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Draft King Analysis

April 19, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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As I begin writing this article the leaks have already begun on the NFL's 2011 schedule, with news out of the Jets camp being the first that I've seen breaking the 7 p.m. ET embargo that the league has for the official unveiling. Humorously, the reveal of NYJ at MIA in Week 17 also indicates that the Bills and Patriots will meet in Week 17, since the final week of the season features all divisional matchups. It's nice to see that deductive reasoning is valuable for me beyond just allowing me to score a 30 on the ACT and being good at playing Clue.

In many ways, though, projecting the NFL Draft in any year is an act of advanced deductive reasoning, piecing together clues and hints and team needs (and history) to put together as strong of a mock as possible. A friend of mine once bristled at the notion of watching the NFL Draft, comparing it to watching paint dry. To some it might feel that way, but for me (and millions of other NFL fans) it's a rather compelling process to watch play out.

With just nine days to go until the draft, there is beginning to be somewhat of a consensus among many draft prognosticators about how the 2011 NFL Draft will play out. Here's a look at what some of the biggest plotlines are heading into the draft:

-All indications are that Carolina will draft Auburn QB Cam Newton with the #1 overall pick. Even if the Panthers still haven't officially decided on who they will take, the reported list of the team's top three players would seem to automatically tilt toward Newton. The other two names mentioned have been LSU CB Patrick Peterson and Georgia WR A.J. Green. But taking a corner with the top pick would be surprising, plus if the Panthers are not inclined to draft a defensive lineman at the top spot, it would surprise me for them to take a corner there instead. As for Green, he's an elite player, but the Panthers have much stronger needs elsewhere.

-Alabama DL Marcell Dareus is a popular projection to Denver at #2. With the Broncos going back to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4 instituted during the Josh McDaniels era, a top-notch defensive tackle would be a great choice. Dareus played DE in Alabama's 3-4 defense, but he projects very strongly as an NFL 4-3 DT prospect. Dareus has made positive impressions with most that he's met with, at least from what I've been able to learn, whereas Fairley has reportedly been less than impressive in meeting with some teams. That's a little thing in the grand scheme of things; Warren Sapp proved that you can be a colossal prick but still be a very effective 4-3 DT. But if Dareus is making good impressions and Fairley isn't, that could be enough to put Dareus over the top.

-Speaking of Dareus, my friend Darren Heitner claimed today that he was contacted by agent Todd France and threatened with a lawsuit. The reason: for posting this article which claimed that there was talk that Dareus had dropped France (of France AllPro Athlete Management) as his agent. Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal wrote this afternoon that France told her that Dareus "is still our client". My guess is that there will be no lawsuit (nasty things can come out in depositions), but it's an indication of just how high stakes the game of providing representation for professional athletes can be.

-What the Cincinnati Bengals choose to do with pick #4 will be most interesting. They desperately need a young blue chip wide receiver, and either A.J. Green or Julio Jones could be an excellent pickup for the team. At the same time, incumbent QB Carson Palmer has stated that he will never play again for the Bengals and that he'll retire (citing having $80 million in the bank) before coming back to play for Cincinnati.

Some think that the Bengals will draft Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert at #4, but I don't see it, not with so many other potentially better options being in play for Cincinnati. Even if the management in Cincinnati has decided to trade Palmer whenever a new CBA is agreed upon, taking Gabbert at #4 means passing up on elite WR talent, something that would seem to me to be a bad idea considering how good both Green and Jones have looked during off-season workouts.

My thought: the Bengals would be well-served to draft Green (or Jones) at #4, then either trade into the bottom part of round one or sit at #35 and take the best available QB there. That might be a good spot for Jake Locker to go, much more logical IMO than the many projections I've seen of him going to Washington at #10 or Minnesota at #12. Jay Gruden is bringing the west coast offense to Cincinnati, which could be a good fit for Locker. Of course I've been down on Locker for quite some time (since his horrid performance in the Huskies' home loss to Nebraska last year), but #35 seems like a much more realistic projection for him than the top twelve.

-There may be several QBs drafted in the first round, though beyond Newton and Gabbert it's a crapshoot. The reason: as usual, there is no consensus among NFL owners and GMs in evaluating the second-tier (and third-tier) QB prospects. One team's second round sleeper may be another team's untouchable guy; different teams have different needs at the QB position.

There are knocks on all of the QBs in this draft, even on Newton (only one year at Auburn) and Gabbert (ran the spread at Missouri). I'm becoming more and more bullish on TCU QB Andy Dalton in the stretch run, to the point where he might crack the Draft King first round when I redo it later this week. Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick is also receiving plenty of attention, and Florida State's Christian Ponder has quietly made some good impressions this off-season.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett is an interesting prospect, a guy with prototype size and a cannon arm. He showed great improvement in accuracy in 2010, and while he isn't speedy (he's the anti-Jake Locker in that sense), he has the physical tools to develop into a solid NFL quarterback. The Libertarian in me bristles at the alleged drug use by Mallett being brought up as a negative; he never failed a piss test at Arkansas as per Bobby Petrino, and what a player does off the field with non-PED substances really should be his own business in my opinion.

But the NFL doesn't hold my view on the subject, and the league drug tests for all sorts of things, with suspensions looming as potential penalties for failed tests. To point, the NFL is pushing for blood testing (!) for HGH in the talks for a new CBA. If even MLB's powerful union bowed to urine testing for marijuana, don't look for the NFL's players to be able to negotiate that out of the next CBA.

One interesting sidebar, brought to my attention by Jimmy Shapiro of the Zucker Media Group, is that Mallett has criticized writer Albert Breer for this article from this past January in which Breer wrote: "[Mallett's] off-field concerns are likely to affect his stock." Mallett said, "Albert doesnít know me and Albertís never been around me. Albert doesnít know what kind of guy I am."

Personally I like Mallett as a prospect probably more than most draft prognosticators, and in many ways Mallett is much more NFL-ready than many other elite QB prospects. There is perceived risk on Mallett in some circles, but it's my belief that Mallett will likely go in round two and be in position, when the opportunity arrives, to perform well thanks to his strong arm and improved accuracy.


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