More Robinson: Pick-by-pick analysis
The first storm cloud rolled in early for Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers – right about the time he arrived at his New York hotel Thursday for the NFL draft.
"I get out of the town car, I get my bag and I'm walking inside," Rodgers said. "You know, the [family] is going and everything. And a guy goes, Hey Alex, will you sign this?' "
It would have been a flattering request had Rodgers been who the man thought he was – Utah quarterback Alex Smith. Instead, it wasn't flattering at all. More like unsettling.
"I said to myself, this is going to be a bad trip," Rodgers said.
He had no idea how right he was. Apparently, the NFL had a far easier time than the fan in distinguishing between Rodgers and Smith – who were supposed to be neck and neck for the No. 1 pick in this weekend's draft. Instead, it ended up being all about Smith. The big Ute went to the San Francisco 49ers with the first pick, and Rodgers tumbled all the way to the Green Bay Packers at 24th overall.
That plummet, aside from costing Rodgers a ton of money, gave the ex-Cal quarterback a unique distinction on Saturday. At the very moment he was selected by the Packers, he took on the dual role of draft winner and loser. The loss? Money, status, ego, etc. But he won the ability to be groomed behind an NFL legend in Brett Favre. And he also won time – time to mature and time to escape the pressure of being the Next Great Quarterback.
Of course, not everyone in the draft broke even like Rodgers. Some simply won, while others clearly did nothing but lose. With that in mind, here's our look at the winners and losers of the draft's first day …
DAY 1 WINNERS
- Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett
Not only does the guy end up going higher than anyone thought possible – the last pick in the third round – he lands with a team that suits his skills perfectly. The Denver Broncos have become a factory when it comes to transforming guys like Clarett into 1,000-yard rushers. Oh, and the third round might have been his best-case scenario last year, so Clarett essentially lost no ground in the past 12 months.
- South Carolina WR Troy Williamson
He ran a blazing time at the combine, and word began to leak out over the last week that he was rated as the No. 2 wide receiver on the Minnesota Vikings' board. Still, it was hard to believe. It seemed more likely that Williamson would land somewhere in the mid-teens. He made himself millions of dollars in his workouts following the college football season.
- Arkansas QB Matt Jones
Even Jones' most ardent supporters in the NFL didn't see him going 21st overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was more realistic that he would go at the very end of the first round. Instead, he lands with a team that is young and on the rise, with an opportunity to become a key cog on offense right away (which is precisely what he wanted), rather than being eased in.
- Texas RB Cedric Benson
Aside from the barrage Aaron Rodgers dealt with in the last five days, no "elite" prospect took a bigger reputation beating before the draft than Benson. Whether it was character, speed or even the fact that he reminded people of former Longhorn Ricky Williams, the guy was getting flak at every turn. In the end, Benson hung tough and was still a top-four pick. He looked like he was going to shed tears of joy on draft day.
- Speed coaches
Personnel people at the combine remarked over and over how impressive the speed was in this year's class – and that many guys chose to show it off in Indianapolis. Most think it's a reflection of all the speed training players are now doing in the offseason. It paid off big in the draft's first three rounds, with dozens of guys getting a healthy bump in their draft stock thanks to their 40-yard dash times.
- Arizona Cardinals
The Cards landed four players that should be able to come in and contribute right away – cornerback Antrel Rolle, running back J.J. Arrington, cornerback Eric Green and outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock. Arrington and Blackstock were especially huge. Both were great college players who were considered first-round material at some point but were downgraded because of size or speed issues.
- Cleveland Browns
The Browns landed three pieces that should be fundamental parts of the rebuilding process. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards has the potential to be a superstar, safety Brodney Pool could step in and start tomorrow and quarterback Charlie Frye is a talented arm who could be groomed into a very good player behind Trent Dilfer.
- Dallas Cowboys
Bill Parcells nailed his draft plan, getting exactly what he wanted: Starting-quality players for his switch to the 3-4 defense. Defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware reminds Parcells of Lawrence Taylor, while defensive end Marcus Spears should be a load as a run-gobbling lineman. And linebacker Kevin Burnett had a package of skills that got him considered by teams at the end of the first round, yet Parcells got him in the middle of the second.
- Miami Dolphins
Like the Browns, Miami stole key pieces all over the draft board. And as Nick Saban loves to preach, he got top-notch value at each spot. Everyone knows what Auburn running back Ronnie Brown is about, but Iowa defensive end Matt Roth and Florida linebacker Channing Crowder are both athletic guys who will absolutely thrive under Saban.
- Philadelphia Eagles
Head coach Andy Reid wanted to fill out the depth of his Super Bowl team, and that's exactly what he did. Though none of them should step in and set the league on fire as rookies, Reid's four first-day picks are all good enough to be groomed into eventual starters (defensive tackle Mike Patterson and wide receiver Reggie Brown) or key role players (linebacker Matt McCoy and running back Ryan Moats).
DAY 1 LOSERS
- The NFL's "steroid-busting" image
Already having to deal with steroid allegations involving the Carolina Panthers, and having to dissect the issue with Congress, the league watched an admitted steroid user suffer no penalty in the draft. Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo was taken 28th overall by the San Diego Chargers despite testing positive for steroids and admitting to teams that he used a banned substance to help him get ready for the league's combine.
Instead of downgrading his draft status as some teams had, the Chargers drafted Castillo right about where he was projected to go before the steroid issue came to light. It sets a bad example for other players and lends credence to the whispered belief that some players selectively use steroids in their careers to enhance their value at opportune times.
- Green Bay Packers
Getting Rodgers at the 24th pick is nice, but the Packers failed to make any choice that will make an immediate impact on next season's team. And that's not good when you have an aging icon like Brett Favre who is constantly teetering on retirement. Beyond Rodgers, safety Nick Collins was an atrocious reach in the second round, and wide receiver Terrence Murphy is not a need whatsoever.
- The University of Florida
It wasn't long ago that the Florida Gators were stocking rosters from coast to coast. This year they only had one player picked on the first day – linebacker Channing Crowder in the third round. That's the longest the Gators have waited to have a player selected since 1996.
- Redskins QB Patrick Ramsey
Regardless of what Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs says, a first-round quarterback is not drafted to be a backup. He's drafted to be an eventual successor. Ramsey was just awarded the starting job at the end of last season. Now he knows how Drew Brees felt at this time last year.
- Oklahoma DE Dan Cody
Cody was regarded as a top-20 talent, but his battle with depression midway through his college career scared a lot of teams off. The red flag caused him to plummet to 53rd overall and cost him millions of dollars.
- Hampton wide receiver Jerome Mathis
Mathis was once thought to be an early second-round pick, but some teams suspected he was little more than a track star in football pads and backed off on the first day. Despite being the fastest receiver in the draft and having good workouts, he's going to be no better than a fourth-round pick.
- Purdue QB Kyle Orton
For a few weeks early in the college season, Orton was touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate and a possible top-10 pick in the draft. His stock has been hitting icebergs ever since and he's fallen into the draft's second day.
- Wisconsin DT Anttaj Hawthorne
Here's another player that was thought to have first-round talent. But NFL teams were already concerned about Hawthorne's dedication when he tested positive for marijuana at the combine. Now they think he's clueless. He cost himself a lot of money.