The 2011 NFL draft went almost exactly as anticipated, but counter to conventional wisdom, when it came to NFC West teams and the available quarterbacks.
The Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks all needed quarterbacks. But every time I discussed the position in relation to the draft, I kept finding reasons these teams would head in another direction early.
Arizona appeared unlikely to take one at No. 5 and less likely to take one later in the draft, given that a quarterback selected later might not have given them more than John Skelton gives them. San Francisco seemed likely to target defense with the seventh pick before considering a quarterback in the second round. And Seattle was picking late enough in the first round -- 25th overall -- to lead the team in another direction early.
Did these teams get it right? I threw out the question during the draft and wanted to advance the discussion by singling out your responses for additional consideration.
ScottA2001 wanted the Cardinals to draft a quarterback they could develop over the next couple seasons.
Mike Sando: They think they have that in John Skelton. As you noted in comments I did not include here, the team wasn't going to find an immediate-impact quarterback after the first round. It's debatable whether the Cardinals could have found one even at No. 5. There was no Sam Bradford in this draft, according to Arizona, and that is a widely shared assessment. Blaine Gabbert lasted to No. 10.
DiLune2 thinks the Seahawks know who their quarterback is going to be, and will acquire that quarterback once the signing period opens.
Mike Sando: General manager John Schneider said the same thing. He said they've got clear quarterback plan. Had the team been able to act on that plan before the draft, the picks Seattle made would have gotten higher reviews. Making those selections before getting the quarterback made this draft harder to evaluate. Trent Dilfer was adamant that Seattle needed to draft Andy Dalton with the 25th pick given the quarterback situation in Seattle. The conviction with which he made that statement does hinge on what other options the team might explore, in my view.
Leesters thinks the Cardinals are focusing on Marc Bulger after missing out on him last offseason when the timing wasn't right. He hopes the team signs Bulger, then trades Beanie Wells to Cincinnati as part of a Carson Palmer deal.
Mike Sando: We've been hearing about Bulger for so long now that it'll be an upset if he does not sign with the Cardinals. The down time Bulger has had surely has helped his body recover from the pounding he took during his final seasons with the Rams. He's an intriguing option for the Cardinals. Derek Anderson and John Skelton were not accurate enough. Accuracy is Bulger's strength as long as he has time to throw. Will he have time to throw in Arizona? Let's see how the line takes shape.
As for getting Bulger and Palmer, that just isn't happening. If the Bengals do trade Palmer, they will also be trading his fat contract. Getting Palmer to restructure that deal would be contingent on clearly defining his role with his next team. He's not going to camp having to compete for a job, in my view.
THADIGGY805 thinks the 49ers would have drafted Andy Dalton if the Bengals didn't draft him first, but he thinks Colin Kaepernick will work out well.
Mike Sando: Dalton was off the board when San Francisco made the move up for Kaepernick, which means the team valued Kaepernick enough to take him there, independent of how it valued Dalton. Kaepernick is so much more athletic. I tend to think his athleticism appeals to Jim Harbaugh a great deal, enough to question whether Dalton would have appealed more. Once the Dalton pick was made, San Francisco figured it had to strike quickly to get one of the available quarterbacks. Hence, the move up.
Mike Sando: We've subsequently learned that Smith's return is highly likely, to the point that the 49ers have given him a playbook. Smith even signed a waiver allowing him to hang out at the facility before the lockout was reinstated. It's a big shock if he does not re-sign. With Smith and Kaepernick there, Hasselbeck would not be part of the equation any longer. Hasselbeck has sought longer-term assurances from Seattle. He could conceivably take less elsewhere, but I doubt it'll be in San Francisco.
naudebo thinks the players the Cardinals drafted will contribute more quickly than any of the quarterbacks in the draft, except possibly Dalton. He also thinks the Cardinals have enough talent to win this season with an effective quarterback.
Mike Sando: That last point is a good one to debate. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me before the draft he thought the Cardinals' talent was severely lacking overall. I see some holes on the roster, but do not think the situation is quite as dire -- especially when we're talking about contending within this division.
12thManT.Hast says the Seahawks already drafted their quarterback by trading a third-round choice to San Diego for Charlie Whitehurst. He thinks Seattle will eventually win or lose with Whitehurst.
Mike Sando: Pete Carroll has become more outspoken in his praise for Whitehurst now that Hasselbeck isn't on the roster. I think the team will bring in someone else, possibly Hasselbeck, as the likely starter for the 2011 season, however.
MIKEFROMAZ52 thinks the Cardinals want a veteran quarterback, not a rookie, to quickly maximize the weapons they have, including running back Ryan Williams and tight end Rob Housler.
Mike Sando: You have the right feel for the situation. Whisenhunt did not want to play Skelton last season. He thought Max Hall would fare better, but the overall experience last season makes a veteran more appealing. There's no way Arizona can let 2010 happen again from a quarterback planning standpoint.
Brett_CO thinks the Seahawks were justified in drafting for their offensive line early because any quarterback would struggle behind the line they fielded last season.
Mike Sando: The Seahawks are focused more on their running game than the quarterback position right now. From the outside, it's easy to wonder why there appears to be less urgency in finding a quarterback. From the inside, Schneider and Carroll see a roster that needs renovation throughout. If they do not see the right quarterback, they're not going to take one anyway -- particularly with so many needs. It's another indication Seattle sees this as a longer-term building project.
jandkolepsycho realizes Seattle has a plan at quarterback, but still thinks the team erred by trading back to get more picks. He doesn't think the Seahawks will find answers in the later rounds, but he wonders if the team plans to use significant 2012 draft capital to acquire Kevin Kolb.
Mike Sando: Seattle did show interest in Kolb previously. How much interest is the question. I've spoken with personnel people around the league who see Kolb as a solid option, but not as an elite one. How much should a team give up for a good, but not great, quarterback? I would have traded the team's first-round pick this year for Kolb, most likely. But it's an upset if Seattle is picking 25th or later in 2012. The pick next year could be more valuable.
sc6968 liked how the 49ers targeted needs at quarterback, outside linebacker and cornerback early.
Mike Sando: The second-round selection of Kaepernick is pivotal. I do have some questions on Aldon Smith as the seventh overall choice. General manager Trent Baalke pointed to versatility as one appealing trait. I'd rather have a dominant pass-rusher or dominant interior defender over a prospect that is good at multiple things, but not great at any of them. Baalke was not putting any limits on how good Smith can become in any one area. The question is still one to consider until we see what Smith offers as an outside pass-rusher.
FTBallenthusiast says the draft strategies for the quarterback-needy teams in the NFC West came down to a simple choice between needs and values of the picks. He thinks opportunities in free agency and the trade market made it easier for those teams to address other areas, whereas San Francisco was better positioned to grab Kaepernick in the second round.
Mike Sando: The 49ers jumped past Arizona to take Kaepernick with the 36th overall choice, two spots ahead of where Arizona was picking. The Cardinals then took Williams, the running back they said rated 15th overall on their board. Another 35 picks went by before another quarterback (Ryan Mallett) was selected.
Sometimes it takes years to evaluate a draft class. In the nearer term, we'll have a better foundation from which to analyze once Arizona and Seattle address their quarterback situations later this offseason.