So it's getting to that time of the year when the NFL Playoffs are in full swing and the college season has concluded. That means if your team isn't one of the NFL's Elite Eight, then they're preparing for the 2011 NFL Draft and next season.
Mel Kyper Jr. and Todd McShay haven't come out with their respective mock drafts yet, but the Big Boards are filling up and the Draft picture is starting to take shape.
Andrew Luck, Justin Blackmon and Janoris Jenkins deciding to return to school has thrown a big wrench into many Drafts. But if nothing else, we're starting to see the mock drafts converge on who the best three prospects and the top-three picks in the Draft will be—Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers, Georgia WR A.J. Green and Auburn DT Nick Fairley. Where they will go is still up for debate.
So with that in mind, here is my mock draft for the 2011 NFL Draft.
(Note: Picks 25-32 have not been set yet because of the Playoffs, so those will be where I believe those teams will pick because of their Playoff finish)
I've seen some of the Mock Drafts going back and fourth on Carolina's pick now that Luck is staying in school (one Sports Illustrated Mock Draft had Blaine Gabbert going No. 1 overall), and the truth is either of the top-three prospects would fill a need. But if the Panthers want to try again with Jimmy Clausen, then he needs a playmaker, and that's Green.
ESPN's Joe Schad is reporting as of this posting that Fairley is going to declare for this year's Draft. That's good news for teams at the top, as he's one of those big, disruptive defensive tackles that the NFL loves. He's ranked at the top in most Mock Drafts and the Broncos could use him up front, as he has the size to play inside in a 3-4.
The Bills need help in their front seven, especially when it comes to getting a pass rush. Bowers had a fantastic year which has rocketed him up the draft boards and he would fulfill a need on the end. I've seen one draft from WalterFootball.com that has Patrick Peterson going here, but I think the need on the line is much greater.
If Green isn't available to the Bengals at four, then it really could become a "best available player" scenario. Peterson would be there, but the Bengals don't need a corner. And I don't think they would reach for a Julio Jones here. If Green's gone the pick will probably be between Quinn and Marcell Dareus, with Quinn getting the edge because of his versatility and pass-rush potential.
It'll be somewhat disappointing for Peterson to drop, since some drafts have him as high as No. 2, but Cincinnati doesn't have a need at corner and both Denver and Buffalo need front-line help more. Peterson does have the tools to be a shutdown corner in this league and would definitely beef up the Cardinals secondary along with Adrian Wilson.
This is a tough pick because the Browns need a wide receiver, and some Mock Drafts have them taking Green if he's still available. The defensive line could use an upgrade and a pass-rusher, which could have them leaning towards a Quinn or Dareus. Julio Jones has also been mentioned here, and I just think the need for a playmaking receiver probably trumps all and Jones goes here.
Of the Mock Drafts that I've seen, they've all been pretty consistent in saying the 49ers will take the corner out of Nebraska. He's a good cover man and would give the 49ers a No. 1 in waiting to push Nate Clements. The 49ers could always go quarterback here, but I'd think they'll probably go defense, draft a quarterback later an get a veteran to step in.
I was really tempted to go with Cam Newton here, especially since the Titans need a quarterback. But knowing Jeff Fisher, he'll probably go defense and most of the experts agree. Dareus would provide a big Albert Haynesworth-type presence at defensive tackle and would make a big difference up front. A pass rusher like a Ryan Kerrigan isn't out of the question either.
WalterFootball.com put Watt here and I think it's a good fit. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, and there's no real secondary help at nine with Peterson and Amukamara off the board. It'll probably be a defensive lineman and Watt can provide that rush from inside, along with good speed and versatility.
The Redskins have a lot of other needs, especially on defense where they barely have anything resembling a pass rush save for Brian Orakpo and aging defensive ends. But knowing the Redskins, it's hard to see them not go quarterback here. Gabbert's risen to the top of what many feel is an underwhelming class and will probably be the pick.
The Texans will definitely go defense with their first pick, and with Wade Phillips taking over the defense, the Texans will look for an outside linebacker. Ayers would definitely be a solid pick because of his ability to play the run and the pass, which is a big help. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Texans go local to appease their fan base and take Texas A&M's Von Miller.
The Vikings could go defense and possibly put Ryan Kerrigan in this spot, but Leslie Frazier has said he wants to find a quarterback like a Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan in this offseason. That being said, Newton isn't ready to play right away but he's an upgrade over Joe Webb or Tarvaris Jackson and would give the Vikings a quarterback of the future.
Miller would be trying to fit into a 4-3 scheme where he might not be able to rush the passer as much as he would in a 3-4 set. But the Lions need help at linebacker, and with no real secondary help available here, Miller would probably be the target. The Lions could also go with offensive line here as well, as that's an option.
Julio Jones would be a perfect fit in this spot, but if the Browns sweep him up, then the Rams could go defense or get the best available player. Smith could be a dangerous pass-rusher off the edge and be a nice player on a very young and improving defense.
The Dolphins could very well go with a quarterback here and it wouldn't be surprising to see Miami target a Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker. But the Dolphins could also lose their top-two running backs to free agency, ergo a few draft boards have Ingram going to Miami as the only running back going back in the first round.
The Jaguars could go defense, especially with Ryan Kerrigan still on the board. But I've seen other Mock Drafts with the Jaguars taking a quarterback to be the heir apparent to David Garrard, and with Gabbert and Newton off the board, Mallett will probably be the next one to go.
Kerrigan is a pass-rushing end who could bounce outside and be a rushing linebacker out of a 3-4 system. New England needs a young pass rusher on the end and would probably take Kerrigan here. Trading down for more picks could be another option here, knowing Bill Belichick's history with swapping draft picks.
The Chargers don't have a lot of needs, but offensive line could be one of them. The running game suffered with Marcus McNeill missing a good portion of the season and offensive line could be another way to go (some Drafts have the Chargers taking Von Miller), but with him off the board, most Mock Drafts are leaning towards Solder.
The Giants desperately need linebacking help, but the top-two linebackers would be off the board at that point. Allen Bailey from Miami has been put in this spot as well if the Giants go after another defensive lineman, but the Giants need offensive line help and a big tackle like Smith would fit pretty well to protect Eli Manning.
The Buccaneers will probably go defense with their first pick, and while the Buccaneers could also go with a safety later on, the defensive line and a pass-rushing defensive end will be paramount. Clayborn is a big-time pass rusher who's had a down year and has great speed coming off the end. He'd be a perfect fit for the Bucs.
Sherrod is a big offensive lineman who would be a nice fit to an aging offensive line and would also open up holes for the Kansas City rushing attack as well as protecting Matt Cassel. Kansas City could go defense with another pass rusher to compliment Tamba Hali, but getting a young offensive lineman could be an option, too.
The Colts could very well go with an offensive lineman to try and replenish what they've lost in recent years, but they could use a defensive tackle that can take up space and also be a run-stopper to help the running game. Paea would also open up room for Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
The Eagles' offensive line is an absolute mess and a big reason why Michael Vick was beaten up by the end of the season. Carimi would stabilize the line and his ability to play either guard or center would be upgrades over Nick Cole or Mike McGlynn.
Jordan is a versatile player who could be either a defensive tackle or a pass-rusher. He's better as a pass-rusher and the Saints would probably look at him for such, but his versatility makes him very intriguing to a Saints' team that needs defensive help.
Seattle could go with a lineman here as well, but it'll definitely be a defensive pick for the Seahawks. Secondary is the obvious need and Williams would be a good shut-down corner to compliment Marcus Trufant and give the Seahawks a true No. 2 corner.
Heyward would fill a need for the Jets on the defensive line, as New York has a strong defense but is older on the defensive line. Heyward would provide youth, but perhaps the Jets might be skeptical of adding another Ohio State rusher after the Vernon Gholston fiasco.
The Ravens don't have a need at cornerback, but they're always looking for defensive playmakers up front who can get to the quarterback and provide pressure. Bailey probably wouldn't start right away but they can groom him into another great defender who can be aggressive.
Rudolph has very good hands and runs solid routes for a tight end, especially considering he had two unproven quarterbacks throwing to him. The Falcons could very well trade out of the first round, but I'd think this will probably be the target.
The Bears definitely need help on the offensive line and Castonzo makes the most sense. The line has been playing better as of late, but a young tackle that can protect Jay Cutler is extremely important, considering Chicago's line is a little older.
If Pouncey's anything like his brother (who was also drafted by the Steelers and went to Florida), then Pouncey will be a big guy who can clear some holes in the middle of the field and also give solid protection to Ben Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh line always seems to have some moving parts and Pouncey would give them added depth.
Houston had a great season for the Bulldogs and his versatility as a defensive end or an outside linebacker who can pass rush makes him very attractive. Some Mock Drafts have him going higher but the Packers need a defensive end. Another playmaker who could be a stand-up pass-rusher wouldn't hurt either.
Wisniewski jumped around during his time in Happy Valley and was a stabilizing force the last few years for a very young and very inexperienced offensive line. He's smart, doesn't make a lot of mistakes and can clear the way for the running game. Most likely, the Patriots will trade out of this spot anyway, but he'd be a good fit in New England.