The Opening Round is All About Need

February will certainly mess everything up with the annual salary cap cuts and the madness of the combine. March will further complicate matters with the signing of free agents and the numerous pro-days. However, the Senior Bowl hype is behind us and the draft-talk quieted in deference to the Super Bowl; the perfect time for an initial mock draft.

There are plenty of mock drafts already out there, but anything beyond Day 1 is pure folly. Compensatory picks are still unknown, confounding any attempt to prefigure draft order. In fact, pinning down players worthy of picking in the first three rounds is hard enough even after all the players have worked out for the scouts and coaches.

Round 1 will surely provide a few surprises, but we have enough information by now to make a fairly educated guess about which players are worthy of this top designation. The order of the players whom teams pick will be quite volatile given that contemporary demands of the salary cap force teams to look for sure starters in this round and teams will address some of these needs through free agency.

Come draft day, a team's greatest need will drive its first draft pick. The only other main consideration is the players left on the draft board when a team is finally on the clock.

1. San Diego Chargers - While this privileged draft position would seem to demand the pick of either top quarterback, that's not San Diego's greatest need. There are gaping holes on the offensive line and defensive line. Newly hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips may implement the 3-4, which would radically change the plans for staffing the defensive line. Such a high pick for this scheme seems unlikely. One way to improve the quarterback situation is addressing pass protection. Certainly, the Chargers could become enamored with the likes of QB Eli Manning or WR Larry Fitzgerald, but landing the best offensive tackle in the draft seems the smartest move. San Diego is desperately hoping to trade out of the top spot in the 2004 NFL Draft.

Pick: OT Robert Gallery, Iowa

2. Oakland Raiders - There's not much mystery in Oakland. The Raiders need a lot of things, but mostly desire a young franchise quarterback and a marquee wide receiver. Will Al Davis start from scratch? The window on the Super Bowl with this geriatric set is firmly shut and it is time for the Raiders to rebuild.

Pick: QB Eli Manning, Ole Miss

3. Arizona Cardinals - Problems aplenty, Arizona can't pick an entirely new team in one round, let alone one draft. The quarterback position clearly makes the most impact. Unfortunately, Manning is off the board (unless the Cardinals trade up, which is our current sneaking suspicion), but Arizona isn't fooling anyone with all of their posturing that Josh McCown may be the future.

Pick: QB Ben Roethlisberger, Miami-Ohio

4. New York Giants - Everyone knows about the problems on the offensive line. But this unit isn't even one player away from adequate. Too many rookies on the offensive line will give Tom Coughlin nightmares. He's already witnessed the destruction of QB Mark Brunell behind a suspect line. The Giants will lean heavily on free agency to fill this need. That leaves safety and probably the best player in this year's draft.

Pick: S Sean Taylor, Miami

5. Washington Redskins - The defensive line is in shambles. In the last three drafts, Washington has addressed needs on offense with their first pick. The Redskins will break with the recent past and draft the top defensive lineman in the draft.

Pick: DE Kenechi Udeze, USC

6. Detroit Lions - Detroit is still rebuilding, on both sides of the ball. The secondary is the most pressing need, but Taylor is gone and no other player comes close to the value of a top 10 pick. Running back will surely be a consideration, but Detroit could hit pay dirt here in free agency or in the second tier of the rookie crop. A pass rusher wouldn't hurt, but the best player available is at tight end, a pass-catching TE that is.

Pick: TE Kellen Winslow, Miami

7. Cleveland Browns - Cleveland would prefer Taylor, Winslow or Gallery. Might they consider trading up? The Browns best hedge their bets with free agents with their preferred players off the board. Butch Davis might be tempted by OLB D.J. Williams, especially if the Browns address needs on the offensive line in free agency. However, we keep hearing about the new-look smashmouth-offense in Cleveland.

Pick: OT Shawn Andrews, Arkansas

8. Atlanta Falcons - A healthy QB in Michael Vick will cure most of the offensive woes. The Falcons didn't hire the defensive-minded Jim Mora only to pick an offensive tackle in round 1.

Pick: DT Tommie Harris, Oklahoma

9. Jacksonville Jaguars - Let's see… Jacksonville needs a wide receiver, a wide receiver, and a wide receiver. Unless the Jaguars do something crazy in free agency, they will draft a…

Pick: WR Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt

10. Houston Texans - Houston is beginning to piece together a contender. If an offensive tackle shoots up the boards, they may chase that player. At this point, some beef for the defensive line seems more likely.

Pick: DT/DE Randy Starks, Maryland

11. Pittsburgh Steelers - The only team with a worse rushing attack in 2003 was the Detroit Lions. Sometimes draftniks think too much.

Pick: RB Steven Jackson

12. New York Jets - Give QB Chad Pennington some love. The front office should be ecstatic at this point given how the top receivers have fallen through.

Pick: WR Roy Williams, Texas

13. Buffalo Bills - Buffalo needs help on offense. Another receiver might help Drew Bledsoe, but another QB would help so much more. Did somebody hear a whisper?

Pick: QB Philip Rivers

14. Chicago Bears - Wasn't it just yesterday when the Bears sported one of the biggest defensive lines? The only question here is the effect of Lovie Smith on the defensive personnel. Smith preferred a speedy defense in St. Louis, which gave up some size up front. Da Bears were not built in a day.

Pick: DT Vince Wilfork, Miami

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is another tough prediction given that Tampa Bay could go in a variety of different directions in free agency. Right now, wide receiver is screaming for some attention.

Pick: WR Reggie Williams, Washington

16. San Francisco 49ers - Speaking of free agency, what San Francisco does is all about which players leave. The passing game is a big question mark, but the 49ers will likely be forced to replace CB Ahmed Plummer. San Francisco likes its secondary physical. Keep an eye on a possible switch to the 3-4 and the sudden need for another linebacker.

Pick: CB Will Poole, USC

17. Cincinnati Bengals - Run defense is the main issue in Cincinnati. The best linebackers are still on the board in this scenario while the first run on defensive tackles is already over.

Pick: OLB D.J. Williams, Miami

18. New Orleans Saints - Maybe DT Dwan Edwards is the smart pick here, but what was really lacking was good tackling in the secondary. The combine should produce a big (small) surprise here.

Pick: SS Bob Sanders, Iowa

19. Minnesota Vikings - Boy oh boy, look at what the Vikings found. Maybe they take a chance on Chris Gamble, but establishing a pass rush can serve more immediate concerns.

Pick: DE Will Smith, Ohio State

20. Miami Dolphins - So much for Dan Marino's infatuation with Rivers. No matter, there was this tiny issue in Miami last season called the entire offensive line.

Pick: OT/G Vernon Carey, Miami

21. New England Patriots - Is he a linebacker or a safety? Sounds exactly like a Patriot to us.

Pick: LB Jonathan Vilma, Miami

22. Dallas Cowboys - Carey would be very tempting if he was still on the board. In our mock, he isn't. The big missing piece in the Parcells' puzzle is the running attack.

Pick: RB Kevin Jones

23. Seattle Seahawks - If the Patriots prefer to chase Jones, look for Vilma to land here. Otherwise, the Seahawks might reach for a safety or pass rushing defensive end. They desperately need help on the defensive side of the ball and just try to find some value here, perhaps getting some pass rushing help in the bargain.

Pick: OLB Karlos Dansby, Auburn

24. Denver Broncos - Denver's defense wasn't all that bad last year, but there are a few problems that could be addressed. Meanwhile, Jake Plummer's receiving options are increasingly limited. The Broncos get plenty of Big 12 news out in the High Country.

Pick: WR Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State

25. Green Bay Packers - They could afford to bring QB J.P. Losman along, but his stock will likely continue to drop right up until draft day. The Packers should try to match a quality pick with a need, though it might not be the most pressing problem Green Bay faces.

Pick: CB DeAngelo Hall, Virginia Tech

26. St. Louis Rams - The secondary isn't getting any younger, but the Rams might have some time to groom the right guy. St. Louis sure loves speed, but this kind of upside is just too great to ignore.

Pick: CB Chris Gamble, Ohio State

27. Tennessee Titans - Salary cap constraints will decimate the roster of the Titans. At this point, the offensive line needs the most help. However, that will likely change dramatically in the next month.

Pick: C Jake Grove, Virginia Tech

28. Kansas City Chiefs - The secret is out. After an impressive start to the 2003 season, the opposition figured out that in order to beat Kansas City, you had to be able to run the ball.

Pick: DT Dwan Edwards, Oregon State

29. Philadelphia Eagles - Where else do you think WR Terrell Owens will end up? If he doesn't sign with Philadelphia, the Eagles will almost surely chase a wide out with their first pick. Still, lost in the fanfare of their winning streak was a suspect defense ravaged by injuries. If Dansby slid this far, he'd be a strong pick. Overall, free agency could well radically transform the face of the Eagles (e.g. running back). We are left with too much speculation.

Pick: WR Michael Jenkins, Ohio State

30. Indianapolis Colts - The Colts continue to retool their defense. There's no reason for Tony Dungy to deviate from that plan now. Indianapolis has pretty good defensive speed, but give up too much in size.

Pick: DT Darnell Dockett, Florida State

31. Carolina Panthers - The Panthers are a scrappy team that well may make this mock draft irrelevant by the time it is published. They'll have some flexibility with this pick and could continue to upgrade the secondary, which has been playing way above its head in the playoffs.

Pick: CB Dunta Robinson, South Carolina

32. New England Patriots - Super Bowl victory or not, two first round picks are quite the luxury. Running back is the need at this point and New England could afford to roll the dice here.

Pick: RB Greg Jones, Florida State

Steel City Insider Top Stories