The 2011 NFL Draft begins Thursday, with the first round airing in primetime once again. Who will the Carolina Panthers take with the No. 1 overall selection? Will the New England Patriots make another draft-day trade? Is the Bill Belichick-Nick Saban connection still alive and strong? SB Nation's Brian Galliford (additionally of Buffalo Rumblings and Mocking The Draft) and Joel Thorman (additionally of Arrowhead Pride) chatted with WEEI.com's Christopher Price to answer those questions, and shed some insight on the 2011 NFL Draft.
WEEI.com's Christopher Price: Bill Belichick and the Patriots have made it an annual habit to trade back every year in the draft, and I think there's a good shot they do the same this year. Not saying they're going to do it with either one of the first-round picks (Nos. 17 and 28), but that No. 33 selection-the first one of the second round-has had a different feel the last couple of years. With teams now having a chance to sit Thursday night and Friday morning and re-set their draft boards, they'll have some time to think about that No. 33 pick, and chances are good they will be willing to overpay, especially given the state of the quarterback class and the teams that might be interested in going after a signal caller early in the second round. I think that's the chip the Patriots are most likely to move, possibly for a first-round pick in next year's draft.
SB Nation's Brian Galliford: Yeah, that No. 33 pick will be gold -- particularly if the Bills a) don't take a QB at No. 3, b) don't move up from No. 34 to get one, and c) there's still a desirable QB prospect on the board. Buffalo would make New England's life much easier in that scenario, knowing that a team looking for QB might be desperate to get ahead of the Bills.
If the Pats are really bold, they can go get a top-flight guy that would instantly make them better. That's not really Belichick's style, I realize, so I wouldn't expect anything eye-popping, but moving up a tad to get a guy like Julio Jones, Robert Quinn or Prince Amukamara would be really interesting.
CP: In my mind, there's two kinds of moving up when you're talking about the Patriots -- the sort of moving up that they've been known for over the last 6-8 years, which is 3-5 spots to try and get a guy they think might not get to them. Then, there's the more unlikely move, which is pushing all their chips to the middle of the table and trying to get into the Top 10 or so. I think the first move is much more likely if they are going to land someone like Cameron Jordan. But it's interesting to ponder the possibilities of going after someone like Nick Fairley or Quinn and offering multiple picks to try and get into the Top 10 or so. Don't think it'll happen, but it's fun to think about.
BG: I've got my eye on Julio Jones for the Patriots as a trade-up target - but only if he slides. They'd just need to get in front of St. Louis, up to No. 13 overall or so, and that would come pretty cheap. The Pats could use a No. 1 receiver, and Jones is a slam-dunk. Then there's the Nick Saban connection, and the fact that Jones is a plug-and-play guy that would instantly make the Patriots the nightmare matchup in the red zone in the NFL. Receiver is one position the Pats have struggled to draft well at since the year they took Deion Branch and David Givens; this would be a safe, cheap way to rectify that situation. I mean, seriously. Jones with Branch, Wes Welker and the two tight ends? Stop it.
CP: I love Jones, and I think that what he did at the combine on a bad foot really opened a lot of eyes for the people around the league who might have questioned his character. At the same time, trying to look for patterns in Bill Belichick's drafting style can be an exercise in futility - the only thing we rally know for sure is that at the end of the first round, he will come out and address the media in some sort of snappy Vineyard Vines ensemble.
But we can find a few tendencies, and one of those is that he historically shies away from taking skill position players in the first round. This is his 12th draft in New England, and he's only gone after three offensive skill position players (Laurence Maroney, Ben Watson, Daniel Graham) in the first round, none of them wide receivers. If he does go for a wide receiver, one of the earmarks of a Belichick kind of wideout is his ability in the 3-cone drill. Branch, Julian Edelman, Welker and Chad Jackson (the exception to the rule) all had great 3-cone drill times, which speaks to a receivers' agility and footwork. (Obviously, it's not the only thing they look for, but it does play a large role in the scouting process.) While Jones was on the Top 10 in the 3-cone at the combine (ninth among wide receivers), there are some other mid-round wideouts who could offer excellent value for the Patriots-some of the guys who really had great 3-cone drill times at the combine include Oregon's Jeff Maehl or Mount Union's Cecil Shorts. As long as we're talking about under-the-radar wide receivers, I've also been told that the Patriots have expressed an interest in Georgia's Kris Durham.
BG: I understand completely Belichick's drafting tendencies, but he's also broken the mold for a guy like Jackson, a high second-round pick who compared very favorably to Jones athletically, just with far more inconsistent tape. In fact, Jones' cone time was faster than Jackson's. I can't imagine Belichick not liking Jones; the question is whether he likes him enough to move up a few spots to get him. I don't see it being a problem, knowing that Nos. 28 and 33 are so valuable from a trade-back perspective. Those mid-round guys fit New England, but they're not the sure-fire No. 1 wideout Jones is. That's what the Pats need. Maybe it's a stretch, but man, that would do wonders for their already-excellent offense.
On Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, rated by some as the top offensive lineman in this year's draft ...
BG: I think his ceiling, insofar as draft placement goes, is probably No. 9 to Dallas. Minnesota (No. 12) and Detroit (No. 13) make sense, too. It wouldn't shock me to see him go to New England or Tom Coughlin and the Giants, either. As for his "not getting past here" spot, it's probably Indianapolis.
CP: I love Castonzo - I think he's done everything possible to emerge as the No. 1 tackle in this draft. He's not an elite talent at this stage of his career, but right now, there's no reason to think he won't be a sturdy, consistent tackle for some team for the next 10 seasons. (I know, big surprise - a BC O-lineman goes in the upper reaches of the first round.) I think there are a lot of teams out there who like him, but I keep seeing him in a Lions' uniform.
BG: He makes a lot of sense for Detroit, but if a more talented player at a non-need position slips, they'll consider him. Da'Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley come to mind. (Can you imagine Fairley and Suh on the same line?)
Unless a value guy slips to the Giants, I can't see Castonzo getting past the Giants, should he slide a little as well. Coughlin knows that BC pipeline well, and the Giants need help pretty badly up front.
I'm curious to see if Castonzo can sneak past Tyron Smith to be the first tackle off the board. Smith has never played left tackle at the collegiate level, so there's going to be a huge transition. But he's got great tape, and his upside is huge. Where Castonzo is a plug-and-play, don't worry about him until 2012 guy, Smith might eventually be one of the league's best blockers. But there's so much emphasis on immediate contribution that Castonzo might beat him out.
CP: Great points on Castonzo, especially when it comes to the Lions. (Who, by the way, are my early pick for surprise team in 2011. I was all over them last year, so much so I was accused of being a Jim Schwartz homer, but if they don't screw up this draft, they're looking like a 7-8 win team. Which in Detroit, should be enough to throw a parade.) There's no doubt that Castonzo is going to be the first guy from a New England school taken.
I think Mark Herzlich is still a great, fascinating and inspirational story who will make some team very proud-he still strikes me as a mid-round guy at this point, but someone who still has a tremendous upside as he continues to work his way back. I think that UConn's Jordan Todman has a good shot to be a mid-round guy-it amazes me how far that Connecticut program has come. I also think there's a Harvard kid by the name of Collin Zych who has a chance to be a mid-round guy as well. Zych is a smart, tough defensive back who has opened a lot of eyes in workouts over the last few months.
BG: Well, as I have a special affinity for players from Harvard (hello, Mr. Fitzpatrick), I'd love to see another Crimson athlete play professionally.
I'm not big on Herzlich. I think he'll be a late-round guy, but there's no question that teams will like his character and intangibles. You can't not.
On Cam Newton and where he might go...
CP: On the heels of Mr. Fitzpatrick and Buffalo ... if Cam Newton is still there when Buffalo is on the clock, do you go after him? I believe that Newton will eventually become a good quarterback in the NFL, but I'm not sure that it happens in his first stop, especially if he's asked to step in and save a franchise as a rookie. My thinking is that among all those teams who are there early in the draft, Buffalo might be one of the best landing spots for him. If he goes there, he'd presumably sit behind Ryan Fitzpatrick for a year and learn about life in the NFL, probably see a little action from time to time to get his feet wet and then move into a starting role. Thoughts?
BG: You have the role Newton would have in his first season in Buffalo absolutely correct. They'd use him, but Fitzpatrick would be their starter. And you're right - Buffalo would, I'll grudgingly admit, be a good fit for Newton.
I wouldn't take the guy in the Top 15. He's too raw as a passer, and too much of a character risk, to waste a high-value pick like that. He'd look great in the bottom half of the first round, but I'd be shocked at this point if he's not the first player off the board. That's a huge gamble to take.
I will say this, though: if Newton does make it to Buffalo, I'm almost positive he's their pick. GM Buddy Nix has well-established and deep ties to the Auburn football program. He'll know more than anyone about this guy, and everything I've heard has Newton on top of their board - though that might be coming from the owner, as well.
SB Nation's Joel Thorman: I remember covering Chan Gailey when he was with the Chiefs and he made Tyler Thigpen into a somewhat competent quarterback so I can only imagine what he would do with Newton. I think that would be a great fit. Plus, Bills fans need something to be excited about Newton is far and away the most exciting player in the draft. Unfortunately (for the Bills), Carolina is in a similar spot and the early predictions so he'll be a Panther.
CP: If Newton doesn't fall to the Bills, who do you guys see Buffalo going after? Defense?
JT: I think they go with the top defensive player on their board - probably Marcell Dareus or Von Miller. I think you focus on shutting down the run game as a defense because the weather in Buffalo prevents a lot of high flying passing attacks for half the year. I think the front seven is a bigger need even without the weather factor.
BG: Yeah, Joel's got the priority and the players right, from what I'm hearing - though I'd add that Patrick Peterson is very high on their board, and could factor into the equation.
On how the rest of the AFC East might approach the draft...
CP: As I see it, the Jets are pretty easy to break down - OLB/pass rusher and (maybe) wide receiver, as their outside pass rush is starting to show its age a little and they'd love to get some more depth at WR. I'm thinking they'd love a shot at some combination of Akeem Ayers, Cam Jordan and Greg Little. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are tougher to read-lots of people seem to think they're either going to go for Ryan Mallett, or, if he's there at No. 15, Mark Ingram or Mikel LeShoure. A guy who seems to be rising as of late is Christian Ponder - could he be the long-term answer at quarterback for Miami?
BG: I wouldn't discount a defensive lineman for the Jets, whether it's to replace their oft-injured nose guard, Kris Jenkins, or Shaun Ellis, who is quickly approaching the end of his career (though he's still a very effective player). If they don't see value at the OLB or WR positions, they'll almost certainly turn their attention to the D-Line.
I don't think Miami will take a running back in the first round. They don't have a second-round pick, so ideally, I think they'd slide a little and take either Mallett or, if he's not there, possibly even Kaepernick. If they stay, Mallett makes sense, as does Mike Pouncey to a degree. One of the pass rushers wouldn't hurt if one slides, either.
On how the lockout has affected the way teams have approached this year's draft...
CP: I think the biggest thing for franchises from a team-building perspective is the fact that the date for free agency has been changed. That's forced some teams to re-think their draft style-instead of patching holes in free agency, they might be looking for more NFL-ready players instead of developmental guys who could help out a year or two down the road.
JT: I think it affects the teams looking for a quarterback the most. Teams like the Titans and Vikings aren't sure if there will even be free agency at all so, with their quarterback situations, they may be forced to take a quarterback early and hope he's ready to play. Those teams with a quarterback won't have a full offseason of prep time so it makes a hard job even harder. Quarterback isn't like any other position where you can plug someone in. They need to understand every nuance of the offense and there simply isn't the time this year to acquire a quarterback and give him the prep time he needs.
The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft starts at 8 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, April 28th and SB Nation has everything you need to prepare for it - NFL mock drafts, draft
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