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NFL Draft: Pulling you right back in

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It’s been a frustrating few months for fantasy owners and NFL fans alike. NFL icons Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have led Terrell Owens-like whining lawsuits, NFL owners have united to form a barrier sturdier than some of America’s bridges, and commissioner Roger Goodell has had the look of a damsel in distress.

Add in all the political waste, Charlie Sheen’s constant and ridiculous mind and mouth, and the nuclear concerns in Japan, and you probably feel like poking your own eyes out or stuffing your ears with mandarin oranges.

Luckily for you though, the NFL Draft is here and is pulling you right back in to sanity. Yeah, you know you’re starting to get a hankering to want to see some pigskins fly.

However, before you grab that remote or turn that radio knob up, while getting “stuck like glue,” I encourage you to read up below. Trust me, you’ll end up getting the proper pre-draft education without having to worry about that $6.99 price tag.

What’s Hot?

The hottest first round-rumor swirling is that when the Carolina Panthers’ clock starts on Thursday, Cam Newton will become giddier than a 7-year-old who has just learned he/she is Disney World bound. Yeah, his Panther fate would come as no surprise, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. I certainly don’t agree with it, and have to wonder: Has Al Davis been giving the Panthers front office some tips surrounding potential bust first-round quarterbacks?

Defensive back Patrick Peterson certainly seems to be the consensus “best talent” and safest pick among all potential first-round names destined to be called. However, I’m starting to believe that too much pressure is being placed on this kid’s shoulders. In a way, his situation kind of reminds me of that high-class overpriced restaurant that everyone wants to eat at.

The Washington Redskins have been recently rumored to be interested in moving up in the draft so they can get their hands on quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Washington desperately needs a franchise quarterback, and Gabbert may not fall to them at No. 10 overall. However, with plenty of other needs I’m not so sure that the Redskins can afford to give up any significant draft picks. Besides that, they may be better off waiting until the second round and hope that a player like Christian Ponder or Colin Kaepernick is still around.

“I love Cincy, but coach Lewis is mean to me now so I think I am gone.” Any guesses as to who said this? With Terrell Owens already a free agent and Chad Ochocinco apparently “gone” from the Bengals’ offensive equation according to NFL.com, Cincinnati is almost guaranteed to select a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft. As I pointed out in a previous installment, the most likely scenario is for them to take A.J. Green at No. 4 overall to team up with Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley.

When I saw outside linebacker Von Miller in Sports Illustrated a few weeks back, I thought of two words: Vernon Davis. What I should’ve been thinking of instead were the words: Buffalo Bills, which seems to be where Miller is bound to land this Thursday. I guess it’s fitting, especially considering that the Bills have had a history going on the defensive right away. I mean, it’s not like they need any offensive playmakers anyways.

Most Overvalued Position

Due to the loss of the free agency period, teams with quarterback gaps will be scrambling come draft day. The latest projections have roughly seven gunslingers coming off the board in the first two rounds, possibly five in the first 30 picks alone.

Since 1980, five or more quarterbacks have been selected in the first round just twice - 1999 and 1983.

In 1999, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown were all selected within the Top 12 overall picks. In 1983, John Elway (No. 1), Todd Blackledge (No. 7), Jim Kelly (No. 14), Tony Eason (No. 15), Ken O’Brien (No. 24) and Dan Marino (No. 27) headlined day one.

In both scenarios, you could logically conclude that about half of each were successful NFL quarterbacks. These are not exactly the type of odds I would want to play against if I were a NFL general manager, but hey, when you’re desperate, you’re desperate.

Stanzi, Elmore and Kerley

Some NFL general managers know how to find the gold mines in the mid-to-late rounds, while others chase names, numbers and athletic ability that never translate at the next level.

Ricky Stanzi is a smart quarterback with big-game experience. He’s not a dazzler at the position, but he gets the job done and knows how to read defenses pre-snap. His stock has risen a bit since the combine, but he still remains a long shot to be drafted before the late third round. He’ll be a great addition to a team in need of a developmental starter/backup.

Lost in all the Brooks Reed pre-draft hype has been defensive end Ricky Elmore, who played alongside Reed at Arizona and was actually more productive, recording 21 sacks in the past two seasons. Elmore will be a solid pass rusher if given the chance. He has a great motor, but lacks the ideal size for the position and may not be fast enough to play outside linebacker. He may become the next Aaron Kampman in the right situation.

Have you seen any Jeremy Kerley highlights lately? The former TCU receiver could be the total package, even standing at just 5-foot-9. His vision and agility on kick and punt returns could be that of an NFL-caliber return specialist already, and his balance and hands have been top rate in all of his workouts. His value currently lies between rounds five and six, but don’t be surprised if a team takes him as early as the late third or early fourth.

Is Mark Ingram truly the best runner?

When I look at Mark Ingram on tape I see an inside runner with good vision and the ability to break arm tackles. What I don’t see is a good blocker or sprinter while running on the edges. Don’t get me wrong, Ingram will be a decent running back at the next level, I just don’t know if he’s going to be the best running back selected from the 2011 class when all said and done.

Who is?

Mikel Leshoure has shown hints of being the total package. He has good size, is quick through the hole, can kick it up a notch on the perimeter and could be the best blocking back in the draft. However, I am concerned about the way he finishes off runs, as he’s really not the punishing type.

Ryan Williams has it all according to most scouts: speed, power and athleticism. He will probably start for a team looking for an explosive runner right away. However, there are concerns surrounding the way he carries the ball, and he’s not technically sound when pass blocking - something that could keep him off the field on third downs.

Then, of course, there’s my favorite - Daniel Thomas - who could be the NFL’s next version of Michael Turner. Thomas has great size (6-foot-1, 228), and is perhaps the best inside running back with the most punishing style. He is very tough to bring down and is extremely durable. Thomas does lack ideal speed though, and hasn’t been asked to stay in and block enough to gauge whether or not he needs work in that area. Overall, if he lands with the right team he may have the best chance of being the most successful of this group.

Surprise, surprise

Here are a few names who I believe could make unexpected visits in the first three rounds.

Jerrel Jernigan - The Atlanta Falcons are really interested in acquiring Jernigan’s services in the second round, but are towards the bottom of the drafting order. If three wide receivers are taken before their first-round pick (27 overall), I can see them reaching for the former Troy star on day one.

Lance Kendricks - Kendricks is much better than what he’s currently projected at. After arriving at Wisconsin as one of the nation’s top recruits at wide receiver, he has worked hard to become an elite tight end. His combine time was a little slow (4.75), but his game speed, playmaking ability and above-average blocking skills will catch the eye of a team in need of a tight end with huge upside. Don’t be surprised if he’s taken in the late second by a team like the Atlanta Falcons, or in the early third by someone more desperate like the Browns.

Shiloh Keo - Keo is a long shot to have his name called before round four, because he may be too one-dimensional. However, he could intrigue a team in the third round looking for a hard-hitting playmaking safety who could also transform in to a special teams coverage demon. Keo could also be moved to outside linebacker if he adds some bulk.

Coolest Names

Roy Helu - When he scores a touchdown the stadium announcer could rip a little Beyonce, “Let me see your Helu.”

Prince Amukamara - Who needs Prince William? Let’s just hope though that this Prince doesn’t have any manners.

Orie Lemon - At first glance it looks like Oreo Lemon, which could be the next alteration Oreo makes to their manufactured kids' favorite.

Making the grade

I finish up with a few teams who I believe will leave the draft with the best report cards.

New England - The Patriots always draft well, and with three picks in the first 33 overall selections, it will be hard for them to not leave with one of the best draft boards. And as much as people want to believe they’ll address the offensive line early, they have so much flexibility to just draft the best available.

Green Bay - Packers general manager Ted Thompson is the king of the draft. Even positioned at the very end of the drafting order, he’ll still manage to impress with sound picks and a possible trade or two.

New York Giants - The Giants don’t really have a lot of huge needs, so they’ll have some flexibility to draft for value. Plus, after seeing their floppy 2010 draft, chances are that they’ll rebound nicely this time around.

Kansas City - For the first time in a long time the Chiefs defense isn’t the weak link heading in to the draft. Scott Pioli will focus purely on the best values while filling a few gaps on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

Final Thought

Cam Newton is surely bound to be the talk of the draft. However, I have to wonder if that would change if the Packers select linebacker Brooks Reed to conclude day one. I mean, think about it. The addition of Reed would mean that Green Bay could start the season with the three stars of the band Poison at linebacker. Can you imagine the merchandise and novelty items that would be sold at the next Super Bowl?

Thanks for reading!

Eric Huber is a staff writer for fantasysharks.com.