I've decided to invent something original, unique and unheard of. It's a list where I'll predict the picks of the first round of the NFL Draft, specifically choices based on team needs and what the prospects bring to the table.
I call it...a "mock" draft.
I created the first version of this brand-new genius idea over a month ago, but since then, the landscape of the NFL Draft has changed a bit. So, with the draft less than a week away, here is my final NFL "mock draft" for 2011.
(Note: this mock doesn't include trade scenarios.)
1. With the First Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn University
Anyone watching Auburn's pro day saw the Panthers' new head man, Ron Rivera, stalking Newton like a dog would stalk a walking strip of bacon.
Newton is easily one of this draft's top prospects, and the Panthers are the only team in the competitive NFC South without a franchise QB. But that's about to change. Carolina will draft the greatest Auburn QB of all time, and if he remains the same Cam Newton I know, the Panthers will not regret this pick.
2. With the Second Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select: Marcell Dareus, DT, University of Alabama
Dareus had a fantastic career at Alabama. He was a star in 2009 and is known mostly for his pick-six in the BCS title game against Texas. Injuries and NCAA troubles hampered Dareus early in 2010, but near the end of the season, he once again became a man among boys.
Denver needs a defensive presence inside, as they were horrible last season on defense, especially against the run. Dareus makes perfect sense here for John Fox's club and will immediately be counted on to get to the ball carrier.
3. With the Third Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
As Comedy Central's Onion Sports Network put it, Miller really excels at "running towards the guy who has the ball, something Buffalo hasn't done in years." Buffalo was ranked at the bottom of the league last year in run defense, but the addition of Von Miller will help the Bills in that category.
Miller dominated defensively in a conference known for its offense. I don't need to give you any stats or numbers for this guy. He can be summed up in three plays that happened in a 2010 game against Oklahoma: he made three tackles when the Sooners faced fourth-and-goal at the one. Wow. Just wow.
4. With the Fourth Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select: Robert Quinn, DE, University of North Carolina
The Bengals have rountinely picked a WR or QB in recent drafts. But their biggest need could be a great defensive lineman, especially a defensive end.
The Bengals will address their defensive-end needs with Quinn, the star from North Carolina who didn't play in 2010 thanks to the results of an NCAA investigation. However, he's one of the most talented defensive linemen in this draft.
A.J. Green, the WR from Georgia, will tempt the Bengals, but the old cliche has always been proven true: Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.
5. With the Fifth Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals select: Blaine Gabbert, QB, University of Missouri
I know what Cardinals fans are thinking now, "Oh, great, another moron has us drafting that Gabbert kid over a defensive player."
The way I see it, the Cardinals have their sights set on Von Miller. Too bad he'll likely be off the board and no other linebackers in this draft are worth a top-five pick.
The Cardinals don't have a truly talented QB, but it isn't like their QB roster is a barren wasteland. Still, Gabbert has so much upside that he's hard to ignore. Patrick Peterson, the CB from LSU, will tempt the Cardinals, no doubt, but I think they can go with Gabbert and develop him in their system without throwing him into the fire right away.
6. With the Sixth Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select: Patrick Peterson, CB, Louisiana State University
Peterson, one of the nation's best prospects, can do it all. He has great hands, excellent coverage skills and is explosive with the ball in his hands. Cleveland will be very lucky if Peterson is still available at this point, but my mock draft says he will indeed still be on the board. You can use this guy in so many ways that it's ridiculous!
7. With the Seventh Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select: Prince Amukamara, CB, University of Nebraska
The 49ers' dream pick, Patrick Peterson, will be off the board. So, they'll turn to the next best thing: Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. Prince was a part of a Cornhusker defense that was absolutely dominant in 2009 and 2010. The 49ers are looking to recover after giving up a dizzying amount of passing yards last season, and therefore, Amukamara is the right choice for them.
8. With the Eighth Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans select: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn University
Fairley, who was hampered by injuries in 2009, was a monster in 2010, constantly getting in quarterbacks' faces and making offensive lines look softer than a pillow company sponsored by Roger Goodell. Fairley won the Lombardi Awards and, along with Newton, led Auburn to the BCS title.
Tennessee needs a powerful inside presence, and Fairley's freakish speed and strength make him the perfect fit here. Another reason this makes sense is because Tracy Rocker, Fairley's defensive line coach at Auburn in 2009 and 2010, was hired by the Titans this offseason. Rocker has been credited by many on the plains as the primary reason Fairley became the monster that he is.
9. With the Ninth Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select: J.J. Watt, DE, University of Wisconsin.
The Cowboys' defense was terrible last year, so they'll turn to Wisconsin star J.J. Watt to help them get to the QB. This may give Demarcus Ware some help in the category of pass rushing. Watt helped Wisconsin win the Big Ten last year and helped take them to the Rose Bowl. With Amukamara off the board, this is an easy pick for Jerry Jones.
10. With the 10th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins select: A.J. Green, WR, University of Georgia
It's amazing that Green slides so far down in my mock draft. But make no mistake, he's perfect for Washington.
Green gives the 'Skins an offensive threat because, simply put, I think the closest high school team in my neighborhood has a more explosive offense than Washington. Green is known for his leaping ability, underrated speed and sheer determination.
11. With the 11th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select: Jimmy Smith, CB, University of Colorado
This year's NCAA Basketball Championship, played in Houston's Reliant Stadium, was won by UConn by a score of 53-41. This made people in Houston happy that SOMEBODY in Reliant Stadium could play defense.
This is the most obvious pick in the draft. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the holes the Texans had in their secondary last year. It was painful to watch for fans. However, Houston's secondary will be helped by drafting Smith. If they don't draft a cornerback, then it's official—Al Davis is a Texan.
12. With the 12th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select: Tyrone Smith, OL, University of Southern California
Minnesota might be tempted by Washington's Jake Locker here, but I think they have put some trust in Joe Webb at quarterback, so they will go with the best offensive lineman on the board: USC's Tyrone Smith.
13. With the 13th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select: Nate Solder, OL, University of Colorado
Very quietly, Detroit is climbing the ranks in the NFC. They enter 2011 on a four-game winning streak.
Their offense is set with Matthew Stafford improving, the wide receivers making plays and running backs like Jahvid Best gaining confidence.
Their line play must also improve, however, and drafting Solder will help do just that.
14. With the 14th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select: Julio Jones, WR, University of Alabama
St. Louis will get their dream pick.
Jones is big, fast and determined, and the NFL combine proved all of these things. He was big in measurements and ran the 40-yard dash with a fractured foot. Seriously, that's just unreal.
I've always been skeptical of Jones, but I actually believe he will be a great pro.
15. With the 15th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select: Mark Ingram, RB, University of Alabama.
As fellow B/R writer Mark Gaines put it, Ingram is Saban's "parting gift" to the Miami Dolphins.
While the Dolphins have had a decent stable of running backs in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in recent years, they are still lacking in the run game as of now. Brown and Williams are both slated to be free agents in 2011.
16. With the 16th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select: Aldon Smith, LB, University of Missouri
Plain and simple, the Jags need defensive playmakers. Adrian Clayborn will tempt the Jags, but Smith would be a nice pickup for a franchise that desperately needs a shot in the arm.
17. With the 17th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots select: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson University
In my last mock draft, I had Bowers going No. 4 overall.
But health concerns have dropped him out of the top 10. However, the Patriots badly need a pass rusher, and Bowers is one of the best defensive ends in this draft. The Patriots can't ignore the Clemson star here.
18. With the 18th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select: Gabe Carimi, OL, University of Wisconsin
Chargers fans are hungrier for an offensive lineman than any other position in this draft, and Carimi is one of the best linemen on the board. Phillip Rivers is obviously a good QB but his protection must get better.
19. With the 19th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New York Giants select: Mike Pouncey, OL, University of Florida
The Giants should draft this Pouncey brother, but not as a center. He might have been the absolute worst center I have ever seen in college football.
However, when it comes to bullying around defensive linemen, Pouncey is one of the best, and Giants QB Eli Manning, as he usually does, lived on the ground last year.
20. With the 20th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select: Cameron Jordan, DE, University of California
Simply put, the Buccaneers were the best team that failed to make the playoffs last year. The Bucs are talented at nearly every position. They aren't all that deep, however, at defensive end. Jordan from Cal is a great talent, so I believe the Bucs will draft him.
21. With the 21st Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs select: Justin Houston, LB, University of Georgia
The Chiefs rose from the ashes in 2010 to make the playoffs. While they were slaughtered by the Baltimore Ravens in their playoff game, most fans were pleased with how well their team improved.
Now, the Chiefs need to go after a player to help bolster their defense, and that would be Houston.
22. With the 22nd Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select: Anthony Castonzo, OL, Boston College
The Colts offensive line was BAD in 2010. Things were even worse when center Jeff Saturday was injured, but the line was still bad even before his injury.
To help change things, the Colts will reach into Boston College and grab star lineman Castonzo.
23. With the 23rd Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select: Dan Watkins, OL, Baylor University
The Eagles have a great offensive system in place, but a new offensive lineman wouldn't hurt them. I believe the Eagles will get the beast from Baylor, Watkins. He'll pave some big holes for Mike Vick to run through.
24. With the 24th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue University
The Saints are loaded on offense, but their defensive production has disappointed fans lately—just see Marshawn Lynch's TD run against them in Seattle's 41-36 win in the Wild Card Round last year. The guy broke about 50 or 60 tackles.
Kerrigan could give the Saints' defense a nice boost.
Which player will have the best NFL career?
25. With the 25th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select: Jake Locker, QB, University of Washington
Most people in the state of Washington will go from rooting for Jake Locker's team to...rooting for Jake Locker's team.
This makes too much sense. Matt Hasslebeck is not what he used to be but still has a year of starting left in him. The Seahawks need a young QB who won't start immediately but has a great future. That's Locker.
How far is it from Seattle, Wash. to Seattle, Wash.?
26. With the 26th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens select: Leonard Hankerson, WR, University of Miami (FL)
The Ravens need a speedy WR to help Joe Flacco. Hankerson, the great receiver from The U, is just what they need here. Over the past few years, Hankerson has done his best to make Miami QB, Jacory Harris, look better than he is.
27. With the 27th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons select: Adrian Clayborn, DE, University of Iowa
The Falcons are loaded at nearly every position, but their draft board is likely down to a running back and a defensive end. I think they'll go with the latter and get Clayborn.
28. With the 28th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots select: Corey Liuget, DT, University of Illinois
With their second pick in the first round, the Patriots will go with this fantastic tackle from Illinois, who was consistently dominant. They could also go with Stephen Paea from Oregon State University, but Liuget has a lot of upside.
29. With the 29th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select: Derrek Sherrod, OL, Mississippi State University
The Bears had a terrible offensive line last year, which eventually lead to QB Jay Cutler's injury in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. They need an offensive lineman and the fans would prefer Sherrod in this scenario.
Sherrod was a monster at Mississippi State and had a big hand in leading the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record last season.
30. With the 30th Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select: Akeem Ayers, LB, University of California-Los Angeles
The Jets could go with a defensive lineman here, but at this point, Ayers will be the best player on the board.
The Jets won't be able to resist the temptation and will reach across the country to grab the linebacker from Los Angeles.
31. With the 31st Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select: Ben Ijalana, OL, Villanova University
Pittsburgh could go with Miami (FL) cornerback Brandon Harris, but because the secondary was a weakness last year, especially in Super Bowl XLV where Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers torched the Steelers' secondary.
On the other hand, the offensive line struggled and Ben Roethlisberger had to rely on his athleticism to avoid sacks. With Sherrod off the board, the Steelers will grab this "big ugly" from Villanova. Isn't Villanova a basketball school?
32. With the 32nd Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the world champion Green Bay Packers select: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State University
The Packers are talented at almost every spot. They only lack depth at the defensive end position.
The Packers will nab Heyward from Columbus and make an already strong defense even stronger. It's almost unfair how load the Packers are, so even if they didn't select Heyward here, they would likely go with a defensive end no matter who he is.