Saturday April 24th, 2010

NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the second night at the NFL draft, where rounds two and three unfolded with another dose of quarterback-inspired drama and intrigue ...

• I know Mr. Irrelevant is traditionally the final pick of the NFL draft, but for a while there Friday night, I started thinking they were going to make an exception in Jimmy Clausen's case, no matter where the Notre Dame quarterback was eventually selected.

Good move, J.C., opting to not come to New York and park yourself in the green room at Radio City. From here on out, Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers are off the hook. They're no longer the standard by which we judge tumbling hotshot QBs who once carried top 10 first-round projections (at least in the eyes of some).

Clausen, who was ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's fourth-highest rated player in the entire draft, didn't mess around with any middling drop into the 20s. He lasted all way until Carolina mercifully stopped the bleeding at No. 48, which was longer than the waits of Rodgers (No. 24 in 2005) and Quinn (No. 22 in 2007) combined.

But you know what? The more I think about it, if you're Clausen, nothing could be finer than to play for Carolina, a team with very little going for itself on the quarterback front. I happen to be a fan of newly elevated starter, Matt Moore, but he's hardly an established presence at this point. True, the Panthers appear to be in a clear-cut rebuilding mode in 2010, and head coach John Fox is entering the final and potentially lame-duck year of his contract. Those aren't ideal circumstances.

But Carolina still has a stout (and record-setting) two-headed backfield in running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and a quality offensive line. Those are not the worst things for a young quarterback to find waiting for him in the NFL. If Clausen learns his craft quickly this season, there's no reason to think he won't push Moore at some point this year and then seriously challenge to start for the Panthers in 2011 (if there's a season played, that is).

"It's frustrating sometimes," said Clausen, describing his entire pre-draft scouting process. "It's definitely going to be in the back of my mind every single time I step on the field, every time I step into the facility to work out and watch film to make me that much better. But I couldn't have ended up in a better spot, and I'm really excited right now."

In the long run, will Clausen's humbling draft weekend better serve his long-term career goals than having gone somewhere much higher, say, to Oakland at No. 8 or Buffalo at No. 9? Who can say for sure now, but at some point next season, when No. 1 pick Sam Bradford is getting his rookie pummeling in St. Louis, we might just look at Clausen as a bit more of a winner than he appears tonight.

• And while we're at it, ditto for Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who, while never approaching consensus first-round status in this draft season, might have done pretty well for himself in going to Cleveland after enduring such a long wait to hear his named called. McCoy was the draft's 85th overall pick, two-thirds of the way through the third round.

The Browns were thought to be a team in the market for McCoy, but when Cleveland passed on him twice in the second round -- taking Oregon safety T.J. Ward at No. 38 and Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty at No. 59 -- it didn't look like the Browns had much sense of urgency to land the ex-Longhorn.

Cleveland, of course, has been a quarterback-career killer since re-entering the league as a 1999 expansion team, so it's hard to imagine a QB being thrilled at the thought of heading for northeast Ohio. But Mike Holmgren is the new sheriff in town, and that bodes better for a quarterback than what Cleveland has had to offer them in the past.

And like the Panthers, the Browns feature a quarterback depth chart that is begging to be monopolized by one player. Cleveland dumped both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn this offseason, adding the turnover-prone Jake Delhomme in free agency and trading for veteran backup Seneca Wallace from Seattle. The Browns gave Delhomme $8 million to be their starter this year, but if anyone thinks he can't be beaten out, they haven't been paying attention to his career since about mid-January 2009.

In short, McCoy's embarrassing wait might have been worth it. What his nascent NFL career needed more than money up front was opportunity, and where else but in Cleveland would he have gotten a bigger dose of that?

• I love the Vikings going after Stanford running back Toby Gerhart with the 51st overall pick, a selection they received in a trade from Houston after swapping seconds and throwing an extra third-rounder the Texans' way. You know who else is going to love it? Minnesota super-back Adrian Peterson, because the big guy is going to save Peterson all kinds of wear and tear by getting his share of carries in the Vikings ground game.

I'm willing to bet that Gerhart significantly expands on the No. 2 back role he inherits from the departed Chester Taylor, who signed with Chicago in free agency.

But here's my biggest question: Why didn't the running back-needy Texans jump all over Gerhart at No. 51? Houston was thought to be seeking a power runner who could complement the smaller and more elusive Steve Slaton, and indeed they drafted Auburn's Ben Tate with the 62nd overall, second-round pick they received from Minnesota. Tate is a power runner, too, but at 5-11, 220, he's not the pile-mover that Gerhart is.

• I really expected the Rams to auction off their top-of-evening pick for as much booty as they could get, but taking fast-rising Indiana offensive tackle Rodger Saffold made solid sense. The worst thing you can do when taking a first-round franchise quarterback who's coming off surgery to his throwing shoulder (that would be young Mr. Bradford) is put him behind an offensive line designed to get him killed.

Just ask David Carr. Or Tim Couch.

With last year's No. 2 overall pick, Jason Smith of Baylor, hopefully improving in year two, St. Louis now has a couple of highly-drafted tackles as bookends. As for veteran left tackle Alex Barron, whose St. Louis tenure has been disappointing after being taken 19th overall in 2005, he might have just had his ticket out of town punched.

• Tampa Bay selecting Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, a pair of defensive tackles, in the first and second rounds says all you need to know about the sorry state of the Bucs defensive line in 2009. Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims weren't exactly stalwarts at tackle, and now you can clearly consider them both ex-starters.

• One leftover tidbit from Thursday night's first round: according to a league source, the No. 29 Jets were stunned that Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson remained on the board when their turn came, never dreaming he'd fall that far. The Jets were actually in the early stages of a phone conversation with Massachusetts offensive lineman Vladmir Ducasse, who they were prepared to select at No. 29, when they realized Wilson was still there for their taking.

The Jets followed through on their interest in Ducasse, taking the green but potential-laden 332-pound ex-Minutemen star with their second-round selection, 61st overall. There's a chance at least that the drafting of Ducasse could accelerate the departure of veteran guard Alan Faneca, who the Jets reportedly have had on the trading block in recent weeks.

For his part, Wilson was reportedly in conversation with the No. 30 Vikings at one point when the Jets were on the clock, and Minnesota might have been poised to take him before he went to New York. The Vikings then traded out of the first round, giving up their pick to Detroit, which took Cal running back Jahvid Best.

• So much for the notion that Minnesota would bite on either Clausen or McCoy as Brett Favre's heir apparent. The Vikings, like a lot of teams, were eager to land Virginia cornerback Chris Cook, and they took him with the second pick of the second round. (Baltimore was one team that definitely had Cook in their sights). With Minnesota signing veteran Lito Sheppard earlier this week and drafting Cook, a position that appeared problematic days ago suddenly looks a whole lot better.

Even with Cedric Griffin still rehabbing the ACL injury suffered in overtime of the NFC title game loss at New Orleans, and Antoine Winfield getting up there in years (he's 33), Cook gives the Vikings a future starter at the position. There's some thought that Cook could wind up at safety in the NFL, but Minnesota will let his play determine that.

• And the rich get richer. Baltimore picked up two potential defensive starters in the second round, taking Texas 3-4 outside linebacker Sergio Kindle at 43, and Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody at 57. Both have their question marks -- Kindle's got a knee issue that bears watching and Cody has to maintain his physical regimen, because weight has been his Achilles.

But both are undeniable talents, and Baltimore does as good as job as anyone in the league of putting some structure around young players and integrating them into their veteran-led program. Kindle is seen as potential pass-rushing force off the edge, and the Ravens feel Cody can be the kind of run-stuffing presence who allows their linebackers to remain unblocked and run free to the ball.

• Oh, that daredevil Josh McDaniels. Most draft experts had Utah offensive tackle Zane Beadles in the neighborhood of the fourth round. But Denver took him in the first half of the second round, 45th overall.

I guess somebody's a big Beadles fan.

• Say hey, some things are just meant to be. I mean, the idea of a Mays playing center field in San Francisco, that works for me. Drafting with the very fitting 49th overall selection, the 49ers took USC safety Taylor Mays, and now they hope he goes on to make at least a fraction of the impact in San Francisco that the other Mays guy did.

• The Seahawks-49ers rivalry just got a little spicier, thanks to ex-USC head coach Pete Carroll passing repeatedly on his former Trojans safety, Mays, who went to the 49ers in the second round.

Mays had some strong words about Carroll to the San Francisco-area media, making it clear he felt lied to by his ex-coach. Carroll selected Texas safety Earl Thomas at No. 14 in the first round Thursday night.

"It was just interesting," Mays said. "I definitely thought from the relationship that we had, the things that he had told me about what I needed to be aware of for the draft process, the things that I needed to do, I felt he told me the complete opposite of the actions that he took, which was definitely alarming with who he took as a safety [Thomas]. I understand it's a business, but with it being a business, you just need to be honest, and that's all I was asking for."

Wow. Somebody needs a hug.

• Eagles coach Andy Reid, when he wasn't trading down to amass more picks, made time for a little draft weekend comic relief. The Eagles now own a whopping nine picks in rounds four through seven on Saturday, and they picked just two players on Friday: second-round safety Nate Allen from South Florida, and third-round Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

Reid went on ESPN and said while he used to have T.O., now he has a new T.O., meaning Te'o-Nesheim. It'll be straight to Vegas for Reid when he's done coaching.

• Not that anyone (but me) is keeping score, but I did have three direct hits in my first-ever attempt to mock out the second round: New England took Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, Cincinnati selected Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, and Baltimore followed my advice (right?) and took Cody.

Three out of 32. Maybe next year I'll crack the 10 percent plateau. And no, I'm not doing a fourth-round mock first thing in the morning. Thanks for asking.

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