16 April 2011

2011 NFL Mock Draft, 8th Edition

The days are numbered to the 2011 NFL Draft as less than two weeks from today, the Carolina Panthers will be on the clock. For the eighth time, here are my projections for the first round of the NFL Draft.
2011 NFL Draft Order

1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
All the indications are right now lean towards Newton going number one. Ron Rivera really likes Newton, he has no ties to Jimmy Clausen who was awful in 2010, and multiple sources (including Adam Schefter) believe that Newton will be the pick. Newton has all the tools and prodigious amounts of talent thanks to his size, arm, and athleticism. He won't be able to start right away but could be a stud down the road.

2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Broncos are desperate for help alongside the defensive front. They are transitioning to a 4-3 under new coach John Fox and generate no pass rush last season. Now while getting Elvis Dumervil is a major positive, the Broncos still have a shortage at defensive tackle, and that's where Dareus comes in. Dareus has an awesome combine where he had a faster 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash than Nick Fairley, despite being 30 pounds heavier. I would be stunned if he fell past Denver.

3. Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Unless the Panthers select Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton is available here, I do not think the Bills will go quarterback. Rumor has it that the organization does not love Gabbert and they may wait to take a quarterback. Meanwhile the Bills could not get any sort of pass rush last year so Miller would be a great acquisition. Miller has had an awesome pre-draft process, especially when he was on the Chan Gailey-coached team at the Senior Bowl. He has been compared to the late Derrick Thomas and if you look at the tape, it's not that crazy.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
The Bengals' offense needs a complete makeover and that starts by dumping Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. But then they would have nothing at wide receiver, hence the Green pick. Mike Brown has refused to move Carson Palmer so one of them will have to budge. The best way to try to convince Palmer to possibly consider staying is to improve the motley crew around him and Green would certainly help do that.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
I'm not buying the rumors that the Cardinals are going quarterback here, it just makes no sense for Ken Whisenhunt to go in that direction. With Miller gone, the Cardinals will take the top player in the draft right here and that is Peterson. Peterson has all the tools to be a star and is considered by some to be the best cornerback prospect in a decade. In Glendale he will either push Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie to step up his game, take his job, or form a potentially badass corner tandem.

6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Browns will go with Jones or Robert Quinn here. I'm leaning Jones because the team has nothing around Colt McCoy and they have to find him weapons for him to build off the promise he showed in 2010. Mike Holmgren is too smart not to realize that. Jones has has a rising stock since he had a great 40-yard dash and vertical despite a fracture in his foot.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
The 49ers desperately need a franchise quarterback and new coach Jim Harbaugh knows that. Harbaugh turned Josh Johnson into a stud at San Diego and helped tutor Andrew Luck at Stanford so we know he has had success with developing quarterbacks. Harbaugh did try to recruit Gabbert to Stanford and Harbaugh has to realize that he has nothing in San Francisco at the quarterback position right now.

8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Jason Jones is a sound lineman but the Titans have not fully recovered from the defection to Fat Albert to Washington. The Titans would be ecstatic to add a player to their line with the caliber of a Nick Fairley. Now Fairley's slight slide down the NFL Draft is not due to a falling stock, as he had a good combine. It's just the result of circumstances. 

9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Cowboys really need help at the cornerback position as Terrence Newman could be released this offseason and Mike Jenkins was putrid towards the end of the season. I do expect the Cowboys to go after Nnamdi Asomugha but even then they can't pass up on the top available player to build a powerful conerback tandem with. Amukamara really is not that far behind Patrick Peterson and he quelled doubts about his speed by running a sub-4.40 in the 40-yard dash. Now there are rumors that the Cowboys do not love Amukamara but I think this is a ploy to prevent teams from trading above them to get him

10. Washington Redskins: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
The Redskins desperately need help rushing the passer as Brian Orakpo is their only pass rushing threat. Quinn falls not because of a declining stock but rather circumstance, like Fairley. He and Orakpo could be a strong pass rush tandem of the edge in Washington's 3-4 defense. 

11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
The Texans are transitioning to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and they need the personnel to effectively make the switch. They need another outside linebacker to rush the passer alongside Brian Cushing and if Smith is available he would make a great fit. He is a bit raw, just like Jason Pierre-Paul last year, but he is incredibly talented and is an athletic freak. 

12. Minnesota Vikings: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal-Berkeley
Jordan has been on fire during the pre-draft process as he has been lighting it up. He was awesome at the Senior Bowl and awesome at the combine. The Vikings could use a replacement for Ray Edwards as he is a free agent and Jordan could post big sack numbers opposite Jared Allen. 
Now while the Vikings have nothing at quarterback, I really can't see them taking Jake Locker here, as has been rumored. 

13. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, OT, Southern California
Will this finally be the year that the Lions find somebody competent to keep Matt Stafford healthy? I believe so, plus you could make a case that Smith is the top player available. 
Smith is extremely athletic and he eased fears about his slim frame by weighing in at 307 pounds in Indianapolis. He has all the ability to be a top flight blind-side protector. 

14. St. Louis Rams: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
The Rams really need a receiver but there is not one available that would not be a reach. One of their bigger needs is defensive tackle and Liuget has had a rising stock of late. He is versatile and is equally adapt at stopping the run and rushing the passer. He and Chris Long could make a great tandem on the Rams' defensive line for years. 

15. Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida
The Dolphins are in a tough spot because there are no guys that would fill their needs that would not be a reach at this spot. I have been mocking Mark Ingram from the get-go to Miami but he has injury concerns that are worrying a lot of teams. Plus there a solid glut of running backs that will be available in the middle rounds. 
One of their other pressing needs is the interior offensive line and Pouncey would be a solid addition. He is not worth a spot this high but Miami does not have much better options, unless they trade down. 

16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The Jaguars have struggle to generate any sort of a consistent pass rush and last offseason's signing of Aaron Kampman did not work out as hoped. Kerrigan would be able to rush the passer effectively right off the bat and would complement the impressive defensive tackle tandem very well. 

17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The Patriots need some help on their defensive line even as Ty Warren is set to return next season from injury. Watt is a strong fit for a Belichick club due to his hard-working, blue-collar nature and he looks to  bring some leadership to a young and developing defense. 

18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
The Chargers need an upgrade at the 3-4 end slot and Heyward would be a strong upgrade over the current situation. He projects well to play the defensive end spot in a 3-4 and don't forget that he was also lights-out during the Sugar Bowl.

19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
The Giants need an upgrade at the outside linebacker spot as Keith Bullock is too old and is a free agent. Ayers is a plus pass rusher and would be a great fit at the strongside linebacker spot in Perry Fewell's aggressive scheme.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
It seemed that only weeks ago that Bowers would be a lock for the top ten. Now after a disastrous Pro Day and a knee that might need microfracture surgery, his stock has dropped like a rock. The Buccaneers have a big need at defensive end and I think they would take a chance on the extremely talented Bowers. 

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Anthony Costanzo, OT, Boston College
Brandon Albert is an adequate left tackle but not in any means elite. The Chiefs need an upgrade to their line and Costanzo is arguably the top tackle available. He had a very strong combine and has all the tools to be a very good left tackle. He could also force Kansas City to move Albert to guard, which is his natural position. 

22. Indianapolis Colts: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Peyton Manning needs much better protection from his offensive line. The Colts' offensive line is crumbling and needs reinforcements. Carimi is a classic physical Big Ten tackle who should help improve the putrid Indianapolis run game and bring some nastiness to the front five. 

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Even with Michael Vick at quarterback, the Eagles surrendered a whopping 49 sacks this season. That is why too much especially with an extremely mobile quarterback and the Eagles need to improve their line. Sherrod is the top tackle available at this juncture and would be a nice upgrade over Winston Justice.

24. New Orleans Saints: Muhammed Wilkerson, DT, Temple
The Saints need some help inside next to Sedrick Ellis and Wilkerson would be a good fit. Wilkerson has great size and agility, he is a former basketball player, and he has good skill in rushing the passer as well as anchoring to stuff the run. He has the potential to form one of the better tackle tandems in the league with Ellis. 

25. Seattle Seahawks: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Pete Carroll was the only coach at Washington's Pro Day and he was there to scout Locker. Yes they did spend a heavy price to acquire Charlie Whitehurst but he really has not shown the ability to be a good starting quarterback. Locker is a local boy who has a lot of talent and all the tools but he was hamstrung during his senior season by a crappy supporting cast as well as lack of accuracy. But if he is coached well, he can develop into a very good NFL quarterback and I think Carroll will take a chance on him. 

26. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Ravens need a lot of help at the cornerback spot due to the fact that they struggled defending the pass and with most of their top corners hitting free agency. Smith has a lot of talent but may scare teams away due to his character concerns. I do not think that he would scare Ozzie Newsome away.

27. Atlanta Falcons: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Sam Baker belongs at the right tackle slot and he struggled at times covering Matt Ryan's blind-side in 2010. Now while Solder is said to be a lot better than he really is, he is a solid pick at this point as he can be a difference maker down the road due to his plus size and athleticism. 

28. New England Patriots: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
The Patriots have a big hole at guard thanks to the retirement of Stephen Neal. Now while Watkins is 26, he actually has a lot of room to grow because he has only played football for four years. He is a solid mauler who works hard and has experience at left tackle as well. 
Note that the Patriots may trade out of this pick. 

29. Chicago Bears: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
The Bears desperate need the improve their offensive line but with all of the top lineman off the board, thery will turn to their woeful secondary. Williams is the top cornerback on the board and has the size and speed to match up with the likes of Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings. 

30. New York Jets: Justin Houstin, DE/OLB, Georgia
Rex Ryan's pass rush in New York would be even more effective if they had a top flight pass rusher off the edge. Houston has the talent to be a pass rushing force. He also has the experience of playing in a 3-4 and a 4-3, which could help Ryan disguise his schemes.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
For years, Casey Hampton has been the elite nose tackle in football. However, he will be 34 when the season starts. The Steelers would probably prefer to wait till the middle rounds to find a successor but Taylor is too good to pass up. Taylor is an athletic mountain of a man who can clog the running lanes and can bull rush the quarterback. He would help keep Hampton fresh and effective while learning the nuances of the Steelers 3-4. 

32. Green Bay Packers: Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona

The Packers are lucky because after years of strong drafting by Ted Thompson, they have very few holes across the roster. And due to the team's youth, that is likely to remain the story for years. 
However, the pass rush has been stagnant at times due to the lack of another consistent rusher opposite the beastly Clay Matthews. Reed looks just like Matthews and has the relentless effort, speed, and strength that has led many to compare the two. While I think that is a little premature, Reed does have the talent to complement Matthews effectively. 

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