Each and every year, there are teams who perform well in the NFL Draft and teams who don't. The teams who excel in the draft also excel on the field and vice versa. It's not rocket science.
And don't get it twisted, the guys who run the draft rooms for these NFL teams are fundamentally no different than you when you're in your fantasy football draft. They want to hit home runs with all of their picks and grab the best players available at every turn.
Here are the five players I believe were the biggest steals in the 2011 NFL Draft based on where they were drafted and their value to the teams who drafted them:
- Nick Fairley, Pick 13, Detroit Lions It should be criminal what the Lions did to the rest of the NFL with the 13th overall pick. There is simply no way "Nasty Nick" should have been available that late, allowing head coach Jim Schwartz to pair his newest first-rounder with last year's first-round stud, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh. But give Detroit all the credit in the world for being opportunistic in realizing their good fortune. General Manager Martin Mayhew is clearly the anti-Millen and defensive tackle is apparently the anti-WR now. Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte fantasy owners beware. The Lions should no longer be a 30-point game waiting to happen.
- Da'Quan Bowers, Pick 51, Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Okay, okay, okay. I know what you're thinking. What about the knee? I'm not saying that Bowers is going to be a 10-time Pro Bowler here, or even that he'll play 10 years in the league. But what I am saying is that Bowers is a big-time edge rushing talent who should be enough of a disruptive force in whatever time he has in the NFL to make 31 other teams wish they'd have reconsidered their stance on him. Bowers will team with Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price to turn the Bucs defensive front into one of the strengths of the team.
- Nate Irving, Pick 67, Denver Broncos-Unlike most draftniks, I had Irving ranked as my No. 1 inside linebacker. And it wasn't even close. I actually gave Irving a first round grade although I knew he would never go that high. But this guy is a player. Period. You can line him up inside or outside, in a 3-4 or 4-3, and he makes plays behind the line of scrimmage as well as he does downfield. His ability is one thing, but his motivation is a whole different story. To keep it short, Irving almost had football and, in fact, his life taken from him a couple of years ago in an incredibly gnarly car accident. His drive got him through that dark time and back onto the football field, playing as if nothing had ever happened. If Irving can beat death, the NFL should be no problem.
- Ryan Mallett, Pick 74, New England Patriots-Off the field issues caused this draft's purest passer, the kid with the next golden arm, to freefall all the way into the third round despite teams spazzing out and drafting far less talented QBs (I'm looking at you, Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick) ridiculously high. Oh well, leave it to Bill Belichick to recognize a good thing when he sees it. Worst case scenario for Mallett is that he sits for a couple of years and learns how to be a professional quarterback as he trains at the feet of Tom Brady before the Pats deal him into a starting opportunity a la Matt Schaub going from Atlanta to Houston in 2007. Best-case scenario? Mallett sits, learns and becomes the heir apparent to TB12 in three or four years. Win-win.
- Marcus Cannon, Pick 138, New England Patriots-Do you ever wonder why the Patriots have been so good for so long? Besides Tom Brady, it's because New England knows how to manipulate the draft. Cannon is another case in point. Despite recently having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the potential reward here on Cannon is well worth the risk. In fact, the risk in these situations for someone Cannon's age (22) is minimal. He has a 90% chance of full recovery and should be done with his treatments prior to training camp. So the Patriots get the same player who dominated the 11th overall pick this year, J.J. Watt, in this past Rose Bowl. Only New England gets their guy 127 slots later. I call that nice value.