2011 NFL Mock Draft: Post Senior Bowl Edition
2011 NFL Mock Drafts have had their biggest shift since commitment day now that the 2011 Senior Bowl is complete.
Overall, the week was a success for the draft prospects. We saw several guys improve their first-round grades and a few others have earned fringe consideration.
The Senior Bowl is so important for prospects because all week they have an in-person interview with all 32 teams.
The two teams were coached by the Bills and Bengals staffs, who are both actively seeking talent.
Not every premier senior prospect was at the game, though. Some guys were injured, while others claimed injury. Some who feel good enough about their draft stock didn't want to compete.
The 2011 NFL Draft is starting to shape up more and more. Slowly teams are informing the media of their draft plans in terms of which positions they are and aren't planning to target.
Sometimes this information can be decoy, but typically teams are straightforward on position needs and more cryptic on the players.
Here is how I have the draft mocking out after the Senior Bowl.
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1. Carolina Panthers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Big change at the top of my mock draft.
I don't think Nick Fairley is the top prospect on Carolina's big board anymore.
Fairley is a dominant defensive force, and Carolina does need a defensive tackle, but there are too many question marks about his work ethic and the road he traveled to Auburn.
Peterson was down in Mobile lobbying teams and one of the teams he met with exclusively was Carolina.
Ron Rivera knows how much of an impact a dominant corner can have.
Patrick Peterson is one of the best defensive back prospects ever.
He looks like the ideal shutdown corner and could be more statistically impactful as a safety.
He can also give Carolina a boost in the return game.
In the past decade, first-round defensive backs have panned out better than any position with volume, especially the ones picked in the top half of the draft.
Defensive end and receiver carry much more risk, and the traditional QB pick isn't on the board.
Of the four defensive tackles selected with the top pick since 1980 they played 39 seasons with one Pro Bowl appearance (Russell Maryland) between them.
2. Denver Broncos: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
With Peterson off the board, expect Denver to select the next-best defensive player who can help them the most: Da'Quan Bowers.
All signs point to the Broncos running a base 4-3 in 2011.
Elvis Dumervil will be back, but we don't know if he will be the same player he was a season ago.
Therefore, there isn't a legit three-down DE on their roster at the time.
Fairley would earn consideration, but most scouts grade him and Bowers about the same, and the team has many more players that fit the interior DL mold.
The combine is also a forum for Bowers to create some separation from Fairly both in drills and interviews.
3. Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Yes, I know Buffalo has a terrible defense, but their offense isn't much better.
If the team wants to stop the run, one thing that would help is not getting behind in every game, allowing the other team to milk the clock.
General manager Buddy Nix came out with some very interesting comments about the team's draft plans recently:
"To answer the question of third pick, whoever is there that we think is going to be a franchise impact player for us is the guy we'll draft."
Franchise impact player, eh? Sounds like a dynamic quarterback to me.
Although nobody is rushing to call him the No. 1 pick or top prospect in the draft, in large scouts and analysts are being very complimentary of Cam Newton's draft stock.
The best comparison he is generating is to Vince Young.
They are saying overall he is farther along developmentally than the player who went 8-5 as a rookie.
Last season Chan Gailey said he wanted a water-bug-type back and they got C.J. Spiller.
They aren't winning the AFC East next year no matter who they pick, so they need to build the franchise.
They can go after defense for the rest of the draft.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
There is bad blood in Cincinnati, and no relationship seems more strained than the one between Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis.
The franchise QB wants a chance to win a Super Bowl now that he's in the latter stages in his career.
He believes he needs to leave the AFC North to do so.
The Bengals could try to trade for another quarterback, but most feel Blaine Gabbert is the best QB prospect in the draft, which is very rare to come across with the fourth overall pick.
Obviously, the progression of this pick being made is connecting a few dots, although the outcome is not far-fetched.
Although it wouldn't be ideal for Gabbert to start as a rookie, he does appear to have the tools to do so.
His progressions may be cut down to half of the field, like Big Ben as a rookie, but his athleticism will allow him to make plays in a bind.
5. Arizona Cardinals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
It appears as if Larry Fitzgerald is czar of the Arizona Cardinals these days.
The team has a quality defense and their offense has potential if they could get a starting caliber QB—which I don't believe they currently have on their roster.
Picking a QB is an option, but with Newton and Gabbert off the board it becomes less likely, and a rookie might put them in the hole for another two years, anyways.
I really believe the team will make a move for Donovan McNabb later in the offseason upon Fitzgerald's request.
Another thing that will make things easier on Fitzgerald and whomever is playing QB will be upgrading their offensive talent.
Steve Breaston might not be brought back, and even if he is, I think he's a No. 3 receiver at best.
A.J. Green is being called one of the very best receiver prospects ever.
He has a rare blend of speed and size. He attacks the ball at its highest point and runs professional routes.
Green, Fitzgerald and McNabb can get this offense humming like it was with Kurt Warner and it can get Arizona back on top of the NFC West.
6. Cleveland Browns: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Finally Nick Fairley comes off the board.
Cleveland would like to get their hands on A.J. Green, and while Julio Jones is a respectable pick here, I think the Browns will pick from the top of the big board considering their defensive needs.
This would be considered a slide for Fairley—considering most have him slated as the top overall pick—but it's not far-fetched.
I'm not convinced Fairley will enter the combine in the same quality of shape than the other elite prospects will.
Of the non-QBs, he's the top 10 guy I have the most questions about.
I love what Fairley brings on the field—he plays with the same fire as a motivated Albert Haynesworth, and can make the same big time plays, but his motor isn't revving every play.
He's not Suh, but Fairley would be a steal for Cleveland.
If he starts to slide like this, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone trade up to grab him.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Two players solidified their NFL Draft stock at the Senior Bowl and the first one to come off the board in this mock is Von Miller.
He could even be off the board by this pick, he's that impressive.
Jim Harbaugh isn't going to alter SF's base 3-4 defense and the one thing the Niners have lacked since installing the scheme is dominant outside backer.
Although Miller doesn't have the body type that you typically desire from a edge rusher, nobody is concerned about his ability to produce.
One of the most unique prospects I've ever seen, Miller is extremely lean and has 34-inch arms—a mix that allows him to dip, rip and spin a flurry of speed moves offensive tackles can't seem to stop.
He is also very natural dropping in coverage, giving the defensive coordinator a deeper bag of tricks.
I don't see SF drafting a QB, which leads me to believe this pick is between Miller and Prince Amukamara.
Either would be good, but Miller has serious Hall of Fame potential.
8. Tennessee Titans: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Entering this offseason, Tennessee was faced with an ultimatum: Pick your QB or your coach.
Nobody thought they would be heading into 2011 without either.
We still don't know who will be the new coach in Tennessee, but so many times new coaches mean new quarterbacks.
Ryan Mallett is worthy of the eighth overall pick. His competition with Blaine Gabbert to see who will be the top traditional QB prospect is far from over.
The Titans would be an ideal landing spot for Mallett.
They have a nice, developing group of receivers, Chris Johnson to deflect pressure, and possibly Randy Moss.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The Dallas Cowboys posse was in full-force in Mobile, Alabama, the past week, meaning they had a front-row seat for Cameron Jordan's domination.
Many were calling Jordan the best prospect in the Senior Bowl.
I still like Miller more, but Jordan earned more publicity because the week really showcases offensive- and defensive-line battles.
Dallas wants to increase its aggressiveness on defense with the hiring of Rob Ryan.
There is the possibility Marcus Spears won't be resigned and combined with Igor Olshansky the two defensive ends didn't record a sack last season.
Jordan looks like a player who will make a living in the backfield. He has a great build and very quick, powerful hand moves.
Owner Jerry Jones expressed confidence in his two starting cornerbacks, which makes a front-seven pick all the more likely.
10. Washington Redskins: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Previously I had Jake Locker landing to Washington at 10.
But after the Senior Bowl week I cannot see him being a first-round pick.
The Redskins have plenty of other needs than quarterback though, and their offensive line is still very much patchwork.
Although I like Gabe Carimi more, the general consensus is that Nate Solder is the top OT prospect in the draft.
The position group really stood out in Mobile, which may have helped everyone increase their stock.
Finding a 6'8" tackle that can move like Solder is rare, and he is very intelligent too.
The biggest knock on him is that he plays to high—because of his height, he needs to sure he keeps his back low so smaller ends can't come back inside on him.
Julio Jones or a defensive tackle would make sense here, too, but we know Mike Shanahan is a big fan of building the offensive line.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Switching to Wade Phillips' 3-4 most expect Houston to spend their first-round pick adding front-seven personnel to fit the scheme, which would be a good pick if Prince Amukamura wasn't on the board.
There is a chance the Nebraska corner could threaten the top five, though the 11th overall pick wouldn't be considered a slide for him.
Houston's pass defense is troubled. Losing Dunta Robinson hurt, and last year's pick Kareem Jackson is still developing.
Amukamara could bring the position group up to respectable, even evoking the term "talented."
If Prince is gone, the top 3-4 OLB looks like the pick.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Possibly the best, least talked about prospect at this point of the draft.
Jimmy Smith is a silky-smooth 6'2" corner out of Colorado whom you may not have seen play because he was stuck on a Buffaloes team with two Big 12 wins in 2010.
Safety-sized, Smith is a tweener in a good way.
He is very comfortable playing press man coverage and sometimes it looks like he's hardly trying because of how effortlessly he blankets receivers.
The Vikings defensive backfield has had injury trouble last year.
With some DBs aging and other entering free-agency, this pick makes perfect sense.
The top rumor for the Vikings offense is that they are targeting Vince Young.
13. Detroit Lions: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Defensive end is not the biggest need for Detroit.
On defense corner and linebacker are the two most desired positions, but if Robert Quinn is on the board, it puts the team in quite the predicament.
Quinn is as boom-bust as they come after missing all of 2010 due to a suspension.
If he would have played, and built on his 2009 campaign, he would be challenging for the No. 1 overall pick right now.
The Lions have a great group of coaches, veterans and Suh to bring Quinn into.
And with all of the attention on Suh, it will allow Quinn to come off the edge one-on-one, where his size and speed alone seem good enough to get 10 sacks on a .500 team.
Akeem Ayers could easily be selected here, but without a worthy corner on the board, Quinn looks too good to pass up.
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The most cliche pick in my mock.
The Rams would love if they could get their hands on Julio Jones.
Every assumes this pick will go down if Jones is on the board, so teams 15 through 32 would need to trade up if Jones is their man.
There isn't a whole lot separating Jones and A.J. Green, which is why this is such a dream pick for the Rams.
Both are 6'4" and make catches at every level of the field.
Green is a bit more explosive than Jones, but Julio seems to have a stronger upper half that makes him a menace to tackle for DBs.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
I don't see eye-to-eye with Todd McShay on much, but I was glad to see he mocked Pouncey to Miami in his most recent draft—a pick I had made a few weeks prior.
Almost an identical prospect to his Pro Bowl brother, it's commendable that Mike went back to school for his Senior season to refine his craft.
It allowed him to become an experienced center, and Pouncey can be plugged in to any interior OL position from day one in the NFL.
It's a good thing for Miami, too, because they need answers at guard and center.
Many fans are crossing their fingers that Miami will select Mark Ingram.
It wouldn't be a blown pick, but it is far from the best option.
The team has to see if it can squeeze a few more years out of Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown with a new deal.
There are also some enticing free-agent backs out there and I like the ones that project to be on the board in the third round.
If I'm Miami, I would be targeting Daniel Thomas because of his power running and wildcat abilities.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
I've slotted Rahim Moore to Jacksonville for a while now because the pick just makes sense.
Mike Mayock said he sees similar ball skills to Earl Thomas in Moore, and he is the only safety prospect evoking a first-round grade from anyone.
The Jags DBs were painful to watch this year.
While their corners were lame, it was the safeties I was really disappointed in.
There were too many downfield passes where there wasn't even a safety in the frame, and when they did join the play, they were taking poor angles at the ball.
A defensive end or linebacker could go here, too, but Moore is the playmaker the team has been searching for for a while.
17. New England Patriots: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Marcell Dareus falling to 17—or later—would mark the biggest slip of the first round.
Previously I had Dareus going to Dallas before Cam Jordan's assent. Dareus is a prospect whom Mel Kiper believes will be the third overall pick in the draft at this time.
Every year, top prospects slide though and it's not unrealistic to assume Dareus will be that guy.
He isn't especially productive—in the past two years he has 66 tackles. His 11 sacks (22 TFL) over that time period are nice for a 3-4 DE, but they are far from elite.
Nick Fairley had 60 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 27 TFL in half the time.
He wasn't an every-down, every-game player, either.
It's anticipated that New England will add a down defender or two around Vince Wilfork this draft.
OT and OLB are options here, too, but Dareus is easily the top player on the general big board here.
18. San Diego Chargers: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Coming off of the Senior Bowl where we saw four SR OTs impress, it's easy to forget about Tyron Smith.
Before the week in Mobile he was the tackle moving up draft boards the quickest though, and the combine will only add to his allure.
The biggest question about Smith is how much weight he has on his frame.
At 280, he appears a little light to be a plug and play RT for SD. Adding weight shouldn't be an issue though.
The Chargers have a ton of options here. There are edge rushers, down defensive linemen and even receivers on the board that would fill needs.
The toughest position to mock in 2011 is tackle, though, and I'm plugging Smith in here as a great fit.
19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
NYG fans will be rocking Radio City Music Hall if Akeem Ayers is on the board when they pick.
There are a handful of really versatile linebackers in this draft.
But when you stand them side-by-side, none look more impressive than the 6'4" 250-pound Ayers.
We know the Giants like big prospects, so there is a fit there. Linebacker also appears to be the biggest team need right now.
Some feel this is a good time for the Giants to invest in OT depth but with the NFC East wide open, the Giants need to do everything they can to win the crown in 2011.
20. Tampa Bay Bucs: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
While there is a pretty broad projected draft range for J.J. Watt, after the combine 20 may seem like his floor.
The 6'6" man-child has been putting in work at Athletes Performance, a facility known for producing top-tier combine performances.
Some feel Watt's best fit is the 3-4, but If I'm running a 4-3, he's the ideal guy for one of my defensive ends.
No matter how much training he does, Watt will never be a speed rusher.
But he is more than adequate there and his blend of size and power make him an absolute force on the end.
There will be a good defensive end option on the board here for Tampa, so even if Watt is gone, I would expect them to go after one.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
It's going to be very tough to keep Aldon Smith out of the first round.
In fact, it may be tough for KC to get their hands on him after he lines up next to the other prospects at the combine.
Listed at 6'5" and 260 pounds, Smith appears to be telling the truth on tape. He is super long and agile; ultimately, he is exactly what teams look for in a college DE they want to make a 3-4 backer.
KC needs to bring back Tamba Hali this offseason. Along with that, they need to add a player opposite of him so KC can have a pass-rush attack resembling Pittsburgh.
I maintain that Mark Ingram would be a solid addition for KC.
I don't think they need to look for a WR in the first round.
Offense isn't their biggest problem though—they need to keep adding top-tier defensive talent through the draft so they can win the AFC West again.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
We know the Colts like to build their team through the draft opposed to free agency, which means they have a lot of work to do in April.
Their offensive line was sub-par this season, which is why Anthony Castonzo is a worthy addition to the roster.
The Colts biggest issue looks like right guard, but this may be considered too high to take Rodney Hudson off the board.
I would like to see Indy select an aggressive DT, or even a girthy DE that can get penetration.
The ideal pick there would be Stephen Paea, but his injury at the Senior Bowl makes it a question mark at 22.
Castonzo has the potential to be a franchise LT for the remainder of Peyton Manning's career and protecting him is the most important thing for the franchise.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
It's tough for me to mock Carimi because he looks like the best OT in the draft.
I would give him top 10 consideration, but that isn't the feedback from around the league.
He was the best tackle in Mobile this past week and I believe he sat out of the game more because of his agents than injury.
Andy Reid loves offensive linemen who play like Carimi.
He is massive and gets great movement in the run game. He can play LT in the NFL but would be an instant starter on the right side for the Eagles.
Last year's top SR Bowl performer Brandon Graham was Philly's top target, so you know they scout the week as intensely as anyone.
24. New Orleans Saints: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
It was a unfortunate to not see Cameron Heyward competing in the Senior Bowl due to Tommy John surgery.
Before last week, he stacked up very comparably with Cam Jordan, and if he had the same performance he could have secured top 15 status.
Possibly missing the combine, there is a chance he will slide out of the first round, although he has enough game film at an elite level to give teams a good look.
The biggest need for NO is linebacker. They have a lot of free-agency work to do, and there are also starting-caliber LBs in the second or third round.
Defensive end is one of the Saints needs, though.
They could use another three-down guy opposite of Will Smith.
Heyward can also slide over to tackle for an aggressive third-down look.
Ironically Cam's father Craig was picked with the 24th overall pick by New Orleans in 1988.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
It was a magical late-season run for Seattle, but at the end of the season, this is still a 7-9 team with needs on both sides of the ball.
DBs look like the biggest area of need. Earl Thomas is a keeper and Marcus Trufant can still contribute, but all-up the position group struggles.
Aaron Williams is the 6' Texas corner best known for knocking Sam Bradford out for the season last year.
So we know he can lay a hit but Williams is also impressive in coverage.
His ball skills are as good as any corner prospect not named Peterson, and he does a good job of positioning himself to make plays.
The Seahawks really need depth on the OL this draft, but I like the Texas connection to Thomas.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Before the Senior Bowl, Adrian Clayborn was competing to be named the top SR prospect in the draft.
He isn't a combine guy, so it doesn't look like there will be an opportunity for him to re-enter that conversation.
The Ravens wouldn't mind if he moves down a few picks though.
Clayborn would be another asset for Baltimore's physical front seven. Obviously, resigning Haloti Ngata is a must and continuing to add disruptive youth to the DL is the other goal for this offseason.
Taking Clayborn would be more of a BPA pick than anything else. If the board does shake out this way, I would expect Baltimore to trade down.
The team needs offensive linemen and corners but I don't expect Ozzie Newsome to reach.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
The question isn't whether the Falcons need to upgrade their second receiver—it's just what type of player do they want here.
Jon Baldwin has the size to wreak havoc downfield against single coverage and he is very capable underneath as well.
Expect Torrey Smith to garner a lot of attention at the combine the way Maryland players seem to.
Leonard Hankerson, Jerrel Jernigan, Greg Little and Titus Young are all fighting to be the third receiver off the board.
28. New England Patriots: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Ryan Kerrigan didn't have a bad SR Bowl.
I still think his ceiling is at 16 or 17, but he wasn't overly impressive either.
The problem is Kerrigan is about on-field production more than measurable. He's big but not huge. He's not fast but he's fast enough.
I was impressed to see Kerrigan enter Mobile at 255 pounds, which was 10 pounds lighter than his listed playing weight.
It means he wants 3-4 teams to know he is a fit at OLB and it also means he will be in the best shape of his life entering next season.
He's a high-motor guy, which is why I like Kerrigan so much.
Nobody will want to over-draft on him, but at the end of the day you would rather have him chasing the other teams QB than yours.
29. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Derrek Sherrod earned a fringe first-round grade with his play in Mobile, which should be good enough for the Bears to add him to their suspect offensive line.
At 6'5", he's a few inches smaller than the other elite tackle prospects, but he had the longest arms of the group and he plays very athletically.
Although he can still grow as a run blocker, he is very willing to get dirty there.
Chicago really struggled to establish a running game last year and Jay Cutler lived on his back foot.
Sherrod will help both causes.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
It looks like Kris Jenkins is done in NY.
Although the Jets have played well against the run, finally filling his shoes would allow Rex Ryan to get even more creative with his defense.
Most of the nose tackles you think about are older 350-pound pluggers.
That may be Phil Taylor in 10 years, but right now he looks more like B.J. Raji than Casey Hampton.
Taylor held 337 pounds better than anyone I've seen before. His gut wasn't slumping over his belt and he displayed elite quickness for his position at the Senior Bowl.
Last year, we saw the Jets take Kyle Wilson after a nice week in Mobile.
Taylor should be the pick this year because he won't be around 64 picks later when the Jets are on the board next.
31. Green Bay Packers: Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Martez Wilson can be special.
At 6'4" and 250 pounds he has been playing middle backer for Illinois.
Coming out of high school, he was the top DE recruit and Ron Zook compared him to Javon Kearse.
The Packers need depth at linebacker and they would like to get another top-tier pass-rusher opposite of Clay Mathews.
Wilson can solve all of their problems.
If somehow Gabe Carimi were on the board, I would like the pick for GB.
But it would be more of an insurance policy than anything immediately.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Whether they pick 31 or 32, if the Steelers are going BPA, it may not mean addressing their biggest needs (CB, OL) but rather keeping their defensive line the dominant force that it has been for decades.
Stephen Paea could be off the board by now, or he could still be there when Pittsburgh picks in the second round, depending on how his knee surgery goes.
Before being hurt in Mobile, Paea weighed in at 295 pounds.
This takes him out of nose tackle discussions at this point in his career, but it doesn't mean he's worthless to a 3-4 team.
The Pac-10 DPOY is very explosive out of his stance and he made a living in the backfield while in Corvallis.
Don't forget he probably has the best upper-body strength of any prospect—he has already lifted 225 pounds 44 times on tape.
His squat, bench, clean combo measured out to 1,565 pounds last spring.