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With the news today being dominated by the talk of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it's time for a bit of a distraction from that, and what better way than to look at the 2011 NFL Draft. This year's draft is scheduled to kick off at 6:30 PM Central time on April 28, so we're a little more than seven weeks away. Granted, a lot can happen between now and then, but that's part of the fun of doing these mock drafts. This won't be the last one that we do between now and draft day, so stay tuned for new versions of it as the weeks go by.
With that, here's our projection of how things would go if the draft were held today.
1) Carolina Panthers - Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Quinn isn't a name you've heard a lot. . .if at all. . .with the number one overall pick in the draft. Quinn, despite having missed the 2010 season with off-the-field issues, has shown that he has the athletic ability to be a great defensive end at the pro level, and should solidify that at his Pro Day. The last time the Panthers took a freakishly athletic defensive end from North Carolina, things worked out okay for them.
2) Denver Broncos - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
I know they re-signed Champ Bailey, but he's not getting any younger, and the Broncos defense was so bad at every level last year that they can afford to take the best defensive player available. Peterson might be the best defensive prospect in this entire class, and would make an immediate impact on this defense. Peterson would be the highest-drafted cornerback in a decade, but he's talented enough to merit that pick.
3) Buffalo Bills - , QB, Auburn
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a very good season for the Bills in 2010, given the circumstances that he was surrounded by, but he's not a long-term answer at the position for Buffalo. So, the Bills take the entertainer and icon that is Cam Newton, and Chan Gailey will build the offense around him and C.J. Spiller. Newton is going to take a while to get into the NFL groove, but he could be spectacular if developed properly.
4) Cincinnati Bengals - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones' freakish performance at the Combine has, in my opinion, leapfrogged him over A.J. Green for the spot at the top wide receiver in this class, and the Bengals need playmakers. Oh, and Jones did that Combine performance on a foot that needs surgery. With Carson Palmer's situation being what it is, this pick could easily go to a quarterback, too, but we'll keep them with a wide receiver in this scenario.
5) Arizona Cardinals - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
The Cardinals currently have Derek Anderson and Max Hall at quarterback. I do believe that makes the quarterback position a need for this team. Gabbert is still in the mix to be the first quarterback off of the board, but I think the Cardinals would be quite happy if the Missouri signal caller were drop to this spot. Gabbert is smart, mobile, and has a great arm, and could be a great building block for Arizona going forward.
6) Cleveland Browns - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
The Browns need playmakers, too, if they're going to give young Colt McCoy some help, and Green would fit the bill for them nicely. A great athlete that also missed some time in 2010 because of off-the-field issues, he would step in and start immediately at receiver for the Browns, and could be the kind of reliable, do-it-all receiver that the Cleveland offense needs.
7) San Francisco 49ers - Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama
Quarterback is going to be a consideration for San Francisco, too, but with the top two guys off of the board, the Niners will look at their defense instead. Dareus was a monster in the middle of the Crimson Tide defense in 2010, and would plug in immediately for the Niners in the middle of their defense. An incredible athlete for a near 320-pounder, Dareus would be a big talent boost for the Niners.
8) Tennessee Titans - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Another team that would love a quarterback, the Titans could use some help along the defensive line as well. Fairley, who is being bounced around as the top overall pick, slides to the Titans in this scenario, and would plug right into the middle of the Titans' defensive line.
9) Dallas Cowboys - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Cowboys need cornerbacks, and they're getting a good one in this scenario with Amukamara. For all the praise that Patrick Peterson has received, Amukamara isn't that far behind him, and would be a big addition to a Cowboys secondary that is more than likely going to ditch Terrence Newman, and wasn't very good even with Newman in the lineup.
10) Washington Redskins - Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Brian Orakpo had 8.5 sacks in 2010. Nobody else on the Redskins roster had more than 2.5. They need a pass rusher to take some heat off of Orakpo, and Von Miller could be that guy in the Redskins' scheme. He has shown that he's athletic enough to not only rush the passer, but to drop back into coverage as well.
11) Houston Texans - Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Texans would really be in the market for secondary help, but with both Peterson and Amukamara off of the board here, there isn't a corner or a safety worth this spot. Bowers is the best defensive player left on the board in this scenario, and would help a pretty woeful Texans defense.
12) Minnesota Vikings - Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Okay, so the top defensive linemen are off of the board, the top receivers are off the board, the top wide receivers are off the board. . .and here come the Minnesota Vikings. Everyone knows that the Vikings need a quarterback, and with Gabbert and Newton off of the board, nobody knows for sure whether they love any of the other quarterbacks enough to take one at number 12. However, if you're in the situation that Minnesota is in, if you see a quarterback that you think could be the long-term answer, you have to take him. Locker, who would have been in the mix for the #1 overall pick last season had he declared, has been knocked for his accuracy, but is a smart kid with solid character that just happens to be a very good athlete. It's rare that a quarterback becomes more accurate at the NFL level, but I think Locker has that ability, particularly with the talent the Vikings still have at the skill positions.
13) Detroit Lions - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Lions are a rapidly improving team, but they're never going to reach their full potential if they can't keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright. While it's possible that Stafford is just injury prone, it wouldn't hurt the Lions to invest their first pick into his protection. Solder is massive and athletic, and would plug in to protect Stafford's blind side immediately.
14) St. Louis Rams - Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The Rams are pretty unhappy that neither Jones nor Green has managed to slip here, as wide receiver is by far their biggest need, but they could use another defensive end, too. Jordan, the son of Steve Jordan (the greatest tight end in Vikings history) had a very good season for the Golden Bears, and was pretty much unblockable during the Senior Bowl. He might not slide this far, but the Rams would be happy to take him here if he did, I would think.
15) Miami Dolphins - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
There's one running back in this year's draft worth a first round selection, and Miami is going to lose either Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown. . .or possibly both. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner would be a solid selection for the Dolphins with that being the case. They could also be in the market for a quarterback, but there isn't one in this scenario worth the 15th pick.
16) Jacksonville Jaguars - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The Jaguars had just three total sacks in their final five games. Aaron Kampman tore his ACL again, and Derrick Harvey hasn't lived up to his billing, so the Jaguars should be looking defensive end with this pick. Kerrigan is a lot like Kampman, and is the kind of player that Jaguars' GM Gene Smith looks for in terms of character and college performance.
17) New England Patriots (from Oakland Raiders) - Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Smith had a great season this year for the Buffaloes, and you wouldn't think that the Patriots would be in line to take someone with Smith's obvious character concerns. But Smith has a world of talent, and a cornerback duo of Devin McCourty and Smith for the next few years could make the Patriots' pass defense very good.
18) San Diego Chargers - Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Marcus McNeil is set at left tackle for the Chargers, but the right tackle spot could use an upgrade. Smith, who came into the Combine at 307 pounds, would be a very good choice for San Diego. He might not be on the board at this point, but the Chargers would love it if he was, as he would likely be an immediate starter.
19) New York Giants - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The Giants need some offensive line help as well. William Beatty, who finished the year for the Giants at left tackle, has struggled. . .and that's being generous. Giants' coach Tom Coughlin still has pretty strong ties to Boston College, and he would be pretty pleased to see Castonzo on the board at the 19th pick.
20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Clayborn is a guy that was hurt by coming back to the Hawkeyes for his senior season. He probably would have gone much higher if he had come out last season, but is still a pretty athletic defensive end. The Bucs are looking for an outside pass rusher to complement last year's top pick, Gerald McCoy, and could roll the dice with Clayborn if it played out this way.
21) Kansas City Chiefs - Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
Tamba Hali had a great season for the Chiefs in 2010, and Kansas City could use somebody opposite him to take some pressure off. Enter the home-state product in Smith, who is a freakish athlete and could have some real value to the Chiefs as a hybrid pass rusher.
22) Indianapolis Colts - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Colts have had issues on the offensive line for quite a while, and their pass protection issues became so significant that they even affected Peyton Manning after a while. Carimi was the best offensive tackle in college football in 2010, and could immediately step in and anchor the Colts' offensive line for the foreseeable future.
23) Philadelphia Eagles - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Eagles allowed 52 sacks last season, and eventually benched Winston Justice during their post-season loss, so the offensive line is definitely going to be a place they look to upgrade. Sherrod would likely be an immediate starter for the Eagles, and an upgrade at either tackle spot from what they have right now.
24) New Orleans Saints - Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
The Saints have needed linebacker help for quite a while, and Ayers is one of the best available in this year's draft. He's already very solid in run support and in coverage, and has the ability to learn some pass rush skills as well. He would be a steal for the Saints if he were to last this long.
25) Seattle Seahawks - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The Seattle defense was terrible in 2010, and could use help at pretty much every position. Watt is a solid defensive end in terms of both pass rush and run stopping ability, and while he's not the most "athletic" guy at the position, he would be a big help to the Seattle defense.
26) Baltimore Ravens - Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
The Ravens have decent wide receivers, but they could use a guy that could stretch defenses a little more than the players they have right now. Baldwin is going to be a bit of a project, but he's got good speed and good hands, and could be a contributor to the Ravens' offense right away.
27) Atlanta Falcons - Justin Houston, DE, Georgia
The Falcons will be looking to upgrade their pass rush in this year's draft, and Houston would fit the bill quite nicely. Houston is also pretty good when asked to drop back into coverage, which is something that Atlanta seems to like in their defensive ends.
28) New England Patriots - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
The Patriots need to upgrade their pass rush, and Liuget is the best available player at this point for them to do that. He's really come on strong during the post-season workouts thus far, including the Illini's Texas Bowl victory over Baylor, in which he was dominant.
29) Chicago Bears - Benjamin Ijalana, G, Villanova
Mike Tice worked miracles with the Bears' offensive line last season, but they're still not the most talented unit out there. A player like Ijalana would fill a huge gap for the Bears on offense. They could take a look at Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith, but offensive line is still a more significant need, in my opinion.
30) New York Jets - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
The Jets are going to have some issues in free agency with wide receivers. . .you know, once free agency actually happens. Smith tore it up at the Combine, and may be a bit of a project, but he's got impressive speed and is a high-character guy. Actually, Rex Ryan might be the only coach in the league that might steer away from a high-character player.
31) Pittsburgh Steelers - Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida
As the Steelers showed in 2010, one Pouncey is a pretty good thing to have on your offensive line. It only stands to reason that two Pounceys (Pouncii?) would be better. The Steelers have a big need along the offensive line. . .of course, it seems like we say that every year. . .and Maurkice's brother would be a nice selection for them here.
32) Green Bay Packers - Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois
It kills me to say that the Packers don't have that many holes. However, I can confidently say that none of the running backs on their roster are any good, so it would make sense for them to try to upgrade at that spot.