As we trudge into this offseason of uncertainty, the only ray of light we know will illuminate the next few months is the NFL Draft. It may be held sans trades, it may be somewhat less of an event if agents and soon-to-be NFL players follow through on threats to boycott some of the festivities, but nonetheless it represents hope: hope for teams looking to improve or build upon last season, and hope that there will in fact be NFL football in 2011.
NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0 » NFL Mock Draft Version 2.0 »
1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The Panthers are out of Luck when it comes to a franchise quarterback, so new coach Ron Rivera will start building on the side of the ball he knows best. Da’Quan Bowers is a possibility as well, but ultimately expect Carolina to plant Fairley in the middle of their defense.
2. Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Champ Bailey is likely out in Denver, and the Broncos have a chance to replace him with the best corner in the draft. As an added bonus, Peterson is a dynamic return man as well. John Fox could also be tempted by Bowers as his next Julius Peppers.
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama
The Bills have many needs, but with no offensive lineman worthy of a top-three pick they’ll turn their attention to the other side of the ball. Dareus will give Buffalo the kind of playmaker along the defensive line they lost with the retirement of Aaron Schobel.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Few teams have as many scenarios for their pick as the Bengals. If Carson Palmer leaves, this could be Blaine Gabbert. If Cincy doesn’t bring back Jonathan Joseph, it could be Prince Amukamara. If Chad Ochocinco and Marvin Lewis don’t kiss and make up, however, it’s tough to see the Bengals passing on the draft’s premier pass catcher.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Unless the Cardinals find a veteran option—Kevin Kolb, Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb—to make things more palatable for Larry Fitzgerald, they almost have to go with a quarterback. Gabbert appears to be the best of a risky lot.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
It’s a draft heavy on defensive ends, and that’s certainly an area of need for the Browns so Bowers, Robert Quinn, or Cameron Jordan could come into play here. But because it’s such a loaded position, while wide receiver is not, the smarter move would be to take one of the two elite wideouts here and hope there’s still some defensive line help available later on.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Look for the Niners to resolve their quarterback position outside of the draft—maybe a trade with Tampa Bay for Josh Johnson, maybe the return of Alex Smith. That leaves the defense to address, and while they may have more of a need in the secondary Bowers has too much potential to leave on the board. Von Miller might also be an option.
8. Tennessee Titans: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The Titans turned over much of their coaching staff this offseason, and while they’re still looking for a quarterback it’s tough to see them going for any of the available options. A bookend for 2010 first-rounder Derrick Morgan would help ease the loss of defensive line coach Jim Washburn to Philadelphia. Linebacker Alden Smith will also draw consideration.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Cornerback is the Cowboys’ biggest need, but it’s not their only one. If Amukamara isn’t available Dallas could turn to Brandon Harris, or go a different route and address their offensive line with Tyron Smith or Anthony Castonzo.
10. Washington Redskins: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
There are plenty of coaches convinced they can mold Newton’s physical gifts into an NFL quarterback, and Mike Shanahan is certainly among them. If Cam’s meddling father scares the Skins off, expect them to dip in the deep defensive line pool where Cameron Jordan and J.J. Watt are still floating.
11. Houston Texans: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
The Texans’ secondary could use help, so Harris might be an option as well. But with a 3-4 set that has Brian Cushing coming off of one edge and Miller off the other brings enough pressure to cover up a whole lot of deficiencies in the defensive backfield.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
There’s talk of the Vikings trading this pick—up for a shot at Newton, to the Eagles for Kevin Kolb, or down to pick up an extra Day 2 selection. If they keep the selection there are still plenty of needs to address; why not have the pick of any o-lineman on the board so the next franchise quarterback won’t take a beating?
13. Detroit Lions: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Speaking of preventing your quarterback from taking a beating, the Lions have to take steps to keep Matthew Stafford from getting hit. There are defensive needs—pretty much everything after Ndamukong Suh could use an upgrade—but it’s time for Detroit to protect their investment in their franchise quarterback.
14. St. Louis Rams: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
What the Rams really need is for A.J. Green or Julio Jones to fall to them; there’s no receiver after those two who warrants a pick this high. If they can’t get the wideout they desire, Jordan is hardly a consolation prize. Put him on the same defensive line with Chris Long and Steve Spagnuolo will really be able to bring the heat.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
After failing to turn Chad Henne into Dan Marino, the Dolphins are going back to leaning heavily on the ground game. Despite the coaching staff’s ringing endorsement of Lex Hilliard, Miami needs more than just Lex to replace the ineffective (and likely to depart) tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
The Jaguars still need safety help, but unless they’re sold on Rahim Moore there’s nothing on the board. That leaves Jacksonville to address their other glaring need: a pass rusher. The good news is that this class is deep at defensive end, so even midway through the first round they can pick between the likes of Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan, and J.J. Watt.
17. New England Patriots (via OAK): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
While the Patriots likely expected the Raiders’ pick to be significantly better than this, they should still be able to address defensive needs. While CB Brandon Harris and OLB Aldon Smith are options, the Patriots will fittingly use the pick they got for Richard Seymour to select his replacement.
18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
If you’re counting that’s eight defensive linemen and three DEs in a row—and the Chargers aren’t even reaching for Heyward here, as he offers more upside than Allen Bailey or Christian Ballard. Other edge options—Ryan Kerrigan, Alden Smith—would be better fits at linebacker in San Diego’s defense; it wouldn’t be a shock if they went that route instead.
19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Plenty of mocks have the Giants adding offensive line help here, and if Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, or Derek Sherrod catch their fancy that’s certainly a route they could take. But the linebacking corps needs to get younger and more athletic, and Ayers is just the guy to help in that capacity.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
After spending two high picks on the defensive line last year the Bucs might be back for more and add Ryan Kerrigan on the outside. But with Josh Freeman emerging as a franchise quarterback, Tampa Bay needs to take steps to protect him. Their offensive line has underachieved the past two seasons, and with Sherrod, Tyron Smith and Nate Solder still on the board the Bucs have options; the pick here is Sherrod’s consistency over Smith’s raw potential.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Alden Smith, OLB, Missouri
Unless the Chiefs pursue receiver help like Torrey Smith or Jon Baldwin, this pick will address their defense. Smith could stay close to home and either bookend or replace potential free agent Tamba Hali. Justin Houston had success in the 3-4 scheme in college and was coached by a Romeo Crennel protege so he could be considered as well.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor
The Colts need someone who can step in immediately and help keep Peyton Manning upright. While Tyron Smith and Nate Solder have potential and are higher on most draft boards, Watkins impressed at the Senior Bowl and could move immediately into the Indy line. You’ll hear about his age (27), but he’s versatile enough to play either tackle (his college position) or guard (his most likely NFL destination) and fundamentally sound—just the kind of boring, solid draft pick the Colts are prone to making.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
With decent offensive line talent falling to them the Eagles may be tempted by Smith or Solder. But neither should dissuade them from adding the playmaking Harris to their secondary. Fellow corner Jimmy Smith is a little bigger and could receive consideration as well.
24. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The Saints need to generate some pass rush, and Kerrigan’s non-stop motor would fit in well opposite Will Smith. New Orleans could also go with running back Mikel LeShoure here if they opt not to bring back Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Corey Luiget, DT, Illinois
It’s easy to slot Jake Locker here, but after giving up what they did for Charlie Whitehurst it seems unlikely they’d spend a first-round pick on another quarterback to develop. That leaves Seattle to address needs on either line, with the defensive side narrowly winning out as Liuget gets the nod over Tyron Smith and Mike Pouncey.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
The Ravens need a field-stretcher, and Smith has the speed to do just that. He’s also a shade bigger than Titus Young and brings return skills to the table. However, Young’s post-season showing—which drew comparisons to the likes of DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace—might sway Ozzie Newsome away from the local kid.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Baldwin would give the Falcons a viable target opposite Roddy White, with the size to also fill Tony Gonzalez’s role as a middle-of-the-field security blanket. His stock is climbing, however, and if he runs well at the Combine he may not be an option this late in Round One.
28. New England Patriots: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Matt Light is aging and Logan Mankins may not be coming back, so the Patriots will be looking at offensive linemen throughout this draft. Bill Belichick may opt for the versatile Mike Pouncey, but Smith’s vast potential as a franchise left tackle makes him the more likely choice.
29. Chicago Bears: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
The Bears somehow cobbled together an adequate offensive line last year; now they have a real opportunity to give Mike Tice some talent to work with. Nate Solder is an option, but Pouncey has the versatility to play guard for now and eventually replace Olin Kreutz at center
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
The Jets are getting old along the defensive front, and they have a couple of very viable options in Baylor and Muhammad Wilkerson. It’s a toss-up as to whether Rex Ryan wants a more reliable nose tackle than oft-injured veteran Kris Jenkins or needs to plan for a future without Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
With massive offensive tackle Nate Solder still on the board, the Steelers have a dilemma: more protection for Ben Roethlisberger or secondary help for those times when the pass rush doesn’t reach the quarterback in time? Smith is a big (6-2, 205) corner, and if he runs well at the Combine it could make Pittsburgh’s decision easier—or push Smith off the board before the Steelers have a chance to take him.
32. Green Bay Packers: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Do the Packers draft Chad Clifton’s replacement or look to fill the void likely to be left by Cullen Jenkins? Solder is a better value at this point than Muhammad Wilkerson, and you know Ted Thompson is all about value. Thompson could also deal out of this spot (assuming there’s a CBA in place) with quarterbacks like Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker still on the board.