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How odd was the 2011 draft? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got the kind of boos New Yorkers normally save for Pedroia and Youkilis. Six quarterbacks flew off the board in the top 36 picks, while the rocket-armed passer most ready for the pros went No. 74 and straight to the bench to sit behind Tom Brady. The Falcons traded major chunks of two drafts for the receiver they wanted, while the star-crossed Browns gladly took the treasure trove of five Atlanta picks in return. A pass-rush demon who might have been selected first six months ago free-fell to 51st. The Saints got defensive end Cameron Jordan; the Browns, tight end Jordan Cameron. The doormat Lions had a great weekend; the kingpin Patriots not so much.
And halfway through the three-day event came a major reality check: At 6:47 p.m. Eastern time last Friday, a three-judge panel from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that the league could reinstate its lockout. Four days earlier Eighth Circuit judge Susan Nelson in Minnesota had issued an injunction lifting the league-imposed work stoppage, and veteran players began turning up at team facilities, however unwanted, on Tuesday. By Friday morning, acting on guidance from the league office, teams had officially opened their doors, welcoming Thursday's first-rounders, handing them playbooks and scheduling rookie training sessions. Then those doors closed once more, leaving the courts again to decide how long the renewed lockout would last. For the draft, the upshot was that Washington quarterback Jake Locker, taken eighth by the Titans on Thursday, could visit Nashville and take home a playbook on Friday afternoon, while TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, drafted 35th by the Bengals on Friday night, traveled to Cincinnati on Saturday and met with coach Marvin Lewis, but was not permitted to take home any study materials.
The strangeness didn't stop when the Texans selected Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu with the 254th and final pick at 7:25 on Saturday evening. "Usually we're in the middle of three hours of chaos right now, trying to sign the undrafted free agents," Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said an hour later. "Not this year. It's very quiet." That's because undrafted college players cannot be signed until the lockout is lifted, one way or another.
"The whole weekend's been sort of bizarre," Reinfeldt said. Sort of? These are some of the biggest oddities of this weirdest of draft weekends.
SECONDS SHALL BE FIRST
The two quarterbacks picked in the second round—Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, who went 36th to the 49ers—have a better chance to succeed than the four picked in the first, and not just because the pressure will be less. Cincy's new offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, younger brother of Jon, will install a short-passing, move-the-quarterback offense that will fit the mobile Dalton well; moreover, the Bengals took a can't-miss (and there's a dangerous draft-weekend description) receiver, Georgia acrobat A.J. Green, with the fourth overall pick.
"I liked Andy Dalton more than any other quarterback in this draft," said former first-round quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an analyst for ESPN. "I think he goes to a good spot with Gruden. He's a big-time quarterback and a leader of men.
"Kaepernick's a football junkie, and he'll be trained 24/7/365 by [new San Francisco coach] Jim Harbaugh. Every aspect of his life will be about being an NFL quarterback. Perfect guy for Harbaugh."
Cam Newton is the most physically gifted QB of the 2011 class, which explains why he went No. 1 to the troubled Panthers, who were 2--14 last year. Locker is an athletic marvel but scatter-armed. Blaine Gabbert (taken 10th by the Jaguars, who moved up six spots in a deal with the Redskins to get him) has terrific potential but must move from a gimmicky spread at Missouri to a classic pro-style offense. Christian Ponder, the Vikings' choice at No. 12, is an acquired taste; he never played very well under pressure at Florida State.
The heat didn't get to the Bengals and the Niners in the panicky 2011 quarterback market. Cincinnati has traded up just twice in its 44-year draft history; with Dalton on their mind from the middle of the first round on, the Bengals stood pat for 20 picks and let him come to them. And San Francisco learned a lot about the intelligence-gathering and guts of its first-year general manager, Trent Baalke.