The 2011 NFL Draft has quickly become one of the most celebrated events on the American sporting calendar. Tomorrow we'll be introduced to the newest batch of superstars headlining the NFL for the next decade.
Over the past few months, we've become acquainted with some of the most prominent young stars coming out of college via the NFL Combine and numerous pro-day workouts.
Where those prospects might end up is uncertain at best, but today we'll take a finalized look at what the first round will bring come draft day.
So without further ado, here is Alec Dopp's final look at what the first round has in store.
The Carolina Panthers are on the clock...
Cam Newton, QB (Auburn)
I have to admit, I’ve been a bit skeptical when it comes to taking Newton first overall, especially with the fact that Carolina has no offensive line whatsoever.
But the more I think about it, this pick is a near-guarantee.
Newton is undoubtedly the No. 1 prospect in this year's class, and despite the Panthers' woes up front, Ron Rivera can't afford to go another season with Jimmy Clausen calling the shots for Carolina.
So on the basis that most of the nation has already bought into Newton's hype, I've all but given up the argument.
Carolina, you've got your man.
Marcell Dareus, DT (Alabama)
Since the Panthers took the chance on Newton, the Broncos are left with the most complete defensive lineman we've seen in years—Marcell Dareus.
Dareus is a near-perfect fit for an aging Broncos front seven comprised of 34-year-old nose tackle Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson. I'd be surprised if anybody could recognize those names, much less know they are a severely ineffective group from week to week.
Since Denver is switching back to the 4-3 defense with John Fox at the helm, Dareus would become not only a superstar up front, but a franchise icon for many years to come.
Von Miller, OLB (Texas A&M)
Though the Bills would love to have either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert with this pick, the fact remains that there are a plethora of holes yet to fill on their roster.
Buffalo forced just 27 sacks last season and have no speakable talent at linebacker in place for the prospective future.
With Miller, the Bills will receive the most viable talent off the edge for many years to come and will likely put Tom Brady under wraps for the next few seasons.
Julio Jones, WR (Alabama)
If not Cam Newton, then who?
The Bengals have many holes to fill this offseason, but none are more prominent than at wide receiver—a place where Cincinnati has actually struggled to find production over the past few seasons.
With the serious possibility in trading for Kevin Kolb on the table, the Bengals would be wise to take this year's top overall receiver in Jones.
Jones maintains all the physical tools to become Cincinnati's next great receiver and will make an immediate impact for Marvin Lewis' offense.
Blaine Gabbert, QB (Missouri)
Arizona's slew of quarterbacks last season accumulated some extremely unattractive numbers, and that isn't likely to change unless they are able to upgrade via trade or the draft.
For the time being, Gabbert is the most NFL-ready talent the draft has to offer. The question will be whether or not Arizona's atrocious offensive line (50 sacks allowed last season) can withstand the pass-rush put on by some of the league's top defenses.
If they can protect Gabbert, he'll be a huge success. If not, things could get ugly in a hurry.
A.J. Green, WR (Georgia)
This is one of the biggest no-brainers in the history of the NFL Draft.
With Colt McCoy already making extensive progress within Cleveland's offense, now is the time for the Browns to draft a talent that will more than likely start in next year's Pro Bowl.
Green is by far and away the top wideout available, and he would make in immediate impact on Cleveland's playoff hopes as soon as Week 1.
Patrick Peterson, CB (LSU)
This is a trendy pick that is almost certain to happen come draft day, but let's go over the details of what Peterson brings to the table:
- Unquestioned talent. Peterson is undoubtedly the most complete prospect in this year's draft class and would be a solid upgrade for Jim Harbaugh's aging defense.
- Leadership. In numerous interviews, Peterson talks about his leadership qualities and how he can be the perennial workhorse for any defense willing to take a chance on him.
- Youth. The 49ers listed 31-year-old Nate Clemons and 29-year-old Shawntae Spencer as their starters at the end of the 2010 regular season, and with Peterson likely taking over for Clemons as early as next season, San Fransisco would be bustling in youth.
Nick Fairley, DT (Auburn)
Over the course of the last few months, Fairley has seen his stock drop considerably.
But the fact remains that Tennessee is in serious need up front defensively, and his 6'4'', 290-pound frame will get the job done.
Tyron Smith, OT (USC)
Clearly the most physically-attributed offensive tackle available in this year's class, Smith would fit nicely into Dallas' schemes up front.
Head coach Jason Garrett wants Tony Romo protected heading into next season, and Smith is the most viable option for Dallas.
Robert Quinn, DE (UNC)
With Brian Orakpo already situated in Washington's 3-4 scheme, now is the time for the Redskins to pull the trigger on arguably the draft's most complete defensive end in Quinn.
Projected to be a surefire top-five pick some two months ago, Quinn has witnessed his stock fall considerably following the NFL Combine and pro-day workouts. The need is there for the Redskins though, and Quinn would be a superb addition to Mike Shannahan's defense.
Cameron Jordan, DE (Cal)
With Da'Quan Bowers' stock tumbling with no foreseeable end, the window of opportunity widens for Cal's Cameron Jordan to make the leap up the boards into the first round.
Jordan has been ranked as the draft's third-best defensive end for most of the offseason, but his versatility will capture the attention of Houston.
With this pick, the Texans just leapfrogged Indianapolis as next season's favorites to win the AFC South.
Jake Locker, QB (Washington)
According to many reputable sources, the Vikings have been eying up Locker for quite some time now.
In fact, they've gone as far as to say Locker's style of play compares to that of Brett Favre. I, for one, think that's a ridiculous statement. Yet despite what the experts might think, I've liked this pick from the get-go.
Locker's abilities are unquestioned, and the only thing holding him back from being a huge success at the next level is his accuracy from the pocket.
Either way, Minnesota just got their new signal-caller of the future.
Aldon Smith, OLB (Missouri)
A bit of a surprise pick, but the Lions' unheralded defense would take the next step to becoming a dominating force should they take Smith 13th overall.
Smith has been a quiet prospect for most of the offseason, but most would tell you that the sky is the limit for this kid.
Already maintaining Ndamukong Suh and other young, prospering stars, the Lions would be foolish to pass on a prospect with Smith's potential.
Corey Liuget, DT (Illinois)
With draft prospects Julio Jones and Cameron Jordan already off the board, the Rams will have to look elsewhere to find help.
For no other reason than their age issues up front defensively, the Rams should have a good look at one of the top defensive tackles in Liuget.
Liuget has everything defensive coordinators love in a d-lineman: physicality, skill-set, power, etc.
Mike Pouncey, OG/C (Florida)
The conventional pick here would be Mark Ingram, but what would that fix?
Miami still maintains both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown in the backfield (despite their injuries and ineffectiveness at times), and with the help of Pouncey up front, the Dolphins could contend for the AFC East next season.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE (Purdue)
The Jaguars maintain one of the most atrocious defenses in all of football and could certainly use a prospect of Kerrigan's caliber.
In four seasons with the Boilermakers, Kerrigan registered 33 sacks to go along with 210 tackles on his way to becoming the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and will challenge for Rookie of the Year next season.
J.J. Watt, DE (Wisconsin)
Last season for the Badgers, Watt absolutely dominated Big Ten offensive lines to the tune of seven sacks, 62 tackles and two forced fumbles.
In addition to his prevalent 6'5'', 290-pound weigh-in at the NFL Combine, Watt could go as early as ninth overall to the Cowboys. But for the time being, the Patriots will be victorious in snatching up one of the country's most complete pass-rushers.
Prince Amukamara, CB (Nebraska)
San Diego ranked first overall in pass-defense last season, and that won't likely change before the end of next season barring some catastrophic injury.
With the 18th pick in this year's draft, the Chargers could go many different directions, but an underlying concern could be their decline in talent off the edge.
Quentin Jammer, 31, is entering his 11th season with the club and probably won't produce up to his own standards next season. Amukamara would be the most viable first-round pickup for the Chargers.
Gabe Carimi, OT (Wisconsin)
Over the span of three seasons, Carimi solidified himself as the top offensive lineman in the Big Ten.
So far, that fact remains unchanged.
Coming in at 6'7'' and 314 pounds, Carimi is clearly an upgrade for Tom Coughlin's offensive line. If drafted, he could replace Kareem McKenzie, 31, or David Diehl, 30, as soon as the beginning of next season to bolster New York's offensive line.
Da'Quan Bowers, DE (Clemson)
I'm guessing this is the reason why you're reading this mock draft, isn't it?
Around late January, most of the country had Bowers as the No. 1 prospect entering this year's draft and was projected to be a surefire top-five selection come April.
That isn't the case though.
Bowers did not participate in workouts at the NFL Combine due to lingering injuries, and he put on a disappointing performance at Clemson's pro-day workouts. Still, Tampa Bay would be quite pleased to see his name floating around at No. 20 overall.
With his superb footwork, ridiculous strength and unyielding style of play, Bowers would fit into coach Rahim Moore's defense quite well.
Nate Solder, OT (Colorado)
The Chiefs already boast the league's top rushing attack with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, and with the addition of Solder (6'8'', 319 lbs.) to the mix, they could be sprinting their way toward back-to-back AFC West titles next season.
Anthony Castonzo, OT (Boston College)
Previous Pick: Derek Sherrod, OT (Mississippi State)
Five years ago, we would've never imagined Indianapolis would need an upgrade on the offensive line, but now it's a recurring problem facing Peyton Manning and the aging Colts offense.
The Colts are fundamentally sound up front, but when it comes down to crunch time, Indy's o-line wasn't quite able to stop Rex Ryan's flurry of blitzes in the playoffs last season.
To shore things up for the future, we've got the Colts taking the draft's most NFL-ready talent in the trenches, Castonzo.
With his superior frame and awe-inspiring physique, Castonzo will be a huge success in Indy.
Derek Sherrod, OT (Mississippi State)
For the safety of their quarterback, Philadelphia might want to take the best available option to bolster their offensive front in Sherrod, who carries a massive 6'6'', 305-pound frame.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DT (Temple)
One of the top small-school prospects in this year's draft, Wilkerson has a lot to offer a New Orleans defense looking for big-time talent up front.
Not only is he arguably the most seasoned defensive tackles available, but he brings a lot to the table in terms of character.
Wilkerson would be a superstar talent on Sean Payton's defense for many years to come if given the chance and would bring the Saints' defense back to respectability.
Jimmy Smith, CB (Colorado)
Thanks to a handful of impressive workouts, Smith has been solidified as the draft's third-best cornerback.
His prototypical 6'2'', 211-pound frame would bring a great deal of talent back to a Seattle defense looking to make it back to normalcy.
The Seahawks allowed 31 passing touchdowns last season (fourth-worst in the entire league), but with Smith limiting receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald down the field, the Seahawks could repeat as NFC West champions.
Phil Taylor, NT (Baylor)
As crazy as it may sound, the Ravens need some help defensively. Current nose tackle Kelly Gregg, 34, won't be around much longer, and they won't as much production out of him as they'd like next season.
With the 26th pick, Baltimore should consider Taylor, the most colossal of all prospects in this year's draft class.
At 6'3'' and 351 pounds, Taylor is an absolute force in the trenches and would become a superstar talent under head coach John Harbaugh in the years to come.
Adrian Clayborn, DE (Iowa)
No defensive end has been more dominant over the past three seasons than Clayborn, and he would fit in nicely with John Abraham on the defensive line.
The only reason to be concerned with Clayborn would be his history with injuries, as he was severely limited in his senior season with the Hawkeyes, which in turn sent his draft stock plummeting.
Nevertheless, the Falcons are clearly a team on the rise, and it would benefit them immensely with Clayborn patrolling the line of scrimmage for the next few seasons.
Danny Watkins, OT (Baylor)
According to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., Watkins is overwhelmingly the safest pick available on the offensive line. Couple that with New England's lack of youth up front, and you've got yourself a great match.
Watkins would be able to play from virtually any position on the line (excluding center) and would fit in well with New England's blocking schemes that have worked wonders over the years.
Leonard Hankerson, WR (University of Miami)
The lack of talent downfield for Jay Cutler is staggering; Chicago's largest receiver is tight end Greg Olsen at 6'5'', 255 pounds.
If Lovie Smith and the Bears plan on taking the next step in the near future, they'll have to bolster their capabilities in the passing game.
And what better way than to take the best downfield receiver available in Hankerson?
At 6'1'' and 209 pounds, Hankerson may not be as physically dominating as Bears fans would like, but his talents remain unquestioned and would be a perfect fit in the Windy City.
Akeem Ayers, OLB (UCLA)
Rex Ryan's secondary may be tops in the entire league, but a 3-4 defense void of a signature playmaker at linebacker could hurt their chances in the future.
Both Jason Taylor and Calvin Pace have their better days behind them, so to shore things up off the edge, Ayers is the man for the job.
He didn't have the best combine workouts, but Ayers' stock is back on the rise due to impressive pro-day workouts.
Look out for a revamped Jets defense in 2011.
Marcus Cannon, OT (TCU)
Fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Packers, Pittsburgh could go in many different directions with this pick.
Albeit the Steelers' offensive front may be tops throughout the league in protecting the quarterback, Flozell Adams, 35, will be on his way out sooner than later. This could be a serious problem for Ben Roethlisberger, obviously.
So with their first-round selection, Pittsburgh would benefit most from what Cannon's 6'5'', 350-pound frame has to offer.
Brooks Reed, OLB (Arizona)
Although maintaining arguably the league's most complete defensive unit, the Packers have a few unnerving concerns heading into their 2011 season.
The two most prominent question marks regarding Green Bay's defense remains defensive end and outside linebacker.
Your guess on which position they could address with their first round pick is as good as mine, but there is one such prospect in which GM Ted Thompson has shown the most interest—Arizona's linebacker Brooks Reed.
Reed has the physique and play-making abilities of Clay Matthews off the edge, and he would fit in perfectly with Dom Capers' perilous 3-4 defense.