Andrew Luck has opted to stay in school for at least one more season, along with ahandful of other talented prospects, weakening the depth of the 2011 NFL Draft Class. However, the class still boasts a number of talented prospects, and Luck staying in school has shaken up the top of the draft.
1.Carolina Panthers (2-14) – Nick Fairley, DT Auburn –
With Andrew Luck returning to school for his senior season, the top of the 2011 NFL Draft just got a whole lot more interesting. I only see two legitimate options for the Panthers in this spot. They could look at A.J. Green, arguably the best player available in this class, who addresses a huge need for a number one wide receiver or they could fill an even bigger need at defensive tackle and take Nick Fairley out of Auburn.
In the wake of his dominant performance on Monday Night in the BCS National Championship Game, Nick Fairley has become the favorite to be the first player selected come April. He is dominant at the point of attack and has game changing penetration skills. Fairley would be an ideal piece for the Carolina Panthers to build their defense around.
2.Denver Broncos (4-12) – Patrick Peterson, DB LSU -
Nick Fairley would be an ideal fit for the rebuilding Denver Broncos here but they will have to settle for a player that many consider to be the most talented in the 2011 NFL Draft Class. With Champ Bailey potentially leaving in free agency and Perish Cox facing possible jail time the Broncos secondary is in trouble.
Enter Patrick Peterson, one of the most talented cornerback prospects of the last decade. Peterson could play any position in the secondary and would provide a huge boost to this defense.
3.Buffalo Bills (4-12) – Marcel Dareus, DE/DT Alabama –
This is a tough pick to make because it is not clear whether the Bills will stick with the 3-4 defense or move back to a 4-3. Luckily, Marcel Dareus fits both schemes because he is as quick as he is strong. If the Bills do opt for a 4-3 defense however, Da'Quan Bowers becomes a serious option here.
4.Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) – Da'Quan Bowers, DE Clemson –
Clemson's one year wonder is shooting up draft boards after an impressive junior campaign in which he compiled 16 sacks.
Some teams could be scared off by his inconsistency but the Bengals are notorious for looking past potential character concerns in search for talent. Bowers is a perfect fit.
5.Arizona Cardinals (5-11) – A.J. Green, WR Georgia –
Many expect the Cardinals to draft a quarterback in this spot but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Ken Whisenhunt is on the hot seat and is not going to put his employment in the hands of a rookie quarterback. John Skelton strung together impressive starts at the end of the season and deserves a shot at starting.
No matter who the Cardinals put under center they must surround him with weapons. A threat across from Larry Fitzgerald would do wonders for this offense. A.J. Green is a rare prospect with elite hands and ball skills. The Cardinals would once again have the best one two punch at wide receiver in the business.
6.Cleveland Browns (5-11) – Robert Quinn, DE/OLB North Carolina -
Robert Quinn might be the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft if not for his season long suspension this season. He is a perfect fit as a rush linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4 defense and fills I need for the Browns who were 25th in the league with 29 sacks. An improved pass rush would go a long way in helping to solidify this pass defense.
7.San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – Blaine Gabbert, QB Missouri -
The greatest beneficiary of Andrew Luck's decision to stay at Stanford for his senior season appears to be Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert now has the inside track to being the first quarterback taken in the 2011 NFL Draft. He possesses a strong accurate arm, ideal frame, and all the intangibles necessary to succeed. The fact that he comes from a spread system is concerning, but if anyone can mold him it's Jim Harbaugh.
8.Tennessee Titans (6-10) – Prince Amukamara, CB Nebraska -
The Titans pass defense allowed an average of 252 yards per game through the air ranking them 29th in the league in that department. They desperately need to improve in that area with Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning in the division.
Prince Amukamara is arguably the best pure cover corner in this draft class. He has the speed, ball skills, and fluid hips that make him a premier prospect at one of the league's most valuable positions.
9.Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Mark Ingram, RB Alabama -
With Marion Barber well past his prime, the Dallas Cowboys have a big time need for a bruising running back. This is the type of pick Jerry Jones would make. Ingram is a high profile pick at a position of instant impact for the Cowboys. Dallas is in a rare position of not having many holes despite having a top ten draft pick. They could trade down or afford this luxury pick of sorts.
The Redkins desperately need a quarterback, it's just not entirely clear which quarterback they will target in April. Cam Newton seems like a decent bet given Daniel Snyder's knack for making flashy picks.
11.Houston Texans (6-10) – Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB Purdue -
The Texans are transitioning to a 3-4 defense and have very few of the pieces necessary to do so. Mario Williams will most likely remain at defensive end squandering his potential, meaning the Texans need someone to get into the backfield. Ryan Kerrigan was the best in the nation at that this season.
12.Minnesota Vikings (6-10) – Jake Locker, QB Washington -
Leslie Frazier knows his team needs a quarterback to replace Brett Favre. The best of the remaining bunch is Jake Locker. He may have disappointed in his senior season but he is the same talented prospect he was heading into last year's draft. He handled adversity and ended his Washington career a winner, beating Nebraska. Locker is the number one quarterback on my board and a steal at number twelve.
13.Detroit Lions (6-10) – Aldon Smith, DE Missouri -
The Detroit Lions always draft with discipline, selecting the best player available regardless of position. In this case Aldon Smith fits the bill. Smith spent some time out of the lineup with a broken leg this season but when healthy he was a disruptive force on the defensive line. He has a rare ability to shed blocks and get in the backfield to make plays. Smith will need to be coached up at the next level but he is as talented a pass rusher as anyone is this draft class.
14.St. Louis Rams (7-9) – Julio Jones, WR Alabama -
The success Sam Bradford has had this season is astounding given his lack of talent at receiver. Neither Donny Avery or Mark Clayton is a legitimate number one guy, even when healthy, and an elite weapon could do wonders for Bradford’s development.
15.Miami Dolphins (7-9) – Cameron Jordan, DE California
Cameron Jordan is soaring up draft boards after a terrific 2010 campaign. The Dolphins would be a perfect fit as they are looking for help along the defensive front and he fis an ideal fit for the 3-4 defense.
16.Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) – J.J. Watt, DE Wisconsin -
The Jaguars have a number of areas to address in the 2011 NFL Draft. They need to find a quarterback to groom under David Garrard, they need to sure up the secondary, find an impact wide receiver, get some interior offensive line help, and most importantly draft a player that can get to the quarterback.
J.J. Watt is everything Gene Smith looks for. He is tough, has a non stop motor, has great leadership skills, and is talented at his craft. Watt would be great insurance if Aaron Kampman does not return to full strength coming off of his second ACL surgery in as many years.
17.New England Patriots (via Oakland 8-8) – Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB UCLA -
It seems as if every offseason mock drafters expect the Patriots to draft an offensive playmaker, such as a running back or wide receiver, to help out Tom Brady. News flash: Tom Brady doesn’t need any help. Brady has made something out of nothing his entire career, and this season is no different. The Patriots rarely spend first round picks on running backs and wide receivers, so I do not expect Mark Ingram or Justin Blackmon to come off of the board here.
Akeem Ayers is a Bill Belichick kind of player. A team captain at UCLA, Ayers is a versatile threat who fits perfectly into New England’s scheme. The Patriots are 26th in the league with just 23 sacks on the season. They need to add some youth to their anemic pass rush.
18.San Diego Chargers (9-7) – Von Miller, DE/OLB Texas A&M -
Von Miller came on strong towards the end of the season and solidified himself as a top twenty pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Chargers usually draft the best available player and that's Von Miller at this spot. They need offensive line help but the value does not really match the pick.
19.New York Giants (10-6) – Nate Solder, OT Colorado -
The Giants need to inject some young blood into their aging offensive line. Nate Solder is extremely raw but he has first round upside. New York would be a great fit as he could learn from some of the best in the business.
20.Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6) – Adrian Clayborn, DE Iowa -
Adrian Clayborn has some character concerns and inconsistent play that will cause him to slide but the Buccaneers are so desperate for defensive end help that they could pull the trigger.
21.Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – Justin Houston, DE/OLB Georgia -
Scott Pioli has done an admirable job rebuilding the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense. The defensive line has been great this year, but a pass rushing linebacker could take this stop unit to another level.
Justin Houston is shooting up draft boards after a surprising season. He is one of my favorite pass rushers in this class.
22.Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – Gabe Carimi, OT Wisconsin -
The Colts continually get thrown around up front on both sides of the ball. Peyton Manning had very little time to throw all season, and it certainly affected his game.
Gabe Carimi is considered by some to be the best tackle in this class. It is a toss up at this point.
23.Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – Mike Pouncey, G Florida -
The Eagles had a tough time protecting Michael Vick this season. Upgrades are needed all over the offensive line, and Andy Reid loves to get the big fellas early. Pouncey is far and away the best guard prospect in this class and a great fit for the Eagles.
24.New Orleans Saints (10-6) – Muhammed Wilkerson, DT Temple -
The Saints have a penetrating force on the inside of their defensive line in Sedrick Ellis but could use a hold the point type of player like Muhammed Wilkerson.
Wilkerson is one of my sleepers in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is exactly what New Orleans needs.
25. Seattle Seahawks (7-9) – Corey Liuget, DT Illinois-
Seattle must add depth to their defensive line during the offseason. They have struggled on defense due to injuries up front and it has affected the play of their already mediocre secondary.
26. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – Kendric Burney, CB UNC
Burney is shooting up draft boards with an excellent Senior Bowl week. The Ravens need to add depth to their secondary, specifically at the corner back position. They have a number of corners scheduled to become free agents and Dominique Foxworth is coming off of a torn ACL. Burney could come in and contribute immediately.
27. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) – Jonathan Baldwin, WR Pittsburgh -
Matt Ryan has been phenomenal for the Falcons this season and so has Roddy White but Atlanta has to give Matty Ice a second weapon. Tony Gonzalez could be retiring and Roddy White can't do everything.
28. New England Patriots (14-2) – Allen Bailey, DE Miami
New England could use some new faces on the defensive line. Ty Warren will return next year but who knows how effective he will be? Adding a guy like Bailey, who is a perfect fit for the system, can't hurt.
29.Chicago Bears (11-5) – Derek Sherrod, OT Mississippi State -
Chicago needs to surround Jay Cutler with some talent. Not only does he lack pass protection, he has no weapons on the outside with which to work. He has been hit more than any quarterback in the league this year and the Bears have allowed a league high 44 sacks. Derek Sherrod has some issues with technique, but nothing Mike Tice can't fix.
30. New York Jets (11-5) – Cameron Heyward, DE/DT Ohio State -
31.Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Anthony Castonzo, OT Boston College -
Ben Roethlisberger's protection (not that kind) has to be priority number one for the Steelers. Pittsburgh's offensive line is a mess and upgrades are needed all over the place.
32.Green Bay Packers (10-6) – Brandon Harris, CB Miami -
What the Packers have done this season is astounding considering the injuries this team has amassed. The defense is one of the best in the NFL but the secondary is aging and I am not sure how much longer they can play at a high level.
Brandon Harris got owned by Michael Floyd in his bowl game so he slides to the Packers.