2011 NFL Mock Draft: Does Cam Newton's Heisman Move Him Past Andrew Luck?
We're closing in on the final weeks of the NFL season, and that means the start of the offseason for all but the lucky 12 teams that qualify for the playoffs and a chance to make a run at Super Bowl glory. That means it's about time that fans of the 20 non-playoff teams can start looking toward April 2011 and the next installment of the NFL Draft.
The college game always supplies pro teams with new talent, and no portion of the draft carries more importance than the first round, where the elite talents are. If your favorite team needs a franchise quarterback, a playmaker at running back or wide receiver, or serious support along either offensive or defensive lines, then it's never too early to start dreaming of whom they might add in April.
So while it remains extremely far off in real time, it's never too early to start putting some educated guesses together as to who will land where come the 2011 NFL Draft. We'll try to match the players considered first-round talents with the right NFL teams that have glaring needs, while also keeping in mind the assumed positional rankings of the NCAA's top footballers.
Click through for a rough projection of the first 32 picks in the 2011 NFL Draft.
32. Atlanta Falcons: Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State
About the Player: Cameron Heyward was considered as someone who could have gone at the top of the draft, had he declared in advance of the 2010 draft. He enjoyed a stellar season for the Buckeyes, but his play has not stepped up to the next level during the nearly completed season.
He seemed to miss his best chance of being a player taken at the top of the draft, but still offers a team towards the end of the first round a player capable of slotting in in the defensive trenches that can stuff the run and has potential to blossom into a quality pass rusher.
Why the Pick Fits: The Atlanta Falcons' defense doesn't get to the quarterback much at all, ranking 18th in the league in sacks. They could use a player like Heyward who can be utilized in the pass rush but is also fundamentally solid enough to stop the run along the line.
31. Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
About the Player: Brandon Burton is an extremely fast corner with the potential to grow into a true shutdown defensive back in the right NFL system. He's only a junior, so he still retains one year of potential eligibility, but his speed and strong play in the Utah secondary are adding up to build some momentum for him to likely declare for the draft and potentially crack the first round.
At 6'0", he's a good size for corner in the NFL. His only downside might be the fact that he hasn't gotten a ton of experience at Utah, as his career began mostly on special teams before transitioning to a full-time starting corner in 2009. Still, a team looking for help in their secondary could do much worse than Burton.
Why the Pick Fits: The Ravens secondary is getting up there in age, and a number of their mainstays will be free agents at the conclusion of the 2010 season. Having solid defensive backs allow their defense to ratchet up the pressure via blitzes and non-conventional schemes. So it seems likely Baltimore will look to add a player in the secondary, and particularly one with the speed and coverage ability to fit into their pressure-heavy defense.
30. New England Patriots: Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
About the Player: His brother Maurkice is currently starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers along their offensive line, and it'll soon be Mike's time to break into the league and start anchoring an offensive line. He's got experience playing at a big program in a very fast-paced offense, meaning the transition to the NFL shouldn't be much of an issue.
Plus, the younger Pouncey has the ability to slot in either at guard or center, making him extremely valuable for a team needing depth along the line.
Why the Pick Fits: The Patriots offensive line is getting up in age, and Logan Mankins, after his lengthy holdout, seems unlikely to return in 2011. Add his potential departure to the fact that fellow linemen Stephen Neal is often banged up and is coming up on 34 years old, and the Patriots will need some reinforcements along their offensive line to keep the franchise quarterback Tom Brady adequately protected.
29. Philadelphia Eagles: Stefen Wisniewski, C/G, Penn State
About the Player: Stefen Wisniewski is a senior interior offensive linemen out of Penn State, and he's poised to make the jump to the NFL thanks to his combination of quickness and athleticism—skills that separate him from other fellow linemen.
He may not have the size to potentially move out to tackle in the pros, but he can more than hold his own on the inside portion of the line, making him a valuable addition for a team looking to give their quarterback ample time in the pocket.
Why the Pick Fits: If Michael Vick remains under center for the Eagles after his breakout 2010 season as their starter, the organization will no doubt be looking to ensure they can keep Vick fully protected and give him enough time to make the big plays he's made routine in his renaissance year. This makes a player like Wisniewski an appealing fit for the Eagles, who have some questions on their offensive line and don't have a ton of depth.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
About the Player: At 6'1" and 195 pounds, Williams is an ideal size for an NFL corner. He's also consistently played at a high level, while at one of the best programs for producing professional defensive backs.
He's still only a junior, as well, so he may ultimately not declare for the draft, but if he does he will be very appealing to a team looking to add a talented, playmaking athlete to their secondary.
Why the Pick Fits: The Steelers don't have a ton of depth at corner, so adding someone like Aaron Williams would help the defensive back group quite a bit, especially given how much pressure the Pittsburgh defense likes to put on opposing quarterbacks.
27: New Orleans Saints: Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
About the Player: Drake Nevis has stepped into a starting role on the LSU defense and flourished, putting up big numbers in terms of tackles for loss as well as sacks, and becoming a disruptive force in the backfield in his senior season. His play as both a run-stuffer and potential pass rusher have to open up NFL eyes, although he is somewhat undersized for defensive tackle because he's only 6'1" and 285 pounds.
He is fast for a player on the interior of the defensive line, though, so he may turn into a force in the NFL if he gains some strength and retains his speed.
Why the Pick Fits: The Saints need some help against the run, as they've been mostly middle of the pack in terms of rushing defense. Their linebacker corps is solid, but they could use a defensive linemen to pair with Sedrick Ellis in the middle of the line.
Nevis fits the bill, as he could grow into a consistent run stopper for the Saints who could be capable of blowing up a quarterback on occasion.
26. New York Jets: Allen Bailey, DE/DT, Miami
About the Player: Bailey switched to defensive tackle before 2009 and enjoyed a great season, putting up gaudy defensive numbers and terrorizing opposing running backs and quarterbacks alike. He continued to play well in his senior year in 2010 and has positioned himself as a candidate to play either tackle or end in the NFL.
He would need to get bigger to be a tackle on a week-to-week basis, but he is athletic and can make plays.
Why the Pick Fits: The Jets love these type of athletic linemen, and his versatility would no doubt work well in Rex Ryan's system. He would probably have to be taken with only one position in mind, but it's possible he could show enough to be a bit of a hybrid end/tackle.
25. New York Giants: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
About the Player: Von Miller is a senior linebacker out of Texas A&M who was a main ingredient in the team's late-season run through the Big 12. His play picked up as the season went on after struggling somewhat early in the year.
He is built to rush the passer, and that's one of the things he did extremely well at Texas A&M. He played in a 3-4 at A&M but he has the physical skills to fit into either 3-4 or 4-3 systems.
Why the Pick Fits: The Giants have the ancient Keith Bulluck on the outside, along with a disappointment and now a player with a torn-up knee in recent draftee Clint Sintim. Michael Boley is firmly implanted, but the team desperately needs more depth at outside linebacker, so a player like Miller is exactly what they would seemingly covet in the draft.
24. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
About the Player: Baldwin is gigantic at 6'5" and 225 pounds, making him the perfect size for a potential NFL No. 1 receiver. His only flaw might be his lack of game-changing speed; even though he could haul in passes thanks to great hands and his size, he doesn't possess the ability to break off huge gainers in the pro game.
Still, this kind of size, combined with good hands, make him a sure-fire future starter at wide receiver.
Why the Pick Fits: The Bears need help at wide receiver and have needed it long before the 2010 season even started. Jay Cutler has a great arm but the quarterback has made the most of a bad receiving situation. Adding a talented receiver like Baldwin in the first round would do wonders for the Chicago passing game.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
About the Player: Lewis is a tackling machine, fast, athletic and technically sound—an ideal mix for an outside linebacker expected to keep up with some receiving targets while also chasing down ball carriers. He has the size to be a starting linebacker, and his game could mostly improve through getting after the passer a bit more.
It's expected that he'll be able to translate his tackling abilities to the next level, so his value as a linebacker is definitely high.
Why the Pick Fits: The Chiefs will need to find some youth on the linebacker side, especially since they still rely on guys like the grizzled Mike Vrabel to be a starting linebacker for them. Lewis is an ideal replacement for a player like Vrabel in that they have similar skill sets and Lewis could eventually grow into a similar player.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
About the Player: Janoris Jenkins has played at Florida basically since his arrival, as he teamed with the Joe Haden to be a formidable pairing in the secondary. It's expected that Jenkins will join his former teammate, who's now with the Cleveland Browns, as he's viewed as a sure contributor to an NFL secondary thanks to his speed and athleticism.
He doesn't have the best size at 5'11" and around 190 pounds, which could leave him open to being pushed around by bigger receivers, but his speed and seasoning thanks to the grueling SEC schedule will make him an attractive option.
Why the Pick Fits: The Jaguars have a terrible secondary, as they're one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL this season. They desperately need help, and a cornerback is a good place to start.
It is also a bit fortuitous that they may have a chance to draft a former Gator, given Jacksonville's huge following of the University of Florida football program. It's a good match if it comes to pass.
21. St. Louis Rams: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
About the Player: The Fighting Irish needed Floyd to step up in 2010 thanks to a myriad of injuries to key offensive players, and for the most part he did despite battling numerous injuries of his own. He is a dynamic receiver that burst onto the scene in 2008 as a freshman, and now appears poised to make the jump to the NFL.
He's 6'3" and nearly 230 pounds and showed good pass-catching abilities during his time in South Bend.
Why the Pick Fits: The Rams have found their franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, who has enjoyed a good rookie season. However, they've had to piece it together at wide receiver, and a player like Floyd would give Bradford a steady target in the passing game that has good hands and the speed to make plays down the field.
20. Green Bay Packers: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
About the Player: Mark Ingram has enjoyed an outstanding collegiate career at Alabama, winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore to go along with leading the Crimson Tide to a national championship in that same season. He has powered the Alabama running game in his three years in the backfield, and power is the key word with Ingram. He is a load to bring down, but he's also fast for a player his size (5'10" and over 210 pounds) and has the burst to make big plays in open space.
He may not be fully healthy during this his junior season, as he battled a knee injury early in the season and didn't post the kind of numbers Alabama fans were used to. But still, he's sure to be productive pro running back in the making.
Why the Pick Fits: The Packers desperately need depth at running back and were exposed when Ryan Grant went down early in the season. Brandon Jackson has been average at best for Green Bay, but he is not really a starting NFL back.
Ingram has a chance to become that, and if Green Bay can pair him with someone speedy like Grant, they would have a formidable two-headed running attack in the making.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
About the Player: Anthony Castonzo has started at Boston College since his freshman year, which is extremely rare for an offensive lineman at BC. The Eagles are known for producing quality NFL offensive linemen such as the Giants' Chris Snee, so Castonzo being a mainstay on the line is a big testament to his blocking abilities.
He got larger during this his final year at Boston College, giving him the ideal size to be a starting NFL tackle who can withstand the punishment of blocking the best pass rushers each week.
Why the Pick Fits: Raheem Morris and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rebuilding along the lines the old-fashioned way, and they have two offensive linemen due to be free agents after the 2010 season. As a result, it seems like they would likely try to fill at least one or more of their holes along the line via the draft.
A player like Castonzo seems to be NFL-ready based on his program and his track record, so the pick makes sense for the Bucs, who need to protect franchise quarterback Josh Freeman.
18. Miami Dolphins: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
About the Player: Brandon Harris started for the Miami Hurricanes since his freshman year, and it has not always an easy road for the speedy corner. He's had some eye-poppingly bad games, but his overall skill set in terms of speed and toughness make him a big asset for an NFL team looking for help in the secondary.
The Miami junior is a bit undersized and was pushed around at times.
Why the Pick Fits: It's a geographical dream, but in general the Dolphins could use another corner capable of covering receivers down the field. The Miami defense is not a huge liability, but it could be further fortified by adding a player like Harris to their coverage.
17. Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
About the Player: Sherrod has been a big part of a prolific Mississippi State running attack that's been the team's strength for two consecutive years. As a left tackle, Sherrod is a mountain of a man and someone who can be expected to anchor offensive lines for years to come in the NFL.
He's got the size, and he's shown the skill in a very tough conference in terms of opening holes and helping move the ball down the field.
Why the Pick Fits: The Colts haven't been able to run the ball with any success in 2010, and their offensive line has also sprung some leaks in terms of protecting Peyton Manning from opposing pass rushers. It's a must to ensure that Manning is protected back there, especially his blind side, and that's why Sherrod makes so much sense for Indianapolis.
16. San Diego Chargers: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
About the Player: Gabe Carimi comes from one of the nation's top running programs in Wisconsin, which is also a school known for producing quality offensive linemen on a regular basis. So it makes sense that he's getting a lot of discussion as one of the best offensive line prospects heading into the 2011 draft.
I think his performance as a part of Wisconsin's overwhelming running game has increased his draft stock considerably. He is said to have some issues with technique in terms of his footwork and the way he blocks, which may keep him from being a left tackle in the NFL. But he is a sure right tackle at worst.
Why the Pick Fits: The Chargers need help along the offensive line, particularly in the run-blocking part of their offense. It also never hurts to add an elite blocker with a franchise quarterback like Philip Rivers.
15. Seattle Seahawks: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
About the Player: Adrian Clayborn got a ton of off-the-field attention this year, which may push his draft stock down. But so, too, will the fact that he didn't have a banner year along the defensive line for a disappointing Iowa Hawkeyes team.
But Clayborn is physically extremely gifted, and has the natural ability to make big plays on defense. The biggest knock against him in terms of on-the-field play is his lack of polish in fundamentals like tackling and technique.
Why the Pick Fits: The Seahawks desperately need someone on the defensive line who can make a big play, whether it's getting to the quarterback, making a tackle for a loss or stripping the football. Pete Carroll is known as a player's coach, so it's possible he might be able to get through to a player like Clayborn that may come into the league with baggage.
14. New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
About the Player: Jordan had a great run to finish his senior season at Cal, and his experience in a 3-4 defense will serve him extremely well as he heads toward a potential NFL career. He's very athletic and is capable of being a threat to break up numerous plays as a defensive end.
It's unclear whether or not he'll be a big pass-rushing threat at the next level, but pressure in the 3-4 doesn't usually come from the ends, so his skills might be perfect for the right system.
Why the Pick Fits: The Patriots could use some help at defensive end, and Jordan is the type of athletic player that their system utilizes perfectly.
13. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
About the Player: Justin Blackmon has enjoyed an absolutely monstrous 2010 season as a redshirt sophomore, putting up insane receiving numbers and being the reason why the Cowboys had one of their best seasons in school history.
The size, speed and pass-catching combination that Blackmon possesses seems tailor-made for the NFL, and he has risen to around the third-best wide receiver potentially available come draft day.
Why the Pick Fits: The Browns need to get Colt McCoy some more weapons to work with on offense, and their receiving corps first and foremost could use an infusion of talent. Blackmon seems like he would fit the bill well.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Akeem Ayers, LB/DE, UCLA
About the Player: Ayers is extremely versatile due to his high level of athleticism. His combination of great speed and strength allows him to blow through offensive lines almost at will.
He is an outside linebacker by nature who also has lined up at defensive end and is capable of doing all sorts of damage on the edges. He is a great tackler and can use his speed and size to be a dangerous pass rusher, making him a big addition to a team needing an infusion of talent in their linebacker pool.
Why the Pick Fits: Obviously the Vikings have issues on offense, particularly the offensive line, but their defense could use a player as athletic and versatile as Ayers. He would be a big threat off the edge and would be another weapon in terms of stuffing the run and potentially getting after the passer.
11. Houston Texans: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
About the Player: Rahim Moore is the best safety to potentially come out for the 2011 draft, as he's withstood a down year in 2010 after a much-declined UCLA team lost a ton of players to graduation. He had an amazing 2009 season in which he had a ton of interceptions and was named to numerous postseason best-in-the-nation lists.
Moore has the right size and skill set to play safety in the NFL, and he looks like a sure-fire contributor on a team in need of safety help.
Why the Pick Fits: The Texans have the worst passing defense in the league. It obviously goes beyond just the secondary, but adding a talented safety can only help.
Moore being paired with Bernard Pollard actually would give Houston strength across the middle of the field and might help their pass defense improve in 2011.
10. Washington Redskins: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
About the Player: A dedicated pass-rushing force that never takes a play off and uses his heart as much as his natural skill to get to the quarterback, Ryan Kerrigan has seen his stock rise dramatically on the back of a great 2010 season for Purdue.
He's a senior and has enjoyed one of his best years on campus, and it's expected to push him high on draft day.
Why the Pick Fits: Mike Shanahan needs to improve his defense, considering he's going to say goodbye to malcontent Albert Haynesworth, and he'll need to find someone to get to the quarterback. Kerrigan could potentially be the guy, although he may have to transition to outside linebacker given the 3-4 alignment in Washington.
9. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
About the Player: Nick Fairley is a prototypical nose tackle who is a load up the middle in terms of clogging up running lanes and pushing through the interior of offensive lines. He has been a key part of the Auburn defense and has enjoyed a great year along with his national title game-bound teammates.
Fairley will be a valuable addition to a team looking to fill a spot in the middle of their defensive line.
Why the Pick Fits: Tennessee has been looking for a replacement for Albert Haynesworth since he signed his mega-deal with the Redskins, and Fairley is probably the best candidate for the job. If he's available at this spot, it makes a ton of sense for the Titans to snatch him up.
8. San Francisco 49ers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
About the Player: What more can I say about Cam Newton that hasn't already been covered in what's been an all-encompassing season of attention for the quarterback from Auburn? He deservedly won the Heisman Trophy, he's led Auburn to an undefeated season, and all that off-the-field controversy never really slowed his game down.
The questions will abound regarding his ability to play in the NFL, but it's a virtual lock that a team with a desperate need at quarterback will take a chance on his considerable physical talents.
Why the Pick Fits: San Francisco needs something at quarterback considering the two Smiths they've run out there this year have not done anything; former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith seems to be a total flop.
Newton is a far more explosive player than any of the QBs San Francisco has had in a few years, and a new coach will probably be willing to take a chance on him.
7. Dallas Cowboys: Robert Quinn, OLB/DE, North Carolina
About the Player: Quinn has been dogged by the ongoing investigation into the North Carolina football program, and his off-the-field/character issues are no doubt going to be questioned by NFL talent evaluators leading up to the draft. But his skills at rushing the passer are undeniable, and he is a physically gifted freak that will be a pass-rushing menace in the NFL for years to come.
Whether it's at defensive end in a 4-3 or potentially outside linebacker in a 3-4, he has speed and skill to thrive at either spot.
Why the Pick Fits: Quinn is the type of talent Jerry Jones takes a chance on, and it's a salivating possibility to team Quinn up with DeMarcus Ware on the outside as pass rushers.
6. Arizona Cardinals: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
About the Player: Mallett is known to have a cannon for a throwing arm and has enjoyed considerable success in his career at Arkansas. He has thrived out of the pocket as more of the prototypical under-center quarterback, thus making it easier for him to transition into the professional game.
He's got the build of a potential franchise quarterback and seems likely to be a top-10 pick in 2011.
Why the Pick Fits: It's been quite the drop since Kurt Warner retired after the end of last season, and the Arizona Cardinals desperately need a franchise quarterback to build around. Mallett is the kind of big-armed talent to work with, and he would fit perfectly in the desert.
5. Buffalo Bills: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
About the Player: Jones is an elite talent that slumped a bit in 2010 due to injury and a slow start in terms of consistently catching passes thrown his way. But he has all the physical skills to be a huge playmaker in the NFL, and I think a team will pull him down off the board early on draft day knowing that speed and explosiveness are the name of the new NFL game.
Why the Pick Fits: The Bills have added playmakers in recent drafts, and a lot of people expect them to go for a quarterback, but I think they will ultimately look for another highly skilled player to get the ball to and hope to break off a huge gain.
4. Detroit Lions: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
About the Player: He and Patrick Peterson are the clear elite in terms of defensive backs available this draft year, and Amukamara is a big part of the reason why Nebraska had such a great defensive team in 2010.
He is a true lockdown cornerback with speed and strength, but also with great hands capable of yanking down interceptions and turning them into big plays.
Why the Pick Fits: The Lions need help in the secondary, and they've had great success with taking Nebraska defensive players high in the draft.
3. Denver Broncos: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
About the Player: Da'Quan Bowers is a defensive monster and has been virtually unstoppable this year for Clemson, as he's tallied up the sacks and has basically gotten to the quarterback at will.
He will slot in so smoothly at defensive end in the NFL, and his size and speed combination figures to be just unstoppable for lumbering offensive linemen.
Why the Pick Fits: Denver needs someone to put pressure on the quarterback, and they could definitely bolster their attack with a player like Bowers.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
About the Player: Peterson is clearly the best defensive back in college football this year, and he's destined to be one of the very top picks at the draft. He will step right into a huge starting role in the NFL once drafted.
Why the Pick Fits: Cincinnati needs as much help as they can get on defense, as their passing defense has not been great. Peterson is the best player available for sure, and he's an ideal fit for their defense.
1. Carolina Panthers: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
About the Player: Luck has been phenomenal under center in a pro-style offense, as he's led Stanford's offense to a huge season while showing toughness and strong throwing ability. He climbed to the top of the draft board pretty much universally, and if he declares for the draft, he is the hands-down top pick in terms of a franchise quarterback to build around.
Why the Pick Fits: Jimmy Clausen does not look like the answer. Yes, he's a rookie, and yes it's not usually automatic that rookies succeed or show a ton in their first year. But Luck is a far bigger prospect at quarterback than Clausen, and the Panthers would either have to take the best guy out there or trade down for a bounty of picks with some desperate team who needs a whole lot of Luck to turn things around.