Only three days away from the start of the 2011 NFL Draft, there is quite a bit of consistency in mock drafts when it comes to projections for the top four teams. One of the biggest needs for the Cardinals, who own the fifth pick, is indeed at quarterback and few would disagree with that assessment. How should they go about upgrading the position (i.e., trade, free agency or draft) is subject to plenty of debate.
The Eagles have expressed their willingness to deal back-up quarterback Kevin Kolb for the right offer. Cardinals stud receiver Larry Fitzgerald has expressed his preference for the Cardinals to go after a veteran quarterback like Kolb.
The problem is free agency won't (likely) start until after the 2011 NFL Draft. Should the Cardinals draft an elite quarterback like Gabbert since there is no guarantee that they will be able to work out a deal for Kolb (or another quarterback)?
Here is our updated 2011 NFL mock draft (follow us on Twitter @EDSFootball for any last-minute updates):
1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy, led Auburn to an undefeated season and a win over Oregon in the BCS Championship Game despite his share of off-the-field controversy. In the process, the physically gifted Newton became the first player in SEC history to pass for 2,000-plus yards (2,854) and rush for 1,000-plus yards (1,473). Last year, the Panthers ranked dead last in passing yards (164.7 per game) and passing touchdowns (nine).
2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
As the Broncos switch to a 4-3 defensive front under new coach John Fox, Dareus helps fill one of Denver's biggest needs. The Broncos ranked 31st in the NFL against the run (154.6 yards allowed per game) and allowed a league-worst 26 rushing touchdowns. And since one-quarter of their games are against the teams that ranked first (Kansas City) and second (Oakland) in rushing offense in 2010, the selection makes even more sense.
3. Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Some mock drafts have the Bills selecting Missouri's Blaine Gabbert here, but bolstering the team's pass rush is a greater need for the Bills, who had only 27 sacks in 2010. Over the past two seasons, Miller has totaled 28 sacks. He led the nation with 17 sacks in 2009 and won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker in 2010. Meanwhile, the Bills could target a signal-caller with their second-round pick (34th overall).
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
With Carson Palmer threatening to retire unless he's traded, a strong possibility would be to take Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. That said, I look for the Bengals to address that need in the second round (TCU's Andy Dalton, Florida State's Christian Ponder, etc.) and take the draft's top receiver here. Considering the Bengals will likely be without Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco in 2011, the 6-foot-4 Green has the speed, hands and size to become one of the NFL's elite wideouts.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Plenty of mock drafts project the Cardinals, like the Bengals or Bills, to draft Gabbert. And had Kurt Warner not retired, there's no doubt in my mind that Arizona would have won the NFC West in 2010. Instead of drafting a quarterback at No. 5, I expect the Cardinals to pursue an upgrade at quarterback via trade or free agency after the lockout ends. Meanwhile, Peterson, the Jim Thorpe award recipient in 2010, has the size of a safety (nearly 220 pounds) with elite speed (posted second-fastest forty time at NFL Scouting Combine).
With his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jones elevated his draft stock and narrowed the gap between himself and Green as the top receiver in this year's draft class. Not only did Jones run a sub-4.4 forty with a stress fracture in his foot, but ESPN's Mel Kiper described Jones as "the best blocking WR I have ever graded." With the top three wideouts in Cleveland (Mohamed Massaquoi, Chansi Stuckey and Brian Robiskie) combining for 105 receptions, 1,139 yards and five touchdowns (i.e., not quite equal to one elite guy like Atlanta's Roddy White), this pick should make quarterback Colt McCoy very happy.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
If Gabbert is gone, San Francisco will likely take one of the top two cornerbacks: Peterson or Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. With a first-year head coach, however, it's the perfect time to upgrade at quarterback and usher in a new era. The 49ers have a solid trio of skill players (Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis) in place, but only three teams completed a lower percentage of their passes than San Francisco (56.4 percent) last year.
8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Earlier in the offseason, it was Fairley —not Newton —that was more often projected as the first Auburn Tiger to be drafted. While some teams will worry about his work ethic, Fairley has a ton of upside and led all defensive tackles in sacks in 2010.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
While the Cowboys are loaded at the skill positions, drafting Smith would be a huge upgrade at right tackle over Marc Columbo. Smith, who started at right tackle at USC the past two years, has the athleticism that should allow him to shift to left tackle in the future to protect Tony Romo's blind side.
10. Washington Redskins: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
With the top two quarterbacks and top two wide receivers off the board, it would make sense for the Redskins to add a pass-rusher opposite Brian Orapko here. Quinn, who was suspended by the NCAA last year for accepting gifts from an agent, is an explosive pass rusher that had 11 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss as a sophomore in 2009. His 4.62 40-yard dash was the fastest amongst defensive ends at the Combine.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
If the Texans don't take Amukamara, they would likely draft a defensive lineman or linebacker here. In Amukamara, however, they get a cornerback with good size (six-foot, 206 pounds) and good speed (ran 4.38 forty at Combine). Last year, the Texans' secondary was absolutely atrocious allowing a league-worst 267.5 passing yards per game and 33 passing touchdowns. If the Texans expect to take the next step in the AFC South and knock off the Colts and Peyton Manning, that obviously needs to improve.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Once considered a possibility for the top overall pick, Bowers, who led the nation in sacks (15.5) in 2010, has seen his draft stock fall due to questions around the health of his knee. With defensive end Ray Edwards due to become a free agent, however, Bowers could fill a potential void if the Vikings are unable to re-sign Edwards.
13. Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
With neither of the top two cornerbacks on the board, I expect the Lions to look to protect their biggest investment: quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford, the top overall pick in 2009, has played a total of only 13 games through his first two NFL seasons. Considering left tackle Jeff Backus is 34 years old and entering the final year of his contract, Castonzo would help fill a big need, especially long term. The Lions, who finished the 2010 season with a four-game winning streak, could take a huge step forward in 2011 if (a big if) Stafford can stay healthy for a full season.
14. St. Louis Rams: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
The Rams' biggest need is at wide receiver, but it's highly unlikely that Julio Jones slips this far in the draft. And none of the next tier (Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin, Maryland's Torrey Smith, etc.) are worthy of a top-15 pick. Smith, who has an 84-inch wingspan, is a good athlete that posted double-digit sacks in 2009 (missed three games in 2010 with a fractured fibula) and has a ton of upside.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida
With running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both set to become free agents, Alabama running back Mark Ingram is a possibility. The Dolphins, who don't have a second-round pick, could use an upgrade on their interior offensive line. If the Dolphins do select Pouncey, will it be with the 15th overall pick? Or will they trade down? For example, the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero projects the Dolphins to take Pouncey but after trading down with the Saints to 24th overall.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union wrote, "If the Jaguars want a draft pick from central casting to fit general manger Gene Smith's criteria, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan is a perfect match." Kerrigan, who is a co-captain and Academic All-American, led the nation in tackles for a loss (26) last year. In addition, Kerrigan has had double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons.
For the rest of our first-round mock draft, visit our mock draft page.