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Draft King Analysis

January 2, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Happy 2011 to you all. It's unclear if there will be NFL football this fall, so enjoy the playoffs which begin next weekend. Some readers on here may be too young to remember the NFL strike that happened in the fall of 1987, but I recall it vividly, and it wasn't pleasant for anyone involved. For the sake of all involved, I hope that a new CBA can be hammered out before the NFL sustains some serious PR damage.

College football's bowl season picks back up tomorrow, providing some evening football to compete with the return of the major network TV shows that are coming back from their Christmas break. Unlike the rather one-sided battle in Oklahoma's victory over Connecticut in last night's Fiesta Bowl, the next two nights have some intriguing matchups: the Orange Bowl with 11-2 Virginia Tech vs. 11-1 Stanford tomorrow night, and the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night with 10-2 Arkansas battling 11-1 Ohio State.

As far as Ohio State goes, I strongly recommend for those of you with ESPN Insider access to read this article penned by Bruce Feldman. He outlined the behind-the-scenes pressure reportedly put on both Ohio State and the NCAA by Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan to do whatever had to be done to let the Buckeyes facing suspensions from the NCAA to defer those suspensions until the 2011 season so they could play for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. The big money bowls are part of a shady system.

Week 17 of the NFL season is a treat for fans without DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket, with a doubleheader in both the early and late timeslots. It was great fun flipping back and forth between games, even though some had more riding on them than others, and the NFL I believe was successful with its move to have all inter-divisional games in Week 17 for the first time this season.

There was some resting of players, but not to the level that we've seen in years past. In particular, the Bears played their starters for the duration of their game with Green Bay despite not having anything to gain or lose short of keeping their long-time arch-rivals out of the post-season. Let's hope the NFL keeps this policy in place... even if it becomes Week 19 or Week 20 whenever the NFL pushes through the expanded regular season that it seems hell-bent on instituting.

Expect to hear plenty of whining and bitching about the fact that the 7-9 Seahawks made the playoffs (and get to host a playoff game next weekend) while a pair of 10-6 teams (Giants and Buccaneers) missed the post-season. I don't particularly get the surprise here: when the NFL realigned in 2002 to have eight four-team divisions with each division winner making the playoffs, it was obvious to any observer that this was a viable possibility. But, as what usually happens in life, it takes an oddity (like a team with a losing record making the playoffs) actually taking place to create the momentum needed for change.

For bitter Giants and Bucs fans, at least it's better now than it was in 2008 when the 8-8 Chargers not only made the playoffs ahead of the 11-5 Patriots, but then got to pick in a higher spot than New England had for the 2009 Draft. The NFL changed the rules after that season to ensure that all non-playoff teams now draft ahead of playoff teams, regardless of regular-season record.

Seattle's win over St. Louis was good news for six teams, as Tennessee, Dallas, Washington, Houston, Minnesota, and Detroit will all be drafting one spot higher (#8-13 respectively) than they would have if the Rams had beaten the Seahawks. Seattle would have picked at #8 with a loss, whereas St. Louis will be drafting at #14.

The question that has been rattling around in my head involves what Carolina will do in the top selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. It became public knowledge that Carolina didn't plan to renew John Fox for 2011 before the Panthers' season-finale, though that was hardly a surprise for a coach earning $6 million a year in the last year of his contract.

Jonathan Babineaux sacks Jimmy Clausen
As Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux showed today, Carolina QB Jimmy Clausen hasn't had much help at times this season. (Icon SMI)
But all indications appear to be that Carolina will retain GM Marty Hurney, who pulled the trigger on drafting Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen with the team's first pick of the 2010 Draft at #48 overall before later trading the team's 2011 second-round pick (which turned out to be #33) to New England to be able to draft Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards, who the team in turn converted into a wide receiver.

This is not an insignificant point, since picking Stanford QB Andrew Luck (should he turn pro) at #1 would be a sign that both Hurney and the Carolina ownership may not see Clausen as a viable future long-term prospect at QB. Making such an assessment at this point is laughable in my opinion, since rookie quarterbacks seldom find much success and it typically takes until their third year to gain a gauge on how well they will be able to do on the NFL level.

At the same time, Luck is an extremely gifted prospect who has the chance to provide an instant boost to whichever team drafts him. Even with Carolina having major needs at defensive end, and even with them not having another pick until round three (barring a trade-up), popular opinion may win out and the team could end up selecting Luck at #1 overall. When I do my first post-regular season mock tomorrow, it will likely be Luck occupying that top spot, even without knowing who the new coach will be in Carolina and despite all the evidence against Hurney being able to save face or fill some major team needs with top prospects by doing so.

As always, we'll have to wait and see how it plays out. But it appears that the Panthers will be going low-budget with their next head coach, and if they see Andrew Luck as a future superstar in the NFL, it might be too tempting for the team to pass up on him.


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