FOX Sports Exclusive
Most intriguing moves of 2011 NFL draft
An NFL draft that will be memorable for all the wrong reasons is now in the books.
The league's labor problems trickled down into what is usually an upbeat event. A reminder came every time NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was booed as he took the Radio City Music Hall stage.
Because of the off-again-on-again nature of the NFL's lockout, first-round draft picks were allowed inside their team facilities Friday to grab playbooks while those chosen in the later rounds are at least temporarily barred from reporting because of a court order. College free agents have it even worse. NFL teams are currently prohibited from signing players who could become the next Tony Romo or Pierre Thomas. That has left more than 450 NFL prospects twiddling their collective thumbs.
The draft also was shaped by the ongoing NFL ban on offseason personnel moves such as player trades and free-agent signings. This left veterans on the block in limbo and handcuffed teams from making bold moves, like swinging a deal with Philadelphia for quarterback Kevin Kolb.
The toxic atmosphere played at least a part in the NFL's Thursday night first-round ratings dropping about 16 percent from the 2010 draft.
But enough with the negativity. Here are six football-related items that caught my eye on draft weekend:
1. It won't take long before we learn just how mature Ryan Mallett really is.
NFL DRAFT TEAM ANALYSIS
Cards got talent if not need-fillers
Owner defends trade for Jones
Panthers draft for winning attitudes
Browns could thrive in 2012
Dr. Draft tries to diagnose the Cowboys
Healthy Stafford trumps draft picks
Green Bay Packers:
Green joins crowded backfield
Increase Watt-age to sagging defense |
Top pick has eyes set on Manning
Pounce on the safe pick
Ponder knows he must impress
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Found their defensive cornerstone?
Despite having a first-round throwing arm, the combination of off-field character concerns and slow feet led to the Arkansas quarterback slipping into the third round. Those problems didn't scare away the Patriots, who, in recent drafts, have not shied from players with failed college drug tests such as Brandon Tate and Aaron Hernandez.
Mallett has a chance to show the Patriots they didn't make a mistake, but he had better be serious from the get-go. The reason: Tom Brady. He is not going to suffer any foolishness from a 22-year-old during quarterback meetings and the like, especially from someone who is being groomed as a potential replacement. If Mallett doesn't endear himself to Brady immediately, Mallett runs the risk of being turned a cold shoulder by New England's unequivocal leader.
In a best-case scenario for the Patriots, Mallett develops quickly enough to handle second-string responsibilities. That would give New England yet another quarterback trade chip — Brian Hoyer — down the road, a la Matt Cassel. Hoyer has shown earmarks of becoming an NFL starter during the brief action he has received in two seasons as Brady's backup.
2. The draft's boldest moves came in what was the NFL's toughest division in 2010 — the NFC South.
Even with Carolina finishing a league-worse 1-15, no other division had three teams win more games combined (34) or post double-digit victories. And if this draft is any indication, the competition will be even fiercer this season (provided it's played).
Carolina kicked off the draft with the blockbuster selection of quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick. Like with any college quarterback, there are no guarantees Newton will succeed at the NFL level. But at least he gives the downtrodden Panthers hope. Carolina also needed a counter to the three other NFC South teams that are set at that position — Atlanta (Matt Ryan), New Orleans (Drew Brees) and Tampa Bay (Josh Freeman).
Ryan and Brees should be thrilled at the bold trades that brought wide receiver Julio Jones (No. 6 overall) and running back Mark Ingram (No. 28) to their respective squads. The Bucs invested their first two picks in players meant to make life miserable for Newton, Brees and Ryan — defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers.
Speaking of Bowers, there's only one thing bigger than the concerns about his knee that caused a slide into the middle of the second round: the chip on his shoulder to prove doubters wrong.
3. Although one year overdue by general manager Bruce Allen and coach Mike Shanahan, Washington's strategy of multiple trade-downs to acquire more picks was wise. The roster needed a major youth infusion that should be provided by 12 overall selections.
That being said, Washington still has major issues at quarterback. Until that problem is addressed, there is a chance the Redskins will regret trading out of the No. 10 slot if Missouri's Blaine Gabbert becomes a star in Jacksonville.
4. Indianapolis did quarterback Peyton Manning a huge favor by using its first two picks on offensive linemen (Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and Villanova guard Ben Ijalana).
Both players should become immediate starters on a unit that run-blocks poorly and increasingly struggles to protect Manning from blitzes, a tack that teams once dared not take because of the fear of getting burned in coverage.
5. History might show that some teams reached for quarterbacks early in the first round — Tennessee (Jake Locker) and Minnesota (Christian Ponder) in particular. But the early run at the position is understandable considering the lack of depth beyond the top seven QBs. Only five were drafted between Rounds 4 and 7.
The Buffalo Bills — a team that should theoretically be in the market for a youngster to develop behind Ryan Fitzpatrick — thought so little of the class that the club used a seventh-round pick on a 394-pound defensive lineman from Bethel College in Tennessee (Michael Jasper) rather than taking a flier on a quarterback like Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, Delaware's Pat Devlin or Florida Atlantic's Jeff Van Camp.
Quarterbacks who should be breathing easier after draft weekend are Fitzpatrick, Denver's Tim Tebow and Oakland's Jason Campbell. All three should have the chance to entrench themselves as starters in 2011. Miami's Chad Henne, Washington's John Beck and Seattle's Charlie Whitehurst won't face competition from a draft pick, but there are no guarantees they'll be starting this fall. The Dolphins, Redskins and Seahawks remain candidates to acquire or re-sign veterans to compete for that spot.
6. Sad to see that Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich didn't get selected. Considered a potential first-round pick early in his college career, Herzlich missed the 2009 season as he battled cancer.
While his is among college football's most inspirational comeback stories, a post-cancer decline in Herzlich's athleticism might have caused NFL teams to shy away. Herzlich, though, has overcome bigger obstacles than trying to make an NFL squad as a college free agent.