Draft's over, but QB questions linger
Teams such as Cardinals and Redskins still lack resolution; what are their options now?
For the most part during the 2011 NFL draft, teams tended to stick to the ratings on their draft boards rather than reach for needs.
The exceptions were clearly the Titans and Vikings, who used the No. 8 and No. 12 choices in the first round, respectively, to ensure they had quarterbacks. The Titans grabbed Jake Locker and the Vikings took Christian Ponder. Rather than wait indefinitely to see what would happen in free agency or via trades, both teams, sensing they wouldn't get their quarterbacks by waiting until the second round, made bold moves to fill football's most important position.
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Overall, it was a fascinating draft. Even though trades of current NFL players weren't allowed, there were still 22 swaps of picks. Worries about whether there will be a 2012 draft probably watered down teams' desires to accept 2012 draft choices. Only five 2012 picks were moved, including first-rounders for the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, and a second-rounder for the Oakland Raiders.
Let's review the interesting trends from the 2011 draft.
1. QB issues remain: A dozen teams entered the draft with perceived quarterback needs, but only six really resolved them in the first two rounds. The first-round selections by the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Locker) and Vikings (Ponder) addressed those teams' issues. The fact that the Titans and Vikings used high first-round selections on QBs is probably bad news for the Philadelphia Eagles (trying to trade Kevin Kolb), Matt Hasselbeck and Donovan McNabb, because the price and commitment of getting those quarterbacks will make trades difficult.
The Jaguars hit the lottery when Blaine Gabbert slipped slightly and they were able to trade up to the No. 10 spot to get him. In San Francisco, second-round pick Colin Kaepernick is the long-term option -- not the short-term option -- for coach Jim Harbaugh; Alex Smith is expected to be the quarterback this year. Andy Dalton is Marvin Lewis' quarterback in Cincinnati at the cost of only a second-round pick.
What's that leave for everyone else? The Redskins are leaning toward having John Beck as their starter. The Cardinals are focused on Marc Bulger. The Broncos still have Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. The Bills, who had the No. 3 pick, elected to bolster their defense with Marcell Dareus instead of taking a quarterback. They'll stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick in the short term. The Seahawks have to decide if they want to go with Charlie Whitehurst or re-sign Hasselbeck. The debate in Miami is whether to spend big and trade for Kolb or sign a veteran like Hasselbeck. The way this draft played out, though, may minimize the bidding on Kolb.
2. CBs at a premium in AFC North: The way this draft and recent drafts have played out enhanced the value of cornerbacks in the AFC North. Looking back, this makes Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome look potentially brilliant for taking cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round. The AFC North added wide receivers A.J. Green (Cincinnati), Torrey Smith (Baltimore) and Greg Little (Cleveland). Mike Wallace continues to develop in Pittsburgh.
Those additions will put the pressure on the Steelers to re-sign Ike Taylor, the Bengals to re-sign Johnathan Joseph and the Ravens to re-sign Chris Carr or Josh Wilson. The Steelers got lucky by getting cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the third and fourth rounds.
3. NFC South intrigue: If the frenzy of the draft carries over to free agency in the NFC South, networks need to book those teams for more prime-time games. The Falcons traded five prime draft choices to add wide receiver Julio Jones to their passing attack. That left them without an impact pass-rusher, so expect them to pay big for one in free agency. The win-now philosophy continues in New Orleans, with the Saints giving up a first-rounder next year for running back Mark Ingram, along with coach Sean Payton saying he is keeping Reggie Bush. We'll see about that, because Bush is probably not taking a pay cut and might push to get out of a crowded backfield that is now filled with four talented backs -- Bush, Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.
What will be interesting to see is if NFC South general managers push to upgrade left-tackle blocking now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, and the Saints drafted Cameron Jordan in the first round.
4. Lions on the upswing: Perhaps no team maximized the draft more than the Detroit Lions, who have been doing things right under general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz. Their top three choices -- defensive tackle Nick Fairley, wide receiver Titus Young and halfback Mikel Leshoure -- were bulletproof from criticism because all three players had high ratings. The previous administration often lost focus if a targeted player in a round slipped away, forcing it to reach for a selection that eventually didn't work out.
The gains the Lions made last offseason should also be noted. Using 2011 draft picks as trade compensation, Detroit picked up five productive players at key positions: guard Rob Sims, defensive end Lawrence Jackson, backup quarterback Shaun Hill and cornerbacks Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith.
5. Offensive lines of sight: Which offensive line will improve the most -- the one Tom Cable left in Oakland or the one he is taking over in Seattle? Cable, the fired Raiders coach, leaves an offensive line in Oakland that has five unrestricted free agents: guard Robert Gallery, center Samson Satele and tackles Langston Walker, Khalif Barnes and Mario Henderson. Cable takes over a Seahawks line that isn't expected to bring back center Chris Spencer or right tackle Sean Locklear and might not keep right tackle Stacy Andrews, who was a high-priced backup guard last season.
The Raiders used a second-round choice on Stefen Wisniewski to be a possible center and a third-rounder on Joe Barksdale to be a possible tackle. The Raiders plan to use Bruce Campbell, last year's raw fourth-round choice, as a potential starter to go with Jared Veldheer, who didn't fare too badly playing for Cable as a rookie.
As Seattle's offensive line coach, Cable endorsed drafting Alabama tackle James Carpenter in the first round and Wisconsin guard John Moffitt in the third. The other question is whether Gallery comes to Seattle to be the left guard if free agency starts.
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