With the Super Bowl in the books, the 2011 NFL Draft order is finally set. In other words, it’s begging to be mocked.
1. Carolina Panthers–DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
Newly minted HC Ron Rivera wants to implement a Cover 2 scheme in Carolina, which is predicated on creating pressure with your front four. The team’s top sack artist, Charles Johnson, tallied 11.5 sacks last season, but he’s a free agent and a decision will have to be made there. 2009 2nd round pick Everette Brown has a lot of upside, but he is yet to produce consistently. Fairly would provide a bigger impact because the Panthers desperately need interior line help, but personnel men tend to go for outside rushers when given the option.
2. Denver Broncos–CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
The Broncos need a lot of help at all three levels on defense and Elway sounds committed to it. There seems to be nothing set in stone as to whether or not the Broncos will shift to a 4-3 or remain a 3-4 team. If Bowers is still on the board, they may consider him here (although I feel that Robert Ayers is actually a better fit at 4-3 end). Nick Fairley fits in both schemes, but with Champ Bailey contract talks not going well and Perrish Cox possibly going away for a while, the Broncos will want to address the position. I view Syd’Quan Thompson as a potential starter, but he is not near the talent that Peterson is and I don’t see Elway passing on him. I have Peterson rated as the best overall prospect in this class.
3. Buffalo Bills–OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
With Fairley still on the board, Bills faithful breaks the sound barrier with its extensive profanity. Fairley’s negative reports regarding his work ethic and the fact that he doesn’t want to play in the cold will dissuade Bills brass from taking him 3rd overall. Despite his immense talent, I envision Ralph sitting in the draft room harping that he wants character guys, not players with a dirty reputation. As to why I believe they’ll take Miller, the stars are all aligned for him. Buddy Nix has said he likes players that have been productive their entire football lives. Von Miller has had all-American production at Texas A&M. Miller is also a very classy, personable guy that puts in the time in the weight room. He’ll kill the combine interviews. Chan also got the chance to coach him at the Senior Bowl and was glowing in his description of him. My gut tells me he’ll disappoint at the next level, but I still believe the Bills will take the athletic specimen that they view can take over games from the rush backer position.
4. Cincinnati Bengals–DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
Judging by their track record, the Bengals have Chief Wiggum doing background work on their prospects. I don’t believe the character issue will play a role in the Bengals’ decision-making process, but Fairley’s dominating performances in the big games certainly will. The Bengals need some beef up front and Fairley would be a good fit in Cincinnati. Fairley is a risk, but his talent level should make him a cornerstone of the franchise.
5. Arizona Cardinals–QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
The Cards are in dangerous territory right now. They’ve opened themselves up to a potentially detrimental situation by asking for WR Larry Fitzgerald’s opinion on the QB situation (as an attempt to convince him to stay with the team long-term). I think Fitz is an amazing player and possibly an even more amazing person, but it’s always dicey to start asking star players for their input. If they don’t listen to him, he may become miffed at management and push himself away from the team. With that in the back of GM Rod Graves’ mind, he also has to deal with the fact that he’s already whiffed on one 1st round QB in Matt Leinart (’06). He was able to cover that up with the sudden re-emergence of future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Gabbert is not even close to a Top 5 talent, but many view him as the best QB and that alone can slingshot him to the top of the draft. They might be able to tear Kolb away from the Eagles for a 2nd, but I feel that Graves goes for his QB in the 1st and picks up Marc Bulger to keep Fitz happy as a bridge QB. If it comes down between Mallett and Gabbert for the Cards, I doubt that Graves goes for the guy with a reputation of partying (see Leinart, Matt).
6. Cleveland Browns–WR A.J. Green, Georgia
This is a perfect fit for Cleveland and I’m sticking to it. Colt McCoy has already been announced as the starter for next season and Mike Holmgren gets his young QB a young go-to guy he can grow up with. The Browns have been collecting wide receivers for the past few seasons, including former Bulldog Mohamed Massaquoi (2nd in ’09) and Buckeye Brian Robiskie (also a 2nd in ’09). After two seasons, neither has established himself as a bona fide target. With a running game in place, a young left tackle and center combo, and an up and coming QB, Green has the potential to really open up the offense.
7. San Francisco 49ers–CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
The Niners could use a QB with so many young pieces on offense, but I think that new coach Jim Harbaugh knows the top QBs in this class and would rather wait things out this season. He has given a vote of confidence to Alex Smith, as well. On the other side of the ball is where the pick will likely be devoted. Nate Clements (a.k.a the Playmaker) has failed to live up to his contract (surprise, surprise). Shawntae Spencer teased fans in ’09 with some promising play, but he regressed this season. Sadly enough, Spencer is still probably the team’s best corner. Amukamara fills that huge void. The team could also use an OLB with Manny Lawson wanting an unwarranted payday. The best option here would be to stay in house and move S Taylor Mays to LB. He’s fast, physical, and can drop in coverage.
8. Tennessee Titans–QB Jake Locker, Washington
Despite inconsistencies out of younger players like Michael Griffen, I don’t view the defense as a unit that needs an overhaul as opposed to just more experience. The most glaring hole on this roster is the quarterback position and Locker will soar up draft boards over the next few months. I believe one of the biggest proponents of Kerry Collins just left the building in Jeff Fisher and Bud Adams will want his future QB in place asap.
9. Dallas Cowboys–DE/DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
The ‘Boys could stand to add an infusion of talent to their defensive front. With Jay Ratliff being a beast in the middle, Dareus would be daunting lined up next to him. Current starter Stephen Bowen is not a consistent presence on the field. Igor Olshansky had a very quiet season at the other end spot and appears to have lost a proverbial step.
10. Washington Redskins–DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
I’m tempted to put Robert Quinn here, given the fact that the ‘Skins really need to find another pass rusher opposite Brian Orakpo. However, their defensive line is among the worst in the league and it’s a major contributing factor as to why their defense was so statistically horrible last season. If Haynesworth is in a Redskins uni at the start of next season, that organization is even more dysfunctional than they get credit for. QB and WR are also needs, but I feel the Redskins want to fortify the defense a bit first. Clayborn can rush the passer from the 5-technique and has good versatility. He can play 4-3 end in a hybrid D as well. Adrian would be a solid young building block for the defense.
11. Houston Texans–CB Brandon Harris, Miami (Fl.)
Wade Phillips will want to push for a rush backer for his newly installed 3-4 (e.g. Aldon Smith/Robert Quinn). However, the Texans secondary was horrid last season, even with last year’s 1st rounder Kareem Jackson in the fold. This is a bit early for Harris, but the Texans are desperate and nab the U’s cover-man
12. Minnesota Vikings–DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
The Vikings would have liked Locker to fall, but they won’t reach for Mallett or Newton. The Vikings could use some offensive line help or a corner to fill in for the oft-injured Cedric Griffin. The Vikings love collecting defensive line talent, though. Despite Ray Edwards productive season at LE, he’s going to want to get paid this off-season (which I doubt will happen). DT Pat Williams is probably leaving as well, but there isn’t a DT worth this pick. Minnesota decides to roll the dice on a freakish athlete.
13. Detroit Lions–OT Nate Solder, Colorado
If Brandon Harris is still on the board, the Lions will have to consider him. OLB Akeem Ayers would fill a big need as well. However, it’s time they started protecting their investment. Matthew Stafford has not been able to stay healthy and large part of that is a result of poor offensive line play, considering he’s not the only Lions QB that got beat up this season. Without an offensive line, all the 1st round offensive talents this team has accumulated will struggle to remain consistently productive (Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Jahvid Best). Solder will allow Jeff Backus to move inside to his natural position at guard and improve two positions with one pick.
14. St. Louis Rams–WR Julio Jones, Alabama
Similar to my argument for the Browns, the Rams need to find that young go-to for Sam Bradford. They have some “almost” guys, meaning they show some potential but their either inconsistent or injured. Donnie Avery has the speed to burn, but he’s undersized and is coming off an injury. Mark Clayton started shrugging off the bust label he carried in Baltimore, but he also got injured last season and lacks the speed and consistent hands to be a true #1. Danario Alexander is a #4 receiver, in my opinion. Mardy Gilyard is a sleeper that I like, but he was unable to find the field last season. Julio Jones fills that need.
15. Miami Dolphins–RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
Running back is a big need for the green and orange. Ricky Williams is a free agent and sounds displeased with the organization as a whole. Ronnie Brown is a talented guy when healthy, but he never is. Despite lacking great speed, he possesses rare balance and has good vision. He’s a good fit for the Dolphins offensive scheme and I feel that Mark will follow in his father’s footsteps and suit up in Miami.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars–DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
The Jaguars secondary is suspect to say the least and debate reaching for Aaron Williams here. In the end, this team’s best pass rushers are their interior lineman. They need a consistent threat on the outside. Defensive ends can make the secondary look better and Kerrigan has a non-stop motor.
17. New England (from OAK)–OLB Justin Houston, Georgia
This is a bit high for Houston, but he’ll test well and Bill Belichick has no qualms about taking his guys regardless of status. The Patriots are such a talented team, but they could really use a pass rusher. Another need is WR, but with Julio Jones off the board, I don’t view Jonathan Baldwin as a guy that would fit the selfless attitude he loves in his players. When interviewing players, he’ll occasionally put on some bad tape and ask him what happened. He’ll prod him a bit, trying to discover how the player will react to the situation. If the guy rips a teammate or coaches, Belichick just got his answer as to how he’ll respond. Baldwin has already ripped the Pitt coaching staff and I doubt he’ll shake that off enough for Bill to consider him, despite his ability.
18. San Diego Chargers–DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Being arguably the NFL’s most talented team, the Chargers have the luxury of taking pretty much whoever they’d like. In my first mock, I viewed Jonathan Baldwin as a good fit here. He’s tall (6-5), talented, and the Chargers would love some leverage with the Vincent Jackson situation. However, with Watt still on the board, the Chargers try to add some impact to their front. Their starters are serviceable, but some view Watt as a potentially dominant 3-4 end.
19. New York Giants–OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
Personally, I view Ayers as a “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” player (see Williams, Mike). However, many view him as a future playmaker at the next level. The Giants need an influx of talent in their LB core. Michael Boley is solid at the other OLB spot, but Keith Bulluck isn’t getting any younger and this team could use some young blood on the second level of the defense.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers–OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
I don’t believe they’ll pass on Ayers if he falls, but instead they are focusing in on taking the top interior lineman. I’m not sure that I buy Ted 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. Kansas City Chiefs–OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri
The Chiefs have some young talent all over the board that they are trying to develop. This pick could be Aaron Williams to fill in for the inconsistent Brandon Carr, but Smith can be groomed to take over for Mike Vrabel. Vrabel provides leadership, but he makes little impact as a pass rusher at this point in his career. For the 3rd time, I will mentioned Jonathan Baldwin as a potential landing spot here. The Chiefs really need another WR to open up the offense, but Baldwin isn’t the type of player that Scott Pioli goes for.
22. Indianapolis Colts–OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
It’s amazing how successful this team has been with their offensive line. They need an offensive tackle badly, and Castonzo should be able to answer the call. I view him as a right tackle, but some feel he can play the left side. That would allow for Charlie Johnson to move back to the right side.
23. Philadelphia Eagles–OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
The Eagles inability to protect the blindside of Mike Vike played a large role in their dismantling towards the end of the season. Winston Justice was exposed as a turnstile and was benched in the game against the Packers. The interior offensive line is injury prone and can’t make it through a half a season together. To belabor the point, the team need offensive line help. While the interior is more pressing, Pouncey is really the only player worth this pick. With him off the board, the team addresses the tackle position. While Carimi can have lapses in pass protection, he’s a good run blocker and can get some push (when the runs are to his side, but that’s a topic for another day). With Mike’s blindside being the right side, I believe Jason Peters should move to right tackle and have Carimi then play left, but either way they could use another tackle.
24. New Orleans Saints–DE Cameron Jordan, California
The Saints employ heavier defensive ends in their 4-3 defense. Last season, they were unable to replace the departure of Charles Grant. Will Smith had a down year as well. Cam projects better in a 3-4, but he has the pass rushing ability to play in both schemes. He could also shift inside to defensive tackle on some downs.
25. Seattle Seahawks–DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
The Seahawks could use another corner to play across Marcus Trufant, but defensive tackle is a bigger need. They could also use a defensive end, but the Jags already snatched away Kerrigan. I couldn’t decide which DT would fit their needs more, either Paea, Liuget, or Nevis. They could use some beef up front, but I feel they opt for the pass rusher in Paea. He’s undersized and can be a liability against the run, but the ‘Hawks are desperate to find a pass rush from someone not named Chris Clemons.
26. Baltimore Ravens–CB Aaron Williams, Texas
The Ravens’ biggest need is cornerback and they nab Aaron Williams with the 26th pick. He’s a bit inconsistent, but he has athleticism and the raw tools you want in a corner. Josh Wilson made some plays at the end of the season, but Chris Carr is more of a nickel guy and Fabian Washington is coming off an injury. Ozzie Newsome is excited one of the top 4 guys fell to 26.
27. Atlanta Falcons–TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
I still feel that the Falcons are going to start developing a tight end to replace Gonzo when he retires. It is such a crucial position in the Falcons offense and Matty Ice needs that safety valve. Justin Peele is solid depth, but Rudolph is the best tight end in the class and has a chance at becoming a weapon to work the middle of the field.
28. New England Patriots–RB Mikel LeShoure, Illinois
The Patriots are great at finding veteran players to plug into roles. However, even though the Laurence Maroney pick didn’t work out the way he anticipated, Belichick wouldn’t mind having a full-time back. Benjarvus Green-Ellis will probably still get his goal-line carries, but LeShoure can pack a punch in short yardage situations, as well.
29. Chicago Bears–OT Tyron Smith, USC
Mike Martz covered up his poor offensive line by running the ball much more than he likes to. It got them to an NFC Championship game, but that’s like having Dick LeBeau suddenly employing a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Eventually, he’ll want to be aggressive and open the offense back up. It all starts with the offensive line.
30. New York Jets–WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
There is not a very good chance that the Jets will be able to retain Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. Baldwin would provide a tall target for Mark Sanchez and can fill the role of Braylon Edwards (who I feel is less likely to get a new deal). The Jets try to add another weapon on offense and Baldwin fits the bill. Being a late 1st rounder, they could also get him at a reasonable price for five seasons.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers–OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi
Sherrod probably isn’t worth a 1st round pick, but the Steelers biggest need is on their offensive line. Sherrod isn’t consistent in pass protection, but he could man the right tackle spot. I believe that Jonathan Scott (sound familiar?) is probably best suited for right tackle, but the organization feels he’s shown some promise at the left spot this past season.
32. Green Bay Packers–DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
This is a team that truly has everything and are deep at just about every position. The Packers are built to win for the next few seasons with the talent level they have. They would possibly look at another tackle here with Clifton aging, but there really is no value at this point. Cullen Jenkins is a free agent and will likely break the bank if the sides reach an agreement, which may be tough to do. Heyward could add to the rotation and should develop into a starter with some athleticism.