Second thoughts on a risky draft

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Time will tell.

Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik felt his stomach turn when his own fans booed the first-round selection of quarterback Josh Freeman two years ago.

“We were afraid of losing him and I had to make a trade (with the Jets) to get him,” Dominik told me this weekend. “But we really felt good about Josh and believed in him. Today it’s easy to say we made the right call.”


Who knows when the NFL will be back. Relive the happier times with a visit back to our 2011 Draft Central.

Dominik is taking some minor heat about his two top selections, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who suffers from Erb’s Palsy, and Da’Quan Bowers, whose injured right knee caused him to fall out of the first round. Many mock drafts had Tampa Bay taking Bowers with its 20th pick in the first round.

“My owners asked me after the first round ended what I would do if Da’Quan was still available in the second round (51st pick), and I said we’d take him,” Dominik said. “I also told them he’d be taken long before that. Unlike a lot of teams, our doctors and trainers believe he can have a good career for us. So we have a plan for him. I think sometimes we have to trust our medical people, too.”

In Tennessee and Minnesota, fans are questioning the quarterback selections of Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, respectively. But both players are off the charts when it comes to talking football and possessing so-called leadership intangibles. They scored straight A's in their interviews.

Now it’s up to Titans QB coach Chris Palmer (he did make a mistake in Cleveland with Tim Couch) and Vikings counterpart Billy Musgrave to coach these quarterbacks up.

The Bowers, Locker and Ponder decisions were bold moves. So was Baltimore’s decision to take Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, whose personal issues overwhelmed his dominating football performances. The 2011 draft, whiich occurred during a lockout, will be remembered for those bold, nerve-wracking decisions, and those teams weren’t alone.

Carolina knows that Cam Newton isn’t Sam Bradford-ready for the NFL but took him anyway, believing in his physical and emotional upside. Hey, there wasn’t a prototypical “franchise quarterback” in this draft like a John Elway, Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman. In fact, I think Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick has as much chance as those taken ahead of him of being a successful NFL quarterback. I like his skill set, and I trust in 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

As much as I respect the Atlanta front office and owner Arthur Blank, a lot of teams wouldn’t have surrendered all those picks for Alabama receiver Julio Jones, including next year’s first-round pick. Of course, a couple of personnel people said they wouldn’t have done the trade for Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and we all know how he’s turned out in the pros.

Yes, the Falcons tried to talk Cincinnati out of A.J. Green, but the Bengals weren’t budging. To me, a greater need for Atlanta was on defense. Had the Falcons been able to draft Patrick Peterson or Von Miller with all that compensation, I’d feel a lot better for coach Mike Smith, who now has a bull’s-eye on his chest: Super Bowl or bust. Of course, Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers might be another big boost to Matt Ryan’s offensive options.

When Ron Wolf was running the Packers, he always had great success drafting quarterbacks behind Brett FavreMark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Ty Detmer and Matt Hasselbeck, to name a few. Bill Belichick has Tom Brady and still went for Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round. Everybody said it was a great value pick, but only if Brady gets hurt, and who in New England wants that? And, seriously, outside of preseason games, when is Mallett going to see the field? But like the Packers, Belichick is hoping to be able to someday trade Mallett as he did Matt Cassel.

Belichick did fill some running back needs, but we all thought the Patriots needed some defensive linemen.

In my brief conversations around the league, most GMs liked the drafts in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Green Bay. Scott Pioli had a rough first year with the Chiefs, but if these past two drafts pan out, well, Kansas City has a chance to win the AFC West.

Hey, it’s utterly amazing that men like Kevin Colbert in Pittsburgh and Ted Thompson in Green Bay can have quality drafts picking low in the rounds. Colbert has been one of the best in the business for years and never gets the superlative national attention like Belichick, Bill Polian and Ozzie Newsome. Granted, neither Colbert nor Thompson seeks the limelight. But both of these Super Bowl teams helped themselves for the future.

I was also impressed with Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert in Cleveland. With so many offensive needs, the Browns looked past this year in order to build a future with the help of Atlanta’s picks. The Browns were honest about it: Even with Julio Jones playing with Colt McCoy, nobody would pick them to beat Pittsburgh or Baltimore for the AFC North title.

Yes, the first-round potential trade between Baltimore and Chicago panned out in the end with both teams getting the player they wanted, but by not honoring their commitment to the Ravens, you have to wonder if anybody will trust Chicago again. It’s nice to apologize for your mistake, as Bears GM Jerry Angelo did, but it’s the principle of the deal. In fact, I’ll remember the TV shots of Joel Bussert, the NFL’s personnel guru, barking into his telephone as the Ravens passed in the first round and the Chiefs immediately jumped in to make their John Baldwin selection.

I figure this happens in Texas or Florida, but where I live, in Southern California’s Inland Empire, two high schools had a historic run. Three players who played together at Colton High — cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright and running back Allen Bradford — all were drafted last weekend. The Carter brothers from Fontana Kaiser were picked, too. Chris was taken by the Steelers and brother David by the Cardinals.

Seattle had a puzzling draft to me, but maybe the Seahawks can fix things in free agency, especially if they can trade for Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb, who also has some interest from the Dolphins. The Redskins need a quarterback, too, no matter how much they tell me Mike Shanahan and his son can make John Beck into a winner. Shanahan simply didn’t have enough interest in Blaine Gabbert, who now figures to be a thorn in David Garrard’s side.

The Eagles, who needed a cornerback, loaded up on offensive linemen in order to protect Michael Vick. Among those guards was Iowa’s Julian Vandervelde, and he’s perfectly prepared for rookie night whenever training camps open. Not only can Vandervelde sing his Iowa fight song, but the big kid can sing opera.

Tagged: Falcons, Bengals, Browns, Titans, Chiefs, Vikings, Patriots, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Jaguars, Ravens, Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Cassel, John Beck, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Smith, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Ryan Mallett

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