January is almost over, and that means that we are one month closer to the 2011 NFL Draft. The draft order is nearly complete, with the final two slots to be determined based on the outcome of the Super Bowl.
Every team knows what their biggest weakness is and will look to address that at some point in the draft. Right now, we think we know who the top players in this year's draft class are, but all of that can change after the scouting combine and pro day workouts in February.
The NFL Draft is one of the great events in all of sports because of all the surprises, and the hope that it brings to every NFL fan around the world. The 2011 Draft will be no different.
This year's senior class has a number of talented players, but there aren't a lot of top tier talents among seniors. One senior who will not have to wait very long to hear his name called is Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. He is a top five talent and will likely be taken somewhere in the top 10.
One senior who was thought to be one of the top talents in this draft, Washington QB Jake Locker, does not make my first 32 picks. His accuracy and ability as a pocket passer concerns me, and I don't see him being a first round pick.
There are a number of players who can climb up the draft charts and guys who will fall far because of their workout in front of NFL scouts.
Here is our latest look at the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Who is rising? Who could be falling? All the answers lie in the following slides.
Nick Fairley established himself as the best prospect in this draft class with his performance against Oregon in the BCS National Championship game.
His numbers from the defensive tackle position in the SEC were phenomenal, 11.5 sacks is astounding.
The only concern I have is that this was his only productive year in college. It’s a minor gripe, but something to be taken into consideration.
Champ Bailey’s Denver days are numbered. They need to find a new, young presence in the secondary, and it’s hard to do a lot better than Patrick Peterson.
The LSU standout is the most NFL ready cornerback in this draft, and he has the most upside to go along with that.
Denver could go with Da’Quan Bowers here, but Peterson’s skill set and position will make him too tough to pass up.
The Bills could go a number of ways. If they decide that they want to help their QB Ryan Fitzpatrick they could take A.J. Green. If they want to get someone who can help neutralize Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez in that division, they could go after Prince Amukamara.
Their most pressing need is on the defensive line and Da’Quan Bowers can give them a great pass rusher, the likes of which they haven’t seen in Buffalo since Bruce Smith.
The Bengals are probably the most interesting team this draft. They are getting rid of their top two receivers, their quarterback wants out, they need a running back and they could use some help defensively.
With all of that, they are going to take A.J. Green because he is the best player on the board and he has the most upside of any player left. Scouts say that he is the best draft prospect at the receiver position since Calvin Johnson.
If Green comes close to that this will be a steal at the number four pick.
The Cardinals are in desperate need of a quarterback. Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert looks to be the best available option, at least right now.
Depending on how his workout goes, he could rise to the top of the draft or fall a little bit. He needs to improve his consistency from game-to-game, but he has the poise and accuracy to be successful in the NFL.
The Browns took a few baby steps in 2010. They found a really good cornerback with their first round pick last year, Joe Haden. This year they will continue rebuilding their defense, this time with the defensive line.
Dareus, who was named outstanding defensive player in the Alabama National Championship game in 2010, is really good against the run and the pass. He will improve the Browns defensive line right away.
It may be a pipe dream, but I think somehow, someway Kevin Kolb ends up in San Francisco. As a result, the 49ers will not have a need at quarterback. That will allow them to address their secondary, which has been disappointing the last few years.
Amukamara is every bit as good as Patrick Peterson is right now. He is a big, physical corner who can read the quarterback as well as any defensive back to enter the NFL in a long time.
The Titans are having quite the offseason. First, they announced that Vince Young wouldn’t be back. Then, they let go of Jeff Fisher, who has been with them since 1994.
On the field, they have to improve their pass rush. Their defensive line used to be their strength, back when they had Albert Haynesworth. They need to get a pass rusher, and Quinn is as good as anyone in this draft class.
The Cowboys secondary could use some help, but without any viable options at this point in the draft they will look to improve their pass rush. Kerrigan is not the most athletic guy in the world, but he makes up for it with a great first step and tremendous speed.
Plus, he fills a need because Marcus Spears, the Cowboys first round pick in 2005, will probably not be back next year.
The Donovan McNabb-era in Washington ended almost as soon as it began. Mike Shanahan will look to make his mark on this team in his second year as head coach, and he will do that by drafting his franchise quarterback.
That’s not to say Newton is a franchise quarterback right now, but of all the quarterbacks in this draft he has the most upside. He is a big, physical guy, in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger. He will have to improve his accuracy and prove he can run a pro-style offense.
The Texans biggest need is in the secondary. They were awful against the pass in 2010, and could make a trade to move up and get one of the top two cornerbacks.
Von Miller would not be a bad consolation prize. He is probably the best speed rusher in this draft. He is fast, and can get after the quarterback. He can be a great compliment to Mario Williams on the defensive front seven.
The Vikings need a quarterback, and Jake Locker could be their best option but he scares me to the point that he falls out of the first round. There’s no doubt that he is athletic, but he doesn’t seem to get how to play the quarterback position.
Instead, the Vikings will address their offensive line, which was a disappointment in 2010. Nate Solder is the best offensive lineman in this draft and the Vikings will be more than happy to grab him at this spot.
The Lions are only a player or two away from being a threat in the NFC North. They need Matthew Stafford to remain healthy for a full season, but other than that this team looks poised to breakout in 2011.
The defense still has some issues, but they have done a lot of good things to fix that over the last couple of years. This year they will continue the rebuilding with Aldon Smith from Missouri.
Sam Bradford had a fantastic rookie season, and he did so without anyone helping him on the outside. This year, the Rams will get him some help at the receiver position with Julio Jones.
This could be the next great quarterback-receiver combo in the NFL.
Ronnie Brown is probably done with Miami. Ricky Williams is getting older and the team needs to find a suitable replacement at the running back position. Mark Ingram had an uneven season with Alabama, but he is by far the best running back prospect in this draft.
The Jaguars could go after Ryan Mallett, but given the love affair that they seem to have with David Garrard don’t count on it. They will look to address their defensive line, which was 31st in the league in sacks in 2010.
Watt is 6-foot-6 and can overpower a lot of offensive linemen. That will be especially critical when they play Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub twice every year.
The Patriots secondary was a problem in 2010, but they were also a very young unit that will get better. Their next area of concern should be the defensive line, which was manhandled against the Jets in the playoffs.
Clayborn is fast and powerful and can create pressure from the defensive end position.
The Chargers have been looking for another speed rusher off the edge since Shawne Merriman was suspended for steroids and never looked the same after that. In fact, it was so bad that he was dealt to Buffalo.
Ayers is a west coast player who is very versatile and a tremendous athlete. He will fit in nicely with the Chargers defensive scheme.
Honestly, I don’t know where the Giants will go. They could go offensive line, defensive line, linebacker or secondary. Since it’s unclear where they will look to go in this draft, they get the best player available.
Scouts have mixed reports on what kind of player Paea will be, but he has the physical gifts to be a top flight defensive tackle in the NFL. The Giants love to load up talent on the defensive line and Paea will be another nice addition to an already formidable group.
Tampa Bay has a nice young core on offense led by Josh Freeman. They will add one more piece to that core with their first pick in the 2011 Draft.
Smith has great speed and will be a great deep threat for this offense moving forward. He had a fantastic year for Maryland and showed that he is capable of being a good NFL receiver.
The Chiefs had a breakout year in 2010. Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles all had breakout seasons for the offense, now they will need to fix some things on the defense.
Justin Houston is one of the breakout stars of this NFL Draft season. He didn’t get a lot of publicity during the year, but he has made an impression on scouts. So much so that he will be a first round pick.
The Colts sole purpose for existing is to do whatever Peyton Manning says. Last year, their offensive line was bad and that caused a number of problems for him. The Colts have to keep him upright if they want to have a chance to win.
Castonzo has question marks about his ability in pass protection, but he is big and that’s always an asset for an offensive lineman.
Michael Vick took a beating last year. Part of that is his natural style of play. Part of that is because the Eagles offensive line was pretty bad. The Eagles will want to protect their $20 million investment in Vick for 2011 and moving forward.
He can play in the NFL right now and will be an upgrade over almost anyone else on the Eagles line.
The Saints defense was exposed against Seattle in the playoffs. Their secondary has never been an area of strength, but since they created turnovers it was easy to mask. We found out how bad that secondary is when they don’t create turnovers.
The choice comes down to Williams or Brandon Harris from Miami. They will go with Williams because he is quicker, and able to get after the ball.
Despite what Seattle says about Matt Hasselbeck, they need to find a quarterback that can lead them in the future.
While Ryan Mallett is not a guarantee, he is the best available option at this point in the draft. He needs to work on his accuracy and not force so many passes, but he has the size and the arm to play in the NFL.
The Ravens are probably still reeling from their playoff loss to the Steelers. They could use a deep threat at receiver, but the safe bet would be on them addressing the defense.
Ed Reed is getting older, and while he is still productive he won’t be around forever. That could force the Ravens hand. Moore has great instincts at the safety position, and he can take his cues from Reed.
The Falcons secondary got exposed, first against New Orleans on Monday night in week 16 and then against Green Bay in the playoffs. If they want to become a Super Bowl team they have to address their secondary.
This draft is very cornerback heavy and Harris is the best of the cornerbacks left. He can upgrade their weak secondary the day he steps on the field.
First, the Patriots addressed the defensive line. Now, they will address the offensive line, which got exposed against New York in the playoffs.
Pouncey switched to center this year at Florida but he can play at guard. If he can play anywhere close to the level of his brother, Maurkice, the Patriots will be thrilled.
The Jets defensive line is getting older, and with Vernon Gholston being a colossal failure they need some help and youth. Jordan is quick off the edge and can create pressure from the defensive end position.
The Bears have a few areas of need, like receiver or offensive line. However, I believe they will give Julius Peppers a running mate on the defensive line and select Cameron Heyward.
He’s not a great pass rusher, but put him along side a guy like Peppers and he can develop into one.
This was the hardest team to draft for because they don’t appear to have any real weakness. You could say their running game, but they seem to have figured that problem out in the playoffs.
Since they are good at a lot of positions they can draft for the best available talent. In this case that would be Smith. He really impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl this past week and could be one of the fastest rising prospects as we move closer to the draft.
The Steelers seem to thrive every year despite having a bad offensive line. That line will have to play a lot better in the Super Bowl since they won’t have Maurkice Pouncey available. The Steelers will use their first round pick to address that issue.
Smith is an athletic lineman, who will make Roethlisberger and the running game better as he develops in the NFL.