Super Bowl XLV is in the books, and the Green Bay Packers are world champions after edging the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 at Cowboys Stadium. Not even Super Bowl champions are impervious to holes in their roster, however, and in our latest 2011 NFL Mock Draft, the Steelers and Packers both have issues to address.
1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Fairley to Carolina is still the best projection to make at this point in time. He was college football's most dominant defender in 2010, has loads of talent, and will fit perfectly into new Panthers head coach Ron Rivera's preferred defensive system.
2. Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. Denver is in rough shape defensively, and new head coach John Fox may see fit to simply take the best defender available. That would be Peterson, who also happens to play at a need position, where Champ Bailey is not expected back.
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. In order to fix its league-worst run defense, the Bills need to get bigger and more physical in their defensive front seven. Dareus is a versatile lineman capable of playing in multiple fronts, and he's complement stud defensive tackle Kyle Williams nicely.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Terrell Owens' year in Cincinnati is over, and there won't be another. Chad Johnson's future with the club is in doubt, as well. Cincinnati may have bigger needs, but Green is arguably the best prospect available this year, and the Bengals will lack playmakers at receiver.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. Rush linebacker is a huge problem in Arizona, where the aging Joey Porter is their best option. Miller's stock is still hot after an excellent Senior Bowl, and questions about his size matter somewhat less in Arizona's 3-4 under scheme, where he can play outside or inside.
6. Cleveland Browns: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. One downside to Cleveland's moving to a 4-3 defense under Dick Jauron is that it may prevent the team from surrounding Colt McCoy with top-tier talent. Julio Jones would be a great pick here, but they simply couldn't pass on a potentially elite 4-3 end like Bowers.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. San Francisco's pick is rather difficult to project, because no one is quite sure how Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers will attack the draft. As such, we'll stay conservative with Amukamara - a top prospect, a senior, and at a position of need.
8. Tennessee Titans: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Vince Young is out. Jeff Fisher is out. The Titans are currently interviewing head coaching candidates, and their being in flux makes this a difficult pick to predict. This could very well end up being where the first quarterback is taken, as the Titans desperately need a present and future there.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. There are several directions Dallas could go with this pick, but if a potentially elite pass rusher like Quinn is available, he'd make a great investment. Quinn's upside is significantly higher than that of current starter Anthony Spencer.
10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. There is an abundance of 3-4 talent available here that Washington may consider, but this is a deep year for defensive linemen. Jones is favored to Georgia's Green by some NFL scouts, and the Redskins need a lot of help at the receiver position.
11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. Wade Phillips' 3-4 under calls for excellent front seven personnel, and in switching from the 4-3, the Texans have a lot of question marks in that area. Smith may not provide an answer immediately, but he's a phenomenal athlete that should transition well to outside linebacker.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. Quarterback is a need, but it's not a slam dunk that the Vikings will like any of the players available. Among the other directions the team could go, a high-upside OT like Solder makes sense, as Bryant McKinnie's best days are behind him at left tackle.
13. Detroit Lions: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL). Many might consider this a reach, and it's true that Harris is raw. He is also an outstanding athlete, and has as much potential as Amukamara as a pro. Detroit needs cornerback help badly, and may be willing to be patient as they coach a talent like Harris up.
14. St. Louis Rams: Cameron Jordan, DE, California. A receiver would be nice for the Rams, but there's at least a solid chance the team will re-sign Mark Clayton. There's nothing across from Chris Long at defensive end, and Jordan's stock is hot after an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are scheduled to become free agents, and it is imperative that the Dolphins improve their rushing offense. They can start by adding Ingram, who for whatever reason continues to be underrated by the general masses.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. There's a very good chance that Kerrigan will be long gone by the middle of the first round, but this would be an absolutely ideal situation for the Jaguars, who are desperate for help at end. Kerrigan is the epitome of a Gene Smith selection: talent and character.
17. New England Patriots: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Matt Light isn't getting any younger at left tackle, but he's still performing well enough to afford the team the time necessary to develop his replacement. Smith has elite athleticism and potential, and the talent-laden Patriots are one team that can afford to take him early and stash him.
18. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. This pick is expected to be a lineman, whether offensive or defensive. Between the best players available at each position, Watt trumps BC tackle Anthony Castonzo. Watt would be an immediate upgrade over aging defensive end Jacques Cesaire.
19. New York Giants: Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame. Curveball! The Giants are incredibly inconsistent offensively, and turnovers are a huge problem for them. As good as Kevin Boss (an impending free agent) has been, he's not the elite safety valve Jeremy Shockey was. Rudolph is very similar to Rob Gronkowski as a prospect, even down to a worrisome injury.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Clayborn's stock is falling after pulling out of the Senior Bowl, and especially after a so-so senior season. He's also got character concerns. All will be forgiven in Tampa Bay, where character risks have worked out (Mike Williams), and where DE is a massive need.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia. Tamba Hali, for whatever reason, is still one of the NFL's most overlooked elite pass rushers. At some point, he'll need a complement to keep offenses honest, and Houston has the athleticism and explosiveness to become a truly excellent edge rusher.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. Indy's left tackle position has been a crapshoot since Tarik Glenn left the team, and as awesome as Peyton Manning is, the Colts won't be Super Bowl-ready until they do more in front of him. Sherrod has the quicks and the experience to start right away.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Andy Reid needs to upgrade his offensive line, and he's developed a reputation as a coach that likes to take college tackles and play them wherever he sees fit. Carimi, before succumbing to injury, proved at the Senior Bowl that he'll be comfortable at guard if asked to play there.
24. New Orleans Saints: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State. Despite its early playoff exit, the Saints don't have a lot of glaring weaknesses. Running back can be addressed later, and Paea - though he suffered a meniscus injury at the Senior Bowl - is too talented, and too big an upgrade over Remi Ayodele, to pass up here.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. It's easy to just slide any quarterback into this spot, but Locker would be a great pick for Seattle. The USC connection is there, no one questions Locker's intangibles and raw talent, and Matt Hasselbeck's presence affords Locker the time he needs to develop.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland. Baltimore continues to make improvements offensively around Joe Flacco, but one thing they lack as a group is top-level speed. Smith has that, can kill a defense deep, and wouldn't need to be a focal point immediately. This would be a smart pick for Ozzie Newsome.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. Entering their fourth year on the job, Tom Dimitroff, Mike Smith and company continue to slowly build the Falcons into a perennial playoff contender. Poised to lose Tyson Clabo at right tackle, Castonzo is poised to step in right away - and would be an upgrade in any case.
28. New England Patriots: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. Ty Warren's absence was felt in 2010, and the Patriots need to begin re-stocking their defensive line with high-end talent. Heyward is a perfect fit for the 3-4 that would improve the Patriots' pass rush from that position.
29. Chicago Bears: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida. It's not exactly a secret that the Bears need to improve along the offensive line if they ever hope to win it all with Jay Cutler. Absent a quality tackle being available, Pouncey is the best lineman available. He'd start at left guard, and could even move to center when Olin Kreutz calls it quits.
30. New York Jets: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. It's not inconceivable that Ayers falls this far; he's not great at any one thing, and linebackers slide down draft boards as a rule in April. 3-4 teams will like Ayers' versatility and upside as a pass rusher, and a talented team like the Jets can afford to take the time to coach him up a bit.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers targeted William Gay early and often in Super Bowl XLV, and we all saw the results. An upgrade opposite Ike Taylor is needed, and Smith has the size and physicality to excel in the back end of the Steel Curtain defense.
32. Green Bay Packers: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor. The Super Bowl champs are going to get a lot better next year just by getting Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Mark Tauscher and Nick Barnett back from the injured list. Their offensive line is still a weak point, and Watkins would represent an immediate upgrade over Daryn Colledge at left guard, and a possible down-the-line option at left tackle, as well.