2011 NFL Mock Draft: Which Senior Bowl Standouts Are First-Round Locks?
The 2011 Senior Bowl is this coming Saturday, and all week NFL scouts, coaches, and GM's will be able to get a good long look at the best college seniors in the country.
While this game is always fun, and certainly generates a great deal of interest, will it really be able to change people's perceptions of guys like Jake Locker, Ricky Stanzi, and Titus Young in any significant way?
Let's take another stab at mocking the upcoming draft, and see which seniors have the most to gain from their performances this week, as well as which non-seniors will be crashing the party come April.
1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DE/DT, Auburn
He's not a senior, but Nick Fairley has done nothing to change his status as the most promising available defensive prospect since my last look at the first-round.
Fairley completely dominated on college football's biggest stage, and showed that he has the killer instincts and competitive fire that make great athletes into great players.
Wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers seem to be the two other possibilities here, but in my opinion, Fairley has less of a potential downside than either Green or Bowers, and truly dominant defensive tackles are harder to find.
2. Denver Broncos: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers moves up a few spots here, as he's been getting talked up more and more because of his breakthrough 2010 season.
In addition, the Broncos coaching situation has been resolved. The new sheriff in town, John Fox, is a defensive-minded coach who will be intrigued by Bowers athletic prowess. He'll be inclined to take a chance that motivation issues can be corrected in the right system.
He certainly has a very high potential upside as a fearsome pass rusher off the end.
3. Buffalo Bills: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Green continues to beg to be picked here, despite the available talent on the defensive side of the ball, a major need for the Bills.
His stock as a game-changing wideout is solid, and if anything, continues to grow. He's big, he's strong, he's fast, and he can make plays.
The Bills haven't had a true playmaker of his ability in a long time.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
I believe I made a mistake in my last mock by dropping Quinn as low as I did.
Despite his lost 2010 season, he's still a special talent, and the hype around him has built to a point that I don't see him dropping out of the top five or ten picks.
Cincinnati would have liked to get their hands on Green, but without trading up, he probably won't be available for them here, so their alternative is to get Quinn, an athletic end in the mold of Bowers (who also might go here if he's not taken by Denver).
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Peterson is still the first defensive back off the board, but he drops slightly in this mock.
He didn't help his stock much in LSU's Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M, sometimes struggling in coverage. It's not something that will be a major stain on his reputation, but enough to make Denver go with Bowers over him.
That means he falls to Arizona, who can use defensive help after a down year and are still struggling to find a new team identity. Peterson will help in that regard.
6. Cleveland Browns: Marcel Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama
Dareus will be the first off the board out of three Alabama underclassmen who all project to go in the first round.
Going into the season, he projected as perhaps a top three selection, but while he played well, he failed to make any demonstrable improvements over 2009. He's not the best player in the draft, but he'll be the best available in this spot.
Cleveland wants to upgrade on offense, but with no top tier runners or receivers on the board, will instead make a move to solidify their defensive line.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Questions about his fitness level, accuracy, decision making, and ability to adapt to a pro-style offense abound, but despite of all of them, Gabbert continues to be hyped as the top QB prospect.
If he his in fact that, then the 49ers will be hard pressed to pass him up when they go on the clock. Their current situation behind center is as up in the air as they come, with ex-top pick Alex Smith a free agent, and nary a replacement in sight.
New coach Jim Harbaugh will look to mold the right newcomer to take the reins of his system. Gabbert has great size and arm strength, and could be coached into being the star that he has the potential to be.
8. Tennessee Titans: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
I'm keeping Ayers here at No. 8 because of his versatility.
He projects as someone who can fit into either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, and play either defensive end position or linebacker. There aren't too many players who you can honestly say that about.
He's not this high on most draft boards, but that's partly because he's a sleeper coming out of a non-traditional football power like UCLA. Give him some time in the spring to further impress scouts at workouts and the combine and you'll see him gain more attention.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Amukamara falls just a bit in this projection simply because I've projected Patrick Peterson to fall a bit too, and the two players' fates are tied to each other by virtue of playing the same position. They're the two elite corners to be had in this draft.
The Cowboys have needs in the secondary, which showed its flaws last season, and Amukamara will help shore them up. He's someone that opposing QB's at the college level were simply hesitant to challenge, a sign of respect among his peers that bodes well for his transition to the next level.
With the other players often mentioned here not filling major needs for Dallas, Amukamara makes sense.
10. Washington Redskins: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Mallett is a tricky pick. I've put him back in the first-round after dropping him last time out.
It seems like I've underestimated the hype that follows top tier quarterbacks. None of these guys are perfect prospects, but at the same time, nobody wants to be the one who passed on the next great arm.
So quarterbacks will continue to get overdrafted. I'll give, and say that happens here at No. 10. Washington really needs one, and Mallett is the most NFL ready of the top guys left (Newton, Locker). Mike Shanahan, being the coach that he is, provided the tiebreaker on my decision here.
11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Houston's woeful defense would get a major boost from adding the active and athletic Smith, who would be Missouri's second player taken in the first round (after QB Gabbert).
Smith should wow folks at the combine, and he'll excite the Texans with his ability to play defensive end, or outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme.
I count on him being one of the surprise stars out of this draft in a few years time.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
With Minnesota desperate to find another quarterback in the wake of Brett Favre's impending final exit from the stage, they roll the dice with the Heisman Trophy winner and National Champion.
Newton is probably the most raw of the four first-round QB prospects, but also probably has the most natural talent. His size, his mobility, and his strength are off the charts. He's still got a lot to learn, but the Vikings don't have much to lose.
Coming off a miserable lost season, they'll see if they can't capture lightning in a bottle and re-tool quickly with Newton under center.
13. Detroit Lions: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Miller is another player who has bounced around in first-round projections and is a bit of a sleeper pick.
He anchored a tough Texas A&M defense and has shown heart and leadership throughout his college career, two intangibles that mean a lot at the next level.
Detroit needs help on the offensive line, but Miller is too good to pass up here.
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones remains in solid position to be picked in the middle of Round 1, and is especially coveted by the Rams, who as much as anything, can use an offensive weapon to pair with likely offensive rookie of the year Sam Bradford.
His breakout year in 2010 proved to scouts that he's a legitimate playmaker who can handle being the focal point of a team's offense, and his experience at Alabama and in the brutal SEC should reap great rewards as he transitions into the NFL.
On the fast turf in St. Louis, he'll pay immediate dividends for the rapidly improving Rams.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
One former Heisman Trophy winner replaces another one as the featured back in South Florida.
Mark Ingram will ably fill the shoes of Ricky Williams, likely headed out the door. He can carry a heavy load, and likely will have to, as the Dolphins passing game hasn't been much to speak of for some time.
Because of that fact, they can use a quarterback as well, but Ingram is more of a sure thing, and will provide the offense with a solid foundation to build on in the coming years.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
This Golden Bear has been steadily moving up most team's big boards with his heady play and refined athleticism.
He's not the sexiest pick, but he's a blue collar worker who has some impressive game film to review. Anyone caring to take a look will see a polished player more than ready to make an impact at the next level right away.
Jacksonville has question marks on the defensive line, with injuries hampering Aaron Kampman, and nobody else that scares opposing quarterbacks. Jordan will certainly change that.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
One thing that the Patriots certainly need is a stronger pass rush and more of an intimidating presence on their defensive line.
Ryan Kerrigan is a hard worker who fits the mold of Bill Belichick's system. He also had a fantastic senior season in the Big 10, and shot up the board to where he's now most likely a mid-first rounder.
He won't be a diva, he won't be a distraction, but he will give the Pats a 110 percent effort. That's just what they want from their players.
18. San Diego Chargers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Clayborn has faced some criticism when it often appeared that he wasn't the same player this past season that he was the year before.
He's still a tantalizing prospect though, and would help to further solidify a Chargers defensive line that has been through a lot in the last year, even while still remaining effective.
He might just be motivated enough by falling a bit, and will be looking to prove everyone wrong about him next season. All the more reason for San Diego to take a chance.
19. New York Giants: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
USC's Smith looks more and more like he'll be the first offensive lineman selected come April.
He's getting high praise from scouts who like his length and athleticism, and think that he'll add extra bulk as a pro that will help him bring his run blocking up to snuff.
As it is, he's an elite pass blocking left tackle who will help give Eli Manning the protection he needs, and will be a valuable chip in the Giants always important running game.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Watt will give Tampa a good pass rusher who is equally strong against the run, and can play either defensive tackle or defensive end.
Tampa can certainly use that kind of versatility on their defensive line as they look to continue their rapid improvement from 2010. Just on the cusp of a postseason berth this year, they missed out due to tiebreakers, but are one or two good pieces away from being a real contender.
Perhaps Watt would be one of those pieces.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
It's a bit difficult to pin down a specific landing spot for Paea, who excelled for a bit of an off-the-radar program in 2010, and is hampered a bit by playing the same position as some of the top prospects.
Nonetheless, he should find a home before the end of the first-round, and Kansas City is as good a place as any. They can use an extra pass rusher to take some of the load off of Tamba Hali, and infuse some fresh blood into a defensive unit that looked old and slow in their Wild Card loss to Baltimore.
Paea could sneak up on a lot of people leading up to April.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Colts don't usually spend a first-round pick on the offensive line, preferring to fill the holes as needed in later rounds or through free agency, but they might just be tempted this year.
Their needs in that area are more glaring now than in the past, and this year's crop of O-linemen is a good one. With Tyron Smith off the board in this projection, it seems now that Sherrod would be next in line.
He's got great size, at 6'6" and 305 pounds, and competed in the difficult SEC against pass rushers like Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus. He'll be a step in the right direction for Indy.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Harris is not on the same level as the top corners in the draft, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara, but he's the next best thing, and that's still very good.
The Eagles could use help in the secondary, and would gladly pair Harris with incumbent corner Asante Samuel, which would instantly make their pass defense something that would have to be respected.
Philly was close in 2010, and with an improvement on defense, they'll have to be considered a serious contender in 2011.
24. New Orleans Saints: Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
At 6'2", 285 pounds, Nevis is a bit undersized for a nose tackle, which has caused him to fall a bit in some scouts' eyes, but he makes up for his shortcomings with great natural instincts and an aggressive, playmaking style.
He would serve to help upgrade a Saints defensive front that was exposed a bit in their playoff loss to Seattle, and his being from LSU would only help his local appeal down in the Bayou.
25. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Here's the main player who can be helped by a big performance in the Senior Bowl.
Locker can sneak his way back into the first round, and I think he just might. Seattle has shown interest in re-signing Matt Hasselbeck, who showed he's still got some life in him during the Seahawks playoff run, but they still will need a long-term solution past next year.
That scenario could be the best option here. Draft Locker, a local guy, and let him learn for a year under Hasselbeck, the wily veteran. Locker doesn't really seem NFL ready just yet, anyway, but his potential is still there. With the right teachers, he could still unlock the talent that had him hyped as a potential top pick last year.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Carimi falls a bit in this go round of my mock drafts, less due to anything he's done, and more due to other offensive tackles rising, namely Tyron Smith.
Carimi still boasts an impressive tale of the tape, both through his game tapes, which show a polished blocker in both run and pass plays, as well as the tape measure, which show him at a hulking 6'7", 327 pounds. With that kind of girth, it'll be difficult for any pass rusher to get through him, and he's quick enough on his feet to provide a challenge to get around, as well.
Baltimore can use help on their O-line, and Carimi is a good choice to give it.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
It now seems that tight end Tony Gonzalez will in fact be back next year, but that doesn't eliminate Atlanta's need for another pass catcher opposite Roddy White.
Baldwin has a great skill set, and only falls as low as he does because of a questionable work ethic. But the Falcons have a good system, and Baldwin can blossom there.
He also has Matt Ryan, and you could do worse than being drafted by the defending NFC No. 1 seed and catching passes from one of the best young QB's in football.
28. New England Patriots: Mike Pouncey,C/G, Florida
After shoring up their defensive line with their first pick (look back at No. 17), the Pats look to do the same thing for their offensive line at No. 28.
Older brother Maurkice's injury on Sunday for Pittsburgh showed just how valuable a player of his ability can be. The Steelers running game suffered as a result, and they fumbled multiple snaps.
Mike possesses the same skills of his brother, and will be a valuable addition to the Patriots, especially in the running game.
29. Chicago Bears: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
It surely doesn't feel like it right now, but it was a terrific turnaround season for the Bears, despite their loss in Sunday's NFC title game.
One thing that game revealed as much as anything was the need for upgrades on the offensive line. The Bears struggled to create much space for the running game, and Jay Cutler and company were under constant pressure.
Anthony Castonzo is a blue collar tackle who works hard, and has polished blocking skills. He might not start right away, but if they give him some time to learn the ropes, Chicago fans will be happy they did.
30. New York Jets: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
If only Heyward had been around to chase down Roethlisberger on Sunday, maybe he doesn't complete that game winning third down pass.
I had Heyward going to the Jets last week, and still think he'd be a good fit in New York. In Rex Ryan's system, and with the secondary they already boast, the Jets would be even more effective with a beast like Heyward wreaking havoc up front.
The only concerns about him are his conditioning and motivation, but I think he's got the ability to turn those things around and be a steal as a late first rounder.
31. Green Bay Packers: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
The Pack has dropped in the draft as they've risen in the playoffs, but no matter, I'm sure every cheesehead across Wisconsin will gladly take that tradeoff.
One of Green Bay's big weak spots is at outside linebacker, and they can take a step to address that need in April if Houston is still on the board when it's finally their turn.
Houston is a 6'3", 260 pound linebacker who is very mobile and active. Just a junior in 2010, he took major strides forward in his best season yet, and solidified his draft stock, recording 56 tackles and 10 sacks. He'd be a good fit in Green Bay's system.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Clint Boling, G, Georgia
Another Bulldog rounds out Round 1.
The Steelers can use some new blood on their offensive line despite their success this year. Luckily for them, Maurkice Pouncey's injury is just a sprain, and he should be fine by next season (the Super Bowl is less certain). Nevertheless, the 6'5" 315 pound Boling would be a nice addition.
He can learn without the pressure of starting early on, and acclimate to Pittsburgh's system, which should give him every chance to maximise his potential.