April 30, 2011

The biggest first-round surprises

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. There are two questions this week, one today and one Sunday.

TODAY'S QUESTION: From a college perspective, what surprised you the most about the first round in this year's NFL draft?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Everyone knows Minnesota was in dire need of a quarterback, but I still was surprised the Vikings selected Christian Ponder with the 12th pick. He had a good career at Florida State, but Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and TCU's Andy Dalton received much more pre-draft hype, so I expected one of those would be taken. Actually, I would not have been surprised if the Vikings would have drafted a player at another position, then gambled that Mallett, Dalton or Ponder would have been available in the second round. I also was surprised that Auburn DT Nick Fairley, who at one point was projected as possibly the first player taken, fell all the way to Detroit at No. 13. The Lions have a potentially dominating defensive line with Fairley teaming up with Ndamukong Suh.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
Seeing Washington quarterback Jake Locker go No. 8 to Tennessee - ahead of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert - was a stunner. And Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder going No. 12 to Minnesota? But I was most shocked that Atlanta gave up so much in a trade with Cleveland to move up and select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons didn't have a great need at the position. Plus, Atlanta traded its first-, second- and fourth-round picks in his year's draft along with its first- and fourth-round selections in the 2012 draft to Cleveland. That's a heavy price to pay. Is Jones really that much better than, say, Maryland's Torrey Smith, Miami's Leonard Hankerson or Boise State's Titus Young? I don't think so. There was only one elite receiver in this draft worth the price Atlanta paid for Jones - and that was Georgia's A.J. Green, who went No. 4 to Cincinnati.

David Fox's answer:
What shocked me most was the performance of the Big 12 in its last draft in this incarnation of the conference. When we counted up the draft picks since 2000 this week, we learned how striking the disparity between Texas and Oklahoma and the rest of the league really is. Those two schools had accounted for 26 first-round picks from 2000-10; the other 10 teams combined for 21. The situation was the reverse Thursday - eight first-round picks from the Big 12, but none from the teams involved in the Red River Rivalry. That mix included two from Missouri in the top 10, two from Baylor and picks from Nebraska and Colorado, who are heading to new leagues. Those numbers aren't a total shock, though. Texas was 5-7 last year and Oklahoma's best players still are in school. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams was the only player from the two teams with first-round potential. To see the numbers on paper and to see two Baylor guys get drafted before anyone from Texas and Oklahoma - well, I just had to see it to believe it.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
How much time do you have? A lot shocked me. Aldon Smith at No. 7? Jake Locker at No. 8? Tyron Smith, a right offensive tackle, going ninth? I was surprised Blaine Gabbert fell to 10th, even though I think he will be a journeyman pro. Christian Ponder in the first round - and at 12th? Jonathan Baldwin in the first round? Gabe Carimi falling to 29th, behind James Carpenter (!?!?) and Danny Watkins? I also was stunned that Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers fell out of the first round. Evidently, his knee injury is far more severe than was thought because a guy with that kind of pass-rushing ability doesn't get bypassed unless there are all sorts of red flags. And how about 20 of the 32 picks being used on linemen?

Steve Megargee's answer:
I had seen all the pre-draft reports that Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers' stock was falling like a rock because of questions about his right knee, but NFL teams place such a premium on pass rushers that I figured someone would take a chance on him in the second half of the first round. After all, Bowers was universally considered a potential top-five pick - perhaps even the top overall pick - when he announced he was forgoing his senior season to turn pro. Bowers won the Nagurski Trophy given annually to the nation's top college defender. He led the nation with 15.5 sacks and certainly had more long-range potential than just about any of the late first-round picks, if health weren't a factor. Either plenty of teams overreacted or Bowers' injury is much more serious than we assumed a month or two ago. While there clearly were extenuating circumstances to explain Bowers' tumble out of the first round, his situation exemplified how college production often doesn't matter all that much in determining when a player gets drafted. Bowers' name popped up as a top-three pick in some of the initial 2011 mock drafts that came out last spring, even though he had recorded a total of four sacks over his first two seasons. Now, after a season in which he developed into the nation's premier pass rusher, Bowers wasn't even taken in the first round.



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