First Round Draft Grades:
1. Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton, Auburn
I really didn’t like this pick at all, and up until yesterday afternoon I figured it had to be a smoke screen, as no team could legitimately think that Newton was the answer. The Panthers were down right awful last season, and you can’t expect a quarterback like Newton will turn that around. I’m not going to deny that Newton has the size, speed, arm, and agility to become a great quarterback, the problem is he’s not even close to ready. Drafting Newton is basically saying you are willing to wait 2-3 years to see your quarterback in action. The problem is I don’t think the Panthers or their fans will wait that long, and that is when you stunt a quarterback’s growth and seriously raise the chances of him being a bust.
2. Denver Broncos: OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M-
On one hand I love this move because Miller is an impact player and one of the best pass rushers coming out this year. On the other hand though Miller isn’t a great fit for that defense, since they are a 4-3 team. While the Broncos say Miller can handle the typical 4-3 duties, and I believe that is true, it isn’t using him to his fullest potential. Also on passing downs I don’t like the idea of him rushing the passer from a 3-point stance. I believe in the NFL that will take away some of his advantage over the offensive lineman, and if you put him in a two point stance that could make him more susceptible to the run. I think Denver will need to really create a hybrid position and scheme where he is rushing the passer the majority of the time, for them to get the most effect out of him.
3. Buffalo Bills: DE/DT Marcel Dareus, Alabama-
I love this pick for the Bills, while Buffalo has a number of needs, this team needed either Von Miller or Dareus to fall to them, and it happened. Dareus can play any position along the line, and he should have a major impact on the Bills going forward. This was a no-brainer pick and a big day for Buffalo.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green, Georgia-
The Bengals filled a need here, but it is hardly their biggest one. Yes the Bengals are losing T.O. and Chad Johnson, but they have a couple good young receivers behind them. They needed to add one guy in this draft, but maybe didn’t have to use their first rounder to do so. I like A.J. Green overall, but drafting receivers early is always a risk. Even the best receivers in the league are only as good as their QB/offensive line. Also the Bengals haven’t been a pass first team for a couple of years now, so you are talking about drafting a guy who will only be involved (not counting blocking) on between 40-45% of your offensive plays.
5. Arizona Cardinals: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU-
Can’t really fault the Cardinals here, there really wasn’t a top 5 quarterback in this draft and while they had needs at OT and OLB no one was a surefire talent. Peterson on the other hand is a surefire talent and you can make the case that he was a top 3 player. He’s a day one starter and should blanket half the field for the Cardinals. It wasn’t their biggest need, but it was great value at this pick, and they didn’t reach for anyone.
6. Atlanta Falcons (from Browns): WR Julio Jones, Alabama-
Atlanta moved up 21 spots to draft Julio Jones and it cost them. They traded their 27th pick, 59th pick (2nd round), and 125th pick (4th round), plus their 1st and 4th next year to grab Jones. While I like Jones, I question whether it was worth it to give that much up to make a deal. While grabbing a WR early makes more sense than say the Bengals since they are a more complete team, but that is an awful lot to give up. Especially since Jon Baldwin ended up being selected at their original spot. I know most draft analysts had Baldwin 30-40 spots below Jones, but honestly I think they were a lot closer than most people think. And regardless of where you had them ranked can you really make the case that Jones is worth more than Baldwin, 59th, and 125th will be this year? Not to mention what they gave up next season.
7. San Francisco 49ers: OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri-
I absolutely loved this pick for San Francisco, I think Smith was the best rush linebacker in this class after Miller and a budding star. The 49ers made the right choice in bypassing a quarterback here, and I think they got an immediate impact guy in Smith.
8. Tennessee Titans: QB Jake Locker, Washington-
What were the Titans thinking here? I honestly have no idea because QB’s Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were on the board, as was DT Nick Fairley any of those would have been far superior picks to Jake Locker. Locker has some potential and looks to be a team leader (but so do the other QB’s on the board), but he is the type of guy who needs 3 years on the bench to develop. The Titans needed to add a quarterback who can play this year (Gabbert, Ponder) and not one who is wildly inaccurate like Locker. I really question this pick and think Tennessee will regret this decision.
9. Dallas Cowboys: OT Tyron Smith, USC-
This was a great pick for the Cowboys as they have finally addressed their offensive line. When they resign (i think it is really likely) LT Doug Free they will have the bookends to keep Tony Romo upright. Smith I think has big time potential and is a great fit in Dallas.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Redskins): QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri-
The Jags got their QB of the future, but they had to give up their 2nd rounder (49th) to move up 6 spots and that is a pretty high cost. Considering the Jaguars were 8 -8 last season I thought they might grab two immediate impact players and try to contend, but they appear ready to focus on 2012. It’s a bit of a risk but I do like Gabbert (more than both Newton and Locker) so it could pan out.
11. Houston Texans: DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin-
The Texans got their first piece of their new 3-4 puzzle and it is a good one in Watt. I think he is a great fit for this defense and fills a big need. Houston has a playoff, maybe even a Super Bowl caliber offense, but their defense has held them back, anything that changes that is a win in my book.
12. Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder, Florida State-
I want to say that I love Ponder and think that he could very well be the top quarterback to come from this class. Unfortunately I still think the Vikings really reached for this pick. While Ponder might be my favorite quarterback I don’t know if he was top 15 material. Minnesota could regret reaching so high for a quarterback, but only time will tell.
13. Detroit Lions: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn-
I know this shocked some people, but really I think it was brilliant. Fairley was arguably a top 5 talent and without a doubt was a top 10 guy. He fell because of everyone over drafting quarterbacks, and it ends up being the Lions gain. Fairley and Suh will team up to form perhaps the best DT pairing in the NFL. Both are elite penetrators, and will cause absolute havoc in the backfield. I don’t know how opposing teams expect to block both DT’s and I’m pretty sure that is what the Lions are counting on.
14. St. Louis Rams: DE Robert Quinn, UNC-
The Rams got a great pass rusher to complement Chris Long and rotate with James Hall. While it wasn’t their biggest need, having three guys to rotate is key, and given Hall’s age it was good forward thinking. They could have gone DT here, but Quinn was too hard to pass up.
15. Miami Dolphins: OG/C Mike Pouncey, Florida-
The Dolphins landed the top interior lineman in this draft class and didn’t reach for a quarterback or running back so I call that a win for Miami. Pouncey might have been overdrafted slightly, but I do think he will be highly successful in the NFL.
16. Washington Redskins (from Jaguars): OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue-
Washington did a great job moving back 6 spots and picking up another top 50 pick. That in and of itself makes this a positive grade for the Redskins. And while I wouldn’t have minded seeing another move back considering how stacked the board was, Washington got good value here. Kerrigan was easily a top 15 player, but he got moved down given the QB rush. He is a nice bookend to Orakpo and gives Washington another player opposing offenses have to keep an eye on.
Grade: B+ (compared to previous years it might be an A+++++ just for doing the right thing)
17. New England Patriots: OT Nate Solder, Colorado-
Solder is a bit of a reach here, but he is still good value and fills a big need for New England. Solder has a bit of a bust factor but I do like him.
18. San Diego Chargers: DT Corey Liuget, Illinois-
While I love Liuget, he never seemed like an option at either the NT or 5 technique (or at least his strong suit), I guess the Chargers feel he can play there and if so then this could be a very good pick. There is a slight risk here, but pretty big reward.
19. New York Giants: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska-
Was CB the Giants biggest need, no not even close, but he was by far the best player on the board. Amukamara strengthens the Giants secondary and allows them to matchup very well against division foes like the Cowboys and Eagles, who have great receiving corps.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa-
While you can make a case that Bowers would have been the pick there, it is hard to fault Clayborn. Clayborn looks to be a top notch defensive end, who plays the run well and will get serious pressure on the quarterback. That to me is a great pick for the Bucs and gets them a guy that fits their system and their needs.
21. Cleveland Browns (from Chiefs): DT Phil Taylor, Baylor-
This was a little surprising since Taylor seemed to be coveted by 3-4 teams as a nose tackle. Now I can see why a number of 4-3 teams would be interested, because having a big tackle like that really slows down the run, the problem is the Browns already have that guy in current NT A. Rubin. While it won’t be easy to run inside against the Browns with essentially two NT’s, the Browns lack the traditional penetrator you would typically see. Maybe they feel that Taylor can still generate a lot of pressure up the middle, but I have some doubts on how consistently he can do that.
22. Indianapolis Colts: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College-
The Colts top priority is to protect Peyton Manning, and they found a great guy to do it in Castonzo. I love this pick for them and think that it will make their offense that much scarier.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: G/T Danny Watkins, Baylor-
This pick was a little surprising, but I really love Danny Watkins so I can’t knock it at all. I think he fits best as a guard, but he could get a shot at RT as well. Either way they strengthened their line significantly and got a great player in Watkins.
24. New Orleans Saints: DE Cam Jordan, Cal-
Jordan is a very good fit for the Saints because he can help them both inside and outside. He is a great value for this pick and could be a steal in this draft.
25. Seattle Seahawks: G/T James Carpenter, Alabama-
Carpenter has been a late riser, but since his Senior Bowl his stock is soaring, he looks capable of either playing inside or lining up at RT. Both of which are big needs for Seattle. I’d say this is a moderate reach with Carimi and Sherrod on the board, but not so much to the point that I really take points off.
26. Kansas City Chiefs (from the Browns, via Atlanta…and the Ravens passing their pick): WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh-
The Chiefs traded back, picked up an early 3rd and still landed a guy who was probably atop their draft board. Baldwin has a ton of upside and as I said before I really don’t see the differences between him and Julio Jones. He should be a great weapon for Matt Cassel and really help improve the Chiefs passing game.
27. Baltimore Ravens: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado-
The Ravens passed on their draft pick which allowed the Chiefs to move up and ensure they got Baldwin. And while it appears the Ravens still got their man, the trade they apparently had worked out with the Bears fell through. One way or another Baltimore lost value with this fiasco and it needs to be seen as a black mark. Smith is a good consolation prize, but they still might have been able to land him later at the Bears pick.
28. New Orleans Saints (from the Patriots): RB Mark Ingram–
Ingram is a nice pick for the Saints, but they paid the price to land him. They traded their 2nd round pick as well as their first next year to land the former Heisman Trophy winner. While I see the need for the Saints, I’m not sure such a drastic deal was warranted. There would have been some good backs on the board late in the 2nd round that the Saints could have jumped up a few spots to get, but used a 4th or 5th rounder as bait instead of next year’s 1st.
29. Chicago Bears: T Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin-
The Bears did a great job here as I personally love Carimi. I think he is a stud tackle and is going to be a great addition to the Bears line. Both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte should be ecstatic with this pick and it really could propel them next season.
30. New York Jets: DE/DT Muhammed Wilkerson, Temple-
Wilkerson fills a big need as the Jets are losing Shaun Ellis this offseason, leaving a big hole at DE. Wilkerson is a bit raw, but he is a good value here and keeps that defense firing on all cylinders.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State-
Heyward is a good value here, and this is a good story as Heyward goes to the city where his Dad was a college football star. It doesn’t fill a big need for the Steelers, but I think he offers a lot of value at this spot.
32. Green Bay Packers: OT Derrek Sherrod, Mississippi State-
The Packers offensive line last year didn’t protect Aaron Rodgers like they needed to, so this is a smart pick for the Packers. Sherrod should be a nice player at RT as I’m guessing Bulaga moves over to the left side (though it might not be for a year as Clifton is still there). Any move that strengthens this offense has to be seen as a plus and great value going forward.