By Don Banks
January 27, 2011
2011 NFL Mock Draft 1.0
With 30 of the NFL's 32 teams already in full-blown draft prep mode as Senior Bowl week winds down in Mobile, Ala., it's time for our initial stab at mocking out how the first round will unfold on the night of April 28 in midtown Manhattan. You get the feeling this year's labor issues will only make NFL fans crave the three-day draft extravaganza all the more. If that's even remotely possible.
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1 DT Nick Fairley Auburn Jr. 6-5 298
The Panthers' self-proclaimed No. 1 need is at quarterback, and they've got time to do their homework and talk themselves into taking Missouri's Blaine Gabbert if they see true top-of-the-draft potential there. But you don't have to convince anyone that Fairley is worthy of No. 1 consideration. With defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera taking over in Carolina, Fairley would add a disruptive and much-needed play-making presence to the Panthers defensive line.
2 DE Da'Quan Bowers Clemson Jr. 6-4 275
If the Broncos switch to a 4-3 defense as expected under new coordinator Dennis Allen, Bowers would be an ideal fit as the best pure pass-rushing end in this year's draft class. With a healthy Elvis Dumervil presumably headed back to defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, Denver's 32-ranked sack total of 2010 would get a major boost. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is another strong option if the Broncos decide a replacement for Champ Bailey is in order.
3 QB Blaine Gabbert Missouri Jr. 6-5 235
Scouts like Gabbert's arm, his football sense and his prototypical NFL size. Now all he has to do is give them a comfort zone that his transition from Missouri's spread offense to an NFL-style passing game won't be more than he can handle. The Bills' defensive front needs help, so Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is tempting. But if Gabbert is deemed franchise QB material, No. 3 seems like the right time at the right price in whatever rookie wage scale is to come.
4 WR A.J. Green Georgia Jr. 6-4 212
I can't wait to see what Chad Ochocinco (or Johnson?) will tweet once the Bengals use their first-round pick to select a new No. 1 receiver. I would score that one checkmate, Marvin Lewis, in the coming showdown between Cincy's head coach and the veteran pass-catcher with whom he has long since grown weary.
5 CB Patrick Peterson LSU Jr. 6-1 222
After watching their defense suffer an embarrassing meltdown in 2010, the Cardinals know they could use a talent like Peterson, whose size, speed and athleticism makes him one of the cleanest prospects in this year's draft. If Gabbert should linger to No. 5, the quarterback-needy Cardinals could easily select their third young passer of the post-Kurt Warner era.
6 DE Robert Quinn North Carolina Jr. 6-5 270
Quinn is quite the story. He has overcome a brain tumor as a high school senior, posted a monster 11-sack sophomore season for the Tar Heels in 2009, and also sat out all of last year after being ruled ineligible for taking more than $5,600 worth of gifts and improper benefits from agents. But he's an undeniable talent and his pass-rush burst off the edge makes him a prime candidate for a defense that's switching to a 4-3 under new coordinator Dick Jauron.
7 49ers">49ers">49ers_45.gif" border="0"> CB Prince Amukamara Nebraska Sr. 6-1 205
A lot of early mocks are giving the 49ers help on the defensive line, like Alabama tackle Marcell Dareus or a pass-rushing end like Quinn. But I don't really see it, because the line was the strength of San Francisco's defense last season. Where the 49ers need help is at cornerback or outside linebacker. Amukamara is the No. 2-rated corner behind Peterson, and options at outside linebacker include Texas A&M's Von Miller or Missouri's Aldon Smith.
8 LB Aldon Smith Missouri Jr. 6-5 260
The Titans' need for a young quarterback in the post-Vince Young era is obvious, but does Jeff Fisher have the time to develop a passer in this situation, working in the final year of his contract? Smith is an edge-rush talent who would give Tennessee's defense some increased play-making potential.
9 DE-DT Marcell Dareus Alabama Jr. 6-4 306
Cornerback makes the top of the need list in Dallas, but the two top 10 prospects are already gone. Dareus would offer great value at No. 9, and he's a proven talent who thrived in Nick Saban's 3-4 defense at Alabama. He'd likely play at end in the NFL, and his knack for penetrating and making things happen in the backfield would no doubt help the Cowboys' pass defense by increasing the pass pressure up front.
10 QB Cam Newton Auburn Jr. 6-6 250
A consensus seems to be forming for Newton to land in Washington, where Mike Shanahan and Co. will undertake his transition into a pro-style passing game. I guess I can buy that, although drafting a second Auburn first-round quarterback in the span of six years (Jason Campbell, 2005) might make some Redskins fans nervous. Shanahan was thought to be very high on Washington quarterback Jake Locker last year at this time, so don't rule out the ex-Husky if he continues to bounce back from a rough senior season.
11 LB Von Miller Texas A&M Sr. 6-3 243
The Texans need more linebacker talent with their shift to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips, and Miller could be plugged into that scheme as a playmaker in an outside slot. He has pass rush skills, but this spring he needs to prove he can handle the coverage aspect of an outside linebacker's role.
12 OT Nate Solder Colorado Sr. 6-8 314
It's rare that we don't have a couple offensive tackles who are graded as top 10 talents, but the draft just isn't deep there this year. Solder is thought to be the best of the bunch -- at least early on -- and the Vikings could use some youth as a couch against another subpar year from veteran Bryant McKinnie. Solder is a huge 6-8, 314-pound prospect who has had a very strong week at the Senior Bowl.
13 OT Anthony Castonzo Boston College Sr. 6-7 308
The Lions would like to upgrade at cornerback, but the third-rated cover man, Miami's Brandon Harris, would be considered a reach this high. So if they stick to the value of their No. 13 slot, Castonzo would be a solid pick who is projected to eventually play left tackle in the NFL. Keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford healthy has proven difficult for the Lions so far, but an upgraded offensive line is one logical way to address the issue.
14 WR Julio Jones Alabama Jr. 6-4 220
Sometimes you can't over-think these things. Getting a big, physical receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford to throw to seems like a no-brainer for the improved Rams. After A.J. Green, Jones looks like the draft's next best prospect on that front.
15 RB Mark Ingram Alabama Jr. 5-10 215
Everybody has been saying for two years now how much Ingram reminds them of a young Emmitt Smith, gliding and sliding through defenses without giving off the appearance of running all that fast. The comparison is apt and I can't see teams making the draft's top running back wait as long as Smith did in 1990 (when he went 17th to Dallas). With Ingram in his backfield, Miami's Chad Henne would already be a better quarterback.
16 QB Jake Locker Washington Sr. 6-3 230
Locker has helped his stock at this week's Senior Bowl and I think he's back on the rise after a very inaccurate senior season. I know Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio has to win now or else in 2011, but is another season of David Garrard and the status quo at quarterback going to alter the outcome? Time to get a little bold and roll the dice on a young arm in Jacksonville.
17 DE J.J. Watt Wisconsin Jr. 6-6 292
Call me a homer, but I watched this kid play for the Rose Bowl-bound Badgers this season -- I live about five minutes from Camp Randall Stadium -- and came away supremely impressed. He has a non-stop motor, knows how to find the ballcarrier, and seems to continuously improve his game. The Pats need a 3-4 defensive end, and they've got some good choices. Watt, Cal's Cameron Jordan and Iowa's Adrian Clayborn could all be on New England's radar.
18 DE Cameron Jordan California Sr. 6-4 283
The Chargers defense just doesn't have the front seven playmakers it once featured, and Jordan is a prospect I expect NFL scouts to fall in love with the more they watch. He played a 3-4 end position at Cal, but he's active and athletic enough to handle the left end in a 4-3, and his speed rush and ability to get into the backfield are his calling cards.
19 OT Tyron Smith USC Jr. 6-5 280
Upgrading the offensive line is a priority that fits with the value of their draft slot, and Smith represents a solid and safe pick who is considered the third-best tackle prospect on the board. Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey -- twin brother of Maurkice -- is another option as Shaun O'Hara's eventual replacement.
20 DE Adrian Clayborn Iowa Sr. 6-4 285
Clayborn could go higher than this, but if he's there, Tampa Bay could snatch him up and keep adding to its impressive young collection of talent on the defensive line. Clayborn wasn't great as a senior, but he has edge rushing skills and great strength.
21 OLB Akeem Ayers UCLA Jr. 6-4 255
Mike Vrabel can't play forever, and the Chiefs need someone to create pressure from the outside linebacker slot opposite the underappreciated Tamba Hali. Kansas City would feel fortunate if Ayers lasts this long, and he would likely shift the Chiefs' focus on offensive tackle to the second round. Ayers can chase -- and catch -- ballcarriers from sideline to sideline.
22 OT Gabe Carimi Wisconsin Jr. 6-7 327
Almost everyone has the Colts pegged for taking the best available offensive lineman, because it's the obvious area of need in Indy. Carimi is probably a right tackle in the NFL, but that's what everyone was saying last year at this time about Rodger Saffold, and the Rams rookie was superb at the more difficult left tackle spot.
23 G-C Mike Pouncey Florida Sr. 6-4 310
University of Miami cornerback Brandon Harris would address a need, but the offensive line also requires some attention. This pick would make Pennsylvania a two-Pouncey state, with 2010 rookie Maurkice Pouncey going 18th overall to the Steelers last April. If the Eagles don't want to spend at this level for the interior of the offensive line, Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod is a prospect to keep in mind.
24 DE Ryan Kerrigan Purdue Sr. 6-4 263
The Saints need more pass rush out of their front seven, and Kerrigan is a relentless worker who led the nation in tackles for loss last season. Unless there's a running back the Saints really love here, the talent-rich defensive line position should get New Orleans' first-round attention.
25 QB Ryan Mallett Arkansas Jr. 6-6 238
It's nothing more than my solid hunch at this point, but Mallett has the kind of arm that intrigues NFL decision-makers, and his poor footwork can be improved on with steady coaching. I don't get the feeling Pete Carroll is sold on Charlie Whitehurst as his team's quarterback of the future, but Whitehurst would buy Mallett some time to develop.
26 CB Brandon Harris Miami Jr. 5-11 195
The Ravens got wiped out by injuries early last season at cornerback, and even though they patched things up and kept winning, it's an area of the roster that needs fortification. Harris has solid bottom-of-the-first-round value, and it doesn't hurt that he'd be another Hurricane added to the Ray Lewis- and Ed Reed-led defense.
27 DE Cameron Heyward Ohio State Sr. 6-5 288
The son of former Falcons running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward would upgrade an Atlanta defensive line that can't rely forever on John Abraham for all its pass rush. Heyward's standout game in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas had to put him in Atlanta's line of vision, and the Georgia native can play both inside and outside in a 4-3 defensive formation.
28 OLB Justin Houston Georgia Jr. 6-3 258
The Patriots clearly need to generate more pass rush, and while Houston played more of a hybrid DE-OLB role in college, New England would use him at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. The more the Patriots' front seven improves, the better their oft-burned secondary is going to fare.
29 OT Derek Sherrod Mississippi State Jr. 6-5 280
The Bears have decent options when their turn comes around. They can get help for the offensive line that caused them so many headaches, particularly early in the season, or address their needs at either defensive tackle, receiver or cornerback. Sherrod is the highest-rated remaining tackle, but Texas cornerback Aaron Williams and LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis would also make sense.
30 DT Corey Liuget Illinois Jr. 6-3 300
The Jets need to use this draft to find Kris Jenkins' eventual replacement. The veteran defensive tackle has missed most of the past two seasons with knee injuries and anything they get out of him at this point is a bonus. Oregon DT Stephen Paea is another possibility, but he left the Senior Bowl this week with a partially torn lateral meniscus and that puts at least a small question mark by his name.
31 CB Jimmy Smith Colorado Sr. 6-2 205
The Steelers have gotten away with less than top-notch corners for a while now, and Smith has ideal size and strong coverage skills. He can more than hold his own against tall, physical receivers, and his head-to-head matchup with Georgia's A.J. Green was one of the highlights of his senior season.
32 OT Ben Ijalana Villanova Sr. 6-4 320
The Packers could use a 3-4 defensive end to groom as Ryan Pickett's replacement. But with the run on linemen having unfolded above, there might not be one left with a first-round grade. When all else fails, it's hard to go wrong with the best available offensive tackle, giving Green Bay more youth at one of the game's most important positions.

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