By Don Banks
March 09, 2011
2011 NFL Mock Draft 3.0
With the NFL Scouting Combine having changed the draft-season landscape in subtle but numerous ways, and college pro days now in full swing, it's time to update our efforts at mocking out the first round. To no great surprise in the quarterback-driven NFL, the top-rated passers have both climbed their way into our top three, while a pair of previous No. 1 picks, both defensive linemen, have slipped into the second half of the top 10.
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1 QB Blaine Gabbert Missouri Jr. 6-5 235
History says the top-rated quarterback winds up going first overall in the draft, and that's a trend that has held true in 10 of the past 13 years (from the start of the Peyton Manning era in 1998 on). Before all is said and done on the evening of April 28, I expect Gabbert to emerge as the most pro-ready passer available, and that means he'll eventually distance himself from Cam Newton and work his way into Carolina's plans.
2 DE-DT Marcell Dareus Alabama Jr. 6-4 306
Dareus went into the combine with Warren Sapp and some others higher on him than they were on Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, but that refrain became a full-throated chorus coming out of Indianapolis. When they started comparing them side by side, Dareus turned out to be bigger and have better burst than the more celebrated SEC defensive tackle. And the NFL also likes that he comes with a Nick Saban seal of approval.
3 QB Cam Newton Auburn Jr. 6-6 250
The Bills want to draft a franchise quarterback who ends their long tortured post-Jim Kelly history at that position, and they're not exactly making a secret of their interest in Newton. Ryan Fitzpatrick's play in 2010 gives Buffalo the luxury of showing patience with Newton, and he'll need some time to make the transition to a pro-style passing game. There's a lot of divided opinion on Newton, but I'm starting to believe the Bills see the glass as way more than half full.
4 WR A.J. Green Georgia Jr. 6-4 212
The Bengals are not in denial about Carson Palmer's threat to walk into retirement, so taking either Gabbert or Newton, if either is available, is a strong possibility. But neither is still on the board in this scenario, so the easy choice is Green. He didn't wow scouts at the combine to the same degree as Alabama receiver Julio Jones, but once you put on his game film, he makes his case for the top five quite convincingly.
5 LB Von Miller Texas A&M Sr. 6-3 243
The Cardinals seem intent on getting a veteran quarterback via trade or free agency and then continuing to develop second-year man John Skelton for the future. That puts them in prime position to target Miller, who only cemented his reputation as the draft's biggest impact defender with a boffo showing in terms of testing and drill work at the combine.
6 DE Da'Quan Bowers Clemson Jr. 6-4 275
With the Browns switching back to a 4-3 defensive front, how can you do better than having the draft's top pass-rushing end fall in your lap? Cleveland likely would be happy with Green, Dareus or Bowers, but getting a player who's in the mix for the No. 1 pick at No. 6 registers as tremendous value in the second half of the top 10.
7 49ers">49ers">49ers_45.gif" border="0"> CB Patrick Peterson LSU Jr. 6-1 222
Like the Browns, the 49ers get to sit tight and let one of the draft's elite players come their way. In Peterson, San Francisco gets the best possible replacement for aging cornerback Nate Clements, and his combine 40-yard dash time of 4.31 allayed concerns that he would run more like an NFL safety than a top cover corner.
8 DT Nick Fairley Auburn Jr. 6-5 298
There are teams with some question marks by Fairley's name, be it his slightly less than NFL-prototypical size, his lack of technique when using his hands, or his thin track record of just the one stellar season at Auburn. But the Titans covet a defensive play-maker and they'll be thrilled that Fairley's game got picked apart sufficiently in the pre-draft scouting season to ensure his availability when their turn comes around.
9 CB Prince Amukamara Nebraska Sr. 6-1 205
Amukamara needed to run well in Indy to lock down his spot in the top 10, and he did, averaging about 4.4 in his two combine 40s. The Cowboys are desperate for upgrades in a secondary that played like a weak link all last season, and the Nebraska cornerback seems entrenched as the draft's No. 2 rated cover man.
10 WR Julio Jones Alabama Jr. 6-4 220
So now we find out that Jones posted a 4.39 in the 40 and was a combine workout star despite having a stress fracture in his left foot that required surgery last weekend. The Crimson Tide receiver won't be able to do much of anything physically until right around draft time, but that's not going to keep him off the radar screen for the receiver-needy Redskins.
11 DE Robert Quinn North Carolina Jr. 6-5 270
Quinn didn't make everyone forget his year-long suspension with his combine performance, but he's got elite pass-rushing skills and the Texans happen to be in the market for someone to bring the heat from the edge in Wade Phillips' new 3-4 defense. That makes him a nice fit for Houston at outside linebacker, and a pretty good first-round value, too.
12 QB Jake Locker Washington Sr. 6-3 230
Locker's combine workout showcased his obviously improved accuracy and footwork, and his athleticism was one of the bigger surprises of the weekend in Indy, putting him on even ground with even Cam Newton in terms of speed and mobility. The Vikings seem intrigued with the ex-Washington star and with only Joe Webb on their QB depth chart, they're definitely motivated to snatch up the draft's third-rated passer.
13 OT Tyron Smith USC Jr. 6-5 280
Smith in Indianapolis proved he was big enough (307 pounds) and strong enough (29 reps in the bench press) to vie for the distinction of being the draft's top-rated offensive tackle, and he has already over-taken Colorado's Nate Solder in the eyes of many talent evaluators. Protecting franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford is job one in Detroit this season.
14 DE-LB Aldon Smith Missouri Jr. 6-5 260
If the Rams don't get their wish and find Alabama receiver Julio Jones waiting for them at No. 14, they may have to make a tough decision on Smith, a local hero from Missouri who hasn't played a ton of football and may be better suited to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4. The Rams' need a 4-3 end opposite Chris Long, and Smith needs to follow up a so-so combine effort with a better showing at the Tigers' March 17 pro day.
15 RB Mark Ingram Alabama Jr. 5-10 215
There are plenty of arguments for the Dolphins not taking Ingram in the slot almost every mocker has had him locked into for almost two months. It's a pass-first league. You can get quality running backs well below the first round. And it makes no sense to take Ingram at No. 15 when you can trade down and still get him. All valid points. But if you think a back is special enough, you don't mess around. You grab him when you can. Time will tell if the Dolphins agree.
16 DE Cameron Jordan California Sr. 6-4 283
The Jaguars might be tempted by a rising quarterback like Florida State's Christian Ponder, but it's more likely he's on their second-round radar. Jordan had one of the more impressive combine showings among defensive ends, and he's 6-4, 287-pound prospect who plays with speed and intensity, and should be able to infuse Jacksonville's front seven with a much-needed dose of playmaking.
17 DE J.J. Watt Wisconsin Jr. 6-6 292
The Patriots will be fortunate if the first-round board breaks this way, because Watt is considered the draft's best five-technique 3-4 defensive end, with both run-stopping and pass-rushing skills in his game. New England has needs at both outside linebacker and offensive line, but it makes sense to prioritize the defensive line, then address the other two areas with its picks at No. 28 and No. 33.
18 DE Cameron Heyward Ohio State Sr. 6-5 288
This is higher than a lot of mocks have Heyward going, but the Chargers have a glaring need at right end and he strikes me as the kind of player who would catch San Diego general manager A.J. Smith's eye. With questions about Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn's health, and Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson's lack of a track record, logic keeps leading me to put Heyward and the Chargers together.
19 OT Anthony Castonzo Boston College Sr. 6-7 308
We're not going to over-think New York's situation. The Giants need an offensive tackle and they should have a couple options among the likes of Castonzo, Solder or Tyron Smith. New York's penchant to lean toward the Boston College prospect makes this dangerously close to no-brainer territory.
20 DE Ryan Kerrigan Purdue Sr. 6-4 263
The Bucs crave pass rush, and there sits Kerrigan, who knows his way around an offensive backfield. He displayed the athleticism and intensity at the combine that he has always had on game day, and he should make for a very solid, though likely not spectacular, addition to Tampa Bay's emerging front seven.
21 DT Stephen Paea Oregon State Sr. 6-1 303
With UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers hurting his draft stock with a subpar combine showing in terms of his speed and athleticism, we're shifting our focus for Kansas City to Paea, whose 49 reps on the bench press caught everyone's attention at the combine. Two other possibilities for the Chiefs would be Georgia's Justin Houston (if K.C. thinks he's an OLB instead of a 3-4 end) or Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget.
22 OT Nate Solder Colorado Sr. 6-8 314
All of last season the Colts regretted they didn't go for an offensive tackle in 2010's first round, and I can't see them making the same mistake twice. Solder is a better pass blocker than run blocker at this point, but that fits pretty well with where the emphasis lies in Indy.
23 OT Gabe Carimi Wisconsin Jr. 6-7 327
The Eagles' top need should line up well with where the value is at this point of the first round, with Carimi and Florida guard-center Mike Pouncey offering two solid options for Philly's offensive line. Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith would fill another void, but he's got character red flags and Andy Reid doesn't need the headache.
24 LB-DE Justin Houston Georgia Jr. 6-3 258
The Saints need more pass rush and impact out of their front seven, and Houston put himself into first-round consideration with a strong effort at the combine. Either at outside linebacker or right end, his athleticism should upgrade New Orleans' ability to chase the ballcarrier.
25 QB Ryan Mallett Arkansas Jr. 6-6 238
Mallett should let his right arm do all the talking, because it continues to make a first-round case for itself better than his mouth. After sparkling in the passing drills in Indy, he followed it up with another strong showing at the Arkansas pro day Tuesday. Maturity issues notwithstanding, some QB-needy team is going to take a chance on Mallett's potential.
26 CB Jimmy Smith Colorado Sr. 6-2 205
I'm sticking with Smith to the Ravens because Baltimore has never been afraid to take a chance on the player with both talent and character red flags, especially when he plays a position of such need. Baltimore, as always, will rely on its locker-room leaders to help teach Smith the Ravens' Way. But at No. 26, with Smith likely earning a top 20 grade, he's too tempting to pass up.
27 DE Adrian Clayborn Iowa Sr. 6-4 285
It's difficult to imagine the Falcons getting to the elite level in the NFC without adding more playmakers in their passing game, so deep threats like Boise State's Titus Young or Maryland's Torrey Smith have to be considered. But Clayborn aids a Falcons pass rush that's also in need of an upgrade. The medical concerns with his right arm/shoulder could prove troubling to some teams and prompt a red flag, but he's probably a solid gamble for late first-round territory.
28 G-C Mike Pouncey Florida Sr. 6-4 310
If the Patriots came away with Watt and Pouncey with their two first-round picks, they'd assure themselves of a coveted A+ in all those widely read and lightly trusted draft report cards. But building from the lines out is never a bad approach in the draft, and New England would be instantly better off on both fronts.
29 OT Derek Sherrod Mississippi State Sr. 6-6 312
The Bears offensive line needs attention and Sherrod is the highest-rated remaining tackle available. Though his play has drawn some comparisons to underachieving 2008 Bears first-round pick Chris Williams -- not what Chicago fans want to hear -- Sherrod is considered NFL-ready and would offer the Bears immediate help.
30 DT Phil Taylor Baylor Sr. 6-3 334
Either with the best available 3-4 end (Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson?) or a big guy in the middle, the defensive line seems likely to get first-round attention in New York. In Taylor, the Jets would get a wide-bodied run-stuffer who could help fill the void left by the oft-injured (and now departed) Kris Jenkins.
31 CB Aaron Williams Texas Jr. 6-1 195
The Steelers got all the way to the Super Bowl with mid-tier cornerbacks, but it's not a formula for success they want to try to repeat every season. Williams may wind up playing safety at some point in his NFL career, but he ran well enough (in the 4.5 range) at the combine to merit a late-first round grade. He's a more physical style cover man, and he's not afraid to tackle and use his body to hand out punishment.
32 DT-DE Muhammad Wilkerson Temple Jr. 6-5 305
If the Packers are prepared to lose Cullen Jenkins in free agency, they should be at least considering a 3-4 five-technique defensive end with their first pick of the draft. Wilkerson might need a year to develop, but he has the right measurables for the position and consistently flashed a knack for high-impact plays at Temple last season.

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