The 2011 NFL Draft (finally!) is over. I broke down the NFC, and Jason Lisk has the AFC, which will be posted later. I didn’t bother with grades, just links (and some links to grades), and thoughts on what the picks might mean for each team heading into free agency. If I had to “rank” the four best drafts in the NFC, I’d go with (no order): Detroit, San Francisco, Washington, Minnesota. The four worst would be: Carolina, Chicago, Tampa and St. Louis.
16. Ryan Kerrigan, linebacker, Purdue
41. Jarvis Jenkins, defensive end, Clemson
79. Leonard Hankerson, wide receiver, Miami
105. Roy Helu, running back, Nebraska
146. DeJon Gomes, safety, Nebraska
155. Niles Paul, wide receiver, Nebraska
177. Evan Royster, running back, Penn State
178. Aldrick Robinson, wide receiver, SMU
213. Brandyn Thompson, cornerback, Boise State
217. Maurice Hurt, guard, Florida
224. Markus White, linebacker, Florida State
253. Chris Neild, nose tackle, West Virginia
The worst secondary in the NFC waited until the 5th round to grab a DB, then took another in the 7th. I’m guessing they’ll make a run at Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. The other biggest need was a QB – with Donovan McNabb all but gone, you’re looking at Rex Grossman or John Beck – and they didn’t get one, either. That’s another question for free agency or via trade (Hasselbeck? Orton?). Despite not filling the two biggest needs, I liked the draft: Kerrigan will bookend Orakpo; Hankerson could be the team’s No. 2 WR; and Nebraska RB Roy Helu could be the backup RB with Clinton Portis gone.
9. Tyron Smith, tackle, USC
40. Bruce Carter, linebacker, North Carolina
71. DeMarco Murray, running back, Oklahoma
110. David Arkin, tackle/guard, Missouri State
143. Josh Thomas, cornerback, Buffalo
176. Dwayne Harris, wide receiver, East Carolina
220. Shaun Chapas, fullback, Georgia
252. Bill Nagy, center/guard, Wisconsin
Three offensive lineman to help keep Tony Romo healthy, but their 2nd and 3rd picks are both injury risks. If Murray is healthy, that’ll help offset the loss of rapidly declining Marion Barber; Carter could be an opening day starter if his ACL is fully healed. Could Dwayne Harris be their new return man, because Dez Bryant is too valuable to risk on every punt return? I don’t know if they did enough to beef up the 26th rated defense in the league, one that gave up 27 ppg. Perhaps that’s the goal in free agency.
23. Danny Watkins, guard/tackle, Baylor
54. Jaiquawn Jarrett, safety, Temple
90. Curtis Marsh, cornerback, Utah State
116. Casey Matthews, linebacker, Oregon
120. Alex Henery, kicker/punter, Nebraska
149. Dion Lewis, running back, Pittsburgh
161. Julian Vandervelde, guard/center, Iowa
191. Jason Kelce, center, Cincinnati
193. Brian Rolle, linebacker, Ohio State
237. Greg Lloyd, linebacker, UConn
240. Stanley Havili, fullback, USC
Got some help for Mike Vick, beefed up a secondary that struggled late in the season, and overall, I thought they had the 2nd best draft in the division. (The Philly Daily News didn’t think so.) Did they not go cornerback in the 1st round because they were afraid of Jimmy Smith’s background, or because they think that can land Nnamdi Asomugha via free agency? For a team that gave up 123 yards to James Starks in the playoffs, I might be upset they front seven wasn’t strengthened. Think they could have success with a 2nd Pittsburgh running back? Shady McCoy has been terrific. Greg Lloyd is the son of former Pittsburgh star Greg Lloyd. Lastly: It’s been real, David Akers.
New York Giants
19. Prince Amukamara, cornerback, Nebraska
52. Marvin Austin, defensive tackle, North Carolina
83. Jerrel Jernigan, wide receiver, Troy
117. James Brewer, tackle, Indiana
185. Greg Jones, linebacker, Michigan State
198. Tyler Sash, safety, Iowa
202. Jacquian Williams, linebacker, South Florida
221. Da’Rel Scott, running back, Maryland
Jones was an All-American LB for the Spartans; Scott was a standout performer for the Terps (the next Willie Parker?); Sash was a first team All Big 10 defensive back; Jernigan was a small school star who had one incredible bowl game; and Austin would have been a Top 15 pick if he wasn’t suspended for the season (and didn’t have some character issues). The defense, which was abysmal in 2009 and better in 2010, should be improved enough to get them into the playoffs in 2011, assuming Eli can keep his interceptions down (league-high 25 picks).
29. Gabe Carimi, tackle, Wisconsin.
53. Stephen Paea, defensive tackle, Oregon State.
93. Chris Conte, safety, California.
160. Nate Enderle, quarterback, Idaho.
195. J.T. Thomas, linebacker, West Virginia.
Cutler was sacked a league-high 52 times, so a lineman was necessary. Paea, the bench-pressing machine, will be called upon to fill the Tommie Harris void. But did they really get better? Perhaps they’ll add a legit No. 1 WR in free agency. I’m not sure they did enough to hold off the hard-charging Lions in what should be a competitive NFC Central. Unlike last year’s favorable schedule, the Bears open with Atlanta, New Orleans, and Green Bay.
12. Christian Ponder, quarterback, Florida State.
43. Kyle Rudolph, tight end, Notre Dame.
106. Christian Ballard, defensive tackle, Iowa.
139. Brandon Burton, cornerback, Utah.
168. DeMarcus Love, tackle/guard, Arkansas.
170. Mistral Raymond, defensive back, South Florida.
172. Brandon Fusco, center, Slippery Rock.
200. Ross Homan, linebacker, Ohio State.
215. D’Aundre Reed, defensive end, Arizona.
236. Stephen Burton, wide receiver, West Texas A&M.
If you’re a needs-based guy, you’ll like this draft: QB, DT, and CB were all needs. The aging offensive line added two players. Homan has bulked up since his All Big-10 season, and could eventually take over for Ben Leber. I’m bullish on Rudolph. Minnesota could do the same kind of damage the Patriots did last year with two tight ends. But it all boils down to Ponder, who I think will find success in his first two years because like Ben Roethlisberger, he’s going into a good situation with a solid foundation (AP, Harvin and Rice, assuming he stays). This isn’t to say Ponder will win Super Bowls, but I do think he’ll be good enough that the Vikings could flirt with .500 this year.
13. Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, Auburn.
44. Titus Young, wide receiver, Boise State.
57. Mikel Leshoure, running back, Illinois.
157. Doug Hogue, linebacker, Syracuse.
209. Johnny Culbreath, tackle, South Carolina State.
Beyond the Suh-Fairley tandem in the middle that everyone’s frothy about, Titus Young is a speedster to stretch defenses and hopefully take some of the pressure Calvin Johnson. Young has been called a poor man’s DeSean Jackson. Leshoure will be a nice compliment to Jahvid Best. These three top 60 picks, plus a healthy Matthew Stafford, are enough to get Lions fans thinking playoffs. (Or, like Michelle Beadle, thinking Super Bowl.) From 0 wins in 2008, to 2 in 2009, to 6 in 2010 … I think .500 should be the goal, not the playoffs. The schedule’s too difficult: Opening with two playoff teams, then going on the road to play Minnesota and Dallas, then home for two of three against 2010 playoff teams (Chicago, Atlanta).
Green Bay Packers
32. Derek Sherrod, tackle, Mississippi State
64. Randall Cobb, wide receiver, Kentucky
96. Alex Green, running back, Hawaii
131. Davon House, cornerback, New Mexico State
141. D.J. Williams, tight end, Arkansas
179. Caleb Schlauderaff, guard, Utah
186. D.J. Smith, linebacker, Appalachian State
197. Ricky Elmore, linebacker, Arizona
218. Ryan Taylor, special teamer, North Carolina
233. Lawrence Guy, defensive end, Arizona State
One of the best offenses in the league … went offensive on its first three picks and five of its first six. That’s pretty scary, assuming guys like Cobb and Green pan out. I really like the TE Williams. If the Packers do nothing in free agency, they still have to be the 2012 Super Bowl favorite, right?
6. Julio Jones, wide receiver, Alabama
91. Akeem Dent, linebacker, Georgia
145. Jacquizz Rodgers, running back, Oregon State
192. Matt Bosher, kicker, Miami
210. Andrew Jackson, guard, Fresno State
230. Cliff Matthews, defensive end, South Carolina
They mortgaged the immediate future – no 1st or 4th round picks next year – to make a run in 2011. If Rodgers and save Turner 100 carries, Dent upgrades into a mediocre LB corps, and Jones can walk into the No. 2 WR role and catch in the neighborhood of 50-60 catches, a Super Bowl is within reach. My only hangup? 48-21. That was a brutal beatdown of a division-winning, 13-victory team playing at home.
New Orleans Saints
24. Cameron Jordan, defensive end, California
28. Mark Ingram, running back, Alabama
72. Martez Wilson, linebacker, Illinois
88. Johnny Patrick, cornerback, Louisville
226. Greg Romeus, defensive end, Pittsburgh
243. Nate Bussey, linebacker, Illinois
What’s not to love? A fantastic DE and should start from week one; a Heisman Trophy-winning who should help you save $11 million (Reggie Bush), and a 2nd-team All Big 10 linebacker. Spending five of the six picks on defense was the right move for a team that gave up 41 points and 415 yards to offensively-challenge Seattle in a playoff game.
Tampa Bay Bucs
20. Adrian Clayborn, defensive end, Iowa
51. Da’Quan Bowers, defensive end, Clemson
84. Mason Foster, linebacker, Washington
104. Luke Stocker, tight end, Tennessee
151. Ahmad Black, safety, Florida
187. Allen Bradford, running back, USC
222. Anthony Gaitor, cornerback, Florida International
238. Daniel Hardy, tight end, Idaho
With an NFC-low 26 sacks, the Bucs needed to bolster their frontline and did it with the nation’s sack leader (Bowers) and a guy who was better as a junior (Clayborn). The problem? Both have healthy issues. Best case scenario: Bowers and Clayborn are healthy to split time at DE, Foster steps in at LB for Rudd, and Josh Freeman shocks everyone on offense again. Problem is, Atlanta and New Orleans are two of the best teams in the NFC. I think Tampa only gets into the playoffs if Brees or Ryan go down. Six of the Bucs’ eight draft picks were captains on their respective college football teams, so there’s that.
1. Cam Newton, quarterback, Auburn
65. Terrell McClain, defensive tackle, South Florida
97. Sione Fua, defensive tackle, Stanford
98. Brandon Hogan, cornerback, West Virginia
132. Kealoha Pilares, wide receiver, Hawaii
166. Lawrence Wilson, linebacker, UConn
203. Zachary Williams, guard/center, Washington State
244. Lee Ziemba, tackle, Auburn
Worst-case scenario: Steve Smith leaves and DeAngelo Williams does, too. Cam Newton physically fights with Jimmy Clausen over No. 2 and then struggles on the field. The defense isn’t improved, and the Panthers go 2-14 and get the first pick, again. Then you’re looking at not being able to trade Newton – his contract plus a bad rookie year – and you’ve got Andrew Luck staring you in the face. Then what? Trade the No. 1 pick for a boatload and watch Luck tear it up elsewhere? Sorry to be so negative. At any rate … didn’t love their draft. This team is loaded with holes and they didn’t exactly land many impact plaers.
25. James Carpenter, tackle, Alabama
75. John Moffitt, guard, Wisconsin
99. K.J. Wright, linebacker, Mississippi State
107. Kris Durham, wide receiver, Georgia
154. Richard Sherman, defensive back, Stanford
156. Mark LeGree, safety, Appalachian State
173. Byron Maxwell, special teamer, Clemson
205. Lazarius Levingston, defensive tackle, LSU
242. Malcolm Smith, linebacker, USC
Did they have an awful draft (F) or a very good one (B+)? Depends: If Carpenter and Moffitt are starting by midseason, they’ll look smart. Would a better move have been to bundle up some of these picks and fill their biggest need, QB? And are Sherman or LeGre going to be ready to play safety, because Lawyer Milloy got his AARP card in the offseason. Durham is a Don Banks’ favorite who played in AJ Green’s shadow at UGA. That’s two pretty solid drafts in a row for Pete Carroll.
San Francisco 49ers
7. Aldon Smith, linebacker, Missouri
36. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback, Nevada
80. Chris Culliver, cornerback, South Carolina
115. Kendall Hunter, running back, Oklahoma State
163. Daniel Kilgore, guard, Appalachian State
182. Ronald Johnson, wide receiver, USC
190. Colin Jones, safety, TCU
211. Bruce Miller, linebacker, Central Florida
239. Mike Person, tackle/guard, Montana State
250. Curtis Holcomb, cornerback, Florida A&M
My favorite pick here was Hunter, who I think will be a nice 3rd down back, or maybe even challenge Anthony Dixon for the backup role. All the pundits love Kaepernick, and if he’s as good as advertised, the 49ers could win the division. The sixth-best run defense didn’t get much pressure on the QB in 2010 (36 sacks), and Smith will look like a hit if he is moderately effective. I thought Jim Harbaugh’s first draft was the best in the division, narrowly over the Cardinals.
5. Patrick Peterson, cornerback, LSU
38. Ryan Williams, running back, Virginia Tech
69. Rob Housler, tight end, Florida Atlantic
103. Sam Acho, linebacker, Texas
136. Anthony Sherman, fullback, UConn
171. Quan Sturdivant, linebacker, North Carolina
184. David Carter, defensive end, UCLA
I actually heard a sports fan on the radio say that if the Cardinals can get Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb, they could be a really dangerous team. Upon closer inspection … maybe that guy wasn’t totally clueless? Peterson and Rodgers-Cromartie will form a nice CB tandem. Ryan Williams should get some carries with either Tim Hightower or Beanie Wells (one may be traded). It’s sounds more and more like Larry Fitzgerald is going to stick around. But will the worst rushing defense in the NFC (145 ypg) will be improved? Acho is a bit undersized. Sturdivant was a Butkus award semifinalist as a junior, but limited by a hamstring injury last season. The offensive line needs work, too. So maybe 2012 is more likely before the turnaround begins?
St. Louis Rams
14. Robert Quinn, defensive end, North Carolina
47. Lance Kendricks, tight end, Wisconsin
78. Austin Pettis, wide receiver, Boise State
112. Greg Salas, wide receiver, Hawaii
158. Jermale Hines, safety, Ohio State
216. Mikail Baker, returner, Baylor
228. Jabara Williams, linebacker, Stephen F. Austin
229. Jonathan Nelson, safety, Oklahoma
Really needed a No. 1 WR for Sam Bradford and got two guys who are No. 3 options in Pettis and Salas, plus a tight end. Could have used an RB to take some pressure off Steven Jackson, who had by far his worst year as a pro. The defense continues to improve, and Quinn/Long could be bookends for a decade. The defense will once again keep the Rams in games, and St. Louis fans just have to hope that Bradford catches onto the Josh McDaniels offense quick. If McDaniels can resurrect the career of a guy like Brandon Lloyd, maybe he can work wonders with this merry bad of average WRs.