Mel Kiper is the NFL Draft, and his first 2011 mock draft is what football fanatics have been waiting for since last April. Mel's hair, his voice, the way he shakes his head when Todd McShay talks—he has created an entire industry for the NFL and ESPN that we can't get enough of.
Last weekend the list of draft-eligible players was finalized, and when Mel released his first mock this week it marked the official season opener for the NFL Draft.
Must Read: Best-Case Scenario Draft for Each NFL Team
1. Carolina Panthers - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
He's the top player on Mel's big board and the top player in Mel's mock.
Fairley has the physical tools, production, and mean streak you want in a number one overall pick.
My Pick: Fairley
2. Denver Broncos - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
A pick where needs meet big board talent.
Kiper says Peterson has "the best size-speed combo in the draft" and he is an "electrifying talent."
Nobody in the top 5 could go wrong with Peterson.
My Pick: Peterson
3. Buffalo Bills - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
An offensive tackle would be great for Buffalo but this is one of the rare times that Kiper doesn't have an OT in his big board top 10.
Kiper also doesn't see Buffalo going QB (which I do), so the only logical option is to help their front seven.
Dareus is a boom-bust because of inconsistent play but when he's on he has played like a top three pick.
My Pick: Cam Newton
4. Cincinnati Bengals - Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Defensive end isn't the Bengals top need but passing on Bowers at four would be hard for the Bengals.
After Andrew Luck returned to schools, and before the BCS game, Kiper had Bowers as his number one player--and he's currently number two.
My Pick: Bowers
5. Arizona Cardinals - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Neither Mel nor myself see Arizona moving forward with their current conundrum of QBs.
Unless the team makes a serious move to get McNabb or another vet, they must go QB in the draft.
Gabbert is Kiper's top QB, and he left school in a hurry meaning he had a good idea of his stock.
My Pick: Gabbert
6. Cleveland Browns - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Kiper describes Green as "a complete package." He has the size and skills to be instant offense for any squad in the NFL.
Cleveland may spend the rest of the draft on defense but they must get an elite WR prospect for Colt McCoy at six.
My Pick: Green
7. San Francisco 49ers - Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Although Quinn was suspended for the entire season, Kiper maintains that scouts are still very high on him.
I like the mix of talent and needs here, and this is a very realistic pick for a SF team without a legit edge-rusher.
I'm not sold that Quinn's value is this high though, so I think QB or CB wins out at this point in the draft process.
My Pick: Prince Amukamara
8. Tennessee Titans - Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Both of us think the Titans are going LB here, it's just a matter of which one.
Von Miller isn't quite as physically impressive as Ayers, but he did out-produce him.
This is a great pick for Tennessee although I have a tough time seeing them pass on Prince.
My Pick: Akeem Ayers
9. Dallas Cowboys - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
One of the most stereotypical mock draft picks going on this year.
Sure it's a great fit, Amukamara is a great fit for anybody. I just don't see the corner falling this far.
That being said I have Dareus here, who Mel might have a hard time seeing on the board at nine.
My Pick: Dareus
10. Washington Redskins - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
We know the Redskins want to target an athletic, strong armed QB. If Cam Newton is on the board, he makes perfect sense—as long as Mike Shanahan likes him.
Shanny took Jay Cutler despite some personality flaws, so I could see this happening.
If Newton's gone they could reach on Jake Locker, or wait to see if he lasts in round two.
My Pick: Jake Locker
11. Houston Texans - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
This pick seems like a reach. Smith is big and talented but it was still a surprise he came out as a junior.
Switching to a 3-4 it seems like Houston will want to add another edge rusher (unless Connor Barwin wakes up), so the need for Smith makes sense.
My Pick: Quinn
12. Minnesota Vikings - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Vikings have to make some free agency decisions this off-season which will dictate if they're trying to win a title or not.
Their blocking had some drop-off this season but I think picking Solder is a reach because he may not even start in 2011.
I would rather see Minnesota help their D, or if they are going to have a minor re-build, get a franchise QB.
My Pick: Ryan Mallett
13. Detroit Lions - Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Knowing the linebacker is a major need for Detroit, as it is for the Titans, Mel and I have swapped our projections from the previous pick.
Either Ayers or Miller has the value to be drafted here. Ayers is a super-versatile LB, and he can give the Lions a pass rusher without adding a DE.
My Pick: Miller
14. St. Louis Rams - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Another pick that everyone is mocking. It almost seems too good to be true that the Rams could be picking at 14 and land an elite receiver like Jones for their second-year QB.
Kiper notes Jones, "showed a more refined game this past season." He has all of the makings of a Pro Bowl receiver.
My Pick: Jones
15. Miami Dolphins - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Is the problem with Miami's run game the backs or line?
Both positions have free agency issues, and both positions should be addressed in the draft.
Not that Mark Ingram is a bad pick, but I'm not sure he can be a 300+ carry guy for multiple seasons as we've already seen him slowed by injuries.
Ingram is the sexy pick but the Phins need to build a line that any back can run behind.
My Pick: Mike Pouncey
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Jacksonville can't go wrong with a defensive pick in 2011—well, they could but at least they'd be on the right tack.
Clayborn is a thick, every down defensive end who would provide some much needed grit to the Jags defense.
In my eyes the real problem with Jacksonville is their defensive backs though. Clayborn is at the top of Mel's remaining big board so it makes sense why he has him coming off here.
My Pick: Rahim Moore
17. New England Patriots - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
There is no question that the Pats still have many positions to upgrade in their front seven.
Kiper likes Watt's size, and thinks he can be an big-time player in Bill Belichick's system.
I would like to see the Pats add a legit edge rusher, but I wouldn't complain about them taking the monster from Wisconsin.
My Pick: Ryan Kerrigan
18. San Diego Chargers - Cameron Jordan, DE, California
I'm glad to see Kiper doesn't have SD reaching on an OLB because it's not the glaring need some draft experts suggest.
Jordan isn't well known nationally but scouts have been high on him the entire season.
With the talent at 3-4 DE and OT that will be on the board here, I could see SD going either way.
My Pick: Tyron Smith
19. New York Giants - Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
Mike's brother Maurkice Pouncey was the 18th selection of the 2010 draft and with the combination of his success and Mike's talent I don't see Mike being on the board here.
If Pouncey is there, can't argue with the pick though.
My Pick: Martez Wilson
20. Tampa Bay Bucs - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The logical pick for Tampa is to add an end to play next to their young but promising tackles. If Kerrigan is on the board, he should come off quickly here.
The Bucs also need LB help but there will be a lot of end talent on the board here so Kiper makes a good pick for them.
My Pick: Watt
21. Kansas City Chiefs - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Kiper notes that there are mixed reviews on Paea, he has a top 10 ceiling and a second round floor.
If KC is looking for a guy who could develop into a dominant nose then Paea makes sense. He is one of the strongest prospects in the draft and could add weight easily.
I don't see KC going after a WR here but I could see them finding an early replacement for Thomas Jones.
My Pick: Ingram
22. Indianapolis Colts - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Indy has had needs at DT for years but building a team around Peyton Manning is their top priority.
Castanzo is one of many tackles who would add instant value to the Colts line.
My Pick: Solder
23. Philadelphia Eagles - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Nobody projects trades into their draft, which I think Philly will do with this pick, so hitting the OL is what makes the most sense.
Carimi is the next OT on Kiper's big board and he drafts him accordingly. I could help Philly develop a power run game, but I don't think he is a good fit for their overall scheme.
My Pick: Benjamin Ijalana
24. New Orleans Saints - Justin Houston, DE/LB, Georgia
The Saints need help at linebacker, and they need help at defensive end, so Kiper addresses those needs by picking Houston.
Mel sees Houston "developing into a great edge-rusher as a 4-3 defensive end." He seems best suited as a 3-4 OLB though, and maybe even a LB in the 4-3.
Houston was one of the final junior draft commits so I'm not as sure on his stock as Kiper is, and I see him in the second round right now.
My Pick: Jordan
25. Seattle Seahawks - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
We've seen plenty of QBs slide over the years, so Mallett falling to Seattle may not be as radical as some think.
The QBs we've seen slide don't have the same makeup as Mallet though, and I would be shocked to see him in the mid-20s.
If a future franchise QB isn't on the board, Seattle must go OL or CB.
My Pick: Aaron Williams
26. Baltimore Ravens - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Mel goes to the Miami connection here, selecting Harris to the Ray Lewis' Ravens defense.
Kiper says Harris "carries a late-first round grade" although most of the reports I've read since the season plant him solidly in the second round.
Corner is a need but it's not the biggest and I think Baltimore will be picking from the top of the big board here.
My Pick: Cameron Heyward
27. Atlanta Falcons - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
I love that Mel has Atlanta going for a receiver but I do have worries about Torrey Smith. It's not his fault but when you see wide receiver next to Maryland you have to associate Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Smith was more productive than DHB though, so he isn't all 40 time hype. He posted 14 catches for 224 yards and four TDs in the season finale against NC State.
The receiver I like here is the massive Jon Baldwin from Pitt.
My Pick: Jon Baldwin
28. New England Patriots - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Kiper starts to lose me here. I know Leshoure is a fringe first rounder, so it's not about the pick value, it's more about the Pats and where they want to focus.
NE's backs weren't big names but they were very productive this season. If this pick isn't traded it would be better spent on the offensive line or defense.
My Pick: Clayborn
29. Green Bay Packers - Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa
This is the biggest surprise in Mel's first 2011 mock draft.
Ballard has the size for this pick, and Iowa players have done well in the NFL, but I haven't even seen Ballard mentioned as a fringe guy.
I like the position need and GB has done a good job of scouting talent so if he's their guy then he's their guy.
My Pick: Carimi
30. New York Jets - Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
I was harsh on Mel's previous pick but I applaud this one. I have Wilkerson on my top 20 players who will be on the rise list because he is a dynamic end who's perfect for the 3-4.
He's a sleeper but Temple had some real talent on their D-Line this last season, led by MW.
My Pick: Paua
31. Chicago Bears - Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
The biggest need for Chicago is offensive line. Tyron Smith is still on Kiper's board and he should be the pick here.
That being said Williams is a real stud. He has top-notch size and makes plays.
If the team doesn't feel then need to grab a tackle getting a corner is always a good addition.
My Pick: Castonzo
32. Pittsburgh Steelers - Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Kiper does note that there is a strong chance Smith will be long gone by the time Pitt picks. If he is on the board, as a team who needs a tackle, it would be a real steal.
If their isn't a first round quality offensive lineman on the board I think Pitt would add another 3-4 end.
My Pick: Corey Liuget