A lot happened in last night’s draft.
Here are some of my thoughts through the first 32 picks…
Let’s Start By Talking About…Jake Locker?: Quick, in a straw poll, how many of you thought I’d be starting off this first round recap by talking about Jake Locker? Unless it was for something like, “Jake Locker wins the award for guy who most definitely shouldn’t have shown up at the Green Room in New York because there was a totally reasonable chance he wouldn’t be selected on Day 1, and then would’ve had to embarrassingly come back on Friday or face public ridicule," then I could buy it. Otherwise, not so much.
Except that’s the thing: Jake Locker didn’t even show up in New York. And you know why? Because even he probably didn’t think he was getting drafted in the first round.
As for the pick itself, here’s my biggest problem: Being the college football nut that I am, as a general rule, I can’t properly evaluate guys heading into the draft. To me, all these guys look so damn good in college that I can’t differentiate the ones who’ll be good as pros, from the ones who won’t be. I just can’t put anyone into the proper context, when I can only view them through the prism of dominant college player.
But that's the thing, they were all dominant. No matter what position they played, or what school they played at, or how good their teammates were around them, that's the one thing they all have in common. Cam Newton was dominant. A.J. Green was a dominant receiver. Patrick Peterson a dominant corner. Cam Heyward a dominant defensive lineman. Hell, even Chris Ponder was somewhat dominant, at least when he was actually on the field. Looking back, you didn’t need to be Mel Kiper Jr. to watch games, and have those guys stand out.
But Jake Locker? Never once, not anytime that I saw him last year, was he dominant. Did he make big plays? Sure, but everybody does at various points. But was he a game-changing, play-making, difference-maker? Rarely, and certainly not at the level of those other guys.
And that’s my other thing with this pick (Obviously, I’ve got a lot of “things,” going on). If you’re the Titans, and you’re head over heels, knee deep, Glenn-Close-In-Fatal-Attraction in love with Locker, couldn’t you have moved back a few spots and still gotten your man? Didn’t the Browns get five draft picks two bags of footballs and a Jamal Anderson throw-back jersey from Atlanta for trading the pick two spots ahead of Tennessee? Did I imagine that? You mean to tell me the Titans couldn’t have moved back a few spots, and still gotten Locker? I find that kind of hard to believe.
Oh by the way, while we’re on the subject of quarterbacks…
Christian Ponder at No. 12?: All I’ve got to say is… C’Mon man!!!!!
Like Locker, it’s not that I have a personal grudge against Ponder. He was a really good QB, in a professional system, and is a guy who can make all the throws. Of course he was also banged up quite a bit over the last two years (just what Minnesota needs after two years of melodrama with Favre, right?), and his numbers went down across the board last year. Hmm.
Plus, in Locker’s defense, at least he had the excuse of playing behind an offensive line that was held together by crazy glue and bubble gum last year. Ponder played behind maybe the best offensive line in the country, and his numbers still went down. You know what the Vikings taking Ponder in this spot reminded me of? It was like when your buddy has a few too many beers before a fantasy draft, then proceeds to take Chad Ochocinco in the second round. Part of you obviously wants to laugh at the guy, through popcorn at him and never let him live it down. But part of you also just feels bad. And that’s kind of the way I feel for Vikings fans right now.
Still, you know what this pick proves to me beyond a reasonable doubt? The NFL is, and will always be a quarterback driven league. Which is no to say that I totally understand it sometimes.
Speaking of quarterbacks and player personnel moves, I do understand why a teaem would reach on a need in this draft. Going forward no one is quite sure what is going to happen with trades and free agency. Then again, at some point before games start, teams will be allowed to move players.
And when they are allowed to move guys, you know what? A veteran, experienced quarterback will be available. And you know how I know that? Because one ALWAYS IS!!!!!! Last year it was Donovan McNabb. Two years before it was Chad Pennington. And the 10 years before that, it was Vinny Testeverde, who I swear came out of retirement at least eight times to play for the Jets. That’s just how it always works.
Which is kind of my point on Ponder. If you’re the Vikings, and you’re in love with him, great. I’m happy for the two of you, seriously.
But why use the No. 12 pick overall on a guy that most people don’t think is one of the 30 best players in the draft? Understand that I watched the Vikings enough last year to know that they have other issues which needed to be addressed besides at quarterback. Why not fill one of them, and then if you still want Ponder, trade up to the end of the first round, or wait until the second round to grab him? Was there really that much of a concern that he wouldn’t be there? And even if he wasn’t available, guess what? A veteran will be at some point.
Anyway, let’s move on to a few picks that I actually liked. Starting with…
Nick Fairley To The Lions: So right after the 11th pick in the draft I went out to take the dog for a quick walk. After all, what could happen in the 10 minutes I’d be gone?
Well, after just barely missing Ponder-gate 2011, I walked back in the door, looked at the TV and was floored. Could that be…Nick Fairley, holding a Detroit Lions jersey?
Jaw, meet ground.
Now to say I love this pick would be an understatement. I don’t just love this pick, I love, love, LOVEEEEEE it. I want to take it out to dinner. I want to buy it expensive jewelry. I want to take it home to meet my parents, then corner my mom in the kitchen, and ask her, “So what do you think?” Let me put it to you another way: If I ever grow to love a woman as much as this pick, well, she’ll be one lucky lady.
Understand, I’m no football expert. But I do know that it doesn’t matter what level you play at, what scheme you run, or who your coach is, championship teams are built from the inside out. Simply put, if you control the trenches, you control the games. And if you control the games, you’re going to win more than your fair share. Well, just as long as you’re not coached by Ron Zook, Brad Childress or Wade Phillips anyway.
With that as a background, the Lions have a defensive front that, at worst, should be set for the next 5-6 years, and at the best be the dominant standard-bearer over that same time. Remember too that although a lot of experts think Fairley might be a bust, that was under the pretense that he would be a team’s best defensive lineman. Needless to say, that won’t be an issue in Detroit.
Meanwhile, let’s go back and think about this again (But only for a second, because I literally might faint from all the excitement).
Ndamukong Suh finished last year as the Defensive Rookie of the Year and an All-Pro, after recording 10 sacks and 66 total tackles. And that was with teams constantly double-teaming him. You know who else was double-teamed all the time last year? Nick Fairley at Auburn, and he was still the most dominant lineman in college football. And while we’re here, you know isn’t going to get double-teamed next year? Either of these guys, because now they’ve got each other. I haven’t seen a marriage this perfect, since, well…this morning I guess (Come on, you knew I couldn’t get through a whole 2,000 word column without cracking an awful Royal Wedding joke, right?)
Going forward I know a lot of people are still concerned with the Lions secondary, and I get that. Except, go ahead and ask any coach (except maybe Jon Gruden. That guy’s nuts), and they’ll tell you that the best thing a secondary can have is a strong pass rush. Well it’s safe to say the Lions have that covered.
Anyway, I’m just going to put this out there right now: The Lions will make the playoffs next year as a Wild Card.
Looking around the NFC North, sure the Packers are loaded. But the Vikings area also coming off a 6-10 season where their issues ran much deeper than Brett Favre. Oh, and the might be starting Christian Ponder at quarterback too.
And the Bears? Well if Jay Cutler thought his knee hurt after the NFC Championship Game last year, wait until Nickdamukoung Fairsuh falls on it for the first time in the fall. Even Kristin Cavallari’s pretty little face won’t make it better (And by the way, yes, I just made up Nickdamukoung Fairsuh. How awful was that?)
I like the Lions next year. Who’s road tripping with me to Detroit?
The Best Moment Of The Draft: Featured Suzy Kolber and Mark Ingram.
You saw that right? Please, please tell me you did.
If you didn’t, well, get the Kleenex ready.
By now, most of you probably by now know that new, New Orleans Saint Mark Ingram is the son of old New York Giant Mark Ingram. Unfortunately Senior is now in prison, and couldn’t be at the draft last night.
Well apparently, Senior sent an e-mail to ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber right after Junior was selected, which Kolber read on the air. Essentially the e-mail said that the father loved him and couldn’t be more proud of his son for achieving his dream. It made Junior tear up, and I can’t lie, it got a little dusty in my house too.
And incredibly, when I hopped on Twitter, for once, everyone just embraced the moment, rather than making a bunch of inappropriate smart-ass comments. A couple people even fessed up to crying. Again, I didn’t quite get there, but I was pretty close.
If you haven’t seen the video, take a minute and watch it right now. I can’t lie. After seeing it again, I just sent an e-mail to my dad.
No joke to make here.
Back To The Picks, And Another Team I Was Impressed With Was: The New York, Football, Giants!
Now, did they need another cornerback when they drafted Prince Amukamara? No, probably not. But at the same time, the Giants did what I wish more teams would, and that’s just go after the best player on the board.
Speaking of which, the criticism of the Giants for not addressing “need,” is just stupid. Because let’s look at them for a second. New York finished last year at 10-6, and only missed the playoffs because of a massive D’Sean Jackson infused meltdown. They’ve made the playoffs four of the last six years. They haven’t finished below .500 since 2004. By any tangible measurement, the Giants are one of the NFL’s model franchises.
At the same time, you know what they’re not? Too far away from getting back into the playoffs. And as they proved four years ago, once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen.
Which is why I don’t get the frustration from their fans (including some of my good friends), who were clamoring for help along the offensive line and at running back. Again, the team went 10-6, and ranked in the Top 10 in the league in scoring offense, total offense, total defense and rushing offense. Clearly, no need was pressing. Was it that wrong to take the best player?
My answer is no.
Instead, let’s go out and credit the Giants for taking the best player, who, oh by the way, had no character issues, no health problems, and simply fell in the draft for no reason other than that’s just how things shook out.
Let’s Wrap Up With A Few Closing Thoughts:
On The Browns: At the sake of sounding like Jon Gruden, “I LOVE what theeeeeeese guys just did!” (How was that impression? Any good?)
One, as much as I love Julio Jones, and as much as I believe he could’ve helped a woeful Browns offense, he’s hardly a sure thing. Drafting him is a lot like trying to date the hot girl you know has been “with,” quite a few guys before you. Things could end up working well. Or you could be drafting in the Top 10 again next year. You just never know.
Just take my word on Julio, ok? I saw pretty much every game the guy played over the course of his career at Alabama. Yes he's a physical freak. But he’s also someone who seemed to be injured from the moment he stepped on campus (he played with a broken hand for half this season), and was at times inconsistent. Let me put it to you this way: I wouldn’t have given up what the Falcons did to get him.
Also, picking up extra draft picks (like the Browns did), is never, ever a bad thing. Understand that you don’t win in the NFL through free agency as much as you do in the NBA or baseball. You win through the draft. That’s how the greatest dynasty of the last 20 years (the ‘90’s Cowboys) was built, and the greatest dynasty of the last 10 years (The Patriots) has been maintained for a decade.
I’m not saying the Browns will ever be those teams. But gobbling up five picks through the next two years (including a first next year), can’t hurt.
On The Colts: Indianapolis was the biggest winner on draft night, and with all due respect to their first round pick Anthony Castonzo, it had nothing to do with him.
Nope, they’re the big winners, because two of their division rivals could be starting Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker at quarterback next year. The fourth team in the AFC South is the Houston Texans, and I'll just let you insert your own joke here.
Let me put it to you another way: Whatever the Colts “Over,” win total is, well, I’m ready to bet it right now.
On The Bills: The way I feel about Detroit is how I feel about Buffalo. You build through the lines, and Marcell Dareus was the best lineman in this draft.
As I joked on Twitter last night, I don’t have a big board, and really, I don’t know how any of these guys are going to project to the next level. But Dareus was the only guy I watched this past college season and said to myself, “My God, if they don’t take him out of the game, that dude might actually kill someone out there.”
You can’t say this often, but right now, it’s good to be a Bills fan.
On The Cardinals: Patrick Peterson. Umm. Wow.
It’s funny, because in the lead-up to the draft, all we talked about, was how certain guys fit into certain systems. Can Cam Newton play under center? Can Nick Fairley play in a 3-4? Well, Peterson might be the only guy taken in the Top 10 who can play in all 32 systems in the league.
Dude is a stud.
On The Panthers: Look, I know you’re all Cam Newton-ed out by now. So just write me a quick check for $180,000 and I’ll move on. Kidding Auburn fans!
Seriously though, what I want to know about Newton is this: For all the uncertainty surrounding him, who exactly were the Panthers supposed to take ahead of him?
This was a draft devoid of big-name, meal-ticket, franchise-changing players. And that’s what the Panthers need more than anything right now: A face of the franchise.
Cam Newton is that.
Whether he’ll ever be a franchise quarterback, is a conversation we’ll save for another day.
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