The NFL Draft starts now.
I have been waiting one year to type that message, and man, it feels good to do so.
The suspense at the top of this draft is unlike any in recent memory, and that's only adding to the annual intrigue.
The Carolina Panthers have narrowed their list down to four guys: Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Marcell Dareus and Patrick Peterson. Who will the pick be?
You could wait until Thursday night to find out. Or you could just take a sneak peek at one final look at our mock draft of the top three rounds in the 2011 NFL draft.
Keep coming back to B/R for awesome draft weekend coverage.
As a thank you for the awesome support this draft season, we're extending to everyone a free Draft Guide, courtesy of New Era Scouting. Enjoy.
The Panthers may shock the world and draft Marcell Dareus first overall tomorrow night (we secretly hope they do). Barring a miracle, we cannot predict any player here other than Cam Newton.
Newton is far from the best player in this draft, but he may have the most potential. If the Panthers hit on Newton, they have the next Ben Roethlisberger.
If not, they have the next JaMarcus Russell.
The Broncos are making a move back to the 4-3 defense under John Fox this year, leaving a big question mark at defensive tackle. The team moved last week to re-sign cornerback Champ Bailey, temporarily filling a need at cornerback.
This leaves Denver in position to draft Dareus, who will play next to Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil in the four-man front.
This gives the Broncos a viable defensive line to build around and also will help pressure the quarterback and shorten the amount of time their patchwork secondary has to cover the defensive backfield.
Dareus has used the offseason to establish himself ahead of SEC rival Nick Fairley of Auburn. As the draft nears, it is becoming more likely that Dareus will be the first defensive tackle off the board.
Denver could also consider cornerback Patrick Peterson (LSU) here or trade back to a team hoping to secure Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
As our No. 2-rated player overall, Von Miller has an explosive skill set that reminds us of the late Derrick Thomas.
Miller is the draft's most explosive player. In the Bills' 3-4 scheme, he will team up with Shawne Merriman to give the Bills a fierce outside pass rush.
Finding help on the offensive line and in the secondary is important, but this class is full of talent in Rounds 2 and 3. Buffalo strikes now on an impact player.
The Bengals hopefully realize by now that Carson Palmer will never play for them again. Take a quick look at their roster and see what they have behind Palmer at quarterback—Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour.
While LeFevour could develop into a nice player, he's not there yet. Not even close.
Gabbert is the best quarterback in this class, in our opinion, when you combine current readiness and his potential to develop further in an NFL system.
Much like Sam Bradford last year, there are questions about his NFL-readiness and football IQ coming from a spread system at Missouri. While we don't think Gabbert is Bradford 2.0, he's still a very good prospect.
With no clear-cut franchise quarterback on the roster, the Bengals cannot afford to not draft Gabbert.
The first real surprise of the draft has the Arizona Cardinals selecting the draft's best receiver.
Yes, they already have Larry Fitzgerald, but they also almost moved up last year to draft Dez Bryant once he started his draft-day free fall.
Arizona wouldn't be afraid to pair Fitz and Green on the outside, so long as they can find a quarterback to get them the ball.
The temptation to trade back from this spot will be heavy. The Cardinals could move out to a team wanting a top wide receiver or hoping to get in front of San Francisco for Patrick Peterson.
With A.J. Green off the board, this decision becomes pretty easy.
The Browns are facing an offseason in which they need to add targets for Colt McCoy and rebuild their defense while changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 system. Oh, and they must replace Shaun Rogers after releasing him in a salary-cap move.
As Colt McCoy matures and becomes the Browns' franchise quarterback, he will need receivers to grow with him. Cleveland could pull the trigger as early as Round 1 on a No. 1 receiver for McCoy.
Defensive end would be tempting, but no player on the board is worthy of the No. 6 pick. Nick Fairley (Auburn) might be an option at defensive tackle. We do not see Cleveland using another top-10 pick on a cornerback with uncertainty over a rookie wage pool.
The 49ers want to see Von Miller here and would even consider Robert Quinn to play outside linebacker if he were still on the board. There are many very good prospects left that would fill a need in San Francisco.
However, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh simply cannot pass on the talent of Patrick Peterson.
The team has a giant need at quarterback, but they do not seem to love Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton, the only two passers worthy of a top-10 pick.
Peterson allows San Francisco the freedom to move Nate Clements to safety, keep him at left cornerback or even cut him in a salary-cap move.
Peterson is a lockdown corner who can have an immediate impact for the 49ers.
With 12 selections in the draft, don't be surprised to see the 49ers move up to find their quarterback.
Do the Titans need a defensive tackle?
Yes, and no.
We like Jason Jones a lot, and Sen'Derrick Marks had a ton of potential as a young player. Tony Brown is a solid veteran player when healthy.
Notice that none of these players is a household name. Not one Pro Bowler in the group.
The Titans have a solid collection of players at defensive tackle, but no one who is going to take over a game or dominate the offensive line.
Nick Fairley can do this, and more.
His tenacity and aggressive style of play are a perfect fit in Tennessee.
Quarterback is the bigger need, but the Titans will not reach for Andy Dalton here, no matter what you might hear.
We previously linked the Cowboys to Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara in this spot, but we're having a change of opinion regarding Dallas.
The Cowboys have two solid cornerbacks in Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. Neither had a great 2010, but both can play well enough not to hurt the team.
Newman is not a long-term fit in Rob Ryan's defense, but he is a better option than almost any other player available.
Where Dallas really needs help is at right tackle.
Marc Colombo is one of the nicest guys in the world, but he is not a starting right tackle.
Smith has started at right tackle for USC and has the strength to hold up against power rushers. He is also a very good athlete and can get out in front when run blocking.
The Patriots trade picks No. 17 and 60 to Washington for pick No. 10
The Patriots have a few needs, but outside linebacker is the biggest. With nine selections in the top three rounds, New England can afford to move up and grab a top five player.
Quinn will convert from defensive end to play weakside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 scheme. He has the pass rushing skills to become a nightmare for offensive coordinators on the edge opposite Jermaine Cunningham.
With another pick left in the first round, the Patriots may not be done moving around.
The Texans will be faced with the difficult decision of drafting the hot-rising defensive end/outside linebacker who is a perfect fit for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense or drafting a sure-thing cover corner to anchor a weak secondary.
In the end, the pass rush wins out.
Kerrigan's name is soaring up draft boards. He has a very good chance to be a top-10 pick.
A few other names to consider: Prince Amukamara, Cam Jordan and J.J. Watt.
We do think the Vikings will be tempted by quarterbacks Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett, but in the end, this is a Vikings team that is very close to contending for a playoff berth. A rookie quarterback is perhaps not as likely.
If we could predict trades of players, this would be an ideal spot for Kevin Kolb or a package deal to get Carson Palmer and draft picks from Cincinnati.
Until the CBA is renewed, that's not going to happen, though.
The Vikings are not terribly off at cornerback. Cedric Griffin has flashed potential when healthy, which is all too infrequent. Antoine Winfield is a Pro Bowler, but he turns 34 this summer.
Amukamara is simply too good to pass by.
It is also worth mentioning that Minnesota is in a great position to trade back if they can find a buyer.
This is a tough pick to make.
The Lions would have loved Prince Amukamara, and they might look at offensive tackle here. We just have a feeling they will grab a defensive end here, either Smith or Ryan Kerrigan; whichever player the Texans pass on at No. 11.
Smith has the talent to become a Justin Tuck-like weakside defensive end. Playing next to Ndamukong Suh won't hurt.
St. Louis needs a wide receiver and might also like to see an outside linebacker here, but they will be ecstatic to find the freakish Corey Liuget lining up next to Chris Long here.
The Rams offense is much better off than most will acknowledge. With Donnie Avery back in 2012, their wide receiver crew is solid enough to compete in the NFC West. In addition, the 2011 draft class is solid with second-tier talent at wide receiver in Round 2.
What this 2011 class lacks in Round 2 is defensive tackles. St. Louis fills a massive need early on and prepares to look at wide receiver, tight end and defensive end in later rounds.
How many mock drafts do you see that project the Dolphins to draft a running back here? A lot of them.
The Dolphins know their offensive line needs help, especially at center and right guard.
Folks in Miami can hope the in-state product can perform as well as twin brother Maurkice did in his Pro Bowl rookie season.
With no second-round pick due to the trade for Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins may be tempted to trade back and add extra picks here.
The Jaguars are going to be tempted by two things here:
1. A quarterback
2. Da'Quan Bowers
In the end, the Jaguars make the smart pick and draft the best player left on the board with Cal's versatile defensive end Cam Jordan.
The Patriots trade picks No. 17 and 60 to Washington for pick No. 10
The Redskins hold their breath while the Jaguars are on the clock, hoping and praying their guy makes it through.
Jake Locker is too perfect of a fit for Mike Shanahan's offense for us to believe they will not draft him. They might even do it with the No. 10 pick overall.
Locker's accuracy bothers us, a lot, but he has the arm strength and mobility to do very well in Shanahan's system.
The Chargers have many needs they could address here. They want to get better at outside linebacker, replace four free agents at inside linebacker, add a young defensive end and potentially replace Vincent Jackson at wide receiver.
Thankfully, the Chargers have three selections in the top two rounds.
Watt is the best of the many 3-4 defensive ends in this draft. He is recently receiving notice as a potential top-10 pick
Injuries decimated the Giants' offensive line this year, but this also exposed weaknesses and areas of need. No position needs more attention than offensive tackle.
Building depth at tackle is a need, but the Giants can also look for young players who can eventually start.
Castonzo ranks as the best tackle on most draft boards. He's a solid, safe pick for the Giants to rebuild their offensive line around at left tackle.
Why is a player many rate as a top-five pick still on the board at No. 16?
A few reasons:
1. We rate Bowers as the No. 16 player overall and have for quite some time.
2. Bowers may not be healthy after knee surgery and could require microfracture surgery.
3. It is very likely that many NFL teams have completely removed Bowers from their draft boards.
Drafting Bowers is a huge gamble, but it could pay off with Pro Bowl results if he can overcome the knee injury that slowed him down this offseason.
The popular mock draft choice for Kansas City is an outside linebacker, or maybe even a wide receiver. We're convinced the Chiefs will wait for both.
Opposite Tamba Hali, the Chiefs need an outside linebacker who can drop into coverage. None of the linebackers available can do this, except maybe Akeem Ayers, who would be a reach here.
At wide receiver, Kansas City would be reaching to draft any of the available guys.
The Chiefs starting right tackle in 2010, Barry Richardson, was terrible in pass protection.
For the Chiefs to go from AFC West champions to a playoff winning team, they must protect Matt Cassel better.
Gabe Carimi is their answer.
Peyton Manning had to feel a little human this season after being beaten into the turf by the Chargers and then the Cowboys.
Even in the playoffs, Manning looked rushed, rattled and scared in the pocket. We can hardly blame him after looking at how terrible the Colts offensive line was this year.
Solder is an elite athlete for a left tackle, a must in the Colts zone-blocking scheme. He has long arms, a big frame and the footwork to get to the second level and pull on screens and stretch plays.
Solder is rated by almost all draft experts as a late first-round pick. He is a solid tackle with good athleticism, great size and excellent length. He shows ability to play in the NFL as a rookie.
Perhaps more so than any other team drafting in the 20s, the Eagles are primed to trade this selection for extra picks in Round 2.
The Eagles have needs at outside linebacker, cornerback and defensive tackle. Any of these could be addressed now or with extra selections later on through a trade.
Reid tends to like aggressive corners who attack the ball. Colorado's Jimmy Smith fits the Eagles' scheme very well.
The Eagles like physical cornerbacks who can face the receiver and make plays on the ball. Smith not only fits this mold, he has the size to run with the NFL's biggest receivers.
The Saints will not let the talented Mark Ingram pass by them.
With the future of Pierre Thomas (free agent) and Reggie Bush (huge salary) in question, as well as the productivity of those two, the Saints must address their backfield early on in the draft.
Ingram is not for everyone. We like Mikel Leshoure more, but he will be an ideal fit for Sean Payton and Drew Brees.
The Seahawks’ only signal-caller signed for 2011 is Charlie Whitehurst, and he has not proven to have the talent to become a franchise quarterback in Seattle.
With so many talented passers to choose from in this draft, we believe Pete Carroll will draft the most NFL-ready of the group and the player with the most experience in a pro-style offense.
That player is Christian Ponder.
Andy Dalton might be on their wish list, as could Colin Kaepernick. Also, don't rule out a running back here.
San Francisco trades picks No. 45, 108 and 2012 third to Baltimore for pick No. 26
There will be a run on quarterbacks in the mid-to-late portion of the first round. The question is, who will start it?
It's no secret we love Andy Dalton, and reportedly 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh does too. The match seems perfect on paper.
Dalton is a hot-rising prospect. It's been said the Titans are considering him at No. 8 overall. The 49ers would love to send two picks this year and one in 2012 to John Harbaugh and Co. in Baltimore for the chance to draft their franchise quarterback.
The Falcons could consider a wide receiver, tight end or defensive end here, but in the end, Thomas Dimitroff and Co. simply pick the best player left on their board.
Ayers does fill a need, as the Falcons are not sure if Mike Peterson will be back or how productive he can be in the future. They also have to worry about Stephen Nicholas, a great back up, leaving as a free agent.
Ayers is a great option opposite Sean Weatherspoon. This would give the Falcons a dynamic trio of linebackers to build around.
The Patriots decide to actually use a draft pick instead of trading it and find one of the premier 3-4 defensive ends in the 2011 class waiting for them.
Bill Belichick could go many directions with pick No. 28. They have needs at running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, guard, defensive end and outside linebacker.
Thankfully, they have three second-round picks (so far) in our current mock draft.
Wilkerson will come in and start instantly opposite either Ty Warren, if he's not cut, or newly signed Marcus Stroud.
Look for the Patriots to use one of their second-round picks on a running back or offensive lineman.
The Bears shocked everyone by making a run to the NFC championship game this past season. Had Jay Cutler not gone down to injury, the Bears had a chance to surprise people by appearing in the Super Bowl.
What does Chicago need to do to have a legitimate chance to play for the 2011 NFL championship? Adding a left tackle to protect Cutler and wide receivers who can get open are key to this offseason.
Sherrod is a left tackle by trade but has the strength to play on the right side in a zone-blocking system or West Coast offense. He is an underrated run blocker, and in pass protection, he is NFL ready.
We also believe Chicago could be considering North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little here.
The Jets received decent production from their outside linebacker trio of Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor in 2010, but Taylor has been cut and Thomas/Pace work best in a rotation.
The Jets would also like to get younger, faster and meaner at the position.
Enter Brooks Reed.
He's a one-dimensional bullet off the edge as a pass rusher. Plug him in on passing downs as a rookie and watch out.
Reed will need time to develop in to an every down player, but he'll have time to learn while terrorizing AFC East quarterbacks.
The Steelers were so close to another Super Bowl ring—and we believe they have the talent to be back in the big game next season.
The team is loaded at wide receiver, running back and on defense. They also have a top-five quarterback and a young coach who are excellent leaders.
Where Pittsburgh is obviously lacking is in the offensive line and the secondary. With pick No. 31, the Steelers are in a great position to draft the best available cornerback or offensive lineman.
The Steelers can plug Watkins in next to Maurkice Pouncey and steam roll their way to another Super Bowl.
The Packers have a few needs on the roster coming off their Super Bowl win. One need is at defensive end.
Cullen Jenkins is a free agent. Johnny Jolly was arrested just two weeks ago. Mike Neal is unproven but will have a chance to start in 2011.
Adrian Clayborn fits the Packers' mold of defensive ends. He's big enough to stop the run but quick enough to get in the backfield and make plays.
Clayborn and Neal will make up two-thirds of the Packers front line of the future, teaming with future Pro Bowler B.J. Raji at nose tackle.