2011 NFL draft first-round analysis

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With each pick in the first round of the NFL draft, provides expert, behind-the-scenes analysis.

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Czar will analyze each team's draft night war room, the reasoning behind every first-round pick and why teams did or didn't cut a deal.
Adam provides a breakdown of each player selected, with an inside look at how the draftees may fit in with their new NFL teams.

CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: Once Panthers owner Jerry Richardson signed off on the projected $55 million in guaranteed money that Cam Newton could receive if the NFL operates under the 2010 collective bargaining rules, this selection was a slam dunk. GM Marty Hurney, who still had hopes for Jimmy Clausen, went for the most intriguing player at the top of the draft. Still, it figures to be a major learning experience for Newton. It’s funny, though, that new head coach Ron Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, went for a quarterback who does have some question marks about running a more complicated NFL system. But Newton accounted for 50 touchdowns last season with Auburn (by comparison the Panthers had 17 over a 16-game season in 2010) and led the Tigers to a national championship. He’s a natural leader, having led his junior college team (Blinn College in Texas) to a national title in 2009, and does possess a NFL-caliber arm with linebacker-like strength. Don’t forget that the Panthers, who may consider trading some of their veterans once the lockout is lifted, had the NFL’s worst passing offense last season. It definitely won’t be easy for Newton, considering the Panthers play the league’s toughest schedule next season, including seven playoff teams and nine teams that won at least 10 games The Panthers are in a quarterback division going against Brees, Ryan and now Josh Freeman six times a year. Last year’s coaching staff soured on Clausen, so he and Matt Moore will be the backups behind Newton or the starter until the kid is ready!

The Panthers are putting the future of their quarterback position in the raw but talented prospect’s hands, but thinking that he will be ready to start a game in Year One probably is a stretch. A solid running game could help Newton get off to a fast start. And the key for the Panthers offense is to keep ahead of the down – meaning, don’t force Newton to handle a lot of third-and-long situations. Finding a quality veteran to mentor this young signal caller is essential for his development.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: Some early mock drafts had Alabama’s Marcell Dareus going to the Broncos, but Von Miller was the organization’s consensus pick once the dust settled this week. With new head coach John Fox bringing his 4-3 defense to Denver, Miller suits his scheme as a SAM linebacker and then becoming a pass-rushing end opposite Elvis Dumervil, who is coming off an injury, on obvious passing downs. The Broncos allowed 26 rushing touchdowns last season and also 2,473 rushing yards, the second-most ever in franchise history. This was a no brainer for a team in desperate need for a big-time defensive playmaker. The Broncos had only 23 sacks last season and Miller had 27 ½ sacks in his final two college seasons. He is the only draft choice whose name is attached to the players lawsuit against the NFL. It should be noted that that many teams had LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson as the best player on their draft boards. The Broncos may still go quarterback in the second round. They also need to find some defensive linemen with Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan, Marcus Thomas and Ronald Fields possibly from the roster.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: While many personnel evaluators thought the Broncos would wind up selecting defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, Denver got better value with Miller. Miller is perhaps the best pass rusher available for the NFL draft in many years. His positional versatility was clearly viewed as an asset by head coach John Fox and he will line up at defensive end and strongside linebacker in Denver’s 4-3 defensive scheme this season. Now the Broncos can look at improving their secondary or interior defensive line with their next selection.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: I have to think that Bills coach Chan Gailey would have been happy with Cam Newton falling to the third spot, but with the Heisman Trophy winner was gone and the Bills did the right thing in taking Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, a quality three-technique player who can stop the run and also run the passer. Dareus could turn into a bigger Kevin Williams, the great Vikings defensive tackle. Buffalo allowed 2,714 rushing yards last season, the second most in team history and with that came eight 200-yard rushing games by their opponents. Aside from Pro Bowl nose tackle Kyle Williams, the Bills are hurting along the defensive line. Returning QB Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for a career-high 23 touchdown passes last season and Gailey continues to say he can win with him although it’s a difficult assignment in a division with the Patriots and Jets.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: Dareus was thought to be perhaps the safest defensive player available in this year’s NFL draft because he’s able to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme. And he’s also known for his high character. He’ll likely compete for playing time at defensive end in his rookie season, but the expectation is that he could play nose tackle as well give starter Kyle Williams a break. With Dareus now in the fold, the Bills can concentrate on adding a few pass rushers with their next few selections

CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: Well, the first four picks have fallen quickly into place with Georgia receiver A.J. Green going to the Bengals. I’m going to steal a line from my football buddy, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who said that maybe this pick will convince Carson Palmer to return to Cincinnati. Green is considered as talented as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, who starred at Georgia Tech. And don’t forget that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who was retained this past season, has given up on receiver Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. If Palmer comes back, there will be nothing but new talent and no more distractions. We knew that owner Mike Brown wasn’t about to take a quarterback and give Palmer an out. He wants Palmer back and Green should entice the veteran quarterback. This was a quality pick, considering Green may be the best offensive player in the draft. The Bengals did hear from some teams wanting to trade, but this is the player they wanted since the Combine.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: The selection of A.J. Green shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the Bengals had a major need at wide receiver. With Green in the fold, this could spell the end of veteran wide receiver Chad Ochocinco’s time in Cincinnati; he is carrying a $6 million base salary for next season. The key now for the Bengals is to get Green signed quickly so he can get acclimated to Cincinnati’s new offensive scheme (West Coast). Green will start immediately and some personnel evaluators believe he’s just as talented as Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: In John Skelton, the Cardinals already have a young quarterback, and that’s why LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson made perfect sense. Peterson is a highly-competitive person and a multi-dimensional player in that he’s a solid cover cornerback and the best returner in the draft. So how do the Cardinals appease receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is in the final year of his contract? Well, there’s no question that coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to get ex-Rams quarterback Marc Bulger before last season when management wasted money on Derek Anderson. Now there’s a could chance that Bulger, who was a Baltimore backup last year, could end up in Arizona once the free-agency period starts. Peterson will be tough on Sam Bradford and whoever quarterbacks the 49ers.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: The Cardinals probably weren’t counting on Peterson being available with their first-round pick, but they made the smart selection with this talented defensive back. He’ll play cornerback, but Peterson is capable of lining up in the slot or even at free safety because of his athleticism. With Peterson in the fold,  the Cardinals can look to draft a few pass rushers with their next few selections.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: This was the worst-kept secret all draft day that Atlanta fell in love with Alabama receiver Julio Jones and wanted to trade into the top of the first round to get him. The Falcons gave up a lot to move from No. 27 to Cleveland’s sixth spot in the first round, including next year’s first-round pick and a fourth-rounder. They also gave up their first-round pick and a second and fourth-rounder this year. Yes, it’s a pretty steep price, but the Falcons wanted another playmaker to take the heat off Roddy White, believing that their window of opportunity is now in the NFC South. This team wants to go to the Super Bowl. This was a bold move by the Falcons, who figure to be active in free-agency, too.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: The Falcons were looking for speed and talent at the receiver position, so they made the bold move of trading up for talented Julio Jones. He’ll be expected to provide depth initially, but the expectation he’ll eventually take over for veteran wide receiver Michael Jenkins. Jones has the ability to play inside or outside wide receiver. And, according to personnel sources, he’s also underrated as a run blocker.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The 49ers wanted Peterson and then broke the Houston Texans’ heart by taking their man, Missouri linebacker Aldon Smith, who had 17 sacks in the last two seasons. Smith is a rush linebacker and perfect for San Francisco’s 3-4 defense. Smith is an interesting choice over Robert Quinn. New coach Jim Harbaugh says he is happy with Alex Smith and this pick proves it. Harbaugh can always try to get Andrew Luck, his Stanford quarterback, next season if he pays a king’s ransom. Smith definitely will make an immediate impact.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: While some NFL observers were surprised that the 49ers drafted Aldon Smith with their first-round selection, he’s clearly one of the best pass rushers available in the 2011 class. But keep in mind he’s probably a better fit for a 4-3 defensive scheme than a 3-4, which the 49ers use. Initially, he likely will be a backup, but Smith projects to be a starter in Year Two and beyond. The 49ers could look to select a quarterback as the draft progresses.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: Well, the offensive coaches won the battle. The defensive guys wanted Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, but the Titans took Washington quarterback Jake Locker, whom some considered a risky pick because of his accuracy limitations in college. But Locker is a tremendous athlete with as much charisma as Cam Newton. This kid wants to win and the Rams really liked him last season until he decided to remain in school and Sam Bradford emerged. Now, we’re not saying that Locker will be as efficient as Bradford, but he’s a different player. He’s a physical player and a runner much like Newton. A lot of people have compared him favorably to Donovan McNabb coming out of Syracuse. Andy Reid fixed McNabb and made him a playoff quarterback and now the Titans must do the same.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS:The Titans were going to draft a quarterback with one of their first two selections, so they went with the talented Locker. While he has major accuracy issues, personnel sources believe the issues with his mechanics were correctable. Look for Locker to be eased in behind a veteran quarterback this season, but it won’t be too long before he’s behind center for the Titans.

CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The Cowboys have not drafted an offensive lineman in the first round in 30 years. Owner Jerry Jones has never done it, but every mock draft had the Cowboys taking USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith and they didn’t disappoint. The Cowboys didn’t get enough quality trade offers to move out of this pick even though they liked the other two highly-rated offensive tackles in this draft, too. Smith can slide in as the starter at right tackle and keep Doug Free at the left tackle. You can bet that line coach Hudson Houck, a former coach at USC, loves Smith’s wingspan and toughness. He had a tremendous pro day and should have a big future in Big D. This was the smart pick, although Jones would have loved to have taken someone a bit more flashy.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: While the Cowboys have been vocal about their interest in re-signing left tackle Doug Free, they still went ahead and selected Tyron Smith with their first-round pick. Smith is expected to play on the left side for the Cowboys, but he played on the right side at USC. It’s possible that the team re-signs Free for a short-term deal while they bring Smith along slowly.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The Jaguars gave up their second-round pick on Friday to move up six spots in the first round with the Redskins in order to take Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Redskins were always willing to move out of this spot because they have so many personnel needs and also because coach Mike Shanahan preferred Jake Locker over Gabbert in this draft. With Locker gone, the Redskins made the prudent move to trade down. Gabbert gives the Jaguars some quarterback depth behind David Garrard, plus he’s a totally different talent in that he’s more of a spread quarterback. Gabbert also scored a 42 on the Wonderlic Test, which is off the charts. Jacksonville personnel man Gene Smith made this pick, not coach Jack Del Rio, who would have preferred a defender. A lot of people believe Gabbert was a quality pick at this spot. Remember, there’s a chance of eight quarterbacks going in the first two rounds. Well, three have gone in ten picks already.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: The Jaguars, according to personnel sources, were going to pick a quarterback with one of their first two selections in the 2011 draft. With Blaine Gabbert in the fold, the days are now numbered for veteran quarterback David Garrard as the starter in Jacksonville. But Gabbert is a raw prospect who needs to be brought along slowly. Don’t look for him to start a game this season unless Garrard gets hurt.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The Texans put it out that they wanted Aldon Smith and settled on Wisconsin defensive J.J. Watt, who had seven sacks and 21 tackles for losses last season as a Badger. Watt is a physically tough player who will give the Texans another rusher to go with Brian Cushing and Mario Williams. They will give Peyton Manning something to think about next season. The Chargers had their eyes on Watt at No. 18 in the first round. Houston believes this position was a need, plus it had Watt rated right next to Smith. It makes sense, although many believe the Texans would have better served with a cornerback. But Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara is falling.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: The versatile defensive lineman will play end in Houston’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Watt will likely come off the bench this season, but he could eventually replace veteran defensive end Antonio Smith down the line. Watt’s addition also gives the team the ability to play some 4-3 because he’s capable of lining up inside.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The Vikings were stunned with Locker and Gabbert off their board, but GM Rick Spielman, who watched all the rookie quarterbacks, predicted that seven would go before they picked in the second round (43th overall). So, they rolled the dice with Florida State quarterback 6-foot-2 Christian Ponder over TCU’s Andy Dalton. Ponder is equipped to run the West Coast offense, but many teams had him at the bottom of the round or later in the second round. But like I said, Spielman didn’t believe Ponder would be there in the second round. This is the first stunner in the first round. But Bill Musgrave likes Ponder and believes he can coach him up to be effective this season. Remember, the Vikings could be in the running to acquire Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb. That would be a solid move before Ponder is ready to play. We all know that Minnesota is not sold on Joe Webb as their quarterback of the future. Let the competition begin!

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: Ponder was one of the top quarterbacks available for this draft, but it was surprise to some personnel evaluators that Minnesota didn’t trade back. However, because so many teams are in need of help at quarterback, the Vikings probably felt that they couldn’t take the chance of trading down and missing out on him. Look for the Vikings to sign a veteran quarterback to compete for the starting job this season, but Ponder should be in the mix right away as well.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: Well, a lot of teams moaned about Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s work habits, but the Lions pulled the trigger and now they have a run stuffer next to Ndamukong Suh, last season's impressive Defensive Rookie of the Year. This was a value pick for GM Martin Mayhew and one that coach Jim Schwartz loved. We all know Schwartz loves defense and now he has an imposing front four, one that should stop Adrian Peterson. It is also obvious now that teams are not sold on Prince Amukamara’s interception-free senior season at Nebraska. Hey, the Lions needed cornerbacks more than defensive linemen.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: Fairley was rated as perhaps the best interior defensive lineman in the draft. Personnel sources said he’ll likely play the "3-technique" defensive tackle position in Detroit’s 4-3 defensive scheme. The addition of Fairley quite possibly gives the Lions the best three-man defensive tackle unit in the NFL.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The Rams were hoping that Robert Quinn would fall to them and it happened. They had him rated higher than this and Quinn, who missed all of last season at North Carolina, has tremendous upside. He’s only 20 years old and he was a little naive dealing with agents that cost him playing time with the Tar Heels. He was a high school wrestling champ and he’s physically sound. Yes, Quinn has a lot to learn, but he has a solid teacher in Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams are still wondering why Houston passed on him. This was a quality pick because Quinn has tremendous upside playing with Chris Long.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: A pro personnel source from an NFC team said Quinn was easily the best edge rusher available for the 2011 draft. While Quinn didn’t play last season at North Carolina because of suspension, his 2009 tape was good enough for him to be selected in the upper half of the first round. Look for Quinn to handle a nickel pass-rushing role this season for the Rams, but he should start in Year 2.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: The Dolphins passed on running back Mark Ingram to go for Florida center Mike Pouncey, who started 45 games for the Gators. All Mike wanted was to be drafted higher than his brother, Maurkice, who was the 18th pick of the Steelers last season. If Mike is as good as Maurkice, the Dolphins are set on the offensive line. Pouncey can play either center or guard and this means that Miami will find a running back somewhere else, like maybe re-signing Ronnie Brown.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: Pouncey, like his brother Maurkice, is capable of playing guard or center. Look for Mike to compete for playing time at guard or center this season, but he projects to be a center for the long term. With the athletic Pouncey in the fold, the Dolphins now are getting closer to solidifying the interior of their offensive line.


CZAR'S FRONT OFFICE TAKE: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, a true 4-3 defensive end, doesn’t fit the Redskins’ 3-4 scheme. Washington is listing him as an outside linebacker, but he played with his hands in the dirt in college and he must be able to transition into a pass rusher. Kerrigan was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year and he has a big motor. This is about where he rated on most draft boards. Fans may have wanted a quarterback here, but Mike Shanahan wasn’t in love with Andy Dalton. There is no question that Donovan McNabb will moved out of Washington after having an awful season after 11 years as an NFL starter. Journeyman Rex Grossman, who finished 2010 as the starter, will compete with John Beck, who hasn't played since he was a rookie for Miami in 2007, at quarterback. Of course, the Redskins still have to sign Grossman. The Redskins might also be active with free-agent veteran quarterbacks.

CAPLAN'S ANALYSIS: The Redskins surprisingly selected a defensive end/linebacker in Kerrigan and not a quarterback or a true 3-4 defensive end such as Cameron Jordan. But while Kerrigan gives the team good positional versatility, he likely will line up at outside linebacker for the Redskins for the long term. He should be able to start this season because the Redskins have very few quality pass rushers.



MORE ANALYSIS: Picks 17-32

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Titans, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Saints, 49ers, Seahawks, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Cardinals, Texans, Chad Johnson, Donovan McNabb, Jamal Williams, David Garrard, Carson Palmer, Kevin Williams, Antonio Smith, Alex Smith, Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Doug Free, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, John Beck, Chris Long, Antonio Smith, Kyle Williams, John Skelton, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Tyron Smith, Blaine Gabbert, Robert Quinn, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Aldon Smith, Nick Fairley, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker

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