Rams to draft a tackle at No. 2?

Peter King of SI.com believes that the Rams will likely select an offensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s NFL draft.

Orlando PaceNow that St. Louis has released Orlando Pace, there’s very little doubt the Rams will use either pick number three or pick 35 at the top of the second round to pick into the teeth of a tackle-rich draft.

Well, King’s notion certainly makes sense considering the Rams now have a Grand Canyon-sized hole at left tackle. And this is certainly the draft to take a tackle with Baylor’s Jason Smith and Virginia’s Eugene Monroe both being viewed as top 10 picks, if not top 5.

But the wild card in this situation is Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, who would also fill a need for the Rams and appears to be the best prospect in the entire draft. If the Lions don’t take him, St. Louis could pull the trigger and make a solid, safe selection in the versatile linebacker.

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Offseason Blueprint: Jacksonville Jaguars

Notable Free Agents: Mike Peterson, LB; Brad Meester, C; Khalif Barnes, OT; Reggie Williams, WR; Chris Naeole, G; Joe Zelenka, TE.

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $15,500,000

Draft Order: 8

Top Needs: OL, CB, LB, WR, RB.

Offseason Outlook: Let the cleansing process begin. The Jaguars have already released long-time veteran running back Fred Taylor, 2008 free agent bust Jerry Porter and disappointing cornerback Drayton Florence. There’s also little to no chance the team makes a play to re-sign middle linebacker Mike Patterson, who was at odds with head coach Jack Del Rio for the better part of the ‘08 season.

The team also made Gene Smith in charge of personnel decisions and Del Rio is expected to take over the defensive playcalls next year, which should turn out to be two sound moves.

In terms of personnel, the team needs to address the offensive line first and foremost and then go from there. The O-line was ransacked with injuries last season, not to mention heartbreak when Richard Collier suffered 14 gunshot wounds in early September, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.

The Jags don’t have to reinvent the wheel because they’re already got the makings of a competitive team. But they need to regroup and rebuild through the draft and a good start would be to get their hands on one of the top offensive tackle prospects that will be available in the top 10.

Even though his talent is unquestioned, Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith is proving with each passing day that he may be too much of a risk to be taken with the No. 8 overall pick. But Virginia’s Eugene Monrore, Baylor’s Jason Smith or Ole Miss’s Michael Oher could be available and could replace Khalif Barnes at left tackle, who is expected to depart via free agency.


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Offseason Blueprint: Oakland Raiders

Notable Free Agents: Nnamdi Asomugha (re-signed), CB; Shane Lechler (re-signed), P; Chris Johnson (re-signed), CB; Jake Grove, C; Cooper Carlisle, G.

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $4,000,000

Draft Order: 7

Top Needs: Not unlike other teams selecting at the top of the draft, the Raiders are mostly in need of offensive line help. Defensive line, wide receiver and linebacker could also be addressed.

Offseason Outlook: The Raiders’ top priority was to ensure that cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha didn’t hit the open market, and they accomplished that by inking him to a new three-year, $45 million contract. Asomugha’s deal is complex and you can read more details here, but the bottom line is that he’ll once again anchor the Raiders’ secondary in 2009.

Al Davis also re-signed punter Shane Lechler to a four-year, $16 million contract. That might not be big news to some, but considering how much the Raiders punt during the regular season, re-signing Lechler was a wise move.

The biggest challenge Davis now faces is how will he free up enough cap space to address other needs. The Raiders were sitting at $4 million under the cap before the re-signings of Asomugha and Lechler. Are cuts coming? If so, who will be shown the door?

One name that has recently come up in trade speculation is defensive end Derrick Burgess, who the Raiders are rumored to be shopping. Burgess becomes a free agent after the 2009 season so it would make sense that Oakland would trade him now in order to gain compensation. If they were able to trade him, they would free up $3.5 million in cap space, which isn’t a huge amount but it would help.


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Top 32 NFL Draft Prospects

Pete Prisco of CBSSportsline.com ranked the top 32 prospects in this year’s NFL draft.

Here are his top 10:

1. Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia: When he throws for the scouts, they will be in awe. There are some who think he locks on to receivers at times. But that can happen to young passers with big arms.

2. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest: Think Derrick Brooks. He’s a run-and-chase linebacker who has good size at 240 pounds. He might be the cleanest player in the draft, the one with the fewest flaws.

3. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: He’s a power player who could not be blocked at the Senior Bowl. At 335 pounds, he also has good quickness.

4. Jason Smith, T, Baylor: This former tight end has great feet and plays with a nasty streak. He is 6-4, 300 pounds and has the frame to get bigger. He’s a better pass blocker, but will get better for the run as he matures.

5. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: He is the next Larry Fitzgerald. He’s big and strong. The once concern with him is his 40 time. But Fitzgerald wasn’t fast either.

6. Eugene Monroe, T, Virginia: He’s another tackle who is better as a pass protector than blocking for the run. Is that a bad thing?

7. Andre Smith, T, Alabama: He played left tackle at Alabama, but some scouts wonder if he’s not more of a right tackle. He’s the best run blocker of the three top tackles, but he has struggled with some speed rushers.

8. Mark Sanchez, QB, USC: He’s accurate, poised and his arm is plenty strong. The knock on him will be that he was a one-hit wonder. Don’t believe it.

9. Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: He’s a smart cover player who might not have blazing speed, but he plays fast enough. He’s easily the top corner in this draft.

10. Everette Brown, LB-DE, Florida State: Think Dwight Freeney. He’s short at 6-1 but has a great burst off the edge. He might even rise up this board as we go through the process.

Everyone is going to have varying opinions on which prospect is better than the next (everyone is an expert this time of year), but I think that’s a pretty solid top 10. I don’t think Sanchez is a top 10 prospect, but that’s just me. For the amount of talent USC had this year, he certainly didn’t dominant and I think he’s a raw prospect in that he’ll need a couple years to develop.


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Offseason Blueprint: St. Louis Rams

Notable Free Agents: Ron Bartell, CB; Richie Incognito, C; Dane Looker, WR; Dante Hall, WR;

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $8000,000

Draft Order: 2

Top Needs: The Rams have major holes along their offensive line and will likely look to upgrade their linebacker corps and secondary.

Offseason Outlook: Rumors are already circulating that the Rams will part with long-time veterans Orlando Pace and Torry Holt, although don’t rule out either player restructuring their current contracts in order to stay in St. Louis. Holt’s cap charge in 2009 is $10.25 million and Pace carries a charge of $9 mil next year. Neither player will be in a St. Louis uniform next year at their current prices. The team will either deal the players or flat out release them if they don’t agree to restructure their contracts.

The Rams might also consider releasing safety Corey Chavous ($1.2 million), linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa ($2.25 million), backup quarterback Trent Green ($1.3 million) and defensive tackle Claude Wroten ($726,000) this offseason. Considering they’re handcuffed at only $8 million, expect new head coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff to make moves in order to free up some cap space this offseason.

If the Rams part with Holt, some believe they may target a wide receiver in the draft, possibly even Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree. But don’t count on it. Even if the team releases/trades Holt, word is that the Rams love the potential of Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton, and therefore could address other needs with the second overall pick in the draft.


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