2011 NFL Mock Draft: Will Senior Bowl Impact First-Round Picks?
Underclassmen will dominate the first round of the NFL Draft, but we would all be remiss in forgetting to acknowledge those seniors who are likely to hear their names called on Day 1.
But how high will they go? That will largely depend on how well they play in the upcoming Senior Bowl, which will take place in Mobile, AL on Jan. 29.
Here's a look at the latest mock first round, complete with those seniors who are hoping to surpass their younger brethren for improved draft positioning.
* denotes player participating in Senior Bowl
** denotes team whose draft order is still subject to change, based on playoff results
1. Nick Fairley (Carolina Panthers)
The Panthers’ greatest need resides under center, but the offensive starvation takes a back seat to the rise of Fairley, who solidified his status as a top pick with a dominating performance against Oregon in the BCS title game.
2. Da'Quan Bowers (Denver Broncos)
Arguably the draft’s best pure pass rusher, Bowers gives the Broncos the athletic presence on the edge they sorely lacked in 2010, finishing the season ranked 32nd in sacks.
3. Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills)
Equally effective as a 4-3 end or tackle in a 3-4, Dareus is a menacing presence along the front seven, combining surprising agility with superior strength. He is an instant difference-maker for a Bills defense that was dead last against the run this season.
4. Patrick Peterson (Cincinnati Bengals)
Yet another ultra-athletic performer in a draft pool front-loaded with talented underclassmen, Peterson is as versatile as they come, racking up 36 tackles and four picks in 2010 while also posing a serious threat on punt and kickoff returns.
5. Blaine Gabbert (Arizona Cardinals)
Perhaps more than even Carolina, Arizona needs to fill a void at quarterback and will take the best available option in Gabbert, who is the draft’s most well-rounded prospect at the position despite recording underwhelming numbers at Missouri.
6. A.J. Green (Cleveland Browns)
The Browns appear content to run with Colt McCoy, but he and running back Peyton Hillis could use some explosiveness on the perimeter. Green, the best pure route-runner in the draft, fits the bill perfectly.
7. Von Miller (San Francisco 49ers)
New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was recently hired by Jim Harbaugh, will have plenty to work with in San Francisco, but the Niners struggled at times to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks last season. Skilled enough to bring the heat off the edge from the end position or at linebacker, Miller is a logical fit.
8. Prince Amukamara (Tennessee Titans)
With Peterson off the board, the Titans go with the next best thing in Amukamara, whose coverage skills and ability to run with receivers and locate the ball will plug some of the holes in secondary.
9. Nate Solder (Dallas Cowboys)
At 6’8” and 300 pounds, Solder is a mountain of mass, but his quick feet enable him to reach the second level as well as any lineman in the draft, with the possible exception of Gabe Carimi. He injects youth into a Cowboys line that is rapidly aging, and is a potential 10-year player at either tackle position.
10. Jake Locker* (Washington Redskins)
Bit of a flier here considering his disappointing senior season at Washington, but Locker grades out a tad higher than Cam Newton for the Redskins, who can ill afford to snatch up a quarterback any later than the first round if they decide to forgo pursuing one in free agency. Locker can improve his status with a strong showing in the Senior Bowl.
11. Rahim Moore (Houston Texans)
To say that the Texans had the worst pass defense in the history of the league is not an attempt at exaggeration. Houston allowed an average of nearly 270 yards per game, so nabbing Moore as the draft’s highest-graded safety prospect will be the first of many moves made to rejuvenate the defensive backfield.
12. Robert Quinn (Minnesota Vikings)
Cam Newton is certainly an option here, but the Vikes face the possibility of having to replace defensive end Ray Edwards, who said recently he intends to test the free-agent market. Quinn, who was once told his career was over upon the discovery of a tumor in his brain, is the draft’s highest-rated end behind only Bowers.
13. Akeem Ayers (Detroit Lions)
The Lions already have that one dominant defensive force in Ndamukong Suh. Now it’s time to build around him, and Ayers is the draft’s most athletic linebacker, mixing a long frame with the versatility to stand up and rush the passer or play the run from the outside.
14. Julio Jones (St. Louis Rams)
This is a no-brainer. The Rams, though injuries ravaged the receiving corps, didn’t provide Sam Bradford with nearly enough weapons in the passing game, which is a role the physically imposing Jones can surely fill.
15. Mark Ingram (Miami Dolphins)
This draft includes what could be the weakest collection of backs in recent memory, but Ingram is in a class by himself, displaying excellent power to go along with deceptive speed. He’s an ideal fit for Tony Sparano’s run-first scheme.
16. Cam Newton (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Even if Trent Edwards re-signs to fulfill the backup role to David Garrard, how can the Jags even think about passing on Newton, who would make a large enough splash to satisfy the fanbase and kickstart what could be a make-or-break season for Jack Del Rio?
17. Ryan Kerrigan* (New England Patriots—from Oakland)
The Big Ten sack leader in 2010, Kerrigan could answer some questions regarding his tweener-like height and weight at the Senior Bowl. If he does, and does so favorably, he’d blend in nicely in Belichick’s 3-4 scheme, which is obviously lacking some toughness at various positions.
18. Jonathan Baldwin (San Diego Chargers)
If the Vincent Jackson saga ends with him re-signing with San Diego, even if it means slapping him with a one-year franchise tag, the Chargers may choose to go elsewhere in the first round. Or maybe they won’t. Philip Rivers could always use another target, and Baldwin possesses Jackson-like size, hands and big-play ability.
19. Gabe Carimi* (New York Giants)
If the Giants choose to stick with veteran David Diehl at his more natural position of guard, a spot will open up at tackle, where the Outland Trophy winner could provide New York with a skill set that’s as impressive as that of any lineman available in the draft.
And Carimi could move ahead of Solder if he plays well in the Senior Bowl, against some of the nation’s best defensive ends.
20. Adrian Clayborn* (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The All-American defensive end had a disappointing senior season at Iowa, but the Senior Bowl could render that meaningless. Clayborn has outstanding size (6’4”, 285) size and a great motor, both of which would upgrade a Tampa Bay pass rush that generated the second-fewest sacks in 2010.
21. Justin Houston (Kansas City Chiefs)
The Chiefs have some weaknesses throughout the front seven, so deciding whether to address issues at tackle or linebacker will be paramount. Derrick Johnson is signed to a long-term deal, but Houston would make for a terrific addition on the outside, replacing the aging Mike Vrabel.
22. Corey Liuget (Indianapolis Colts)
Oregon State’s Stephen Paea could be the pick here, but Liuget made a late push with a superb outing versus Baylor in the Texas Bowl (five tackles, one sack), finishing off a season in which he led Illinois in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries.
23. Tyron Smith (Philadelphia Eagles)
Smith has flown a bit under the radar, thanks mostly to the publicized skills of Carimi and Solder, but he moves extremely well and possesses excellent power for his non-prototypical size (6’5”, 291). He’ll give the Eagles some needed athleticism up front, after this season's team struggled mightily at times to give Michael Vick adequate protection.
24. Drake Nevis* (New Orleans Saints)
Nevis is another player whose stock could soar with a solid performance in the Senior Bowl. Nevis is smaller than the other highly-rated defensive tackles, but his lateral quickness meshes well with what the Saints do on defense, which is to sacrifice some size for speed and athletic ability.
25. Anthony Castonzo (Seattle Seahawks)
The Seahawks took care of one bookend in last year’s draft, selecting Russell Okung from Oklahoma State. Castonzo, though slightly undersized (6’7”, 295), would give Seattle a skilled duo for the foreseeable future.
26. Robert Sands (Baltimore Ravens)
This is not the Baltimore secondary of yesteryear, and an eventual successor to Ed Reed will have to be designated. Sands, known as one of the college game’s hardest hitters during his days at West Virginia, fits the mold.
27. Cameron Jordan (Atlanta Falcons)
The draftee from California is not the hottest prospect, but his skill set as a pass rushing defensive end will be valuable to the Falcons, who must begin lining up replacements for veteran John Abraham.
28. Cameron Heyward (New England Patriots)
Bill Belichick got a lot of mileage out of his young defense this season, but some tweaking is in order, particularly with the 30th-ranked pass defense. Heyward is built like a defensive tackle, but his aggressiveness and ability to penetrate make him a prime candidate to contribute immediately as an end in the 3-4.
29. Ryan Williams (Green Bay Packers)**
Despite the solid play of Brandon Jackson and emergence of James Starks, the Packers may not turn down the opportunity to enhance the depth behind Ryan Grant, who will be returning from ankle surgery in 2011. Williams isn’t a blazer, but he is without question the draft’s best back behind Ingram.
30. Jerrel Jernigan* (Chicago Bears)**
Having played at Troy, Jernigan is a little-known prospect, but that could change with the upcoming Senior Bowl. Height and weight (5’9”, 183) could be a concern, but the Bears could use his phenomenal top-end speed and knack for the big play to justify not taking an offensive tackle in the first round.
31. Allen Bailey* (New York Jets)**
Pre-draft film study has uncovered some flaws in Bailey’s game, but he is thickly built and has the power to anchor the edge in the Jets’ 3-4 alignment. If Bailey leaves a lot to be desired with a flat performance in the Senior Bowl, Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt could be an option for Rex Ryan.
32. Benjamin Ijalana* (Pittsburgh Steelers)**
Shuffling, inconsistency, and injuries have defined the Pittsburgh offensive line in 2010, but the pressing issue for 2011 is whether the team will retain Willie Colon and Trai Essex. If the Steelers opt to go younger, Ijalana is talented enough to step in at either tackle or guard.
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