NFL Draft 2011: 5 Players Who Could (Should) Be the First Pick

Marcus FoxContributor IApril 15, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: 5 Players Who Could (Should) Be the First Pick

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    Day one of the NFL Draft is just a few weeks away, which means that right now the Carolina Panthers are on the clock.

    It seems like every mock draft on the Internet has the Panthers drafting a quarterback on April 28, 2011.  According to them, new regimes mean new signal callers.

    Well...

    That may be true in some (most) scenarios, but if the Panthers draft a quarterback with the number one overall pick, they could be making a big mistake.

    In the first place, they drafted two quarterbacks last year: Jimmy Clausen from Notre Dame and Tony Pike from Cincinnati.  Granted, Clausen didn't look great under center last year (157 of 299 for 1558 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions) but he was a rookie.

    In 1983, a rookie quarterback by the name of John Elway had 123 completions on 259 attempts. He also threw seven touchdown and 14 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 54.9 (last year Jimmy Clausen's rating was 58.2).

    Well...

    Eventually, John Elway turned out to be a pretty good (Hall of Fame) quarterback.

    Of course if the Panthers feel like Cam Newton (Auburn) or Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) is a franchise quarterback, they've got to pull the trigger.

    But that means that they think that Newton or Gabbert is going to be the next Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady.

    Probably not.

    The best thing about Carolina's situation is that they are so bad (you don't get the first overall pick because you're good) no matter who they take, it's most likely a position of need.

Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

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    In 2006, the Houston Texans shocked the world when they passed on Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush (RB, USC) and drafted Mario Williams (DE, North Carolina State).  Their philosophy was that to get to the playoffs in the AFC South, they needed to go through the Indianapolis Colts.  To stop the Colts they needed to stop Peyton Manning.  Drafting Reggie Bush would not have kept Peyton Manning from throwing touchdowns.

    The Panthers share a division (NFC South) with Drew Brees (Saints), Matt Ryan (Falcons) and Josh Freeman (Buccaneers).

    A rookie quarterback is not going to help them stop any of those guys.

    DE Da'Quan Bowers from Clemson is an absolute beast.

    Last year (as a junior) he led the nation in sacks (16).  He has a blend of speed and power that would allow him to play DE or DT.  He could even play OLB if they decide to convert to a 3-4 defense.

    The main concern about Bowers is his health (surgically repaired knee).  But, in the first place, injuries happen all of the time in the NFL; they're a part of the game.  And second, sports medicine is so advanced that most players make full recoveries after surgery (last year's number one pick QB Sam Bradford from Oklahoma).

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

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    Last year, the Detroit Lions hit a home run when they made Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska) the second overall pick of the draft.  In 2010, Suh had 66 tackles, 10 sacks, one interception and a forced fumble on his way to becoming Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Ndamukong Suh is the only player in the last decade to dominate the trenches in college football better than Nick Fairley did in 2010.

    DT Nick Fairley from Auburn is a true game changer.

    At 6'5 and 300 pounds with long arms, he looks the part of a dominating NFL defensive tackle.

    He's explosive and has a genuine mean streak.  Plus, great defensive tackles are hard to find.  There just aren't that many great 300-pound athletes.

    That mean streak may be his flaw.  In 2010 he had a reputation for being a "cheap-shot artist."

Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

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    Teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Indianapolis Colts have dominated the NFL for the last decade.  Even though they consistently pick at or near the bottom of the first round.

    That's because those teams make a habit of drafting the best player on the board, whether they need him or not.

    Not to say that the Panthers don't need an outside linebacker.  Both James Anderson and Thomas Davis are set to be unrestricted free agents this year (assuming there's a collective bargaining agreement).

    OLB Von Miller from Texas A&M is simply one of the best players in the draft.

    Playing a DE/OLB position that the Aggies called the "Joker," Miller had 68 tackles with 17.5 for loss.  While playing most of the season with an ankle injury, his sack numbers as a senior dipped to 10.5.  As a junior he led the nation with 17 sacks.  In 2009 he also had four forced fumbles and 21.5 tackles for loss.

    The only real issue with drafting Miller first overall is the Panthers' system. Even though Miller's quickness will make him a nightmare on opposing tight ends, playing him as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 (as opposed to a 3-4) would waste his pass rushing ability.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

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    When a team is picking number one overall, they need to make sure that the guy they draft is as close to a "can't miss" as possible.  Otherwise they end up setting their franchise back five or ten years—just ask the Oakland Raiders (QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU), San Francisco 49ers (QB Alex Smith, Utah), and the Houston Texans (QB David Carr, Fresno State).

    So factors like skill set, versatility, and where he's played need to be addressed.

    With DT Marcell Dareus from Alabama, they are.

    Marcell Dareus is built like a tree and he plays like it.  Against the run, it's like he's rooted in place allowing him to hold the point of attack and take on double teams.  As a pass rusher, he can line up at any position along the line and use his bull-rush to knock his man off balance and collapse the pocket from anywhere.

    The fact that he can play any spot along the defensive line shows his versatility.  With Dareus in the front four the Panthers would be able to have multiple defensive schemes.

    And he played for Nick Saban at Alabama.  Which means he played for a pro-style defensive-minded coach in the SEC, the toughest conference in college football.

    There is no good reason for the Panthers to pass on Marcell Dareus.  In 2010 their best defensive tackle was an undrafted rookie (Andre Neblett, Temple) who only had 10 tackles.  Defensive tackle is arguably the biggest need for Carolina.

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

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    A cornerback has never been selected as the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft.

    Which is amazing, considering that cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland Raiders) and Darrelle Revis (New York Jets) can literally take away half the field from opposing quarterbacks.  A shutdown corner is a game-changer, whether he's running back an interception for a touchdown or making a number one receiver an afterthought, he's changing the way opposing quarterbacks play the game.

    And cornerbacks are fairly safe.  Only one first round corner in the last ten years could truly be labeled a "bust" (Adam "Pac Man" Jones in 2005 drafted by the Tennessee Titans out of West Virginia).

    CB Patrick Peterson from LSU is a shutdown corner.

    He's got everything you'd want in a NFL cornerback. 

    At 6'1" and 210 pounds, he's got the size to handle big wide-outs in the NFL, and with a 4.4 40-yard dash he's fast enough to keep up with them. He's physical, aggressive, a good tackler, and he's got great hands. He's good at blitzing the quarterback and he's also an excellent return man.

    And the Panthers need a corner.  CB Richard Marshall has already said that he doesn't expect to play for Carolina next year and CB Chris Gamble is coming off a sub par season.

    Plus, NFC South is a high-flying conference loaded with great quarterbacks and talented wide receivers.  If the Panthers want to win they're going to need to shut down the air attack.