It seemed to me wise to get out a preliminary mock draft to work on. It's always best to have a baseline from which to work with as the Senior Bowl and Combine come along and the draft stocks of various guys rise and fall. If I have the time and/or inclination, I'll add a 2nd and maybe 3rd round later on this week
1. Carolina Panthers - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
With no Andrew Luck, the situation for Carolina is more muddled, but also more dynamic. They can go a number of different directions, since there is no longer a consensus #1 overall. I think this pick should be AJ Green, as their QB--whether it's Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore or a free agent veteran--is going to need someone to throw to besides an aging Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell.
Be that as it may, Nick Fairley's stock is at a ridiculous height right now and Carolina has absolutely nothing along the its defensive interior. New head coach Ron Rivera will use Fairley as his centerpiece as he rebuilds Carolina's defense. The edge Fairley plays with will also bring some sizzle back to a franchise that has stagnated.
2. Denver Broncos - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
New personnel guy John Elway faces a daunting task to rebuild a franchise from the rubble of the Josh McDaniels regime. Like the Panthers, he has a lot of holes to plug and a lot of options to pick from. It could be tempting to go for AJ Green here to give Tim Tebow a greater array of weapons to work with. Marcel Dareus, Da'Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn all merit consideration to improve a woeful Denver pass rush.
However, I think the pick will be Peterson. Champ Bailey is likely to depart for greener pastures, Perrish Cox remains in legal limbo and the depth behind them is questionable at best. Peterson can be a day one starter at CB and bring a dynamic aspect to the return game.
The fact that I can seriously put Cam Newton at #3 overall makes me shake my head, but such are the ways of the NFL Draft. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid season, but is not the guy to carry Buffalo forward. Meanwhile, the Bills need to revive excitement and hope in the face of sagging public support. The best way to do that is to bring in an exciting young QB and Newton surely is that if nothing else. Chan Gailey's offense may also be a good fit for Newton as he acclimates to the NFL.
4. Cincinnati Bengals - Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Given that no Cincinnati defensive end did much of anything last season, aside from Carlos Dunlap, Da'Quan Bowers would be a huge boost to the Cincy d-line. I have to think that Marvin Lewis will give serious thought to both AJ Green and Marcel Dareus, but I think Bowers will get the nod.
5. Arizona Cardinals - Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
I think Quinn will make a showing at the Combine and pro day that will make people remember just why he was once talked about as a possible #1 overall. His athleticism and motor are off the charts and Ken Whisenhunt has got to do something about his OLB situation. I know it's kind of crazy to take a rush linebacker #5 overall, but the situation there in Arizona is grim and Quinn is the kind of talent that's hard to pass by. If it's not Quinn, Prince Amukamara or AJ Green (depending on how extension negotiations go with Larry Fitzgerald) are likely picks.
6. Cleveland Browns - AJ Green, WR, Georgia
You could make an argument that Green could go anywhere from #1 - #5 and wouldn't get an argument from me. If he does fall this far, however, he'll go no farther. Colt McCoy is going to need legitimate wide receivers if he's going to be successful.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Yeah, I know, I know. Locker's stock fell off this year. It's going to go back up after the Senior Bowl, Combine and pro day. I'm a big Locker fan, so maybe I'm letting my bias get in the way here, just like I did with Jimmy Clausen last year. What I do know is that the flaws in Locker's game can be corrected by close work with a guy like Jim Harbaugh. In fact, Locker reminds me a lot of Harbaugh in his playing days. I know I'd rather have Locker, flaws and all, than Gabbert or Mallett.
8. Tennessee Titans - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Even more ridiculous to me than Cam Newton at #3 overall is Blaine Gabbert as a top 10 prospect, but who am I to argue with the experts? Having already dealt with one headcase in Vince Young, I don't think Jeff Fisher will be anxious to take on another (rumored to be) in Ryan Mallett. I haven't anything about Gabbert personally that indicated he's anything but a good locker room guy and a quick study in the film room, so that's in his favor. Then too, Young managed to win a lot under Fisher despite showing some of the same flaws as Gabbert, particularly difficulty in reading defenses and antsy feet in the pocket.
9. Dallas Cowboys - Marcel Dareus, DT/DE, Alabama
The Dallas d-line could use an upgrade over Igor Olshanksy and the feisty, hard-driving Dareus is just the ticket, especially with having played in a 3-4 collegiate scheme.
10. Washington Redskins - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
A big, rocket armed passer with a gunslinger mentality and potential attitude issues? Mike Shanahan might see Mallett as his new Jay Cutler.
11. Houston Texans - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
At his introductory press conference, Wade Phillips sounded confident in his ability to mold the current 4-3 players in Houston's front 7 into a 3-4 defense. No matter the scheme, however, one thing he's going to have to deal with is a secondary that borders on the comically bad. I love Amukamara as a prospect and he can go a long way toward helping the Texans improve their defensive backfield.
12. Minnesota Vikings - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Pat Williams is going to need replacing, but there's not a defensive tackle worth taking this high. Julio Jones will get a look, particularly if Sidney Rice departs. All the QBs worth taking in round 1 have been drafted. But the Vikings have had nothing across from Antoine Winfield for far too long and that can't go on.
13. Detroit Lions - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Lions just miss out on their greatest need, with the 3 best CBs in the draft all off the board. I'm not sure there's an offensive tackle worth taking this high. Jahvid Best is an exciting weapon, but is not an every down back capable of shouldering a big rushing load. Mark Ingram is. He fits both need and GM Martin Mayhew's BPA draft strategy. An offense with Ingram, Megatron, Best, Brandon Pettigrew and led by a healthy Matt Stafford could be very high octane.
14. St. Louis Rams - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Rams catch a break as Julio Jones falls right into their lap. With the need to get Sam Bradford some bigtime targets, I can't imagine they'll hesitate too long in hustling their draft card up to the podium.
15. Miami Dolphins - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Ricky Williams is gone and even if Ronnie Brown is re-signed, he hasn't given much encouraging evidence lately of being able to be the guy to shoulder the load in the Dolphins backfield. Leshoure is a guy who can help and I expect his stock to keep rising throughout the draft scouting process.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
With Derrick Harvey a confirmed bust, Aaron Kampmann injury prone and Austen Lane and Jeremy Mincey uninspiring (to say the least), Jacksonville must come away with a true pass rushing threat. They'll hope Kerrigan will be the guy they thought Harvey was.
With Matt Light both aging and approaching free agency and Sebastian Vollmer performing unevenly on the left side, it'd probably be a smart idea for the Pats to snap up a solid left tackle for the future.
18. San Diego Chargers - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Antonio Garay was a nice surprise for the Chargers at nose tackle this season, but they've got to do something about the increasingly ineffective Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo at defensive end. Watt has the size and build to be a sucess as a 5-technique.
19. New York Giants - Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Ayers is exactly the kind of versatile, high-energy linebacker the Giants need to bolster their deteriorating linebacking corps that has let their awesome defensive line down lately.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Tampa Bay's defensive ends were disgraceful this year. Their leading sacker was Stylez G White....with 5. That can't continue if the Bucs defense wants to keep pace with their exciting young offense and build off the momentum generated by this season.
21. Kansas City Chiefs - Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
The Chiefs #1 need is a wide receiver, but AJ Green and Julio Jones are both gone and Justin Blackmon is going for another tour of duty at Oklahoma State. They may reach for Jonathan Baldwin here, but I think Miller is a nice pick. By pairing Miller with Tamba Hali, the Chiefs gain a truly terrifying pass rush combo akin to what the Steelers have in James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley.
22. Indianapolis Colts - Anthony Costanzo, OT, Boston College
23. Philadelphia Eagles - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
When a QB as mobile as Michael Vick takes the kind of beating he did this year, you know the offensive line has troubles. Carimi could step right in at tackle or play guard first before kicking outside. He provides Andy Reid with versatility and a greater ability to keep Vick healthy.
24. New Orleans Saints - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
If Marshawn Lynch's run for the ages didn't convince New Orleans of the need to have a big, squat, monstrously strong run stuffer like Paea on their defensive interior, nothing will.
25. Seattle Seahawks - Stefen Wisniewski, C/G, Penn State
You know who's not very good? Chris Spencer. You know who I think will be good? Stefen Wisniewski.
26. Green Bay Packers - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Ted Thompson adheres to his BPA strategy and drafts Clayborn, even though DE is not a pressing need for the Packers right now. Green Bay brought BJ Raji along slowly and if they do the same with Clayborn, he will be ready to step and in start in a year or two when Ryan Pickett or Cullen Jenkins may be gone.
27. Chicago Bears - Mike Pouncey, G, Florida
I think we all know the saga of the Bears offensive line and Jay Cutler's battered body this season. Maybe Olin Kreutz can even show Pouncey a few tips on how to play center too.
28. New York Jets - Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, California
A list of some of the players at defensive end for the Jets this season, besides Shaun Ellis: Mike DeVito, Trevor Pryce, Vernon Gholston(!!!!). Jordan, who comes from a 3-4 scheme, can instantly step in and make the Jets d-line better.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers - Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State
Both Aaron Smith and Brett Kesiel are getting older and injury prone. The Steelers are already grooming one replacement in Ziggy Hood. Now they can grab the other.
30. Baltimore Ravens - Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
Ozzie Newsome tried to bolster the rush linebacker position last season with Sergio Kindle. Unfortunately for both Kindle and the Ravens a fractured skull got in the way of that plan. He'll try again with Houston.
31. Atlanta Falcons - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Atlanta offensive line could be in some flux this off-season. Both Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo have expiring contracts and there's been talk of moving Sam Baker to the right side. If that happens, Atlanta will need a new left tackle to protect Matt Ryan's blindside.
32. New England Patriots - Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Hey, another awesome weapon for the best QB in football. Why not?