With the draft being just about three-and-a-half weeks away, it’s time to throw out the latest round of prognostications-sure-to-be-way-off, in the form of an updated 2011 Mock Draft:
1. Carolina: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri — Even though Panthers GM Marty Hurney drafted Jimmy Clasen last year, with a new coaching staff/regime in place in Carolina, I think the Panthers will take Gabbert to be the new face of the franchise. I like Gabbert a lot – his game reminds me a lot of Aaron Rodgers – but he needs to hold the clipboard in Year 1 as much as possible. This works well since the Panthers already have Clausen, who can start for this team on opening day.
2. Denver: Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama — Dareus shot up draft boards after an excellent showing at the combine. Given his near-prototype size at defensive tackle (6’3, 319), he’d be an outstanding centerpiece for John Fox to build his newly-installed 4-3 defense around. Also remember that Fox’s first draft selection when he came to Carolina was also on the defensive line (Julius Peppers).
3. Buffalo: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn — The Bills haven’t had a franchise quarterback to build & rally around since the days of Jim Kelly, and there are increasing whispers that the Bills front office is intrigued by the idea of drafting Newton. To me, the Bills need a player will get people talking about the franchise, drive up ticket sales, and put the Bills “back on the map.” Newton is as talented as any player in this draft, but comes with just as many red flags as virtues to build upon.
4. Cincinnati: AJ Green, WR, Georgia — Once the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is completed, the Bengals are officially & finally going to cut ties with Chad Ochocinco, as well as end the Terrell Owens experiment. That doesn’t give Carson Palmer – who isn’t going to be traded – a whole lot to work with. As a receiving prospect, Green has it all: size (6’4), speed (4.48 at the combine), great hands, and solid route-running mechanics.
5. Arizona: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M — The Cardinals have a need at linebacker, and Miller is the type of guy who could come in and start at the Sam ‘backer position from day one. I really don’t think the Cardinals are going to try and draft Gabbert or Newton, because the veterans like Larry Fitzgerald just won’t buy into the excuse of letting a young quarterback develop while they waste their athletic primes. There’s too many quarterbacks potentially available (Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, Matt Flynn) whom the Cardinals could acquire as an immediate starter.
6. Cleveland: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn — At one point in time, it seemed like Fairley could very well have been the first overall pick in this draft. But after the scouting combine, there were some concerns around Fairley’s lack of size as a defensive tackle prospect (he’s around 291 lbs). Still, anyone who watched Auburn football this year knows that Fairley simply dominated games, at times. He reminds you a lot Albert Haynesworth: all the potential in the world, but the occasional propensity to take a few plays off. But, he’d be a centerpiece player in the Browns new 4-3 defense.
7. San Francisco: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU — Could be the best defensive prospect in this entire draft, Peterson is as athletically gifted as any cornerback to enter the draft since maybe Champ Bailey. With “the big two” quarterback prospects gone already, the 49ers would almost have to make this pick Putting Peterson opposite Nate Clements in the secondary would give the 49ers an excellent pair of corners.
8. Tennessee – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska — In a division that features passing offenses like those of the Colts and Texans, the Titans can’t go wrong with acquiring another top-flight corner. Amukamara has all the physical tools to be a lock-down corner in the NFL, but also has the ability to play Safety at a very high level. He’d be a great fit for the Titans defense.
9. Dallas: JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin — Watt is a fast rising prospect who’s one of those guys that just seems to do everything right, and happens to be a good person to boot (something the Cowboys could certainly use given the drama around their last first round pick, Dez Bryant). While he played in a 4-3 defense in Madison, he’s could be the best defensive end prospect to project as a “five technique” defensive end for a 3-4 defense, something the Cowboys really need.
10. Washington: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama — Let me start off by saying that the Redskins are going to try like hell to trade down from this pick, and with someone like Jones available, they should have at least a couple of suitors. But if they somehow keep this pick, and assuming that Santana Moss is not resigned (it doesn’t look good right now), the Redskins should do what they can to upgrade what could be the worst receiving corps in the entire NFL. Jones’ style of play and physical stature reminds me a lot of Terrell Owens, thankfully minus all the off-field drama.
11. Houston: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina — Anyone who follows football should know that the Texans pass defense was historically bad. They’ve brought in Wade Phillips, who’ll be installing a 3-4 defense in an attempt to attack opposing quarterbacks more. It makes sense, then, to draft a guy like Quinn, who could easily convert to a 3-4 OLB and may very well be the most talented player in this entire draft. Because of his 2010 suspension, he drops this far.
12. Minnesota: Tyron Smith, OT, USC — Even with two gigantic tackles like Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadhoalt, the Vikings have had their problems on the offensive line. If they can get someone to solidify the left tackle spot, they might be better served with moving McKinnie over to the right side and Loadholt inside at guard, especially if they want to get back to focusing their offense through Adrian Peterson & the running game.
13. Detroit: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College — Current left tackle Jeff Backus only has one year left on his current deal, and never really was the top-flight starter at the position that they hoped for. It’s obvious that the key to this franchise’s future lies with keeping Matthew Stafford upright and healthy, so drafting Castonzo makes sense. He’s the most NFL-ready tackle out of all the top tackle prospects in this draft.
14. St. Louis: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois — It looks more and more like the Rams are going to miss out on the top two receivers in this year’s draft, but there’s enough depth at the position where they can address it in the second round (or later). Liuget is a fast-rising defensive tackle that’s flown under the radar a bit, but has impressed everyone who has watched him on tape and in workouts. He’d be a perfect fit for a Rams defense that’s quickly building up a lot of talent.
15. Miami: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama — The comparison has been made a little too often, but Ingram really does remind you of Emmitt Smith when you watch him enough. He’s not the fastest guy in the world but he hits the hole with a vengeance, runs angry, and breaks a ton of tackles. Ronnie Brown has never really been the same since his knee injury, and Ricky Williams isn’t getting any younger.
16. Jacksonville: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson — Bowers’ stock is dropping like a rock off a skyscraper, because of concerns regarding the surgery he had on his knee in January, and especially after a very unimpressive pro day workout (where he was timed in the mid 4.9’s). Jacksonville has missed on a handful of draft picks while trying to upgrade their pass rush, so they’ll hope that Bowers falling to them will fix that need.
17. New England: Cameron Jordan, DE, California — Jordan is exactly the type of guy who fits what the Patriots do, and would be a fantastic piece to add to their youth movement on defense. He’s big enough to play the five technique in the Patriots base 3-4 defense, but versatile enough to play defensive end in a 4-3 or even outside linebacker in certain looks.
18. San Diego: Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Purdue — After losing Shawne Merriman and not seeing the results they’d like from former first round pick Larry English, Kerrigan would be a solid fit for the Chargers. He might not be the most athletic guy in this draft, but scouts and personnel men rave about his motor, intensity, and passion for the game. He still has some room for development, but he reminds you a bit of Clay Matthews Jr. of the Packers.
19. NY Giants: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida — Admittely, Pouncey’s stock is a bit higher than normal because of the success of his older brother, Maurkice, in Pittsburgh. However, Pouncey is definitely the best interior linemen in this draft, and would fill a need for the Giants by potentially replacing the oft-injured Rich Seubert. Eventually, Pouncey could even slide into the Center position when Shaun O’Hara retires.
20. Tampa Bay: Aldon Smith, Missouri — Priority #1 for the Buccaneers remains finding a stud defensive end for their front four on defense, and thankfully there’s an abundance of them in this draft. Smith is a little better against the run than he is against the pass at this point, but still has room to develop. He’s also a bit undersized, but fits well with how the Buccaneers play defense.
21. Kansas City: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor — Being another team that’s moving to the 3-4 defense, Taylor is the type of guy who can instantaneously be the centerpiece for said defense at the nose tackle position. He’s another player whose stock has shot up during the off-season, especially after an impressive senior bowl and personal workouts. There is definitely going to be more than one team vying for his services.
22. Indianapolis: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado — the Colts really need someone who is going to make sure the last handful of years of Peyton Manning’s career will be as pain-free as possible, especially after the game of musical chairs the Colts have been playing along the offensive line. Solder is incredible physical specimen with great football IQ and huge upside, fitting the type of player the Colts usually draft.
23. Philadelphia: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia — here’s a secret that few people outside Philadelphia have been talking about: the Eagles early exit from the playoffs had a lot to do with their inability to get after opposing quarterbacks. Yes, they were in the top 10 in sacks, but outside of DE Trent Cole, they only had one guy with more than 6 sacks. Houston is another versatile player who can play linebacker on first and second down, and put his hand in the dirt on third down as a pass rusher.
24. New Orleans: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa — New Orleans was another team that struggled to get after the passer in 2010; they didn’t have a single player on their roster register more than six sacks. They’ve tried to make DE Will Smith’s life easier by adding Shaun Rogers to the defensive line, and they can further that by pairing Clayborn on the opposite end of Smith. Clayborn is a solid DE prospect who is very good against both the run and the pass.
25. Seattle: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin — It’s not often you can go wrong with selecting an offensive lineman from Wisconsin. Drafting Carimi would give the Seahawks a pair of bookend tackles for the next decade, between he and Russell Okung. I don’t buy into the hype that Seattle will draft a quarterback here (specifically hometown boy Jake Locker), and they’ll still give Charlie Whitehurst another chance to see what he can do.
26. Baltimore: Brandon Williams, CB, Miami — For a team that is not that many players away from being a Super Bowl contender (but one whose window is closing rapidly), they have to address their biggest need immediately: cornerback. Williams is one of the best prospects among the “second tier” of cornerbacks in this draft, and the Ravens would be happy to take another Miami boy, to learn under the wings of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
27. Atlanta: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA — Ayers would be another solid fit for a team who is rebuilding an aging defense with a youth movement. While he’s a very able pass rusher, he could come in and play at the weakside linebacker position, but also rush the passer on obvious passing downs. Despite his size, he’s versatile enough to drop into coverage effectively, giving the Falcons a lot of flexibility in the ways they use him.
28. New England: Muhammed Wilkerson, DE, Temple — If the Patriots were able to draft Jordan and Wilkerson, they’d be able to substantially upgrade the critical front line of their 3-4 defense in one fell swoop. Wilkerson is another guy who has impressed everyone who’s watched him, and has the flexibilty to play multiple positions in a Bill Belichick defense.
29. Chicago: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi — There were times, early in 2010, where Jay Cutler was absolutely getting his brain beaten in. While his pass protection did improve as the season wore on, it came as a result of Mike Martz using extra tight ends to block. Martz offense is at its best when it can spread the field and attack vertically, but they have to keep Jay Cutler upright if they want to do that. Sherrod could start from Day 1 as the Bears right tackle.
30. NY Jets: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State – Paea is one of those guys who may not have all the measurables needed, but he’s the type of guy you want on your team. He’s ridiculously strong, relentless, and versatile enough to play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 front or perhaps a block-eating 5 technique in a 3-4 defense. He’s exactly the type of player that would fit well on a Rex Ryan defense.
31. Pittsburgh: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor — the last few years, the Steelers’ biggest weakness has always been along the offensive line, and last year was no different because of injuries. At one point in time, they had four different guys starting on their line who were different than the opening day starters. They’re still plenty good enough to be Super Bowl contenders and don’t need any other real upgrades, so they’ll draft smartly and solidify themselves up front with arguably the best guard in this draft.
32. Green Bay: Cameron Hayward, DE, Ohio State — the champs could take some hits on the front line of their defense off-season, now that Johnny Jolly has been arrested and Cullen Jenkins is a free agent who could seek a “greener” setting. Hayward, son of the legendary Craig “the Ironhead” Hayward,” has the size and ability to play the five technique for the Packers.