Thoughts on the NFL Draft
I nailed nine of thirty two picks in my 2011 mock draft, ten if you count the fact that I had Julio Jones going sixth overall, just not to the Falcons. The draft shook out basically the way I expected it and there weren’t too many surprises, but with the amount of NFL draft coverage nowadays, that’s not unexpected. Here are some thoughts I have from the draft.
Patriots: Very strange draft from them. I felt certain they would address their need for pass-rush help in a draft that was heavy on the position, but the soundly ignored it. They didn’t take a defensive lineman until the sixth round, and even then it was a relative unknown end from Central Arkansas. After striking gold with undersized cornerback McCourty last year, they grabbed a similar guy in Ras-I Dowling. They took a pair of running back to add to their backfield committee and grabbed the draft’s most enigmatic individual in Ryan Mallett. They did also trade one of their two first round picks and are set up with a pair of first round picks and a pair of second round picks in 2012, providing their is a draft. But their draft strategy for 2011 was odd. They don’t seem leaps and bounds better on either side of the ball than they were last season. Their biggest need was pass rush and they did not address that. Regardless, the Patriots will remain one of the AFC’s elite teams
Falcons: Coming off a season where they earned the top overall seed in the NFC, Atlanta traded away a lot of draft picks to get the guys that they wanted. And surprisingly, they wanted offensive playmakers. They moved all the way up to sixth overall to grab Alabama wideout Julio Jones and they moved up again later in the draft to select Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers. Undoubtedly, Matt Ryan now has plenty of weapons at his disposal after relying perhaps too heavily on Roddy White, but scoring wasn’t what kept them from winning a playoff game—an inability to even remotely slow down Aaron Rodgers was. Akeem Dent should provide some push on the defense, but they didn’t get the bookend to John Abraham they needed, or the shutdown corner that they lacked. The offense will be more explosive than last season, but the defense still needs work. With a division winner’s schedule, the Falcons might be looking at a step backwards rather than forwards in 2011.
Lions: After years of complete futility, the Lions have started to build a legitimate NFL football team. Solid first-round selections like Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have re-energized a stagnant offense, and most recent first-rounders Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley give the Lions what amounts to a brick-wall defense. I loved both their second round selections of Titus Young and Mikel LeShoure as well. Jahvid Best flashed brilliance in his rookie season, but also missed some time and was reluctant to run downhill. LeShoure will do nothing but run downhill and Young gives Stafford another outside weapon to deflect some attention from Megatron. The Lions saw a four game improvement from 2009 to 2010, which would have been five if not for a terrible rule that disallowed Calvin Johnson’s Week 1 game winning touchdown catch. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they approach another four game improvment from last year to this year.
Jets: The Jets, like many teams in the 2011 draft needed defensive line help and they certainly took the proper steps to address that. Without a second round selection, the Jets took Temple DT Muhammed Wilkerson in the first round and Hampton DT Kenrick Ellis in the third round, adding nearly 700 pounds to their aging defensive line unit. Both players should be able to slide into the rotation and contribute right away to Rex Ryan’s system. They added another running back to their already crowded backfield with their fourth round selection of Bilal Powell. They probably waited too long to address their need at WR, taking Jeremy Kerley in the fifth round and Scotty McKnight in the seventh. That they failed to take a cornerback surprised me somewhat as Rex Ryan’s blitzing defense is predicated on excellent corner play. The Jets must be hopeful of their chances at re-signing Antonio Cromartie. Kerley’s special teams ability probably is a safety net for if (when) the Jets lose all-purpose Brad Smith to free agency.
Buccaneers: I really liked what Tampa Bay did coming off a surprisingly impressive season. Like their division rivals, they needed to address their pass rush situation and did twofold. They made Iowa end Adrian Clayborn their first selection and then took Da’Quan Bowers when he fell all the way to 51st overall. A serious consideration to go number one overall just four months ago, Bowers stock fell because of medical concerns about his knee. An elite talent if healthy, Bowers is worth the risk the Bucs are taking on him. Washington linebacker Mason Foster was a solid third-round pick for Tampa Bay and all of a sudden, a rather unspectacular defense has turned mighty impressive.
Titans: After parting ways with Vince Young, Tennessee definitely needed a quarterback and was in fantastic position to take the one of their choosing at number eight overall. With every quarterback except Newton still available, the Titans chose Locker, the guy I predicted they would take. There were question marks with each signal caller in this year’s draft, and Locker to the Titans seemed like a bit of a reach. His biggest knock was his inaccuracy, something Vince Young often struggled with as well. Locker is a well-built quarterback with physical tools to succeed, but his decision making will need to improve to make this all work out in Nashville. Second round pick Akeem Ayers was a great pick and should help solidifying a less-than-imposing linebacker corps.