It might be too early to make a definitive statement on the 2011 NFL draft, but the early returns do suggest several trends.
The Detroit Lions are kitty-cats no more.
The Cincinnati Bengals might not be Bungles after all.
The Saints could be marching in. Again.
And the New England Patriots, well, they work the draft better than any team in the salary cap era.
Without further ado, here's look at some of the highlights and lowlights of the NFL's annual auction of college football beef.
The Lions added yet another beast to their interior defensive line by picking up Auburn tackle Nick Fairley (photo inset), a kid with top five talent who slid because of alleged work ethic issues. Even if teams harboured concerns about him, there is no way he should have dropped all the way to No. 13, where the giddy Lions wasted little time snapping him up. With Fairley and budding second-year superstar Ndamukong Suh clogging up the middle, the Lions boast one of the top young defensive fronts in the league. The speed of WR Titus Young will take some of the pressure off Calvin Johnson on the other side. With the likes of TE Brandon Pettigrew and QB Matthew Stafford already on the scene, the Lions outstanding cache of young talent could very well lead them into the playoffs.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Someone get a crying towel for Reggie Bush. Seems the Saints RB was not thrilled when the Saints picked Alabama RB Mark Ingram late in the first round. Sorry Reggie, but it was a great pick. While Bush's salary is slated to balloon to $11.8 million US this season and Pierre Thomas eligible to enter free agency, Chris Ivory isn't the answer by himself. As high powered as this team's offense is, they have trouble closing games, something a battering ram like Ingram can do. Plus, Ingram is playing with a chip on his shoulder for falling to the bottom of the first round. The Saints earlier pick, Cal DE Cameron Jordan, is one of these "tweener" guys who can play the DL or at LB and create havoc with the pressure he brings. Outstanding draft.
Stop the presses!. The Bungles didn't bungle up their draft, Will wonders never cease. If WR Chad Johnson/Ochocinco doesn't want to be a Bengal anymore, fine. In steps top five pick A.J. Green of Georgia, a kid considered to be the top wideout available. If QB Carson Palmer threatens to retire, go ahead. Here comes second round pick Andy Dalton from TCU, a guy who completed 66.1% of his passes last season. These guys might not win right away, but the Bengals have done an outstanding job of preparing for the inevitability of Johnson and Palmer's departures. Bon voyage, boys. Don't let the dressing room door hit you in your butts on the way out.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Added a first and second pick in 2012, picked up behemoth offensive lineman Nick Solder in the first round and took a high-reward, high-risk shot on QB Ryan Mallett. No one does it better than the Pats.
Possessing arguably the best arm in the draft, Mallett dropped all the way down to No. 74, where he'll spend plenty of time riding the pines behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Is it a good situation for him to learn? Sure. But had he been more careful of his alleged off-field activities, he was a sure bet to be picked in the first round and, perhaps, start right away. In the end, Mallett was the author of his own demise.
Sure, they made some nice additions to the offensive line. But there was no significant upgrades made to the secondary, their biggest need. And why running back DeMarco Murray? Even if they do dump Marion Barber as some expect, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are still on the scene. Puzzling.
Once the draft ended on Saturday afternoon, the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart was still Rex Grossman. Enough said.
At one time, the highly touted defensive end was ranked as the most talented player in the draft. But concerns about his knee caused him to slide all the way into the bottom half of the second round, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quickly snapped him up. It could be the steal of the draft for the Bucs. But for Bowers, the financial hit he'll take from being picked so late instead of the top 10 will be huge.
If QB Christian Ponder works out, the Vikings might end up being in the "winners" category when all is said and done. But for the time being, the consensus inside Radio City Music Hall is that it was a huge reach for the Vikings to grab him at No. 12, a panic move to grab a guy predicted to be an early second rounder. The feeling is that the Vikings panicked once three other QBs -- Cam Newton (Panthers), Jake Locker (Titans) and Blaine Gabbert (Jags) -- had been scooped up. Having said that, taking the top tight end in the draft - Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph - in the second round gives the kid some lethal weapons. Shipwreck or genius? We'll see.
Giving up five picks to the Browns for the No. 6 slot is a huge price to pay, But the Falcons think a speedy playmaker like Julio Jones is the final piece to their Super Bowl puzzle. However you view the deal, the Falcons showed huge stones in pulling the trigger.