20 Bold Predictions For The 2011 NFL Draft: Is Gabbert a Lock For the Panthers?
Is it draft season all ready?
Well, not quite. There's still a Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl, a Senior Bowl and a Combine to get through before all is said and done, not to mention football fans will be ringing their hands, wondering if there will be a football season at all.
Still, we wouldn't be fans if we didn't speculate all the time, and for those of us fans whose seasons have come to an unfortunate end, all there is to do is speculate.
It's never too early to kick off draft season right, and it's never too early to start making bold predictions about what teams will take who, who will fall and who will be the shocking grabs in the draft.
Please know this is all for fun; don't yell at me if my predictions are WAY far out there.
Bonus Prediction:The Falcons and the Patriots Will Have the 31st and 32nd Picks
We might not know everything about the playoff picture yet, but if recent play is any indication, there are two teams to beat in the NFL—the Patriots and the Falcons. The road to the Super Bowl will go through them, and while some teams will put up a good fight, it's hard to imagine, at this moment, that these two teams won't clash in the Super Bowl.
We don't know who will have which pick, but you'd be wise to put money on these two picking last.
1.) Carolina Panthers Give Up Their First Round Pick For Kevin Kolb
Andrew Luck has officially chosen to stay at Stanford University instead of declaring for the NFL Draft. That means that the sure pick Carolina had isn't quite so sure anymore.
The next coach of the Panthers might choose to run with Jimmy Clausen for another season and bide their time...but I don't think so.
Instead, the Panthers will send their first round and third round picks and a second round pick in 2012 to the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire the services of one Kevin Kolb, the former starter (for one game) of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kolb will be far more ready to lead a football team than anyone the Panthers could draft with the first pick, and will be hungry to finally be THE guy on his football team.
The Panthers have a solid offensive line and solid running backs in the backfield. They could use help at wide receiver, but trading away two high draft picks away for Kolb will make it harder to do that especially with Steve Smith going.
Luckily for the Panthers, the free agency pool (when it starts) is pretty deep at receiver and there are a number of solid possession receivers available in the later rounds.
The Panthers could put themselves in a position to succeed with Kolb and get themselves an experienced quarterback whose best years are still ahead of him. A bold move, but a move that could work out well for the Panthers.
2.) The Denver Broncos Run With Mark Ingram
Yeah, I know Champ Bailey is about to be a free agent. I understand that the Broncos could probably use a corner...but the Broncos will forgo that for a later round and go for Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
Denver has a long history of a great running backs, but this year, their running game stalled and sputtered as Knowshon Moreno had trouble staying healthy, Correll Buckhalter couldn't produce on a steady level and their third best running back was LenDale White.
All this, while 2008 draft picks Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis are succeeding on other football teams.
The Broncos have their quarterback of the future. They have a solid offensive line, great offensive weapons and, with the right coordinator, their defense can return to being good, if not great.
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has been rumored for the head coaching job and if there's one thing he likes, it's a strong running game. The Falcons picked up Michael Turner from the Chargers and Turner has become a huge part of their offense.
A backfield that included Mark Ingram and quarterback Tim Tebow would be a nightmare for teams to game plan for, as Ingram is a powerful, fast running back that can break tackles and take it to the end zone. And Tebow...well, he's much the same, only he can throw the ball as well.
The Broncos, for all intents and purposes, have a solid, mostly young football team. Adding a powerful running back could help them get back to the top of the AFC West with time.
3.) The Buffalo Bills Will Draft a Left Offensive Tackle
Ryan Fitzpatrick may have proven himself capable of starting for the Bills for at least one more year. They drafted C.J. Spiller last year, and they've got some solid weapons on offense. But their offensive line play has been mediocre, as they finished 14th in sacks allowed with 34 and seventh in quarterback hits with 92.
They need to pick up a left tackle and upgrade the line in the worst way.
My bold prediction (which isn't really that bold) is that, instead of taking a defensive tackle like Auburn's Nick Fairley (who they could also use), they'll take a chance on taking Derrek Sherrod out of Mississippi State University, who is probably the best all around prospect in the draft.
Sherrod's presence would be immediately felt on the Bills squad, especially playing in the division that includes three great defenses in Miami, New England and the Jets.
Not exactly BOLD, but most mocks have them tacking a defensive tackle instead, so it's bold after all.
4.) The Cincinatti Bengals Lock Up Jake Locker
That's right, Jake Locker will be the first quarterback taken off the board, by the Cincinnati Bengals.
While they could stand to add some youth to their defense and they could add another wide receiver with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens both set not to return, the Bengals will turn to the one person that everyone says is to blame for their struggles this season—Carson Palmer.
Palmer has struggled mightily this season (though, oddly enough, he had one of his best games this season without T.O and Ochocinco) and there just seems to be something off about his accuracy, arm strength and his decision making.
Despite Locker's struggles, he's likely to still be seen as the quarterback with the most upside. The Bengals only options at quarterback are Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour.
As Chad Ochocinco would say, no es bueno.
Mike Brown will be looking for the next Carson Palmer, and while it wouldn't be a stretch to see him pick the flashier Cam Newton, I think the BOLDER prediction would be to predict Brown wouldn't do something that crazy.
5.) The Arizona Cardinals Will Draft a Hog—Ryan Mallet
While John Skelton has had a couple of okay games for the Cards, you gotta think Ken Wisenhunt wants another quarterback. He'll also be a little gun shy about drafting a Heisman Trophy winner after what happened before. You know. With that guy who plays for the Texans.
The Cardinals will instead take a chance on Ryan Mallet, who seems to have a lot of upside though he might be one of the more raw prospects coming out of college. He needs a little work, but he might be a better prospect than Leinart was and certainly better than Skelton.
The Cardinals have some solid pieces and they play in the NFC West, which are all teams that could be starting rookie quarterbacks by the time the season is over. That gets them as much of a possibility to make a run as anyone else and Mallet has a nice, big arm and a big receiver to throw to in Larry Fitzgerald; who's almost disappeared off the radar since Kurt Warner retired.
6.) The Cleveland Browns Wrap Up Justin Blackmon
In a move that'll shock on draft day (unless, of course, you read this), the Browns will avoid bigger names like Julio Jones and A.J. Green and will instead pick Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State University.
Blackmon has come on huge after picking up right where Dez Bryant left off and is likely more athletic and more consistent than both Green and Jones. Mike Holmgren and the Browns will see this and draft him over his peers as a solid weapon for Colt McCoy.
The Browns have a decent offensive line (even though it could be better) and have a good defense in place, and they got Peyton Hillis for a friggin' STEAL as their running back.
What they don't have, however, is that wide receiver who can stretch the field and make big plays. He's got plenty of possession receivers, but no big time receivers, which is why Blackmon will become McCoy's favorite target in 2011.
7.) San Francisco 49ers Will Be Saying
The San Francisco 49ers will part ways with Alex Smith this season, and Troy Smith isn't going to be the guy at quarterback either. A new coaching staff will examine the board and take Blaine Gabbert in the first round.
The knock on Gabbert is going to be the fact that he came out of a spread offense in college and hasn't spent time coming out from under center. That being said, he's got a big arm, is mobile and has great accuracy.
The new coaching staff for the 49ers has all the pieces in place to be a solid team in the NFC West, except a quarterback.
The Niners will take another chance on a spread quarterback and hopefully this time they'll keep one offensive coordinator around for a couple of years so Gabbert can actually develop into something.
Personally, I think he can.
8.) The Tennessee Titans Trade In a Runner-Up For a Heisman Winner
Vince Young won't be in Tennessee next season.
Cam Newton will be.
The Titans will likely be looking for a veteran quarterback to take the place of the ever aging Kerry Collins, such as Donovan McNabb. Not a long term solution; just someone they can put in there long enough to make a playoff run or two while Cam Newton is trained and molded into a full time starter.
Newton is a complete unknown entity in regards to how successful he'll be on the next level, but Newton is the closest thing to Vince Young that the Titans can get, and while his character has come into question, he seems to be a (mostly) good kid with a better attitude than VY had.
It remains to be seen if Newton can come out from under center and execute the Titans offense, but he does have a big arm.
With some time and care, he could blossom into a starter for the football team. Or he could be a colossal bust.
The Titans will take the chance regardless.
9.) The Dallas Cowboys Shut It Down With Patrick Peterson
Patrick Peterson is the perfect player for Dallas. He's a big name that also fills a big need.
Dallas secondary has been getting shredded most of the season, in part thanks to the mediocre play of Michael Jenkins, who is more interested in making "business decisions" (a.k.a not tackling or hitting players that run right past him) than playing football.
Jerry Jones made it clear that new head coach Jason Garrett will have the say for who stays and goes in Dallas, and while it remains to be seen how true that is, it doesn't seem likely Jones, Garrett or their new defensive coordinator will want a guy who doesn't want to play.
Peterson has been touted as the next great shutdown corner. He's aggressive, he can tackle and he can even get in on a sack or two.
As much as I hate the Cowboys, this would be a great draft choice for them going into next season.
10.) The Washington Redskins Select...To Trade Away Their First Round Pick
I already did a big mock of the Redskins foray into 2011 NFL Draft, but suffice it to say, with a lack of solid quarterback options, the Redskins will choose to forgo the first round pick, trade back and collect draft picks in the later rounds.
The 'Skins have SOOO many holes that it would be worth it for them to get out of the first round, especially if they can address a problem like wide receiver in free agents.
It'll just be one of those decisions that'll make people go "Waaaaaaaaahhhhh?"
11.) The Houston Texans Shore Up the Pass Defense
The Houston Texans had the worst past defense in the NFL this season.
While it seems that they were able to tighten up in their defensive front later in the season, the Texans pass defense still got shredded to bits over the course of the year, and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will seek to face the problems the defense had on the back end.
The Texans have hit on solid draft choices for the last few years and Prince Amukamara would be an instant upgrade in their secondary. Like Peterson, Amukamara has all the ability to be a shutdown corner in the league and would at least give the team some comfort while Phillips (likely) tries to transition the team for a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.
12.) The Minnesota Vikings Avoid a Quarterback, Take a Defensive Tackle Instead
That's right. New head coach Leslie Frazier will ride with Joe Webb...or, at the very least, he'll wait until the second round to take a quarterback.
Instead, the defensive minded coach will seek to replace the likely retiring Pat Williams with a stud at defensive tackle, and that will be Nick Fairley.
I know, I know Vikings fans. The team needs a quarterback. But you guys have Adrian Peterson. If Joe Webb can become a game manager—not an elite guy, but just a guy who plays smart and doesn't make many mistakes—the team can lean on its run game more.
It's the defense that Leslie Frazier will focus on, as it hasn't been quite as dominant as it was last year.
Frazier will seek to bring that intensity back to the Vikings defense, and it starts with Fairley.
Please don't yell at me. I know what I'm thinking. No, seriously I do.
13.) The Detroit Lions Will Spare Matthew Stafford Another Shoulder Injury
Stop yelling at me, Detroit fans.
I don't care what you say about needing a corner. That's bull. You need an offensive line. Your franchise quarterback is getting killed. You drafted Jahvid Best, but the line can't open holes for the guy. You can get a corner in the second or third round. You need an offensive line and it starts with Anthony Castonzo, at left or right tackle.
While you're at it, draft some guards, maybe a center. Someone to protect Matthew Stafford, because I don't know how many more busted shoulders this guy can withstand before he can't play anymore.
I like you, Lions. I really do. I want you to succeed and return to glory and you've got the defensive line to get it done and offensive weapons to be dangerous.
Please. PLEASE focus on the o-line, for your own sake.
14.) The St. Louis Rams Get Sam Bradford a Number One Receiver
Sam Bradford is making a helluva run at being rookie of the year and came with a game of getting the St. Louis Rams back in the playoffs.
However, if their game versus the Seahawks highlighted anything, it was the lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They have a lot of possession guys, and a couple speedy guys, but no true big time playmaker.
Julio Jones is that guy. He can stretch the field, blow by corners, is a target in the red zone and can catch jump balls. His route running needs a little work, but that can be improved in the next level.
Why Jones instead of Green? Because Jones seems more like the quiet, "I'll go about my business" wide receiver that'll have a good rapport with the quarterback than Green.
"Bradford to Jones"...has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
15.) The Miami Dolphins Get Another Running Back
Either Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown (or potentially both, if there's a head coaching change) won't be in Miami next year. That means whoever comes in is going to need to bring in another young running back who can fit either that offense or another one, and DeMarco Murray can be that guy.
He has been somewhat plagued with injuries in his career which will adversely affect his draft stock, but the Dolphins will still take a chance on the solid running back out of Oklahoma.
Either way, it appears Chad Henne is going to have to lean on the running game in his time in Miami and Murray will provide Miami with a solid future back.
16.) The Jacksonville Jaguars Get Defensive
Nothing too bold here—the only bold part is suggesting Adrian Clayborn will fall this far into the draft, but at this pick, he'll be a steal for the Jacksonville Jaguars who could use a more solid defensive line.
Clayborn is solid against the run and gets a solid push in the run game, he can instantly upgrade the defense.
17.) The New England Patriots Go Boring, Draft Pass Rusher
The Pats aren't likely to take anyone in the draft that they don't need, as the last time they did that...well, that guy is on the Bills' practice squad right now, if that's any indication of how that worked out.
The New England Patriots defense has gotten better as the season has gone on, but the one thing they don't have is a straight up pass rusher who can get to the quarterback. The Patriots could stand to create some more pressure, which is why the ever reliable Belichick will pick up Jabaal Sheard and try to move him to outside linebacker.
18.) The San Diego Chargers Go Green
That's right. For reasons that are unknown to anyone, A.J. Green will see his draft stock fall; and after sending Vincent Jackson packing, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith will pick up A.J. Green to be Philip Rivers' next big player in the offense.
To Smith, it seems he feels as though certain parts of the offense are replaceable. If you're going to let V-Jax slip through the cracks, it would pay for the Chargers to replace him with another big time, big play, jump ball receiver, and A.J Green fits that mold.
Of course, in a few years, when Green performs well and deserves more money, we'll be right back in the same position we are now.
19.) The New York Giants Put Safety First
On paper, the New York Giants are a very solid football team. They've improved greatly on defense since bringing in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and the offense has all the weapons even if they commit a ton of turnovers.
However, the one place where they suffer the most is in their secondary. If you can block the Giants' aggressive defensive front and buy the quarterback some time, they can be exploited over the middle of the field on a LOT of plays.
Antrel Rolle was brought in during the offseason and was made one of the highest paid safeties in the National Football League, but thus far, he has only caught one interception and forced one fumble.
Rahim Moore is a great free safety prospect who is a ball hawk and would help to complete the back half of the Giants defense. The cornerbacks have combined for nine of the Giants' 16 interceptions and a ball hawking safety assisting them could make the Giants defense damn near impossible to beat.
20.) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Go To the Corner Market
Ronde Barber isn't getting any younger. At all.
Ronde is looking at the tail end of his career and the Bucs, who made HUGE strides this past season, need to safe guard for the future, meaning they bring in Janoris Jenkins to be the guy that gets them to that next step.
Aqib Talib is a top flight corner and was one of the league leaders in interceptions before he got injured. With Talib on one side and Jenkins on the other (and with Ronde being a good teacher if he doesn't retire, but moves down on the depth chart), the Bucs could have one of most feared corner tandems in the league, along with a ball hawking safety and Cody Grimm.
In the NFC South, turnovers could be the best way to win. The Bucs are pretty good at creating now—adding Jenkins might make them a bit better.
Now, before you get all upset, keep in mind; this is all in good fun, folks. I'm not a general manager or professional talent evaluator for a reason. My bold predictions are just that; bold and predictions. They're silly predictions at that and I'm fully aware that there's a lot of first round talent still left that these teams would pick up.
But it's always fun to guess and try to figure out what teams' draft day strategies are. And hell, sometimes bold predictions are just bold enough and crazy enough to come true.
Until next time...