The 2011 NFL Combine is in the books, and, as usual, while the weekend's workouts didn't completely change the landscape of NFL mock drafts everywhere, it created enough clarity about certain players to sufficiently tweak most projections. That includes our latest projection, which ironically starts with a player who did not compete in every positional drill in Indianapolis.
1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. If the Panthers have any conviction whatsoever that there's a franchise quarterback in this draft class, they have to take him. (Mike Mayock seems pretty convinced that Gabbert is legit for the time being.) If they don't like a quarterback, keep an eye on the two top defensive ends.
2. Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. People will argue, justifiably, that Denver's defensive problems lie in the front seven. The league's second-worst run defense will be assisted by having two corners on an island, however - compressing one or both safeties into the box - and Peterson is the best defender available.
3. Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. Quarterback is still a popular pick for the Bills, but there's every chance that they'll pass on a risky proposition in favor of an elite edge rusher. Von Miller gets a slight edge over other considerations here because of scheme fit, versatility and coverage upside.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Carson Palmer's threats will force the Bengals to do extensive homework on the available quarterbacks, but this has always been a team that favors raw talent over need early. Green is arguably the best player available this year, and also happens to fill a Bengals need.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. A strong showing at the Combine won't alleviate concerns about his health nor his time away from football, but elite edge rushers are always taken sooner rather than later. The Cardinals desperately need an edge rusher, and Quinn is athletic enough to play OLB.
6. Cleveland Browns: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Even before the team hired Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator, the decision had been made to move back to the 4-3. Any defender that fits that front would be a good pick here, and Bowers might end up being a tremendous value at this point in the top ten.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. A strong Combine workout alleviated concerns about his recovery speed, and Amukamara is strongly back in Top 10 consideration. The 49ers need to replace Nate Clements, and Amukamara has the talent-character combo that Jim Harbaugh will covet as he re-builds.
8. Tennessee Titans: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. Showing off incredible athleticism and explosion for a man his size (319 pounds) in Indianapolis, Dareus might be off the board much earlier than this - perhaps even No. 1 overall. He'd be a steal at eight, and a great fit for a Titans team that needs defensive talent.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Amukamara would be a great fit here, and there's a chance that Dallas reaches on an offensive tackle. Fairley, however, is a good talent and star power fit for Jerry Jones and Rob Ryan, and wouldn't need to be an every-down defender immediately.
10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. There are a couple of quarterbacks Washington could consider here, but neither is a snug fit for Mike Shanahan. Wide receiver is a huge need, and Jones - who absolutely dominated in Indianapolis - is a really nice fit both schematically and from a need perspective.
11. Houston Texans: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. Unless a cornerback is miraculously available here, expect the Texans to add a front seven defender - ideally a lineman - for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. Watt is quietly garnering Top 15 consideration as a five-technique end, and fits Houston's need perfectly.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. Quarterback is a need. Newton has immense potential. Leslie Frazier is an excellent coach that can handle challenging personalities, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has done great work with young quarterbacks. This seems like an ideal fit if Newton lasts this long.
13. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Many expected the Lions to find a long-term blind-side protector for Matthew Stafford much sooner than this. Jeff Backus is adequate, but Smith - up around 300 pounds now - looks great on tape, and is worth the slight gamble for a Lions team on the cusp of playoff contention.
14. St. Louis Rams: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. Wide receiver is the Rams' most pressing need, but with the top two receivers off the board, defensive end becomes the next point of focus. Smith, a sophomore, is very raw, but is a great physical complement to Chris Long and a nice fit for Steve Spagnuolo's defense.
15. Miami Dolphins: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. At some point, a smart team will roll the dice on Jake Locker's intangibles and physical talents. Miami is a logical landing spot, as Locker won't be pressed into immediate duty, allowing Brian Daboll time to work out his footwork issues.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Cameron Jordan, DE, California. Jordan, like most defensive linemen, performed very well in Indianapolis, but some are beginning to wonder if he'd be better in a 40 front than a 30 front. That's irrelevant here, as Jordan is the type of talent and character combination that Jags GM Gene Smith prefers.
17. New England Patriots: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. Nick Kaczur is on his way out, Matt Light is aging, and Sebastian Vollmer can't play two tackle spots at once. Solder is an athletic marvel with more upside than any tackle available this year, and would not need to start immediately for the Pats. Great situation.
18. San Diego Chargers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Questions about his medical and a disappointing senior season have some wondering if he'll slide on draft day. On talent alone, the versatile Clayborn is first-round caliber, and he's an intriguing fit for a Chargers team that's looking to upgrade on Jacques Cesaire.
19. New York Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. Castonzo showed in Indianapolis that he is the most-polished, most NFL-ready tackle available this year. Tom Coughlin and the BC pipeline aside, Castonzo is a nice need fit for the Giants that will eventually start, whether it be on the left side or the right.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. The Bucs are so desperate for help at defensive end that any prospect with talent would be a consideration here. Kerrigan showed surprising athleticism at the Combine and has the type of motor that will make him a great schematic fit, and fan favorite, in Tampa.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State. A meniscus injury has many writing off Paea as a first-round possibility; that is misguided. Paea can flat-out play - and the strength on display in his bench workout has long made him a 3-4 nose possibility. He's an upgrade over Ron Edwards.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. It's easy to pencil an OT in here, but DT remains a need in Indy, as ever, and Liuget looks the part as a potentially elite interior defensive lineman. He's got the quickness and anchor ability to be an outstanding two-way defender for a Colts team that's long needed more beef.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Carimi has had a good off-season, proving in limited time at the Senior Bowl that he can play guard, and showing well athletically at the Combine. He is exactly what Andy Reid looks for in a lineman - a huge, blue-collar guy that is capable of playing multiple positions.
24. New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. This position was a huge question mark for the Saints in 2010, and was also a big reason why they won a world championship in 2009. The dependable, productive Ingram would balance out the Saints' offensive unit and make the team Super Bowl caliber once again.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State. Healthy once again, no quarterback had a more productive Combine workout than Ponder, who might now get late-first consideration. Accurate and very smart, Ponder is a slightly more athletic version of Matt Hasselbeck, and would make a fine successor.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. From a talent and need standpoint, this would be an absolute steal for a Ravens team that pulls off a lot of draft-day heists. Character questions are a concern, but shouldn't be a problem in a locker room containing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame. An end or an offensive tackle would fill bigger needs, but Rudolph - whose injury recovery prevented him from working out in Indy - is great value. He'd eventually replace Tony Gonzalez, and team up with him in a Patriots-style offensive attack in the interim. Matt Ryan needs targets.
28. New England Patriots: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia. Houston remains firmly under the radar despite being perhaps the closest thing to a true 3-4 outside linebacker available. A productive junior entrant with excellent athleticism at 270 pounds, he is an excellent long-term prospect and a great fit for New England.
29. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. It's not exactly a secret that the Bears need to upgrade their offensive line, and if Sherrod were to be available at 29, there wouldn't be a lot of war room deliberation. Sherrod had a nice career, is a solid athlete with experience, and might start at LT immediately.
30. New York Jets: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. The Jets are doing a little re-tooling along the defensive line, having cut Kris Jenkins and with Shaun Ellis facing free agency. Ellis very well could be back, but youth is necessary, and Heyward is the type of disruptive player that Rex Ryan can work with.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida. This is a popular and easy pick to make for a very good reason: chemistry is an underrated factor in building offensive lines, and it's tough to beat twin brothers from a chemistry perspective. Pouncey may not be their top target, but he'd be a very wise pick.
32. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. Despite a strong season from Tramon Williams, the surprising play of Sam Shields and the continued excellence of Charles Woodson, cornerback is a need for the Packers. Safety depth wouldn't hurt, either, and the physical Williams comes with great pedigree and CB/S versatility.