In the first of three editions of this article, I'll be looking at the main options that each team in the first round will consider on draft day.
Picking all 32 teams' picks is probably just as hard if not harder than picking a perfect bracket in the NCAA tournament, but in working with a few reputable draft analysts and participating in numerous podcasts where I was able to interact with other analysts, I have an idea of who teams may be targeting.
So, while this isn't a complete mock draft, this could be a good starting point in determining how the dominoes may fall on draft day with pick numbers one through 10.
Most people are assuming that this is going to be Cam Newton, and I can’t say that I disagree. While there is a very slim chance that Carolina may decide at the last minute that they like AJ Green as a compliment to Steve Smith, there is really only one other option that I see for this pick: Marcell Dareus.
With Ron Rivera as a defensive-minded coach and the Panthers needing to fill needs in a multitude of areas, they could choose Dareus as the safe pick. You know you can plug him in on day one and you’ll get a defensive upgrade.
That might be too much to pass up.
OPTIONS: Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, AJ Green
After clearing house of most of their defensive line in the offseason and switching to a 4-3 scheme, many people are plugging Dareus into this spot.
It’s likely that will happen, but don’t completely rule out the Broncos making the move and taking Patrick Peterson. Their cornerbacks really struggled last year, Champ Bailey is aging and Perrish Cox is looking at possible suspension. Grabbing Peterson would be a huge boost to a subpar unit.
A long-shot is that the Broncos go with upside and take the risk, pulling the trigger on Von Miller since some scouts believe after his workouts that be might actually be a solid fit as a 4-3 OLB.
OPTIONS: Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Von Miller
The Bills are another team that could go a number of ways here. They’d love to have Newton fall to them, but it seems highly unlikely.
Dareus is another player they would run to the podium for, but if both of them are drafted, it could create an interesting scenario.
The Bills need help on defense and Nix has openly talked about his desire to land a playmaker. Pair that with the brutally honest criticism of Aaron Maybin and his lack of production and Von Miller looks likely. The Bills will plug him in across from Merriman and hope to have a pass-rushing nightmare duo.
OPTIONS: Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, Cam Newton
With Carson Palmer claiming that he wants out, the Bengals could take a long look at Blaine Gabbert.
If they decide to wait and hope that a guy like Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett or Christian Ponder is there in the second, the Bengals could look to either AJ Green or Julio Jones to replace a disgruntled Chad Ochocino and departed Terrell Owens.
OPTIONS: Blaine Gabbert, AJ Green, Julio Jones
With the lack of free agency period before the draft, the Cardinals lost the chance to find a veteran to take over the reins from the collection of Max Hall, John Skelton and Derek Anderson. That might force their hand to take Gabbert if he is still on the board.
If they decide to wait or Gabbert is gone, I think they’ll look to add some help to their OLB corps. That could come in the form of Von Miller or Robert Quinn. Either one would start from day one and help add some pass rush.
OPTIONS: Blaine Gabbert, Von Miller, Robert Quinn
The Browns are another team switching defenses who are looking to add some new blood to their front seven.
Since Dareus won’t make it this far and Bowers has concerns about his knee, expect Cleveland to at least consider Nick Fairley in this spot. After releasing Shaun Rodgers, there is a spot open at DT that Fairley could be a great fit for. The Browns could also choose to stay on the defensive line and add a pass-rushing DE like Robert Quinn.
More likely, the Browns will grab a weapon for potential long-term starter Colt McCoy and take either AJ Green or Julio Jones, whichever one of them is left on the board. But I can’t see Green falling past this pick.
OPTIONS: AJ Green, Julio Jones, Nick Fairley, Robert Quinn
The 49ers are in pretty good shape and probably have enough talent on the roster not to have a top-10 pick.
They certainly have a QB need, but I don’t think Harbaugh will go after any of the mobile options here.
That leaves CBs Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara to help shore up the secondary and perhaps move Nate Clements over to Safety where he probably belongs at this point in his career.
The other possibility is to add some pass rush off the outside where Manny Lawson has continued to under-perform. With Miller likely gone, that would leave Robert Quinn as the only possibility for that position.
However, I can’t see Peterson falling below this pick.
OPTIONS: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Robert Quinn
The Titans have been searching for a stud DT since Albert Haynesworth left town and if Nick Fairley is on the board, I believe he will be the pick.
The other option, should he happen to fall, would be Blaine Gabbert. Tennessee likes mobile QBs and would have no hesitation in taking Gabbert to replace Vince Young. This is also why you’ll likely here Jake Locker’s name brought up in discussion. He is a long-shot, but a possibility.
OPTIONS: Nick Fairley, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker
Dallas is another team that could go a few directions with their pick. They are in need of an offensive tackle, even if they are still enamored with Doug Free. Tyron Smith appears to be the #1 tackle on many boards and could be a fit here.
Dallas could also shore up their CB position and draft Amukamara if he were to fall.
Or they could go in another direction altogether and grab some help for their defensive line with versatile Cam Jordan.
OPTIONS: Tyron Smith, Prince Amukamara, Cameron Jordan
In my opinion, this is the farthest Julio Jones will fall. Washington needs a true number one WR and they wouldn’t pass on him if he’s here.
Since he’ll likely be gone, look for Washington to address their defensive line. They play with some scheme versatility, so grabbing guys who can play in a number of schemes would benefit them. Da’Quan Bowers and JJ Watt might be the two best options.
Washington has also been linked to Locker for a while. I’m not sure they’ll take him this high, but they certainly like him, so anything is possible.
OPTIONS: Da’Quan Bowers, JJ Watt, Jake Locker, Julio Jones