Wednesday, April 27, 2011

5 Things To Look For in the 2011 NFL Draft

By Charlie Scaturro

Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America
After enduring nearly two months of awkward bickering between Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr., the NFL Draft is finally here.  One of the most unique institutions in sports, the NFL Draft presents every team in the league with an opportunity to significantly improve their roster as long as they've done their homework and are prepared for the seven round marathon which is about to ensue.

As opposed to the NBA Draft, which generally yields just a few good players every year, the NFL Draft is full of impact guys who will be available long after the first round has come to an end.  It seems that the hype which surrounds the NFL Draft intensifies with every passing year, but it's hard to blame the media when we've all seen how entertaining the draft can be for fans and how potentially beneficial a single class can be for an organization.

Whether it's the atmosphere at Radio City which is full of passionate fans and players waiting to hear their name called, or analysts who aren't afraid to let their opinions be known, it's understandable that the draft has become a spectacle. 

As usual, there are plenty of story lines surrounding this year's crop of incoming players and the entire process should be even more interesting and unpredictable because of the uncertain future of the NFL. 

With that in mind here are five things to look for in the 2011 NFL Draft.       

1. The New England Patriots 2011 draft class has the potential to be one of the best ever

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images North America

The only thing more stunning than the fact that the Patriots have managed to stockpile six picks in the first three rounds of this year's draft is that no one seems to be making a very big deal about it.  While the culmination of New England's wheeling and dealing over the past few years hasn't been completely ignored, plenty of other stories have overshadowed how monumental the 2011 draft could potentially be for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Not only does New England possess two picks in each of the first three rounds, they also have three of the first 33 picks overall. One of their first round picks comes courtesy of the Raiders as a result of the Richard Seymour trade from a few years back and their fleecing of the Panthers in the 2010 draft is how they got the first pick in the second round. 

Overall, New England owns the rights to the 17th, 28th, 33rd, 60th, 74th, and 92nd picks in the first three rounds this year in what more closely resembles the draft of an ill-conceived fantasy keeper league than the draft of the most powerful sports enterprise in America. 

Everyone knows how valuable any first round pick in the draft can be, and when you take into account that the Patriots essentially have three of them, it certainly isn't a stretch to say that New England's haul in 2011 could rank up there with some of the best draft classes ever.  I won't even attempt to mock out who the Patriots might spend their picks on, but if they don't trade any away, (although with the way Belichick likes to take advantage of desperate front offices on draft day that might not be very likely) New England could vastly improve their team and set themselves up for a legitimate shot at a few more rings before Tom Brady rides off into the sunset.      

2. Regardless of how good they are, quarterbacks will go quickly

Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America
It's hard to explain exactly what's going on with some of the organizations around the NFL, but it seems like every team that doesn't have a franchise quarterback has targeted the 2011 draft as their time to get one, no matter what. 

It doesn't seem to matter to teams like Carolina, Buffalo, Tennessee, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Washington, Cincinnati, Arizona, or Minnesota that this year's crop of signal callers might not be the strongest, they're determined to get one even if it means they have to trade up, take a guy too early, or simply gamble on a player who might not be ready to handle starting in the NFL for a couple of years.

There are certainly some intriguing quarterback prospects in this year's class, but outside of the obvious selections of Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, who both figure to be picked in the top 10, there's been a lot of talk about guys like Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett, and Christian Ponder coming off the board later in the first round or early in the second.   

With all of the rumors swirling around about teams that are willing to trade into the later stages of the first round or early part of the second to take the quarterback they like, it seems that any team looking to roll the dice with their franchise would be wise to pick a quarterback sooner rather than later or they might just see another team make an aggressive play for a mediocre prospect and leave those who hesitate in the dust. 

3. There will be plenty of trades and unpredictable picks

Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America
Maybe it's because of the controlled panic that the lockout has produced or maybe it's because of the aforementioned quarterback hysteria which has gripped many teams around the league, but whatever the reason, the 2011 NFL Draft figures to see plenty of trades and unpredictable moves.  A big factor in all of the movement will take place on draft day is no doubt connected to the fact that teams haven't had free agency or the ability to trade players yet, which has left many of them with gaping holes on their roster that they will look to the draft to fill.    

Pretty much every team in the NFL has more needs at this stage of the off-season than usual and there are plenty of players in this year's draft whose stock has been sliding up and down boards for months thanks to the increasingly fickle evaluation process and endless mock drafts which claim to know exactly where each player is going to land. 

They're fun to browse over and think about, but after Cam Newton goes to Carolina at number one, I wouldn't be very surprised if the 2011 NFL Draft strays far away from what most expert mock drafts have predicted. 

It's safe to say that everyone in the NFL is a little on edge right now due to everything that's happened in the off-season up to this point, and when you factor in the usual shenanigans that take place during a given draft, almost anything seems possible this year.    

4. Defense will rule the draft

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America
You don't have to be Todd McShay or Mel Kiper Jr. to look over the top prospects in the 2011 draft and realize that the vast majority of them play on the defensive side of the ball.  Not every draft class has an equal amount of play makers on offense and defense, and for whatever reason, the 2011 draft has an unusual amount of defensive talent that will be entering the NFL.

So don't be surprised when you see a continuous stream of good looking defensive players falling off boards in the late first and on into the second round while only a few running backs have even been mentioned.  

ESPN Scouts Inc. lists defensive players as 20 of the top 32 in the draft which includes the top three prospects and 11 of the top 15.  Players like Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, Nick Fairley, J.J. Watt, and Prince Amukamara are just a sampling of the defensive players who can make an impact as rookies and those who look to have bright futures in the NFL.

As I've already mentioned, the desperation that resides in many organizations who are looking to find their franchise quarterback will no doubt cause quite a few of them to take chances in the early part of the draft.  But it's certainly a good time to be a team looking to upgrade that pass rush or get tougher against the run.  The story which the media plays up directly after the 2011 NFL Draft will no doubt be the quarterbacks who were selected and how they fit on the teams which drafted them, but the defensive guys who were picked alongside them will be what everyone is talking about in November and December.   

5. Character and injury concerns will once again present some very interesting choices

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America
After the mistakes that Pacman Jones and Michael Vick made while playing in the NFL, you can see why pretty much every franchise has become much more sensitive to character concerns.  Every year there are always a few immensely talented prospects whose character or past history is a potential issue for teams who are interested in drafting them and these concerns can cause some of the best players available to drop well below where their talent indicates they should be selected.

Randy Moss is one of the most famous players in recent memory whose off the field issues caused him to plummet down draft boards.  Moss was scouted as one of the top prospects in the 1998 NFL Draft but he slid all the way down to the Vikings at number 21 overall after many teams passed on him because they were concerned about who he was off the field.

In the 2011 draft, players like Ryan Mallett, Da'quan Bowers, Phil Taylor, Marvin Austin, Nick Fairley, and Colorado's Jimmy Smith are all very talented players whose draft stock has slipped because of perceived character issues or potential long-term injury concerns. 

Because of how talented they are and where they figure to be drafted, these players present some of the best values in the draft but they're also risky selections.

The risk associated with all of the aforementioned players will present some very tough decisions for NFL organizations who will be trying to figure out if the concerns surrounding some of the most talented players in the draft are legitimate red flags or nothing to worry about.  We don't know which teams are going to draft the above players but waiting to see who selects them and what picks they take them with, will definitely be worth watching.

No comments:

Post a Comment