Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 2:17 p.m.
By Ray Didinger
Looking back at the highs and lows and in-betweens of the 2011 NFL draft
A scary thought
The Detroit Lions might actually be good this season. The Lions won six games last year after winning only three of the previous 40 games. In this draft, they added Nick Fairley, the ferocious pass rusher from Auburn, to a defensive line that already has Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Life just got a lot tougher for the quarterbacks in the NFC North.
The Lions also drafted Titus Young, an explosive DeSean Jackson-type receiver from Fresno State, to team with star receiver Calvin Johnson. Now if they can just keep their quarterback Matthew Stafford healthy, the Lions could really make some noise.
The right fit
Jimmy Smith, the talented but wayward cornerback from Colorado, was drafted by Baltimore with the 27th pick in the first round. He would not have been a fit for other teams (including the Eagles) but he could have success in Baltimore because they have such strong veteran leadership with linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. If Smith gets out of line, either Lewis or Reed will be in his face and thats what he needs.
Making a statement
The Atlanta Falcons served notice they are going for it all. They traded four draft picks, including next years No. 1, to Cleveland to jump from the 27th spot in the first round to the sixth spot so they could draft Julio Jones, the receiver from Alabama. It was a bold move and many draft analysts felt the Falcons gave up too much.
But the Falcons are getting itchy. They have three consecutive winning seasons, a franchise first, but no playoff wins to show for it. Last season, they had the NFCs best record (13-3) and then imploded in a 48-21 home playoff loss to Green Bay. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith felt they had to do something soon to get over the hump.
In Jones, they acquired a 6-2, 220-pound receiver with 4.39 speed in the 40. He won two of three head-to-head matchups with blue-chip cornerback Patrick Peterson (LSU) and he will team with Roddy White (league-high 115 receptions) and tight end Tony Gonzalez to give quarterback Matt Ryan a dazzling array of targets. Scoring points will not be a problem in Atlanta.
But what about the defense? The Falcons allowed 78 points in their last two playoff losses so thats where they really came up short. They drafted only two defensive players linebacker Akeem Dent (second round) and end Cliff Matthews (South Carolina) so they will be active shoppers whenever the free agent market opens for business.
What else is new?
The Pittsburgh Steelers had another solid draft. The Steelers offensive and defensive systems are so well established by now that they know exactly the kind of players that fit their needs and year after year, they draft rookies who step right in. They did it again this year drafting Cameron Heyward, a classic 3-4 defensive end, in the first round and the 6-6, 330-pound offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second. Cornerback Curtis Brown is a welcome addition to a secondary that needed an upgrade.
What else is new II?
Once again the Oakland Raiders drafted the player who ran the fastest 40 at the combine. When DeMarcus Van Dyke was clocked in 4.28 seconds, he jumped to the top of owner Al Davis draft board just as Jacoby Ford did last year and Darrius Heyward-Bey did the year before that. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether Davis is trying to win a Super Bowl or the Olympic 4x100 relay. The Raiders took Van Dyke, a cornerback from Miami, in the third round.
A step ahead
New Englands Bill Belichick is a master in working the draft and this year was no exception. After all the maneuvering was done, he had added a quality left tackle (Nate Solder), a tenacious cover corner (Ras-I Dowling), two versatile running backs (Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley) and quarterback Ryan Mallett who has all the tools but also more baggage than US Air.
As a pure passer, the 6-6 Mallett is better than all the quarterbacks taken ahead of him, including Cam Newton who went first overall to Carolina. He can make all the throws required of an NFL quarterback. But his history of off-the-field problems and his lack of maturity in dealing with them caused him to fall to the third round where Belichick took him with the 74th overall pick.
Belichicks thinking is clear: Bring Mallett in and let him apprentice under Tom Brady who was a sixth round draft pick, by the way and hope he matures into the player he is capable of being. If Mallett screws up, Belichick will just cut him and move on.
The big fall
It is still hard to believe DaQuan Bowers fell all the way to the 51st pick. At one time, the 6-3, 280-pound defensive end from Clemson was projected as the first overall pick in the draft, but the uncertain condition of his knee had some teams take him off their board. Tampa Bay, a team desperate to improve its pass rush, finally drafted him late in the second round. If Bowers can work himself back into shape, the Buccaneers will have the steal of the draft because he certainly will come into the league with something to prove.
The big reach
I like Christian Ponder, but the 12th overall pick in the draft? Minnesota could have traded down six or seven spots and still landed Ponder. The Viking brass panicked, but they recovered with three good picks in a row tight end Kyle Rudolph, defensive tackle Christian Ballard and cornerback Brandon Burton.
Getting the breaks
A little luck never hurts and the New York Giants got plenty in this draft as cornerback Prince Amukamara fell in their lap at No. 19 and defensive tackle Marvin Austin stayed on the board until their turn at No. 52. I was shocked Amukamara was not selected in the top 12. He will be a very good pro corner and Austin can be a big-time pass rusher if he gets his head on straight.
The best draft is
I thought the Giants, the Lions and the Patriots did very well, but I give New Orleans an A-plus. They landed defensive end Cameron Jordan, a top 15 value, at the 24th spot, then traded up to the 28th spot to get running back Mark Ingram. In the third round, the Saints got the best inside linebacker in the draft, Martez Wilson of Illinois, and a skilled corner in Johnny Patrick of Louisville. They may also have a seventh round steal in Pitts Greg Romeus, a powerful pass rusher coming off a knee injury.
The worst draft is
The Vikings and Tennessee (drafting Jake Locker at No. 8) had me scratching my head, but I thought Seattles draft was the most puzzling. They needed a quarterback but did not select one and surprised everyone taking offensive tackle James Carpenter with the 25th pick. He was projected as a late second rounder (at best) by most draft analysts.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org
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