While the later picks will all change based on playoff finishes, here at BuffaLowDown we’re going to give it our best shot.
Without more filler, here it is.
1. Carolina Panthers–DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
The Panthers’ more pressing need would be interior defensive lineman, but I’m not sure that GM Marty Hurney would feel comfortable taking Nick Fairley this high. They already have a promising young pass rusher in Charles Johnson, who tallied 11.5 sacks this year. 2009 2nd round pick Everette Brown has shown flashes, but he needs to develop consistency. With Bowers listed at 280, he could also shift inside and play some snaps at the 3-technique (DT) with Brown taking over at end. If they can improve their D-line, they can get back to Panthers football: running the ball and stopping the run. It’s always tough to run when you pose little threat passing, but if the defense could keep games close, they should be able to run the ball more. This would take pressure off the overwhelmed Jimmy Clausen. WR A.J. Green would help, but he’s not the answer #1.
Quick side note: Owner Jerry Richardson proved why owners should be on lockdown around draft time. Before Luck announced his decision to return to Stanford, Richardson announced to the press that they would pick him. I have little faith in Clausen myself, but now it’s public that the organization doesn’t think much of Clausen and they can’t take Luck. This can’t be good for Jimmy’s confidence, who will most likely be the starter come next season.
2. Denver Broncos–DE/DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
The Broncos desperately need to beef up their front 3. The defense finished 31st against the run, 25th against the pass, and 32nd overall and in points against. That’s a defense that’s crying for reinforcements. With Champ Bailey’s contract done and Perrish Cox possibly going away for awhile, Patrick Peterson would make sense here, but Fairley fills two needs.
3. Buffalo Bills–CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
While defending the run has been our biggest problem this year, secondary is still a need whether most would like to believe it or not. We were 31st in passes attempted against us, which shows we weren’t really tested, despite being 3rd overall against the pass. McGee is always banged up, Florence is a free agent, and McKelvin has yet to prove he understands the mental aspects of the game. Peterson is one of those guys that can shut down half the field and is dynamic returning kicks. The media will rip the heck out of this pick, but it’s the right one.
Another side note: Buddy Nix has been around this situation before. When the Chargers were being built, they took CB Quentin Jammer 5th overall in 2002. The importance of an upper-echelon corner cannot be overstated, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is the pick. I would actually encourage it.
4. Cincinnati Bengals–DE/OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
I feel that Marvin Lewis is ready to tear this team down and start from scratch. Carson Palmer has been struggling, but Palmer is very close with management (how else would Jordan Palmer still be on an NFL roster?). The Bengals finished tied for 27th in the league in sacks and are looking for that consistent pass rusher. In my personal opinion, they won’t find him in Quinn, but he’ll blow up the combine and should be a high pick. A.J. Green is a possibility, considering that the T.Ocho Show will be no more in Cincinnati, but they took so many WRs last year. Sleeper: QB Cam Newton. I can see them taking him here, but Lewis is too defensive-minded.
5. Arizona Cardinals–QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
With all the QBs still on the board, Whisenhunt goes for the strong-armed Razorback. With a big-time receiver in Fitz, they go for a gun-slinger that isn’t afraid to sling it all over the field. They could use o-line and LB help, but Whisenhunt needs a QB that he feels can open up the offense. There are some character concerns, but I think he’ll be the pick.
6. Cleveland Browns–WR A.J. Green, Georgia
I think that they would like to consider RB Mark Ingram, but Hillis did enough to give him another chance as the starter (despite his fumbles) and Montario Hardesty hasn’t been healthy to show what he can do. If Mike Holmgren truly believes in Colt McCoy, he needs to get him a #1 WR. I love pairing a young QB with a young WR he can grow up with.
7. San Francisco 49ers–QB Cam Newton, Auburn
Coming off what could be a national title game MVP performance, the 49ers want to identify a signal caller that can win them games. In this situation, I feel it would come down to CB Prince Amukamara or Cam Newton. They really could use a corner, but there are too many untapped weapons on this offense. They rebuilt the o-line last year, and they need someone to get the ball to Crabtree, Davis, and Gore. The Niners need a spark on offense, and Newton could be what they are looking for.
Author’s Note: I played this out before the Harbaugh hiring was announced. Newton doesn’t really fit what Jim likes to do offensively and I think Locker or Amukamara would make more sense now given the circumstances. Either way, I’ll have this mock draft bank on Newton lighting it up and soaring up draft boards.
8. Tennessee Titans–QB Jake Locker, Washington
Surprise pick! Jeff Fisher loves hoarding defensive line help and Prince Amukamara is tempting at corner, but I think that NFL execs will start falling in love with Locker after workouts and interviews. The guy loves the game of football and is very team-oriented. After having such a rocky relationship with a selfish player like Young, this is a guy with all the intangibles a coach would like to work with. With Kerry Collins still doing his journeyman thing, they can buy some time while Locker is groomed to take over.
9. Dallas Cowboys–CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Jerry Jones and Co. are in shock that Prince falls to them. The Dallas secondary struggled mightily this season and needs help fast. Mike Jenkins had a down year, but I look for him to bounce back. By taking Prince, Terrence Newman can move to free safety. This fills two needs and would be a great fit for the Cowboys.
10. Washington Redskins–DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
The Shanahans seem to believe that Rex Grossman can get the job done for them, but I think they would pull the trigger on Locker if he’s available with this pick. They could use o-line help and a WR, but I feel they try to beef up their currently pathetic defense.
11. Houston Texans–CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida
The Texans secondary has been terrible this season. The Texans were hoping Amukamara would keep dropping, but he was already gobbled up by Dallas at 9. Jenkins is an athletic corner that Wade Phillips is going to need if he’s going to revamp this defense. Keep an eye on Marcell Dareus here too, considering that a switch to the 3-4 would leave a guy like Amobi Okoye somewhat displaced.
12. Minnesota Vikings–DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
It looks like the Williams Wall will be breaking up this off-season, which means the Vikings will be in the market for a DT. The only QB they would consider at this point would be Blaine Gabbert, but I don’t see it happening. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go after Vince Young come March to fill that void.
13. Detroit Lions–LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
By announcing that the team will not be retaining Julian Peterson, the team has to be targeting a LB. If one of those corners falls, they might be tempted, but they won’t reach for Brandon Harris at 13. The Lions are desperate for help at the 2nd level, and they use their 1st pick to address it.
14. Miami Dolphins–RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
It sounds like Ricky Williams will not be returning. Ronnie Brown’s contract negotiations have the potential to be difficult, considering his injury history. Mark Ingram Sr. played for the Fins for two seasons and bringing in his son would be a good fit.
15. St. Louis Rams–WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Similar to my A.J. Green argument from earlier, Sam Bradford needs the young #1 receiver to grow up in the league with. Between Blackmon (if he decides to come out) and Julio Jones, I personally think Blackmon has more potential to be dominant.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars–CB Brandon Harris, Miami (Fl.)
This is a reach, but it is by far the Jags biggest need. They really need help in the secondary so they go for the best corner prospect available. They might also consider S Rahim Moore, but that would be a bigger reach. Blaine Gabbert has a chance here, but I think that Garrard has shown enough this season to warrant another year.
17. New England Patriots (from OAK)–DE/DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
The Patriots don’t have many needs and would’ve been excited to land Ingram with this pick. They could probably give Tom Brady another target at WR, but Bill Belichick never misses an opportunity to improve his defensive line. Belichick and Saban go way back, and I think Nick will put in a good word.
18. San Diego Chargers–WR Jonanthan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
This is a complete luxury pick, considering the team was 1st in offense and 1st in defense. This gives A.J. Smith a lot of options now with the Vincent Jackson situation. It buys him leverage in negotiations now, and shipping him off won’t hurt as bad if that’s the direction they go in. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they traded out of this pick. Julio Jones is an option, but A.J. can’t resist 6’5″ WRs.
19. New York Giants–OLB Bruce Carter, North Carolina
The Giants are leaning towards taking an offensive lineman here, but they instead bolster their LB corps. Carter has all the physical attributes, he’s just not as aggressive as most would like. Bulluck is starting to show his age and Carter could learn from a savvy vet like Keith.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers–OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
The Bucs could use a LB, but Von Miller is a better fit for the 3-4. I’m not sure that I buy Larsen as a starter yet at LG. Pouncey can fill the void of Larsen’s predecessor Arron Sears, a promising guard that developed career-ending neurological problems due to a concussion. Pouncey can start Day 1 at guard and can also fill in at center when necessary.
21. Seattle Seahawks–DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
The Hawks need to add some interior offensive lineman, but they also need to add another pass rusher. Kerrigan is relentless at times and is considered a leader there at Purdue. They consider DT Drake Nevis here, but decide to go with the end.
22. Indianapolis Colts–OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
Bill Polian publicly admitted he should’ve taken OT Rodger Saffold instead of DE Jerry Hughes last season and tries to rectify it here. Carimi has poor footwork at times, but he’ll start somewhere on the offensive line. OT Nate Solder is also an option here, but the Colts opt for the more physical Carimi.
23. Green Bay Packers–RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
DeMarco can never stay healthy and GM Ted Thompson could stand to add depth to both trenches. Donald Driver is getting older, so Julio Jones would be solid as well. That all being said, the Packers need to find a way to run the ball and have to stop relying on small scat backs and big bruising FB/RBs. Murray adds return value and can catch passes out of the backfield. If he can stay healthy, the offense will have the kind of balance it needs.
24. Kansas City Chiefs–WR Julio Jones, Alabama
It’ll be interesting to see how the Chiefs handle the Tambi Hali situation. Despite his stats, the team made a point to re-sign fellow LB Derrick Johnson and I don’t believe they are in negotiations yet with Hali. If Hali walks compounded with Mike Vrabel’s age, OLB Von Miller would make sense here. If not, Pioli takes a guy that can take pressure off Dwayne Bowe and give Matt Cassel another target to open it up a bit.
25. Philadelphia Eagles–OG Orlando Franklin, Miami (Fl.)
Another team that could stand to add an OLB or a CB, there really isn’t any value here for either position. Andy Reid has a history of moving around on draft day, and this has trade down written all over it. If they stick, they add depth to their injury prone interior offensive line.
26. New York Jets–OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Out of Brad Smith, Braylon Edwards, and Santonio Holmes, I doubt they’ll be able to retain more than one of them. Mike Tannenbaum hopes a WR falls if this is the case, but none are worth this pick. The Jets struggled to apply consistent pressure this season as they have done in the past. They try to remedy that by going for the speed rusher off the edge in Miller.
27. New Orleans Saints–DT Drake Nevis, LSU
The Saints have talent on the defensive line with DE Will Smith and DT Sedrick Ellis. They could use another end or a tackle to throw into the mix. At 27th overall, Nevis provides the best value and would be a very good value pick here to improve against the run.
28. Chicago Bears–OT/OG DeMarcus Love, Arkansas
The Bears have been trying to run the ball a bit more, which hasn’t left the line as exposed. That line still needs a world of improvement, however. I feel the Bears are a team that went on an inflated run this year and shouldn’t be picking this high, but regardless you can’t criticize an 11-5 record too much. Despite that fact, they still have an opportunity to select a quality offensive lineman this late in Love. Love has played tackle, but I feel he could play well inside as well. (I have him rated much high on my big board than most sites project him). They think about OT Nate Solder here, but the Bears bring in the more physical Love.
29. Baltimore Ravens–CB Aaron Williams, Texas
The biggest need for Baltimore is their secondary and all of the top CBs are gone at this point. GM Ozzie Newsome would like to trade down, but if he can’t he goes for the athletic corner out of Texas. Williams has battled inconsistency at times, but scouts love talking about his upside. If Virginia CB/FS Ras-I Dowling can show he’s back to full speed after pre-draft workouts, he could creep back into the 1st round, but at this point it’s Williams. The Ravens could also use this pick on a tackle like Solder, enabling them to shift current right tackle Marshall Yanda back to guard (I don’t feel that Jared Gaither will return next season).
30. Pittsburgh Steelers–OT Nate Solder, Colorado
Solder has the measureables that talent evaluators love, but I think people will be scared off a bit come April. He is “soft” (though I don’t think the word can really ever be used when describing a football player, with the exception of maybe former Bill Mike Williams) and doesn’t like to maul defenders off the ball. He’s very, very athletic for a guy of his height (6’8″) and has quick feet. Pittsburgh would love to add an offensive lineman here, giving o-line coach Sean Kugler something to work with. He’s a risk-reward guy.
31. Atlanta Falcons–TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
Rudolph will first have to prove he’s healthy, considering his lengthy injury history. However, the Falcons have a lot of young talent everywhere. GM Thomas Dimitroff could go with an offensive lineman, considering their entire right side of the line is not under contract after this season. With Gonzo debating retirement and running out of gas, the Falcons look to the future and find Matty Ice another safety valve. They like Justin Peele, but he’s a solid back-up, not a starter.
32. New England Patriots–OT James Carpenter, Alabama
I think they trade down here, considering they pick again 33rd overall, thanks to the Panthers (for 2010 3rd rounder Armanti Edwards?! I mean hind-sight in 20/20, but you could tell it was dumb when it happened). They really have no holes in their line-up, except maybe a tackle to replace RT Sebastian Volmer, who will most likely move to LT for Matt Light (whose contract expires after the season). Most people are probably saying, “Are you out of your mind?” He’s projected to go 2nd-3rd round, and most think he’s not quick enough to play tackle, projecting him at guard. When you look at the tape though, he shuts guys down and is very physical against the run, the latter being a quality that Belichick loves in his offensive line. I’ve not shut up about the guy since September and, I’ll be honest, it’ll probably only get worse. Carpenter fits perfectly with what the Patriots do on offense and I think he’s off the board here if they keep the pick.
To recap, the 2011 draft has the look of a corner heavy 1st round, with offensive lineman not coming into play until late. Some snubs that will potentially work their way up: DE J.J. Watts, Wisconsin; OT Tyron Smith, USC; OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State; DE/DT Cameron Jordan, Cal; OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College; DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State; CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado;