Good start for Julio Jones in Atlanta

We’ve been starved for football for so long that any news is exciting this time of year. Everyone is anxious for news on how rookies and other new players might fare on their new teams.

With Julio Jones, that attention is magnified given the huge bounty Atlanta paid to Cleveland for the privilege to draft Jones with the #6 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. It was a huge gamble, but Atlanta needed to be aggressive in order to help Matt Ryan and his teammates get over the hump.

The early returns are encouraging, and those who follow the Falcons are impressed. As Jeff Schultz explains in his blog, it’s easy to make too much of performances in early preseason games, but it’s also encouraging to see a stud receiver at least look like a stud receiver when he first starts to play. Jones has passed that test. The upside is significant, so Atlanta fans should be pleased. Jones looks like the kind of player that can elevate Ryan’s game and possibly put the Falcons in contention with the other favorites in the NFC.

Now that we’ve gotten a glimpse of how he can use his significant talent in the NFL, we’ll start to see if he can be consistent as well, and whether he can perform when defenses make it a point to stop him.

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Fitzy goes to the NFL Draft [video]

For the third year in a row, Patriots superfan Fitzy goes to the NFL Draft in New York City.

2011 NFL Draft Recap: Observations, Reactions & Opinions

Quarterback Cam Newton of Auburn University poses after being selected as the first overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL football Draft in New York, April 28, 2011. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Don’t listen to observers when they say there’s no sense in handing out grades following the NFL draft. I agree with the notion that it generally takes three years before anyone can properly evaluate a team’s draft, but why should that stop anyone from making observations? After all, when a major trade breaks in one of the main four sports, do we say, “Damn, I really want to break down this trade but we’ll have to wait three to four years before we do because we won’t know how things will play out!” Of course not – we analyze the deal ad nauseam, share our opinions and then either bask in the news or cry ourselves to sleep. That’s one of the many things that makes sports great.

With that in mind, here are 32 quick-hit observations (one for each team) from the 2011 NFL Draft. I don’t like to hand out grades because a) everyone does them and b) they’re just not fun for me. But I did something like this after the 2009 draft and I figured it would be cool to do something similar this year. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section or please, share your own opinions on another wild NFL draft.

1. Even the biggest Cam Newton supporters have to admit that the young man will be a major project for Carolina. He could wind up being in the Hall of Fame some day after leading the Panthers to three Super Bowls, but it’s going to take some time. He ran the spread option at Auburn – the kid will need a few years to learn and grow in a pro-style offense.

2. I love Von Miller the prospect but I don’t love Von Miller the prospect in Denver’s 4-3 defensive front. I wonder if one day we’ll look back at the Broncos’ selection at No. 2 and say: “They should have went with Marcell Dareus.”

3. Speaking of Dareus, how well did the Bills make out at No. 3? They needed to get more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball and now they have someone who they can plug in on Day 1 and watch him compete. They must have been ecstatic when he fell past Denver.

4. Andy Dalton isn’t a spectacular prospect but he’s a fit for Jay Gruden’s offense and hey, he wants to play for the Bengals (something that cannot be said about Carson Palmer). And I have a feeling A.J. Green will make people forget about Chad Ochocinco (and quite frankly, all of his attention-seeking ways).

5. The Cardinals had to be disappointed that Von Miller didn’t fall to them at No. 5 but Patrick Peterson isn’t a bad consolation prize. Ryan Williams in the second round was a bit of a head-scratchier though. I like Williams, but is he a fit in an already crowded backfield? Two value picks that I really liked: Sam Acho and Quan Sturdivant. Acho fills Arizona’s need for a pass-rusher and Sturdivant was considered one of the top inside LBs available in the draft.

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Christian Ponder will have opportunity to start for Vikings in 2011

Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier leads his team against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on November 28, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has made it clear to the media in Minnesota that first round pick Christian Ponder will have every opportunity to win the starting quarterback job this year.

“That would be the ideal situation – we’ve got our Matt Ryan, we’ve got our [Joe] Flacco,” Frazier told ESPN 1500 Twin Cities. “But because of the uncertainty of the offseason, it’s just hard to determine exactly how you want to approach it.”

Translation: If we don’t wind up trading for Donovan McNabb, then the rook will probably start for us next season. (Because hey, who else would start? Patrick Ramsey? Hahahaha…ahhhhhh.)

After taking Ponder in the first round last Thursday, it seems unlikely that the Vikings would trade for McNabb, but you never know. What they could wind up doing is waiting to see if Washington releases McNabb and then pursuing him on a one-year deal. That way Ponder could sit and learn Bill Musgrave’s offense for a year before taking over in 2012. The only problem with that line of thinking is that you assume McNabb would be fine only taking a one-year deal so that he could groom his eventual replacement.

While I was just as surprised as anyone when the Vikings selected Ponder in the first round last week, I do think he’s a perfect fit for Minnesota’s offense. Musgrave has been heralded for his work with young quarterbacks and he’ll have the opportunity to show what he can do with Ponder, who was arguably the best West Coast Offense prospect in last weekend’s draft. Musgrave obviously did a great job grooming Ryan in Atlanta and it’s not like Ponder wouldn’t have talent around him if he wound up starting as a rookie. As Frazier pointed out, we’ll just have to wait and see how the rest of the offseason plays out to see if Ponder will have the opportunity to start in ’11.

15 Observations from the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft

The National Football League logo is displayed near the stage during round one of the 2011 NFL Draft Pick at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City. UPI/Monika Graff

Here are 15 observations, thoughts and projections (sure to be wrong knowing my luck with predictions on prospects) from the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

1. Hey kids, if you want to be a NFL quarterback…don’t…do…drugs. I’ve never seen so many quarterback-needy teams stay away from a prototypical pocket passer like they’re doing with Ryan Mallett this year. I may be in the minority here, but I think he’s going to be a steal no matter where he winds up. (Side Note: Before this article went live, I saw that Mallett got taken by the Patriots in the third round. Bill Belichick is going to make this kid a winner someday.)

2. Andy Dalton may not have the strongest arm but he’s a solid fit for Jay Gruden’s offense in Cincinnati. I’m thinking the dream scenario for the Bengals would be for Carson Palmer to suck it up for one more season and then they can turn the keys over to Dalton in 2012. But if Palmer is done, the Bengals can sign a veteran and bring Dalton along slowly.

3. It may take a couple of years but give Jim Harbaugh some time and he could turn Colin Kaepernick into a good pro quarterback. Kaepernick is a bit of a project but the kid has good size, a great arm and is one hell of an athlete. He has all the tools to succeed and if fans are patient, this could wind up being a beautiful marriage.

4. The Browns did well in the first two rounds. Not only did they acquire 62 picks from the Falcons in exchange for the No. 6 overall selection, but Mike Holmgren addressed needs along the D-line with Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, and at receiver with Greg Little (who isn’t Julio Jones but he’s a solid prospect nonetheless). All three players should see action as rookies.

5. So what does it say about Beanie Wells if the Cardinals are taking Ryan Williams in the second round? If Williams stays healthy, he’s an explosive runner with good vision but he’s going to have to fight for carries next year in the desert. Given how many needs Arizona has, this is a strange fit.

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