The 2011 NFL Draft is in the books and like most years, there were no shortage of moments that evoked a “Did that really just happen?” As many who follow the draft know, you can have your facts, figures, and statistics ready, but in the end, it’s really a crapshoot.
This year’s draft was one of the most unique in a long time. The draft started with one set of rules, ended with another, and the NFL labor situation cast a shadow over the whole ordeal. With NFL teams not allowed to trade players, there was a more desperate vibe, more reaches than in recent memories, and an air of unknown. Does Arizona have a gentleman’s agreement with Philadelphia to land Kevin Kolb once trading resumes? If not, you have to question the Cardinals not taking a chance on a quarterback. Something tells me we will better be able to break down this draft in three or four months.
I really believe it takes at least two years to fully appreciate and rate a draft. Getting B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews in the same draft class looks a whole lot different now than it did in 2008. Same goes on the flipside – passing on Reggie Bush for Mario Williams no longer looks like one of the biggest draft mistakes as it did when the news was first announced. Still, this is a business of rapid reaction, so here are my initial thoughts on this weekend’s NFC North selections.
Green Bay Packers : B+
|1||32 (32)||Derek Sherrod||OT||Miss. State|
|2||32 (64)||Randall Cobb||WR||Kentucky|
|3||32 (96)||Alex Green||RB||Hawaii|
|4||34 (131)||Davon House||CB||New Mexico St|
|5||10 (141)||D.J. Williams||TE||Arkansas|
|6||14 (179)||Caleb Schlauderaff||OG||Utah|
|6||21 (186)||D.J. Smith||OLB||Appalachian St.|
|6||32 (297)||Ricky Elmore||OLB/DE||Arizona|
|7||15 (218)||Ryan Taylor||TE||North Carolina|
|7||30 (233)||Lawrence Guy||DT||Arizona St.|
Just like we’ve come to expect, GM Ted Thompson was patient, calculated, and successful. He stood pat at 32 when his phone was blowing up with teams looking to trade up for a QB, and walked away with a future replacement for Chad Clifton. In the last two drafts, Thompson has nabbed two young, talented tackles who will likely be protecting Aaron Rodgers for the next 10 years. For that fact alone, this draft was a success.
The theme for Green Bay has always been selecting the best player available. Randall Cobb earned a late first round grade from the Packers staff, and could be a steal when we look back at this draft five years down the road. Cobb will provide an instant live to the return game, and adds options to the offense (he can line up in the slot, as a RB, or even a wildcat QB). Green averaged 8.2 yards a carry for Hawaii, and is the scat back the Packers have been missing the last few season.
Thompson has had a run of recent success with late round picks, and the hope is that this group will show some of the same returns as the team got in 2010 from C.J. Wilson, Andrew Quarless and James Starks last year. D.J. Williams was a steal in the 5th rounds, as was fellow TE Ryan Taylor in the 7th. Taylor adds versatility as an h-back as well. Ricky Elmore has a chance to develop into a pass-rusher, and D.J. Smith could make an impact in a year or two.
Best Pick: Sherrod. He was slated to go in the 20s, and fell to the Packers at 32. He will get a chance to learn for a year or two under Chad Clifton, and will be a starter for a long time.
Questionable Move: I like a lot of what Green Bay did over the three day stretch, but I wonder if addressing the pass rush should have been a higher priority. Cobb was one of my favorite picks, but he’s a luxury for an already potent offense. This was one of the richest DE/OLB drafts in recent memory, and Green Bay didn’t get in on the action until the 6th round. Still, Thompson has been successful in the late rounds, so we’ll see what kind of production the team gets from Smith and Elmore this year.
Minnesota Vikings: C
|1||12 (12)||Christian Ponder||QB||Florida St.|
|2||11 (43)||Kyle Rudolph||TE||Notre Dame|
|4||9 (106)||Christian Ballard||DT||Iowa|
|5||8 (139)||Brandon Burton||CB||Utah|
|6||3 (168)||Demarcus Love||OT||Arkansas|
|6||5 (170)||Mistral Raymond||S||South Florida|
|6||7(172)||Brandon Fusco||C||Slippery Rock|
|6||35 (200)||Ross Homan||OLB||Ohio State|
|7||12 (215)||De’Aundre Reed||DE||Arizona|
|7||33 (236)||Stephen Burton||WR||West Texas A&M|
This draft will ultimately be graded on how Christian Ponder does as the starting quarterback. Simply put: The Vikings got nervous and flinched. Minnesota could have traded down into the 20s and still got Ponder, plus a second rounder this year, or a first rounder next year. Instead, the Vikings worried that a run on quarterbacks were coming, and made sure they got in on the action. Hindsight might be 20/20, but you have to also question why Minnesota had Ponder as the guy as opposed to an Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick? Ponder is extremely smart and a cerebral player who is the most ready to play now. But he really struggled to stay healthy at Florida State, and his arm strength could be exposed at places like Chicago and Green Bay. Minnesota clearly likes the upside of Ponder, but I think they handled the first round poorly.
That being said, Minnesota did a nice job with their next few picks. Ponder already has weapons like Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. Getting the top tight end on the board, Kyle Rudolph, makes this offense even more potent and should help in both the passing and running game. Christian Ballard fills a need at defensive tackle, and could have been a late first round pick if not for a marijuana arrest during his senior year. Burton and Love were strong picks and should see the field this next year. The sleeper of this draft class will likely be Brandon Fusco, who could be the starting center by the end of the year.
Best Pick: Fusco. It was an off the radar pick, but he’s got the physical tools to develop into an excellent player. He needs some coaching and practice time against better competition, but Fusco is an instant upgrade of John Sullivan.
Questionable Move: Ponder. The draft is not a time to get impatient, but that’s what Minnesota did. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to make sure Ponder has everything he needs to succeed immediately.
Chicago Bears: B
|1||29 (29)||Gabe Carimi||OT||Wisconsin|
|2||21 (53)||Stephen Paea||DT||Oregon State|
|3||29 (93)||Chris Conte||S||California|
|5||29 (160)||Nathan Enderle||QB||Idaho|
|6||30 (195)||J.T. Thomas||OLB||West Virginia|
While the Packers and Lions had successful drafts because they took the best players available, Chicago walked away from the draft a winner because it filled its biggest needs. Gabe Carimi was a no-brainer when he fell to 29. The Bears even tried to trade up with Baltimore to pick Carimi at 26, but in classic ‘phone tag’ fashion, miscommunication led to the Bears not informing the league office that they signed off on the trade. The blunder didn’t end up costing the Bears or Ravens, who both got their guy. Carimi gives Chicago a much-needed boost in talent on the offensive line, and he’s ready to move into the starting lineup immediately.
Chicago filled another big need in the second round picking up Paea with the 53rd pick. I had Paea going at the beginning of the second round, so he’s also a good value at this spot. With the team’s release of Tommie Harris, getting Paea was a best case scenario. He’s incredibly strong (set an NFL Combine record with 49 repetitions of 225 pounds) and will win over his teammates thanks to his excellent motor.
The final three picks do not wow me, but Chris Conte and J.T. Thomas should contribute on special teams. Conte will likely get a shot to start in training camp, and will have a good shot if Daniel Manning is not resigned. Nathan Enderle is a developmental project, but has a lot of enviable physical tools. The quarterback position is solid right now with Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie, so Enderle won’t be rushed onto the field.
Best Pick: Carimi. Chicago needed an upgrade in both its run and pass blocking, and they got the best tackle left in Carimi. Like the Wisconsin offensive linemen that have come before him, Carimi is a mauler who projects best as a right tackle. He should be a regular contributor for the next decade.
Questionable Move: Waiting until 6th round to pick a linebacker. Chicago currently has a hole on at OLB, where Pisa Tinoisamoa, Nick Roach, and Brian Uwoh all set to hit free agency. Clearly the Bears think they’ll be able to sign at least one of them back next year, but it would have made sense to hedge their bet.
Detroit Lions: A-
|1||13 (13)||Nick Fairley||DT||Auburn|
|2||12 (44)||Titus Young||WR||Boise St.|
|2||25 (57)||Mikel Leshoure||RB||Illinois|
|5||26 (157)||Douglas Hogue||OLB||Syracuse|
|7||6 (209)||Johnny Culbreath||OT||South Carolina St.|
After years of being the laughingstock of the draft weekend, Detroit has come up with three of the best drafts in recent memory. The team is no longer forcing the issue, and picking its spots to make impact moves. After picking up Ndamukung Suh last year, defensive tackle certainly was no longer a position of need. But when Fairley fell to Detroit at 13, the team made the smart move in pairing their superstar with another potential superstar. Call it a luxury pick if you wish, but the Lions now have the scariest defensive tackle combo in the league, and their NFC North brethren are shaking in their boots.
Getting Titus Young in the second round might pay off even bigger dividends for Detroit. Young is the speedy slot receiver the team has been missing since they drafted Calvin Johnson. Young will force defenses to stop shading its coverage to Megatron’s side, and will make the league’s most physically talented player even more dangerous.
The Lions traded up to select Mikel Leshoure in the second round. The team traded up in 2010 to select Jahvid Best, a move that paid off immediately. Leshoure is a thumper, who will provide to the thunder to Best’s lightning. He also adds extra insurance in case Best continues to battle with injuries. The running back position is now set for the next five years. Hogue will challenge for a starting job in training camp, while Culbreath projects to be a developmental prospect, though he does possess good size.
Best Pick: Fairley. He adds instant talent to an already solid defensive line. The rich got even richer.
Questionable Move: Passing on need positions. The Lions biggest offseason needs were linebacker and cornerback, but only one pick (Hogue) addressed either need. With a number of their top cornerbacks set to hit free agency, the Lions need a lot of help in the secondary. If the team cannot resign Chris Houston, this could be an egregious error.
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This post was written by Stephen on May 4, 2011