While lawyers for each side continue to play a high-pricedl game of chicken with our beloved pastime, Thursday’s draft will provide a glimmer of actual football in this lost offseason. In between the boos Roger Goodell is sure to endure, here’s one final look at what might transpire in Round One.
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1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Previous mocks: Blaine Gabbert, Da’Quan Bowers, Nick Fairley
There are many indications Cam Newton will be the guy here, and if not for that darn lockout the Panthers would already be negotiating with someone so we’d have a better idea. I may eventually fall in line, but right now I just don’t see a quarterback developer on Carolina’s staff who can get Newton to reach his potential.
2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Previous mocks: Dareus, Patrick Peterson
The Broncos could barely fill out their three-man front last season, so the switch to a 4-3 under new coach John Fox requires an upgrade along the defensive line. Fortunately, the safest pick in a draft brimming with question marks fits Denver’s greatest need. The alternative that’s picking up steam is Peterson—the other “safe” selection.
3. Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Previous mocks: Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus
It’s possible the Bills take Blaine Gabbert here, but they’d be more inclined to listen to trade offers from the Cardinals or Redskins—teams who lack the short-term solution Buffalo has in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Plus, Buffalo can still get a quarterback at the top of the second round; here, they address their anemic pass rush with the most explosive defensive talent in the draft.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Previous mocks: Green
Count the Bengals among the plethora of QB-needy teams in this year’s draft. However, with both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens leaving town and the talented Green still on the board look for Cincy to address the back end of the pitch-and-catch equation here. And if Carson Palmer is set on joining the exodus, the Bengals have an early second-round pick Mike Brown can use to replace him.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Previous mocks: Von Miller, Gabbert
Despite what Larry Fitzgerald said about Arizona taking a quarterback here, if Gabbert is still on the board Ken Whisenhunt—and eventually Fitzgerald as well—will be ecstatic.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Previous mocks: Jones
The Browns could entertain offers to trade down, but with their roster so light on playmakers the smart move would be to add Jones to an offense that was at best one-dimensional last season.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Previous mocks: Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Da’Quan Bowers
Robert Quinn is the wild card here; despite not playing last season, he’s expected to go in the top 10—perhaps higher. Jim Harbaugh has to decide between upgrading his pass rush and upgrading his pass coverage; with this draft heavy on pass rushers and the top cornerback still on the board, it shouldn’t be that difficult of a choice.
8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Previous mocks: Fairley, Robert Quinn
Tennessee is one of the most QB-needy teams in the draft, so a move up for Gabbert or down for Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett wouldn’t be a shock. Staying put, the Titans are apt to address their defensive line—either Quinn on the outside or Fairley inside.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Previous mocks: Da’Quan Bowers, J.J. Watt, Prince Amukamara
There are several defensive options still on the board—Amukamara, Watt, Bowers—that would address perceived areas of need. But the top priority is keeping Tony Romo upright, which requires upgrades to the offensive line. Smith’s considerable upside should make him the first offensive lineman off the board.
10. Washington Redskins: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Previous mocks: J.J. Watt, Da’Quan Bowers, Cam Newton
Does Mike Shanahan reach for Jake Locker here, or does he hope Colin Kaepernick is still on the board in Round 2? The Redskins are used to operating with fewer draft picks so look for Shanny to take Quinn here to upgrade the pass rush, then package the remainder of Washington’s picks to move back up into position for Kaepernick.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Previous mocks: Amukamara, Aldon Smith, Von Miller
Houston fielded the worst secondary in the league last season; in a division where you see Peyton Manning twice a year, that’s a recipe for disaster. If Quinn is still on the board the Texans may consider him, but Amukamara fills the Texans’ biggest need—in a big way.
12. Minnesota Vikings: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Previous mocks: Robert Quinn, Anthony Castonzo
The Vikings would love to trade back and pick up an additional Day Two pick, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone to trade up for. Jake Locker could be in play, as could an offensive lineman (Mike Pouncey’s name has creeped into the conversation)—especially since if the league operates under last year’s CBA Ray Edwards is bound to Minnesota for another year.
13. Detroit Lions: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Previous mocks: Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo, Brandon Harris, Gabe Carimi
It boils down to protecting Matthew Stafford or shoring up the back end of what is quickly becoming a pretty good defense. Smith seems to have moved beyond the character concerns that weighted down his draft stock; Detroit goes this direction figuring they can find a tackle on Day Two but won’t be able to get as talented a cornerback.
14. St. Louis Rams: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Previous mocks: Liuget, Cameron Jordan
The elite receivers won’t last this long, and Jonathan Baldwin or maybe even Torrey Smith could still be on the board in the middle of Round Two. That leaves Steve Spagnuolo to shore up his defensive line with Liuget or perhaps Jordan.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Previous mocks: Ingram
The selection could be Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker, but that would signal a paradigm shift for the Dolphins. The absence of a second-round pick makes it tricky, because Miami’s quarterback of the future won’t be there in the third; then again, neither will a back who can help Lex Hilliard pick up the 500 carries vacated by Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Previous mocks: Kerrigan, Robert Quinn, Adrian Clayborn
The Jaguars desperately need a pass rusher, and Kerrigan is a better (and more proven) option for Jacksonville than the upside of Aldon Smith.
17. New England Patriots (via OAK): Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Previous mocks: Jordan, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt
The Patriots have the depth of picks to move up and down the draft board as they wish. They could target an edge rusher like Robert Quinn or Aldon Smith, or maybe Mark Ingram to replace the aging components of their backfield committee. There are also needs along both lines, so Anthony Castonzo is in play. Ultimately, Jordan gives them a Richard Seymour type along the defensive line they won’t find elsewhere in the draft.
18. San Diego Chargers: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Previous mocks: Cameron Heyward
The Chargers need someone coming off the edge, with Ayers the leading candidate over Aldon Smith and Justin Houston. San Diego could also be looking at a five-technique defensive end, but this feels early for Muhammad Wilkerson and it’s unknown if the Bolts are one of the teams that fear Da’Quon Bowers’ knee issues..
19. New York Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Previous mocks: Akeem Ayers
With the linebacker position picked clean, the Giants are likely to focus on their other major area of need--the offensive line. Tom Coughlin has had luck with BC linemen before, and inserting Castonzo at tackle allows David Diehl to kick inside to guard—a move that will save the Giants around a million dollars a year in escalator clauses in Diehl’s contract.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DaQuon Bowers, DE, Clemson
Previous mocks: Aldon Smith, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Sherrod
The Bucs’ pick will be the telltale one for Bowers’ knee. Tampa desperately needs a rush end and Bowers was at one point considered a prime candidate for the top overall selection; despite (or maybe because of?) full disclosure regarding his knee issues, his stock is plummeting. If he doesn’t require microfracture surgery, he’s an absolute steal for the Bucs here.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Previous mocks: Houston, Aldon Smith
Recent allegations that Houston and Iowa DE Christian Ballard flunked their drug tests at the Combine shouldn’t hurt their stock too much—especially Houston, who has familiarity with Chiefs DC Romeo Crennel’s defensive scheme and is a more natural linebacker than in-state option Aldon Smith.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Previous mocks: Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi, Danny Watkins
As Peyton Manning goes so go the Colts, and last year Peyton Manning was under duress much more than usual. The Colts could use an anchor on either side, and while Solder is far from a finished project he has the quick feet to keep pass rushers away from Manning and get to the second level in Indy’s running game.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Previous mocks: Aaron Williams, Harris
While offensive line is a need, Philly should be able to find the widebodies they like (think Orlando Franklin or Marcus Gilbert) on the board on Day Two. The same can’t be said for quality corners, so Harris gets the nod.
24. New Orleans Saints: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Previous mocks: Jabaal Sheard, Corey Liuget, Ryan Kerrigan
While some teams (primarily 3-4 defenses) see Smith as an outside linebacker, he’s also a good fit as a pass-rushing defensive end in the 4-3. And pressure on the quarterback is exactly what the Saints would love to get with their first-round selection.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Previous mocks: Nate Solder, Tyron Smith, Corey Luiget
It sounds like the Seahawks are sticking with the Charlie Whitehurst experiment, though the potential availability of Jake Locker here could tempt them. Seattle also might entertain offers to trade down and pick up an extra second-day selection, because if Locker and Mallett are still on the board this late in Round One you’ll have plenty of teams looking to deal back into the first round.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Previous mocks: Muhammad Wilkerson, Torrey Smith
The Ravens might consider an offensive tackle if one of the top tier slips, as there is still uncertainty regarding Jared Gaither’s future in Baltimore. They might also look at a defensive end like Wilkerson, but ultimately they need to stretch the field and Smith gives them the deep threat to do so.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
Previous mocks: Pouncey, Danny Watkins, Jonathan Baldwin
Pouncey could be gone well before this pick, with rumors connecting him to the Vikings at #12. And if he does last this long, Mike Tomlin might make a move to deal up and reunite the Pouncey twins in Pittsburgh. Either way, the Falcons will be looking at line help with potentially three regulars leaving Atlanta via free agency. The alternative would be tabbing Kyle Rudolph as the tight end heir to Tony Gonzalez, but the Falcons may be able to wait until Round Two to make that move.
28. New England Patriots: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
Previous mocks: Watkins, Clint Boling, Tyron Smith
Watkins has the versatility to step in for either guard Logan Mankins or tackle Matt Light, depending on how much free agency impacts the Patriots’ offensive line. And if both return, Watkins could carve out a starting gig elsewhere along the New England line. A running back could enter into play here as well, though the Pats have another pick at the top of the second round and only the Packers would have a need at the position prior to that selection.
29. Chicago Bears: Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Previous mocks: Gabe Carimi, Steve Wisniewski, Mike Pouncey
It wouldn’t be the Bears without a head case at defensive tackle, so Austin replaces Tommie Harris. Chicago would also consider an offensive lineman here, but with six already off the board they’d be reaching value-wise.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Previous mocks: Taylor
The Jets’ first-round pick is likely to address aging along the front seven of their defense. While five-technique end Muhammad Wilkerson could be an option, this class is thin at nose tackle so look for Rex Ryan to take the top one on the board here rather than hope something’s still on the board for the Jets’ next pick late in Round Three.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Previous mocks: Jimmy Smith, Clint Boling
Unless the Steelers do in fact move up to reunite the Pounceys or see one of the top tier of offensive linemen slip this late in Round One, they’ll turn their attention to the secondary. Williams might eventually wind up at safety, but he has the cover skills to help at nickel immediately; he also can contribute in the return game.
32. Green Bay Packers: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
Previous mocks: Christian Ballard, Nate Solder
If only two quarterbacks have gone off the board by the time Ted Thompson is on the clock, there’s a better chance of Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith holding hands and skipping the 40 at the Combine than of the Packers making this pick; they’d auction it to the highest bidder for the right to take Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett. If forced to pick, Green Bay could use defensive end depth and Wilkerson is a five-technique fit.
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