Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NFL Draft Watch

I'm sure most Vanderbilt football fans are well aware that there will be at least one, and possibly two, Commodores called in the first round of the NFL Draft in April. Both tackle Chris Williams and wide receiver Earl Bennett did nothing but help their stock with their combine performances several weeks ago. Williams solidified his status as a sure first-rounder, while Bennett has a good chance to land in the second round.

Of course draft position relies heavily on team need and position depth within the draft pool, which is favorable for Williams. After Jake Long and Ryan Clady, the consensus top two tackles, Williams is the next best lineman available, which probably means a pick somewhere in the teens.

Of teams in this range, there are several that have pressing offensive line concerns and should be in the market for a lineman (pick in parentheses): Buffalo Bills (11), Denver Broncos (12), Chicago Bears (14), Detroit Lions (15), Houston Texans (18). The Steelers at No. 23 are a possibility as well if Jeff Otah goes first and other cards fall in place.

The Bills were the second worst team last year in allowing yardage to opposing offenses, but already made big offseason acquisitions in defensive tackle Marcus Stroud in a trade from Jacksonville and free agent linebacker Kawika Mitchell. That means they will probably focus on offense in the draft and either find a weapon for their young QBs (whichever one starts) or find protection for them.

The Broncos desperately need a linebacker after struggling last year at the position and after cutting veteran Ian Gold. But another Vanderbilt alum is struggling behind a weak offensive line, and reuniting Williams with Jay Cutler is an intriguing possibility. However, after cutting Javon Walker loose, Denver will now think long and hard about getting another receiver.

The Bears are a mess. Last season, the defense was far from the dominant force it was during the team's Super Bowl run, though mostly because of injuries. Still, the offense is in far worse shape. Both Mushin Muhammed and Bernard Berrian are gone, leaving the receiving corps decimated, and Cedric Benson is a bust in the backfield.

Sadly for the Bears, there will be no quarterback worth taking at their draft position to solve the Rex Grossman problem. That means just like the Bills and Broncos, the Bears will likely take either a receiver or a lineman, and Williams could be the guy.

The Lions need offensive line help badly, but after taking receivers in the first round of four straight drafts, defense should take precedence this time around in Detroit.

Every year the Texans have a miserable offensive line and fail to address those positions in the draft. Williams seems like a logical choice with the defense improving and key offensive weapons already established. Then again, the prove conventional wisdom wrong every year.

Williams is not a consensus No. 3 lineman, and should Jeff Otah go before him and the teams with picks in the teens opt to address other needs, he could fall to the Steelers at 23. Losing Alan Faneca in free agency was a big blow to the offensive line stability they have had for the last several years, and they would likely jump on Williams were he to fall this far. Pittsburgh could move him to guard, and seeing as there is not another immediate concern, it is very unlikely Williams falls past Pittsburgh.

Coming soon, Earl Bennett...

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