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As our 2011 NFL mock draft rolls on, we've come to the 40th overall pick, the second pick for the Dallas Cowboys. Despite them taking cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round, their secondary is still the area that most needs improvement for Dallas, and would be a good idea to keep stacking youngsters on their defense. So with that being said, the Dallas Cowboys should choose cornerback Aaron Williams out of Texas with their selection here.
Williams is a versatile defensive back who has played multiple positions in the secondary, and has good recognition, great size and speed, and loves to play with an edge. He can get caught peeking in the backfield from time to time and can sometimes show some inconsistencies in man-to-man coverage, but those can get worked out once in the NFL. Here's what Big 12 blogger David Ubben has to say about Aaron:
"The thing with Williams, he has so much more raw talent of any of the corners in the draft...I've heard at the NFL level some teams may want him at safety, because he's a big hitter. But he also has speed. He's talented as a cover guy, he can play everywhere. If he's going to play safety, I think you have to give him a little bit of time. But at corner he can step right in and do really well at it. So it kind of depends on the team. If you need help right now, you play Williams at corner. If you want help later and you can wait some time to develop him, then it's safety."
Wherever the 'Boys decide to play him, he's going to have an impact on the secondary. And if Dallas can get two talented defensive backs in Amakumara and Williams the first two rounds, I'm sure they wouldn't mind.
The Titans have a very good weapon on offense, perhaps you've heard of him: Chris Johnson. He's one of the very best running backs in the league and can carry any offense throughout the course of any given football game. But the quarterback position is widely regarded as the most important position on the team for good reason, and no matter how good Johnson is, he will not take Tennessee into the playoffs, let alone deep into them. He needs a capable quarterback, and that's something he doesn't have right now. Vince Young was the guy, then he wasn't, then he was suicidal, then he was the guy again briefly ... but he's done as a Titan.
Tennessee would like to have someone like Blaine Gabbert fall to them in the first, or perhaps Ryan Mallett in the second, but he just went to Arizona, so they have to choose between Ponder or Colin Kaepernick out of Nevada. It's not a bad position to be in by any means, as both quarterbacks could end up being something special when it all comes down to it, but they go with the more pro-ready guy in Ponder.
Ponder had a great season, had the best Scouting Combine of any quarterback, had a good pro day and is reportedly impressing teams. He could sneak into the first round, but in this mock, the Titans land him, and they are absolutely happy to do so.
This is a guest pick from Tre9er, one of the front page writers at Niners Nation and frequent abuser of Twitter's abilities to re-tweet the opinions of others to his followers. You can follow him @Tre9er.
At this point in the draft, Mallett's value begins. He actually has first-round talent in his arm but the question marks are enough to make teams wait until the second tier of QB's before they take him. Are the rumors true? Are they not? The fact that we're weeks away from the draft and those questions aren't yet answered cast enough shadow of doubt on the guy.
Mallett's arm fits well into what Arizona likes to do on offense. A natural thrower, great arm-strength, and throws one of the best deep-balls in this draft. If the Cardinals can get the power running game working like they've long hoped, Mallett should find enough time in the pocket to deliver the laser-strikes we saw during his years at Arkansas. Mallett also has some experience playing in an offense that more easily translates to the NFL than some others, such as Spread/Option QB's. The route trees and reads he made at Arkansas will help the signal caller feel somewhat at home in the NFL...or as much as a rookie QB can feel at home with thousands of pounds of beef moving at top speed.
The pass rushers left at this point don't have the value as 3-4 OLB's that you'd like to see for an early second round pick. I considered a guy like Dontay Moch, but his size and low floor don't seem to warrant this high of a pick. There will be some real gems to be had later in this draft, and Arizona knows it.
In the first round, the Browns got a strong offensive weapon for quarterback Colt McCoy when they landed A.J. Green out of Georgia. Green is a can't-miss talent that fell because the Cincinnati Bengals have significant quarterback needs, and the Browns were perfectly happy to catch him when the Cardinals didn't so much as glance in his direction. After spending a premium pick on premium offensive talent, they'll need to spend another premium pick on the best defensive talent they can find.
Marvin Austin fits the bill right here at pick number thirty-seven. He can go in the first round, and is probably a late-first talent, so they get good value and don't have to reach to fill this big need on defense. Austin will fill the void that Shaun Rogers occupied prior. He's got the size and the skill to do all things on the line, rushing the passer and stopping the run.
The reason he's not in the first round though: consistency issues, plus a fair bit of rust after being suspended by the NCAA. He could disappear at times, but Cleveland will be banking on him being there more often than not.
In round one, the Broncos took Nick Fairley out of Auburn and the defensive line that has so many question marks started to look a lot better. In round two, they're going to get Corey Liuget, and the defensive line didn't just look better, it became a force and a surefire strength heading into 2011. They lost Ronald Fields, Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams, all of which aren't great individually, but that's a lot for your line to take. Big deal, look who they just added in the draft: two of the top four or five defensive tackles.
Liuget is a guy that the Broncos can play all over the line, but he'll work best if they put him under a tackle and have him consistently wear down one guy throughout the course of a game. In a line where Fairley will be the star, Liuget will be the guy who does everything that Fairley doesn't. The only knock on Liuget is that he doesn't have a great motor, and that's why he fell this far to begin with, but he won't have to be the focal point of that line and that's the key here.
The Broncos want to be strong defensively so they can grow their offense into something special, but that will definitely take some time. It takes less time to come out and grow as a defensive player than it does to groom a quarterback like Tim Tebow.
As our 2011 NFL Mock Draft has rolled into the second round, the debate between whether to draft for talent or draft for teams needs becomes more pertinent with every pick. The players aren't as elite as those players drafted before them but there are still a lot of high-caliber players on the board, including wide receiver Randall Cobb from the University of Kentucky.
I think Cobb is a great fit for the Bengals, especially in terms of our draft. The Bengals selected Cam Newton in the first round, and will be a savvy move to draft a receiver to grow along with him, learning the ropes step by step, and hopefully becoming a tuned-in duo on the field. At just a shade over 5'10", Cobb isn't going to be grabbing balls up over the head of defenders too often, but he's got top end speed, got great hands, is incredibly tough, and absolutely fearless when he's running routes. He isn't afraid of contact, and is strong enough to hold on to a lot of balls after a jarring hit in mid air, while his fluidity running routes can gain him that extra separation that his speed and size can't. As a slot receiver, I think he can do some serious damage.
But not only can Cobb catch, he can throw and run too. Two seasons ago Cobb broke the SEC single-season record for all-purpose yardage with 2,396; 1,017 receiving and 424 rushing. Last year he scored at least one touchdown as a receiver, running back, quarterback and returner, a total of 16 touchdowns in all. He can be used is variety of ways including but not excluded to wildcat formations and an emergency back up QB, and will bring tremendous versatility to the Bengals, however they choose to utilize him.
Ryan Fitzpatrick earned a lot of respect last season around the league, but he just isn't the answer going forward. The Bills will need to address the position in either the first or second round, and I didn't see them passing up on Von Miller in the first round, so they have their pick at the top of the second round. Andy Dalton is slowly picking up steam and will definitely go at some point in the second, but I can see him going this early if the Bills like him enough. I figure they do, but Christian Ponder or Colin Kaepernick could be selections at this point as well. I don't think someone like Ryan Mallett is an option, I just don't see him as being mobile enough for the Bills and their current offense.
One good thing I'll say about the Bills, they looked like one of the best 4-12 teams I've seen in a very long time. They fought hard in every game they played, and have a lot of pieces in place. When they took Miller in the first round, they got an awful lot stronger, and now they'll get a guy who can be a franchise quarterback and lead that offense. Dalton is mobile, with a good arm, and Chain Gailey had some experience coaching him in the Senior Bowl. He's the guy going forward in my mind, but they could go several ways here.
The Patriots are a team that always drafts smart, and they continue to do so here when they take the best player on the board in Akeem Ayers. Wouldn't you know it, Ayers happens to fill a significant need, as they've been looking for help rushing the passer for awhile now. Most feel like Ayers would go in the first round, but he doesn't fall far as the Patriots grab him with a pick acquired from the Carolina Panthers in one of New England's many, many trades in which they always seem to come out on top. Definitely on top in this case, as they had many players they could grab at this point, including the guard, Danny Watkins out of Baylor, what with Stephen Neal's retirement and all.
I do have my problems with Ayers as a prospect, but when it comes to the Patriots, they will know just how to maximize his potential and get the best out of him in the pass rushing department. Some are questioning his preparation and dedication to being totally physically fit, but the Patriots will get the most out of him. I imagine they'll send him on basically every play and he'll be a force to reckon with at that point.
We've reached the end of the first round in our mock draft, and the Packers are getting an absolute steal. Maybe some folks still have Reed rated in the second round, but not this writer. Reed can do a lot of things and play a lot of positions, but he's best suited for 3-4 outside linebacker, and it does fit a need for Green Bay. I know, I know, they have Clay Matthews and he's been everything you could ever want in an outside linebacker, but if the Packers are really serious about their defense, they will get another rush linebacker on the other side.
Brooks Reed is a top twenty-five talent that fell in this draft, and Green Bay will be more than happy to bring him in. He's a guy they can send on every play as Matthews expands on his talent outside of making quarterbacks very uncomfortable, and eventually he will develop into a guy who can go anywhere as well. He's strong, he's fast, he's athletic, he's got a great plethora of pass-rush moves and that's really all that matters.
The Packers need some help on the offensive line still, and they consider Danny Watkins here, but there could be some top-flight guards around in the second round for them to take their pick of. They go with a BPA + need scenario here and leave New York with Reed in tow.
The Steelers need to protect Ben Roethlisberger (not just from Richard Seymour's right straight), and they can no longer ignore this need. It's been a need for a couple seasons now, but he did take a beating last year. There's much to be said about Roethlisberger's ability to move in the pocket and outside of it to avoid contact and extend the play. He's very, very good at it, and up to this point, it has served them very well, but not well enough.
I'm sure Roethlisberger would prefer that he get some better protection, and he'll get it at this point. Ijalana has been rated as a second rounder, but he's been sneaking up draft boards. The Steelers need both a tackle and a guard, but they go with the tackle here because he's still got the potential to be an elite guy at the NFL level. There will still be guards available in the second round and potentially even the third.
Ijalana could come in and play right tackle immediately, but he has the potential to be a left tackle in the NFL. He might be one of the few tackles left with solid potential to play left from the get-go, but I think Pittsburgh will put him right there on the right side of the line and let him get his experience for a year, and if they need to, they'll slot him over. Danny Watkins was a serious consideration here.
As our mock draft draws near the end of the first round, there is still a lot of talent out on the board to be had by some of the better teams in the NFL, such as the New York Jets. They made it far in the playoffs last year but will be looking for some fresh talent to make another run at it this year, starting with the draft. The Jets have a few places where they could use some more depth but the pick I think is the best for them here is defensive end Cameron Heyward from Ohio State.
Heyward is the perfect size to be a productive NFL DE, and has the talent and skill set to do so. If there is anything that he lacks it is the top end speed to consistently make plays with his feet but makes up with it in his size, strength, and determination to get the job done. Heyward has got the pedigree to make it in the NFL as his father, Craig Heyward, was a former NFL running back for 11 seasons, and former coaches praise Cameron's humble nature and team player attitude.
Here's what ESPN's Todd McShay has to say about the Jets and Heyward:
We've discussed the possibility of taking a safety at this spot, but I don't think the Jets would be wise to neglect early talent at a position they really need to address. Heyward is a player that holds up against the run, has shown a decent repertoire of pass-rush skills, and can play through pain. Rex Ryan needs to infuse some talent to his defensive front, because he has to blitz to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks at this point, and you never want that to be the case.
The Jets have options, but I don't think they can go wrong picking Cameron Heyward here.
The Bears need a new left tackle, and they'll get him right here. I don't think I'm in the camp that believes Jay Cutler would never have been bounced out of the NFC Championship game if they had a new left tackle, but it remains a possibility. At the very least, if they had Solder and Cutler would have stayed in, I don't believe they would have beat the Green Bay Packers. They weren't as good of a team, and they aren't today, but an improved offensive line is a step in the right direction.
Something about the Mike Martz offense allows Jay Cutler to either crash and burn or excel on any given day, and with those long seven-step drops, he'll need better protection on the left side. Frank Omiyale is not a bad offensive lineman by any stretch of the imagination, but he excels in run blocking, not pass blocking. He could either move to the right side, or he could have trade value for Chicago when teams are allowed to do so. The point is that Nate could step right in to the left tackle position.
He's a strong pass blocker and a decent run blocker. Solder is a good athlete and he's very smart, good length, long arms and all of that good stuff a top-flight left tackle needs. He's rising up draft boards right now, but he's still pretty raw, and might struggle early on. His propensity to over-extend or let the longer plays get away from him is a red flag, but it's something that teams will be willing to work with. He's got a little boom-or-bust factor, but Chicago will take him here and bank on him being a starting left tackle for a long time.
By all accounts and for all intents and purposes, the New England Patriots are probably going to come out alright if they ever find themselves in a quarterback crisis. There's really nobody on the roster that inspires such confidence, it's just that ... they're the Patriots and that's kind of what they do. Still, it's essentially indisputable that they are better off with Tom Brady as the signal caller ten times out of ten.
So they need to do a better job of protecting him. They're got a retirement and a couple free agents along their offensive line, and with so many high picks, they will concentrate on getting one of the top tackle or guard prospects in the draft. They already took a defensive lineman in the first round, and now they're in a prime position to select some of the best offensive linemen in the draft.
Anthony Castonzo, Tyron Smith and Gabe Carimi are already off the board, and that's just fine. The Patriots wouldn't go for a guy like Castonzo, Smith should have went in the top ten, and I think they value Sherrod higher than Cirimi to begin with.They're a team that needs results early on with their status as a perennial contender, but they're also a team that can compensate for rookie mistakes, and that's why Sherrod is a perfect fit.
Sherrod is only recently creeping into the first round in mock drafts, but it's with good reason. He might have the highest ceiling of any offensive tackle in the draft. Maybe there's a few mis-steps here or there, some rookie mistakes and the like, but eventually, he'll be a strong anchor on a line renowned for its toughness. To me, Sherrod is absolutely the pick right here for the Patriots.
The Atlanta Falcons had a superb season last year finishing 13-3 while making the playoffs, but coming up short of the Super Bowl. Now the Falcons will look to find room for improvement on their roster and draft accordingly. There aren't too many holes to fill on this team, but I think the player best served for the Falcons in the first round is defensive end Adrian Clayborn from Iowa.
According to DraftTek.com's team needs matrix, defensive end is the number one spot that Atlanta needs an upgrade. Not to say that the Falcons DE's are terrible, cause with guys like veteran John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson they have some talent, but a guy like Clayborn can grow into being an efficient and maybe even dominating player. Even though the Falcons could chose to upgrade the offense in the first round, they have the time to try and find some gems in later rounds, so might as well get a top-tier defender in the first.
Here's what ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. feels about Atlanta picking Clayborn:
The Falcons are a solid team without a true glaring need, but a 4-3 defensive end with the ability to rush the passer and great awareness and discipline against the run can help them in 2011. That's Clayborn in a nutshell. His coaches rave, as do players that have had to face him. He has good size, a reputation for relentlessness and the respect of his peers. Atlanta could look for a wideout to diversify an attack that went too often in one direction last year, but Clayborn is the better value here.
With the addition of Clayborn to the Falcons, they would have a plethora of options at DE that could help them mix-and-match defensive schemes and keep the opposing offenses guessing. There is a lot of first round defensive talent in this years draft, and the Falcons would hate to miss the opportunity to snag one of them with the 27th overall pick.
Wouldn't it be swell if the Ravens could get someone like Julio Jones here when the 2011 NFL Draft rolls along? I bet they feel the same way, but a great combine, a great season, and just overall hype has taken Jones from being a top twenty pick that could fall to a top fifteen pick that probably won't fall in any circumstance. Such is the life of a perennial playoff team like Baltimore. They have needs at wide receiver, cornerback, defensive end and more, but they're in good shape overall.
They would have pulled the trigger on Jimmy Smith, the athletic cornerback out of Colorado, but the Seattle Seahawks just took him at pick twenty-five, so now they're left with a couple decisions. Do you go with a defensive end, or do you go after a lesser prospect at corner or wide receiver? With four cornerbacks already off the board, the Ravens first-round board is depleted, and I think they go for a wide receiver instead of a defensive end. Torrey Smith isn't some consolation pick, and he's not necessarily a reach, either. Most people have Smith going at some point in the late first round, so right around twenty-six is where teams should consider taking him.
In lieu of some can't-miss prospect, Baltimore pulls the trigger. Smith is good-sized, at 6'1'' and 205 pounds, and is faster than many projected him at, running a 4.41 at the combine. He's not going to go screaming by the elite cornerbacks in the league, but if he can jockey for position and catch a ball, he can make somebody look bad after that. He's got the ability to be a number one receiver and for the Ravens, he doesn't have to right away, which will help him in the end.
Every mock draft that has Seattle taking something other than a quarterback at this pick will likely begin with a preface explaining why that is, and this one is no different. The reasoning is pretty simple: Jake Locker is already off the board and the Seahawks just don't value anyone else that highly. I personally believe it's silly to not grab a guy you really like just because he might be better suited in the second round, even though you don't pick until the back of that round, but I'm not in the draft room, I'm just finding the best combination of value, need and feasibility.
Jimmy Smith fits right in with all of that. The Seahawks have a rather .... atrocious secondary, and the teams in the NFC West could produce big numbers offensively, if they can just get some quarterbacks. The 49ers have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald, and the Rams are looking to add premium talent at the position this offseason, with a young quarterback in Sam Bradford. Seattle needs to upgrade the position.
With Smith, they'll get a guy who can immediately step in and be the number one corner and compete athletically with any team in the league. He's 6'2'', 211 lbs and still managed to run a 4.38 at the Scouting Combine. Smith is a rare talent that is worthy of a top pick, or would be if he didn't have so many character concerns. The Seahawks will be able to get past that and get great value for him here at twenty-five.
The New Orleans Saints had themselves another rather successful season, despite losing to an underdog Seattle Seahawks team in the first round of the playoffs this year. But it was the second season in a row that they made the playoffs, and they definitely aren't the 'aint's any more; and now will look to the NFL draft to improve their team with some young talented players. With the 24th overall pick I think the Saints should select defensive tackle Phil Taylor out of Baylor.
According to ESPN's NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas the major areas of need for New Orleans are on the defensive side of the ball, and come at the defensive tackle, end, and outside linebacker positions. At 6'3" 330 pounds, I think Taylor would be a good fit in the Saints defensive system that needs big bodies to plug up the holes on the line to prevent runs like this from Marshawn Lynch. The Saints could also go with a defensive end with this pick if they chose, but I think that Taylor is the right kind of players the Saints struggling defense needs right now.
Here's what ESPN's Mel Kiper thinks about the Saints taking Taylor:
Taylor is a real load, and the best pure anchor tackle on the board. Listed at 334 pounds, Taylor probably played closer to 350 during an impressive final season at Baylor. You can stack blockers on him, but Taylor won't give ground, and will free up linebackers to make more plays in the running game.
The fact that Taylor has the ability to take pressure of the defenders behind him makes him a great choice for New Orleans, and I think he'd look good in the black and gold.
The Eagles have a few needs they can address, and they'd like to grab an offensive lineman at this point, but this iteration of the 2011 NFL Draft saw a recent run at the position, so they revert to a different need while still maintaining a best player available mentality. They could go a number of ways here, including a couple different directions at each position, but they'll go with cornerback, and they'll go with Brandon Harris over Jimmy Smith.
Not a team to buy into intense hype, the Eagles will make a calculated decision to grab the more complete, more technically sound prospect in Harris out of Miami. They'll probably come into this draft with the intentions of grabbing a cornerback in the second round, but if you come in with your draft set up like that, you will get burned and ultimately end up reaching in a situation where you really can't do that. The Eagles hold off on the offensive line, and grab a guy who can start for them for years to come.
Harris is a very technically sound player, and that's enough to put him above Jimmy Smith's hype. He's got good speed, but he could get burned against some of the truly elite speed receivers in the league, which is why Philadelphia is a good fit for him - he can come in and be the second corner right from the get-go and eventually move over the number one if the situation is right. It's just a very smart pick and the Eagles will come out well if they go with it.
Peyton Manning is getting up there in years, and he's never been the kind of mobile quarterback who avoids the sack with any kind of regularity. He's probably the best quarterback in the NFL, but his seasons are numbered and the countdown officially began probably a year or two ago. The Colts absolutely need to do a better job of protecting him, there's no three-step drop and quick release combination in the history of the game that will save an aging, immobile quarterback from an offensive line that has dire needs at both tackle positions.
They'll take any of the four top tackles here, probably, barring some kind of fall from a defensive tackle. Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi or Nate Solder could be the guy, but in this case, it's Carimi, and I think the Colts are coming out well here. They made the mistake of passing on offensive line needs early on in the 2010 NFL Draft when they took Jerry Hughes instead of Rodger Saffold, and they paid for it, big time. Bill Polian has publicly criticized the offensive line, and it's a unit that Peyton Manning is frequently yelling at on gameday.
Carimi has been compared to Jon Runyan, and that might be enough to take him on its on. Realistically though, that's not the case, and he'll need to have excellent measurables and a high enough ceiling to warrant it, and good for Indianapolis - he does. He can com in and immediately take over the left tackle position, which I expect him to do. If he doesn't, he'll move over to the right side, be a force in the running game, and hopefully progress. With needs at both positions and picking 22nd, filling either need here is a must, and lines up with any and all value charts.
The Kansas City Chiefs rose up from the depths of the AFC West last season, winning the division title for the first time since 2003. Now they will look to continue that success in 2011, starting with the NFL draft. And with the 21st overall pick, I think the Chiefs should choose offensive guard/center Mike Pouncey from Florida.
With the possible retirement of 16 year veteran center Casey Wiegmann, Kansas city is going to need some more depth at the center position, and Pouncey is arguably the best interior offensive lineman in this year's draft. Pouncey is talented enough to play guard or tackle as well, and could bring some needed versatility to Kansas City's offensive line. His size, strength, and durability make him a great first round choice, and if he is anything like his twin brother Maurkice Pouncey, last years first round pick by the Pitssburgh Steelers, then the Chiefs will be in for a treat with Mike.
Here's what NFL Network's Mike Mayock had to say about him:
"He’s remarkably similar to Maurkice. He didn’t test very well, but he can play all three interior positions on the offensive line, and he should do it in Year 1."
Some may think that this is too high for a center to be drafted, but when you're as talented as Mike Pouncey, it's hard to ignore in the first round.
The Buccaneers (along with the Kansas City Chiefs) were my breakout team going into the 2010 NFL Season. With a good offense and some smart picks on defense, Tampa Bay made good on my prediction and were a tough test for any team in the NFL. They spent two high picks on the defensive tackle position in the 2010 NFL Draft, but now they desperately need help on the outside. Teams can go right around Gerald McCoy and Co. in the middle, and then what?
And then they'll run into Ryan Kerrigan, a guy with a never-ending motor who fits perfectly on that defensive line. Maybe "perfectly" isn't the right choice of words, he's not the kind of speed-rusher that generally fits there, but I've been calling him "deceptively fast" for a few months now. Kerrigan had a great combine, and a similarly great Pro Day to his credit. He ran a 4.67 at the Scouting Combine, and to me, that's just fine for a defensive end in Tampa Bay.
Folks say that the Bucs are interested in Adrian Clayborn, and I don't dispute that. Clayborn would be a good fit and could very well be the pick, but Kerrigan was supposed to go before this point, and because he didn't, he's going to be the pick. He's got the instincts and intelligence to play the position well and stop anybody trying to bounce to the outside.
It's probably fortunate that the Chargers took Tyron Smith prior to this pick, because Castonzo is a much better fit for the Giants, but they might be persuaded to take Smith because of his overall ranking on their board. It's also true that Smith has questions regarding his ability to be instantly slotted into the left tackle position in the NFL, but Castonzo can step in there right from the get-go. The Giants like to get guys and groom them up, but Castonzo will start from day one and he'll be an improvement over William Beatty.
Castonzo had a monster combine and has looked good every time we've seen him recently, save for perhaps the Senior Bowl. The most important thing to note here is Castonzo's athleticism, something that head coach Tom Coughlin values highly. Boston College also has a strong tradition of sending linemen to the NFL, and Coughlin's ties are going to be too much here. He'll take the blue-chip, hard-working Castonzo and not look back, and somewhere down the line, he'll end up being a franchise tackle.
The Chargers ahead of them made the pick for them when they took Smith off the board, Castonzo is the guy. Someone like Mike Pouncey could certainly be the pick, but I doubt it. They have needs at left tackle, center, left guard and potentially even right tackle - they need to address one of these right here.
Make no mistake about it, Tyron Smith is the best offensive lineman in the 2011 NFL Draft. He's got the ability to play both tackle positions, and he's the only offensive lineman I'd consider to be worth a top ten pick. Fortunately for San Diego, the draft is deep elsewhere and they can fill this need all the way at the eighteenth pick of the draft.
Some folks might say Anthony Castonzo can go here, but I doubt it. To me, the marriage of Smith and the Chargers is a perfect unity - there are those will question his ability to come in and immediately play left tackle at the NFL level, which is just perfect because he'd be heading to San Diego to play on the right side of the line. That's where they have a need, and if he excels, they may shift him to left tackle in the future, but for now it makes perfect sense that he goes to San Diego at eighteen.
He's got very long arms and his footwork excels past that of any tackle in the draft. Speed, athleticism, strength, these are all things you have to rattle off when you talk about offensive linemen in the first round, and he's got all of 'em in spades. Smith is 6'5'', 310 strong and ran a 4.93 at his pro day, while putting 225 lbs up 31 times despite his rather long arms.
The Chargers will go into the 2011 NFL Draft assuming they will fill some need along the defensive line (it feels like every team will do that with this stellar class), but they can't miss this tackle prospect. He feels need and is undoubtedly the best player left on the board.
The New England Patriots received this pick from the Richard Seymour trade with the Oakland Raiders in 2009, and now are looking for it pay dividends by making a great pick. The Pats also have the 28th pick overall and could make some nice improvements with their two first rounders, starting with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple.
At 6'4" 315 pounds Wilkerson is built to be a dominating presence on the D line, and has above average speed and shows a pretty quick burst off the line. He's great at shedding blockers and standing up offensive lineman, and if he puts some more muscle on, which he undoubtedly will once in the NFL, he'll bring an outstanding mix of strength and speed to the Patriots. With guys like Ty Warren and his hip injury last year and Mike Wright missing significant time with a neck injury, the D Line is a place that the Pats could use a youthful presence right now, and this 5 technique DE will immediately become their biggest body at DE.
Here's what NFL Networks Mike Mayock had to say about the big fella:
"He could be a defensive tackle or a defensive end, the kid is a heck of a football player. He might be there in the second round, but to me he's a first-round player.
The DE position is certainly stacked with talent in this year's draft, and at this point the 'big board' has a few other DE's out there like Aldon Smith or Cameron Jordan for the taking. But I think Wilkerson is the right fit for New England because he's coachable, hasn't shown to be injury prone, his ridiculous size and great work ethic, and will bring some more vitality to a mainly veteran core of D lineman for the Pats. I think Bill Belichick would love to have a guy like Wilkerson on his squad.
Aaron Kampman isn't getting things done in Jacksonville, his injury concerns are there and will remain there. The Jaguars cannot afford to place their hopes on him once again going into 2011. Tyson Alualu was the pick last year, and he was a perceived reach, but he paid off well and played at a high level on the inside for them, but he'll need some help when it comes to applying pressure on the quarterback. You can only abuse offensive linemen in run blocking for so long before you realize you're losing many opportunities to bring down the quarterback because you don't have a pass rusher to take advantage of the havoc being caused by Alualu.
So it comes down to who they can bring in on the defensive line, and many are trying to pick between Ryan Kerrigan and J.J. Watt, but to me the choice is clear, and Watt is the pick. Watt will never stop going, and he'll take advantage of every opportunity given to him by Alualu on every single defensive snap of the game. Kerrigan has some more polished and technical moves, but Watt will feature similar production with a much higher ceiling when it all comes down to it.
Watt has been compared to the likes of Richard Seymour and I can easily see that type of production. People are running with Kerrigan, but I don't see it. Watt is far and away the better prospect and he will be the pick for the Jaguars if he's available at sixteen, much to the chagrin of a couple upcoming teams who would definitely like to attain his services.
As our NFL mock draft rolls on, we arrive at the fifteenth overal pick for the Miami Dolphins. Miami had a bit of a disappointing season with a 7-9 record, especially since only two of their wins came in front of their home crowd at the newly made Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins are in a spot where the most talented players for the positions they need are either already taken or will probably still be around in later rounds, so the best option the 'Phins have is running back Mark Ingram from Alabama.
According to DraftTek.com's team needs matrix the biggest needs for Miami are QB and WR, but seeing that the best first round options at both of those postions are already taken, I figure the next best thing the Dolphins can do is shore up their running game with a pro-ready player like the Heisman Award winning Ingram. Ingram is not going to burn you with his speed, but his low center of gravity and hard-knock running style will compliment Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams very well, that is if either are brought back as free agents. If they aren't the Dolphins will still have a decent running game with Ingram at the helm.
Here's what ESPN's Todd McShay had to say about Ingram and the Dolphins:
The Dolphins need to upgrade their interior offensive line but there isn't a guard or center worth drafting this high. [Ingram] is the kind of back who could give Miami a huge boost in the running game, even as part of the rotation. The Dolphins could then look for a quarterback and interior offensive lineman in the next two rounds.
The need for talent can not go unnoticed by the Dolphins with this pick, and for what they need and where they're drafting, Ingram is the best and most logical choice for them here. I see Ingram becoming a Frank Gore like workhorse for Miami, and hopefully they do too.
St. Louis would love to grab Sam Bradford a weapon on offense here - or more accurately, they'd love to grab Julio Jones or A.J. Green at this pick. It's not going to happen, not in this mock, and in my opinion, not when it actually goes down on April 28th. No other targets are worth taking at this pick, and the Rams can't afford to make a reach. Chris Long had a great year last year, but they strengthen their line and grab the best player on their board, more than happy to land Aldon Smith, who really should have went sooner than he did.
Smith is a perfect fit opposite Long in Steve Spagnuolo's defense. They need more pass rush up front in that 4-3 alignment, and Smith is probably a top-ten talent in most drafts. Unfortunately for him, every college team had an unholy defensive line this year, but his talent and ability make it a huge long shot to fall out of the top fifteen. Again, if one of those receivers are here, they're the pick, but Smith is the pick in any other scenario in which he's available, barring some meteoric drop of one of the top five talents.
They briefly will consider somebody like Corey Liuget, who many have mocked to them and who they have expressed considerable interest in. He'd be the pick if Smith weren't available, nine times out of ten, but again, Smith is just too good to pass up. There's not much else to say about this pick, Smith will come in and sow destruction on the rest of the NFC West. Seattle and San Francisco's recent offensive line draft picks will have a new threat to deal with.
The Lions would really, really like to get somebody to protect Matthew Stafford. His injury concerns aren't necessarily his own, being that he doesn't appear to be someone who is injury-prone, he just takes a beating out there. They've acknowledged that offensive tackle is a need publicly, but I don't expect them to reach for one this early. It seems the past few years we've been spoiled with offensive line talent - that ain't the case this year. Detroit has never given us much reason to believe they'll go with the smart choice in the draft, but I see that changing.
Everything about the organization seems that much more professional, at least from my view. Everybody has a different opinion on how you should approach the draft, regarding need versus BPA (best player available), but the consensus seems to be that you can't afford to go with solely need in the first round, especially when you're reaching. There's no tackles worthy of being taken thirteenth, and in lieu of trading out of the pick, they'll look for a balance of need and BPA.
Cameron Jordan is just that, he fills a need on the defensive line and is one of the better players on the board. Some consider Aldon Smith a better prospect when it comes to the line, but with Detroit's needs and the scheme they run, I believe Jordan is absolutely the pick here.
He's a high-motor guy who plays one solid, high-level throughout the entirety of any given football game. Ndamukong Suh took the Lions and their defense to new heights in 2010, Jordan will make them consistently elite on every snap. The line and pass rush goes from a strength to a potentially dominating force. Jordan had a great Senior Bowl, a great Scouting Combine and a great Pro Day. The Lions pull the trigger with this guy in any scenario that doesn't include Prince Amukamara being available.
The Vikings were another team that fell short of their preseason goals of being a super bowl contender last year, and now with the departure of the ol' gun slinger Brett Farve, Minnesota has a serious hole to fill when it comes to quarterback. Head coach Leslie Frazier and his staff could go a variety of different ways with the twelfth pick, but I think the smartest move would be to take a pro-style college QB that can compete for the job from day one, and the best left on the board in this mock draft is Jake Locker.
Locker is a natural born athlete with a cannon for an arm, in fact he's been drafted twice in the MLB with the Anaheim Angels owning his baseball rights until 2015. But what will interest the Vikings the most is the fact that he is a mobile QB for his size (6'2" 231), shows good instincts when reading coverage, and is tough enough to take an big hit and still make the completion (kind of sounds like Brett Farve a little, doesn't he?) At the scouting combine Locker was only .03 seconds behind Tyrod Taylor for the fastest 40-yd dash time, and led all QB in the 3-cone drill at 6.77 seconds, very impressive indeed. His technique is good but it could use a little polishing, but if drafted, I think he can be a contender with Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb for the starting spot as soon as he enters mini-camp.
According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, the Vikings were inexplicably absent from his Washington pro day, but apparently had a private workout with him earlier this month, so they may already be set on how they feel about him. Locker is a guy that brings the intangibles like heart and leadership to the table,things that the Vikings desperately need out of a QB, and in my opinion will be a successful player in the NFL.
Robert Quinn might be the best outside linebacker in this draft class. He might be better than Von Miller of Texas A&M, and as such, he's a steal at the eleventh pick. The Texans have a few needs to address, but conveniently enough, need and BPA (best player available) converge here at eleven and Quinn is most definitely the pick in this scenario. The only player to consider a possibility over Quinn in this situation is Cameron Jordan. But this pick is the right one to make.
He's got elite speed, and an inhuman burst off the line. Quinn will come in and immediately be the best pass-rusher on the team, though he'll have to work on making his mark in coverage and things of that nature in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. His receptiveness and ability to be coached is great, and he can only improve when he gets to the pro level.
The biggest knock is the fact that he didn't even play this past year due to some craziness with the NCAA that I won't even go over due to its absurdity. I would argue that had he played, he'd be a top five pick, over Von Miller. Quinn is just that talented, and the Texans really have no other way to go here, and that's not a bad thing at all.
Surprisingly, I struggled with this pick more than any thus far. When I sat back and took a real, long look at the Redskins and the players still on the board, I had at least four or five guys I thought could potentially go here. In the end, it came down to Washington's Jake Locker or Julio Jones, the receiver out of Alabama. As you can read above, I ended up going with Jones.
He just fits, perhaps better than any player in this draft, more so than even A.J. Green out of Georgia. Donovan McNabb is the guy in Washington right now, and an infusion of receiving talent could mean a renaissance for the oft-criticized signal caller. Jones fits into any offense in the league, but Mike Shanahan's West Coast-esque variant will work out especially well for him.
Great size, great speed, elite physicality against any corner in the league and high-level elusiveness highlight Jones' ability to be a game-changer sixteen times a season. McNabb can hit Jones at any level short, intermediate or deep and he'll have the ability to be there and make the catch, covered or uncovered. He's one of the top talents in the draft and potentially the top receiver, depending on what you're looking for.
Washington may need a quarterback, but with McNabb, they can get one of the good developmental guys in the later rounds and provide McNabb with a chance to play up to the level he's played at in the past by drafting Jones at 10. They need an awful lot more than Santana Moss out there catching passes.
With all of the preseason hype of the Dallas Cowboys playing the Super Bowl at Jerry's Palace in Dallas, they sure had a dud of a season going 6-10. Tony Romo missing the most of the season with a broken collarbone didn't help, but for the most part the Cowboys are set on the offensive side of the all. That's why I'm picking cornerback Prince Amukamara for the Dallas Cowboys with the 6thoverall pick.
According to DraftTek.com's team needs matrix, CB is the position where the ‘Boys are hurting the most except for DE, and even with a guy like Robert Quinn still on the market, I think Amukamara is the guy who will give Dallas the most bang for their buck. At 6'0" 206 pounds, Prince has got a great build to become a lockdown defender, and with a 4.38 40-yard dash, he also shows the ability to keep up with some of the speedier wideouts in the League. He's got above average ball skills, shows good anticipation, and has a great ability to read routes and compensate accordingly.
Some scouts have pointed to the game last year against Oklahoma State and WR Justin Blackmon as a chink in his defensive armor, but if you ask me it was only one game, and players of Amukamara's caliber almost always progress into much better players in the NFL. The Cowboys haven't really had a exciting, playmaking cornerback since the days of ‘Prime Time' (not to say that Amakumara will be as good as Deion Sanders), but he could become the ‘Boys' shutdown CB, especially practicing on receivers like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Dallas and Amukamara are a great match in my opinion, and could definitely make an immediate impact if he's drafted by the Cowboys. Hopefully Dallas is smart enough to listen to me.
It's imperative that the Titans go defense early in the 2011 NFL Draft. Sure, quarterback is a huge need, but both Blaine Gabbert and Cameron Newton are off the board, and that's a big factor. Many mocks have someone like Nick Fairley falling to Tennessee, and surely they'd be giddy to take the Auburn tackle, but in this scenario, he's not around, and the Titans are left to consider a couple options.
To me, it truly is only a "couple" options, in that Da'Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn are the guys to watch here. They need a pass rusher and they need a defensive end, but more than that, they just need to strengthen their front seven. Bowers has injury concerns, but they stop becoming a factor at one point. He's a top five talent who fell to the back-end of the top ten because of said injury concerns, and the Titans are the team to pull the trigger. He could end up in Denver, Buffalo, Cincinnati or Cleveland before he winds up in Tennessee, but in this scenario, he's around.
And they take him, with gusto. Bowers is athletic, disruptive and versatile. He will do exactly what the Titans want him to do, and he'll do it whenever they tell him to. He'll play every down and, providing his leg holds up, he'll make the Tennessee defensive line one of the better units in the National Football League.
One other player I considered here was Julio Jones, wide receiver. I don't consider it likely that he goes at this point, but if they feel like they need offensive playmakers, eight isn't necessarily a reach for that kind of talent.
Before the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine happened, folks had Marcell Dareus going right around this range, outside of the top five picks, and the 49ers were considered one of the likely destinations for him. Fast forward to post-combine, and Dareus is being mocked as high as the first overall pick to the Carolina Panthers. It's definitely a possibility, Dareus is a monster who can play any position on the defensive line in any defense, but combines only tell so much of the story, and our own Ernie Pomin noted as much when he had the Denver Broncos taking Nick Fairley second overall.
Cornerback and outside linebacker are bigger needs for the 49ers, which is why they'd consider taking Prince Amukamara of Nebraska or Robert Quinn out of North Carolina here at seven, but drafting solely for need is never the best course of action. There are cases where you could say Amukamara is the best player available at seven, but not when Marcell Dareus is still on the board.
So they go with the 6'3'', 320 pound lineman out of Alabama. He absolutely blew up at the combine, running a 4.92 and generally just looking fantastic out there. Folks have suggested his ability to make a difference in the vein of Ndamukong Suh. In San Francisco's 3-4 defense, he'll line up right away at left defensive end, but don't discount nose tackle as a possibility. Nose tackle may not be the best fit, and he might not even want to play the position
(like that matters), as it is probably a big waste of explosive athleticism at this point. He'll replace Isaac Sopoaga and improve what is already a strength, and maybe someone like Manny Lawson, already on the roster, looks better rushing the passer with Dareus abusing offensive linemen in front of him.
It doesn't address one of the top three needs for the 49ers, but he's one of the best players in the draft and he makes the team better any way you look at it. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can design a myriad of ways to use Dareus in blitz formations with his aggressive, movement-oriented defense.
There were some definite bright spots in the Cleveland Browns' 2011 season (like beating the Patriots 34-14) but there also were just as many dark ones (like losing to the Steelers 41-9). With their 5-11 record last year the Browns showed some improvement, but will need some more playmakers to get closer to being a playoff contender. That's why the Browns should draft wide receiver A.J. Green, probably the best offensive playmaker in this year's draft.
At 6'3", 211 pounds, Green definitely has the right build to be a great receiver. He's got good speed (4.48 40 yd. dash), top-shelf separation skills, solid route running ability, ridiculous hands, and great body control. Basically the dude's a beast. If the Browns select him #6 overall, he could possibly become their go to receiver his first year on the job. For those of you who saw him play this year or even just his pro day at Georgia, you are well aware of the talents this guy posses, and hopefully so are the Browns.
With a developing quarterback in Colt McCoy and a mainly marginal receiving core led by Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi, the Browns will need some better targets if they want McCoy to develop into a starter. I believe A.J. Green is the best way to improve an offense via the draft this year, and could seriously help a player like McCoy gain a starting job out of training camp, or even become one of the better QB's in the NFL. Receivers simply make QB's look better, it's science.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King and I agree on Cleveland going Green:
Cleveland has need areas across the defensive line, but Colt McCoy is never going to have a chance to establish himself with the Browns' current receiver corps. If A.J. Green is available at No. 6, we can't imagine any way club president Mike Holmgren and G.M. Tom Heckert could justify taking a pass.
Even though there hasn't been a WR drafted in the top ten since Calvin Johnson in 2007, I think this guy will be worth his salt for the Cleveland Browns. His talent level is undeniable, the question will be how much it progresses in the NFL.
This is a guest pick from Tre9er, one of the front page writers at Niners Nation and frequent abuser of Twitter's abilities to re-tweet the opinions of others to his followers. You can follow him @Tre9er.
Ideally the Cardinals wanted to be sitting here deciding between Blaine Gabbert and Von Miller, both representing top talent at each of the team's two greatest needs. Not a bad consolation prize picking up Peterson here, though.
Fifth overall is about as early as you want to take a cornerback, but Peterson is one of the best CB prospects to come along in a very long time and is well worth the pick. The selection gives Arizona a blanket secondary, as well as adds a physical element to not only the coverage of the NFC's notoriously large, strong receivers, but also in the run game. Peterson is the size of a large safety but runs, turns, and makes plays like a corner. He likes to mix it up against the run, too, which benefits the Cardinals playing in a division known for thumper running backs. If they so choose, Peterson is a great return man too and can add another potential method of scoring points and gaining field position.
While they still need to upgrade their pass rush, Peterson makes it instantly look better by being able to take away half of the field on passing downs, giving the men up front more time to reach the quarterback. This draft features a deep crop of 3-4 OLB prospects and there is no doubt the Cards can find someone in the second or third round to replace Joey Porter and/or Clark Haggans. Some options include Jabaal Sheard, Justin Houston, Dontay Moch and Akeem Ayers. One of these players is bound to be available to Arizona with the 38th overall pick.
Much like the draft is deep in pass rushers, it's also relatively deep in quarterbacks. Second and third round options such as Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, and Ricky Stanzi are considered guys who could play on Sundays if given varying amounts of time to develop. Ponder is largely considered to be the most "pro-ready" QB in the draft and is also a consideration with the 38th pick. Of course, if free agency ever does arrive, the Cards could potentially make a play for Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Chad Pennington, or another veteran signal-caller.
All-in-all this seems to be a safe pick that will pay immediate dividends for the Cardinals.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis may be trying to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar when it comes to long-time quarterback Carson Palmer (while subsequently dousing Chad Ochocinco in gasoline), but most are of the opinion that it doesn't really matter how much of the delicious green-tea additive (my preferred usage, of course) he uses, the Bengals are probably going to be in the market for a quarterback this offseason.
With Blaine Gabbert going first overall to the Carolina Panthers, the Bengals are left with only one feasible option with a top-five pick, in Cameron Newton. For them, that's not something to despair over, so long as they do with Newton what they did with Palmer. It's a bit of a misnomer because the 2011 NFL Draft is deep on quarterback prospects who could develop into starters over time, and that's what Cincinnati will probably end up doing, while Newton is a guy who many perceive as someone a struggling franchise will grab and start right away.
I think it will be just the opposite, and the Bengals will go with the super-high potential of Newton and bring in a veteran to get things done in the meantime. Does he project cleanly into their projected 2011 offense? Probably not, but again, Newton will get every opportunity to learn on the Bengals and become exactly what they want to shape him into. Wide receiver and cornerback remain high team needs, but the sudden need for a signal caller forces the Bengals to pull the trigger on Cam as he falls.
They'll consider Marcell Dareus, Da'Quan Bowers and A.J. Green, but quarterback trumps all, and Newton is especially easy to go with early on with the Bengals and their propensity to let off-the-field issues slide, coupled with a potential rookie wage scale to make the prospect of drafting a quarterback top five much easier on the balance sheet.
The Bills are in a wonderful spot in the draft, and not just in this particular mock. They stand a chance to get the quarterback they want, the linebacker they want, the cornerback they want or the defensive lineman they want. There really is very few ways this draft could go negatively for them. Unfortunately, it's really hard to predict where they'll go with the plethora of options available.
Reports out of Bills camp suggests that the ownership and other higher-ups want a new quarterback, a big name, perhaps even an ... icon? Joking aside, Cameron Newton of Auburn Tigers fame is a serious consideration at this pick, he just seems to fit in Buffalo. While it's true that the ownership can dictate what a team does, I think general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey prevail in this instance, and the pick doesn't go to the quarterback position.
Instead, they will opt to put a crucial piece of the puzzle in place for their 3-4 defense. Patrick Peterson of LSU, and Marcell Dareus out of Alabama are both available, but they go with the super-athlete and can't-miss outside linebacker in Von Miller. Aaron Maybin certainly isn't going to get the job done for them, and an already decent secondary will be vastly improved with the help of a pass rush that would probably be effective on every down with Miller in the rotation.
You could probably drop your entire defensive line into coverage and send Miller to take on five offensive linemen, a tight end and a running back, and he'd still make the quarterback rely on a quick release and moving pocket to avoid being sacked. He's 6'3'', 240 and runs in the 4.46-4.50 range, the guy is a killer. At Texas A&M, he played the "joker" position, working at both defensive end and linebacker positions, but for the Bills, he'll stay at outside linebacker and be a force to build around for years to come.
After a season mared by disappointment the Denver Broncos are in essence ready to hit the restart button for their 2011 campaign, starting with the NFL draft. The first place new head coach John Fox will likely start is the defense, and what a better player to start with than Auburn's Lombardi Award winning defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
At 6'3", 291 pounds, Fairley could be considered a bit undersized at DT but makes up for it with his incredible speed and agility. The Broncos desperately need help defensively, especially with a pass rusher, and Fairley could become one of the best in the game with a little bit of work. The Broncos have a lot of options with this pick, including possibly trading down to gain extra picks, as well as needing help at cornerback and linebacker. LSU's Patrick Peterson, Texas A&M's Von Miller, or Alabama's Marcell Dareus could all be decent choices for the Broncos in this spot, but according to DraftTek.com's team needs matrix they've created, a defensive tackle stands atop their list, and in my opinion Nick Fairley is the best DT in the draft.
Fairley's explosiveness and ability to dominate an offensive line make him a hard guy to pass up for Denver, and I think he will mesh well with John Fox's player-friendly, defensive minded coaching style. He's shown some times where he can lose control of his emotions, but I'd rather see a guy show too much heart than not enough. There's a reason why he was voted the best DT in college football last year, because he truly was.
Like I said before, the Broncos definitely have options, but you can't let a game-changing player like Fairley slip through your fingers. NFL Network's Mike Mayock summed Fairley up my sentiments perfectly:
"He's a kid with elite ability, one of the only kids in the last 10 years where I can honestly say he could play every defensive line position in any scheme...He can play in the 3-4, he can play in the 4-3. He's a difference maker."
A difference maker is exactly what the Broncos' defense needs, and Fairley is the guy to do so.
With the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Blaine Gabbert, quarterback, Missouri. Those are the words that I expect to hear on April 28th when the 2011 NFL Draft kicks off and the Panthers set things in motion. Previously, this pick would have been Andrew Luck out of Stanford by a mile. Luck is the player that any team with a quarterback need would salivate for, one of the best prospects at the position in years. But it's not meant to be, he's staying in school, and the Panthers have a murky situation in front of them.
Quarterback is still obviously a need, word on the street is that Jimmy Clausen just isn't that guy for the new regime in Carolina and it's completely understandable. Clausen was severely underwhelming in 2010, and nothing he did indicated that 2011 would be better. Defensive tackle is a need and happens to be a strength in this draft, and someone like Marcell Dareus would not be a surprise at all, nor would Nick Fairley. New head coach Ron Rivera could impact the decision and push for one of those guys, but the need for a franchise quarterback will likely be too much for the Panthers. Couple that with a potential rookie wage scale, and picking a quarterback first overall isn't as scary as it has been in recent years.
So it comes down to Blaine Gabbert out of Missouri or Cam Newton of Auburn. The first thing I did was consider which of these quarterbacks was the least like Jimmy Clausen, and I believe that's Gabbert. The Missouri product has all the intangibles you look for, and had a pro day that Mike Mayock of the NFL Network likened to that of Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan, of St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons fame, respectively.
When it comes to Newton, I think they like what they see, but I think they're also a bit weary of that kind of personality. Not that it's entirely detrimental to his football career, but if all things are about equal, personal intangibles will take priority, and Gabbert is the more likable quarterback in that regard, as well. Gabbert is a leader, and has a very strong desire and will. Clausen doesn't have "it", but Gabbert practically oozes "it." From the usual places.
Carolina is a very young football team and they need a quarterback to lead them. A guy who can grow with them and become something special while the team around him does the same thing. Both Newton and Gabbert could fit that mold, but Gabbert's personality and plausible readiness make him a more positive candidate to grow your offense, team, and brand.
The 2011 NFL Draft is fast approaching, and without a free agency period beforehand, team needs are largely the same as they appeared to be at the end of the 2010 season. Combine workouts, private workouts and individual interviews coupled with known team needs are the best indication of where most players will land. The top teams in the draft can go a number of directions, but the best players are clearly ranked and this makes it much easier to go with BPA (best player available) and team need. Andrew Luck remaining at Stanford seriously messed up the projections for the first overall pick - he easily would be the pick in 99.99% of mock drafts for Carolina, but now things are getting murky. Fortunately, the private workout landscape is taking shape, and it's time for SB Nation Bay Area to throw its hat into the mock draft ring.
We've already got a stream with mock draft information pertaining to the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders with over sixty updates since its creation, so follow along with that because there will continue to be daily posts within it, but now we're going to kick off our own mock draft, taking us through at least the first two rounds and potentially onward if we find that our expertise can sustain us.
If you've clicked around the site a little, you know how the StoryStreams work here at SB Nation Bay Area, but if not - a simple bookmark of this post will provide you with the mock draft as each pick is posted over its entirety. Expect two-to-three picks a day as we move through as much of the draft as we can take!
First on the clock is the Carolina Panthers, that pick will be coming shortly.
2011 NFL Draft First Round Order
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