By Don Banks
February 23, 2011
2011 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
NFL Scouting Combine week is when the draft starts to take center stage in the league's offseason, never more so than this labor-challenged year, when the draft just might wind up being the only game in town. As we head for Indianapolis and the opening of the NFL's annual Underwear Olympics, here's our latest attempt at mocking out the first round.
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1 DE Da'Quan Bowers Clemson Jr. 6-4 275
My current thinking when it comes to the Panthers goes something like this: A.) Carolina owner Jerry Richardson just doesn't seem like he's in the mood to kow-tow to (or pay) a No. 1 overall quarterback these days (Wouldn't you agree, Peyton Manning?); B.) The Panthers might just need a pass rusher after deciding to not apply the franchise tag to sack leader Charles Johnson; and C.) Bowers and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley might both be one-year wonders of sorts, but handing the ex-Clemson Tiger Bowers millions probably doesn't scare Carolina as much as giving it to the undisciplined and free-wheeling Fairley.
2 DT Nick Fairley Auburn Jr. 6-5 298
With the Broncos re-signing veteran cornerback Champ Bailey to a new four-year deal this week, Denver's chances of making LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson the No. 2 pick seem dramatically reduced. I wouldn't rule out the Broncos selecting Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller -- one of the two best players in this draft according to some NFL scouts -- but it seems more like a John Fox pick to think defensive line first. That makes the choice between Fairley and Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The ex-Crimson Tide star is the safer pick, but Fairley has the greater upside.
3 QB Blaine Gabbert Missouri Jr. 6-5 235
There are hints and signals that Buffalo likes Auburn's Cam Newton, and maybe so. But it stands to reason that Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix need the quarterback who is most NFL-ready right now, and from all indications that's Gabbert. The Missouri standout needs to prove he can make the transition from spread offense to a pro-style attack, but if the Bills find their comfort zone with him, they have to pounce. Buffalo's search for the next Jim Kelly has gone on long enough.
4 WR A.J. Green Georgia Jr. 6-4 212
The word you keep hearing when Green's name comes up is "special." All I know is if you're trying to convince disgruntled quarterback Carson Palmer that things are going to be different this year in Cincinnati, taking the clear-cut top receiver in the draft is a pretty good start. And if they care to, it also probably helps the Bengals summon the determination to tell Chad Ochocinco his entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling tenure is over.
5 LB Von Miller Texas A&M Sr. 6-3 243
Both Gabbert and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson are likely in the mix in Arizona, but people in the league are starting to talk about Miller like he'll start the season as the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock last week called him "the prototype rush linebacker who immediately becomes the headache you've got to game plan for every week coming off the edge." Sounds like the next Clay Matthews to me.
6 DE-DT Marcell Dareus Alabama Jr. 6-4 306
The Browns could make the riskier pick, taking North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn, who didn't play at all last season after being ruled ineligible for taking more than $5,600 worth of gifts and benefits from agents. Or they could make the safer bet and select Dareus, who's a disruptive and penetrating force who would fit nicely in either a 3-4 defense or the 4-3 scheme the Browns are switching to this season.
7 49ers">49ers">49ers_45.gif" border="0"> CB Patrick Peterson LSU Jr. 6-1 222
The 49ers need an infusion of youth at cornerback and Peterson is the top-rated cover man in this year's draft. Though some scouts believe Peterson will eventually wind up playing safety, he has the size and speed you look for at the position these days, and it's probably an upset of sorts if he even lingers long enough to get to No. 7 San Francisco.
8 DE J.J. Watt Wisconsin Jr. 6-6 292
As desperate for quarterback help as the Titans are, I can't see them talking themselves into drafting another top 10-rated, spread-offense, passing/running threat who's fresh off a big showing in a national championship game win over a Pac-10 team. So, no, I don't have Tennessee going for Auburn's Cam Newton at the moment, given that the Vince Young similarities are a little too plentiful to ignore. In Watt, the Titans would be getting a playmaker who can make a difference in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 formation, and one of the first-round prospects scouts have rising the fastest in this pre-draft season.
9 CB Prince Amukamara Nebraska Sr. 6-1 205
As is the case with Patrick Peterson, some scouts project Amukamara as an NFL safety over the long term. But for now he would nicely upgrade a Cowboys secondary that far too often in 2010 got burned like a slice or two of Texas toast. If both top-rated cornerbacks happen to be gone, Dallas might be of a mind to take the next best available defensive lineman, like North Carolina's Robert Quinn.
10 QB Cam Newton Auburn Jr. 6-6 250
I'm leaving the Redskins and Newton together for the time being, with the caveat that the Auburn QB could come out of his combine workout and interviews with some of the many questions surrounding him answered, perhaps boosting his stock. In summary, scouts worry that he hasn't played much under center, ran an offense that was simplistic compared to NFL schemes, and hasn't been a proven commodity long enough to inspire confidence about his work habits and commitment level.
11 DE Robert Quinn North Carolina Jr. 6-5 270
The Texans need more pass rush as they transition to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips, and Quinn is right there with Bowers in terms of his ability to get to the quarterback. His year away from the game makes him a projection pick even more so than usual for an underclassman, but he has a skill set that reminds some of the way Phillips used DeMarcus Ware in Dallas.
12 DT Corey Liuget Illinois Jr. 6-3 300
Indications are that Minnesota will be thinking quarterback in the second round, leaving the Vikings to choose between boosting its offensive or defensive lines in the first round. In Liuget, Minnesota would be targeting one of the rising underclassmen who's expected to come out of the combine with increased buzz attached to his name. One of the ways you can tell if a mock draft is current is if Liuget is in the top half of the proceedings. If he isn't, it needs updating.
13 OT Nate Solder Colorado Sr. 6-8 314
The Lions look to finish just out of the money in terms of their need for a top-rated cornerback -- it's too high for Colorado's Jimmy Smith, who has some baggage when it comes to maturity issues -- or outside linebacker. But they're in great position to add one of the draft's top offensive tackles and improve their protection of injury-prone franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. Opinions are divided when it comes to who the top tackle is, with Solder, Boston College's Anthony Castonzo and USC's Tyron Smith all having their backers.
14 WR Julio Jones Alabama Jr. 6-4 220
Mike Mayock said if the Rams find the playmaking Jones waiting for them at 14, they'll probably sprint to the podium to turn in their pick card. I've been covering the draft for more than 20 years now and I've never seen any team sprint to the podium. It's really tight quarters on draft day and the aisles are never really clear enough for anyone to sprint. A light jog is probably the best you could do.
15 RB Mark Ingram Alabama Jr. 5-10 215
I'm not sure I've ever left a player matched to the same team in all seven of the first-round mocks I've executed before draft day (night?), but I'm going to give it my best shot with the Dolphins and Ingram, the 2009 Heisman winner. Me and about 847 other mockers, that is. There's so much conventional wisdom invested in putting Miami and Ingram together that it can't possibly be correct.
16 LB Aldon Smith Missouri Jr. 6-5 260
The Jaguars are looking to jack up their pass rush quotient (once again) and this is about the neighborhood in which most think Smith will come off the board. He has the size and speed to get to the quarterback, but as an underclassman might need a little time to hone his craft and bulk up his body in the NFL.
17 DE Cameron Jordan California Sr. 6-4 283
The Patriots are in the market for a 3-4 end and help at outside linebacker with their two first-round picks (doesn't it seem like they always have multiples somewhere up high?) It's probably easier to get the defensive end early and the OLB at No. 28. Jordan played in a 3-4 at Cal and has some pass rush juice while also holding up nicely against the run. But if there is a linebacker to tempt New England, it would be UCLA's Akeem Ayers.
18 DE Adrian Clayborn Iowa Sr. 6-4 285
It's just the Chargers' luck to be searching for the same 3-4 defensive end that No. 17 New England is seeking. With both Watt and Jordan gone, the Chargers likely have Clayborn on their board. Some scouts think he could suffer some slippage if he doesn't come out of the combine with a clean bill of health, but he's still considered among the top five defensive ends in this year's deep defensive end class.
19 OT Anthony Castonzo Boston College Sr. 6-7 308
New York should have either Castonzo or USC's Tyron Smith to choose from in upgrading at offensive tackle. The Giants' ties and past experience with Boston College are multi-faceted, so there's plenty of reason to think a solid, four-year starter like Castonzo makes sense in blue.
20 DE Ryan Kerrigan Purdue Sr. 6-4 263
The Bucs are in the market for an edge rusher and Kerrigan is proven in that department, having averaged almost 11 sacks over his last three years at Purdue. Scouts I talked to don't seem too excited about him, but Kerrigan or UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers are probably the best pass rushers left to choose.
21 OLB Akeem Ayers UCLA Jr. 6-4 255
This is another pick that seems to line up a little too easily in terms of conventional wisdom. Everyone knows K.C. needs a pass-rushing outside linebacker who can run sideline to sideline and eventually take Mike Vrabel's job, and Ayers seems the logical candidate in this slot. If he goes higher than this, Georgia's Justin Houston becomes the name to watch.
22 OT Tyron Smith USC Jr. 6-5 280
If Smith comes out of the combine with the size measurables the NFL looks for in an offensive tackle -- the concern is he's not quite big enough -- there will be teams that rate him as the draft's best prospect at that position. But for now we'll give him to the tackle-needy Colts with the caveat that he could be on the move upwards in our 3.0 mock.
23 OT Gabe Carimi Wisconsin Jr. 6-7 327
The Eagles need help at cornerback and outside linebacker, so Colorado's Jimmy Smith or Texas's Aaron Williams could be cover men who fit the bill, and Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston is a prospect who has bottom-third-of-the-round value. But Andy Reid loves to build his teams from the lines out, and that makes Carimi or Florida guard-center Mike Pouncey the more likely selection.
24 DT-DE Muhammad Wilkerson Temple Jr. 6-5 305
Wilkerson is a fast-rising prospect who could clinch a first-round grade with a strong weekend in Indianapolis. He's a 6-foot-5, 305-pound tackle who can penetrate the backfield, and he projects as a 3-4 defensive end who could both hold the edge and produce some pass rush. The Saints are a 4-3 team that needs its front seven to create more heat on the quarterback.
25 QB Jake Locker Washington Sr. 6-3 230
Well why not? Locker to the hometown Seahawks does make some sense, because Seattle could afford to give him a year of development while either Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst hold down the fort in 2011. Locker is said to be making strides recently in terms of his accuracy issues while working with ex-Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien, and there's still time for him to earn the first-round grade he appeared to have in his hip pocket at the close of his 2009 season.
26 CB Jimmy Smith Colorado Sr. 6-2 205
Smith was virtually unchallenged as a senior with Colorado, and some teams have him rated as the draft's second-best cornerback behind Patrick Peterson. But he has some baggage in the form of maturity issues to deal with, and how he interviews at the combine could go a long way toward determining his first-round fate. Baltimore could also go either receiver or defensive end, so deep threats Titus Young of Boise State and Torrey Smith of Maryland bear mentioning, as does Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward.
27 WR Titus Young Boise State Sr. 5-11 174
The Falcons need a pass rusher like Heyward or an interior lineman like Pouncey, but I can't see them taking the step to the truly elite class in the NFC without more playmaking weapons than Roddy White in the passing game. Both Young and Maryland's Torrey Smith are stretch-the-field receivers who carry solid bottom-of-the-round grades.
28 WR Torrey Smith Maryland Jr. 6-1 205
The Patriots could go outside linebacker in this slot, but Georgia's Justin Houston may not carry a consensus first-round grade. Given their need for a vertical threat in the post-Randy Moss era, a speedster like Smith is a tantalizing option. At some point in his pre-draft workouts, Smith needs to prove he can get off the line of scrimmage in press coverage.
29 WR Jonathan Baldwin Pittsburgh Jr. 6-5 225
Unless the Bears are confident they're going to address their need for a big receiver in free agency -- if it even unfolds this offseason -- the first round of the draft might be their best chance to fill that void. Baldwin is on the bubble between a first- and second-round grade, but he's big, fast and knows how to come down with the football in traffic.
30 DE Cameron Heyward Ohio State Sr. 6-5 288
UCLA safety Rahim Moore is another prospect who seems to be rising into first-round contention as the combine begins, but despite New York having a need at safety, Heyward is the kind of disruptive and physical defensive end Rex Ryan loves. Getting him at No. 30 would also represent great late-round value.
31 G-C Mike Pouncey Florida Sr. 6-4 310
The Steelers' need at cornerback could drive this pick, but I don't know yet what they think of Texas cover man Aaron Williams, who is the top-rated remaining cornerback in this mock scenario. How could they really go wrong taking the twin brother of standout rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, pairing him alongside his sibling at right guard? A two-Pouncey line considerably upgrades the athleticism of an aging and under-staffed Pittsburgh offensive front.
32 OT Ben Ijalana Villanova Sr. 6-4 320
The Packers have plenty of good options with the last pick of the round, but another young offensive tackle makes the most sense. They could groom Ijalana for the right tackle slot, paving the way for 2010 first-round pick Bryan Bulaga to take over for Chad Clifton as the starter at left tackle. Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod is another tackle prospect, and a wild-card option would be Georgia outside linebacker Justin Houston.

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