Slam-dunk, sure-fire prospects were few and far between in the 2011 NFL Draft's first round. As such, we saw a lot of surprising picks last night of a true head-scratching caliber.
Among the many risky picks - starting with Auburn QB Cam Newton at No. 1 overall to Carolina, and ending with Colorado CB Jimmy Smith going to Baltimore at No. 27 - two different names stuck out to me as picks with the greatest chance to yield the dreaded "bust."
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans: It had long been speculated that the Titans were seriously considering taking a quarterback with their No. 8 pick. That's exactly what they did, taking Locker - even with Missouri junior Blaine Gabbert still on the board.
It feels almost as if the Titans had concentrated all of their resources on researching Locker with the idea that Gabbert wouldn't be available - and that when they had to choose between the two, they went with the guy they were more comfortable with. Gabbert is a slightly better prospect than Locker. It was certainly the most surprising pick of the Top 10, and perhaps of the entire first round.
I really, really like Jake Locker. He's got a ton of talent, as well as impeccable character and intangibles. I do not, however, like the situation he has landed in. Much like Newton in Carolina, Locker's landed with an organization that will either start their big-money, Top 10 quarterback, or they'll rely on Rusty Smith. (Yeah... Rusty Smith.) Of the four quarterbacks drafted in the first round, Locker is the furthest from being developmentally ready to play. To me, his bust rate diminishes greatly only if the Titans go find a stop-gap veteran quarterback. Otherwise, he's got very long odds to beat.
Jon Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: This, to me, was the most surprising pick of the first round. On the surface, it makes a ton of sense - Matt Cassel needs more weapons, Dwayne Bowe needs a complement, Baldwin has elite-level talent, and Todd Haley knows wide receivers. That last fact alone might be the saving grace of the pick.
Baldwin is just a weird character fit in Kansas City, and particularly with GM Scott Pioli. He's not a try-hard player. At least during his time at Pittsburgh - when, admittedly, the quarterback play would've left any receiver disenchanted from time to time - he'd look clearly disinterested in what he was doing on the football field.
This was a risky pick for the Chiefs - a true "boom or bust" selection. Baldwin has outstanding skills for a man his size, and catches the ball at its high point with the best of them. But if this pick doesn't work out, it has the feel of one that will fail catastrophically. Chiefs fans have every reason to trust Pioli and Haley to this point; we'll see if this changes anything.