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Decisive Moves
May 04, 2009
Last weekend's bold dealing and drafting set up some teams for immediate improvement (though some unhappy vets were left stewing)
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May 04, 2009

Decisive Moves

Last weekend's bold dealing and drafting set up some teams for immediate improvement (though some unhappy vets were left stewing)

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During Rex Ryan's four seasons as Ravens defensive coordinator, his unit thrived on its aggressiveness. "If you swipe at one of ours," Ryan would say, "we'll take two swipes at one of yours." Ryan promised to bring that brash attitude to the Jets after he was named coach in January, and he was true to his word when New York attacked the draft like a linebacker going after an unprotected quarterback on third-and-long. The Jets' trading up 12 spots in the first round to grab USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was the boldest move of the 2009 draft.

After Brett Favre's one-and-done season, New York needed not only a quarterback to build around but also a marketing campaign to help sell personal seat licenses in the new stadium set to open in 2010. Sanchez, who'll compete with 2006 second-rounder Kellen Clemens for the starting job, acknowledged that the pressure of playing for a perennial national championship contender in college pales next to what he faces after becoming the Jets' highest pick at quarterback since they took Joe Namath No. 1 in 1965. "You don't want to promise too much, expect too much," Sanchez said on Sunday, "but I'm setting my sights high."

All 32 teams set their sights high last weekend. Some hit those heights, others came up short. Here's a look:

Al Davis's obsession with speed was evident when he passed up the consensus best wideout, Michael Crabtree, at No. 7 for Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is tremendously fast but has questionable hands. The Raiders' second pick, Ohio University safety Mike Mitchell, who wasn't even invited to the combine, also appeared to be a major stretch, though several secondary coaches around the league said he has the goods to be a productive starter.

In a division that includes Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Chicago's Matt Forte, stopping the run is a priority. Green Bay's addition of dominant Boston College nosetackle B.J. Raji and versatile USC linebacker Clay Matthews will bolster the run D and smooth the Packers' transition to a 3--4.

Alabama tackle Andre Smith, arguably the best run blocker in the draft, and fierce-hitting USC linebacker Rey Maualuga dropped on other teams' boards for various reasons, but they have what it takes to help make the Bengals a surprise contender in the physical AFC North.

The 49ers, Eagles, Ravens and Seahawks capitalized when some highly rated prospects fell to them. San Francisco didn't think the playmaking Crabtree would be available at No. 10. Philly and Baltimore landed explosive Missouri wideout Jeremy Maclin and polished Mississippi tackle Michael Oher—projected top 10 picks—at 19 and 23, respectively. Seattle was so ecstatic to see multitalented Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry available at No. 4 that the Seahawks didn't seriously consider Sanchez.

I'd pay to watch the NFC East this year. After upgrading through free agency and trades, Super Bowl contenders Philadelphia and New York added more firepower in the draft. In addition to Maclin, the Eagles gave Donovan McNabb two more weapons in all-purpose Pitt running back LeSean McCoy and pass-catching Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram. The Giants addressed a gaping hole at wideout by selecting big, athletic Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina in the first round. Washington buttressed its defense by grabbing disruptive defensive end Brian Orakpo of Texas to play alongside monster tackle Albert Haynesworth. Only the Cowboys, who didn't pick on the first day, failed to make noise. They even took a kicker in the fifth round despite being set at the position.

Browns coach Eric Mangini is a fan of familiarity. Since arriving in Cleveland in January he has signed four of his former Jets players as free agents and last weekend acquired defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and quarterback Brett Ratliff in the Sanchez deal. Another tidbit: Mangini drafted for brain power as well as brawn. Each of his top four picks received all-academic honors either nationally or within their conferences, and sixth-round cornerback Don Carey of Norfolk State could have gone to Yale if he'd so chosen.

The weekend's biggest losers? Possibly the handful of prominent veterans who were hoping to be included in draft-day trades. Defensive end Julius Peppers of the Panthers and wideouts Braylon Edwards (Browns), Anquan Boldin (Cardinals) and Chad Johnson (Bengals) stayed put because no one wanted to give up the picks and players to get them or shell out the new contracts to keep them.