1. Don’t tell me the lockout didn’t have an impact on this year’s draft because it did. I’ve never seen so many reaches, starting with Aldon Smith with the seventh pick of the first round, continuing with quarterbacks Jake Locker and Christian Ponder and moving through the bottom of the round, then on into the next two days. There were stretches everywhere, and I have to believe it was because clubs drafted for need. Usually, you hear “the-best-player-available” explanation for choices, but not this year. The past three days clubs gambled everywhere to fill needs they would have already solved through free agency or trades.
2. Now, more than ever, I believe the Detroit Lions, not Chicago, is the team to challenge Green Bay in the NFC North. With Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh paired at defensive tackle, the Lions’ D-line becomes an extraordinary pass defense, while the addition of Titus Young gives the club an explosive wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. Yeah, I know, the Lions still need cornerbacks, but quarterbacks won’t have much time to exploit whoever is there. I’m already making Detroit this year’s sleeper, and there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon. This is a vastly improved team that won its last four starts — including one over Green Bay — and just beefed up an already impressive defensive line.
3. I’d beware of Houston, too, especially after it addressed a defense that ranked 29th in points allowed, 30th overall and 32nd vs. the pass. When you play in a division with Peyton Manning, those numbers will get you thumped — and Houston was, giving up 24 or more points in all but two games last season. So the Texans got smart and spent their first five picks on defense, the first three of whom (J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Brandon Harris) can step in and start now. Now, add them to a cast that includes Mario Williams, Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, and, suddenly, the Texans might be a playoff team waiting to happen.
4. Carolina GM Marty Hurney left San Diego three months before the Chargers made Ryan Leaf the second pick of the 1998 draft, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t pay attention to what happened then. He should. Hurney was mentored by former general manager Bobby Beathard while the two were in San Diego, and the Chargers’ failure to do their homework on Leaf fractured the club and forced Beathard into an early retirement. Leaf was talented, but he was immature, not ready for the next step, and just wondering: Does that sound like anyone Carolina just drafted? I know Hurney researched Cam Newton extensively, and he should have. Because if Newton flops, he can do to Hurney and the Panthers what Leaf did to San Diego and Beathard.