It was great to return to talking about football last night, the game and players and not lockouts and court cases. Not that the labor strife didn’t affect last night’s proceedings. Teams couldn’t trade players for picks and about 200 players are “on ice” right now awaiting free agency, so teams’ strategies were totally focused on the players at the draft. As always, the draft is a major night for both the prospects and the teams that pick them. Here’s what jumped out at me:
Cam Newton number 1? Really? I just don’t see it. Picking a QB in the first round is always a dicey proposition. For every Peyton Manning, there’s a Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell. It’s a high risk-high reward choice and Newton doesn’t give me the confidence to spend that pick and the accompanying upfront money on him, especially when Carolina spent two picks last year on Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Newton has been a game-changer everywhere he’s been, but how will he deal with losing at this level. Make no mistake, he and the Panthers will struggle next year. Does Newton have the emotional fortitude of an Aikman or Manning to plough through tough times?
The Bengals did well last night, taking a “cant-miss” pick with Georgia’s AJ Green. This likely signals the end of the Ochocinco era in Cincinnati, but the Bengals still have a stable of quality wide receivers. Two questions remain for the Bengals: Given Atlanta’s trade with Cleveland, did the Bengals turn down 5 picks to keep Green? And who will throw to him? With Carson Palmer likely not returning, the Bengals must get a quarterback today, either TCU’s Andy Dalton or Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick…unless there have been some “back-room” conversations with the Eagles for Kevin Kolb once player movement is allowed. If the Bengals spend their second round pick on anyone other than a QB, then that’s a distinct possibility.
Speaking of the Falcons and Browns, the Falcons better have picked the next Jerry Rice last night with Julio Jones. Five draft picks? GM Thomas Dimitroff is going “all-in” to put weapons around Matt Ryan to win now. He just mortgaged the franchise’s future to do so. Mike Holmgren made out like a bandit in this one and got a number of high picks with which to retool the Browns.
NFC North QBs and RBs should get some extra insurance coverage. The Lions have a fearsome tackle combo now with Ndamukong Suh and Auburn’s Nick Fairley. Head coach Jim Schwartz, who built a dominating defense in Tennessee with Kyle VandenBosch and Albert Haynesworth, has to be the happiest coach in the league right now. Thanksgiving Day in Detroit just got interesting again.
The Colts predictably took an offensive tackle with their first pick. Anthony Castonzo is a solid pick to protect Peyton Manning. This pick was a no-brainer as Manning struggled for the first time in his career last year to remain upright. As Manning enters the twilight of his career, the Colts correctly addressed their number one priority. Look for them to pluck a RB from a deep pool today to address a weakness there.
The Ravens took CB Jimmy Smith from Colorado with their pick last night. Can Ray Lewis mentor this troubled, but talented young man? If so, the Ravens addressed one of the few weak points on their defense last night. This pick most likely signals Fabian Washington’s departure as a free agent, putting a top flight starting CB into that pool.
As far as messages go, the Saints message to Reggie Bush with their pick of Alabama’s Mark Ingram was loud and clear: “See ya!” Ingram gives the Saints an every-down back who can punish between the tackles and catch out of the backfield.
The second and third rounds will be chosen tonight, with plenty of talent still on hand. This year’s pool of prospects has some depth, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Some players who will have solid NFL careers will come off the board tonight. Among them:
Da’Quan Bowers (Clemson). Once projected as the number one overall pick, Bowers slid out of the first round. Somebody’s going to get an excellent pass rushing end. Will the Patriots nab him with the first pick of the second round, or will they trade out in the QB derby?
Marvin Austin (North Carolina) got caught up in the agent scandal in college. He’s allowed to have one now and should provide first round talent to someone looking for interior line help. No, Detroit, you can’t have him, too.
Randall Cobb (Kentucky) is a Josh Cribbs clone. With the new kickoff rules, will that hurt his status? He’s a versatile player, however, who will make an instant impact on special teams or out of the “wildcat” formation.
A bevy of linebacking talent remains. Martez Wilson (Illinois), Casey Matthews (Oregon), and Greg Jones (Michigan State) are all outstanding inside linebackers that should go tonight.
In addition to QB, I look for the Bengals to address the safety position. I doubt FS prospects Aaron Williams(Texas) or Rahim Moore (UCLA) will be there in Round 3, but SS Jaiquan Jarrett out of Temple could be the big hitter the Bengals have been missing since David Fulcher roamed the middle of the field.
Forget the Royal Wedding, it’s time for football! I can’t wait to see tonight’s and tomorrow’s action and see which teams helped move themselves toward the Lombardi Trophy, the “crown jewel” of American sports.
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