Friday, April 29, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Analyzing All 32 Picks of the First Round

The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone, and it certainly lived up to the hype in terms of surprises.The Falcons gave up an arm, a leg, and then some to move up to pick Julio Jones, and Jake Locker surprised many by being the second quarterback off the board ahead of Blaine Gabbert.

While we won't know how good or bad these 32 picks were until four or five years from now (maybe less if anyone takes the JaMarcuss Russell or Vernon Gholston route), but I feel like I have a pretty good idea of how each team came out of the first round.

Below, I examine all 32 picks of the first round, analyzing them based on value, need, potential immediate contributions, and the other players remaining on the board at the time of each pick.

1. Carolin Panthers select QB Cam Newton, Auburn

This pick was widely assumed for some time, and the Panthers made it happen. I understand the pressure of why they did it, but I'm not a Newton fan in terms of pro potential. I think it's going to take him a few years to even get an NFL playbook down, and even then I'm not sure he has the football IQ and coverage-reading skills to warrant this selection.

2. Denver Broncos select OLB/DE Von Miller, Texas A&M

This pick is a little confusing to me, because the defensive line (especially the interior) was a much bigger need in the transition to the 4-3 scheme. Miller is a bit undersized to put his hand down very much, but I also think he's out of place at linebacker in the 4-3. Miller should be a good pass rusher regardless of the scheme, but Marcell Dareus would have made more sense to me.

3. Buffalo Bills select DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama

I never really bought the Blaine Gabbert talk, and it was pretty obvious the team was going to take whoever the Broncos didn't between Dareus and Von Miller. It's a bit of a shame the Broncos picked Miller, because he would have been a much bigger impact player here on a team with no pass rushers. Still, Dareus is an ideal fit at end in the Bills' 3-4 and should be quite productive.

4. Cincinnati Bengals select WR A. J. Green, Georgia

This is one of those picks that has been assumed all offseason, and it happened just like many of us thought it would. You could argue that a quarterback was a need here considering how serious Carson Palmer seems to be in his retirement plans, but the Bengals will be without a true No. 1 receiver with TO moving on and Ochocinco likely on the outs. Green is a rare talent and an excellent addition for the Bengals' offense in rebuilding.

5. Arizona Cardinals select CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

I don't place the Cardinals' secondary as quite as big a need as I do quarterback and outside linebacker, but there wasn't a clear-cut rusher to take here and it's arguable that Peterson is the best overall talent in the draft. Whether it's at corner, where he's more than capable, or safety, Peterson should be an effective playmaker for the Cardinals for a long time.

6. Atlanta Falcons (from Cleveland) select WR Julio Jones, Alabama

Do I like Julio Jones? Yes. Will he be a great weapon for Matt Ryan? Absolutely. But would I have given up what Atlanta did for this pick to grab him (a first, second, and fourth this year and a first and fourth next year)? Absolutely not. This team had too many needs on defense to give up a wealth of picks for one receiver when they already have an elite one (Roddy White) on the roster. Unless you're looking at receiver as your only need and the player is a once-in-a-generation Calvin Johnson kind of talent (which Jones is not), this trade just isn't worth it.

7. San Francisco 49ers select OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri

I never really considered Smith going in the top 10, but it's not entirely surprising. Opting against a potential franchise signal-caller, the 49ers added a much needed pass rusher to their 3-4 scheme. Smith has all the physical tools to be a stud and should fit in nicely.

8. Tennessee Titans select QB Jake Locker, Washington

I can't say I saw this coming. I'm not surprised Locker went in the top 15, but I am a little shocked the Titans took him with consensus No. 2 quarterback Blaine Gabbert still on the board. Kerry Collins has nothing left in the tank though and Rusty Smith is hardly an elite prospect, so I can't blame the Titans for going after a guy early.

9. Dallas Cowboys select Tyron Smith, USC

People talked about Anthony Castonzo, Prince Amukamara, or one of the defensive ends here, but in the end the Cowboys did just what a lot of people thought they would. Smith is fairly raw, but he's highly athletic with a ton of room to grow. If he pans out, he should be protecting Tony Romo's blindside for years.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Washington) select QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

A lot of people had the Jaguars considering Christian Ponder in the middle of the round, but when Gabbert fell to 10 they obviously felt like he was worth moving up for. David Garrard is hardly the worst quarterback in the league, but he just can't seem to take Jacksonville to the next level. I commend the Jags for moving up to grab a talent like Gabbert.

11. Houston Texans select DE J. J. Watt, Wisconsin

I was primarily expecting a pass rusher here, and I was pretty shocked the team with the worst pass defense in the NFL passed on Prince Amukamara. While he wouldn't have been my first choice, Watt is a quality 3-4 end prospect and solidifies the Texans' line under Wade Phillips.

12. Minnesota Vikings select QB Christian Ponder, Florida State

This is much higher than I expected Ponder to go, as I had him going to Buffalo in the early second round. The Vikings obviously felt like they needed to land a quarterback of the future now, however, and Ponder was obviously they man. He's as NFL-ready as any quarterback in this draft and could start as a rookie, but I worry if he isn't Chad Pennington 2.0 with similarly limited upside.

13. Detroit Lions select DT Nick Fairley, Auburn

Despite much bigger needs everywhere else on the roster, the Lions obviously went best player available when Fairley fell into their laps. Obviously the thought of Fairley and Ndamukong Suh in the middle is frightening, but with Corey Williams and Sammie Hill already on the roster, I just have to wonder if Amukamara or Castonzo wouldn't have been a better choice here.

14. St. Louis Rams select DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

Quinn slipped farther than his talent would indicate because of a benign brain tumor and having sat out last season due to suspension, but this is a great get for the Rams. They could have used a defensive tackle as well, but Quinn is a highly athletic rusher that complements Chris Long well.

15. Miami Dolphins select C/G Mike Pouncey, Florida

My heart wanted Ryan Mallett with this pick, but considering he's still on the board heading into Friday, the general consensus in the league doesn't have him as a first-rounder. I'm not all that thrilled with the Pouncey pick, especially since he's slated to play center rather than filling out of the guard holes, but he's fairly safe and should be an effective starter as a rookie.

16. Washington Redskins (from Jacksonville) select OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue

Kerrigan isn't going to wow you with his speed or raw ability, but he's a strong all-around player and I like his chances of transitioning to an outside linebacker role. He should be productive against the run and good for 7-10 sacks a year, which is more than plenty opposite Brian Orakpo.

17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) select OT Nate Solder, Colorado

A lot of us thought Cameron Jordan was a naturally fit at defensive end here, but the Patriots threw us a curveball and went offensive tackle. Solder is raw but has a ton of upside and could be the long-term replacement for an overrated and aging Matt Light.

18. San Diego Chargers select DE Corey Liuget, Illinois

This is a pick I had previously mocked earlier this month, but I ended up having Liuget go at No. 14 so he was unavailable here in my final predictions. But I always said he profiled equally well as a 3-4 defensive end, and it seems the Chargers agreed. He should start as a rookie.

19. New York Giants select CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

I was pretty surprised by this pick, as the Giants have used a handful of early picks on cornerbacks in recent years and have some pretty good ones already on the roster. I would have imagined a lineman on either side of the ball would make more sense, but I do like Amukamara as a player.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

Clayborn isn't your pure pass rusher, but he fits the mold of a Buccaneers end as kind of a "lightweight defensive tackle" that can get some push from the outside. The Bucs went heavy at tackle last year and Clayborn should excel next to Gerald McCoy.

21. Cleveland Browns (from Kansas City) select DT Phil Taylor, Baylor

Nick Fairley seemed like a possibility for the Browns at No. 6, and I like them moving up to get Taylor here. The team needs defensive tackles for their new 4-3 scheme and Taylor is a monster in the middle that can really plug holes and disrupt things.

22. Indianapolis Colts select OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

I originally mocked Solder here, but I think the Colts made out even better with Castonzo. He started an incredible 54 games in college and has more left tackle experience than anyone, making him a very safe rookie starter that should upgrade the line in front of Peyton Manning.

23. Philadelphia Eagles select OG Danny Watkins, Baylor

I feel about this pick like I do about Miami taking Pouncey, in that it's a solid selection, but one that wouldn't have been my first choice. Watkins should be a fine starter at guard, but I view tackle as a bigger and harder-to-fill need, which is why I might have gone with Gabe Carimi. Jimmy Smith would have been a nice addition to the secondary, too.

24. New Orleans Saints select DE Cameron Jordan, California

Jordan was primarily profiled as a 3-4 defensive end and actually projects a bit to defensive tackle in the 4-3, but I don't expect that's where he'll play in New Orleans aside from moving inside on certain downs. Nevertheless, Jordan is a natural athlete that is reminiscent of the bigger ends the Saints have added in the past like Charles Grant and Will Smith.

25. Seattle Seahawks select G/T James Carpenter, Alabama

Some might call this a reach, but Carpenter's stock had been on the rise and he gives the Seahawks another young talent at either guard or tackle. It is a bit surprising that Seattle didn't go for one of the three quarterbacks available, but I don't hate the Carpenter choice at all.

26. Kansas City Chiefs (from Atlanta through Cleveland) select WR Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh

The offensive line was a need here and I'm a little surprised they didn't take Carimi, but I do like the Baldwin pick. He's got an excellent blend of hands, size, and speed and adds a legitimate second receiver to the Chiefs' offense that was lacking beyond Dwayne Bowe.

27. Baltimore Ravens select CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado

The Ravens missed their pick at No. 26 due to failed trade talks with the Bears, but it doesn't matter as they got the guy they wanted all along. Smith has some character concerns, but he injects some much needed youth into the Ravens' secondary.

28. New Orleans Saints (from New England) select RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

Don't get me wrong--Ingram should do just fine in New Orleans and is probably a better long-term prospect than Pierre Thomas or anyone else they have. That being said, I don't think he was worth trading up for to acquire, and the Patriots got another steal of a deal by landing a 2012 first-rounder.

29. Chicago Bears select OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

The Bears tried to move up to No. 26 to take him, but it turns out they didn't need to as the Chiefs went with Jon Baldwin. Carimi appears to have been undervalued in this draft, but he should be an immediate starter at right tackle and even projects to guard if that doesn't work out.

30. New York Jets select DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple

As much as it pains me to say, this is an excellent pick for the Jets. Their defensive line had been getting really old and needed some more talent, and Wilkeron is an absolute stud. He should be highly effective at end in Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers select DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

With Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel both on the back-end of their careers, it makes sense for the Steelers to look long-term. Heyward is a prototypical 3-4 end that should bookend Ziggy Hood for years.

32. Green Bay Packers select OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State

Another pick I had previously mocked prior to changing it for my final projection, Sherrod gives the Packers options with Chad Clifton getting older. Sherrod projects as a starter at right tackle and may even be an option on the left side if Bryan Bulaga busts.

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