The draft is less than a week away, and the NFL players are still locked out by the owners. The NFL and the players have agreed to suspend mediation until mid-May. This means that free agency will likely remain closed until after the draft.
If there is a 2011 NFL season, free agency will eventually reopen. Until that happens, however, teams will struggle to address their positional needs because the draft is their only present option.
This uncertainty means that we will see many more teams drafting for need as opposed to the best player available. Some teams, on the other hand, may be confident with addressing the free-agency market in certain areas. This will leave them to draft for the BPA, while still addressing some other team needs.
Teams like the Minnesota Vikings or the Arizona Cardinals both have need at QB, but, because of ties to veteran players like Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb through trades or free agency, may move in a different direction with their first-round picks.
Another example could be the Dallas Cowboys ignoring their need at CB, because of the possibility of acquiring Oakland Raider Nnamdi Asomugha through free agency.
In short, because some teams will ignore free agency and rely solely on the draft, other teams may have an advantage in waiting for free agency to reopen to address some of their biggest needs. This possibility has the potential to shock a lot of people, changing the entire landscape of the draft.
The Panthers have many needs going into the draft. They ranked in the bottom 10 of most meaningful categories in 2010. They will need to make a smart pick to keep the respect of their fans.
That being said, I don't think they go QB because there really aren't any home-run QB's in the draft this year. While popular opinion says they will take Cam Newton from Auburn, I think that would be swinging for the fences when all they really need is a base hit.
I'm a big believer in the old adage "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships." Dareus is dominant; he will greatly improve their defense, which in all reality isn't horribly off. If they continually add talent to that side of the ball, they will be in a position to compete in their division once again.
I don't think we've seen the best that Jimmy Clausen has. I think that if they strengthen the talent around him, on offense and defense, we will see a very different Panthers squad in the coming years.
Aside from AJ Green and Patrick Peterson, I think Dareus is one of the safest picks in the first round. If they take this guy, they will be more successful in 2011.
Surprisingly, the Denver Broncos are a team that really has no need at QB. Most of their need comes on the defensive side of the ball.
They could really use some help at DT and CB. Since Marcell Dareus will be gone at this point, the only pick that will really make sense for them will be LSU's Patrick Peterson. Peterson is hands-down the safest pick in the draft, pegged by most as the next Charles Woodson.
Peterson is valuable not only as a CB, but because he is versatile enough to play safety as well. He could also be utilized in the return game, making him a very multidimensional player.
Champ Bailey, once a great CB of the league, has definitely aged quite a bit. The entire Broncos secondary could stand an upgrade, and I don't think there is anyone that would argue against Patrick Peterson.
The Buffalo Bills are also a favorite to draft Cam Newton, but I think that they have more faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick than most people give them credit for. I think more than anything on offense, they could use some offensive line help. Stevie Johnson and Lee Evans are good enough to make some plays, if Fitzpatrick has time to get the ball to them.
They are pretty lackluster on defense, well at least in stopping the run and pass rushing. 2010, they ranked third in the league in pass defense. If they can add a solid outside linebacker to pass rush for them, they could cause some havoc.
None of the teams in their division have an incredible run game, so bringing in a pass rusher as opposed to a run stopper could be smart for the Bills.
Miller is hands-down the best LB in the draft and will most definitely go in the top five. I think the Bills go defense and snag him at three.
Auburn's Cam Newton is the sexy pick in the draft. In my opinion, he'll be a hit-or-miss kind of player. I think that he slides from the expected first overall spot simply because of the risk that comes from taking a rushing QB.
People will argue in either direction about Newton's talent, but realistically, how often do quarterbacks that run the ball a lot have much success in the NFL? No, Michael Vick is not an exception. Vick had one of his best years in 2010, but it was because he improved inside the pocket instead of running all over the field like he usually does.
I'm not going to say anything about his race, god forbid Warren Moon come after me, but I will say that the amount that his father is involved in his career does worry me a little bit. Taking that kind of thing into consideration, I don't think Newton is mature enough to lead an NFL team quite yet.
The Bengals will pull the trigger on Newton if he's available at No. 4. They have the very likely threat of losing QB Carson Palmer, who said that he would retire if not traded.
Bringing in Newton could be incentive for WR tandem T.Ocho to stay in Cinci. (Can you imaging the collective ego on that possible team? Good lord.)
The Bengals could use some help at cornerback as well, but with Patrick Peterson already gone, the next best option Prince Amukamara would be a little bit of a reach.
I think the Bengals go with the sexy pick at No. 4.
Ask anyone in Arizona and they will probably tell you that the Cardinals biggest need is quarterback.
The Cardinals are one of those teams I spoke of, banking on free agency and trades for some of their answers. In my mind, the Cardinals are the front runners to land Kevin Kolb. As it stands, teams cannot trade players for picks in the 2011 draft. So what is stopping them from trading a pick for 2012 when the lockout ends?
I think the Cardinals will shock a lot of people, most notable the Dallas Cowboys, by addressing their need at offensive line rather than at QB or OLB.
I don't think that Blaine Gabbert gives them any more of a chance at winning than any of the QBs on their roster. If they bring in a new LT, especially one as physically gifted as Smith, they will be able to protect whatever QB starts for them in 2011.
Think how happy Larry Fitzgerald will be when they bring in Kevin Kolb and a LT to keep him from getting more concussions.
If this pick surprises you, you have been under a rock since the Super Bowl.
The Browns have the most need at WR. They need to get Colt McCoy some better receiving options to be successful.
They can wait to address their defensive needs until free agency reopens.
AJ Green should be a sure pick for Cleveland. He is one of the best players in the entire draft; they can't screw up on this pick.
The favorite to the 49ers is CB Patrick Peterson, but that's not to say that they don't have need at QB. The only QB currently on their roster is David Carr. Ideally, they'll want to bring back Alex Smith, but even he is not the best option.
Should Gabbert fall this far in a draft, that is slim in QB talent, the 49ers will be kicking themselves if they pass on the Missouri product. Gabbert is regarded as the best play-caller in the draft this year.
I think that with a new head coach, they will want to bring in some new talent to call their plays on the field as well, to really turn a page in SanFran.
The Tennessee Titans are another team with a lot of needs. They obviously need to address their QB problem sooner or later, and their offensive line could use some work.
On defense, they could stand some help on their defensive line and at safety.
I think that they will address some of these needs through free agency when it opens back up. Julio Jones is the BPA at this point, and with the recent arrest of WR Kenny Britt, the Titans suddenly could use some help there as well.
I think Jones automatically becomes the go-to-guy in Tennessee. The Titans have to take Jones if he falls to No. 8.
The Cowboys wanted Tyron Smith, but because the Cardinals will have already taken him, they will go DE instead.
They have needs on their offensive line, at DE and at CB. I think they ignore their need at CB, and go with Cam Jordan out of Cal. The Cowboys will likely lose three of their DEs to free agency, including starter Marcus Spears.
Over the past few years, the Cowboys have had a relatively strong run defense, Jerry Jones will want to keep it that way. Cameron Jordan can do more for this team than CB Prince Amukamara can.
The Washington Redskins have need at QB, WR and on their defensive line. Any picks at QB or WR at this point in the draft would be a major reach, so they go with the best defensive lineman available.
Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan is best suited as a DE in a 4-3, which will be useful for Washington as they transition back into a 4-3 scheme.
Da'Quan Bowers was once regarded as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but because of a knee injury, his stock has fallen tremendously.
The Houston Texans need to bring in a pass rusher to compete within their division. If they can bring some pressure to their opponents more in 2011, they will be more successful.
I think at No. 11, Bowers is too good to pass up on. He is perhaps one of the most explosive players in the draft. He will put up big numbers his rookie year in Houston.
If I read one more mock draft with the Vikings taking a DE, I'm going to freak out. Not only have they made their intent of resigning Ray Edwards known, they gave Brian Robison a three-year, $14 million contract. They do NOT have need at DE. So if you're struggling with who to give the Vikings in your mock draft, stay away from JJ Watt, Da'Quan Bowers, Robert Quinn and just about any other pass rusher. I apologize for the rant; I just had to say something.
That being said, predicting the Vikings first-round pick is easy—the best player available.
The Vikings have need in many different areas, so it would be hard for them to screw this one up.
The way I see it, If Prince Amukamara is available, they have to take him. Their secondary was absolute garbage last year. Though they used their high pick in 2010 on CB Chris Cook, they have to take Prince to stand a chance in the NFC North in 2011.
I don't think they have to address their need at QB because of the ties to Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb, who they could make a play for in free agency. In reality, that is the best option. The Vikings are built to win right now, they don't need a bunch of veteran players taking orders from a kid right out of college. Bringing in a veteran makes the most sense, so they need to address another need.
They also need help at DT, S, and OLB, but those will come in later rounds.
Amukamara is a slam dunk, and on top of that, can they really afford to let Detroit have him?
Detroit needs to continue to build up their defense. Last year, they added Ndamukong Suh, who was a huge success in the motor city. How do you make Suh better, you ask? Give him a dominant DE to help on the outside.
How scary would it be to face that dynamic duo twice a year? NFC North beware.
Continuing to build up this defense will only do good things for Detroit.
Like I said, Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.
Simply put, Suh and Quinn will mess people up. Bash Brotha's 2011.
Now that St. Louis has its franchise QB, they can start to fill in some smaller holes in their roster. They obviously need to bring in a WR, but that can be filled through free agency or trades.
The Rams already have a solid defense, but bringing in a pass rusher like Smith could only do good things for this young team.
This pick may surprise people a little bit, but it shouldn't. Many think that they will take Alabama RB Mark Ingram, but why would they need to when DeAngelo Williams says he wants to be a Dolphin in 2011?
I think they give Chad Henne one more year to prove his worth, and on top of that, give him a little more cushion in Boston College guard Anthony Castonzo. Jake Long is already one of the best left tackles in the game, making their entire left side elite will make the Dolphins much better in 2011.
The Jaguars will shock people with this pick. They do need to address their need at QB, a guy like Mallet would be a good fit for the Jags. He has a huge arm to heave it downfield to Mike Sims-Walker and is good in play-action and handing the ball off.
This pick is not the sexy pick like the Cam Newton pick, but in the long run, I think Jaguars fans will be happy.
If the Jags take Mallet, they will go from just being Maurice Jones-Drew, to being a multidimensional offense once again.
The Patriots are looking good going into 2011. An area of concern, however, is at their offensive line.
Tackle Matt Light is a free agent, and Mankins isn't too happy after receiving the team's franchise tag.
Bill Belichick should use the fact that he has two first-round picks to his advantage and load up on useful players like Solder.
The Chargers most glaring need is at WR. Vincent Jackson is only under contract for one more year and then will likely leave. Their other receivers struggled to stay healthy throughout the season and were ultimately the reason they couldn't make the playoffs.
The Chargers, however, will go with a defensive end because of the lack of production in that area. They have a relatively strong pass defense, and bringing in a pass rusher to emphasize that strength will be very beneficial.
Watt, of Wisconsin, is the best DE prospect available at this point in the draft and will fit in nicely as a 5-technique in their 3-4 defense.
The New York Giants are another team that aren't too far off. They have a solid defense, with the exception of linebacker and added depth at DT.
On offense, they have some good receivers and a decent offensive line. Their main weakness is at RB; they will likely lose Amad Bradshaw to free agency, and Brandon Jacobs will have to take a serious pay cut for them to re-sign him.
Alabama RB Mark Ingram is the best in the draft at that position. The Giants will want to address their need at RB this year, because they probably won't have access to a player of Ingram's caliber next year.
Tampa Bay has all sorts of need on defense. CB Ronde Barber is aging, they don't really have any adequate DEs, and two of their starting LBs are free agents.
Akeem Ayers from UCLA is the best LB prospect on the board at this point, and the Bucs will want to pull the trigger on him to maintain some balance on their defense in 2011.
The Chiefs most glaring need is on their offensive line. QB Matt Cassel does not have a very good feel for the pass rush, and their tackles are atrocious. Their interior offensive linemen are aging, and they will no doubt choose to address this need at some point soon.
Guard Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin is considered the No. 2 interior lineman in the draft. The Chiefs would be foolish not to take him at No. 21.
The Colts have tremendous need on their offensive line, but I think they go defense anyway. After all, offense sells tickets...you know the rest.
The Colts already have two dominant pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. If they can bring in a big physical nose tackle to anchor that 3-4 defense, they can really cause some problems for their divisional rivals, particularly RD Chris Johnson in Tennessee.
The Eagles have an overwhelming need at CB, Asante Samuel can't do it by himself for another season, and on top of it, he's a flag magnet.
Jimmy Smith is the best corner available, and the Eagles will ignore his character concerns to address their need at this position.
The Saints need to give Will Smith some help on the other side at DE. Smith will likely stay with the Saints but will be suspended for the first four weeks of the 2011 season because of the StarCaps case, just like Minnesota's Pat and Kevin Williams.
They need to give their defense some strength so that they can compete with the Falcons in the NFC South.
Adrian Clayborn was, at one point, considered a top-10 talent but has since fallen because of the overwhelming number of talented DEs. He will be just what the doctor ordered in NOLA.
Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck has made known his intent to return to Seattle. I can't say, for certain, that the Seahawks definitely feel the same way. Regardless of it, Hasselbeck is with the team in 2011; they need to address this need at some point.
Reportedly, head coach Pete Carroll likes Jake Locker, who is indecently the best available QB.
I don't know if this is definitely their best option, but I do know that they will jump if they get the chance.
The Ravens definitely need to bring in a fast WR at some point, but I think they will do that in free agency or trades when the lock out ends. They will manicure their defense so they can keep it at the top of the league.
I think they'll bring in DE Cameron Heyward from Ohio State. He's big, fast, and dominant—probably the best DE prospect available.
Side Note: I hate how guys from Ohio State refer to it as "THE Ohio State University." They just sound foolish.
With Roddy White as their No. 1 receiving option, the Falcons already have a complete stud. They also have TE Tony Gonzalez, but his remaining years in the NFL are numbered. They will want to bring in another big target for QB Matt Ryan to heave the ball to.
Torrey Smith from Maryland is a great option for the Falcons. With two talented receiving options, they will have no problem repeating at the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Patriots already addressed a need on offense. Now, they'll go defense with their second first-round pick.
Safety Brandon Meriweather only has one more year on his contract, and the spot opposite him is pretty much open to anyone who wants it.
Rahim Moore is the premier safety in the 2011 draft. He is considered by most as a second rounder, but I think the Pats will take him in Round 1 to address this team need.
Chicago will need to address some needs at WR and on their offensive line at some point, but I think they will want to fill the huge hole left by Tommy Harris at DT.
They have an elite defense, if they can bring a dominant DT to compliment DE Julius Peppers, they will do some more damage in 2011.
Fairley has been considered a potential No. 1 overall pick; he would be a steal at No. 29.
The Jets will likely lose many key pieces to their once-dominant defense to free agency or retirements.
Rex Ryan will want to address some of these issues in the draft; he will not have enough time to fill all of these holes in free agency.
Taylor is best suited as a nose tackle, which will fit nicely in the Jets 3-4 scheme. Taylor is probably the best available defensive lineman at this point in the draft.
Does this pick surprise you? The Steelers will go offensive line, particularly to pick up star Markice Pouncey's twin brother Mike.
The Packers don't have many severe needs. They are pretty much stacked—and young.
I think an area that they could improve on would be at the LB spot opposite Clay Matthews.
Reed's stock is rising; his play style reminds me a lot of Matthews. Bringing in another dominant linebacker will just make this young Packers squad even better.
Side Note: plus, he's got hair just like Matthews; they'd be like twins.