The countdown is on.
We’re inching closer and closer to the 2011 NFL Draft, and you can tell that the excitement and interest is really starting to build.
This draft is shaping up to be another entertaining affair, which should help us forget about the lockout mess for at least a few days.
While everyone seems to be wrapped up in the first 10 picks, I have a feeling the real fireworks will come in the late first round when teams start jumping back up to try to land some of the second tier quarterback prospects.
It should be interesting to see how many quarterbacks ultimately end up going in round one, as there are potentially seven prospects who could get consideration.
Quarterbacks and trades could end up being the two main storylines of draft night, so I decided to put a mock draft together that forecasts how things might play out.
Cam Newon will be the first QB off the board on draft night. How many other quarterbacks will join him in Round 1?
The countdown is on.
The Panthers haven't tipped their hand just yet, but at this point, all indications are that they'll take Auburn's Cam Newton, one of the most physically gifted prospects to come along in years, with the hope that he can turn into their franchise QB of the future.
Newton will take at least a year to get his feet under him in a pro system, but if he's developed properly, he has a chance to be a true game changer.
If the Broncos stay in the No. 2 slot, they’re likely to choose between two elite defensive prospects, DT Marcell Dareus and LB Von Miller.
The 6’3’’ 320 lb. Dareus, considered by many to be the top overall prospect of this class, is a better fit for Denver’s new 4-3 system, and he would give an instant boost to a run defense that ranked 31st in the NFL last season.
The defensive front seven in Buffalo is in dire need of a playmaker, and Texas A&M’s Von Miller looks like just the type of prospect who could come in and make an immediate impact.
Miller, a pass-rushing demon who racked up 33 sacks in college, has the type of speed off the edge that opposing offenses will have to account for on every single snap.
The Bills already have a solid secondary in place; now, they just need to add a quality pass rusher to complete the puzzle.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a hot mess of a franchise right now. The team has major issues at quarterback and wide receiver, and it’s likely that they will look to fill one of those needs with the No. 4 pick.
If the Bengals want to find Chad Ochocinco’s replacement, they would be wise to select Georgia WR A.J. Green, the most gifted receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson.
Green is a rare caliber of receiver. The 6'4'' 210 lb. junior has the ability to come in and change the complexion of an offense from the day he steps into the huddle.
Before the night of the draft, the Cardinals must determine if they want to bring in a veteran or a rookie quarterback to lead the team next season.
If the team chooses to pass on Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, they’re most likely going to select the best defensive prospect on the board to help stabilize a unit that finished 29th in total defense last season.
LSU CB Patrick Peterson is the best pure athlete in this draft.
Peterson and current Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would make a great tandem.
Blaine Gabbert is the real fulcrum of this year’s draft. The entire draft board really hinges on where Gabbert ends up being taken.
The Redskins are a team that is in desperate need of starting quarterback help after last season’s Donovan McNabb disaster.
Mike Shannahan would love to groom a young signal caller such as Gabbert, and in order to get him, he could be willing to make a move up that resembles the one he made in Denver to land Jay Cutler a few years ago.
Patrick Peterson would be the trophy pick for the 49ers, but I just can’t see him being available at the No. 7 pick.
If Peterson is off the board, the 49ers could be prime candidates to trade back. But if they stay at seven, it wouldn’t surprise me if they took a hard look at Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt.
Although defensive end isn’t an absolutely pressing need, Watt is exactly the type of player that new coach Jim Harbaugh is looking for.
Tennessee’s top receiver Kenny Britt has been testing the team’s patience for far too long, and it seems the Titans have grown tired of his off-the-field conduct.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the organization brought in a new hotshot WR to really light a fire under Britt.
Alabama WR Julio Jones, who has as much natural ability as any prospect in this class, is a stud in the making. Jones would add a dangerous element to an offense that ranked 25th in the league in passing last season.
The Titans may need a quarterback, but if both Gabbert and Newton are off the board, value dictates that they should wait a little longer to find him.
The Cowboys can go in a lot of different directions with this pick, but ultimately, I think it will come down to two Smiths, Missouri DE/OLB Aldon Smith or USC OT Tyron Smith.
Dallas has a glaring hole at right tackle, where 32-year-old Marc Colombo was used and abused last season.
Tyron Smith, who has been steadily climbing draft boards over the last few months, has all the tools to be a standout right tackle in the NFL, and he could come in and take over for Colombo right away.
The Browns are one of the hardest teams to read this year, but one thing is for sure: They definitely can't go wrong with picking a defensive lineman early on.
Cleveland needs new personnel up front for coordinator Dick Jauron’s newly installed 4-3 defense and North Carolina DE Robert Quinn seems like a perfect fit.
Quinn, who was forced to sit out his junior season due to suspension, has shown very little signs of rust during workouts, and if he turns out to be the same type of player we saw in 2009, the Browns will be getting a major steal.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been a team that has shown no fear of making moves in the first round in recent years, so why should this year be any different?
The Eagles are well aware that they need cornerback help, but the three upper-echelon prospects at the position will likely be gone by the time the team is picking at 23.
It would make sense for the Eagles to hop up and grab a corner like Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, a top 10 talent who has been bogged down by overblown character concerns.
Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were one of the most dominating defensive tackle duos in the NFL when they initially joined forces, but their reign has come to an end.
Pat is now 38, and his time is likely up in Minnesota, while Kevin is 30 and noticeably past his prime.
Head coach Leslie Frazier could be looking for a young DT to really inject some life into a defensive line that just wasn’t up to par in 2010, and Nick Fairley could be just the player he’s looking for.
Fairley, who would be a great fit in a Cover 2 scheme, was a terror at Auburn in 2010, racking up 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss
Cornerback is an obvious need that the Lions will have to address at some point in the draft, but something tells me that if coach Jim Schwartz has the opportunity to select a premium pass rusher in Round 1, he might pull the trigger.
The Lions lucked out when DT Ndamukong Suh, the top prospect in the 2010 Draft, fell into their lap last year.
If the team wants to get the most out of their young star, they should flank him with a speedy pass rusher such as Aldon Smith, who would help to divert the attention of opposing offensive lines away from Suh.
The Rams would love to give second-year-sensation Sam Bradford a legitimate No. 1 target to throw to, but they’re going to have to trade up if they want a shot at Alabama WR Julio Jones.
If St. Louis stays at 14, there are a few different directions the team could go.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo could be looking to add a little more stability in the middle of his defense, and one of the fastest rising defensive tackles in this draft is Corey Liuget out of Illinois.
Liuget is a versatile linemen who Spagnuolo could use in a variety of ways in his multiple front system.
Al Davis may not have a first round pick at his disposal this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have the opportunity to make some sort of a splash by trading into the first round.
There’s a good chance the Raiders could lose star CB Nnamdi Asomugah once free agency officially begins, and that would be a huge blow to the Oakland defense.
If Davis is feeling feisty, he could make a big trade up to try and land one of the top three cornerback prospects in this year’s draft to replace Asomugah.
We know that Da’Quan Bowers is going to slide on draft night; the only question that remains is, how far will he fall?
Bowers, once projected to be the No. 1 overall pick when he first declared for the draft, followed up a breakout junior campaign with a mediocre, injury-filled performance in the postseason.
The concerns about the extent of the Clemson defensive end’s knee problems are either valid or skewed, depending on who you ask.
The Jaguars used their first four picks on defensive linemen in last year’s draft, but they could still use another edge rusher, and the team would get a great value if Bowers is still on the board at pick No. 16.
This is one of those picks that seems almost too good to be true, which means it’s almost a guarantee not to happen.
Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan would make a great rush linebacker in New England's 3-4 defensive scheme, and he has the type of makeup that coach Bill Belichick would love.
The Patriots will probably be looking for some type of defensive front seven player here, whether it be a rush linebacker or a defensive end.
The Chargers have enough talent sprinkled throughout their defense to be a quality unit again this season, but they’re going to need to find some help up front.
San Diego should be looking for a defensive end early on, and one of the true prototypical 3-4 defensive ends in this draft is Cal’s Cameron Jordan.
The 6’4’’ 285 lb. Jordan is a strong, athletic end who would be a perfect fit up front for the Chargers.
The New York Giants can’t go wrong taking any of the top offensive line prospects with this pick, whether it be a tackle like Anthony Castonzo or Gabe Carimi or a guard such as Danny Watkins or Mike Pouncey.
The Giants offensive line is aging rapidly, and they have to get younger at a few different positions.
Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo isn’t a franchise left tackle type of prospect, but he’s got the tools and skills to be a starter in the NFL for 10 years.
As a Bucs fan, I don’t exactly support this pick, but my gut tells me this is probably going to happen.
LeGarrette Blount was a rookie revelation last season, coming out of nowhere to rush for over 1,000 yards, but it’s not a given that he can keep up that pace, and there’s not much to speak of behind him.
Tampa Bay is in need of defensive end help, but the team will also be looking to add playmakers around rising star QB Josh Freeman. Ingram is the type of workhorse back that could carry a heavy load and take a lot of pressure off of the young QB.
Kansas City GM Scott Pioli knows that a well-stacked line is one of the keys to a successful defense, and since last year’s starting DE Shaun Smith is heading to free agency, Pioli could be looking to replace him with an early pick in this year’s draft.
One 3-4 defensive end prospect that the Chiefs have shown some considerable interest in is Iowa’s Christian Ballard.
Ballard hasn’t been getting as much pre-draft publicity as his former Iowa teammate Adrian Clayborn, but he’s just as talented of a prospect and he could really flourish playing in Romeo Crennell’s system
So it begins.
It’s going be very interesting to see how the late first round run on quarterbacks ends up playing out.
One name to keep an eye on is TCU’s Andy Dalton, the type of QB who a lot of different teams could be after. What Dalton lacks in physical ability he makes up for with his leadership and intangibles.
He would be a perfect fit for San Francisco’s West Coast offense.
This season, the Houston Texans will be switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Wade Phillips, and the team will be in search of a true 3-4 nose tackle, something they currently don’t have on their roster.
The one top defensive tackle who fits that bill is Baylor’s Phil Taylor, a 6’3’’ 340 lb. behemoth.
The Texans couldn’t justify taking Taylor at 11, where they’re currently slotted right now. But if the team trades back into the late first round, they could get him for a better value.
The Vikings have been rumored to be interested in bringing in QB Donovan McNabb this season, but even if they did, he would probably only serve as a one year stopgap.
Minnesota needs to find its quarterback of the future, and one player they could be very interested in is Washington’s Jake Locker.
Locker, everyone’s preseason darling last year, fell on tough times as a senior, which really hurt his stock. But he has the physical ability to be an NFL starter, and it’s hard to see him falling out of the first round.
Over the last few months, Ryan Mallett has turned into one of the media outcasts of this draft, as he’s been pummeled in the press for his battles with drugs and alcohol.
Mallett has admitted that he’s dealt with some demons in the past; now, we just have to wait and see how much his character concerns will drop him on draft weekend.
Based on pure skills, Mallett could be the best QB prospect in this class and he’s the type of player that coach Pete Carroll, who has experience dealing with players with questionable character from his time at USC, could take a gamble on.
If I had to make a list of my favorite prospects this year, I’d probably put Muhammad Wilkerson near the top.
Wilkerson exploded onto the scene this past season at Temple, dominating lesser MAC competition, racking up 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
The 6’4’’ 315 lb. junior would be a great addition to the Ravens defensive line.
I can’t see the Bills taking a QB at No. 3, but I can definitely see them trading up into the first round for one of the second tier prospects such as Florida State’s Christian Ponder.
It’s true the Bills want to give Ryan Fitzpatrick one more year to prove himself, but they also have to be prepared in case he fails to deliver.
Buffalo coach Chan Gailey would have loved to have Ponder come to Georgia Tech when he was recruiting him a few years ago and now, he gets a second chance to land him.
Danny Watkins is one of the most interesting prospects this year.
The 26-year-old former firefighter has worked his way from football newcomer into first round prospect in a relatively short amount of time
Since current guard Logan Mankins, who still hasn’t agreed to his franchise tag, is likely to bolt New England once the lockout ends, the Patriots could be in need of some help.
Although Coach Belichick loves Florida players, he might prefer Watkins over Mike Pouncey if he had a choice between the two.
Chicago offensive line coach Mike Tice made magic out of mediocrity last year.
Tice was actually able to turn the Bears offensive line into a serviceable bunch last season, but more help is definitely needed.
Tice would love to work with a young lineman such as Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, this year’s Outland Trophy winner.
What Carimi lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for with his toughness and playing demeanor.
Rex Ryan knows he needs to add a pass rusher who can pressure the quarterback in order for his defense to continue its success.
Luckily for Ryan, there should be a lot of quality 3-4 rush linebackers to choose from with the 30th pick.
Justin Houston, Akeem Ayers and Brooks Reed are all viable options that could be considered.
Arizona's Brooks Reed is the type of edge rusher who could wet Ryan’s appetite.
The Steelers hit a home run when they took C Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th pick in last year’s first round, but the team will most likely be looking to draft another offensive lineman early on in this draft.
Pittsburgh could be looking for stability at both guard and tackle, so taking a talented tweener such as TCU’s Marcus Cannon would make sense.
The 6’5’’ 355 lb. Cannon is the type of big, strong linemen that would fit in well up front for the Steelers.
The Green Bay Packers may be picking last in the first round, but I have a feeling there will be a solid prospect that drops to them at No. 32.
Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn would be a great value pick if he fell this far, and he would help strengthen a defensive line that was plagued by injuries in 2010.
The 6’2’’ 280 lb. Clayborn didn’t have the senior season he was hoping for, but he still showed he has the talent to be a difference maker in the NFL.