Wednesday May 4th, 2011

After a lackluster 2011 NFL Draft in both television ratings and quality, the hype will return next season thanks to a class loaded with talent at the offensive skill positions.

Hopefully the lockout will be a distant memory by the time Roger Goodell steps to the podium next April. The 2012 draft could be shaped by a rookie salary cap after the dust settles from the labor battle.

Here is a look at my (Way early) 2011 NFL Mock Draft from April of last year. No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks Ryan Mallett and Da'Quan Bowers looked relatively good throughout most of last college football season. Though this year's top guy seems a lot safer ...

1. Buffalo Bills: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford The Bills did well drafting Marcell Dareus, but still have too many holes on defense to improve next season. You won't find a single 2012 mock draft that doesn't list Luck No. 1. Other than injury, the only possibility he'll fall is if the bar is set too high and experts pick him apart.

2. Carolina Panthers: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State Blackmon might have been the highest receiver taken in the 2011 draft, even ahead of A.J. Green, who went No. 4 overall. The Panthers will be eager to get help for Cam Newton.

3. Cleveland Browns: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma The 6-foot-4 Jones has NFL size and arm strength and has proved a lot in college already. He threw 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season and should put up Sam Bradford-like numbers this season.

4. Tennessee Titans: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina The 6-6, 270-pound Coples had 10 sacks for North Carolina last season and will be the premiere pass rusher in this draft.

5. Seattle Seahawks: Matt Barkley, QB, USC The Seahawks will make up for not taking a quarterback this season by reuniting Barkley with his former coach Pete Carroll.

6. Denver Broncos: Matt Kalil, OT, USC The little brother of the Panthers' Ryan Kalil should be the first tackle taken and could go even higher depending on team needs. He's a solid technician and tough.

7. Cincinnati Bengals: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa At a school known for producing good offensive linemen, Reiff might be the best of the last decade. He's got a nasty attitude and will be NFL-ready.

8. Oakland Raiders: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama Kirkpatrick meets the Raiders' speed requirement and will team with Stanford Routt to give Oakland an impressive defensive backfield.

9. Minnesota Vikings: Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie will be 32 at the end of the season, so Minnesota will look to the future to help protect quarterback Christian Ponder.

10. Washington Redskins: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska Crick had 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks last season despite constant double-teams. His best fit in the NFL will be 3-4 end, but he could also slide over to tackle in a 4-3.

11. Dallas Cowboys: Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon Harris is a bit undersized, but will fill a need here and can possibly be an explosive returner. He's similar to a young Terence Newman.

12. Detroit Lions: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina The Lions need to bolster their secondary and will take the highest rated cornerback at this spot. Gilmore still has something to prove, but could develop into a shutdown guy.

13. Miami Dolphins: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State Worthy didn't have big numbers last season (four sacks), but he takes up a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines and should develop into a productive 3-4 end.

14. Kansas City Chiefs: Nate Potter, OT, Boise State The Chiefs need depth up front and Potter could possibly play multiple spots on the line.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama The Jaguars will be eager to add another major weapon to help Blaine Gabbert.

16. Houston Texans: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU Claiborne had five interceptions last season and should fill nicely into Patrick Peterson's role. Houston surprised some folks by not going cornerback in this year's draft; it needs a lot of help in the secondary.

17. San Francisco 49ers: Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas The Niners need to find a successor to Frank Gore, and the big, physical Davis fits the bill.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama Upshaw looked good in the spring and should develop into a star this season. He'll fit in on a defense loaded with young, athletic players.

19 Arizona Cardinals: Kelechi Osemele, T/G, Iowa State The Cardinals will want more protection for whoever takes over at quarterback. Osemele is a mauler that will start at guard but can play right tackle.

20. New York Giants: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State The Giants passed on an opportunity to grab an offensive lineman in the first round this season. Adams is suspended the first five games of the season for taking improper benefits, but the Giants have a strong locker room and won't be scared off by the behavior.

21. Baltimore Ravens: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina Jeffery was very productive as a sophomore, but is a little too slow to be a top-10 pick. Still, the Ravens have been trying to find a young star at this position for some time.

22. Chicago Bears: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama A perfect, Bears-style player who can take over the mantle of great Chicago linebackers from the aging Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.

23. New England Patriots: Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas A versatile, run-stuffing defensive lineman who can play base end and even fill in at nose.

24. St. Louis Rams: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma Teams want to wait to draft 4-3 linebackers, but Lewis will be productive enough this season to overcome that handicap. The Rams could also look at North Carolina LB Zach Brown.

25. Indianapolis Colts: Ray Ray Armstrong, S, Miami Armstrong is a big, physical safety with good ball skills who will add to the Miami defensive back legacy.

26. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State An undersized but very productive pass rusher who seems to fit the Eagles' mold. Jenkins had 13.5 sacks in 2010.

27. San Diego Chargers: Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina The Chargers began to address their defense in this year's draft, but they would love to add a potentially explosive pass rusher like Taylor.

28. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta Falcons): Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State Burfict's only issue is that the NFL doesn't seem to value linebackers in the draft.

29. New York Jets: Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor Baylor coach Art Briles has been churning out first-round picks the last few years. Griffin will move up draft boards past fellow quarterbacks Nick Foles and Brandon Weeden because of his exciting style. With Brad Smith possibly leaving in free agency, Griffin could fill a multi-position role.

30. Green Bay Packers: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M Competitive at virtually every position, the Packers have a luxury pick here and finally get a home-run threat in the backfield. Gray is a tough runner with major burst through the hole.

31. New England Patriots (via the Saints): Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU If the Patriots stay here, they have a lot of building to do on the offensive line. But they could package both their picks to move up in the first round, or once again move out of the first round. Reynolds has struggled with a shoulder injury, but will be very productive when healthy.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington The 330-pound, four-year starter will be Casey Hampton's replacement.

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