If you're already tire of talking about the NFL lockout and the upcoming court battle, we're with you. By whatever miraculous language existed in the previous CBA, however, we still get to talk a little football with the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft. Here's our latest projection of the entire first round.
1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. Dratfniks remain split on the controversial Auburn star, struggling to balance Newton's absurd production, talent and potential with character concerns and overall lack of experience. Pressure on Carolina to take a quarterback is increasing, and right now, Newton edges Blaine Gabbert.
2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. Denver is re-tooling its defense for John Fox, and moving to the 4-3 alignment in the process. The team recently released tackles Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan, leaving a gaping hole at that position. That fact alone will make it hard for the Broncos to pass on Dareus.
3. Buffalo Bills: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Thanks to surprising play from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills don't believe they have an immediate need at quarterback. They also do not have long-term direction, a solid backup, nor a face to the franchise. Gabbert would get the development time he needs in Buffalo.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. If a quality quarterback is available here, the Bengals almost have to pull the trigger given Carson Palmer's status. With Newton and Gabbert gone, however, the Bengals will likely take the best talent - and many believe that's Green.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. There may not be a snugger fit between prospect, team, need, and scheme than Miller and Arizona. In a defense that relies on disruptive talent in its front seven, it is imperative that the Cardinals upgrade at outside linebacker.
6. Cleveland Browns: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. In order to take Quinn, a team is going to need to be comfortable with the brain tumor he's played with since high school. As the Browns shift to the 4-3 under Dick Jauron, however, Quinn is the type of building block that the Browns lack.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. A very large number of people believe that Peterson is the best player available this year. He certainly has the fewest question marks. Should he slide this far into Round 1, San Francisco would sprint gleefully to the podium to pick him.
8. Tennessee Titans: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Rumors of a slow recovery from knee surgery - along with the fact that he has yet to work out in the pre-draft process - have dropped Bowers a bit. Even a year after drafting Derrick Morgan, he's too good for the Titans to pass on.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. A guy like Nick Fairley is such a perfect personality and talent fit for the Cowboys that it's hard to let him slide. Dallas' most urgent need is in the secondary, however, and Amukamara has Pro Bowl potential at corner.
10. Washington Redskins: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. Once upon a time, Mike Shanahan took a quarterback from a bad program that struggled to complete 60% of his passes No. 11 overall. Jake Locker has better upside and better intangibles than did Jay Cutler, and fits Shanahan's offense well.
11. Houston Texans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Wade Phillips' 3-4 under defense is predicated on having elite talent at pretty much every position in the front seven. Fairley's athleticism gives him the range to play end for Phillips, and eliminates some of the worry about him wearing down during games.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Bryant McKinnie is beginning to slow down at left tackle, and Phil Loadholt isn't athletic enough to flip over and replace him. Smith may not be ready to play - he never played the left side at USC, after all - but would be a smart investment for the Vikings.
13. Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. It's hard to ignore the progress that the Lions have made over the past two years, but the next step to take offensively is to get better up front. Anthony Castonzo is a safe, high-upside pick that is easy to envision as the long-term blind side protector to Matthew Stafford.
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. While Jones was blowing up the NFL Combine, the mantra surrounding him was "he won't last past St. Louis at 14." Sam Bradford needs targets, and teaming Jones with Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery is a great start.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. This pick has been projected so many times that it's almost second nature, but it's still difficult to navigate around its logic: the Dolphins must improve their running game, and Ingram is the best way to do that in Round 1.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Character concerns and a slightly disappointing senior season have dropped Clayborn a bit, but just a year ago, he had the look of a Top 10 lock. He's a great fit as a two-way end in Jacksonville.
17. New England Patriots: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. Mike Mayock called Watt the best five-technique end prospect he'd ever evaluated. That's fairly high praise. Watt is an excellent athlete and plays with great effort, and he'd be a perfect fit on Bill Belichick's work-in-progress defense.
18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Jordan, DE, California. The Chargers have long been in the market for an upgrade on Jacques Cesaire, and this is the perfect draft in which to do it. They'll get a good player here, but if Jordan slides, the grins on the faces of Chargers brass would be considerably wider.
19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. His unimpressive athletic performance at the Combine, coupled with questions about his true pro position, have hurt Ayers' stock. He's still a very strong fit as a 4-3 outside linebacker, and occasional blitzer, for Perry Fewell and the linebacker-needy Giants.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. The Bucs desperately need an end, and here, they'd get to pick between raw upside (Smith) and consistent production (Ryan Kerrigan). Smith seems like a better fit all around for the young, improving and vastly underrated Buccaneers.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Despite being one of the league's best running teams over the last two years, the Chiefs have had problems at right tackle. Carimi won't be an elite pass protector, but he brings stability and immediate impact to his position, and is a nice fit for an improving Chiefs offense.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State. There is lingering injury concern with Paea, but he's the type of defensive tackle that the Colts have been seeking for years - a polished prospect with the functional strength to stuff the run and the athleticism to be a versatile pass rusher.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. It's hard to ignore the offensive line issues Philly had in a disappointing close to the 2010 season. Solder does not have the strength to play right away for Andy Reid, but it's hard to imagine Reid not being enamored with Solder's physical talents.
24. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. Gregg Williams remains an excellent defensive coordinator, but if the team's performance in a playoff loss to Seattle is any indication, defensive upgrades are needed. Kerrigan is a great value pick here, and a nice complement to Will Smith.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. With Smith, attitude issues and inconsistency are the big red flags. It's tough to find corners with his size, athleticism and physicality, however - and Pete Carroll is the type of coach that can overlook risks if a guy is a great fit.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple. In Haloti Ngata, the Ravens employ the NFL's most versatile - and arguably most dominant - defensive lineman. Cory Redding is a nice edge complement, but Wilkerson's upside is better, and Ozzie Newsome is known as a GM that picks talent over filling needs.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida. The Falcons don't have a lot of needs, but where they do, they're relatively urgent. Minus a defensive end prospect falling to them, Pouncey makes a great deal of sense as a possible replacement to Harvey Dahl in the short-term, and Todd McClure in the long run.
28. New England Patriots: Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona. The Patriots are in the market for an edge rusher to go along with 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham. Reed's stock is soaring after testing extremely well at the Combine, but he's still a bit raw.
29. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. Another mock draft, another left tackle prospect projected to Chicago. It's hard to imagine the Bears passing up a competent blind side protector for any other position, regardless of talent - that's how bad Chicago's offensive line has been.
30. New York Jets: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. As creative as Rex Ryan is with his defensive scheme, you have to imagine he'd be salivating at the thought of getting his hands on a talent like Liuget. Though the Illinois product is a better fit for the 4-3, Ryan can find ways to use his talent.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. Many are questioning whether Williams is a better fit at safety than corner, but he's the type of physical playmaker that is a perfect fit as a nickel corner - and eventual starter - for a Steelers team that lacks depth in the secondary.
32. Green Bay Packers: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia. It's not exactly a secret at this point that the Super Bowl champions are looking for a running mate to Clay Matthews at rush linebacker. (Or, at least, that's what they want us to think.) Houston is a good mix of value and upside to close out Round 1.