The NFL Draft is quickly approaching, along with all the usual speculation as to which team will draft who.
At this point last year, the story was breaking that Sam Bradford was already a Ram. This year, the Carolina Panthers have the top spot but have made no hint as to where they will look with the No. 1 overall pick.
This year will have a different feel than any other, as the labor unrest continues to dampen the spirit of the event and the NFLPA’s request for the athletes to skip the draft will cast a dark cloud over Roger Goodell’s section of the stage.
You can read hundreds of mock drafts, but I guarantee not one will be right, as none of them reflect the likely trade scenarios that will unfold.
Although I’m sure not every one of these picks will be correct, we here at TheSportsCannon.com have pulled our collective minds together to mock the first round of the NFL Draft with the inevitable trade or two.
1. Carolina Panthers—Cam Newton, QB
The Panthers didn’t risk too much by selecting Jimmy Clausen midway through the second round, and thus, will feel more free to pursue a quarterback of the future.
The Panthers are young, with really only a decent running game to talk about (even though nothing was very good in 2010). The offensive line stinks, Steve Smith probably won’t be a Panther in 2011 and the defense is no better.
So where do you go when nothing is working? You start at the beginning and take a quarterback you can build around.
Newton is more ready to step in, especially because he can extend plays—something any quarterback playing for the Panthers will have to do.
2. Denver Broncos—Marcell Dareus, DL
Dareus is the best player available here. He is incredibly strong and fast for his position. Dareus can play well against the run and the pass and has the toughness to keep going hard even if his team is down at halftime.
Dareus has a motor that head coach John Fox will love. The team would be happy to take a quarterback here, but since they can manage with Kyle Orton for at least one more year, they would do better to go with the best player available.
3. Buffalo Bills—Patrick Peterson, CB
Peterson is the best athlete available here. Peterson is destined to be the next Charles Woodson at this position.
He was incredibly productive in both years as a starter at LSU and has an NFL pedigree (related to CB Bryant McFadden, WR Sinorice Moss and WR Santana Moss).
The Bills are much like the Broncos here; they have too much to build on and none of the quarterbacks available are worth the money when they still get some production from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
4. Cincinnati Bengals—Blaine Gabbert, QB
Though the Bengals will do anything to save face and refuse to trade Carson Palmer, they will need a new quarterback to start the season in 2011.
Who will play if Carson Palmer retires, Jordan Palmer? Awkward. The Bengals will have to pull the trigger on the best quarterback available—and since Cam Newton is gone, it will have to be Blaine Gabbert.
5. Arizona Cardinals—Von Miller, OB
The Cardinals are trying their best to continue transforming to Steeler-style football. Coach Ken Whisenhut is switching to the 3-4 and has hired former Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton to lead that defense.
The most important position in a Steeler 3-4 is outside linebacker, and Von Miller is in a league of his own in this year’s draft. Miller has a great motor and can play with leverage, which is key when blitzing from the outside in this 3-4 scheme.
6. Cleveland Browns—A.J. Green, WR
The Browns haven’t been anything but lukewarm on Colt McCoy, never really giving him their full support as their starter. It’s hard to judge a quarterback on any team when they lack a threat to catch the ball.
The wide receiver position is by far the biggest need for the Browns and they will have to choose between Julio Jones and A.J. Green. Green is the clear-cut best receiver in this year’s fairly strong receiving group.
7. San Francisco 49ers—Prince Amukamara, CB
Besides his speed, quickness, toughness, athleticism—yada yada—Amukamara is incredibly smart and savvy. The Fresh Prince will get a chance to break the starting lineup before Week 1 and could keep a hold on that for time to come.
The 49ers defense will be very tough with Amukamara in the huddle.
8. Tennessee Titans—Da’Quan Bowers, DL
I actually think Bowers could drop much further than this despite having the ability to be a top three talent. A lot of teams will be wary to invest lots of money in a guy with knee issues.
Bowers couldn’t participate in the scouting combine because of his ailments. Nonetheless, at the eighth spot the Titans will jump on taking Bowers immediately and won’t regret it by pick No. 9.
9. Dallas Cowboys—Tyron Smith, OT
My heart says the Cowboys trade this pick. There just isn’t the offensive line value here that they need. Since I can’t find any team with the needs or options to trade up this high, I am leaning toward the Cowboys keeping this pick to build on protecting their quarterback.
Tyron Smith is a very big man and provides a long-term option at left tackle with great run-blocking ability as well.
10. Washington Redskins—Jake Locker, QB
My surprise pick of the draft is Jake Locker making it in the Top 10. Locker is a very good quarterback but saw his stock drop with a poor 2010 college season. Athletically, Locker is just as fast as Newton and as smart as Gabbert; he just needs to improve his accuracy.
The Redskins will take their chances with Locker in the hopes that Mike Shanahan can transform him into a franchise quarterback.
11. Houston Texans—Robert Quinn, DL
Quinn missed the entire 2010 season, which could end up being a great thing for the Texans. Many felt that with another solid year under his belt, Quinn could have been a No. 1 pick, but will drop out of the Top 10 this year.
The Texans get great value with Quinn here as they will now have another Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end to complement Mario Williams.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota for Kevin Kolb)—Anthony Castonzo, OL
The Vikings are a quarterback away from staying relevant in the NFC North and will make the trade for Kevin Kolb. Vikings fans will be cautiously optimistic since their last Philadelphia acquisition (former head coach Brad Childress) didn’t go over so well.
Now they will have a quarterback to lead their offense who won’t have to struggle through a rookie season. The Eagles will be able to move up and select Castonzo to anchor their line.
13. Detroit Lions—Gabe Carimi, OL
The Lions would love to take a defensive back but won’t have any options worthy of No. 13 overall money.
They do need to find a way to keep Matthew Stafford on his feet, as their franchise quarterback has been knocked out of the majority of both of the past two seasons. Carimi offers them immediate help on the offensive line.
14. St. Louis Rams—Julio Jones, WR
It was a carousel at the receiver position in St. Louis and the Rams know that to keep Sam Bradford progressing as a quarterback, they will need to give him a playmaker to throw to. Jones is an easy decision here.
15. Miami Dolphins—Mark Ingram, RB
The Dolphins taking Ingram seems almost predetermined. The Dolphins don’t have the best history with their first-round selections, however (only Ronnie Brown and Jake Long have had any impact in the past decade).
Is that a sign that Ingram is in for a rough career? Is it a sign that the Dolphins could second-guess themselves and take a different position? Or does it mean they are due for a good pick?
The Dolphins need someone to make plays on offense and both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are on their way out.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars—Aldon Smith, LB
The Jaguars defensive line is young and looks to be formidable in the near future. The Jaguars will be strong against the run, but could use a speed guy on the edge to get to the quarterback.
If they want to use Smith as a defensive end, he will take some time, but the Jaguars aren’t really in a "win now" mentality, so look for them to invest their future and money in Aldon Smith.
17. New England Patriots (via Oakland)—J.J. Watt, DL
Watt has been moving up the big boards of every draft expert there is. Watt runs with a relentless motor and is very strong. He can even play multiple spots on the defensive line. The Patriots need some help getting to the opposing quarterback and Watt is that guy.
18. San Diego Chargers—Cameron Jordan, DL
The Chargers are actively pursuing the 28th overall pick, believed largely to be going after Ryan Kerrigan to play as outside linebacker. I think the Patriots make that trade with the Chargers, allowing them to get two edge rushers in one round.
Jordan was a very good 3-4 defensive end while at Cal. Adding Jordan and Kerrigan gives them a DE and an OLB of the future.
19. New York Giants—Nick Fairley, DL
Usually it’s a quarterback that slips this far, but the defensive line is stacked in this draft and Fairley’s stock has been dropping for a while. This may be the riskiest pick we have here considering Fairley’s talent could have him drafted as early as eighth to the Titans.
The Giants love drafting defensive lineman in the first round and won’t pass up the chance at signing Fairley.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Adrian Clayborn, DL
The Buccaneers used the 2010 draft to bulk up the interior of their defensive line and now they need to focus on the edges. It is a coin flip as to who the Buccaneers take here—either Clayborn or Justin Houston.
I think that the Buccaneers go with Clayborn, who is a true defensive end instead of Houston, who will take time to develop. The Buccaneers want to compete now and Clayborn gives them the best threat to do so.
21. Kansas City Chiefs—Akeem Ayers, LB
Ayers didn’t have the best scouting combine of any linebacker in the draft, and it only increased the distance between he and Von Miller. The Chiefs run a 3-4 and need a guy that can not only rush the quarterback but also make a play down the field. Ayers has the talent level and abilities to do so—as long as he is running his hardest.
22. Indianapolis Colts—Derek Sherrod, OL
Sherrod isn’t the Colts' first choice for a tackle this year, but couldn’t get a deal done with the Cowboys to move up for Castonzo or Smith. The Colts might not get the guy they wanted, but will happy to take Sherrod.
The Colts are looking for a replacement for Ryan Diem. Sherrod could make a push to play this year, but will likely play behind Diem for at least one year.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (via Philadelphia)—Mike Pouncey, OL
The Steelers will go against years of history by trading down in the first round. It isn’t a huge jump for the Black and Gold here, but it is enough to secure that the Pouncey brothers play together in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers line has been questionable for years and an injury-filled 2010 will force the Steelers to add depth to the line. They saw what they can get from brother Maurkice and will take the risk on Mike, who can play multiple positions on the line.
24. New Orleans Saints—Muhammad Wilkerson, DL
This is the perfect pick for the New Orleans Saints. Wilkerson has top 10 upside with the No. 24 overall price tag. The Saints defense is based around getting to the quarterback and causing a bad decision.
Wilkerson adds an inside presence with speed. You could even see the Saints bounce Wilkerson around the defensive line.
25. Seattle Seahawks—Ryan Williams, RB
The Seahawks would have liked Jake Locker here but the Redskins shocked the world. There is still the option to take one of the other touted quarterbacks like Ryan Mallett or Christian Ponder—but instead, the Seahawks will go with Ryan Williams.
Williams is a very good running back that will give a spark to a position that has frustrated the 12th Man ever since Shaun Alexander was running the ball. This pick seems a lot like the Rashard Mendenhall pick by the Steelers in 2008—but will it lead to the same success?
26. Baltimore Ravens—Brandon Harris, CB
Definitely a reach here, since some feel Jimmy Smith is a better cover man. However, there are just too many off-field issues swirling around Jimmy Smith—and after ignoring the similar questions that surrounded Sergio Kindle and coming up short, the Ravens will go back to The U to add playmakers to their defense.
27. Atlanta Falcons—Justin Houston, DL
The Falcons were just 10 blown Aaron Rodgers tackles from an NFC championship and they know it. The offense could use another receiving threat, so the chance they reach on a receiver is definitely an option here.
Instead, I like the Falcons to go with the upside of Justin Houston. Houston will have to learn to play defensive end in the NFL but certainly has the skill set to pull it off.
28. San Diego Chargers (via New England)—Ryan Kerrigan, DL
The Chargers are very hot on Kerrigan and think he will be perfect coming off of the edge in their 3-4. They are so certain that they will trade up with the Patriots to secure Kerrigan at 28th. The question now is: Are they hurting themselves by giving the Patriots more picks and presumably a better team to compete with?
29. Chicago Bears—Nate Solder, OT
The Bears shuffled around the offensive line too much last season. No matter your opinion on Jay Cutler’s toughness, the Bears need to protect whoever is under center.
Solder is huge; at 6’8”, he actually put on more muscle and bulk and is very good at run blocking. Matt Forte is their best offensive weapon but didn’t have a great year running the ball, so Solder is a much-needed addition.
30. New York Jets—Phil Taylor, DL
The common assumption is that the Jets will try to find a safety with their first selection in the draft. Although Rahim Moore is a solid candidate, he isn’t worth a first-round selection.
I think the Jets go with defensive line here and select Taylor. Phil Taylor comes with some baggage, but the Jets have shown they aren’t afraid of players with a poor off-the-field history (see: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards).
31. Philadelphia Eagles (via Pittsburgh)—Jimmy Smith, CB
The Eagles made that trade into the Top 10 in order to get one of the top two cornerbacks but missed out. At least they were able to shore up the offensive line and can now focus on the secondary.
Smith is a heck of an athlete and can step in immediately. Off-the-field issues are what have scared other teams away from Smith, but the Eagles are in a good position to take a chance on Smith here.
32. Green Bay Packers—Brooks Reed, DL
When you think Green Bay Packers defense, you think of Clay Mathews—but don’t be surprised if the Packers look to add another linebacker in the draft. Reed has been called a “violent” football player, which is the perfect attribute for a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Reed can step in to play opposite of Clay Mathews and help keep offenses from keying on him. Look for Reed to challenge Frank Zombo from day one at outside linebacker.