BEST PICK: DT Alan Branch, Michigan. Or, he may be their worst pick. That will be up to Branch. The Cardinals, already short on picks in this draft after a 2006 trade, gave up another to move to the top of the second round and catch Branch, just after he fell out of the first round. Physically, he is a stud. Another Eric Swann. Top 10 draft potential. But Branch has a lot of development ahead if he is to make it. He has to work harder, not take plays off, be totally dedicated to maximizing that incredible physical potential to be an outstanding pro. If he does that, he will have been a steal at No. 33. If not, he was the waste of a couple of good draft picks that could have helped the team in other areas.
COULD SURPRISE: Steve Breaston, WR/KR/PR, Michigan. Breaston isn't expected to have much impact in the passing game initially, but he could make a big mark immediately as a return specialist. Both jobs are open, and this fifth-round pick is primarily to address that. Breaston is a burner who is nearly unstoppable when he gets into the open field. He also could develop into the No. 4 wideout behind Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson. This selection continues a very strong Big Ten-Pennsylvania theme to this draft by a staff that comes primarily from Big Ten country in Pennsylvania. Breaston is a former Pennsylvania high school player of the year.
A closer look at each of the Cardinals' picks:
Round 1/5 -- Levi Brown, T, 6-5, 323, Penn State: The Cardinals need help up front and had interest in T Joe Thomas, who went No. 3 to Cleveland. But the Big Red actually prefers the mauling nature of Brown, a former defensive tackle, who could improve their woeful rushing attack. He might not be the pass protector that Thomas is, though. Brown had knee problems off and on during his college career. He sometimes plays a bit upright, although Russ Grimm will be coaching that out of him. What Brown lacks in technique and athleticism he offsets with brute strength and intelligence. He has two degrees from Penn State from his five years there. Brown moved to the offensive line after his red shirt season. Grimm, the Cardinals line coach, worked Brown out hard during Brown's pro day. Grimm wanted to see Brown's reaction under duress. Grimm liked what he saw and is convinced he can coach up Brown to be a great NFL player.
Round 2/33 -- Alan Branch, DT, 6-5, 334, Michigan: Hail to the laggards valiant! For the second straight year, the Cardinals drafted a Michigan defensive tackle rated with outstanding talent but sand-bagged by a reputation for underachievement. A year ago it was Gabe Watson. This time, the Cardinals wanted Branch so badly that they traded up with Oakland to get the first pick in the second round. The Cardinals relinquished their original pick in the second round (No. 38) and their fourth-round pick (No. 105). From a talent standpoint, there's no question that Branch was among the top 10 players in the draft. He's not only big and powerful but nimble enough to drop into coverage in zone-blitzes. But he fell out of the first round because he too often was no factor. The Cardinals think they'll coach it out of him and find a home at any of the down-line spots in their new 3-4 schemes and as a powerful push tackle in their 4-3 sets. Strong candidate to start as rookie if he works.
Round 3/69 -- Buster Davis, ILB, 5-9, 239, Florida State: Stand up, Buster -- oh, you are. The Big Red has been as short on linebackers as Davis is in stature. As Davis himself said on draft day, "I'm three inches from being a first-rounder." And that may well be true. No one doubts his football instincts, competitive drive or athleticism. What is in question is whether he is tall enough to get a good read on what's going on around him on a field full of pro-size players. For the Cardinals, this selection is for need. Davis likely will back up starting ILBs Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby in the new 3-4 alignments, and back Hayes in the middle of the 4-3 sets. Davis is a solid force in the middle vs. the rush, a fantastic tackler. Sideline-to-sideline range and pass-coverage skills are questionable. So no height joke intended, but Davis may be a reach here.
Round 5/142 -- Steve Breaston, WR/PR/KR, 6-0, 178, Michigan: With the Cardinals loaded at receiver - Pro Bowlers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, and speedster Bryant Johnson - this pick is primarily for Breaston's incredible return skills. The Cardinals were in the market for someone who could run back both punts and kicks. If Breaston also can develop into their No. 4 receiver, so much the better. He is a blur, with a 4.41-second 40-yard dash time.
Round 7/215 -- Ben Patrick, TE, 6-4, 270, Delaware: Patrick was assigned a second-round grade by many draft scouts but his stock plummeted because concentration lapses led to many catchable balls being dropped. He transferred to Division 1-AA Delaware from Duke his senior year and set school records for catches by a tight end. There also are questions regarding his blocking skills. But his hands, size and athleticism make him a prospect worth attempting to develop. Joins second-year Leonard Pope with the Cardinals to form a very young tight end duo with loads of athleticism, size and upside.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
BEST PICK: DT Adam Carriker - One of the most versatile defensive linemen in the draft, interested teams talked with him about playing every position on the line except right end. The Rams will put him at the 3-technique, counting on him to be stout against the run, while also generating inside pressure on the quarterback.
COULD SURPRISE: NT Cliff Ryan - Fifth-round picks are never a sure thing, but Rams new defensive assistant Mike Cox was with Ryan at Michigan State and believes he can come in and compete at nose tackle, one of the positions where the Rams need the biggest upgrade.
A closer look at each of the Rams' picks:
Round 1/13 -- Adam Carriker, DT, 6-6, 308, Nebraska: He played mostly end at Nebraska, but will play inside at tackle for the Rams where he is expected to help a run defense that has struggled the last few years. Coaches believe he can eventually grow to 320 pounds and be a nose tackle.
Round 2/52 -- Brian Leonard, RB, 6-2, 226, Rutgers: The Rams loves his attitude and approach to the game after agreeing to switch to fullback before his junior season. Very team oriented, returning to Rutgers for his senior season so he could try and help the school win a conference championship.
Round 3/84 -- Jonathan Wade, CB, 5-10, 195, Tennessee: The Rams fell in love with his speed (4.36 in the 40) and believe he can develop into a consistent corner. Wade sometimes lacks discipline and gets beat too often, but the club believes he can be coached to take advantage of his natural skills.
Round 5/139 -- Dustin Fry, C/G, 6-3, 315, Clemson: Will work at both center and guard to start, the Rams love his physical style and size. Fry started three years at Clemson, is very strong and according to one draft analysis publication has blacksmith arms.
Round 5/154 -- Cliff Ryan, NT, 6-3, 310, Michigan State: Played 3-technique as a senior because it was needed, but projects to be a nose tackle for the Rams. Will compete for time in the rotation. Coaches consider him aggressive and stout, with the ability to occupy blockers.
Round 6/190 -- OT Ken Shackleford, 6-5, 322, Georgia: One-year starter who is raw and will need time to learn, but the ability to anchor in the pass rush is what the Rams' coaches like.
Round 7/248 -- DT Keith Jackson, 6-0, 305, Arkansas: Son of former NFL tight end of the same name, Jackson is a great competitor that has great production over the last two seasons despite being somewhat undersized. Coach Scott Linehan described him as the type of player that is "very hard to cut."
Round 7/249 -- WR Derek Stanley, 5-10, 172, Wisconsin-Whitewater: Has excellent speed (4.4 in the 40) and scored 35 touchdowns in his college career on the Division III level. He could possibly also help as a kick returner.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
BEST PICK: The 49ers got back into the first round to select Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley before the Ravens got a crack at him with the No. 29 overall pick. Offensive tackles are hard to find in the NFL, and the 49ers might have landed a player who has the size and athleticism to excel for many years. Although the offensive line is not a big need for this season, the 49ers were looking ahead a year to when the club might need to replace a few starters whose contracts are set to expire.
COULD SURPRISE: Although he ran a blistering time at the NFL scouting combine that got everybody's attention, receiver Jason Hill was the 13th wideout chosen. The 49ers selected a player who managed to put up impressive numbers despite never really having the benefit of a superior quarterback with whom to work. Hill will play the split end position, and he has a chance to develop into a solid player while working with quarterback Alex Smith.
A closer look at each of the 49ers' picks:
Round 1/11 - Patrick Willis, ILB, 6-1, 242, Mississippi: Willis was the 49ers' choice over DE Adam Carriker of Nebraska, who was seen as a good fit for the team's conversion to a 3-4 defense. Willis will compete with veteran Derek Smith for the job of weakside inside linebacker. He has the speed and instincts to make an immediate impact with the 49ers.
Round 1/28 - Joe Staley, OT, 6-5, 306, Central Michigan The 49ers expect Staley to compete for a starting job at right tackle against Adam Snyder and Kwame Harris, and eventually he could be a solid left tackle. A converted tight end, Staley is athletic and has a lot of room to put more weight onto his frame. Staley is another player the 49ers coached at the Senior Bowl.
Round 3/76 - Jason Hill, WR, 6-0, 204, Washington State: Hill ran a sub-4.4 time at the NFL scouting combine, and he certainly put together a nice resume in the Pac-10 with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Hill has good size and impressive speed. He has a chance to get plenty of action as a rookie. A year ago, the 49ers' No. 3 receiver, Bryan Gilmore, caught just eight passes. Hill has a chance to win that job, if he gets beaten out of a starting job.
Round 3/97 - Ray McDonald, DE, 6-3, 276, Florida: McDonald showed versatility in college, playing both at nose tackle and at defensive end. With the 49ers, he will likely play left defensive end in the team's 3-4 scheme. He nearly fell out of the first day of the draft because of problems with his knees. The 49ers are well aware of his issues, but figured they could take the risk on a player who has demonstrates good quickness and an ability to rush the passer. Coach Mike Nolan said McDonald might even have to undergo further surgery this offseason.
Round 4/104 - Jay Moore, OLB, 6-4, 274, Nebraska: Moore will likely drop about 10 pounds so he can perform the drops that he'll need to make as an outside linebacker. He has good athleticism but his best trait is his hustle and work ethic. Moore recorded three sacks in the Senior Bowl.
Round 4/126 - Dashon Goldson, S, 6-2, 205, Washington: He played cornerback and safety in college. His size and speed make him better suited to play safety with the 49ers. Because of his cover skills, he could become a backup to Mark Roman at free safety.
Round 4/135 - Joe Cohen, DT, 6-2, 310, Florida: Cohen began his career at Florida as an H-back before moving to the defensive line. He could play nose tackle and compete with Isaac Sopoaga or he could see action at defensive end.
Round 5/147 - Tarell Brown, CB, 5-10, 190, Texas: Widely seen as a character risk after two well-publicized run-ins with the law, coach Mike Nolan said he believes Brown has good character but he made a couple bad decisions. Was a starting corner for his final three seasons at Texas. He'll compete for playing time, but his best chance at contributing as a rookie is on special teams.
Round 6/186 - Thomas Clayton, RB, 5-10, 218, Kansas State: Clayton is another player who raised red flags during his college days. He was suspended for the season opener in '06 after a conviction for misdemeanor battery. He did not carry the ball after Sept. 30 due to an "undisclosed injury." Clayton will have to earn his way onto the roster on special teams.
BEST PICK: Cal DT Brandon Mebane is a stout run plugger who provides insurance while 330-pound veteran Marcus Tubbs recovers from major knee surgery. Mebane won't wow anyone with his pass-rush ability, but Seattle won't ask him to get after the quarterback. Seattle needed a first- and second-down plugger. Mebane is that.
COULD SURPRISE: Oregon WR Jordan Kent is a 25-foot long jumper and basketball player who is just learning how to play football. He is raw but has the size (6-4, 217) and athletic ability to play at this level. He comes from an athletic family (his father is the basketball coach at Oregon). Seattle does have depth at the position, however, so there are no guarantees Kent will earn a roster spot.
A closer look at each of the Seahawks' picks:
Round 2/55 -- Josh Wilson, CB, 5-9, 190, Maryland: Seattle gets a nickel corner and kick returner. Wilson becomes one of the fastest players on the team. Depth in the secondary was a problem last season, but not any longer. Jordan Babineaux and Kelly Herndon could battle Wilson for the nickel role.
Round 3/85 -- Brandon Mebane, DT, 6-1, 310, Cal: The Seahawks weren't looking for anything flashy here. They wanted a big body to anchor against the run. Mebane provides that. This was a position of need for Seattle given that Marcus Tubbs is recovering from knee surgery.
Round 4/120 -- Baraka Atkins, DE, 6-4, 271, Miami: Seattle needed a fourth defensive end for its rotation and Atkins fills that role. He'll play as a rookie because Seattle rotates its defensive ends regularly. Atkins has played defensive tackle, but he's more of a pass rusher on the end.
Round 4/124 -- Mansfield Wrotto, G, 6-3, 310, Georgia Tech: The Seahawks drafted Wrotto with the pick they acquired from San Francisco for Darrell Jackson. Wrotto will not challenge for playing time right away. The team thinks he has more upside than Josh Beekman, another guard Seattle considered in the round. Beekman is better prepared to play right away, however.
Round 5/161 -- Will Herring, OLB, 6-3, 221, Auburn: Seattle liked his workout and decided Herring could help on special teams. Herring spent much of his career at safety, where he earned all-conference honors.
Round 6/197 -- Courtney Taylor, WR, 6-1, 204, Auburn: Seattle seems to like Auburn receivers, from Karsten Bailey back in 1999 to Ben Obomanu last season. Taylor looks like a practice-squad candidate, at least for now.
Round 6/210 -- Jordan Kent, WR, 6-4, 217, Oregon: An injury kept this three-sport college letterman from working out at the Combine. Seattle checked him out late and drafted him for his rare combination of size and speed. Kent is raw as a football player, however, having focused on basketball and track in high school.
Round 7/232 -- Steve Vallos, G, 6-3, 307, Georgia Tech: Vallos was not invited to the Combine, but Seattle's scouting department felt he was worth a late-round pick.
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