Monday, March 7, 2011

Cam Newton the #1 Overall Pick ... Really???

There is a new name atop the most recent mock drafts. Not Fairley or Bowers, not A.J. Green or Patrick Peterson. It's Heisman winner Cam Newton, who led Auburn to an undefeated season and may or may not have got paid in the process.

He's atypical, has a weird throwing motion, and he ran for 1,400 yards and 20 TDs last year. He's a black Tim Tebow, and was considered a fringe first-round pick. But after an impressive Combine and reports that Carolina will use the #1 pick on an offensive player, Newton appears at the top of several big boards, while Nick Fairley has fallen out of the top 5 and possibly into the 8-10 range.

It's a stunning twist, but we saw the same thing happen last year when Ndamukong Suh and Russell Okung were being considered for the #1 pick, and St. Louis abruptly decided on Sam Bradford instead about a month before the Draft. When investing upwards of $60 million on a player who needs to turn a franchise around, it's just so hard for owners and GMs to pass on possible 'franchise quarterbacks.'

Of course, that mentality has led to some of the NFL's greatest busts, including JaMarcus Russell and David Carr, and soon to be Matt Stafford. It's a hit-or-miss proposition, and about 50% of the time it's a miss. But for some reason unbeknownst to me, Carolina seems to be leaning towards a quarterback, just like 8 of the last 10 teams did with the #1 pick.

It should be noted that the two #1 picks who were not QBs are Jake Long and Mario Williams, two of the all-around best players in the NFL, and players who you can definitely build a franchise around. Meanwhile, 4 of those 8 quarterbacks have been worthless, and only 1 (Stafford) has a chance to salvage his career.

But at any rate, it seems that Carolina - who desperately needs to improve their defense - is leaning towards taking an offensive player. NFL guru Adam Schefter reports that Carolina's new coach Ron Rivera, who is a former D-coordinator, is smitten with the prospect of acquiring a franchise quarterback with the #1 pick. Problem is, nobody's quite sure if he's smitten with Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.

Part of the issue is job security. Rivera knows how the head coaching business works. You win now, or you get fired. After 14 years as an assistant coach, this is his first shot as head coach. He can't feel very confident hitching his wagon to Jimmy Claussen, or Tony Pike. Most people expect Carolina to bring in Billy Volek (a favorite of Rivera's), but that's not the answer either. He wants a franchise QB to build around, because he wants to stay the coach past 2014.

If it were me, I'll tell you what I would do. Pass on Newton, pass on Gabbert, and take Da'Quan Bowers. He's the best player available. He's a monster. He's very Julius Peppers-like. Then, in the 3rd of 4th round, take a QB to try to develop. There is plenty of depth at the QB position in this draft. (Carolina has no 2nd round pick - they traded it to New England, of course).

I don't trust Cam Newton as a backup, let alone a franchise quarterback. I think he'll be a perfect mix of JaMarcus Russell's inaccuracy and Tim Tebow's awkward release, mixed with a bit of Matt Leinart's celebrityness, and a hint of Vince Young's craziness. Throw in a dash of Reggie Bush for cheating and he'll be considered a bust within 5 years, about the same time he gives the Heisman back. Repeat: I do not trust Cam Newton.

But I'm not the Panthers, and I could care less what they do. It looks like they'll take Newton. Gabbert is probably #2 on their big board, and with Pro Day approaching he has the chance to supplant Newton if he can show off his arm. The favorite phrase of scouts is "he can make every throw." Gabbert is that kind of guy; Newton isn't. But, scouts should realize that other guys who can "make every throw" are Jay Cutler and Matt Stafford. It helps to look at intangibles, such as work ethic, toughness, leadership, and competitiveness. Of course, it's not all about intangibles, or Tim Tebow would be a Pro Bowler. You need both. And that, my friends, is rare.

Which is why 50% of quarterbacks taken in the first round are busts.

So ... let's talk about the rest of the Draft, but first, a clarifying sidenote. You may be wondering how I can talk about the NFL with much excitement without mentioning the impending lockout and the CBA and the fact that there might not even be a season. Well, it's called denial. That, and a little bit of hope and trust that this whole negotiating thing will actually work. Anyway, on to pick #2.

Denver will be happier than clams if Carolina throws the first pick away on Cam Newton (or Gabbert), because it means they get to choose the best player and take them for $5 million less. But then there's the tough part... choosing the best player.

Is it Bowers? Peterson? Green? Fairley? Dareus?

According to most scouts, Dareus passed Fairley as the best DT prospect at the Combine, and he knows ranks #2 overall on Scouts, Inc., behind only Bowers. Fairley has dropped all the way to #6.

But will Denver go for a defensive tackle, or a cornerback to replace Champ Bailey, who appears likely to leave? Patrick Peterson had perhaps the most impressive Combine of anybody, and has moved significantly ahead of Prince Amukamara as the best CB prospect. And of course there's Bowers, who could give Denver one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL, opposite Elvis Dumervil, who missed 2010 but had a league-leading 17 sacks in 2009.

Dumervil and Bowers together would be lethal, but with no secondary it wouldn't matter. Dareus would help the run defense, but again, you need a cornerback. Most mock drafts now have Denver taking either Dareus or Bowers, but I'm going on a limb and saying they draft Patrick Peterson.

Which leads us to the fascinating selection of the Buffalo Bills, who are not being shy about their love of Cam Newton. If he slips past the Panthers, Buffalo is fully expected to snag him at #3. I know, bizarre.

If Newton is gone, Buffalo's options will be either Blaine Gabbert, or "settle" for an incredible talent like Bowers or A.J. Green. There would also be the two great DTs available, but Buffalo has a stud in DT Kyle Williams, so they'll likely address other needs.

Like I said, Buffalo wants a quarterback. I think Newton is the #1 player on their board, and I believe Peterson is #2. Unfortunately for them, both players are gone in this mock, but Da'Quan Bowers makes a nice consolation prize. Either that, or Gabbert. They might have interest in A.J. Green, but not ahead of Bowers. An elite receiver without a competent quarterback doesn't win you many games. Just ask 0-16 Calvin Johnson.

There is one other possible target for Buffalo at this pick, and that's Von Miller, who I previously mocked to the Lions. Sadly, his stock has risen, and there's no stinking way he's falling to pick 13. He might go in the top 5. Buffalo needs a 3-4 OLB badly, and Miller is a complete stud. He might fit their scheme better than Bowers. Lots of intriguing options for them. To be safe, I'll guess Bowers, assuming they'll pass on Gabbert and take a QB early in the 2nd round. Aside from the obvious names like Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet, there's also TCU's Andy Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, who have both generated plenty of interest as potential 'franchise QBs' who can be drafted later. Buffalo is probably targeting Kaepernick, the fastest QB in the draft, because Chan Gailey loves mobile quarterbacks, plus a Kaepernick/Fitzpatrick position battle would be entertaining.

So to recap,
1. Carolina - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
2. Denver - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
3. Buffalo - DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson

At pick #4 is the Bengals, and the drama continues to escalade. You've got Carson Palmer who has reportedly demanded a trade and said that he will never play another game as a Bengal. His name is now tenatively added to the McNabb/Young/Kolb list as potential starters on the move. Two of those guys will end up in San Francisco and Arizona, I believe. Kyle Orton, meanwhile, has kept the #1 job in Denver according to John Fox, which means Tim Tebow is depressed but it proves that John Fox is competent, and it gives Denver a fighting chance at 8-8 this year. I digress...

Not only is Cincinnati maybe going to need a new quarterback, but TO is departing and Ochocinco is likely taking his sideshow elsewhere too. With all the drama surrounding the offense, plus Cedric Benson entering his contract year and playing horribly in 2010, doesn't Marvin Lewis have to address the offense with this pick, despite most of the supreme talent being on the defensive end?

Well, I think that all depends on how seriously you take Carson Palmer's threats of retirement and/or demanding a trade. He reportedly said he would retire if he wasn't traded. But, personally, I think he's bluffing. I think he just never wants to play another game with Ochocinco. I think he's bluffing so that Cincy's management will practically beg him to stay, and when he still doesn't seem happy, they'll say "Okay, fine! We got rid of both nutcase receivers, we let your ltitle brother be the backup quarterback, and if that's not good enough, we'll pass on Dareus and Fairley, who we NEED, and we'll take A.J. Green. Are you happy now???"

And he'll nod and say, Yes, thank you. Because he just landed a Calvin-like talent to go along with a great slot-guy in Shipley and a huge tight end in Gresham, not to mention potential stud #2 receiver Jerome Simpson, and Carson will have his best statistical season since 2005, which will help him get massively overpaid. Oh but just in case you forgot, he still stinks.

Next at #5 is Arizona, who might have more needs than any team. They need a quarterback, but between McNabb and Kolb I think they'll be all set. If not, Larry Fitzgerald will pack up his bags and wait for his contract to expire while he fakes a few injuries. They need McNabb, and McNabb needs them, so that should be an easy match. The hitch is that Fitzgerald has specifically asked for them to bring in Kolb, so they don't want to upset him. One way or another, they'll get one of those guys.

Their offensive line is a wreck, but they'll work on that in later rounds. This pick is between DT (Fairley/Dareus) and OLB (Miller/Quinn). Since this is a Ken Whisenhunt defense, and he is a former Steeler coordinator, I see this pick being an OLB. And Whisenhunt was spotted at the Combine talking to Von Miller for quite a while, and isn't shy about admitting he loves him, and comparing him to Clay Matthews. So I'll call this an easy pick and give them Miller, meaning Nick Fairley, the guy who I had going #1 a month ago, is now still on the board at pick #6. Crazy.

Cleveland will jump on A.J. Green if Cincinnati doesn't take him, and they might like Julio Jones enough to take him here instead. They NEED a #1 receiver to give Colt McCoy a chance to make strides this year, and they aren't finding one via free agency. It would be idiotic for them not to address the biggest position of need and to basically doom their quarerback.

But Mike Holmgren has a recent history of overconfidence and dooming his players, and he'll do it again this year. He'll spend the pick on defense, and get a very good player like Fairley or Dareus to replace the recently-released Shaun Rogers. Dareus is supposedly the better player, but Holmgren likes to be cute, so I think he'll take Fairley.

The #7 pick belongs to San Francisco, who I think will trade for Kolb if Arizona doesn't first. I think Jim Harbaugh is too smart to want McNabb or Vince Young. If he can't get Kolb, he probably drafts Blaine Gabbert. Either that or he hopes for a 1-15 season so he can draft Andrew Luck next year, but I already said Washington will do that and I'm sticking to it.

Lots of needs abound on San Fran's defense, and if they can trade for Kolb they'll address the defense with either Amukamara or Quinn or Dareus. But I think Kolb probably goes to Arizona, which means this pick is probably a quarterback. Gabbert is the #1 QB on a lot of boards, and fits Harbaugh's West Coast system well. Harbaugh actually tried to recruit Gabbert out of high school. Looks like a match made in heaven.


1. Carolina - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
2. Denver - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
3. Buffalo - DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
4. Cincinnati - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
5. Arizona - Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
6. Cleveland - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
7. San Francisco - Blaine Gabbert, WR, Missouri

Next up is Tennessee, who goes into this draft quarterback-less and hopeless. They have all kinds of needs, but if they can't land one of the top quarterbacks they'll got best player available. In this situation, that's gotta be DT Marcell Dareus. They'll follow Buffalo's lead and take a QB in the second round.

At pick 9 is the Cowboys, and it's a no-brainer if Prince Amukamara falls to them. He's a shutdown corner, and that's exactly what they need. Jerry Jones is even trying to do the reverse-psychology thing, saying recently "I'm not as down on our cornerbacks as you might think." Uh-huuuuh. Riiiiight. I buy that.

#10 belongs to Washington, a complete trainwreck led by the clueless Mike Shanahan. They'll lose their two highest-paid players this offseason (McNabb and Haynesworth) without getting anything in return, and they'll head into 2011 with Rex Grossman as quarterback unless they get Vince Young, which might be a step backwards. My guess is they'll go after Marc Bulger and maybe a guy like Tavaris Jackson. Shanahan wants to prove that he can win with crap players. Josh McDaniels tried that strategy last year. How'd that work out?

The Skins have needs everywhere, and should go best player available, which looks like Robert Quinn. They don't need an OLB as much as they need a quarterback and a receiver, but it's too early to reach for Locker or Mallet, and they'll be lucky to land a top-5 talent with the 10th pick. Quinn is a no-brainer, even for a guy with no brain.

1. Carolina - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
2. Denver - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
3. Buffalo - DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
4. Cincinnati - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
5. Arizona - Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
6. Cleveland - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
7. San Francisco - Blaine Gabbert, WR, Missouri
8. Tennessee - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
9. Dallas - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
10. Washington - Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina

Houston is next at 11, and they promise to take whichever player the Lions want most at pick 13. They'll steal Miller or Amukamara or Quinn if any of those guys fall. They usually draft smart. And with plenty of need for improvement on defense, they'll grab a top-flight pass rusher, since there are no cornerbacks on the board who warrant a pick in this position.

The question is, which pass rusher? Akeem Ayers, Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan... Five guys who haven't really distinguished themselves from one another. And not far behind are Corey Liuget, Muhammad Wilkerson, Adrian Clayborn, and Justin Houston. It's going to be a tough, tough decision for Houston. Unless one of the aforementioned 10 guys falls to them, they have a crappy position. I don't have any idea who I would pick if I were them, and I don't have any idea who I think they'll pick.

But if we ask Mel Kiper, it'll be J.J. Watt from Wisconsin. So let's go with that.

Next up in the Vikings, who clearly want a quarterback, but might not want Jake Locker this early. They might make a crazy reach for him, or for Kaepernick or Mallet, but it's more likely they shore up the trenches. That could mean a new franchise left tackle, or adding another pass rusher. They either get the best offensive lineman available, or the sloppy seconds of pass rushers. My guess is they'll take the O-lineman, so they can move Bryant McKinnie over to right tackle, and start protecting their new quarterback, who they'll find either in the 2nd round or maybe in Kolb if they get lucky. Best offensive lineman is a total crapshoot, but I would pick Gabe Carimi.

And with that, the Lions are on the clock, with the 13th pick, for a season that might not even happen. Let me give it some thought, and I'll get back with you.

(Spoiler: it's going to be an OLB).

No comments:

Post a Comment