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2011 NFL Mock Draft: Da'Quan Bowers Is The New Front-Runner For The No. 1 Pick

With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck staying in school, there's a new prospect sitting atop SB Nation's 2011 NFL Mock Draft.

Clemson defense end Da'Quan Bowers had 16 sacks last season, more than any player in the nation.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Clemson defense end Da'Quan Bowers had 16 sacks last season, more than any player in the nation. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Last week, SB Nation unveiled its first 2011 NFL mock draft of the year. That mock draft projected Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck going to the Carolina Panthers with the No. 1 overall pick at the 2011 NFL Draft in April. Luck, however, has decided to return to Stanford for the 2011 season, which means mock drafters everywhere needed to tweak their projections.

The ripple effect of Luck's decision, at least in terms of NFL mock drafts, is very significant.

A couple of reminders before we get started: Picks 1 through 24 are ironclad, while picks 25 through 32 will be determined as the NFL playoffs continue. The mock will not exclude any draft-eligible underclassmen, save the ones who have declared their intentions to return to school, a la Luck. (You can get a list of declared underclassmen here.)

One final note: We're publishing this mock draft with full understanding that at least one underclassman listed will "pull a Luck" and stay in school. Expect many future updates.

1. Carolina Panthers (2-14): Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Minus a sure thing at quarterback, the Panthers will seriously consider sticking with Jimmy Clausen and take the draft's best pass rusher. Bowers is a phenomenal talent just starting to come into his own.

2. Denver Broncos (4-12): Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. John Elway is taking his time getting Denver's decision-making hierarchy into place. Until the organization has a more defined direction, we will continue to project the best player available to Denver, and that prospect is Peterson.

3. Buffalo Bills (4-12): A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Bills general manager Buddy Nix has bigger holes to fill, but a frugal team picking this high will focus on adding a sure thing. There may not be a better prospect available this year than the explosive Green, who declared for the draft this weekend.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12): Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. Marvin Lewis has stated his intention to stick with Carson Palmer at quarterback. The team will be overhauling its wide receiver corps, but a good offseason would make Quinn a quality pick here, as well.

5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. The team desperately needs a quarterback, but most expect Ken Whisenhunt to go the veteran route there. Amukamara is a safe investment and would complement Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie quite nicely.

6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Mike Holmgren is still searching for his next head coach, but it's fairly obvious that the team is building its offense around quarterback Colt McCoy. Look for the Browns to give him as many weapons as possible, and Jones is a potentially great one.

7. San Francisco 49ers (6-10): Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. The 49ers were a competent coach and a play-making quarterback away from a cakewalk to the NFC West title in 2010. They've got their competent coach in Jim Harbaugh; it may be too tempting to pass on the ultra-productive Newton here.

8. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. With Vince Young on his way out, the Titans desperately need a quarterback prospect to develop. But they could target a veteran, with Jeff Fisher in the final year of his deal. We'll stick with our Dareus projection from last week.

9. Dallas Cowboys (6-10): Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida. Dallas has a lot of talent defensively, but it severely underperformed in 2010. Mike Jenkins was particularly brutal at cornerback, and as depth is a mild concern there anyway, Janoris Jenkins would be a quality addition.

10. Washington Redskins (6-10): Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Mike Shanahan tried the veteran quarterback route in 2010, and now Donovan McNabb is on his way out of D.C. Expect the Redskins to stick with Rex Grossman in the short-term while Shanahan works with another project.

11. Houston Texans (6-10): Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Wade Phillips is in as the Texans' new defensive coordinator, and he'll bring his one-gap 3-4 defense with him. Fairley has the length to play 3-4 end, and the quickness to penetrate effectively in Phillips' scheme.

12. Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Jurrell Casey, DT, USC. The Vikes could use a quarterback, but they might look to add a veteran while they see what they have in Joe Webb. Casey is a quality prospect being projected all over Round 1, but would make a lot of sense going to a team that will eventually have to replace Pat Williams.

13. Detroit Lions (6-10): Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Winners of their last four games of the season, the Lions are most definitely trending up. They're turning it around with excellent draft classes, and adding Clayborn would continue that success. Kyle Vanden Bosch isn't getting any younger, and the Lions are building themselves an outstanding defensive line.

14. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. Wideout remains the Rams' most glaring weakness offensively, and it is imperative that they continue to help Sam Bradford grow into a franchise player. Pairing Floyd with veteran Mark Clayton would give the Rams solid, complementary receivers on the outside.

15. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Now that the Stephen Ross/Jim Harbaugh/Tony Sparano fiasco is behind them, the Dolphins will spend their offseason trying to overhaul their rushing attack. The O-Line is the real problem there, but Ingram would be an excellent selection for Miami.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): Cameron Jordan, DE, California. Last year, the Jags added an experienced defensive line prospect from California in tackle Tyson Alualu. Jordan is in the same mold, only slightly more versatile and able to play the edge in a 4-3.

17. New England Patriots (f/OAK): Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. Chances are outstanding that the trade-happy Pats will deal this pick, but Heyward would be an outstanding fit for Bill Belichick. He's a high-character kid and a great football player that fits the 3-4 perfectly.

18. San Diego Chargers (9-7): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. San Diego never adequately replaced end Igor Olshansky. Watt, coming off of a productive (if somewhat unheralded) junior season, would help the Chargers replenish lost depth along the defensive line.

19. New York Giants (10-6): Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. The Giants may need to replace defensive coordinator Perry Fewell soon, as Fewell is a head coaching candidate in several places, most notably Carolina. Should he stay, the versatile Ayers would be an outstanding fit in his defense.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6): Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL). One of the most talented young teams in the league, the Buccaneers will almost assuredly stumble across a quality player that's slipped here. In this case, Harris can add depth and eventually replace ageless veteran Ronde Barber.

21. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Baltimore badly exposed Kansas City's offensive weaknesses in a blowout playoff win; chief among them is a receiver not named Dwayne Bowe that can beat coverage. Blackmon is young, but beating coverage is his specialty.

22. Indianapolis Colts (10-6): Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. Indy has been trying to replace former starting left tackle Tarik Glenn for years. They've gotten by simply because Peyton Manning is great, but if they can add a quality pass protector like Sherrod, they can't pass on the chance.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. The Eagles ended a promising 2010 campaign on a three-game losing streak, with their quarterbacks getting sacked 15 times in those contests. The offensive line is a huge priority, and the heady Carimi would be an instant starter at right tackle in Philly.

24. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Justin Houston, DE, Georgia. Despite their wholly unexpected loss to Seattle in their first playoff game as defending champions, the Saints don't have a lot of glaring weaknesses. Running back is one of them, but with Ingram off the board, we'll give them a quality pass-rushing prospect.

25. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas. Seattle is a great story right now after their huge upset, but they still don't have a long-term answer at quarterback. Mallett's got the vibe of a draft-day slider, but there's no question that there is unique talent to work with here.

26. Green Bay Packers (10-6): Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Smith entered the 2011 NFL Draft despite weighing in at roughly 280 pounds, and having never played left tackle in college. He'd still be a worthwhile investment for Green Bay, where Bryan Bulaga may be better suited for the right side long-term.

27. New York Jets (11-5): Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. The golden rule of Rex Ryan on draft day: he likes to collect pass rushers and cornerbacks. Right now, Miller is a better prospect than corner Jimmy Smith, and the Jets have a more urgent need for a good pass rusher at any rate.

28. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh. Ozzie Newsome did a great job adding receiving talent to his roster this past off-season, but his team's top three receivers are still aged 30 or above. The highly talented Baldwin would have great teammates from which to absorb as much information as possible.

29. Chicago Bears (11-5): Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. The offensive line remains Chicago's biggest weakness; it's holding back what could be one of the league's more explosive offenses. Castonzo is a heady, experienced player capable of playing the left side as a pro.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Allen Bailey, DT, Miami (FL). The offensive line is clearly going to be a big priority for the Steelers when their season ends, but Bailey makes too much sense here -- particularly with Aaron Smith's durability in serious question.

31. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame. Tony Gonzalez is one of the all-time greats, and he had an impressive season in 2010 (70 receptions, 656 yards, six scores). Atlanta could use his eventual replacement, not to mention more receiving talent, and Rudolph might be the best prospect available, regardless.

32. New England Patriots (14-2): Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. The Pats appear to have found an excellent, possibly lock-down corner in 2010 first-round pick Devin McCourty. They're still searching for quality players at that position, and Smith would give the group a little size, as well.