Carolina took Jimmy Clausen with its first pick last year (in the second round). But they've obviously given up on him after a single year in which the Panthers fielded one of the worst passing attacks in recent memory (32nd in Passer Rating and Passing YPA). Cam Newton will certainly fill seats after a season for the ages at Auburn (2,854 passing yards, 30 TD, 7 INT, 1,473 rushing yards, Heisman Trophy, national title). But he's very thin on experience: just 292 pass attempts in college. He's a project with huge risk but great gifts and great potential upside.
The Broncos made a necessary play to fix major holes on defense by picking Von Miller. He was a devastating pass-rushing linebacker for the Aggies, with 27 sacks over the past two years, including an incredible 17 as a junior in 2009. He's also versatile, and played defensive end. Miller was the top linebacker on most boards, including ours, that values onfield production over hype, headlines and combine workouts. Denver desperately needs the help: dead last in 2010 in scoring defense (29.4 PPG) and sacks (23).
Dareus is a versatile interior lineman who played for the dominant defenses at Alabama under Nick Saban, one of the great defensive coaches in college football and a great producer of pro talent. The Bills certainly drafted smartly for need. They were dead last in 2010 in both run defense (allowing 4.76 YPA) and on our Defensive Hog Index, which measures defensive fronts in several key areas. The potential downside? There were several interior defensive lineman available who gave more dominant production inside than Dareus's 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Bad organizations make bad draft-day decisions. The Bengals are a bad organization. And they made yet another bad draft-day decision. First-round wide receivers have an incredibly high rate of failure in the NFL. And the team has already tried and failed to win under the mistaken assumption that teams are built around wide receivers. Green is a great talent and could become a big-time NFL wideout. Regardless, the Bengals would have been better served with a stud interior lineman or pass rusher to shore up a defense that ranked 21st against the run (4.43 YPA) and 24th at rushing the passer (sack or INT on 7.95 percent of dropbacks).
The most obvious need was at quarterback, where the Cardinals failed miserably last year in their effort to replace Kurt Warner. But the uber-talented Peterson was just too appealing to pass up with the No. 5 pick. He's a big, fast and very young (turns 21 in July) playmaker at the most important position on defense, cornerback. He should instantly inject life into a unit that ranked 30th in scoring defense last year (27.1 PPG).
Atlanta traded up with Cleveland for the No. 6 pick. They had two obvious needs: a playmaker in the passing game and a playmaker on the defensive line. They opted for the former with Jones, who was an open-field gamebreaker in Alabama's run-first offense. Again, picking WRs high in the draft is almost always a bad decision. There's a high fate of failure at a position that really has minimal impact on the success of a team, despite the NFL's obsession with the position. But the Falcons felt the need to give QB Matt Ryan some help: despite his big-time rep, Atlanta ranked just 19th last year in average per pass attempt.
Smith was a defensive end at Missouri who projects as a pass-rushing outside linebacker with the 49ers. Size is an issue for the lanky defender (6-4, 263) in run defense. In either case, it's a very curious selection: the defensive front was San FRancisco's greatest strength in 2010. They were No. 2 in run defense (3.46 YPA) and No. 10 overall on our Defensive Hog Index. New coach Jim Harbaugh most love Smith's potential, because the team has much greater needs elsewhere, especially on offense, where they scored just 19.1 PPG last year.
Locker is the first big shock of the draft: most experts had him projected as, at best, the third quarterback taken in the draft, after No. 1 pick Newton and then Blaine Gabbert. The Titans need help at the position, where Vince Young is out and Kerry Collins is old. Not sure Locker is the answer. He's very inaccurate. He completed just 55.4 percent of his passes in 2010, after a big effort by Washington coach (and former BYU QB and USC OC) Steve Sarkisian in the previous off-season to boost his accuracy.
We suppose you can never have too many quality offensive linemen in the NFL. But with that said, drafting an offensive tackle was a bad decision by Dallas. The team surrendered a franchise-worst 436 points in 2010, and despite all the high draft picks and big names on defense, they desperately needed more help from front to back. Last we checked, Dallas averaged 29.1 PPG in eight games under head coach Jason Garrett. Yet they left a dominant defender like Auburn's Nick Fairley sitting on the board.
Two big problems with this pick. One, Gabbert was beloved by all the draft experts. But the truth is that he regressed badly after his prolific sophomore season of 2009. And two, the problem in Jacksonville was not at QB. The problem was the single worst pass defense in all of football: the Jaguars ranked 31st in what we call Defensive Passer Rating (a measure of pass-defense efficiency), 32nd in passing yards per attempt against (torched for 7.53 YPA every time an opposing QB dropped back to pass); and 31st on our Defensive Hog Index, which measures each defensive front. Anything but a big-time stopper on pass defense was a mistake.
If first you don't succeed, try, try again. The Texans have devoted incredible draft resources to big-name defenders throughout their history (DeMeco Ryans, Mario Williams, Conner Barwin, et. al.). It's produced scant results. The team is consistently one of the worst defenses in football, and 2010 was no exception. Watt brings great size and athleticism as an outside pass rusher. But there wasn't a lot of production at Wisconsin: just 11.5 sacks in two years. He appears to be a reach at the No. 11 pick and could prove another high-drafted underachiever on the Texans defense.
There's no doubt the Vikings needed a quarterback after the lost season of 2010. The team was 28th league wide in average per pass attempt and No. 30 in team-wide passer rating. So there's nowhere to go but up. But Ponder does not appear to be the answer. His track record at Florida State was non-descript and he's quite a reach at the No. 12 overall pick, especially with guys like TCU's Andy Dalton still on the board -- a proven winner with better production. But desperate teams do desperate things, and that appears to be the case with Minnesota.
The Lions may have landed great value with Fairley at the No. 13 pick. He was the top defender on the national champion Auburn defense and a true train-wrecker of an interior lineman. He chalked up 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in 2010, incredible numbers for a DT -- better than many of the pure pass rushers in the draft, including several taken ahead of him. His stock appeared to drop in recent weeks over questions about work ethic. But if he lives up to the potential, the Lions will have the NFLs deadliest combination of young defensive linemen with Fairley and last year's No. 1, Ndamukong Suh.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo has sent a very clear message to the NFL: he's going to win with his Defensive Hogs. He was the defensive coordinator for a Giants team that won a Super Bowl and shocked the Patriots in 2007 on the strength of the NFL's best defensive front. And last year, the improvement of the St. Louis Defensive Hogs was the great untold statistical story of 2010. Quinn brings plenty of speed and perhaps the best upside of any defensive lineman in the draft. But he has question marks: he did not play in 2010, suspended because of illegal contact with an agent.
The Dolphins certainly need help everywhere on offense, so you can't argue with an interior lineman, especially for a club that struggled so badly to run the football: with an average of 3.71 YPA, Miami was 29th in the NFL on the ground. Pouncey was a big force at Florida for two seasons at guard, before replacing his brother, Maurkice, now of the Steelers, at center last year. He even played a few games at defensive tackle.
The All-America defensive end might be a big steal at the No. 16 pick. Kerrigan was the most productive defensive lineman in major college football last year, with a nation-best 26 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and five forced fumbles (second in the nation). It's also a great selection based upon need. The Redskins last year fielded one of the worst defensive fronts in football -- No. 26 on what we call the Defensive Hog Index. And they were 30th in the NFL rushing the passer, forcing a sack or INT on just 7.1 percent of dropbacks. Kerrigan has the potential to make an immediate impact.
Nobody throws draft-day curveballs like Bill Belichick, and the Colorado tackle is yet another example. The Patriots fielded the best offensive line in football last year (according to our Offensive Hog Index) and one of the worst defensive fronts in football. The lack of a pass rush has haunted the Patriots for years, including in the 2010 playoff loss to the Jets. It's easily the No. 1 need. But the team must feel vulnerable protecting Tom Brady with OL stalwarts Logan Mankins and Matt Light big free agency question marks.
The run on defensive lineman continues. Liuget is the seventh in the first 18 picks. He's undersized for an interior players (6-2, 298) and a stretch as a top 20 pick. He's brings great speed and athleticism to the position, but it's a curious selection: the Chargers boasted one of the most dominating defensive fronts in football last year tied with Pittsburgh for No. 1 on our Defensive Hog Index, despite the loss of Jamal Williams. Liuget certainly cannot fill the shoes of the massive Williams.
Big Blue just landed a great deal, at least if Amukamara lives up to his potential. A sizable but speedy (4.49 in the 40) cornerback, he was the best defender on Bo Pelini's revitalized Black Shirts defense in Nebraska. A great stat? Opponents completed just 18 passes against him all season. New York was stout on defense last year, but it can't hurt to add a potential shutdown corner.
A great selection for a team on the rise. The Bucs boast a great young quarterback who's flying under the radar in Josh Freeman, their offensive line was stout and they have great offensive playmakers in RB LeGarrette Blount and WR Mike Williams. The glaring weakness was on the defensive front, where the Bucs couldn't stop the run (4.75 YPA against) and ranked No. 30 on our Defensive Hog Index. The first-team All America defensive end could instantly inject playmaking capabilities into a unit that desperately needs it.
The Browns scored just 16.9 PPG in 2010. Only the Panthers were worse. The Panthers drafted potential gamebreaker Cam Newton? What did the sad-sack Browns do to kick off the Pat Shurmur era with their first pick? Yup, they continued the run on defensive linemen. Taylor is a beefy fireplug of an interior defender with the potential to swallow offenses. He could be a great player. But he does little to add life to an offense that is consistently one of the worst in football.
The Colts know their bread is buttered by Peyton Manning. So they drafted a potential franchise left tackle in Castonzo to protect their quarterback. But it was the wrong pick, at least if you value need. The Colts were the best team in football last year protecting the passer, suffering a sack or INT on just 4.7 percent of dropbacks. They were woefully inadequate on the other side of the ball, forcing a sack or INT on just 7.1 percent of dropbacks. Only the dreadful Denver defense was worse at pressuring the passer. Sure, Manning will have plenty of time in the pocket again in 2011, but it won't help if the defense is pushed around the field, yet again, like a tackling sled.
The Eagles grabbed one of the more interesting stories in the draft: a former firefighter from Canada turned big-time college offensive lineman despite the fact he never played high school football. With that said, it's a curious pick: the Eagles averaged 5.45 yards per rush attempt in 2010, making them one of the most effective rushing teams in the history of football. And QB Michael Vick has proven he can make plays even if the pocket collapses around him. The Eagles still need to find playmakers later in the draft or in free agency. The missed an opportunity to do it here.
That's now 10 defensive linemen in the first 24 picks (compare that not a single RB has been selected). The Saints could certainly benefit from Jordan's speed and athleticism on the edge: he chalked up six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season. The Saints, meanwhile, struggled badly to pressure the quarterback in 2010 and their pass defense fell off badly from its championship form of 2009.
Carpenter was projected in many circles as a second rounder and has been criticized for a lack of athleticism. But he did prosper for two years at left tackle for great Alabama teams. He also represents a good, solid, needs-based pick for the Seahawks. Although everybody remembers Marshawn Lynch's incredible run against the Saints in the 2010 playoffs, Seattle was one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL last year (3.7 yards per attempt, 30th) and can definitely use the beef and brawn that Carpenter brings to the table.
Normally, wide receivers are bad first-round decisions. But the Chiefs were fairly stout in many areas last year, except in their downfield passing game. Matt Cassel and the Kansas City offense produce just 18 pass plays of 25+ yards, among the fewest in the league, and their statistical weak link was passing yards per attempt: 23rd league wide. They simply could not threaten defenses over the top. Baldwin is a very big target (6-4, 228) with 4.5 speed who can help Kansas City stretch defenses and open up lanes for the explosive Jamaal Charles to run the ball.
A productive corner with good size, but many observers doubt his ability to be a shutdown corner in the NFL. In either case, the Ravens would have been better served beefing up the ground game and the offensive line. RB Ray Rice and LT Michael Oher have big-time name recognition, but the Ravens did not protect Joe Flacco particularly well and offered one of the least explosive rushing attacks in football last year (28th in average per attempt). And there was 2009 Heisman Trophy winning RB Mark Ingram, sitting there for the taking when Baltimore made its selection.
The great Alabama running back and 2009 Heisman winner was just too rich a prospect and value for the Saints to resist at No. 28. In terms of need, New Orleans would have been better served with a gamebreaker in pass defense which dropped off badly in 2010 from its Super Bowl form of 2009. But Ingram is a potential franchise back in the physical mold of another SEC great, Emmitt Smith.
The Bears made the perfect pick, at least if the long and rangy OT lives up to his potential. Carimi was a four-year starter, and is a potential franchise LT, who is strong in both pass protection and in run blocking. His Wisconsin offense rushed for 48 TDs in 2010 and fell just a few yards shy of producing three 1,000-yard rushers in the same backfield. Chicago desperately needs that kind of production: the Bears were dead last in 2010 on what we call the Offensive Hog Index - the worst offensive line in football - as equally inept protecting the passer as they were rushing the football.
Rex Ryan loves hid defensive linemen. And with Jets DL stalwart Shaun Ellis a potential victim of free agency, the team may need some help up front. Plus, the defense certainly didn't perform as well in 2010 (304 points allowed) as it did in 2009 (236 points allowed). Wilkerson probably doesn't have the size to be a fulltime nose tackle, but he's athletic and versatile enough to move around up front in Ryan's always-shifting base 3-4.
The Steelers used this pick to accentuate a strength (the league's most productive Defensive Hogs) rather than fill an obvious need (a porous offensive line). Most teams deserve criticism for that kind of move. But Pittsburgh is consistently the best-drafting team in football and its strategy obviously works. Heyward, the son of former NFL running back "Iron Head" Heyward has great upside. But the Steelers may live to regret the pick if Ben Roethlisberger is forced to run for his life in the backfield yet again.
The Packers were a statistical powerhouse on both sides of the ball in 2010. If we didn't see it in their 10-6 record in the regular season, we saw it In their impressive Super Bowl-winning playoff run. The only relative weakness? That's right: offensive line. The Packers ran the ball poorly and struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers at various times throughout the season. Green Bay looks like it found its franchise left tackle in Bryan Bulaga last year. But Sherrod, if he lives up to his potential, could challenge for the blindside spot and, at the very least, he can upgrade an already scary Green Bay offense. He was the best lineman lest year for the SEC's best rushing attack.
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