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Top 10 Impact Defensive Rookies for the 2009 NFL Season

My colleague (and inspiration according to him) John Paulsen did a great job of highlighting the impact that this year’s offensive rookie class could have in terms of fantasy football, so I thought it would only be appropriate to show some love to the defensive rooks.

I’ve ranked the 10 rookies who I feel could make the biggest impact for their teams in 2009. This doesn’t mean that I think they’ll put up gaudy numbers, although they could. These rankings are more of a reflection of how I feel each rookie fits into their specific defensive scheme and what teams can expect in terms of overall production from these players in their first season.

Side Note: I stuck to only the defensive players that were drafted in the first two rounds. While plenty of mid-round picks have started and were successful in their rookie seasons, it’s a little hard to project at this point which third and fourth rounders could have an impact with training camps still a month or so away. Maybe I’ll re-visit this topic once again before the season starts and dedicate another piece to the mid-rounders that could have an immediate impact.

1. Aaron Curry, LB, Seahawks
Curry might not have been the first defensive player to come off the board in April (that honor went to LSU’s Tyson Jackson, who was selected with the third overall by the Chiefs), but he was the best defender that the 2009 draft class had to offer. Curry has the ability to play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3, although he’ll likely start on the strong side, allowing the Hawks to keep LeRoy Hill at weakside ‘backer. Curry has outstanding speed (4.5), size (6’2”, 254 pounds) and can stay on the field in passing situations, unlike some linebackers, who are often replaced in nickel packages because they can’t hang with backs, tight ends and receivers. Curry isn’t one of those situational prospects – he’s a complete player and should make a significant impact in his first year.

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Your 2009 Rumor Riser: Tyson Jackson

Every year a rumor emerges in the days leading up to the NFL draft that sends all the talking heads in the media into an absolute frenzy.

This year’s rumor? LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson moving into the top 10, no wait, the top 5! Wait! Late word is that the Lions have scratched their choice of Matthew Stafford and are now taking Jackson with the top overall pick!

A month ago, Jackson was projected to go in the top 20, but no higher than No. 13 to Washington. Scouts dumped on his pass-rushing ability, but said he would be a nice addition to a team that needed a big-bodied run-stuffer on their defensive line.

But just less than a week ago, the National Football Post ran a story that the Chiefs were reportedly “in love” with Jackson and could take him No. 3 overall. Then Gil Brandt of the New York Daily News wrote that Jackson’s stock was rising and that KC was “smitten” with the defensive end. Now, fading (and I do mean fading) draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has the Chiefs slated to take Jackson in his latest mock draft.

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Seahawks to take Crabtree at No. 4?

Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News seems to believe that the Seahawks will take either USC quarterback Mark Sanchez or Texas Tech wideout Michael Crabtree with the No. 4 pick in this weekend’s draft.

Vacchiano also had some other interesting tidbits in his “draft hints” article.

• LSU DE Tyson Jackson will go in the Top 5. Not might. Will. This qualified as the biggest shocker, to me, since almost every mock draft I looked at pegged Jackson to be a mid- to late first-rounder at best. I thought the Top 5 was pretty locked in, too. But, of course, I shouldn’t have doubted Mr. Brandt. I asked around after the show to see if I could confirm it, and sure enough one NFL source I know did tell me he’s heard the Kansas City Chiefs might take Jackson at No. 3, or trade down and take him a few picks later.

• The Seattle Seahawks, at No. 4, will likely select either Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree or USC QB Mark Sanchez.

• The Saints, at No. 14, are looking for a big cornerback, and Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins is a good bet to be their guy.

• The New England Patriots, at No. 23 will take a linebacker.

• Oklahoma T Phil Loadholt (6-7, 332) will go in the first round of the draft. His teammate, G Duke Robinson (6-5, 330, and the top-rated guard on most boards), will not.

These are some interesting thoughts and while I don’t disagree with any of Vacchiano’s tidbits, a lot of these seem to be a stretch. Tyson Jackson will definitely go in the top 5? Phil Loadholt will be a first rounder?

The most noteworthy item in Vacchiano’s article is that the Seahawks will take either Sanchez or Crabtree at No. 4. Taking Sanchez makes sense for Seattle because Matt Hasselbeck is aging and is coming off an injury-plagued season. Crabtree makes sense because even though the Hawks signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a huge contract this offseason, Housh is 31 and would benefit from having another playmaker on the opposite side of him. (Crabtree would also arguably be the best player available at that spot.)

But does Seattle really want to sink that much money into one position? Generally speaking, NFL teams don’t like to do that – especially at the wide receiver position. I’m sticking to my guns in saying that Seattle takes offensive lineman Eugene Monroe at that pick, but I’m not shooting down anything Vacchiano wrote.

2009 NFL Mock Draft Version 1.0

It would probably be good for me to do an intro to this piece, but I’m going to skip all the foreplay and just get right to the action. And let’s be honest – you probably wouldn’t have read the intro anyway.

Below is my first mock draft of the year. You can disagree all you want, but just make sure you go into detail in the comments section so I know you care. I hate those bastards that trash my work and don’t have the common courtesy to tell me how much of a moron I am in print…

Let’s mock!

1. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
Jason Smith (Baylor), Eugene Monroe (Virginia) and Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) are all possibilities for new GM Martin Mayhew with this pick. But the offensive tackle and linebacker positions are deep in this year’s draft – the quarterback position is not. Mayhew can get his franchise quarterback in Stafford, select an offensive tackle at No. 20 and then fill the middle linebacker need in the second or third round. There, I just fixed the 0-16 Detroit Lions in less than 100 words.

2. St. Louis Rams: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
If Smith goes No. 1 to the Lions, then I fully expect the Rams to take Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe. With the jettison of long-time veteran Orlando Pace this offseason, St. Louis needs to address their need at left tackle and they’ll do so with either Smith or Monroe depending on who’s available. If it’s Smith, then they land one of the most athletic offensive lineman in the draft.

3. Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
The Chiefs could really use a right tackle to pair with last year’s first round pick, Branden Albert, but Curry would be too good to pass up here. GM Scott Pioli put a premium on versatile defenders while he was in New England, and that’s exactly what Curry is. The Wake Forest product could play either outside or inside in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and is easily the best defensive prospect in this year’s draft.

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