It’s difficult to build up that same feverish excitement towards this year’s draft. We’ll be drooling over it because there’s no other place to put our football drool, but we don’t know when we’ll see these bright rookies on an NFL field.
A locked out offseason without forward movement has resulted in backwards thinking for the draft. Typically right now with the calendar flipping to April, teams would have spent a month filling needs with established veterans, and would then use the draft to plug any remaining holes with youthful promise.
Now without free agency unless the labour strife is resolved quickly (highly unlikely), that same promise is being used as the primary filler for teams with multiple needs, a unique situation that’s created a few tough circumstances at the top of the draft.
49ers: San Francisco wouldn’t mind bolstering their middle-tier pass rush, but picks seventh. Von Miller could be off the board by then, and there’s some serious questions surrounding Da’quan Bowers and his knee injury. Robert Quinn is still a fine pick at that spot, but instead the 49ers could have addressed their front seven by chasing after Tennessee’s Jason Babin, who had a career best 12.5 sacks in 2010 and will become a free agent. They would then feel more at ease filling the far more glaring need at cornerback with Prince Amukamara likely still on the board.
Bengals: As appealing as A.J. Green and Julio Jones are, the Bengals are left to decide between two unpredictable futures at two key offensive positions with their fourth overall pick. With Terrell Owens gone as a free agent and the team growing tired of Chad Ochocinco’s act, there could be a cavernous hole at wide receiver. But the uncertain future of Carson Palmer and his threat of retirement is even more concerning.
The Bengals could have heavily pursued Santana Moss through free agency, or opted for a middle-tier receiver like Lance Moore as a temporary fix, with the focus of the passing game then shifting to Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham. They could then have comfortably zeroed in on the quarterback position with either Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton likely available.
Panthers: As the days tick down to April 28, the Panthers seem increasingly bent on taking a quarterback, and now it’s just a matter of whose name gets called first between Newton and Gabbert.
The Panthers could have felt much safer taking a gamble on Newton after filling their need for a run-stuffing defensive lineman to help a unit that surrendered 123.8 rushing yards per game last year. Paying the price to get Barry Cofield would have been one option, with cheaper but still efficient linemen like Shaun Smith and Marcus Spears the fall back free agents.