Pick-by-pick analysis: Round One

Posted April 29, 2011 @ 7:49 a.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

1 (1)  Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton, Auburn

To their credit, the Panthers researched this decision as painstakingly as any team may have ever researched any pick in the history of the draft. It was not a simple decision, given all the stains in Cam Newton's past, and going against what GM Marty Hurney has long believed about selecting a quarterback in the first round. But with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman in the division, the Panthers felt like they needed better than what they have in Jimmy Clausen and could not pass the playmaking ability of the Heisman Trophy winner. Newton has terrific stature, athletic ability and arm strength and his presence could really open up the running game. However, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is going to have to simplify the offense and bring Newton along slowly. The greatest concern about Newton remains — his lack of humility, big ego and suspect leadership ability will be tested against NFL defensive coordinators. Nonetheless, with Ron Rivera having captained the NFL's top defense last season in San Diego, the Panthers now have a similar look as the Pittsburgh Steelers, and will seek to win with a strong running game and a stingy defense. This pick leaves me with a similar feeling as I had in 2007, when the Raiders decided to select JaMarcus Russell over Calvin Johnson.

2 (2)  Denver Broncos: OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M

No player in this draft possesses a better first two steps than Miller. He is an explosive edge rusher who will be difficult to account for on third downs and could quickly develop into one of the league's top sack artists. Evaluators expressed concerns about how often he would take himself out of games and leave production on the field, but when he wants to come off the edge, he can bend, dip and trim the corner with ease. This was a slam-dunk selection for the Broncos.

3 (3)  Buffalo Bills: DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama

Big, strong and powerful, Dareus is a havoc-wreaking interior force who is scheme-diverse and could help replace the production of Marcus Stroud. To maximize Dareus' talents, the Bills will need to provide a structure to keep him focused off the field. He has shown he can dominate when he wants to, as he did in the national championship game a year ago, but how he responds to a major payday will determine his NFL success. Many evaluators expressed concerns about his limited production over the last 1½ years and his lack of pursuit effort, but to his credit, he battled through injuries as a junior.

4 (4)  Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green, Georgia

The Bengals needed to find a No. 1 WR because Terrell Owens is moving on and Chad Ochocinco is creating problems. This pick should please Carson Palmer. Green was the easiest evaluation in this year's draft and has everything you want in a receiver. Will help open up Jay Gruden's offense and was a sure-fire, can't-miss selection.

5 (5)  Arizona Cardinals: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie struggled last season, and the Cardinals are very thin at CB. They will benefit from Peterson's size, explosion and physicality. He might turn out to be a better safety than corner, similar to previous Cardinals draft choice Antrel Rolle. Peterson's work ethic and drive are exceptional, and the Cardinals can feel comfortable they will not miss on this pick. The added dimension in the return game justifies him as a top-five selection.

6 (6)  Atlanta Falcons (from Cleveland): WR Julio Jones, Alabama

With the Browns having so many needs to fill, it made too much sense to pass up taking the boatload of picks the Falcons were offering. The Falcons were seeking explosion, and they needed to be aggressive to land one of the draft's two elite playmaking receivers. Jones' maturity, work ethic, preparation and pro-style mentality could allow him to make an immediate impact. He could give the Falcons the edge they need to get over the hump and complement Roddy White.

7 (7)  San Francisco 49ers: DE Aldon Smith, Missouri

With Robert Quinn and Da'Quan Bowers sliding because of medical concerns, Smith emerged as the draft's top pass rusher. He's still raw and might take some time to develop but has upside and was a very disruptive pass rusher from the inside and outside. He will line up as a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Niners.

8 (8)  Tennessee Titans: QB Jake Locker, Washington

This pick seems like a surprise, but Locker better fits Chris Palmer's offense than Blaine Gabbert. Palmer had the most success with another quarterback from Washington named Mark Brunell when they were together in Jacksonville. Mike Munchak clearly values intangibles at QB and starts the new era off with a signal-caller who possessed the best intangibles, work ethic and competitiveness of any passer in the draft. Locker will need to learn how to slide and protect his body in the NFL to survive the rigors of the game. He would be best if he had time to develop but could be thrust into action.

9 (9)  Dallas Cowboys: OT Tyron Smith, USC

The worst-kept secret in this year's draft, Smith fills a pressing need for the Cowboys. He has the most athletic ability and foot quickness of any offensive tackle in the draft. Teams expressed concerns about his injured knee, how he put on nearly 25 pounds in three months and how quickly he'll be able to handle complex NFL blitz schemes. However, he has the talent to plug and play.

10 (10)  Jacksonville Jaguars (from Washington): QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

David Garrard has been a serviceable starter, but the Jaguars need better to win in a competitive division that includes Peyton Manning. Gabbert does not need to be rushed into action, which should support his growth. He has all the physical tools to become a solid NFL starter. The Redskins also had a quarterback need but were not sold on Gabbert and were seeking a West Coast passer better suited for Mike Shanahan's offense. After giving up picks for Donovan McNabb last year, Shanahan wanted to add ammunition in this year's draft.

11 (11)  Houston Texans: DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin

The most important position in an odd front is the left defensive end, and Watt will team with Mario Williams to give the Texans two staunch fence posts. Watt might have been the safest pick in this year's draft because of his rare work ethic, determination and intangibles. He will make his presence felt on an underachieving line immediately.

12 (12)  Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder, Florida State

GM Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier desperately needed a new franchise quarterback with Brett Favre moving on. Ponder is a great fit for Bill Musgrave's West Coast offense. A strong Senior Bowl and pro-day workouts elevated his draft stock. The biggest challenge for Ponder could be staying healthy, having been snake bitten by injuries in college.

13 (13)  Detroit Lions: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn  

The rush to fill quarterback needs pushed Fairley down the draft board along with concerns about his character. However, head coach Jim Schwartz knew how to get the most out of Albert Haynesworth in Tennessee and now could have the most disruptive pair of interior defensive linemen in the NFL. The key for Fairley will be limiting the number of snaps he plays and making sure veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch can keep him focused.

14 (14)  St. Louis Rams: DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina   

Concerns about Quinn's benign brain tumor and fear of future concussions pushed him down the board but Steve Spagnuolo craves speed on the edges and needed to think about replacing the aging James Hall. The greatest on-field concern about Quinn is his lack of physicality against the run, but he is perfectly suited to scream off the edge and get to the quarterback in Spagnuolo's defense.

15 (15)  Miami Dolphins: OG-C Mike Pouncey, Florida   

Head coach Tony Sparano has made the offensive line a priority since he arrived in Miami, starting off his tenure with the selection of Jake Long and following up with third-round OG John Jerry last year. Pouncey can be penciled in at the guard position where he excelled as a junior and has the mass, power base and lower-body strength to plug and play. His pedigree — with his twin brother, Maurkice, winning Pro Bowl honors with the Steelers a year ago — is what allowed Mike to be drafted more highly than his more football-savvy brother.

16 (16)  Washington Redskins (from Jacksonville): DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue

The Redskins needed to add a pass rusher opposite Brian Orakpo. With a glaring hole at the position, Kerrigan's relentless motor, energy and production should allow him to convert well to a "30" front where many previous Purdue pass rushers have thrived. Kerrigan plays with the leverage, instincts and football smarts to factor readily.

17 (17)  New England Patriots (from Oakland): OT Nate Solder, Colorado   

With OLT Matt Light unlikely to return, the Patriots sought to fill a key area of need. Solder is a converted tight end with the raw talent to be molded by wily veteran O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia. However, he plays too tall and too soft-tempered and lacks core strength. He will require a lot of refinement.

18 (18)  San Diego Chargers: DL Corey Liuget, Illinois

The Chargers had a desperate need for a left defensive end with Jacques Cesaire hitting free agency after an awful season. Although Liuget thrives playing in gaps, he has proven capable of playing every position along the line and has enough size, strength and movement skill to be effective. He had the fewest holes of any defensive lineman in the draft.

19 (19)  New York Giants: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

Amukamara slid in large part because of concerns teams had during the interview process with a quirky personality and questions arising about how well he would fit into an NFL locker room. Many teams shy away from cornerbacks without interceptions, but the Giants, a value-driven team, recognized his value and added depth to a battered secondary. He lacks ideal downfield ball skills and did not have an interception as a senior but he excels in short areas and could be a solid press corner for the Giants' aggressive defense.

20 (20)  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

The Bucs have a bunch of castoffs at the defensive end position and needed to upgrade their pass rush. Clayborn was restricted in college by the Erb's Palsy in his shoulder and cannot play left- or right-handed the way he needs to at any position but right defensive end, where he figures to plug in immediately as a starter. He has the size and power to leverage the edge and collapse the corner and could prove worth the medical risk late in the first round.

21 (21)  Cleveland Browns (from Kansas City): NT Phil Taylor, Baylor

With the Chiefs set to select Phil Taylor and fill their glaring need at nose tackle, the Browns swapped picks, filling the void left by the departure of Shaun Rogers. The Browns have a glaring deficiency inside Dick Jauron's new 4-3 front and Taylor could man the fort. He graded out like a third-round pick on tape but players with his mass and movement skills are too difficult to find.

22 (22)  Indianapolis Colts: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

The Colts' offensive line faltered last season and made Peyton Manning's job as challenging as ever. Ryan Diem has begun to show his age and OLT Charlie Johnson was too often exposed and would be best kicking inside. Castonzo can plug in at left tackle and protect Manning's blind side from Day One. He's a smart, versatile, technically sound pass protector who could still stand to improve his core base strength.

23 (23)  Philadelphia Eagles: OG Danny Watkins, Baylor

The Eagles struggled mightily along the interior offensive line a year ago when injuries depleted their depth. Watkins has the athletic ability, foot quickness and strength to play anywhere on the line. He lined up at left tackle in college but projects to guard for the Eagles. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd is one of the best in the league at developing raw talent and could work wonders with the 27-year-old former firefighter.

24 (24)  New Orleans Saints: DE Cameron Jordan, California

The Saints are getting old at defensive end with Alex Brown being on his last legs and needed an infusion of youth. Jordan can be plugged in readily as a base left end and even kick inside to rush the passer on nickel situations. The Saints recognized the value on the board and made a very solid pick, given his intelligence, pedigree and versatility.

25 (25)  Seattle Seahawks: OT James Carpenter, Alabama

The offensive line struggled to find a consistent starting combination last year and regularly battled injuries. Carpenter projects to the right side where he will play opposite Russell Okung. He has the raw physical talent to have been considered in the top 50 but could be short-circuited and might need some time to adjust. He has been a durable, solid starter throughout his career.

26 (26)  Kansas City Chiefs (from Falcons through Browns): WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh

The Chiefs sorely needed a vertical threat who can take the top off a defense, taking a chance on Jonathan Baldwin to fit that role. He has shown he has big-play ability and possesses first-round measurables. However, his tape was inconsistent and he will need to mature to become a solid pro. Having a taskmaster coach in Todd Haley who came up in the business coaching receivers could help accelerate Baldwin's learning curve the same way Haley aided Dwayne Bowe's development.

27 (27)  Baltimore Ravens: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado

Despite all the character concerns surrounding Jimmy Smith, he possesses first-round ability and has the physicality to hem receivers at the line of scrimmage, exactly what the Ravens' defense seeks. The Ravens felt comfortable taking a chance on Smith knowing veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can show him what it means to be a professional.

28 (28)  New Orleans Saints (from New England): RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

Expecting the Patriots to pull the trigger on Ingram, the Saints landed the best back in the draft at a considerable price, dealing away next year's first-round pick. However, the addition of Ingram could ensure the Saints are picking even lower next season. Ingram runs with great balance, base, vision and instincts and has All-Pro potential. To select him this late in the draft was a great value for the Saints, and concerns about his knee were overblown. The lack of need at the RB position was a greater factor in his slide.

29 (29)  Chicago Bears: OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

Offensive line coach Mike Tice, with his son serving as a backup quarterback at Wisconsin, can be comfortable knowing what he's getting and is especially familiar with Carimi. He is more of a leaner than a power player and does not have the strength Tice typically seeks to intimidate and mash defenders in the run game. However, he did raise his game against better competition as a senior and is smart and versatile enough to help the Bears at multiple positions, whether it be at left guard or tackle.

30 (30)  New York Jets: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple

The Jets could use a young Trevor Pryce to anchor the edge of their line. Despite playing inside more in college, Wilkerson projects as a left defensive end in the Jets' odd front. He's still raw and unpolished but he looks every bit the part with a well-proportioned frame and is a great fit for Rex Ryan's defense.

31 (31) Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

The Steelers' defense took a hit last season when Aaron Smith went down. Heyward's calling card is his strength and he can occupy blocks up front for the Steelers. However, his inability to create a pass rush always could be restricting. Heyward is a good fit for the Steelers' scheme but was noticeably overdrafted to fill a position of need.

32 (32)  Green Bay Packers: OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State

Sherrod fills a pressing area of need for the Packers. OLT Chad Clifton is on his last legs and Sherrod is ideally suited to replace him, fitting very well in the Packers' zone-protection scheme. He might never be an elite performer but he could be very functional for a long time and has the versatility to fit anywhere along the line.


Nolan Nawrocki will provide pick-by-pick analysis of the second and third rounds Friday evening.