I realize the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft means very little to the St. Louis Rams. However, with all the hoopla surrounding the first pick still fresh in my mind from last year, it is interesting to watch the debate around this year's first pick.
This time last year, it was painfully obvious that there were only two legitimate players worthy of the first overall pick, Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh. Even after Bradford's Rookie of the Year season and enormous potential, it's still amazing how many people still mention, unabashedly, that they wanted to see the Rams pick Suh. For good reason. Suh is a one-of-a-kind talent. And Bradford has the ability to become one of the game's greats.
Both positions are incredibly important in today's pass-centric NFL too. The best offense has at its cornerstone a great QB. Sure, there are lots of in-betweens - the difference between Marc Bulger and Kurt Warner - but the top line quarterbacks can make a mediocre offense prolific. On the other side of the ball, a good pass rush is the only shot a team has at neutralizing a offensive juggernaut. Just ask Steve Spagnuolo; he won a Super Bowl proving that.
As far as the pick itself last year, as great as Suh is, he Rams could ill afford to pass up on the chance to draft a QB of Bradford's caliber. That's definitely not the case this year. No consensus exists as to which player Carolina should draft with the first overall pick. Consider the options available to them:
- QB Cam Newton - Doubtlessly the top player in the draft as far as the pizzaz goes. Pizzaz does little to answer the big question marks about Newton's chances in the pros. Do his skills translate to the NFL? Are the character concerns legit? That's potentially a lot of money down the tubes for a small market team if he doesn't make it. On the other hand, he could really benefit from Michael Vick's career renaissance. A guy like that could be the next stage in the evolution of out-gaming the blitz.
- QB Blaine Gabbert - Looks the most like the current crop of top pro QBs. Not as well-rounded as Sam Bradford, but certainly looks like he can be an effective part of a franchise for a long, long time. "Safer" isn't really the right word though. Remember, Carolina drafted the "safest" QB in the draft last year, Jimmy Clausen, in the second round. Does he need another shot? Is it a waste at this point to use a first overall pick on another QB? Andrew Luck? Forget it. The odds of Carolina drafting first overall again next year are slim.
- DT Marcell Dareus - If you can call a pick "safe" then this is the guy. He would instantly upgrade Carolina's horrid run defense and provide a pass rush threat in the middle, though that might not be as likely in his rookie season. He is not Suh.
- DE Da'Quan Bowers - Three years from now, Bowers probably will not be the sack leader to come out of this draft class. Nevertheless, he has the potential to be one of the best all-around defensive linemen in the league. But about those injuries...
- OLB Von Miller - Carolina is keeping the 4-3 defense, so Miller is more than likely out of play with this pick. Given just how much rebuilding they have to do, Carolina could still pick MIller with eye on switching to a 3-4 next year. Ron Rivera has coached both.
- CB Patrick Peterson - Find a pundit that does not have Peterson atop his draft board. Find one. Pretty hard to do. Only one DB has ever been picked first overall. The Panther are more likely to pick...
- WR A.J. Green - Green is the best receiver in the draft, according to most pundits. If the coaches and front office really feel like Clausen can be their guy for a little while, then Green would give him a much needed weapon in the passing game. It's still a stretch.
- DT Nick Fairley - Another player that pundits will argue is the best player in the draft. He does have questions about his maturity, but there aren't too many about his talent. Fairley could be an elite three-technique.