2011 NFL Mock Draft: First-round projections that are far from ordinary
With the 2011 NFL Combine wrapping up and labor disputes taking to previously unseen heights, let me be the first to say we are all in need of some new direction.
Mock draft after mock draft, projection after projection, there's nothing quite as exhilarating as striving to project where the draft's most coveted talent could end up.
However; over the last few months, writers and draft gurus across the nation have had their respective opinions swayed by countless draft experts such as ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay.
Well I'm here today to throw a much more unconventional swing on this April's highly anticipated draft; hopefully to broaden the biased and distorted minds of most draft followers.
So without further ado, here is a first-round projection that will portray an ample variety of selections.
**Also: make sure to compare my new draft to my early projections**
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Call me crazy, but this pick makes all the sense in the world.
With as much talent available with the first selection, we're all inclined to believe Ron Rivera and company should take what they believe is the draft's most proficient overall prospect.
However, if the quarterback truly is the most important position in sports, then Jimmy Clausen is in for yet another long season; unless of course they take the draft's most promising offensive lineman in Castonzo.
Standing in at an athletic 6'7'', 311 pounds, Castonzo has a bright future ahead of him with any NFL team. And if Carolina plans on succeeding any time soon, they'd better stop drafting unneeded quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Remember, the Panthers tied for third most in the entire league last season in sacks allowed on the quarterback.
Now, doesn't this sound like the most appropriate selection?
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Okay, so this may not be a complete shocker.
Since the beginning of Broncos football, they've been known for maintaining some of the more tough, hard-edged defenses in the league. And last season just wasn't up to snuff.
With a total of 10 interceptions last season as a unit, Denver was primarily known as the laughing stock of the AFC West. With a talent like that of Patrick Peterson available with the number two overall selection, things will turn around rather quick.
If not Peterson himself, expect the Broncos to take a close look at other cornerback options such as Jimmy Smith, Prince Amukamara or Aaron Williams.
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
No matter what the Bills are able to do offensively from now until the beginning of the season, they simply won't have what it takes to play shootout with Tom Brady and the Patriots.
So if Buffalo wants to contend in the near future, they'll have to significantly bolster their lagging defensive front that only administered 27 sacks last season.
Who will be available? North Carolina's stud defensive end Robert Quinn will likely be available for their third overall selection.
Remember: it's almost impossible to play catch-up with New England. Take Quinn, and you'll be that much closer to stopping the aging Patriots dead in their tracks.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Carson Palmer isn't coming back to Cincinnati anytime soon unless he's in another uniform.
Despite rumors of the Bengals taking Cam Newton with their first-round selection, both Marvin Lewis and the entire Cincinnati offense know that young, seasoned leadership needs to be added in the draft.
Taking Blaine Gabbert gives the Bengals solid direction that Newton doesn't.
Prototypical size, throwing motion and frame make Gabbert all but a lock to become a Bengal next season.
Quick reminder: Cincinnati's offensive line allowed just 28 sacks last season—good enough to be eight-best in the entire league. With solidarity up front, and Gabbert's leadership running the show, are the Bengals a playoff team next season?
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
In a world filled with uncertainties, one thing is certain: Da'Quan Bowers will not fall out of the top five.
Despite Arizona's lack of efficiency at quarterback, Ken Wisenhunt's defense must be able to improve in stunning fashion this offseason if success is to be attained.
Although the Cardinals did manage to finish in the middle of the league in sacks last season (33), their playoff aspirations won't even begin to take shape unless they are able to slow down Sam Bradford and the Rams' offense which is on the rise.
Take Clemson's defense end Da'Quan Bowers, and things will begin to flourish.
Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
With all do respect to A.J. Green and other offensive weapons available early, the Cleveland Browns shouldn't be targeting for a plethora of reasons—first of those being the fact that Fairley will be vacant for drafting.
The Browns finished their 2010 campaign on a sour note; however we should all take note to how much progress was made last season in Cleveland.
Colt McCoy showed signs of great things to come, Peyton Hillis rumbled his way towards national recognition and a young group of talented defensive backs led by Joe Haden continue to flourish.
What's the one thing holding this team back? A power rusher that can effectively clog up running lanes from the get-go.
Taking Fairley with the sixth pick would make Cleveland relevant again.
Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Under the new direction of Jim Harbaugh, San Fransisco finally has the coaching expertise to take their team to the next level.
However; quarterbacking issues and lagging cornerbacks have become a recurring problem for a team most thought would contend for a Super Bowl just a season ago.
But since last season is just a fragment of memory in the minds of the new-look 49ers, improvement must be able to be attained on a consistent basis.
Defensively, San Fransisco still maintains the best inside linebacker in the league, Patrick Willis. Just imagine the draft's most prosperous linebacker, Miller, learning under a leader such as Willis. Sounds like a dynamic duo for the ages.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
A bit of a surprise to most, the Titans' leader in interceptions from year ago, Michael Griffin, managed just four picks over 16 regular season games—while the next closest was Altererraun Verner with just three.
As a unit, Tennessee was an average defense at best—ranking 26th overall in yards allowed per game (367.7).
In order for newly named head coach Mike Munchak and company to reach where they rightfully belong, they're going to have to take the best available cornerback in the draft to help slow down Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub and David Garrard as much as possible.
Being the physical specimen his is, Amukamara would be the most sensible choice for the Titans moving forward.
Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Shying away from the fact that the Cowboys actually cultivated the league's leader in sacks just a season ago, DeMarucs Ware has become a persisting topic for discussion.
With expectations as high as they were coming into 2010, Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett are ready for a play-making, game-changing type player on defense to help take them to the promise land.
A Ware/Dareus combination would be lethal in divisional play against the likes of Michael Vick and Eli Manning, which makes this almost a guaranteed selection.
Dareus, weighing in at 6'3'', 319 pounds, is the strongest selection the Cowboys can possibly make.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Prior to the start of the 2010 college football season, Jack Locker held the highest recognizable reputation of any quarterback in the country. Unfortunately for him, his 2010 expedition took him in the opposite direction of which he intended.
Nevertheless, his prototypical size and arm strength both manage to vault him at or near the top of this year's quarterbacking class. And for Mike Shannahan and the Redskins, things can't get much worse under center.
With Locker almost certain to be available for drafting at the 10th overall selection, Washington must make their move in taking their next franchise icon, Locker.
Success may take a year or two, but his bright personality and positive attitude gives Redskins fans hope for the near future.
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Last season alone, the Texans' secondary allowed 267.2 yards, a 100.5 quarterback rating per game along with giving up a league-high 33 touchdown passes all in just a 16 game time span.
Could someone explain how Houston doesn't take Colorado's stud cornerback Jimmy Smith?
In his senior season with the Buffaloes, Smith registered 160 tackles, three interceptions and one forced fumble on his way to becoming the most sought after defensive prospect in the Big 12.
For a Houston secondary led by Troy Nolan with a lowly three picks last season, immediate improvement must be accomplished before the start of the 2011 season.
Smith's 6'2'', 205-pound frame solidifies him as one of the draft's three top superstar cornerbacks in the making.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
When Green begins to wait around on draft day (like I think he will), expect Minnesota to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Other than that, not much explanation left to administer. Green is the best wideout available for the Vikings to draft, and with Sidney Rice's status up in the air, now is the time to get that signature play-maker on offense.
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Believe it or not, the Lions allowed just 27 sacks last season which is good enough to make them eigth-best in the entire league.
Since protecting the quarterback is each team's number one priority, why not make another upgrade by taking Wisconsin's beastly offensive tackle Gabe Carimi?
Standing in at 6'7'', 314-pounds, Carimi contends with fellow offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo of Boston College as the best available lineman in this year's draft.
Matthew Stafford, you are in good hands.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Simply put, the Rams must make this selection.
As a rookie, Sam Bradford came into 2010 with as much hype as there was scrutiny; and he answered his critics in putting up record breaking numbers with a laughable group of wide receivers.
Jones, who was Alabama's most essential wideout in their 2009 National Championship success, is currently ranked as the second-best receiver in this year's draft class. And after the most impressive showing at the NFL Combine of any wide-out, he's surely the Rams' next great receiver of the future.
With this pick, St. Louis is now prime playoff contender for years to come.
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Dolphins have unfortunately become one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated franchises in the NFL over the last decade, and things could continue that day unless they are able to spice up their draft-day activities.
However most of America has fallen in love with Miami's status with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram—and with good reason.
Ingram's stature and potential capacity to become one of the league's most solid running backs is second to none amongst his fellow draft-day tailbacks.
This may not be the most sensible first-round choice for the Dolphins, as they already maintain both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, but Ingram's talent and young potential are simply too much to pass on.
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The defensive superstar of Bret Bielima's Rose Bowl-bound Badgers, J.J. Watt has now successfully vaulted himself into becoming a potential top-10 selection.
A great Combine showing in both bench press and agility workouts, Watt is, simply put, one of the top defensive ends in a draft filled with superstar talent.
Standing at 6'6'', 290-pounds, Watt is exactly what the Jaguars are looking for in trying to limit an aging Peyton Manning and other quarterbacks in divisional play.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
For the last few weeks or so, it's seemed as though New England has been eying up Wisconsin's J.J. Watt rather profusely. But since he's projected to go much sooner than 17th overall, the Patriots must settle for another explosive defensive end on the rise.
Ryan Kerrigan has worked his way up from being an under-the-radar prospect at Purdue to being a surefire first-round selection.
Working with Vince Wilfork on New England's defensive line will make the Patriots scary-good up front heading into next season.
Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
A brief look at the team statistics at the finish of last season, you'd find that San Diego finished in the top five of almost every category imaginable—and first in three notorious categories such as total offense, defense and passing defense.
So with the 18th pick in the draft, what must the Chargers choose to upgrade in the first round?
Without a signature linebacker capable of bolstering an already seasoned defense, San Diego should take a look at Cal's monster outside linebacker/defensive end Cameron Jordan.
Standing in at a larger-than-life 6'5'', 283-pounds, Jordan can only be described as a perennial Pro-Bowler in the making. As a four year starter with at Cal in a 3-4 style system, Jordan is capable and ready to make an immediate impact for the Chargers at the next level.
Tyron Smith, OT, USC
The consensus around the league is that Eli Manning can be an elite quarterback when given just the right amount of time to get the play off. Unfortunately, that's not how the NFL works most of the time.
Giving up just 16 sacks a season ago, New York's offensive line stakes it's claim as having one of the foremost protection schemes the league has to offer. However when things begin to break down, Manning can't quite get the job done.
To shore things up, New York must retain a keen eye on USC's most athletic, versatile offensive lineman in many years in Tyron Smith.
Blessed with the prototype combination of size, balance and agility, Smith has the potential to develop into a top-flight left tackle in the NFL after just his first few seasons.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
After his star-studded 2009 crusade, Iowa's most prominent defensive end of the last decade Adrian Clayborn saw his draft stock plummet to all-time lows due to a 2010 season that failed to live up to the high expectations.
Nevertheless, a glance into his past immediately tells us that he is ready to make the leap onto the NFL's biggest of stages; and would make for an outstanding addition to any team willing to take a shot at him.
Placing him on a developing Buccaneers defense that could be just one play-maker away from challenging for the NFC South title bodes well in the eyes of many NFL scouts across the country.
While head coach Raheem Morris attempts to resurrect the vaunted Tampa Bay defenses of years past, the Buccaneers' front office will be hard at work to assure the selection of Clayborn.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
One of the draft's most complete packages, Colorado's bulldozing offensive tackle Nate Solder would make for this year's best overall selections.
Arguably the best thorough offensive lineman in this year's draft class, Solder weighs in at 6'9'', 315-pounds of pure athleticism that can take control of gap-filling defensive lineman with ease.
Put that together with the league's number one rushing attack, and you've got yourself quite the tandem. And of course, it never hurts to bolster Matt Cassel's pass-blocking.
Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Even Peyton Manning—yes, that Peyton Manning—can show serious signs of aging; most notably in the Colts' wild-card loss to the New York Jets at home.
With an offensive line needing to get younger, faster and more agile, now's the time to pick up the draft's most prominent offensive guards in Mike Pouncey.
Pouncey has all the abilities that most offensive tackles fail to provide, and that's something Manning will need once the pocket breaks down.
Look for Indy's offensive line to be much improved next season.
Orlando Franklin, OT, Miami
Let's face it: the Michael Vick-led Eagles aren't going anywhere unless protection is improved from what we witnessed in their opening playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. And if Vick has to rely on his athleticism to get Philadelphia to the promise land, things aren't looking good for the Eagles.
Thus, drafting an offensive tackle like Miami's Orlando Franklin would significantly shore things up for Vick and the protection schemes of Andy Reid.
With long arms, strong hands, great balance and the ability to make decisive moves to pick up pass rushers, Franklin is just the man for the job in Philadelphia.
Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois
The Saints now find themselves in quite the predicament heading into 2011. Reggie Bush—who has not nearly performed up to his salary—will likely be asked to take a significant pay cut to make more cap space before the start of the season, and Pierre Thomas just isn't the back he used to be.
What does the draft hold in store for New Orleans? Possibly a big-name running back such as Illinois's Mikel LeShoure.
In two seasons as Illinois's go-to tailback, LeShoure raked up 2,431 yards on the ground; including his unprecedented 1,600-yard plus season in 2010.
With the rookie wage limit more than likely to be implemented in the coming months, the Saints wouldn't have to use a ton of money to sign him, either.
Great pickup here.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Despite their playoff victory of the ages, the Seattle Seahawks (with an abysmal 7-9 regular season record) must settle for the 25th overall selection in the draft.
The consensus between scouts and analysts alike is that Seattle should target Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett with their first-round pick. Hopefully he is able to fall that far down the board into the grasp of the Seahawks.
Great stamina, pocket poise, accuracy and prototypical structure puts Mallett atop the lists of the best quarterbacks available in this year's draft class; and could certainly be Matt Hasselbeck's future replacement a few years down the road.
This is a must for the Seahawks if they intend on competing for the playoffs in the near future.
Aldon Smith, LB, Missouri
To be plain, Baltimore still holds true to their defensive dominance of the past ten seasons with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. However there will eventually become a time when the two cannot physically maintain themselves—and that time could be much sooner than later.
For reassurance purposes, Baltimore had better take note to Missouri's top defensive prospect in Aldon Smith; arguably the most complete defensive end/outside linebacker in this year's class.
Great speed and pass-rushing abilities complemented by a powerful build, Smith is a physically dominating presence that would fit in perfectly to John Harbaugh's defensive squad in the midst of a mid-age crisis.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
When asked how much longer he can effectively contribute to Atlanta's passing game, Tony Gonzalez said he could go for another decade if he had to. Something tells me this isn't going to bode well with Mike Smith.
Either way you look at it, the Falcons relied on wide-out Roddy White in key situations without another presence in opposing secondaries to complement him.
With their first-round selection, Atlanta may want to take a stab at Notre Dame's atypical tight-end Kyle Rudolph.
Standing in at 6'6'', 265-pounds, Rudolph actually measures up to Gonzalez's stature quite well. In fact, his overall structure trumps that of Gonzalez rather handily.
If selected, Rudolph would become another key part to a young Falcons offensive attack on the rise.
Stephen Paea, DT/LB, Oregon State
In New England's 2010 quest to maintain the league's best regular-season record heading into the playoffs, they registered 36 total sacks; with 30-year-old Tully Banta-Cain leading the way with a mere 5.0 sacks.
Although the Patriots' secondary could be considered one of the worst in the NFL last season, there front seven played very solid and managed to (for the most part) limit some of the league's most potent offensive attacks.
However if the Patriots truly want to return to the Super Bowl in the foreseeable future, they'll need to draft a young, overpowering linebacker to help get them there. Taking Oregon State's Stephen Paea would be the best possible selection New England could ask for.
Setting the bench-press record at the NFL Combine just last week (49 reps of 225 lbs.), Paea would be an outstanding addition to New England's growing defense.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Like the Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams, 2010 shed light on the fact that big-time receiving corps can make all the difference in going far in the postseason.
Last year, Jay Cutler had absolutely no talent to throw to, and made it hard for the Bears to even contend with the Packers in the NFC Championship.
So with the 29th overall selection in the draft, the Bears should be inclined towards Miami's stud wide-out Leonard Hankerson.
Standing at 6'3'', 205-pounds, Hankerson is a physically dominating specimen that would flourish under Mike Martz's pass-first offensive mindset.
Phillip Taylor, DT, Baylor
With Rex Ryan's defensive mindset and boisterous reputation, you'd believe that the Jets are more than likely going to take an extensive look at a young, capable defensive lineman that could help shore up an aging front seven.
A quick look at New York's depth chart, and you'd find that their starting nose tackle Sione Pouha is now taking on the limitations of age. Being the 6'3'', 325-pound beast that he is, you have to question how much longer his knees have until they begin to deteriorate.
So while Pouha still has at least two more solid seasons as a professional defensive lineman, the Jets must take full advantage of Baylor's mammoth nose-tackle Phillip Taylor.
Checking in at 6'4'', 340-pounds, Taylor is currently ranked by Scouts Inc. as the fifth-best overall defensive tackle entering this year's draft; just behind notable prospects such as Nick Fairley, Stephen Paea and Marcell Dareus.
If strength and explosiveness is what you're looking for, than look no further than Taylor.
Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
There comes a time in each team's life when they must take that infamous "look in the mirror." For the Pittsburgh Steelers, that time is approaching quick.
Yes, they still maintain the most physically imposing front seven the NFL has possibly ever seen, the league's most dominating strong safety of the past decade and arguably the most innovative defensive coordinator on the face of the planet.
However the one evident need for Pittsburgh, defensively speaking, is their lack of talent at the free-safety position. Can Dick Lebeau really count on Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy to make a game-changing play on the game's biggest of stages?
With the 31st pick in the draft, the Steelers should look to upgrade at free-safety with UCLA's astonishingly agile Rahim Moore; who was one of the standouts at the NFL Combine just a few days ago.
Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
From the depths of an 8-6 record to completing one of the most remarkable postseason journeys toward winning Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers will be savoring the moment for a while before beginning serious draft talks.
However; after further inspection we'll notice that the Packers aren't getting any younger on the offensive line. With the amount of hits placed on Aaron Rodgers last season (including one concussion), the Packers will be looking to improve their protection up front.
Taking the best available offensive lineman in Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod would make Rodgers and company much happier.