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Early run on quarterbacks story of first round

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

SEATTLE -- Cam Newton went to Carolina with the first overall pick. Check.

It was the drama that unfolded with the other quarterbacks that will ultimately go down as the story of the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

The Tennessee Titans pulled a stunner with the eighth overall pick, selecting former Washington Husky Jake Locker, while Missouri's Blaine Gabbert idled in the Green Room.

Gabbert didn't have to wait long as the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up with the Washington Redskins to select the Missouri passer, graded by NFLDraftScout.com as the top quarterback in the draft and the No. 10 prospect overall (Newton was No. 11).

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Before fans could catch their collective breath, the Minnesota Vikings continued the early run on passers, taking Florida State's Christian Ponder. Ponder, despite having his arm strength questioned by many evaluators, is widely considered the most pro-ready of this year's quarterbacks due to the pro-style offense he ran with the Seminoles. Despite being the fourth quarterback selected, he could wind up the first to actually win a starting job in the NFL.

TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who had been hyped as one of the hottest prospects in the days leading up to the draft, fell out of the first round entirely. The Cincinnati Bengals could wind up being the big winners due to his fall. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is thought to be especially high on Dalton. Considering the team took Georgia wideout A.J. Green with the No. 4 overall pick, Dalton could be an ideal fit as the team looks to transition from an offense based on the combination of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco.

While the quarterbacks were unquestionably the marquee story, the run on pass rushers was equally impressive.

The Broncos surprised many with the selection of Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller at No. 2. Miller's explosive speed off the edge, when combined with the return to health of 2009 sack leader Elvis Dumervil, could give the Broncos as explosive a set of edge rushers as there is in the league.

With Miller off the board, the San Francisco 49ers gambled on the upside of 20-year-old pass rusher Aldon Smith from Missouri with the seventh overall pick. While there is no denying Smith's talents, many talent evaluators viewed the former Tiger as a defensive end in the 4-3 alignment, not a likely convert as an outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme. At 6-feet-5 and 255 pounds, Smith has the length, but perhaps not the fluidity most teams are looking for as a rush linebacker. Don't be surprised if a pair of pass rushers selected in the teens -- end Robert Quinn with the Rams (No. 14 overall) and outside linebacker convert Ryan Kerrigan with the Washington Redskins (No. 16 overall) -- wind up making a more immediate impact.

Talent trumps need

Considering the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions already feature young, talented players at cornerback and defensive tackle respectively, their selections of LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson (No. 5) and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley (No. 13 overall) rank as two of the first round's most intriguing selections.

With the Cardinals expected to address their deficiency at quarterback through free agency or trade and the Lions having used the No. 1 overall two years ago on Matthew Stafford, the two clubs obviously didn't have to reach for a passer. As such, they were in the envious position of being able to take the "best player available."

The shutdown duo of Patrick Peterson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could make the Cardinals an instant contender in the infinitely winnable NFC West. Likewise, pairing Fairley, the most talented defensive lineman in the 2011 draft, with second-year All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and end Kyle Vanden Bosch could make the Lions a surprisingly dangerous threat to take a leap in the NFC North.

Saints march double speed

As the only team to use two first-round picks Thursday, the New Orleans Saints are the easy "winners" of the opening frame of the 2011 draft. It wasn't just the quantity of their picks, however, but the quality that clearly demonstrated the Saints weren't going to take their surprising early exit from the 2010 playoffs lying down.

California's Cameron Jordan was viewed by many as an ideal fit as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but had shown the burst upfield and strength at the point of attack to be a standout in the Cincinnati Bengals' four-man front at the Senior Bowl. Considering the variety of fronts used by Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- one of the league's more aggressive and creative schemers -- Jordan could pay off big.

The flashier pick came four selections later when the Saints traded back into the first round (courtesy of the New England Patriots) to pick Alabama running back Mark Ingram. While Ingram might seem to be a luxury pick considering the presence of Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Lynell Hamilton, the durability, toughness and ball security demonstrated by the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner throughout his career makes him an intriguing fit for Sean Payton. Perhaps the man who might celebrate the pick the most is Drew Brees, whose career could be extended with a back of Ingram's versatility and durability.

Downer for Da'Quan

For all of the big winners on draft day, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers' sad slide out of the first round was the toughest story of the evening.

Bowers' fall wasn't unanticipated, as teams' concerns about his surgically repaired right knee had been well documented.

While the injury and subsequent rehabilitation were obviously enough to scare teams off in the first round, Bowers isn't likely to slip far into the second. The nation's most productive pass rusher with 15.5 sacks, at some point Bowers' production will simply be too tempting for teams to continue to allow him to slip. With the Denver Broncos (No. 36 overall), Cleveland Browns (No. 37), and Tennessee Titans (No. 39) among the first seven picks of the second and all needing help at defensive end, Bowers could still wind up a top 10 pick ... unfortunately it could just come a day later than was originally anticipated.

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


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