2011 NFL Mock Draft: Chris J. Nelson's First-Round Mock Draft 2.0
The off-season is tentatively slated to begin sometime next month, although no one really knows the status of the CBA talks and free agency is in doubt.
A big part of that off-season that is happening is the draft, where teams look to restock their depth with young talent and find the missing pieces for their championship hopes.
I myself have mocked the draft's first round every year beginning in 2005, and even expanded things to the first two rounds last year. My final mock of 2011 will also have two rounds, but for now, I'm focusing on the first 32 picks.
For this keeping score at home, here are how many first-rounders I have correctly predicted to their drafting teams since 2005:
For reference, you can read my first mock draft from February 9th here.
Now, on to the picks...
Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and is currently a programming coordinator for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.
Picks 1 Through 4
1. Carolina Panthers — DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
(previous mock: DT Nick Fairley)
Quinn is proving to be a physical freak and a seriously elite specimen, and it might be tempting for the Panthers to pick the local UNC star with all the help they need on the defensive line.
2. Denver Broncos — DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
(previous mock: CB Patrick Peterson)
The Broncos don't have any legitimate long-term options at defensive tackle in their transition to the 4-3 scheme, and Dareus seems to have supplanted Nick Fairley as the top defensive tackle prospect in this class. The transition from 3-4 end should be a smooth one.
3. Buffalo Bills — QB Cam Newton, Auburn
(previous mock: OLB Von Miller)
While Ryan Fitzpatrick performed admirably last season, he's likely not a long-term solution and Newton's stock is seriously on the rise with his astounding workouts. He might be too tempting to pass up even with their needs on defense.
4. Cincinnati Bengals — WR A. J. Green, Georgia
(previous mock: WR A. J. Green)
It seems the Bengals are taking Carson Palmer's retirement threats more seriously now, which will put them in the market for a quarterback this April. There might not be a good enough option for them to take in the first round, however, and Green would also fill a need as the long-term No. 1 receiver.
Picks 5 Through 8
5. Arizona Cardinals — OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
(previous mock: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri)
Everyone knows the Cardinals need a long-term answer at quarterback, but there is no clear-cut prospect to take here. A pass rusher is also a need with the aging Joey Porter and Clark Haggans currently manning things, and Miller is the best on the board.
6. Cleveland Browns — DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
(previous mock: DE Da'Quan Bowers)
Fairley has been jumped by Marcell Dareus due to his attitude and slower burst at a smaller weight, but he's still a legitimate top-10 talent at defensive tackle. He'd be an excellent fit in Dick Jauron's new 4-3 scheme in Cleveland that is sorely lacking some defensive tackles.
7. San Francisco 49ers — DE J. J. Watt, Wisconsin
(previous mock: QB Ryan Mallett)
Watt is rapidly rising on depth charts as an elite 3-4 defensive end prospect with outstanding pass-rush skills for his size. Drafting Watt would allow the 49ers to move Isaac Sopoaga back to nose tackle to replace free agent Aubrayo Franklin.
8. Tennessee Titans — QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
(previous mock: LB Akeem Ayers)
Vince Young is a goner, Kerry Collins doesn't have much left, and Rusty Smith isn't ready and may never be. Gabbert has all the tools to be a great quarterback and would be a nice prospect to sit for a year behind a stop-gap veteran.
Picks 9 Through 12
9. Dallas Cowboys — CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
(previous mock: DE Marcell Dareus)
The team has expressed a vote of confidence in Mike Jenkins, but he hasn't established himself as a starter and Peterson is simply too good a value at to pass up at No. 9.
10. Washington Redskins — CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
(previous mock: CB Prince Amukamara)
With only two cornerbacks (DeAngelo Hall and Reggie Jones) under contract and new one a good player (seriously, Hall is terrible despite the interceptions), Amukamara would be a great selection to give the team a true No. 1 corner.
11. Houston Texans — DE Cameron Jordan, California
(previous mock: OLB Robert Quinn)
Bad luck prevents the top two cornerbacks in the draft from falling to the secondary-needy Texans, so they'll settle for an elite defensive end prospect for their new 3-4 scheme under Wade Phillips in Jordan.
12. Minnesota Vikings — DE Da'Quan Bowers
(previous mock: QB Cam Newton)
Quarterback is a need, but there just isn't a prospect available here. Ray Edwards is unlikely to return once he hits free agency, so the Vikings could use another pass rusher opposite Jared Allen. The Vikings get lucky here as the lack of a combine workout and a poor fit in the 3-4 scheme helps Bowers fall to their laps.
Picks 13 Through 16
13. Detroit Lions — OT Tyron Smith, Southern California
(previous mock: OT Nate Solder)
Smith has been rocketing up draft charts thanks to elite physical tools an a ton of upside. Gosder Cherilus has only been decent and Jeff Backus has never been all that good at left tackle, so Smith would be a nice long-term pickup for the Lions.
14. St. Louis Rams — WR Julio Jones, Alabama
(previous mock: WR Julio Jones)
One of the most assumed picks in the entire first round, Jones falling to St. Louis' pick would be a perfect fit and would give quarterback Sam Bradford a true No. 1 target to go along with speedster Donnie Avery.
15. Miami Dolphins — ILB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
(previous mock: OLB Ryan Kerrigan)
I fully expect the Dolphins to trade out of this spot, but if you assume they stay at No. 15, Ayers would be a nice fit. The Karlos Dansby clone didn't run well at the combine, but he plays much faster and would be an excellent long-term replacement for Channing Crowder.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars — DE Allen Bailey, Miami (Fla.)
(previous mock: DE Aldon Smith)
The Jaguars keep swinging and missing on pass rushers in the draft, so it's back to the drawing board once again. The physical freak from the U would be a nice fit opposite Aaron Kampman.
Picks 17 Through 20
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) — DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
(previous mock: DE Cameron Jordan)
The Patriots have the luxury of few glaring needs and two first-round picks, so they'll probably be in the habit of adding depth this April. Clayborn is one of the best 3-4 defensive end prospects in the draft, and nobody could get more out of him than Bill Belichick.
18. San Diego Chargers — LB Aldon Smith, Missouri
(previous mock: DE J. J. Watt)
With guys like Watt, Dareus, and Jordan long gone, the Chargers turn to a pass rushing outside linebacker with Shawne Merriman gone and 2009 first-rounder Larry English notching just five sacks in his first two seasons. Smith fits the bill as a prototypical 3-4 rusher.
19. New York Giants — DT Cory Liuget, Illinois
(previous mock: OT Anthony Castonzo)
The Giants' run defense was pretty good last year, but the underrated Barry Cofield is a free agent and the team could always use more depth. Liuget has slowly been rising up draft boards and should be very appealing when New York picks.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
(previous mock: DE Allen Bailey)
Lack of athleticism and agility has caused many to think Kerrigan won't fit in the 3-4 scheme at outside linebacker, which may limit him to the 4-3 defensive end position. In Tampa Bay, he'd fit right in and would give the Bucs the sound pass rusher they've been lacking for a while.
Picks 21 Through 24
21. Kansas City Chiefs — NT Phil Taylor, Baylor
(previous mock: DE Adrian Clayborn)
This may seen like a bit of a reach, but Taylor just might be the best pure nose tackle prospect in this draft and still has plenty of room to grow. Ron Edwards was never all that great for the Chiefs and the team doesn't have a starting option under contract, so former Pats GM Scott Pioli picks up his own Vince Wilfork here.
22. Indianapolis Colts — OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
(previous mock: OT Tyron Smith)
The Colts have tried and failed repeatedly to replaced former left tackle Tarik Glenn, but Castonzo is arguably the most NFL-ready left tackle in this draft. He'd be a great value pick here and could immediately step in on Peyton Manning's blind side.
23. Philadelphia Eagles — OT Nate Solder, Colorado
(previous mock: OT Gabe Carimi)
Jason Peters has had a wildly inconsistent career, Winston Justice has knee problems and has struggled, and King Dunlap is not starting material. Solder is raw, but he has the upside to be the franchise tackle the Eagles need.
24. New Orleans Saints — DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
(previous mock: RB Mark Ingram)
A torn meniscus at the Senior Bowl makes him a bit scary, but his Combine-record 49 bench reps show how powerful a player he can be. Sedrick Ellis has pretty pretty solid, but the team could use another long-term starting defensive tackle.
Picks 25 Through 28
25. Seattle Seahawks — WR Torrey Smith, Maryland
(previous mock: WR Titus Young)
The Seahawks could be in the market for a long-term quarterback if Charlie Whitehurst isn't the answer, but there isn't a prospect to take here. A speedy deep threat at receiver to compliment Mike Williams would also be a good pickup.
26. Baltimore Ravens — CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado
(previous mock: OT Derek Sherrod)
Character concerns drop him to the latter part of the first round, but Smith is easily the third best cornerback in this class before a huge drop-off. With a handful of free agents a the position and Domonique Foxworth recovering from ACL surgery, Smith would be an excellent value pick for the Ravens here.
27. Atlanta Falcons — CB Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.)
(previous mock: CB Brandon Harris)
I was actually tempted to put tight end Kyle Rudolph here as the eventual successor to Tony Gonzalez, but there are just too many needs on defense to ignore. With free agency not yet a certainty before the draft, the Falcons will have to draft more based on need, and Harris fills a big one.
28. New England Patriots — RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
(previous mock: RB Mikel LeShoure, Illinois)
Many have Ingram going higher than this, but it's rarely a good idea to draft running backs in the first round unless you have the luxury to do so, and Ingram just isn't special enough to justify going higher. With their other first round pick, the Patriots can get good value with Ingram here and find a real starting running back.
Picks 29 Through 32
29. Chicago Bears — OT Gabe Carimi, Chicago Bears
(previous mock: OT DeMarcus Love)
Chris Williams has been a bust as a first-round left tackle, so it's time to try again. Carimi is a very sound technician that could project anywhere but center and might even be that blind side guy the Bears have been looking for.
30. New York Jets — DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
(previous mock: DE Cameron Heyward)
Shaun Ellis is a free agent and it's time for the Jets to get younger on defense. Wilkerson is a fast-rising prospect that would be an excellent 3-4 defensive end in Rex Ryan's elite unit.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers — OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
(previous mock: OG Mike Pouncey)
Plenty of people say he isn't as good as his brother Maurkice, but Mike Pouncey is a very good prospect in his own right and Maurkice's team has the luxury of being able to develop him. Don't be surprised if the Steelers look to reunite the siblings at neighboring line spots.
32. Green Bay Packers — OLB Justin Houston, Georgia
(previous mock: OLB Justin Houston)
Clay Matthews has been an absolute stud, but the Brady Poppinga/Erik Walden/Frank Zombo group at the other outside linebacker spot could use a major upgrade. Houston would be an excellent fit and would benefit from playing opposite an elite rusher.