Well folks, it's that wonderful time of year again: The 2010 NFL regular season is behind us, the NFL Playoffs are in front of us, and, for 20 teams, attentions have already been trained on coaches being fired (Mike Singletary, Tom Cable, etc.), coaches being hired (Jim Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh and, o yeah, Jim Harbaugh), and, most importantly, the 2011 NFL Draft.
I know you all have probably already been inundated with mock draft since the season began coming to a close, but I guarantee you, this one is different!
Well, maybe it's not, but there are at a few surprises in there that might make for interesting discussion.
This will be updated at some point, so keep the comments coming, it'll build a better one the next time around.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. First, let's take a look at how the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft should work out.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Seriously, though, was it ever going to be someone else?
Yes, the Carolina Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen last year, and they haven't quite given him enough time to prove whether or not he can be that guy for Carolina, but that doesn't particularly matter.
The basic idea here is this: Which would you rather have, a quarterback who has the potential to turn into a good player in a year or two, or a quarterback who will come in, have an immediate impact, and possibly turn into a future Hall of Famer?
The choice here is obvious. The Panthers need Andrew Luck more than anything else.
Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Denver Broncos have a lot of areas on defense that they need to address as age starts to catch up with them, but none seem more important than defensive tackle.
With Jamal Williams likely done very soon, the Broncos will need a star defensive tackle to come in and shore up a defensive line that became a big reason why the Broncos rank No. 31 in the League in rushing defense.
Marcell Dareus would fit well into the 3-4 scheme in Denver, and would go a long way towards solidifying a very shaky rush defense by anchoring the middle of the line.
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
A lot of the common logic now is that teams are going to look at UNC defensive end Robert Quinn first, but the logical move really should be to pick up the player who has best proven (recently) that he is capable of making an impact, and that would be Da'Quan Bowers.
Bowers has been tearing it up this year at Clemson, and he is definitely the kind of guy who could come in and make an immediate impact for the Buffalo Bills, who could really use the youth and pass rush ability on the edge, considering the rough going that their defense has had this year.
I could also see them taking Dareus if he falls, or trading down and taking Nick Fairley or Drake Nevis, as the Bills could use help in the middle of the line just as much as they could use it on the outside.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
With Terrell Owens likely leaving the Bengals this offseason and Chad Ochocinco possibly headed out as well, the Cincinnati Bengals are going to need a new star wide receiver, and there is no better place to look this year than to A.J. Green.
Green is everything a team would want in a wide receiver. He is a freak athlete with hands like fly paper, and he can make an immediate impact on any team.
This guy is going to be a star, and the Bengals would be remiss if they pass up on him, especially if Owens and Ochocinco end up leaving.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
At this point, it's hard to believe that either Derek Anderson or Max Hall will have a future in the NFL as a starting quarterback, so it's time for Arizona to look in other places.
Arizona is in rebuilding mode, and that needs to start with a new quarterback, and there is no better place to start than Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert has prototypical size at 6-5, 240 pounds, and has been very successful at Missouri. Despite the fact that he has made some big mistakes (see his interception against Iowa in the Insight Bowl), Gabbert typically shows great decision making, great form, and has the numbers to back it all up (3,186 yards, 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions).
Those numbers may not seem extremely impressive, but consider the fact that he was sacked 23 times this year. Seems a little more impressive now, doesn't it?
Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn
The Browns could address a couple of positions with this pick, but it seems like the smart play to go with defensive line, and Nick Fairley would be a great place to start.
Fairley is a tough, physical player with the bulk to play the run-stuffing style of a 3-4 defensive end.
He would be moving to the outside from the inside, but it is a transition that shouldn't be all that difficult.
With the depth at outside linebacker in this draft, Fairley should be the first place to look for the Browns.
He will do well to shore up the No. 27 rushing defense in the League, and he has the potential to command a double team, which opens up windows for rushing outside linebackers.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Much like the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers need to do some rebuilding, and it all starts with a new quarterback, as the Smiths (Alex and Troy) don't seem to be the answer.
Mallett is a tried-and-true gunslinger with the power to put the ball deep.
He has uncanny accuracy to pair with that arm, and while his numbers aren't excellent, neither is his supporting cast.
Mallett would easily be the starter from day one, and easily adds an extra win or two onto their record.
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Doesn't it make sense?
The Titans have a sour taste in their mouth after their trial with Vince Young went south, but now that they are without a quarterback, their top priority will be to seek one out in the draft this year.
The Titans have a history of picking quarterbacks like Newton (and by history I mean Vince Young), but Newton appears not to have the kind of behavioral issues that plagued the Titans with Vince Young.
Cam Newton slips into Tennessee's offense easily, allowing them to run the same kind of passing plays that they ran with Vince Young on account of Newton's mobility, power, and accuracy.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
If there is one thing that the Dallas Cowboys need to address, it's their defensive backfield.
Terence Newman turns 33 before the beginning of next season and Mike Jenkins has never really been a big production cornerback in any of his three years in the League.
Patrick Peterson has the potential to have a Troy Polamalu-like impact on the Dallas Cowboys' defense.
He is a phenomenal athlete whose cover skills have vastly improved over the past year, and can be a threat both as a defensive back and as a return man.
Should the picks turn out this way with Peterson available here, there is no better talent left on the board.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
A lot of fingers are being pointed at Donovan McNabb right now for the total face plant of the Redskins passing game, but I don't think it is that simple.
For most quarterbacks, wide receiver talent is necessary for success. That's why Donovan McNabb had a relatively easy going of it in Philadelphia (see DeSean Jackson).
With the Redskins, the best he has to go to is Santana Moss (and tight end Chris Cooley, but we're focusing on wide receivers here).
Julio Jones gives the Redskins a big target on the outside who will help McNabb along until the Redskins can find a replacement, and who will be a continual difference maker on the outside.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
This is by no means an admission of defeat as far as Kareem Jackson goes, but more of a, "Dear God, we need as much help in our secondary as possible," kind of thing.
The Texans had a very effective offense this year, but missed the playoffs, mostly on account of their pass defense, ranked dead last in the NFL.
Adding Amukamara, much like adding Patrick Peterson, would give the Houston Texans an immediate difference maker in the secondary.
He is about as close to a guaranteed shut-down corner as you are going to get, and all signs point to him continuing the success he's had in college into the NFL.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
There is no getting around it, the Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback more than anything else. With Brett Favre on the way out and Tarvaris Jackson unlikely to get a new contract, the Vikings are not about to let Joe Webb be their guy.
With the top four quarterbacks already off the board (Luck, Gabbert, Mallett, Newton), the Vikings are going to be forced into picking Jake Locker, who is the riskiest pick of the top five quarterback.
The risk is great, but ultimately, the Vikings have no other choice.
They may try to move up to make a play on one of the top four, but I don't see any of the quarterback needy teams moving down and feeling safe with Locker.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
While the Detroit Lions could really use a new defensive end to replace Kyle Vanden Bosch, in the end, a star cornerback would do them a lot more good.
After drafting Ndamukong Suh with their first round pick last year, it's time for the Lions to shift their focus back off their front seven and focus on replacing either of their two cornerbacks (Nate Vasher and Chris Houston), neither of whom are really starting quality guys.
With Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara off the board, the Lions may consider trading down a few picks, as Janoris Jenkins could still be available, but he has elevated his play to the point where the Lions would probably feel comfortable taking him in the No. 13 spot.
Jenkins has played great football for the Florida Gators, and has stood up against a lot of great passing attacks. He may not be as polished as Amukamara or Peterson, but he has the potential to get there within a year or two.
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Conventional wisdom right now says that the St. Louis Rams need a wide receiver badly, and I don't disagree with that.
The breaking point here is draft depth. The depth at wide receiver talent in the 2011 draft is deep enough to where the Rams could probably feel comfortable enough to wait until the second round to address the need.
Compounding this is the fact that difference-making 4-3 defensive tackles don't come along every day. The Rams were considering taking Ndamukong Suh last year, but chose instead to snag Sam Bradford, so it makes sense that a defensive tackle could be on their radar.
With a full stable of healthy receivers back next year, the Rams could survive without a shoe-in draft pick at the position. They would simply be better served by taking a guy like Stephen Paea, who could round out their defensive line into possibly one of the best best 4-3 defensive line in the NFL.
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
As far as trading down is concerned, the Dolphins rank just below the Patriots in likelihood this year, as their largest need right now is running back, and Mark Ingram will certainly be available to them if they move down a few spots.
In any case, though Ingram seems like the logical selection for them. With Ricky Williams closing in on retirement and Ronnie Brown underperforming, the Dolphins need a running back who will bring back that dimension to their offense, and Ingram is a good place to start.
This draft is very deep in running backs, so it isn't out of the question for them to pursue another position, but this makes the most sense.
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The Jaguars have done their best to address their issues with their defensive line in a number of ways over the last few years, and it really hasn't worked.
They drafted four defensive linemen with their first four picks in last years draft, and only one or two of them may stick.
With the opportunity to make a run at Quinn in front of them, there is no way that the Jaguars will pass this up.
Quinn gives them the chance to finally find a sure difference maker on the defensive line, leaving them to address other positions of need.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue
When it comes to this pick, it is really going to be a matter of personal preference.
With guys like Von Miller, Akeem Ayers and Justin Houston still on the board (among many others), the Patriots could go in a lot of directions in addressing their lack of a pass rushing outside linebacker.
Ultimately, there are a few things that put Ryan Kerrigan above the rest.
For one, he played as a defensive end at Purdue, which gives him a little more of a developed pass rush repetoire when it comes to working off of blocks.
Secondly, Kerrigan is a man of high character. He would fit right into Bill Belichick's system of no-nonsense.
Von Miller would be runner up for this pick, but I'd stick with Kerrigan.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
The San Diego Chargers could use a lot of things: a wide receiver, a right tackle, a defensive end, a cornerback, a pass rushing linebacker, a safety, the list goes on and on.
The biggest one on that list, though, has to be defensive end. The Chargers are good on the line, but having a true difference maker up front would make them that much more impressive.
Enter Cameron Heyward.
After his extremely impressive performance in the Sugar Bowl to cap off his senior season at Ohio State, the Chargers will be hard pressed not to take Heyward with the No. 18 pick.
Adrian Clayborn is a possibility as well, but concerns about his ability to play full games may end up holding him down here.
Heyward would contribute immediately to the defensive line of the San Diego Chargers with his freakish athleticism, great strength, and intelligent play on the line.
Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
With Keith Bulluck headed towards retirement within the next year or so, the New York Giants will be looking for a new outside linebacker.
With both Von Miller and Akeem Ayers left on the board at this point, the decision will be down to what the Giants really want in their linebacker.
Ayers is a better coverage man, but at the sacrifice of pass rush ability.
Miller is a better rusher, but also has great coverage skills.
In the end, the decision has to be on Miller. He is the better player, has great upside, and will be able to step into the lineup as soon as the Giants need him to.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Having Clayborn fall to the Bucs this low in the first round would be a dream for them.
Tampa Bay shored up the inside of their defensive line in last years draft with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, so it is only logical then that they would address the outside of the line (although they could go after a cornerback prospect to eventually take the place of the ageless Ronde Barber).
Clayborn provides the run stopping ability of a big man while at the same time offering the pass rush ability of a 4-3 defensive end.
The addition of Clayborn would give Tampa Bay one of the best defensive fronts in the League, while also being one of the youngest.
Allen Bailey, DE, Miami (FL)
Allen Bailey is the greatest physical specimen of the 2011 NFL Draft. At 6-3, he carries his 287 pounds very well, blending strength, speed, and agility in a scary way.
He is a very raw athlete, but Pete Carroll seems more than willing to take guys who other teams might shy away from and work with them.
Bailey has the physical ability to play anywhere on the defensive line for the Seahawks, and that kind of versatility could make a huge difference for their weak pass rush and defensive line play.
Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
The Kansas City Chiefs have managed to do a lot with what they have, and that is extremely impressive.
With the recent reemergence of Dwayne Bowe and Matt Cassel, their passing game seems to be repaired enough to the point where they do not need to go spending a first round choice on a wide receiver.
Instead, the Chiefs will look to make an impact pick for their defense, and Cameron Jordan could be the perfect prospect in that regard.
At 6-4, 280 pounds, Jordan is a tad bit underweight for a 3-4 defensive end, but he certainly has the frame to put on some more weight, and is the kind of athlete that can make a difference despite being a bit undersized.
As the best prospect up in the board at this point, he's the best option for the Chiefs.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Colts are in the midst of retooling their offensive line, and picking a star tackle like Nate Solder would make big headway in accomplishing that goal.
Solder has the ideal measurables for a star tackle, and has proven before that he is capable of taken on star pass rushers with general ease.
He would easily be able to come into the starting lineup on day one and help keep Peyton Manning upright (the big key to keeping the Colts offense cranking).
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL)
With Asante Samuel's career coming quickly to an end, the Philadelphia Eagles could really use a star cornerback who can prepare to take over his role within the next year or so.
With Prince Amukamara, Patrick Peterson and Janoris Jenkins off the board, the next candidate in line for that job would be Miami cornerback Brandon Harris.
Harris is a great coverage player who, despite the struggles of the Hurricanes this year, has maintained a high level of play.
Harris would fill the only real hole on the Eagles that needs to be addressed immediately.
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
It may be impulsive, but when Aaron Rodgers goes down to a concussion because he is getting thrown around so much, you know it is time to do some work on your offensive line.
Gabe Carimi is a monster, and an extremely physical blocker as a result of developing in the power running game system of the Wisconsin Badgers.
Carimi would easily plug in on either side of the line for the Green Bay Packers, and would go a long ways towards keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and throwing the football.
Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina
If there is one thing that the Saints could really use on defense, it is a reliable outside linebacker.
After Scott Fujita was lured to Cleveland during the free agent period, the Saints were left with something of a void in that area of the field, and Carter would be the perfect guy to fill that spot.
Bruce Carter has a knack for big plays, but, aside from that, is a generally well rounded player with a good upside and the added bonus of being a special teams demon, especially when it comes to blocking kicks.
Carter would be a solid addition to the Saints in many ways, and it's not out of the question to believe that he would be available at this point in the draft.
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
With Vernon Gholston more or less officially being declared a draft bust, it's time for the New York Jets to look in a different direction as far as a pass-rushing defensive end is concerned.
While a lot of the big names should already be off the boards at this point, J.J. Watt has silently inflated his draft stock to the point where he could end up being a sleeper pick.
As a part of the physical nature of the line play at Wisconsin, Watt has the power to back a lot of offensive linemen up, but also does a good job of getting off blocks and playing sideline-to-sideline football.
As a power rusher type player, he would fit well into the 3-4 base of the New York Jets, and he gives them a physical presence that Rex Ryan values on the defensive side of the football.
Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
The Baltimore Ravens could go in a number of directions with this pick,
There's the possibility that the Ravens will look for a wide receiver, as Derrick Mason will likely retire at the end of this year, and the future of T.J. Houshmandzadeh is uncertain.
They could also look at picking up a defensive lineman to line up next to Haloti Ngata to create an even scarier defensive front.
They could also take a look at safety with Ed Reed starting to show signs of age with the constant injury concerns.
In the end, though, the Ravens could really use a star cornerback to round out their defense for the coming year.
With Amukamara, Peterson, Jenkins and Harris all off the board, the decision comes down to Ras-I Dowling, Aaron Williams and Jimmy Smith, all three of which could easily go. Ultimately, though, Aaron Williams seems like the best choice.
For one, he goes up against better competition than Dowling or Smith, which makes me a little more confident about his athletic ability.
Williams is also the better rounded corner and the better athlete. He is the kind of guy who can start playing quickly and who can make an impact while continuing to develop.
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
There is no doubt about what the Bears need to address in the draft this year.
Jay Culter continues to play very well this year, but Chicago cannot expect that to last if he continues to end up on the ground multiple times per game.
Adding Castonzo means adding an instant impact player on the offensive line at a key position. He is a big, physical blocker that plays with good positioning and leverage.
As with all rookies, it may take him some time to adjust to the level of play at the professional level, but he will be a big upgrade over the current stock of tackles that the Bears are using.
Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
While the Steelers would also do well picking a cornerback, their biggest need right now seems to be more help along the offensive line.
After picking center Maurkice Pouncey last year, the Steelers saw a lot of improvement along their line, but Ben Roethlisberger still saw a good amount of harassment, which makes it more than feasible that Pittsburgh takes another look at the offensive line in this draft.
The brotherhood factor is too good to deny here. Mike Pouncey is a good, versatile offensive linemen that can really do some good for the Steelers. He has stood up to some good competition at Florida, and should be able to make a good transition into the NFL.
With depth in this draft class at other positions of need, the Steelers can afford to address their offensive line early.
Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
What the Falcons need more than anything is a defensive end that can properly complement John Abraham, but the Falcons come in just short of J.J. Watt, the last first round pick worthy defensive end talent, so they'll have to look in other directions.
The Falcons next logical move seems to be the offensive line, where they could use a talented tackle to help continue to keep Matt Ryan safe, and Derek Sherrod would fit that role perfectly.
At 6-5, 303 pounds, Sherrod has the measurables of a good tackle, and is well rounded in his abilities to the point where the Falcons could feel comfortable in starting him from day one on either the left or the right side of the line.
I also see this as being a pick that potentially gets traded down, even if it is only down one pick to the Patriots, who would like to get a crack at Sherrod before Atlanta.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
The New England Patriots would prefer to be picking a top offensive tackle at this spot, but Bill Belichick is not one to be trading up, and most (if not all) of the elite prospects will be off the board by the time the first round comes to an end.
With that in mind, and with the Patriots having picked Ryan Kerrigan to fill their need at outside linebacker, it makes sense that they would turn to the defensive line as something that needs fixing.
Corey Liuget would not be brought in to replace, or even share time with, Vince Wilfork, but rather to be turned into a large 3-4 defensive end, which seems to be what the New England Patriots like to do.
As a defensive end in the Patriots scheme, all Liuget is going to be asked to do is take up space, which is something he is perfectly capable of doing.
I see this as being a good match.
The Patriots get another guy who has the potential to command a double team on the line, and they finish out the first round having more or less solved the big issues they have on the defensive side of the ball.