I reached out to Clausen when the first round ended, and when I identified myself, I got a dispirited "I can't talk now,'' and a hangup. Don't blame him. It had to be a devastating night for a kid who played behind a bad offensive line at Notre Dame, played most of last season with two torn ligaments in his foot and played very well with the traits the NFL wants in a player -- good deep arm, very good pocket awareness, experience in a pro-style scheme -- in a league where the quarterback is king. It's a classic example, to me, of where this league is. Clausen's perceived petulance, which has been overrated, cost him. Now he'll have to wait 'til the second round kicks off tonight at 6 Eastern to see who gets very, very lucky and gets a top-10 talent for second-round money.
Now for the Jags' pick. It's an interesting story. Jacksonville GM Gene Smith told me late last night that the club hid its interest in Alualu, a Samoan kid raised in Hawaii who played at Cal. When front-office people around the league would trade pre-draft information on what they were hearing, Alualu's name never leaked out of Jacksonville. I know because two scout types I talk to who know Jacksonville people well were bowled over by the pick when we spoke overnight. Alualu played every position on the defensive line at Cal; with the Jags, he'll be tried as a 3-technique disruptive presence, the same spot Detroit drafted Ndamukong Suh to fill. The draftniks on the edge of the game -- Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay -- didn't have Alualu anywhere near the middle of the first round, though Mayock did have him as his 30th-rated player, even though he did not include Alualu in his first-round mock draft. Respected analyst Gil Brandt had Alualu rated in the fifties.
I don't mind a team having a strong belief in a player. But the team has to know value. The 10th pick overall was right around the spot where the trade-downs were percolating. Smith told me last night the reason he didn't trade the pick is that there was nothing that came to him remotely approximating value for the pick. "There wasn't a lot of ability to trade down,'' Smith said from Jacksonville. Understood. But I still think at that point you take anything you can get and bail out -- unless you have a legitimate fear that Alualu was going in the next few picks.
"You can call this a reach,'' Smith said, "but the more work we did on him, the more we saw an excellent player with high character and excellent competitiveness who'd played every spot on the defensive line. I watched every game he played the last two years. The more I watched, the more I became convinced this was an excellent player for what we do. He had 17 sacks, playing inside a lot, and another one in the Senior Bowl. He's a very disruptive player.''
This pick's going to be fascinating to watch. When a player doesn't show up in the mock drafts of respective analysts like Mayock, or as a first-round-graded pick by Gil Brandt, and he goes 10th overall, the cries of "reach'' are going to go up. "This is not a popularity contest,'' Smith said. "I don't give a damn about perception. I care about picking the right player for our team. My attitude is, 'You can outsmart people some of the time, but you can outwork them all of the time.' If you can't trust your ability to judge players after all the work you put in on them, you shouldn't be in this business.''
All eyes will be on Alualu, early, in Jacksonville. He's going to have be the knifing pocket-disrupter Smith saw on film to take the heat off this pick.
"There might have been jaws dropping in your business,'' Smith said, "but I don't think there were in draft rooms.''
I beg to differ. I talked to some of those jaw-holders, and this was the surprise pick of the night, by far.
This morning, I asked Brandt about the pick. He said two things in defense of Smith, who is a well-admired scouting veteran in the league. He said he thought Alualu would have been picked low in the first round, regardless of the personal grade he had on him. He also said he knows Jacksonville was trying to trade down.
"But I'll tell you a story about trading down,'' Brandt said. "When we picked Thomas Henderson from tiny Langston in the first round, we got criticized for not trading down. But when you want a guy really bad with your pick, you think, 'If I lose him, I'm really going to kick myself in the fanny.' '' So that, I'm sure, factored into Smith's thinking -- even though a couple of scouting types told me last night you've got to know the value of the player better than Smith did. And so it goes.
The Rams are on the clock, but I don't think they want to be. They want to trade the next pick on the board, the 33rd overall, and I think they've got a chance to get a pretty good price after teams have a 19-hour break to figure out how much they want to pursue the pick.
I talked to four front-office types late last night and very early this morning and asked for candidates for that 33rd pick. There wasn't as much variation as I thought. Here's how the candidate list shapes up:
Complete list of best available prospects.
As of 12:30 a.m. Eastern time today, the Rams had gotten one serious phone call from an undisclosed team about the pick, and communicated with a few other teams by e-mail. GM Billy Devaney and COO Kevin Demoff will be back in the office at mid-morning today hoping some interested teams call. No telling how serious it'll get, but if last year's Jets' trade for the first pick of round three (the top pick of day two of the draft) is any indication, someone might pay a ransom for it. The Jets traded third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks to move up 11 spots for Shonn Greene. Hard to imagine the Rams won't do better here.
"He's nasty, and football is his life ... He's football. He'll come early, stay late. We're gonna throw him right in. He will be our starting left tackle -- day one, hour one -- and we will live with him through whatever the pain is. He's a line coach's dream. Thirty-one other line coaches are sad right now.''--Seattle offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, on first-round tackle Russell Okung, the heir to Walter Jones at left tackle. Jones is expected to retire next week.
"Clausen's plunge the final act of the Charlie Weis/Notre Dame disaster.''--@PeteAbe, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, on the precipitous drop of Jimmy Clausen
1. ARIZONA -- I think Arizona was one of the luckiest teams in the first round. Defensive tackle Dan Williams, the most versatile DT in the draft, had a legit chance to go number nine (Buffalo) and will team with Darnell Dockett to give the Cards a 1-2 punch inside that'll be tough to run on.
2. ATLANTA -- I think Atlanta did well to get an edge-rusher type in Sean Weatherspoon, but wouldn't have minded if center Maurkice Pouncey or defensive end Brandon Graham was there. The Falcons loved Graham, as did many teams.
3. BALTIMORE -- I think I expected Baltimore to take Williams once he dropped to the Ravens' pick at 25. The Ravens loved him. I thought it was incredible value if they'd have gotten him at 25. But at the end of the day, it's hard to pay big money to both Haloti Ngata and -- potentially -- Williams if he pans out. Here's where the story gets interesting. Baltimore paid a low three to acquire Anquan Boldin. To trade down 18 spots to a lesser-money pick (25 to 43), the Ravens acquired a high three. They viewed it as a no-brainer, and it'll be a good choice unless all their players of choice for late in the first round are gone at 43.
4. BUFFALO -- I think Buffalo feels if it can block for C.J. Spiller, he can win a rushing title one day. Only problem with that: He carried it more than 150 times just once in a four-year career -- 216 times last fall. I like the pick. I'm just not sure Spiller's ever going to be a 300-carry-a-season guy.
5. CAROLINA -- I think Carolina simply has to start managing its draft choices better. That's a story for another day; dealing a 2010 first-rounder to the Niners last year for Everette Brown was a reach. But tonight, when the Panthers' first pick (48th overall) comes up in the middle of the second round, they should hope either Clausen keeps slipping (he won't) or that Chris Cook, the underrated Virginia corner, is still there.
6. CHICAGO -- I think Chicago's draft was Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor. If Peppers underperforms, there's going to be a new coaching staff and front office worrying about the 2011 draft.
7. CINCINNATI -- I think the old saw in Cincinnati -- Mike Brown will never take a tight end or safety in the first round -- was proven wrong last night, and rightfully so. When I watched 2008 tape of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford last week, the athleticism and toughness of tight end Jermaine Gresham shone through. Good pick at 21.
8. CLEVELAND -- I think the holes are big enough in Cleveland that we could argue new GM Tom Heckert and president Mike Holmgren should have taken the field-dictating safety that Earl Thomas may be. But by adding Joe Haden and (a couple of weeks ago) Sheldon Brown to the mix at corner, the Browns now have a competitive cornerback situation for the first time in years.
9. DALLAS -- I think, as I said on Twitter last night, I doubt there was much confetti being thrown at Roy Williams' home last night when Dallas chose Dez Bryant 24th in the first round. Just another illustration of what a terrible trade that was two years ago for Williams. Bryant's a great value pick where the Cowboys got him. I just worry about the distractions and temptations for a kid who needs to be managed closely playing so close to home.
10. DENVER -- I think Denver had a boom-or-bust night, obviously. But Josh McDaniels told me early this morning that the Tim Tebow pick came down to Tebow meeting every one of the parameters he sets out for a quarterback: competitiveness, work ethic, leadership, traits of a winner, intelligence, toughness, productivity. I see all that, but we all know the adjustment in mechanics and style of play are going to be huge factors in whether Tebow succeeds in the NFL. McDaniels has clearly cast his lot with a risky pick. But Tebow said something to me last night about McDaniels that summed the pick up perfectly: "I told [agent] Jimmy [Sexton] all along that I wanted to play for this guy. His whole attitude is he believes in himself, and he's going to do it his way.'' Tebow and McDaniels now are tied together, and their NFL futures depend on how good the other is at his job.
11. DETROIT -- I think Detroit continues to build it, brick by brick. Ndamukong Suh was the easiest pick of the night. If he's not a very good NFL player, scouting football players is a worthless occupation. I like the value of Jahvid Best at 30, and he should be the kind of make-you-miss, artificial-turf back who will give the Lions the weapon out of the backfield they needed.
12. GREEN BAY -- I think Green Bay was looking to deal up for a tackle in the last few days before the draft, but never came close to doing it, and got a little lucky. Bryan Bulaga's mediocre final year at Iowa made him slide to 23, but he's great value for a team with two tackles who might need to be replaced in 2011 -- or earlier.
13. HOUSTON -- I think I would have taken Kyle Wilson if I were Houston at 20. There's going to be tons of pressure on Kareem Jackson, the Alabama corner, to play early as a Dunta Robinson replacement. I'd rather have the corner most in the draft believe was more pro-ready in Wilson.
14. INDIANAPOLIS -- I think the consensus on Indianapolis and Jerry Hughes is this: Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis heir.
15. JACKSONVILLE -- I think the folks around Jacksonville just have to give this Tebow thing a break. Let the man live his life as a football player, people. If the Jags picked him, I fear Tebow would have been suffocated by the adulation. Good for him that he got out of the area. Ironic for him that his first game as an NFL player (though I don't expect him to be doing anything but watching) is the 2010 opener, at Jacksonville.
16. KANSAS CITY -- I think Scott Pioli's not-picking-safeties-high mold was broken in Kansas City by the strong play and even stronger leadership of Eric Berry. Case in point: The Chiefs went to scout Berry at Tennessee, and in doing their due diligence, found out he sometimes was in the football equipment room on Fridays helping the staff clean helmets. That's going to play well with a meat-and-potatoes team guy like Pioli.
17. MIAMI -- I think, at the end of the day, the temptation of Derrick Morgan to rush the passer for Miami was outweighed by three things: The Dolphins couldn't be sure he'd develop into a double-digit sack guy. They badly wanted to recoup their second-round pick lost in the Brandon Marshall deal, which they did, getting the 40th pick from San Diego for moving down 16 spots in the first round. And they wanted a big body for the interior defensive line too. Thus the Jared Odrick pick.
18. MINNESOTA -- I think Minnesota should take Jimmy Clausen with the 34th pick overall, the second pick of the night tonight. No doubt about it. None.
19. NEW ENGLAND -- I think it's been a while since I talked to a player on the night of the draft who was happier than Devin McCourty. The Rutgers cornerback was euphoric to be picked by New England. When he heard Bill Belichick ask him last night, "Are you ready to be a New England Patriot?'' he could barely contain himself. "I was too excited,'' he said. "Those are the greatest words I've ever heard in my life.'' The Pats got a guy who scouts think can play in the slot or outside, plus one of the best special-teamers in the draft.
20. NEW ORLEANS -- I think New Orleans really wanted McCourty and settled for Patrick Robinson, the Florida State corner. I thought once McCourty was gone they'd jump for TCU defensive end Daryl Washington, a Joe Vitt favorite. But taking the corner tells me they don't feel as good about their corner situation, and still may move Malcolm Jenkins to safety.
21. NEW YORK GIANTS -- I think I like Jason Pierre-Paul to the New York Giants. I really do. But the Giants have spent more time and energy and prominent picks and free-agents than any team in football to fix their defensive line long-term, and there's no excuse now for the Giants not to be as good as anyone in football rushing the passer.
22. NEW YORK JETS -- I think a few teams in the league had character concerns about Boise cornerback Kyle Wilson, but he was a no-brainer for the New York Jets at 29. I know of at least two teams in the top half of the draft who had Wilson rated ahead of Joe Haden, who went seventh.
23. OAKLAND -- I think Oakland finally got it right with Rolando McClain. Great pick. Maybe he won't be in the game on all third downs, but he'll be the leader and strong focal point of a Raider defense that could use an identity.
24. PHILADELPHIA -- I think Philadelphia was destined to trade up. It's all I heard for the past two weeks, that the Eagles were dying to come up. But the names I'd heard were Earl Thomas and Derrick Morgan, not Brandon Graham. I'll just say this about Graham: two teams were laying in the weeds for him in the low teens, so getting him at 13 is just about right.
25. PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey might be the safest, surest player in this draft. Good pick. Also, I think I'm not a big I-told-you-so guy, but I told you Pittsburgh wasn't trading Ben Roethlisberger.
26. ST. LOUIS -- I think St. Louis followed through with the same attitude it has had for two months: If the Rams thought Sam Bradford was a franchise quarterback, they weren't going to get serious with anyone about trading the pick. And they never did. It helped that quarterback-needy teams didn't think of him as a no-doubt, Troy Aikman-type QB, and the Redskins didn't have the ammo to move from four to one. But St. Louis did the right thing here. Good pick.
27. SAN FRANCISCO -- I think San Francisco's risky move was dealing up two spots for a tackle more than a few teams have sense-of-entitlement concerns about, Anthony Davis of Rutgers. Davis will need Mike Singletary to be the bad cop if he's going to be the player worthy of the 11th pick in the draft.
28. SAN DIEGO -- I think San Diego overpaid for Ryan Mathews. A good back for the 28th and 40th picks in a strong draft? Too high a price.
29. SEATTLE -- I think I was surprised Seattle didn't move back at number 14, because going into the draft, the Seahawks thought they'd have an opportunity to do it, and wanted to get another pick or two. But Earl Thomas was the last player on their list of must-gets-if-at-all-possible, and once he was there, thoughts of dealing for an extra two or three ceased.
30. TAMPA BAY -- I think Tampa Bay, with the third pick today, would be smart to auction it. Gerald McCoy was an easy pick at three. Now the Bucs, with 35 and 42 this evening early in round two, would be smart to add an extra three if they can. This team needs help across the board, not just with two more contributing players early tonight.
31. TENNESSEE -- I think Tennessee was one of the luckiest teams in the round, getting Derrick Morgan at 16. It's impossible to predict which college pass-rushers turn into good pro ones, but if anyone can get it out of him, defensive line coach Jim Washburn of the Titans can.
32. WASHINGTON -- I think after leading the league in curveballs over the last month, Washington did what it absolutely had to do. The Redskins got their left tackle of the future. As Chris Samuels walks out the door, in walks Trent Williams. Doing anything else would have set the franchise back.