Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo is considered one of the top NFL draft prospects in the country. Last season he won the Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Hendricks Award, along with being a unanimous consensus first-team All-America selection and the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Based on his accomplishments as a Longhorn, Orakpo seems destined to be taken in the first round, but trying to predict which team is likely to take him is more difficult.
One of the main things that complicates Orakpo’s situation is something that happened to someone else. Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech will not be able to run or work out for any NFL teams before the draft because of a slight stress fracture in his left foot. Consequently, as he did last season, Crabtree may play a decisive role in what happens to Orakpo.
Even before Crabtree’s injury, I didn’t think Orakpo would be the first player taken. Eight of the last 11 No. 1 picks have been quarterbacks, and only two of the No. 1 picks since 1998 have been defensive players, but both of those players were defensive ends, which bodes well for Orakpo. And one of those players, Houston’s Mario Williams, was chosen for the most recent Pro Bowl so defensive ends who have been the No. 1 pick have done pretty well in the last decade.
It’s anyone’s guess, at this point, who will be taken first by the Detroit Lions. Detroit was the first team to go 0-16 in the NFL, and, when you lose every game, in theory, it can be assumed that you could use some help at just about every position.
There certainly seems to be some instability at defensive end. Thirty-two-year-old Jared DeVries played in only 10 of the Lions’ 16 games, and 29-year-old defensive end Corey Smith missed four games and will be a free agent this year. The two combined for just five sacks in 2008.
But general manager Martin Mayhew has spoken about the team’s need for “impact players and difference makers,” and the defensive end I’ve seen mentioned as a “difference maker” most frequently is not Orakpo but Florida State’s Everette Brown.
If the Lions are pinning their hopes on finding a long-term solution at quarterback with their No. 1 pick, even though the team has four QBs already under contract, Matt Stafford of Georgia and Mark Sanchez of USC are the ones who are often mentioned as the Lions’ top choices. In fact, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports insists that Stafford is the Lions’ clear choice. Dan Pompei of NBC Sports says that, in the absence of a clear consensus at quarterback, Detroit might choose to draft a defensive player, but he doesn’t suggest who that might be.
Don Banks of Sports Illustrated has speculated that the Lions will use their No. 1 pick to work on the foundation of the offense – its line.
What about the Rams or the Chiefs, the next teams in line?
Rams defensive end James Hall played for the Lions for seven seasons. He’s under contract with the Rams and slated to return next season, having played in all but one game for St. Louis in the last two years. Coming back from an injured hamstring, Leonard Little returns at the other defensive end spot after accounting for six sacks in 2008, and Chris Long, who was picked in the second round last year, contributed 4.5. With all three defensive ends under contract, it seems doubtful that St. Louis will be looking for someone else at that position – although it’s possible the Rams will take Orakpo to be prepared when Hall and/or Little retire.
It’s also possible that Kansas City would be interested in taking a defensive end with its first pick. None of the Chiefs’ defensive ends were among the AFC’s leaders in sacks. Tamba Hali had three sacks all season, and Jason Babin had only two. Alfonso Boone had one. Thus, it’s conceivable the Chiefs might be in the market for a defensive end. And, if Brown has been taken by the Lions, Orakpo might be the one. But, in spite of an apparent defensive need, the Chiefs appear to be poised to emphasize offense with their first pick.
Still, the Chiefs might be eager to beef up their defensive line, since one team in their division (San Diego) had the top-rated quarterback in the NFL and another (Denver) had the sixth-best QB in the AFC. Pass defense may well be a major concern for both the Chiefs and the Raiders.
The next team on the clock, Seattle, also seems to be in the market for offense. The Seahawks’ defensive ends, Darryl Tapp and Patrick Kerney, had fewer than six sacks apiece, which is a serviceable total. The name I’ve seen mentioned in connection with Seattle’s first pick most often is Crabtree, but his status may change. If it does, it remains to be seen what Seattle’s Plan B turns out to be.
The team with the fifth pick, Cleveland, does appear likely to pick someone on defense. Only eight defensive players had even ½ a sack for the Browns, and none of them were defensive ends. But convincing cases also can be made for drafting someone in the secondary or at linebacker. If the Browns think Orakpo can play linebacker, he might be their choice.
SI‘s Banks has written that he thinks Orakpo will go in the sixth pick, when Cincinnati is up. NFL Mock Draft Aces contends he will be taken at No. 7, when it is Oakland’s turn. It’s harder for me to make the case for the Raiders. Kalimba Edwards was cut by Detroit just in time to avoid the winless 2008 campaign, and he produced five sacks, the best he’s done since 2005. Rookie teammate Trevor Scott also had five. That’s not an awe-inspiring number, but it is a decent foundation for the future.
In January, Mel Kiper predicted for ESPN that Orakpo would be taken by the Redskins as the 13th pick. Some observers, like Chris Steuber of Scout.com, have Orakpo dropping as far as the Texans’ pick at No. 15, but I’m not inclined to think he will last that long – unless some teams that can use a defensive lineman pass on him because of the knee injury that limited his playing time in his junior year.
I don’t think Orakpo will last until the Redskins’ pick. I have been inclined to agree with Banks and say he will go in the sixth pick to the Bengals, but I’ve heard reports that Cincinnati might be interested in Crabtree if he drops to that point in the draft.
If Seattle takes Crabtree, as many people expect, I still think the Bengals are likely to take Orakpo. But if Crabtree is still available, the Bengals might take him instead, leaving the door open – and, in that case, I think he might last until the ninth pick, where I expect the Green Bay Packers to make efforts to shore up their aging defensive line. Jacksonville is probably going to work on its defense with the No. 8 selection, but the Jaguars seem likely to focus on their secondary. If Orakpo is gone by the time the Packers make their choice, they might go ahead and take defensive end B.J. Raji of Boston College, as many experts believe. But if Orakpo’s still available, I think the Packers may take him instead.
Don Banks of Sports Illustrated
Bucky Brooks of Sports Illustrated
Mack Brown-Texas Football.com
Detroit Lions blog
Mel Kiper’s 2009 NFL Mock Draft
NFL Mock Draft Aces
Dan Pompei of NBC Sports
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports
Scout.com 2009 Mock Draft by Chris Steuber
Scott Wright’s Draft Countdown