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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

April 8, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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The 2011 NFL Draft is scheduled for later this month, but from all indications the NFL and its players won't have a new collective bargaining agreement in place by the time Commissioner Goodell reads the first pick on April 28. I've been prognosticating about the upcoming draft for some time now with the idea that there won't be a new CBA in place before it happens, meaning that players can't be traded and, more importantly, free agents can't be signed before the draft takes place. This detail is one worthy of close examination.

Consider for a moment the plight of the 2010 Arizona Cardinals, a team two years removed from a Super Bowl berth and the NFC Championship, struggling mightily on offense thanks in large part to the retirement of QB Kurt Warner. The inability of 2006 first-round pick Matt Leinart to find his groove as an NFL QB ultimately lead to him being cut before the season. Derek Anderson (still living off his great 2007 season) struggled at QB, and finally, out of desperation, Arizona turned to rookies John Skelton (round five out of Fordham) and Max Hall (undrafted rookie out of BYU).

In a normal year, the Cardinals could have traded for Kevin Kolb or Donovan McNabb or Vince Young, or hope that McNabb or Young would be outright cut and then signed. But they can't do that right now, not without a new CBA in place, and it's looking more and more like we won't see a new CBA before the draft.

This understandably creates a tough decision for Arizona. Perhaps they'd like to take either Texas A&M OLB/DE Von Miller or Clemson OLB/DE Da'Quan Bowers at #5 to fill the spot that Karlos Dansby vacated when he left as a free agent after the 2009 season. But would they pass on top QB prospects Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert at #5 knowing that there is a potential huge risk that they might not end up with a servicable second-round QB? Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett might fall to their pick in round two... but they also might not. Speaking of Newton, most major mock drafts are now projecting him as the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. I'm one of the holdouts, still listing a defensive lineman (Marcell Dareus) in that position. But I might finally cave in and list Newton in that top spot as well.

Carolina has very little to gain from bluffing, particularly in this year where they won't be able to negotiate a contract with the #1 pick ahead of the draft absent a new CBA. This column by Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer reveals that the Panthers think highly of three top prospects: Newton, LSU CB Patrick Peterson, and Georgia WR A.J. Green. Other media reports back up that idea, and almost all reporters seem to believe that if the Panthers take a QB at #1, it will be Newton.

The fact that no defensive linemen are even in the conversation at this point is telling. Even though that is perceived by some (including me) as a need for the Panthers, it appears that they won't go with a defensive lineman at the top spot. Carolina used a second-round pick on Jimmy Clausen last year, and despite him having been just a rookie last season, it seems that many have already soured on Clausen's long-term NFL potential.

Of course, it's way too early to know for sure on Clausen, and Panthers GM Marty Hurney is the guy who drafted him last year. Don't discount the possibility of Peterson just because he plays cornerback. The NFL hasn't had a corner go #1 overall since 1956, but the wait may end at 55 years later this month if the Panthers decide that Peterson is the best choice for them.

Hurney was on Pro Football Talk Live today and said what I've believed to be the case up to this point, that the team hasn't decided yet who they will take at the top spot. Hurney confirmed that he will make the final decision on who the team will draft but that he is working closely with new head coach Ron Rivera. But it seems that the Panthers have a short list in place of Newton, Peterson, and Green, and I would be surprised if one of those three doesn't go to Carolina at #1.


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