The NFL put a different twist and flavor on the 2011 edition of its annual draft. It not only invited 25 rookies and their families to attend the festivities in New York, but also saluted the men and women in the military, fans, and involved former greats and Hall of Famers to introduce the draftees when selected.

Cam Newton became the 10th Heisman Trophy winner since 1967 to be selected with the first overall pick. Other football greats who are in this very select club include O.J. Simpson (’69), Jim Plunkett (’71), Earl Campbell (’78), Billy Sims (’80), George Rogers (’81), Bo Jackson (’86), Vinny Testaverde (’87), Carson Palmer (’03) and the Rams’ Sam Bradford (’10).

In the first round, there were 15 juniors drafted: three wide receivers, three defensive tackles, two quarterbacks, three defensive ends, one defensive back, one running back, one linebacker and one offensive tackle. A total of 43 juniors were drafted overall. When one looks at the last several drafts, the juniors have made the early rounds extremely attractive by producing a bevy of blue players, who are both playmakers and difference-makers.

On another front, Mike Ditka can rest assured that the debacle of a trade he approved while with the New Orleans Saints — trading away his entire 1999 draft for Ricky Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Texas — has been topped. The Atlanta Falcons’ general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, mortgaged the future of his organization by trading up from the No. 27 slot to No. 6 and sacrificing 2011 second- and fourth-round picks, as well as first- and fourth-round selections in 2012, for the right to pair Julio Jones with Roddy White at the receiver position.

Oh, Tommy, my friend. Being the good soldier he is, he will take one for the team and be blamed for the trade. He is from the Bill Belichick tree and never gives picks away, but rather accrues picks for the future. I’m sure (but have not confirmed) that owner Arthur Blank was behind that dumbfounding decision, as a source told me that was a “Home Depot” move.

Let’s go through every pick made involving the division that is of the most importance to this region, the NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals

1st round, No. 5: CB Patrick Peterson, Louisiana State

2nd round, No. 38: RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech

3rd round, No. 69: TE Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic

4th round, No. 103: DE/LB Sam Acho, Texas

5th round, No. 136: FB Anthony Sherman, Connecticut

6th round, No. 171: LB Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina

6th round, No. 184 (from Tampa Bay through Philadelphia): DT David Carter, UCLA

7th round, No. 249: WR DeMarco Sampson, San Diego State

Team total: 8

San Francisco 49ers

1st round, No. 7: LB Aldon Smith, Missouri

2nd round, No. 36 (from Denver): QB Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

3rd round, No. 80 (from Jacksonville): CB Chris Culliver, South Carolina

4th round, No. 115: RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

5th round, No. 163 (from Green Bay): G Daniel Kilgore, Appalachian State

6th round, No. 182 (from Jacksonville): WR Ronald Johnson, Southern Cal

6th round, No. 190: S Colin Jones, TCU

7th round, No. 211: FB Bruce Miller, Central Florida

7th round, No. 239: G Mike Person, Montana State

7th round, No. 250: CB Curtis Holcomb, Florida A&M

Team total: 10

Seattle Seahawks

1st round, No. 25: T James Carpenter, Alabama

3rd round, No. 75 (from Detroit): G John Moffitt, Wisconsin

4th round, No. 99 (from Denver through New England): LB K.J. Wright, Mississippi State

4th round, No. 107 (from Detroit): WR Kris Durham, Georgia

5th round, No. 154 (from Kansas City through Detroit): CB Richard Sherman, Stanford

5th round, No. 156: S Mark LeGree, Appalachian State

6th round, No. 173 (from Detroit): CB Byron Maxwell, Clemson

7th round, No. 205: DE Lazarius Levingston, Louisiana State

7th round, No. 242: LB Malcolm Smith, Southern Cal

Team total: 9

St. Louis Rams

1st round, No. 14: DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

2nd round, No. 47: TE Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin

3rd round, No. 78: WR Austin Pettis, Boise State

4th round, No. 112: WR Greg Salas, Hawaii

5th round, No. 158 (from Atlanta): S Jermale Hines, Ohio State

7th round, No. 216: CB Mikail Baker, Baylor

7th round, No. 228: LB Jabara Williams, Stephen F. Austin

7th round, No. 229 (from Atlanta): S Jonathan Nelson, Oklahoma

Team total: 8

The Rams got blasted, both locally by fans and nationally from draftniks, for their second-round pick of Kendricks. I feel that the Rams either overgraded him or reached by selecting him a round too high. With that being said, I still like this player; he adds value and a different dimension than what is currently on the roster. Kendricks is a good athlete who aligns in several spots (inline, slot, wide, motion tight end) with natural receiving skills and has the ability to catch outside his frame with soft hands.

I had the following players ranked higher on the Softli Draft Board, regardless of need. These players were still on my board when the Rams picked Kendricks.

DT Marvin Austin: New York Giants, No. 52

S Jaiquawn Jaiquawn: Philadelphia, No. 54

RB Shane Vereen: New England, No. 56

RB Mikel Leshoure: Detroit, No. 57

WR Greg Little: Cleveland, No. 59

RB Daniel Thomas: Miami, No. 62

WR/RS Randall Cobb: Green Bay, No. 64

DT Terrell McClain: Carolina, No. 65

LB Martez Wilson: New Orleans, No. 72

OG Will Rackley: Jacksonville, No. 76

It will be interesting to track the playing time, production and Pro Bowls for the aforementioned players over the next three years. The Rams had huge needs in the area of running back, wide receiver, defensive back, outside linebacker, kick returner, defensive tackle and guard going into the draft and did a good job filling some. Reality, however, dictates that you can’t fill them all.

The 49ers and Cardinals still don’t have a quarterback as they move forward. Yet there are rumors by the Bay of an Alex Smith return, which would allow Kaepernick a chance to learn and grow under Smith and head coach Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage.

Seattle is in a similar situation, but a different boat. The Seahawks find themselves with a hole in the side of the boat, and the sump pumps removing the water are not working fast enough. The prospect of incumbent starter Charlie Whitehurst at the helm is a frightening one for everyone in that organization.

2011 NFC West rookies to watch

Arizona: Peterson, Williams

San Francisco: Smith

St. Louis: Quinn, Kendricks, Pettis, Salas