2011 NFL Mock Draft (First Round)
I open my 2011 Mock Draft with a disclaimer: Because of the lockout, teams have to approach the draft differently than in previous years. They can’t trade players (or maybe they can now) and they haven’t had the ability to start filling holes with free agency. Because of all the confusion and complicated legal proceedings leading up They have no idea what they are doing, which makes it exponentially harder for me to pretend like I know what they are doing. Nevertheless, the draft must go on and I must foretell its results.
1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB
Having used a second round pick on Jimmy Clausen last year, Carolina has to have some serious reservations about using another high draft pick on a signal caller. But in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman, they are falling well behind the pack. There is no home run choice at QB in this year’s drafts, but Cam Newton’s potential as a dual threat quarterback is tantalizing.
2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DL
Denver’s defense was absolutely awful last season. They could use help at any defensive position so there’s not exactly a bad pick for them to make. There will certainly be teams interested in moving up, but I’m not sure anyone will need to move up this high to get what they want. Dareus can provide a strong foundation on which the Broncos can start to rebuild their tattered defense.
3. Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, LB
The Bills could very well start the run of quarterbacks that we should see tonight, but with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing adequately well last season, and with none of this year’s quarterbacks standing out as a future star, the Bills should play it safe with Miller, who could be the player that Aaron Maybin should have been.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: AJ Green, WR
Carson Palmer’s uncertain future make a quarterback a very real possibility, but AJ Green is arguably the best offensive player in the draft, and Chad Ochocinco’s future isn’t the brightest either. I expect the Bengals to roll the dice on a free agent QB should Palmer’s ultimatum be authentic, and giving whoever they bring in a weapon like Green will help.
5. Arizona Cardinals, Patrick Peterson, DB
The Cardinals are in need of quarterback help, but again, the remaining guys would be a significant reach at this point in the draft. Peterson profiles to be an elite shutdown corner with strength and size. A pass-rusher is also a distinct possibility for the Cardinals.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones
The Browns seem content with taking a chance on Colt McCoy, and their defense was a nice surprise last season. With Peyton Hillis as a security blanket, what the Browns need is someone for McCoy to throw to. Jones made a late run to overtake Green as the top wideout after a good combine performance but a foot injury slowed his hype a bit. He’s still an excellent prospect and should immediately help Cleveland’s offense become a bit more two-dimensional.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB
Well Alex Smith didn’t work out as well as they would have hoped and Troy Smith wasn’t much better, so they’ll begin this little run of QBs with the Mizzou underclassman. Gabbert sure looks the part of an NFL QB, but he’ll have to adjust to the NFL game after playing a lot of dink-and-dunk at Mizzou for two seasons.
8. Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker, QB
After cutting ties with Vince Young whose performance always seemed to fall short of his potential, the Titans need a QB. Locker was a surefire top pick last season before returning to Washington where he dealt with injuries and inconsistency. Still, his tools are impressive and he never had the talent surrounding him that some of the other top QBs in this year’s draft did.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OL
They made their splash last year by taking the lightning-rod Dez Bryant, so this year the pick will be the safer, offensive lineman. Smith isn’t the most NFL-ready prospect in this draft, but he has the most upside, and with Dallas’ line mostly in shambles, Smith is a good fit.
10. Washington Redskins: Christian Ponder, QB
Donovan McNabb won’t be back after a tumultuous first (and only) season in Washington, so the Skins will need a replacement. Ponder showed flashes of brilliance at FSU, but also struggled with injuries and lapses in judgement. The Redskins will bank on his talents translating to an NFL starter.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, DB
If Denver’s defense was the Nagasaki of bad, Houston’s was Hiroshima. They couldn’t cover anybody and they couldn’t rush the passer. They couldn’t stop the run or the pass. Houston has indicated they’d be interested in trading up to get someone like Patrick Peterson, but if they stay put, Prince is a solid selection despite concerns about his ball skills.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Andy Dalton, QB
Brett Favre really shouldn’t have been around last year, and he hamstrung the franchise one more year than necessary. The Vikings don’t seem to be high on Tavaris Jackson, so a quarterback here is logical. Dalton is probably the best and safest remaining quarterback for the Vikings to take, but if they are more fascinated by Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick they could trade down and target him a little later in the draft.
13. Detroit Lions: Nick Fairley, DL
This is the furthest Detroit has fallen in the draft in recent years, and this is certainly lower than anyone would have expected Auburn’s one-year wonder to fall four months ago. Questions about his work ethic and longevity aside, Fairley is immensely talented and would pair wonderfully with last year’s first rounder, Ndomukung Suh.
14. St. Louis Rams: Aldon Smith, DL
The Rams have been surrounded by speculation about using an early round pick on a running back, but this seems too high for any of the backs to be great value. Instead, the Rams will address their pass-rushing needs with the end out of Purdue. Chris Long was fantastic last year, but the Rams need more push up front.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, OL
Pouncey’s stock has risen partly due to his own talents, but probably also because of his twin brother’s rapid NFL success with the Steelers. Chad Henne won’t be the answer forever, but a year after acquiring star wideout Brandon Marshall for Henne to throw to, the Dolphins will continue to surround him with the tools he needs to succeed.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Robert Quinn
Every mock draft I’ve seen has Ryan Kerrigan going here. But the Jags are often a quite unpredictable drafting team as evidenced by last year’s reach of Alualu which turned out to be a decent selection. Kerrigan is a slightly safer pick, but Quinn can be a real difference-maker.
17. New England Patriots: Cam Jordan, DL
The Patriots hold 3 of the drafts first 33 picks, but I’m nearly entirely sure that they won’t keep them all. They’re in a good position to move up for a more elite player if they want, but also to move back and swap this year’s picks for better ones next season or later in the draft. Jordan makes some sense here, as the Patriots pass rush is getting a little older and a step slower.
18. San Diego Chargers: JJ Watt, DL
The Chargers could think about helping their offensive line too, but Watt is good value at this pick and will help the defensive side of the ball almost immediately after rising on draft boards since the end of the season.
19. New York Giants: Nate Solder, OL
Once a strength of the Giants, the offensive line has struggled a bit to protect Eli Manning and to open running lanes for its once feared rushing attack. Solder will immediately plug into the line and help solidify a weakness for the Giants. With each of their running backs having a significant question mark, a running back here wouldn’t shock me.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ryan Kerrigan, DL
While Carolina needs a QB, just about everybody else in the NFC South needs help on the defensive line. Tampa Bay has the first choice of what’s left and Kerrigan is the best of the bunch.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Gabe Carimi, OT
Scott Pioli isn’t known for making flashy draft selections, but rather he makes smart and sound moves that improve his club. And that’s exactly what Carimi is.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Castonzo, OL
Peyton Manning proved that even he can perform as a mere mortal if he’s left unprotected. The Colts must still regret taking Jerry Hughes last year over Roger Saffold, and won’t make the same mistake again by ignoring their line problems.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, DB
Smith is undeniably talented, but off the field concerns will see him drop into the later stages of the first round. Regardless, he’s a tremendous value pick for an Eagles team that struggled to cover top receivers last year at times.
24. New Orleans Saints: Adrian Clayborn, DE
The Saints never imagined that they could be pushed around by a 7-9 Seahawks team in the playoffs after an 11-5 season, but that’s exactly what happened. The Saints need to get tougher and more formidable up front and Clayborn can help provide that.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Corey Luiget, DL
Marvin Austin is a possibility but it’s been a year since he played competitively and is probably too big of a risk this high in the draft for a team as on the edge as Seattle. Luiget is a solid selection who will help the defensive front.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Muhammed Wilkerson, DL
Baltimore has always been about defense and Wilkerson fits right into their style of play. But right about this spot in the draft is where teams will start to call if they want to jump back into the first round for a player that they want, so Baltimore will have plenty of options.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Phil Taylor, DL
What Atlanta really needs is a pass rusher, but Taylor can fill the middle of the defense better than anyone else in the draft. A cornerback like Texas’ Aaron Williams might make sense too after Aaron Rodgers trashed their secondary in the playoffs.
28. New England Patriots: Danny Watkins, OL
Mark Ingram might make some sense here if Bill Belichick gets greedy. I don’t expect the Patriots to make picks 17, 28 and 33 but with Logan Mankins’ status up in the air, Watkins is a safety net the Patriots can afford.
29. Chicago Bears: Marvin Austin, DL
Austin’s a risky pick, but absolutely a difference maker if healthy and focused. The Bears could look at a receiver here too, but someone like Jonathan Baldwin doesn’t seem like a value-enough pick at this point.
30. New York Jets: Aaron Williams, CB
Everything I’ve heard about the Jets points to them taking the best pass-rusher available. But Rex Ryan’s system can never have enough cover corners, and Williams is a good one. Antonio Cromartie might be gone and Kyle Wilson might continue to struggle adjusting to the NFL. Even an offensive lineman might be a possibility if the Jets aren’t sold on Matt Slauson and Vlad Ducasse.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Cameron Heyward, DL
Injuries on the defensive line forced guys like Ziggy Hood to step up during their Super Bowl run, and while they played well, it significantly cut into their depth at the position. Heyward has some knocks on him, but he’s a high-motor player with an impressive collegiate career.
32. Green Bay Packers: Brooks Reed, LB
The Super Bowl champs have no glaring holes to fill so they can either trade down or simply take the best player available. With Cullen Jenkins possibly on the way out, some additional pass rushing couldn’t hurt.