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2011 NFL Mock Draft, Final Version

2011 NFL Mock Draft 6.0
I'm sure we say a version of the same thing every spring, but somehow I think my league sources really mean it this time when they tell me that no one knows anything for certain about this week's 2011 NFL Draft. It feels murky out there, and there are only a handful of truths we hold to be self-evident:

* First, there will be some quarterbacks over-drafted this year. Count on it. There are too many teams (at least 10) with a glaring need at the position, and not enough quality passers with starting potential. I've got four quarterbacks in my final first-round mock, but that total could rise to five or six with late-round trades. If the Titans (8th), Redskins (10th) or Vikings (12th) take a quarterback, it could start a mini-run at the position.

* If you want to get a sense of how the first round will go, just follow the player ratings at three positions: Quarterback, defensive line and offensive tackle. That's two-thirds of the round right there. If you know how those players are ranked, you know roughly the order of how the picks will come off the board.

* There will be first-round trades, and maybe the most likely teams looking to deal will be trying to get back into the bottom third of the round, seeking quarterbacks. Cincinnati, Washington, Buffalo, Tennessee and Jacksonville seem the most likely suitors. New England, Seattle, Baltimore, Chicago and Green Bay appear willing to deal downward out of the round. It should make for some interesting matches.

Come Thursday night, we finally get to learn how it will all unfold.
(Send comments to siwriters@simail.com)

Click on prospect name for complete profile.

 
1QBCam NewtonAuburnJr.6-6250
Here's the way things stand in Carolina: The Panthers would love to trade out of the top spot, but realize it's likely not happening. Barring a move, they will pick Newton, but they'll do so with a queasy feeling in the pit of their stomachs. They know he carries risk, but they also feel they have to roll the dice and take the quarterback who has the potential to make the biggest possible impact in order to compete in the NFC South and help revive the franchise's flagging fortunes. If a case of last-minute cold feet strikes in Carolina, Alabama's Marcell Dareus will be the benefactor.
2DE-DTMarcell DareusAlabamaJr.6-4306
It wouldn't shock me if the Broncos went for pass rush in Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller or pass coverage in LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. But in Dareus they get the run-stuffer that would make head coach John Fox happy, and he'd represent a cornerstone around which to build in Denver's transition back to a 4-3 defense.
3QBBlaine GabbertMissouriJr.6-5235
Miller seems to be the consensus choice for the Bills, but I've read quarterback for Buffalo all along, and I'm sticking with my gut. With Ryan Fitzpatrick as their 2011 starter, the Bills have the perfect veteran QB on hand to groom a young quarterback who would benefit from a year's worth of learning how to play the position in the NFL. For all the same reasons the Panthers believe they have to go quarterback, Gabbert is the pick in Buffalo.
4WRA.J. GreenGeorgiaJr.6-4212
Green becomes an easy choice once both Newton and Gabbert are gone. The majority of NFL talent evaluators tell me Green is the most elite offensive prospect in the draft, and he's that rare receiver worthy of a top-five investment.
5LBVon MillerTexas A&MSr.6-3243
The Cardinals don't want to take a quarterback here, but will feel forced to if Gabbert gets to them. But if Miller is there, it should be a no-brainer for Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt. If both Miller and Gabbert are gone, the Cardinals would gladly turn in the card for Peterson.
6WRJulio JonesAlabamaJr.6-4220
I've had North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn to the Browns, but Mike Holmgren's draft history in Seattle was dotted with picks at receiver. Jones gets the nod over Quinn because second-year quarterback Colt McCoy can't fully develop without a go-to outside weapon. Late rumblings this week have the Browns exploring trade options downward, perhaps with some team eager for position to land either Jones or Patrick Peterson.
749ers">49ers">49ers_45.gif" border="0">CBPatrick PetersonLSUJr.6-1222
Peterson still being on the board might very well tempt a team like No. 11 Houston into coming up to No. 7 get him, but I don't love the odds of a deal getting done on the clock. With the 49ers ranked 24th against the pass last season, Peterson is a smart, safe choice, and a great top 10 value.
8DTNick FairleyAuburnJr.6-5298
The Titans would love to land either Washington quarterback Jake Locker or TCU's Andy Dalton, but somewhere later in the round (in the No. 14-20 range), so they'll explore any trade options. If Gabbert somehow lingers, Tennessee would pull that trigger. If the Titans sit tight, they'll take Fairley and feel confident they're getting one of the draft's slam-dunk top 10 prospects.
9OTTyron SmithUSCJr.6-5280
Sources say the Cowboys would love to trade down and still get an offensive tackle somewhere in the middle of the first round. Barring that, they'll take Smith because right tackle Marc Colombo is not returning to Dallas this season. Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo is seen as more NFL-ready from day one, but his ceiling isn't as high as Smith's. It's more like Jerry Jones to take the gamble on the player with the greater upside than to play it safe and down the middle. Dallas has a higher grade on Smith this year than it did on OT Russell Okung last year.
10DERobert QuinnNorth CarolinaJr.6-5270
One rival GM said it best: "When you figure the Redskins out, give me a call and let me know what they're trying to accomplish with their roster.'' The scenarios for Washington do seem all over the map. I've heard the Redskins love Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder (even more than Locker), but might have to move down into the middle of the first round to justify taking him. Either Cal's Cameron Jordan or Wisconsin's J.J. Watt could be the choice at defensive end, but we're closing our eyes and giving them Quinn based on him being the highest-rated pass rusher remaining.
11DE-LBAldon SmithMissouriJr.6-5260
The Texans will investigate a trade up in the hopes of landing a big fish like Miller or Peterson, but my sense is they won't like the price tag and will choose to stand pat at No. 11. Their choice will come down to Smith, who would add to their pass rush as an outside linebacker, or Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who would improve their shoddy pass defense. If new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips gets his wish, and I think he will, the front seven will get the first-round attention.
12QBJake LockerWashingtonSr.6-2231
I had the Vikings trading down to No. 28 to get Locker in my 5.0 mock, but that's too low. They still might be working on a deal to drop into the middle of the round and land Locker, but I'm not sure who their potential trade partner would be. Minnesota's other solid option is Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, and while I believe the Vikings have cleared Clemson Da'Quan Bowers medically, I don't seem them risking their pick on him.
13CBPrince AmukamaraNebraskaSr.6-1205
I don't think the Lions would take the tumbling Bowers with an elite prospect like Amukamara still available. Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo is the obvious offensive line option, but one intriguing scenario I heard this week had the Lions surprisingly going running back, with Alabama's Mark Ingram. The thinking behind that is Jahvid Best isn't an every-down back and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz wants to grind away in the running game to lessen the pounding that Matthew Stafford has taken.
14DTCorey LiugetIllinoisJr.6-3300
Julio Jones isn't falling to the Rams and in all likelihood St. Louis isn't moving up to get him. St. Louis believes it will get a receiver it likes in the second round. Aldon Smith would be tempting if he gets past Houston, because Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo sees a lot of Mathias Kiwanuka in him (a situational pass rusher to start, then an impact defensive end). But with Smith gone, Liuget is the consensus pick in St. Louis. The Rams are desperate for help at defensive tackle, and he's got solid mid-round value.
15G-CMike PounceyFloridaSr.6-4310
I'm hearing plenty about the Dolphins' interest in TCU quarterback Andy Dalton at No. 15, but it feels a little high for a guy who could turn out to be another Chad Henne. Miami is likely trying to move down to take Dalton lower, but Pouncey looks like the safer selection and addresses a need in Miami's interior line. What about Ingram? I have finally been convinced the Dolphins will take a pass on him, which probably means he's their guy.
16DECameron JordanCaliforniaSr.6-4283
I've had the Jaguars with Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan for a few mocks now, and they love him. But in this scenario Jacksonville has its choice between Kerrigan, Jordan and Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt. I think Jordan is the highest-rated end among them, and it probably doesn't hurt that the Jags hit on Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu last year in the first round.
17DEDa'Quan BowersClemsonJr.6-4275
The Patriots are a great wild card in the round, because they could trade down, trade up or stand pat and play it safe with their first of two first-round picks. Bowers has the clear-cut medical issue with his knee, but the Patriots are desperate for more pass rush, have a little room to gamble with an extra first-rounder, and would be getting a player at No. 17 who once was talked about as a potential No. 1 overall. I'm also told that historically speaking, New England doesn't put as much focus on a player's medical report as some teams do (see last year's Rob Gronkowski pick).
18DEJ.J. WattWisconsinJr.6-6292
The Chargers' need for a disruptive 3-4 defensive end with size, speed and a great motor finds its perfect match in Watt, the former Central Michigan tight end who can both stand up against the run and chase down the passer. Plus, he just seems like a no-nonsense, A.J. Smith kind of guy.
19OTAnthony CastonzoBoston CollegeSr.6-7308
With an aging offensive line and a history of picking former B.C. Eagles, Castonzo is a no-brainer for the Giants, who are led by ex-Boston College head coach Tom Coughlin. Castonzo could go much higher than this (in the No. 9-13 range), but if he lingers into the late teens, he's a great value.
20DERyan KerriganPurdueSr.6-4263
I feel confident Tampa Bay would be the absolute floor for either Bowers or Watt if one of them falls to the Bucs, but given their need for pass rush, they're not going to let Kerrigan get past them either. He was a proven playmaker in college, and Kerrigan looks like an early contributor who has high character and a top-notch work ethic.
21OTGabe CarimiWisconsinJr.6-7327
Carimi will arrive in Kansas City as a solid answer to the team's right tackle question, and he's one of the cleanest prospects left in the first round. My sense is that Kansas City is a little wary of Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor's medical history, and Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston gets flagged on character issues.
22OTNate SolderColoradoSr.6-8314
Maybe Solder isn't the guy the Colts are targeting, but offensive tackle has to be Indy's first-round focus. I keep hearkening back to Colts president Bill Polian admitting he should have drafted Indiana offensive tackle Rodger Saffold at No. 31 in 2010, and how he lived to regret it. Solder is a tall, pass-blocking tackle who will instantly upgrade Indy's offensive line from an athletic standpoint.
23OTDanny WatkinsBaylorSr.6-3310
Andy Reid is said to love Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, and he's a viable option given Philly's need in the secondary. But how can you forget the way quarterback Michael Vick got hammered in the second half of the season behind that porous and injury-riddled Eagles offensive line? Watkins is a versatile and hard-nosed competitor, and Reid loves those kind of guys, too.
24DEAdrian ClaybornIowaSr.6-4285
The Saints like both Clayborn and Alabama running back Mark Ingram, but I have to believe the team's need on the defensive front seven outweighs the temptation of adding another Heisman winner to the backfield (well, since-vacated former Heisman recipient at least). Two other options worth noting would be defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson of Temple and defensive tackle Phil Taylor of Baylor.
25QBAndy DaltonTCUSr.6-2215
As one NFL personnel man told me, "Seattle at No. 25 is about where things could start getting wacky with trades.'' I'm buying that, because I think this slot will be targeted by the teams chasing quarterbacks like Dalton, Ponder and maybe even Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. Seattle could still wind up taking Dalton, or maybe even Ponder, but a quarterback of some sort is going 25th overall to somebody. How's that for clarity?
26CBJimmy SmithColoradoSr.6-2205
I've had Smith to the Ravens for mocks and mocks now, but if he's gone, Baltimore would be interested in Wilkerson, Ohio State's Cam Heyward, or trading out of the round to pick the pocket of some quarterback-needy team. Smith is a first-round prospect with first-class baggage issues, but the Ravens believe they have the locker room structure to set him straight.
27WRJonathan BaldwinPittsburghJr.6-4228
I'm predicting a surprise of sorts from the Falcons, who are desperate for an explosive player either at a pass-rushing position or receiver. If Clayborn lingers to Atlanta, he's probably the layup selection. I'm not buying the notion the Falcons might try to trade up into the top five for one of the round's two elite receivers -- it'll cost them their whole draft -- but Baldwin or Boise State's Titus Young are two options who might be tempting at No. 27. Don't hold your breath for Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston. He won't be considered in the first round. If Atlanta believes Baldwin fits its locker-room mentality, he could be the Falcons' bold first-round gamble.
28RBMark IngramAlabamaJr.5-10215
There's still a more than decent shot the Patriots trade out of this pick if a quarterback-needy team overwhelms them. But otherwise, coming away from the first round with the tandem of Bowers on defense and Ingram on offense looks like another New England heist to me. The Patriots need a workhorse in the backfield, and I'm guessing Nick Saban has given his buddy Bill Belichick a glowing seal of approval when it comes to Ingram.
29OTDerek SherrodMississippi StateSr.6-6312
Sherrod is a borderline first-round prospect, so it wouldn't be shocking if Chicago tried to trade down to get a similar offensive tackle prospect in the second round. But if the Bears stay at No. 29, Sherrod is the best of who's available at Chicago's greatest position of need. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams is likely another decent option on the Bears' radar screen.
30DTPhil TaylorBaylorSr.6-3334
The Jets in my scenario have their choice between Taylor, Wilkerson and Heyward, who are all solid choices at 30. I'm going with Taylor as the most logical replacement for the space-eating Kris Jenkins.
31CBAaron WilliamsTexasJr.6-0204
The Steelers do the prudent thing and take the best available cornerback for a secondary that got exposed in the Super Bowl against Green Bay. Depending on whom you believe, they have Williams rated higher than Miami cover man Brandon Harris.
32DECameron HeywardOhio StateSr.6-5288
The Packers have tons of options sitting in the first round's reverse pole position, but Heyward makes sense as a 3-4 end replacing free-agent-to-be Cullen Jenkins. Wilkerson would be another possibility to fill that same need. If Ingram makes it all the way to No. 32, he'd be a weapon to add to the Green Bay backfield.
 

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