In this installment of Third and Short, our experts put on their general manager hats. What should the Cowboys do with their two first-round picks? Should the Falcons draft an impact player? And is this the Chargers' year?
Matt Mosley: What should the Cowboys do with their two first-round picks?
I've been so caught up in the pursuit of cornerback Pacman Jones that I almost forgot the Cowboys had two picks in the first round of next month's draft. In the latest Hashmarks mock draft, I have the club selecting Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed No. 22 and Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart No. 28.
Despite what other mock draft "experts" are writing, the Cowboys desperately need help at receiver. When Terrell Owens wasn't at full speed because of an ankle sprain and Patrick Crayton wasn't ready for prime time, the Cowboys faltered in a playoff loss to the Giants. T.O. remains in peak physical condition, but the Cowboys must start planning for a future without him. Right now, the Cowboys are exploring trades for stars such as Chad Johnson and Anquan Boldin, but it won't happen.
Shortly after the release of my second mock, league sources strongly hinted that Sweed wasn't the guy at No. 22. Unless they trade down, there's a good chance the Cowboys will choose between Stewart and Arkansas running back Felix Jones at that spot. I would take Stewart even though he may be out four to six months following toe surgery. Jones could be a solid complement to Marion Barber, but Stewart is a home run back. I still believe that he'll have a better pro career than Darren McFadden. (Take a second to write that bold prediction down.)
The Cowboys will wait until the second or third round to draft a receiver such as Cal's Lavelle Hawkins. He didn't put up great numbers at the combine, but I really liked what he did in the Senior Bowl.
Now that Stewart's off the board at 22, the Cowboys should take Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Flowers or Miami safety Kenny Phillips at No. 28. We know they're high on Phillips because an in-house video crew accidentally captured a list of their favorite defensive backs on a dry erase board. I promise I'm not making this stuff up.
This draft class has a lot of depth at several positions, but not many elite players. Don't be surprised if the Cowboys use their first-round picks to move down and grab more value in the second round. Trader Jerry loves working the phones on that first day.
Pat Yasinskas: Should the Falcons draft an immediate impact player to be the face of the franchise?
If the Falcons get a shot at Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, they HAVE to take him. Getting Ryan would be the best possible scenario for a franchise that's been through a lot of turmoil (Michael Vick, Bobby Petrino and DeAngelo Hall) in the past year. Those troubles, combined with the fact Atlanta is a baseball town, have made the Falcons less relevant than ever. The simple fact Ryan is a quarterback would create some buzz around a team that has none.
Ryan doesn't even have to play immediately and that actually may be the best route possible. Joey Harrington or Chris Redman can take the lumps in the short term and that may help prevent Ryan from becoming the second coming of David Carr. Drafting Ryan would show fans the Falcons are committed toward winning and doing things the right way in the long term. Ryan appears to have all the qualities to be the face of a franchise.
Virginia defensive end Chris Long and Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long are probably more ready to contribute right away, but the nature of their positions makes it hard to excite fans. A quarterback always creates a stir. Even if Ryan sits at first and the Falcons are bad, fans still can cheer for him to get on the field.
John Clayton: What do the Chargers need to do to get them over the hump?
From a personnel standpoint, the Chargers don't have to do much more to get over the top. On paper, they have enough talent to win a Super Bowl. General manager A.J. Smith has a roster loaded with talent. They have 13 players who have been to the Pro Bowl, led by LaDainian Tomlinson on offense and Shawne Merriman on defense.
The Chargers' strategy is to build through the draft and quickly lock up the best young players to long-term contracts. But if needs occur, Smith isn't afraid to make trades. He upgraded the offense last year by acquiring wide receiver Chris Chambers from the Dolphins for a second-round pick. Last year was a major turning point for the Chargers. Under new head coach Norv Turner, they proved they could win in the playoffs by advancing to the AFC title game. The franchise believes it has a two- or three-year window to win a championship. Next season could be that year. The schedule should allow them to get back to the 13- or 14-win area. Their schedule is one of the easiest in the league. The goal will be winning the AFC West and securing home-field advantage in the playoffs.
As usual, this will be a quiet offseason for the Chargers. They currently have four draft choices, but they should get a fourth-round compensatory pick for the loss of Donnie Edwards to Kansas City. The roster will have very few changes. The Chargers will also need a good offseason in the training room. Quarterback Philip Rivers is coming off ACL surgery, tight end Antonio Gates had toe
surgery and Merriman and nose tackle Jamal Williams needed work done on their knees. Several Chargers are coming back from surgery, but none are expected to miss the start of the season. In fact, Rivers might do a little throwing at minicamp in May if he comes back quickly. This could be their year.