2011 NFL Mock Draft: How Does the Unpredictable 1st Round Shake Out?
The 2011 NFL draft is only a few days away. The anticipation has been eating away at NFL fans all over the country as we look forward to what could be the last good NFL news that we hear for some time.
NFL mock drafts are a interesting proposition; if one pick is changed, it could have a domino effect down the rest of the board. Keep that in mind as we go down through an unpredictable and wild first-round mock!
No. 1: Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
While questions abound about Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers will be unable to pass up on his extreme physical abilities.
He raised a few eyebrows during his interview with Jon Gruden when he was unable to verbalize a play call off the top of his head from Auburn, but that should be a minimal concern. If he turns into the player everyone thinks he'll be, the Panthers will have a franchise playmaker at quarterback for years to come.
No. 2: Denver Broncos, Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
If the Broncos want to be safe, they'll take Marcel Dareus. If they want to make a splash and draft a potential Warren Sapp-type superstar, they'll take Nick Fairley.
While Dareus should be a solid player at the next level, I don't think he will have the game-changing impact that Fairley can bring to the table.
Is he riskier? Sure, but you've got to take risks if you want to be rewarded. No one drafted Randy Moss high because they were afraid of the risk. The Vikings took a shot, and they were immediately rewarded with one of the best receivers in the league.
Fairley's the pick here, and he will not disappoint the Broncos.
No. 3: Buffalo Bills, Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
After what looks like making a terrible mistake by drafting Aaron Maybin in 2009, the Bills are still looking to address their need for a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Luckily for them, with the third pick this year, they can land Von Miller.
Miller is easily the best pass-rushing linebacker in this class, and he's even shown the ability to drop back in coverage.
Miller is the pick here, and he will make up for the Maybin miss.
No. 4: Cincinnati Bengals, Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
The Bengals need to come to the realization that Carson Palmer is not going to play for them. Whether they trade him or he retires, he will not be under center in 2011.
With that said, the Bengals need to find a replacement. At No. 4, why not take Gabbert? He may not have the star power of Newton, but he's probably the safer pick. He could have the same effect that Sam Bradford had on the Rams.
Draft him, plug him in and maybe he'll take them to the playoffs.
No. 5: Arizona Cardinals, Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama
He may not be the first DT off the board, but Marcell Dareus is a beast and the Cardinals can't afford to pass up on him at No. 5. They have a ton of holes so it makes sense to draft a can't-miss player who will immediately make an impact on their line.
Like I said in the Fairley slide, Marcell Dareus probably won't be a superstar. But, the Cardinals cannot afford to miss, so a safe pick like Dareus is probably the best bet.
No. 6: Cleveland Browns, A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Another team with plenty of holes, the Browns will take Green here, who is one of the best players left on the board. After drafting Joe Haden, a CB from Florida, in the first round last year, they're unlikely to take Patrick Peterson, the No. 1 player left.
With that, they take Green, a player who has a chance to be a game-breaking receiver from the first day he steps on the field. Colt McCoy needs a weapon on the outside, and Green is just the man for the job.
No. 7: San Francisco 49ers, Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The 49ers will be unable to pass on Patrick Peterson, and with good reason. He is the best player in this draft and he can impact the game in a number of ways.
He's a physical specimen off the field, he's got great ball skills, he's smart and he can even contribute in the return game.
He's as can't-miss as they come, and the 49ers will be elated that he dropped to them at No. 7.
No. 8: Tennessee Titans, J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Though the Titans would love to see either Fairley or Dareus drop to them at No. 8, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
Instead, they'll go with J.J. Watt, a bruising DE from the Big Ten. His motor never stops, and he's got a good head on his shoulders as well. This is a pretty safe pick and I expect Watt to be an immediate contributor for the Titans defense.
No. 9: Dallas Cowboys, Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Jerry Jones would love to make a splashy pick here with a skill position player, but that would be a major mistake. They need help in the trenches and Smith should be the pick here.
He may not be ready right away, but he's a potential stalwart on the blindside and the Cowboys would be wise to take him.
No. 10: Washington Redskins, Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Julio Jones is the second-best wide receiver in this draft, but he's a close second. The Redskins are desperate for some offensive firepower, and Jones is just the man to provide that.
He's a hard worker and a willing and able blocker; Jones will really give the Redskins good value at the No. 10 spot, and I expect him to contribute immediately.
Jones studied and trained hard to develop and grow as a player at Alabama, and he should continue to grow in the NFL.
No. 11: Houston Texans, Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Da'Quan Bowers was once considered a lock for the top pick in the draft, but concerns about injury and production led to his drop.
The Texans, switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips, should be ecstatic that Bowers falls to them. To pair him with Mario Williams could be a lethal combination that will immediately help their defense.
While the secondary was a major concern, if Williams and Bowers can harass the quarterback enough, there won't be time to find the holes in the defensive backfield.
No. 12: Minnesota Vikings, Robert Quinn, LB, UNC
Robert Quinn missed all of the 2010 season due to an NCAA infraction, but his natural tools are too much to overlook.
He will give the Vikings a versatile and skilled linebacker that can really put pressure on the quarterback. With Jared Allen and Quinn rushing the quarterback, the Vikings will have a great tandem that can really create chaos in the backfield.
No. 13: Detroit Lions, Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Much like Julio Jones is the second-best receiver to A.J. Green, Prince Amukamara is the second-best cornerback to Patrick Peterson.
It's a small drop-off in talent and the Lions will be happy to snap up Prince at the No. 13 spot. They're continuing to build their defense into a playoff-caliber unit, and Amukamara will solidify their defense on the outside.
He has the potential to be a guy who can lock down one side of the field, and the Lions won't be able to pass on that.
No. 14: St. Louis Rams, Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple
The Rams would prefer to see one of the receivers—either Green or Jones—fall to them here so they can give Sam Bradford a real weapon on the outside, but they're not going to reach for an offensive playmaker.
Instead, they will draft the most versatile defensive lineman in the draft in Muhammad Wilkerson. The Rams are looking to grow into perennial playoff contenders, and they know they'll need a good defense to do that.
Wilkerson is a solid pick here who can help their defense grow in a positive way.
No. 15: Miami Dolphins, Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams out of the picture for next season, the Dolphins have a dire need for a ball carrier. Who better to fill that need than a former Heisman Trophy winner?
Is he a can't-miss lock? No, but he's a solid, strong runner who knows how to shoulder a heavy workload. While I think the Emmitt Smith comparisons are unfounded, Ingram can still be a consistent 1,000-yard back in this league.
He's not the fastest or strongest player, but he runs hard, can shed tackles and he has an unbelievable work ethic. Miami won't be disappointed by Ingram.
No. 16: Jacksonville Jaguars, Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
Jordan has the ability to come in right away and contribute as a pass-rushing defensive end. The Jaguars will be happy to take him here as they will get good value at the No. 16 spot.
He's a smart player who also has great instincts. He never stops on the football field and he's been productive his entire career. With Jordan, there's little room for disappointment.
No. 17: New England Patriots, Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Ryan Kerrigan is a confounding prospect. He's not much of an athlete and he's basically limited to playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
That being said, if that is your system, he could end up being a huge steal, even at No. 17. That's especially true for a coach like Bill Belichick, who seems to always get the most out of his players.
To say Kerrigan has a great motor would be one of the great understatements of our time; he forced 14 fumbles in his career, which tied an FBS record. The fact that he does have athletic limitations yet still produces at a high level should say plenty.
Call him the anti-Vernon Gholston, and call him the No. 17 pick.
No. 18: San Diego Chargers, Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
The Chargers finished last season with the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They didn't make the playoffs, but they don't necessarily have a ton of holes.
Aldon Smith is the perfect pick for them. He's coming out a year early, as he would probably crack the top 10 in 2012, so he's the perfect pick for a team that doesn't need an immediate impact player in the first round.
He's got great physical tools and, though he won't be a game-changer in 2011, he should contribute minimally as he continues to develop.
No. 19: New York Giants, Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The Giants have always relished drafting smart linemen who also have the athletic ability to play multiple positions along the line. Their offensive line was ravaged by injuries last year and, since they don't have many holes, Castonzo would be a great pick here.
He's suited to play either guard or tackle, and I think he's a better prospect than Mike Pouncey from Florida.
Joining fellow BC Eagle Chris Snee on the Giants offensive line will be Anthony Castonzo.
No. 20: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
The Bucs need some defensive line help, and I think Liuget is a great fit for them.
He's got a powerful motor and he wears down his opponents. Great teams are built from the inside out, and the Buccaneers are looking to become a perennial playoff contender. Liuget will give them stability inside and Raheem Morris will utilize him well.
No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs, Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Like the Bucs, the Chiefs are trying to establish themselves as a team that will be contending for a playoff spot on a yearly basis.
For someone who built a reputation on athleticism, Ayers was less than impressive at the combine. Despite that, a talent evaluator like Scott Pioli knows a good player when he sees one. Ayers isn't just a pass rusher and he isn't just a coverage linebacker; he has the versatility to contribute in many facets of the game and the Chiefs will be happy to have him at No. 21.
No 22: Indianapolis Colts, Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
I'm not as high on Mike Pouncey as others, but I still think he's worth a first-round pick, especially for the Colts.
The Colts had a terrible offensive line last year and they made a mistake in last year's draft by taking DE Jerry Hughes in the first round when they should have targeted an offensive lineman.
They can make up for it this year by taking Pouncey, a versatile lineman who can play multiple positions well. Under the tutelage of Jeff Saturday, Pouncey could be groomed into their next center while filling in along the line for the time being.
No. 23: Philadelphia Eagles, Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
With a quarterback who moves around as much as Mike Vick, the Eagles can never have enough capable offensive linemen to protect him.
Nate Solder is a 6'8" monster from Colorado who can—aside from protecting the quarterback—level defensive linemen in the running game.
He's got room on his frame to get even bigger and I expect Solder to have a solid NFL career as an immovable object along the line.
No. 24: New Orleans Saints, Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Though Phil Taylor won't be a major disruptor in the backfield, he is what is best described as a space-eater.
He's essentially an anchor that can eat up blockers and free up the players around him to make plays. Taylor possesses unbelievable strength and he is technically sound.
The Saints can always use help on defense, and Taylor has the potential to contribute immediately.
No. 25: Seattle Seahawks, Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Jake Locker was once regarded as a top overall pick, though an off year in 2010 left many questioning his draft stock.
He's got a huge arm and he's a phenomenal athlete; he'll need to be coached on how to play the position in the NFL without being reckless, but Hasselbeck can help him with that. Let Locker learn the position for a year under Hasselbeck and he should be ready to start in 2012.
No. 26: Baltimore Ravens, Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Aaron Williams probably won't develop into Darrelle Revis, but he could develop into an Asante Samuel-type corner. He doesn't have lock-down skills, but he's great at identifying the ball and he's not afraid to take chances.
The Ravens are always known for their defense and, since their last three first-round picks have been offensive players, I expect them to go defense in 2011.
Williams could turn into a prominent playmaker as he learns from some of the best defenders in the game in Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
No. 27: Atlanta Falcons, Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio St.
The Falcons are pretty solid all around, so they can afford to make a pick here that doesn't address a definite need.
Heyward is a phenomenal athlete who can stop the run, but he makes his money rushing the quarterback. John Abraham isn't getting any younger, so the Falcons can start to think about a replacement here at No. 27.
He may not be ready to contribute right away, but he's got all the tools to be an impact player on the edge of the line.
No. 28: New England Patriots, Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Bill Belichick loves versatility, and after taking a player at No. 17, that can really only play one position, he'll select Wilson here as a linebacker who can play any of the linebacker positions.
He has the speed to be an edge rusher and the smarts and strength to play inside at middle linebacker.
Wilson put up good numbers in the physical Big Ten, and he's a smart enough player to learn all of the nuances of Belichick's system.
No. 29: Chicago Bears, Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Bears have a huge need for offensive line talent, and they will be ecstatic that Carimi has fallen to them at No. 29. He takes on pass rushers with ease and moves well when blocking for the running game.
He may not be ready for it now, but he has the potential to develop into a left tackle that can protect Jay Cutler's blindside.
Cutler needs all the protection he can get, and Carimi is just the player to help provide it.
No. 30: New York Jets, Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Shaun Ellis could be re-signed by the Jets, but he's an older player. The Jets need to think about the future of their pass-rushing game, and Clayborn could come in and contribute right away and give them a solid rusher for years to come.
Clayborn is relentless and physical at the point of attack; though he's a bit undersized, he was a solid producer in the Big Ten.
No. 31: Pittsburgh Steelers, Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Steelers have a need for a cornerback and Jimmy Smith could be the answer.
He has some character concerns but the Steelers are a disciplined and tough organization. Like we've seen with Big Ben, they aren't afraid to reprimand problem players and whip them into shape.
Pittsburgh would be a place that Smith could go and learn how to be a professional while making major contributions to a world-class defense. He would be a great fit for the Steelers.
No. 32: Green Bay Packers, Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
The Packers are reaching a bit by taking Leshoure here—but they're the Super Bowl champs, so they can afford to.
Ryan Grant was injured for nearly all of last season and you can never have too much depth at the running back position. Leshoure is a powerful back and he's also shown decent speed.
In a three-back system with Grant and James Starks, Leshoure can have a positive impact on a team that's looking to repeat as champions.
Mike Osterberg is a student at Penn State University and Featured Columnist for the New York Giants. Follow him on twitter @Mike_Osterberg.