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Lockout creates QB frenzy draft's first round

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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki

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By Nolan Nawrocki

Only four quarterbacks were selected in the first round, several less than many general managers had anticipated, but they came off the board sooner than many had anticipated.

Following the selection of Cam Newton first overall, the Titans pegged Jake Locker at No. 8 to take over for Vince Young in the offense of new coordinator Chris Palmer, who last had the most success in Jacksonville with an athletic rollout passer from the University of Washington named Mark Brunell.

With Missouri's Blaine Gabbert sliding, the Jaguars swapped spots with the Redskins to secure their quarterback of the future at No. 10. The Vikings created the biggest shock, however, when they plucked Christian Ponder at the No. 12 spot, placing four quarterbacks in the top 12 for the first time since the dreadful class of 1999 that featured Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown.

In a normal year, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer likely would have found new homes by now and helped quelch the great demand for quarterbacks. With free agency on hold as a result of the pending lockout, the rush to land quarterbacks jumped to a fever pitch.

It did not take long in the second round for several more signalcallers to hear their names called. With the third pick of the second round, the Bengals nabbed Andy Dalton as insurance for Palmer. The Niners, who surprised many by not drafting a quarterback in the first round, aggressively traded up to land what they hope will be their franchise quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, leaving six quarterbacks selected in the top 36 picks.

With the 74th overall pick that the Patriots received from Minnesota for the disgruntled Randy Moss, the Patriots added the seventh, the highly criticized Ryan Mallett, midway through the third round as a value selection. Bill Belichick struck gold with the selection of Tom Brady in the sixth round and takes on more risk with the statuesque Mallett, who began his career at Michigan. Only 12 QBs wound up being drafted. However, expectations will be much greater everywhere but New England after how highly the the first six QBs came off the board.

 

Defensive linemen break R1 record

Twelve defensive linemen were selected in the first round, breaking the record set in 2003, when 10 were selected. The run started at No. 3 when the Bills selected Marcell Dareus to be a cornerstone of their revamped 3-4 look and ended with the Steelers selecting another odd-front anchor, Cameron Heyward, at No. 31.

Noticeably absent in the top 32 picks was Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, whose surgically repaired knee pushed him off many draft boards altogether and sent his stock spiraling to the middle of the second round.

There was only one offensive lineman selected in the top 10, yet eight wound up fitting into the first round, with a strong run taking place at the end of the round, when five of the final 11 picks were O-linemen. The biggest surprise was the Seahawks' selection of James Carpenter, who had been targeted by the Packers at the end of Round One, but was scooped up seven picks earlier by former Packers football operations director and current Seattle GM John Schneider.

 

Cancer-stricken talent slides

In the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, TCU OT Marcus Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after a biopsy of a mass in his lower abdomen came back positive at the NFL Scouting Combine. He already has started chemotherapy treatment and is scheduled to conclude it on June 29.

The news not only knocked him out of the first round, where he was receiving late consideration, but off some draft boards completely. The athletic dancing bear wound up sliding all the way to the fifth round, where the Patriots were delighted to land him.

Left completely undrafted after facing what was once considered a potentially career-ending cancer of his own was Boston College OLB Mark Herzlich, who will have to wait for free agency to open before he finds a landing spot.

 

NFC South features blockbuster moves

A new flair was added to the NFC South, as each team took its turn one-upping one another in what figures to be a more competitive division than ever next season. After Cam Newton joined Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman as the fourth high-profile quarterback in the division, the Falcons made the biggest splash on Draft Day with a blockbuster trade that had been orchestrated well in advance of the draft, jumping 21 spots to select Alabama playmaker Julio Jones.

The Saints did not sit idle after selecting Cameron Jordan with their first-round pick. They traded back into the first round four picks later to land another Crimson Tide standout, RB Mark Ingram, giving Sean Payton the bellcow back he has been seeking for years.

Both teams mortgaged the future, sacrificing future first-round picks next season in respective deals with the Browns and Patriots. Tampa Bay did not enter the trading frenzy but still was able to land a top-10 talent late in the second round when the medically stricken Da'Quan Bowers fell right into the Buccaneers' hands, joining first-round pick Adrian Clayborn at a key position of need to give the Buccaneers two corner crashers who will make life more difficult for the rest of the division.

 

Trojans, Tar Heels lead way

USC and North Carolina tied for the distinction of having the most players drafted, with each school placing nine in the draft. Miami (Fla.) and Nebraska followed suit with eight and seven, respectively. Three of the first four Tar Heels drafted — all selected in the first two rounds — were not eligible to participate during the 2010 season after violating NCAA rules.

Alabama had only five players selected, but as a true testament to head coach Nick Saban's ability to recruit and develop talent, four of them were selected in the first round. QB Greg McElroy lasted until the seventh.

 

Bengals seek disciplined offense

Long known for drafting rebellious, low-character, boom-or-bust-type talent, Bengals GM Mike Brown made a 180-degree turn in his approach to this year's draft, focusing instead on high-character, dependable prospects, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

It started with the draft's most elite receiving talent, A.J. Green, and followed with the selection of QB Andy Dalton, OG Clint Boling and WR Ryan Whalen. Undisciplined WR Terrell Owens will not be back, and the ever-freelancing Chad Ochocinco could be the next sent packing in an effort to give Carson Palmer more confidence in his receivers and more structure in the offense.

Despite putting his house on the market, demanding a trade out of town and publicly stating he will not don the Bengals uniform again, Palmer should be pleased with the steps Brown has taken to clean up the offense and provide more support around the QB position, including the hiring of new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. With Bengals ownership showing clear signs of change, it would not be surprising if Palmer had a change of heart.

 

Veteran effects

It's no surprise that Jimmy Clausen will have to battle to hold off Cam Newton for the starting job, but some more notable veterans who could be affected following the draft include Saints RB Reggie Bush (after the aggressive selection of Mark Ingram), Eagles PK David Akers (following the fourth-round selection of Nebraska PK Alex Henery) and Patriots OLT Matt Light (following the first-round pick of Colorado OLT Nate Solder).

The Redskins, Cardinals and Seahawks did not address the QB position at all through the draft, with strong speculation that Kevin Kolb eventually will land in Arizona and that Matt Hasselbeck will return to Seattle. Despite the presence of rookie Christian Ponder, the Vikings still would like to bring in a veteran to allow Ponder time to develop, and still could be in the Donovan McNabb market.

The Dolphins and Bills gave Chad Henne and Ryan Fitzpatrick, respectively, a vote of confidence by bypassing the QB position.

 

Underclassmen report

Of the record 56 underclassmen that declared for the draft, 43 were selected, with 33, or roughly 60 percent, landing in the first three rounds. That included 15 in the first round, 13 in the second and five in the third. Eight of the first 10 picks hailed from the junior ranks, including the top overall selection, Newton.

Thirteen were left undrafted, with Auburn WR Darvin Adams, Wisconsin RB John Clay, Florida FS Will Hill and Pittsburgh FB Henry Hynoski among the more notable names remaining after the draft still available to be signed.

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