The Combine is over, the CBA has been extended... slowly but unsurely we’re moving towards the 2011 football season. And while the whens and whos and hows of free agency have yet to be determined, teams know that there will still be a draft in April. Here’s our latest stab at just how April 28th might play out.
NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0 » NFL Mock Draft Version 1.0 »
1. Carolina Panthers: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Previous mock: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Indications are that the Panthers have narrowed their choices down to Bowers, who could replace what they lost when Julius Peppers, and Cam Newton. New coach Ron Rivera is a defensive guy, there are still plenty of questions about how pro-friendly Newton’s game is, and unless Rob Chudinski holds sway in the draft room and can convince the front office he can develop Newton... Bowers is the safer pick.
2. Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Previous mock: Peterson
Fairley or Marcell Dareus could be the pick, as the Broncos would love to beef up their defensive line. But even though Champ Bailey re-signed he can’t play forever. Peterson is an elite talent who can contribute immediately as a return man and eventually take over Bailey’s role as a shut-down corner.
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama
Previous mock: Dareus
Newton’s tempting, Fairley’s tempting, the offensive line needs help. It wouldn’t be a shock if Chan Gailey rolled the dice with Newton, but with all the defensive brainpower he’s added to the Bills’ coaching staff he needs to give them something to work with.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Previous mock: Green
A final olive branch to Carson Palmer? “Come back, here’s a new receiver who (maybe) won’t go diva on you.” Cincy could go the other way as well, trusting Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson and replacing Palmer with Newton or Blaine Gabbert.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Previous mock: Gabbert
The Cardinals still need a quarterback, though a trade for Kevin Kolb or the aforementioned Palmer wouldn’t be a complete shock. Newton could enter the discussion here as well, but it just feels like through these first few picks every time you stack Newton up against filling another need Cam’s question marks make him the bridesmaid.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Previous mock: Jones
Jones’ sparking showing at the Combine—with a broken foot, no less—ensures he’s off the board early. The Browns have promised to add firepower, and Jones does exactly that.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Previous mock: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Amukamara answered any lingering questions about his speed with a fast 40 at the Combine, so unless Jim Harbaugh wants to take on the education of Cam Newton look for the Niners to upgrade their secondary here.
8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Previous mock: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Another team with quarterback needs passing on Newton? If the Titans don’t go the trade/free agency route, they could add a Colin Kaepernick (or even Ryan Mallett) in the second round. With Fairley the Titans can replace what they had in Albert Haynesworth—maybe without the head games?
9. Dallas Cowboys: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Previous mock: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
With the elite corners off the board, the Cowboys will partake of the plethora of defensive line talent in this draft. Options include Cameron Jordan and Adrian Clayborn, but Watt is the best fit for what Dallas’ defense wants to do.
10. Washington Redskins: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Previous mock: Newton
Mike Shanahan made Elway (just ask him—Shanny, not Elway), and he’d love a crack at Newton. Plus, he carries enough weight in the draft room to convince the front office Newton’s potential outweighs his question—and, presumably, the coaching acumen to bring that potential out.
11. Houston Texans: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Previous mock: Miller
By all rights Miller should be off the board by now, but you won’t catch the Texans complaining. He gives them the edge rusher their new 3-4 desires. Miller or Mario Williams: who ya gonna block?
12. Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Previous mock: Castonzo
If this is how the draft board plays out, the Vikings will have no problem trading down—though there isn’t much to trade up for, unless some team has a hankering for Mark Ingram. Not that Castonzo is a consolation prize; the Vikings could use him to fill any number of holes along their offensive line.
13. Detroit Lions: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Previous mock: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Can Detroit pass on yet another opportunity to protect their investment in frequently-injured franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford? They do here, opting instead to shore up the back end of what is turning into a pretty good defense.
14. St. Louis Rams: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Previous mock: Jordan
Another trade candidate: if the Rams can’t move up to get Green or Jones, they may just move back and pick up an extra pick. Staying at 14 they take Jordan, who gives them flexibility along the defensive line and Chris Long a running mate.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Previous mock: Ingram
Which is the bigger smokescreen, the many mocks pencilling in Ryan Mallett or another quarterback as the Dolphins’ pick, or word out of Miami that they’d be perfectly happy with Lex Hilliard as the workhorse in an offense that’s run the ball more than 1,400 times over the past three years.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Previous mock: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
The Jaguars are another team linked to Mallett; yeah, the last time they drafted an Arkansas quarterback worked out so well for them. That leaves them to address the pass rush, and a variety of ways to do so. Concerns about Clayborn’s health status (the Erb’s palsy he’s played with throughout his career) may bump him out of the first round, though after being suspended all of last season Quinn certainly has questions of his own to answer. Ryan Kerrigan may end up being the default pick here.
17. New England Patriots (via OAK): Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Previous mock: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The Patriots have been known to follow a draft board entirely their own, with obvious success. They could dip into the offensive line talent pool here, but they’d be more inclined to look for a playmaking linebacker or some help along the defensive line. They’d love to see Watt or Cameron fall here, but in lieu of that New England upgrades the edge rush.
18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Previous mock: Heyward
This draft is loaded with defensive ends, so even in the back end of the draft the Chargers can upgrade their defensive front with Ironhead’s kid. And if he’s not their cup of tea, the likes of Adrian Clayborn, Allen Bailey, and Christian Ballard are still on the board.
19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Previous mock: Ayers
The Giants have two main areas to address: offensive line and linebackers. While they could tap into the remaining tackles, they’re more likely to take interior help later on. That leaves Ayers—or perhaps Justin Houston—as the pick here.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Previous mock: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Bucs, like many other teams, need to upgrade their pass rush. With a quality pair of young defensive tackles inside, the talents of a rush end should be maximized without worry of facing a double team. Clayborn and Ryan Kerrigan both have their question marks, but either would be a helper to the Tampa Bay defense.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Previous mock: Alden Smith, OLB, Missouri
It feels like a reach to give the Chiefs a receiver here; certainly they’d be perfectly happy with Titus Young or Leonard Hankinson in the second round. Houston has experience in a Rome Crennel-style 3-4 system and gives them a bookend—or eventual replacement for—Tamba Hali.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Previous mock: Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor
The Colts are about to invest the GNP of a small country in Peyton Manning; while there are needs along the defensive line and players such as Corey Liuget still on the board, the smart move for the franchise is keeping Manning upright for the remainder of his contract. Carimi can play the left side, allowing Charles Johnson to kick inside to guard and upgrade the line at two positions.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Previous mock: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
The Eagles would be inclined to deal down at this point, maybe to someone looking for one of the remaining tackles or quarterbacks. They can upgrade their offensive line with a player more their style (like Marcus Cannon) later on; same goes for an athletic linebacker (Martez Wilson). That leaves cornerback, and while Philly would much rather have Brandon Harris fall to them, Williams isn’t a bad consolation prize.
24. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Previous mock: Kerrigan
One of the Saints’ few areas of need is an improved pass rush, and with Kerrigan still on the board he’s an obvious choice.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Corey Luiget, DT, Illinois
Previous mock: Luiget
The talk about Jake Locker sticking in-state will only grow if Matt Hasselbeck remains unsigned, but taking him here would be an admission that trading for Charlie Whitehurst was a mistake—and head coaches don’t admit to making mistakes. With both Tyron Smith and Nate Solder still on the board, there’s a chance Seattle could opt to address their other line.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Previous mock: Smith
This decision might boil down to who Ozzie Newsome thinks he can get in the second round: a stretch-the-field receiver (Jerrel Jernigan, Titus Young, Randall Cobb); or a left tackle (Derrick Sherrod, Orlando Franklin), with Michael Oher better suited for the right side and Jared Gaither both a free agent and an injury risk.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor
Previous mock: Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
The Falcons would still love a receiver to complement Roddy White, but sixty percent of their offensive line hits free agency. Watkins could play either guard or right tackle—not coincidentally, the three spots Atlanta might need to fill.
28. New England Patriots: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Previous mock: Smith
At this point Smith is a value pick, which is exactly what the Patriots love. His ability to transition to the left side is uncertain, but either way he’s a big, athletic tackle who can help keep Tom Brady’s jersey clean.
29. Chicago Bears: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
Previous mock: Pouncey
There’s a good chance another team values Pouncey enough to take him off the board prior to this pick, but if he’s there he’s a no-brainer for the Bears. Mike Tice made a silk purse out of sow’s ears last year; now he’ll have some talent to work with.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Previous mock: Taylor
The Jets fans gathered for the draft might prefer bench-press champion Stephen Paea, but Taylor is a better fit for the nose tackle in Rex Ryan’s defense.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Clint Boling, OG/OT, Georgia
Previous mock: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
While the Steelers would love to reunite the Pouncey brothers, that appears unlikely. And unless they’re sold on Jimmy Smith’s character they’ll get the best value and fit from this pick with Boling, who could start for them right away at guard or tackle.
32. Green Bay Packers: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Previous mock: Solder
Despite his great Combine showing, Solder is still on the board—in part because he’s almost too tall. The Packers won’t worry about that; they see Solder as a guy who can replace Chad Clifton and team with Bryan Bulaga to keep Aaron Rodgers out of harm’s way.