2011 NFL Mock Draft: How Far Will Jake Locker Fall?
The 2011 NFL Draft can't come soon enough...for some squads, at least.
In the final weeks of the regular season, not only are playoff berths on the line, but so is the draft order. Granted, it's not as exciting, but how teams like Carolina, Cincinnati, Detroit and Buffalo finish the season could have a significant impact on the future, and ultimately the playoff runs in 2012, 2013, 2014, etc.
It's never too early to start thinking about what specific positions teams need to strengthen heading into next year and how they can address that in the draft. Defense appears to be the name of the game this year, as 20 of these 32 mock picks play on that side of the ball.
For purposes of this particular mock draft, all players that are eligible to leave school and enter the NFL Draft are fair game. Some of these guys may return to school but since this is purely speculation we might as well include them.
The draft order is based on records as of Dec. 1. And the Carolina Panthers are now on the clock...
1. Carolina Panthers: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
It's a tough decision at No. 1 for Carolina—they could use help at a lot of different positions.
The player that stands out the most is quarterback Andrew Luck, but after drafting Jimmy Clausen this year it's not a guarantee that the Panthers would go with the junior out of Stanford. After using a second-round pick on Clausen it'd be tough for them to turn around and use this year's No. 1 pick on another QB.
Wide receiver is another area of concern, meaning Georgia's A.J. Green could definitely be in the mix.
If this was the actual draft, it's conceivable that Carolina could trade down a spot or two and go with Da'Quan Bowers or Marcel Dareus. For purposes of this mock though, they go with Bowers, a quick, athletic defensive end that will bolster a relatively weak front line.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama
Like Carolina with the top spot, Cincinnati has a dilemma to face at No. 2: Do they go with someone who can improve their struggling defensive line or do they pull the trigger on Luck to be the heir apparent to Carson Palmer (who has played poorly this season and doesn't look like he'll be reverting to old form any time soon)?
The thought of Luck is tempting, but the Bengals were a playoff team last season because of a strong rushing attack and a solid, shut-down defense, not because of Palmer's elite play.
So they choose Alabama DT Marcel Dareus, someone who can help improve both the run defense and pass rush. Cincinnati's defensive line has just six sacks this season—Dareus will undoubtedly improve on that total.
3. Buffalo Bills: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
A no-brainer for Buffalo, who gets the guy they wanted all along and the franchise quarterback they've been wanting for years.
Even though most rookies struggle at QB, Luck is still widely considered to be the most NFL-ready prospect in this year's draft class.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been playing well recently but the Bills need a face-of-the-franchise type of player. Buffalo appears to have some solid offensive pieces in place (Fred Jackson, Steve Johnson) and Luck will provide long-term stability to the QB position and allow the Bills to build around him.
4. Detroit Lions: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Detroit's defensive line is much improved compared to years past but their secondary still needs considerable work.
They give up over 224.9 passing yards and 25.6 points per game and have been torched through the air recently, giving up seven touchdown passes in the last two weeks to New England and Dallas. But Patrick Peterson will give them a playmaking presence on the perimeter and is ready to step in and make an immediate impact.
The Lions have some good, talented young pieces in place (Ndamukong Suh, Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best, Calvin Johnson). If they can ever get healthy for an entire season, they'll be much more competitive than their current 2-9 record suggests.
5. Denver Broncos: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
You name the position on defense and the Broncos could almost certainly use the help.
They rank in the bottom third of the league in total, passing, and rushing yards allowed. They're also ranked No. 32 in points per game, giving up nearly 30 a contest.
Auburn's Nick Fairley could be a possibility here, but with Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins headlining an aging secondary, Denver needs to get young with their defensive backs. Amukamara is a great fit and learning from guys like Bailey and Dawkins early in his professional career will only help his development.
6. Dallas Cowboys: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
DeMarcus Ware has basically been single-handedly carrying Dallas' defensive line this season, getting little help from the linebackers or secondary this season. And the Cowboys also have one of the worst scoring defenses in the league, giving up 27.4 points a game.
Offensively they're set—plenty of weapons across the board. So they decide on defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who can plug up the middle and provide a run-stopping and pass-rushing presence.
He's also versatile enough to play across the line, giving Dallas more flexibility defensively.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
If you watched the San Francisco-Arizona game on Monday Night Football, you know the Cardinals need a QB.
Like, now. Right now. ASAP.
After a successful season at Arkansas that saw him rank fifth nationally in passing yards, Mallett has poised himself to be a top-10 pick in next year's draft. He's the perfect fit for Arizona's offense: He throws a great deep ball, he can hit the intermediate routes accurately, and has a similar style to Kurt Warner.
And the person who would have the biggest smile on his face if Mallett were drafted to Arizona? It would have to be Larry Fitzgerald.
8. Cleveland Browns: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
A.J. Green almost seems like too perfect of a selection here for the Browns, who are desperate for a receiver. After all, their current roster at that position consists of Mohammad Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey and Josh Cribbs (who is still learning how to be an effective receiver).
But Mike Holmgren and the front office staff showed last year that they're going to stick to their path to rebuild Cleveland. They passed on Colt McCoy twice before ultimately selecting him in the third round and they will have ample opportunities to address the receiver need later in the draft.
They also could really use a playmaker at on the defensive line, and that's what Adrian Clayborn provides. He can play either end spot, line up in the middle at defensive tackle, or even stand up and provide a pass rush from the outside linebacker spot.
It's that kind of versatility that the Browns are looking for, and he'll help strengthen an already improving defense.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
San Francisco's defense hasn't been horrible this year, but it definitely hasn't been the focal point of their team that they were hoping for.
They could look at a wide receiver here in A.J. Green or Julio Jones, or maybe at quarterback Jake Locker. But Troy Smith has played well since being named starter, going 3-1 in the last four games. Remember, if it weren't for an illness in training camp, he would have been the starter in Baltimore over Joe Flacco...and veteran players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed said he was a tremendous leader.
With Nate Clemens turning 31 next season the Niners could use a little more depth in the secondary, so they'll go with Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He can play nickel as a rookie and ease into an eventual starter's role.
10. Minnesota Vikings: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
If Minnesota doesn't select Jake Locker with the No. 10 pick, we could easily be looking at an Aaron Rodgers/Brady Quinn type of situation where the Washington quarterback slides down to the end of the first round...and maybe even into the second.
But fortunately for Locker, the Vikings will be desperate for a QB. You have to believe that Brett Favre will retire someday, although I'm sure we'll go through the same drama this offseason.
However, Minnesota has shown no faith in Tarvaris Jackson and there is probably some irrevocable damage there—it's unlikely that the Vikes would want to hand the reins over to him long-term.
Plus, having a running back like Adrian Peterson to hand the ball off to 25-30 times a game definitely won't hurt the development and progress of a rookie QB.
11. New England Patriots (from Oakland): A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Coming into this season, Patriots fans probably expected to have the rights to a top-five or top-10 pick from Oakland, not one that could wind up in the teens.
At No. 11 though, it couldn't work out any better for New England. The Patriots stumble right into top-five talent A.J. Green, who has been passed up simply because most of the teams at the top of the board need significant help on defense.
With Randy Moss out of town, the Pats could use someone that can be both a possession receiver and a deep threat. He'll take some pressure and focus off Wes Welker and also spread the field for developing tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The rich keep getting richer.
12. Tennessee Titans: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Tennessee's defensive line isn't horrible and they need help in the secondary, but they could also use some help up front to pressure the opposing quarterback and slow down the running game.
Stephen Paea has popped up on many draft boards this year because of his size (6'1", 310 lbs.), quickness, and dominating play in the Pac-10.
Despite being by far Oregon State's biggest pass rushing threat, he's still recorded seven sacks this year and created countless opportunities for others since he's typically double-teamed and so much attention is paid to him on every down.
13. Houston Texans: Aaron Bailey, DE, Miami
The Texans defense has been beyond awful this season, and there aren't many positions they couldn't use some depth or just a replacement player.
Their defensive backs have struggled mightily and they need help at linebacker, but grabbing another pass rusher would help as well. So they go with speedy Miami defensive end Aaron Bailey.
Lined up opposite of Mario Williams, the two will help wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and force them into quick throws, allowing guys in the secondary to jump routes and possibly make some big plays.
14. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Donovan McNabb really needs someone to throw to on the perimeter. On than Santana Moss, no Redskins wide receiver has more than 25 catches this season.
Anthony Armstrong is a nice deep threat but Washington really needs someone who can run 10-to-15-yard routes and occasionally break off the big play.
That's exactly what Julio Jones brings to the table.
15. Seattle Seahawks: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The Seahawks need help on their defensive line as they often have trouble getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Opposing QBs have been picking Seattle apart—they rank No. 30 in the league in passing yards (278.6) and total yards (399.0) allowed.
Robert Quinn has top-10 talent but he's fallen a bit below the radar because of his early-season suspension at North Carolina.
Pete Carroll isn't shy about drafting players with strong college pedigree, however, and after 11 sacks and two forced fumbles in '09, the Seahawks will roll the dice and bring him on board.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cameron Heyward, DT, The Ohio State University
Seems a little odd that the Rams, a top-five team in the league in forced sacks, would go with another defensive lineman, right?
Well, James Hall is 34 years old and despite having a tremendous bounce-back season it's unlikely that he'll be able to continue this kind of production consistently in the next few years.
Chris Long has really come into his own this season and putting a guy like Cameron Heyward in the middle would make it very difficult for offensive lines to stop both of them.
Heyward is used to double teams—he saw plenty last year at Ohio State. But it also freed up guys like Nathan Williams and John Simon to record several tackles a game. And when he didn't have two guys on him, he routinely got into the backfield to disrupt the rushing game and attack the opposing quarterback.
Teams won't have the luxury of double-teaming both Long and Heyward. The Rams defense is much improved this year and will continue to add young, talented players to their depth chart.
17. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
It's difficult to gage where the Colts really need help because they've been so injury-plagued this year.
Two spots defensively stand out: a tackle who could disrupt the running game and allow Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis more room to operate, or a safety, since Bob Sanders just can't stay healthy.
But Peyton Manning has been pressured a lot this season, more so than usual. You could see it during the Chargers game on Sunday night—he was anticipating a hit on almost every throw.
The Colts have been known to target offensive players in the first round and grabbing a guy like Anthony Castonzo, a solid pass and run blocker, would be right in their wheelhouse.
18. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Dolphins have struggled with consistency in the running game this year, despite having two pretty decent backs.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have combined for 1,039 rushing yards in 11 games this season. Not horrible, but they only have five touchdowns and just one run over 50 yards.
The lack of a big-play running threat has really hurt them, and the Chad Henne-Brandon Marshall duo hasn't been an effective deep threat either (Marshall's longest catch this season is just 46 yards).
Mark Ingram is a guy who can run between the tackles but he also has the ability to turn three- or four-yard gains into eight or nine. Or take 10-15-yard runs, make one guy miss and take it to the end zone. He has great cut-back ability and his presence will make Brown or Williams expendable heading forward.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Jacksonville suffered a tough blow this season when veteran leader Aaron Kampman suffered a torn ACL after suffering the same injury in his other knee last season.
They've gotten decent production from that position so far this season but it wouldn't hurt to add a little youth, especially considering how tough it will to predict how effective Kampman can be when he returns.
Ryan Kerrigan was Purdue's only legitimate pass rusher but he still wreaked havoc, especially in Big Ten play. He recorded 13 sacks this season, tying a conference record, and had 25 sacks the last two seasons, giving him 33 for his career.
The Jags surprised a lot of people by drafting Tyson Alualu last season but it won't be a shock when they pair him with someone as effective as Kerrigan this year.
20. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
San Diego's defense has been lights-out this season. They rank No. 1 in total yards, No. 2 in passing yards, No. 3 in rushing yards, and No. 1 in sacks.
Still, it wouldn't hurt to add a little depth and youth to the defensive line. Cameron Jordan is a playmaker who can add quickness and explosiveness to an already dominant unit.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
The Buccaneers are one of the surprise teams in the league this year and have the luxury of going into the draft looking for the best available talent instead of focusing on a certain position.
Ronde Barber is having another great season but he'll be 36 in 2011—we've thought this for years but it's tough to imagine him having Pro Bowl-type seasons for much longer.
Drafting Brandon Harris would give Tampa some nice depth in the secondary but they wouldn't have to throw him into the mix right away. He could learn from one of the most experienced cornerbacks in the NFL today and ease his way into the lineup.
After a strong season and an offseasing coaching change at the University of Miami, it's a good possibility that Harris will test the draft market.
22. New York Giants: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
New York appears set in most facets: They have their quarterback (Eli Manning), running backs (Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw), receivers (Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith), and defensive line (Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, etc.).
So the No. 22 pick appears to be one that will give them depth and versatility rather than a high-impact player.
But with Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, they can get both.
Miller recorded an impressive 17 sacks as a junior and finished with 10 more in his senior season, to go along with 102 tackles in the last two seasons.
He flies around the field and covers a lot of ground. Line him up behind Tuck and Umenyiora and you have three guys that can get to the quarterback and force turnovers...quite the challenge for opposing offensive lines.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
The Chiefs could use another playmaker to complement Tamba Hali and their improving defensive line, and Akeem Ayers seems to be the most likely candidate of the remaining players on the board.
He could be used at either linebacker or a speed defensive end. He's on pace to crack 70 tackles this season and recorded four or more sacks in three of his four years at UCLA.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Even though the Eagles rank No. 3 in rushing yards per game, a lot of that can be credited to the ability of DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Mike Vick to break a long run.
The line is still the weak link of the offense, as shown in the last few games against New York and Chicago were Vick was pressured and the run game was bottled up.
Wisconsin is usually known for a strong rushing attack, and Gabe Carimi was one of the anchors of this year's team that finished No. 4 in the country in that category. Adding him should free up some gaps for McCoy and keep defenses away from Vick.
25. Green Bay Packers: Nick Solder, OT, Colorado
Solder is a strong pass blocker that would be protecting Aaron Rodgers' blind side, a role he excelled at while facing some tough pass-rushing defenses at Colorado.
He struggles with speedy defensive ends but that's something that improved technique can help fix. He'd help bolster a line that was already strengthened by the addition of Bryan Bulaga in last year's draft.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
The Steelers drafted Mike's twin brother, Maurkice, in the '10 Draft and can make it a family reunion with the No. 26 pick this year.
Mike struggled at times playing center this year but it's not his natural position. With Maurkice slotted in at that spot, it allows Mike to move around to either guard or tackle, where he's more comfortable.
Both players are athletic and versatile and that gives Pittsburgh a lot of flexibility up front.
27. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The onslaught of offensive lineman continues as the Bears decide to go with three-year starter Derek Sherrod out of Mississippi State.
One of the most polished lineman in this year's class, what you see is what you get with Sherrod. He should help a Chicago front five that has struggled at times to stop pass rushers.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Already possessing one of the best defenses in football and having most of the offensive skill players set, the Ravens don't have any glaring needs.
However, they could use some help at defensive back. Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb have each missed multiple games with injury this season, so adding Texas cornerback Aaron Williams should give them some much-needed depth.
29. New Orleans Saints: Jeremy Beal, LB, Oklahoma
Offensively, as long as Drew Brees & Co. are throwing 20-30 points on the board every week, the Saints are pretty much set. They could always use more help on the other side of the ball, though.
Sooner linebacker/defensive end Jeremy Beal has been really impressive the past two seasons with his quickness and ability to cover seemingly the entire field. While he has the speed to chase down running backs and quarterbacks, he's very disciplined and rarely caught of position.
30. New England Patriots: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
With their second pick of the first round, the Patriots go for Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, who had an incredible season and was one of the leaders on the Badgers' Rose Bowl team.
Watt always winds up around the ball and has a non-stop motor, constantly moving and covering a lot of ground on every play. He only had seven sacks and two forced fumbles this season, but if you watched any Wisconsin game you knew he was the best player on that defense.
Bill Belichick has been known to get the most out of his players, and if he does the same with Watt, New England could be looking at a perennial Pro Bowler.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Atlanta might like to find a solid receiver to line up opposite of Roddy White, and there is no better candidate than Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin.
At 6'5", 230 lbs., he's a big, physical receiver with a similar build to Michael Jenkins, only a better route runner and more sure-handed.
He's had a bit of a down year after a 1,111 yard, eight touchdown campaign in 2009, but he also had a freshman quarterback throwing him the ball this year.
With a quarterback like Matt Ryan and other playmakers like White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner demanding attention, Baldwin could be the perfect complementary piece for the Falcons.
32. New York Jets: Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
The final pick of the first round is used by the Jets to further improve their stout defensive line.
New York is at their best when they don't have to blitz to create pressure and Nevis is a guy that can blow up plays defensively by powering through the line.
Even with a revamped defense, the Jets need to get a little younger on that side of the ball. If not Nevis, then another defensive lineman like Greg Romeus could be the pick.