Over the last several weeks, every draftnik with access to the internet has chimed in with their version of how the 2006 NFL Draft will unfold (i.e., mock draft) on April 29-30. That's part of what makes the Draft so entertaining: it creates strong opinions in those who follow the league, everyone from team scouts and personnel executives to casual fans and the aforementioned draftniks.
It also brings hope. Draft well and your team could make significant improvements on the previous season's record. Conversely, draft poorly and your team could be on the decline, fast. And for a few teams, one or two players could be enough to put them over the top and on their way to Miami, home of Super Bowl XLI.
With two days to go until commissioner Paul Tagliabue utters that familiar line ("With the first pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select…"), it's time for newyorkjets.com correspondent Troy Nelson to join the pre-draft fun. Will Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush go No. 1 overall like most pundits predict? Will Bush's backfield mate, LenDale White, really drop out of the first round? Where will the "Big Three" (quarterbacks Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Jay Cutler) call home next season? Read on…
- HOUSTON TEXANS
Reggie Bush, RB, Southern Cal
Don't let the Texans' simultaneous contract negotiations with Bush and N.C. State DE Mario Williams fool you. It'll be Bush's named called first, by Houston, on April 29th.
- NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Mario Williams, DE, N.C. State
You've heard the comparisons to Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers; there's so much hype surrounding Williams, the Saints won't dare pass him up. That is, if they don't trade down for additional picks.
- TENNESSEE TITANS
Vince Young, QB, Texas
Matt Leinart or Vince Young? Vince Young or Matt Leinart? In the end, the Titans, who see a lot of the same qualities in Young that they saw a decade ago in Steve McNair, select the former Longhorn.
- NEW YORK JETS
Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt
Tempted to trade down and acquire more picks, the Jets' new regime, head coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum, decide to execute the pick and put their stamp on the team, selecting the strong-armed QB from Vanderbilt (by way of Santa Claus, Indiana).
- GREEN BAY PACKERS
Matt Leinart, QB, Southern Cal
Packers GM Ted Thompson makes it three straight QBs, and the second year in a row in which he selects a signal-caller in the first round. With Brett Favre's pending retirement hanging over Lambeau Field, it's time to create competition for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
- SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland
The 49ers need a player who's capable of stretching the field and making plays in the passing game for last year's No. 1 overall pick, QB Alex Smith. Davis is that guy.
- OAKLAND RAIDERS
A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State
Although the quarterback that he so desperately wanted to draft (Vince Young) will be off the board by pick No. 7, Raiders owner Al Davis' consolation prize is a future Pro Bowl linebacker.
- BUFFALO BILLS
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia
Buffalo needs help on both the offensive and defensive lines, but it's the offense that gets help in Round 1. The Bills jump at the chance to select top-rated tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson after he unexpectedly falls all the way to pick No. 8.
- DETROIT LIONS
Michael Huff, CB/S, Texas
Matt Millen & Co. are ecstatic when the Draft's best DB is available when they make their initial selection.
- ARIZONA CARDINALS
Winston Justice, OT, Southern Cal
The Cards hoped one of the "Big Three" quarterbacks would fall to them here, but that didn't happen. So, instead, they add quality depth to their offensive line with the Draft's second-best offensive tackle.
- ST. LOUIS RAMS
Tye Hill, CB, Clemson
The Rams desperately needed more talent in their secondary, and got it with the selection of Hill. Although undersized (5-9' 5/8", 185), the former Clemson Tiger has blazing speed that will be readily apparent on the Edward Jones Dome turf.
- CLEVELAND BROWNS
Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel finds the anchor for his team's 3-4 defense, selecting the mammoth Ngata (6-4' 1/8", 338) with the 12th pick.
- BALTIMORE RAVENS
Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Florida State
With Ngata off the board, the Ravens waste little time selecting the Draft's next-best defensive tackle, Brodrick Bunkley. The former Florida State Seminole will help soften the blow of losing starter Maake Kemoeatu to the Carolina Panthers in free agency.
- PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Ernie Sims, OLB, Florida State
The middle of the Eagles' defensive line really missed tackle Corey Simon's girth last season. Thus, they hoped Ngata would fall to them at No. 14. Instead, they choose fleet-footed linebacker Ernie Sims, who will immediately help in nickel and dime situations.
- DENVER BRONCOS (from Atlanta)
Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State
The Broncos nab Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes with the 15th pick to groom as the eventual replacement for No. 2 wideout Ashley Lelie. Like Lelie, Holmes has the speed (4.34 in the 40-yard dash) to stretch the field and make big plays.
- MIAMI DOLPHINS
Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech
The Dolphins add depth to their secondary with the selection of Williams, who has the size (6'2 3/8", 213) and speed (4.47) to play cornerback or safety.
- MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota
Vikings fans rejoice with the selection of Maroney, a hometown hero who played college ball at the University of Minnesota. Although the team acquired free-agent running back Chester Taylor in the off-season, Maroney looked too good to pass up at pick No. 17.
- DALLAS COWBOYS
Chad Greenway, OLB, Iowa
Greenway will be immediately inserted into the starting lineup opposite OLB DeMarcus Ware (last year's top pick) to give the Cowboys defense a dynamic one-two punch off the edges in pass-rushing situations.
- SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Chad Jackson, WR, Florida
The Chargers fill their need for a deep-threat receiver with the selection of Jackson. It also provides quarterback Philip Rivers, a first-year starter, more options in the passing game.
- KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Manny Lawson, DE/OLB, N.C. State
In Manny Lawson, Herm Edwards gets a hybrid linebacker/defensive end in the style of John Abraham, the pass-rushing specialist he had as head coach of the New York Jets.
- NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis
With Corey Dillon on the downside of his career, the Pats address the running back position with their first pick.
- SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (from Washington via Denver)
Kamerion Wimbley, DE/OLB, Florida State
After addressing the offensive side of the ball with the No. 6 pick (TE Vernon Davis), Mike Nolan & Co. shift their focus to the defense, selecting DE/OLB Kamerion Wimbley to help soften the blow of losing free agent DE Andre Carter and OLB Julian Peterson.
- TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State
The Bucs stay in the state of Florida with this pick, selecting FSU defensive back Antonio Cromartie, who will be groomed as the eventual replacement for Brian Kelly or Ronde Barber, both of whom are in the twilight of their careers.
- CINCINNATI BENGALS
Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State
Hali's stock fell after a poor showing at the Senior Bowl and because of many scouts' concerns with his relatively short arms and struggles against bigger offensive tackles. Nonetheless, the Bengals are elated to get a pass-rushing end of his caliber at No. 24.
- NEW YORK GIANTS
Jason Allen, CB/S, Tennessee
The Giants continue their off-season acquisitions of defensive backs (Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters, Will Demps, et al) with the first-round selection of Tennessee's Jason Allen. The former Volunteer has the measurables (6'0 7/8", 209, 4.39) to provide immediate help at any position in the secondary.
- CHICAGO BEARS
Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State
The Bears brass tap Ohio State safety Donte Whitner to step in for retired cornerback Jerry Azumah in the team's nickel package.
- CAROLINA PANTHERS
LenDale White, RB, Southern Cal
At one time considered a Top-10 pick, White's stock dropped considerably leading up to the draft due to concerns with his weight, a torn hamstring, and his subsequent inability to perform at USC's pro day. Nonetheless, he still has first-round potential and will fit perfectly into Carolina's power running game.
- JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
DeMeco Ryans, OLB, Alabama
The selection of Ryans fills a huge void on the Jaguars roster, which is thin on talent and experience at the linebacker position. The former Crimson Tide 'backer will be penciled in as a starter on Opening Day.
- NEW YORK JETS (from Denver)
Nick Mangold, C, Ohio State
The Jets stay on the offensive with their second of two first-round picks, tabbing Ohio State center Nick Mangold. The former Buckeye will be counted on to fill big shoes: replacing departed center, and multi–Pro Bowler, Kevin Mawae.
- INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, Boston College
The Colts hoped to land one of the top running backs (Maroney, White, or Williams) with this pick to replace Edgerrin James. Instead, to the dismay of AFC South opponents, they select BC defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka to pair opposite Dwight Freeney.
- SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Johnathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina
Armed with one of the league's most well-stocked rosters, the Seahawks are afforded the luxury of pulling the trigger on Joseph, a raw talent with incredible upside.
- PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Bobby Carpenter, OLB, Ohio State
The Steelers think long (well, five minutes) and hard about taking Miami wide receiver Sinorice Moss with this pick to replace departed wideout Antwaan Randle El. In the end, they go with Carpenter, who fits perfectly into the team's 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker.