The Patriots nailed their pick of CB Devin McCourty last year, but struggled to find someone to play opposite him. Dowling, a physical talent with 4.4 speed, could fill that void, and go a long way toward giving New England the elite pass defense it enjoyed in its Super Bowl-winning glory days. The downside? Dowling suffered numerous injuries last year at Virginia.
You could hear the wind rush out of the room when the Bills drafted the Texas cornerback instead of a quarterback. But the Bills have plenty of needs on defense, after surrendering 26.6 PPG in 2010. Hard-hitting Williams made plays at Texas, including three forced fumbles, and could play safety in the NFL, too.
A highly productive player four-year starter and proven winner, Dalton went 42-7 as a starter at TCU. The program's recent rise, its greatest period of success since the Sammy Baugh days, coincided with his arrival on campus. Great upside and potential to be best QB in the draft. Good-bye, Carson Palmer.
A huge two-way threat who did it all at Nevada. The only player in NCAA FBS history to top 4,000 yards rushing and 9,000 yards passing. The 49ers are desperate to improve the position, and the gifted Kaepernick has incredible potential.
A smallish pass-rush specialist, this defensive end might end up playing outside linebacker. Coupled with first-round pick DT Phil Taylor, Sheard gives the Browns plenty of opportunity to improve its ho-hum defensive front. But Cleveland still has huge holes to fill on offense its yet to address with its first two picks.
It's taken 38 picks, but we finally have two RBs taken in the 2011 draft. Williams missed most of 2010 with injury, rushing for 477 yards and 10 TD. In either case, he's not a good long-term pick. Arizona fielded an embarrassing passing game last year and has done nothing to address it with its first two picks. There are no free agents out there who will solve the problem...not even free-agent QB du jour Kevin Kolb.
Ayers had an incredible sophomore season in 2009, with 75 tackles, 6 sacks, 14.5 tackles for losses, 4 INT and 3 defensive scores. His numbers declined last season, but he's still a big potential playmaker at OLB who could help improve a Titans defensive front that struggled last year rushing the passer (forced sack or INT on just 8.56% of dropbacks).
The Cowboys desperately need to improve a defense that surrendered the most points in franchise history last year. The talented Carter, a playmaking linebacker and special-teams terror, could be just what Dr. Jerry ordered. But there's a huge question mark: ACL surgery in December without which Carter might have been a first-round pick.
A beefy lineman likely to be a run-stopping specialist in the NFL. But the Redskins already addressed a pass-rushing stud when they drafted Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. It's a pair of good needs-based picks for a team that ranked No. 26 last year in run defense (4.6 YPA) and No. 26 on our Defensive Hog Index, which measures each defensive front in several key areas.
Like the Redskins one pick earlier, the Texans were in serious need of help on the defensive front. And like the Redskins, the Texans have now drafted two defensive linemen with their first two picks. Reed was a pass-rushing specialist with the proverbial "high motor" at Arizona. Either he and/or No. 1 pick J.J. Watt should give the Houston pass rush a shot of life.
The first tight end taken in 2011 is a big, physical specimen who could make an impact as a blocker, too. Rudolph started as a freshman at Notre Dame, but did suffer a season-ending hamstring injury in October. The Vikings apparently want to give the QB of the future, Christian Ponder, a tight end target if they lose Visanthe Shiancoe at the end of 2011. The two picks help address Minnesota's biggest statistical hole of 2010: a passing attack that ranked No. 30 league-wide in passer rating.
After making a BIG splash Thursday night by drafting Nick Fairley and likely pairing him with Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle next season (whenever that is), you knew the Lions couldn't resist reverting to form and grabbing a WR early. With that said, Young was an explosive scoring threat at Boise State, with 25 receiving TDs, 7 rushing TDs and 2 kick return TDs. A great needs pick for a team that can use the playmaking capabilities: the Lions ranked 26th last year in average per pass attempt.
Denver might have scored another playmaker after landing OLB Von Miller with the No. 2 pick Thursday night. Moore was the top-rated safety on most draft boards and is the first taken in the 2011 draft -- a high value pick at No. 45 overall. Miller and Moore could be the foundation upon which the Broncos remake the league's worst defense of 2010 (29.4 PPG). Two good picks for a team with plenty of needs.
A great physical specimen on the offensive line, but one who's considers by many observers to be a project who needs work before stepping into the starting lineup on an NFL team. But it's yet another good needs-based pick for the Broncos, who averaged just 3.88 YPA on the ground last year. So far, it's shaping up as a strong draft for John Elway, who's resisted to urge that overtakes so many teams to chase a "quick fix" in a flashy WR or RB and has instead focused on building block players on defense and OL.
He's undersized for a modern tight end, but one who found time to catch 43 passes last year for a Wisconsin offense that ran at will on most opponents. If he lives up to his pass-catching potential, it could prove a good, solid pick. Sam Bradford and the Rams desperately need help after a season in which they ranked 30th league-wide in average per pass attempt.
The Raiders of recent vintage have thrown their high picks at flashy edge payers, typically at the offensive skill positions. This year, it's a refreshing change of pace: their first pick of 2011 is devoted to an interior offensive lineman. If he succeeds, he could help shore up one of the worst pass-blocking units in football last year. The Raiders suffered a negative pass play on 11.2 percent of dropbacks.
That's two picks and two offensive linemen for the Colts, a team that's drafted better with its high picks over the past decade than any team in the NFL. And they traded up four picks with the Redskins to land Ijalana, a small-school prospect out of Villanova with big-size and big potential. The Colts should have one of the best offensive lines in football next year if the picks pan out -- but they've still yet to address their serious statistical woes on defense.
The Chargers fielded one of the best pass defenses in football last year: No. 1 in yards per attempt against and No. 4 in defensive passer rating. Gilchrist might be a reach at No. 50 -- he was much lower on most boards. But if he pans out, the Chargers could be a force in pass defense for the foreseeable future.
Watch out NFC South. Bowers is a potential huge coup for the rising Bucs. He was a top five-prospect at the end of the 2010 season, his junior year. But his stock dropped after surgery to his right knee, which forced him to miss the NFL combine in February. But Bowers could be a devastating pro: he led the nation last year with 15 sacks and, here at No. 51, could prove the best value in the draft. The defensive front was Tampa's biggest weak link in 2010. But that unit could quickly become a huge asset if Bowers and No. 1 pick DE Adrian Clayborn live up to their potential.
An epic year for defensive linemen continues here with a Giants team that already loves them: Austin has incredible physical skills, including a sub-5.0 40 time. If he lives up to his capabilities, he's a first-round talent and high-value pick for a team that consistently has one of the best defensive fronts in football (No. 3 last year on our Defensive Hog Index).
Chicago addressed its biggest need -- offensive line -- with big OT Gabe Carimi in the first round. They look to shore up one of their traditional strengths, run defense, with Paea -- a stout run-stuffing specialist. The Bears need to make them count because the remaining picks are few and far between.
Quite a year for traditionally weak Temple: Jarrett is their second defender taken in the first 54 picks, this time by the hometown Eagles. He started four years for the Owls and was consistently one of their leading tacklers. Speed is an issue, though, and Jarrett might be another reach in a relatively weak year for defensive backs.
Hudson is widely considered a great blocker, especially in the running game. But he lacks classic NFL size and certainly doesn't appear to have the beefy frame to make Chiefs fans forget former road grader Will Shields. But he's part of an effort by the Chiefs -- who drafted WR Jonathan Baldwin in Round 1 -- to add a spark to an offense that scored inconsistently in 2010 (seven games of 16 points or less).
A smallish runner but one with the great pass-catching skills (74 career receptions) so coveted by a Patriots organization that values versatility overall. In that effort to get a dual threat, they may have reached for Vereen -- most observers had the junior projected as a third- or fourth-round pick.
Is it possible that the Lions are emerging as the stars of the 2011 draft? In Leshoure, they land a 227-pound potential home-run hitter of a running back who averaged 6.0 yards per rush last year -- including a 330-yard effort in a win over Northwestern. That's two potential offensive game-breakers here in the second, after grabbing perhaps the best defensive lineman in the draft on Thursday.
The Ravens had few weaknesses in 2010, but one of them was getting the ball downfield. Even with the addition of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense ranked just 13th in average per pass attempt. Smith offers field-stretching speed (4.4 in the 40), averaged 15.7 yards per catch last year and scored 12 TDs.
A curious pick: Little, like UNC teammates Robert Quinn (No. 14 pick by St. Louis) and Marvin Austin (No. 52 pick by Giants), was ineligible to play last year because of an issue with an agent. But before that, he was not particularly productive: 62 catches, 724 yards, 11.7 YPC and 5 TDs in 2009. Put simply, Cleveland left more productive players on the board. But he does have great size (6-3, 220), a potential asset for an offense that struggled badly in 2010.
The Texans continue to play smart and draft for need: Harris is their third straight pick devoted to shoring up one of the worst defenses in football from last year. Harris has cover corner potential and could quickly find a spot in a secondary that was torched for 33 TD passes and a 100.5 defensive passer rating last year.
The Chargers are clearly content with their prolific but underachieving offense: Mouton is their third straight pick devoted to defense. He is considered vulnerable against the run but has good speed for the position and could emerge into a pass-defense specialist.
Thomas is a good needs-based pick for the Dolphins, who averaged just 3.7 YPA on the ground last year -- only three teams were worse. Thomas brings to Miami plenty of production (19 TD last year), pass-catching ability (52 catches in two years) and a rep as a solid pass blocker.
Gilbert is a much-needed high pick on the offensive line, an Achilles' heel in Pittsburgh the past few seasons, including in the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. Gilbert has classic OT size with great potential to emerge into a franchise LT. He'll be reunited in Pittsburgh with former Florida linemate, center Maurkice Pouncey.
Great, just what the rest of the NFL needs: another weapon in Aaron Rodgers' arsenal. The Packers already addressed their only critical statistical need, offensive line, when they grabbed OT Derek Sherrod in Round 1. Now it's all just gravy for this statistical powerhouse of a team: Cobb was not the biggest or fastest wide receiver in the draft, but he was one of the top pass-catchers in the nation last year, with 84 receptions.
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