Five things we learned about teams during and after draft weekend ...
When the Jets traded into the tail end of the first round, I thought for certain they were headed for a quarterback. However with the extra pick, the Jets selected tight end Dustin Keller from Purdue and sent a powerful message to all the Kellen Clemens doubters.
Keller has very good pass receiving skills and can challenge a defense down the field, but who is going throw him the ball? The Jets will start training camp with an open competition between Chad Pennington and Clemens -- fifth-round pick Erik Ainge of Tennessee will be the No. 3, at best -- meaning the Jets success in 2008 will reside solely in their hands.
Now, I know that Clemens is a young quarterback and half a season of starting is not enough to evaluate his long-range skills. But based on the tape I watched last season, he did not demonstrate the arm strength and body to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. The Meadowlands is a very difficult place to throw the ball because of the constant wind that prevails inside the stadium. Clemens' arm is not strong enough to cut down the wind. When the slick defensive minds (like Bill Belichick) have to defend a weak-armed quarterback, it makes for an easy day of defense.
The Jets are rebuilding their line in free agency and seem to have addressed the tight end need in this draft, but until they fix the quarterback position they will struggle to beat the Patriots. It might be wise for the Jets to call Tampa Bay and make an offer for Chris Simms, whois available and in need of a fresh environment. He clearly knows who to ask about those awful Meadowlands winds.
What happens when your team leads the NFL in field-goal attempts and still makes the playoffs? You draft a home run hitter who can get the ball into the end zone and help you score points. Chris Johnson of East Carolina fit the bill for the Titans. The former East Carolina rusher is a multi-purpose player and was the fastest running back in the draft.
Tennessee quarterback Vince Young is a dynamic player but he struggled in former offensive coordinator Norm Chow's version of the West Coast offense. Chow was not retained and in comes Mike Heimerdinger from Denver to open the offensive attack. Heimerdinger is an excellent coach who can utilize the skill set of Young -- much like he did with a young Steve McNair.
With Johnson in the backfield, the Titans have a player who can take a 5-yard gain and turn it into a 40-yard touchdown. LenDale White, their second-round pick in 2006, is the pounding back, the inside-the-tackles runner who will pick up the tough yards. Johnson is the back who allows Heimerdinger to open up the formation and get Young back to his college roots.
Young works best out of the spread attack, much like he did while he played at Texas. Spreading the formation forces the defense to spread out and this will allow seams for Johnson to exploit. Young needs to have a versatile back around him, who has wide receiver skills, but running back power. Trying to get a wide receiver may have been the popular idea for the Titans before the draft, but getting a multi-dimensional runner was the best move.
Jacksonville had a very good team last year and made great progress in its quest to beat the Colts for the AFC South title. The one element the defense lacked was the lack of athleticism of its ends. Based on the Jags' actions this draft weekend, I believe they have closed the gap even more on the Colts.
Being bold and trading multiple picks to acquire Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey tells you the Jags feel they don't need much. Trading up again in the second round to acquire Auburn defensive end Quinton Groves drives that point home -- Groves, in my opinion, was the pick of the draft. Together, Harvey and Groves are a tremendously athletic and fast tandem, which is a requirement when you are attempting to rush Peyton Manning.
Manning is very difficult to sack. In fact, when you're preparing to play the Colts, sacking Manning is not your main objective. What bothers and disrupts the Colts offense is quick pressure. You have to try to get the ball out of Manning's hand a split second before he wants to throw it. He's too smart, too crafty and too aware to be bothered by blitzes. You need very fast defensive ends who can get off the ball with quickness and have the ability to run with great speed. Harvey and Groves have these types of skills.
Having a great position-specific draft to go along with the addition of Gregg Williams as the new defensive coordinator might have turned up the heat a notch on Mr. Manning.
Buffalo has been quiet but productive in the offseason. It made a trade adding Marcus Stroud to the defensive front, providing some much needed size. The Bills signed a versatile linebacker in Kawika Mitchell from the Giants. And in the draft they added top cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who will also help out in the return game, and big wide receiver James Hardy, who will complement speedsters Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish.
But what really makes the Bills' potential off the charts is the return of linebacker Paul Posluszny, among others, to the 53-man roster. Posluszny, a second-round pick in 2007, joined 11 other Bills last year on injured reserve. The Bills weren't all that far off last season, finishing 7-9 but playing hard in every game.
You better believe the Patriots are paying attention. The Bills are healthy, they have added size to their defense and they keep adding players who impact the kicking game. With all the attention being paid to the Miami Dolphins' new regime and the Jets' spending in free agency, I think the Bills have flown under the hype radar in the AFC East and are in position to challenge for a playoff spot in 2008.
This is pretty obvious from the 2008 draft results. Mike Smith starts off his tenure in Atlanta with the selection of Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. John Harbaugh places the Ravens' faith in Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco. And Tony Sparano begins the new Dolphins' regime with Michigan quarterback Chad Henne.
Ryan could not have gone to a better team. He gets a head coach who is a former defensive coordinator who will know how to protect his young quarterback. Look for the Falcons to play the games close to the vest on offense, running the ball and trying to win with their defense and kicking game. Ryan will not be asked to win games right away; the emphasis will be on allowing him to learn and grow into the offense.
Flacco is one lucky guy. He joins a team dominated by defense and gets an offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron who has a history of developing quarterbacks. Cameron will try and speed up Flacco's game, getting him to make quicker decisions and get the ball out of his hands. The Ravens are already used to winning games with a running game and their defense, so Flacco won't be rushed along.
Henne is the chosen one in Miami. Getting picked by Bill Parcells to play quarterback is a great achievement and the failure rate is rather small. Parcells, Sparano and offensive coordinator Dan Henning all know what it takes to have success at quarterback. They will never place Henne in a bad situation. And with Henne being a gym rat, he will be a fixture in the Dolphins building as he learns his craft. And that will forever endear him to his new bosses.
Mike Lombardi has 22 years of NFL experience, working in player personnel with the Broncos, Raiders, Browns, Eagles and 49ers. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.