The questions have already started to loom about which player the Carolina Panthers are going to select with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft.
With the March 4 deadline for the new labor agreement steadily approaching, questions about the draft and a potential rookie wage scale have been sort of put on the back burner because it seems as though the NFL and the NFLPA are miles apart in the negotiations of the revenue split.
As far as we know, the 2011 NFL Draft will go as planned, so here is my first-round mock draft. Feel free to comment below, and I will be sure to give my reasons for the pick.
In August of 2010, I did an NFC Power Rankings article placing the Panthers as the second-worst team in the NFC. My reason behind that was I did not think they were going to be able to recover from the loss of Julius Peppers.
Turns out, they had many more problems than that, especially at QB. However, with Andrew Luck returning to school, I don't see them taking a QB here unless Cam Newton continues to wow like he did for the media on Thursday.
Bowers fills an immediate need at defensive end and will be an impact player. He finished the year with 16 sacks and was a consistent producer all season long.
Drawback - He was not that great in his first two seasons with the Clemson Tigers; some might consider him a one-hit wonder. However, Jason Pierre-Paul only played one year at USF and played very well for the Giants this season, so I doubt the Panthers would put too much stock into his freshman and sophomore seasons.
If you need proof that Nick Fairley can change a defense, you need only to watch the Alabama vs. Auburn game when Fairley missed the first half.
The Tigers were down 24-0 by halftime but came back to win 31-24 on the road and beat their arch rivals.
Fairley is the type of player that teams dream about. A guy who can come in and instantly make every single person on the defense better. His ability to stuff the run is unmatched, and he is still quick enough to bring pressure up the middle.
If you know anything about pro football, QBs can almost never escape pressure from the middle unless their name is Michael Vick.
The Broncos had one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL this season and will be looking for a dominant defensive tackle as they are switching back to a 4-3 scheme. If the Panthers pass on Fairley, the Broncos will count their lucky stars.
The Bills have a lot of work to do, but they would benefit from taking a guy like Von Miller. The Bills did not have a specific defense this season and used both the 3-4 and 4-3 at times, but were mainly a 3-4 defense, which Von Miller excelled at in college.
As a junior, the Aggies ran a modified 4-3 with Miller at the so-called "joker" linebacker spot, which required him to rush the passer as well as play coverage. Miller led the NCAA with 17 sacks.
With the switch in 2010, Miller had similar duties in a more traditional 3-4 under coach Tim DeRuyter and played just as well.
What most impressed scouts and has made him a consensus top-five pick was how much he dominated the Senior Bowl; he was the best player on the field for the South.
Many have compared him to a faster version of Clay Matthews, which is something teams are not going to want to pass up.
With the potential of both Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco leaving this year, the need for a wide receiver becomes pretty drastic.
Some say AJ Green is the most talented player in the draft this year, so don't expect him to fall past the first five picks.
This could change in the coming two months if the rumors that Carson Palmer is on his way out of Cincinnati are true. He has apparently put his house up for sale.
Cam Newton did a lot for his draft stock with his workout on Thursday, so he could be climbing up people's boards in the next couple weeks. Trent Dilfer just about made love with the guy after his workout; he sounded like a school boy in love on SportsCenter.
As of now, we have to assume Palmer is still going to be there, so Green is the pick.
The top five and no offensive lineman taken? Yea, that says something about this year's class.
The Cardinals always need help on the defensive side of things, but they could also be in the market for a quarterback if they don't get Kevin Kolb or Marc Bulger (per Larry Fitzgerald's request).
However, Peterson is an unbelievable talent that most people have going higher than this, so they wouldn't pass if he fell down to them.
The Cleveland Browns released Shaun Rogers this week. Does that ring any bells as to who they might be targeting?
If the top two defensive linemen are off the board as expected, Marcell Dareus or Robert Quinn would be the selection here.
The defensive line is a dire need for the Browns, and it's really a toss-up as to which they would take, an end or a tackle. I like Dareus more because a dominant defensive tackle does so much for a defense, and Mike Holmgren is smart enough to know that.
The Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco is almost certainly going to begin with him getting a quarterback that he signs off on, whether it be through trade or free agency. Rumors have floated that Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb are options, which could help this team drastically.
That way, they wouldn't have to waste a first-rounder on a project and could get someone that can help right away.
Quinn did not play this past year due to NCAA violations, but nobody really considers him a bad character guy. He was a consensus top-five pick before the season and not much has changed.
People are marveling at Gabbert's height, size, arm strength and quick release (Joe Flacco anyone?). The Titans are in need of a franchise QB after letting No. 3 overall pick of the 2006 draft Vince Young go this offseason.
It's anyone's guess as to whether or not that will be Gabbert or Cam Newton; frankly I'm not sold on either, but until Newton works out in a non-controlled environment, I think his stock is going to remain relatively the same.
The Dallas Cowboys have never had a good enough secondary to put them over the top as an elite defense. They have gotten used to the fact that their defensive front will get pressure on QBs, and they won't have to cover for very long.
Well, that wasn't really the case this year, and an upgrade at the position is almost certainly going to happen unless both of the top CBs are taken in the top eight picks.
Prince Amukamara was considered the best DB in the nation by many, although Patrick Peterson won the Jim Thorpe award.
Picking between those two is like picking between your favorite two supermodels; you would love to have either one.
Just to give you some perspective on to how much stock people are placing into Cam Newton's recent workout, I had to scroll to page five of his pictures to get past pictures from that day's workout.
Cam Newton did a lot to solidify a spot in the top 10, it just now depends on which team wants him. I could see him going as high as No. 3 to Buffalo or No. 4 to Cincinnati.
The bottom line is this guy has Tim Tebow-type leadership on the field (although not near as much off it) and makes everyone around him better. I'm not sure if his running ability would translate to the NFL, but the ability to make plays outside the pocket while scrambling certainly will.
He also has incredible arm strength, something we really haven't seen out of a running QB. I can't wait to watch this guy play in the NFL; he is the complete package.
Although Smith missed some of the season, the Texans will need to bolster their outside linebacking corps, considering they are switching to a 3-4 under Wade Phillips. Right now, the only viable candidate at the position is Conner Barwin, so they need another reliable option and will almost certainly look to fill that spot with the No. 11 pick.
They also need a nose tackle, but unless Marcell Dareus miraculously falls this far, they will take either Smith or Akeem Ayers.
Cameron Jordan did a ton for his draft stock at the Senior Bowl, and if it weren't for Von Miller, he probably would have been the best player out there.
The Vikings are almost certainly going to take a quarterback at some point, but since the first two are off the board, they will probably wait until the later rounds to get Christian Ponder or Jake Locker.
Nate Solder is drawing comparisons to Tony Boselli with his size (6'8'', 315) and athleticism. The Lions need someone to protect Matt Stafford, but they opted to take Ndamukong Suh last year. This year they need to find that stable presence at the second-most important position on offense.
Solder is an unbelievable talent and has room for improvement—don't expect the Lions to pass on him if he falls this far.
The Rams suffered several injuries to their receiving corps that was just above average to begin with. Now that they have their QB and a pesky defense, they need to start giving their QB weapons to help him.
Julio Jones only has one weakness in that he has a tendency to drop balls on occasion. Other than that, he is a tremendous athlete and would give the Rams a serious chance to win their division next year.
The Dolphins would also love to take a QB here, but none of the others warrant a pick this high. They may try and move down to get their guy and get value as well, but for now, let's just assume they select here.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both free agents, and Brown has trouble staying healthy. Ingram won the Heisman Trophy in 2009, so what else do you need to know?
How about 2,533 yards and 30 touchdowns in his two years as the full-time starter in the toughest defensive conference in college football? Yea, I'd say he's pretty good.
Clayborn is an athletic monster, weighing 280+ pounds and running a 4.8 40. In fact, he probably would be selected higher if it weren't for questions about his character after pleading guilty to an assault charge.
Iowa had one of the best defenses in the country, and Clayborn was a huge reason for that.
I think we can all agree that the Patriots not moving down from this spot is about as likely as Jake Locker being taken No. 1 overall. That said, I'm not going to predict any trades in my mock.
Ayers is someone who fits the 3-4 scheme very well as he can get after the quarterback, and he is also a turnover machine. In his two years as a starter, he forced eight turnovers on his own.
This is pretty simple. Both of the Chargers' defensive ends are free agents, and there is a question whether both would return.
Watt had a fantastic season and is a good fit for the 3-4 scheme run by the Chargers. He had 11 sacks in his two years as a starter and does a terrific job of disrupting run plays and making tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Giants need help all over the offensive line with basically all of their starters creeping up in age. However, where they need help the most is two positions that Mike Pouncey could fill.
Twin brother of Maurkice Pouncey, Mike played guard and was an All-American before his brother left for the NFL. In his senior season, he switched to center and was selected to the All-SEC second team.
Both the Giants' starting left guard and center are currently in rehab after major surgeries, so there is a question as to whether or not one or both can return.
Pouncey is also helped by the fact that his brother had a Pro Bowl season in Pittsburgh.
The Bucs finished tied for second-to-last in the NFL with only 26 sacks, so they will need a pass rusher to complement their first-round pick from last season—DT Gerald McCoy.
Kerrigan finished the 2010 season with the most tackles for loss at 26 and also complemented that with 12.5 sacks. He has enough film to warrant being a top-20 pick, so I don't imagine anything he does in the combine would change that, for better or worse.
The Chiefs' inability to stop the run killed them late in the season and against the Ravens in the playoffs, so they will be looking for a dominant nose tackle in this year's draft. The Chiefs were 19th against the run in 2010.
Other than Dareus, Liuget is the best defensive tackle prospect. He may not fall this far if he has a good combine, but that's how the chips have fallen so far so I had to go with Liuget.
Tyron Smith is another athletic specimen that I can't believe I let fall this far, but once he got past the Patriots, I couldn't justify it until now.
The Colts have allowed Peyton Manning to suffer bad protection for far too long. Smith will come in as an immediate upgrade over any left tackle on the Colts roster.
The Eagles were fourth worst in the NFL at protecting their QBs, which is insane to think about considering they had Michael Vick starting for most of the year.
Vick matured as a pocket passer and was the runner-up for MVP, so they need someone to protect him so he can stay in the pocket longer and stay healthy.
I'm not sure how his character issues in the past are going to affect Taylor's status, but this selection was pretty much a best available for a minor need. All of the first-round defensive ends have been selected in this mock draft, so the next best thing for New Orleans would be to help their 17th-ranked run defense.
Taylor played extremely well for Baylor and stayed out of trouble after being cut from Penn St. The Saints could always use help on defense and a dominant defensive tackle does wonders for a team.
The Seahawks had a terrible pass defense that was exploited by Jay Cutler in the playoffs. They need help all across the board so who knows where they are going with this pick.
Seeing as how all the best pass rushers are gone, they will probably try and find a shutdown corner to go along with first-round safety Earl Thomas.
Is it me or do Miami's defensive players almost always work out in the NFL? Harris has the film to prove he is going to be a stud at the next level.
If you need to know what Titus Young brings to the table, just watch that amazing catch he had in the Nevada game that set up the...missed field goal.
Either way, that catch he had was awesome, and he did everything he needed to do to solidify his position in the first round at the Senior Bowl. Many people considered him the best offensive player during practice.
His speed is what the NFL scouts are drooling over, and the Ravens need speed at that position.
Remember the last tall, fast, lanky end zone threat to come out of Pittsburgh as a wide receiver? Larry Fitzgerald.
While most don't consider Jonathan Baldwin to have the same abilities, he is still worth putting opposite Roddy White in Atlanta and having those two become possibly the deadliest 1-2 combination at the position.
He is not elite in the speed category, but he is 6'5'', has great hands and can jump through the roof.
Right now, Carimi doesn't project well as a left tackle at the next level, but the Patriots have one of the best offensive line coaches in the game and can mold Carimi to protect Tom Brady's blind side.
Matt Light is a free agent in March, so the Patriots may be looking for a replacement if he commands too much money.
One thing Carimi brings to the table is he is an elite run blocker, something the Patriots have not been great at over the years.
Castonzo is another guy that is a great athlete for his position, but that hasn't seemed to help him much so far in the draft process.
At the Senior Bowl they experimented moving him inside to guard for the game, and that failed miserably. Even when he was practicing as a tackle, he didn't play very well.
All that seems to have done is make people change him from a top-15 pick to a top-30 pick; he still had a good career at Boston College.
The Jets believe they can never have too many pass rushers, and with Shaun Ellis being 34 and a free agent, I expect the Jets will either let him chase his money and look for a replacement or sign him and get a backup so they can monitor his plays.
Either way, it means they will draft a defensive end that fits their scheme.
You may ask why the Jets wouldn't upgrade their offense because their defense is already so great, but they don't exactly have many holes on offense that are worth first-round picks.
The Super Bowl really exposed the Steelers for having very average corners; if they had anyone who could cover Greg Jennings they may be picking one selection later instead of here.
Jimmy Smith is really creating a buzz for himself thus far this offseason and could move up even further on people's boards before the process is over. The Steelers don't have that many holes, so they need to fix their one glaring hole with this pick.
The Packers won the Super Bowl and, on paper, don't have that many holes. The guys they used at defensive end in their 3-4 scheme were all very serviceable, but they could look to add depth at the position.
Honestly, with how many injuries they had this year, they could be looking to add depth at several positions.
It's amazing how they were still able to win it all with 15 players on IR, but that goes to show how great of talent evaluators they have in Green Bay, and their backups were all ready to go when called upon.
In all honesty, I had no idea who those guys playing defensive end were when I watched the Packers against my Giants and in the playoffs, so that's what makes me think this is their only weakness.
Anyone else see a dynasty coming?