The 2011 NFL draft is only days away and it seems there's more uncertainty this year than previous years. Part of that is because of the lack of sure-things in this draft, part of it is because of the NFL lockout and another part of it is because of the sheer randomness of the draft.
With that, I take a look at my top five questions entering the 2011 NFL draft.
1. Who will the Panthers pick?
It's not often that we see such uncertainty with the team holding the top overall pick. The Panthers have several needs which happen to match up with the top players available in the draft including (potentially) quarterback, defensive tackle and cornerback. That could mean QB Cam Newton or QB Blaine Gabbert, DT Marcell Dareus and CB Patrick Peterson are in play with the top pick. It's three days before the draft and I could give you a list of five players and no one could be confident picking the player whose name will be on the Panthers draft card on April 28.
2. What's the order of the top five?
I feel pretty confident saying QB Cam Newton will be selected somewhere in the top five. I think the top five will also see DT Marcell Dareus selected and WR A.J. Green. After that? I'm not so sure of anything. QB Blaine Gabbert seems to make sense for the Cincinnati Bengals (fourth) or Arizona Cardinals (fifth). LB Von Miller is a candidate to be selected that high, as is CB Patrick Peterson. But as far as sure things? There are only a couple in the top five.
3. Where do the quarterbacks go after QB Cam Newton and QB Blaine Gabbert?
Well, that's a hell of a question. QB Jake Locker seems likely to be a first round pick but, with his accuracy issues throughout his college career, that's not guaranteed. Plenty of teams need quarterbacks and there simply aren't that many first round quarterbacks. With the NFL lockout eliminating free agency (for now), I would guess that at least a couple of teams that will reach for a quarterback. Which teams that will be is the mystery.
4. What will the Patriots do with their three picks in the top 33?
If you like trades in the NFL draft, then the Patriots are the perfect team to hold three of the top 33 picks because I would bet quite a lot that at least one of those picks will be traded. No one trades as much as the Patriots on draft day. I think they'll probably keep their 17th overall pick but the 28th and 33rd picks could be for sale. Peter King of SI.com writes that the Patriots may already have a deal in place with a team to trade the 28th pick if a certain quarterback is on the board. The 33rd pick will be the first pick of day two so teams will have all night to figure out a trade for that pick. We're not sure what the Pats will do but I think they'll be among the most active teams this year.
5. How will the NFL lockout affect the draft?
For one, teams can't trade players -- only picks. That's one of the biggest ways it will affect the draft. But what I mean here is the lack of free agency before the draft, which is the first time in NFL history this has happened. Usually teams have over a month of free agency to fine tune their rosters and fill holes in preparation for the draft. This year, the process could be reversed. In theory, things shouldn't change much, but they will. How teams react to having the draft before free agency is one fo the biggest question marks in this draft. Will it make teams more likely to play it safe? Or will teams become more risky? How do quarterbacks factor into this? Those are all questions we're wondering because of the NFL lockout.