Shock moves, dramatic trades, a run on quarterbacks, star names falling and teams gambling on players early; the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft seemed to have everything.
Viewers were treated to an entertaining night as one of the NFL’s marquee events took centre stage. The top five picks provided little surprise, with Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson being chosen.
The story of the night, however, surrounded the fate of the quarterbacks. Cam Newton, as expected, went number one to the Carolina Panthers, but the destination of three of the remaining quarterbacks was the main shock of an eventful night.
The quarterback class was generally deemed to be weak, but some experts predicted that six signal callers would be picked in the first round. In the end, only four had their name read out, but all were gone by the twelfth selection.
It is the first time since 1999 that four quarterbacks have gone in the top 12 picks, and that year the majority were busts at NFL level. Blaine Gabbert was expected to be the second quarterback chosen but he slipped past the Bills, Bengals, Cardinals and 49ers, who all need help at that position.
Then came the Tennessee Titans at eight, who shocked onlookers by choosing Jake Locker. Locker was touted to be a possible number one overall pick in 2010, but after an abject 2010 college season, his stock had fallen significantly and he was projected as a second rounder. The Titans obviously felt Locker would not be on the board at their second round pick and decided to act early, but the selection is distinctly risky.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were not one of the teams thought to be involved in the quarterback sweepstakes, as David Garrard is seen as a settled, if erratic, number one quarterback in Jacksonville. The Jaguars, however, traded up to 10 from 16 to select Blaine Gabbert, who many believe will be this Draft best quarterback. Jacksonville included a 2nd round pick (49th overall) to complete the trade.
The Minnesota Vikings claimed Christian Ponder at 12 to end the run on quarterbacks. The Vikings are desperately in need of help at quarterback after the retirement of Brett Favre, but Ponder was projected to go between 25 and 40.
Before the quarterback shocks, the Atlanta Falcons made the boldest move of the draft. Atlanta had the best record in the NFC last year and are primed for a tilt at a Super Bowl title. The Falcons have a talented defence, good running back, franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and stud wide receiver in Roddy White. Armed with this arsenal, the Falcons decided to move up from 27 to the sixth pick overall to select wide receiver Julio Jones.
Atlanta feel they are a few key pieces away from being a title winning outfit, but the Falcons gave up a King’s ransom to select the talented receiver. The Browns, who are looking to rebuild their ailing franchise, received Atlanta’s 1st, 2nd and 4th round picks this year and their 1st and 4th next year. Both teams will be delighted as the Falcons selected a game breaker and the Browns have the leverage to add several young, talented players to their squad.
Another shock was the Heuston Texans decision to select defensive end J.J. Watt at 11. Watt was highly touted, but the Texans have a porous secondary and could have chosen the Draft’s second best cornerback Prince Amukamara. The cornerback instead fell to the New York Giants at 19, who grabbed one of the steals of the Draft.
With so many quarterbacks going inordinately early, some of the Draft’s most talented players began to fall. The Detroit Lions selected defensive tackle Nick Fairley at 13. The Lions will now boast one of the league’s most imposing defensive line tandems in Fairley and defensive rookie of the year Ndamukong Suh, which will alleviate many of the Lions’ run defence woes.
The Rams’ selection of Robert Quinn at 14 must also be considered a steal. The pass rusher was touted as a potential number one overall pick before he missed the whole 2010 season and will be a potent weapon on the Rams’ defence.
Highly rated offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo and defensive end Cameron Jordan fell to the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints in the 20s, allowing two of the league’s better teams to secure talented young players.
The San Francisco 49ers selecting pass rusher Aldon Smith at seven and the Seattle Seahawks taking James Carpenter at 25 were also surprising, as Smith was project as a mid first round prospect and Carpenter was touted to go in the middle of the second.
As the Draft moved into the second half of the first round, the offensive and defensive linemen started to fly off the board. In all, eight offensive linemen were chosen in the first round, while 13 defensive linemen and outside linebackers were selected.
The round’s most bizarre moment came at the Baltimore Ravens’ selection, when a trade fell through and their time elapsed. The Chiefs quickly selected wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and the Ravens were left to select cornerback Jimmy Smith a pick later.
There was still time for another trade at the bottom of the round, with the New Orleans Saints trading their second round pick (56th overall) and a first round choice in 2012 to select running back Mark Ingram. Despite the selection, the 2011 Draft is the first since the league merger in 1967 to feature less than two running backs.
The second and third rounds of the Draft will air on ESPN and NFL.com tonight.