Lights? Check. Cameras filling Radio City Music Hall? Check. Massive over-coverage on ESPN? Big check.
That’s right folks, it’s the NFL Draft! The now-three-day extravaganza kicks off Thursday at 8PM Eastern with the first round, headline by purported can’t-miss quarterback prospects Andrew Luck (going with the No. 1 pick to the Colts) and Robert Griffin III (going second to the Redskins). I say ‘purported’ because for every Peyton Manning, there’s a Ryan Leaf.
As for New York’s two teams, the Jets own the 16th overall pick. The Giants, meanwhile, have the coveted final pick in the first round that is awarded to the defending Super Bowl champion. Speaking as a diehard Giants fan, please this let be the start of a slew of 32nd overall picks, if you know what I mean.
So who will the Jets and Giants pick with their first-round selections? Here are three possibilities for each team:
MOST LIKELY: Coby Fleener, Stanford tight end. Two draft gurus, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, have the G-Men taking Fleener in the first round. The No. 1 tight end on most draft boards, Fleener was a favorite target of Luck’s at Stanford and had a breakout senior season in 2011 (32 receptions, 648 yards, 10TDs). Even more heartening, Fleener played in 50 of a possible 51 games for Stanford in his four years there, and a durable TE would be a welcome change for the Giants, who lost Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to torn ACLs last season. While Big Blue already acquired middling tight end Martellus Bennett in free agency, Fleener would give Eli Manning the kind of dynamic tight end he hasn’t had since Jeremy Shockey wore a Giants uniform.
FIRST ALTERNATE: Jonathan Martin, Stanford offensive tackle. Another Cardinal role player, Martin spent three years protecting Luck’s blind side and would fill one of the Giants’ biggest holes (no pun intended). With Kareem McKenzie not expected back next season, Martin could be plugged in at left tackle and forestall David Diehl’s potential switch from guard to tackle (a switch I don’t think he could make effectively). While the Giants appear to favor Fleener with their pick, Martin would be my top choice, if only because he would protect The Franchise (aka Eli Manning) from the type of blind-side hits that could end his season or even his career.
SECOND ALTERNATE: Shea McClellin, Boise State outside linebacker. McClellin, the third-ranked outside linebacker in the draft, would fill perhaps the team’s greatest hole, its glaring weakness at outside linebacker. But the G-Men might be leery after he showed up at the draft combine with an extra 12 pounds of muscle, suggesting he may be branding himself as a defensive end. Even if the Giants overlooked that concern, they’ll probably never have a chance to draft McClellin, who is projected by all the experts to be selected by Green Bay with the 28th pick.
MOST LIKELY: Dontari Poe, Memphis defensive tackle. Poe, a 6’4″, 350 lb. behemoth, has shot up draft boards because of his Kris Jenkins-like attributes — massive size with surprising quickness and a preternatural ability to stop the run. Jenkins, of course, played the end of his Pro Bowl career for the Jets and was the center of Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense. Last season, the defense struggled with Sione Pouha at the nose tackle spot, and Poe could pay immediate dividends as a big body in the middle of Ryan’s defense. Also, Poe’s got style. He’d be perfect for New York.
FIRST ALTERNATE: Michael Floyd, Notre Dame wide receiver. The second-rated wide receiver prospect behind Oklahoma State dynamo Justin Blackmon, Floyd has a lot of things going for him. At 6’3″, he’s tall enough to get position on most NFL defensive backs. And he’s already proven he can be a lights-out possession receiver — in his last two years at Notre Dame, he had 174 receptions for 2,134 yards and 20 TDs. If Poe is not available at No. 16, look for the Jets to give their Sanchez/Tebow QB monster another top target to complement the mercurial Santonio Holmes.
SECOND ALTERNATE: Trent Richardson, Alabama running back. The Jets made waves in the press when they asked for Richardson’s contact information, sparking rumors that the team will try to trade up for the elite running back. The Vikings would be the most likely trade partner, and Minnesota has been looking for the right offer to move down from the No. 3 overall spot. The Jets could swoop in and grab Richardson with the third pick, addressing a glaring offensive weakness and admitting once and for all than Shonn Greene is not the long-term answer at running back. But the Vikings’ asking price (the Jets’ first-round pick plus more picks this year and next year, most likely) may be too steep for Gang Green, and a host of other teams are also looking to trade up.