Just over a month from today, the 2011 NFL Draft will commence in stunning fashion, giving teams and fans alike a true reason to believe that a promising future is in store.
And with a draft saturated in young, promising talent, there are more than enough reasons to believe this upcoming regular season will be one that we'll never forget.
In the weeks leading up to draft day, prospects have been working aggressively to bolster their respective stocks via the scouting combine and (more recently) each school's pro-day workouts.
Additionally, a draft void of a consensus No. 1 selection makes for all the analysis and evaluation NFL fans can possibly handle.
But with so many mock drafts bombarding the average fan on a minute-to-minute basis, how do you know which draft to trust regarding your favorite team?
Well, I'm here today to clear up as many draft misconceptions as possible, placing the most sensible overview of each team's most likely first-round selection this April.
1. Carolina Panthers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Panthers were 11th in the league last season with 17 interceptions, and gave up 212.1 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. Both were solid compared to the rest of the league. However the addition of the draft's safest prospect, Peterson, will aid in Carolina's resurgence into respectability.
2. Denver Broncos: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers has proved himself as the draft's most versatile defensive lineman, and the Broncos are in serious need of some defensive leadership. With Elvis Dumervil already solidly implemented in Denver's defensive front, Bowers will make a significant addition.
3. Buffalo Bills: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Buffalo's offensive front gave up 34 sacks last season, good enough to be 14th-best in the entire league. And with Chan Gailey's love for pocket-passers, Buffalo will be inclined to choose the draft's most prototypical passer—Gabbert.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
With Carson Palmer on his way out, Marvin Lewis is left with virtually no options at quarterback. With Blaine Gabbert already gone, the Bengals must take Newton off the board. Cincinnati needs a playmaker—desperately.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
The Cardinals are in urgent need of a young playmaker on defense to help an injured and aging front-seven. And with Joey Porter waning faster than most would think, now is the time to pull the trigger on Miller—the draft's most viable outside linebacker.
6. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Colt McCoy looks to become Cleveland's signal-caller for the foreseeable future. The lack of weapons in the passing game makes Green as solid of a pickup as possible for the Browns.
7. San Fransisco 49ers: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Jim Harbaugh will have his work cut out for him coming into his first season with the 49ers, and taking Fairley with their first-round selection will help ease things out West. Besides, Fairley is far and away the draft's most prolific defensive tackle.
8. Tennessee Titans: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The 6'4'', 306-pound Dareus is exactly what the Titans are in need of up front defensively. Don't question it.
9. Dallas Cowboys: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The Cowboys managed to finish in the middle of the league last season with a solid 35 sacks on opposing quarterbacks. Taking Watt—Wisconsin's most promising defensive end of the last two decades—will make for a scary Dallas defense.
10. Washington Redskins: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Mallett comes into the draft with the overwhelming reputation of maintaining the strongest arm, and that will have a lasting impact on his stock come draft day. Mike Shannahan is in desperate need of a quarterback willing to make a difference at the next level and Mallett is the guy for the job.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Finishing worst in the league at nearly every statistical category in passing defense, Gary Kubiak and the Texans' defense are the laughing stock of the NFL. With their first-round selection—11th overall—Houston must pull the trigger on one of the draft's most complete cornerbacks in Amukamara.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
This is a no-brainer. Brett Favre (apparently) isn't making a return next season and I doubt either Joe Webb or Tavaris Jackson can effectively lead this team to the postseason. Locker is the best quarterback available and should fit in with Minnesota's offense rather quickly.
13. Detroit Lions: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The Lions have made colossal strides in bolstering their defense over the past few seasons, most-notably by taking Ndamukong Suh last season. This year, California's prolific defensive end Cameron Jordan will take Detroit to the next level.
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Sam Bradford—St. Louis' first-round selection last year—managed to nearly lead the Rams to the postseason sans any talent at the wide-receiver position. Taking Jones will be the smartest move the Rams can possibly make.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The third player taken in the Top 15 from the Crimson Tide, Ingram would be the Dolphins' most sensible draft choice who will certainly bolster an aging ground attack.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Plain and simple, the Jaguars couldn't get to Peyton Manning last season when it counted most. With Kerrigan in pursuit, Manning's anxiety will skyrocket when the Jags come to town.
17. New England Patriots: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
With J.J. Watt already off the board, the Patriots must be willing to settle for another Big-Ten defensive-end stud in Clayborn. Make no mistake about it—Clayborn can really get his 6'4'', 285-pound frame going in a hurry. And that's something no offensive lineman wants to deal with.
18. San Diego Chargers: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Despite San Diego finishing 2010 at the top of virtually every defensive category in the book, at age 31, nose tackle Antonio Garay is already well into the latter chunk of his career. Taking the draft's safest nose tackle available in Liuget would work wonders for Norv Turner defensively.
19. New York Giants: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
New York's repetitive second-half choke last season accentuated the need for offensive consistency. Eli Manning, who yet again failed to take the Giants to the postseason, must be protected enough to ensure productivity on a week-to-week basis. Taking Smith would make New York's offensive line both physical and athletic.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Rahim Morris continues to pursue the famed Tampa Bay defenses of old, making their first-round selection as straightforward as possible. With Smith, the Buccaneers take the next step towards resurrecting their dominant defense.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Solder—by far the draft's most complete offensive tackle—would aid in Kansas City's already-productive ground attack.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Pouncey's 6'4'', 310-pound frame is exactly what Peyton Manning needs. Youth never hurt anybody, either.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
In Philadelphia's 21-16 wild-card loss to the Packers, Michael Vick was sacked three times at the most critical of moments by an infiltrating defense led by Dom Capers. If the Eagles are planning on keeping Vick in the league for more than three more seasons, they'll have to shore up things on the offensive line; none are more qualified to do so than Castonzo.
24. New Orleans Saints: Muhammed Wilkerson, DT, Temple
Let's face facts: Sedrick Ellis is a tolerable body that any offensive line can handle. With Wilkerson (6'5'', 305 lbs), things begin to shift towards New Orleans as the preseason favorite to win the loaded NFC South.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
With both Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker already off the board, the Seahawks are starting to sweat. But is quarterback the real issue for Seattle? I think not. Let's remember: Pete Carroll's defense gave up 249.6 yards per game through the air to opposing offenses last season. Take the draft's most solid cornerback available in Smith, and the sun begins to shine out West.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
Possibly the draft's fastest wide receiver available, Jernigan will help Joe Flacco and a Baltimore offense in need of some talent downfield.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
A first-round selection for the Falcons will indeed be utilized with great care and thought. But for a vastly-improving Atlanta secondary, now is the time to complete the cycle. Williams puts the Falcons back into the conversation for maintaining one of the league's most talented secondaries.
28. New England Patriots: Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
After a great showing at the combine, Moore solidified his status as the draft's most complete safety available. New England, who struggled all season in stopping the pass, will use Moore's quickness and agility on a consistent basis.
29. Chicago Bears: Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (Fla.)
Outside of tight end Greg Olsen, Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense have no downfield talent to speak of. Taking Hankerson—one of the most productive wideouts of 2010—will have an immediate impact on Chicago's offense.
30. New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Arguably the most massive lineman in this year's draft class, Taylor is an undisputed force on the defensive line. And for Rex Ryan and the Jets defense, size does matter. Clogging up running lanes from the get-go will be imperative in New York's quest to make a Super Bowl appearance in the near future.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Fla.)
Believe it or not, the almighty Steelers defense could use an upgrade at the cornerback position. Bryant McFadden has shown he can consistently be pushed around by opposing wide receivers—and at age 29, his better years are behind him. Taking the best young corner available in the draft in Harris will add depth and aptitude to Pittsburgh's defensive unit.
32. Green Bay Packers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Under Dom Capers' 3-4 style defense, the Packers have flourished at every position imaginable. With a draft success history under GM Ted Thompson, Green Bay will use their first-round pick wisely. With that being said, there is one persisting hole left unfilled: defensive end. Eric Walden was solid when he was given opportunities last season, but the Packers are in need of another difference-maker up front. Heyward is the perfect fit for the green and gold.
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