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2011 NFL Mock Draft: Cam Newton To The Cincinnati Bengals?

Andrew LalamaContributor IDecember 16, 2010

2011 NFL Mock Draft: Cam Newton To The Cincinnati Bengals?

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    While teams like the Patriots, Falcons, and Steelers gear up for the playoffs, fans of the Panthers, Bengals, and Broncos can start looking forward to next year.  In an offseason where as many as a dozen teams could be in the market for a quarterback, Stanford's Andrew Luck headlines a draft class that might feature four signal callers taken in the first ten picks.

    Here's a look at how it could unfold in April...

#1: Carolina Panthers: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

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    Thanks to an utterly inept offense and a constantly fatigued defense, the Panthers continue to struggle to compete in a league acclaimed for its parity.  Head coach John Fox will almost certainly get the boot in the upcoming offseason, and the new coach will likely start off his tenure in Carolina with a brand new quarterback of the future. 

    The new coaching staff will not have any ties with last year’s second-round pick Jimmy Clausen, which will make selecting Stanford signal-caller Andrew Luck with the first overall pick a no-brainer.  Exceptionally smart and accurate, the 6’4” 235 lb. Luck is widely considered one of the best quarterback prospects of the last 25 years. 

    With his excellent pocket presence and an advanced ability to read defense, many consider Luck to be one of the safer highly-rated quarterback prospects ever.  Playing in a pro-style system for former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who could possibly be offered the Panthers head coaching gig, Luck has all the experience, physical tools, and leadership qualities needed to help turn around an ailing franchise right away.

#2: Cincinnati Bengals: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

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    With Marvin Lewis in the final year of his contract, the Bengals need to find their next head coach before they can focus on players.  The question is – will a new coach also mean a new quarterback for an organization that is notoriously cheap? 

    Trading or cutting Carson Palmer would cost the Bengals a lot of money, but keeping him as the starting quarterback would be a huge football mistake.  Palmer has regressed significantly since the early part of his career, and with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens possibly headed out of Cincinnati via free agency, the Bungles may look to change their entire culture. 

    Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton has been a magnet for discussion this season for various reasons.  The Auburn quarterback was the centerpiece of a media-circus recruiting scandal involving his father, and despite an ongoing investigation, it does not look like that controversy will negatively impact his NFL prospects.  However, teams will definitely look into the character of the 6’6” 250 lb. Newton, who had issues with cheating and stealing a laptop at Florida before he eventually transferred to Auburn.  On the field, he’s a beast.  

    A freakish athlete, Newton dazzles with incredible running ability and an amazing arm.  He throws a beautiful deep ball and tosses would-be tacklers around like rag dolls in the pocket and as a scrambler.   Amidst all the controversy, Newton has led the Tigers to their first BCS National Championship appearance, dominating each game either on the ground, through the air, or both. 

    There hasn't been a quarterback as physically gifted as a passer AND runner since Michael Vick in 2000.  The only on-field red flags about Newton’s NFL future have to do with his transition to a pro-style offense.  At Auburn, Newton essentially plays like a wildcat quarterback, running more than throwing, with most passing plays based on one or two reads and ripping it to a receiver who is wide open because the defense is so focused on stopping the run. 

    If he can adjust to the stronger, faster NFL defenders and learn how to read defenses and make stick throws over the middle, the sky is the limit. 

#3: Denver Broncos: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

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    It’s no coincidence that the top three teams will all likely have new head coaches on draft day.  Whoever inherits the Broncos roster will have a lot of work to do, as the days of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and an elite Champ Bailey are long gone. 

    The quarterback position is in flux, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for the Donkeys to go with one of the top signal callers, especially given that the new coach will have no link whatsoever to Tim Tebow.  However, the Broncos already have some nice talent on offense and have shown the ability to put up points.  Their main problem has been on the defensive side of the ball, where a stagnant pass rush and lack of beef along the defensive line have contributed to a porous unit overall. 

    Nick Fairley of Auburn can help in both areas.  Fairley has drawn comparisons to Warren Sapp for his quick first step and relentless motor as a pass rusher.  His large frame (6’4” 299) mixed with unique athletic ability gives him flexibility, as he can be an asset in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense.  Consistently a beast for the Tigers, Fairley’s impact on defense can be summed up well by one signature play. 

    Trailing 24-7 in the second quarter to Alabama, Fairley instantly shot through the A-gap to sack quarterback Greg McElroy at the Auburn 10-yard line, forcing a fumble so quickly that no Crimson Tide player even realized the ball was on the ground.  Fairley pounced on it, giving Auburn possession to end a scoring threat that would have likely put his team in an even larger hole right before the half.

#4: Detroit Lions: Patrick Peterson, DB, LSU

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    The Lions have had issues keeping Matt Stafford healthy and establishing a running game this season.  Although help may be needed along the offensive line, shoring up a weak secondary is also a possibility. 

    Patrick Peterson is one of the best cornerback prospects in recent memory with fluid hips, excellent size (6’1” 211) and rare athletic ability.  The LSU star boasts big-play ability as a return man as well as shutdown corner skills on defense.  His size, ball skills, and swagger will make him a highly-coveted prize on draft day.

#5: Buffalo Bills: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

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    Heading into the 2011 NFL draft, the Bills will need to decide whether or not they believe in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Despite putting up decent numbers, developing an impressive rapport with Steve Johnson, and keeping his team competitive in the majority of games this season, Fitzpatrick may not excite the Buffalo brass enough for them to pass on a potential franchise quarterback in the top ten of this year’s draft. 

    Remember, Chan Gailey made Tyler Thigpen look like a solid pro quarterback also.  However, their offense has some talent but their defense has been a disaster.  The coaching staff can’t seem to figure out if they want to run a 3-4 or 4-3 but regardless of their base package, a great pass rusher would surely help.  Da’Quan Bowers of Clemson was a highly-rated recruit in 2008 and has finally shown why this season by leading the nation in sacks. 

    A physical specimen at 6’4” 280 lbs, Bowers boasts a ridiculous blend of size, power, and quickness, and the potential to be a dominating pass rusher at the NFL level.  Like most tall linemen, he’ll need to work on his leverage in run defense, but his upside may be too much for a team like Buffalo to pass up.

#6: Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

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    Unless John Skelton shows something down the stretch, the Cardinals will most likely be in the market for a quarterback this offseason.  Despite a porous defense, the team cannot pass on the opportunity to grab a potential franchise QB in the upcoming draft. 

    Ryan Mallett of Arkansas has an incredible arm and ideal size (6’6”) for an NFL quarterback.  His accuracy, footwork, and mechanics are not elite at this point, but the flaws he shows in these areas are correctable.  Some question his maturity, so his interviews will be important, but he has played in two pro-style offenses and has a rocket launcher for a right arm.  T

    he Cardinals could do a lot worse than adding the potential of Mallett to a pretty talented offensive group that clearly needs a Kurt Warner-like gunslinger to be successful.

#7: Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

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    It’s been a rough a year in Dallas but the silver lining is that they’ll likely add a top ten draft pick to their already talented roster.  The offensive line is a concern but scoring points probably won’t be much of an issue when Tony Romo returns from a broken clavicle next year, so the focus this offseason will likely be on the defense. 

    Cornerback Terrance Newman has clearly lost a step and his counterpart Mike Jenkins has seemingly regressed as well.  Adding a talented defensive back like Prince Amukamara of Nebraska may be just the jolt the Cowboys defense needs to regain its confidence.  

    Amukamara isn’t as much of a freak athlete as Patrick Peterson, but he possesses shutdown corner instincts and the size/quickness ratio that every team covets.  A secure tackler as well, Amukamara was solid all year, helping the stout Nebraska defense by taking away opponents number one receivers. 

    He did flash more inconsistency in his senior year than his junior campaign, especially against Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, but to be fair, no one else in the nation could stop Blackmon either.

#8: San Francisco 49ers: Jake Locker, QB, Washington

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    Neither Alex nor Troy Smith looks like they’re the long-term answer at quarterback for the proud 49ers franchise.  If the Niners have an opportunity to land one of the top four QBs on draft day, they’ll likely be elated.  Jake Locker physically has everything you look for in a special NFL quarterback including a rocket arm, size, toughness, and top-notch athleticism.  Last year, many thought the Rams would consider him over Sam Bradford, but Locker decided to

    stay at Washington for his senior season.  It’s unclear what real NFL personnel people thought of him, because although the media pegged him as a possible #1 overall pick, rumors surfaced that the NFL Draft Advisory Committee gave him a 2nd-round grade.  It’s an interesting situation, because if he truly could have gone in the top five last year, then the decision to go back to U-Dub probably cost him millions. 

    As a senior, Locker was far more inconsistent and inaccurate than he showed in his first two years.  His completion percentage dipped and the offense didn’t score points, as many of the Locker apologists pointed to excuses about nagging injuries and the lack of talent around him.  Clearly a gifted athlete, Locker was drafted twice to the MLB, and has a quick release, above-average arm, and top-notch toughness and leadership qualities.  However, his accuracy is just average and he will make horrendous decisions at times. 

    The common comparison for Locker is Jay Cutler, another incredibly gifted prospect who played with a lesser-talented group around him at Vanderbilt.  It will be interesting to see where he is drafted and how his career unfolds because there may not be a more polarizing discussion in the NFL draft than one about Jake Locker’s future.

#9: Tennessee Titans: Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama

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    The Vince Young/Jeff Fisher drama may come to an end if Fisher departs for Dallas as many are predicting.  If the Titans shock everyone and move on from Young, they’ll be one of many teams looking for their next quarterback. 

    Assuming he stays, the Titans will likely look to improve a defense that still misses Albert Haynesworth.  Marcell Dareus of Alabama is a monstrous defensive lineman who plays low and can get after the quarterback from the inside.  His great hands allow him to disengage with blockers and make plays behind or near the line of scrimmage, making him a disruptive pass rusher as well as a fine run defender. 

    The Titans already have a few solid defensive tackles, but Dareus has the versatility to slide over and wreak havoc from the edge, as Jason Babin will be a free agent, and isn’t a great three-down end.

#10: Washington Redskins: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

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    Every team in the top ten seems to have issues at quarterback, and the Redskins are no different.  Donovan McNabb signed an extension during the season, but apparently the Skins can cut him after this year without any large negative financial impact. 

    Regardless if they keep McNabb or go in another direction, it is clear that Washington desperately needs a wide receiver.  A.J. Green of Georgia is the quintessential #1 NFL receiver.  While he lacks the insane speed/size ratio of Andre and Calvin Johnson, he has literally everything else a team looks for in a game-changing receiver. 

    Awesome hands, elite leaping ability, red-zone-monster size (6’4”), the ability to find the soft spots in zones, and superb route-running round out the scouting report on Green, who has made some of the best catches in college football throughout his career with the Bulldogs.

#11: Houston Texans: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami Fl.

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    The Texans defense has been an epic failure this season.  They would be wise to consider a linebacker to team with Brian Cushing and the injured DeMeco Ryans, but there are no Aaron Currys or Sean Weatherspoons in this draft class. 

    Despite selecting cornerback Kareem Jackson in the first round last year, Houston will definitely look into improving their secondary in the offseason.  However, with no safety emerging as a concrete first-round player, they may go corner yet again.   

    Brandon Harris of Miami Fl.  is a complete corner, with the aggressiveness, swagger, and short memory needed to play the position effectively.  Despite just average size at 5’11” 193 lbs, he has electrifying speed and plays physical enough to help in run support and effectively jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.

#12: Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

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    Obviously if one of the top quarterbacks falls to the Vikings they’ll sprint to the podium to give Roger Goodell the index card.  If all four are gone, the Vikings could choose to address their offensive line or secondary. 

    Another possibility is defensive end, where Ray Edwards will become a free agent this offseason.  Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue has seen his draft stock rise steadily all year.  The 6’4” 260 lb. team captain has all the typical traits in a pass-rushing dynamo that is NOT known for his athletic prowess – he’s relentless, has a great motor, and is smart, disciplined, and intense. 

    Kerrigan used his impressive burst all season on his way to 13 sacks as a senior after tallying 12 as a junior for the Boilermakers.

#13: Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

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    Thanks to a strong offensive line and a surprisingly efficient young QB-RB duo of Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis, Eric Mangini and the Browns appear to be headed in the right direction.  The defense could use some improvement, specifically at outside linebacker, but there’s also a need a wide receiver, where Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon would immediately become the top threat on the roster. 

    Blackmon put up video game numbers for the Cowboys in his redshirt sophomore season (he went for 8 catches, 105 yards, and one touchdown in his WORST game of the year against Oklahoma), finishing with 19 total scores.  While not the tallest (6’1”) or fastest receiver in the world, Blackmon has excellent hands and a Dez Bryant-like knack for making big plays, especially with the ball in his hands.

#14: New England Patriots (from Raiders): Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

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    This pick comes from Oakland after a vintage Belichick trade last year, and chances are it will be moved again on draft day by the Patriots, who love to acquire second-round picks.  If they stay put, the seemingly unstoppable Pats could select almost any position. 

    However, they aren’t very strong at outside linebacker, and adding a pass rusher like Von Miller of Texas A&M could improve their already solid third-down defense.  While not the strongest prospect at only 238 lbs, Miller would be an ideal addition as a situational pass rusher early in his career. 

    With excellent quickness, a relentless motor, and an elite burst, Miller projects as a player that could have an Elvis Dumervil-like ascent – starting as a situational player and growing into an every-down beast with good coaching.

#15: Seattle Seahawks: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida

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    With Marcus Trufant getting older, the Seahawks need to add a cornerback to battle with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, and whatever #1 receiver Sam Bradford gets this April. 

    Janoris Jenkins of Florida has been one of the top cover men in the nation since he stepped on campus in Gainesville in 2008.  While he lacks ideal size (5’11” 189), he more than makes up for it with incredible athleticism and quickness, nearly flawless technique, and the rare Revis-like balance that allows shutdown corners to mirror receivers all over the field.

#16: San Diego Chargers: Drake Nevis, DL, LSU

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    The Chargers took a chance on Ryan Mathews last year, giving up a second-round pick to trade up for the young runner.  With an already super-talented roster, depth and rotational players will likely be the target this year, assuming they can re-sign Vincent Jackson or acquire Philip Rivers a different #1 target. 

    There is always room for another big body along the defensive line and Drake Nevis has improved his stock tremendously over the course of an impressive senior season at LSU.  While not a flashy pass rusher, Nevis is a valuable run defender who plays with good leverage and can win most one-on-one battles in the trenches.

#17: Indianapolis Colts: Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida

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    Every year the Colts seem to need a run stuffer inside and every year they disappoint mock drafters who predict it.  Besides beef on defense, the Colts clearly have issues at right guard, where a revolving door of scrubs has been their Achilles heel all season. 

    If Mike Pouncey of Florida can have half the positive impact on the Colts as his brother Maurkice has had on the Steelers this season, Indy would take him a hearbeat.  With experience in a pass-heavy, shotgun-based offense, Pouncey could potentially step in and start right away at center in the NFL. 

    Given the Colts situation, he’d fit in nicely at right guard and could potentially take over for Jeff Saturday as the anchor of the line in Peyton Manning’s final years.

#18: Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

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    Yet another team that may be in the market for a quarterback, the Dolphins will actually be looking for a running back as well this offseason. 

    Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will be free agents and given Brown’s ineffectiveness and Williams’ age, adding a stud like Mark Ingram might be just what the Phins need.  The 2009 Heisman trophy winner is an extraordinarily tough inside runner who can also make plays on the perimeter. 

    The Emmitt Smith similarities in running style, vision, and toughness are sure to excite teams, but the question is – why would any team take a running back who’s not AD or CJ2K in the first round when capable backs can always be found in later rounds or even free agency?

#19: Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal

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    On the offensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers are probably set at all the skill positions with an exciting young receiver trio (Williams, Benn, Stroughter), a playmaking tight end (Kellen Winslow), a fresh workhorse runner (LaGarrette Blount), and of course their franchise quarterback Josh Freeman.

    They also have a solid offensive line in tact for the future.  Tampa Bay’s major weakness is stopping the run, which is perplexing considering they drafted defensive tackles at the top of the first and second-round last year. 

    With Barrett Ruud expected to hit free agency, adding a middle linebacker is a possibility, but there is simply no Rolando McClain in this draft class.  Although their pass defense has been solid statistically, the Bucs could use another defensive end.  Cameron Jordan of Cal projects as a perfect 3-4 end but could also immediately help the run defense in Tampa's 4-3 scheme.  As a senior, Jordan has shot up the boards with his consistent dominance for the Bears, eating up Pac-10 linemen with ease each week.

#20: Green Bay Packers: Robert Quinn, DE/LB, North Carolina

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    With one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, the Packers can afford to start looking to the future in the upcoming offseason.  Although cornerback Tramon Williams has developed into one of the most underrated defensive players in all of football, the Pack could still look to add a CB in preparation for life without Charles Woodson.  Another possibility is to add an outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews.   Robert Quinn of North Carolina sat out the entire season due to receiving benefits from an agent.  While this may seem like an enormous red flag, it’s important to remember that Dez Bryant was suspended last year and is still looking like an excellent pick for the Cowboys.  Quinn is an athletic edge rusher with a quick first step and the strength to become a beast at the next level.  However, a transition to the 3-4 will test his mobility and may end up in a failure a la Vernon Gholston.  While there are risks, the potential is massive and the Packers might be able to afford to take a shot late in the first round.

#21: St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

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    Clearly, the biggest need for the up-and-coming Rams is at wide receiver, where Donnie Avery would best be suited as a second option for franchise quarterback Sam Bradford.  Fortunately for St. Louis, this draft class is full of guys with the potential to be dominant wideouts at the next level.  Julio Jones was a marquee recruit a few years ago and has enjoyed a lot of success during his career at Alabama.  Big, physical, and tough, Jones isn’t as seasoned a route-runner as A.J. Green but possesses similar big-play abilities as Justin Blackmon.  Somewhat reminiscent of Roddy White out of UAB, Jones is slick and crafty, can stretch the field, and will make plays with the ball in his hands.  The one glaring issue with Jones has always been dropped passes, which have consistently plagued him throughout his career.  However, teams will usually overlook inconsistent hands for a guy with the kind of productivity and potential Jones has.

#22: Jacksonville Jaguars: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

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    Simply put, the Jaguars pass rush is anemic.  Even with Aaron Kampman the secondary was asked to cover for way too long and for pro receivers and quarterbacks -getting open is only a matter of time.  A defensive end like Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn might be just what Jacksonville needs to restore some dignity to its joke of a pass defense.  Clayborn is the prototypical 4-3 defensive end at 6’3” 285 lbs.  While not the most athletic edge rusher, Clayborn uses his hands well and has enough lower-body strength to bull rush offensive tackles and get into the backfield.  With a non-stop motor and ideal size, Clayborn would instantly step in and complete a Jaguars front four that already features three solid starters in Kampman and defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton.

#23: Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, LB, Georgia

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    Before Dwayne Bowe went absolutely nuts in the middle of the season, many thought the Chiefs would target a wide receiver early in the draft.  While they probably still will, the bottom line is that they just signed Jamaal Charles to a contract extension and are a run-first offensive team.  On defense, they could definitely use a pass rusher to replace the aging Mike Vrabel opposite Tamba Hali.  One of the fastest-rising prospects in this draft class is Georgia’s Justin Houston, who projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL.  Houston had 10 sacks this year, but was constantly pressuring opposing quarterbacks.  He has a ridiculously quick first step and can be a terror for opposing tackles to deal with on passing downs.

#24: Chicago Bears: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh

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    The Bears defense has played well this season, but despite their record, the offense has been average at best.  While adding an offensive lineman in round one seems most logical, rarely does the NFL draft become predictable with every team filling their #1 need in the first round.  Jay Cutler lacks a dependable receiver like the guy he had in Brandon Marshall, and adding a big target like Jonathan Baldwin of Pittsburgh would likely do wonders for their passing game.  At nearly 6’6”, Baldwin is the ideal red zone threat the Bears lack.  He can also go over the middle, shows excellent hands, and the ability to go up and make catches over defenders with his large frame.  The only question about Baldwin’s ability to become a good pro receiver is whether or not he can get separation against faster NFL defensive backs.  Because of this, many teams will likely put a lot of weight on his 40-yard dash time.

#25: New York Giants: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

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    Jerry Reese always drafts well and it looks like he’s found yet another monster pass rusher in Jason Pierre-Paul for the Giants.  This year, the aging offensive line will likely be addressed during the draft and Nate Solder of Colorado is a behemoth with massive potential to match his enormous 6'8" frame.  With David Diehl in the twilight of his career, the Giants could groom the gifted but raw Solder to take over at left tackle or maybe slide him over to the right side depending on the development of Will Beatty.

#26: New York Jets: Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma

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    The Jets will most likely search for an offensive lineman or two during the draft, but there is also an apparent need at safety.  Without Jim Leonhard, the team was exposed down the middle of the field, and adding an instinctive centerfielder who can also blitz would definitely help Rex Ryan’s defense.  Quinton Carter of Oklahoma isn’t usually named as a potential first-round selection, but there are always guys who rise up the charts from now until draft day.  The 6’1” 200 lb. Carter is a smart, physical centerfielder with the instincts to contribute as a starter immediately in the NFL.  His greatest strength may be his tackling, as he takes good angles and shows correct form when tracking and taking down ball carriers.  He would probably be a noticeable upgrade over unimpressive veterans Brodney Pool and Eric Smith.

#27: Baltimore Ravens: Curtis Brown, CB, Texas

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    Despite his knack for randomly making big plays including a walk-off pick-six to beat Houston, Josh Wilson is not an ideal starting cornerback.  There’s a reason why the small, speedy Wilson was traded away for very little by a team weak at CB prior to the year.  While Baltimore has some of the best defensive players in the league already, the secondary could definitely be upgraded.  Curtis Brown is another typical Texas defensive back – athletic, aggressive, and quick.  With an excellent size/speed ratio, Brown has a good chance to sneak into round one and help out one of many teams looking for another cornerback.  Remember, in today’s pass-happy NFL, a nickel corner is basically a starter.

#28: New Orleans Saints: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA

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    The Saints have just about everything on offense, but may look to add a guard if Carl Nicks leaves via free agency.  On defense, they have a top-flight secondary and one of the more overlooked outstanding defensive lines in all of football.  While adding a young defensive end is a possibility, year after year it seems they would benefit most by drafting an athletic outside linebacker.  Akeem Ayers is a perfect fit because he has the size to play on the strong side but the quickness and pass rushing knack to come off the edge as well.  At 6’4” 250 lbs, Ayers has shown a tendency to create turnovers, something the Saints defense did extremely well when they won the Super Bowl.

#29: Philadelphia Eagles: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

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    This pick would fit under the “best player available” philosophy.  Annually solid drafting and catching lightning in a bottle with Michael Vick has put the Eagles in fantastic shape personnel-wise.  Stephen Paea is a havoc-wreaking interior defensive lineman from Oregon State who will suddenly see a lot less double teams once he moves on to the NFL.  His short-area quickness and explosive leg power make him a beast in run defense, an spot where the Eagles could use some improvement.  A hard-worker and high-character individual, Paea has an excellent chance to go a lot higher come draft day.

#30: Pittsburgh Steelers: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

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    With guys like Flozell Adams and Trai Essex playing prominent roles along the offensive line for the Steelers, it’s logical to assume they’ll look to address the tackle position this offseason.  Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State has seen his stock rise steadily throughout the season, dominating SEC play and showing all the traits NFL teams look for when evaluating offensive linemen.  With good hands, quick feet, and ideal size, his versatility is also a huge plus, as he could possibly play both right and left tackle at the next level.

#31: Atlanta Falcons: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA

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    Although their offensive success is usually more dependent on getting Michael Turner going than tossing the ball around the lot, an upgrade over second receiving option Michael Jenkins has to be high on the list of needs for Atlanta.  Improving the run defense should also be a priority, but adding a gifted safety prospect like Rahim Moore of UCLA might be too good to pass up.  Moore is a legitimate ball hawk with an above-average size/speed ratio (6’1”).  Best suited as a centerfielder at free safety, Moore is a high-character player, something the Falcons value highly when drafting.

#32: New England Patriots: Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

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    Assuming the Patriots keep all their early picks, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where they don’t add a wide receiver or two.  Beyond an aging Deion Branch and Brandon Tate, who is more suited as a special teamer, the Pats don’t have much as outside receiving threats.  However, the Patriots rarely end up doing what is expected of them, and Bill Belichick tends to draft defensive backs and tight ends more than any other positions.  Devin McCourty is playing wonderfully at one CB spot, but the team appears to have soured on Darius Butler, as undrafted free agent Kyle Arrington is starting on the other side.  The rookie from Hofstra has had his moments but could definitely be upgraded.   Brandon Burton of Utah has about as much potential as any defensive back in the draft, and if any coach can get him to reach it – it’s Belichick.  With good size (6’0”) and elite speed (rumored to run a sub-4.4 electronically), Burton has blossomed into one of the top cover corners in the nation.  Against pro-ready wide receivers Jonathan Baldwin and Michael Floyd, Burton held his own for the Utes this season.

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