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April 23, 2008

Plenty could happen among top 10 picks

The first round of the NFL Draft is full of "what ifs" and "then whats."

This time of year, NFL fans love to look at mock drafts to see who their favorite team supposedly will select. But all it takes is one surprise pick or one player to be left on the board to throw things into a tizzy.

Here is a look at several scenarios that could unfold among the top 10 Saturday:

1. MIAMI: After signing Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long to a five-year, $57.5 million deal as the No. 1 overall pick, the Dolphins now have set their sights on the second round. They have picks No. 32 and No. 57, and may try to get back into the first round to draft a quarterback or a pass rusher. Most insiders believe the Dolphins' quarterbacks of choice are Chad Henne (Michigan) and Joe Flacco (Delaware). But if they are solidly behind John Beck, they could turn their attention to pass rushers such as Cliff Avril (Purdue) or Quentin Groves (Auburn). Other prospects on their radar are defensive tackle Pat Sims (Auburn), linebacker Dan Connor (Penn State) or even a highly rated corner if one were to slide on draft day.

2. ST. LOUIS: The Rams have several key need areas, starting on both lines, then moving out to wide receiver. The Rams have a chance to take Virginia's Chris Long (the best all-around defensive end), a pass rusher with superb upside (Ohio State's Vernon Gholston) or an interior defender such as LSU's Glenn Dorsey which would mean Adam Carriker could move outside to end. Long or Gholston could have a slight lead at the moment over Dorsey. I believe the Rams' preference is to find an outside pass-rushing presence to combine with Carriker, Clifton Ryan and hopefully the continued development of Claude Wroten and veteran holdover La'Roi Glover.

3. ATLANTA: The Falcons' choice will be key in determining how the draft develops. They could choose a quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end or defensive tackle. They are lacking quality depth on both sides of the line, so either Dorsey or Long would make sense here. Each is expected to be a high-character guy in the locker room and an instant starter. But the idea of landing Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan could be too tempting to pass up. Ryan could be the new face of the franchise and a squeaky-clean one at that. Should the Rams decide to pick Dorsey at No. 2, look for the Falcons to attempt to drop down and select USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. One other scenario that could take place is if Ryan still were on the board at No. 7 when New England hits the clock; the Falcons could offer up their three second-round picks (Nos. 34, 37 and 48) to grab Ryan. If you look at most "trade value" charts, pick No. 7 is equal to 1,500 points. The three second-round choices are equal to 1,510 points.

4. OAKLAND: The Raiders have only five picks, and three of those are between 162nd and 210th. After the Raiders pick at No. 4, they don't choose again until fourth round. Because of their lack of picks, a trade down from No. 4 makes the most sense. Cincinnati and New Orleans love Dorsey and Ellis. But passing on the likes of Darren McFadden or Gholston would be a hard pill for Al Davis to swallow. Though the Raiders re-signed Justin Fargas, still have LaMont Jordan and drafted Michael Bush last year, the team managed just eight rushing touchdowns in 2007. It's hard to believe that with more than 200 touches, McFadden wouldn't equal or better that total on his own. If McFadden and Long are available, look for Davis to spend all 10 minutes deciding which player to draft.

5. KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs sent a huge contingent of decision-makers to view Ryan's pro day, but the team insists it still firmly believes in Brodie Croyle. General manager Carl Peterson always has believed in selecting the best player available instead of drafting based on need. The chances of Long sliding to No. 5 are fairly good now, so the Chiefs could go that route. The trade of All-Pro sack-master Jared Allen to Minnesota means Long would make sense, and the deal now gives them 13 draft choices. The Chiefs have six picks in the top 82, which will help them fill several holes.

6. NEW YORK JETS: The Jets have invested a great deal in researching Arkansas running back Darren McFadden. Most insiders say the Jets have grown fond of McFadden. The Jets also will consider Long or Gholston if they are available. If the teams in front of them were to pass on Ryan and Dorsey, the Jets could be targeted for a trade down at this spot.

7. NEW ENGLAND: The Patriots have a few holes following free agency and also have an array of aging stars. The areas of need in this spot include cornerback, offensive line and linebacker. But if a top-five prospect such as Gholston or McFadden were to fall to No. 7, it would give the Pats something to think about while they are on the clock. Of the several top-rated defensive backs, Troy cornerback/return man Leodis McKelvin seemingly would fit their scheme the best. But in the past few weeks, a number of evaluators have cooled somewhat on McKelvin. Virginia offensive lineman Branden Albert's name has surfaced at this spot since he initially could challenge Steve Neal at left guard before sliding to tackle down the road. If Ryan, Dorsey or Ellis are on the board, I would expect the Patriots to field calls from teams such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Denver or Chicago if the Bears wanted to make a surprise push to grab Ryan ahead of the Baltimore Ravens. A few dark-horse names the Pats are considering are Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, USC linebacker Keith Rivers and Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo.

8. BALTIMORE: The retirement of quarterback Steve McNair does not really alter the Ravens' plans or needs since they already intended to take a quarterback in this draft. If Ryan is available, the team's level of confidence in Troy Smith will be revealed. The Ravens need help at cornerback and defensive end/outside linebacker. The Ravens could also choose to add another offensive lineman, then take a quarterback such as Andre' Woodson, Josh Johnson or Dennis Dixon on the second day. While if Darren McFadden were to slide to this spot, he would make an attractive trade option for teams such as Carolina, Detroit, Arizona and Dallas. In case you are wondering, picks No. 22 and No. 28 (Dallas' two first-rounders) are roughly equal to the value of pick No. 8 on most NFL "trade value" charts.

9. CINCINNATI: The Bengals are in the top 10 again and could be back again next year. Team chemistry seems to be at an all-time low. Do the latest issues with All-Pro wide receiver Chad Johnson mean the Bengals will select a wide receiver at No. 9? Probably not at this point. They can address receiver later in the draft. Cincinnati needs front-seven defenders who can make plays. If that player also can provide an infusion of positive energy and character in the locker room, that would be a major plus. Ellis or Dorsey would be good additions, as would Harvey. Rivers also is an option. A dark-horse choice could be Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall.

10. NEW ORLEANS: This choice seems destined to be used on defense, with cornerback and defensive tackle as main needs. The Saints could surprise some by taking one of the top-rated offensive tackles, although it would be a tough sell to a fan base that desires a defender who can help bring back the days of the "Black-&-Gold Patrol." Defensive end Will Smith is a potential holdout, and there also has been talk that this could be Charles Grant's last season with the team. The Saints could make a play for Dorsey, but many remember the short-lived career of Jonathan Sullivan the last top-10 defensive tackle taken by the Saints. Rivers excited Saints scouts with his pro day performance, but passing on a cover corner such as Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or versatile corner/return man Leodis McKelvin would be a tough pill to swallow if there is a run on cornerbacks before they pick in the second round. The Saints could also be one of the teams that jumps in the mix for Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard if the price for him drops to a second-round pick.



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