***Note: Click on highlighted players to read full scouting reports and view game videos.
1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
The evidence seems to be piling up that the Panthers are interested in Newton. The new coaching staff doesn’t seem fond of Jimmy Clausen, and head coach Ron Rivera personally attended Newton’s Pro Day. The Panthers are also reportedly not sold on any of the defensive linemen prospects. With little reason to bluff at the top of the draft, all signs point to Newton.
2. Denver Broncos: DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Broncos could also select Patrick Peterson here, but new head coach John Fox always seems to covet top-tier defensive ends. If Denver goes defensive tackle, I think Marcell Dareus will be the choice over Nick Fairley due to concerns about the latter prospect’s work ethic.
3. Buffalo Bills: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Peterson will probably be the top prospect on many teams’ draft boards. He’s simply a stud and, if things don’t work out at cornerback for some reason, he could always move to safety. Blaine Gabbert is an option here, but I think the Bills will select Cam Newton or a defensive player over the Missouri signal-caller.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Are Carson Palmer’s retirement threats real? I actually think so. The relationship between Palmer and the Bengals seems beyond repair, and Cincy might figure they should grab a potential franchise quarterback while they are in position to do so.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A and M (My ‘ampersand’ key is currently under construction.)
Many experts might have Robert Quinn going ahead of Miller, but I think teams will have some concerns about Quinn’s health (he has a benign brain tumor). Miller is an explosive athlete who will aid a Cardinals’ pass-rush in desperate need of an upgrade.
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
A.J. Green or Julio Jones? The Browns need to add speed to their receiving corps, and Jones’ 40-yard dash time could put him ahead of Green on some teams’ boards. Will Jones’ fractured foot cause him to drop? I don’t think so.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, UNC
Like I said, some teams will be scared about Quinn’s health. Others won’t, and the Niners will sure hope Quinn checks out medically. If he’s on the board, I can’t see San Fran passing.
8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn
Many people will be surprised to see Fairley drop this far, but he might actually plummet farther. There are major questions about Fairley’s attitude and work ethic. There’s no doubting he’s capable of dominant play at times, however, so he might fit well in Tennessee.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Marcell Dareus, DT/DE, Alabama
I personally think the Cowboys should select an offensive tackle in the first-round. I’d prefer a trade down at this point, but if that doesn’t happen, my selection would be USC’s Tyron Smith. Many claim he’s “too small” and won’t hold up on the right side, but I disagree. The Cowboys have plenty of beef inside–athletic linemen. Plus, Smith has shown he’s capable of adding plenty of mass to his frame.
It isn’t as if I’d be irate over the selection of Dareus, however. I actually have him rated No. 2 overall on my Big Board (to be published soon). You might argue that the Cowboys should always take the best player available, but that’s not actually the case. In reality, teams rarely take the highest player on their board. They take the highest player at a position of need and the one who creates the largest potential overall draft value.
Dareus certainly plays a position of need for Dallas, but I think the Cowboys could acquire superior overall value by selecting an offensive tackle in the first round and a defensive end in the second. As you’ll see by the end of this mock draft, I don’t think any top tackles are going to fall into the second-round. A Tyron Smith/Muhammad Wilkerson combination looks a whole lot better than a Marcell Dareus/’anyone else in round two’ duo.
10. Washington Redskins: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Either Green or Jones will almost certainly be on the board at this point, and I think the ‘Skins will jump all over whoever is left. They might also look at defensive linemen, but I think Green’s value will intrigue them.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Amukamara helped himself at the Combine more than just about anyone, so he could be off of the board by this point. But Houston’s secondary is atrocious, so they’ll be looking for help. They might even reach on Jimmy Smith if Amukamara is gone.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
This is my first major surprise of this particular mock. There are reports that Minnesota is very interested in Locker, with local newspapers even claiming they would be shocked if the first-round ends without Locker landing in Minnesota. It’s possible the Vikings will try to trade back into the latter portion of the first-round for Locker, but I think he’s a legitimate option here.
13. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
This is a dream scenario for the Lions. There are teams picking ahead of Detroit that need offensive tackles (Dallas included), but the abundance of top-tier prospects at other positions (along with the three quarterbacks already drafted) allows the Lions to select their top-rated offensive tackle.
14. St. Louis Rams: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Smith is receiving very little hype, but I’m confident he’s going to be a top-20 selection. The Rams have quite a few holes to fill, but none is more glaring than defensive end. While some have projected Smith as a 3-4 outside linebacker, I see him purely as a 4-3 end.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Is there anyone else to consider here? If the ‘Phins let free agents Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams walk, they will be desperately thin at running back. I think running back is perhaps the most overrated position in football, but when your current starter is Lex Hilliard, you have issues.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
I’m not personally a Kerrigan fan, but he just seems like a good fit in Jacksonville, doesn’t he? The Jaguars could actually look quarterback here, so Locker and Ryan Mallett are also options.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal
This is a long way for Jordan to fall, but there aren’t many 3-4 teams in between Dallas and this pick. If Dareus doesn’t drop to No. 9, don’t be surprised to see Jordan go to the Cowboys. Either way, you know the Pats will have interest in such a diverse player.
18. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DT/DE, Wisconsin
The Chargers reportedly have a ton of interest in a few of this year’s second-tier 3-4 defensive ends: Jordan, Watt, and Cameron Heyward. I think Heyward is a reach here and with Jordan off of the board, Watt seems like a surefire pick.
19. New York Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
I hope Castonzo doesn’t go to New York because I like him a lot, but the Giants are in a great spot to choose from a variety of quality tackles. They’ll take their favorite, whether it is Castonzo, Carimi, Sherrod, Solder, or even Ijalana.
20. Tampa Bay Bucs: Justin Houston, DE, Georgia
Houston is a bit of a polarizing player—this will be evidenced when I publish my Big Board. He’s undersized to play defensive end, but that could work out just fine in Tampa. He’ll be a terror off of the edge for awhile.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
If Taylor goes to Kansas City, he’ll give the Chiefs one of the most devastating 3-4 lines in the league. Taylor, Glenn Dorsey, and Tyson Jackson (and even Tamba Hali at times)? Yikes.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
I don’t think Sherrod is the top offensive tackle left, but he fits well in Indy. The Colts reportedly met with Sherrod at the Combine, so there’s some interest.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
If the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb before the draft, they could end up with another pick in the first-round. If so, this selection of Jimmy Smith becomes a whole lot more likely. Then, Philly will be less hesitant to pull the trigger on a player with character concerns.
Together, Smith and Asante Samuel will make up the worst tackling cornerback duo in the history of the Milky Way Galaxy (I’m assuming there is life on other planets, even within our own galaxy, and they play “American” football). Actually, I think one of them got into our league. . .
***Note: The last time I “bashed” Pat McQuistan, I literally got an e-mail from one of his family members calling me an *sshole (that’s actually true). How she sent it 3,000 light-years almost instantaneously I’ll never know. . .
24. New Orleans Saints: Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois
The more I watch Liuget, the more I see him as a three-technique player. He’d be a heck of a run defender as a five-technique in Dallas, but not much else. He’s a slightly worse Marcus Spears, in my opinion, which won’t please Cowboys fans one bit. The good news is he’s too Liuget to quit.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
I know Harris’ poor Combine showing has most dropping him out of the first-round, but I’m not so sure. Teams seem to value game tape more and more in recent years (as evidenced by Bruce Campbell’s historic fall last season). Watch Harris’ game tape (below) and tell me you don’t see first-round talent (unless you really don’t see it, in which case I actually don’t want to hear from you).
26. Baltimore Ravens: Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome values versatility, which is exactly what Ijalana brings to the table. He’s not being mentioned much as a first-round pick (and I really hope he falls to Dallas in the second), but he should be. Mark my words: he could be the best offensive linemen out of this class when it’s all said and done.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
I’m not that high on Ayers, but the Falcons really need to bolster their defense. They over-performed last season. Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn could also be on the radar here.
28. New England Patriots: Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
With the 17th, 28th, and 33rd overall selections, the Pats have a lot of freedom. That means Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin may be on their radar, even in the first-round.
I think they’ll love Pouncey’s toughness and versatility, though. Like Casey Matthews, Pouncey is getting pub for having a talented brother in the NFL. Unlike Casey Matthews, Mike Pouncey can play well.
29. Chicago Bears: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Because teams view Carimi as “only” a right tackle, he will probably drop a bit come draft day. I think that’s unwarranted. Carimi is probably the most NFL-ready of all the offensive tackles, and while he may not possess the incredible upside of someone like Tyron Smith, selecting a “sure thing” in the first-round is never a bad idea.
30. New York Jets: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Clayborn is probably a top-15 talent, but one of his arms is shorter than the other. That’s scary to a lot of NFL teams. I don’t notice the difference on film, although Clayborn generally plays just one side of the field. That could cause Rex Ryan to pass, but Ryan might also value Clayborn’s pass-rush ability as a five-technique enough to overlook his shortcomings.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
This seems like a no-brainer for Pittsburgh. They need an offensive tackle of the future to protect Big Ben, and Solder is the last of the “top-tier” tackles left on the board. Note: I personally think Solder is a third-round talent ... I’m just assuming not every NFL team will feel the same.
32. Green Bay Packers: Cameron Heyward, DT/DE, Ohio State
Predicting the Packers’ selection is very difficult. They don’t have many holes, but they do have a couple of free agents at defensive end. If they allow them to walk, Heyward is a real possibility. I would take Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson ahead of him, but I think most NFL squads will rate Heyward higher.