I’ve written on a couple recent occasions about the 2011 NFL quarterback draft class. One thing that stands out is that only Cam Newton, who was drafted first overall by the Carolina Panthers, was projected to be selected by the team he ended up on. The next five quarterbacks to go off the board were not typically their respective team’s selection in most mock drafts. I’ve already discussed the first three quarterbacks selected, but the next three quarterbacks will arguably have an even bigger impact on their respective franchises.
Minnesota Vikings: Florida State QB Christian Ponder. There’s a lot to like about Ponder, because he was a productive and long-time starter for a major program. But he also has a weaker arm than many NFL quarterbacks, and he’s somewhat injury prone. This marks only third time in franchise history that the Vikings have selected a quarterback in the first round. The last time was Daunte Culpepper in 1999, who they traded away before the 2006 season began. They’ve been riding a revolving door of quarterbacks even since. Ponder’s arrival potentially begins an era of stability, and he’s the first major roster decision made since they hired Leslie Frazier as their head coach.
Cincinnati Bengals: TCU QB Andy Dalton. If any of the top quarterbacks went undrafted after the first round, it was expected they’d be drafted shortly thereafter, and it only took three picks for Dalton to come off the board. He doesn’t possess a rocket arm either, but he’s got all the intangibles of a winning college quarterback. This is a major shift for Cincinatti’s franchise because it means the end of Carson Palmer’s era as the team’s starter. He may be released or traded, and he’s even threatened to retire, but his return seems remote. They might want to add another veteran quarterback, but there’s no doubt that Dalton is their long-term solution. After years of losing, Palmer’s arm turned the franchise around, but he never led them to a playoff victory. His era ended without a title run, and new one has begun.
San Francisco 49ers: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. Back in 2005, the 49ers chose wrong when they selected Alex Smith with the first overall selection over Aaron Rodgers. Since then, head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary have been fired, and they lured Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford. I expected he’d try to find some way to bring Andrew Luck with him from Stanford next season, but that seemed unlikely — unless they expected to have the NFL’s worst team in 2011. Instead they drafted Kaepernick, who has been described as a taller Aaron Rodgers. He played in the very old school pistol offense at Nevada, and he’ll need a lot of coaching to get ready for the NFL. This might not officially be the end of Alex Smith for the 49ers, but that will happen sooner or later. It also marks a look back to the 1980s when the 49ers had an offensive guru for a head coach, and back to the 1990s when they had a mobile quarterback running their offense.