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NFL Draft: 5 Things We Learned from Last Year's Event

Mike FastContributor IApril 25, 2012

NFL Draft: 5 Things We Learned from Last Year's Event

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    The mock drafts are in. The workouts are finished. The interviews have concluded. 

    All that's left now is to wait for Thursday night. 

    Since our society is so kinetic, I've come up with a list of five things we learned from last year's draft to keep us entertained.

    Someone once told me: "If you don't study history you're bound to repeat it."

    That's not a bad idea. Let's look back at the 2011 NFL Draft.

1. Cam Was Worth It

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    Full disclosure: I was a Cam Newton doubter.

    Was.

    In 2011, Newton proved his doubters wrong. If you're someone who still doubts Newton, re-visit his accomplishments of a season ago with an open mind.

    In 2009, the Panthers were 2-14. In 2010, after drafting Newton first overall, they finished with a 6-10 record.

    Physically, Newton is a beast. He's basically a tight end playing quarterback (6'5", 248 pounds). He threw for over 4,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie quarterback. He was also named the 2011 NFL Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    But all of those accomplishments are nothing compared to this: Newton racked up 14 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. No quarterback has ever ran for that many touchdowns. Ever. 

    Newton was 22 when he ran for his 14th touchdown in 2011. Only seven other players in the history of the NFL have ran for as many touchdowns at that age or younger. They are: Clinton Portis, Barry Sanders*, Ickey Woods, Fred Taylor, Curtis Martin*, Gale Sayers* and Jim Brown*.

    The biggest worry for any team, especially one with the top overall pick, is whether or not their draft choice will be worth it. 

    Newton is worth it.

    *NFL Hall of Famer

2. Patience Pays Off

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    The two best wide receivers in last year's draft were A.J. Green (4th overall, Georgia) and Julio Jones (6th overall, Alabama).

    Green went to the Bengals and Jones went to the Falcons.

    Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Green made 15 starts. Jones made 13 starts.

    So what's the difference? Both players had very good seasons for their respective teams, and both were able to get to the playoffs in their rookie season.

    The difference (besides the city each player plays in) is that the Bengals didn't have to trade away five picks to get Green. The Falcons traded five picks to get Jones.

    Here are the draft picks the Falcons traded (to Cleveland) in order to draft Jones:

    • 2011 1st-round pick (No. 26 overall, which was traded to Kansas City for No. 21 overall (Phil Taylor, DL, Baylor))
    • 2011 2nd-round pick (Greg Little, WR, UNC, No. 59 overall)
    • 2011 4th-round pick (Owen Marecic, RB, Stanford, No. 124 overall)
    • 2012 1st-round pick (No. 22 overall)
    • 2012 4th-round pick (No. 118 overall)

    Cincinnati didn't have to give up any of that.

    And, in the second round, the Bengals selected Andy Dalton, who looks like he will be their quarterback for the next 10-plus years.

    Teams that didn't exercise patience while drafting a quarterback? Tennessee (drafted Jake Locker at No. 8), Jacksonville (traded up from No. 16 to draft Blaine Gabbert at No. 10) and Minnesota (drafted Christian Ponder at No. 12).

    Those teams had a combined record of 17-31 (35.4 percent) in 2011.

    The Bengals went 9-7 (56.3 percent) and made the playoffs.

3. It Doesn't Matter Who the Patriots Draft

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    Since Bill Belichick has been the head coach of the Patriots, it seems like they have stockpiled draft picks year after year.

    With their first-round selection last year (No. 17), New England drafted Nate Solder, an offensive tackle from Colorado. He played in every game last season, making 13 starts. Perfect timing considering their long-time left tackle Matt Light recently retired.

    In addition, the Patriots can improve just as much through free agency (Wes Welker and Randy Moss in 2007) as they can through the draft (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in 2010).

    From 2001-2012, New England went to five Super Bowls, winning three of them (2001, 2003, 2004).

    In the grand scheme of things, as long as the Patriots' quarterback is Tom Brady and their head coach is Bill Belichick, it doesn't matter who they draft.

4. 49ers, Lions Turn the Corner

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    Both the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions finished 2010 with a record of 6-10, perpetuating a cycle of losing and lost hope. 

    The draft of 2011 was really good to each of these teams, as their win-loss records drastically improved.

    Last year, the 49ers went 13-3, gained a first-round bye and lost in overtime of the NFC Championship to the eventual Super Bowl Champions (New York Giants). The Lions posted a record of 10-6, and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

    Despite this infamous post-game confrontation between both head coaches during Week 6, both franchises had a lot to be proud of in 2011.

    Not only did they vastly improve their records, but they drafted players who made immediate impacts and added depth.

    The 49ers' draft class included players such as defensive end Aldon Smith and running back Kendall Hunter.

    Smith finished fifth in the entire league in sacks (14.0), while Hunter, although only receiving 128 touches, rushed for 4.2 yards per carry, averaged 12.2 yards per reception and never fumbled.

    The Lions' draft class, while only consisting of five picks, saw two players show promise in their rookie year.

    Defensive tackle Nick Fairley (defensive MVP of the 2011 BCS National Championship game) only played in 10 games due to injury. However, he was a disruptive presence in Detroit's defensive front. Wide receiver Titus Young caught 48 passes for 607 yards and six touchdowns in only nine starts.

    I will remind you that Young plays the same position as Calvin Johnson.

    If not for Mikel Leshoure's torn achilles tendon and marijuana busts, the Lions' 2011 draft class could have been even better.

5. Cowboys Secure Romo's Future

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    The Cowboys needed to draft a fixture at left tackle, as well as another dynamic running back to help maximize Tony Romo's productivity.

    In 2011, they did just that, drafting offensive tackle Tyron Smith (ninth overall) and running back DeMarco Murray (71st overall).

    Smith started each of the Cowboys' 16 games at right tackle. He's 6'5", 311 pounds, and didn't turn 21 until Week 14 of his rookie year. He figures to be able to move to left tackle sooner than later, and should prove more than capable of protecting Romo's blind side for the duration of the quarterback's career.

    Murray, while only starting seven games in 2011, rushed for 897 yards on 164 carries (5.5 yards per carry average). The only other player to average 5.5 yards per carry (with at least 150 carries) was Bills running back Fred Jackson.

    Murray received 20-plus carries in a game five times. Three times he gained 135 yards or more, including Week 7, when he ran for 253 yards versus the Rams (ninth best all-time).

    With their rookie performances and future potential, Smith and Murray should help the Cowboys offense (and Romo) stay productive for a long time.

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