2011 Draft Thoughts: Post-Round One
Well, Round One of the 2011 NFL Draft is officially in the books, and Iíd wager that few people envisioned some of the surprises that we all witnessed last night. Four quarterbacks taken in the Top Twelve picks, elite defensive lineman dropping down draft boards, craziness! We had a vibrant crowd in the chat room last night, and Iím hoping for a repeat this evening. In the meantime, let me put some thoughts down on how the night played out.
Year of the Quarterback
For as much as some Rams fans dogged this QB class, it sure seems as if the NFL felt good enough about these guys to buck conventional wisdom and take them early in the selection process. Only time will tell who was right.
Cam Newton going first overall to the Panthers was not a surprise; Newton has been the frontrunner for that pick for a couple of weeks now. There were reportedly few supporters left in the building for Jimmy Clausen, and Carolina felt the risk could be worth the reward if Newton could have the kind of impact in the NFL that he had in college.
Next off the board was Jake Locker, and though it was a surprise to see him as the second quarterback selected, it certainly didnít surprise me that he went as high as he did. I had Locker mocked to Minnesota (12th overall pick) in my last two mocks, and he ended up going only four picks earlier. Last year, reports indicated that Locker could have been the first QB off the board had he left school early. Even after a down senior year and a so-so offseason process, the guy STILL goes Top Ten. Iím rooting for him to succeed at the NFL level.
Blaine Gabbertís slide wasnít incredibly surprising; as the draft drew closer, it was clear Blaine wasnít going in the Top Five. The wild cards were San Francisco and Tennessee and, of course, a trade up. The hot rumor was that Washington was looking to move up, just as they were reportedly looking to move up for Bradford last year. But they surprised some by moving down instead, allowing Jacksonville to close out the Top Ten with Gabbert as their QB of the future.
The final first round QB was arguably the biggest surprise of the night. Not because Florida Stateís Christian Ponder wasnít getting any first round consideration Ė I had him mocked in the mid-20s Ė but rather because the Vikings made him the selection at 12th overall. Personally, I think the Vikings were expecting Jake Locker to be there for them and were a little thrown off when he wasnít. Itís hard for me to believe that Ponder graded out as a Top 15 prospect in this class, but you have to remember that fans and pundits arenít grading for any particular team but rather as a whole. Itís entirely possible that, for the Vikings, Ponder graded out higher than some other prospects due to his fit in their system and their need at the position. But itís a risky move, considering who else was on the board.
So what about the Daltons, Kaepernicks, and Mallets of the world? My guess is that theyíre not going to last too long in the second round. Buffalo and Cincinnati Ė both teams that could use long-term answers at the position Ė hold the second and third picks (respectively) in the second round. New England, savvy in the ways of trading down, holds the top pick of the day. Donít be surprised if New England fields a number of phone calls from teams still in need of a passer, trying to jump ahead of the Bills and Bengals. Oakland or Washington could be top contenders for a move up, or the Bengals may just want to leapfrog the Bills to make sure they get their guy.
Or Was it the Year of the Defensive Line?
Twelve defensive lineman Ė including those projected to be outside linebackers in a 3-4 defensive scheme Ė came off the board in the first round, which is extraordinary. And the Rams may have gotten one of the best ones in Robert Quinn, just by sitting pretty at the fourteen-spot.
There was little doubt that Marcell Dareus of Alabama was going to be the first lineman off the board. While Auburnís Nick Fairley finished the season as the standout prospect, the offseason process separated the two pretty clearly. The slight surprise came when Denver, a team with a big need at the position, passed on Dareus to take a 4-3 OLB in Von Miller. Now, Miller can rush the passer pretty darn well himself. But if Denver is truly making a transition to the 4-3 scheme, then you have to question the value of an outside linebacker in the Top Two. To me, Dareus would have made the most sense there, but Iím sure Buffalo is happy to have him as well.
Missouriís Aldon Smith came off the board with the seventh pick to San Francisco, which seemed a bit high for me but certainly could work out for the *****. Personally, I felt UNCís Robert Quinn would have been the better pick and fit there, in terms of ability to stand up as an outside linebacker. But perhaps Quinnís medical concerns scared San Francisco off, or perhaps they felt Smith would make the better transition. Either way, theyíve addressed their need at the position. As did the Texans, who surprisingly passed on Nebraskaís Prince Amukamara and UNCís Quinn to take a five-technique lineman in J.J. Watt. The Wisconsin lineman was certainly worthy of the selection, but most expected the Texans to address either their secondary or pass rush. Then thereís Nick Fairley, who is going to find a nice partner waiting for him on the interior defensive line in Detroit. I think itís an understatement to say that was a bit of a shocker, but Detroit has gone from having arguably the best 4-3 DT in the NFC to possibly having the best young interior tandem in the entire league. Letís just say Iím glad the Rams arenít seeing that duo twice a year.
Speaking of the Rams, they had to be pleased to see arguably the draftís best defensive end waiting for them when their clock started. Though the Rams really liked Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget a lot, this had to be a no brainer pick (pardon the pun). Quinn was a Top Ten prospect in this class, arguably Top 3-5 were he healthy and able to play last year. His potential as a pass rusher is through the roof, and who better to help him reach that potential than Steve Spagnuolo? The brain tumor is a bit of a concern, but Iím willing to put my faith in the Ramsí medical staff to make the call on this one, especially since Iíve been proven wrong so far regarding my previous concern about Sam Bradfordís medical situation. Ultimately, Quinn represented the best combination of value and need, and is another good building block for a young Rams team in need of a right defensive end.
The defensive lineman continued to come off the board quickly as we entered the bottom half of the first round. After trading down to the 16th pick, Washington selected Purdue defensive Ryan Kerrigan, likely planning to move him to outside linebacker in the pros. Iím not head over heels with that fit, though I know plenty of teams were looking at Kerrigan as a pass rushing outside linebacker. I personally like him better with his hand in the dirt, but weíll see what Jim Haslett can do with him. The Chargers took Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget and plan to plug him into their three-man front. Some had Liuget as a Top 12-15 player in this class, but the 18-spot is more appropriate for his value. Iím interested to see how he does in a 3-4 scheme, as he was viewed by many as a very good three-technique prospect. The Buccaneers got their defensive end in Adrian Clayborn, though personally I would have rolled the dice with Californiaís Cameron Jordan. Jordan trumped Clayborn in value for me, but the Bucs must hope Adrian can return to his junior form where he was dominating the college football scene.
Jordan ultimately went to New Orleans, where I think heís a great fit on their line. The Browns, who moved down from the sixth overall pick to 27th overall due to a trade with the Falcons, traded back up to takeÖ arguably the best 3-4 nose tackle in this class. Kind of a strange move, considering most have been reporting theyíre moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme. But when you play in the AFC North, against teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore who like to pound the rock, a wide-bodied anchor like Taylor may be necessary. Templeís Muhammad Wilkerson and Ohio Stateís Cameron Heyward came off the board where expected; Wilkerson was too good of a value for the Jets to pass up, and Heyward has been a popular late-first round choice for teams needing a five-technique. He and Ziggy Hood should make a nice combo in Pittsburgh.
The biggest defensive line story of the night might be Clemsonís DaíQuan Bowers, regarded at one time during this process as a contender for the first overall pick, now still available as we prepare to start the second round. Clearly teams are concerned about Bowersí knee, which reportedly may be a bone-on-bone situation. There are enough teams in the second round who could use his services though, so Iím not sure I expect his slide to last into the weekend. Still, a huge disappointment for a player who was so dominant last season.
News and Notes from the Rest of the First
The Atlanta Falcons are being roasted by some for giving up so much to acquire Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones with the sixth overall pick. Atlanta ended up trading their 2011 first, second, and fourth round picks, as well as a first and fourth round pick in 2012. Thatís a lot to pay, but if Jones becomes the dangerous compliment to Roddy White that many feel he could be, and the Falcons are hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in the next couple of seasons, then I doubt theyíll feel too bad about making this move. Big risk, but potentially big reward. No one on that roster has been able to take advantage of the attention White gets in the passing game. Perhaps a talent like Julio Jones can. This is the kind of move that teams who are close to the Super Bowl make (see: New Orleans trading next yearís first rounder to move up for Ingram). The Falcons were inches away from playing for a championship last year, so I think their front office has probably earned some leeway here.
The Patriots passing on Cameron Jordan to take Nate Solder was a bit of a surprise, because many have been mocking defensive ends to New England for the better part of this offseason. While the Patriots have a clear need for a left tackle of the future, reports on Solder are pretty varied. His athletic ability isnít the question, but rather how that translates onto the field. Solder isnít exactly an unmovable wall on the line, and has a lot of work to do to reach his potential. Will New England bring back Matt Light and allow Solder that time to develop, or are they ready to plug him in now? If Iím Tom Brady, Iím a bit worried, though no one would be able to see him sweating due to that haircut.
Nebraskaís Prince Amukamara was a great value pick by a New York Giants team that didnít have a pressing need at corner but wanted to do a better job preventing big plays. Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas will probably still enter the 2011 season as the starting duo, but donít be surprised if Prince finds his way onto the field sooner rather than later, especially if Thomas leaves after his contract expires this season. Another great match was Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo to the Indianapolis Colts. Castonzo immediately bolsters the protection around Peyton Manning, and could find an immediate home on the left or right side of that line.
I loved seeing Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins go to the Eagles, as not only was that a position they wanted to address, but he seems like such a high character kid. What a great moment for him. And speaking of great moments, the Saints trading back into the first round to take Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who had an emotional moment after his selection upon hearing an e-mail his father sent from prison. It was a touching message, and Ingramís genuine reaction was heartfelt. Those are the kinds of moments that make the draft an outstanding event to watch.
Best of the Rest
The great thing about this new draft format is that teams now have a full night to reevaluate their draft board before the second and third round kicks off this evening. The Rams have come away from the first round with an outstanding prospect to improve their pass rush, but they need to begin thinking about other need areas on their team Ė WR, LB, DB, OG, DT.
If Iím stacking the board in general, the top remaining players are defensive end DaíQuan Bowers, linebacker Akeem Ayers, quarterback Ryan Mallett, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and wide receiver Torrey Smith.
The Rams can take Ryan Mallett off their board, and may not be considering Bowers due to health and the Quinn pick. Ayers is worthy of consideration as a 4-3 WILL linebacker, something the Rams desperately need. But will he make it to pick #47? The Rams interviewed Robert Quinn and felt his poor decision to accept illegal benefits from an agent was not representative of his character; would they make the same judgment on Marvin Austin? Austin is reported in some circles to have a rather selfish attitude. If the Rams are interested in continuing to bolster their defensive line, they may be better off considering Oregon State tackle Stephen Paea, who could be there when the Rams are on the clock. Tight end Kyle Rudolph wouldnít give the Rams the top flight receiver many are clamoring for, but it would give Sam Bradford another weapon in the passing game. Bradford sure enjoyed throwing to the tight end in college, but does McDanielsí offensive scheme utilize the tight end enough to justify that pick?
If the Rams want a receiver, then Marylandís Torrey Smith is probably the best on the board. But Miamiís Leonard Hankerson, Boise Stateís Titus Young, and Kentuckyís Randall Cobb could get some consideration as well. The further into the draft the Rams go, the more you start to wonder whether any receivers on the board will be upgrades over what they already have. If they donít strike soon, they may be better off staying put with their current group and maybe hoping someone they like hits the market in free agency, whenever thatíll be.
So with my general board stacked, my Rams board would look something like this: Akeem Ayers, Stephen Paea, Torrey Smith, Leonard Hankerson, and Titus Young. But there are plenty of good prospects still on the board, especially along the offensive line, running back, and in the defensive backfield. The Rams will have another shot to add two more contributors to their team today, and I hope they display the same patience and dedication to value as they did in Round One.