The 2011 NFL Draft is less than one week away and with that I am releasing my second-to-last mock draft of the season. The experts only pair three to 11 players with teams in their mocks, a number I am looking to oust this year.
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1. Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn - Almost all reports say Cam is the first pick. He has the highest ceiling in the draft. He can be your franchise player, but bust-ability is high, because he seems to lack the same football IQ (primary theory & vernacular) as the other top QB prospects.
2. Denver Broncos - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama - He's considered the highest floor prospect. Interior defensive linemen play a part in every snap and Dareus comes across as a guy who takes pride in that. It's a great fit for Denver's needs, too.
3. Buffalo Bills - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri - For the last week, draftniks and experts have switched their picks from QB to Von Miller. While Miller is worth the pick, Gabbert has everything Chan Gailey wants in a QB and the Bills can bring him up slowly behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. It looks like the team would have to trade-up to get their hands on a Ponder or Dalton now.
4. Cincinnati Bengals - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn - Almost nobody else is mocking this pick. The current opinion is A.J. Green, but the Bengals are notorious for ranking their board off of on-field production and nothing else. Fairley had one of the five best DT seasons of all-time last year and fits Cincinnati's draft track record.
5. Arizona Cardinals - Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M - It's a match made in heaven, the Cards have never had an elite pass rusher in their 3-4, making Miller a blessing. The team needs a QB–I think Mallett would thrive here–but Miller or Peterson has to be the pick.
6. Cleveland Browns - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia - Mel Kiper recently said he would take Green with the top overall pick in the draft. While he may be that type of talent, Denver is the only top five team picking with a QB in place to make Green worth their while in the near future. Cleveland lucks out, but there is a chance they would pass for Peterson or Quinn.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU - At the beginning of the draft process, I didn't think there was a chance Peterson could fall out of the top five, but here we are. The Niners get the "Next" great defensive back.
8. Tennessee Titans - Jake Locker, QB, Washington - In my estimation, Locker is a firm second-round prospect. The kid has great football IQ, is a leader, and wants to be great. The issue is accuracy, which is a much bigger issue for a quarterback than liking to party.
9. Dallas Cowboys - Tyron Smith, OT, USC - Dallas mock draft guru Rick Gosselin says Smith is the man, so I guess Smith is the man.
10. Washington Redskins - Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina - Putting Quinn opposite Brian Orakpo will give the Skins the most imposing 3-4 edge rush in the NFC.
11. Houston Texans - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri - The Houston Chronicle is hot on Smith for the Texans. He has the biggest bust factor of any first round prospect for me, but Wade Phillips has a great history of getting production from his DE converts.
12. Minnesota Vikings - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas - I hate to say it, but the NFL Draft is over saturated with "experts." Mallett deserves some scrutiny, but there is no way in hell he doesn't deserve a first-round pick. He will thrive in Minnesota, especially if Sidney Rice is back.
13. Detroit Lions - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska - This has seemed like the ideal pick for Detroit since the end of the season, (need/blackshirt connection) but many thought Amukamara wouldn't leave the top 11. Prince is extremely solid, but may not be a big play guy in the NFL, causing a small slip.
14. St. Louis Rams - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama - They might have to trade up or he might fall to them, but one way or another I see Julio Jones playing Rams football next year.
15. Miami Dolphins - Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida - To toot my own horn, I have had this pick mocked since January 3rd, when everyone in the mock draft world had Mark Ingram here and its still a great pick for Miami.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue - Not everyone is a fan of Kerrigan, which is a surprise because of how consistent and hard he plays.
17. New England Patriots - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College - This draft needs to be the one where New England adds several pieces to their OL that will see Brady through his career. Castonzo has a higher floor than Solder, although I would take Carimi over him.
18. San Diego Chargers - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin - Watt is one of the toughest guys to mock, because the positional value of a 3-4 DE hurts him. I think the Chargers take him over Cam Jordan though, because they seem to side with the bigger and stronger defensive players.
19. New York Giants - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin - I think there are players out there who could help NY more in 2011, but I can't argue if anyone wants to pick Carimi. He is nasty and a much better pass blocker than credited.
20. Tampa Bay Bucs - Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson - The Bucs don't get scared by red flags. At the end of the regular college season, Bowers was considered the top draft prospect. Getting talent like that at 20 is a major coup.
21. Kansas City Chiefs - Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA - Ayers gives KC another Vrable-type defender to play opposite Tamba Hali. He can even move inside in situations, giving the Chiefs extreme versatility with their scheme.
22. Indianapolis Colts - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado - It seems like the logical pick for Indy, which has me scared, because they rarely do the obvious. Solder is the prototypical pass pro tackle.
23. Philadelphia Eagles - Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado - The Eagles would like to trade down, as they almost always do, but I think this is a little high for Dalton or Ponder. If they're stuck picking, Smith would be a great addition.
24. New Orleans Saints - Cameron Jordan, DE, California - I love Jordan as a DE in the Saints scheme. This would be considered a slide for him, although he was a fringe first-rounder before his stellar Senior Bowl, so its not out of the question.
25. Seattle Seahawks - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State - Seattle needs to stay dedicated to developing their running game. They have a few puzzle pieces and locking in Sherrod as a franchise RT will help solidify the group.
26. Baltimore Ravens - (Trade) Andy Dalton, QB, TCU - There isn't a great first round selection for Baltimore here. They could gamble on a corner, but from Peter King to Adam Schefter, everyone things Dalton and Ponder will be snagged at the end of the round. I expect the Bengals to try the hardest to get Dalton here.
27. Atlanta Falcons - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa - Picking Clayborn will keep Atlanta great against the run and although he isn't a "pure" pass rusher, his effort and aggressiveness attack allows him to get to the QB.
28. New England Patriots - (Trade) Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh - I firmly believe the Chargers will make a move here to snag Baldwin. He is a first round talent and come from their mold of 6'4" downfield threats.
29. Chicago Bears - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois - There is a chance Liuget goes 15 spots higher, but that seems rich for a prospect who wasn't on the first-round radar until his final game of the season. Talented no doubt, but more appropriate here.
30. New York Jets - (Trade) Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State - I don't have proof that the Jets want to trade down and I don't know who they will trade with, but if Ponder is going in the first round, this is my guess. How's that for credibility?
31. Pittsburgh Steelers - Ras-I Dowling, Virginia - The Steelers would like the trade down, but with both QBs gone, they may have to make the pick. I have Aaron Williams as the higher ranked prospect, but the Steelers have shown more interest in Dowling, especially after his pro day.
32. Green Bay Packers - Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona - Reed starts to come into play around 18, although that is aggressive for him with all of the end talent on the board. At 32, he makes a great pairing as a more traditional DE/LB opposite the versatile Clay Matthews.