After nearly two months' worth of labor talk dominating NFL news, there was at least one night of relief as the 2011 draft kicked off and got fans thinking about what might happen on the field.
As the first 32 picks were made, there were stretches where teams made strong moves and others that were head-scratchers. Throw in a little anger from the attending fans and here's a look at the winners and losers from the first round:
Cam Newton – Not only is it great for Newton that he went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers, but the recent court victories by the players and the possibility that the NFL may be forced to start the league year right away open up the possibility that Newton could get another financial windfall. Though both sides believe that there should be a cap on rookie salaries, there's also no such agreement in place yet. Every week that goes by without a collective bargaining agreement makes it more likely that rookies will benefit from the system that paid 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford(notes) a contract that included $50 million guaranteed. Based on that, Newton could get $55-$60 million easily. That's far from a lock to happen, but the chance is there.
Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff – Dimitroff knew that the Falcons did not have enough explosive weapons in their offense. There were times last season when he saw Roddy White(notes), Brian Finneran(notes), Tony Gonzalez(notes) and Justin Peelle(notes) lined in a four-receiver set, with only White capable of running a sub-4.8 40. With an incredibly bold trade (the Falcons gave up two first-round picks, a second and two fourths to move from No. 27 to No. 6), the Falcons changed that drastically by getting one of the two best offensive weapons in this draft in wide receiver Julio Jones, who should step right in and play. The next best wide receivers in the draft, such as Leonard Hankerson, were all considered long-term projects. Jones and White give the Falcons two receivers who are fast and physical. This should also open up things for Gonzalez, assuming he returns for what is expected to be his final season.
Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars have long been in search of a quarterback to replace the limited David Garrard(notes). Their patience paid off in a big way when Blaine Gabbert surprisingly fell to No. 10 overall (Jake Locker shockingly went ahead of him at No. 8 to Tennessee) and the Jaguars were able to swing a relatively cheap trade (they only had to give up their second-round pick to move from No. 16 to nab Gabbert) with the Washington Redskins for the rights to Gabbert. Surprisingly, Washington coach Mike Shanahan, who seriously needs a quarterback, let Gabbert slip by. Gabbert may have his flaws (there are concerns about his accuracy), but Shanahan is the same guy who once traded up for Jay Cutler(notes) and Gabbert is a prince compared to Cutler.
Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) – Despite mediocre talent, Fitzpatrick figures to get another year as a starter for coach Chan Gailey as the Bills went with defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the No. 3 overall pick. The Bills had hoped to get Newton, who was the only quarterback on their radar that high in the draft. Now, Fitzpatrick gets another shot. Not that he should be expected to become great, but there are a few people out there who believe that, if given time, Fitzpatrick could develop into a very good starter. Not great, but very good. I'm not sure I'm buying that now, but at least he'll have a chance to show it.
Detroit Lions – Some might consider it overkill to draft defensive tackle Nick Fairley when the Lions took Ndamukong Suh(notes) last year. I completely disagree. If you have a chance to create a dominant, overpowering defensive line, you do it. There are concerns about Fairley's work ethic, which caused him to drop from a possible top five pick to No. 13. However, Suh's intensity could drive Fairley to play harder. One of Fairley's first comments when he met with the media after being drafted: "I can't wait to line up next to [Suh]". With Suh and Fairley, both of whom have a serious mean streak and are quick enough to slide outside in certain situations to play defensive end, the Lions could actually be ferocious (sorry, I couldn't resist) on defense for the first time in about three decades.
Linemen – The strength of this draft was considered to be the guys who play in the trenches and the first round proved that opinion. Twenty of the 32 picks were either offensive or defensive linemen. In fact, there was a stretch in the middle of the round when 12 of 13 players selected were along the lines. Dareus got everything started at No. 3 overall to Buffalo. Meanwhile, skill position players got little love. Aside from the four quarterbacks, the only other guys who touch the ball on a regular basis to go in the top 25 were wide receivers Jones and A.J. Green.
New England Patriots – The Patriots gave up a chance to get the best running back in the draft by passing on Alabama's Mark Ingram at No. 28 overall, but the Patriots once again showed the league how to work the trade market. By trading the pick to New Orleans, New England picked up the No. 56 overall pick in the second round and got a first-round pick in 2012. Figure that pick next year, which is subject to some doubt because the 2012 draft is not assured, will be somewhere between No. 22 and 32 and the Patriots got another terrific deal. That said, the Patriots may not have done enough to improve their defense in Round 1 and still need to get a pass rusher somewhere.
The NFL – Commissioner Roger Goodell did his best to handle the situation, talking through the chorus of boos and jeers he was welcomed with by the crowd at Radio City Music Hall. The fans also chanted "We want football!" several times – as if there were any chance of playing right now, but you get the point – and generally weren't a happy group because of the labor dispute. What is clear from the various opinion polls out there measuring fan reaction is that nobody is particularly popular right now.
Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings – As four quarterbacks went in the top 12 picks, no one reached more than these two teams in going after Locker and Christian Ponder, respectively. In fact, Tennessee took Locker over the more highly regard Gabbert, a stunner for anyone who saw Locker throw up close. While Locker is more athletic than Gabbert, Locker's accuracy is worse than Gabbert, who isn't that accurate, either. Ponder is a smart, composed kid who won't cause too many problems in the locker room after the Vikings had to deal with a year of distractions between former quarterback Brett Favre(notes) and former coach Brad Childress last season. That said, Ponder is not that good. He's above-average in just about every regard, but not special. If there is one good thing for these teams, it's that both have definitively moved on, particularly the Titans from Vince Young(notes).
Da'Quan Bowers – There's no joy in seeing a young man's dream get trounced, especially when he was, at one time, considered a possible No. 1 overall pick. Bowers is the best pass rusher in the draft, but concerns about his knee dropped him out of the first round and there are plenty of people who believe he will have only a brief career.
Carolina QB Jimmy Clausen(notes) – It has been a brutal offseason for Clausen, who lost agent and long-time family friend Gary Wichard to cancer in March. On Thursday, his worst career nightmare came true Thursday when Newton was the No. 1 overall pick and became the obvious future for the Panthers. It wasn't so long ago that Clausen was considered one of the next great quarterbacks, a can't-miss prospect out of California who went to Notre Dame. Over the past two-plus years, Clausen has seen his status go spiraling downward to the point where the Panthers have basically given up on him after only one season. While Clausen could end up starting this season as a placeholder for Newton, the reality is that he needs to move to a new team as soon as possible.
Baltimore Ravens – A botched trade attempt with the Chicago Bears caused the Ravens to miss their allotted 10 minutes, which allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to jump ahead of them for the No. 26 overall pick. Given Ozzie Newsome's reputation for being on top of things, the situation was weird – and now we know why. "It was our fault," Bears GM Jerry Angelo told the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen.
New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush(notes) – The move by New Orleans to get Ingram is the strongest signal to date that Bush's days are numbered with the Saints and a source said the move is as good as done. It's not so much that Ingram can replace exactly what Bush does. They are too different for that. However, with Bush due to make $8 million this year, he may be too much of a luxury for the Saints to afford and Ingram gives them an answer. The other loser in this situation is agent Joel Segal, who represents both Bush and Ingram and is going to have to explain this to Bush if this goes the way most people expect it.
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