Ryan Chartrand

Every September, the NFL season officially begins. The journey really begins, though, in late April, when all 32 teams take turns selecting their futures.

This year’s NFL Draft, which will be conducted from April 28 to 29, is headlined by early entrants – particularly on the offensive side of the ball. One of them, Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech, could be the greatest wide receiver prospect ever. The Biletnikoff Award winner this past season wowed at the NFL Scouting Combine, measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds before running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds.in shoes he borrowed from an East Carolina quarterback.

While the first few teams at the top of the draft order probably won’t draft a receiver, don’t be surprised to see someone trade up for him.

Meanwhile, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell is something of an athletic extraordinaire in his own right. After a Sugar Bowl MVP performance in a 41-14 victory over Notre Dame, the 6-5, 255-pound signal caller came out early. He reportedly can throw the ball roughly 80 yards flat-footed, and about 50 yards sitting down. Not just a physical marvel, though, Russell dramatically improved his completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio in each of his seasons, hitting on 68 percent of his passes for 28 scores and eight picks as a junior.

Nearly as prodigious is Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. Standing at 6-2 and 217 pounds, Peterson rewrote rushing records in his three seasons as a Sooner and has everything a team could want in a running back. Much like Johnson, however, he could fall because of teams’ needs more than his own merits – unless, of course, someone trades up for him.

Here is a mock draft of the first round (99 of the 255 picks and three of the seven rounds take place on the first day):

1. Oakland – Russell

2. Detroit – OT Joe Thomas, Wisconsin

3. Cleveland – QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame

4. Tampa Bay – Johnson

5. Arizona – DE Gaines Adams, Clemson

6. Washington – DE Jamaal Anderson, Arkansas

7. Minnesota – S LaRon Landry, LSU

8. Atlanta (from Houston) – DT Amobi Okoye, Louisville

9. Miami – OT Levi Brown, Penn State

10. Houston (from Atlanta) – Peterson

11. San Francisco – DT Alan Branch, Michigan

12. Buffalo – ILB Patrick Willis, Mississippi

13. St. Louis – DE Adam Carriker, Nebraska

14. Carolina – TE Greg Olsen, Miami (Fl.)

15. Pittsburgh – OLB Paul Posluszny, Penn State

16. Green Bay – RB Marshawn Lynch, Cal

17. Jacksonville – S Reggie Nelson, Florida

18. Cincinnati – CB Leon Hall, Michigan

19. Tennessee – WR Robert Meachem, Tennessee

20. N.Y. Giants – CB Chris Houston, Arkansas

21. Denver – DE Jarvis Moss, Florida

22. Dallas – S Michael Griffin, Texas

23. Kansas City – WR Dwayne Bowe, LSU

24. New England (from Seattle) – CB Marcus McCauley, Fresno State

25. N.Y. Jets – CB Darrelle Revis, Pittsburgh

26. Philadelphia – WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC

27. New Orleans – CB Aaron Ross, Texas

28. New England – ILB David Harris, Michigan

29. Baltimore – OG Justin Blalock, Texas

30. San Diego – WR Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State

31. Chicago – OLB Jon Beason, Miami (Fl.)

32. Indianapolis – OLB Lawrence Timmons, Florida State

Here is a look at California teams, in order of their first-round selections, and what directions they might head in once on the clock:

Oakland Raiders

Picks: 1, 33, 65, 99, 100, 138, 165, 175, 211, 254

The big question at the top of the board is which physical wonder will be tabbed by the Raiders to help out an offense that scored only 138 points a year ago, the second-fewest by an NFL team since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

As long as Randy Moss is in silver and black, look for Al Davis and Lane Kiffin to pass on Johnson and take the quarterback. Russell recently sought the services of quarterback guru Tom Martinez, who has mentored former Bay Area greats from John Elway to Tom Brady. Not surprisingly, the Raiders reportedly invited Martinez to interview for a quarterbacks coach position, and by all accounts, the meeting centered on Russell, about whom Martinez has glowed.

In the following rounds, look for the Raiders to target more offensive help. Good fits on day one might be Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, USC center Ryan Kalil and Arizona State tight end Zach Miller.

San Francisco 49ers

Picks: 11, 42, 76, 97, 104, 110, 124, 135, 147, 186

The 49ers should be looking to add first and foremost to their defensive line. Branch would be an ideal fit anchoring the middle of Mike Nolan’s 3-4, absorbing blockers long enough for perimeter playmakers such as last year’s first-rounder, Manny Lawson, to flow to the ball.

If San Francisco, which gave up more points than any other NFL team a year ago, buys into the reports of Branch being out shape, Carriker would be a nice addition. At nearly 300 pounds, the versatile end has drawn comparisons as lofty as Howie Long from some analysts, most notably NFL Network’s Mike Mayock.

Florida’s Ray McDonald and Hawaii’s Ikaika Alama-Francis project as 3-4 ends who should come off the board after round one. Michigan’s LaMarr Woodley embodies a slew of pure pass-rushers who might be “tweeners” in some systems, but whose versatility as “hybrid” players – able to play with a hand down in a four-man front or standing up in a three-man front – could be just what some teams such as the 49ers are looking for.

Conventional inside linebackers could be had in Florida’s Brandon Siler and Florida State’s Buster Davis. San Francisco’s secondary could be bolstered through adding a cornerback such as Syracuse’s Tanard Jackson in round two or three.

While Vernon Davis should continue to progress as an outlet for Alex Smith, the 49ers’ passing game could use more weapons, especially in light of Antonio Bryant’s release. Quality early-to-mid-round help at receiver should be available, including South Carolina’s Sidney Rice, East Carolina’s Aundrae Allison, Virginia Tech’s David Clowney and Washington State’s Jason Hill. All had impressive showings at the combine following productive 2006 seasons.

San Diego Chargers

Picks: 30, 62, 93, 96, 129, 167, 172, 240

The most talented team in the league has the luxury of picking the best player available if it likes, but that player may turn out to fill a need anyway.

While the Bolts are stacked on both sides of the ball, their juggernaut offense still lacks a true home-run threat on the outside to stretch the field opposite physical up-and-comer Vincent Jackson. Someone like Ginn could do just that for a team whose starting wide receivers didn’t have any touchdown catches last season.

Despite being heralded as a top-15 pick by many, Ginn is largely one-dimensional as a route-runner, lacks ideal size and strength to pull off a variety of patterns and has durability questions.

A loaded team like San Diego, however, with such specific and limited needs, might be the perfect fit if it’s willing to overlook such shortcomings in favor of his explosiveness. A safety or two would help out an otherwise imposing defense. Miami’s Brandon Meriweather, Virginia Tech’s Aaron Rouse, Utah’s Eric Weddle and Oregon State’s Sabby Piscitelli all could be options available to San Diego in the second round.

More thoughts:

While everyone is aware that Oakland surrendered 72 sacks, it is often overlooked that Detroit gave up an alarming 63. … Expect Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith to be a steal somewhere from round two to four. He will fall because of his size, even though he is roughly the same height as Drew Brees. … Keep an eye on what the Bengals and Titans do back-to-back at 18 and 19 in the first round in light of the league’s suspensions of Pacman Jones and Chris Henry. Will they reach to take players with apparently better character for the overall good of their teams? … Without question, the two deepest positions in this year’s draft are wide receiver and defensive end.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *