UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
NFL

NFL Mock Draft, Version 4.0

2011 NFL Mock Draft 4.0
Talking this week to a veteran NFL personnel man who I've known for years, I was reminded that he likes to call this time of year "silly season'' in the long pre-draft buildup. Because one month from the actual selections, you can hear almost anything about any draft prospect if you pay close enough attention and ask enough people. Opinions change and the stock of a player can rise or fall seemingly because we need someone or something to give off the appearance of movement when it comes to the final leg of the three-month evaluation process.

Keep that in mind as you peruse our fourth attempt to mock out the first round of April's draft. Silly season is in full swing, but we're going to fight the effects of it as best we can and stick with what we think we know. The top of our draft is largely unaltered from our 3.0 mock, because change for the sake of change can often be the silliest move of all.
(Send comments to siwriters@simail.com)

 
1QBBlaine GabbertMissouriJr.6-5235
There's a swing back to Cam Newton to Carolina in some quarters, but I'm not there yet. Especially after sitting and listening to Panthers head coach Ron Rivera at breakfast in New Orleans last week, on the final day of the league's annual meeting. Every time Rivera talked glowingly of Gabbert's "presence,'' or how much the NFL has become a passing league, I thought I sensed the direction Carolina's new head coach wants to go. Granted, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney might be a different story at this point.
2DE-DTMarcell DareusAlabamaJr.6-4306
If anybody really is cooling on the draft prospects of the Alabama defensive tackle, I couldn't uncover the origin of their waning interest. As one talent scout told me: "He's a great kid and he plays good. The rest is just agent talk.'' Works for me. Dareus to a Broncos team that is transitioning to a 4-3 defense under new head coach John Fox is as logical as any projection anyone will make this year.
3QBCam NewtonAuburnJr.6-6250
Chan Gailey couldn't have been any clearer in his answer to my question last week at the coaches' media breakfast in New Orleans: He believes both Gabbert and Newton are ready to play now in the NFL, and they have the skill sets of franchise-level quarterbacks. I don't think Gailey and Bills general manager Buddy Nix are doing much bluffing these days, because they're pretty sure at least one of the draft's top two passers will be waiting for them at No. 3.
4WRA.J. GreenGeorgiaJr.6-4212
The quarterback-needy Bengals would jump on either Gabbert or Newton if they make it to No. 4, but Green remains their best possible consolation prize. I'm not sure I'm ready to fully buy the notion that Tide receiver Julio Jones has eclipsed Green in the eyes of the Cincinnati decision-makers. The Bengals already went the route of drafting an Alabama star whose broken foot became problematic (see No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith in 2009), and it'd be pretty wild if that particular sub-plot repeated itself. Even if Jones is seen as the safer, cleaner prospect than the ridiculously talented Green.
5LBVon MillerTexas A&MSr.6-3243
This is what I know about the Cardinals: They'd take a pass on the Cam Newton Experience if the Auburn QB were available, but not on Gabbert. Chances are they won't have either decision to make, and they'll happily turn in the card for Miller, who I've been told is one of the two or three special players in this year's draft.
6DEDa'Quan BowersClemsonJr.6-4275
I'd like to add an asterisk to this pick, because it might be out of date in short order. Bowers and his surgically repaired knee are finally expected to work out for teams on Friday, and even if he moves around well, I'm told some teams have failed him medically on their draft boards. What I don't know is if the pass-rush needy Browns are one of them. It only takes a single team to believe in Bowers, but he has flunked some physicals and I'm told there's "widespread concern'' around the league regarding the state of his knee. This much I'll wager: His draft stock can only head in one direction at this point, and it's not up.
749ers">49ers">49ers_45.gif" border="0">CBPatrick PetersonLSUJr.6-1222
The 49ers still seem perfectly positioned to collect the draft's top-rated cornerback and in the process address one of their most glaring needs. The void at quarterback could prompt San Francisco in another direction, but a move to acquire a veteran starting option seems like a more likely scenario for Jim Harbaugh's first season.
8DTNick FairleyAuburnJr.6-5298
Everybody seems to feel Fairley comes with some risk, but at No. 8 he's worth the gamble. If the Titans get any echoes of Albert Haynesworth from what they hear and see from Fairley, who is said to have a tendency to get lazy at times during games, it's possible they could get scared off, too. But in terms of value, getting one of the draft's elite players at No. 8 might be tempting to pass up.
9OTTyron SmithUSCJr.6-5280
The Smith-to-Dallas buzz has been building for a couple weeks now, and it makes some sense that the draft's highest-rated offensive tackle would eventually get pushed up into the top 10. The Cowboys could use an upgrade over Marc Colombo at right tackle, and Smith is now widely viewed as the most talented, upside-laden offensive lineman in the draft. Dallas is making noise about having options to trade down, but time will tell if that's a smoke screen or real leverage.
10DERobert QuinnNorth CarolinaJr.6-5270
I'm not sure if anyone has a great handle on where Washington is headed, because the Redskins' options seemingly abound. Receiver Julio Jones was the pick in my mock 3.0, and Washington's desperate need for an offensive playmaker might still carry the day. But how many rookie receivers actually produce impact? Running back Mark Ingram might be an intriguing wild-card choice, but in Quinn the Redskins would get a bookend complement to pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
11CBPrince AmukamaraNebraskaSr.6-1205
With No. 9 Dallas going for offensive tackle help, and the No. 10 Redskins taking Quinn right in front of them, the Texans might be fortunate enough to have the draft's second highest-rated cornerback fall in their laps. Houston's edge rush wouldn't get the upgrade it covets, but let's not forget the reality that the Texans might have made the playoffs last season with even an average secondary. Amukamara comes with a clean, no-baggage billing and very few on-field question marks.
12DECameron JordanCaliforniaSr.6-4283
I had Washington quarterback Jake Locker to the Vikings in my last mock, but that's probably too steep a price to pay for a guy who will be a bit of a project early in his NFL career. Minnesota needs a quarterback now and can't afford to take a first-round project. Look for the Vikings to either trade back into the lower third of the first round for a quarterback, or grab the best available arm in round two. At No. 12, I like the logic of Minnesota going for Jordan, who meets a need at defensive end and comes with a Vikings pedigree courtesy of his father, Steve Jordan, a former star tight end for the purple.
13OTAnthony CastonzoBoston CollegeSr.6-7308
The Lions would jump all over either Amukamara or Tyron Smith if they made it to No. 13, but it won't be difficult to turn in the card for Castonzo, the draft's No. 2-rated offensive tackle. Detroit doesn't need to hit grand slams on draft weekend, just solid doubles that keep the improvement coming.
14WRJulio JonesAlabamaJr.6-4220
With the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo descending from the Andy Reid coaching tree, I'm tempted to put St. Louis down for either fast-rising Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget or Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, because Reid always believes in building a team from the lines out. But an exception to the rule can be made when you have a young franchise quarterback and need to get him some play-making weapons. If Jones falls this far, the Rams have to pounce.
15RBMark IngramAlabamaJr.5-10215
It may be easy to find quality running backs these days, but it's not easy to find a Mark Ingram waiting in rounds two through seven. I asked one personnel man this week what he thought of the former Heisman winner, and he put it succinctly: "I think he's a beast. He's good.'' Plenty of mockers aren't keeping the Dolphins and Ingram together at No. 15. But I am. It's a marriage that should happen.
16DERyan KerriganPurdueSr.6-4263
Most mocks have the Jaguars going for Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, but I'm led to believe they're even higher on Kerrigan, whose stock has risen in recent weeks. Either way, Jacksonville once again addresses its long-standing need for more pass rush.
17DEJ.J. WattWisconsinJr.6-6292
Owning picks 17, 28 and 33, there's no way the Patriots won't move out of at least one of those slots in their habit of ensuring the rich get richer. But given New England's need for a 3-4 defensive end, sticking at 17 and taking the versatile Watt figures to take priority over the search for starters at both offensive line and outside linebacker.
18DT-DEMuhammad WilkersonTempleJr.6-5305
Lightly regarded at the close of Temple's season, the versatile Wilkerson in recent weeks has continued to climb into middle-of-the-round consideration, making San Diego's radar screen by virtue of its need for a 3-4 defensive end. I had Cameron Heyward in this slot in my most recent mock, but that's too high for a player who underwent Tommy John surgery and may not be able to contribute right away as a rookie.
19DTCorey LiugetIllinoisJr.6-3300
The Giants' need at offensive tackle could easily point them in the direction of Colorado's Nate Solder or Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, but New York's track record is to take talented defensive linemen when the opportunity presents itself. Liuget could go as high as No. 14 to St. Louis, and his blend of speed, strength and effort makes him one of the more valued commodities in this year's draft.
20DE-LBAldon SmithMissouriJr.6-5260
The Bucs are in luck and see one of the draft's premier pass-rushing prospects make it all the way to their No. 20 slot. Smith is a little raw and might have to start his NFL career as a situational rusher, but anybody who can help turn up the heat in Tampa Bay is the right pick this year for Raheem Morris's improving team.
21OTGabe CarimiWisconsinJr.6-7327
I had nearly talked myself into giving Baylor's run-stuffing nose tackle Phil Taylor to the No. 21 Chiefs, but I was told a knee injury has Taylor failing some team physicals and that probably keeps him out of the upper two-thirds of the first round. In Carimi, who's both tough and supremely confident in his own abilities, Kansas City would add a building block to its improving offensive line.
22OTNate SolderColoradoSr.6-8314
Nothing tricky here. The Colts obviously have needed help at offensive tackle for awhile now, and Solder is the highest-rated available prospect. Solder was a better pass blocker than run blocker in college, but that fits pretty well with where the emphasis lies on offense in Indy.
23G-CMike PounceyFloridaSr.6-4310
I don't know how the Eagles would pass on Pouncey, the draft's top-rated interior offensive lineman. He could play guard or center in the pros, and would give new Philly O-line coach Howard Mudd (does anybody really retire for good any more?) a mainstay cog to build around. If the Eagles go for defense, Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith is the name getting all the play.
24DEAdrian ClaybornIowaSr.6-4285
Even before the combine I wrote about the Erb's Palsy condition in his right arm that figured to impact Clayborn's draft prospects. And to no surprise, the Iowa star has seen his stock drop in the past month or so. But some teams tell me they still don't see him favoring his right arm in any way on film, and he still carries a first-round grade in their eyes. The Saints need pass rush help, and Clayborn's track record in that department is too solid to ignore.
25QBAndy DaltonTCUSr.6-2215
I'm admittedly reading some tea leaves here, but before it's all said and done, I think the steady, if unspectacular, Dalton comes to be viewed as the most likely prospect to be the third quarterback off the board -- ahead of even Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. Seattle is clearly interested in trading for Eagles backup Kevin Kolb, and NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock made the salient point that Dalton is probably the closest thing to Kolb in this year's draft. Locker is intriguing, but he's probably just not accurate enough to warrant a first-round pick.
26CBJimmy SmithColoradoSr.6-2205
With Matt Birk toward the end of his career, the Ravens could use a guy like Pouncey in the middle of their offensive line. But if the Eagles select the Florida offensive lineman, that should leave Baltimore with its sights set on Smith. The ex-Buffalo cornerback has maturity issues that concern a lot of teams, but he's a top 15 talent and the Ravens put a lot of faith in their veteran locker-room leaders to keep a young player away from major land mines in terms of character problems.
27DECameron HeywardOhio StateSr.6-5288
The Falcons are desperate for another pass rusher to help ease the burden on John Abraham. But bowl-game showing aside, Heyward's real strength lies in his run defense and knack for penetration, rather than his sack skills. Still, he plays with great intensity, has NFL bloodlines thanks to his late father, ex-Falcon Craig Heyward, and he's probably a decent value in a late-first round slot.
28OTDanny WatkinsBaylorSr.6-3310
Watkins is an offensive line prospect who has improved his standing with a solid pre-draft showing, and some believe he could handle the right offensive tackle position in the NFL. That would allow the Patriots to shift Sebastian Vollmer to the left tackle slot, clearing the way for the end of the Matt Light era in New England.
29OTDerek SherrodMississippi StateSr.6-6312
If Watkins makes it past New England at No. 28, he might well be the guy the Bears are targeting as part of their offensive line makeover. Barring that scenario, Sherrod is the best available tackle and would give Chicago more options at the position that was the team's weak link in 2010.
30DTPhil TaylorBaylorSr.6-3334
Outside linebackers like Akeem Ayers of UCLA and Justin Houston of Georgia are probably in the mix, but Taylor's value would probably be higher given the difficulty of finding quality nose tackles. Again, Taylor's health is an issue for some teams. But if his knee checks out with Jets doctors, his skill set would make him a viable replacement for the released Kris Jenkins.
31OLBenjamin IjalanaVillanovaSr.6-4317
We mockers have the Steelers all over the map, but offensive line and cornerback are the obvious areas of need. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams may wind up playing safety in the NFL at some point, so the value for Pittsburgh at No. 31 seems to be at offensive line. Just a hunch, but Ijalana looks like the next best tackle prospect after Sherrod comes off the board.
32LB-DEAkeem AyersUCLAJr.6-3254
Plenty of NFL scouts I've talked to don't have a first-round grade on either Ayers or Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston, but at No. 32, the Super Bowl champs can afford to look long range and take the player who will develop into the best pro. If they hit on Ayers, the Packers would have another athletic and versatile outside linebacker talent to pair with the play-making Clay Matthews.
 

More NFL

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.