The 2011 NFL Draft order is set - at least as much as it can be without the NFL playoffs having been played - which means it's time for SB Nation's first 2011 NFL Mock Draft.
This mock, of course, has a few contingencies. First and foremost, picks 21 through 32 are based on current record, when in actuality, the final order of those picks won't resemble what you see here at all. In order to not offend fans of any team currently playing for post-season glory, we're going to leave the order as is for the time being.
There's also the small fact that this mock draft is very heavy-handed when projecting underclassmen to pro teams. It's quite likely that at least one of the underclassmen listed here bucks the trend and stays in school. For the time being, we're considering all draft-eligible underclassmen for this mock. Collegiate underclassmen have until January 15 to declare themselves eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft.
Without further ado (and contingencies), we present to you the first 2011 NFL Mock Draft of the season for general discussion purposes.
Dan Kadar of Mocking the Draft contributed to this mock.
1. Carolina Panthers (2-14): Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (SO). Jimmy Clausen has done absolutely nothing in his rookie season that would prevent a new set of Panthers decision-makers from taking Luck, the consensus top prospect in the nation.
2. Denver Broncos (4-12): Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU (JR). Without the benefit of knowing how John Elway will help re-structure the Broncos, we'll simply give them the best player available. Peterson would fill a need and help prepare for the eventual departure of Champ Bailey.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12): A.J. Green, WR, Georgia (JR). Buffalo certainly has bigger needs, but Bills GM Buddy Nix doesn't mind taking the best player, particularly in round one. A receiving corps featuring Green, Stevie Johnson and Lee Evans would keep defensive coordinators from sleeping well next season.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12): Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (JR). Too cheap to take a franchise-type quarterback in the Top 5, the Bengals will settle for the draft's best pass rusher to pair up with freshman sensation Carlos Dunlap (9.5 sacks as a rookie in 2010).
5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska (SR). This is another team that will likely be monetarily averse to taking a risky QB prospect this early. Amukamara is a rock-solid cornerback prospect that would pair up well with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (JR). It's still tough to get a good read on Cleveland's drafting tendencies with Mike Holmgren in town. We do know this: the Browns desperately need targets for Colt McCoy, and Jones is a fantastic fit for the West Coast Offense.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-10): Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn (JR). The 49ers will have a new GM and a new head coach, so it's unclear precisely what direction they'll take at this point in time. Fairley is a safe assumption here, as he's near best-available quality and strengthens an already-solid 49ers defense.
8. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama (JR). The Titans may take a hard look at the top available quarterbacks, but they'll have a hard time passing on a stud defensive lineman like Dareus to let the NFL's best defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, turn him into a star.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-10): Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina (JR). As Jason Garrett will remain Dallas' head coach, it's likely that they'll look to upgrade their defense early. Quinn is a high-upside pass rusher to groom as a potential successor to the solid, not spectacular Anthony Spencer.
10. Washington Redskins (6-10): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin (JR). Mike Shanahan will take a long, hard look at the top quarterback prospects available, but with such a peculiar taste in signal-callers, we feel safer projecting a stud defensive linemen to Jim Haslett. Watt's stock is soaring.
11. Houston Texans (6-10): Brandon Harris, CB, Miami-FL (JR). This isn't exactly a secret: if Gary Kubiak plans to coach the Texans beyond the 2011 season, he needs to do whatever is necessary to improve his awful defense. A solid CB prospect would help him accomplish that.
12. Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Cam Newton, QB, Auburn (JR). Let's just say that we actually believe Brett Favre this time around. Minnesota is going to be in the market for a franchise quarterback, and they won't be afraid to gamble a little on a high-upside player like the Heisman Trophy winner.
13. Detroit Lions (6-10): Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida (JR). Jim Schwartz and company are doing an outstanding job turning the Lions around, and they're doing so by drafting quality players. Jenkins would add to that reputation, and help shore up what is still a rather awful pass defense.
14. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (JR). If you missed the Rams' Sunday Night Clunker in which they lost the NFC West, you probably noticed that Sam Bradford got zero help from his undermanned receiving corps. Receiver is a rather massive need in St. Louis.
15. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama (JR). If Tony Sparano and Dan Henning find a way to survive Miami's late-season collapse, they'll focus on improving their team's bread and butter: the running game. Without a quality linemen of value here, the Dolphins add by far the best runner available.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (SO). This team hovers on the edge of playoff contention yet again, but can't get there because of their lack of offensive firepower. Adding a sophomore with 111 catches and 20 touchdowns in one season seems like an OK idea.
17. New England Patriots (f/OAK): Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State (SR). Heyward isn't particularly scheme versatile, but he's a heck of a tough football player. If anyone can find a home for Heyward in his scheme, it's Bill Belichick. The rich get richer.
18. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Cameron Jordan, DE, California (SR). How does a team lead the NFL in offense and defense, yet miss the playoffs? We digress; Cameron Jordan is an excellent fit in the Chargers' defensive system, and absent a good pass rusher being available, made the most sense to us here.
19. New York Giants (10-6): Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA (JR). Despite their latest late-season collapse, the Giants still have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the football. They do need to upgrade at OLB, however, and Ayers has the coverage ability to excel in Perry Fewell's zone schemes.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6): Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa (SR). Tampa Bay improved from 3-13 in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010 under Raheem Morris; to say this youthful team is headed in the right direction would be an understatement. Clayborn is the best available player at a position of need. Win-win.
21. Seattle Seahawks (7-9): Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas (JR). Sorry, Charlie Whitehurst. You may have helped the Seahawks win the NFC West, but yeah, you're not the long-term answer for Pete Carroll. Mallett's a nice value selection at this point, and could be a good system quarterback in the NFL.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6): Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh (JR). Dwayne Bowe has been several kinds of awesome this season, but he'll be a free agent following the 2011 season, and he's the only receiver opponents need to pay attention to. Baldwin has excellent natural talent.
23. Indianapolis Colts (10-6): Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State (SR). Enough is enough, Bill Polian - it's time to do some serious re-tooling to that offensive line. Not even Peyton Manning can withstand constant protection breakdowns. Sherrod is a nice fit for Indy's offensive blocking scheme, and could start immediately.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (SR). When all else fails, the Eagles draft defensive tackles with their first pick (see: Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws). Paea is the best value here, and a better pick than reaches at bigger areas of need.
25. Green Bay Packers (10-6): Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia (JR). Dom Capers is creative enough to generate pressure simply with good scheming, but when it comes to Packers pass rushers, it's Clay Matthews or bust. Houston would help diversify Capers' play-calling arsenal.
26. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Greg Jones, OLB, Michigan State (SR). The Saints don't have a lot of glaring weaknesses, but linebacker is one of them. Jones is a good athlete and an active, diversely skilled player that could start on the weak side, and also has the experience inside to spell Jonathan Vilma from time to time.
27. Chicago Bears (11-5): Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College (SR). We love Jay Cutler, but we're pretty sure Jay Cutler doesn't love getting drilled into the turf a dozen times per game. Chicago needs an immediate O-Line contributor badly; Castonzo topped our list in that department.
28. New York Jets (11-5): Allen Bailey, DE, Miami-FL (SR). Rex Ryan prefers (easy joke redacted), and also doesn't mind adding pass rushers and cornerbacks with his draft picks. But Bailey is a stout run defender that fits very well into Ryan's system; he'd be an excellent value selection here.
29. Baltimore Ravens (12-4): Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (SR). Again, this is a team that doesn't have a lot of glaring weaknesses, but their depth in the defensive backfield was severely tested in 2010, to say the least. Ozzie Newsome could do a lot worse than adding a big, physical corner to his roster.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida (SR). Brother Maurkice is already a Steeler, and apparently, he let the cat out of the bag: the Steelers like Mike, as well. For a team still in need of fine-tuning their offensive front, adding a second Pouncey makes a great deal of sense.
31. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Jurrell Casey, DT, USC (JR). The imperfect Falcons have a couple of glaring weaknesses despite being the NFC's best regular season team (OT, WR), but Casey is too good to pass up here. The Falcons can definitely upgrade their three-tech DT spot, where Peria Jerry has been a disappointment.
32. New England Patriots (14-2): Marcus Cannon, OG, TCU (SR). If New England doesn't flip their No. 17 overall pick for four more picks in the Top 20 in the 2012 NFL Draft, then they'll probably do so with this pick. We won't project trades, however, so we'll give the Pats a rising O-Line prospect that could start right away at right guard.