There's two buzzes going on in the NFL right now: NFL 2011 Draft Predictions and Playoff Picks. One is a race for excellence, focused on a playoff birth and a Super Bowl ring, while the other is all about a top draft spot. And, nothing matters more than the ever important number one pick.
So, which team will snatch the top spot and, more importantly, who will go first?
Is Stanford's Andrew Luck still the lock on the first pick or has someone else edged up?
Or, is Arkansas Ryan Mallet a worthy contender?
Finally, will a defensive player barrel their way into the top four picks? Maybe LSU's Patrick Peterson?
The race is on.
Here is a Mock NFL Draft 2011 based on where I feel the teams will finish the year, including the Super Bowl. More importantly, I'll address team needs and the pick they will make.
No. 1: Carolina Panthers: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
If Carolina gets the first pick, this one is a no brainer. The Panthers’ weakness for years has been at the quarterback position. Sure, Jake Delhomme took them to a Super Bowl, but this run-oriented and strong defense-minded team really hasn’t had a top skilled player at this position. Now, they will.
The only question will be if drafting Luck means goodbye to head coach John Fox, as his style isn’t exactly West Coast offense, which would fit Luck like a glove.
No. 2: Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB
The Bengals need a quarterback. They will owe Carson Palmer a large amount of money next year and I expect with a new rookie pay scale, that Cincinnati cuts Palmer and takes a QB in this draft spot. Mallet is solid choice if Luck goes number one.
No. 3: Detroit Lions: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
CB's are rarely taken this early in the draft but Peterson is the exception. The Lions are severely in need of help in the secondary and not only does Peterson upgrade that immensely, he’s the best player on the board. He’ll immediately start and improve the Lions' pass coverage.
No. 4: Buffalo Bills: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
The Bills need help everywhere. If they didn't have so much fight in them as a team they would be vying for the number one pick in the draft. Unfortunately, they’ve won a few too many games. That will hurt them here as they really do need a new quarterback (even though coach Chan Gailey believes in Ryan Fitzpatrick.) Unless the Bills go with a d-line pick here, I expect them to grab a QB.
Locker might not have had a great season this year but he is prototype NFL quarterback. Got to take him.
No. 5: Arizona Cardinals: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Cardinals need a quarterback. Unfortunately, if they finish the year where I project them, they will have missed three good QB’s ahead of them.
That means go with the best player available and that means defense. Bowers has had an amazing year at Clemson and has such an NFL body, he’ll start next year. If coach Ken Whisenhunt can’t pull the trigger on his d-line, he’ll go for upgrading his terrible secondary, but I doubt it.
No. 6: San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
With Detroit nabbing the best CB in the draft before this pick, the Niners will look to take the next best available cornerback at this spot to help their poor secondary.
Amukamara is not a bad consolation prize and will really improve SF’s pass coverage.
No. 7: Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Grabbing Green here is the perfect choice for the Browns. They have found their QB in Colt McCoy for the next decade. What a pick last year!
Now, they need weapons to surround McCoy. Green is a steal at this spot and the Browns will be lucky if he is still around. I think he will because of the team's above needs.
No. 8: Dallas Cowboys: Nick Fairley, DE/DT, Auburn
Besides Cam Newton, Fairley is one of the main reasons why Auburn is contending for a national title. He’s quality all the way and the Cowboys won’t pass on him.
He’s the best player available at this spot and his stock has risen just like Auburn’s. He’s a 6-5, 300 lb. monster and would fit in well into the Cowboys’ defense.
No. 9: Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama
Assuming the Broncos even keep their draft spot (head coach Josh McDaniels is unpredictable in the draft), Denver needs to do everything they can to upgrade their defense.
Dareus is a proven player and a strong fit into the Broncos' system. He’ll start immediately and will help in the pass rush immensely.
But, he’s only one player and with Champ Bailey a free agent, look for Denver to nab more defensive players, including a cornerback to possibly replace Bailey if they can’t re-sign him.
No. 10: Minnesota Vikings: Allen Bailey, DE/DT, Miami
Brett Favre still has the will to win and the want to play. This might be great for fans but doesn't bode well for Minnesota’s draft position. Add in a new coach and the Vikings will be down this far.
Bailey is the best athlete available at this spot and has really played well this season.
Sure, the Vikings really need a QB as I don’t see them re-signing Tarvaris Jackson. Maybe they trade up to nab a quarterback. If not, they’ll take Bailey here.
No. 11: Houston Texans: Adrian Clayborn, DE/DT, Iowa
Houston’s needs in the draft are almost entirely on the defensive side of the ball. Their defense is simply terrible. Any pick on that side of the ball will help. And, a pass-rusher will go the furthest.
Look for them to take a risk here with this pick and grab Clayborn. Sure, he’s had some character issues but he is definitely the best player available at this spot and fits the Texans’s needs.
Coming into 2010, Clayborn was headed towards being drafted much earlier, but will slip to this spot because of his off the field transgressions (hitting a cab driver.) Houston will take the chance and benefit immensely.
No. 12: St. Louis Rams: Cameron Heyward, DE, The Ohio State
The Rams went with the QB pick in last year’s draft, instantly improving their offense. Consequently, Sam Bradford’s performance has lifted the Rams to this spot in the draft.
This year, I expect St. Louis to upgrade on the defense side of things. Their d-line is thin. Add in Heyward with Chris Long and now the Rams have a solid pass rush.
Sure, there are other spots to upgrade, but Heyward is a great pick here and comes from a solid program.
No.13: New England Patriots: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Patriots hold all the cards in the 2011 draft in number of picks. They have multiple picks in the first three rounds, courtesy of recent trades. This one comes from Oakland. That will give Bill Bellichick multiple options. He could trade up, package for a veteran or just go draft crazy. He loves the draft and has done so well with it that I actually think he’ll keep his picks and start picking up quality guys.
Ingram is all quality and it will be amazing if he slips this far down. We're talking the chance to grab a former Heisman trophy winner.
New England will do well to pick him here and add him to the mix of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and small-school surprise Danny Woodhead. But neither are on the level of Ingram. Quality player, quality athlete and quality program. He is the answer at running back.
No. 14: Tennessee Titans: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
With the blowout between head coach Jeff Fisher and Vince Young that will end Young’s career in Tennessee, the Titans need a QB. But, there won’t be a quality at QB this far down in the draft, so look for Fisher to trade up.
He really needs a QB now. He could pick Auburn’s Cam Newton here but I doubt it.
If they stick with this spot, the Titans will go with a defense choice and Paea is a solid one. His main contribution will be against the run and we know Fisher loves defensive guys.
No. 15: Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Redskins need help everywhere, especially on offense. And, mark my words, Donovan McNabb is gone. Head Coach Mike Shanahan will trade the player. But, I digress.
The Redskins need skill players as well and Julio Jones fits that to a tee. Sure, he’s been up and down but like Mark Ingram a few picks before him, Jones is a quality player from a quality program. It should be noted that he was injured this year and still played. Redskins nab (not Donovan) him here to give a new quarterback someone to throw to.
No. 16: Miami Dolphins: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
The Dolphins really need a running back with both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown becoming free agents. One or both of those guys are surely gone. And, while the Dolphins may look to move up and snatch a RB earlier, if they keep this spot, there won’t be any quality that they would pull the trigger on.
So, I see them going with defense and improving their secondary. Harris is a serious prospect and has played fantastic this year. He’ll come in and start. And, the local connection can’t hurt, with Harris having played for Miami. Don’t think the Dolphins know this guy better than anyone.
No. 17: Jacksonville Jaguars: Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, UCLA
Jacksonville will be looking for defense in this first round. They had little pass rush this year and are thin to begin with on the d-line.
While Ayers is not the predictable pick here, I expect Jack Del Rio to go with a versatile Pac-Ten guy. Ayers not only can play both d-line or linebacker, but he can rush the passer; he was also UCLA’s team captain, so he’ll add leadership.
No. 18: San Diego Chargers: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
Chargers will look to upgrade on the defensive side of the ball and Jenkins is the best player available. He’ll upgrade a secondary and add depth. The Chargers might pick a d-line player here, instead of the best player available in Jenkins, but I doubt it.
Jenkins is a solid athlete and very good cover guy. He’ll also add run support. Chargers won’t pass on him.
Derek Sherrod (right)
No. 19: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Tampa Bay will want to improve its d-line but Sherrod makes the most sense here. He might even go earlier. He’s a quality offensive lineman who could start for the Bucs next season. I don’t see Tampa passing on him here.
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College (74)
No. 20: Chicago Bears: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The Bears have the skill players on offense, at least for the most part. What they don’t have is protection. They must improve their o-line.
The Bears will go with Castonzo to give Jay Cutler some added protection.
No. 21: Seattle Seahawks: Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Pete Carroll’s defense is so weak this year I expect Seattle to do something on that side of the ball, especially in the pass rush department. Miller is a perfect pick. He has returned to his form of last year and been a force in the Big 12 this year.
No. 22: Kansas City Chiefs: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Like Seattle before them, KC will focus on defense and pass rush, in particular.
Purdue’s Kerrigan is the perfect choice. He’s got a solid NFL body and has had a fantastic senior year. KC will pick him up here.
No. 23: New York Giants: Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
The Giants are always a great defensive team and they love to take quality defensive players in the draft. Look for them to keep this tradition going and pickup a linebacker here.
Lewis is the best available player here and comes with solid resume and from a great program. He’ll fit right in.
No. 24: Indianapolis Colts: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Colts will be looking to improve on the defensive side of things in 2011, but their tendency in the draft is to pick offensive players. With Reggie Wayne the only super quality receiver for Peyton Manning, I feel the Colts will pick up a receiver in this spot and save defensive picks for later or free agents.
Norte Dame’s Floyd is a diamond in the rough. He could be a legit number two receiver with Wayne. He’s been injured nearly every season for the Irish, so we don’t know his full potential but he is a prototype receiver. The Colts will know this and take him here.
No. 25: Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Pouncey, G, Florida
The Steelers might be a defensively focused team, but they need to keep adding protection for QB Ben Roethlisberger.
They’ll do that here by taking Pouncey. He’s the logical choice for the Steelers to improve their o-line and especially add some much needed depth.
By the way, Pouncey’s brother already plays on that line for the Steelers. How about that?
No. 26: Green Bay Packers: Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
The Pack’s weakness has been depth in the secondary and keep in mind that some of their other players are aging, including Charles Woodson.
The Pack will go with a cornerback here and Burton is a can’t miss. He has size and speed and could come in and start. He’s not had the national recognition that other CB’s have had since he plays for Utah, but he’s just as good. He’s actually a quality pickup this late.
No. 27: Baltimore Ravens: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Baltimore is thin in the secondary. Unless they have a plan to sign or re-sign some free agents, I expect them to fill this need through the draft.
Williams fits the bill to a tee. He comes from a great program and had a fabulous year. He might not start for the Ravens vaunted D, but expect him to play soon in nickel sets.
No. 28: Atlanta Falcons: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
The more weapons you add for Matt Ryan, the scarier the Falcons become. They are already so good and will make the playoffs this year. But, they need to keep adding skilled players on the offensive side of things.
Baldwin is the best player still available and a solid choice.
No. 29: New Orleans Saints: Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
If the Saints D has a weakness, it’s surely in the pass rush department.
They’ll fill that need with Houston. Although a junior, he’s a phenomenal prospect and really shined for Georgia. The Saints won’t pass him up.
No. 30: New York Jets: Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, California
Rex Ryan is a defense first guy and loves talented big guys. The stronger the Jets are up front in the pass rush department, the more pressure it puts on opposing quarterbacks like the Pat’s Tom Brady and Colt’s Peyton Manning, allowing the vaunted Jets’ secondary to play man coverage.
Expect New York to take the Berkley kid who is a great talent and can come in and learn to really play D from Ryan.
No. 31: Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Philly has all the pieces at the skill spots on offense. With the way Michael Vick has emerged as basically a franchise QB, Andy Reid & Co. will look to add protection for their quarterback. They’ll go with an o-line pick here.
Carimi fits the Eagles offense perfectly, as he is mobile and comes from a great program who had a great year. Solid pick this late.
No. 32: New England Patriots:Stefen Wisniewski, C/G, Penn State
Like Philly before them, the Pats will look to protect their franchise QB Tom Brady. New England has a thin and aging line. Todd Light is a free agent and might not be re-signed. And, Logan Mankins probably won’t be back, either.
So, the Pat’s will go with an o-line pick here and Wisniewski is the kind of player New England likes. He’ll fit right in.