1. Carolina Panthers - DT Marcel Dareus, Alabama
Carolina got their franchise QB in the draft last year in Jimmy Clausen.
What the Panthers don’t have is an anchor in the middle of the defensive line.
2. Denver Broncos – DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
The return of DE/OLB Elvis Dumervill will boost the pass rush. New head coach John Fox has an appreciation for strong D-line play, thanks to his years with DE Julius Peppers and DT Kris Jenkins. Fox tries to re-create that in Denver.
3. Buffalo Bills –OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
OLB Aaron Maybin has given Buffalo practically nothing in two years. The Bills try again to find the pass rush threat the defense lacks.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
Cincy will call QB Carson Palmer’s “trade me or I’ll retire” bluff and grab a bookend to impressive rookie Carlos Dunlap.
5. Arizona Cardinals – DE/OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
If Arizona is to make WR Larry Fitzgerald happy and convince him to re-sign, a rookie QB won’t get the job done. The Cards will acquire a veteran passer later. First, they address the need for a pass rusher.
6. Cleveland Browns – WR A.J. Green, Georgia
The Browns will go as far as QB Colt McCoy will take them. With back-to-back wins over New Orleans and New England, Colt is on his way. With an elite receiver to throw to, McCoy and Cleveland could go far quickly.
7. San Francisco 49ers – QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
New head coach Jim Harbaugh can appreciate the value of having a franchise QB after coaching Andrew Luck at Stanford. Neither Smith, Alex or Troy, got the job done and Harbaugh starts fresh with a new passer.
8. Tennessee Titans – CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
You can’t have enough cornerbacks when facing QBs Peyton Manning (Indianapolis), Matt Schaub (Houston) and David Garrard (Jacksonville) twice a year. Titans take the best player available—and arguably the best player in this year’s draft.
9. Dallas Cowboys – CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
CB Mike Jenkins (first round, 2008) isn’t working out as Dallas hoped. And CB Terrance Newman isn’t getting younger either. The Cowboys have to deal with quality NFC East passers, and this is the first step.
10. Washington Redskins – QB Cam Newton, Auburn
Head coach Mike Shannahan can’t resist talented passers. He drafted Jay Cutler back in 2006, despite questions about Cutler’s maturity. Shannahan will look past Newton’s character concerns and passing flaws because Cam’s tools are outstanding.
11. Houston Texans – OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will convert the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front. To make the conversion work, they need the right defenders. Ayers can be plugged in and play immediately in the new alignment.
12. Minnesota Vikings – DT Corey Liuget, Illinois
With the top two QBs off the board, the Vikes instead prepare for life without the “Williams Twins.” Pat will turn 39 in October while Kevin will turn 31 in August. There’s also the concern of a possible suspension for violating the league’s banned substance policy.
13. Detroit Lions – DE/DT J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
DT Ndamukong Suh was outstanding in his rookie year. But he can’t turn a defense around on his own. Watt’s size and versatility helps immensely.
14. St. Louis Rams – WR Julio Jones, Alabama
QB Sam Bradford impressed the Rams by making his receivers better as a rookie. St. Louis rewards Sam with a wideout that can make Bradford better. Jones, with a healthy Donnie Avery, would make the Rams offense dangerous.
15. Miami Dolphins – RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free agents. At least one won’t be back, if not both. Whether the Dolphins stick with a two-headed attack or commit to a workhorse, Ingram can work in either type of backfield.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Cameron Jordan, California
The list of disappointments keeps growing: Derrick Harvery, Quentin Groves, Aaron Kampman. One of these days the Jags won’t draft or sign a bust. They try again with Jordan.
17. New England Patriots – DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
By the end of the season, injuries sapped New England's depth along the D-line. They had to sign Eric Moore mid-season. Next time three D-linemen go on IR, the Pats will be better prepared.
18. San Diego Chargers – OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
The Chargers are Phillip Rivers’ team. To keep it that way, SD has to better protect their franchise player. Castonzo and LT Marcus McNeil could be tremendous bookends to protect Rivers.
19. New York Giants – DE/DT Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
There are a lot of talented offensive backfields in the NFC East. Heyward is a versatile defender able to anchor against the run and rush the passer. He will fit in well with the aggressive Giants D-line.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Aldon Smith, Missouri
TB’s defense is built for speed and Aldon has plenty of it. He should immediately give the anemic Buccaneers’ pass rush a boost (26 sacks, 31st in the NFL)
21. Kansas City Chiefs – OG/C Mike Pouncey, Florida
In the Chiefs' last two games, QB Matt Cassel completed 39 percent of his passes, passed for 185 yards and was sacked eight times. KC should do what they can to keep Cassel from passing while under duress.
22. Indianapolis Colts – OT Tyron Smith, USC
Just because QB Peyton Manning was sacked just 16 times, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t under pressure often. The Colts also want to be more physical to improve the 29th ranked run game.
23. Philadelphia Eagles – OG Danny Watkins, Baylor
The offensive line allowed 49 sacks, 29th in the league. QB Michael Vick made a quantum leap as a passer. He can take another step forward in a secure pocket.
24. New Orleans Saints – DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
In their Super Bowl-winning season, the Saints had 35 sacks and were third in turnover ratio with a plus-11. That dropped to 26 sacks and a 23rd ranked minus-six ratio. Having a player that can consistently pressure the quarterback will reverse the trend.
25. Seattle Seahawks – DE/DT Muhammed Wilkerson, Temple
The Seahawks were lucky to be in the playoffs with a defense as bad as theirs (21st against the run, 27th against the pass). Wilkerson’s stock is rising with the ability to defend the run and rush the passer.
26. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Justin Houston, Georgia
Last year’s top pick, second-rounder OLB Sergio Kindle, might never play a down after an off-field injury cost him his season. His immaturity could cost him his roster spot. The Ravens want to win now and won’t wait for Kindle to grow up.
27. Atlanta Falcons – OLB Bruce Carter, North Carolina
If it wasn’t for the ACL tear, Carter probably would have gone much higher in the draft. He’s an injury risk, but the Falcons take the gamble. When Carter fully recovers, he will be a first-round steal.
28. New England Patriots – RB Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
Needing to replace three aging, veteran free-agent ball carriers, the Pats nab a no-nonsense ball carrier to split carries with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
29. Chicago Bears – OT Nate Solder, Colorado
QB Jay Cutler led the Bears back to the playoffs, but he could have got Chicago farther if he was better protected. If Solder lives up to his promise, there won’t be another “Does Cutler lack toughness?” controversy next season.
30. New York Jets – WR Leonard Hankerson, University of Miami
The Jets want to re-sign WRs Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, but their priority is Holmes. Hankerson can fulfill Edwards role if NY decides to move on without Braylon.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Gabe Carmini, Wisconsin
Big Ben is a big boy, but even he needs protection. The Steelers take an O-lineman first for the second year in a row. They hope Carmini works out as well as C Maurkice Pouncey did.
32. Green Bay Packers – CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado
The Packers won the Super Bowl with CB Charles Woodson sidelined with an injury. It’s a powerful reminder of the importance of depth. Smith is built like Woodson. It would be wise for Jimmy to watch closely and learn the game from Woodson.
Oakland’s first selection is 48th overall in the second round. They need to address a run defense that finished 29th in the league. No one expects CB Nnamdi Asomugha, a free agent, to re-sign so his replacement is needed. And it’s still unknown if the Raiders will stick with their lot at QB or draft a franchise passer.