2011 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller Predicts the First Round
We are officially 18 days away from the start of the 2011 NFL draft. Which means now is the time for NFL teams to set their draft boards and begin spreading loads of misinformation in the hopes of throwing off their competition.
Unlike most years, we have no indication as to who the No. 1 overall choice will be. Without a collective bargaining agreement in place, the Carolina Panthers cannot negotiate with potential draft prospects before or after the draft, leaving a shadow of doubt over any mock draft predictions.
While we cannot know for sure, all signs point to the Panthers preferring Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
If Newton is first off the board, what happens next?
1. Carolina Panthers Select Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
In what might not be much of a surprise, the Panthers choose to build their franchise around an athletic, energetic quarterback.
New head coach Ron Rivera has said that 2010 second-round pick Jimmy Clausen is not guaranteed the starting spot at quarterback next fall, leaving open the possibility that the Panthers could draft a quarterback first overall.
The team has definite needs at almost every position, making this pick an educated guess at this point in the process. With so many needs, the Panthers can truly sit back and draft the player rated highest on their draft board.
In the end, we believe this pick will be Cam Newton whether the Panthers still hold the pick or not. Not necessarily because this is the pick we would make—it's not. Newton is ranked as our No. 16 player overall.
With so many needs this offseason and no pick in the second round, we fully expect Carolina to put the No. 1 overall pick up for a trade.
2. Denver Broncos Select Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Broncos are making a move back to the 4-3 defense under John Fox this year, leaving a big question mark at defensive tackle. The team moved last week to re-sign cornerback Champ Bailey, temporarily filling a need at cornerback.
This leaves Denver in position to draft Dareus, who will play next to Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil in the four-man front.
This gives the Broncos a viable defensive line to build around and also will help pressure the quarterback and shorten the amount of time their patchwork secondary has to cover the defensive backfield.
Dareus has used the offseason to establish himself ahead of SEC rival Nick Fairley of Auburn. As the draft nears, it is becoming more likely that Dareus will be the first defensive tackle off the board.
Denver could also consider cornerback Patrick Peterson (LSU) here or trade back to a team hoping to secure Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
3. Buffalo Bills Select Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
As our No. 2-rated player overall, Von Miller has an explosive skill set that reminds us of the late Derrick Thomas.
Miller is the draft's most explosive player. In the Bills' 3-4 scheme, he will team up with Shawne Merriman to give the Bills a fierce outside pass rush.
Finding help on the offensive line and in the secondary is important, but this class is full of talent in Rounds 2 and 3. Buffalo strikes now on an impact player.
4. Cincinnati Bengals Select Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Previous installations of our mock draft have seen the Bengals use this pick on a defensive end almost every time. Why the change?
The Bengals hopefully realize by now that Carson Palmer will never play for them again. Take a quick look at their roster and see what they have behind Palmer at quarterback—Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour.
While LeFevour could develop into a nice player, he's not there yet. Not even close.
Gabbert is the best quarterback in this class, in our opinion, when you combine current readiness and his potential to develop further in an NFL system.
Much like Sam Bradford last year, there are questions about his arm strength and football IQ coming from a spread system at Missouri. While we don't think Gabbert is Bradford 2.0, he's still a very good prospect.
With no clear-cut franchise quarterback on the roster the Bengals cannot afford to not draft Gabbert.
5. Arizona Cardinals Select Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina
Let's be honest here: The Cardinals will be livid if both Von Miller and Blaine Gabbert are off the board when they pick at No. 5.
We even considered predicting a trade here, but the inability to include players in trades currently eliminates the logic in trading the selection.
Arizona finds a very good consolation prize in Quinn.
While Von Miller is viewed as the best outside linebacker in this class, Quinn offers the best combination of skills. He is a bit raw after missing the 2010 season, but his freakish athletic ability will make him a tough player to stop.
6. Cleveland Browns Select Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Browns are facing an offseason in which they need to add targets for Colt McCoy and rebuild their defense while changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 system. Oh, and they must replace Shaun Rogers after releasing him in a salary-cap move.
As Colt McCoy matures and becomes the Browns' franchise quarterback, he will need receivers to grow with him. Cleveland could pull the trigger as early as Round 1 on a No. 1 receiver for McCoy.
A.J. Green of Georgia could be considered here, but we feel Jones is the better West Coast offense receiver, has more "big play" ability and also does not have the stain of an NCAA suspension on his record.
Defensive end would be tempting, but no player on the board is worthy of the No. 6 pick. Nick Fairley (Auburn) might be an option at defensive tackle. We do not see Cleveland using another top-10 pick on a cornerback with uncertainty over a rookie wage pool.
7. San Francisco 49ers Select Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The 49ers want to see Von Miller here, and would even consider Robert Quinn to play outside linebacker if he were still on the board. There are many very good prospects left that would fill a need in San Francisco. However, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh simply cannot pass on the talent of Patrick Peterson.
The team has a giant need at quarterback but they do not seem to love Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton, the only two passers worthy of a top-10 pick.
Peterson allows San Francisco the freedom to move Nate Clements to safety, keep him at left cornerback or even cut him in a salary-cap move.
Peterson is a lockdown corner who can have an immediate impact for the 49ers.
With 12 selections in the draft, don't be surprised to see the 49ers move up to find their quarterback.
8. Tennessee Titans Select Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Do the Titans need a defensive tackle?
Yes, and no.
We like Jason Jones a lot, and Sen'Derrick Marks had a ton of potential as a young player. Tony Brown is a solid veteran player when healthy.
Notice that none of these players is a household name. Not one Pro Bowler in the group.
The Titans have a solid collection of players at defensive tackle, but no one who is going to take over a game or dominate the offensive line.
Nick Fairley can do this, and more.
His tenacity and aggressive style of play are a perfect fit in Tennessee.
Quarterback is the bigger need, but the Titans will not reach for Jake Locker here.
9. Dallas Cowboys Select Tyron Smith, OT, USC
We previously linked the Cowboys to Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara in this spot, but we're having a change of opinion regarding Dallas.
The Cowboys have two solid cornerbacks in Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. Neither had a great 2010, but both can play well enough to not hurt the team. Newman is not a long-term fit in Rob Ryan's defense, but he is a better option than almost any other player available.
Where Dallas really needs help is at right tackle.
Marc Colombo is one of the nicest guys in the world, but he is not a starting right tackle.
Smith has started at right tackle for USC and has the strength to hold up against power rushers. He is also a very good athlete and can get out in front when run blocking.
10. Washington Redskins Select A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Washington would be ecstatic to see Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert on the board, and while we do think Mike Shanahan likes Jake Locker, he doesn't like him enough to draft him No. 10 overall.
Washington would prefer to trade back in this situation but will gladly settle for a wide receiver, especially one as dynamic as A.J. Green.
Green ranks as the No. 1 wide receiver on our board and the No. 6 player overall.
11. Houston Texans Select Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Purdue
The Texans will be faced with the difficult decision of drafting the hot-rising defensive end/outside linebacker who is a perfect fit for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense or drafting a sure-thing cover corner to anchor a weak secondary.
In the end, the pass rush wins out.
Kerrigan's name is soaring up draft boards. He has a very good chance to be a top-10 pick.
12. Minnesota Vikings Select Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
We do think the Vikings will be tempted by quarterbacks Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett, but in the end this is a Vikings team that is very close to contending for a playoff berth. A rookie quarterback is perhaps not as likely.
If we could predict trades of players, this would be an ideal spot for Kevin Kolb or a package deal to get Carson Palmer and draft picks from Cincinnati.
Until the CBA is renewed, that's not going to happen though.
The Vikings are not terribly off at cornerback. Cedric Griffin has flashed potential when healthy, which is all too infrequent. Antoine Winfield is a Pro Bowler, but he turns 34 this summer.
Amukamara is simply too good to pass by.
13. Detroit Lions Select Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Jeff Backus turns 34 this season. Matthew Stafford's two seasons in the NFL have ended with injuries. Offensive tackle is a need here.
Lions fans will tell you they need to focus on defense in Round 1, but we disagree. They do need to add a cornerback and outside linebacker, but this can be done later on.
Grabbing a franchise left tackle must take precedence in a draft loaded with talent in Rounds 2 and 3.
Castonzo ranks as the best tackle on most draft boards. He's a solid, safe pick for the Lions.
14. St. Louis Rams Select Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
St. Louis has needs a wide receiver and might also like to see an outside linebacker here, but they will be ecstatic to find the freakish Cameron Jordan coming off the edge opposite Chris Long.
The Rams offense is much better off than most will acknowledge. With Donnie Avery back in 2012, their wide receiver crew is solid enough to compete in the NFC West. In addition, the 2011 draft class is solid with second-tier talent at wide receiver in Round 2.
What this 2011 class lacks in Round 2 is pass rushers. St. Louis fills a massive need early on.
15. Miami Dolphins Select Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will both enter free agency this offseason. The Dolphins are not expected to bring both back and could ultimately choose to start fresh at the position and let both leave. Whichever they decide, running back figures to be a key need for Miami in the draft.
We firmly believe Miami should and will trade this pick. With no second-round pick, they could trade back, pick up an extra selection in Round 2 and still grab a running back.
If you read our mock drafts each week, you may have noticed a back-and-forth here between Ingram and Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure. In the end, this will be a pick of preference by the Miami personnel department.
Our preference is Leshoure.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars Select Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Why is a player many rate as a top-five pick still on the board at No. 16?
A few reasons:
1. We rate Bowers as the No. 16 player overall and have for quite some time.
2. Bowers may not be healthy after knee surgery and could require microfracture surgery.
3. It is very likely that many NFL teams have completely removed Bowers from their draft boards.
Drafting Bowers is a huge gamble, but it could pay off with Pro Bowl results if he can overcome the knee injury that slowed him down this offseason.
17. New England Patriots Select J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
*Pick received from Oakland Raiders via trade
We have previously slotted the Patriots to draft an offensive tackle here, with the belief that they will move to replace Matt Light with their first pick in the draft. It is also worth noting that we firmly believe the Patriots will consider trying to trade this pick.
Should the Patriots hold on to pick No. 17, they will be faced with many options, chief of which is a chance to draft an outside linebacker who can rush the passer. As good as the Patriots defense is, they are weak on the edge and have not done an effective job rushing the passer as of late.
Watt is the best of the many 3-4 defensive ends in this draft. He is recently receiving notice as a potential top-10 pick.
18. San Diego Chargers Select Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
The Chargers have many needs they could address here. They want to get better at outside linebacker, replace four free agents at inside linebacker, add a young defensive end, and potentially replace Vincent Jackson at wide receiver.
Thankfully, the Chargers have three selections in the top two rounds.
Smith's stock is skyrocketing after a stellar pro day workout. He could emerge as the second-best outside linebacker, behind only Von Miller.
19. New York Giants Select Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Injuries decimated the Giants offensive line this year, but this also exposed weaknesses and areas of need. No position needs more attention than offensive tackle.
Building depth at tackle is a need, but the Giants can also look for young players who can eventually start.
Carimi is slightly underrated by NFL analysts and TV scouts, but having seen him first-hand numerous times, it is hard to not be impressed with Carimi's ability on the blind side.
He is a dominant force in the run game, and he has the tools to become an elite pass protector.
Doubt Carimi as a left tackle? Look at his stats against the best defensive ends in the Big Ten:
vs. Adrian Clayborn (Iowa): one solo tackle, one sack
vs. Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue): two solo tackles
vs. Cameron Heyward (Ohio State): two solo tackles
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Select Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
At one point this year, we had Adrian Clayborn rated as our No. 1 overall player. That was until he decided to play poorly down the stretch and cause many to question his work ethic and character. A dominant end in 2009, Clayborn was average in 2010.
When watching Clayborn on film, you can walk away amazed or disappointed. We believe teams will look hard enough at his 2009 film to be thoroughly impressed.
If you are running a 4-3 defense, you have to consider Clayborn among the best defensive ends in the class.
Clayborn has a chance to redeem himself with a strong pre-draft workout, causing teams with a need for an outside pass rush to take a look at him late in the first round.
21. Kansas City Chiefs Select Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
The popular mock draft choice for Kansas City is an outside linebacker, or maybe even a wide receiver. We're convinced the Chiefs will wait for both.
Opposite Tamba Hali, the Chiefs need an outside linebacker who can drop into coverage. None of the linebackers available can do this, except maybe Akeem Ayers, who would be a reach here.
At wide receiver, Kansas City would be reaching to draft any of the available guys.
Taylor, on the other hand, is a safe pick. Scott Pioli helped build the New England Patriots defense and knows how important a big, strong nose tackle is.
22. Indianapolis Colts Select Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Peyton Manning had to feel a little human this season after being beaten into the turf by the Chargers and then the Cowboys.
Even in the playoffs, Manning looked rushed, rattled and scared in the pocket. We can hardly blame him after looking at how terrible the Colts offensive line was this year.
Solder is an elite athlete for a left tackle, a must in the Colts zone-blocking scheme. He has long arms, a big frame and the footwork to get to the second level and pull on screens and stretch plays.
Solder is rated by almost all draft experts as a late first-round pick. He is a solid tackle with good athleticism, great size and excellent length. He shows ability to play in the NFL as a rookie.
23. Philadelphia Eagles Select Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Perhaps more so than any other team drafting in the 20s, the Eagles are primed to trade this selection for extra picks in Round 2.
The Eagles have needs at outside linebacker, cornerback and defensive tackle. Any of these could be addressed now or with extra selections later on through a trade.
Reid tends to like aggressive corners who attack the ball. Colorado's Jimmy Smith fits the Eagles' scheme very well.
The Eagles like physical cornerbacks who can face the receiver and make plays on the ball. Smith not only fits this mold, he has the size to run with the NFL's biggest receivers.
24. New Orleans Saints Select Justin Houston, DE, Georgia
Justin Houston is normally projected as an outside linebacker for a 3-4 scheme, but we love his ability as a pure pass rusher from a 4-3 defensive end position.
Houston has experience with his hand in the dirt, not dropping back into coverage.
Given the task of attacking the quarterback every down, he could excel. Playing next to big tackles Shaun Rogers and Sedrick Ellis will not hurt, either.
25. Seattle Seahawks Select Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
The Seahawks’ only signal-caller signed for 2011 is Charlie Whitehurst, and he has not proven to have the talent to become a franchise quarterback in Seattle.
At the end of Round 1, the Seahawks will have their pick of Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker.
With so many talented passers to choose from, we believe Pete Carroll will draft the most NFL-ready of the group and the player with the most experience in a pro-style offense.
That player is Christian Ponder.
26. Baltimore Ravens Select Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
The Baltimore Ravens have few real needs to address here, making G.M. Ozzie Newsome more likely to trade this selection to a quarterback-needy team with extra picks in the draft.
Looking for a potential scenario?
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh calls brother John to trade up and select Andy Dalton.
Since we are not predicting trades (yet), we will hold off on that one but store it away for later use.
If Baltimore uses this pick on April 28th, we will see them draft the best available player at cornerback, wide receiver or defensive end for their 3-4 defense.
In today's scenario, that is Brandon Harris of Miami. He has the athleticism to be the Ravens best cornerback immediately.
27. Atlanta Falcons Select Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
Why would Atlanta draft a defensive end here instead of a wide receiver or tight end?
John Abraham had a great season in 2010, but he is only going to last another year or two at a high level.
Kroy Biermann has been good, but he is a situational player at best. Neither of the aforementioned ends offers help in stopping the run.
Reed is a freak of an athlete. He has the speed to be an true pass rushing force off the edge.
28. New England Patriots Select Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Bill Belichick trusts former Florida head coach Urban Meyer.
The Patriots drafted Brandon Spikes, a former Gator, in the 2010 NFL draft and plugged him in at inside linebacker.
They'll do the same with Mike Pouncey at offensive guard in 2011.
Pouncey can play left guard, center or right guard in the NFL but projects best at right guard. He will be an immediate fill-in for retired Stephen Neal.
29. Chicago Bears Select Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Bears shocked everyone by making a run to the NFC championship game this past season. Had Jay Cutler not gone down to injury, the Bears had a chance to surprise people by appearing in the Super Bowl.
What does Chicago need to do to have a legitimate chance to play for the 2011 NFL championship? Adding a left tackle to protect Cutler and wide receivers who can get open are key to this offseason.
Sherrod is a left tackle by trade but has the strength to play on the right side in a zone-blocking system or West Coast offense. He is an underrated run blocker, and in pass protection, he is NFL ready.
We also believe Chicago could be considering North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little here.
30. New York Jets Select Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
The New York Jets have an offseason plan to re-sign high priority free agents Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.
If they can get these three key players back under contract, their draft focus can shift to adding a young pass rusher at outside linebacker and replacing veterans on the offensive and defensive lines.
Akeem Ayers will have one mission for the New York Jets: piss off Tom Brady.
The Jets have proven they can beat New England, now they need to take the division from them. Ayers' ability as a pass rusher and cover man will take them one step closer.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers Select Rodney Hudson, Guard, Florida State
The Steelers were so close to another Super Bowl ring—and we believe they have the talent to be back in the big game next season.
The team is loaded at wide receiver, running back and on defense. They also have a top-five quarterback and a young coach who are excellent leaders.
Where Pittsburgh is obviously lacking is in the offensive line and the secondary. With pick No. 31, the Steelers are in a great position to draft the best available cornerback or offensive lineman.
You may not hear about Rodney Hudson as much as other offensive linemen, but he is, in our eyes, the best pure blocker at guard in this entire class.
32. Green Bay Packers Select Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
The Temple Owls do not put many players in the first round of the NFL draft. Muhammad Wilkerson is a rare talent.
The Packers have a few needs on the roster coming off their Super Bowl win. One need is at defensive end.
Cullen Jenkins is a free agent. Johnny Jolly was arrested last week. Mike Neal is unproven but will have a chance to start in 2011.
Wilkerson and Neal will make up two-thirds of the Packers front line of the future, teaming with future Pro Bowler B.J. Raji at nose tackle.