This is it. Less than 24 hours until Roger Godell heads to the podium to announce the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. It's been a wild offseason. The draft is before free agency, and there is still no definitive answer on whether or not we will have football next season. For now, the draft is all we have. Enjoy it.
Luckily for fans, the 2011 NFL Draft is going to be a wild one. The top ten is as muddled as I have ever seen it. No pick is set in stone, and there are a handful of trade possibilities, making the first ten selections nearly impossible to predict. I'll do my best, just for you guys. Here goes.
1. Carolina Panthers - QB Cam Newton, Auburn -
Ron Rivera has stated "I have seen all I need to see as far as him throwing the football" with regards to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Whether or not Newton is worthy of the number one overall pick is still up for debate, but it appears as if Carolina will make him the 2011 NFL Draft's first pick
Newton has tons of upside, with a strong arm and noticeable leadership qualities. The simple spread offense Newton operated at Auburn is a definite concern, but his upside is worth the risk for the Panthers, who lack a true franchise quarterback.
The Denver Post is reporting that the Broncos are set on Von Miller at number two overall. Miller is a terrific pass rusher, but may not be the best fit for the 4-3 defense. If the Broncos are unable to move back, it appears Miller will be the first pick of the John Elway era.
The Buffalo Bills would love to grab Von Miller, but he is no longer on the board. Marcell Dareus makes the most sense, given his experience in the 3-4 defense, and Buffalo's need for help on their defensive line.
This is where things get tricky. Carson Palmer is adement about never dawning a Cincinnati Bengals uniform again, but the front office is doing their best to keep him around. However, the Bengals will have to be looking for an insurance option in case Palmer makes good on his promise to retire.
Unfortunately, the Bengals don't seem to think Blaine Gabbert, or any quarterback for that matter, is worthy of the fourth overall selection. Therefore, they will wait a round to address the quarterback position and instead shift ther focus to another offensive position with some uncertainty; wide receiver.
A.J. Green is the best player in the draft for my money. He embodies all of the qualities of a true number one wide receiver, and is too good to pass up, especially with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on the outs.
5. Arizona Cardinals - CB Patrick Peterson, LSU -
Another popular speculated landing spot for Blaine Gabbert is Arizona, but it makes very little sense. Cardinals beat writers and Larry Fitzgerald have debunked the rumor, doubting that the front office will pull the trigger on a quarterback. It is much more likely that Ken Whisenhunt will find a veteran quarterback to compete with John Skelton for his own job security reasons. Instead, Arizona will select the best cornerback prospect since Champ Bailey. Patrick Peterson may be too big to play corner in the NFL, but his upside is tremendous. The value is too much to pass up at five.
6. Cleveland Browns - WR Julio Jones, Alabama -
Adam Schefter thinks the Browns will take a wide receiver and I tend to agree with the NFL's most reliable insider. Cleveland needs to surround Colt McCoy with some talent to increase his chances of success. Julio Jones has closed the gap between he and A.J. Green for the draft's top receiver. He is a physical specimen and a monster of a pass catcher. I'll be surprised if he falls out of the top ten.
7. San Francisco 49ers - DE Robert Quinn, UNC -
Robert Quinn's stock has quietly picked up steam in recent weeks. The kid is a disruptive force off of the defensive end, and he can fit into a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. Blaine Gabbert is a definite possibility at this spot, but he has no momentum heading into draft day. Every year a prospect sits and waits around in the green room, and unfortunately for Gabbert, it looks like that could be him this season.
8. Tennessee Titans - DT Nick Fairley, Auburn -
This pick makes more sense than any other choice in the top ten. The Titans have been looking for a defensive tackle since Albert Haynesworth left town. Nick Fairley is a comparable player to Haynesworth, as he has a mean streak, and some dominant physical attributes. The Titans think they can get their quarterback a bit later.
9. Dallas Cowboys - DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin -
For the longest time, Tyron Smith has been mocked to the Cowboys, but Rich Gosselin has spoken. The Cowboys insider has nailed the past two first round draft picks on the Dallas Cowboys, and is now mocking J.J. Watt to the Boys. If Dallas does choose to grab an offensive lineman, Anthony Castonzo would likely be the choice given that he is the most versatile tackle in the 2011 NFL Draft.
10. Washington Redskins - QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri -
During the last few days rumors regarding a possible deal between Denver and Washington have begun to surface. The Redskins are said to covet Blaine Gabbert, which makes sense. The Missouri quarterback is athletic and would fit Shanahan's scheme well. Luckily for the Skins, they may not have to move all the way up to second overall to have a shot at Gabbert. There is a good chance he will be available at ten, and Washington won't hesitate to grab him if he is.
11. Houston Texans - DE Aldon Smith, Missouri -
For my money, Aldon Smith is the most underrated defensive end in the 2011 NFL Draft. Many point to his out of this world athletic ability, but few recognize his polish as a pass rusher. Smith exhibits a great swim move, and even throws in a spin move once in a while. The kid is not as raw as he is made out to be, and he would make a perfect building block for Wade Phillips's 3-4 defense.
12. Minnesota Vikings - QB Jake Locker, Washington -
Despite the lack of scouts in attendance, Jake Locker was very impressive at Washington's pro day. Locker has all of the talent that any of the other quarterbacks have, but was surrounded by zero talent throughout his career. Granted, he was exposed for some accuracy issues, but Locker still has franchise quarterback potential. The Vikings have made it no secret that they are looking for a new signal caller, and Locker could be their man.
13. Detroit Lions - CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
The Detroit Lions get a gift. Arguably the best pure cornerback prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft falls to the Lions at 13, filling a huge need and allowing them to stick to the best available player strategy. It is truly a work of art when need matches value.
14. St. Louis Rams - DT Corey Liuget, Illinois
The St. Louis Rams will do everything in their power to try and jump into the top ten to grab Julio Jones. However, I doubt that they will have enough to pry the number five pick from the Arizona Cardinals, especially if Patrick Peterson is still on the board. In any event, this mock draft is not projecting trades, so if the Rams stay put Corey Liuget makes sense. The Rams need an upgrade next to Fred Robbins, and Corey Liuget's stock is on the rise. Todd McShay recently tweeted that not much is separating him from Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus.
15. Miami Dolphins - QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Mike Pouncey and Mark Ingram have been the popular picks heading up to draft weekend, but the winds are changing down in Miami. Allow me to preface this pick by saying that I would not touch Ryan Mallett in the first two rounds. Everything about him physically suggests that he is a top ten pick, while everything about his attitude screams bust. That being said, the Dolphins' ownership loves making a splash, and this would be a huge one. Whether they stay put at 15, or trade back in the first round, Ryan Mallett could be their guy.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
My head will explode if I see another Ryan Kerrigan to the Jaguars pick. It seems that everyone and their mother is expecting Jacksonville to pull the trigger on a "prototypical Gene Smith guy." The problem is that nobody knows what Smith's board looks like. Sure, Kerrigan has some of GM Gene's favorite intangibles. However, Smith evaluates talent on the field as well as anybody in the league, and Adrian Clayborn is the better prospect. His off the field incident is being overblown. GM Gene won't be afraid to take a chance.
17. New England Patriots - DE Cameron Jordan, California
Cameron Jordan is a perfect fit for the New England Patriots. They desperately need help on the front seven, and Jordan is an experienced hard-nosed lineman who plays very well at 3-4 end. Bill Belichick will more than likely look to move back in the first round, but I can't see them passing up a top fifteen talent like Jordan.
18. San Diego Chargers -DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Ryan Kerrigan is an extremely versatile pass rusher who can fit into any scheme. He can stand up and play linebacker, or he can put his hand in the dirt and play defensive end. Larry English hasn't panned out this far in the NFL, and the Chargers desperately need a pass rusher. Kerrigan presents great value.
19. New York Giants - OT Tyron Smith, USC
Offensive tackle is one of New York's top needs and USC's Tyron Smith is the best available player at this point in the first round. It is a bit surprising to have the first offensive tackle taken all the way at 19, and some team could very well move up to grab one of the top blindside protectors, this draft lacks an elite tackle prospect. The Giants get lucky.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
The Bucs would love to move up in the first round to grab a premier defensive end such as Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, or Ryan Kerrigan. Unfortunately, if they stay put none of them will be available, and neither will Adrian Clayborn or Aldon Smith. Thus, Tampa is stuck with Da'Quan Bowers who has some serious health concerns, but is a tremendous prospect. The Buccaneers are desperate enough at defensive end to take a shot on the Clemson product.
21. Kansas City Chiefs - OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
Anthony Castonzo could immediately be plugged in on the right side of the offensive line to replace Barry Richardson. Castonzo could also be groomed to eventually replace Brandon Albert, who is probably better suited at guard or right tackle.
22. Indianapolis Colts - OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
The Indianapolis Colts need to protect Peyton Manning. Charlie Johnson is far from an elite blindside protector, and an upgrade is needed. Derek Sherrod is the type of athletic tackle the Colts look for, and possibly the best tackle in this draft class.
23. Philadelphia Eagles - CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado
Jimmy Smith has too much talent to fall much farther than this. He has his fair share of charcter concerns, but who better to give him a second chance than Andy Reid and the Eagles? Not to mention, cornerback is an area of focus for Philly this offseason.
24. New Orleans Saints - DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
There was a time when Muhammad Wilkerson's stock was as high as the top 15. Unfortunately for the Temple lineman, he has come down to earth a bit. He is still an excellent option for a team looking to improve the interior of their defensive line. New Orleans fits the bill.
25. Seattle Seahawks - QB Andy Dalton, TCU
The Seahawks need a franchise quarterback, and Andy Dalton's stock is rising rapidly right now. I would not be surprised to see him sneak into the bottom ten picks of the first round. Whether the Seahawks grab him, or another team trades back into the first round is up in the air. With all of the top defensive tackles gone, the Hawks could look to address quarterback if they feel the value is right.
26. Baltimore Ravens - DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
The Baltimore Ravens get the steal of the draft as Cameron Heyward slides to the late first round. Once considered a top ten pick, Heyward has slid down draft boards after a somewhat quiet season. However, the Ohio State product is still incredible at the point of attack, and will anchor this defensive line for years.
27. Atlanta Falcons - DE Brooks Reed, Arizona
Brooks Reed has worked his way into late first round consideration. The Atlanta Falcons need to improve their pass rush, especially with John Abaram nearing the twilight of his career. Reed is an experienced defensive end with high character. Thomas Dimitroff loves that type of guy.
28. New England Patriots - OT Nate Solder, Colorado
I will be very surprised if New England is not taking phone calls to move down at this spot. With Christian Ponder still available as well at Nate Solder, teams will be willing to swoop in and grab these highly sought after prospects. However, if they can't move the pick Nate Solder still makes sense. Matt Light is getting old, and is no longer very effective. Solder is the best player on the board.
29. Chicago Bears - OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
Jay Cutler needs much better pass protection. He also needs to toughen up a bit, but a quality left tackle certainly wouldn't hurt. Wisconsin continues to pump out talented linemen, and Gabe Carimi is just the next in line.
30. New York Jets - NT Phil Taylor, Baylor
Phil Taylor's healthy has caused his stock to drop, but this is as far as I can see him falling. The Jets could use a new anchor for the middle of their 3-4 defense, and Phil Taylor is the best the 2011 NFL Draft has to offer.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers - OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
I think the Steelers will end up with Mike Pouncey, whether it be by moving up to grab him, or Pouncey falling farther than most except on draft day. Pouncey would be an ideal fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers who still need interior offensive line help.
32. Green Bay Packers - RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers had issues at running back last season. James Starks started to emerge, and Ryan Grant will return from injury, but how could they pass up Mark Ingram if he's still available? Ingram is the clear-cut top running back prospect in the 2011 class, and his value is immense at the bottom of the first. All of the best pass rushers are off the board, and no corner warrants selection here, so Ingram makes sense.