Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Recent history.
One of the reasons the Cowboys don't have any glaring needs (other than place-kicker) is that they hit on some picks in '07 and '08. And of course, you can't discount what Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland accomplished in stocking this team with talent from 2003 to 2006. Owner Jerry Jones has spent a lot of his money on defense, and in the first round in '07 he turned to Purdue outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who was brilliant down the stretch in '09. In 2008, the Cowboys found a running back and a cornerback in the first round. Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins could both be stars in the league for years. Because of the Roy Williams trade in '08, the '09 draft was pretty much a wash. The Cowboys tried to land special-teams standouts who could hopefully play their way into larger roles. Other than kickoff specialist David Buehler, the '09 draft is still a mystery. With the 27th pick in next month's draft, the Cowboys don't have to reach for any position. I know they're hoping to see a couple of cornerbacks slip in the first round and it would be nice to add a linebacker. But there are no glaring needs heading into the draft, and that puts Dallas in an enviable position. But if you study trends over the past seven years or so, you'd have to expect the Cowboys to go with a defensive player in the first round.
The Giants can't rest on their laurels of that outstanding class of '07. When you land a quality running back such as Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round, you're on a roll. And general manager Jerry Reese will always be remembered for a class that included Aaron Ross, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. It was an immediate impact draft, and the Giants need another one in April. In '08, the Giants took a safety and cornerback with their first two picks. Safety Kenny Phillips out of Miami has the talent to become a Pro Bowler if he can recover from a serious knee injury, and cornerback Terrell Thomas was one of the few defenders who played well in '08. The Giants selected wide receiver Mario Manningham in the third round, but the '08 draft was about creating depth on defense. It's hard to nail down a trend with Reese and his scouting staff because they're pretty patient about waiting for the right players. They rarely get obsessed with a certain position, although linebacker is certainly a big need in April. I expect the Giants to stay right where they are at No. 15 and select a talented player. But I promise you that Reese hasn't committed to taking a linebacker.
In the 2007 draft, the Eagles drafted their future (presumably) quarterback in Kevin Kolb. Then they landed starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley in the third round and superb tight end Brent Celek in the fifth. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri has never really lived up to his second-round status and running back Tony Hunt was an outright bust from the start. The Eagles tried to bolster their defensive line in '08, but Trevor Laws has been a disappointment and Bryan Smith is nowhere to be found. The draft was saved by a wide receiver out of Cal named DeSean Jackson. He's become one of the most feared offensive players in the game. The Eagles continued to covet speed and quickness on offense in '09 by drafting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. They also hit on late-round pick Moise Fokou, who could emerge as an outstanding special-teams player -- if he'll stop getting penalties. The Eagles haven't done enough in the draft to bolster their secondary over the past three years. It's time to start drafting cornerbacks and safeties a little earlier. Macho Harris and Quintin Demps have been decent finds, but you can't just throw them out there as starters. It's time for the Eagles to use premium picks on the defensive side of the ball if they want to close the gap with the Cowboys. To be clear, it's time to find someone who can cover Jason Witten and Miles Austin.
With new coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen, this organization is headed in a different direction. We haven't seen any of the splashy moves in free agency that owner Dan Snyder loved. In the past, the Redskins rarely had a lot of picks in the draft. They took safety LaRon Landry in '07, but he's never really met expectations. He obviously has a lot of physical gifts but his habit of biting on double moves gets the Skins in big trouble. In '08, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato turned to the offensive side of the ball and spent their three second-round picks on two receivers and a tight end. The verdict's still out on the '08 draft, but tight end Fred Davis emerged as a consistent threat when Chris Cooley was injured last season. And Devin Thomas has rare speed and quickness as a wideout. Now, he needs to continue showing maturity. With the addition of pass-rusher Brian Orakpo in '09, the Redskins landed a Pro Bowl player. Now it's time to start drafting offensive and defensive linemen. That's the trend that stands out over the past decade. The Redskins didn't build in the trenches, and they've paid the price. With the No. 4 pick, Shanahan will be tempted to take a left tackle. Especially if Sam Bradford's already gone. And it's hard to go wrong with either Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga.