One big question that loomed over the 2011 NFL draft is about free agency. In most years, you have two layers of needs. The first layer is the one you seek to fill during free agency: Where can you use a veteran to plug a gap for a year or two? What position just needs a little more experience? Then there's the draft layer: Do we need to fill an obvious need we couldn't hit in free agency? If we filled a need in free agency, does that allow us to totally maximize value?
So this year, trying to gauge impact from rookies -- as we did yesterday with Round 1 -- is particularly difficult. If your team drafted a quarterback in Round 1, but has a shot at grabbing a veteran in free agency and does, the situation is totally altered. So keep that in mind as we look deeper at potential early-impact guys from the later rounds; when the lockout is finally lifted, things will certainly shift.
The impact: This pick surprised some people, given that the Cardinals do have some other backs on the roster -- Beanie Wells, for instance, is still just 22 and was taken in Round 1 in 2009 -- but those backs, and the blocking in front of them, still "led" to a last-place rushing attack in 2010. The Cardinals scratched out just 86.8 yards per game on the ground. Now they have Williams, who offered Round 1 value, and has the explosiveness to break off big runs. He could be the starter in Week 1.
The hurdle: Who will be playing quarterback? I expect the Cardinals to be aggressive in the trade market (or free agency), but if they don't land a quality arm, you're coming back with a pass offense that was 31st in the NFL. Williams will be limited, as were the other Cardinals backs, if teams can just stuff the box, unafraid of the passing game.