The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine is set to get under way later this week, so a final pre-combine mock draft is in order.
The top of the 2011 NFL is full of question marks. This draft class lacks a true number one prospect, creating a lot of uncertainty amongst the top five picks. Nick Fairley, Da’Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green have all solidified themselves as top five prospects, but who else could sneak into that mix?
A handful of candidates have emerged over the past couple of weeks. After holding a private workout for the media, Cam Newton has created a lot of buzz as a potential top 10, or even top five pick. His stock should continue to rise with a strong combine workout. Meanwhile, Von Miller dominated the Senior Bowl, potentially pushing his stock into the top five range. There is not much of a chance he sneaks past the Arizona Cardinals at number five overall.
A lot will change in the next couple of month leading up to April’s draft, but for now here’s how I see it playing out.
1. Carolina Panthers (2-14) – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn -
The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine is going to wonders for Cam Newton’s draft stock. He is an impressive physical specimen standing at 6’6” tall and weighing 250 pounds. Newton is certainly raw, but his talent and upside are undeniable. Off the field issues aside, he is a top 10 talent.
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In a draft with no clear cut number one prospect, the Carolina Panthers could take a shot at Cam Newton. Jimmy Clausen is not the answer under center, and the Panthers desperately need a franchise signal caller
2. Denver Broncos (4-12) – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn -
In an ideal scenario for the Denver Broncos, Nick Fairley would fall to them at number two. The Broncos are shifting to a 4-3 defense and need a lot of pieces. For now, the plan is to have Robert Ayers and Elvis Dumervil play the defensive end positions, but there is a huge vacancy at defensive tackles.
Fairley is an ideal fit for the 4-3 defense. A disruptive force and powerful at the point of attack, Fairley will be a difference maker from day one for this defense.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12) – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M -
The Buffalo Bills recorded just 27 sacks in 2010, which was the fourth lowest total in the NFL. They need an upgrade at the outside linebacker position considering Aaron Maybin and Shawne Merriman are the most promising pass rushers on the roster.
Von Miller dominated at the 2011 Senior Bowl. Adam Schefter reported that Miller had moved his stock into the top five with his performance. He is an outstanding pass rusher with a quick burst off of the line of scrimmage and a nonstop motor. Chan Gailey coached Miller at the Senior Bowl, so he is well aware of what this kid can do for his defense.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson -
This pick comes down to A.J. Green and Da’Quan Bowers. Positional value takes precedent here. An elite pass rushing defensive end is one of the most valuable commodities in today’s NFL. Bowers has all the makings of a difference maker at defensive end. He has elite physical tools to go along with his impressive production. Bowers is a lock for the top five.
5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11) – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU -
Cardinals beat writer Kent Summers reported that the odds of the Cardinals selected a quarterback with this pick are 70-1. Blaine Gabbert will not be the pick. Arizona will sign a veteran or stick with John Skelton rather than risk the future of this regime with a rookie signal caller.
Patrick Peterson is considered by many to be the most talented player in the 2011 NFL Draft. Arizona’s secondary was pedestrian at best in 2010, allowing opposing signal callers to throw for over 225 yards a game. Peterson could step in immediately and upgrade that secondary as well as provide impact plays in the return game.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11) – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia -
Everything falls into place perfectly for the Cleveland Browns in this mock draft. Colt McCoy needs some weapons with which to work and A.J. Green is the best player available at this juncture. The former Georgia Bulldog is an elite receiver prospect in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald. The Browns would love to secure his services without having to move up.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama -
Much like their NFC West counterparts, the San Francisco 49ers are not likely to address the quarterback position this early in the 2011 NFL Draft. Jim Harbaugh has shown interest in acquiring a veteran to fill the need for a franchise quarterback in San Fran. Instead, Harbaugh and company should turn their attention to the defense.
Marcell Dareus is arguably the best defensive lineman in the 2011 NFL Draft. He strung together consistent production while at Alabama. He played 32 games in his Crimson Tide career and faced double teams for the better part of it. Dareus’s impact will largely go unnoticed as a 3-4 defensive end, but he would be a key component to turning around the 49ers defense.
8. Tennessee Titans (6-10) – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri -
With a new head coach and no franchise quarterback in place, the Tennessee Titans are a prime candidate to select a quarterback early in April’s draft.
Blaine Gabbert may not have turned heads with his production in Mizzou’s spread offense, but his skill set better suits the pro game. He is a tremendous athlete, has an ideal frame and arm strength, and a good head on his shoulders. Gabbert should find success at the next level.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Get ready for the Nate Solder hype train to reach full speed this weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine. Solder stands in at 6’8” tall and has plenty of room to bulk up on his frame. The Colorado product has drawn comparisons to Tony Bosseli due to his height and athleticism.
Jerry Jones has to be concerned about protecting his franchise quarterback. Solder would be a fixture on the left side of the line for years.
10. Washington Redskins (6-10) – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama -
With Santana Moss scheduled to be a free agent, the Washington Redskins will have nothing but mediocrity at the wide receiver position. For years the Skins have searched for a quality wideout across from Moss, but have come up empty every time.
Julio Jones is not far behind A.J. Green as a receiver prospect. He has a massive frame and ideal speed to be an elite number one target. Whomever the Redskins choose to put under center needs to be surrounded with some talent.
11. Houston Texans (6-10) – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska -
The Texans had major issues in the secondary in 2010, allowing opponents to gain over 265 yards a game through the air. Houston has the worst secondary in the NFL and talent is needed at multiple positions.
Prince Amukamara would be the perfect starting place for the rebuilding of this defense. He has elite cover skills, but concerns about his straight line speed and quickness could drop him out of the top ten picks.
12. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina -
It’s no secret that the Minnesota Vikings are in search of a new franchise quarterback. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the value does not match the pick at this point. Instead they will opt to address a slowly aging defense.
With Ray Edwards hitting free agency, the Vikings will need some help on the defensive line across from Jared Allen. Many are projecting Robert Quinn as a 3-4 rush linebacker, but his skill set is ideal for the 4-3 defensive end position.
13. Detroit Lions (6-10) – Tyron Smith, OT, USC -
The Detroit Lions draft based on value not need. So forget about a cornerback, because there is not one available that is worth the 13th overall selection. Left tackle is also a huge need for this team and Tyron Smith is worth the selection.
Arguably the best left tackle in the 2011 NFL Draft, Tyron Smith has the athleticism and technique to be a franchise left tackle. The Lions will recognize his significant positional value and start to protect their franchise quarterback.
14. St. Louis Rams (7-9) – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri -
Julio Jones is the most popular choice for the Rams, but he is off the board in this mock. Aldon Smith is not a bad consolation prize. The athletic freak is a more polished pass rusher than people give him credit for. Smith has a couple of solid moves and the athleticism to play all over the defensive line. Pairing him with Chris Long would give St. Louis two solid defensive ends for the next ten years.
15. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama -
It is tough to go against the consensus with the Dolphins’ pick. Mark Ingram just makes too much sense. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both free agents and Mark Ingram would be an upgrade over either one of them. Ingram is the best player available and feels a need.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) – Cameron Jordan, DE, California -
The Jacksonville Jaguars under general manager Gene Smith draft according to the best available player theory. Cameron Jordan fits that description and fills a position of need for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville bulked up on the interior of the defensive line in the 2010 NFL Draft, but still needs to add some talent on the end. Aaron Kampman is coming off of his second knee reconstruction in as many seasons and regardless the Jags need a threat opposite him on the line. Jordan is a versatile, balanced end with a high motor. It helps that he is also considered a high character guy, something GM Gene covets.
17. New England Patriots (via Oakland Raiders 8-8) – Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, UCLA -
It seems as if every offseason mock drafters expect the Patriots to draft an offensive playmaker, such as a running back or wide receiver, to help out Tom Brady. News flash: Tom Brady doesn’t need any help. Brady has made something out of nothing his entire career, and this season is no different. The Patriots rarely spend first round picks on running backs and wide receivers, so I do not expect Mark Ingram or Torrey Smith to come off of the board here.
Akeem Ayers is a Bill Belichick kind of player. A team captain at UCLA, Ayers is a versatile threat who fits perfectly into New England’s scheme. The Patriots are 26th in the league with just 23 sacks on the season. They need to add some youth to their anemic pass rush.
18. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue -
The Chargers had an unfortunate season. Despite ranking at or near the top of the league in every major statistical category on both sides of the ball, San Diego failed to qualify for the postseason. Their biggest issue was on special teams. The best way to improve on special teams is to build a deep roster.
San Diego’s front seven lacks some depth. They recently drafted Larry English to rush the passer and may not be ready to give up on him just yet. That being said, Ryan Kerrigan is versatile enough to put his hand in the dirt or be a stand up linebacker.
19. New York Giants (10-6) – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College -
The Giants need to inject some young blood into their aging offensive line. Anthony Castonzo is a versatile lineman capable of playing either tackle position. The Giants would have the luxury of moving him around the line while he settles into a full time roll.
20.Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6) – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa -
Adrian Clayborn has some character concerns and inconsistent play that will cause him to slide. Tampa Bay is so desperate for a pass rusher off of the edge that they could pull the trigger. Clayborn has the talent to succeed in the NFL, but he will need to put it all together to be the force many were projecting him to be a year ago.
21.Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – Justin Houston, DE/OLB Georgia -
Scott Pioli has done an admirable job rebuilding the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense. The defensive line has been great this year, but a pass rushing linebacker could take this stop unit to another level.
Justin Houston is shooting up draft boards after a surprising season. He is one of my favorite pass rushers in this class.
22.Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – Derek Sherrod, OT Mississippi State -
The Colts continually get thrown around up front on both sides of the ball. Peyton Manning had very little time to throw all season, and it certainly affected his game.
Derek Sherrod is considered by some to be the best tackle in this class. It is a toss up at this point.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – Mike Pouncey, G Florida -
The Eagles had a tough time protecting Michael Vick this season. Upgrades are needed all over the offensive line, and Andy Reid loves to get the big fellas early. Pouncey is far and away the best guard prospect in this class and a great fit for the Eagles.
24. New Orleans Saints (10-6) – Muhammed Wilkerson, DT Temple -
The Saints have a penetrating force on the inside of their defensive line in Sedrick Ellis but could use a hold the point type of player like Muhammed Wilkerson.
Wilkerson is one of my sleepers in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is exactly what New Orleans needs.
25.Seattle Seahawks (7-9) – Corey Liuget, DT Illinois-
Seattle must add depth to their defensive line during the offseason. They have struggled on defense due to injuries up front and it has affected the play of their already mediocre secondary.
Corey Liuget could be drafted much higher than this. He compares favorably to Sedrick Ellis and would make an immediate impact for the Seahawks.
26. Baltimore Ravens (12-4) – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Ravens are a popular pick to draft a wide receiver. The issue is that the value does not match up with this pick. Fortunately, Jimmy Smith represents outstanding value at a position of need for Baltimore. Smith could conceivably go in the 10-15 range on draft day, so the Ravens will not hesitate to pull the trigger.
27. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) – Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Matt Ryan has been phenomenal for the Falcons this season and so has Roddy White but Atlanta has to give Matty Ice a second weapon. Tony Gonzalez could be retiring and Roddy White can’t do everything.
Torrey Smith would be a dangerous downfield threat for Matt Ryan. He has blazing speed and a top-notch work ethic. Thomas Dimitroff drafts for need and wide receiver is a huge need.
28. New England Patriots (14-2) – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
J.J. Watt is a terrific blend of character, effort, and talent. The Patriots have issues all over the defensive side of the football, most notably in the front seven. Between Watt and Akeem Ayers, New England can begin building the type of defense that won them championships in the early part of the decade.
29. Chicago Bears (11-5) – Gabe Carimi, OT Wisconsin -
Chicago needs to surround Jay Cutler with some talent. Not only does he lack pass protection, but he also has no weapons on the outside with which to work. He has been hit more than any quarterback in the league this year and the Bears have allowed a league high 44 sacks.
Gabe Carimi has started to string together some consistent play late in the season. Some scouts question his ability to play left tackle, but Chicago could slide Carimi in at right tackle with Chris Williams on the left side.
30. New York Jets (11-5) – Cameron Heyward, DE/DT Ohio State -
The Jets need some help along the defensive line. Trevor Pryce and Shaun Ellis are both getting old, and their production is slipping.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor -
Pittsburgh’s offensive line issues are no secret. Big Ben has been getting beaten up for years. Baylor’s Danny Watkins is creeping up draft boards, and could find a home in the first round when it’s all said and done.
32. Green Bay Packers (10-6) – Brandon Harris, CB Miami -
What the Packers have done this season is astounding considering the injuries this team has amassed. The defense is one of the best in the NFL but the secondary is aging and I am not sure how much longer they can play at a high level.
Brandon Harris got owned by Michael Floyd in his bowl game so he slides to the Packers.