The 2011 Senior Bowl is behind us, with the supposedly less-talented South squad - coached by Chan Gailey and the Buffalo Bills - defeating the Cincinnati Bengals' North contingent 24-10 this past Saturday. More important than the outcome of the game, however, was the week's worth of practices in which several strong performances caused a bit of a shake-up in how the 2011 NFL Draft is perceived.
Here's our first shot at a post-Senior Bowl 2011 NFL Mock Draft. The NFL Draft order is set, with the exception of the two Super Bowl XLV participants. We've listed Green Bay as pick 31 based solely on regular season record.
1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Fairley is still the slight early front-runner to be the first player off the board this April, as he would be a great fit in Ron Rivera's defense. His character concerns - however minor - are all that stand in the way of his being the first defensive lineman selected this April after a dominant junior season.
2. Denver Broncos: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. With Denver moving back to a 4-3 defense under John Fox, there's a great chance that they look to complement Elvis Dumervil at end. Nobody's talking about Quinn right now - with good reason, considering how his 2010 went - but rest assured that they will be following the Combine.
3. Buffalo Bills: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. There are several different directions that Buffalo could go here, but almost all of them are on the defensive side of the football. Peterson might be the only junior to get positive reviews from the Senior Bowl, and he'd fit a growing need for a Bills team that has seen its DB depth depleted of late.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Terrell Owens is on his way out of Cincy, and given that Chad
Johnson Ochocinco Johnson is fed up with Marvin Lewis, it's safe to assume he's soon to follow T.O. Green is not only the best player available here, but fills a need - and could help keep the disgruntled Carson Palmer happy.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. Miller, a 3-4 rush linebacker at A&M, played outside linebacker in a 4-3 at the Senior Bowl, and handled the responsibility shift extremely well. He proved that he is versatile and athletic enough to cover; combined with his rush ability, he's an absolutely perfect fit in Arizona's 3-4 under system.
6. Cleveland Browns: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Dick Jauron is Cleveland's new defensive coordinator, and early signs are that the Browns will be moving back to the 4-3. If Bowers is available to them, he'd have to be the pick, as Cleveland isn't equipped with personnel that could handle end in that system, aside from free agent Matt Roth.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. The Boston Celtics drafted Larry Bird as a draft-eligible junior, signing him a year later. Does anyone doubt that Jim Harbaugh wishes he could do the same with Andrew Luck? With no QB a lock here, the Niners would do well to add Amukamara to help replace the fading Nate Clements.
8. Tennessee Titans: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. This is the hot spot for the first quarterback off the board, but if Dareus were available to the Titans, they'd give him serious consideration. Tennessee needs better players along its defensive line (aside from free agent Jason Babin), and Dareus has elite potential.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Cameron Jordan, DE, California. With the top two corners off the board, Dallas can simply take the best defender available. There's little doubt that that's Jordan here, who drew rave reviews from the Senior Bowl after dominating a surprisingly good group of blockers in 1-on-1 drills during three straight practices last week.
10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. This would be an intriguing scenario for Mike Shanahan, who would have his pick of the quarterback crop here. They'd still give serious consideration to Jones, one of the draft's most under-appreciated prospects that some believe will be a better pro than Georgia's Green.
11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. When Wade Phillips was with Dallas, he coached the league's best outside linebacker in DeMarcus Ware, a former No. 11 overall pick that nobody saw coming and many questioned. Smith is in the same mold - a raw, freakishly athletic player that Phillips would love for his 3-4 defense.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. It's not overly likely that the Vikings will have their pick of the litter at quarterback, but this scenario brings forth an interesting debate: Gabbert or Cam Newton? We'll go with Gabbert for now, as he's got fewer question marks (but perhaps less upside).
13. Detroit Lions: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. A lot of mock drafts have the Lions filling needs, but that's not necessarily this regime's modus operandi. Kerrigan had a great career at Purdue and a superb showing in Mobile, and he'd look outstanding on a defensive line that already features Ndamukong Suh.
14. St. Louis Rams: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State. With the top two receivers off the board, the Rams may look to trade down - that's the clear biggest need. Paea, however, would be a great fit in Steve Spagnuolo's defense, but teams will need to make sure that his surgically repaired meniscus won't keep him out of training camp.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. This may be the one pick that has never changed throughout the various SBNation.com mock drafts. Ingram-to-Miami seems like a very natural fit, particularly with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams scheduled for free agency. It is imperative that Miami improve its general rushing offense.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. It was an up-and-down week for Locker at Mobile, as the Washington signal-caller got mixed reviews, to say the least. He's still in play for Jacksonville, who might consider him if all of the draft's best senior defensive linemen are off the board.
17. New England Patriots: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. Versatility is the name of Ayers' game, as he has a lot of experience dropping into coverage. Many scouts believe he has the athleticism and size to rush the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as well. Bill Belichick would find a way to use him alongside Jerod Mayo.
18. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. San Diego really needs a right tackle, and they could use some reinforcements at defensive end, as well. There is a surprising amount of depth at both positions this year, so they'll take the best player on their board - and in our estimation, that player is Watt.
19. New York Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. At some point, the Giants will need to have a long-term replacement in place for left tackle David Diehl. (No, William Beatty doesn't count.) Castonzo comes from Coughlin's BC pipeline and might be the most NFL-ready blocker available this season.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Clayborn's draft stock is falling a bit after a so-so senior season, and especially after he pulled out of the Senior Bowl. Questions abound regarding his character, but Tampa's need is so dire that they'd pull the trigger - as they've done before with perceived character risks.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. The Chiefs really need a starter at right tackle, and Solder was reportedly the most dominant offensive tackle at the Senior Bowl last week. He has the size and talent to play left tackle, too, if the Chiefs ever feel the need to upgrade Branden Albert's current position.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. The run on tackles continues, and Sherrod quietly had one of the better weeks for a blocker in Mobile, showing more power than many believed he had. His athleticism and quick feet make him a natural fit on the left side in Indy's pass-happy offense.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. A large portion of Philly's late-season collapse can be attributed to poor line play, so reinforcements will be a priority. Carimi acquitted himself extremely well at guard at the Senior Bowl, and Andy Reid loves taking gigantic, versatile linemen. Carimi is a perfect fit here.
24. New Orleans Saints: Justin Houston, DE, Georgia. The Saints need to fortify their RB situation, but there is enough depth at the position this year - and they've got enough to work with already on the roster - that they don't need to address it in round one. Houston, a potentially elite pass rusher, would fit well into Gregg Williams' defense.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. Cam Newton will probably not be available this deep into round one. That's putting it mildly. Without projecting trades, however, he slides to a QB-needy Seahawks team that would likely sprint the card bearing his name to the podium.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL). The secondary was Baltimore's biggest weakness in 2010, even after Josh Wilson did an admirable job filling in for the injured Domonique Foxworth and the ineffective Fabian Washington. Harris would be the latest Ravens defender from "The U," and is a natural fit here.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland. For whatever reason, NFL teams have not been able to stop Roddy White over the past two seasons despite the fact that White is the only starting-caliber receiver the Falcons employ. That needs to change, and Smith - a big playmaker - would look great on the opposite side of the field.
28. New England Patriots: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. Like Paea before him, Heyward missed the Senior Bowl because of Tommy John surgery. He's a classic 'tweener, but New England would be an ideal landing spot, as he'd fit into the role that Richard Seymour vacated two years ago.
29. Chicago Bears: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. If the Bears are ever going to be something more than NFC also-rans, they will need to put as much talent around Jay Cutler as they can find. Smith may not be NFL-ready, but he's a sturdy run and pass blocker with more upside than any offensive lineman in this draft class.
30. New York Jets: Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh. With Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards scheduled for free agency, it's unlikely that the Jets will be able to bring both back. If a talented receiver is available to them at the end of round one, they'll pull the trigger - and Baldwin's physical tools are exceptional.
31. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. Green Bay stumbled across two very good young cornerbacks this year, with Tramon Williams emerging as one of the league's best corners and Sam Shields showing great promise as an undrafted free agent. Eventually, they'll need to add another DB to replace the aging Charles Woodson.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor. There are several directions the Steelers could take with this pick - the offensive line being the chief need area - but Taylor would be a great fit here. He had a fantastic week at the Senior Bowl, and Pittsburgh's two nose guards, Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke, are in their mid-30s.