NFC East: 2011 NFL draft

NFC East draft analysis

April, 30, 2011
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

To survive in the NFC East, you usually must have the "go-for-it’’ mentality.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder usually goes for it in free agency or trades. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is always willing to go for the home run. The Eagles are consistently aggressive. The Giants have a great flair for personnel.

But NFC East teams were safer, maybe smarter, in the 2011 draft. The Cowboys and Eagles took offensive linemen in the first round. Both were safe, solid picks. The Eagles, in fact, passed up the chance to gamble on Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has off-the-field issues, for the safe selection of Baylor guard Danny Watkins. The Giants drafted to the ratings on their board instead of reaching for players at need positions.

If that wasn’t enough, the Redskins kept trading down and acquiring picks. The NFL may be struggling through the "Year of Living Dangerously" on the labor front, but the NFC East played it safe for three days.


The NFC East was starting to become Jurassic Park for offensive linemen. The Redskins and Cowboys let their offensive lines get too old and paid the price. The Giants are on the verge of doing the same. The Cowboys made the best moves, taking Tyron Smith, the 6-5, 307-pound offensive tackle from Southern Cal in the first round, and Missouri State guard David Arkin in the fourth. Smith’s selection was the best. Outsiders thought the Cowboys would jump at the chance to fix last year’s problems at cornerback, but Jones rightfully looked at 2010 as off seasons for talented cornerbacks Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Whether Dallas plays Smith at left tackle or right is irrelevant. The Cowboys are younger at tackle with Doug Free, their top priority for re-signing, and Smith. It also helps that offensive line coach Hudson Houck comes from USC and knows how to take young, talented blockers and turn them into stars. Kudos to Jones for not being cute and trading down for more picks.


[+] EnlargeJames Brewer
AJ Mast/Icon SMIDid the Giants wait too long to take an offensive tackle by drafting James Brewer in the fourth round?
The New York Giants' decision to wait until the fourth round to take their first offensive line prospect, tackle James Brewer from Indiana, is a big risk. Brewer isn’t a sure bet. He’ll take time. There is no faulting the decision to take cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round. The Giants, according to sources, liked Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder, who went two spots before their pick in the first round. They didn’t have grades on offensive tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gabe Carimi that matched the 19th pick. Amukamara was considered a top-11 prospect. In the second round, they got defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who had a low first-round grade. Teams shouldn’t go against their draft boards, but at some point, the Giants need to get an offensive lineman who will start as a rookie. We’ve seen this too often in the NFC East, and now the Giants might have to scramble in the free-agent market for help, and that will be tricky.


The Redskins skipped the chance to draft a quarterback even though they are going to move Donovan McNabb and don’t have Rex Grossman signed to a contract. Here’s why: John Beck might be their quarterback in 2011 unless something opens up in free agency or a trade. That’s right, John Beck, the former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins who is 0-4 as a starter in the NFL. When Beck came into the league in 2007, he was considered a Kurt Warner-type quarterback, but like Warner, he’s already well-traveled. (He's with his third team.) There is a belief in Redskins Park that they don't need to rush into a quarterback as they did last year in making the McNabb trade. Knowing they weren’t drafting a quarterback, the Redskins worked on getting bigger players to fit their 3-4 defense.


The Redskins made five draft trades that enabled them to increase their number of draft choices from eight to 12, an unusual strategy for a franchise that loves to go for splash and flash. So file away the names of the players acquired and watch whether they become valuable role players or potential starters down the line. Ryan Kerrigan (left outside linebacker) and Jarvis Jenkins (defensive end) could be starters in the 3-4 defense, and third-rounder Leonard Hankerson is an interesting receiving prospect. The key name to file away is halfback Roy Helu from Nebraska, a fourth-round pick whom the Redskins actually traded up to get. The other names to file away are safety Dejon Gomes, wide receiver Niles Paul, running back Evan Royster, wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, cornerback Brandyn Thompson, guard Maurice Hurt, defensive end Markus White and defensive tackle Christopher Neild

Cowboys Day 3 roundup (so far)

April, 30, 2011
  • The Cowboys selected Missouri State guard David Arkin in the fourth round.'s Todd Archer wrote "Arkin, 6-5, 300 pounds, played tackle but will move to guard with the Cowboys. He started 31 games at guard. He will be making a jump from FCS level of play to the NFL but the Cowboys like his potential. They also have a need for some depth. " Calvin Watkins writes that Arkin plays with a chip on his shoulder.
  • Watkins has five things you need to know about the Cowboy's fifth-round choice, cornerback Josh Thomas. Thomas' high school coach told's Tim MacMahon that Thomas is "going to work his tail off."

Breaking down Giants tackle James Brewer

April, 30, 2011
PM ET's Ohm Youngmisuk has a profile on the Giants' fourth-round draft choice, offensive tackle James Brewer:
Brewer is a right tackle and helped the Hoosiers finish 15th in the nation in fewest sacks allowed with 12. He is a guy that will need development and is considered to be a "late bloomer." Can improve with his strength and technique. Only played one full season for the Hoosiers after missing the 2006 and 2007 seasons while dealing with foot problems. He played in eight games in 2008 but struggled with weight issues before suffering a severely sprained ankle. Brewer started all 12 games in 2009 opposite LT Rodger Saffold but played in nine games in 2010 after dealing with more ankle issues and a leg injury. He was a basketball player in high school and the Giants like his upside.

Read the rest of Youngmisuk's profile here.

Around the NFC East on Day 2

April, 30, 2011
A quick look at how the NFC East fared on the second day of the NFL draft.

Dallas Cowboys
Dallas selected North Carolina linebacker Bruce Carter with the No. 40 overall pick, and Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray in the third round, the 71st selection.

Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles drafted Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett with the No. 54 overall pick, and Utah State cornerback Curis Marsh in the third round, the No. 90 overall pick.

New York Giants
New York selected talented but troubled North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin with the No. 52 overall pick.

Washington Redskins
Washington stockpiled draft picks and took Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins with the No. 41 overall pick.

The New York Giants used their third-round pick (No. 83 overall) on a speedster they hope can be a playmaker on special teams as well.

PLAYER: Jerrel Jernigan

THE 411: He's a speedy wide receiver who can also return punts and kickoffs. The Giants were one of the worst teams in punt returns last season and desperately need speed on special teams. Jernigan worked on returning punts with former Troy player and Buffalo Bills special teams standout Leodis McKelvin. He's considered to be a shifty threat after the catch, and played some Wildcat at Troy.

HOW HE FITS IN: The Giants have a ton of wide receivers, but Steve Smith, Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon are all coming off surgeries. Hixon could regain his old returning duties, but Jernigan now gives the Giants an option there and a speedy one at that. The bottom line is, the Giants can use speed and playmakers, and Jernigan sounds like somebody with some home-run ability.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys selected Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray with their third-round pick.

Murray, 5-11, 213 pounds, rushed for 1,214 yards with five touchdowns last season.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said if he drafted a running back it was to find someone who can play special teams. Tashard Choice, who was a fourth-round pick in 2008, was the third running back and special teams player, but he struggled at it.

The move for Murray could signal the end of starter Marion Barber, who lost the starting job to Felix Jones toward the end of the 2010 season.

Murray most likely will move in as a third running back behind Jones and Choice.
IRVING, Texas -- For the second straight year the Dallas Cowboys have used their second-round pick on an inside linebacker, selecting North Carolina’s Bruce Carter.

Unlike Sean Lee, last year’s second rounder, Carter will have to make a position change, having played outside linebacker. Like Lee, he is coming off a knee injury. Carter, 6-2, 240, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against North Carolina State last November. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and finished with 57 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He was also a terrific special teams player. He blocked seven kicks in his career.

The Cowboys had a need at the position with Bradie James and Keith Brooking entering the final years of their contracts. Lee is expected to contribute more this year after finishing his rookie year with 45 tackles, three tackles for loss and two interceptions. He returned one of his interceptions off Peyton Manning for a touchdown.

Like first-round pick Tyron Smith, Carter was a pre-draft visitor to Valley Ranch.
Marvin AustinStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe New York Giants selected Marvin Austin to bolster the defensive line.
The New York Giants took a Prince in the first round. In the second round, they took a defensive tackle who comes with some baggage.

The Giants drafted UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin, one of the Tar Heels who was suspended for the season amidst an NCAA investigation.

The Giants needed an offensive lineman and a linebacker. But in this case, it appears they went for talent over need again.

PLAYER: Marvin Austin
SCHOOL: North Carolina

THE 411: Austin has talent but comes with character questions. Some have likened his talents to Ndamukong Suh and feel he can eventually develop into a force. But his suspension last year leaves him as a question mark. Clearly the Giants felt he was worth the risk.

HOW HE FITS IN: The Giants can use another defensive tackle because of the uncertainty surrounding Barry Cofield. Cofield had a terrific season and wants to return but has said he could request a trade if he has to play for a one-year restricted free agent tender. Cofield could become a restricted free agent or unrestricted free agent depending on the new CBA. Mathias Kiwanuka also is in the same boat. The Giants add Austin to a mix inside that includes Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and last year’s second-round pick Linval Joseph.

Philadelphia Eagles select Jaiquawn Jarrett

April, 29, 2011
The Philadelphia Eagles select Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett with the No. 54 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Scouts Inc. analysis of Jarrett:

Pros: Shows very good overall recognition skills. Reads keys and is disciplined. Is tough and fills hard for an undersized S. Does a good job of breaking down, wrapping up and finishing as a tackler. Does a good job of avoiding blocks when cheated up near the line of scrimmage.

Cons: Gets in position to make a play on the ball but doesn't always finish. Will mis-time some jumps and hands are questionable. Lacks elite playmaking ability in this area.

New York Giants select Marvin Austin

April, 29, 2011
The New York Giants select North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin with the No. 52 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Scouts Inc. analysis of Austin:

Pros: Very good short-area quickness for size. Shows nimble on feet. Has a quick first step but can improve snap anticipation. Quick hands and uses them well in combat to discard blocks. Possesses excellent range for position and has good lateral quickness when executing defensive line twists.

Cons: He needs to play with a more consistent pad level when taking on double teams. Also will turn shoulders at times when he doesn't win initially and he typically winds up getting washed down the line in those instances. Motor is inconsistent and can disappear throughout the course of games.

Washington Redskins select Jarvis Jenkins

April, 29, 2011
The Washington Redskins select Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins with the No. 41 overall pick on Friday.

Scouts Inc. analysis of Jenkins:

Pros: At his best versus the run. Quick first step and generally gets some penetration or at least good initial positioning. Does a solid job with his hand placement when taking on blocks in the run game. Flashes disruptive qualities and makes a lot of plays in the backfield.

Cons: Moves well for his size and shows some initial power as a bull rusher but lacks elite lower-body strength to consistently drive OL back and collapse the pocket. Vanilla as a pass rusher and struggles to counter when reached. Uses spin move too much and rarely is effective. Sack production was underwhelming at collegiate level.
When it comes to the NFL draft, few positions inspire less excitement than guards. They usually don’t have the jaw-dropping highlights television producers love to run, and they often don’t possess the freakish physical traits of offensive tackles. But just ask any pro coach how vital this position has become in a league where dominant defensive tackles pervade. The teams that stabilize their interiors have far fewer headaches come fall.

[+] EnlargeDanny Watkins
Brett Davis/US PresswireOffensive lineman Danny Watkins fills a huge need for the Eagles.
This reality obviously was on the mind of Eagles head coach Andy Reid when he picked Baylor guard/offensive tackle Danny Watkins with the 23rd overall selection in the draft. Philadelphia needed all kinds of help along the offensive line, with right guard ranking right at the top. Watkins -- a 26-year-old Canadian who didn’t even pick up the game until he was 22 -- had the skill set that fit exactly what Reid wanted. Sure, it’s a marriage that won’t generate a spike in preseason buzz. But that’s what players like Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are supposed to bring to the table.

The Eagles needed more muscle, plain and simple. In nabbing Watkins, they found a player so attractive that even his advanced age didn’t deter Reid. “(Watkins’) clock started a little later but he took to (football) right away and was so productive,” Reid told local media after making the selection. “He’s a heck of a player in the run and pass game. I can’t tell you how happy we are to have him in our program.”

The beauty of Watkins is that he brings versatility to an offensive line that sorely needs it. He has played all five line positions at some point, and he has the scrappiness that Reid adores in his linemen. Reid said at this stage, Watkins -- 6-foot-4, 310 pounds -- projects as a better fit at guard. Regardless of where the rookie ends up, he’s already seen as player who should be starting by Day 1.

That possibility, by the way, has as much to do with Philadelphia’s glaring flaws as it does Watkins’ potential. It’s no secret that Vick’s scrambling ability saved the Eagles' offensive line from even more embarrassment than what resulted from the 50 sacks allowed last season. (The worst total in Reid’s 12 years as head coach). There’s also no way Vick can continue running for his life game in and game out without paying a hefty price. Even the most nimble of quarterbacks slows down eventually.

The best thing about Watkins is that he clearly is a fast learner. He grew up playing hockey in Kelowna, British Columbia, and only discovered football after a friend encouraged him to try out for the team at Butte Junior College in Chico, Calif. Before that point, Watkins had his sights set on earning a degree in fire sciences and returning to Canada to work as a firefighter. After it, he turned enough heads that Baylor gave him a full scholarship and made him the successor to former Bears left tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Watkins started all 25 games he played in at Baylor. He impressed when facing Texas A&M star defensive end Von Miller last season, a player who was selected second overall by Denver in this draft. The question, of course, is whether Watkins can continue his rapid maturation at the next level. It’s one thing to enjoy the game when it comes easily to you in college. It’s an entirely different matter when there are higher expectations and more pressure resulting from that fat NFL paycheck.

The early indication is that Watkins is hard-wired to deal with that transition. If you’re preparing to dash into burning buildings for a living, it’s a safe bet that unhappy Eagles fans won’t raise your blood pressure. Being an older player also could help his cause. Whatever concerns people might have about how long he can play when he starts a career at 26 will be offset by the fact that he’ll be more mature than most rookies when he enters camp later this year.

That has to be what the Eagles are hoping. They had a big need to fill, and they’re grateful that a talented prospect was waiting for them. That means their head coach is happy today and their starting quarterback is probably even happier. In time, Watkins might make plenty of others feel the same way about a pick that was vital to the Eagles’ future.
Ryan KerriganSandra Dukes/Icon SMIWashington is counting on Ryan Kerrigan to bring enthusiasm and energy to the defense.
Here’s the easy way to assess the Washington Redskins' decision to select Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan with the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft: They added a strong, versatile pass-rusher who can complement burgeoning star Brian Orakpo. Now here’s the better way to evaluate that move: The team also sent a potent message about the near future, one that said energy and attitude will mean as much as talent for new additions to that locker room.

As good as Kerrigan is -- he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 -- his approach to the game will pay huge dividends for his new employer. This is a young man who plays every down as if the Lombardi Trophy hangs in the balance. Kerrigan also treats any opportunity he receives as if he’s truly blessed to have one. For a team that has spent the past year coping with the headache that is their highest paid defender, defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, this has to be a nice change. Kerrigan should pump new life into that side of the football just with his love of the game.

What he’ll also do is bolster a defense that sorely needed an injection of new blood. The Redskins have a few playmakers, including Pro Bowlers cornerback DeAngelo Hall and linebacker London Fletcher. Yet, they also have too many aging veterans and not enough help on the edge to keep double-teams off Orakpo. Aside from his 8.5 sacks in 2010, no other Redskins player totaled more than 2.5 sacks last season.

Those numbers are even more frightening when considering the kind of opposition the Redskins face in the NFC East. They have to contend with Michael Vick and all those speedy skill players that surround him in Philadelphia. They also have to deal with Eli Manning and the New York Giants as well as Tony Romo and the talented Dallas Cowboys offense. If you can’t make those quarterbacks sweat, you don’t have a chance in that division. If you’re a team with the kind of offensive issues that plagued Washington last season, you need that defensive pressure even more.

This is where Kerrigan’s presence should pay off. He’s playing a position that usually requires much less transition time. Orakpo made the Pro Bowl as a rookie while Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, another 3-4 pass-rusher, challenged for league Defensive Player of the Year honors in his second season. Even though the 6-foot-4, 267-pound Kerrigan was a 4-3 defensive end in college, he displayed the athleticism to play outside linebacker during his workouts and combine testing. Playing opposite of Orakpo alone also should guarantee that he will have an immediate impact on the Redskins' defense.

It also helps that Kerrigan started for three years at Purdue and produced 32 career sacks. What is just as impressive is the fact he earned defensive player of the year honors in the Big Ten. Three other defensive linemen from that conference -- Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, Illinois’ Corey Liuget and Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn -- were selected in the first round of Thursday’s draft as well. Not one of those players had the kind of production that Kerrigan displayed in his final college season.

The Redskins also won big with Kerrigan because they traded down to get him. Washington entered the draft with only two picks in the first four rounds and eight overall. Jacksonville moved up to the 10th overall spot to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Washington also acquired the Jaguars’ second-round pick (49th overall). That’s a selection that will certainly allow coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen to address some other major needs Friday.

Anybody who follows the Redskins recognizes this isn’t a team that is one good draft away from being in contention. The Redskins need to find a quarterback now that the Donovan McNabb era has turned disastrous. They have to bolster their defensive interior with Haynesworth’s future in doubt and running back and offensive line are other questionable areas. In a division as competitive as the NFC East, this team won’t be competing for anything for at least another year.

One key reason for those issues is the team’s drafting history. While the Redskins have found gems like Orakpo and left tackle Trent Williams, last year’s top pick, they’ve also had a mediocre track record in this area lately. This is a team that has been far too concerned with big-name coaching hires and high-profile acquisitions. What they ultimately should have learned by now is that there are no quick fixes in the NFL.

The teams that win most consistently are the ones who get it right on draft day. By taking Kerrigan, the Redskins proved that they have a better sense of the value in this philosophy. He isn’t the only thing they need these days, but his arrival is definitely a strong step in the right direction.

Video: McShay on Danny Watkins

April, 28, 2011

ESPN's Todd McShay breaks down Danny Watkins' strengths and weaknesses. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Watkins with the No. 23 overall pick of the NFL draft.

Video: McShay on Prince Amukamara

April, 28, 2011

ESPN's Todd McShay breaks down Prince Amukamara's strengths and weaknesses. The New York Giants selected Prince Amukamara with the No. 19 overall pick in the NFL draft.