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Judgements: Lockout uncertainty leads to draft filled with reaches

by | Senior Writer

1. Don't tell me the lockout didn't have an impact on this year's draft because it did. I've never seen so many reaches, starting with Aldon Smith with the seventh pick of the first round, continuing with quarterbacks Jake Locker and Christian Ponder and moving through the bottom of the round, then on into the next two days. There were stretches everywhere, and I have to believe it was because clubs drafted for need. Usually, you hear "the-best-player-available" explanation for choices, but not this year. The past three days clubs gambled everywhere to fill needs they would have already solved through free agency or trades.

2. Now, more than ever, I believe the Detroit Lions, not Chicago, is the team to challenge Green Bay in the NFC North. With Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh paired at defensive tackle, the Lions' D-line becomes an extraordinary pass defense, while the addition of Titus Young gives the club an explosive wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. Yeah, I know, the Lions still need cornerbacks, but quarterbacks won't have much time to exploit whoever is there. I'm already making Detroit this year's sleeper, and there's plenty of room on the bandwagon. This is a vastly improved team that won its last four starts -- including one over Green Bay -- and just beefed up an already impressive defensive line.

3. I'd beware of Houston, too, especially after it addressed a defense that ranked 29th in points allowed, 30th overall and 32nd vs. the pass. When you play in a division with Peyton Manning, those numbers will get you thumped -- and Houston was, giving up 24 or more points in all but two games last season. So the Texans got smart and spent their first five picks on defense, the first three of whom (J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Brandon Harris) can step in and start now. Now, add them to a cast that includes Mario Williams, Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, and, suddenly, the Texans might be a playoff team waiting to happen.

4. Carolina GM Marty Hurney left San Diego three months before the Chargers made Ryan Leaf the second pick of the 1998 draft, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't pay attention to what happened then. He should. Hurney was mentored by former general manager Bobby Beathard while the two were in San Diego, and the Chargers' failure to do their homework on Leaf fractured the club and forced Beathard into an early retirement. Leaf was talented, but he was immature, not ready for the next step, and just wondering: Does that sound like anyone Carolina just drafted? I know Hurney researched Cam Newton extensively, and he should have. Because if Newton flops, he can do to Hurney and the Panthers what Leaf did to San Diego and Beathard.

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5. How appropriate that the third-round pick New England gained for Randy Moss was used to choose quarterback Ryan Mallett.

6. I'll tell you what I find intriguing about quarterback Blaine Gabbert: When the Washington Redskins had a chance to choose him they didn't. Instead, coach Mike Shanahan traded out. Shanahan knows how to develop quarterbacks, and he needs a good young one in Washington. But instead of taking Gabbert after he unexpectedly lasted until the 10th pick, Shananan passed. Then he just avoided the position altogether, refusing to use any of his draft picks on a quarterback. Keep that in mind as Gabbert's career unfolds.

7. Oh, I almost forgot: San Francisco passed on Gabbert, too. He made sense for the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh, yet that didn't happen either. San Francisco reached for linebacker Aldon Smith instead of taking Gabbert, then chose project Colin Kaepernick in the second round. Suddenly, the re-signing of Alex Smith doesn't sound like such a bad idea, after all.

8. Sorry, but I still think Atlanta paid way, way too much for Julio Jones. I don't care if he becomes a Pro-Bowl receiver; he touches the ball six or seven times a game. Yet for that Atlanta sacrificed two firsts (one this year), a second and two fourths (one next year). The Falcons didn't lose their last playoff game because of offense; they lost because their defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers. If they were going to mortgage the future it made more sense to do it for a future Pro Bowler on defense -- someone like Patrick Peterson.

9. So Philadelphia's Danny Watkins is 26. Big deal. He also was the safest pick on the offensive line, ready to step in tomorrow and start at guard.

10. The Seattle Seahawks allowed opponents to score 33 or more points in nine of their past 12 starts, including the playoffs, and ranked 25th in points allowed. So what do they do? Draft offense with three of their first four choices. Someone please explain.

11. I don't believe the NFL punishes Chicago for its role in the failed trade with Baltimore, and here's why: Because it did nothing in 2003 when Baltimore and Minnesota couldn't agree on a Day One trade that would have delivered Byron Leftwich to the Ravens. That was another snafu where the deal wasn't made in time, and it allowed Jacksonville to take Leftwich before anyone had the chance. There were no repercussions then, so I don't see how there can be repercussions now.

12. The Washington Redskins didn't draft a running back before the fourth round, and that's quintessential Shanahan. While the head coach in Denver, Shanahan took Olandis Gary in the fourth round and Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson in the sixth. Each had 1,000-yard seasons, and Davis had a 2,000-yard year. Trust me, Shanahan will find someone -- maybe Ryan Torain, maybe one of the two backs he took this weekend -- to grind out yards for Washington.

13. Just a hunch, but the first move the New York Giants make with linebacker Greg Jones is to get him to lose about 20 pounds. Jones was a disappointment last season after pushing his weight to 240, presumably to make himself ready for the NFL. He was terrific the year before at 220, which would make you think the Giants push him in that direction and make him an outside linebacker.

14. A piece of advice to Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant: Next time you have the opportunity to talk to your new head coach and his staff, take it. Bryant didn't show up at the Cowboys' complex after the lockout was lifted last Friday, and, OK, so Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones said it was no big deal -- blaming himself for Bryant's absence and saying the two spoke Thursday night. Great. Bryant still should've been there because IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. At some point, this guy must take some responsibility and be -- dare I say it? -- accountable. How about now?

15. The more I watch Arizona operate, the more I'm convinced the Cards know they'll land a veteran quarterback if and when the lockout ends. If I had to guess, I'd say free-agent Marc Bulger is the most likely possibility.

Ten biggest winners

1. Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley: He lines up next to Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh, and you tell me who defends them. Say goodbye to double teams, Nick.

2. Oakland offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski: His uncle, Steve, starred for the Raiders for 13 seasons and now works as an assistant coach with the club. In fact, he's an assistant offensive line coach, which means he gets to mentor -- you got it -- his nephew. "I couldn't think of a better guy to work for," Stefen said at the annual NFL Scouting Combine.

3. Baylor University: For the first time in the school's history it had two players -- defensive tackle Phil Taylor and guard Danny Watkins -- chosen in the first round.

4. Miami offensive lineman Mike Pouncey: He was the 15th pick of the draft; his brother, Maurkice, was the 18th a year ago. Mike wins the bet between the two.

5. Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams: When he visited the Arizona Cardinals they told him they would choose him ... and they did, just as they predicted -- with the 38th pick. When Williams' name was announced, he broke down, his face streaming with tears. Later, when he walked on to the stage at Radio City Music Hall he bear-hugged commissioner Roger Goodell. "I feel great, man," he said. "Words can't describe."

6. New England quarterback Ryan Mallett: A bad guy goes to a good team. More important, he gets to sit behind the best quarterback in the business and learn. There is no pressure, and there is a structure to handle him. Remember, it was the Patriots who took on Cory Dillon and Randy Moss and they did OK with them. Mallett will be a challenge.

7. Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith: Another bad guy who went to the right team. Smith is a terrific cornerback, with character issues that forced several teams to pull him from their draft boards. Not Baltimore because the Ravens have the infrastructure to handle Smith and keep him on the straight and narrow. No question, he satisfies a need -- a big cornerback who can defend those passes that killed the Ravens in their playoff loss to Pittsburgh. But he's not worth much if he can't be handled ... and he will be there.

8. New York Jets WR Scotty McKnight: He is reunited with his childhood buddy, Mark Sanchez. In fact, it was Sanchez who was sitting with him when the Jets called in the seventh round. The two grew up in the same neighborhood, played Pop Warner football together and were ballboys for Santa Margarita High School. Now McKnight gets paid to catch passes from his life-long friend. “It’s a dream come true,” he said.

9. Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: Time to exhale, Ryan. The Bills didn't draft a quarterback.

10. The Southeastern Conference: Four of the top five picks were from there.

Ten biggest losers

1. Any undrafted free agent: Normally, this is when clubs rush to sign players who weren't picked, but not now. The lockout prevents it. So if you're an NFL hopeful who wasn't chosen, you don't wait to hear from a club; you wait to hear from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that the lockout is over once and for all. Of course, that doesn't make these guys unusual. It just makes them sympathetic figures. Everyone is waiting on the Eighth Circuit, and fans who attended this weekend's draft made it clear they're tired of all the legal maneuvers. "We want football! We want football! We want football!" they chanted … when, that is, they weren't booing commissioner Roger Goodell. "We do, too," Goodell said. Nobody wants it more than the next player waiting to be signed.

2. Carolina QB Jimmy Clausen: A year ago he was the quarterback of the future. Now, he's the quarterback of the past, and, OK, so people in Carolina tell me not to be too quick to dismiss him. Tell me how much he plays with Newton on board. Never mind, I'll spare you the trouble: He doesn't see the field unless Newton is hurt.

3. Jacksonville QB David Garrard: Time to contact a realtor, David. With the addition of Blaine Gabbert, you're on borrowed time. I give Garrard a year, tops, to mentor Gabbert. Then it's on to the next job.

4. Tampa Bay DE Da'Quan Bowers : Once upon a time he was considered a possibility as the draft's first pick. Then teams got nervous about a right knee they feared could be degenerative, and -- presto! Just like that -- he falls to the 51st selection. Bowers promises revenge on those that passed him, and that would be just about everyone.

5. David PK David Akers: He felt bad after missing three field goals in a playoff loss to Green Bay, including a 29-yarder. He should feel worse now that the Eagles used a fourth-round pick to take Nebraska kicker Alex Henery. Akers doesn't have a contract, and he hasn't signed his tender as the team's transition player. Looks as if the Eagles don't expect him to sign on the dotted line.

6. New Orleans RB Reggie Bush: The Saints said Bush still figures in their plans, with coach Sean Payton emphasizing that "there's a vision that we have for him." One problem: That vision doesn't include Bush making $11.8 million in base pay this season. The Saints just used a first-round pick on Mark Ingram, and that's a sign they're prepared to move on without Bush. But they'd like him to stay ... only at a vastly discounted price ... and therein lies the problem. When a guy tweets "It's been fun, New Orleans," color me skeptical about a return to the Saints.

7. Dallas RB Marion Barber: Take the arrival of running back DeMarco Murray, add it to the $4.25 million salary Barber is due this year, and what do you get? Yep, one inescapable conclusion: Adios, Marion. The club is expected to release Barber before the season, sparing it a $500,000 roster bonus.

8. Philadelphia QB Kevin Kolb: He'd love to get started -- and I mean started -- with his next team, but there is no next team. Philadelphia can't budge until the NFL is open for trading again.

9. Baltimore WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh: He said he wants to return to the Ravens, but, sorry, T.J., you're off the clock. The Ravens just spent two of their first four draft picks on wideouts, including Maryland's Torrey Smith.

10. Notre Dame: The Irish had as many players drafted as Slippery Rock -- one.

Five moves I love

1. Marcell Dareus to Buffalo: When you're last vs. the run you better do something to plug the leaks. The Bills just did, taking the most reliable defensive tackle in the draft.

2. Cleveland's trade of its first pick: I've already covered this, but the Browns picked up a zillion draft picks -- including Atlanta's first next year -- in exchange for wide receiver Julio Jones. It's tough to sacrifice a talent like Jones, but have no fear, Cleveland fans. The Browns turned three of Atlanta's picks into defensive tackle Phil Taylor, wide receiver Greg Little and fullback Owen Mareck. Not bad for starters.

3. CB Patrick Peterson to Arizona: If the best player is sitting there, I don't care where your needs are: You take him. Peterson is a lock-down corner who will be a 10-year Pro Bowler. Plus, he's a punt-return specialist. The Cards could have passed on Peterson and gone for, oh, say, a quarterback. But they didn't, and here's to being smart.

4. QB Andy Dalton to Cincinnati: He's experienced, talented and ready to step in tomorrow. Moreover, he's the safety net the Bengals did not have against the potential (expected) loss of Carson Palmer. What I like most of all, though, is what Dalton is not -- Ryan Mallett. The Bengals could've taken him over Dalton, but they resisted. Score another for intelligent decisions.

5. Indianapolis with OT Antony Castonzo: With quarterbacks coming off the board early, offensive tackles were pushed so far down that Castonzo lasted until the 22nd pick. That wasn't supposed to happen. In fact, Castonzo ranked second among tackles on some boards. But he was there, and the Colts need tackles like Manhattan needs taxis. So they jumped, and smart, smart, smart. With the additions of Castonzo and second-round choice Ben Ijalana, quarterback Peyton Manning can scratch a suit of armor from his fall wish list.

Five moves I don't

1. Four quarterbacks in the first 12 picks: It was the second biggest rush on QBs since 1970 (only the 1999 draft had more in the top 12). Can you say "desperate?" Newton and Gabbert, I understand. Jake Locker and Christian Ponder? Not a chance. That doesn't mean I don't think they can play at the next level. It means I wouldn't have taken them that high. Both were reaches, with people hoping, just hoping, they solve a position until free agency resumes. I don't know, if I'm drafting in the top 12 I want someone I know who can step in and start immediately; I'm not hoping.

2. The Jets taking DT Kenrick Ellis: Ellis faces up to 20 years in prison on a felony assault charge and is scheduled to stand trial this summer. Bad huh? He's also the guy who was kicked off the University of South Carolina team after, reports said, he failed "multiple" drug tests. Nevertheless, the Jets took him in the third round. "Based on the information that we have we feel really good about the pick," said Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. Sorry, but I'm not sure how anyone can feel good about Ellis -- not with that record.

3. OT James Carpenter to Seattle: Most people had him rated somewhere in the middle of the second round, yet the Seahawks took him with the 25th selection ... with Gabe Carimi and Derek Sherrod still on the board. The Seahawks envision Carpenter as their next right tackle and say they love his versatility and nastiness. OK, I'll buy that -- just not at the 25th spot.

4. Taking QB Colin Kaepernick in the second round: I know what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is thinking: The guy has a ton of talent, and I can mold him into something special. Maybe. But it sure seems as if he's two to three years away, with a windup that looks like a baseball pitcher -- which, of course, he was. Anyway, he's a developmental project, and he wasn't a high second-rounder.

5. DB Jimmy Wilson to Miami: The guy was tried twice for murder (once with a hung jury). I know, he was acquitted the second time, but still ... I just know I'd have a hard time drafting the guy.

Just asking but ...

 Who quarterbacks San Francisco?

 Who quarterbacks Washington?

 If you have Tom Brady, why draft Ryan Mallett?

 Who starts first -- Jake Locker or Christian Ponder?

 Who's the early frontrunner for Andrew Luck?

Five quotes to remember

1. "If anything, the floodgates have opened officially" -- Carolina QB Cam Newton on criticism of him.

2. “We are happy with Charlie and hoping he is going to continue to flourish and blossom. I’m not feeling like we missed out on a quarterback opportunity” -- Seattle coach Pete Caroll on Charlie Whitehurst and the Seahawks’ failure to draft a quarterback.

3. "I did text Tom Brady after this pick, and he wanted me to know for sure that he was planning on playing 10 more years" -- The NFL Network's Kurt Warner after New England drafted Mallett with the 74th draft choice.

4. "I think Ray Lewis will go down as probably the best middle linebacker to ever play the game" -- former Baltimore linebacker Peter Boulware at Radio City Music Hall. One question, Peter: Ever heard of Dick Butkus?

5. "Everybody loves the game of football. I can't see the world without it. How do you think the world would be without it? -- Arizona CB Patrick Peterson. I dunno, Patrick, but why don't you ask the people who survived the 57-day strike in 1982. Better yet, ask someone in Libya.


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