My head is still spinning from what might have been the oddest draft in recent memory. What I will forever call The Lockout Draft was simply, at times, bizarre. The consensus No. 1 pick stayed in college in Andrew Luck. The next near consensus, Da’Quan Bowers, fell out of Round 1 altogether with knee issues that popped up after the season. Finally, the actual No. 1 pick was about as far from a consensus as we’ve seen in a long time.
And the oddities of this bizarro Lockout Draft didn’t end there. The morning of the draft, several general managers and head coaches were suddenly and oddly not available. Why? It turned out they were pulled into impromptu, emergency meetings because the lockout was temporarily lifted.
Teams were thrust into decision-making mode about what to do regarding bringing players in and beginning offseason workouts. Instead of focusing on the draft all day prior to Round 1, GMs were making preparations to fly players in, some hoping to get guys in Friday morning.
Teams with new head coaches were more aggressive in trying to get in front of their players while those with coaching staffs already in place focused less on the sudden change of events.
OK, that’s it. I promise no more mention of a lockout from this time forth in this column! Promise! Instead, let’s escape the depressing term and take a look at things I loved, liked, simply didn’t get and hated from NFL draft 2011.
WHAT I LOVED:
(I loved a ton, but I’m singling out just a few, so, in other words, don’t call complaining and whining if you’re not on this list).
• That neither A.J. Green nor Julio Jones, the top two receivers in this draft, seem to have ZERO diva in them. What a nice change from the norm.
• Bengals draft: Hold on a second, did I really just type that? Green, the Georgia wide receiver, was the No. 1 player on most teams’ boards with comparisons to Andre Johnson. They then get their QB of the future in Andy Dalton without having to move back into the first round, which they were trying to do. Got good value picks for the first four rounds of draft.
• Saints first round: Got two top-15 talents in defensive end Cam Jordan and Heisman winner Mark Ingram. The rich got richer.
• Loved the trade between the Falcons and the Browns, a rare blockbuster that actually helps both parties. The Browns, who have many holes, stockpiled picks for this year and next. One player at No. 6 wasn’t going to help nearly as much as several players over the next two years.
For Atlanta, getting the explosive and extremely large target in Julio Jones one now asks the question: Who gets double-teamed in Atlanta’s offense? If Jones blossoms, defenses can’t double Pro Bowlers Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez any longer. If they load up the box against Michael Turner, Matt Ryan can turn it loose to the trio of targets.
What people don’t know is Atlanta also looked into moving into the middle of the first round for a defensive end but couldn’t find a trade partner to commit. That’s when the Falcons decided to go for the gusto in Jones.
Had they stayed put at No. 27, the player they would’ve chosen would’ve been tackle Gabe Carimi as all defensive ends they had rated highly would’ve been gone after New Orleans selected Cam Jordan. So Atlanta gave up what it is hoping will be a first-rounder in the 30s next year; Carimi; this year’s second-rounder and a couple of mid-rounders for a guy who helps Matt Ryan develop one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
• The Packers’ second-round pick. There are two questions I ask every GM, head coach and scout I talk to leading up to the draft. One is, who are the biggest turds or con artists among this draft class? Conversely, I also ask, who are the absolute greatest kids in this crop?
The answer for the latter was astounding as 100 percent of those I talked to all agreed on one common name: Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb. Every single one of them. It was amazing.
“He’s like having another coach out there,” one head coach said. “Honestly, what a great kid! He’s not the best receiver in the draft by any means, but he’s the best kid we came across. Just an exceptional person. We view him like a Brad Smith (Jets WR) where you can do some wildcat with him, play him in the slot. He can do a lot for you but maybe the best thing is to have him in your locker room.”
WHAT I LIKED:
• Texans’ first two rounds: Gave new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips a gift with three potential starters in first-round defensive end J.J. Watt, second-round linebacker/defensive end Brooks Reed (whom the Jets considered in Round 1) and second-round defensive back Brandon Harris. Teams absolutely loved Watt’s demeanor and work ethic and they’re hoping that work ethic rubs off.
• Lions’ gambles: I use the label “gambles” because their top three picks all have some sort of concern on many teams’ boards but if two or all three hit, wow, what a great draft. And none has concerns that are huge.
If Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley can show the same output he showed last season, that defensive line will be devastating with Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Hard to believe KVB will let Fairley slack in the least. Wide receiver Titus Young and running back Mikel LeShoure, if they hit, add explosive elements to their offense. Lions GM Martin Mayhew has put together a nice string of solid drafts.
• Indianapolis and New England getting tackles Anthony Castonzo and Nate Solder respectively are great, great value picks later in the first round. Both should start for a long time in this league.
• Liked, as (yawn) usual — getting used to this by now — New England loading up on draft picks. Every year they do it and for some reason the rest of the league can’t figure out how to copycat them.
• Who doesn’t like a good steal? The Giants getting CB Prince Amukamara in the second half of Round 1, when most had him as a top 10 talent. The Bears getting Wisconsin’s Carimi at the bottom of the first. Fairley to Detroit at 13. Minnesota getting top-rated tight end Kyle Rudolph in Round 2. Dallas getting Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray in Round 3. Texas linebacker Sam Acho in Round 4 for the Cardinals. Defensive end Robert Quinn to the Rams in the middle of Round 1 gave Coach Spags one of the draft’s best pass-rush talents to work with.
WHAT I DIDN’T GET:
• The Redskins not selecting a quarterback. John Beck is their guy? Really? OK.
• The Raiders’ draft. Sorry, I simply don’t get it.
• The drafting of quarterback Ryan Mallett by Bill Belichick. This has many around the league figuring the great mastermind has something up his sleeve. Belichick has always preached leadership from the QB position and getting the right locker room guys. Does that sound like the oft-questioned Mallett?
“Just knowing Bill, I can’t see him truly believing Mallett is their future,” one GM said. “I can see them getting him right off-the-field, showcasing him in the preseason for a couple years and then getting some trade value for him and stock-pile more picks.”
Had there been zero reservations about the quarterback’s character there was still hardly a consensus on whether he will succeed on the next level. One head coach said of his physical skills, “We love his arm, he can make all the throws you’re looking for, he’s a big, strong kid. Physically, we loved him. But there’s always that ‘but …’.”
That “but” is off-field concerns about partying, drug and alcohol use and other issues. Along this subject comes the line of the day, which goes to one NFC GM who declared, “We thought he was the Charlie Sheen of this draft.”
THING I DIDN’T LIKE:
• The Bears not playing nice and completing an agreed upon trade with the Ravens. Ozzie Newsome is one of the most well-respected executives this league has seen the past decade or so. Bears GM Jerry Angelo should have made good on the trade that he failed to call into the league on time.
• I didn’t like how teams in the first round reached for quarterbacks. If they hit, great, but too many seemed to be a reach.
• The Boston College linebacker and 2008 ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich not getting drafted. One of the most dynamic individuals I met all week, Herzlich kicked cancer’s butt but wasn’t drafted. He would have gotten signed as an undrafted free agent but lockout rules prevent that this year.
Which brings me to my last subject …
THING I HATED:
The NFL draft is only half a draft without free agency! First off, it completely messes up the draft-day trade action. That’s half the fun.
Second, the inability to add veterans forced many teams to attack this year’s draft differently than in years past. Teams often reached for a player to fill a starter’s void immediately rather than take the best talent on the board.
Lastly, the lack of free agency affected teams that were unable to trade players and stockpile picks. The Eagles, for example, could’ve stocked up on additional picks with a trade of Kevin Kolb. Subsequently, a would-be trade partner was forced to grab an unproven rookie QB instead of plugging in the already proven Kolb. Could you imagine the number of calls the Bengals would’ve gotten once they drafted Andy Dalton?
Oh wait, damn, did I mention that lockout again? Oops.