This year's NFL Draft promises to deliver the usual mix of drama, excitement and intrigue
With the NFL wrapped up in its worst labor dispute since 1987, fans are clamoring for something football-related to get excited about. With no big names on the move in free agency and no players at mini camps or even just working out at team facilities, news is hard to come by unless it involves the words "court", "mediation" or "disagreement".
There is no need for such doom and gloom, though, because the 2011 NFL Draft is a mere 17 days away. With draftniks all over the country putting together their final mock drafts, I have adopted a different approach. I have assembled a singular mock draft for your reading pleasure, which I worked meticulously on, purposely waiting until now to publish it. I studied tendencies of teams and their general managers and put myself in their shoes for each and every pick.
Without further ado, please sink your teeth into my one and only mock draft.
Dareus provides an instant upgrade for the Panthers interior defensive line and is a scheme versatile talent
The sexy pick here is to take the quarterback, but when it comes down to it on draft day, after much deliberation amongst the coaching staff and GM Marty Hurney, I can’t see them endorsing the pick of a QB number one overall. I believe the Panthers would love to trade back a couple of spots and recoup the second round pick they used to get Armanti Edwards last year.
The Panthers have an excellent history of hitting on their first round picks, and none is more important for the future of the franchise than this one. Dareus is an instant upgrade and gives new head coach Ron Rivera a scheme versatile player who comes from a pro style defense at Alabama to plug into his defensive line. Dareus is widely regarded by draft analysts as the best player in the draft, including the highly respected Mike Mayock. He can be an impact player for the Carolina defense from day one.
I also think that Hurney wants to give Clausen another chance, and hence will take a pass on QB since there isn’t really a standout one (Bradford, Stafford) in this class.
Quinn has rehabbed his image after missing 2010 due to the agent scandal at UNC
A pick you won’t see in many mock drafts, I realise, but a very good one for the Denver Broncos. Robert Quinn is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end with very few character concerns. Missing the 2010 season due to the agent scandal at North Carolina hurt his stock early in the pre-draft process, but after a terrific showing at his pro day, Quinn launched himself into consideration for the Broncos at No. 2.
Denver also considered Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, but his pro day caused his stock to plummet.
Overall, Quinn provides more impact as a day one starter for the new regime in Colorado. Quinn makes a ton of sense as the Broncos switch to the 4-3. Another consideration here was CB Patrick Peterson, but I have a feeling the need for defensive line talent will override the urge to take possibly the best player on the board.
Von Miller is a freakish athlete who projects well to the Bills new 3-4 scheme
After the questionable picks the Bills have made in the first round in recent drafts (Spiller, Maybin, Lynch), they cannot afford to miss on this pick.
The Bills have plenty of options here. Quarterback has to be a consideration, but I am going to give Ryan Fitzpatrick the helm in 2011. He would be starting anyway, and the Bills can address the QB position later in the draft.
Von Miller is a stud at the OLB position and will fit right in as the Bills make the transition to a 3-4. Miller is an explosive pass rusher with the skill set and speed to win off the snap and get to the passer. GM Buddy Nix will be pleased if he can make this pick on draft day.
A.J. Green has been compared by many in the draft community to Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson
This is a tough pick to make prior to the start of free agency. We still don’t know what will become of Carson Palmer. All signs point to him getting out of town one way or the other, but my hunch tells me that no matter what happens, owner Mike Brown won’t budge and will continue as normal.
A.J. Green fills a need at No. 4, and not only that, but you also get yourself a true blue chip wide receiver. Green has the ability to be a special player in this league in the mould of a Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson. There are some rumours that the Bengals like Julio Jones more than Green, but I ain’t buying it.
Blaine Gabbert is the safest QB prospect in this draft, but is he the most talented?
This is the landing spot for the first signal caller to come off the board, and Arizona gets what is the most surefire QB pick in this draft. Gabbert has some work to do in the transition from a shotgun Missouri offense to a pro style NFL offense, but he has the tools and the work ethic to make it happen. Gabbert has the combination of tools necessary to be a solid starter in the NFL.
The Cardinals were good QB play away from winning this division last year. They’ll be happy to get Gabbert in the fold as they please Larry Fitzgerald and fix their QB issues.
Holmgren will be a happy man if the Browns can draft Bowers
The Browns have plenty of options here. They have a need at defensive line in the worst way. Only Ahtyba Rubin is assured of his starting spot next season as the team switches to a 4-3.
Bowers may have had a poor pro day according to most scouts, but as they say, if you turn on the tape, the kid can play. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert will know what Bowers can do, and although he only had one year of great production, they take the chance of him here at No. 6 overall. I think this would be a good time for the Browns to trade down a few spots.
The Niners get a steal with Peterson here at #7
The 49ers almost fall over themselves as they grab the phone to communicate to their guy in Radio City Music Hall. Patrick Peterson is still on the board? It’s a slam dunk pick at No. 7 for Jim Harbaugh in his first draft with the team. The Niners have 11 more picks as well, so they have plenty more talent to add.
Peterson is amongst the best players in this entire draft, if not the best. He runs like a corner, hits like a safety and makes a ton of plays. I don’t know if he will be a true “shutdown” corner, but he’ll give the Niners a chance to take guys like Fitzgerald out of the game.
Tennessee wanted to take Gabbert if he had been available and doesn’t want to take the chance on a guy like Cam Newton, so they go with Nick Fairley, a unique talent who has the ability to completely take over ball games with his mix of physicality, power and agility.
Fairley will be a great 4-3 DT for this team from day one. He comes with a little bit of baggage, and his coaches will have to keep him motivated, but if they do, I see no reason why he can’t become an Albert Haynesworth-like presence for Tennessee.
Amukamara slots in nicely in Dallas' predominantly man cover scheme
Jerry Jones has never taken an offensive tackle in the first round before, preferring to take a developmental guy later. With CB such a pressing need for the Cowboys and with the best man to man cover corner in the draft staring right at them, the Cowboys pull the trigger on Amukamara. The Nebraska product fits perfectly in Dallas’ predominantly man defense and will do a lot of favours for Newman and Jenkins in the secondary. In the NFC East, you need to have good cornerbacks. Dallas have their man.
Jones' pre-draft showings have been spectacular and he has a great pedigree coming from the SEC
One of the easier picks to make in this mock draft, the Redskins simply have to address their wide receiver position in the worst way. Shanahan can address the QB position later, and knowing how aggressive the Redskins are with their draft picks, it wouldn’t surprise me if they traded back up in the first round or early second to grab a guy like Ponder.
For now, the Skins get a weapon for their future QB to throw to. Julio Jones is a physical freak who, despite having a broken bone in his foot, not only did all the drills at the Combine, but excelled at them. Jones is a willing blocker and has all the tools you look for in a big wide out.
Houston hope Aldon Smith can terrorise QBs in the AFC South for many years
Wade Phillips forged his good defense in Dallas on the talents of DeMarcus Ware. In Houston, he has a new toy to play with. Aldon Smith projects to be an outside linebacker in the Texans new 3-4 scheme.
Although raw, Smith has tremendous upside, and his physical gifts are off the charts. Many have compared him to Ware. He has great versatility too and lined up in several spots on Missouri’s defensive front. On third down, Smith can put his hand down opposite Mario Williams and wreak havoc on Peyton Manning and the rest of the AFC South passers.
A polarizing player with unpolished potential
The most talked about player in this draft class comes off the board at No. 12 overall to the Vikings. The value is too good to pass up for Leslie Frazier and Co. and the Vikings are happy to have such a talented kid on their team. Newton’s skills will fit well in the dome in Minnesota, and he will be surrounded with a good supporting cast. It will also excite the Vikings fanbase after a poor 2010 campaign.
Newton won’t be an immediate starter. I expect the Vikes to add a QB in free agency (whenever it begins) as a stop gap measure, but for all intents and purposes, Newton is the face of the franchise.
Tyron Smith has soared up draft boards recently
I think if things played out this way, there would be a few teams calling the Lions to trade up to get a chance at Tyron Smith, who has fallen a few spots further than expected. For Detroit, this is a dream scenario and one that would be greeted with jubilation by their coaching staff and GM.
After a very solid draft the last two seasons, the Lions solidify the left side of their offensive line for the foreseeable future with the most athletic tackle in the draft. Smith played the right side at USC, but I expect the Lions to plug him in at left tackle and finally protect Matthew Stafford so that this team can accomplish what their talent level is capable of.
Spags could really use a dominant 4-3 UT
Since Julio Jones is off the board, the Rams decide to bolster their defensive line with a player they have been rumoured to be enamoured with for quite some time. Liuget is a perfect 3-technique DT for Steve Spagnuolo and will be an asset on that defensive line in St. Louis. Liuget is a nimble foot athlete and has room to grow into his frame. I believe this is a good team for him to land on, as Spags knows how to get the best out of his defensive linemen.
Ingram is the only true stud RB in this class
This is a prime trading down spot for the Dolphins. I think they would be more than happy to drop down eight or 10 spots, pick up an extra couple of picks and go from there, addressing their RB need later.
Since this is a mock draft and trades just complicate matters, the Dolphins are taking the best RB prospect in the draft in Mark Ingram.
I love to watch this guy play; he’s powerful, shifty, elusive and mature in his running style. He knows how to press the hole and make defenders miss in the open field. If I were Miami, I would be thrilled to have him. Somehow I don’t see it playing out this way on draft day though.
DT Tyson Alualu will be pleased to be joined on the defensive line by Cam Jordan
The Jags recorded only 26 sacks last season, one of the worst totals in the league. Their pass rush seems to be a constant source of frustration. They invested in Aaron Kampman last year, and he ended up on IR with a torn ACL. Therefore, they have to address DE in the worst way.
Cameron Jordan is a former teammate of current Jaguar Tyson Alualu. Alualu will have told the Jags brass (if he was allowed talk to them) that Jordan is a player he knows would be a good fit in Jacksonville. Jordan is a tremendous player with a great deal of versatility. Ideally, he would be a 3-4 five technique, but the Jags believe he can be both a 4-3 DE and a 4-3 DT on passing downs.
Gabe Carimi could be the long term answer for the Patriots at left tackle
Current LT Matt Light is 33 years old and scheduled to become a free agent. The Patriots are set on one side of their line with the impressive Sebastian Vollmer. Normally, New England wouldn’t take a tackle in the first round, and indeed, they haven’t done that for the past few years, but they know that the DL talent is good in this draft.
Belichick knows how to play the draft and get the best value, and they do have two more premium picks upcoming. Gabe Carimi is the best OT on the board and presents good value here. He has a great deal of experience and is one of the most complete offensive line prospects in this class.
J.J. Watt is good value here at #18 for San Diego
It’s back to back Badgers in the NFL Draft, as the Chargers take the best 3-4 five technique DE on their board in J.J. Watt. Watt is a former tight end who grew into his role at DE and still has a lot of upside at the position. The Chargers need a player of his tenacity, power and high motor to bolster their front seven. Watt is a slam dunk pick here for A.J. Smith.
The Giants have made very good picks in the first round under GM Jerry Reese and hope to continue the trend with the selection of Anthony Castonzo, perhaps the most solid left tackle prospect in the draft. Castonzo can be a solid starting player for the Giants for eight to 10 years.
New York also considered the kid from Colorado, Nate Solder, but opted to go with Castonzo, who they had rated slightly higher. Giants fans in Radio City may not be thrilled, but they’ll come to like their new LT.
Tampa Bay needs help at DE in the worst way. After addressing the interior of their defensive front four last year with Brian Price and Gerald McCoy, the Bucs take a player who will be a leader for them on and off the field. Kerrigan has a high motor, a fantastic work ethic and will provide a consistent pass rush for the Bucs. It’s not a difficult pick for a team on the up.
Mike Pouncey is a really solid addition to the Chiefs offensive line
Although Mike Pouncey would be “shocked” if he didn’t end up as a Dallas Cowboy, I’m going to be realistic here and have him be picked by the Chiefs. Kansas City has a need at interior offensive line with C Casey Wiegmann turning 37 and scheduled to become a free agent and stalwart Brian Waters getting long in the tooth as well. Pouncey is the perfect player to take at this juncture for a Chiefs team who really turned it around last year and dominated up front. Jamaal Charles is entering the prime of his career and will enjoy running behind Pouncey.
In one of the more nailed on picks in the first round, Bill Polian addresses the gaping need at tackle the Colts have. Polian said he regretted his decision to take DE Jerry Hughes at the end of round one last year instead of a tackle. Peyton Manning desperately need a steadier offensive line, and Solder, although raw in some areas and not the most complete OT, he has a great deal of upside and is a huge mammoth of a man. He’ll be a fixture at LT for many years.
The Eagles could go a few ways here. Danny Watkins and Rodney Hudson, both offensive guards, are attractive options here at No. 23. In the end, Andy Reid decides it is time to address the tackle position. They have Jason Peters manning the left tackle position, so why not shore up the other side?
Sherrod has plenty of experience at LT, having played it for three years in college. He is a fluid athlete for his size, displays good hand use at the point of attack and is very intelligent. One knock on him is a lack of a mean streak, but that is very coachable.
Cam Heyward fits Gregg Williams attacking scheme due to his positional versatility
The New Orleans Saints defense under Gregg Williams is all about pressure, but more than that, it is about players filling different roles and being multiple in their alignments and fronts. Linebacker is a need for the Saints too, but they plan to address that later.
Cameron Heyward presents a very solid pick here. He is a very versatile player who lacks an elite skill set but is good at everything and has a tremendous work ethic. Heyward is a stout run defender, has a scary bull rush move and his quickness and agility are great for a player his size. This is a low risk pick for the Saints and another chess piece to add to their defense.
The perfect match comes to fruition, and the Seahawks get their man. The Hawks had the most staff at Locker’s pro day and clearly have a keen interest in the UW passer.
Locker is the classic enigma of a player. He has all the physical tools to make it happen on the field except for accuracy, and he is a squeaky clean character kid. Matt Hasselbeck may not be back, and Pete Carroll knows Locker very well from his time in the Pac-10. The team that takes the chance on Locker will have to be very patient with him and really work with him to improve his accuracy. It’s the classic boom-bust pick here.
Joe Flacco will hope that Torrey Smith will take the top off defenses with his speed
The Ravens get themselves a speedy playmaking wide receiver at the 26th pick. Smith gets compared to DHB often only because they come from the same school, but they are not the same player by any means. Smith has a perfect blend of size, length and athleticism for a WR prospect. He has great ball skills and can track a deep ball downfield and locate it in flight. He is a fantastic return specialist too, and that translates to his run after the catch abilities too.
The Falcons are looking at the last season with Tony Gonzalez at the tight end position, the end of an era. So if that is the case, why not prepare yourself for the future and draft the best tight end prospect this year in Kyle Rudolph?
After a strong pro day, Rudolph quashed any lingering concerns about his injured hamstring. Rudolph will be Matt Ryan’s best friend for the foreseeable future. The tight end has the straight line speed to threaten defenses down the seam, the catch radius to look like a wide out and the burst/acceleration to separate from defenders.
The odds are that New England trades out of this pick as they always do, but in the event that they do not, I think the Patriots finally grab themselves a running back here.
Reports have emerged recently that the Patriots are meeting with Leshoure and have some interest in him. They could get him at the 2.01 pick but decide to pull the trigger here. Green-Ellis and Woodhead are solid and contribute in different ways to the offense, but the Patriots could really use a “bellcow” like Leshoure. He has a physical, downhill running style with surprising quickness, patience and breakaway speed. I see no downside to this pick.
I think Stephen Paea fits the Bears defense really well, and that is why they took him over Phil Taylor, who is more a 3-4 NT or Muhammad Wilkerson, who is more of a five technique in the 3-4. Paea fills a big need for the Bears on the defensive line.
With an NT already in place in Matt Toeina, Stephen Paea will fit in Tommie Harris’ old spot as the 4-3 UT, the penetrating force. Paea is one of the strongest prospects in the draft (49 reps?!) and has an uncanny ability to disrupt plays and use his lack of height to gain leverage and get under the offensive lineman’s pads. Paea is a great player to acquire here for the Bears.
Plenty of mock drafts agree that this would be an almost ideal landing spot for Phil Taylor. Current Jets NT Sione Pouha only has one year left on his contract, and the whole defensive front could do with young blood.
Taylor is a classic two gapper who takes up blockers and anchors on the line. He has a good ability to stack and shed when being run at. He doesn’t offer much in terms of pass rush, but that isn’t the kind of player he has to be. Rather, his job is to allow the rest of his defensive teammates to get after the QB by clogging up the middle and occupying blockers.
The Steelers get excellent value here, as Clayborn falls to them at the 31st pick. Not only does Clayborn fit well in the Steelers defense at a 3-4 five technique, but he fills a need for the team. Cornerback was also a consideration here, but the Steelers are good at finding later round gems. Clayborn fits the Steeler mould as a tenacious, feisty run defender and has a big, strong frame to challenge offenses.
Many thought Ted Thompson was reaching when he took Clay Matthews; can Brooks Reed be a similar disruptive force for the Pack?
Brooks Reed is eerily similar to current Packer Clay Matthews in terms of his hair, his size, his non-stop motor and his relentlessness as a pass rusher. Reed would fit in instantly in the Packers attacking style of 3-4 defense opposite Matthews. Dom Capers and his defensive staff will work with Reed to improve his pass rushing repertoire, which is limited to an outside arc move right now. An outside pass rushing duo of Reed and Matthews could be devastating for many years to come in the NFC North.