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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

April 14, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Two weeks from today the 2011 NFL Draft is slated to begin in New York City. And, in this most unusual off-season and with litigation pending between NFL players (past, present, and future) and the league, it seems like a lock that the draft will happen without there being a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place.

While this is a unique situation in many ways for the NFL, some things never change: the rumors, speculation, news leaks, and even dirty tricks that typically happen before the NFL draft are taking place just like they would in any other year. Agents work to build a buzz around their clients, teams evaluate players up and down the board, and all sorts of misdirection is intentionally put out by all sides. Trying to find the true in developing situations can become quite difficult as the draft nears.

Something I learned two years ago: if Mel Kiper abruptly shoots a player up on his draft board, pay attention. Quoting his article on the eve of the 2009 NFL Draft: "I expect [Chiefs GM Scott Pioli] to stay where he is for this draft (third overall) and turn the draft upside down by picking LSU DE Tyson Jackson." Up until that point, Jackson appeared likely to go in the 10-12 range in the first round. Most other draft sites jumped on the bandwagon, though I held out, not wanting to blindly follow Kiper.

The result? Kansas City drafted Jackson at #3. Kiper has been criticized in some circles for his connections with certain NFL agents, but clearly he found out some reliable information on Jackson that held true. And, while I hit with my projection in that draft that Oakland would take Maryland WR Darreus Heyward-Bey at #7 (a pick which shocked many people), I lamented not having jumped on the Jackson-at-#3 train.

A similar situation happened in the past week, not with Kiper per se but with a wave of high-profile draft prognosticators and analysts moving Auburn QB Cam Newton up the ladder all the way to Carolina at #1 overall. Until that point I had held onto the thought that the Panthers would draft a defensive lineman, filling a major need spot for the team. But all indications out of Charlotte are that the team is not looking at a defensive lineman for the #1 spot in the draft.

I've been strongly convinced about Newton's strong NFL potential for some time now, but I try to avoid allowing my own personal feeling to weigh too much into the evaluation process. Until I become an NFL GM, my opinion is of minor importance in this process. Moreover, not that long ago that many draft experts were saying that Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert would go before Newton, something I disputed and thought shouldn't happen.

This would have all been much easier had Andrew Luck opted to leave Stanford early for the NFL.

To be clear, Newton going #1 overall is not a lock at this point; Panthers GM Marty Hurney said just last week that a decision hasn't been made yet on who will go in the top spot. And why should the Panthers tip their hand? It's not like Carolina can sign the top pick to a contract ahead of the draft.

There are some pivotal points in the first round that could have serious implications for those picking in that vicinity. Just a few storylines:

-What is Cincinnati going to do at #4 if a QB they like (Auburn's Cam Newton and/or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert) is on the board along with one or both top-tier WRs (Georgia's A.J. Green and/or Alabama's Julio Jones)? Remember that incumbent QB Carson Palmer has said he'll retire before playing again for the Bengals. Until there's a new CBA in place that situation can't be remedied, and for Cincy that means a great deal of uncertainty going into the draft at the QB spot.

My personal inclination is to think that Cincy will grab Green or Jones if they can at #4, then either trade back up into late round one to get a guy like Jake Locker or Christian Ponder or hope one of them fall to them at #35. One potential complication: Buffalo picks one spot ahead of them in round two (#34) and *might* look at a QB at that spot. I think Buffalo would be better served to address defensive and offensive line concerns with early picks, but it has to be a consideration.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The Cardinals don't have to target a CB in round one thanks to having Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie under contract. (Icon SMI)
-If Newton and Gabbert are gone when Arizona drafts at #5, what will the Cardinals do? Von Miller would be an ideal addition to fill the 3-4 OLB hole that was not adequately addressed after the departure of Karlos Dansby to Miami in the 2010 off-season, but Miller may also not be on the board at that point.

It's possible that Marcell Dareus (who played 3-4 DE at Alabama) and/or Auburn DL Nick Fairley could be considered by Arizona, but using a top five pick on a 3-4 DE would be unexpected. Patrick Peterson is a great corner, but the Cardinals already have a solid #1 corner in the form of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. For their sake, I hope Arizona has a worst-case-scenario plan if Newton and Gabbert and Miller are all gone when their pick comes up or a contingency plan (or several plans) in place to trade back if that happens.

-I know a few San Francisco 49ers fans, and every one I've talked with on the subject has told me that they strongly hope that LSU CB Patrick Peterson will fall to the 49ers at #7. Nate Clements may be too pricy to retain for 2011, and a guy like Peterson would inject both youth and top-tier talent into the secondary in San Francisco.

-Living in Nashville affords me the luxury of hearing from a large volume of Titans fans, and they seem to favor going with either a QB (Newton or Gabbert), Peterson, or defensive tackle with Dareus or Fairley. At this point it appears most likely that Fairley would be the one from that group to still be on the board at this point, and he's be an ideal selection for a team like Tennessee which runs a 4-3 defense.


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