The 2011 NFL Draft begins in one month, and though the general consensus is that the Panthers are going QB with the No. 1 overall pick, the big question is: which one? We explore that and more in our first round NFL Mock Draft.
A few weeks back, ESPN's Adam Schefter cautiously predicted on Twitter that the Carolina Panthers would take Blaine Gabbert with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Now that Gabbert has completed his pro day and maximized his stock, Schefter has - surprise! - changed his prediction, now going with Cam Newton to Carolina. That's proof positive that we've officially reached that time of the draft season in which nobody has any clue who's going where - but the buzz surrounding the Panthers and quarterbacks continues to increase.
(By the way: if you're into digesting mock drafts in a slightly different fashion, you'll want to start checking out SB Nation's NFL Draft blog, Mocking the Draft, on a daily basis. There, each of our 32 NFL team bloggers will be making picks for their respective teams in a two-round mock draft that begins today, and ends April 26.)
1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. If the general consensus is correct, and the Panthers are going QB, then they'll need to choose, essentially, between intangibles and star power. It's early, and a lot can happen, but I'm betting they choose intangibles.
2. Denver Broncos: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Given their dearth of not only talent, but bodies, at the defensive tackle position, it seems very likely that the Broncos will be addressing their defensive line. Fairley is the type of disruptive three-technique that would thrive playing for John Fox.
3. Buffalo Bills: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Bowers' pushed-back pro day is this Friday, and when his knee invariably checks out medically and he has a solid workout, he'll be mentioned at the top of the draft again. In Buffalo, he'd play end in the Bills' one-gap 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. Even the Bengals are fully aware that Carson Palmer isn't coming back. Never a team to shy away from taking a risk on draft day, if either Newton or Gabbert is here, they'll pounce - but I think they'll prefer Gabbert, too.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. This would be a nice little scenario for Arizona, getting to choose between Miller and Patrick Peterson. Purely from a talent standpoint, that's a difficult decision. Factoring in need, it's not close: Miller is a perfect fit for the Cardinals.
6. Cleveland Browns: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. If Dick Jauron had his way, he might prefer a pass rusher here. That makes Robert Quinn a distinct possibility if Bowers is off the board, but choosing between Quinn and Dareus, you take the slam dunk. That's Dareus.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. To this point in this scenario, this is the best convergence of talent and need that we've seen. The 49ers desperately need a playmaker in their secondary, and Peterson is the best to come along in years. If he lasts this long, the 49ers will snap him up quickly.
8. Tennessee Titans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. With both quarterbacks and both defensive tackles off the board, this is an interesting scenario for Tennessee. There's value at defensive end, but having taken Derrick Morgan a year ago, it makes more sense to nab a starter opposite Cortland Finnegan.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. The more time passes pre-draft, the more this Smith-to-Dallas idea makes sense. Smith is awfully unproven in that it's not yet clear he'll be able to sustain his weight, but he's also awfully talented - and Dallas has a need at tackle.
10. Washington Redskins: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. I don't believe for a second that Green (and maybe even Julio Jones) lasts this long into round one. Both receivers are ideal trade-up targets. Assuming there is no trade-ups though, I don't think it'd take the Redskins more than ten seconds to hand in their pick.
11. Houston Texans: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Yeah, Wade Phillips needs front seven talent for his new 3-4 defense. Gary Kubiak, however, is on his last legs - he needs the highest-impact player he can get. Pairing Jones with Andre Johnson would do wonders for an already potent Texans offense.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. The Vikings are an interesting team this year, even though there aren't a lot of different directions they can take. If an elite edge rusher fell into their laps, like Quinn, they'd be hard-pressed to pass - even with solid players at the position.
13. Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. Though the tackle position doesn't have an elite talent, there are players that can come in and start right away. One of those is Castonzo, a smooth athlete and smart kid that would eventually replace Jeff Backus in Detroit.
14. St. Louis Rams: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. There's a good chance that Smith goes higher than this pick; if he's available, he'd make a superb complement to Chris Long as the open-side speed rusher in Steve Spagnuolo's defense.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida. If the Dolphins don't take Mark Ingram - they very well may not - they're a tough team to get a read on. Improving their rushing attack is an absolute must, and Pouncey would immediately upgrade their poor offensive line.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Cameron Jordan, DE, California. The Jaguars have been trying to shore up their defensive end position for years, but the need is still there. Jordan, a former teammate of Jags DT Tyson Alualu, is a great value pick here.
17. New England Patriots: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. Having the advantage of six picks in the first three rounds, New England can get a little luxurious and draft talent over need if they feel the urge. Solder is a supremely talented athlete that wouldn't need to play right away for the Patriots - but probably could.
18. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. 3-4 defensive end is a need for the Chargers, as they'd like to upgrade on Jacques Cesaire. Watt's a natural fit for the position, and apparently, the best five technique that Mike Mayock has ever scouted.
19. New York Giants: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. The defensive line has always been a top priority for the Giants. The team isn't exactly lacking for depth at defensive tackle, but that's where the value lies here, and Liuget is talented enough to get playing time immediately, anyway.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. He's not the prototypical speed rusher for the Tampa 2 defense, but Kerrigan will fit in anyway - not just because the need is dire, but because his hustle and instincts will make him a great complement to the prototypical speed rusher they eventually land.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. The Chiefs have one of the league's best rushing attacks already; solidifying their right tackle position with an excellent all-around tackle would make their running game even more of a threat.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State. It's the perfect year for the Colts to finally upgrade their always-in-flux defensive tackle position. Paea is a brute, but also a rock solid athlete that could play one-technique or three-technique for Indy.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. Minus a worthwhile offensive lineman here, there are a number of directions the Eagles could go, including cornerback. Smith is a character risk, but his talent is significantly better than every Eagles CB aside from Asante Samuel.
24. New Orleans Saints: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Erb's palsy has many teams concerned about Clayborn's right arm, but he's simply too good to slip out of the first round. He makes sense for the Saints, who could use a running mate for Will Smith.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. Lately, the Seahawks have taken up the mantle of "that team that's connected to every quarterback, ever." As it seems unlikely that they'll be acquiring one pre-draft, taking a local product that Pete Carroll is familiar with makes sense.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple. GM Ozzie Newsome has always been one to trumpet value over need, and there may not be a more valuable player left here than Wilkerson. A versatile athlete capable of playing in multiple fronts, he'd add excellent depth to an already-solid Ravens D-Line.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh. It would be a bit out of character for the Falcons to take a player with something of a checkered past, but Sheard has quietly risen up draft boards and fills Atlanta's biggest need: to complement John Abraham.
28. New England Patriots: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Ingram is excellent value this late in the first round. Though the Patriots are a consistently excellent rushing team, they lack talent at the position. If BenJarvus Green-Ellis can produce in this offense, imagine how well Ingram would play.
29. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. For whatever reason, Sherrod continues to fly under the radar despite solid tape, solid athleticism and a ton of experience in the SEC. He'd be an excellent fit at the left tackle position on a blocker-starved Bears team.
30. New York Jets: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. His stock has taken a bit of a hit thanks to pedestrian athletic workouts, but Ayers is still valued in the draft community thanks to his versatility and well-rounded game. In Rex Ryan's defense, he'd be an outside linebacker capable of blitzing and dropping into coverage.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor. Pittsburgh's offensive line will be getting better simply because it will be getting healthier, but reinforcements are still needed. Mike Pouncey would be the obvious target, but Watkins is an intriguing prospect that may be able to play right away if necessary.
32. Green Bay Packers: Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois. Injury issues remain for Wilson, but he's a long, angular athlete with experience on the inside, and the athletic ability to pressure the quarterback off the edge. He'd be a very strong fit in Dom Capers' defense.