The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft has passed, and with the draft class now clear, concocting a 2011 NFL Mock Draft is now an easier proposition. Here's our latest; please note that picks 29 through 32 are not set in stone, as those four lucky teams are still competing for a Super Bowl ring.
1. Carolina Panthers (2-14): Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. There are a number of directions that Ron Rivera and the Panthers could take with this pick, and the majority of them would make the league's worst team much better on paper. Among those players, however, none would bring the type of attitude - aggressive or dirty, whatever you want to call it - that Fairley would. Nobody's draft stock is hotter right now.
2. Denver Broncos (4-12): Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. John Fox has taken over the reins in Denver, and as he begins to assemble his staff, it's expected that the Broncos, at the very least, will begin to migrate toward a more hybrid look featuring 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. Bowers would be an excellent selection if this is the case - he'd boost the team's pass rush while giving the team a crux player to flip-flop between defensive fronts.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12): Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. Bills GM Buddy Nix is the proverbial wild card of this year's top five selections; in this scenario, however, his pick would make a great deal of sense. The Bills have many needs, and while others are bigger than defensive back, Peterson is arguably the best player on the board. Given the free agent status of and the injury history of , Peterson would be in line for immediate playing time.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12): A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Green is arguably the best prospect available this year, but because he's a receiver, there's a chance he slides - even past a receiver-needy team like Carolina. Should he survive the top three picks, he'd make a great deal of sense in Cincinnati, where and are on the way out, and where will need his arsenal re-stocked.
5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. Ken Whisenhunt almost has to think about a quarterback here. The team could very well pursue a veteran option in an effort to offset the costs of taking a QB here, however; should that be the case, Quinn, arguably the best natural pass rusher available this year, would fill a huge need despite not having played football in a year.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Pat Shurmur has been hired as the Browns' new head coach, and there are strong indications that Dick Jauron could become the team's defensive coordinator. Even if the team begins shifting gradually away from their 3-4 defense, Jones should be the pick here - he's perfect for the West Coast offense, and it's imperative that the team give more weapons.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-10): Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. Like their division rivals, the Cardinals, the 49ers need to think about a quarterback here. Jim Harbaugh, however, is a coach that will immediately look to bring identity to his new team, and getting more physical and active in their 3-4 defense with Dareus is a natural fit. Prince Amukamara would make a great deal of sense here, as well.
8. Tennessee Titans (6-10): , QB, Auburn. First thing's first: Cam Newton is not - repeat, not - Vince Young. He's a different man and a (slightly) different type of player, and he'd also be the perfect compromise between Bud Adams and Jeff Fisher - an elite quarterback prospect on a team that has successfully tailored its offense to a unique passing talent in the past.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-10): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. Should the first eight picks occur in this fashion, Dallas would have a very easy decision to make. Terence Newman will be 33 by the time the 2011 season begins, Mike Jenkins suffered through a rather horrid 2010 season, and Amukamara is the best prospect remaining on the board.
10. Washington Redskins (6-10): Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Mike Shanahan appears to have a short-term starter for his team in Rex Grossman - who'd have guessed we'd be reading that sentence a year ago? - but the team still lacks a long-term answer. Gabbert isn't ready to play by any stretch, but he's got the tools and the smarts to eventually be a good player in Shanahan's system.
11. Houston Texans (6-10): Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. When Wade Phillips was hired as Houston's new defensive coordinator, he spoke highly of the team's heart. Moving to a 3-4, however, will require some personnel tweaking, which makes fixing the league's worst pass defense a more difficult job. The raw, high-upside Smith would help both situations: he's athletic enough to play OLB in a 3-4, and an improved pass rush would help the beleaguered secondary.
12. Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. Leslie Frazier and the Vikings are yet another team in serious need of help at the quarterback position, but with Newton and Gabbert off the board, they're in a no-win (or trade down) situation here. Ray Edwards is an impending free agent, and Kerrigan has dominated the Big 10 for three straight years.
13. Detroit Lions (6-10): Cameron Jordan, DE, California. The Lions are getting close, folks - they won their final four games to close the 2010 season, and their talent base is much better across the board. Further improvements defensively are still necessary, however, and Jordan would further add to the team's enviable defensive line depth while providing a longer-term solution at one end in place of Kyle Vanden Bosch.
14. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Justin Houston, DE, Georgia. As we saw in their season-ending loss to Seattle, the Rams aren't going to do much until they get better weapons for future star quarterback Sam Bradford. They'll get help with a healthy Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery returning to the lineup, however, so reaching for wideout isn't imperative. Houston is a rising pass rusher that would complement Chris Long better than anyone the Rams currently employ - and he'd give Steve Spagnuolo some versatility, as he can drop into coverage, as well.
15. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Tony Sparano remains Miami's head coach - tenuously - so regardless of who the team's offensive coordinator ends up being, the running game will still be the Dolphins' bread and butter. They'll look at a few offensive line prospects here - Mike Pouncey chief among them - but no player would better help Miami's dwindling rushing attack than the tough, versatile Ingram.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Derrick Harvey has been a rather massive bust for the Jaguars at defensive end, registering just 8.5 sacks in his first three pro seasons. Upgrades are needed, and Clayborn, though he carries some minor character risks, is a well-rounded, veteran player that would fill an underrated need for the Jags.
17. New England Patriots (f/OAK): Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. Well, then... that happened. The Pats are out of the playoffs, and their roster isn't as bulletproof as we all thought. Still, they don't have any pressing needs, so they can draft the best player on their board. Heyward is, quite simply, a great football player; he's a bit of a 'tweener, but if anyone can figure out how to use him, it's Bill Belichick.
18. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. Despite the fact that they missed the playoffs, the Chargers are loaded with talent and don't have any urgent needs to address. The one position that most closely approaches that territory is right tackle, where Jeromey Clary struggled in 2010. Castonzo isn't the most physical player, but in Norv Turner's pass-happy offense, his smarts and rock-solid technique could make him an instant starter.
19. New York Giants (10-6): Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. The Giants could use a developmental prospect at left tackle, where David Diehl is fading and William Beatty has been disappointing in limited appearances. There are options at that position here, Derek Sherrod chief among them, but Ayers is too valuable to pass on - he'd offer versatility and coverage ability to a Giants linebacker corps that lacks both.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6): Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. This young, plucky Bucs squad is going to be a lot of fun to watch in future years, but they still need more talent. Tampa's defensive end position might be the most desperate need area any team has this year, but with all of the top pass rushers off the board, Tampa would do well to settle for a strong run blocker in Carimi, who could start at right tackle right away.
21. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh. As awesome as Dwayne Bowe is, he can't do everything himself - and we saw what happens when a good team can take Bowe away when the Chiefs were blown out of Arrowhead Stadium in the first round of the playoffs. Baldwin is a tricky evaluation - he takes more plays off than he should - but Kansas City's need is so desperate that they almost have to pull the trigger.
22. Indianapolis Colts (10-6): Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State. It seems as if we're talking about the Colts' need to improve at defensive tackle every year. 2011 is no different, and if the team has a shot to take Oregon State's Stephen Paea, they shouldn't hesitate for a second. Paea is incredibly strong - so much so that 3-4 teams are looking at him as a nose guard - and athletic enough for Indy's defensive system. This is a perfect fit.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida. In losing their final three games of the season, including a home playoff game to Green Bay, the Eagles surrendered 15 sacks on Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb. That's a rather alarming statistic, and one that Andy Reid won't stand for. Pouncey is the best lineman available here, offers versatility on the interior, and could start at any of those three positions immediately.
24. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois. New Orleans doesn't need to take a running back, even though Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas might be on the way out. Christopher Ivory and Lynell Hamilton might be able to handle the rushing duties as a tandem, but Leshoure is too good to pass on here. A big back with break-away speed, he'd offer a dimension to New Orleans' offense that they wholly lacked in 2010.
25. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL). With their improbable playoff run now ended at the hands of Chicago, the Seahawks can quietly go back to adding talent to a roster that still has plenty of question marks. Seattle will investigate quarterbacks - Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett would top the list here - but their pass defense is hurting, as well, and Harris is good enough to go ten picks earlier than this slot.
26. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. The Ravens have a few needs; they could use some youth at receiver, some depth along both lines, and certainly depth in the secondary, as well. Ozzie Newsome is too smart to pass on a value pick, however, and Miller is perhaps the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospect available this year - even though many have forgotten about him.
27. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. Despite their surprise NFC South championship and securing the top overall seed in the NFC, the Falcons will be watching the NFC Championship game from home. Tom Dimitroff has done a nice job adding talent while drafting almost exclusively for need, and adding a quality offensive line prospect to a still-developing offense would continue that trend.
28. New England Patriots (14-2): Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. J.J. Watt would be a terrific selection here - the Patriots have a very young defense, and need to continue adding talent to it - but with Cameron Heyward already on board, the Pats can afford to look at another position. The Pats have a budding star at corner in Devin McCourty, but more depth is needed - and competition for Kyle Arrington (beyond Leigh Bodden) wouldn't hurt, either.
29. Green Bay Packers (10-6): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. Dom Capers isn't strictly a 3-4 guy - he's more of a blitz guy, when you get right down to it - but the Packers will continue to stack 30 front talent on its roster anyway. Watt is a local product that would play five technique at end for the Packers, and his length, strength and hustle would instantly make him a strong run defender - and a good replacement for free agent-to-be Cullen Jenkins.
30. New York Jets (11-5): Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame. There are other positions that the Jets could address here, and other players that would pique the team's interests. None would do more for Mark Sanchez and the Jets' conservative offensive attack than Rudolph. A well-rounded talent capable of blocking and receiving, Rudolph - paired with Dustin Keller - would give the Jets a pair of tight ends to rival New England's dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
31. Chicago Bears (11-5): Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Sure, Chicago's offensive line has settled itself nicely after a disastrous start to the season - and now they're playing well enough to help the Bears host the conference championship game. Still, let's not pretend that they lack talent there. Afforded a little time, Smith could emerge as the clear best offensive lineman to emerge from this draft class.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple. Pittsburgh perpetually has one of the league's best defenses because they relentlessly replenish their talent and depth on that particular unit. Aaron Smith has struggled mightily with injuries over the past two years, and Brett Keisel is no spring chicken. Wilkerson is a long, athletic defensive tackle that would be a nice developmental option at end for the Steelers.