2011 NFL Mock Draft: One More Look Before the Combine
The 2011 NFL Combine kicks off this week from Indianapolis, Indiana.
Here players will be poked, prodded, timed and questioned by seasoned NFL scouts, general managers and coaches. Offensive linemen will be asked to run 40 yards, quarterbacks will bench press 225lbs and linebackers will do virtually everything except show how well they can tackle. All in an effort to prove and improve their individual draft stock.
As the Combine and Pro Days soon after that near, we take one more look at the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft and project which of the top college football players will hear their name called on Day One.
32. Green Bay Packers
Derek Sherrod, Offensive tackle, Mississippi State
The defending Super Bowl champions face an offseason with few real needs to address, of course depending on if there is free agency and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
One need the Packers must address is at offensive tackle. Chad Clifton is aging, and often injured. Finding his replacement is key to the Packers future success. Bryan Bulaga was drafted in 2010 to fill one need at tackle, and he could play on the left side, but this creates a hole at right tackle. It's a never-ending cycle.
Sherrod is a left tackle by trade, but has the strength to play on the right side in a zone blocking system or West Coast offense. He is an underrated run blocker, and in pass protection he is NFL ready.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Pouncey, Offensive guard, Florida
The Steelers were so close to another Super Bowl ring, and we believe they have the talent to be back in the "big game" next season. The team is loaded at wide receiver, running back and on defense. They also have a top five quarterback and a young coach who are excellent leaders.
Where Pittsburgh is obviously lacking is on the offensive line and the secondary. With pick No. 31 the Steelers are in a great position to draft the best available cornerback or offensive lineman.
In this case the best available player happens to be the younger brother of 2010 rookie, and Pro Bowl selection, Maurkice Pouncey.
Putting the two Pounceys side by side will be an automatic improvement to the Steelers pass protection.
30. New York Jets
Cameron Heyward, Defensive end, Ohio State
Shaun Ellis is a candidate to leave via free agency this offseason, opening up a big hole on the three-man front in the Jets defense. Should Ellis return, the Jets are still in a position to get younger at defensive end.
Heyward is a stud at defensive end, and could be this draft's preeminent 3-4 defensive end prospect. He has an excellent combination of size, strength and speed. The Jets are lucky to find him still on the board. Heyward is also a great fit for the Jets scheme due to his ability to rush the passer at almost 300lbs.
29. Chicago Bears
Torrey Smith, Wide receiver, Maryland
The Bears surprised many people by winning 11 games this year, especially when you consider the sad state of their offensive line. Improvements need to be made at guard, where Chicago needs an upgrade in pass protection. Do not be surprised to see Chicago draft offensive linemen early in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Despite their woes on offense, the Bears were still one of the best teams in the NFL this season. Where can they make upgrades immediately to jump start the offense? They can start by drafting legitimate threats for Jay Cutler to throw to.
Smith is a burner, in fact he may be the fastest wide receiver in the draft, but he is also a good route runner and has impressive hands. He is no Dareus Heyward-Bey- which is a good thing.
28. New England Patriots
Mark Ingram, Running Back, Alabama
Bill Belichick has not historically drafted running backs high, especially after missing on Laurence Maroney. Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis did a fine job, but depth is a concern with the aging Fred Taylor as the best option behind them.
None of the players on the Patriots roster today have the same skills or impact ability that Ingram will bring from day one. For the Patriots to become more versatile, and more attacking, this pick is a need.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Rudolph, Tight End, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez is likely entering his final offseason in the NFL, as many expect him to retire after the 2011 season. Gonzalez is also free agent and nearing the very end of a Hall of Fame career. Atlanta will need to draft a tight end early to replace Gonzalez's role in this offense.
Rudolph, despite missing major minutes over the past two seasons, is by far the No. 1 tight end in the 2011 draft class. When healthy he has the skills to dominate.
Many question Rudolph due to numerous injuries, but a closer look reveals fluke injuries that are unlikely to hurt Rudolph in the NFL.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Brandon Burton, Cornerback, Utah
Cornerback is the most likely first-round priority for the Ravens. Dominique Foxworth missed the year to injury and could be slow to return in 2011. Josh Wilson is an able starter, but not spectacular, and Fabian Washington is a free agent. The Ravens could do well to upgrade with a first-round pick at cornerback.
Burton is a name that many are not talking about, yet. He is the lanky cornerback with good range and speed that NFL executives are looking for.
If the 2011 NFL Draft has a player comparable to Devin McCourty, this is him.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Nate Solder, Offensive tackle, Colorado
Russell Okung's rookie season has been up and down due to injury, but he looks like the long-term answer at left tackle. Right tackle is more of a question mark with Sean Locklear. Locklear will be a free agent and could leave for more money and a guaranteed starting job.
Tackle may not be the Seahawks primary need heading in to the offseason, but the team cannot pass on grabbing a franchise tackle late in round one. Solder will team with Russell Okung to give the Seahawks a dynamic one-two punch at left and right tackle.
24. New Orleans Saints
J.J. Watt, Defensive end, Wisconsin
Stopping the run continues to be a problem for the Saints, despite being improved in this area during the 2010 season. Getting a big body next to Sedrick Ellis, on either side, to plug running lanes will be an early focus of the Saints during the 2011 draft.
The Saints have needs at both end and tackle, so here is the Saints chance to fill a major need.
Watt is a stud at defensive end, and could be this draft's preeminent defensive end/tackle hybrid prospect. He has an excellent combination of size, strength and speed. The Saints are lucky to find him still on the board.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, Colorado
Ellis Hobbs, the team's number two corner, is a free agent after the season. The end of Round One would be a smart place to find a future starter at cornerback, leaving Round Two for the need at guard. Reid tends to like aggressive corners who attack the ball. Brandon Burton of Utah fits the Eagles' scheme very well.
The Eagles tend to like physical cornerbacks who can face the receiver and make plays on the ball. Jimmy Smith not only fits this mold, he has the size to run with the NFL's biggest receivers.
Smith's name is shooting up draft boards lately. He is a lock to hear his name called in Round One.
22. Indianapolis Colts
Adrian Clayborn, Defensive tackle, Iowa
If the Colts pass on a left tackle in the first round it will be to draft a defensive tackle. The position is bare right now, with many draft misses haunting the roster. Polian and Caldwell like small defensive tackles who can penetrate the offensive line and create pressure in the pocket.
Clayborn is a versatile defensive lineman, able to play either end or tackle without losing a step. He will fit in great at left end in the Colts attacking scheme.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Anthony Castonzo, Offensive tackle, Boston College
Right tackle has been the weak point on the offensive line in Kansas City this year. The Chiefs are not likely to draft a tackle early—that has never been Scott Pioli's style—but drafting a right tackle in the draft is something to expect.
We like to remind people that Scott Pioli drafted Sebastian Vollmer No. 58 overall to play tackle for the Patriots, who seemed to be set at the position at that time.
Castonzo is rated by many as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2011 class. He has great size and length and has shown to be an elite run blocker and pass protector. The Chiefs will plug him in at right tackle for the next decade.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Martez Wilson, Inside linebacker, Illinois
Tampa Bay in the early 2000s was known for its defense. Not so in 2010. The Buccaneers will need to remake their front seven through the draft and free agency to compete with the Falcons and Saints again next year. Re-signing inside linebacker Barrett Ruud should be part of the Bucs' plans, as should drafting at least one outside linebacker.
With no Collective Bargaining Agreement right now, and thus no free agency, Barrett Ruud's future in Tampa Bay is seriously in question. As such, the only logical choice for Tampa at pick No. 20 is to find an inside linebacker.
Wilson is the draft's best inside 'backer. He has not seen his name hyped as much as other linebackers, but he has the solid talent to be an impact player in the NFL.
19. New York Giants
Tyron Smith, Offensive tackle, USC
Injuries decimated the Giants offensive line this year, but this also exposed weaknesses and areas of need. No position needs more attention than offensive tackle. Building depth at tackle is a need, but the Giants can also look for young players who can eventually start.
With Tyron Smith on the board late in round one the Giants cannot afford to pass on him. Smith is an athletic bookend with great feet and agility to block in a zone running scheme, but the power to line up and move the pile in a power running game.
18. San Diego Chargers
Akeem Ayers, Outside linebacker, UCLA
Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett enter free agency after the season. Donald Butler could start in replacement of one of them next year, but he missed 2010 with a torn Achilles tendon and has no NFL experience. The Chargers have also shown in the past that they will draft an outside linebacker even when they are set at the position. Adding a solid No.3 pass rusher behind Larry English and Shaun Phillips would be a smart play for the Chargers in the middle rounds.
Ayers is an interesting prospect. An outside linebacker at UCLA, he could easily play inside in a 3-4 scheme as a MIKE linebacker. With good agility and lateral speed, Ayers has the make up to attack the ball inside the hashes.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland)
Gabe Carimi, Offensive tackle, Wisconsin
Matt Light is a free agent after the playoffs and could fall under the Patriots' history of not re-signing older players. Light can be replaced on the left side by Sebastian Vollmer, but this leaves a hole on the right side. No matter what is done with Light, adding a future right tackle is a focus for New England with one of their three picks in the first 33 selections.
Carimi is slightly underrated by NFL analysts and TV scouts, but having seen him first-hand numerous times it is hard to not be impressed with Carimi's ability on the blind side. He is a dominant force in the run game, and has the tools to become an elite pass protector.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive end, Purdue
Aaron Kampman can be a dominating pass rusher, but for the second straight year he tore an ACL and had to have surgery. His long-term value has to be in question. This makes adding a defensive end in the first round all the more important for Jacksonville.
The Jaguars were seen interviewing Kerrigan at the Senior Bowl, which can mean very little, but it is also well know they want to add a young defensive end to round out a very talented defensive line. A great week at the NFL Combine could propel Kerrigan to the top fifteen of the NFL Draft.
15. Miami Dolphins
Mikel LeShoure, Running Back, Illinois
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will both enter free agency this offseason. The Dolphins are not expected to bring both back and could ultimately choose to start fresh at the position and let both leave. Whichever they decide, running back figures to be a key need for Miami in the draft.
LeShoure is not as high on some boards as we have him, but you cannot help but fall in love with his combination of power, speed and agility in the open field.
14. St. Louis Rams
Julio Jones, Wide receiver, Alabama
The Rams did a lot this year with little talent at receiver. Donnie Avery will be healthy next year, and Danny Amendola is a nice slot receiver. The jury is out on Danario Alexander as a true No. 2 receiver, but he looks promising. With a young quarterback, the Rams could afford to add more talent at receiver.
Should Jones fall to No. 14 overall the Rams will have found an absolute steal for new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and franchise quarterback Sam Bradford to work with. Jones can be inconsistent at times, but he also has a rare ability to pressure a defense and make plays.
13. Detroit Lions
Brandon Harris, Cornerback, Miami (FL)
As good as the Lions were in the 2010 NFL Draft, they were not able to find a No. 1 cornerback. This will be the Lions' focus as they enter the offseason. In fact, the Lions could use two picks early on drafting corners. The talent here is very weak in Detroit right now.
Harris might be a slight reach at No. 13 overall, but he fills a huge need and has the potential to play up to his draft position. The Lions cannot afford to pass on a shut down cornerback, nor do they have needs at other positions with valuable players sitting on the board here.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Aldon Smith, Outside linebacker, Missouri
Chad Greenway and Ben Leber will be free agents, well they will be if a new CBA is signed. It is unlikely both will leave, but losing even one makes this a priority for Minnesota. Losing both would be devastating.
Smith is a project, as a redshirt sophomore he will need work in the NFL, but he can get by on pure athleticism early in his career. The Vikings defense needs a player with this kind of speed and playmaking ability. Some look at Smith as a 3-4 linebacker only, but he has shown the speed and hips to drop in to coverage in a 4-3.
11. Houston Texans
Robert Quinn, Outside linebacker, North Carolina
The Texans are making the change to a 3-4 defense this year, which means they will be drafting players for virtually every position on defense. Stars Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing will be asked to play positions they are unfamiliar with, leaving the Texans without a presence on the edge to rush the passer.
Quinn may have missed the 2010 season, but people in the know are still raving about his potential and skill set. An end at North Carolina, Quinn has the ideal size and speed to play rush 'backer in the Texans system.
10. Washington Redskins
Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, Missouri
Donovan McNabb is essentially waiting to be cut this offseason, leaving the Redskins with Rex Grossman as their best quarterback.
No one position holds more weight in the 2011 NFL Draft to the Redskins success than quarterback. This has to be a first-rounder if a legitimate veteran is not added via free agency or a trade.
Gabbert is this draft's best quarterback, but he is not on the same level as Sam Bradford in 2010, or Matthew Stafford in 2009. Gabbert has the mobility and arm strength to be dangerous in the NFL.
9. Dallas Cowboys
Cameron Jordan, Defensive end, California
This all hinges on if Marcus Spears is back in 2011. If Spears does re-sign with Dallas in free agency they have a good foundation here and only need depth. Without Spears, you have to look at defensive end as a top need for the Cowboys. Jerry Jones was very public about improving the defense. This could be step one.
Jordan will catch the eye of many scouts and general managers as we get closer to the draft. He has a deadly combination of strength, speed and nastiness. He has top ten talent and plays a premium position (defensive end), which generally means an early draft choice. Jordan has elite ability and would be a great addition in Dallas.
8. Tennessee Titans
Prince Amukamara, Cornerback, Nebraska
The Titans franchise is in shambles. Gone are head coach Jeff Fisher and franchise quarterback Vince Young, with relative newbie Mike Munchak taking over as the top dog.
Quarterback is the obvious need here, but word has it the Titans do not want to invest top ten money in a quarterback again.
Alterraun Verner has been a nice surprise for the Titans. With Cortland Finneran already a very solid starter, Tennessee has two good young corners, but this is still a need for the Titans. Tennessee is also is a good spot to draft the best available player on the board.
Amukamara might be the best cornerback in the entire draft. He has good size, is aggressive and will play well in a man or zone scheme.
7. San Francisco 49ers
Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M
The 49ers plan to keep their 3-4 alignment on defense, meaning they must look to improve at outside linebacker. Speed is needed, but more importantly they need an edge rusher who can scare offenses. This is something San Francisco never had under Mike Nolan or Mike Singletary.
Miller's stock is rising as the draft nears. He showed at the Senior Bowl that he can not only rush the passer but set the edge and stuff the run when needed.
6. Cleveland Browns
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Georgia
As Colt McCoy matures and becomes the Browns' franchise quarterback, he will need receivers to grow with him. Cleveland could pull the trigger as early as Round 1 on a No. 1 receiver for McCoy.
Should the Browns decide to go after a wide receiver in the first round they will be lucky to find A.J. Green on the board. Green has a rare ability to attack the ball and make plays after the catch. He'll be a fan favorite immediately in Cleveland.
5. Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU
The Cardinals, like many NFL teams this offseason, need a quarterback. John Skelton, Max Hall or Derek Anderson are penciled in as the starting quarterback for 2011 right now, but as many analysts are saying now- there are no quarterbacks worthy of this selection if Cam Newton is off the board.
This leaves Arizona in position to draft the best player available, which is clearly Peterson. In fact, some have Peterson rated as their No. 1 overall player.
The Cardinals do need a cornerback to line up opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they find a damn good one in Peterson. Not only is he a shut down cornerback, he is an electric return man who could spark the Cardinals special teams play.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Da'Quan Bowers, Defensive end, Clemson
We have a feeling the Bengals will find a way to re-sign both Cedric Benson (RB) and Jonathan Joseph (CB) this off-season.
Carlos Dunlap flashed his brilliance in 2010, but his potential was haulted by injuries. Dunlap will be back in 2011, a fact that has many Bengals fans excited and optimistic. Opposite Dunlap, there is a need at end. A pass rusher with speed is a welcome addition to Cincinnati and could be the team's focus with the fourth overall pick.
Bowers is the ideal prospect for a 4-3 defense. He is big, fast and strong enough to set the edge in run support. His raw athleticism and ability will make his name a hot topic early in the 2011 draft.
3. Buffalo Bills
Cameron Newton, Quarterback, Auburn
Many Bills fans may argue that Ryan Fitzpatrick showed enough in 2010 to be considered the team's answer at quarterback. I do not disagree, but the goal here is to project what NFL teams will do in April, not necessarily what we would do.
Newton is a phenomenal athlete who is learning the ropes at quarterback. He may not be ready to play in 2011, which is fine because he can learn behind Fitzpatrick for a year or two before taking over. This is the ideal plan for the Bills franchise, as they find a long-term answer at quarterback and excite a fan base that needs reason to be optimistic.
2. Denver Broncos
Marcell Dareus, Defensive tackle, Alabama
The Broncos will move to a 4-3 defense for 2011 after employing a 3-4 for the past several seasons. To do this they must draft players to fit the mold of their new front, as no existing players have the skill set to play inside in a four-man front.
Dareus is an exciting player, when motivated. Many will warn of his lack of drive and poor work ethic, but when he is on few players can compare to the talented tackle.
Look for Dareus' name to really start rising as we near the draft.
1. Carolina Panthers
Nick Fairley, Defensive tackle, Auburn
The Panthers are faced with an interesting position with the No. 1 overall pick. This is a team with holes at almost every position, and a draft class with no clear-cut top player. The Panthers could realistically draft one of six players and hear few arguments from draft pundits.
With the first pick they will consider Fairley, Marcell Dareus, Da'Quan Bowers, A.J. Green, Cam Newton and Patrick Peterson- and may the best man win.
In our eyes, and in looking at where the Panthers needs are, Fairley is the smart pick. He is the most dominating player of the group, is NFL ready, and plays at a key position for the rebuilding franchise.