Surprise QB picks push down quality prospects

NEW YORK — The run on quarterbacks in the first half of the 2011 NFL Draft had another subtle effect: Two players selected earlier than many expected pushed players who otherwise would have gone higher down to the bottom of the round.

Four quarterbacks went in the first 12 picks, including surprise selections of Jake Locker (eighth to Tennessee) and Christian Ponder (12th to Minnesota). Among the players who were pushed down because of those picks were Ohio State DE Cam Heyward and Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod.

And the last two teams in the round — the Steelers at No. 31, and the Packers at No. 32 — were the beneficiaries. Pittsburgh grabbed Heyward; Green Bay got Sherrod. By most accounts, both were value picks.

“What a great pick,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of the Steelers adding Heyward. “He’s one of the toughest football players in the country. (Steelers GM) Kevin Colbert always pulls one out at the end of the first round.”

Added NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwan: “For the Packers and Steelers to get those guys without having to move picks is pretty impressive.”

Heyward was the record 12th defensive lineman taken in the draft (the most since 2003) and Sherrod the eighth offensive lineman, further proof how much teams value the front line, considered the most difficult area to address in the draft. A total of 20 of 32 first-round picks were linemen.

– Frank Tadych

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