It's gonna be a long read, so get comfortable.
Before I start though, I'll say this: I firmly believe the championship window for this team is closing, and quickly. IMO, the team has two years max to get #7, and then it'll be a couple of rebuilding years where we'll still be relevant, but not really contenders. This means the team has to make necessary adjustments to win NOW. This involves a little extra investments and tough decisions, which I'll explain.
**Bruce Arians is replaced and all guys return to play (retirement candidates)
OLB LaMarr Woodley - There is absolutely no reason to even allow Woodley to test the free agent market. He's an integral component of our defense and one of the few defensive players who we can count on for the future.
CB Ike Taylor - Our #1 CB, there is absolutely no way we let him walk. Without him, we're in terrible conditions at CB.
OT Willie Colon - he is our starter at RT, even with Flozell Adams on the team. He will get a raise, but I don't expect him to command too much money. Above average tackle who plays with nastiness and knows our schemes.
CB William Gay - Gay is one of the best nickel corners in the league, believe it or not, and he's not nearly as bad as people think he is. That being said, he is by no means a good corner, he too is merely above-average, which is why I think he'll have a very manageable salary and it would be wise to keep him.
NT Chris Hoke - Our only other NT, and he is a quality player and quality locker room guy. The dropoff in talent from Hampton to Hoke is much less than what people think it is.
DE Nick Eason - He's been a pretty good player for us, especially considering the amount of money he makes. He started for a good chunk of games this season, and was a significant part of the record-setting run defense we boasted.
CB Anthony Madison - Serviceable at best as a CB, but he is a special teams ace as a gunner, and would be missed there. Last time we let him leave, we gave up multiple return TD's. No way I want to see that happen again.
OT Jonathan Scott - An average to below-average tackle, we have virtually no depth at the position and he started for the majority of the season with him, so we know what we're getting. Absolutely won't get too much money.
P Daniel Sepulveda - When healthy, he is one of the best punters in the league. But his repetitive ACL tears are worrisome. Still, they don't affect him too much, he doesn't earn his paychecks by being fast or having great agility. As long as he returns to his former punting self, all will be all right.
LS Greg Warren - Long snappers don't cost a lot and Warren has not had a mistake in the four years I've watched him play. Let's not change this.
QB Dennis Dixon - Byron Leftwich is entrenched as the #2 QB and Charlie Batch has said he'd like to return for one last year, meaning there will be one extra QB on the team. I think Dixon is the odd man out. He'll probably want to go elsewhere too, to a team where he has a legitimate chance to compete for a starting job. Maybe someone like the Vikings or the Bills would give him a shot at winning the starting job.
OG Trai Essex - There is no room for this finesse fatty. Ramon Foster, Doug Legurksy, and maybe even Chris Scott will compete for his position, and either of the first two can play just as well, if not better, than Essex can.
ILB Keyaron Fox - This move has nothing to do with his SuperBowl blunder, it's just part of the business aspect of the league. We have four ILB's on the roster right now in Farrior, Timmons, Foote, and Sylvester, and Fox simply isn't necessary anymore. His role on ST's can be covered by Stevenson Sylvester, and Anthony Madison is more than deserving of the ST Captain title. His role on our defense was taken away by Larry Foote this year, so we wouldn't really miss him there either.
OT Tony Hills - He's shown absolutely nothing in three years, time to cut our losses and move on. This year was full of opportunities for him to shine, and he still managed to find himself inactive on most game days.
RB Mewelde Moore - Moore just isn't required in our offense anymore. Everything he brought to the table can be done by Mendenhall and Redman, and Dwyer will eventually get some touches as well. Moore's touches have decreased drastically since he first arrived here, so it's time to simply let him go. He is the highest paid RB on our roster right now, no reason for that to continue.
TE Matt Spaeth - Spaeth was drafted as a big-bodied TE who could become a dangerous red-zone target and a punishing blocker. The only place where he actually was useful in those situations was Madden. It took him a long time to show something, but by now it's too late. Teams don't fear him, rarely account for him, and he simply is another bad investment in the third round.
K Shaun Suisham - He was fantastic for us in the regular season, he truly was money. But in the post-season, when it mattered most, he came up short. That shanked FG in the Superbowl was probably the ugliest kick I've ever seen. I'm happy we got him in the season, but he is not the long-term answer.
CB Bryant McFadden - Yes, an unorthodox decision, but it's one that I stand by. Ike Taylor earned about $3.25 million this past year. McFadden "earned" $2.5 million. That is way too much for a guy who certainly didn't play for it. William Gay would earn less than that when re-signed, and could probably play at the same level that McFadden did. He's going to be 30 next year, and once again, it's time to cut our losses. The fifth rounder we invested in him could have been put to better use, but quite frankly nobody thought he'd struggle as much as he did this year.
OG Chris Kemoeatu - Yet another unusual, and controversial, decision. Kemoeatu is set to earn $3 million this year, followed by $3.5 million, and then by $4. IMO, he doesn't deserve it. Kemoeatu was the fourth most penalized guard in the league this past season, and he's somewhat overrated by his ability to pull to the right. I said it before the Superbowl and I guess I might have jinxed it, but Kemo gets pushed back into the pocket far too much for a 345+ lbs. guy who is also (supposedly) very, very strong. The aforementioned money could (and should) go to another player who can play at a higher level, even if it means paying him a bit more. Kemo is not going to improve, he's 28 already, so it's simply time to move on.
OT Flozell Adams - You guys probably think I'm high or drunk by now, but I assure you I am not . Adams is set to earn $5 million this upcoming year, and I deem that to be far too much for a guy who I don't think will start. If Adams truly cares about winning and not the money, then he should restructure his deal to take a pay cut. If not, I'm sorry Flo, but it's over. I really appreciated what he did for us this year, he truly was a great late pick-up, but there's no way that our second-highest paid offensive lineman will be a back-up.
WR Arnaz Battle - There is no way he sticks on the team for next year. He was signed as a special teams player (a return blocker, to be precise), but we only had one return TD and it came on a trick play, not a regular return. Never saw the field as an actual receiver.
OG Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens - Here's where the money we can save between Kemoeatu and Adams goes to use. Marshal Yanda is a Pro-Bowl caliber guard. He's nasty, very tough, and plays with a tenacity that few players can match. Furthermore, he's young (26), can play both RT and RG, pulls well, and can open up good lanes in the running game. He'd be the immediate starter for us at RG and wouldn't be a journeyman, he could truly be a quality starter.
DE Jamaal Anderson, Atlanta Falcons - A former bust as a top ten pick, Anderson never quite developed as the pass-rusher the Falcons envisioned him to be. He did, however, become a talented run-stuffing end, which is exactly what we look for. Again, a young player (25), he'd be another project for DL coach John Mitchell, who seemingly makes quality players out of anyone who he coaches for extended periods of time.
CB Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos - Still one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Bailey is pretty old and won't play at a high level for much longer. He knows this, and he also knows he wants a ring. Bailey already has a large amount of money, so I think he'd be willing to take a cheaper deal with the promise of finally winning a championship. Here is where the money we save by releasing Bryant McFadden comes into pay. I don't expect Bailey to earn $2.5-$3 million, he'll earn a bit more, but the large majority of it still comes from McFadden's salary.
Okay, as I mentioned above, the team has to be in "Win-Now" mode, due to the closing championship window and whatnot. This means that we need to focus on the positions we need to address to win immediately, meaning that we SHOULD NOT invest high picks on positions like OLB, ILB, or others where we have quality starters AND quality depth.
I also believe we should make the necessary moves to land picks in the earlier part of the second round, where there is a ton of value in this draft. This includes trading back from the first round, and trading a future first round pick as well. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, but it's what I believe we should do.
So, with that being said, here's my draft:
2. (trade future first for pick at top of round) OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
We need a new LG after releasing Kemoeatu, and Mike Pouncey would be the ideal candidate to replace him. He's got chemistry with Maurkice, an integral component of good offensive line play. He's also very athletic, can pull just as well, if not better, than Kemoeatu, and is still very, very young. He'll only be 21 on draft day, meaning there is plenty of time for him to keep adding strength and refining his technique. An interior offensive line of both Pounceys and Yanda could very well become one of the best in the league.
NFL Comparison: C Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Two clips on him: look at how he pulls on the second one. Ignore the botched snap, he's not going to play center for us.
2. (trade back from first round) TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
A very unconventional pick for us, but allow me to explain. We use a lot of 2 TE sets, and the way I see it, we better have two talented TE's for them, period. Miller is a stud, Spaeth is not. With Spaeth leaving as a free agent, we need another TE, and that would be Rudolph. Kyle Rudolph is as talented as TE's come. He's a first round pick who suffered an injury and consequently has fallen to the early second round. He's got fantastic size at 6'6 and 265 lbs., is both a fantastic receiver and good blocker, and is a mismatch nightmare for defenses. Rudolph would be one of those guys who are labeled as "too big for a CB, to fast for a LB." He would add an entire new dimension to our offense (like Gronkowski and Hernandez have done for the Patriots) and would immediately be a very dangerous red-zone threat. He can stretch the field vertically, catches the ball with his hands and not his body, and runs like a receiver.
NFL Comparison: TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (all their measurables appear to match up almost identically)
For those who have never seen him play, here are some of his highlights:
His highlights are the second part of the video:
2. (trade back from first round) WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
This is another pick that not many have for us, but it's a guy I really like. Jonathan Baldwin is a huge target at 6'5 and 230 lbs. From a purely physical perspective, he's built like Calvin Johnson (same size, that is). Baldwin isn't as fast nor isn't close to being as polished a receiver as Johnson was, but Baldwin is a great talent in his own right. He's probably a 4.5 or sub 4.5 runner with at least a 40 inch vertical. I believe Baldwin is exactly the type of receiver our receiving corps needs. In my own terms, here's how I've got the group: We've got the burner in Mike Wallace, that's pretty obvious. We've got what I call the "Precision Receiver" in Emmanuel Sanders. By "Precision" I mean a guy with good speed that runs very clear and precise routes and isn't afraid of going over the middle. Holmes was the previous version of the "Precision Receiver" for us. We've got the "Fit" in Antonio Brown (you can fit him at either position, but obviously doesn't play at the same level as these two), and we're missing what I call the "Go Getter." The "Go Getter" is a physically imposing receiver who can jump up and go get the ball, beating defenders to it based solely on athletic ability. Guys who fit the bill are Larry Fitzgerald, Sidney Rice, Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Plaxico Burress, etc. Baldwin is exactly that. He's a guy with a monstruous vertical jump who can snatch the ball out of the air and fully take advantage of his height. That last pass in the SB that Wallace couldn't hall in is the perfect example of why having a "Go Getter" is invaluable. There's no way Tramon Williams could have stopped Baldwin from making that catch, if it had been thrown accurately, that is. The only negative on Baldwin is that he made some not-so-nice comments at the end of the season. Even though he wasn't lying, it was still kind of the wrong thing to do. He basically called out his QB by saying he wasn't very good (because he truly isn't) and said that the offensive scheme in which he played didn't allow him to take full advantage of his skills (because it truly didn't). Still, you'd like to see players keep quiet about these sort of things. In any case, it wasn't a major deal.
NFL Comparison: a more athletic version of WR Plaxico Burress, Free Agent (in his prime that is)
Some highlights so you guys see what I mean by "Go Getter:"
2. CB/S Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
This is a guy who I've liked for quite a while. He's a big guy at 6'2 and 205 lbs. and has great ball skills. He's not overly fast or quick, which could force him to move to FS, but I'd have absolutely no problems with that. He's a great tackler and has a knack for making the big play. His skill set would translate really well to safety, IMO, and we need both CB and S. He's a top notch person too, his coach said that he's the type of person who you want your daughter bringing home, haha. He's coming off of knee, ankle, and hamstrings injuries, which cut his senior season short, but he's entirely healthy now.
NFL Comparison: CB Sean Smith, Miami
3. NT Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss
A talent to groom as a future NT. Jerrell Powe is a very curious prospect. He's got all the physical tools to become an elite 3-4 NT, but he hasn't quite demonstrated to be on the right path. He's a big guy at 6'2 and 330 lbs., but he could, and very likely does, weigh more than that. He is one of the guys who could have trouble with his weight, and some have questioned his intelligence as well. He is, however, a great teammate by all accounts, and when it comes to 3-4 NT prospects, he is the #1. Yes, even better than Baylor's Phil Taylor. Powe has the size, skills, and physical dominance required to excel in the NFL. It's just going to be a question of whether he wants to be great, and if he'll control himself to do so.
NFL Comparison: NT Shaun Rogers, Free Agent
4. GIVEN UP WITH FIRST ROUND PICK IN TRADE
5. FB Owen Marecic, Stanford
This guy is one of my favorite players in the draft. He's one of those old-school, smash mouth football fullbacks who love to hit and know how to hit as well. A true warrior, he started at both FB and LB for Stanford, which is a testament to his conditioning as well as his passion for delivering hits. He's a fantastic blocker, something we haven't had at the FB position for a while, and something that might have helped us win #7 four days ago. In any case, Marecic is exactly the type of player we used to covet for the FB position, and with Arians gone, he's exactly the type of player we'll enjoy watching again.
NFL Comparison: FB Dan Kreider, Free Agent
Highlights: He's not the one running the ball, he's the one blocking for Toby Gerhart, lined up at the FB spot. Watch how hard (and well, for that matter) he hits defenders. He's #48, by the way.
6. K Alex Henery, Nebraska
This guy is a talented special teams player. He was both a kicker and punter for Nebraska, and excelled in both areas. He's one of the best kickers in NCAA history, one of the most accurate kickers in NCAA history, and has a very strong leg. He hit a 57 yard field goal once, longest in school history. He's very accurate, very strong, and would be an ideal long-term kicker for us, IMO.
Highlights: Includes the 57 yard FG.
NFL Comparison: I dunno, haha, a good kicker with a strong leg.
7. OT Joseph Barksdale, LSU
Last but not least, Joseph Barksdale. Once touted as a first round prospect, Barksdale fell due to his complete lack of a mean streak. He's got the size, arm length, and all other physical tools to be a fantastic tackle, but he just doesn't have the attitude. As a 7th round pick, the investment isn't big at all, but the return could be.
NFL Comparison: OT Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
So, with the entire off-season done, I believe the team would be in fantastic shape to immediately contend for #7. The offensive line would revamped and would look like this:
Starks - Mi. Pouncey - Ma. Pouncey - Yanda - Colon
Defensively, the signing of Champ Bailey gives us the CB we desperately need opposite of Ike.
And to top it off, Ben gets not one, but two potentially deadly weapons. Big targets too, he's been asking for them for a while now, it's finally time to get them.
New FB, new blockers, new pass-catchers, new O-line, and new Coordinator. All looks good to me.
Thoughts? Questions? I'll gladly respond to any comments.