In recent years the AFC South has run the gambit in the draft with team such as the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans drafting during the early part of round one and perennial division winner Indianapolis selecting late in the frame. 2011 would be no different and held a number of surprises.
It was well known entering the draft the Colts would look to fortify their offensive line and they started hot out of the gate by quickly grabbing Anthony Castonzo after the Boston College prospect dropped in their laps. Castonzo is tough, smart and talented, as well as a lineman that can play either tackle slot. He comes with a nice degree of upside. We never bought into the hype that Ben Ijalana was a first round choice yet he was good value in the bottom third of the second frame. In a best case scenario Ijalana develops into a right tackle for the Colts yet at the very least we think he offers starting potential at guard. Drake Nevis was a solid choice in the third round and proto-typical of the type of defensive lineman Indianapolis puts on the field; undersized yet explosive and athletic with the ability to make plays in all directions. Fourth round choice Delone Carter will be a solid rotational back for the Colts offense while Chris Rucker was worth a shot in the late rounds and has the talent to be a dime back that could develop into a starter.
The Colts filled needs with quality prospects and could come out of this draft with three starters and two more situational players. s B+
“Defense….Defense”; that was the call for the Texans before the draft and the end result was all but two of their eight selections were used on players from the defensive side of the ball. JJ Watt was a terrific choice with the eleventh pick of round one and he’s a defensive lineman with great upside that will be a great fit for the Texans defense. Houston received solid value with both picks in round two. Brooks Reed, taken with the 10th pick of the frame, will add depth at outside linebacker and should offer a pass rush. Brandon Harris was rated by most as a potential late first round choice and getting him with the 60th pick of the draft was a steal. He still needs to polish his cornerback skills but offers starting potential down the road. Houston took players in the middle rounds that will offer depth then came back with two great picks in the last frame. Derek Newton slipped through the cracks but was great value in round seven. He offers the Texans offensive line a swingman that can play guard or tackle and eventually crack the starting line-up. Cheta Ozougwu was fourth round talent in our opinion. We felt the college defensive end was better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment and should do a bang-up job under Wade Phillips.
The Texans selected talent, drafted value and could end up with three-to-four starters from this draft class as well as a number of productive back-ups. Many of the players may need a bit of time acclimating themselves to new positions but this was a terrific draft from start-to-finish. Grade A
The word was Jacksonville would target a big defensive end with the 16th pick of the draft yet when Blaine Gabbert slid out of the top eight selections the team moved up to grab the player they hope will be their quarterback of the future. Gabbert has the physical tools to succeed and more importantly, a pair of talented and young offensive tackles to protect him. He’s got a great deal of upside yet will need time to develop into an NFL passer. William Rackley was a solid choice in the third frame and can be used at a number of offensive line positions. Fourth round choice Cecil Shorts could develop into a third wide out. Safety Chris Prosinski was a reach in the fourth round as was cornerback Rod Isaac a round later.
Despite any letter grade assigned to this draft now, the ultimate grade will rest on the success of Gabbert. The reaches of Prosinski and Isaac forces us to downgrade this collection. Grade C-
The predictions of what Tennessee would do with the eight pick of the draft centered on the defensive line, but the franchise opted for quarterback Jake Locker which was a surprise to just about everyone, including those in his camp. The pick is a risk and was a major reach for a variety of reasons. Considering the team is trying to recover from the debacle of Vince Young, selecting another signal caller whose passing skills need a lot of work is questionable. As we wrote about prior to the combine, Locker has shown improvement after being coached by former Pro-Bowl quarterback Ken O’Brien, yet he’s a long ways from being NFL ready. Tennessee rebounded well with their next three selections. Despite pedestrian times in the forty Akeem Ayers is a quality three down linebacker with starting potential. Potential is not a problem for Jurrell Casey, taken a round later, but intensity and questions about his motor are. Regardless, getting a possible starter on the defensive line in the third frame is worth the risk. Colin McCarthy was a solid choice in round four and can contribute if properly coached. Sixth round choice Byron Stingily offers great upside at offensive tackle and could be a steal.
Tennessee came away with several good defensive prospects during the draft’s initial four rounds but the focus on this draft will center on Jake Locker. It is a choice that can set the franchise back further if he struggles or fails but also set the organization on the right course should Locker turn into a dependable starter. Grade C+