Gregg Rosenthal

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Draft 2011: The Big Questions

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This uncertain unprecedented NFL offseason deserves a draft like this.

In an offseason where everything about the NFL is up in the air from free agent status to when the season will start, it only seems right that the draft is full of more questions than usual.

Let's try to figure out some answers.

So is Cam Newton a lock to go No. 1 to the Panthers?

No one knows. Really. A media consensus has coalesced that Carolina will take Newton, but the Panthers have done an excellent job limiting leaks about their plans.

A few clued-in NFL folks believe Carolina would prefer to trade down. In that scenario, they would take cornerback Patrick Peterson, Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus or Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. Dareus seems likely to go second to Denver, but no one seems sure of that either.

Can a team without a quarterback really afford to pass on Newton?

There are plenty of arguments against taking Newton first. He's going to take time to get ready, but fans won't be particularly patient after buying tickets to see him. With limited offseason practice to get ready, rookie quarterbacks may have to essentially redshirt this season.

New Panthers coach Ron Rivera is defensive minded and the team's need at defensive tackle is arguably greater than at quarterback. The Panthers took quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the second round last year, and G.M. Marty Hurney still believes in him. (The coaching staff may feel differently.)

Carolina does not have a second round pick and would love to pick up more ammo. Hurney's biggest problem is that one seems particularly likely to move up for Newton, who is a reach so high. The most likely outcome is that Carolina stays put.

Newton remains the favorite to be taken first, but I'm not convinced it's a lock. Dareus going No. 1 overall makes a lot of sense.

Why is the top ten so unpredictable this year?

This could be a rough year for mock drafters. There simply isn't that big of a talent gap between the players in the top ten. Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller is an exceptional pass rusher, but it's hard to separate him from receivers like Green and Alabama's Julio Jones. Peterson may be the "safest" pick in the top ten, but some folks believe Nebraska's Prince Amukamara is nearly as talented.

UNC's Robert Quinn leads a deep crop of defensive ends; he didn't play last year because of NCAA violations. Clemson's DaQuan Bowers was once seen as a potential No. 1 pick, but knee troubles have torpedoed his stock. That's the kind of class this is.

At least eight defensive linemen should go in round one, and the number could climb to double digits. Ask five evaluators which end they like best and you may get five different answers.

The cream of the crop in this draft just isn't as hyped as usual. That doesn't mean they are less talented, just that teams will see players differently.

Throw in an unprecedented number of teams at the top of draft needing quarterbacks, and we should have quite a few surprises in the top ten.

Why is this a good year to be a quarterback prospect?

Supply and demand. This offseason started with an abnormally big group of teams looking for help at quarterback. Without free agency or trades available because of the lockout, there are a lot of desperate coaches and antsy owners looking for someone to help sell hope.

In the top 12 picks alone, at least nine teams need a quarterback. Mike Mayock expects a "feeding frenzy" to build at the position, with players getting taken earlier than their talent warrants.

"There's never been a draft where eight quarterbacks have gone in the first three rounds," Mayock said this week on the Dan Patrick Show. "And eight are going in the first three rounds this year, maybe in the first two rounds. And it's not because they are great quarterbacks."

Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert arguably aren't worth top-10 picks, but they should go in the top five. Jake Locker looks like a boom or bust prospect with accuracy questions, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him go No. 10 to Washington or No. 12 to Minnesota. Tennessee could also reach for a quarterback like Locker or even Andy Dalton at No. 8.

Who figures to benefit from the quarterback frenzy?

Teams at the bottom of the first round like the Patriots and Jets could capitalize on QB fever, picking up extra picks in order to let teams move back into the first round.

Arkansas' Ryan Mallett's arm strength may prove too intriguing for teams to wait on, despite questions about his maturity. Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton have become favorites of teams that want a smart, steady skill set. Think Chad Pennington 2.0. if all goes well. Raw but wildly athletic Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick might be a bit of a project, but has the tools to go early.

An unprecedented number of quarterbacks will likely be taken in the first 2-3 rounds, yet there is little consensus this is a great class. It's a boom-or-bust group, and we suspect a few general managers will lose their jobs for taking these guys too early.

What teams will be the most active trading?

While you can't trade veterans (see sidebar), teams can deal 2011 and 2012 draft picks. The Patriots own six of the top 92 picks, including three of the first 33. New England holds Carolina's second round pick, and could hold an auction all day Friday for teams looking to move up for any quarterbacks that slip past day one. It would be a surprise if the Patriots don't pick up some team's first round pick for next year.

San Diego holds 5 of the first 89 picks. Chargers G.M. A.J. Smith needs to re-stock his talent base and is never afraid of moving around.

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Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for and Catch him on Twitter.
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