Before we get into the draft, I need you to know a couple of things. First, I wanted to create as authentic a process as possible. To do this, I acquired the help of two other drafters. Second, I split up the divisions in this way: the drafter could not draft for the division of his favorite team because there would be too much bias (Duckworth – Steelers, Me – Browns, DMO – Raiders); I split up the teams in the AFC and NFC West between the three drafters; and finally, each drafter received the corresponding division between conferences (i.e. Drafter 1 – AFC North, NFC North).
Third, once the pick was made, we engaged in meaningful discussion about the pick and the thought process that went into the selection. Last, I wanted to have a good time. Anyone who is a fan of the NFL draft undoubtedly knows this is Christmas Day B. So, why not fill out the Christmas List with a couple of my good friends?
Here is how the drafting broke down: Chuck Stanec (CS) – AFC/NFC South and San Diego, Kansas City, and Seattle. John Duckworth (JD) – AFC/NFC East and Oakland, St. Louis, and San Francisco. D-Mo (DMO) – AFC/NFC North and Denver, and Arizona. Each pick was limited to 5 minutes including the discussion portion to keep things moving.
(On another note, due to the lockout, players cannot be traded for picks this year. With a presumed rookie wage scale, this draft could be incredibly insane with trades of picks for picks, or there may be little trading at all with so much labor uncertainty. This has the potential of being one of the greatest drafts – entertainment-wise - ever.)
Now, the draft format has been laid out for you, onto the 2011 Mock Draft.
1. Carolina Panthers (CS) – Marcell Dareus DT, Alabama
This was not the easiest of picks. When a team drafts first, the indication is that it has many needs to fill. The Matt Moore experiment didn't pan out. Questions surround Jimmy Clausen. Not to mention, last year they drafted two quarterbacks. There was one QB targeted for this draft, Andrew Luck, and he went back to school. I get the impression that no one is sold on either Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton as top pick material. This is a pick Carolina has to get right. The only other real option is Patrick Peterson. He could very well be the guy. They could also try upgrading the WR position, but there will be solid talent in the 2nd round to fill that need.
While some may say that missing on your first round pick is not as big a deal because of the rookie wage scale, I disagree. Bottom line, you're still setting your team back by missing on taking the best guy available. You cannot get those picks back. This has to be a winning pick for the Panthers, duh.
2. Denver Broncos (DMO) – Patrick Peterson CB, LSU
I love this pick for Denver. They are old in the secondary, as in no starter they have is under the age of 32. With Peterson, Eddie Royal will no longer be counted on for special teams. Not only will Peterson start opposite Champ Bailey, he fills the void left by the untimely death of Darrent Williams a few years back. Von Miller would certainly be a consideration here, but I don't believe the Broncos are in position to pass on the best player in the draft.
3. Buffalo Bills (JD) – Von Miller OLB, Texas A&M
The Bills have got to be happy Miller falls to them at No. 3. Bills fans may not like this pick, but I think Buffalo would be doing itself a disservice if they took either of the top two quarterbacks. There is a real chance Jake Locker or Colin Kaepernick could be available at the top of the 2nd round. I think the Bills really have something in Ryan Fitzpatrick and behind him; a QB drafted later on could learn and develop. Buffalo needs a player that can play now and Miller is that guy.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (DMO) – A.J. Green WR, Georgia
The Bengals got some positive momentum out of its offense toward the end of last season as starters and 'me first' players Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens were sidelined with injuries. Chances are very high that both of those guys will not be suiting up for Cincinnati next season.
The bad news is that the starting receivers next year would include two out of the group of Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, and Jerome Simpson. A.J. Green would start immediately, and as long as he keeps his head on straight, will be a welcome addition to the team. Who will be throwing the football is another question entirely.
5. Arizona Cardinals (DMO) – Blaine Gabbert QB, Missouri
How dire of a situation is the lockout creating for Arizona? If things were rolling business as usual, a trade, a free agent pickup, a number of posturing moves could have been made to aid the Cards in their QB search. Instead, they are forced to draft Blaine Gabbert.
The roster currently consists of Max Hall and John Skelton. Derek Anderson will probably not be back—and who had the aneurism and signed him the day he came to town? Gabbert makes sense here and I'm sure Larry Fitzgerald will be pleased, but without the lockout, I feel like this pick would be completely different.
6. Cleveland Browns (DMO) – Julio Jones WR, Alabama
Cleveland has issues. First, they have no depth or even players on the defensive line. That's ok because this draft is deep at DE and DT. Second, they could stand to upgrade the linebacker positions as well. That's ok too because there will be some solid prospects later in the draft also – remember the name Bruce Carter. Third, they need a right tackle and haven't had one since Ryan Tucker thought he was two other people and living on Mars.
What an ideal situation for the Browns, though. They get one of the two best receivers in the draft and maybe the more physically impressive. Jones has worked hard to develop his hands and his appearance in Cleveland would spell the end of an unspectacular tenure for Brian Robiskie. On the other side of the field, Mohamed Massaquoi becomes the number 2 receiver. Jones is the weapon Colt McCoy needs for the Browns staff to fully be able to evaluate his progress.
7. San Francisco 49ers (JD) – Prince Amukamara CB, Nebraska
Amukamara will be a nice addition to a team that is a quarterback away from being in the playoffs. With Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer listed as starters on the depth chart, Prince will not be forced into action right away. His situation will be similar to what Joe Haden, last year's number 7 pick, experienced and that seemed to work out well for him.
8. Tennessee Titans (CS) – Nick Fairley DT, Auburn
Another team that I feel can wait till round 2 to pick a quarterback, Fairley will be the new Haynesworth on this defense. Tennessee's D ranked among the league's best when Albert Haynesworth was on the line. By adding Fairley to the interior, pass rushers like DE Jason Babin will work against more one-on-one blocking as Fairley gobbles up multiple blockers on the inside.
9. Dallas Cowboys (JD) – Brandon Harris CB, Miami
Admittedly, I think this is a reach, especially with Jimmy Smith still on the board. Harris is a very solid athlete and has the potential to sneak up the draft board. From watching him play, I think he needs some work and by having the opportunity to watch guys like Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins, he will have an excellent opportunity to work on his technique and consistency.
10. Washington Redskins (JD) – Mark Ingram RB, Alabama
Ingram was a very productive back while in college. I think he will unseat Ryan Torain rather easily as the starter and make a huge difference for the 'Skins. This is another team that is seriously hampered by the lockout. They have significant questions at quarterback and those cannot be answered until the lockout is over. Cam Newton is a possibility here, but again, too many unknowns with the labor situation make it a risky pick to make.
11. Houston Texans (CS) – Da'Quan Bowers DE, Clemson
Just when I didn't think I'd ever get to pick again... Bowers fell largely due to his pro-day results. It's apparent his knee is not ready today, however, in 4 months, that's a different conversation. The Texans defense stunk it up last year. They lost games in spite of their offensive performance. They have DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing at linebacker; Shaun Cody, Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye on the defensive line; next to nothing in the secondary. While Jimmy Smith would make sense here to aid the secondary, one of the best ways to disguise a horrible defensive backfield is by rushing the quarterback – just ask the Steelers. With Bowers at one end and Williams at the other, the front seven of this unit can pin its ears back and abuse QB's on every snap.
12. Minnesota Vikings (DMO) – Cam Newton QB, Auburn
No Brett Favre. No Brad Childress. No other quarterbacks worth mentioning. Newton can come in here and take this team over. He won’t be relied on to win games with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, but he will have to make throws to move this team down the field. The guy has an arm. If he can match the work ethic and keep his head right, I feel like he could produce rookie success similar to Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. However, if he is unable to focus and study and become a student of the game, Cam Newton could become the second coming of Ryan Leaf – sort of.
13. Detroit Lions (DMO) – Anthony Castonzo OT, Boston College
Detroit's problem is simple: keep Matt Stafford healthy. Stafford's health starts and ends with protection and getting a top tier left tackle is a priority. Quarterback play is really the one thing holding this team back and having invested so much money into a number one pick and not getting him to play a full season is disappointing. Castonzo will be a welcomed member to the line in the Motor City.
14. St. Louis Rams (JD) – Robert Quinn DE, UNC
Quinn was a beast at North Carolina and the only thing affecting his draft stock was missing a year of football. His pro-day showed he hasn't lost a step and now it's all about getting back into game shape since having sat out 2010. The Rams would love to grab a top WR, but with Jones and Green both off the board, none of the remaining players warrants a 14th pick and there will be value later in the draft.
15. Miami Dolphins (JD) – Jimmy Smith CB, Colorado
Having Vontae Davis on one side of the field and Jimmy Smith on the other would certainly help the pass defense. Miami is another one of those teams that are in flux because of the lockout and uncertainty with how they want to proceed with their quarterback position. I'm curious to see what type of effort the Fish put forth this year as they are playing for what appears to be a lame duck coach in Tony Sparano.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (CS) – JJ Watt DE, Wisconsin
I like Watt a lot. He has a great motor and really knows how to get after the quarterback. He is a good rusher, but don't be fooled, he also plays within the framework of the defense and is also a force stopping the run. If Aaron Kampman can return to form for the Jags, they will have a very formidable defensive line in 2011.
17. New England Patriots from Oakland (JD) – Tyron Smith OT, USC
One word describes the Pat's offensive line: old. Smith had a very solid career at USC and leads this class of offensive linemen with Anthony Castonzo. Yes, New England has Nick Kaczur and Matt Light for the time being, but one thing about Bill Belichick's system is that he is not afraid to cut bait on a player when he can try to improve the overall performance of his team.
18. San Diego Chargers (CS) – Cameron Heyward DE/LB, OSU
I've gotten several opportunities to watch Heyward play and one thing comes to mind with this guy: game changer. He is lean, quick, and physically gifted. I feel like he will make people forget entirely about Shawn Merriman – I'm not kidding. One thing was missing last year from a poorly coached Chargers team, and that was the constant fear of the pass rush. Putting Heyward at the outside backer spot greatly intensifies the heat this unit can put on the QB.
19. New York Giants (JD) – Gabe Carimi OT, Wisconsin
Some schools are referred to as "Linebacker U" or "Quarterback U". In that same vein, Wisconsin is most certainly "Offensive Lineman U". Whatever they are doing up north is working and Carimi follows a long line of Badgers at his position into the NFL. He is very technically sound and will supplant David Diehl as the starter on the line.
20. Tampa Bay Bucs (CS) – Cameron Jordan DE, California
The Bucs definitely need to add someone to the defensive side of the ball. The only question is whether or not they take a cornerback now that Aqib Talib's status is questionable. Jordan has really worked out well, hence his climb from obscurity.
21. Kansas City Chiefs (CS) – Mike Pouncey OG, Florida
Pouncey struggled mightily at the beginning of the season as he transitioned to the center spot for the Gators. As the year progressed he really came into his own. Is he as good as his brother? That remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, with his presence on the O-line, the pass protection will improve and Jamaal Charles will laugh his way to another 1,000 yard season.
22. Indianapolis Colts (CS) – Nate Solder OT, Colorado
Solder anchored the Buffalo's O-line last season and held up well against the elite rushers in the Big 12. Grabbing an OT here is the result of one thing: whiffing on Michael Ugoh. If the switch finally clicked on in Indy, offensive tackle is the insta-pick here and Nate Solder should be that guy.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (JD) – Akeem Ayers LB, UCLA
This almost amounts to a luxury pick for the Eagles. The fans aren't going to love it immediately, but they will as time goes on. Ayers hits like a ton of bricks and he will be very effective in stopping the run. With a team stacked across the board on offense, getting the defense up to that same level will make the Eagles the odds on favorite in the NFC East and really will put themselves in the conversation with the Packers and Falcons in talks about representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
24. New Orleans Saints (CS) – Adrian Clayborn DE, Iowa
In a similar situation to the Eagles, the Saints could use help beefing up the front seven. If you don't believe me, YouTube the Marshawn Lynch run from the playoffs last year.
25. Seattle Seahawks (CS) – Ryan Kerrigan DE, Purdue
Isn't it almost unfair that the Seahawks are picking this late? Well, they are. With plenty of room to improve and having made some considerable investment to the offensive side of the ball last season, Pete Carroll goes with Kerrigan, an All-Big Ten player who has a fantastic combination of power and athleticism to anchor the D-line.
26. Baltimore Ravens (DMO) – Aaron Williams CB/S, Texas
This is another difficult pick to make. Williams projects well as a safety, where Tom Zbikowski and Ed Reed happen to be starting, or corner – a position in much need of improvement. Then there is Sergio Kindle, who "fell" down a flight of stairs and fractured his skull. That cost Kindle and the Ravens all of last season. Now, Kindle has followed that up with a DUI. I never thought he had the marbles upstairs to make it, and so far I'm right. What's intriguing is: do the Ravens try and find a replacement for Sergio Kindle, who may never pan out, or do they upgrade the dire position they find themselves at the corner spot? My vote, and DMO's vote, went to Williams.
27. Atlanta Falcons (CS) – Aldon Smith DE, Missouri
The Falcons should have been the toast of the NFC last season. Instead, they watched the Super Bowl from their couches just like I did. The offense, led by Matt Ryan, can score with anyone. The defense really collapsed in the playoff game against Green Bay and most of the problem is the lack of a pass rush. John Abraham is a beast, but when he was neutralized, no one stepped up to answer the bell. That's where Smith comes in.
28. New England Patriots (JD) – Mikel LeShoure RB, Illinois
While Danny Woodhead was fun to watch and gave every little guy a dream of making it to the show one day, Mikel LeShore is the smart pick here. LeShoure may come with some overall question marks, but he has the size and speed to be a difference maker. This pick easily makes New England look like gold as they've upgraded their two softest spots on offense – the line and the running back.
29. Chicago Bears (DMO) – Rodney Hudson C, Florida State
Hudson had a strong campaign last year as Florida State made a move to get back to business as usual on the football field after several years in the toilet. The Bears have a very good defense and Olin Kreutz is 34 and not getting younger. Keeping Jay Cutler upright is a priority on an offense that likes to fling the rock.
30. New York Jets (JD) – Martez Wilson LB, Illinois
You can't often use the word soft and Jets in the same sentence, but outside of Bart Scott, getting another linebacker for the 3-4 is essential. This team doesn't have many holes, but they are in a unique position to make one of the league's best units even better.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers (DMO) – Corey Liuget DT, Illinois
Sounds strange after grabbing Ziggy Hood a few years back, but this makes sense. The Steelers grab HUGE DT's to play the nose in their 3-4 and they draft regular sized DT's to play the end spots. One thing is certain: the D-line is seriously aging and an influx of youth to the unit will absolutely help one of the league's most staunch run defenses.
32. Green Bay Packers (DMO) – Derek Sherrod OT, Mississippi State
Not a sexy pick, but in my opinion, the right pick. Chad Clifton is 34 now and will be 35 by the start of the season – or 36 depending on the labor dispute. Brian Bulaga was absolutely scary in passing situations early last season but really got it together as time went on. Question is, which Brian Bulaga will show up in 2011? Here is to hoping Bulaga locks down the right side and Sherrod unseats Clifton giving the Pack bookend tackles for the next 10 years.