We are officially seven days away from the 2011 NFL Draft kicking off. With all this talk about the possibilities for major changes in free agency, unions and the chance at the draft as we know it ceasing to exist, I’m putting on my sentimental hat for the next week and appreciating every bit of this final journey.
Sure, we’ll likely forget about all this when we’re back at it, doing it again for 2012, but if not, I’ll be sure to enjoy the 2011 NFL Draft as much as possible.
Until that happens, we’re all critics with opinions and predictions. Here are 32 of mine, as I continue to filter through all the top draft prospects and get my mock ready for the big day:
Defensive tackle is a major need, but there’s nothing like completely changing the face of your franchise and upgrading at the most important position in the game at the same time. Jimmy Clausen is a mess and Cam Newton has the potential to revolutionize the game. Defensive tackle will have to wait.
Other possibilities: Marcell Dareus, Blaine Gabbert, A.J. Green
Forget about the quarterback smoke screen. Denver may not be solid on Tim Tebow, but they’re not foolish enough to draft another quarterback so soon again—maybe in the third round, but not here. It’s going to come down to Patrick Peterson or Dareus, and with Champ Bailey back in the saddle, I can’t see them passing on improving their interior defense.
Other possibilities: Patrick Peterson
Buffalo could really use a jolt to their franchise with a new quarterback, but something tells me the only guy they’d let it all ride on in this draft is Cam Newton. I still think Blaine Gabbert has an excellent chance to go to Buffalo if he’s here, but I just can’t see the Bills passing on an elite pass-rusher like Miller, either. Aaron Maybin is a bust that needs to be made up for with this pick, while Ryan Fitzpatrick can stick as the starting quarterback and Buffalo can address the position in the next few rounds.
Other possibilities: Blaine Gabbert
I’m seeing a lot of A.J. Green here, but look at the absolute basics. The Bengals could lose Carson Palmer to retirement, sitting out, or trade and they have no one behind him. With the league on lockdown, Cincy has to protect their present and future with a sound investment. If Gabbert is here, and he very well could be, it just makes too much sense.
Other possibilities: A.J. Green
Arizona needs a quality quarterback, but with the top two passers gone, anyone would be a pretty big reach at the fifth spot. With that decided for them, they’ll opt for an impact defender, and they can always use a little extra help in the secondary. They’d love Von Miller to drop here, and will consider Robert Quinn for the defensive line, but Peterson is the best player in this draft and the need is good enough to justify the selection.
Other possibilities: Robert Quinn, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett
Somehow, some way, the Cleveland Browns will finally land a true impact player. Colt McCoy appears to be the guy and the rest of the offense looks solid. Now all they need is an elite number one receiver to get everything to the next level. Green’s mere presence will make Mohamed Massaquoi a solid number two, and will allow Josh Cribbs, Chansi Stuckey, or Brian Robiskie to fill-in as a solid third option.
Other possibilities: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Julio Jones
I’ve seen way too much quarterback talk for the 49ers here. I guess I believe Alex Smith will get one more crack at the starting job and with Jim Harbaugh there that could actually end pretty well. And of course, there’s always 2012 with Andrew Luck if the season goes up in flames. On the flip side, San Francisco has a defense that is held back by inconsistent pass coverage. An aging Nate Clements and a lack of depth are largely to blame. Major talent and depth addition here.
Other possibilities: Julio Jones
Ultimately, this pick just makes sense. I know the Titans need a quarterback on the outer surface, but there have been rumors that the team may not actually be done with Vince Young just yet. More importantly, they’ve been missing a big guy in the middle who can do it all and many have compared Fairley to Albert Haynesworth. That’s certainly a catch-22 comparison, but the potential has to have Tennessee salivating.
Other possibilities: Ryan Mallett
I’ve seen Tyron Smith messing up mocks by going in the top five, so it will be interesting to see if he’s still around when the names start getting called. Even more interesting, possibly, will be to see if Jerry Jones and co. finally buckle down and draft an elite tackle. Tony Romo’s season was cut short due to poor pass protection. Not having that happen again has to be priority number one with this pick.
Other possibilities: Anthony Castonzo, Nate Solder
I know it might be a slight reach for Locker to hit the top 10, but I’m convinced Mike Shanahan loves him as much as he loved Jay Cutler. Washington badly needs a quarterback and Locker’s physical attributes actually match Shanahan’s offensive system very well. It’ll take a little time for everything to come together, but Locker in Washington feels like the perfect fit.
Houston is switching to the 3-4 with Wade Phillips taking over the defense, so they’re going to have to quickly add the right players to make the system work right away. Quinn is a heck of a start on the line as he has the strength and athleticism to both stop the run and get after the quarterback.
Other possibilities: Aldon Smith, Jimmy Smith
For a team that was just in Super Bowl contention not that long ago, the Vikings actually have quite a few holes to fill. If they know they’re starting over, then they have to know that truly starting over gets rolling once you have your quarterback. They don’t have him yet, and while Donovan McNabb rumors are heating up, I don’t see how they can pass on a potentially elite quarterback like Mallett.
Other possibilities: Corey Liuget, Cameron Jordan
Detroit is improving mightily on both sides of the ball, but their pass defense clearly is falling behind. Jimmy Smith is a potentially elite corner who should be able to come in and help right away.
Other possibilities: Anthony Castonzo, Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi
Even if all of the St. Louis receivers return to full health in 2011, Sam Bradford’s best guy is Mark Clayton or Donnie Avery. They’ll keep their fingers crossed through the first 13 selections that Jones is still here for the taking and then they’ll snatch him up. Bradford is an elite play-maker away from taking the next step.
Other possibilities: Corey Liuget, Mikel LeShoure
I still have a quiet feeling about Christian Ponder at this spot, but with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both set to be leaving Miami, the Dolphins have to be smart here and grab an elite running back.
Other possibilities: Christian Ponder, Mikel LeShoure, Colin Kaepernick
All of this “Bowers to Tampa Bay” talk is starting to make me think there’s no way a guy this talented falls that far. Jacksonville still needs help in rushing the quarterback, and if Bowers here, even with the injury concerns, it has to be a no-brainer.
Other possibilities: Ryan Kerrigan, J.J. Watt
New England is reportedly really high on Watt, as they should be, and I just don’t see him getting past them at 17. He really has the complete package and could go a few spots higher, but if he’s here, he’s going to the Patriots.
Other possibilities: Ryan Kerrigan, Corey Liguet, Mikel LeShoure
The Chargers have been hurting on their defensive line ever since losing Igor Olshansky and Jamaal Williams. The addition of Heyward should get them going in the right direction up front again.
Other possibilities: Muhammad Wilkerson
Eli Manning led the league in interceptions thrown in 2010 and a lot of that had to do with extra defenders in his grill. The Giants could stand to improve their offensive line in general, but grabbing an elite tackle will go a long way in ensuring Manning has the type of longevity his brother has.
Other possibilities: Mike Pouncey, Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi
I really like both Ryan Kerrigan and Da’Quan Bowers here, but that’s solely based off of things I’ve heard or read. My gut feeling says that if Jordan drops this far, he’s the guy Tampa Bay will take because he’s the best overall talent on the line and defensive line is where they’re going with this pick. Jordan could be a top 10 pick, but team needs will get in the way of his draft stock and he could easily drop to 15-20. I have the fall ending here, though, as the Buccaneers get a very talented player and fill a huge need.
Other possibilities: Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn
Mike Vrabel registered zero sacks last season. The Chiefs actually finished pretty well on defense, but they clearly need to upgrade over the aging Vrabel, and adding a talented pass rusher will help make sure their positive defensive shift in 2010 won’t be a fluke. Houston’s versatility would be a welcomed addition to this growing defense.
Other possibilities: Phil Taylor, Muhammad Wilkerson, Akeem Ayers
This one may shock some people. Everyone I’ve seen has Indy going offensive tackle (as they should), but I just can’t justify the Colts passing up a talent like Kerrigan. Cameron Jordan falling led to Kerrigan’s own fall and now the Colts have the option of bolstering one of their lines. The Colts aren’t getting younger on either line, but Kerrigan is ultimately the more attractive talent.
Other possibilities: Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi
As much as the Eagles probably want to draft defense here, they know protecting the fragile Michael Vick is a top priority. The fight could be between Solder and Gabe Carimi, but one of them should end up in Philly when this pick passes through.
Other possibilities: Aldon Smith, Gabe Carimi
New Orleans needs to improve their run defense. They got smashed up by Marshawn Lynch—of all running backs—and Sedrick Ellis just can’t do it all on his own all the time anymore. Time to get some talent and youth on the inside of that line.
Other possibilities: Corey Liuget
We keep hearing quarterback or secondary here, but talent and need will combine to have the Seahawks throw another wrench into this draft. Golden Tate is a number two or three guy and Mike Williams is too slow to be relied on fully as a number one. Baldwin has the size and athleticism to take over the top spot, which would help round out a pretty decent receiving corps. The trick is assigning the right roles, and until Baldwin comes to town, that really doesn’t seem possible.
Other possibilities: Brandon Harris, Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder
Baltimore loves getting pass rushers and in Sheard they get a pass rusher with good athleticism and versatility. They could beef up their secondary here, too, but adding another elite pass rusher makes sense for their system.
Other possibilities: Brandon Harris, Aaron Williams, Brooks Reed
Kyle Rudolph is really starting to pick up some steam for Atlanta at this pick, but with Tony Gonzalez still on board and there being some good talent at spots where the Falcons could use some help, tight end isn’t making a ton of sense. Smith is raw, but he could be a freak in the right system. Atlanta could go secondary, too, but one could argue the addition of help on the defensive line will impact the secondary. Two birds with one stone. Pun intended.
The Patriots may or may not want an upgrade at running back. I’m not sure, but I personally think what they have will do, so I won’t have them picking a running back. Not in the first round, at least. The Patriots could have easily reached for the impactful Liuget with the 17th pick, but by waiting, instead have two terrific additions to their defensive line.
Other possibilities: Mikel LeShoure, Gabe Carimi, Akeem Ayers
It only makes sense that a Badger goes to play for the Bears, doesn’t it? Seriously, though, Jay Cutler has been getting absolutely abused behind a sketchy offensive line and exited the NFC title game because of said poor pass protection. The Bears need to give Cutler no outs in 2011. If they improve his pass protection and offensive weapons and he still falters, then they’ll know it was on him and not their lack of trying.
Other possibilities: Derek Sherrod, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Harris
The Jets are thinking wide receiver and cornerback here when you look at the best talent available. However, Jonathan Baldwin is gone and a guy they never expected to see, Harris, is available. With Antonio Cromartie’s future with the team in doubt, the Jets land another potential stud corner, all the way down at the 30th pick.
Other possibilities: Akeem Ayers,
Pouncey has the talent to go higher and has said his “main goal” is to beat his brother’s selection spot from last season. Because of need, Pouncey is likely looking at 25-30, while him going to meet his brother in Pittsburgh is too heat-warming to not predict.
Other possibilities: Aldon Smith, Jimmy Smith, Aaron Williams
Defensive end in Green Bay’s 3-4 arguably needs more attention, but getting another stud outside linebacker across from Clay Matthews could really put this defense over the top. Reed gets comparisons to Matthews for his non-stop motor, long hair, and tenacity. He’s not on the same level as Matthews, but he’s close. Throw him on the other side, and suddenly the Packers’ defense just got scarier—which I didn’t think was possible.
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