For me, the NFL Draft is the most exciting part of the off-season. After months of watching film, conducting medical exams, interviewing and running 40-yard dashes, the day arrives when hundreds of prospects wait to hear their names called.
Every year there are prospects who fall, those who get picked higher than we thought and some who don’t get drafted at all.
As the only team with two first-round picks, the Patriots will be a key player in what should be an exciting three days.
With that said, here are my ten draft thoughts/predictions:
1. New England will move from both the No. 17 and No. 28 selections.
I fully expect Bill Belichick to follow his trend of getting value in the draft. With so many teams in search of quarterbacks, I see the Pats trading the No. 28 selection for future picks and possibly moving up from 17 to get an elite player.
2. Four quarterbacks go in first round
Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are first-round locks. In fact, they might be gone by pick No. 5. However, with the Redskins, Vikings, Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals all in need of a franchise QB, I think Christian Ponder and Jake Locker will get selected on day one. While Locker has accuracy issues, his athleticism and intangibles are off the charts. Ponder is experienced, intelligent and would be a good fit in a west coast offense.
3. Adrian Clayborn slips out of round one
The former Iowa Hawkeye had a monster junior season, racking up 63 tackles and 11 sacks, but dropped off considerably as a senior (52/4). Besides that, he is an average athlete and has an arm condition that limits his versatility. With a deep defensive line class, he may not hear his name called on day one.
4. Only Two receivers, one running back on day one
A.J. Green and Julio Jones will be gone by pick 14. Mark Ingram, despite his lack of timed speed, should go in the first round. Other than that, no receivers, tight ends or running backs will go in round one. There are too many question marks and the depth at other positions, namely offensive tackle and defensive line, will play a big factor.
5. At least one team will trade into the top 10
We’ve only seen three teams trade into the top 10 since 2001. In 2008, the Jaguars thought Derrick Harvey was worth the eighth overall selection, but he hasn’t panned out. The year after, the Jets moved to No. 5 to select Mark Sanchez who has led the team to two straight playoff appearences. With the rookie wage scale likely to take effect, it may be worth it for a team targeting an elite player to move up. Teams to consider would be the Patriots (for an edge rusher), or the Vikings for a quarterback.
6. Five overrated first-round prospects:
1. Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland – A one-trick pony who isn’t a No. 1 receiver at the next level.
2. Jake Locker, QB, Washington – Despite his athleticism, never put up great numbers and has terrible accuracy.
3. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado – Will intrigue with his size and athleticism, but is raw and lacks strength.
4. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri – Didn’t put up great numbers and is a notch below elite. Not at the same level as Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan.
5. Justin Houston, DE, Georgia – Good size/speed numbers and production, but is not suited for the 3-4 OLB spot as some make him out to be.
7. Five underrated prospects:
1. Jabaal Sheard, OLB, Pittsburgh – Doesn’t have name recognition of former teammate Greg Romeus, but was a better overall player and has great first-step explosion.
2. Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa – Much better athlete than his teammate Clayborn. Could be a force as a 3-4 defensive end or as a three-technique in a 4-3.
3. Orlando Franklin, OG/T, Miami – Plenty of starting experience, great size (6-foot-6, 316 pounds) and strength.
4. Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State – Versatile back who has good power despite lack of size. Could be a nice option in round three.
5. Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky – Can do a little bit of everything and played against top competition. Not a No. 1 receiver, but could be an effective No. 2.
8. AFC East Division needs:
Bills – Quarterback and defensive line need to be targeted early. Their defense is putrid up front and they lack an edge rusher after Aaron Maybin turned out to be a bust. They will take a long look at Gabbert and Newton, but may settle for a defensive lineman like Marcell Dareus.
Dolphins – Running back and interior offensive line are areas that need to be improved if they are to maintain their run-first approach. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free agents, so Mark Ingram could be an option. Florida's Mike Pouncey could also get a look as he couldd solidify the guard spot from day one.
Jets – Nose tackle and outside linebacker are key areas of concern. Kris Jenkins can’t be relied on anymore, and their defensive line doesn’t have much talent outside of veteran Shaun Ellis. Vernon Gholston and Jason Taylor are gone and Bryan Thomas is an average player, so an edge rusher is a huge need.
Patriots – Outside linebacker and offensive line are the top priorities. Getting after the quarterback and protecting Tom Brady need to be addressed early and often. Ryan Kerrigan, Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn could fit as outside linebackers, and Mike Pouncey or Danny Watkins would be nice fits at guard.
9. No safeties or tight ends in first 50 picks
The past few years the tight end and safety groups have been pretty good. In 2010 Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, Nate Allen and T.J. Ward all went in the top 38 picks, and Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski went in the first two rounds. This year, Kyle Rudolph is the best tight end, but may slip to the end of round two. No safety is worth a top-50 selection.
10. No Pro Bowl quarterbacks will emerge from this draft
While I do see the upside of Cam Newton and Jake Locker, I think Newton will have too many distractions and won’t be able to adjust to the pro game. Locker is too inaccurate and Gabbert strikes me as more of a solid, but not spectacular guy. Ponder may be more like a mobile Chad Pennington, and Mallet has bust written all over him.