2011 NFL Mock Draft: All 32 Picks of the First Round
A Different Feel
Thursday night, Round 1 of the NFL draft will begin at Radio City Music Hall. Although the venue is the same, this 76th edition of the NFL draft will have a very different feel to it.
For the first time since 1987, the league will hold this annual ceremony in the midst of a work stoppage. For many of my generation of fans, this will be a first, so as much as we look forward to the draft this year, we all dread the thought of what is to come after Mr. Irrelevant's identity is revealed.
Sure, we'll have a couple of weeks of water cooler material when the draft is over. We'll hype or scrutinize every moved made by the various front offices of our favorite teams. But when the initial shine wears off, we are left only to contemplate the terror of a partial or total loss of the 2011-12 NFL season.
So as interested as I am to see who the Cowboys take at No. 9, I will also be interested to see how many little differences there are in a draft held during the owners' lockout.
We know some things for sure. Unless Judge Susan Nelson (presiding over the players' lawsuit against the NFL) orders the 2011 league year to begin immediately, there will be no picks traded for current NFL players. This makes our mocks a little easier, but will take some of the excitement out of the draft.
There also won't be any swapping of draft-day selections. This means no Eli for Philip Rivers trades soon after being selected.
The league flexed a little muscle by inviting a record number of players to this year's festivities in New York. Twenty-five players are set to attend the draft in person, which should make for a very crowded green room. This despite the union's attempts to get players to stay away from the draft, and to instead attend an alternative NFLPA function.
The lockout will surely make for some uncomfortable moments. For instance, teams are apparently not allowed to talk to players after drafting them. So do they call the player and say they are about to draft him only to hang up abruptly after Roger Goodell makes the announcement?
Yes, this lockout will loom over everything. It will be the 600-pound gorilla setting front and center during every pick. Still, it won't just be the mood around the draft that is affected.
Teams will have to change their approach to this year's draft based on need. The lockout has prevented most free-agent activities, and no draft-day trades means teams are filling holes with picks as opposed to veterans from other teams.
We might see more maneuvering with trading picks than we have in the past. Teams drafting for need may become even more desperate to move up to grab a player at a certain position.
And what if the two sides wait until the last possible hour to reach an agreement? With rookie camps and training camps potentially lost, the growth of this rookie class could be stunted dramatically in the first season.
With all of this in mind, the 2011 NFL draft is perhaps more intriguing than in the past. I can't wait for it to be here, but I dread what happens after it's over.
Another Mock Draft
Mock drafts are typically a crapshoot. This year there are some huge first round mock derailments in the making.
After years of zero questions regarding the first pick, nobody is still exactly sure what Carolina will due with the No. 1 pick. They could go with Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, or trade down to a slightly lower pick.
Will Ryan Mallet end up in Miami, or maybe Minnesota? Or do his alleged of the field issues push him to the second round?
There is nobody that knows for sure how the draft will turn out. Nevertheless, Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, your buddy in the next cubicle and even your grandmother seem to have put together at least a mock of the first round.
I think the only thing we can all bet the house on is that a large number of defensive linemen are going to be taken in the first round. Draft experts have been floored by the amount of top tier talent is available at both defensive end and tackle.
Ultimately, one is doing good to predict 40% of what is going to happen in the first round. And as much as we think we know about these players, there is nothing at the combine that tests heart, will, or dedication. Years from know we will look back and wonder why so and so slipped to the 5th round and how so many teams didn't see this or that in evaluations.
As fans, we're just like the experts in that we do these mocks to have some sort of record as to what we were thinking, just in case we we're right. We'll laud our shrewd predictions and quickly discard our obvious misses.
Everybody wants to play general manager for a day and give their two cents. Everybody seems to have a take on who will help the team, who will prove to be a steal or who will prove to be the next gigantic bust that we talk about for years.
I am no different.
So here is yet another take on the upcoming NFL draft.
1. CAR: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
With the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft the Carolina Panthers select Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle from Alabama.
Many believe that Carolina will choose Cam Newton with this first overall pick. I disagree.
I seem to be of the opinion that a quarterback is only as good as his supporting cast. There are few signal-callers that could step into the Carolina offense right now and succeed.
Although Jimmy Clausen might not be the answer, Carolina has to be asking itself if Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert can make that much of a difference.
Although new head coach Ron Rivera ran the 3-4 in San Diego, he we will return to his old 4-3 ways in Carolina. When he took over as the Bears defensive coordinator in 2004, they spent their first-round pick on Tommie Harris and added Tank Johnson in the second round.
Look for Rivera to fill a hole in the front line of a defense that was 23rd against the rush in 2010. At 6'3" and 319 pounds Dareus will most certainly fill his share of holes. He has the ability to make plays and provide some much-needed talent for the Panthers defensive front.
2. DEN: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Broncos would sorely like to get Marcell Dareus. They ranked second to last in rushing defense last season, and badly need to provide some stability up front. Denver should take the Alabama tackle in a heartbeat if he is available.
However, I have Dareus going No. 1, so John Elway might have to look elsewhere.
The Broncos have one of the best corners in the game right now in Champ Bailey. Although he just signed a four-year deal with Denver, he is 32 years old. With only a few years left in his tank, this seems like a good time to start hunting for Champ's replacement.
The Broncos could get their cornerback of the future in Patrick Peterson. And cornerback of the future is just what he is.
Standing 6'0" and weighing 219 pounds, Peterson is the new prototype of NFL corners. He has the size to cover today's taller wide receivers with speed to match. At the combine, he clocked in at 4.31 in the 40-yard dash, and had a 38" vertical.
Peterson should get plenty of tutelage, and work, playing opposite of Champ. He will learn the game from one of the best, and insure that the Broncos have a shutdown corner for years to come.
3. BUF: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
A lot of people believe that the Bills are on the lookout for a new quarterback. But let us not forget that Ryan Fitzpatrick put together a pretty decent season last year. In 13 games, he threw for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.
I believe that Buffalo might be better off filling a need at outside linebacker here. The Bills acquired Shawne Merriman late last season, but he is coming off another injury and his NFL future seems to be up in the air. Outside of Merriman, they only have Chris Kelsay and Arthur Moats.
Miller should be able to provide Buffalo with the edge rusher that it was hoping to get when it drafted Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009. Maybin has been a disappointment with no sacks in his first two seasons.
Von Miller began to really shine at the combine in Indianapolis. He ran a blistering 4.42 40-yard dash and had the quickest cone and shuttle drills at his position. Drawing comparisons to DeMarcus Ware, Miller's stock went up dramatically, as he showed the athleticism needed to be a dominant pass rusher on the next level.
4. CIN: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Carson Palmer has pulled no punches when it comes to his stance on playing again for the Bengals. The 30-year-old quarterback has made it clear that he does not want to play another down in Cincinnati.
The Bengals could find themselves in the midst of quite the makeover this season. It is rumored that Chad Ochocinco, who is due $6 million this season, might be gone as well. Add to that the fact that Terrell Owens is probably gone and the Bengals offense should have an entirely new look in 2011.
While many think that Cincinnati might look at a receiver to replace the Batman and Robin duo, I believe its hand has been forced by Carson Palmer. As of right now, Carson's little brother Jordan would be the starter.
Blaine Gabbert is the No. 1 quarterback on many draft boards, but this class seems to offer no surefire NFL stars at the position. There seems to be no Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan awaiting their name on draft day, but the Bengals might be more in need than any other team at quarterback.
Many are wary of Gabbert because he played in a spread-style offense at Missouri. There will be work to do getting him ready to take snaps from under center, and perfecting his footwork as he learns to drop back. But keep in mind Gabbert played in a pro-style offense in high school. Bradford, Joe Flacco and Colt McCoy all came from similar offenses and enjoyed relative success in their rookie campaigns.
I believe Gabbert will end up being the best QB to come out of the 2011 draft. The only question is whether or not any of these QBs have what it takes to be franchise players.
5. ARI: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Watching film of A.J. Green is simply amazing. He's a 6'4" receiver with long arms and great hands. He goes and gets the ball at its highest point and can make huge plays once he comes down with the catch. Green has the ability to make that unbelievable touchdown catch in the end zone, or the quickness to make something big out of a wide receiver screen.
Although his combine numbers won't jump out at you like those of Julio Jones, he is solid across the board and may be more polished at his position. He definitely has the better hands of the two, and a better route runner. There seem to be few flaws in his game.
Although I do see the Cardinals in a position to trade down here, if they do make the pick I believe it would be hard for them to pass up on A.J. Green. He would instantly provide Arizona with one of the most potent 1-2 punches at wide receiver in the NFL, and would be a more-than-adequate replacement for Anquan Boldin, who the team lost prior to last year.
But stay on your toes when the Cardinals are on the clock. This might be the point that we see a team like St. Louis come offering some sort of deal to snag the best wideout on many draft boards. This would also be a prime spot for a team to move up that is in need of a first-round quarterback.
6. CLE: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
If A.J. Green is receiver No. 1, Julio Jones is receiver No. 1a.
Jones may have made his case for being the cream of the rookie crop at wide receiver at the combine. His eye-popping numbers cannot be ignored. He ran the 40 in an unpredictable 4.34 seconds at 6'3" and 220 pounds. Jones also jumped out of the building with a 38.5" vertical and a broad jump of 11'10".
Many were impressed even more upon learning that, especially Julio's workout was completed with a fracture in his foot. This is one case where and injury might prove to be a green flag rather than a red one.
The fact is little separates these two receivers. A.J. looks a little bit better on film, while Julio took people's breath away at the combine. We'll have to see how things play out on draft day, but I still give the nod to Green as the top wideout on the board.
Cleveland should be ecstatic with Julio Jones. The Browns currently have Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Carlton Mitchell as their top three receivers. Jones would give them a top-of-the-line talent to pair with their young quarterback Colt McCoy.
7. SF: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
There are probably more questions than answers when it comes to San Francisco and Robert Quinn.
Will Quinn be able to bounce back from being suspended along with most of North Carolina's defense in 2010? Does he fit in to the 3-4 scheme?
One thing is for certain: He would provide the 49ers with a much-needed rusher off of the edge. Although probably more ideally suited to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, Robert Quinn is relentless when it comes to getting after opposing quarterbacks.
Many think that San Francisco is better suited for the 4-3 anyway. The 49ers lack that huge nose guard in the middle, and inside linebacker Takeo Spikes could retire at any moment.
With a new staff, I see the 49ers making the change in the next year or so anyway. Especially with an all-world middle linebacker like Patrick Willis. Whatever the future holds, I see Robert Quinn being a big part of it.
8. TEN: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Early in the scouting process, Nick Fairley was one of the top few players on many mock drafts. But questions regarding his work ethic and falling asleep in meetings seem to have hurt his stock a bit.
In all fairness, the sleep issue might have had something to do with the defensive tackle's issues with sleep apnea. This is a condition in which a person has interrupted breathing patterns during sleep that prevent them from getting a good night's rest. Per his interview on the NFL network a couple of days ago, Fairley now sleeps with a mask that helps his condition.
However, this does nothing to answer the questions regarding his work ethic. Not to mention the fact that Fairley is coming off of one huge season after a few pedestrian seasons before that. This has led many scouts to question his dedication to the game.
Still, I believe that this year more than ever teams will draft on the basis of need. And the Titans have desperately needed a player in the middle since losing Albert Haynesworth a couple of years ago.
Of course, they also need a quarterback after announcing just prior to the draft that Vince Young's playing days are definitely over in Tennessee. I wouldn't be shocked if the Titans went with Cam Newton here, but I think they will ultimately end up snagging Fairley and grabbing a quarterback in the second round.
9. DAL: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Dallas is a team that could also end up trading down in the first round. The Cowboys have a number of needs including offensive line, safety, defensive line and corner. And if anybody is wheeling to move up and down a draft board, it is Cowboys' owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
However they go about it, I see the Cowboys taking Tyron Smith in the first round. The offensive line in Dallas is aging rapidly, and after a year of injuries and questionable play, Marc Colombo might be on his way out. Smith could be an immediate starter at offensive tackle, and at only 20 years old he could be a pillar on that Dallas line for the next 12-14 years.
This would be a bit out of character for a franchise that hasn't chosen a first-round lineman since the early '80s, but like I have said before, this is a draft of necessity and offensive tackle is surely a need for the 'Boys this year.
As much as they need a safety, the first round is not the time or place to address that need this year. And as much as they would like to pick a corner to ultimately replace Terrence Newman, I don't think that this need is as pressing as that of a young offensive lineman.
If Jerry does throw us a curveball on Thursday night, it might very well be the pick of one of the many defensive tackles up for grabs. Marcus Spears has been a bust, and little has been shown from Igor Olshansky since he came over from San Diego.
With the exception of Doug Free, the starters on the Dallas line have an average age of 32.5. It's time for Jerry Jones to do something about that.
10. WAS: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
The Redskins are in desperate need of a wide receiver. Unfortunately, unless they trade up, the two premier guys at this position might already be gone by the time they are on the clock.
But let's not forget the fact that the relationship between Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan went sour quickly last season. You know you're in the doghouse when you get benched for Rex Grossman. Were it not for the lockout, McNabb might have already been dealt to another team for draft picks.
Mike Shanahan may not even be thinking wide receiver here—he might have his man in Jake Locker.
The Huskies QB was slated to be perhaps the top quarterback in last year's draft. After a disappointing season that saw him struggle with accuracy, Locker has lost some of the luster he had last offseason. Still, he seems to fit the Shanahan mold of quarterback.
Locker was right behind Tyrod Taylor as the second-fastest quarterback at the combine. He has speed and maneuverability similar to Aaron Rodgers. Shanahan has always had quarterbacks that can move a little in the pocket, and will use them frequently on rollout passes.
This quarterback has ideal arm strength and is a really gutty player. He's a vocal leader who will show up on Sunday with his game face on for sure.
Locker just seems like that next quarterback that the Redskins coach will mold into a solid player. He might struggle with accuracy, but maybe he can learn to control his throws better with time. He will be asked to play the part of John Elway or Jake Plummer in this latest version of Shanahan's offense.
11. HOU: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Houston has a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips, who was released from his head coaching duties in Dallas last year. This means the Texans will be switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. What Houston lacks to make this move is an outside linebacker.
I'm on board with the consensus that Houston will take Aldon Smith with the 10th pick, and I will openly admit at this point that I think Aldon Smith is going to be a stud in the NFL.
Smith played the majority of his snaps at the defensive end position getting after the quarterback last year. He's 6'4" and 263 pounds in the mold of DeMarcus Ware, who was a sack machine under Wade Phillips in Dallas. The amazing thing is I believe that Smith is much slimmer and could put on 15-20 pounds while still maintaining his quickness.
That quickness is his top attribute. He has a very quick first step and hand action that allow him to avoid the block and get to the passer. I think he will be great at that. The only question I have is whether or not Smith would be a better suited to play as a 4-3 defensive end.
Aldon Smith could be coupled with Mario Williams to be the Houston version of Ware and Anthony Spencer. Both players were used primarily as rushers in Wade's 3-4 scheme in Dallas.
I think the Texans are making a solid pick here, and Aldon Smith will develop into a top-tier pass rusher in years to come. Along with Mario Williams, Houston could have two cornerstone outside linebackers for years to come.
12. MINN: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Cam Newton might slide come draft night, but he won't slide far. There are just too many teams on the market for a quarterback right now. With no free agency, many teams are in a precarious situation at QB.
One of those teams is Minnesota. I'm almost certain Brett Favre is finally done. His retirement leaves a big hole in the Vikings offense. This was evident when Brett missed time last year.
Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar are not going to cut it for a team with playoff aspirations. Quarterback is one of this team's few problems. There is no way the Vikings don't walk away with a passer in the first round.
With that being said, the Vikings might be a candidate to move up in the draft a bit, but if they stand pat, I have them getting Cam Newton. If a quarterback goes to Carolina though, look for a little panic and a lot of phone calls coming out of the Minnesota war room.
Cam Newton has his question marks. It's hard to get a read on this guy. I think he struggles with accuracy and often misses the marks on his passes. He reminds me a lot of Tim Tebow, who I wasn't very high on last year.
Although I think Cam will end up being a better pro QB than Tebow, I still don't think he is a franchise player. He can run, and he has plenty of arm strength, but like Gabbert he will have to transition from a spread-type offense.
If you ask me, I would most certainly go with Ryan Mallet here. It's not a popular opinion, but I think he is the most NFL ready quarterback in the draft. He has great size and a rocket arm. The only thing that leads me to believe the Vikings will opt for Newton are Mallet's supposed character flaws.
I think the quarterback that ends up in Minnesota has the best opportunity for immediate success. He will be coming into a great situation with a stellar running game to back him up. Mark Sanchez has struggled at times, but he has still been able to lead the Jets to two straight conference title games.
Look for something similar here. The Vikings have the team to play good defense, run the ball and let the quarterback manage the game. If they hit a home run in the first round, they will be a tough team to contend with.
13. DET: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
This is pretty simple. The Detroit Lions need a cornerback in the worst way, and Prince Amukamara is the obvious choice here.
Prince is a member of this impressive collection of 6'0", 200-pound cornerbacks entering the draft this season. He seems to be right behind Patrick Peterson on everybody's board. Amukamara stacks up well athletically with Peterson—at least he did at the combine.
The Lions have a need at offensive tackle, but I think they go with the value that Prince provides here at the 13th pick. Amukamara should be able to play immediately and would be a vast improvement over Alphonso Smith or Nathan Vasher.
14. STL: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
First and foremost, I see the Rams being major players to move up on draft day. The Rams have an obvious need at wide receiver after last season. They also need an outside linebacker, but I don't see them getting one with the 14th pick.
However, if they do stay at No. 14, I can see them getting another piece to what is developing into a solid offensive line.
In recent drafts, the Rams picked Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold at tackle, but they have two 30-year-old guards in Adam Goldberg and Jacob Bell. St. Louis could add Mike Pouncey to get younger and better at this position. Together with Smith and Saffold, Pouncey would give the Rams a third young lineman, who should be around to protect Sam Bradford for years to come.
Pouncey is the twin brother of Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey. They played side by side at Florida. Maurkice was a rookie sensation with the Steelers last season. If Mike can follow in those footsteps, the Rams will get a good pick here in the first round.
15. MIA: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
It's hard to determine what direction the Dolphins will go in the first round. They have been taking a long hard look at Ryan Mallett as the potential quarterback of their future, so their decision may ride on how much they believe in Chad Henne.
Miami will be the first team on the clock that badly needs a starting running back. Ronnie Brown is 29, and Ricky Williams will be 34 on May 21st. With neither back insured to return to South Beach, Mark Ingram could be 2011's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Everything about this former Heisman Trophy winner reminds me of Emmitt Smith. From his No. 22 and his 5'9", 212-pound frame, to his "low and slow" running style, I can't help but think of the former Cowboys running back when I watch Ingram in action.
Ingram didn't run the fastest 40, but he does everything well. He can run inside or off tackles, he can catch and block on third down and he has enough power inside to handle goal-line duties. I think Ingram makes an instant impact for a running game that needs a shot in the arm.
He may not have the awe-inspiring abilities of an Adrian Peterson, but I believe Mark Ingram has the goods to produce on the NFL level.
We'll see Thursday night which direction the Dolphins go. I believe their need at running back is greater, but if they are sold on Mallett they just might surprise some people. Besides, if they don't take a rusher in the first round, Ingram may drop all the way to pick 32. with that being said, the Dolphins might get better value taking a running back in the in the second round.
16. JAX: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
It seems like every year we come into the draft saying how the Jacksonville Jaguars need defensive ends and wide receivers. This year is no different.
The Jags defense was atrocious last season. They didn't have a pass rush, and they are in need of talent in the defensive backfield.
I think Jack Del Rio and company will take advantage of the fact that this is a defensive end-heavy draft and take Ryan Kerrigan with the 16th pick. With Aaron Kampman returning from injury, he and Kerrigan would be able to bolster the Jaguars pass rush and hopefully make life easier on the corners and safeties.
Kerrigan has a great motor with athleticism to match. He was one of the fastest and strongest defensive ends at the combine. He ran a 4.67 40, benched 31 reps and boasts a 33.5" vertical. He was also very impressive in the cone and shuttle drills.
On film, Kerrigan is a relentless player with a nose for the football. He could walk on the the team as a day one starter and have an immediate impact for a defense that was talent deprived in 2010.
After drafting the likes of Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, the Jags have been burnt in recent years at this position. Maybe this is the year that they find their long-term solution to a yearly problem.
17. NE: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
It just doesn't seem fair that New England will enter the draft with two picks in each of the first three rounds. The Patriots are not without their needs, but it seems like this franchise is in the middle of a reloading project instead of a rebuilding one.
Bill Belichick and company finally get to cash in on the trade of Richard Seymour here with the 17th pick. Due to this trade a couple of years back, defensive end has become a bit of a weak spot in New England. At the very least, they could afford to pick up some youth at the position.
I think New England will look to J.J. Watt for that youth. He projects to be an impressive five-technique defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense. At 6'5" and 290 pounds, he posted an impressive 31 bench reps at the combine, which should convert to being able to handle himself against the run. But Mr. Watt is not lacking in the speed and quickness department.
At nearly 300 pounds Watt ran a 4.81-second 40-yard dash. He also had the best three-cone drill of any defensive end, and his shuttle time was only topped by one other player at his position.
But more importantly, this quickness shows up on game tape, where J.J. Watt seemed to be everywhere last season for Wisconsin. He made plays against the run, but it was his Jared Allen-like ability to get to the quarterback that impressed me the most.
If he falls to the Patriots, J.J. Watt could bring back the presence that New England has been missing since letting Seymour go for this very pick. Belichick seems to be at the tail end of a defensive retooling job, and Watt might be one of the final pieces to the puzzle.
18. SD: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The run of defensive ends should continue with the San Diego Chargers possessing the 18th pick of the first round. Running a 3-4 scheme, the Chargers need a defensive end that is effective against both the run and the pass. That is exactly what they will get out of Cameron Jordan from Cal.
Jordan seemingly played everywhere along the defensive front for the Golden Bears last season, and he showed great versatility. For this reason, I believe Jordan will make an immediate impact with the Chargers in 2011.
At 6'4" tall and 287 pounds, Jordan has the size to be a run stopper. He also has the speed and quickness to be a force rushing the passer. This is yet another defensive end in this rookie crop with a good size-to-speed ratio, who seems to be the complete package.
Cameron Jordan is quick off the snap with active hands and a good motor. He'll be effective at each end position in San Diego, and don't be surprise to see him line up inside every now and then.
No matter which defensive end they are able to grab, I think San Diego should land great value here.
19. NYG: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The Giants are in a similar boat as the Dallas Cowboys. Both have talented teams, and both have aging offensive lines. Center Shaun O'Hara is 33, guard Rich Seubert is 32, right tackle Kareem McKenzie is 31 and left tackle David Diehl is 30. New York has one starter in his 20s, but Chris Snee is already 29.
The Giants are in need of a youth movement up front. I believe their first choice would have to be Mike Pouncey, who could provide the team with a new guard and center. Unfortunately for the Giants, I think they might have to trade up if that's who they are targeting.
If New York stays put at pick No. 19, I think they will be forced to take the best value here, which is probably Anthony Castonzo.
Castonzo was a four-year starter at Boston College, and has the long arms and athletic ability you'd like to see out of a left tackle. He's a better pass protector than run blocker, losing leverage at time due to his 6'7", 311-pound fame. He definitely will need to add some lead to his britches by dedication in the weight room, but he could develop into the total package in a couple of years.
20. TB: Daquan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Early in the evaluation process, it seemed as if Da'Quan Bowers might end up going in the top couple of picks of the draft. Over time, many questions have arisen involving this defensive end that recorded 15.5 sacks for Clemson last season.
It's hard to know what to believe leading up to the draft, but the rumors surrounding Bowers have been rampant. It doesn't help that Bowers only ran his 40 and bench pressed at the combine due to knee surgery.
Apparently there is arthritis in that knee. Bowers is only 21 years old, so it's hard to determine how long that knee can realistically hold up under the stress of playing in the NFL. Where this defensive end ultimately goes depends on who is willing to take a risk on a player with some medical issues.
I think Bowers will drop on draft day, but I don't see him sliding out of the first round. Tampa Bay has a history of taking on players with knee issues—Kellen Winslow Jr. is proof of that. The Bucs badly need a defensive end that can get to the quarterback, and Da'Quan was the best in college football last year at doing just that.
The medical issues aren't the only question marks that pop up with Bowers. He needs work on his technique, and some look at his body of work as one outstanding season. I would have to question the coachibility and dedication of someone who's technique is so flawed at this point in his football career, but then again this is a young kid.
On the other hand, Bowers has an enormous upside. He's young, huge and fast. He showed an ability to get to the quarterback despite injuries and technique issues, so with some health and coaching he could be a monster. At 6'3" and 280 pounds he ran a 4.70 40-yard dash on a surgically repaired knee that is supposedly riddled with arthritis.
His career may be short, but it could also be very sweet. Were this not one of the most stacked defensive line drafts in modern history, the risk of picking Da'Quan might have come much earlier. There is "boom or bust" written all over this pick.
21. KC: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
It's hard to nail down exactly who Kansas City would go with here toward the end of the first round. The Chiefs have a number of directions that they could take that would help them immediately.
Despite a playoff season, the needs for the Chiefs are numerous. I could see them going wide receiver, running back, offensive line, linebacker, offensive line or defensive line.
Running the 3-4, a team needs a stopper up the middle. I don't think that Anthony Toribio is that stopper the Chiefs are looking for.
The offensive line could use some help, but mainly at guard and center. It may be a bit too early to reach here for one of those positions.
This team needs to bolster its 30th-ranked passing game from last season. They drafted Dexter McCluster last year, who should be a threat in the slot, but they need another wideout to line up opposite of Dwayne Bowe.
I can see the Chiefs trading down here to try and gain picks later in the draft. They have a lot of options, but the timing seems a bit off. If they do take a player with this pick I believe they go with the highest value.
There are a lot of wide receivers left in the draft, but few that probably fit what Kansas City is looking for. I think the receiver with the highest ceiling here is Jonathan Baldwin from Pittsburgh. He's that last top-of-the-line, 6'4" receiver on the board, and he can jump out of the building. He has plenty of speed, and will flourish in the right situation.
There could be an argument that Baldwin walks into a much better situation in Kansas City than A.J. Green or Julio Jones will have with their respective teams. This means that Baldwin could have the best rookie season out of the three.
He's rough around the edges. He's not the playmaker that Julio and A.J. will be after the catch, and he needs to learn to go up and get the ball. But he has good hands, and great athleticism. He's a bigger receiver at 228 pounds, and his height combined with a 40" vertical should make him a solid red-zone target.
Many see him slipping, but I have to think somebody will take Jonathan Baldwin in the first round. Kansas City might be taking him a tad early, but he would fill a need and prevent other wide receiver-hungry teams like Green Bay, Pittsburgh or New England from getting him later.
22. IND: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Let me go on record as saying that Gabe Carimi might actually be the best tackle in this draft. He's an athletic pass blocker who can also maul defenders in the running game.
Carimi is 6'7", 314 pounds, and if film is a player's resume, he has the best resume of any lineman in the draft. After taking the spot vacated by Joe Thomas as a redshirt freshman, Carimi has been tested against some of the best defensive linemen in this talented rookie crop.
Besides working against J.J. Watt in every practice, Gabe Carimi had college assignments that included Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Jordan. Maybe the best few minutes of tape I watched in preparation for the draft was the epic battle between Carimi and Clayborn. I would highly suggest a trip to YouTube if you want to see what both of these guys has to offer.
There have been some questions as to whether or not Carimi is an NFL-caliber left tackle, and in Indianapolis he would have to protect the blind side of the NFL's most important player.
I think this young man has proven time and time again that he is up to a challenge. The Colts would get a steal here if they pulled the trigger on a badly needed left tackle.
23. PHI: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Philadelphia Eagles need help at corner. The only guy they have opposite Asante Samuel is Dimitri Patterson, who should be a backup a best. Although they are too far back to hope for Peterson or Amukamara, they might be willing to take a chance on Jimmy Smith.
Jimmy Smith might be the total package. He's big at 6'2" and 211 pounds, and his 4.37 40 at Colorado's pro day proves he can run. He has a huge 77" reach and excels in press coverage. He seems to have been blessed with all the physical tools to be a shutdown corner for years to come.
The only questions that seem to follow Jimmy Smith around are those about his character. He had his share of run-ins with police while in college, and reportedly failed four drug tests. I can see teams possibly looking over one failed drug test, but four? Those are four major red flags.
There are a lot of teams that will take a player like that right off their boards, so a corner that could potentially go much higher will fall on day one of the draft—I just don't see him landing in Round 2. I have a short list of teams that could handle Smith and have strong enough locker rooms to keep him under control.
One of those teams is the Eagles. Jimmy Smith could learn a lot from Michael Vick about how not to do it. Perhaps Vick's turnaround could rub off on a kid with all the talent one could ask for, but off the field issues that make front offices hesitant.
I think the Eagles will take a chance on this guy. I just hope he can turn things around before he loses even more money and opportunity than he already has.
24. NO: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Here's the skinny on Adrian Clayborn. He had a problem during birth that resulted in Erb's Palsy. This can be described as recurring temporary paralysis in his right arm. For some clubs this condition has either become an issue, or is being used as one heck of a smoke screen. Most teams feel that they can only play Clayborn on the right side of the line, so he does not have to use his right arm as much.
Clayborn also got in trouble for a one-time fit of road rage, in which he reportedly punched a taxi driver for honking at him. Some teams are wary of his 2010 season due to the fact that his sack total dropped from 11.5 to 3.5.
Outside of this, here is what I have to say about Adrian Clayborn. His condition isn't an issue to me. He had it in high school when he was the state of Missouri's Player of the Year, and he had it all four years of college, including his 30 straight starts. I looked at this as something he has overcome, which shows character.
Adrian Clayborn plays with the best technique I saw out of any defensive line prospect in the draft. He is stout against both the run and the pass, always stays home and gets down the line with ease. He maintains separation and sheds blocks with the best of them.
I believe the Saints will end up with a defensive end that will have a long, solid career if they end up taking Adrian Clayborn. He may have disappointed some in 2010, but he is a very good player. He'll slide to the end of the first round in a draft stacked with defensive ends, but I have complete confidence that he will shine on Sundays.
25. SEA: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Seahawks went and got a solid left tackle in Rodger Saffold in last year's draft. I think they will be looking to find someone for the right side this time around.
Nate Solder is a bit raw. He doesn't have the best technique in the world and he is in need of some coaching. He probably isn't the guy you want protecting the quarterback's blind side at left tackle, but that's not something the Seahawks need at this point.
What they do need is a bookend opposite Saffold, and Solder has a lot of potential. He'll need to add some weight to his 6'8", 319-pound frame and he will have to get stronger. But he's got ideal height and an unbelievable wingspan that will make him a great pass blocker down the road.
Solder isn't a finished product by any means, but Pete Carroll and company could solidify their future with this pick.
26. BAL: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
The Baltimore Ravens are still looking for an outside linebacker. They took Sergio Kindle in the 2010 draft, but Sergio suffered a head injury during a fall, and his playing future is in doubt. This could mean the Ravens might have to address the same issue in this year's draft.
Justin Houston is 6'3" and 270 pounds. With that size, he has the burst to rush off the edge and get to the quarterback. He played outside backer at Georgia last year after being converted from the defensive end position.
Houston was impressive at the combine showing speed, acceleration and power. His 30 reps of 225 pounds was tops among all outside linebackers at the combine.
This is a player who could provide the Baltimore defense with a rusher off the edge who also has the skills to track down ball carriers and drop into coverage.
Many think Akeem Ayers will go before Justin Houston, but I just don't see that happening. I was much more impressed with Houston's play. Some might look at this as a gamble, but I think Baltimore would come out with a good pick here.
27. ATL: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
If Baltimore picks Justin Houston, I see the Atlanta Falcons going with Akeem Ayers to fill its need at outside linebacker.
I'm not too high on Akeem Ayers. He should have the ability to get to the quarterback, but he played too inconsistent at times. He doesn't seem overly aggressive, and lacks that punch I like to see out of an outside linebacker.
However, Ayers is still highly touted so I might be wrong.
Atlanta needs to get younger and fill some holes at outside linebacker. The Falcons also need a defensive ends, but picking at 27th, those top-tier guys might all be gone.
28. NE: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
With their second pick of the first round, I see the New England Patriots addressing their situation at guard. Last time I checked, Logan Mankins was still fuming about his contract status and Stephen Neal was still old.
Bill Belichick might be looking for an insurance policy in case Mankins decides to walk or Neal continues to battle injuries and age. The Patriots would be making a very good decision by covering their bets here.
Danny Watkins is the No. 2 guard on most draft boards, but he didn't take the traditional road on his way to the NFL.
Watkins became a firefighter out of high school at home in British Columbia. He did that for four years before enrolling in Butte College in California. There he began playing football again, until he ultimately transferred to Baylor to replace Jason Smith, who was drafted by the Rams.
One of the drawbacks on Watkins is his age. That four-year stint as a firefighter means he will turn 27 in November. He might not have the extended playing career of a player coming out at 22 years old, but he does have maturity and a tireless work ethic. He is also a very solid pass blocker who can hold his own in the running game.
It's hard to determine how much Watkins' age is going to hurt him come draft day. This is a guy who could very well slip to the second round. We'll see who takes a chance on an older player early in the draft, but my money is on the Patriots. They have the need an an excess of draft picks to take this calculated risk.
29. CHI: Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Every year there seems to be at least one player who begins to skyrocket just before draft day. This year, that player seems to be Marvin Austin.
This may be due in part to the fact that, like so many other talented defenders out of Carolina, he was suspended for the 2010 season due to NCAA infractions. The buzz started to build at the combine when he reported at 6'2" and 309 pounds, showed great speed and quickness for his size and had the second-most bench reps with 38.
It's taken scouts some time to get a full report on this guy, but there seems to be a lot of interest surrounding him.
Chicago desperately needs a defensive tackle after losing Tommie Harris in the offseason, and although many believe they will pick the more local and less controversial Corey Liuget from Illinois, I'm going to say that they just might take a chance on Austin here.
The Bears could also simply end up trading down a few spots, and picking up an additional pick or two later in the draft. At this point they could have their pick out of Austin, Liuget, Muhammad Wilkerson, Stephen Paea or Phil Taylor who all look to be solid additions at defensive tackle.
30. NYJ: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
The Jets are another team that will be looking to improve at defensive end on Thursday night. Shaun Ellis is in his 30s and doesn't seem to fit into the team's future. Mike Devito hasn't shown much ability to get to the passer. This might be a good spot for the Jets to get younger and better on the defensive front.
Cameron Heyward reminds me of Richard Seymour. He's not going to wow anybody with his speed. He ran a 4.92 40-yard dash at the combine, but he does get pressure on the quarterback and plays strong against the run.
The son of Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, Cameron is a big-bodied defensive end who is best suited to play five-technique in a 3-4 defense. Here, his ability to play against the run and the pass will come in handy.
This might not be a glamour choice, but after Heyward comes off the board the pickings start to get much slimmer at defensive end. The Jets have been to two straight conference championships, and just need a couple of pieces here and there to put the team over the top. Maybe they find one of those pieces in Cameron Heyward.
31. PIT: Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting long in the tooth at the tackle position. Flozell Adams has announced that he will return to the team, but he is 36 years old. His days of mauling defenders and drawing false starts are coming to a close.
Willie Colon is coming off an Achilles injury, and is not expected to return to the team. Max Starks, coming off an injury of his own, is also staring at his 30th birthday.
The Steelers might look to get younger and deeper at tackle through the 31st pick of the draft. Something tells me they would love to get Mike Pouncey to play alongside his Pro Bowl twin, but there would have to be a little trading or a whole lot of luck involved for that to happen.
Besides, Pittsburgh's greater good would probably be served by snagging a tackle here.
32. GB: Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Green Bay could go in a number of directions with the final pick of the first round, including trading out of the pick. I'm sure there will be no shortage of teams that would like to move up and take their respective player before giving Bill Belichick and the Patriots an entire night of potential wheeling and dealing.
But if Green Bay were to hold on to pick No. 32, there are a number of ways it could go.
The Packers need a running back after Brandon Jackson proved less than ideal following the injury to Ryan Grant last season. They could snag Mikel Leshoure here knowing that the Patriots might be looking at him with the first pick of the second round.
The Pack could use a receiver. If Jonathan Baldwin is still around, they could opt for his upside, or maybe they grab a quick slot receiver like Titus Young out of Boise State.
They could use some help up front. Despite taking Bryan Bulaga last year, they still have a line filled with aging veterans.
These options are what give me pause in thinking that the Packers will hold on to this pick. However, I see them going with Mikel Leshoure if they stay here.
Leshoure is a little bit bigger, faster and stronger than Mark Ingram. He doesn't have the Heisman hardware, but some believe he is the best back in the draft. He would almost certainly be an improvement over Brandon Jackson, and eventually be handed the primary running job in Green Bay.
Mikel is a very strong runner who stands 6'0" and weighs 227 pounds. Although he is a solid blocker on third downs, I'm not sure about his receiving ability. He wasn't used in the passing game much for Illinois, where he only had 37 catches in three seasons.
Leshoure has a good burst to get to the outside, and has a knack for making the first tackler miss; however, he lacks that breakaway speed that you look for in an ideal running back.
It will be interesting to see how the running back situation plays out during the draft. There are backs of all shapes, sizes and abilities, but it is hard to say that anyone stands out of that initial group of five or six guys.