While NFL football in 2011 may still be up in the air, at least we know we’ll have a draft. And with the potential window for any sort of free agency prior to Draft Day rapidly closing, teams may be taking a different approach to the selection process. Here’s a third take at what might transpire in prime time on April 28.
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1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Previous mocks: Da’Quan Bowers, Nick Fairley
Until Bowers clears medically—which should happen at his pro day April 4—it’s impossible to slot him at the top of the board. Following the standard blueprint, a new coach (Ron Rivera) wants a new quarterback to build his team around. And at present it sounds like Gabbert has a leg up on Cam Newton.
2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Previous mocks: Patrick Peterson
The Broncos are dropping hints they’re looking at quarterbacks; that seems unlikely, unless they’re dealing both Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow—or John Elway is coming out of retirement. With a choice between the two safest bets on the board, the Broncos opt to fill a need along their new 4-3 defensive front.
3. Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Previous mocks: Marcell Dareus
The Bills have so many needs, but the pairing of Newton with Chan Gailey—who loves mobile quarterbacks—is building momentum. If Gailey made Tyler Thigpen a viable NFL quarterback in Kansas City, just think what he can do with Newton’s prodigious athletic gifts.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Previous mocks: Green
Carson Palmer may or may not be back in Cincinnati, but it’s all but certain neither Terrell Owens nor Chad Ochocinco will be wearing the stripes in 2011. Whomever is playing quarterback will need someone besides Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell to throw to.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Previous mocks: Blaine Gabbert
It appears that if/when the lockout lifts the Cardinals are willing to fill their gaping quarterback void with a veteran plug-in like Marc Bulger. That, in turn, allows them to address their pass rush with Miller.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Previous mocks: Jones
There are still several very good defensive linemen on the board, but Mike Holmgren needs to add offensive weaponry.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Previous mocks: Prince Amukamara, Da’Quan Bowers
The Niners wind up with probably the best player on the board with the seventh overall pick. He’ll complement, then replace Nate Clements while contributing immediately in the return game.
8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Previous mocks: Fairley, Robert Quinn
With no quarterback option left on the board, the Titans look to replace the talent of Albert Haynesworth without the attitude and head games of Albert Haynesworth.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Previous mocks: J.J. Watt, Amukamara
Several options here for the Cowboys, who could dip into the deep defensive end pool for Watt. But with one of the elite corners still left on the board, Dallas opts to shore up the back end of their defense.
10. Washington Redskins: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Previous mocks: Cam Newton
Unless Mike Shanahan is really sold on developing Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker, he’s not going to go quarterback here. There’s not an obvious selection here; several players, including J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith would all make sense. But Bowers has been on the board far too long and if his knee checks out Jim Haslett can find a place to play him.
11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Previous mocks: Von Miller
With neither elite corner left on the board, the Texans’ best bet to improve their pass defense is to upgrade the pass rush. Justin Houston and Brandon Harris could also draw consideration.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Previous mocks: Anthony Castonzo
The Vikings would love to deal down and pick up an extra second-day selection, and there are some players—J.J. Watt, Mark Ingram—who may be coveted. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots, who hold six picks in the first three rounds and may not have enough room on their roster for that much young talent, package a couple picks to move up for a shot at Cameron Jordan. If the Vikings hold the selection, they could go with an offensive lineman or a pass rusher. After giving them the best tackle in the draft the past two mocks, this time we give them an end to complement Jared Allen.
13. Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Previous mocks: Brandon Harris, Gabe Carimi
Tyron Smith is a popular mock draft pick for the Lions, but while Smith’s ceiling may be higher than Castonzo’s the Lions need someone who can step in right away and help keep Matt Stafford upright.
14. St. Louis Rams: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Previous mocks: Jordan
The Rams are still hopeful, though not necessarily optimistic, that A.J. Green or Julio Jones slip to them. Barring that, there should be some defensive help still on the board and Jordan would give Steve Spagnuolo options along the defensive line.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Previous mocks: Ingram
Yes, the Dolphins are in the market for a quarterback. They also like to run the ball almost 500 times a year and with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams unlikely to return they’ll need more than Lex Hilliard to shoulder that load.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Previous mocks: Robert Quinn, Adrian Clayborn
Unless the Jaguars feel the need to dip into the Arkansas quarterback pool again, this pick is bound to boil down to Kerrigan and Clayborn. Kerrigan’s motor gives him the nod here.
17. New England Patriots (via OAK): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Previous mocks: Aldon Smith, Watt
It’s tough to see Watt slipping to the back half of the first round, especially with teams in the early teens willing to shop their pick and plenty of 3-4 defenses looking for a five technique DE. The Patriots have the picks to package and move up if necessary, so one way or another they’re bound to get their guy.
18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Previous mocks: Heyward
Unless the Chargers fall in love with a linebacker like Akeem Ayers or Justin Houston, they’ll pick from a deep pool of defensive ends that includes Heyward, Jabaal Sheard, and Allen Bailey.
19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Previous mocks: Ayers
It would be a reach to take Mike Pouncey or Danny Watkins here, plus the Giants could get interior help a round or two later. Ayers might be a slight reach as well, but he fills a need and the linebacker class isn’t nearly as deep as the o-line class.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Previous mocks: Clayborn, Derek Sherrod
Pass rush is still the Bucs’ top priority. If they have someone other than Clayborn in mind, they could move up to the early teens as there should be several defensive ends still on the board and teams willing to move back. If trading up isn’t an option, Clayborn and Justin Houston are the Bucs’ most likely bets.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Previous mocks: Aldon Smith
The Chiefs could be in the market for defensive line help or a running mate for Dwayne Bowe, but both of those needs can be filled on Day Two. Houston gives Romeo Crennel something to work with defensively, even if Tamba Hali leaves via free agency.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Previous mocks: Carimi, Danny Watkins
There’s talk that with Reggie Wayne entering the last year of his contract and the Colts adverse to giving big money to aging players, Indy might be in the market for a wideout. Unless A.J. Green or Julio Jones falls here, the Colts can wait until Day Two to find a pass-catcher; the first priority will be to keep Peyton Manning upright so he can throw to whomever Indy lines up at wide receiver.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Previous mocks: Aaron Williams, Harris
Philly can find the type of wide-bodied offensive lineman they favor later in the draft; here, they have a shot at a solid corner to shore up their secondary.
24. New Orleans Saints: Corey Luiget, DT, Illinois
Previous mocks: Ryan Kerrigan
Unless the Saints view Jabaal Sheard as a first-round option, the top tier of pass rushers in this year’s class have been depleted at this juncture. That wouldn’t be a stretch, but Gregg Williams wouldn’t mind adding Luiget to the middle of his defense, either.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Previous mocks: Corey Luiget
Was Charlie Whitehurst so bad that Seattle is already willing to write him off as a waste of a second-round pick and a ton of money? This could be a spot where some of the quarterback-needy teams who passed the first time through might trade back up for Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, or Christian Ponder; otherwise, Seattle has multiple options to upgrade their offensive line. Pete Carroll eschewed several of his former USC players last year, but this time around Smith’s upside as a Walter Jones-esque franchise left tackle is too much to pass up.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Previous mocks: Smith
Like the previous mock, Ozzie Newsome’s decision boils down to whether he likes the tackles on the board here (Nate Solder, Derek Sherrod) or he’s fine waiting for Marcus Cannon or Orlando Franklin on Day Two—or if he thinks he can get a field-stretching wideout later in the draft.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
Previous mocks: Danny Watkins, Jon Baldwin
Unlike Baltimore, the Falcons should be comfortable waiting on a wideout with the likes of Leonard Hankerson, Titus Young, and Jerrel Jernigan still on the board, taking this opportunity to address an offensive line that could lose three starters to free agency.
28. New England Patriots: Clint Boling, OG/OT, Georgia
Previous mocks: Tyron Smith
It would be a minor upset if the Patriots make this pick; they’re likely to package it with one of their five other picks in the first three rounds to add quality as opposed to quantity to their roster. Their offensive line needs to get younger, and while they’ve been known to draft unknown players and mold them Boling—a versatile, heady four-year starter—gives them a guy who can help right away at multiple positions.
29. Chicago Bears: Steve Wisniewski, C/OG, Penn State
Previous mocks: Mike Pouncey
This pick will be used to upgrade the offensive line, but unfortunately the best talent on the board (Nate Solder, Derek Sherrod) might lead them right into a mistake similar to their whiff on finesse tackle Chris Williams, who was a poor fit for their offense and has been kicked inside to guard. Wisniewski is a bit of a reach but can play guard immediately and ultimately take over for Olin Kreutz.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Previous mocks: Taylor
Taylor is the best fit in the middle of Rex Ryan’s defense, though it wouldn’t be surprising if they also consider bench-press champ Stephen Paea.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Previous mocks: Clint Boling, Jimmy Smith
The Steelers have needs along their offensive line, but with Williams still on the board Pittsburgh figures they can wait until Day Two to start adding big fellas.
32. Green Bay Packers: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Previous mocks: Solder
Unless Jimmy Smith or Marvin Austin check out character-wise, this pick is likely ticketed to keep Aaron Rodgers from further concussions. Solder has tons of upside and may even have a year to bulk up and work on his game if the Packers can squeeze another year out of Chad Clifton and/or Mark Tauscher.