Bowl Season and the Christmas holiday means it is time for a mock draft update. One item of note that I look forward to watching as the draft season progresses is the over-rating of the quarterbacks in this mock. Numerous quarterback needy teams in the top 15, combined with a talented (but flawed behind Andrew Luck) group of quarterbacks, will make this the position to watch as we enter the 2011 NFL Draft season.
Despite drafting Jimmy Clausen just a year ago, the Panthers can not afford to pass on the most complete quarterback to enter the draft since Peyton Manning (no QB is a sure thing). If they decide to trade down to acquire picks, there will be several trade partners, many of them drafting in the top 10. Luck would give the new regime a building block and Clausen could potentially be dealt for a mid-round pick (they have no loyalty to the former second rounder). There is some politically correct buzz that Luck may return to Stanford but our mock will assume his entry until he officially pulls his name out. Defensive line would most likely be the team's target should Luck return to school, as he is the only quarterback I think Carolina would consider this high with Clausen on the roster.
Champ Bailey's contract is up and he is on the downside of his brilliant career. Enter Peterson, the draft's top corner and potential shutdown corner. A little high for a corner, but Peterson is the best fit for the team's needs. His dynamic return skills are an added plus.
The emergence of DE Carlos Dunlap late in the season puts the focus on the skill positions (just like Mike Brown likes it). With the likely departure of Terrell Owens and potential departure of Ochocinco, the wideout position, while not devoid of young talent, needs a true No. 1 option, and Green is the best receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson—a combination of size, speed and polish. A quarterback or cornerback would be options if the Bengals decide Carson Palmer's run is over or they are unable to re-sign Johnathan Joseph.
What the Bills really need is a left tackle but this year's class lacks a top 10 worthy option. Assuming they stay with the 4-3 that they have primarily used down the stretch, Bowers would be a good fit (if they revert to the 3-4, Robert Quinn is the option). After two up-and-down seasons, Bowers has been unblockable in 2010 with 24 tackles for losses and 15 sacks. He has an ideal build for the 4-3 and would be a building block for rebuilding the defense. Despite Ryan Fitzpatrick's capable play down the stretch, it would not be a stunner if the Bills selected QB Cam Newton, who could be an excellent fit for Chan Gailey's scheme.
Considering the Cardinals have an established coaching staff and were in the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, it is possible that they will look to fill their QB void in the free agency or trade market. But if they don't, Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallet will each get consideration here. While Newton is not considered a top 10 pick at this juncture, he is an intriguing option for a creative offensive coach like Whisenhunt. The questions about Newton are not about his tools but his ability to adjust to the pro schemes. Taking a defensive player here and hoping a quarterback falls in round two is also an option, but based on the current draft order if Cincinnati and Buffalo both pass on one in round one, the odds of that quarterback reaching Arizona are slim.
New regimes often mean new quarterbacks, especially in the case of a 49er team looking to escape the Alex Smith era. Gabbert has seen his stock soar late in the season thanks to his skillset but is far from a sure thing (accuracy and consistency are concerns). This is a need pick that could ultimately determine the success of the new regime, much like Alex Smith haunted the two previous ones. If they decide to pass on the quarterback and go the veteran route, cornerback Prince Amukamara is the likely option.
Taking a cornerback is tempting, but the hemorrhaging on the Dallas defense starts up front, where free agency could force them to start over. Not a sexy pick, but Dareus' experience in the 3-4 should allow him to contribute right away and begin the rebuilding effort.
If Fairley were to fall here, he could be just what the doctor ordered for the Texans. An interior penetrator he could be the disruptor the Texans have long needed alongside Mario Williams. Strength in the trenches can have a trickle down effect through an entire defense, and the Texans will have to hope Fairley fares better than previous first round defensive tackle selections Amobi Okoye and Travis Johnson.
With several corner-needy teams in front of them (including San Francisco and Dallas), it could be difficult for Amukamara to slide this far, but if he does, he would be yet another cog in a quickly improving Detroit defense. His physical style is an excellent fit for Jim Schwartz's schemes.
The Browns are hoping AJ Green is available here, but if he isn't the choice will come down to the second tier of wide receiver prospects (including Julio Jones and Jonathan Baldwin) vs. adding a playmaking pass rusher. Quinn has missed the entire season but is arguably the best pass rusher in this year's draft and may have been a top five pick had he been able to play. Plus, the Browns will likely be able to fill their wide receiver need in round two.
Kerrigan is a throwback defensive end who would fill the Seahawks need for a pass rusher and make an excellent selection. Charlie Whitehurst's poor play also means any quarterback on the board will be a consideration.
Whether the Titans select a quarterback or not could ultimately be determined shortly after the season as the Vince Young vs. Jeff Fisher battle should come to an early conclusion. Common sense says you back the coach, hence the selection of Mallett, a Kerry Collins-like pocket passer to stretch defenses and open things up for Chris Johnson.
Like many of the teams above them, the Redskins will take a long look at the quarterback options on the board especially with Jake Locker still on the board, but the Redskins go the safer route taking a much needed receiver to help the quarterback to be named.
Paea is a big, strong disruptive force who can help reinforce the Williams Wall, which could be minus one next season. Paea is a different player than the aging Pat Williams but should help make sure a strong interior remains the foundation of the Vikings defense.
It's hard to believe the NFL's most dominant team will have three of the first 33 selections in this year's draft. The Patriots are ideally positioned to trade up to get a shutdown corner or rush linebacker, but if they stand pat don't be surprised if they use this pick on a big play receiver or a running back (Mark Ingram). While the Pats offense has thrived by spreading it around this season, adding a tall deep threat such as Baldwin could make them downright scary.
Injury-prone Ronnie Brown is a free agent and Ricky Williams is nearing the end, meaning the Dolphins will need to add a runner early on draft day. While Ingram is not a wildcat threat, he is a powerful runner who can move the chains and sustain drives, taking pressure off the quarterback position.
The Jaguars defense needs help in the secondary and Harris would provide a good complement to Rashean Mathis. Don't be surprised if Harris' stock continues to rise leading up to the draft.
The Chargers defense played well statistically this season but has lacked the bite of previous editions. Enter Miller, one of the draft's best pure pass rushers and a rare rush linebacker prospect with experience in the 3-4.
The Giants offensive line has shown some chinks in the armor and adding a talented left tackle such as Solder could allow them to finally move David Diehl back inside. Solder is raw and a bit of a projection but has the physical tools to be the best left tackle in this year's draft.
A top five consideration entering the season, Clayborn has slid under the weight of expectations this season but would fill an immediate need along the Buccaneers' rebuilt and rising defensive front.
Sam Bradford's successful rookie season has been in spite of motley collection of wide receivers. Blackmon knows how to get open and has exploded this season with a record 12 games with 100-plus yards and at least one touchdown. He has a little diva in him but has No. 1 receiver potential.
The Colts line play has slipped this past season and will be a key focus for the team this offseason. There may be more talented offensive linemen in this year's class but Castonzo fits the mold of a Colts lineman: experienced, smart and fundamentally sound.
Ayers is a talented linebacker whom the Packers will look to plug in opposite Clay Matthews. Not the pure pass rusher Matthews is but Ayers is very athletic, solid vs. run and pass and is an above average blitzer.
If the Chiefs can find a rush linebacker they like, he is likely to be the team's pick, but adding a deep threat and No. 2 receiver would round out one of the best collections of young skill position talent in the league. Floyd has rounded out his game this season, running a more complete route tree and displaying underrated blocking ability. If you add Floyd to an already talented skill position mix, the Chiefs offense could be well on its way to becoming a force next season.
A well rounded weakside linebacker whom the Eagles can plug into a linebacking unit in need of a young playmaker. The offensive line will also get a long look in this year's draft.
While the Jets' glaring need is for a pass rusher, an unspoken one is for a young five technique who can occupy blockers while providing an assist to the pass rush as well. An heir apparent to Shaun Ellis.
Carter is the athletic sideline-to-sideline linebacker the Saints defense has needed for years. The knock on him is that his production does not match his measureables, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should be able to find a way to pull the talent out of him in his aggressive scheme.
Sherrod is the best offensive lineman on the board selection. A better run blocker than pass blocker at this stage of his development, he can play the left side and should be ready to play sooner than later. Unfortunately for the Bears, they aren't able to exercise this pick in time for this year's playoffs.
Jenkins is an instinctive corner for an aggressive defense with a need for a young playmaker in the secondary.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers—OT Tyron Smith, USC
The Steelers offensive line continues to struggle to protect Ben Roethlisberger, and the rebuilding effort, started this season with the addition of C Maurkice Pouncey, is going to look to fill a need for a left tackle this year. A secondary consideration will be cornerback.
A two-way defensive end with an excellent motor, Watt is a true 4-3 defensive end with excellent size (6'6'' 292 pounds) who supports the run and displays potential as a pass rusher.
32. New England Patriots—DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
The first of two back-to-back selections for the Patriots, Heyward is a big run-stuffing defensive end who brings youth to a needy position for the Patriots. Not a sexy pick but Belichick and company have always valued the men in the trenches in the draft. Hint: the Pats will find their rush linebacker in round two.