NFL mock drafts are aplenty right now. We have just 11 days until the 2011 NFL Draft gets underway, and all of those so-called experts (likely including myself) get slapped in the face by teams making trades or blowing up pre-designed smoke screens. Truth be told, it's near impossible to get all the picks right just in the first round alone.
But mocking the draft can only get us so far. Obviously, we don't know what's going on in those war rooms, or in the mind's of the men making the big decisions. What we do have a pretty good grasp of, however, is what these guys should be considering come their first selection in the first round of this year's draft.
Here's a quick hit breakdown for every team's first pick:
1. Carolina Panthers (2-14) - Defensive Tackle
Believe me, I'm actually on board for getting a new quarterback. Jimmy Clausen is young and could still be the guy, but I don't buy it and don't see how you can realistically pass up on either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert.
With that said, quarterback still isn't Carolina's biggest need. What this team needs is a real enforcer on defense. After losing Kris Jenkins and Julius Peppers in recent years, they have a weakened pass rush and a very suspect run defense. Drafting Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus to beef up their interior defense would pay huge dividends for their defense, which could in turn help the offense.
Carolina isn't likely to go that route, but their interior defensive line is their biggest weakness.
2. Denver Broncos (4-12) - Defensive Tackle
There's a very good reason early mock drafts had Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers and Marcell Dareus as the top three picks (some mixing Patrick Peterson in the mix). At least for the Broncos and Panthers, it's because their pass rush suffered, and they couldn't stop the run.
Yes, Champ Bailey is aging, and yes, Denver could use an upgrade opposite of him. But do they really have to spend a second overall pick on a corner when they have major issues with two aspect of their defensive line? They can, and a lot of people would be okay with it, but the defensive line is still their biggest concern. Bailey may be aging, but he is still playing at a very high level, and he's been re-signed, so getting a successor isn't quite as pressing as it might feel.
Denver can add depth to their secondary via free agency and later in this draft. With the second pick, they need to attack the biggest problem area, and that's getting more production in stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. That means landing Marcell Dareus at the second pick, most likely.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12) - Outside Linebacker
I like Ryan Fitzpatrick and think he did a hell of a job in 2010, so I don't agree at all that replacing him is a pressing issue. Does it make sense to grab Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert if they're there? Sure. They both are more talented than Fitzpatrick, younger, and have loads more potential. But quarterback isn't that big of a weakness in Buffalo, and it's really their defense that has the major issues.
One look at Buffalo's defense, and you instantly know the problem. They can't get to the quarterback, and even when they do, they struggle finishing plays and generating sacks and turnovers. Thank last year's bust Aaron Maybin for that. Maybin was supposed to come in and help cure that lack of a pass rush, but since he hasn't to this point, Buffalo really needs to think about fixing that.
Shawne Merriman is around still, but are they really banking on him to rescue their lethargic pressure up front? If you're a Bills fan, you'd better hope not. I can see the quarterback add here, as it'd probably get the blood pumping in Buffalo, but grabbing Von Miller or another elite pass rusher is the move that on paper makes the most "sense" right now.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) - Quarterback
If Carson Palmer is truly done in Cincy (and heck, maybe even if he's not), the Bengals need to address the quarterback position. Yes, they could stand to land a stud at receiver, could think about upgrading over Cedric Benson, or try going after some weak spots in their defense. All that sounds wonderful, but if Palmer is gone and the Bengals don't trade or sign a competent replacement, they'll wish they'd spent some time on it in the draft.
A.J. Green is the tempting pick for the Bengals right now, with Terrell Owens gone and Chad Ochocinco likely to follow, but if you really look at the depth chart, wide receiver isn't a problem. It's the poor accuracy and erratic play at quarterback that draws the major concern.
Palmer isn't an elite passer anymore anyways, but if he leaves, you're looking at his younger brother as the next guy in line. By rank, quarterback has to be most most pressing issue in Cincy, which should cause the Bengals to talk about trading up or down to the right spot. Both Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert have to be on their radar, while Ryan Mallett could be a solid second-tier selection if they traded down.
5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11) - Quarterback
This doesn't need dissection. Derek Anderson has run out of mulligans, and Max Hall and John Skelton are better served doing your taxes than running your franchise's offense. Arizona has been rumored to be connected to acquiring a veteran quarterback, and that's actually highly possible. But with the NFL Lockout and uncertainty abound, the Cardinals would have to seriously consider drafting a quarterback if the right one fell into their laps. Regardless of what actually happens, it's pretty clear that quarterback is the big hole that needs to be filled in Arizona.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11) - Wide Receiver
I like the idea of letting Colt McCoy continue on as the starter, and I also like the current common notion of beefing up an already improving secondary with a stud corner like Patrick Peterson (if he falls that far).
Regardless, wide receiver is clearly the big flaw on this team. This offense was all Peyton Hillis last year, and it showed. As much of a beast as Hillis is, he took a pounding and he simply couldn't do it all himself with such a predictable offense around him. Even more importantly, Cleveland's leading receiver in 2010 was tight end Benjamin Watson.
Cleveland needs someone to come in, stretch the field, and just open up the offense. A.J. Green would be perfect at this spot, while a reach for Julio Jones wouldn't be the worst decision in the world, either.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) - Cornerback
Quarterback and defensive tackle are absolutely concerns going into this draft, but I still think cornerback is slightly more pressing. The back of San Francisco's defense was extremely inconsistent in 2010, and that likely had more to do with poor pass coverage than poor pass rushing.
Nate Clements is still a solid corner, but he may be slipping from "number one" status, and there's no question there can be an upgrade across from him. Bringing in a stud corner would help take pressure off the front line and free up the line-backers a bit more. The 49ers actually have quite a few positions that could use upgrades, but with age and talent issues in their secondary, corner looks to be the most pressing.
8. Tennessee Titans (6-10) - Quarterback
This clearly hinges on what exactly is going to happen with Vince Young, but at least for the moment, he's done in Tennessee, and there's no one to replace him. Except, uh, Rusty Smith. While we all would love to start the 2011 season with R-U-S-T-Y S-M-I-T-H chants, it just won't work for a Titans team that really isn't far from being a playoff team.
Young wasn't working anyways, so it's been clear for a while, and is even more clear now, that the team should start over at the position. Obviously landing a stud defensive tackle like Nick Fairley is attractive, but they really have to make a decision at quarterback. With several potential-ridden passers in this draft, Tennessee can't afford to wrap up the 2011 NFL Draft without landing a premiere signal caller.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) - Offensive Tackle
We don't need to write a novel about the Dallas Cowboys and their biggest need. Tony Romo was lost for the season with a broken collarbone because of poor pass protection, and the pass protection has been fairly suspect for quite some time.
Whether it's Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, or some other tackle, Dallas needs to protect its franchise passer by drafting a tackle this year.
10. Washington Redskins (6-10) - Quarterback
You don't need to be a Washington Redskins insider to know Donovan McNabb is done in Washington and Rex Grossman isn't the long-term solution. Mike Shanahan will be looking for his guy this year, and for very good reason. Washington has been struggling at the quarterback position for years now, and any questioning of their offense arguably starts at that position.
Shanny and co. have been rumored to be very interested in Jake Locker, while recent rumors have emerged that the team may discuss trading up to land Blaine Gabbert. Either way, with McNabb on the way out and the Redskins still re-tooling their team, now is the time to start over at quarterback.
11. Houston Texans (6-10) - Cornerback
Yes, the defensive line needs some help, as does the outside pass rush. But we're talking about one of the worst pass defenses we have seen in some time in the 2010 Houston Texans.
Dunta Robinson's departure contributed to it, but Houston just doesn't have a ton of talent or discipline at the position. Everyone who makes a mock is saying defensive line or linebacker, and while both are needs, no need is bigger than corner this year for the Texans.
Jimmy Smith and Brandon Harris are just two solid corner prospects the team should consider, as they have to address such a major weakness.
12. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) - Quarterback
Considering this team was one bad pass away from reaching the Super Bowl two seasons ago, it's mind-boggling to see how many holes they now need to fill.
Minnesota still needs to figure out upgrades at safety, corner, and in their offensive line, while they may also have to ponder replacing guys like Ray Edwards, Sidney Rice or Pat Williams. Still, as big as those needs are, Minnesota needs to stick to the plan and grab a young, talented quarterback to start over with.
Brett Favre is gone, and Joe Webb can't seriously be considered for the long-term (or even the short-term, really), so addressing this position isn't an option. It all comes down to when/where the Vikes think they can get their guy. The team is reportedly extremely high on Cam Newton and Jake Locker, while they are also said to be interested in Ryan Mallett. Look for the team to spend their first pick of the draft on a new quarterback.
13. Detroit Lions (6-10) - Cornerback
Detroit made some solid strides in 2010, but their secondary was one spot where the performance still didn't meet expectations. The Lions just don't have elite corners, and considering their pass rush was actually pretty good in 2010, you have to look at the guys in the secondary and wonder what is going on.
The Lions will have to address this early in hopes that one pick can help solve the problem. Both Brandon Harris and Jimmy Smith could be immediate solutions, and both could be available when Detroit makes its first selection.
14. St. Louis Rams (7-9) - Wide Receiver
They got their franchise quarterback last year, have an improving offensive line, and have a feature back in Steven Jackson. What's missing? Weapons. Lots of weapons. They have a plethora of marginal talent at receiver and tight end, but they still don't have a true game-breaker on their roster.
Josh McDaniels is now running the show on offense, and he'll definitely stress the need for a big talent at receiver. That's where Julio Jones should come in, but if he's not available, St. Louis should still look at a guy like Jonathan Baldwin. There are still some holes on defense, and the Rams could use a complementary back for Jackson, but receiver has to be the main focus toward improving their offense for 2011.
15. Miami Dolphins (7-9) - Running Back
I actually think the Dolphins are a strong candidate to pull the trigger on a new quarterback early, but running back is actually their biggest need heading into the draft. It's no secret that Chad Henne hasn't been great up to this point, but he hasn't been playing on Jimmy Clausen's level, either. If Miami wanted to roll with a free agent or just pick up another passer in the middle of the draft, most Dolphins fans would understand.
What they wouldn't understand, however, is their franchise letting Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams walk away without landing some type of replacement. It's extremely possible that Miami has their eye on DeAngelo Williams or Ahmad Bradshaw for when free agency starts, but there are no guarantees there, and a very capable Mark Ingram could be hanging around at the 15th spot. Miami might stray, but they realistically can't afford to pass up a franchise back with this selection.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) - Defensive End
David Garrard played pretty well for most of 2010, but even the most casual of NFL observers can't help but think the Jaguars need an upgrade at quarterback. While that's noted, it's not Jacksonville's biggest need.
Their pass rush improved last year, but it still has a ways to go. I'm not sure Aaron Kampman will ever be able to give the Jaguars what they need, and I'm also not sure a team with an average pass rush can pass on a slew of talented defensive ends in this draft.
17. New England Patriots (14-2) - Outside Linebacker
New England is one of those teams that really doesn't have a lot of holes, but could use some upgrades based off of age and potential regression. I think a lot of their "weaknesses" will be addressed more and more simply by letting the younger guys play through mistakes.
With that said, they can still get better at getting to the quarterback. They are pretty old on the outside, so landing an elite pass-rushing specialist could be key in solidifying that defense even more. Justin Houston would be a great pick at 17. Some say that'd be reaching, but even so, outside linebacker (in some manner) looks to be the main focus with New England's first selection.
18. San Diego Chargers (9-7) - Defensive End
The Chargers are in a great place on offense, and really only need to focus their energy on defense. The funny thing about that, is that they actually already have a ton of talent on defense. However, their defensive line still leaves something to be desired.
Look for San Diego to finally make up for the loss of Igor Olshansky by drafting a solid, versatile defensive end with the 18th pick.
19. New York Giants (10-6) - Offensive Tackle
The Giants don't always show it with wins, but they're very talented on both sides of the ball, and once again (if they can get their minds right) should be in contention for their division. With that being said, they still could use an upgrade at offensive tackle.
New York's offensive line looked sluggish and old at times in 2010, and extra hits and pressure got to Eli Manning, who led the league in interceptions. Considering Manning usually plays with a cool head and makes good decisions, you have to look at the protection and question their performance. If you guessed the protection was suspect, you'd be right.
Both for the immediate impact and the long-term, the Giants would do themselves a huge favor by getting Manning some better protection.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6) - Defensive End
You know when your franchise is even considering bringing back a 37-year old Simeon Rice, your pass rush can't be doing good. That, or just take a look at Tampa Bay's meager 26 sack total in 2010. That was good for tying for 30th in the league. Yeah, they need to draft a defensive end.
21. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) - Outside Linebacker
The Chiefs landed outside linebacker Mike Vrabel in a trade for Matt Cassel two years ago, hoping he'd add a veteran presence and help in getting to the quarterback. Not so much in his two season in Kansas City, as his presence hasn't been felt, especially last year, when he registered zero sacks.
Kansas City clearly need some major help outside, both in terms of injecting some youth, and just producing some results. They actually were solid overall last year, finishing 10th in sacks, but they still need to upgrade over Vrabel, and adding an elite pass rusher can only make this improving defense that much better.
22. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) - Offensive Tackle
Peyton Manning is aging and his offensive line isn't protecting him nearly as well as it has for the majority of his career. The Colts know that Manning can and will likely play for another four-five years if he can remain healthy, so this has to be priority No. 1. This is even more encouraged if/when the Colts lock Manning down to a mega contract to keep him in Indy for life.
They could go after a few different spots at defense, but really, Indianapolis knows that getting some better pass protection is the way to go.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) - Offensive Tackle
Michael Vick is a highlight reel waiting to happen, but whether or not he's on the run, he's also an injury waiting to happen. The Eagles' once proud offensive line is aging and slowing down, so keeping their new star quarterback healthy has to be a prime concern.
Even with his mobility, Vick is over 30 years old now and still takes a ton of hits and gets sacked quite a bit, so ensuring his pass protection is as good as it can be is huge for Philly's continued success. there are still needs on defense, but this team will be lost without Vick in 2011, so keeping him upright and healthy has to be the top objective.
24. New Orleans Saints (11-5) - Defensive Tackle
Even when New Orleans won the Super Bowl a year ago, everyone could see how suspect their run defense was, and even more so when Sedrick Ellis missed time with injuries. The team got exposed again when Marshawn Lynch ran all over them in their first-round playoff defeat.
It's time to find Ellis some help inside. The new guy can learn and grow with Ellis, and could eventually replace him, as well. The Saints are still pretty set at several positions, making defensive tackle a bit of a depth add, but a major necessity to ensure their defense remains at a high level.
25. Seattle Seahawks (7-9) - Strong Safety
Lawyer Milloy was back as the last line of defense for the Seattle Seahawks. Enough said. Seattle needs to do the rest of their secondary a favor and get an upgrade at strong safety as soon as possible. That probably won't be their first pick because of value at said position and other positions, but it almost should be.
26. Baltimore Ravens (12-4) - Wide Receiver
It doesn't take a genius to see what Baltimore is lacking. Sure, they added a very solid receiver in Anquan Boldin via trade last year, but they lost Mark Clayton, the only guy on their team that was a legit deep threat. Now the Ravens are looking at another season with Boldin, Derrick Mason, and possibly T.J. Houshmandzadeh, three guys who play virtually the same exact style.
Baltimore badly needs a guy who can open up the offense with big plays. Atlanta follows them in the first round and should be thinking the same thing, so the Falcons should jump quick on one of the more explosive receivers in the draft.
27. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) - Wide Receiver
Atlanta's biggest weakness is their lack of elite talent and even overall depth at wide receiver. You could throw in tight end here, too, as Tony Gonzalez is aging, possibly declining, and likely in his final 1-2 seasons.
Roddy White is an absolute beast, but he can't do it on his own. After him, you have the inconsistent and often injured Michael Jenkins and a bunch of scrubs. It's high time for the Falcons to add some more speed and overall talent to help take the pressure off of White, and to aid Matt Ryan in really bringing his game up to a whole new level. Burners like Torrey Smith or Titus Young could be great additions to an already explosive offense.
28. Chicago Bears (11-5) - Offensive Tackle
Just like Tony Romo, Jay Cutler saw his season end due to an injury caused by poor pass protection. The injury was much different and came in the NFC title game, but it was still pretty clear (even before that game) that Chicago's offensive line was suspect, at best.
Cutler is a quality quarterback, and if he has a little more time to process the defense, he shouldn't have too much trouble making the necessary throws and adjustments. You could argue that he (and the Bears) need a playmaker at receiver with this pick, or possibly another impact defender, but if Cutler can't be consistently protected, especially in the biggest game of the year, the rest doesn't really matter.
29. New York Jets (11-5) - Strong Safety
New York is another talented team that was a game away from the Super Bowl, so rather than go back to the drawing board, they just need to rally the troops and go at it again. Still, there are a few spots they can get better at, and even though their defense is their bread and butter, the strong safety position appears to be their biggest weakness.
Eric Smith stepped in for the injured Jim Leonhard last season, and in all honesty, neither player should really be starting 16 games a year. Leonhard has size, range, and durability concerns, while Smith is a big hitter with little-to-no pass coverage ability. With an upgrade at strong safety, the Jets will improve an already strong secondary, which can only aid their front line.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) - Offensive Guard
It is really the same story every year for the Steelers when it comes to adding new talent. Ben Roethlisberger has never been protected on an elite level, and its largely due to his ability to get away from the pass rush and make things happen when he's rolling out of the pocket. However, Pittsburgh really needs to finally buckle down and admit that, while Big Ben can make it happen with sketchy blocking, he'd probably be even better if he had more time to make decisions.
Offensive tackle is definitely a spot to look at, but offensive guard (or a flat-out versatile lineman) is the way to go here. Pittsburgh's run-blocking could stand to improve a bit, too, and the inside pass protection has left a lot to be desired. Adding a guy like Mike Pouncey could help eradicate the issue.
31. Green Bay Packers (10-6) - Outside Linebacker
Green Bay is another team that is extremely talented on both sides of the ball. Add the fact that they're fresh off of an NFL championship in a season marred by injuries, and they have to be feeling pretty good about their roster.
However, there are a few spots where Green Bay needs to either add depth or look for a decent upgrade. They still could address some of their aging pieces on offensive line, find a full-time running back, and even possibly add another receiver. All of those sound like great places to start, but the position the Packers really needs to address is outside linebacker. Clay Matthews is a beast on one side, but Green Bay could really use another impact player on the opposite side.
Adding a stud like Brooks Reed or Jabaal Sheard could really make that pass rush that much more effective.
32. Oakland Raiders – Cornerback
If Oakland seriously lets Nnamdi Asomugha walk as a free agent, then this is absolutely the main position they have to address. I'll hear any talk about upgrading the quarterback position or adding depth on defense, but not until they replace a stud corner that is undoubtedly going elsewhere in 2010.
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