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Thoughts on First Round of 2011 NFL Draft

This is what makes the NFL Draft the best draft in any of the major sports.  The ups, the downs, the surprises at every turn.  Everybody gets to play scout and expect.  Some applaud the moves, the trades and the risks while others will scrutinize and blast teams for going rogue and veering off the map. 

Here’s a few of my thoughts on the first round of the draft, of course remembering that my thoughts are to be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps a chaser.  I’m not an expert, I just happen to play one on this blog.

– No surprises with top three selections.  It was pretty much set that in some way, shape or form the first three players taken in the draft would be Marcell Dareus, Von Miller and Cam Newton.   The Panthers took Newton first overall.  Denver, with a little hint of surprise, selected Von Miller and Marcell Dareus fell to Buffalo at No.3.  It broke down like this:  player will biggest upside, potential of all quarterbacks, best pass rusher, best defensive lineman.  It’s hard to find fault with any of the top three selections.  They all fill needs.  Carolina needed a franchise quarterback and a reason for people to be excited about Panthers football.  Both Denver and Buffalo needed upgrades on defense.

-Panthers had no other choice but to draft Newton.   I don’t think there’s been any other player in any sport with the meteoric, shot-out-of-a-cannon rise that we’ve seen from Newton.  From junior college to Heisman Trophy winner to National Champion to now first pick in the NFL draft, Newton’s taken quite a journey to the NFL.   I thought Carolina might decide to go defense, with new head coach Ron Rivera coming from a strong defensive background.  But in the end, this is a quarterback driven league and unfortunately for Carolina, they’re in a division where they have to face Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman eight times a year.  They had to keep up with the rest of the division.  Newton’s the biggest high-reward high risk player in the draft, perhaps even more polarizing a figure than Michael Vick when Vick first burst onto the NFL scene.  Newton could either be one of the best quarterbacks in the game, or he could become JaMarcus Russell.  But if you want big rewards, you’ve gotta take big, gutsy chances, a motto Carolina went with last evening.

Best of luck to anyone facing the Detroit Lions’ front seven.   Last year, they landed Ndamakong Suh.  This year, Nick Fairley falls into their lap at No.13.  Once thought of a top choice in the draft, the Lions got great value with Fairley and they simply couldn’t pass on the Auburn product.  Now you add Fairley to an already strong group of Suh, Kyle VanDen Bosh and Corey Williams and suddenly you’re looking at perhaps one of the best defensive lines in football.

– Quarterbacks don’t last long.   Four quarterbacks are off the board in the first round:  Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.  The concesus was both Newton and Gabbert wouldn’t last past the first ten picks, however I don’t think anyone thought both Locker and Ponder would be gone within the first 15 picks.

I’m shocked San Francisco passed on Blaine Gabbert.  The 49ers clearly believed that Missouri’s Aldon Smith was the second-best pass rushing option after Von Miller.  Maybe the 49ers have something else in mind at quarterback ( Kevin Kolb, Marc Bulger or Matt Hasselbeck).  But they’ve got Troy Smith, Alex Smith and David Carr on the roster.  They have three quarterbacks, which means they have none.  I thought new regimes would mean new quarterbacks, so I’m surprised Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers went another way.

–  I’m even more shocked Jake Locker went eighth.   The Tennessee Titans needed a quarterback.  I just didn’t think it would be Locker.  Even more stunning is that fact they passed on Gabbert.  I don’t think Locker is first-round worthy.  Yes he had a dreadful supporting cast last season at the University of Washington, but Locker was equally bad.  He’s got a 54 completion percentage in college, but go back and look at the first game against Nebraska and tell me if you think he’s a franchise type guy.  I like his leadership, his toughness and I think he’ll do fine in the locker room, but I have serious doubts he’ll ever turn out to be anything more than an average quarterback. 

-Did the Vikings panic?  That’s a tough one to answer.  From the looks of it, yes.  Newton was long gone.  Locker was off the board and they were a pick away from landing Gabbert.  Minnesota is another team in dire need of a quarterback and they realize Tarvaris Jackson isn’t cutting the mustard and Joe Webb remains a great unknown.  I think Ponder has the potential to be the best the of the quarterback bunch and at that point, with only the likes of Ponder, Ryan Mallet and Andy Daulton left, the Vikings felt they needed to make the move and grab Ponder.

–  Falcons pay steep price to get Matt Ryan another weapon.   It seems evident the Cleveland Browns had A.J. Green as the top player on their board and once their rivals over in Cincinnati selected Green, the Browns entertained the idea of a trade down.  In comes the Atlanta Falcons, as GM Thomas Dimitroff gives up five picks in the top four rounds to acquire Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.   I tip my hat to Dimitroff.  He realizes the Falcons’ window to win is right now and Jones makes for another weapon opposite Roddy White for Matt Ryan.  That’s a king’s type ransom he paid for a receiver.  I like Jones a lot.  The Falcons better hope he turns out to be Reggie Wayne or Andre Johnson. 

SEC rules.  So do defensive linemen.   There’s no question the SEC is the baddest bully on the block in college football.  Five of the first six picks came from the SEC.  We also had a record 12 defensive lineman taken in the first round.


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