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Draft King Analysis

April 27, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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We're less than 24 hours from the start of the 2011 NFL Draft, and after months of speculation the three-day event has arrived. Here are some of the major draft storylines heading into tomorrow night:

-Despite the ruling by Judge Susan Doty ending the NFL lockout, don't expect to see any trades involving players at the draft. The NFL is setting up its appeal, and as the league showed yesterday, the ruling by Judge Doty to end the lockout is not one that the NFL plans to follow, at least not right away. There will be plenty of time to discuss this after the draft, but the main thing to know is that the trading of players likely won't happen this weekend, nor will teams be able to begin the oft-overlooked, but nonetheless important, tradition of signing undrafted free agents as quickly as possible. Note to the UFL: this is your chance to swoop in and land some talent.

-As I revealed on the Batchelor Pad show yesterday, it's my belief that the Panthers made up their mind to slate Cam Newton as their #1 overall pick after his strong workout in San Diego that took place shortly after the 2011 NFL Combine. Some believe this is an attempt by Carolina to entice a team to move up to #1 to get Newton for themselves, but I don't buy it, not with the Panthers seeming to be disinterested in any defensive line prospects for the #1 spot. LSU CB Patrick Peterson may be a shocker pick, but I don't think so.

Remember human nature: if QB isn't addressed and Jimmy Clausen struggles in 2011/2012, the blame will go to Carolina GM Marty Hurney, who drafted Clausen. If Hurney goes along with what owner Jerry Richardson wants (it's said he's bullish on Newton) and also in what perhaps new coach Ron Rivera wants and drafts Newton, even if Clausen struggles in camp he will have protected himself. Never underestimate the CYA (cover your ass) factor in these situations.

-I've heard Alabama DL Marcell Dareus and Texas A&M OLB/DE Von Miller listed as #2/#3 somewhat interchangeably in the stretch run. Denver is putting a new 4-3 defense in place, and they might like Miller as a 4-3 DE prospect... though I'm thinking that Dareus as a DT prospect will trump him. But it wouldn't surprise me for Buffalo to take whichever player of the two that Denver takes. Ideal for Buffalo might be Washington trading up from #10 to Denver's pick at #2 to land Blaine Gabbert (as has been rumored), giving Buffalo the chance to pick between Dareus or Miller.

-Even though the QB situation is up in the air for Cincy with Carson Palmer proclaiming his plans to retire rather than return as the Bengals QB for 2011, they really need a young blue-chip WR with Terrell Owens gone and Chad Ochocinco likely gone but at most staying on board through 2011. Passing on A.J. Green would be tricky for Cincinnati, particularly if Green ended up in Cleveland. I don't think what Cleveland wants to do at #6 will hold much weight with what Cincy does at #4, but the Bengals could be haunted by passing on Green.

-Arizona at #5 is a mystery in some ways. Do they go QB with Blaine Gabbert? Hope that Von Miller falls to them so they can truly replace Karlos Dansby, whose absence on defense was notable in 2010? Surprise some by drafting UNC's Robert Quinn to play OLB in their 3-4? Draft 220-pound Patrick Peterson (despite having the outstanding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner) and possibly turn him into a safety -- or keep him at corner? Trade down if Washington is offering all kinds of picks to move up from #10 to #5 to get Gabbert if he's still on the board? By this point the Cards should have several plans in place for the various possible scenarios, but we likely won't know until their card is read (or ESPN and/or NFLN spoil the pick, my most disliked "advancement" in draft coverage over the past ten years).

-Cleveland at #6 has two major needs: a top-flight WR and finding guys to fit their new 4-3 defense. Quinn as a DE and Nick Fairley as a DT are options. Peterson may be too tempting for them to pass up, though with Florida CB Joe Haden as their 2010 first round pick having played so well as a rookie, he'd pretty much have to be seen as a safety prospect. I think the right move will be Alabama WR Julio Jones, who for a brief period this off-season actually leapfrogged A.J. Green on some draft boards (but not mine).

-San Francisco at #7 needs a QB but also could really use Peterson. Every 49ers fan I have communicated with has told me that they want Peterson and not a QB (be it Gabbert or Locker or even Newton). We'll see if they get their wish. They could face a problem if Peterson is gone and they don't like the remaining QBs on the board enough to take one at #7. Would they then stretch to take Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara? Or go for a front seven defensive guy, perhaps a quick OLB prospect?

-Tennessee has a huge QB need at #8, but they could also go with Peterson if he falls (unlikely but not impossible) or popular projection DT Nick Fairley. Titans fans I've talked with in Nashville are excited about the possibility of having Fairley at DT and a back-from-surgery DE in Derrick Morgan, though the QB uncertainty remains a problem. I'm not sure what Vince Young did that so offended the Titans brass, but even with Jeff Fisher gone, the team has made it clear that Young won't be back in a Titans uniform in 2011. I still think Vince Young can do great things in the NFL, and he's a multiple-time Pro Bowl selection with reason as when he's healthy he can do things that few others can do at the QB spot. The real shame would be for the Titans to give him away for nothing, though that won't come into play until after the draft is over.

-Despite a few red herrings that have come out in the past few days, I think Dallas taking USC OT Tyron Smith will happen if he's on the board at #9 and if Dallas doesn't trade down. The Cowboys have never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman in the Jerry Jones era, but Jones has made it clear that he's willing to use a first-rounder on an offensive lineman and the Smith-to-Dallas rumors leaked out many weeks ago. Dallas is in a tough spot since their major needs don't fit with the talent likely to be on the board when they draft at #9, and I don't believe there is a bona fide top ten offensive lineman prospect in this draft, but Smith looks like the most likely fit for the spot at this point. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt is the best pure 3-4 DE prospect in the draft, which might make him a consideration, but a 3-4 DE isn't necessarily a prudent selection at #9 overall.

-The further you get from the top spot, the more difficult it becomes to accurately project what will happen, both because of trades and also because teams that may agree on the top prospect at a given position usually are much less likely to hold prospects #2-5 in the same order. Washington at #10 is where it begins getting really tricky to accurately project, in part because of how many needs the team has and in part because of how many cooks are in the kitchen there.


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