Newton, Locker and D-linemen highlight pre-draft predictions

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

With the draft near and our board set, it's time for a few predictions.

Not all are directly related to Thursday's first round or even the 2011 draft proceedings, but each prediction is tied to a player or group of players from the Class of 2011.

Five or more quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round.

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We all know an offseason devoid of free agency and veteran trades could make NFL teams more desperate than ever for quarterbacks. What you may not know is this year's quarterback class is also a legitimately strong group blessed with depth and that fact, not team need, is the primary reason so many QBs will go high. One other element in play here will contribute to quarterbacks being pushed to the first round. NFL teams are being forced to operate according to the old CBA. That agreement means maximum contracts of six years for players drafted within the first 16 picks, maximum five-year deals for players drafted with the next 16 and max four-year deals on all players drafted at No. 33 and later. With so many teams giving quarterbacks a "redshirt" year, the length of rookie contracts for quarterbacks is vital. Teams might look to trade back into the late portion of the first round for a quarterback not just because they worry they'll lose the player to another team, but because they want the longer contract a first-round selection will provide them.

This draft will be remembered for its DL class.

For all of the talk about the 2011 quarterback class, this year's rookie class will be known for its extraordinary bounty of defensive linemen. Only once in the modern history of the NFL has a full third of the first round gone to defensive linemen -- in 2003, when 11 were among the first 32 picks. Counting the collegiate defensive ends who will make the jump to 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL, the 2011 class will boast at least a dozen defensive linemen.

Can the "injury" reports: Mark Ingram, Adrian Clayborn and Phil Taylor are first-round talents.

No NFL team is going to invest their first-round pick and millions of dollars in a player they believe is going to spend more time in the training room than on the playing field, but implications from media reports would lead you to believe the players listed above are barely cut out for two-hand touch. Don't let those reports fool you -- these players combined to miss zero games in 2010. Each will be drafted in the first round. And even if they aren't, their long and successful pro careers will prove they should have been.

Da'Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley will drop like stones on draft day.

In January, Bowers and Fairley were considered elite talents in the draft. A full review of Bowers' game tape proves that while powerful, the Clemson defensive end lacks the explosiveness to be a consistently effective edge rusher. In some ways, he is the victim of his own collegiate success, as he'll never approach in one NFL season the 15.5 sacks he recorded at Clemson in 2010. Fairley, on the other hand, is a legitimate upper-echelon athlete, but teams will pass on him based on maturity and work ethic concerns. Quite frankly, Fairley was able to beat college offensive linemen with his quickness and power. He'll need technique to beat NFL blockers -- and many scouts don't believe he has the inner motivation to ever hone his craft.

Washington QB Jake Locker will be a top-16 pick.

Many scouts believe nine to 12 teams need a quarterback and will look to net at least one in the 2011 draft. Of those teams, most are drafting within the first 16 picks of the first round. In fact, among teams with picks in the second half of the first round, only the Seattle Seahawks -- who have the No. 25 overall pick -- are thought be to strongly considering a quarterback. In 12 years of scouting, I've never seen a quarterback with Locker's upside and intangibles slip out of the first round. With the NFL becoming more reliant than ever on the quarterback position, this isn't the year that trend stops.

Not having a CBA will reduce trade frequency.

The lack of a Collective Bargaining Agreement has already robbed the NFL of free agency and the possibility of veteran trades. We'll see the effect throughout the draft, as teams will be less willing to give up multiple picks in an effort to move up in the draft. As it stands, the draft and signing street free agents are the only ways teams can fill roster holes.

Carolina will draft Cam Newton at No. 1 and he will be exciting -- he just won't win.

The Carolina Panthers will indeed draft Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first pick. He'll quickly showcase the dazzling blend of size, strength, running and passing ability that helped him win the 2010 Heisman Trophy and lead the Tigers to the BCS championship. However, just as Michael Vick was exciting to watch, but maddeningly inconsistent, expect Newton to struggle with turning his highlight-reel plays into consistent wins for the Panthers.

Miller will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Texas A&M pass rusher Von Miller will prove to be the highest-impact rookie. Whether he's drafted by the Buffalo Bills at No. 3, the Arizona Cardinals at No. 5 or the San Francisco 49ers at No. 7, his ability to explode off the edge and chase down quarterbacks from behind will result in double-digit sacks as a rookie and ultimately the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy.

Moffitt will go to a Pro Bowl before Pouncey.

It is easy to fall in love with Florida center Mike Pouncey's size and athleticism, especially considering the immediate success his twin brother, Maurkice, had with the Steelers last season. At the same time, guard John Moffitt -- while undeniably a lesser athlete -- is a very good player in his own right and because he won't be drafted in the first round, he'll be a much better value. Don't be surprised when this drive-blocking former Badger emerges as one of the better guards in the NFL and beats Pouncey and the rest of this solid, if unspectacular interior line class in the race to the Pro Bowl.

Jones won't make it through a full NFL season.

Eastern Washington RB Taiwan Jones is the most explosive open-field runner in the 2011 draft. The 6-foot, 194-pound former cornerback also lacks the bulk to handle the physicality of the NFL. Dating back to high school, Jones has missed time due to injury in each of the past five seasons. When healthy, he'll prove to be one of the best big-play artists of the draft. Unless he's limited to only a few snaps per game, don't expect him to suddenly become more durable while making the gigantic jump from the FCS to the NFL.

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.


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