With Day One of the 2009 NFL Draft behind us, the first glimpse at what the next season has in store has appeared. With each selection, (or for those of you in Dallas, each missed selection) the future of all 32 teams becomes clear. But with every draft there are risers and fallers, players who are picked out of the blue, and players whose stock plummets through the floor. And in each case, and with every pick, questions and criticisms emerge. As we try to make sense of the puzzle, and grade the wild rat race we call the Draft, new images appear with visions of our newly acquired players hoisting the Lombardi and planning their trips to theme parks in Orlando. But before we drop the banner and celebrate our World Championship, we have a season to play. And going into that season, here, in my mind, are the five key questions which remain following the first 64 selections of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Question 1: What Was Josh McDaniels thinking?
The New NFL Whipping Boy After endearing himself into the hearts and souls of all Denver fans by exiling star Quarterback Jay Cutler, Josh McDaniels continued to win friends and influence people during the draft.Sitting, as they did, with two first round picks this year and two firsts next year, the Broncos were poised and ready to rebuild their ravaged defense which hasn’t been respectable since the end of the Elway era. Instead, after some wheeling and dealing, they ended up with 5 picks in the first two rounds, including Seattle’s Second round pick (in return for their first in 2010) and Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick (#64). That is all well and good, 5 key defensive players would be enough to take a bad 4-3 and turn it into a solid 3-4.
But like a tourist in Vegas, McDaniels became lost in the pretty lights and exciting names lit up around the war room and began to make some startlingly unexpected moves. The first came right out of the gate at pick#12. With the two Brians (Orakpo and Cushing) sitting on the board at 12, it was clear that the Broncos were going to add some muscle to their woeful defensive linebacking corp, the key to a 3-4 defenses. But no, as the Commissioner approached the pedestal, it became apparent something was amiss. And for a moment, everyone knew what Robert Baker felt like in 1996 (Robert Baker Video). The Broncos got bit by the Bulldog. Knowshon Moreno joins an already crowded backfield at pick #12, with TE Richard Quinn (he of the 125 career receptions) joining a decent Tight End group. Defense End/OLB Robert Ayers was a smart pick at 18, but two defensive backs in Alphonso Smith and Texas Tech Darcel McBath(Ask me if I knew who he was before today) were a little bit bizarre. With ILB Rey Maualuga and the big man Ron Brace still on the board, there seemed to be smarted picks for a rebuilding 3-4 defense. Now, with a Denver fan base already riled up and looking for blood, one has to wonder if the honey moon period for young McDaniels has already closed. This may be a case of a man whose lack of experience in leading men on the field could come back to bit the over-eager Denver Broncos in the rear, just like Uga.
Question 2: Darrius Heyward-What?
With the 7thoverall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select: A little known speedy Wide Receiver who is like Braylon Edwards without the hype. Being a fan of the ACC, I saw more of Heyward-Bey in action than most people. Watching him torch ACC opponents for only 5 touchdowns his senior year, before being shut out in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl against that powerhouse program in Nevada, made me really want to see this kid go high. Heyward-Bey is the definition of a workout Warrior, someone whose combine numbers and ‘40 time made him into something he is not. Heyward-Bey clocked an obscene 4.3 ‘40 and looked the striking image of Usain Bolt. And like Bolt, Heyward-Bey can’t catch a cold. Questionable hands and concerns about his ability to play at the NFL level follow him into an organization with concerns about its leadership and ability to cultivate talent. The Oakland Raiders, ever the running gag, went ahead and drafted the (at best) 3rd receiver on the board, passing on more stud-muffiny men like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. But for better or worse, Heyward-Bey will become J-Roc’s#1 target on the field. With the decrepit Javon Walker and the MIA Ronald Curry as his #’s 1 and2 last season, Russel was forced to find Johnnie Lee Higgins to move the ball. This is the same Lee Higgins who, according to Wikipedia: “also returned punts for touchdowns in back to back games, both leading to one of his signature, lighthearted end zone dances.” When you are known as much for your “lighthearted” touchdown celebrations as your ability to catch the ball, you may be in trouble. Regardless, the Raiders decided early that they needed an improvement to their receiving corp. But with Heyward-Bey as their pick, they could have just announced their decision at 4:00 pm (EST) and no one would have bothered to stop them. Heyward-Bey in Oakland could, potentially, be a stud. But he had no business being the #1 receiver taken with this class.
Now a franchise which has, along side Cleveland and Detroit, become the laughing stock of the NFL, took yet another step in the wrong direction. If this becomes the signature draft pick of the Tom Cable era, we could be in for another diatribe filled press conference in 8 months. How WR coach Sanjay Lal uses Heyward-Bey could go a long way to deciding his future, but as of right now it looks like the Black Hole swallowed another player who’s only strength is his ability to run 40 yards straight forward.
Question 3: What will the Bears and Cowboys Do?
The Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears had a pretty easy time of it in the 2009 NFL Draft. Chicago traded its #1 (19) to the Denver Broncos for Jay “A1C” Cutler before trading their 2nd round pick to Seattle (Pick #49), while the Cowboys traded their 1st (#20) to Detroit for Roy Williams and their 2nd(#49) to Buffalo. Combined they made a grand total of zero picks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. While financially responsible, and perhaps smart given the weakness of the draft class, it can’t look good to their respective fan bases, or to their warm-seated coaches. Wade Phillips, having not won a Super Bowl in his first two seasons, has come under fire for his inability to take the Cowboys to the next level. And after the Browns took Mohammad Massaquoi with the 48th pick the Cowboys were unable to select any of the first day receivers. So instead of drafting a safety to replace the now departed Roy Williams, the Cowboys traded down and out of the first day entirely. Now the two teams with the most exciting off-seasons outside of the Mile High City are faced withsome interesting questions.
This draft is considered historically weak, especially in depth. Neither Chicago nor Dallas is likely to pick up a starting player in 2009, and Chicago doesn’t have a first in the 2010 draft either. Going into 2009, the Bears and Cowboys will be forced to use the 24 opening day starters currently on their roster. No new receivers for Jay Cutler, no replacement for T.O. If things fall apart for either team, there could be some hell to pay. The Draft is the get out of jail free card, with players getting a free pass during their first two years and coaches getting to point to the future. For Chicago and Dallas, the future is now, and the seats of Wade Phillips and Lovie Smith are going to be awfully hot if they don’t win.
Question 4: Are the Lions Reloaded?
The #1 Overall Pick in the 2009 NFL Draft With the news that Matthew Stafford and the Lions had come to terms
(rumors have it Stafford took a significant cut to his original numbers) on a 41.7M 6 year deal to become the face of the Detroit Lions franchise. The strong armed Stafford will be bombing it deep to Megatron for years to come. The parallel I first saw, Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss. Now, if the Lions can build a defense to back up the new kid on the block, the Lions will be in a great position going into 2009 and more importantly, 2010. And that’s why I was baffled by the rest of the day for Detroit.
The Lions have a plethora of decent receivers after their stud #1 Calvin Johnson. So, they went out and drafted the best Tight End in the class, Brandon Pettigrew. Meanwhile players like Peria Jerry and Michael Oherwere still on the board. Then, in round 2, they drafted Louis Delmas, the Safety out of Western Michigan. A solid pick, but what about that woeful defensive line? Or the gaping holes at linebacker? Fili Moala andClay Matthews were both begging to be picked early in the 2ndto fill some serious needs in this terrible run defense, but the Lions passed on both.
I am nervous for Detroit for a few reasons. One, Stafford will be playing in 2009, make no mistake. He will beat out Culpepper, because he will stay healthy. And when you write a paycheck that size, you make it earn its money. Daunte Culpepper doesn’t put butts in the seats, but Matthew Stafford will. I also think Stafford is just a better Quarterback than anyone on the roster. He will make some boneheaded plays andsome bad throws, but he will do it with an absolutely beautiful spiral. The question is, how will he stand up to the absolute abuse he is going to take? The Lions Offensive Line is not good, and ask Tim Couch or David Carr how it feels to be on a rebuilding franchise with no offensive line. One is eager to never see the field as a backup in New York and the other is suspended for trying to make a come back with Steroids. Expect the Lions to dig into the linebacking corp andthe move towards building those lines in 2010. But for 2009, the Lions will have to hire some high class athletic trainers to keep Stafford in one piece. But with three more picks (Just traded to them by the New York Jets at 10:09 AM, EST) the Lions could do some serious damage in prospect players who can build a team around this young, 6 foot 2, 225 quarterback with a laser-rocket arm.
Question 5: The Q and the BrayBray?
The Browns and Cardinals were deep in the midst of a series of rumors regarding their “disgruntled” receivers, Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards. Both young, physically gifted receivers are fighters, the big targets who go out and grab the ball and don’t care about the pain. Between Philadelphia andNew York, it appeared that the NFC East would just trade away its entire first day to pick up the two big baddies from teams who got beat by Pittsburgh last season. But as the day rolled around, both Q and Braylon were still on their respective teams. Boldin is still going to suit up across the field from Fitzgerald, and Braylon will still stretch the field for Brady Quinn. Andin my view, both teams made the right decision.