The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft is in the books - some picks went as expected, some picks didn't, and then some belong in a category of their own as surprises that caught both fans and pundits alike completely off guard. I just want to say upfront that I was watching the NFL Network feed (hence the numerous Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock references that'll be peppering this post and its second installment), and now without further ado, let's dive in.
1. Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
It may not have had all the drama taken out of it like past years when the first overall pick had already inked his contract before draft day, but nonetheless it was the pick expected by most.
Whether it turns out to be the right one, time will tell. And it will be interesting to see what new head coach Ron Rivera plans to do in the short-term with Jimmy Clausen.
2. Denver Broncos - Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
According to Rich Eisen, the Broncos apparently ran a computer simulation which determined that Von Miller's athleticism is as good or better than most of the CBs in this draft.
Where exactly he'll fit though could be interesting. He looks like a natural 3-4 OLB, but the Broncos are moving back to a 4-3 from a 3-4 defense. Maybe Miller will reprise a version of the hybrid DE/OLB "Joker" role that was made for him at Texas A&M, or maybe he'll move to strong-side LB and function like Brian Orakpo did his rookie year with the Redskins.
At any rate, he'll be expected to provide instant pass-rush opposite Elvis Dumervil, though he probably won't be a bookend to Dumervil in the traditional sense since Dumervil's going to move back to DE.
3. Buffalo Bills - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
With the 3rd overall pick, the Bills get the guy who knocked Colt McCoy out of the 2009 BCS "Championship" game (I'm firmly in the camp that a playoff decides who a true champion is, but I digress).
Remember that the Crimson Tide run a 3-4 defense (I'd forgotten until I reread it somewhere yesterday), so even though most of the analysis on him was about his potential inside as a 4-3 DT and most mocks had him projected to a 4-3 team, the Bills have a great building block for their budding 3-4.
4. Cincinnati Bengals - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
I'd read in a few places (for example here, second bullet under "What I Know") that the Bengals are going to target a specific position in each round and take whoever is there. This year receiver is their designated position for the first round, and quarterback is designated for the second round.
So far at least the first half of that seems to be true.
This kid is going to be a tough draw that we'll have to face twice a year (come back, Ike!), but so long as their QB situation remains a big fat question mark I'll feel a little bit better.
5. Arizona Cardinals - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Cornerback probably sits behind behind QB, LB, and OL if you want to rank their position groups in order of need, but the Cardinals decided to pull the trigger on a young man that was in the discussion for best overall prospect in this year's draft.
It'll be fun to see what Ray Horton can do with Peterson. I only wish the best for Steelers-West (well, within reason).
6. Atlanta Falcons (via Cleveland Browns) - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
My, oh my...
2011 - 1st round pick (28th overall), 2nd round pick (59th), 4th round pick (124th)
2012 - 1st round pick, 4th round pick
Falcons must really think that their window to win is right now. Like tomorrow, now.
It's not a tendon-snapping reach per se, if you just look at Jones going 6th overall, but that's a handsome ransom to go from one end of the first round to the other. And for that package, Julio Jones better become EVERYTHING the Falcons think he could be.
Remember this trade Steelers fans, because the long-term implications are landing in our division.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
If you liked last pick's surprise, how about another curveball?
49ers do indeed take the first Missouri player of the night, just not the Missouri player that everyone thought they were going to take -- QB Blaine Gabbert.
They run a 3-4 out there, but aside from Patrick Willis they don't really have any upper tier home-grown talent in their front seven. A surprising number of their guys were actually poached from the AFC North - Aubrayo Franklin (NT) is a former Raven, Justin Smith (DE) is a former Bengal, and they grabbed Thaddeus Gibson when we tried to slide him to our practice squad during this past season.
I see their reasoning for the pick - they need someone to
boost be their pass rush. But if they tank it again this next season and wind up in the top 10 of next year's draft, I have a feeling that conspiracy theories are going to fly that new head coach Jim Harbaugh was just trying to position himself to possibly swing something to reunite with Andrew Luck.
8. Tennessee Titans - Jake Locker QB, Washington
After cutting ties with Vince Young, the Titans could use a new franchise guy and take the second QB of the night.
But wait... Locker?! Not Gabbert??
If you'd like some light reading that includes some stuff on maybe why Locker over Gabbert, check out this piece from Yahoo!'s Michael Silver on "The Rogue Scout", better known as Dave Razzano. Razzano spent 22 years in the league as a talent evaluator for the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, and St. Louis Rams, and was a part of five Super Bowl teams that hoisted Lombardi Trophies (49ers - 1989, 1990; Rams - 2000). After reading about the man, you'll understand that Razzano has never been afraid to call it like he sees it.
9. Dallas Cowboys - Tyron Smith OT, USC
Unrealistic scuttlebutt aside, it makes sense. Marc Colombo was a sieve at RT, so get a bookend for Doug Free, who they believe is a keeper. Jerry Jones wants to avoid Tony Romo getting killed again on Monday Night Football, so he plays the combo-breaker and momentarily ends the little streak of nominees for the "THEY DID WHAT???" award.
That is until the Jaguars decide that they want to cash in their ticket for the franchise QB sweepstakes...
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Washington Redskins) - Blaine Gabbert QB, Missouri
So many surprises, and we're not even out of the top 10 yet.
The Jaguars aggressively moved up to the spot they were in last year (I wonder if there's any positive karma for selecting with the same pick two years in a row?) and get their QB for the future. Defensive end had been highlighted by most everyone as their most dire need, but this pick isn't completely off base. David Garrard isn't tapped out yet so Gabbert can sit and learn for a year or two, and they've got two young OTs in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton that Gabbert can grow with.
11. Houston Texans - J.J. Watt DE, Wisconsin
You build with your boys upfront, and that's very important for the Texans and their new 3-4 that Wade Phillips will be building as the new defensive coordinator in Houston. Watt is a chiseled 6'5, 290 pounds with a relentless motor and warrior's mentality - absolutely cut from the same cloth as our own Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, and perfect to lockdown the DE spot opposite Mario Williams. Rush OLB wasn't a need of the same caliber in my eyes because Brian Cushing will take one side, and 2009 second round pick Connor Barwin (who missed the whole past season with a dislocated ankle) will likely try to make the transition from DE and take the other side.
I was actually a bit disappointed that they didn't go with a more exotic pick. I was dying to open this little bit with, "Houston... we have a problem" or "Houston... the bombshell has landed."
But little did we know that the big bombshell hadn't actually dropped yet...
12. Minnesota Vikings - Christian Ponder QB, Florida State
Anddd... boom goes the dynamite.
Who saw this one coming...?
No really... who saw this one coming...?
You in the back, put your hand down. I don't believe you. No one believes you.
Holy rusted metal Batman, this is past out of left field.
Ok, so... for lack of a better place to start, what do we know about the kid?
Ponder was a three-year starter, he's a natural leader, very smart (blew through undergrad in 2 1/2 years, already has a Masters in Finance, and has started working on another graduate degree in Sports Management), but got injured a number of times and never really had a marquee moment where he came through in crunch time. Ponder did shake off injury concerns to a degree and was named the Senior Bowl MVP, and was apparently workout buddies with Gabbert during this whole process.
Now, new head coach Leslie Frazier deserves a guy to (re)build with, and Joe Webb's one-game-wonder against Philly notwithstanding, there was absolutely no evidence that "The Guy" was on the Vikings roster. That being said though, Ponder was projected as a 2nd round pick - back end of the 1st round at best and only by a team that really wanted to beat the Day 2 run on QBs (which, I guess you can argue, they did manage to do).
Rich Eisen said during the broadcast that according to Jason La Canfora, the Redskins seriously had their eye on Ponder. But while it's possible that Ponder would've still gone in the top half of the first round, that doesn't make this pick any less than the undisputed winner of this year's "THEY DID WHAT???" award.
(Side note - I pulled up the description for the 2nd and 3rd round draft programming on my TV guide, and it reads: "From New York, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett are among players expected to be available on the second day of the NFL Draft." Wah wah.)
13. Detroit Lions - Nick Fairley DT, Auburn
While the long-feared Williams Wall of the Vikings erodes into StarCaps and sits in limbo with the possible departure/coming retirement of Pat Williams, another wall may have risen in the NFC North to take its place.
In the space of two drafts, the Detroit Lions might've just gone from having a sieve of a D-line to the best tandem of young DTs in the league. Fairley may have had a number of detractors questioning his intangibles and work ethic, but regardless of whether or not they're overblown, Ndamukong Suh is the perfect guy to keep a fire lit under Fairley's ass.
These guys could be a pair of holy terrors for years to come.
14. St. Louis Rams - Robert Quinn DE, North Carolina
Steve Spagnuolo undoubtedly wants to recreate the wealth of DL talent that he got to play with when he was the Giants defensive coordinator. He's got Chris Long at one end, and James Hall opposite Long is no slouch either (old man put up 11 sacks last season). Why not add a 20 year old kid with the makings of an elite pass rusher (despite his one year sabbatical)?
Having a stable of DEs that Spags can rotate, similar to how he did with Strahan/Umenyiora/Tuck/Kiwanuka is a very good thing. It's why the '07 Pats ended up 18-1.
15. Miami Dolphins - Mike Pouncey C/G, Florida
Alas, the reunion just was not destined to be. The dream of reuniting the powers of the Wonder Twins... crushed.
Disappointment aside, I do honestly think that Mike Pouncey might have the highest floor of anyone in this year's draft. His physical tools are identical to those of Maurkice, and the only difference between them is experience. Motivation will NEVER be lacking because he will always be measured against a man who made the Pro Bowl and was All-Pro second-team as a rookie, and will only keep building past there.
Mike Pouncey is going to be a hell of a football player and was one of the safest picks in the draft, in my humble opinion.
16. Washington Redskins - Ryan Kerrigan DE, Purdue
For a school that has never been in the conversation as one of the best football programs in the country (at least not so far as I can remember during my lifetime), Purdue seems to churn out an inordinate number of pass-rushers (Shaun Phillips: OLB - Chargers, 11 sacks in 2010; Ray Edwards: DE - Vikings, 8 sacks in '10; Anthony Spencer: OLB - Cowboys, 5 sacks; Cliff Avril: DE - Lions, 9 sacks). A not too shabby recent track record for a program that's hardly a powerhouse.
Kerrigan was a unanimous All-American, Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year, and a strip-sack specialist that is the Big Ten's all-time leader in forced fumbles. Redskins got themselves a good bookend to Orakpo.
Thoughts on picks 1-16? A similar look at picks No. 17-32 still to come on Friday.