Espn's draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. released his first official 2011 NFL Mock Draft. Since this is worth about two hours of coverage on SportsCenter, it is definitely discussing here, especially when it involves our Arizona Cardinals. The most interesting thing is that in his mock draft, he has the Cardinals making the first of three quarterback picks in the first round, and it isn't Cam Newton. Kiper has Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley as the first pick of the draft and has the Cardinals selecting Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Cam Newton is projected to be selected by the Washington Redskins with the 10thpick and Arkansas' Ryan Mallet is projected to go at number 25 to the Seattle Seahawks.
Newton at one time was an intriguing choice for the Cards, but he seems to be a little too raw for Ken Whisenhunt's taste.
Gabbert is interesting. Here is what Kiper said about him:
"Gabbert will be under the microscope during the testing process perhaps more than any other player, but at this stage he's the most NFL-ready QB in the draft. Arizona is in a tough spot: If the Cardinals pass on Gabbert, there won't be a QB who can do more for them sooner than Skelton or Hall later in the draft."
While I agree about his comment on Hall and Skelton, when he says he is the most NFL-ready quarterback, that brings up red flags for me. It seems that those guys are the ones with less upside. Remember who was the "most NFL-ready" QB last year? Jimmy Clausen. Two seasons ago, who was the most raw and needed the most work? Josh Freeman. While Freeman has had an extra year, we know who has been better and who looks better going forward.
Based on what we know about Ken Whisenhunt and his philosophies, I see the Cardinals going another direction than quarterback. The Cardinals already have two guys in Skelton and Hall they are trying to develop. If they cannot trade for a quarterback they really want (Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton), then I would expect a decent veteran in Marc Bulger or Matt Hasselback. This way they can continue Skelton's development.
Additionally, there are many needs that the Cards have and potentially impact players they will have available at the fifth pick. There are two great corners in the draft in Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukumara. They would be a great addition to the defense. There are playmaking pass rushers and even a potential superstar at wideout in AJ Green. Lining up opposite Larry Fitzgerald and having that type of talent would make any decent quarterback (note that the keyword is "decent") look good.
If the Cardinals do pull of a trade involving an early draft pick, definitely do not expect a QB pick at number five. The team is not going to use two of its highest three picks on quarterbacks. But if it were my money, I would draft Newton because of the skill set, upside, physical traits and the head on his shoulders. He could be brilliant from day one and have a Josh Freeman-type year.
So, yes, it is still early (and really too early), but since we want to talk about football, speculating who will be the new young prize is fun. Since that is all we have with the Cardinals (we don't even have much to talk about in their coaching search), let's go with it.
If you are an ESPN Insider, you can see the full projected first round.