NFL Draft 2011: 25 Bold Predictions for Draft Season

Ryan FallerAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: 25 Bold Predictions for Draft Season

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    Who needs the playoffs? The events leading up to and during the NFL Draft are where it's at. At least for some of us.

    That includes not only the draft itself, but the Senior Bowl at the end of January and scouting combine in February.

    In that spirit, here are some things to keep in mind between now and when the final draft pick is selected on April 30.

The Panthers Will Trade Away the First Overall Pick

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    Sure, Carolina could use Andrew Luck, but it seems more probable that the Panthers would trade down with a team like the Redskins for a number of choices throughout the draft.

    This would allow the front office to address more holes while also retaining an excellent chance at selecting a franchise quarterback.

Cam Newton Will Weaken His Draft Value

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    Assuming Newton forgoes his senior season at Auburn, he will be one of the higher-rated quarterbacks in the 2011 class. So, why the drop-off? A stellar performance against Oregon would help, and I’m not talking about 200 yards on 15 carries.

    Scouts want to see Newton’s footwork, pocket presence and arm strength—none of which will really be on display between now and the draft, unless he volunteers to perform drills at the combine next month.

    Also, it remains to be seen whether NFL teams consider Newton, though cleared by the NCAA, to have character concerns in the wake of the pay-for-play scandal.

Defense Will Rule the Draft’s First Day

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    With only a limited supply of impact players at quarterback, receiver and running back, defensive stars will be in demand in the first round. And the supply will be sufficient.

    Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Patrick Peterson, Da’Quan Bowers, Prince Amukamara, Robert Quinn, Adrian Clayborn and Ryan Kerrigan are just a fraction of the defensive players expected to have a chance of being selected within the first 32 picks.

The Mass Exodus out of Tuscaloosa Will Continue

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    Ten total Alabama players are eligible for the draft, including probable first-rounders Marcell Dareus, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram. Should four others get selected, 2011 will be the second straight year Nick Saban has sent seven players to the NFL.

    Of course, when you recruit like ‘Bama, losing players is of little consequence.

Three Corners Will Be Among the First 20 Picks

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    We’ve already mentioned the fact that this draft will be skewed toward the defensive side of the ball, but 2011 seems to be a particularly trendy year for members of the secondary, especially corners.

    Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara are certain to go in the top 10, and they’ll be followed by fellow corner Janoris Jenkins, another first-round-worthy talent, and safeties Rahim Moore and Robert Sands, two second-round prospects.

Jim Harbaugh Will Be Heading Up the Niners’ Draft

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    Hours ago, I wrote a piece detailing how perfectly suited Harbaugh is for the upcoming vacancy at Michigan. And he is.

    But the allure of the NFL may be too powerful, specifically in San Francisco, where he would likely be given control over several draft calls that include choosing a quarterback.

The Patriots Will Have the 32nd Pick

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    As of right now, they do. But they’ll retain the right to that pick when they enter draft season activities as champions of Super Bowl XLV.

Jake Locker Will Be Passed Over in the First Round

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    Locker looks like a fool for coming back for his senior season, though his decision to stay in school is no less admirable.

    Despite a strong showing against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, Locker did little to show scouts he is anything more than a shifty runner with a good arm, and his slip in the draft should reflect this.

One Running Back Will Be Taken in the First Round

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    That would be Alabama’s Mark Ingram, who will go to the Miami Dolphins at No. 15. Past him, there’s nobody worthy of bypassing the wealth of defensive talent in early portions of the second round, let alone the latter half of the first.

Justin Blackmon Will Be the Combine’s Most Impressive WR

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    With all due respect to A.J. Green and Julio Jones, Blackmon was college football’s most dominant receiver this season, and his rare combination of speed, strength and athletic ability will be evident in pre-draft workouts.

Someone Will Display Some Serious Machismo in the Bench Press

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    Last year, it was former Missouri All-Big 12 linebacker Sean Weatherspoon who rode an impressive show of strength to a first-round selection, putting up 34 reps prior to getting picked by Atlanta at 19th overall.

    The player nabbing the strongman label in 2011 is anybody’s guess, but it’s safe to assume it will be someone we may not expect.

Jerrel Jernigan’s Stock Will Soar During the Senior Bowl

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    The Senior Bowl, with the exception of the combine, is the best chance draft hopefuls have at impressing scouts. And Jernigan, though undersized, has the skill and intangibles to raise some eyebrows and extend Troy University’s recent history of draft gems.

Only Two Quarterbacks Will Go in the First Round

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    With the trio of Locker, Newton and Mallett handicapped by a mixture of physical and off-the-field issues, Luck is the only one among the 2011 class of quarterbacks to be selected in the first six or seven picks.

    His lone companion in the first round will be Blaine Gabbert, who on Monday announced his plans to forgo his senior season at Missouri.

Villanova’s Matt Szczur will climb draft boards

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    Built like Wes Welker but blessed with the versatility of an Antwaan Randle El, Szczur will participate in the Senior Bowl, hoping to showcase his diversity for NFL scouts.

    Currently projected as high as a fourth-round pick, Szczur played in only eight games in 2010 for the Wildcats but totaled 889 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns as a receiver, runner and returner. He even completed seven of eight passes.

    If there’s s downside to the 5’10”, 205-pound Szczur, it’s that he was recently drafted by the Chicago Cubs and may still pursue a professional baseball career.

Adrian Clayborn’s Draft Stock Will Plummet

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    Without a strong showing in either the Senior Bowl or Scouting Combine, that is.

    Somehow voted an All-American despite recording only 3.5 sacks in 2010, Clayborn did nothing in the Insight Bowl against Missouri to quell concerns about the drop-off in production between this season and his junior campaign of 2009, when he registered 11.5 sacks.

John Elway Will Be Calling the Shots in Denver

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    Elway is expected to be introduced as the Broncos’ vice president of football operations this week, so it goes without saying that the Hall of Famer will be front-and-center on all the happenings on draft day, in collaboration with whoever assumes the head-coaching duties.

    But how evenly split will that power be between Elway and the head coach, especially if Denver, which picks second overall, is in the market for another quarterback in the first round?

Ryan Mallett Will Wish He Would Have Stayed at Arkansas

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    Mallett’s as talented as any quarterback in the draft, but his unceremonious departure from Michigan has raised concerns about his maturity, forcing some teams to give pause and causing him to slip down draft boards.

    With so much defensive talent available in the first round, Mallett may very well slip to the second round, which wouldn’t exactly justify coming out early.

Noel Devine Will Post the Combine’s Fastest 40-Yard Dash

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    There’s always some reserve wide receiver from an FCS school that blows people’s hair back in the 40, but my money’s on Devine, who is consistently rated as one of the fastest players in college football.

    I doubt, though, that he’ll break the high mark of 2010 set by Jacoby Ford, who ran a blistering 4.28.

Mel Kiper Jr. Will Make Todd McShay His You-Know-What

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    In December, it starts out as friendly squabbling between two competent draft analysts. But as the winter drags on, and more and more underclassmen declare for the draft, Kiper vs. McShay goes from My Little Pony to the Bloods vs. the Crips.

    And by draft day, it gets completely ugly and embarrassingly one-sided, as Kiper demeans the younger McShay at every turn while spitting stats on the second-string long-snapper at Fordham.

Chris Berman Will Be Even More Annoying Than Last Year

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    Berman’s usefulness and relevancy work on a sliding scale, so, naturally, by this time, his quips and snark are so old that we have no use for them anymore.

Mr. Irrelevant Will Not Come from Weber State

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    He can’t. He musn’t. If so, that would mean Mr. Irrelevant will have been a Wildcat on three separate occasions, one more than any other school.

    Anybody who knows the draft also knows that the title of Mr. Irrelevant is one of equal opportunity, and favoring one program over countless others is simply unfair and un-American.

Tyrod Taylor—the Receiver, Not the Quarterback—Will Get Drafted

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    That’s according to ESPN, which has Taylor rated as 25th-best receiver in the draft but unranked as a quarterback prospect.

    I suppose it makes sense. Taylor, though quick and very athletic, doesn’t really have an NFL arm or prototypical height. I just find it interesting that ESPN found it necessary to make him a fourth of an inch taller as a receiver.

The Senior Bowl Will Make or Break Andy Dalton, Greg McElroy

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    As of now, Dalton and McElroy are rated 11th and 12th, respectively, among draft-eligible quarterbacks. From that position, neither figures to be taken within the first three or four rounds, which is hard to comprehend considering what each has done during his respective career.

    Dalton and McElroy don’t have the size or arm strength that scouts covet, but a noteworthy performance in Mobile on Jan. 29 could be the difference between waiting around until Day 3 or getting plucked on Day 2.

The Raiders Will Not Draft Another Bust in the First Round

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    Consider it impossible for even Al Davis to screw up the Raiders' first-round draft plans in 2011.

    That’s because the Raiders traded away their first selection for 2011 when the team obtained Richard Seymour from the Patriots a couple seasons ago, meaning there’s no chance of a second coming of JaMarcus Russell or Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The Draft Will Again Steal the Television Spotlight

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    NFL officials were doing somersaults after their decision to air the first round of last year’s draft in prime time garnered record ratings, even outdrawing the NBA playoffs. Considering professional football’s amateur draft is largely comprised of young men accepting jerseys and hats at a podium, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

    And it will be for the foreseeable future, as even the most predictable, monotonous and dissected of NFL events is sure to make for better TV than anything any other professional sport has to offer.