Note: In Friday's final installment, we'll hit on the rest of the NFC
Arizona Cardinals - A league source notes that last year's first-round selection came down to RB Adrian Peterson and OT Levi Brown. It's believed offensive line coach Russ Grimm's power within the organization was strong and he had a say in who was drafted. While many wanted Peterson to be the replacement for aging RB Edgerrin James, Arizona chose Brown to help solidify their much maligned offensive line. The team is believed to be looking at a running back or cornerback with this selection.
Atlanta Falcons - Those who know general manager Tom Dimitroff well say he's more inclined to select a quarterback later on based on the philosophies he learned while working for the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns. He was part of the scouting staff with Cleveland when they selected QB Tim Couch with the first pick of the 1999 draft--that turned out to be a colossal mistake. If Atlanta passes on a quarterback with their first-round pick, they'll look to select Glenn Dorsey who fills a huge need at defensive tackle. Atlanta would then look to select a developmental quarterback early as round two.
Carolina Panthers - A league source notes unless Matt Ryan drops much farther than expected, Carolina will likely be looking at a defensive end with this selection. Possible targets are Derrick Harvey and Phillip Merling. Carolina also could consider an offensive lineman with this pick and Branden Albert who is capable of playing various positions on the line.
Chicago Bears - As Scout.com noted a few months back, the team is looking hard at offensive lineman and defensive tackles. If Branden Albert and Ryan Clady are off the board, it's believed Jeff Otah is the next highest rated offensive lineman on their board. It's believed their coaches are more enamored with Otah than the scouts are. Chicago could look to get help at running back, defensive tackle, or quarterback with their next three picks (they have one in round two and two in round three).
Interestingly, Chicago didn't wind up having Joe Flacco in for a pre-draft visit nor did they have a private workout with him. Chicago was supposed to work him out but never did.
Dallas Cowboys - While he's not fast as some would like, a league source notes Dallas has strong interest in CB Antoine Cason. The University of Arizona defensive back has solid cover skills and is a good tackler. The scouts like that he's willing to be physical with receivers. It's believed Dallas is looking at him with their second-round selection..
Detroit Lions - This selection comes down to RB Reshard Mendenhall or DE Derrick Harvey. Both are big team needs for Detroit. The belief is that Harvey is higher on their draft board for one big reason. He's the kind of speedy edge rusher that head coach Rod Marinelli covets and Harvey fits the prototype of a Marinelli end. Tall, long arms, and fast.
Green Bay Packers - Even if veteran QB Daunte Culpepper winds up signing with the team (he visited them on Wednesday), various league sources say the team will select a developmental quarterback in the draft. Those signal callers thought to be on their radar are Joe Flacco, Kevin O'Connell, and Paul Smith.
Philadelphia Eagles - While the front office feverishly tries to trade CB Lito Sheppard who wants a new contract, league sources from three teams that have interest in him have insisted for some time that one of the big issues in trying to trade him is his insistence on getting being paid well above what he's really worth. Sheppard has three years left on his contract and has suffered through various injuries over the past three seasons that have caused him to miss 14 games. Sheppard apparently won't accept an extension and wants his current deal torn up.
League sources indicate Philadelphia is looking at several options with their first-round selection.
As Scout.com noted last year at this time, the team had set their mind on selecting University of Miami S Brandon Meriweather. Once he was selected by the New England Patriots who picked ahead of them by two spots, Philadelphia traded out of the 26th position. Philadelphia wanted Meriweather to eventually replace veteran FS Brian Dawkins whose contract is set to expire after the 2008 season.
This time around, Philadelphia could look to select Meriweather's former teammate, Kenny Phillips who has excellent size and is seen as the kind of player that is smart enough to play right away in defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's complex scheme.
The reason why Philadelphia may shy away from a receiver in the first round is simple. It generally is believed it takes a young receiver at least two years to become a factor in Philadelphia's version of the West Coast offense. While the team had WR Devin Thomas (Michigan St.) in for a pre-draft visit and he fits their passing game well because of his run after the catch ability, he's a bit raw and he may not be able to contribute right away. A receiver to keep an eye on is Dexter Jackson (Appalachian St.) who had a great combine workout and has a second round grade from most teams.
Philadelphia has never been shy about trading up and a player to keep an eye on is Branden Albert who is slated to go off the board as high as No.5 (Kansas City Chiefs). Albert's versatility makes him attractive to teams that have openings at right tackle, left tackle, and guard. This team is looking for eventual replacements for LT Tra Thomas and RT Jon Runyan and head coach Andy Reid made it a point to say at the owner's meetings that LG Todd Heremans needed to play better than he did last season. In his defense, he probably came back a few weeks too soon after having knee surgery and it showed on coaching tape.
San Francisco 49ers - Since the team didn't wind up signing LB Lance Briggs, league sources believe a player to keep an eye on with their first-round pick is LB Jerod Mayo. The University of Tennessee linebacker projects to play inside in a 3-4 scheme such as San Francisco runs.
Seattle Seahawks - Despite the free agent signings of Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett, multiple league sources indicate the team isn't opposed to selecting a running back with their first-round selection. Part of the reason is because very few if any tight ends have a first-round grade. Tight end is a major need for the team. Jonathan Stewart (Oregon) could be available when Seattle is on the clock and he's a player that could be on their target list.
Various Player Notes
Here's what Scouts and personnel evaluators across the league are saying about the following players as we get closer to the draft:
Kevin O'Connell/QB/San Diego St. - There are at least six teams that have
given him a third round grade which is interesting because it was assumed he
would go off the board perhaps in round five. What O'Connell does well is throw
the football and has good footwork. The knock on him is that he played in more
of a spread offense which is why some teams believe he won't be ready to play
until year three.
Paul Smith/QB/Tulsa - He's been given mostly a fifth or sixth round grade by many teams. Smith actually had the best measured velocity on throws by all quarterbacks at the NFL combine. Teams that are looking at him mostly run a West Coast offense.
Donnie Avery/WR/Houston - Not only has Avery moved way up on draft boards after his workout for teams late last month, teams picking early in the second round are looking at selecting him. What offers him extra value is he can return kicks and he can play in the slot in addition to being able to line up as an outside receiver.
DeSean Jackson/WR/California - While many scouts don't believe he's worth selecting as high as late in the first round, his special teams return ability is something that can't be ignored. One personnel evaluator said while no one is close to Chicago Bears KR/PR Devin Hester, Jackson is actually faster than him and he's close to as explosive.
Branden Albert/OL/Virginia - The big reason why it's perceived that he's been moving up draft boards recently is because NFL head coaches were the last to evaluate his coaching tape. Once they saw he's capable of playing four offensive line positions, Albert's value skyrocketed.
John Greco/OL/Toledo - One personnel evaluator called him a poor man's Jake Long. The only difference is Greco is a little smaller and projects to right tackle or right guard.
Mike Pollack/C/Arizona St. - Not only is he the mostly highly rated player at his position by almost all NFL teams, he could go as high as the second round. Some scouts believe he's one of the most technically sound offensive lineman in this year's draft.
Phillip Merling/DE/Clemson - Thursday's workout for NFL teams will go a long way to help settling the area where he'll be selected in the first round. The feeling is that unless Merling doesn't look good at his workout, he'll go off the board no worse than No. 21 (Washington Redskins).
Jerod Mayo/LB/Tennessee - There are at least 10 teams that actually have him rated higher on their draft board than USC LB Keith Rivers. Rivers is still expected to be selected before Mayo. Some scouts believe Mayo is the more versatile of the two linebackers.
Jordon Dizon/LB/Colorado - Teams that use a cover-2 scheme could select him as high as the third round. He's smart and plays faster than his timed speed.
Justin McKinney/CB/Kansas St. - Sadly, one of his brothers stole his social security card recently and bought merchandise under his name. This situation has caused a lot of problems for McKinney but NFL security is aware of the situation and teams have been apprised of what's going on. By draft time, he still should go off the board in rounds 5-6 which is the area where most teams see him as a value.
Orlando Scandrick/S/Boise St. - Before the NFL combine, Scandrick had a fourth round grade from most teams. But after solid workouts at the NFL combine and at his pro day, the defensive back likely won't get out of the third round.
Zack Bowman/CB/Nebraska - His surgically repaired knees have checked out well according to a team that is looking at selecting him as high as the third round.
Kenny Phillips/S/Miami-Fla. - According to one team that had him in for a visit, Phillips was asked to decipher film that the coaches showed him by drawing it up on the chalk board. Not only did he do a good job, it seemed that he's knowledge of schemes and formations was that of a 10-year veteran. Phillips has a first-round grade from most teams.
DaJuan Morgan/S/North Carolina St. - He shows up on coaching tape very well
and Morgan is seen as a very disciplined safety who rarely is out of position.
He also can tackle well.
Tyrell Johnson/S/Arkansas St. - Here's a case of a player that saw his value rise after the head coaches and defensive coordinators had a chance to view his coaching tape. Johnson is capable of playing both safety positions although scouts generally feel he's better of playing in the box (SS).