Decisive Moves

Last weekend's bold dealing and drafting set up some teams for immediate improvement (though some unhappy vets were left stewing)
May 03, 2009

During Rex Ryan'sfour seasons as Ravens defensive coordinator, his unit thrived on itsaggressiveness. "If you swipe at one of ours," Ryan would say,"we'll take two swipes at one of yours." Ryan promised to bring thatbrash attitude to the Jets after he was named coach in January, and he was trueto his word when New York attacked the draft like a linebacker going after anunprotected quarterback on third-and-long. The Jets' trading up 12 spots in thefirst round to grab USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was the boldest move of the2009 draft.

After BrettFavre's one-and-done season, New York needed not only a quarterback to buildaround but also a marketing campaign to help sell personal seat licenses in thenew stadium set to open in 2010. Sanchez, who'll compete with 2006second-rounder Kellen Clemens for the starting job, acknowledged that thepressure of playing for a perennial national championship contender in collegepales next to what he faces after becoming the Jets' highest pick atquarterback since they took Joe Namath No. 1 in 1965. "You don't want topromise too much, expect too much," Sanchez said on Sunday, "but I'msetting my sights high."

All 32 teams settheir sights high last weekend. Some hit those heights, others came up short.Here's a look:

Al Davis's obsession with speed was evident when he passed up the consensusbest wideout, Michael Crabtree, at No. 7 for Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey,who is tremendously fast but has questionable hands. The Raiders' second pick,Ohio University safety Mike Mitchell, who wasn't even invited to the combine,also appeared to be a major stretch, though several secondary coaches aroundthe league said he has the goods to be a productive starter.

In a division that includes Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Chicago's MattForte, stopping the run is a priority. Green Bay's addition of dominant BostonCollege nosetackle B.J. Raji and versatile USC linebacker Clay Matthews willbolster the run D and smooth the Packers' transition to a 3--4.

Alabama tackle Andre Smith, arguably the best run blocker in the draft, andfierce-hitting USC linebacker Rey Maualuga dropped on other teams' boards forvarious reasons, but they have what it takes to help make the Bengals asurprise contender in the physical AFC North.

The 49ers, Eagles, Ravens and Seahawks capitalized when some highly ratedprospects fell to them. San Francisco didn't think the playmaking Crabtreewould be available at No. 10. Philly and Baltimore landed explosive Missouriwideout Jeremy Maclin and polished Mississippi tackle Michael Oher—projectedtop 10 picks—at 19 and 23, respectively. Seattle was so ecstatic to seemultitalented Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry available at No. 4 that theSeahawks didn't seriously consider Sanchez.

I'd pay to watch the NFC East this year. After upgrading through free agencyand trades, Super Bowl contenders Philadelphia and New York added morefirepower in the draft. In addition to Maclin, the Eagles gave Donovan McNabbtwo more weapons in all-purpose Pitt running back LeSean McCoy andpass-catching Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram. The Giants addressed a gapinghole at wideout by selecting big, athletic Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina inthe first round. Washington buttressed its defense by grabbing disruptivedefensive end Brian Orakpo of Texas to play alongside monster tackle AlbertHaynesworth. Only the Cowboys, who didn't pick on the first day, failed to makenoise. They even took a kicker in the fifth round despite being set at theposition.

Browns coach Eric Mangini is a fan of familiarity. Since arriving in Clevelandin January he has signed four of his former Jets players as free agents andlast weekend acquired defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam andquarterback Brett Ratliff in the Sanchez deal. Another tidbit: Mangini draftedfor brain power as well as brawn. Each of his top four picks receivedall-academic honors either nationally or within their conferences, andsixth-round cornerback Don Carey of Norfolk State could have gone to Yale ifhe'd so chosen.

The weekend's biggest losers? Possibly the handful of prominent veterans whowere hoping to be included in draft-day trades. Defensive end Julius Peppers ofthe Panthers and wideouts Braylon Edwards (Browns), Anquan Boldin (Cardinals)and Chad Johnson (Bengals) stayed put because no one wanted to give up thepicks and players to get them or shell out the new contracts to keep them.

WR, Raiders

Blazing speed, suspect hands: a classic Al Davispuzzler.

DT, Packers

Run-stuffer ideally suited to the NFC North grind.

RB, Eagles
Versatile back in the mold of Brian Westbrook.