Here are some first thoughts on the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. We’ll do a review of every team after the entire draft is complete.
*The Panthers did what they had to do in taking Cam Newton. I never understood the national questions about whether the team would actually take Newton; it became clear early on that Newton was Carolina’s guy. Yes, there is some bust potential, but there is also tremendous upside. The other thing that has shocked me about Newton is how many fans simply don’t like him. He is very divisive among the Panthers’ fanbase. Still, that’s nothing a few wins won’t cure.
*Cleveland was a big winner as it traded down from 6 to 27 so that the Falcons could take WR Julio Jones. The Browns added an extra second-round pick and fourth-round pick this year, plus 2012 first- and fourth-rounders. That’s a huge haul – especially when you compare it to the piddling return the Browns got for moving from 5 to 22 just two years ago. Cleveland ended up picking NT Phil Taylor of Baylor at 21 (giving up a third-rounder in the process), but they’re still well-equipped to make a big splash in Day 2 of the draft.
*Atlanta, meanwhile, takes a big risk on Jones. But there wasn’t another receiver on the board anywhere close to Jones, and that kind of offensive explosiveness across from Roddy White is one of Atlanta’s few gaping holes. The Falcons are gambling that they’ll be contenders once again, which will limit the value of their 2012 first-rounder. But you have to admire a contender that goes for it in this fashion.
*It looked as though the quarterback class would get incredibly crazy in this draft when the Titans took Jake Locker at No. 8. (Who would have seen that coming?) Blaine Gabbert’s draft freefall ended when the Jaguars gave up their second-rounder to move up to 10 to get him. The Vikings then were left to take the best QB on their board, Christian Ponder, at 12. We like Jacksonville’s move the best. Gabbert may never be a great quarterback, but he can be an above-average one, and top-12 signal callers are hard to find. Incumbent David Garrard is basically a league average quarterback, and Gabbert can be better. When he fell into the neighborhood of their pick, the Jaguars had to act. Locker is a great leader and the anti-Vince Young in Tennessee, but we’re still concerned about whether he can turn his potential into production. Ponder is a system-specific quarterback, and the Vikings had to reach to get him because their trade-down attempts failed. We prefer Andy Dalton (still on the board) to Ponder, but the Vikings had to get an answer at quarterback, and Ponder could be that.
*Found it funny that the 49ers took another Al Smith in the first round. As we posted on Twitter, they can only hope Aldon (a pass-rusher out of Missouri) turns out to be a better investment than Alex was.
*The Patriots once again used their draft currency to add a future first-round pick. The thing about trading for future first-rounders is that once you start down the path, it’s easy to stay on that path. The reverse is also true – when you start trading away future picks, it’s hard to stop. That’s the hole that the Panthers are in right now. New England now has five picks today, including the first pick of the second round – which could become the Andy Dalton sweepstakes for teams like the Bengals, 49ers, and Bills who didn’t get a quarterback in the first round. And with so many picks, the Patriots are perfectly positioned to take a chance on DaQuan Bowers, the defensive end with major knee questions and also major talent. The Pats need a pass rush, and Bowers would fit the bill – even if he can only play a few years. We did like the Patriots’ first pick, OT Nate Solder. He has incredible talent, and the Patriots will give him top-flight coaching.
*I didn’t love the fact that the Saints gave up a future first-rounder to get Mark Ingram. Ingram strikes us as a good, not great, back, and if New Orleans’ pick is in the top 20 next year, they will have overpaid to get him. But the Saints consider themselves contenders, and like the Falcons they added one of the few rookies who can make an offensive impact right away. Adding Cameron Jordan when they did was a better move, especially if Jordan can grow into a 4-3 defensive end while maintaining some pass-rush presence.