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Top 5 Things to Watch in Round 1 of the NFL Draft

Daniel Carr-Crawford, Devin Altschul, James Santelli, Kate Rooney, Victor Marticorena |
April 27, 2011 | 3:57 p.m. PDT

Cam Newton figures to be the No. 1 overall pick. (Creative Commons)
Cam Newton figures to be the No. 1 overall pick. (Creative Commons)
With a record 25 players attending the ceremony this year and the impending league appeal hanging over everyone's heads, the 2011 NFL draft figures to be one of the most exciting drafts in a long time.

Here are the five most exciting storylines to watch heading into Thursday's proceedings:

5. What will the Patriots do with two first round picks?

As though there isn’t already enough to envy New England, the Patriots are the only team in the draft with two first round draft picks.

So how will they spend them?

Coach Bill Belichick is adamant that he’ll stick with his usual MO of drafting for overall value rather than a specific position. But with the way mock drafts are going, it looks like New England might be able to kill two birds with one stone (or four with two, as the case may be).

With players like Cam Jordan, Mo Wilkerson, J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith and Jabaal Sheard all expected to be available mid-round, the Pats will likely address their biggest holes — defensive line and pass rushing — with the 17th pick…and the 28th. 

Sure, Mark Ingram will probably be available, but the Pats have never been the kind to buy into a hyped up player with his kinds of question marks. It’s shaping up to be a defensive draft in New England.

- Kate Rooney

4. Will any running back be picked on the first day?

It appears teams are not too keen on selecting a running back early in the draft this year. According to multiple mock drafts, former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is the only running back projected to go in the first round and even he is right on the brink.

Ingram had a terrific season in 2009-10, his Heisman year. However, he was not eligible to enter the draft that year. Since then, he’s undergone arthroscopic knee surgery and toiled through a down year, production-wise.

On top of that, NFL teams have been spreading rumors about him (more so than usual) to keep other teams from drafting him.

As of late, teams have been looking to pass more and rush less, and go the RB-by-committee route or the two-rusher route rather than trying to find a prolific, Erick Dickerson-type runner in the early rounds.

All of this points to the likelihood that we won’t see a running back taken in the first round this year. Look for a slew of RBs to be chosen in the middle rounds, though.

- Victor Marticorena

3. How far will Da'Quan Bowers fall?

One of the most interesting storylines surrounding Thursday's draft is the gradual slippage of Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.

The junior led the nation in sacks last season with 15.5 and was widely considered the No. 1 overall pick coming out of bowl season. Since then, however, Bowers’ draft stock has plunged dramatically. Postseason microfracture knee surgery raised red flags about his durability among scouts and coaches, and his subpar performance at Clemson’s pro day did not do much to silence the growing number of doubters.

Instead of being projected as a top 5 draft pick (as he was at the beginning of the year), Bowers has slipped out of the top 10 on most draft boards and out of the top 15 on a few others. Though not surprising, his draft stock drop is one of the most interesting subplots to watch as the first round unfolds Thursday. 

- Daniel Carr-Crawford

2. How many quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round?

How many QBs will go in the first?

We’ll say four.

Here’s what we know: Cam Newton will certainly be picked in the top 5 (it definitely helps Newton's cause that the Panthers owner loves him), and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri won’t fall any further than the 49ers, who have pick No. 7.

After those top two guys, there’s a large drop-off in quarterback talent, and the number of first rounders will depend mostly on need.

The two other QBs in play for teams outside the top 10 are Washington’s Jake Locker and TCU’s Andy Dalton.

The Vikings could be desperate enough to reach for Locker with the 12th pick and it's unlikely he falls below his hometown Seahawks at 25. Dalton has been a late riser on draft boards. Some team is bound to like his character and accuracy enough to swoop him up in the first.

Christian Ponder of FSU, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and Colin Kaepernick of Nevada are all possibilities, but they are more likely to be taken on the second day of the draft than in the first round.

- James Santelli

1. Will Cam Newton go first overall?

With the NFL Draft just a day away, the spotlight is on Auburn’s Cam Newton and whether he will be the first overall draft pick.

Newton excelled at the college level, winning the Heisman as well as the National Championship in his junior year at Auburn, but there are many question marks surrounding his NFL career.

Few quarterbacks in recent draft history have been as tantalizing as Newton, but his NFL readiness remains uncertain. Newton’s draft status seems to change daily, but there are certain things you never know about an NFL quarterback until he plays in the NFL. His mobility made him great in college, but at the next level he will need to learn to be a pocket passer and learn the complexities of NFL play-calling, seeing as all his plays were numbered at Auburn.

Newton can make every NFL throw, but he hasn’t seen many NFL-like pass rushes or pass rushers. He will also be under the scrutiny of the media. Newton walked into Auburn in 2010 and convinced a group of strangers that he could lead them to victory, and he did just that. Newton is willing to learn, but does he have what it takes to be an NFL franchise quarterback?

Taking him first could be one of the most risky decisions in NFL draft history.

- Devin Altschul



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