft. Taken with the 130th pick, he'll miss this year, but he could end up being a good bargain in 2011 and beyond.
•Atlanta. Not the impact GM Thomas Dimitroff was dreaming of, though he got two contributing players he really wanted for the front seven -- linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters, which broke the hearts of Cleveland. Key to long-term success of this draft is whether interior linemen Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley can plug holes at guard and center in the next two to three years.
•Baltimore. Loved what Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta did. I thought they'd stay in the first round and steal Dan Williams at 24, but they dealt down and did better. No team got the impact between 43 and 114 that the Ravens did, though the Pats might argue.
Sergio Kindle was a steal at 43. The real key could be Terrence Cody at 57. Now, people will say, "Why are you taking this fat guy with the weight problem?'' Two things here. Newsome went to Alabama. He's a legend there. He loves picking Alabama players and he gets the inside dope on them. He knows Cody can be whipped into shape.
Plus, there's no defensive player on the planet who can walk into the Baltimore locker room and NOT get into line behind Ray Lewis. I think Cody has gone to the right place and should be a force alongside Haloti Ngata long-term.
The Ravens topped things off by picking two tight ends, one of whom will be the starter in 2011, and a productive one.
•Buffalo. I'm a little skeptical of C.J. Spiller's ability to lug the rock 300 times a year, because he never did it in four years at Clemson. Maybe he'll be the kind of Felix Jones-ish all-purpose back that, in touching it 12 to 15 times a game, can have four-wins-a-season impact. But it's doubtful he can carry it as much as the fans will scream for him to.
Instead of taking Dan Williams at nine overall, the Bills waited 'til pick 41 to take potential nose-tackle starter Torell Troup of Central Florida. For this draft to be good, Troup will have to play well. Potential 3-4 defensive end Alex Carrington, too, is a must-succeed for this draft to be a good one.
•Carolina. I make no bones about it: I like Jimmy Clausen. I think he was the victim of a bit of a whisper campaign about his personality, and I think he's going to be a good downfield thrower and should play fulltime sometime this year for the Panthers. To get him at 48 is an incredible piece of good fortune.
I didn't like the trade for Armanti Edwards; the 89th pick in the draft is a nice place to get a position-change prospect, but trading potentially the 40th or 45th pick in 2011 for him? A reach. Sixth-rounder David Gettis is a 6-4 receiver who should be a good target after emerging late in his Baylor career as a reliable possession receiver.
•Chicago. Late in draft prep, I kept hearing Corey Wootton's name in sixties or seventies; good job by the Bears to get him at 109 to stick in the defensive-line rotation. When you don't pick for the first time until 75, getting a coverage safety in Major Wright to band-aid a position of big need is a good job. But make no mistake -- the Bears' draft is Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor. They have to play big or this offseason is an abject failure.
•Cincinnati. Tight end Jermaine Gresham should be the answer to Cincinnati's problem at that position, and just ask Colt McCoy about Jordan Shipley's reliability. He won't drop many. The key could be if an up-and-coming Brandon Ghee, the Wake Forest corner, proves to be the third good cover player for a Cincinnati secondary that had a resurgent season last year.
•Cleveland. See the top of page 2 of this column for thoughts on the Browns.
•Dallas. Like the Dez Bryant value a lot, of course, and the Cowboys think they'll get production in some defensive packages immediately. My pet guy in the Dallas class -- fourth-round corner/safety/returner Akwasi Owusu-Ansah of Division II Indiana (Pa.) -- could make a big difference in the Dallas special-teams on day one. He'll be a gunner (the outside pursuit man on the punt team) and returner from day one, and with 4.32-in-the-40 speed and 208 pounds, he should make a smooth transition to safety. With one big if. "He's got to adjust to the level of competition, obviously,'' Cowboys special-teams boss Joe DeCamillis told me. "He's got the measurables. Now we've got to make sure he can compete on Sundays. But I think he's got a great chance. I think he'll play in this league for a long time.''
•Denver. I'll riff on the Broncos tomorrow in my Tuesday mailbag column.
•Detroit. Second overall pick Ndamukong Suh is a draft in himself, and Jahvid Best should be a speedy back to pair with Kevin Smith. Down the line, some league people I talked to like the developmental potential of Miami tackle Jason Fox to be a long-term tackle. If so, this draft could be a home run, but not many 128th picks in the draft become starters for a long time in the league.
•Green Bay. The Pack bought what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was saying -- that the 2009 season of left tackle Bryan Bulaga, idled for three weeks by a thyroid condition, was nothing like his 2008 season, when he was a monster. Bulaga will be ready when either of the old Packer tackles goes down this year. James Starks, nice value in round six, could be a good complement to Ryan Grant. The one that got away: pass-rusher Sergio Kindle would have been good value at 23, but Ted Thompson did right in picking the tackle because of the age on the O-line.
•Houston. Watch the development of Kyle Wilson with the Jets. That's always going to be the guy I'll compare in terms of impact to Kareem Jackson, the corner the Texans preferred instead. I'd have rather have had Wilson because of his experience, intelligence and versatility, plus scouts say Wilson is more physical in bump coverage. But getting Ben Tate (58) to challenge Steve Slaton and Darryl Sharpton (102), a 5-11 Zach Thomas-type tackling machine, helps the Texans' quality depth.
•Indianapolis. I know why Bill and Chris Polian took Jerry Hughes over Rodger Saffold at 31; Hughes has the size and speed to rush the passer like the classic fast rushers the Colts have in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and those guys are aging, so it's a good pick. But I think this team has a crying need for a left tackle of the future. I would have gone with Saffold.
But the thing about Colt drafts is they pick guys they know who will fit their scheme, like blocking tight end Brody Eldridge of Oklahoma; he was in Jermaine Gresham's shadow, obviously, but the Colts know he'll be able to be the goal-line and short-yardage tight end they've been looking for.
•Jacksonville. A few things in the wake of my Thursday night conversation with well-respected GM Gene Smith of the Jags, after he made a pick I thought was the reach of the draft, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu of Cal with the 10th pick. I thought Smith could have dealt down and still gotten Alualu, valued as a second-rounder by most teams, even if he didn't get very good value for the pick. Choosing a player later, even if he gets a low pick to do so, will save the franchise money because of picking in a lower slot.
Smith said he's fine with taking the slings and arrows from people in the media who would criticize him for this, because he has the courage of his convictions to take players where he feels they should be taken. And though he didn't say it, I could tell he felt this way: if he watches every snap of 25 games that Alualu played in the last two years and he gets criticized for reaching for him, just who is doing the criticizing? People -- other than the Mayocks and Kipers, I'm assuming -- who might have seen a highlight or two, and have gotten everything they know about the draft from personnel people or coaches they talk to at this time of year. That resonated with me all weekend.
Here's a guy who picked two starting tackles in the first two rounds last year, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, and then on consecutive picks in the third round took two immediate defensive starters, tackle Terrence Knighton and corner Derek Cox, both of whom had very good rookie seasons. The moral or the story to me is simple. For a guy who had such a strong draft last year and is widely respected (though mostly unknown because the Jags have been recently invisible on the NFL landscape) by his scouting peers, Smith deserves a light rap on the wrist for not getting a little something by trading down. But I'll wait 'til midseason, until we all see how disruptive (or not) Alualu is after a career at every position on the defensive line with Cal.
•Kansas City.Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who devotes three months of his life buried in this stuff (and whose charts and notebooks look like something a nuclear physicist would keep), is not an easy grader in his annual post-draft grading. He gave the Chiefs an A+ for picking the best defensive back in the draft (Eric Berry), a nightmarish matchup problem out of the backfield and slot (Dexter McCluster) and the twin threat of a good corner and best return man Goose rated in the draft (Javier Arenas). He didn't mention this: The top five Chiefs picks were captains of their college teams (Tennessee, Ole Miss, national champ Alabama, Illinois and Iowa) last season. The last one of those, tight end Tony Moeaki, has a little Bavaro in him. Very nice job.
•Miami. You can see where the Dolphins thought they were weak, and old. They had eight picks and used seven on defense. What I found interesting is I gave the Dolphins Ryan Mathews in my mock draft; he's a running back Miami liked a lot but didn't think was worth the 12th pick in the draft. So the Dolphins traded the 12th pick to San Diego for the 28th and 40th picks overall ... and the Chargers then chose Mathews. In lieu of the back, Miami fortified its line with defensive tackle Jared Odrick at 28 and end Koa Misi of Utah at 40. Meat-and-potatoes draft -- and remember, wideout Brandon Marshall's got to be part of the draft too. He came for a two in 2010 and two in '11.
•Minnesota.Leslie Frazier's going to have his work cut out for him. Minnesota chose USC defensive end Everson Griffen -- a supposed top prospect bypassed by his college coach, Pete Carroll, three times -- with the second pick of the fourth round. He has some issues with desire, and he's probably not going to be a good edge rusher. Good value at pick number 100. Toby Gerhart, chosen 51st, looks like a quality replacement for Chester Taylor. Cool pick: Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler, the son of Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler.
•New England. Love what the Belichicks did at tight end in the last five weeks, signing free-agent filler Alge Crumpler (maybe a one-year bit of glue), then drafting Rob Gronkowski at 42 and Aaron Hernandez at 113. Hernandez was thievery; watching Florida four or five times on TV in the fall and on tape last week, I thought he looked like a bona fide NFL tight end right now.
The Patriots again got great volume, and even set themselves as the power brokers of the 2011 draft; they already had the Raiders' 2011 first-rounder, then pilfered the Panthers' second-round pick next year by dealing them the 89th pick in this draft -- way at the end of the third round. But I don't know whether they got the playmaker on defense they needed, and there's going to be tremendous pressure on a receiver with only average quickness, Taylor Price of Ohio, to come in and play right away because Wes Welker's injuries could keep him out much of the year.
•New Orleans. Cornerback Patrick Robinson seemed like a reach at 32, but the Saints had a big corner need. The whole world loves neophyte athletic tight end Jimmy Graham from Miami with the 95th pick. "Best pick in the draft,'' one AFC coach told me. "Give him time, and in that offense, he'll be better than [Jeremy] Shockey by the start of next year.''
•New York Giants. Great story by Ralph Vacchiano in Sunday's New York Daily News about the desire of top pick Jason Pierre-Paul, echoing the drive I've heard he has. He is quick and a great athlete. Question: How did he only get six sacks in 2010? Another question: Worried about the fact he's played only one year of college football at a high level after being at two JCs?
The pick I like: middle linebacker Phillip Dillard. When they lost the chance to take Rolando McClain at 15, the Giants had to scan down their board for a plugger type of linebacker. Dillard's no athlete, but he's a tackling fool. He'll contend to play first and second downs early.
•New York Jets. Kyle Wilson fell to them and is Antonio Cromartie insurance for the future. Vlad Ducasse fell to them and could be the opening-day starting left guard, replacing the fired Alan Faneca. I like turning Leon Washington, essentially, into Joe McKnight, a healthy and fresh version of Washington. The Jets got better, albeit with their usual low number of picks.
By the way, I got an email from GM Mike Tannenbaum during the week. Remember last week's column, when I ran the quote from National Football Post's Mike Lombardi about no one in the organization taking responsibility for the drafting of Vernon Gholston? Tannenbaum said, essentially, that he's never hidden from the Gholston pick, takes full responsibility and if there's some blame to take, give it to him. Big of him.
•Oakland. Draft brains! Hooray for the Raiders! No one's sure if Rolando McClain's a three-down linebacker (several teams don't think he's fluid enough to cover backs and tight ends), but everyone knows he's a fabulous leader and sideline-to-sideline playmaker. Great pick at eight. And to get a fabulous athlete like Bruce Campbell with the 106th pick -- that's the right place to take a boom-or-bust pick. Good weekend for the Raiders.
•Philadelphia. An OK draft some in the league thought should have been better. I knew one team with draft-managers who cursed loudly when the Eagles traded up and took Brandon Graham at 13 -- instead of Earl Thomas -- because these personnel guys thought Graham was by far the best pass-rusher in the draft. That's what Philly needs, a bookend to Trent Cole. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is the best defensive end in University of Washington history and should enter the Eagle rotation quickly, and Clay Harbor (125nd overall) will be good alternative to Brent Celek, also quickly. But a few personnel types I spoke with over the weekend though Philly overpicked in a few spots, especially safety Nate Allen of South Florida at 37.
•Pittsburgh. Much love out there in the scouting world for Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds, the next in (the Steelers hope) a line of great outside linebackers in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 mold. The Steelers always like a new one of these every year to run through the pipeline. As I said the other day, center Maurkice Pouncey might be the surest thing in this draft, a lock starter with good technique at guard or center, likely from Day 1.
•St. Louis. If you can get a franchise quarterback and right tackle for 10 years in a draft, you've had a great one. And in turning down tepid offers (now that shocked me) for the first pick of the second round, the Rams followed the pick of Sam Bradford with a solid athletic tackle, Rodger Saffold, who was liked by about five teams early in the second. There'll be pressure on fourth-rounder Mardy Gilyard to breathe life into a lousy passing game.
•San Diego. I thought A.J. Smith paid too much (two picks in the top 40) for a productive but not explosive running back, Ryan Mathews. We'll see. He's not the kind of make-you-miss back that you pay that much for in a top draft. The biggest break for San Diego would be if 330-pound house Cam Thomas, drafted in the fifth round, could be at least a part-time nose in Ron Rivera's defensive-line rotation.
•San Francisco. One of the surprises of the first round was San Francisco moving up two spots to take Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis when he appeared to have little chance of going 11 or 12. He'll need Singletary's occasional boot to the rear to keep improving his game. He thought at Rutgers he was great when he arrived and had a little prima donna in him.
By drafting Davis and Mike Iupati, the Niners accomplished what they wanted to do as much as anything in this draft -- get two of the best five or six linemen in this draft to protect Alex Smith and pave the way for a running game that stalled too often last year.
•Seattle. Check my thoughts above.
•Tampa Bay. Bucs discussion in my Tuesday column. Sorry for the delay.
•Tennessee. Teams like Miami, Denver and Jacksonville chilled on top pick Derrick Morgan, as did trading-up Philadelphia, but I thought he was great value as a mid-round pick -- assuming he can make plays behind the line as consistently as he did in college. Scouts love the third-round linebacker Rennie Curran, even though he's 5-11. "Form tackler and explosive,'' one personnel guy told me. The Titans need to add youth at linebacker.
•Washington.Trent Williams, the left tackle, in the first round, and Donovan McNabb in the second. Not very complicated. If either one of those guys fail, the Redskins will struggle to be a .500 team.
Now for my normal 10th Thing I Think.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. The New England Locker Room Luncheon, benefiting the Matt Light Foundation (www.mattlight72.com) and the Greater Boston Food Bank (www.gbfb.org) will happen on Tuesday, May 11, and we've got some tickets remaining. You'll hear Light, the Patriots' left tackle, and Patriots wideout Julian Edelman talking about their lives and their team, and you'll hear me and Patriots beat man Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com grill them (good-naturedly, the plan is) over lunch at Davio's in Foxboro from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Autographs, photos ... it's all good. Looking forward to seeing you on the 11th in a cozy room at Davio's.
b. We've also had some help from our good friends at charity-conscious Tonic.com, who wrote a feature story on the event on their site, so please support them too. The link is here.
c. The best TV on TV right now is when Andrew Bernard and Dwight Schrute face off.
d. I've got to get to that Dirk Hayhurst book, The Bullpen Gospels, on my night table. Heard it's a great narrative of trying to make it -- by a real human playing baseball.
e. Coffeenerdness: Bus Stop Espresso, in Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood, might be the funkiest espresso bar I've been in. Recommended. Good stuff. You'll need to ask for it hot, but it's a very good plain latte.
f. Thanks for dinner, Gary Wright. Great catching up with you. Great town you've got out there in Seattle.