The top five best, worst and most improved offensive lines in the NFL

There’s a secret that most good fantasy football owners don’t want you to know: Knowing how good (or how bad) an offensive line is could be the difference between you making the playoffs in your league, and winning the whole damn thing.

The bottom line is that the offensive line is the key to whether or not an offense is going to be successful in any given season. They’re the reason why guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brews are able to rack up terrific passing yards year in and year out, and why Brandon Jacobs, Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson continue to be solid fantasy backs. So knowing which O-lines are quality and which act like revolving doors to their team’s backfield will give you an edge on draft day.

Below is a ranking of the top five best lines, the top five most improved lines and the top five worst lines in the NFL heading into the ’09 season. Use these rankings as a tool to help you make better decisions on draft day and to also aid you when you’re stuck between a couple of players in later rounds.

Granted, we’re not advocating bumping certain players to the top of your pre-draft rankings just based on these rankings. The Lions offensive line is the worst in football, but if Kevin Smith is there for the taking in the 5th round, by all means jump on him. This article is purely meant to be a helpful aid; obviously you still have to use solid judgment on draft day.

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NFL Draft: 5 First Round Values

I hate the word “value” on draft day because essentially, all it means is that a team chose a player later than he was projected to go. But who projects where these players are supposed to be selected? The media – not the teams. So is it fair to talk about “value” when we don’t know where these teams have these players rated? And value means absolutely nothing if the player doesn’t pan out.

That said, below are the five teams who I felt got tremendous values out of their first round picks. These players should have gone much higher based on their talent and potential, yet for whatever reason (i.e. Al Davis took Darrius Heyward-Bey), they slipped. Will they pan out? We won’t know for a while, but nevertheless these teams made out well on Day 1.

1. San Francisco 49ers No. 10: Michael Crabtree, WR
For the Niners to land one of the best prospects in the draft at No. 10 was impressive. Teams were scared off by Crabtree’s offseason foot surgery and lack of top end speed, but the foot is healed and top end speed doesn’t hold as much water in the NFL as it does in college football because everyone is fast in the pros. Go back and watch games of Crabtree at Texas Tech; he catches the ball away from his body, he uses his body well and he performs in the clutch. I know Heyward-Bey has a ton of speed and could turn out to be a great deep threat, but Crabtree is the real deal and the total package. Word is that Crabtree had a very “diva” attitude on visits to Cleveland and St. Louis, but if there’s one head coach in the league who could humble the young wideout, it’s Mike Singletary.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars No. 8: Eugene Monroe, OT
Monroe doesn’t have the athleticism of Baylor’s Jason Smith or the overall natural talent of Alabama’s Andre Smith, but he’s solid across the board. He does have some durability concerns and while he doesn’t excel at one fact of the game, he’s a steady pass blocker and a mauler in the running game. He was also considered one of the safest prospects in the draft and considering he could have went anywhere in the top 4 picks, the Jags got a steal at No. 8. He’ll likely start at left tackle as a rookie and immediately upgrade a Jacksonville offensive line that was decimated by injuries last year.

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NFL Draft: 5 Day 1 Winners

It’s absolutely ridiculous to claim that a team “won” on draft day when none of the players have even played one down in the NFL yet. But it is fair to debate which teams made quality decisions on draft day (i.e. trades, overall maneuvering, etc.), and below are five franchises that I thought made out well after the first two rounds.

1. Cleveland Browns
Alex Mack, C (21); Brian Robiskie, WR (36); Mohamed Massaquoi, WR (50); David Veikune, DE (52)
The Browns became one of the day one draft winners the moment they were able to trade out of the No. 5 pick, because there wasn’t a prospect at that spot that Cleveland loved and they saved a ton of money getting out of the top 5. So they were able to make a deal with the Jets and landed the 17th and 52nd picks, as well as three players (Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff and Abram Elam) that used to play for Eric Mangini in New York. The underrated Elam is the best of the group and should start at strong safety after the team decided to not re-sign Sean Jones. After the deal with the Jets, the Browns made yet another move, trading the 17th overall pick to Tampa Bay for the 19th and 191st selections. Still not satisfied, the Browns again traded back, this time dealing the 19th pick to Philadelphia for the 21st and 195th selections. When they finally did select a player at No. 21, they got the best center prospect in the draft in Mack, who joins a solid offensive line that already features Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas. Although I was surprised that they passed on OLB Everrette Brown early in the second, they got a polished receiver in Brian Robiskie and then eventually filled their linebacker need with Veikune, who is raw but has good upside. Massaquoi was a bit of a surprise, especially considering the Robiskie selection earlier in the round, but it’s hard to criticize what Mangini and new GM George Kokinis did on the first day. It also must be noted how well the Browns played everything before the draft, keeping things close to the vest and not tipping their hand. Obviously that trade with the Jets for the No. 5 pick had to be in the works for a while given the players involved.

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Five “can’t-miss” first round prospects in the 2009 NFL Draft

There is no such thing as a “can’t-miss” prospect in the first round of an NFL draft. They just don’t exist. For as much as teams scout and prepare, it’s inevitable that some prospects just aren’t going to pan out, which means they hop the train to Bustville right out of the gates.

Before you check to make sure that you’ve taken the correct dosage of your medication today, I realize that the first line of this article directly contradicts the title. That’s because even though there is no such thing as “can’t-miss” prospect in the first round, this is the time of year to have a little fun by making some predictions.

Two weeks ago, I complied a ranking of the top 5 potential first round busts in this month’s draft. So I thought it was only appropriate that I construct another top 5 ranking, this time of players I deem to be “can’t-miss” prospects. These are first round prospects that I think are low-risk, high-reward players.

Fair warning, don’t flip out when you read names of prospects that are expected to go in the top 10. This isn’t a piece dedicated to first round steals – it’s one that centers around prospects that should have the least amount of risk involved and the highest success rate.

Just as I mentioned in my top 5 first round busts piece, I realize that one or two of these prospects might slip to the second round (see Alex Mack). But on average, most pundits would agree that all five of the players are first round talents.

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10 NFL Draft Observations from Mike Mayock’s Peter King shares 10 draft nuggets that he got from Mike Mayock:

1. “This is by far the worst year for the top 10 that I’ve seen. Down around 18, 20, you’ll get every bit the player you’ll get in the top 10 for a third of the price.”

2. His gut feeling is Detroit’s taking Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first pick of the draft.

3. “I can’t bang the table for Stafford the way I did for Matt Ryan last year. I don’t see an elite player in him every time I watch, which you need to see if you’re taking a quarterback that high.”

4. Mayock, if he had his choice of first-round picks for talent and value, would be around 22. “The value in this draft is at 15 and beyond.”

5. He says eight or nine tight ends will be drafted in the first three rounds. He loves the best of the bunch, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew. (I’d love to see the Bills land him, by the way. Perfect offensive weapon for a coordinator, Turk Schonert, who loves to use the tight end.)

6. He likes Eugene Monroe over Jason Smith, if you’re picking a franchise tackle. “Smith’s got a better upside. Very aggressive. But Monroe’s got the best feet in the draft. He’s a really accomplished technician.”

7. He thinks Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry — who Detroit would play at middle linebacker if the Lions made him the first pick of the draft — would be optimally used at strongside linebacker in the 4-3 because he can cover, he can play physically over the tight end, and he’s got upside pass-rushing ability.

8. He’s scared of Brian Orakpo, the Texas defensive end who’s the apple of a few teams’ eyes in the top half of the first round. “Buyer beware,” Mayock said. “He’s boom or bust. I don’t know if he’s DeMarcus Ware or Vernon Gholston. I’ve seen him have some really good games, and I’ve seen what I considered to be Brandon Pettigrew tearing him apart. The point is, I don’t see it all the time from Orakpo, which concerns me.”

9. Of the elite quarterbacks, he likes USC’s Mark Sanchez the best. “He’s the most ready made for the pro game right now.”

10. If you need a cornerback in this draft, sit it out. There are no corners even well above average, never mind great.

Those are 10 pretty solid observations and outside of maybe deeming Mark Sanchez an elite quarterback-candidate, I can’t find fault in anything Mayock said.

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