With the 2011 NFL Draft just a few short hours away, it’s time to finalize our mock selections. As I’ve said many times before, this entire thing will be skewed by unforeseen trades, but it’s fun, so why not?
Still, expect a lot of trade talk and prepare to see a load of defensive ends making their way into the first round. It should be a good one.
Here’s how I think things will pan out Thursday evening in New York City.
Carolina can’t sign Newton prior to the draft given the league’s current labor situation, but it appears as though he’ll be the first player taken.
There’s certainly tons of risk involved with taking a runner like Newton, but he also has the chance to revolutionize the position.
The Panthers need to make a splash in order to generate some interest, and they accomplish just that by landing the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.
There’s been lots of talk with regards to Denver’s interest in Von Miller at No. 2, but I feel like it’s a smokescreen. Dareus’ track record solidifies his status as the best defensive lineman in this class, and I don’t think the Broncos will be able to pass on him.
In a division like the AFC West (which had the two best running teams in the league last season), you need a guy to plug the middle and shut things down. Dareus is an easy fit with Denver.
The floundering Bills would love to wash their hands of the awful Aaron Maybin bust of 2009, and drafting a guy like Von Miller is a step in the right direction.
Buffalo will almost certainly have the option of trading this pick, but considering how futile they were with regards to getting to the quarterback in 2010, a guy like Miller is just what the doctor ordered.
What should the Browns do at No. 6?
Cincinnati may be swayed by the allure surrounding Julio Jones, but I feel as though they’ll do the right thing and opt for A.J. Green with the fourth overall selection.
Blaine Gabbert is another possibility, but Green can step in immediately and fill the collective void likely to be left by Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
The Cardinals are another team that would appear to be in for the services of Blaine Gabbert, but Peterson’s talent is too overwhelming to ignore. Arizona’s defense suffered in several areas in 2010, especially against the pass.
The combination of Peterson and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie immediately changes that, and has the chance to become one of the league’s most fearsome corner tandems.
Cleveland could go in several different directions at No. 6, but ultimately choose to give Colt McCoy a real weapon in Julio Jones.
Jones performed admirably at the combine despite a foot injury, and some teams consider him as good a player as A.J. Green.
There’s lots of potential in the offensive triumvirate of McCoy, Hillis and Jones for the Browns moving forward.
Jim Harbaugh and company could stand to upgrade at several positions, but when a prospect like Gabbert falls all the way to No. 7, I feel as though you have to jump at the chance to get him.
I rate him as the most NFL-ready QB prospect in this class, and Lord knows the Niners could use a consistent player at the position. They’ll be tempted by Prince Amukamara, but Gabbert is the guy.
There appears to be some disconnect between the offensive and defensive coaching staffs with regards to this pick, but I think Tennessee will ultimately see the potential with Fairley and head that direction.
He was arguably the most dominating defensive player in all of college football last season, and, despite having played just one productive season of college football, has too much upside for the Titans to pass up on.
Dallas is rumored to have narrowed their list to four players (Smith, Anthony Castonzo, Cameron Jordan and J.J. Watt), but the consensus at this point appears to indicate that they’ll go with Tyron Smith.
They could always trade down, but given their need for an injection of youth on that O-line, Smith will be an easy choice at No. 9.
We’ve heard lots of noise about how much the Redskins love Jake Locker, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has to be giddy about the potential of Robert Quinn when paired with Brian Orakpo on the outside.
Prince Amukamara would make sense, as Washington has a couple of corners headed for free agency, but Quinn’s raw athleticism and talent outweigh the desire to look elsewhere.
Some believe that Smith would be the choice for the Texans even if Quinn were to drop past No. 10. He’s still very raw, but his athleticism and tenacity has teams drooling over his potential.
Houston certainly could stand to upgrade the secondary, but improving the pass rush could stand to help the defensive backs immensely.
Minnesota has the pieces to win now, but inconsistent quarterback play contributed greatly to their disappointing 2010 season.
Locker may not be ready to step in right away and put them over the top, but coaches love his combination of athleticism with a strong arm.
His mechanics could use a tune-up, but Locker could very realistically turn into the “leader of men” type many believe him to be.
Detroit could either go with a defensive back or an offensive lineman here, but Amukamara’s minor drop makes him the pick.
He’s good enough to go in the top-10, and with the Lions’ deficiencies when defending the pass last season, he’s a natural choice. Protecting Matthew Stafford will have to wait.
I had a defensive end originally pegged for the Rams here, but Liuget’s rising stock has me thinking he’ll land in St. Louis at No. 14.
The Rams got decent production out of their defensive ends last season, but could still stand to get a penetrating menace on the interior. Liuget can certainly be that guy.
This is a real swing pick, but I think Miami will ultimately go with Mallett here. I think he’s the second- or third-best QB in this draft on talent alone, but people are concerned about his character and off-the-field issues.
Chad Henne endured a miserable season in 2010, and Miami should be seeking an immediate upgrade. They’ve met with Mallett four times leading up to the draft, so I think there’s some genuine interest.
Bowers was the No. 1 overall pick in my first mock, but concerns about his knee have caused him to fall out of the top-15 completely.
The Jags have been drafting defensive linemen in the first round forever, but until they find a guy that won’t be a bust, they’ll continue to do so. Very good value at No. 16 in Bowers for Jacksonville.
The Patriots are one of the real wild cards in this draft, with their history of trading combined with their six total picks in the first three rounds.
With Logan Mankins likely entering his final season in New England, Bill Belichick will be looking for a versatile lineman to take over. Several teams (including the Steelers) will be vying for his services, so don’t be surprised to see the Patriots trade this choice.
With Igor Olshansky in Dallas and Jaques Cesaire set to become a free agent, the Chargers will need some help at defensive end. They’ll take a good, hard look at Cal’s Cameron Jordan here, but Watt seems like a very safe pick.
His skill set is ideal to fit in with the Chargers’ 3-4, and seeing him fall past No. 18 would be a surprise.
The G-Men collapsed yet again in 2010, due in large part to their aging offensive line. Castonzo is the most NFL-ready players in this draft, having started on the offensive line for each of his four years at BC.
Mark Ingram is a dark-horse candidate here with Ahmad Bradshaw possibly headed for free agency, but Castonzo fills a more pressing need.
Tampa began rebuilding its defensive line by drafting tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their first two choices last year, and it continues with Cameron Jordan at No. 20.
Given his versatility, there’s a strong chance he’s snatched up before the Bucs choose, but here he is.
However, with the recent release of the troubled Aqib Talib, don’t be surprised to see Colorado’s Jimmy Smith taken here.
The Chiefs have been revamping their defense through the draft for years, and will use the 21st overall pick to get themselves a versatile defensive lineman in Wilkerson.
Like Glenn Dorsey, Wilkerson has both the size and athleticism to play any position on the D-line. He could go as high as No. 17 to New England, but the Chiefs get themselves a real player here.
Indy is always a tough projection because they usually prefer to take the best player available rather than draft for team need. However, with their massive struggles on the offensive line last season, it seems as though taking a tackle would be opportune.
Solder is very raw (he didn’t play on the offensive line until 2008), but he has the size and athleticism to develop into a very solid player. There are plenty of linemen to choose from here, but Solder seems to have the biggest upside.
Philadelphia is another team that could use some help protecting their prized quarterback, but with a talent like Smith dropping this far, they have to take him.
Some scouts think that Smith is comparable to Prince Amukamara, so, needless to say, he has the chance to be a very good player.
The Eagles need to find some help for Asante Samuel in the secondary, and Smith (if he can check his ego at the door) could be a steal.
You can never have enough depth on the defensive line, right? The Saints recently picked up Shaun Rogers in anticipation of pairing him with Sedrick Ellis on the interior, but drafting a guy like Clayborn could transform their D-line into one of the most formidable units in the league.
Clayborn has the size, speed and talent to play any spot on the line, and would be a nice addition for the 2009 Super Bowl champions.
Seattle could use some help in the secondary and may be in the market for a QB here, but Kerrigan has slipped far enough.
He’s yet another guy with the ability to play linebacker or lineman, but I think he’ll stick as a defensive end for the Seahawks.
Many think his tenacity and consistency could make him a top-15 pick, so the Seahawks will do very well to grab him here near the end of the first round.
Tough spot for the Ravens here, as most of the guys I’d originally pegged for them already off the board.
Reed will likely spend most of his time at outside linebacker, but with Sergio Kindle likely coming back healthy, that’s no guarantee.
Baltimore is a team that loves to have as much depth in the front seven as possible, and Reed adds to that.
Watkins is older than your typical draftee (26), but he’s also a pretty safe choice.
The Falcons have three O-linemen who may become free agents, so some new blood may be necessary.
This certainly isn’t the flashiest pick, but Atlanta may benefit in the long run.
Ingram is likely the only running back worthy of being taken in the first round, and here he falls to the Patriots at No. 28.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead enjoyed productive seasons for the AFC East champions last season, but a bona fide, every-down back is a rare luxury in today’s NFL.
The former Heisman winner will fit in well with the Patriots.
Chicago’s offensive line woes were well-documented last season, as they allowed a league-worst 56 sacks. If they truly believe that Jay Cutler is the franchise quarterback, they may be interested in keeping him alive.
Carimi was the Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s best interior lineman last season, and should immediately bolster the Bears’ protection.
With the injury problems and subsequent release of Pro Bowl nose tackle Kris Jenkins, the Jets are in the market for a replacement.
Taylor is regarded as the best player at the position in this class, and would be a natural fit with Rex Ryan’s unit.
There are character and injury concerns here, but when have the Jets ever cared about that?
The Steelers’ corners were shredded by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the Super Bowl, so clearly they could stand to upgrade in that area.
A pre-draft visit between Williams and the Steelers reportedly left both sides impressed, so it would appear as though the former Longhorn has the inside track to become Pittsburgh’s first-round choice.
They’d love to reunite the Pouncey twins, but “settling” for Williams isn’t a bad consolation prize.
The defending Super Bowl champions won’t have many holes heading into next season, but they could stand to add some depth on the defensive line.
With the uncertain future of Johnny Jolly, Heyward may be the perfect fit. He can play any position up front, and is experienced enough to contribute from day one.