2011 NFL Mock Draft: Can Ryan Mallett Rise Above Jake Locker?
2011 NFL Mock Drafts are dominated by defensive players, but three quarterbacks continue to generate discussion as the college football season approaches the home stretch.
Stanford's Andrew Luck has put up ridiculous numbers in his sophomore season while showcasing his strong arm and underrated mobility.
With Buffalo still looking for its first win, there is an excellent chance Luck could wind up as the top overall pick.
That leaves Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker on the board.
Even with young Jimmy Clausen on the roster, a new coaching staff in Carolina could look to make a move for a quarterback.
The 49ers, Cardinals and Vikings are also in the market for quarterbacks.
Who will come off the board first?
Let's take a look at how the first round of the NFL draft could play out in April.
No. 32 Pittsburgh Steelers: Christian Ballard, DE/DT, Iowa
Why He Goes Here: Ballard isn't necessarily rated as a first-round pick, but his performance in the combine could change that. At nearly 300 pounds, he has great explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and can play both defensive end and defensive tackle.
How He Fits In: With Aaron Smith done for the season again, the Steelers could look to replace him with a young defensive end. Ballard projects as a defensive end at the next level and would be a perfect fit in the 3-4 scheme.
How He Can Rise: Ballard will be overshadowed by teammate Adrian Clayborn, but his physical tools will jump off the game tape leading up to the draft.
No. 31 New York Giants: Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State
Why He Goes Here: Like so many players expected to be selected in the first-round of the 2011 draft, Heyward can play both defensive end and defensive tackle.
How He Fits In: From a physical standpoint, Heyward is a little bigger than Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. The Giants could go with a safety in this spot, but adding some depth makes sense.
How He Can Rise: Heyward is a low-risk pick, but he might not have as much upside as some of his counterparts in the draft.
No. 30 Green Bay Packers: Von Miller, DE/LB, Texas A&M
Why He Goes Here: Miller has racked up sacks for the Aggies and would be a logical choice for the Packers. Depending on how the first round goes, the Packers could opt to select a running back from a fairly weak 2011 class.
How He Fits In: Miller is a perfect fit in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme. Aside from Clay Matthews, Green Bay's linebacking corps leave a lot to be desired.
How He Can Rise: You can't argue with the sack numbers, but it remains to be seen if Miller has the versatility to cover and play the run at a first-round level.
No. 29 Baltimore Ravens: Deunta Williams, S, North Carolina
Why He Goes Here: Williams is one of several safeties who will vie for a spot in the first round. He is a bit more physical than UCLA's Rahim Moore, so he gets the nod here.
How He Fits In: The Ravens could use another safety to either complement or eventually replace Ed Reed.
How He Can Rise: One of a number of Tar Heels who was suspended by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits, Williams hasn't had a great season since returning to the field. It could come down to what he does in the combine.
No. 28 Atlanta Falcons: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Why He Goes Here: Floyd has size, speed and great hands.
How He Fits In: The Falcons are searching for a legitimate No. 2 to complement Roddy White, and Michael Jenkins clearly isn't the answer.
How He Can Rise: Notre Dame's season is basically over, but Floyd still has a chance to improve his stock by finishing strong. No matter what happens down the stretch, his physical tools will give him a first-round grade.
No. 27 New England Patriots: Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina
Why He Goes Here: New England is absolutely loaded with draft picks, and Carter would be a nice selection in this spot. He likely will be the best available player at this spot.
How He Fits In: The Patriots have made a habit out of selecting young linebackers in recent years, and Carter would have a chance to play early and often in New England.
How He Can Rise: His stock is largely based on potential over performance. An impressive end to the season could help him rise even higher.
No. 26 New York Jets: Justin Houston, DE/LB, Georgia
Why He Goes Here: The Jets have more holes on the defensive line than anywhere else, and Houston has had a fantastic junior season for the Bulldogs.
How He Fits In: Houston can play either defensive end or linebacker, and his versatility makes him a perfect fit in Rex Ryan's scheme.
How He Can Rise: Houston has totaled 16 sacks in his last two seasons, so he is already on the radar screen around the NFL. A good combine could move him ahead of Ryan Kerrigan, Akeem Ayers or some of the other higher-rated defensive players.
No. 25 New Orleans Saints: DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
Why He Goes Here: Murray is a poor man's Adrian Peterson, with speed and power and better receiving skills.
How He Fits In: The Saints have used the running back by committee system in recent years, but injuries have been a huge problem. Sean Payton needs an every-down back.
How He Can Rise: There are some durability concerns with Murray, so he will need to finish the season without getting injured.
No. 24 Indianapolis Colts: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Why He Goes Here: Dowling has missed most of this season with a knee injury, but he has great size and excellent coverage skills at the corner spot.
How He Fits In: The Colts could go with a safety at this spot, but selecting Dowling would give them versatility. There's chance he could be moved to free safety at the NFL level.
How He Can Rise: Get healthy, and stay healthy. It will take a strong combine to move him much higher than this spot in the 2011 draft.
No. 23 Philadelphia Eagles: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
Why He Goes Here: Jenkins played better than Joe Haden at times last season, and has been solid this season.
How He Fits In: The Eagles need all the help they can get at corner with Hakeem Nicks, Antonio Bryant and Miles Austin in the division for years to come.
How He Can Rise: Jenkins hasn't been tested a great deal as a junior, but he has already done enough to secure a spot in the first round. Don't be surprised if he goes a bit sooner than No. 23.
No. 22 Kansas City Chiefs: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Why He Goes Here: Newton's size, strength and physical skills are obvious, and his skills as a passer are vastly underrated.
How He Fits In: The last time the Chiefs took a quarterback from the SEC, it didn't work out too well. Playing in the same conference is about the only thing Brodie Croyle and Newton have in common.
Kansas City needs an upgrade at quarterback and would be able to give Newton a year or two to learn a pro offense.
How He Can Rise: Simply put, Newton needs to show he has the smarts and skills to run a pro-style offense. The performance of other spread quarterbacks in the NFL (think Vince Young) could hurt his stock a bit.
No. 21 St. Louis Rams: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Why He Goes Here: Sherrod is one of the best tackles in the country and is a can't-miss pro prospect.
How He Fits In: The Rams need to do everything possible to protect Sam Bradford. They need a receiver, but Sherrod would be the best player available at this spot.
How He Can Rise: Sherrod is a low-risk pick. In many ways, his place in the draft will simply come down to team needs.
No. 20 Tennesse Titans: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
Why He Goes Here: Lewis doesn't have ideal size and has been criticized for playing with a lack of physicality, but he can flat-out fly.
How He Fits In: The Titans could use help at linebacker, and Lewis fits the 4-3 scheme perfectly.
How He Can Rise: Continue to get stronger and prove he won't need to be moved to safety in the NFL.
No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Why He Goes Here: Ayers is strong, fast and able to cover better than most players his size.
How He Fits In: Tampa's roster is full of young talent, but the linebacker position certainly could use an upgrade.
How He Can Rise: A great combine would improve his chances of sliding into the top 15. None of the teams immediately ahead of the Bucs has a glaring need at linebacker.
No. 18 Chicago Bears: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Why He Goes Here: Just a solid player who gets the job done. Castonzo has held his own against the better defensive ends in college football, helping his stock improve.
How He Fits In: Finally, the Bears address the offensive line through the draft. Chris Williams, the only first-round offensive lineman the team selected in recent years, has been a bust. The need for an upgrade along the line is absolutely glaring.
How He Can Rise: Castonzo's draft-day fate will basically come down to team need.
No. 17 New England Patriots (From Oak): Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pitt
Why He Goes Here: Baldwin is a physical receiver with suburb ball skills who has been hurt by playing in a run-oriented offense.
How He Fits In: The Patriots desperately need help at wide receiver, and Baldwin's big-play potential makes him a perfect fit.
How He Can Rise: Baldwin can go vertical on the defense, but his big frame has brought his route-running into question. He will need to show he can work the inside of the field in order to stay in the top 20.
No. 16 Washington Redskins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Why He Goes Here: Ingram might not quite have the speed of teammate Trent Richardson, but his strength, balance and production are impossible to ignore.
How He Fits In: Washington wants to run the ball and needs a young back to replace Clinton Portis. Ryan Torain is a nice player, but he can't do it alone.
How He Can Rise: It's all about that 40 time for a running back like Ingram. Unless he runs better than expected, he probably won't crack the top 10.
No. 15 Miami Dolphins: Allen Bailey, DE/DT, Miami
Why He Goes Here: Bailey is a strong defensive lineman with great agility for his size.
How He Fits In: Miami could go offense, but there is a good chance the Dolphins instead choose the best available player in this spot. That means taking a long look at Bailey.
How He Can Rise: Bailey likely projects as a defensive end in the NFL, but he has spent a great deal of time playing inside for the 'Canes this season. That versatility can only help his stock rise in the 2011 draft.
No. 14 Jacksonville Jaguars: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Why He Goes Here: Clayborn's stock might have been higher had he decided to head for the NFL after his junior season. He could slide up a bit higher, but don't expect him to go in the top 10.
How He Fits In: Jacksonville is loaded with flaws on defense, and bolstering the pass rush would be a smart move. Don't be surprised if the Jags look for secondary help at this spot.
How He Can Rise: Clayborn should perform well at the combine and is very agile, but he doesn't really have a go-to move coming off the edge. That could hurt his stock more than expected, especially with the draft loaded at defensive end.
No. 13 Houston Texans: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Why He Goes Here: Kerrigan has never gotten the credit he deserves for beating double-teams to produce great numbers.
How He Fits In: The Texans need all kinds of help defensively, and Kerrigan would be a nice complement to Mario Williams coming off the edge.
How He Can Rise: A great combine could push Kerrigan up higher, but he will most likely fall in the 13 to 20 range.
No. 12 Seattle Seahawks: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Why He Goes Here: The ideal quarterback prospect in terms of size, skill and arm strength.
How He Fits In: Unless Charlie Whitehurst succeeds beyond all expectations, the Seahawks will need a quarterback of the future. Locker could be that quarterback.
How He Can Rise: Shining at the combine won't be a problem, but the game film doesn't lie. Sure, Locker hasn't had much help at Washington, but he hasn't displayed great accuracy or the ability to throw while standing in the pocket.
No. 11 San Diego Chargers: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Why He Goes Here: Jones is considered one of the best receivers available in what is a bad draft for wide receivers.
How He Fits In: The Chargers have a big need at receiver, and love drafting big targets on the outside. Drafting Jones makes a great deal of sense.
How He Can Rise: He has good hands and good size, but can Jones run? It remains to be seen if he can gain separation from press coverage on a consistent basis. His 40 time will determine his draft-day fate.
No. 10 Cleveland Browns: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Why He Goes Here: Harris could decide to return to school, but his size and coverage skills will make him a great prospect if he comes out.
How He Fits In: The Browns took Joe Haden last season and could look to address the defensive line or wide receiver. If they choose Harris, they will have two lock-down corners for years to come.
How He Can Rise: Harris doesn't have great numbers, which might hurt his stock at least a little bit. His performance at the combine will determine if he will be the third corner to come off the board.
No. 9 Minnesota Vikings: Nick Fairley, DE/DT, Auburn
Why He Goes Here: Fairley has been one of the hottest risers in mock drafts this season. He can play either end or tackle and is ready to start immediately in the NFL.
How He Fits In: Aside from Kevin Williams, the Vikings haven't had great luck selecting defensive linemen in the draft recently. Williams hasn't been the same this year, and Minnesota could opt for the best player available at this spot.
The offensive line and quarterback are two other issues that need to be addressed at some point in the draft.
How He Can Rise: Fairley will get plenty of national exposure in the coming weeks to show what he can do.
He is about the only Tiger defender worth watching at this point.
No. 8 Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Why He Goes Here: Mallett has an amazingly strong arm and great size.
How He Fits In: The Cardinals need a quarterback who can push the ball down the field, and that doesn't mean Derek Anderson. There's no way Max Hall is a legitimate starter of the future, so Mallett makes a great deal of sense.
How He Can Rise: Mallett isn't particularly accurate and doesn't have great footwork in the pocket. He might need a year on the sidelines before will be ready to step in.
No. 7 Cincinnati Bengals: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Why He Goes Here: After recording 11 sacks last season, Quinn figured to be a lock for a top five selection in the 2011 draft. Instead, he was ruled ineligible for the entire season and will fall a bit as a result.
How He Fits In: The Bengals pass rush has been horrible this season, making Quinn a logical selection.
How He Can Rise: After going more than a year without playing in a game, Quinn will need to impress in the combine and show general managers he is eager to return during the pre-draft process.
No. 6 Denver Broncos: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Why He Goes Here: Bowers has fantastic athletic ability and is ready to start right away in the NFL. He already has recorded 13 sacks in his junior season at Clemson.
How He Fits In: With Elvis Dumervil coming off a season lost to injury, Bowers would be a perfect fit for a Broncos team needing immediate help up front and in the pass rush.
How He Can Rise: Bowers could move up a slot or two, but No. 6 seems like a logical place for him to land.
No. 5 Detroit Lions: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Why He Goes Here: Dareus could drop a bit thanks to declining numbers in his junior season at Alabama. He projects as a defensive tackle in the NFL, but he can also play end.
How He Fits In: Already with Ndamunkong Suh, Detroit could look to make its defensive line even stronger. Look for Dareus, Bowers or Quinn to end up with the Lions.
How He Can Rise: Dareus was suspended for the first two games of the season, hurting his stats but not his stock. He won't go much higher than No. 5.
No. 4 San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Why He Goes Here: Great size, ball skills and the ability to be more than just a cover corner.
How He Fits In: San Francisco needs a quarterback, but could choose to address another need with a safer pick. Amukamara's stock just keeps on rising.
How He Can Rise: Unless he runs a slow 40, Amukamara should have no problem being selected in the top five.
No. 3 Carolina Panthers: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Why He Goes Here: Green has size, speed and the ability to run after the catch. Despite missing the first four games of the season, he has put up great numbers again at Georgia.
How He Fits In: Carolina will be tempted to take a quarterback and could also look at a defensive end, but the Panthers need help at wide receiver. Green would be a perfect complement to Steve Smith.
Now, if Jimmy Clausen can only show some improvement.
How He Can Rise: Green just needs to finish the season strong in order to go in the top 10.
No. 2 Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Why He Goes Here: Peterson has been the face of LSU's unlikely run up the BCS standings this season. A dynamic playmaker, he has good size and is a willing tackler.
How He Fits In: Obviously, the Cowboys need an upgrade at the cornerback position. Peterson would be a logical selection for Jerry Jones.
How He Can Rise: Peterson's body of work is impressive, so don't expect him to plummet.
No. 1 Buffalo Bills: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Why He Goes Here: Luck plays in a pro-style offense, has a strong arm and much more mobility than he gets credit for.
How He Fits In: Don't be fooled by Ryan Fitzpatrick's dazzling fantasy football numbers. The Bills need a franchise quarterback, and that's exactly what Andrew Luck will be.
How He Can Rise: If Luck stays healthy, he should have no problem being selected before both Locker and Mallett.