2011 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting All 32 1st Round Picks
2011 NFL Mock Drafts are now getting a little easier to construct. After months of speculation as to who will be available in April, we now have a much better idea of who is in play, and who is not.
Indeed, while we know that high-profile players like Andrew Luck are going back for one last rodeo with their respective programs, other big-name underclassmen have declared. And with the board all but set, it is once again time to move the pieces.
So without further adieu, here are our projections for all 32 first round picks.
1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Why He Goes Here: With Luck gone, the consensus is that Gabbert is the next-best quarterback prospect. Gabbert is big and strong, he has a quick and accurate release, and his arm strength is well above average. He's also shown good poise and leadership abilities.
Why He Fits: Gabbert is not the No. 1 player on most big boards, and he's probably no replacement for Luck. But Carolina will take him anyway because they should have realized throughout the course of the season that Jimmy Clausen is not a franchise quarterback. Moreover, the team needs a posterboy for the new direction that they aim to take.
2. Denver Broncos: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Why He Goes Here: Of all the players that graced the field during the BCS National Championship, none of them made as much of a difference as Fairley. He consistently blew right past Oregon's offensive line, and was a force on seemingly every play. As if it wasn't already a lock, he solidified himself as the best defensive tackle on the big board.
Why He Fits: The Broncos could go for Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers with this pick, but their biggest need is an interior lineman that can stuff the run. After all, they'll have Elvis Dumervil back next season, and he should help boost Denver's league-worst pass rush.
3. Buffalo Bills: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Why He Goes Here: Bowers is one of the best pure pass rushers to come along in many years. He is a monster of a man at 280 pounds, but is also way too fast for somebody his size. He's a big time playmaker, he won't fall outside the top five no matter what happens.
Why He Fits: Like the Broncos, the Bills also had a virtually non-existent pass rush in 2010, and also struggled against the run. Bowers will fix the first problem without much issue, and should be able to help stuffing the run as well.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Why He Goes Here: Quinn is the next best defensive end in the draft after Bowers. He may be slightly undersized for a DE, (particularly compared to Bowers), and there are some obvious character issues, but there's no denying that Quinn has mad skills.
Besides, the last great defensive end to come out of UNC was none other than Julius Peppers.
Why He Fits: The Bengals need help all over, but one of their weakest spots is their defensive line. They also had trouble rushing the passer, and weren't very good against the run. They could go for Marcell Dareus out of Alabama, but Quinn has the potential to be the bigger playmaker.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Why He Goes Here: A man of Peterson's size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), should not be as fast as he is. Factor in great instincts and a proverbial, "nose for the ball," and Peterson is just too good to pass up for any team that struggles with pass coverage.
Why He Fits: One suspects that the Cardinals would rather have a quarterback, and they might have gone for Ryan Mallett if he'd had a good performance in the Sugar Bowl. But he didn't, so they won't. Peterson should be a huge boost for a defense that gave up almost 230 passing yards per game in 2010.
6. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Why He Goes Here: Green is easily the best wide receiver in this year's draft class. He's got size, speed, and insane separation skills. He's also got great hands, and a knack for making opposing corners look silly.
Why He Fits: Some have speculated that he could go No. 1 overall, but that's hard to see given the situation in Carolina. The Browns look like a run—first offense with their current roster, but Green will deter teams from stacking the box to stop Peyton Hillis.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara: CB, Nebraska
Why He Goes Here: With Peterson off the board, Amukamara is the man. He's got similar size to Peterson, and might have even better instincts. He had no picks this season, which should actually tell you how dangerous he is.
Why He Fits: This could all change if the 49ers make a play of Nnamdi Asomugha, but their next biggest need outside the quarterback position is cornerback. They gave up over 230 passing yards a game this past season, and Nate Clements was routinely burned. Time for an upgrade.
8. Tennessee Titans: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Why He Goes Here: He really wasn't all that great in the BCS National Championship against Oregon, but 51 total touchdowns is still 51 total touchdowns. He has to work on his accuracy, but not much else.
Why He Fits: I'm really going out on a limb with this one. There are plenty of quarterbacks on the market that Jeff Fisher could target, and they could also look to draft a DT, (i.e. Dareus). And given the number of similarities between Newton and Vince Young, the team would rightfully be very hesitant.
But I guess I just have a hunch.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Why He Goes Here: Finally we get to Dareus. The knock on him is that he doesn't always give 100 percent, but that's about as far as the knocks go. He's another monster of a man, and is very disruptive. In addition, he could also fit on just about every defensive line.
Why He Fits: And that's where the Cowboys come in. The perception regarding Dareus is that he could play anywhere on the defensive line in a 3-4 scheme, and the team is expected to keep running the same scheme next season, possibly under Greg Manusky. Their other big need is cornerback, but they could also look to Asomugha to fix that.
10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Why He Goes Here: After Green, Jones is the next best thing. The odd thing is that they're very similar. Jones is also a big dude, (6-foot-4, 211), and also has a knack for amazing catches and big plays. So if a team is looking for a playmaking wide receiver, they don't need to look any further.
Why He Fits: The Redskins' quarterback situation is in disarray, but one of the things that doomed Donovan McNabb was the lack of talent at the wide receiver position. No matter who is under center next season ,(one hopes they can do better than Rex Grossman), adding Jones automatically helps an area that was sorely lacking.
11. Houston Texans: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Why He Goes Here: It's a pretty tricky draft class for linebackers, but the general consensus is that Miller is the best of the bunch. Miller has the right kind of size, (6-foot-3, 240 pounds), and his speed is well above average. He's also an outstanding pass rusher, and has the right kind of agility to handle pass protection at the next level.
Why He Fits: Wade Phillips is in at Houston, and that means they're going to switch to a 3-4 defense. They have major holes in their secondary, but Miller is the kind of linebacker they're going to need to tie the whole scheme together.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Why He Goes Here: He was a little, shall we say, statuesque in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, and his struggles didn't help his stock. Nevertheless, he still has a well above-average arm. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he's experienced with a pass-heavy pro style offense.
Why He Fits: The situation in Minnesota is made tricky by the number of free agents they're going to have to deal with, but their primary need is still at the quarterback position. And let's face it, Mallett is simply a better option than Jake Locker at this point in the draft.
That being said, I won't be surprised if I'm totally wrong in predicting this pick.
13. Detroit Lions: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Why He Goes Here: The rankings concerning offensive lineman are always difficult to agree on, with some people favoring Mississippi State's Derrek Sherrod and others favoring Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi. But Colorado's Nate Solder is also up there, and he's the biggest of the bunch at 6-foot-8. He is also surprisingly nimble for his size, and scouts love his football instincts.
Why He Fits: The Lions have some serious issues with their secondary, but at this point, their primary concern should be keeping Matthew Stafford from further injury. Hence the need for Solder.
14. St. Louis Rams: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Why He Goes Here: It may have seemed like a stretch a few weeks ago, but Sherrod's stock has risen significantly in recent days. If he isn't the first offensive lineman off the board, he will almost assuredly be the second or third.
Why He Fits: The Rams would have loved to have Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon with this pick, but he announced that he's returning for one more season with the Cowboys. So instead of getting a big play receiver for Sam Bradford, they'll get somebody who can protect him.
15. Miami Dolphins: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Why He Goes Here: Sure, it turns out he wasn't a No. 1 overall talent, but Locker still has loads of untapped potential. He's a very versatile quarterback, as he has both great speed and a good arm. He could be great in the right kind of offense.
And speaking of the right kind of offense...
Why He Fits: Tony Sparano is back in the mix in Miami, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is apparently pressing for more of a "fast break" offense. He clearly thinks he owns an NBA team. But given the fact he thinks it would take advantage of the Miami heat, (pun intended), he might be on to something.
Chad Henne is likely out, and Locker is perhaps the perfect fit for the tricky offense that Sparano used in his first two years. However, we shall see how he handles the running back situation.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Why He Goes Here: Bowers and Quinn are going to go early. After them exactly who among the remaining defensive ends is the "best" is difficult to determine. Iowa's Adrian Clayborn is among the names in the hat, and he certainly has a case for being the next pick. He's got a huge body, and is a great edge rusher.
Why He Fits: The Jaguars tied for the second—fewest number of sacks during the 2010 season, and adding a pass rusher should help complete what is already a pretty solid team.
17. New England Patriots: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Why He Goes Here: Watt could conceivably go ahead of Claymore, but that would be surprising given the fact that Watt's stock has been the subject of a mercurial rise. The fact that he totaled seven sacks for a team that played in a BCS Bowl will impress a team looking for a winner.
Why He Fits: A team looking for a winner, you say? And a team that has never really found a suitable heir for Richard Seymour?
That would be the Patriots.
18. San Diego Chargers: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Why He Goes Here: Among outside linebackers, Ayers is all but assured to be the second one off the board. He's a big man with above average quickness, and can be a menace rushing the passer. The Bruins have even shown that he can line up at defensive end and still make a difference.
Why He Fits: The Chargers need a suitable replacement for Shawne Merriman, as they were a much more dangerous team with a disruptive linebacker causing havoc. Ayers could be their guy.
19. New York Giants: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Why He Goes Here: There are a lot of pundits who have Kerrigan going much earlier in the draft, so getting him this late would pretty much make him a steal. Kerrigan is an excellent pass rusher with above-average speed and power, and would make a fine addition to any team.
Why He Fits: The Giants are a tough team to figure as far as the draft is concerned. Some people have them selecting a running back, and some have them adding to their offensive line. Instead, I'm thinking they'll make one of their strengths even stronger by drafting Kerrigan.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Why He Goes Here: Smith is the kind of guy that could potentially go much higher after the combine. And even now, he's a scary prospect. He's 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, and had 11.5 sacks in his freshman season. He had six this season, despite the fact he missed three games.
Why He Fits: The Buccaneers were tied with the Jaguars with the second-fewest sacks during the regular season, and adding a guy who can punish opposing quarterbacks could be just the thing they need in order to become a playoff team.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Why He Goes Here: Carimi was the key figure in a Wisconsin offensive line that was generally considered the bets in the country. There are some who think he's nothing more than a big body, but there is one thing he can do as well as anyone: run block.
Why He Fits: I say again, he can run block. The Chiefs were the top rushing team in the league during the regular season, and I daresay they have figured out what happens when they ask Matt Cassel to do too much. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones will be glad to have Carimi.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Why He Goes Here: The top running back in this year's draft class happens to be the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. Ingram has speed and power, but his vision and lateral quickness are his biggest strong points. He's also a weapon in the passing game.
Why He Fits: For a team that had issues with its backfield, all of those things should sound appealing to the Colts, who haven't had a truly great running back since Edgerrin James.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Why He Goes Here: After those first two great corners are off the board, the field is more or less wide open. Miami's Brandon Harris will also be available here, but he might not be the right fit for a team like the Eagles.
Why He Fits: The Eagles need help on their offensive line, but they also need to address issues in their secondary. And the reason Harris doesn't fit is because he's a little too similar to Asante Samuel, who is a little smaller. A guy like Williams is a little bigger and more physical, and would thus be a nice compliment.
24. New Orleans Saints: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Why He Goes Here: Many people will favor Boston College's Anthony Costanzo at this spot, and maybe even earlier. He's bigger than Smith, and also more experienced. But the thinking is that Smith is going to be more impressive at the combine, and thus move up the board.
Why He Fits: The Saints' offensive line was good in 2010, but not as good as it has been. They also have a couple free agents to deal with on their offensive line, and might let one of them go to save money on a player like Smith.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Note: from this point on, the draft order is not set in stone. It will be determined from how the playoffs unfold.
Why He Goes Here: With Williams off the board, Harris becomes the next best thing. He may be slightly undersized at 5-foot-10, he's still a fast guy with very good instincts. He is also surprisingly effective in run support.
Why He Fits: Lost in the shuffle in Seattle's win over New Orleans was the fact that their pass defense still stinks. Drew Brees threw for over 400 yards (albeit on 60 attempts), and the Seahawks' secondary was routinely beaten. They need to shore it up, and Harris will help.
26. Green Bay Packers: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Why He Goes Here: Georgia's Justin Houston hasn't yet declared for the NFL draft, but he has submitted his name to the NFL draft advisory committee, which more or less means that he's going pro. If so, he'll be a first round pick, and will go to the first team that needs a playmaker at linebacker.
Why He Fits: True, the Packers have a playmaker at linebacker, quite possibly the best. But aside from Clay Matthews, the rest of the bunch is decidedly "meh." Adding Houston could give them an absolutely impenetrable defense.
27. New York Jets: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Why He Goes Here: When it comes to wide receivers, it's not every day you find one with Baldwin's size. He's nearly 6-foot-5, and has surprising speed for a guy his size. With Blackmon out of the picture, he'll be a first round pick.
Why He Fits: The Jets' pick could go any number of directions. But because both Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes are free agents, they might decide to save themselves some money by replacing one of them in the draft.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
Why He Goes Here: Moore is the No. 1 safety in this year's draft class, and is the only one of the bunch that is likely to crack the first round. He led the nation with 10 interceptions in 2009, and has excellent natural instincts. A little small right now, but should bulk up.
Why He Fits: What do you get a team that has seemingly no holes? How about maybe the next big thing? Ed Reed isn't getting any younger, and a season or two under his wing could make Moore a great player.
29. Chicago Bears: Anthony Costanzo, OT, Boston College
Why He Goes Here: At long last, we come to Castonzo. Like I said, he could very well go earlier, and it would be a good pick. He's gigantic (6-foot-7), and has very good footwork for a guy his size. He could stand to put on some girth, but that's easy to fix.
Why He Fits: The Bears have up more sacks than any other team this season. Yeah, they need a lineman.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
Why He Goes Here: Pouncey, twin brother of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, is the top-rated center on the board. But he's also one the best all-around linemen available.
Why He Fits: Two Pouncey's are better than one. And the Steelers definitely need help on their O-line.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Why He Goes Here: Ras-I Dowling is one of those borderline first round guys. The one thing he has going for him is his height (6-foot-1), and he makes up for his slightly below elite speed with his instincts. He is better in zone than he is man-to-man, but is also solid in run support.
Why He Fits: The Falcons really don't have that many holes. But they could have a big one if they end up losing Brent Grimes to free agency. If they don't want to pay him, they could take Dowling.
32. New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Why He Goes Here: The next in the very long line of good defensive ends will likely be Cal's Cameron Jordan. He's a big, strong defensive lineman with an outstanding club move. He projects as the kind of player who could play anywhere on the line in a 3-4 defense.
Why He Fits: Yes, I already assigned the Pats a defensive end. But the fact of the matter is that they really don't have any glaring holes outside of their D-line. Besides, Gerard Warren is getting up there, and Brandon Daederick is hardly irreplaceable.