2011 NFL Draft Grades: The 10 Biggest Steals and Reaches of the 1st Round
After much speculation and a whole bunch of massively incorrect mock drafts, the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft is complete.
And it certainly wasn't without its fair share of drama and surprise.
But nothing surprised us more than some of the reaches made early, and some of the value that dropped as a result.
I couldn't bring myself to focus either on steals or reaches, so here's a list with both. Now, these aren't draft grades in the strictest sense. Just because a guy was a reach doesn't mean he'll be bad. Just because he was a steal doesn't mean he'll be good.
This is just about projected value weighed against where these players were taken.
Of the 32 picks made in the first round, here are both the five biggest steals and the five biggest reaches of the first round.
5th Biggest Reach: Jonathan Baldwin to Kansas City
This was a "need" pick, without question, and obviously Todd Haley and Scott Pioli saw something they liked in Jon Baldwin. Those guys tend to know how to evaluate personnel, so I can't judge too harshly.
The runaway top two receivers on the board, Julio Jones and A.J. Green, were long gone, and the third-best receiver was sort of a toss up.
But I'm not sure anybody thought it was Baldwin. Titus Young, maybe. Torrey Smith, perhaps. Randall Cobb was another possibility. But Baldwin? He may well have been there a round later.
In fact, any of those guys might have been there a round later.
But Baldwin has probably the most impressive physical skills of the bunch, which gives him the greatest upside, especially with his 6'4" frame.
Upside or no, though, Baldwin was a solid second-rounder coming in, which makes this a reach any way you slice it.
5th Biggest Steal: Blaine Gabbert to Jacksonville
This was an interesting pick.
Blaine Gabbert didn't fall all that far, but considering he was once considered the top quarterback on the board, and he was nabbed by the team drafting 16th, that's pretty good value.
Granted, the Jaguars had to trade up to get him, but they only had to trade up to 10th when lots of experts had him going in the top five. It cost Jacksonville their second-round pick, but it could have been much worse.
Was quarterback the team's biggest need? Debatable, but the Jaguars could go the Aaron Rodgers route with him while they let David Garrard play out the remainder of his time with Jacksonville.
It makes any first-round quarterback sitting the bench look good when you bring up Aaron Rodgers.
4th Biggest Reach: Jake Locker to Tennessee
It's weird, because I was going to put Locker much higher on this list.
But you know what? If he had declared a year ago and been selected eighth overall, nobody would have found it the least bit odd.
Unlike most of the quarterbacks on the board this year, at least Locker has a complete career of college work to look at.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that the Titans could have probably gotten him a million other (more efficient) ways. Trade down? Trade up from second round? Original pick in second round?
Most likely the Titans decided they liked Locker and were scared the Vikings might reach for him, too, so they secured him early, knowing they had only Rusty Smith to turn to otherwise.
Still, a projected second-rounder just went eighth. Enough said.
4th Biggest Steal: Robert Quinn to St. Louis
Robert Quinn was once told his football career was over when a benign tumor was discovered in his brain.
That's an unusual medical red flag for a guy to have. But after a successful surgery on it, he still came out of college considered a top 10 pick or higher.
The Rams may not have gotten the guy they wanted, Julio Jones, but Quinn makes for a very fine consolation prize, especially with the 14th-overall pick.
The danger with Quinn, aside from the fact that his tumor has to be checked on annually, is that he was caught up with an agent scandal at UNC that caused him to miss his senior season. So even though the Rams are technically getting a top pick, he comes with plenty of risk.
He also comes with unusual value for the middle of the round.
3rd Biggest Reach: James Carpenter to Seattle
Even Nick Saban was surprised. His eyebrows went up and you could read his lips as he repeated his former player's name in surprise.
James Carpenter, who may play either guard or tackle as a Seahawk, wasn't necessarily a bad pick. He just went about a half-round earlier than anyone expected.
More to the point, he went earlier than about three or more other linemen expected to beat him off the board.
Pete Carroll probably has a method to his madness, but if Gabe Carimi or Derek Sherrod (both went later, both projected to go earlier) end up outperforming Carpenter, it's just going to look like madness.
3rd Biggest Steal: Nick Fairley to Detroit
At one point in time, Nick Fairley was looking at the very real possibility of being picked No. 1 overall.
That means the Detroit Lions, in back-to-back years, got their hands on defensive tackles once projected as the top overall pick.
Last year, they only had to wait one pick. This year they waited 12.
But they still got their man.
At worst, Fairley was assumed to be off the board by the eighth overall pick, to Tennessee. But he kept sliding, and the Lions got, at the very least, a top five talent, despite drafting 13th.
Rumor has it the Lions considered trading up for fear that Minnesota might take Fairley, but they stood pat.
2nd Biggest Reach: Christian Ponder to Minnesota
New regime, new era, same confusing decisions regarding quarterbacks.
Minnesota probably could have traded back in the second round and still gotten Christian Ponder. His name wasn't even on anybody's lips yet.
Perhaps they panicked? They were rumored to be interested in Jake Locker, but he came off the board at eighth. They might have gone after Blaine Gabbert, but he went 10th.
Did they just get it in their heads that they were going to take a quarterback there no matter what?
Or did they panic about a run of quarterbacks leaving them with no options?
Or were they just so enamored with Ponder that they didn't care where they took him? Because there was no indication of that before Thursday.
Regardless of what their motivation was, the Vikings just took Ponder about a round-and-a-half earlier than anyone expected.
2nd Biggest Steal: Cameron Jordan to New Orleans
I'm not even sure Cameron Jordan was on New Orleans' big board. That's how sure everyone was that he would be gone by the 24th overall pick.
Very few expected him to make it out of the top 15, and he was once talked about as a top 10 guy. Instead, the Saints just sat back calmly and grabbed their new star DE with the 24th pick.
No trades and no effort, just patience, and one of the best players on the board to fell into their laps.
Now you're drafting with value, New Orleans.
Biggest Reach: Julio Jones to Atlanta
This is right within Julio Jones' draft range. No surprise at all to see him go sixth overall.
Just a little bit surprising to see the Falcons mortgage almost an entire draft's worth of picks to get him.
That's their 2011 and 2012 first-round picks, their 2011 second-round pick, and their 2011 and 2012 fourth-round picks. Five picks in all.
All for a guy who will probably touch the football about five-to-10 times a game.
Jones could be great. He could make the Pro Bowl next year. That still doesn't justify moving up 21 spots and giving up a king's ransom for a receiver, even one you really, really want.
Now, I will give Thomas Dimitroff some credit for being bold. If there was one thing the Falcons needed, it was explosiveness, and Jones may well provide that.
That's just a lot of draft picks to give up for one guy, especially when he doesn't play a position that allows him to make an impact every down.
Biggest Steal: Prince Amukamara to New York Giants
No way was Prince Amukamara going to make it past the 13th pick. If he didn't come off the board in the top 10, surely he wouldn't make it past Houston, Minnesota and Detroit, all teams desperate for help at corner.
He did. And then he made it through six more spots.
And the New York Giants had no choice but to take him.
It isn't that the Giants really needed corner help. They weren't doing great, but they weren't bad. And indeed, they didn't expect to be anywhere near a cornerback worth taking.
But when they got on the clock, there was Prince. Prince Amukamara, the shutdown corner projected to go as high as fifth overall, still sitting there at 19th.
They couldn't pass on that kind of value. As a result, they may have gotten the biggest steal of the draft, and almost certainly of the first round.
Mark Ingram to New Orleans was pretty gutsy, but I don't know if it qualifies as a true steal, since his stock was slipping towards the second round anyway.
Aldon Smith to San Francisco was a surprise. It was a bit of a reach for him to go as high as seventh, but I figured he would be gone at 11th to Houston, so it's not that wide a reach after all.
Da'Quan Bowers slid right out of the first round amidst fears of a potentially degenerative knee condition. The fact that 31 teams passed on him lends some credibility to those fears. Of course, if he's healthy, some team in the second round is going to get very, very lucky.
Gabe Carimi to Chicago seemed like a good pick. He was looking at a mid-to-high 20s grade and ended up getting picked 29th in a small slide. More surprising than his actual draft position was that James Carpenter and Danny Watkins went higher.