1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB Auburn
The Panthers pulled the trigger on a potential superstar here. Newton is an incredible athlete Capable of things that are nothing short of mind boggling. Prime concerns with Newton are a learning curve as he transitions from the spread offense that he ran in college to a more pro style system with the Carolina Panthers. There have also been some concerns about whether Newton’s running abilities will be as effective at the pro level among fast and stronger defenders than he faced. That being said the Panthers had to make a call on how to get themselves out of the cellar. The Panthers have a TON of work to do in almost every area but Newton is, in my view, a step in the right direction.
2. Denver Broncos: Von Miller, OLB Texas A&M
John Fox went defense here…good. Denver’s defense was horrible last year against the run. While Miller is suspect against the run his abilities to rush the passer are almost unquestionable. Miller has evolved since his freshman year from a diva who consistently missed class into a real hard worker and a class act. Miller will be a good addition to the Denver defense and should make an exciting pairing with 2009 Sack leader Elvis Dumervil.
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, DT Alabama
It wasn’t the pick I made, but it was the pick that the Bills needed and my hat’s off to them for that. The Bills also had an atrocious run defense last year, whereas their offense was ok. The Bills ignored the temptation to take the much over hyped Blaine Gabbert here and instead chose a player they can build a defense around as the Bills attempt to claw their way back to respectability.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: AJ Green, WR Georgia
Bust proof. That’s really the only way to start a paragraph concerning newly minted Bengals receiver AJ Green. Green is the next in a long line of play making wide outs who have gone in the first round recently. Among those counted on this list are Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson& Andre Johnson. Good company to be in as AJ Green marks the end to the Ochocinco era and brings a field stretching threat to a potentially potent Cincy pass attack.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB LSU
Great pick by the Cardinals, Peterson comes into another tired defense and makes their job much easier by simply taking away half of the field. Peterson is a fantastic prospect with coverage skills that are vaguely similar to sealing somebody in a biodome. Cornerback wasn’t a massive need for the Cardinals but they realized an opportunity here and they took it.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, WR Alabama
Shocking trade by the Falcons (two first round picks and some picks in the 4th) to move up to #6 to grab Julio Jones, interesting choice. The Falcons needed a #2 receiver to put opposite Roddy White and Jones may fit the bill to perfection. Was it worth the trade? We’ll find out this season!
7. San Francisco 49ers: Aldon Smith, DE Mizzou
I was left scratching my head on this one. The 49ers have very real needs at quarterback as the only quarterback who looks to be coming back is named Alex Smith and the people of San Francisco have had 5 years to note how much better things might have been if they had drafted Aaron Rodgers. Yet with his first draft pick as NFL coach Jim Harbaugh decided on a defensive end. Smith is an up and coming junior from Mizzou who will probably be very productive in a very solid 49er defense that is lead by 3X Pro Bowler, Patrick Willis
8. Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker, QB Washington
Billed as the “anti Vince Young” the Titans chose Washington QB Jake Locker. Locker was once heralded as “Tim Tebow, if Tim Tebow could throw” and was projected to be going #1 this time last year. After a return to school to claim a bowl win over a fearsome Nebraska defense that harassed him into interceptions and an all around bad showing in a regular season defeat, Locker brings some possible stability to a Titans franchise that is clearly rebuilding despite having home run threat and former 2000 yard rusher, Chris Johnson.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT USC
The Cowboys take a lineman in the first round for the first time since Jerry Jones started being “the Boss” in Dallas. A three year starter at the right tackle spot on the USC Smith is a solid prospect with a huge amount of upside and a high ceiling as a prototypical left tackle.
10 Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert, QB Mizzou
Gabbert took a bit of a tumble to a spot originally occupied by the Redskins who traded down in the ever-present quest for more draft picks. Gabbert is never going to be elite, not probably, never but Gabbert will be a solid starter for this still young Jaguars team that is looking to take control of the house that Peyton Manning built. In my opinion Jacksonville would have been better served finding somebody ready to play right away but Gene Smith has an apparent vision and Blaine Gabbert is right in the middle of it.
11 Houston Texans: JJ Watt, DE Wisconsin
The Texans had two ways that they could go with this draft pick, cornerback and defensive end as they transition to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 set in an effort to improve a defense that routinely blew games for a very impressive offensive unit. The good news is that the Texans are stacked at nearly every skill position with starters by the name of Andre Johnson Matt Schaub and Rushing leader Arian Foster. Bad news is that the pass defense was one of the NFL’s worst last season (I’m guessing everyone has already seen Glover Quinn’s moment of glory?). In JJ Watt the Texans make a great pick to pair with or replace 2006 #2 overall selection, Mario Williams. Watt is an impressive player who is as Jon Gruden so accurately put it “a self made man” who went from being a blocking tight end at Central Michigan to playing Defensive End at Wisconsin.
12 Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder, QB Florida State
Seriously? No, seriously? That was about all I could say for about 5 minutes after the Vikings shocked everyone in attendance and just about every person in Minnesota who hasn’t switched allegiance to the Packers (and to those people I can only shake my head in deep disappointment). Ponder is smart, very smart and has a good arm and had some Heisman hype coming into the past season. But the guy just cannot stay healthy and was a high second round prospect at best in my view. The Vikings probably could have and should have traded down and snagged Ponder in the second and focused time on a defensive end. Also the Vikings have been plagued of late with injuries to their cornerbacks (Antoine Winfield has not looked 100% since he hurt his ankle and Cedric Griffin is a miracle if he comes back even close to as good as he was following his injury). That the Vikings let a grade A prospect like Prince Amukamara slip by them in favor of a quarterback who could have waited till later in the draft was a deplorable lapse by the Vikings regime.
13Detroit Lions: Nick Fairley, DT Auburn
Around the time that this pick was announced the Bears, Packers and Vikings threw up a prayer that their interior line held up in the face of a suddenly fierce Detroit defensive line. The Lions decided here that they would place priority on finding somebody to somehow make Ndamukong Suh more scary than they would protecting Stafford’s blind side. Jeff Backus can only hold up for so much longer but it’s hard to fault the Lions for this selection because a Suh-Fairley tandem is going to be a nightmare to deal with.
14 St. Louis Rams: Robert Quinn, DE North Carolina
With Julio Jones off the board the Rams made the smart choice and looked defense with this pick. Content to find a playmaker for Sam Bradford in a later round (and they did but more on that in offseason questions, which will be coming soon) the Rams selected an absolute monster in Robert Quinn. The Rams have all the makings of a possible dynasty of NFC West championships considering the epic floundering that is going on in the rest of the division at the quarterback position. Watch out for the Rams to be in the playoff conversation this season.
15 Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, C Florida
There are three words that can regularly be heard in draft analysis and those words are the same words one might use to describe a failed relationship (shoulda, coulda, woulda). In this case I should have seen this draft pick coming as I had heard rumors that Miami was looking to improve their interior protection, the Dolphins could have had a top running back prospect to take pressure off Chad Henne who just isn’t ready for prime time, and I would have pulled the trigger on that pick.
16 Washington Redskins: Ryan Kerrigan, DE Purdue
It’s always a shame to see somebody be told they have to play for the Redskins. Nothing personal but this organization has been dysfunctional for years and I have deep seated issues with Mike Shanahan. That being said the Redskins have a solid character player and versatile defensive end who will add well to a team that clearly has a long way to go before they can even begin to think about going to the playoffs.
17 New England Patriots: Nate Solder, OT Colorado
Well played Belichick, well played. With this Belichick takes a line prospect with good upside and the frame that one would look for when assessing a prospect. Nobody knows better than Belichick the importance of protecting your quarterback. In Solder Belichick has plan B if Matt Light leaves in free agency.
18 San Diego Chargers: Corey Liuget, DT Illinois
The Chargers add some defensive talent here as the Chargers come back from a season where they didn’t win the AFC West, something that was totally unthinkable just a few months ago. Phillip Rivers will be glad of the help as he tries once again to strap the team to his back and launch them into the Super Bowl that his right arm has been promising San Diego for years.
19New York Giants: Prince Amukamara, CB Nebraska
Massive steal here for the Giants, never in any of the drafts, predictions and endless coverage that I watched was there any idea that Prince Amukamara would last this long. Amukamara has tremendous speed and good coverage skills. What’s more the ceiling is fairly high on Aumkamara because originally he was recruited to Nebraska to play running back and only afterwards was moved to cornerback. The Giants add a potential shutdown corner to an already potent defensive mix.
20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE Iowa
Nice choice here for the Buccaneers as they add another youthful player to a squad that should have made the playoffs last season and was denied by a BS rule about division winners automatically making the playoffs (even if that division has made the decision to try playing the game without quarterbacks). Clayborn joins a (for lack of a better nickname) Fearsome Foursome in sophomore defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price and rookie Da’Quan Bowers. This Bucs unit is literally bursting with potential to really ruin Matt Ryan, Jimmy Clausen/Cam Newton, and Drew Brees’ collective days.
21 Cleveland Browns: Phil Taylor, NT Baylor
The Browns make a shrewd choice here selecting Shaun Rogers replacement while making off with the Falcons’ first rounder for 2012. Maybe this Holmgren guy knows a thing or two about football. Taylor is a massive force who should provide support to a Browns unit that faces potent running games in the Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall and the Ravens’ Ray Rice.
22 Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Castonzo, OT Boston College
And so it begins. The Colts’ offensive line has gotten long in the tooth in recent years and struggled mightily this year to protect Peyton “Nobody knows who the Colts are without me” Manning. Manning will be glad of the support as he looks to capture another Super Bowl ring so he can stop hearing all this hype about some guy named Tom Brady.
23 Philadelphia Eagles: Danny Watkins, G Baylor
I’ve got a riddle, what do you do when you have arguably the most dangerous corps of skill players in the NFL? If you said “Protect your quarterback” congratulations! You have common sense. If I had to pick a team that is most likely to genuinely frighten a defense I would go with the Eagles, between Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek and Michael Vick the Eagles can and will score from anywhere and everywhere. Vick shocked the world this past season by showing that he has learned to read defenses, check down when necessary, and go through more than one progression before sprinting away. You know what makes all of these things easier? Time. Vick will certainly be happy of the extra time and frankly just the amazing life story of Danny Watkins. Watkins is from Canada and grew up wanting to be, and is a fireman whose entire engine showed up to cheer loudly for him at the draft. Watkins originally played rugby and went on to be a very good offensive lineman at Baylor. While at the age of 25 Watkins is older than most prospects and doesn’t have as much time you can’t really be mad at a choice like this.
24 New Orleans Saints: Cameron Jordan, DE Cal
The Saints are a team with few true needs, so they added to their defensive line with a prospect who I was shocked to see last this long. Jordan is one half of a VERY good first round for the Saints. We’ll get to the other guy in a couple of picks.
25 Seattle Seahawks: James Carpenter, G/T Alabama
First thoughts of many people after this selection was announced “Who is James Carpenter?” To answer this question, James Carpenter was a tackle in one of the most bruising offensive line units I have seen. That is to say that James Carpenter is part of the Alabama offensive line. The unit has been described as (due in no small part to Carpenter) Mauling, brutal, incredibly physical, and talented. Many had Carpenter with a late second round grade so I’m going to say this may have been a reach with other prospects still on the board that could have been a help to Seattle.
26 Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Baldwin, WR Pitt
The events surrounding this pick were interesting to say the least. The Ravens were originally slated to pick at #26 but ran out of time after failing to secure a deal with the Bears. As a result they “passed” and the Chiefs chose in their stead. The Chiefs selected Jonathan Baldwin a 6’4” coverage nightmare with tremendous body control and the ability to leap spectacularly and grab balls most can’t even think of touching. He should be a good compliment to Dwayne Bowe who appeared to come into his own last year.
27 Baltimore Ravens: Jimmy Smith, CB Colorado
Color me skeptical as far as this pick is concerned. Smith is a good player and fills an area of desperate need for the Ravens, an area that may well have cost them a shot at the AFC Championship game. But Smith has a number of red flags after reportedly failing three separate drug tests at the combine that ultimately cost him a shot at being in the top 15. Maybe it’s nit picking but I can’t recall anyone ever looking less excited to be told that they’re going to be an NFL player. Smith may be a headcase, on the upside for Ravens fans he’s in a locker room with Ray Lewis who will certainly do his best to help Smith get his act together.
28 New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram, RB Alabama
Now there’s that other prospect I was talking about earlier. The Saints trade their first rounder for 2012 for a tremendously talented back in Alabama’s Mark Ingram. Ingram is not the fastest RB in the draft (that title went to Oakland’s Taiwan Jones) but he’s a hard nosed runner who fights for every inch and is tremendous after contact.
29 Chicago Bears: Gabe Carimi, OT Wisconsin
The Bears drafted for need here and if you are Jay Cutler you say thank you 1000X over. The Bears line was horrible last year giving up 60 sacks and even more hits on QB Jay Cutler. Without having had a first round pick in two years the Bears’ Jerry Angelo redeems himself somewhat by picking a potential starter for years to come.
30 New York Jets: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE Temple
The Jets add another great prospect to their defense. The Jets are sort of like the “Anti Texans” they have great coverage, actually superb coverage between Antonio Cromartie and All universe cornerback Darelle Revis. But next to no pass rush and depend on the wacky blitz packages of head coach Rex Ryan. With Wilkerson the Jets get a pass rusher to give Tom Brady yet another thing to think about in New Meadowlands stadium.
31 Pittsburgh Steelers: Cameron Heyward, DE Ohio State
The Steelers add another face to their defensive line unit. I suspect that this pick was really more for the sake of depth than it was need as the Steelers already have a great defensive front in Brett Keisel, his beard and the other two guys on the line.
32 Green Bay Packers: Derek Sherrod, OT Mississippi State
A year ago the Packers realized that Aaron Rodgers on his feet was better than Aaron Rodgers on the ground. One year later the Packers decided this logic still made sense, hence Derek Sherrod.