2011 NFL Draft: 25 Predictions About This Year's Draft
The 2011 NFL Draft should prove to be one for the record books. From the three days of live coverage to the uncertainty of when and if free agency will occur due to the contract negotiations with the players union, the NFL Draft has naturally grabbed the national spotlight and will command it from April 28-30.
Part of the excitement level surrounding the draft is the sheer intrigue and the mystery surrounding it. There is no real clear cut No. 1 draft pick as in prior years, as the plans of the Carolina Panthers are still somewhat up in the air. Most people believe that Cam Newton will be the first player selected, but there is still a lingering chance that Carolina will go in a different direction and upset the apple cart.
How many trades will be executed in the first round? Will any team be willing to accept 2012 draft picks as part of a trade package, when teams don't even know for sure that there will be a draft in 2012? How many quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round, and will head coaches or general managers lose their jobs due to making a reach for a quarterback? We will attempt to answer these questions and more in this slideshow presentation.
Digging through the grounds at Lilydale, New York, I uncovered the Buffalo Bills crystal ball used to draft Bruce Smith (I am lucky that I knew where it had been hiding). I have also consulted with the Magic 8-ball, and dusted off my Ouija Board to come up with the following predictions. Enjoy!
25. Positional Breakdown of the First Round
In trying to project the positional breakdown of the first round of the NFL Draft, I am going to say that there will be a total of four quarterbacks drafted in the first round.
Here is the entire breakdown:
24. Mike Pouncey Will Not Be Playing with His Twin Maurkice
Florida lineman Mike Pouncey will not make it to the Pittsburgh Steelers pick at No. 31. In fact, he won't make it out of the top half of the first round, as I have him becoming the second offensive lineman drafted in the entire draft.
The Pouncey brothers were hoping to be reunited to play next to each other in Pittsburgh, and while that would have made for a great story, it is not going to happen.
Now the family will have to decide which brother they want to see live every Sunday.
Maybe some sort of rotation basis will work. All families should be faced with such hard decisions, right?
23. Three Elite Athletes Who Will Become All-Pro
As gifted athletes as they were in college, the trio of elite athletes of LSU corner Patrick Peterson, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller will all continue on with a solid pro career. There will not be any major hiccups for the trio, as they should all be reaching All-Pro status between the end of their second and third seasons in the NFL.
These athletes were the cleanest and safest picks in the draft, and they will prove to the rest of the league that they would have been worthy of trying to trade up to secure their services.
The fourth elite athlete of the draft class, Julio Jones, has a chance to become All-Pro as well, but I think it happens for him after A.J. Green reaches that level first.
22. Three Quarterbacks That Teams Will Regret They Passed over
It is well documented that at least a dozen teams need help at the quarterback position and that number could conceivably be increased to 13 or 14 teams. With such an emphasis being placed on the QB-driven league, you either have a strong one or you are left to figure out how to get one.
As the top 20 picks are announced on Day 1 of the draft, the NFL teams that are counting themselves as part of the need-QB-help crowd will be dialing up the teams holding draft picks from No. 21-to-No. 32, in hopes of trading into the final dozen picks of Day 1 to secure their quarterbacks before another team beats them to it.
We don't claim to know exactly when they are going to be drafted, but I project that when the first several years of their playing careers have finally unfolded, all of the QB-needy teams that passed over Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick will rue the decision they made to pass on them.
All three quarterbacks will need some developmental time on the sidelines, but when they are deemed to be ready to play, all three will display the skills and smarts to be able to run NFL offenses. They will be able to justify the faith that their teams had in them from the beginning.
21. At Least 2 Head Coaches or GMs Will Be Fired for a QB Reach
I am projecting that whatever teams ultimately draft QBs Jake Locker and Andy Dalton will be making reaches at whatever points they draft them. Unfortunately for whoever had the majority of those decisions, this will ultimately prove to be the reason they were fired from their positions.
It is one thing to draft somebody because you think he can play at a specific position. It is another to draft somebody who can't play because you have a player who won't help your team, and it also prevented you from drafting somebody who could have helped you out. The net result is that you set your team's growth back anywhere from one to three years. If the pick was made in the first round, the damage done might even be more than three years.
20. Some Hometown Players Will Be Drafted by Their Local NFL Teams
As a good portion of NFL teams have local college teams in the immediate area or in their region, it is likely that some of the following will land draft picks from their local NFL teams. The two most compelling are Washington QB Jake Locker with the local Seattle Seahawks, and cancer victim Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich with his local New England Patriots.
Some other examples are: Josh Thomas, University of Buffalo corner, with the Buffalo Bills; Miami of Florida players Leonard Hankerson (WR), Allen Bailey (defensive end) and Brandon Harris (corner) with the Miami Dolphins; Stanford RB Owen Marecic with either the Oakland Raiders or San Francisco 49ers; Aaron Williams (Texas corner) with the Dallas Cowboys; and Colorado players Jimmy Smith (corner) or Nate Solder (tackle) with the Denver Broncos.
I realize there are many more, but it is always interesting to see an NFL team tap some of their local talent which allows alumni and friends to continue to support those players close to home.
19. No Running Backs Will Be Drafted in the First Round
The New England Patriots are probably hoping that Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, the running back from Alabama, falls out of the first round and is sitting there for them with the pick at No. 33. What a way to start off the second day of the draft.
The Dolphins are more concerned about their quarterback status, so they pass on Ingram to try to land one of the remaining quarterbacks.
Due to the continued use of a running-back-by-committee, and becoming more and more of a pass-first league, the NFL is slowly but surely de-emphasizing the use or need of running backs in the current grades.
Going through the entire first round and not drafting a single running back is just one more example of how the position is holding less and less importance in the modern NFL.
Another thing going against running backs is the recent results. For the 2010 NFL season, the top three rushers, and five of the top 11 in the NFL rankings last year, were drafted after the second round. That illustrates that teams can wait on quality running backs and don't need to reach or chase after them.
18. Christian Ponder Does Not Get Drafted in the First Round
While I personally like and respect the opinion of NFL Network Analyst Vic Carucci, I just don't buy into his claims that Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will be drafted in the first round.
True enough, Ponder has been moving up the draft boards since his positive showing at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine. But based on the concerns over his arm strength and his height, compared to that of other quarterbacks in his draft class, Ponder seems more likely to be picked up in the second round.
How deep in the second round will he go? I would not be surprised to see the Buffalo Bills draft him at No. 34, so if some other team values him greatly, they will have to swing a deal with the Patriots later in the evening, after Day 1 is done, or in the morning of Day 2. Otherwise, it will be too late to swing a deal.
17. A.J. Green Becomes NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
From the 2011 NFL Draft class, the final three in the voting for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year will come down to QB Cam Newton and wide receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
A.J. Green will win the award due to being able to continually make plays all year long. He uses his athletic skills to separate and make acrobatic catches that put him above the rest of his rookie class.
16. Only One North Carolina Player Gets Drafted in the First Round
For all of the talented players coming out of the North Carolina program, it appears that only one of the Tar Heels will be selected in the first round of the draft, and that will be Robert Quinn.
In Day 2, however, at least three more Tar Heels will be selected and possibly a fourth. For sure, Marvin Austin and Bruce Carter will be gone. There is a reasonable chance for Quan Sturdivant and Greg Little to also hear their names called.
What kind of a team would North Carolina have been in 2010 if all of their players were able to play together for that season? They could have been scary good.
15. No Pitt Panthers in Day 1, but 4 in Day 2
Another team that has draft-eligible players of both quantity and quality is the Pittsburgh Panthers. Although none of their players will be drafted in Day 1, I see four players going in Day 2.
The four would be defensive linemen Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, offensive lineman Jason Pinkston and talented receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
Whether or not any of them follows their head coach Dave Wannstedt to Buffalo remains to be seen.
14. Da'Quan Bowers Falls out of Top 12 Picks of Round 1
Based on all of the concerns about his knee, limited production overall for his college career, and trying to eliminate as much risk as possible in the top 12 picks, NFL teams will stay away from Da'Quan Bowers.
As we approach the early picks in the teens, his value and potential upside start to cancel out the risk and he will be grabbed in this area.
How long of a career he has, how long does his knee hold up and how long he remains effective at the NFL level are questions my crystal ball were not able to answer.
13. No RB from 2011 Draft Class Hits 1,000-Yard Mark in First 2 Years
The outcome will be the same for Mark Ingram, Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Williams and the rest of the running backs from the 2011 NFL Draft class.
Due to the continued emphasis on passing the ball, combined with the latest NFL trend of running-back-by-committee, no running back from this class will hit the 1,000-yard barrier in their first two years. As we attempt to flash forward to the 2013 season, it is hard to know what the new trends will be then, so from that point on, all bets are off.
It will become more frustrating for running backs, because their contract incentives will continue to become less significant and their overall value to teams will be downgraded as well. If they can catch the ball out of the backfield, that will be their saving grace for the next several years.
How will running backs be judged going forward? Will 500-to-800 yards be considered a solid season for running backs? It will be interesting to see how the trend continues to unfold. There will always be some teams that run the ball more than others, but we are speaking about the NFL as a general rule of thumb here.
12. Despite All the Red Flags, Nick Fairley Is Drafted in the Top 10
Besides his teammate Cam Newton, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley is one of those talented players that teams just seem to have a difficult time placing a proper ranking on. Is he a head case? Will he stay motivated once he signs a big contract? Was he a one-year wonder?
There were a number of questions on Fairley throughout the pre-draft to keep his stock fluid. It started out very high, it gradually kept moving down and then it started to move up after his workouts. But now here we are in the final week and it appears to be slightly moving up and down depending on which expert you listen to.
Once he has passed out of the top five picks, any team in the 6-to-10 range will recognize that he has the potential to make a big impact on the line of scrimmage and in making plays in the backfield. That talent will be too much for some teams to pass up, so he will be drafted in the top 10 after all.
11. Teams Looking to Switch to Offensive Picks on Day 2
Since the first round will see a bevy of defensive linemen coming off the board, Round 2 will see the offense getting the majority of the attention. Expect to see offensive linemen and wide receivers to be the heaviest positions in play, along with the few remaining quarterbacks being scooped up in the top half of the round.
There will still be a shortage of running backs being drafted over the first two rounds, and tight ends and safeties are avoided like they have the plague.
To illustrate my belief, here is a recent mock draft from NFL Network Senior Analyst Pat Kirwan, where he has 12 of the 16 picks in the first half of Round 2 going on the offensive side of the ball.
10. Round 3 Sees Tight Ends and Safeties Finally Coming off the Board
Largely ignored and passed over during the first two rounds, tight ends and safeties, the lightest positions from a top-grade perspective, finally see some major action in Round 3.
Figure as many as three tight ends will hear their names called in Round 3, while as many as four or five safeties could fall in this round.
Round 3 might very well see the entire 33 picks go by without a single quarterback drafted, unless some team feels like Ricky Stanzi is worthy of a pick there.
9. Buffalo Bills Will Draft at Least 3 Players from South Team
Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix got a close-up look at a good portion of the draft class when Gailey and his coaching staff were asked to coach the South team in the Senior Bowl game.
From the week-long interview, the Bills came away with a strong feel for what the work habits and abilities are of the players from the South team, and they will use that knowledge to their advantage by drafting at least three players from their team. It would make sense that Buddy Nix goes after more seniors, as that was all he drafted in the 2010 draft class, which is his way of avoiding the one-year-wonder types.
In fact, it would not surprise me at all to see the first two picks coming out of the South team roster, specifically Von Miller and Christian Ponder. If Ponder happens to already be gone, then other Round 2 options include Danny Watkins, Allen Bailey, Phil Taylor or Brooks Reed.
Over the course of the final seven rounds, at least one more South team senior player will be picked by the Bills, probably from the following group: James Carpenter, D.J. Williams, Marcus Gilchrist, DeAndre McDaniel, Kelvin Sheppard and Luke Stocker.
8. Marcell Dareus Will Have a Long, Productive Career in Denver
Marcell Dareus should be off the board early in the 2011 NFL Draft, as I show him becoming a member of the Denver Broncos. The most complete player in the draft class, Dareus will enjoy a long, productive career in Denver, and he will evoke visions of the Orange Crush again for the Broncos faithful.
Dareus is the first step that is needed as the Broncos attempt to repair their broken defense. Expect the Broncos, like the Bills, to be drafting defensive picks for the majority of the draft.
7. At Least 4 Trades Will Occur on Day 1
While all of the various NFL war rooms will be in full draft mode, the phones will be ringing off the hook. Due to the uncertainty of free agency, NFL teams will be scrambling to address their biggest needs as the first round unfolds.
Due to the ability to trade draft picks, several teams that are already short on picks (and on talent as well) will take the plunge and agree to trade down in the first round to accumulate more picks for the draft. That type of trade will occur at least twice in the first round.
As we get down to the 20s, at least one trade will occur in which some team wants to trade up and take a QB prior to the end of the first round.
My bottom line is that I am predicting that four trades will occur in the first round.
6. Patrick Peterson Will Be a Mainstay of the San Francisco 49ers
Despite the prospect of being selected by the Buffalo Bills or Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers will be delighted to find their top-ranked player, LSU corner Patrick Peterson, on the board when their turn comes up at the seventh overall pick.
The 49ers gladly draft Peterson, and he will become a mainstay in their secondary for many years to come. Starting out at corner, it will become clear that, due to his size, he will eventually move over to the safety position after several years at corner.
His play at the safety role will bring back memories of Ronnie Lott, as Peterson lives up to his billing as one of the best.
5. Bill Belichick Rules the Draft
With their surplus of six draft picks over the first three rounds, the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick will be kings of the NFL Draft. The Patriots hold so many key picks that teams will be making offers to the Patriots left and right.
Out of those offers, Belichick will agree to part with one of his first four picks to accumulate even more draft picks. But as the draft unfolds, Belichick will also use his surplus to package multiple picks at least once to move up and secure a player that he really wants to have.
By the time Day 2 has concluded, New England will have acquired some great talent at multiple positions to keep the team poised to remain atop the AFC for many years to come. It doesn't seem fair, but this is one draft in which the rich definitely get richer.
4. Day 2 Craziness
After the dust settles at the conclusion of Round 1, NFL teams will quickly regroup to determine what their new strategies will be for Day 2. They will notice that some of the key targets such as Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder are still on the big board.
Due to the overnight break between Day 1 to Day 2, the realization that many teams will be unable to land the quarterback that they wanted will sink in. So they will quickly be calling the owners of picks No. 33 and No. 34, New England and Buffalo, to see if they can make a deal.
What will be interesting to see is if any first-round draft picks for the 2012 draft are offered up as part of a package deal. We will refer to those 2012 picks as potential Andrew Luck insurance, as the 2012 draft is something that is far from certain due to the players association contentions.
The only way that Buffalo would consider that swap is if they already drafted a quarterback in the first round. That seems unlikely right now, but there is one scenario where I could see it happening. That would be if Carolina completely fools everyone and passes on Cam Newton and takes either Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson or A.J Green.
If Denver then takes Von Miller, the Bills are left to decide if they want to take the plunge on Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Chan Gailey has an affinity for mobile quarterbacks so anything is possible.
But I suspect that Day 2 will bring about another trading frenzy, as quarterback-needy teams will not want to go into free agency being at the mercy of Andy Reed over the Kevin Kolb sweepstakes or left to fight over the likes of free-agency options such as Alex Smith and Matt Hasselbeck.
3. Von Miller Wins the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the third overall pick, Von Miller reaches double digits in sacks in his first year and becomes the winner of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Miller is able to outdistance Patrick Peterson, Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley for the honor.
Miller is able to form a dynamic pass rush, as he is paired with Shawne Merriman, Kyle Williams and Arthur Moats. That group reminds Bills fans of the Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett days, when both players were in their prime.
2. Cam Newton Will Go the Way of Vince Young
What about Cam Newton? What will happen to him and where will he go?
I expect that after Carolina hunkers down to review all of the options, they can not escape the inevitable, and they will opt to draft Cam Newton as the face of their franchise.
Newton will wind up having several decent years with the Panthers and his play will lead them to some winning seasons. But during that time period, there will be some major headaches that materialize. Holding out from camp, pulling some stunts that show a repeat from earlier questionable behavior during his college years, Newton will slowly but surely start to wear out his welcome with the Panthers organization.
Due to the large contract he signed, and the many endorsement deals that came his way, the fire and passion that Newton started out his career with will be replaced by a lackadaisical attitude and the need to be in the spotlight as a media sensation.
Sometime around the end of his rookie contract, the bridges to this relationship will have finally been burnt enough to the point that Newton is out as the Panthers quarterback, and he will have a long look in the mirror to determine what he wants his career to be remembered by. That is when he starts to mature, and his career will take off with whatever team gives him that second chance.
1. Drafting the Top 7 Quarterbacks
This is one of the hardest positions to forecast because of all the different reports and evaluations being handed out for each of the top seven quarterbacks. When you add in all of the information from teams that are deliberately trying to place a smokescreen, it is understandable why so much confusion still appears only days away from the start of the draft.
The way I see things unfolding is that there will be four quarterbacks taken on Day 1. They are Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett.
Day 2, as we highlighted earlier, will be when the fighting begins over who will have the rights to the draft picks atop the round, where Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton will be selected.
Out of the seven, I project better careers for Newton, Gabbert, Mallett, Ponder and Kaepernick. That leaves questionable-to-disappointing careers for Dalton and Locker. At least one of the Day 3 quarterbacks will wind up outlasting the pair of Dalton and Locker. That could be either Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor or Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy.
So there you have it. My fearless predictions. You might like some more than others, or you might hate some of them. It is, after all, just a prediction. If you have some you would like to make for posterity sake, step up and get them down in writing in the comments section before the draft begins. You have three days and counting to make your feelings be known. Thanks for following along.
Hope You Enjoyed the Predictions Presentation
So, there you have it. My fearless predictions. You might like some more than others, or you might hate some of them. It is after all just a prediction. I realize that some of you will feel some of these are lame, and that is cool. When we fast forward several years and look back at this presentation, it may very well be time for me to find a new crystal ball. This is designed after all for your entertainment purposes.
If you have some you would like to make for posterity sake, step up and get them down in writing in the comments section before the draft begins. You have three days and counting to make your feelings be known. Thanks for following along.