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Draft Developments

The following is an article written by Real Football Services. They will be a frequent contributor on in the weeks leading up to the draft.

While some players are climbing team draft boards around the country, they must be climbing over someone, right?  For every riser there is a faller.  Some players are negatively affected by the climb of others, the status of some is affected by things that are out of their control, like trades or team needs, and still others drop because they fail to impress the scouts in the critical weeks leading up to the draft.

The Matt Leinart buzz seems to be wearing off just as it should be taking off.  Leinart remained in the background as Reggie Bush and then Vince Young became the media darlings and were thrust to the top of the draft board by prognosticators.  While Bush has maintained the top post on most team boards, Young's level has fallen after his controversial performance on the combine Wonderlic exam, and an average showing at his pro day workout.  Leinart was then generally accepted as the top QB in the draft with a good, but not great performance at USC's Pro Day at the beginning of April.

But in recent weeks, teams have been talking more and more about Virginia OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and NC State DE Mario Williams.  There have even been rumors of teams who may be willing to trade into the #2 spot in the draft to take those players over Leinart, and Titans GM Floyd Reese has been on a Vince Young campaign in Tennessee (#3) despite scouts' assertions that he may not even be the second best QB in this draft. 

The Leinart camp sent up a red flag last week when they fired agent Leigh Steinberg and hired Tom Condon, the agent who helped pull off the Eli Manning trade from San Diego to the Giants two years ago.  People in NFL circles see this as a sign that Leinart is worried that his stock is falling.  Teams put up so many smokescreens this time of year that it is sometimes hard to determine which statements are true and which are just posturing.  But, while some people may not think that a drop to the 4th overall pick qualifies as a "falling" player, when you are generally thought to be the top pick in the draft (last year and this year), and now your name is being thrown around in the 3,4, and 5 spots, not only does it mean losing millions of dollars, but it's a shot to the ego.  When friend and teammate Reggie Bush became the consensus top pick, Leinart was okay with conceding the top spot.  But he won't want to concede another spot to anyone else.

Ferguson at one time was thought to be, pound for pound, the best player in the draft, and was potentially the #2 overall pick just a month ago.  But the Saints (#2) have stated emphatically that last year's first-round pick Jamaal Brown is now the team's LT.  Sounds like a smokescreen to us because Brown was the Saints' RT last year, and even played the right side in college.  But if that is true, then Ferguson is not a priority pick for New Orleans.  If Williams ends up in that spot, going to the Saints or someone else, and Titans offensive coordinator convinces his team to pluck Leinart at #3, Ferguson could be the player falling to #4.  The Jets have a definite need there, but it is one of many.  It seems inconceivable that Ferguson could drop to the #5 spot, but the Saints have thrown the top of the draft into question with their signing of QB Drew Brees and Brown's switch to LT.  They could still take Leinart or Ferguson.  They could take Williams.  They have a pressing need at OLB and could take Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, though we don't think that's likely at that point in the draft.  They could trade the pick to a team looking for any one of those players, putting both he and Leinart in jeopardy of dropping even further.

Clemson CB Tye Hill is considered the top press cover corner in the draft and he has excellent speed.  But he lacks ideal size and is a converted running back who hasn't gotten a lot of playing experience at corner.  Though he had a standout performance at the Senior Bowl, and Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams did not impress in his Pro Day workout, Hill has still dropped down the board.  Once thought to be a potential top ten pick, he has dropped into the bottom third of the first round based largely on a lack of team needs at the position.

This year's receiving class is one of the worst in recent memory.  Florida's Chad Jackson is generally considered the top receiver in the draft, and Ohio State's Santonio Holmes is a close second.   But Jackson, though possessing good size (6'0", 213) and straight line speed, concerns some scouts because he hasn't shown that speed in game action.  Holmes is small (5'10", 179), and though he has great potential as a returner, he's not seen as a top-notch receiver.  With better talent at other positions, Jackson's and Holmes' stock had already dropped.  But teams have been looking to address their WR needs in free agency given the lack of depth and talent in the draft.  The Eagles need a WR at pick #14, and the Broncos have needs at DE, safety and WR, and could use their recently acquired 15th selection on a receiver.  But if either player drops past those two spots, they could drop to the bottom of the first round.  Dallas signed Terrell Owens, and San Diego re-signed Eric Parker and traded for Rashaun Woods.  Kansas City, Chicago, and New England also have WR needs, but all are expected to use their first round picks on defensive players.

Williams, the Virginia Tech CB, was a potential top five pick coming out of the regular season, but a cocky attitude and a refusal to compete at the combine turned off many coaches and scouts.  Combined with an unimpressive pro day performance, Williams went into a freefall and now isn't expected to come off the board until the second half of the first round. 

Minnesota RB Laurence Maroney missed several opportunities to perform for scouts due to a hamstring injury, and then failed to impress at his personal workout. Then there's USC's Lendale White, who made one bad decision after another, performed terribly in the few drills he took part in at USC's pro day, and then reported a torn hamstring less than two weeks before the draft.  With his size and explosiveness, teams may still be willing to risk a high pick on him.  But there is certainly the potential of both backs falling into the second round.

Then you have players like Alabama's Demeco Ryans who didn't necessarily do anything to hurt themselves, but find themselves falling nonetheless.  With several teams switching to 3-4 defenses, and a lack of depth at the OLB position in this draft, scouts having been looking at some of the smaller or tweener DE's to see if they have the athletic ability to stand up as an OLB in their system.  Players with obvious pass rush ability and athleticism like NC State's Manny Lawson and Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley fit the mold and have been moving up the board, but that has hurt Ryans and Iowa's Chad Greenway, who had the potential to be one of the first 12 players picked, but now find themselves in the bottom half of round one.

 Penn State DE Tamba Hali doesn't have the ability to stand up as a OLB, but at 263 pounds, could be big enough to serve as a pass rush DE in the NFL if he can run.  Unfortunately for Hali he ran a 4.8 in the 40 in his workout and has plummeted down the board.  Once a sure first rounder, he looks like a mid to late second round pick and could drop into the top of third round.

Mathias Kiwanuka, the Boston College DE, has done fine in his pre-draft workouts, responding to a tough week at the Senior Bowl when he was dominated by Virginia's Ferguson in pass rush drills, and was thrown to the ground by friend and teammate Jeremy Trueblood during practices.  But as scouts have gotten deeper into the evaluation process, serious questions have been raised in recent weeks about Kiwanuka's passion for the game and whether he can maintain the focus that is required at the NFL level.  Another player who was once thought to be a potential top ten prospect, Kiwanuka may be out of the first round, and though some teams tell us that they might consider him as a second round pick, they wouldn't be excited about him.  A talented player with an interesting personal story that winds it's way back to royalty in Uganda, his is a situation worth watching.

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