2011 NFL Mock Draft: Cam Newton Ready To Solidify Top Spot at NFL Combine

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 22, 2011

2011 NFL Mock Draft: Cam Newton Ready To Solidify Top Spot at NFL Combine

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers scrambles against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peters
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    In the NFL Draft, quarterbacks are the most sought-after position. This year, with Andrew Luck (QB Stanford) headed back to Palo Alto, Cameron Newton (QB Auburn) has risen to the top of the class.

    Newton has dealt with a lot of adversity, as he led the Auburn Tigers to a national championship. Of course, most of that adversity was brought on by his own bad decision-making and the actions of his father.

    Frankly, NFL teams don't care.

    Yes, NFL teams look for red flags, but personnel guys realistically only care about maturity and clean drug tests. Newton's stolen laptop incident happened two schools and many years ago. The issues with his shady father? NFL teams don't fret about pay-for-play problems.

    Newton will be asked about both situations. NFL teams will care more about his response than the issues themselves. If he acquits himself well, he will solidify himself as the top quarterback in the 2011 NFL Draft class.

    Here is a first-round mock, based on pre-combine rankings, before we all get a better look at weights, measurements and times in Indianapolis later this week.

1) Carolina Panthers—Cameron Newton (QB Auburn)

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    If he's the top quarterback—as many scouts think he is—he should go first overall.

    Now, it isn't a 100-percent lead-pipe lock that Carolina will be making this pick. It's hard to trade top picks these days, but a new CBA could change that, and a team in the top five (Buffalo, Arizona) could be willing to trade up for a dynamic passer.

    Newton isn't a perfect prospect.

    Who is?

    Sam Bradford went first despite concerns his arm was held together with scotch tape. Matthew Stafford went first despite never winning a championship at Georgia. JaMarcus Russell went first despite being JaMarcus Russell.

    It happens.

    Newton has work to do and he is doing it under George Whitfield who is a renown quarterback guru. He is a similar prospect to Tim Tebow, but he has even more athleticism and he is a much better passer. Some have compared him to Donovan McNabb, Vince Young and even Randall Cunningham

    Problem is, Newton isn't any of those guys. He's more accurate than McNabb ever was at Syracuse. He has way more mental toughness and football IQ than Young and comparing any prospect to Cunningham is premature.

    He's Cam Newton and in 2011, that's perfect.

2) Denver Broncos—Da'Quan Bowers (DE Clemson)

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 18:  Da'Quan Bowers #93 of the Clemson Tigers against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Da'Quan Bowers will be one of the most scrutinized players at the combine, most of which will come before the lights come on at Lucas Oil Field.

    According to reports, Bowers tore his meniscus. In NFL terms, that's a hangnail. However, the pre-draft process treats even a hangnail like a red flag. NFL team doctors and independent physicians will test the knee and examine it for scarring. The stability of the other ligaments in both legs will be in question. His ability to recover from minor injuries like this will be gauged.

    If everything checks out, Denver might have jerseys printed by next week. 

    Switching to a 4-3 defense, the Broncos need a stud defensive end and Bowers is that guy. He is not as explosive or freakishly athletic as Nick Fairley, but he's closer than many draft pundits will admit, and he plays a premier position. Furthermore, he doesn't have any character issues.

    In terms of draft gossip, good friend Cecil Lammey (FootballGuys.com/87.7 The Ticket in Denver) says his sources believe the Broncos have focused in on Bowers as well.

3) Buffalo Bills—A.J. Green (WR Georgia)

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    The mind of Buddy Nix is a strange and exciting place.

    Last year, Nix nearly ran to the podium himself with giddy excitement to draft CJ Spiller, even though the Bills had a decent tandem in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. This year, the Bills might have a decent receiving corps, but that just won't matter. 

    The Bills need a superstar.

    If Cam Newton is available, they'll draft him. Blaine Gabbert could have a shot here, but he just isn't the dynamic playmaker A.J. Green is.

    Green is the most talented player in the 2011 NFL Draft.

    When he falls to the third pick, Nix will have his track shoes ready.

4) Cincinnati Bengals—Nick Fairley (DT Auburn)

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    Do the Cincinnati Bengals need Nick Fairley?

    Probably not. The team likes Geno Atkins, Domata Peko and Pat Sims, but come on. It's the Bengals and he's a talented athlete who others will pass on due to character concerns.

    It makes too much sense not to happen!

    If Buffalo doesn't take Green as predicted, many think he could go here to replace Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. In this scenario, with Green off the board, Fairley will be too good to pass up and will improve a Bengals defensive unit that was among the worst in the NFL, with only 27 sacks in 2010.

5) Arizona Cardinals—Blaine Gabbert (QB Missouri)

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    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Missouri Tigers drops back to pass during the Insight Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes  at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24.  (P
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This is a huge decision for the Arizona Cardinals.

    If they think Gabbert is a franchise QB, they need to pull the trigger whether or not he's the best player on the board. However, Gabbert isn't the top QB prospect many made him out to be when Luck decided to stay in school.

    Gabbert is big, strong-armed and has plenty of upside. Some team will fall in love and the Cardinals are as QB-desperate as anyone.

6) Cleveland Browns—Patrick Peterson (CB Louisiana State)

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Patrick Peterson #7 of the Louisiana State Univeristy Tigers celebrates after scoring a touchdown by posing as the Heisman Trophy against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Tiger Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Baton Rouge
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Yeah...that may have been wishful thinking for the Tigers star.

    Still, it is hard to argue that any player is more athletically gifted than Patrick Peterson or has his explosive top-end speed.

    The problem is Peterson plays cornerback and the skills that made him a possible Heisman candidate—crazy speed and returning ability—get negated at the next level: 4.3 40-yard-dashes grow on trees in the modern day NFL and teams hate their No. 1 corners taking both punts and kicks.

    So, he's a really good cornerback. Really good cornerbacks sometimes don't get drafted in the top five (or even in the top 10). If Peterson falls on draft day, it won't be because teams don't think he's good enough or that he can't play. It will be because teams value various positions differently and few think cornerback is a top priority.

    In Cleveland, Peterson will be expected to lock up the other side of the field across from Joe Haden and he should do quite nicely.

7) San Francisco 49ers—Von Miller (DE/OLB Texas A&M)

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    Von Miller is a beast.

    Although a minor injury could have crushed his senior season and his draft stock, Miller rebounded a better player than before. Unable to depend on his freakish athleticism, Miller improved his overall game—in coverage and taking on blockers.

    Over the second half of the season and at the Senior Bowl, Miller impressed anyone who cared to watch.

    Miller has been rumored as a top five pick and any 3-4 defense could have a spot for him. In fact, his coverage has improved enough that many think he could play OLB in a 4-3 as well.

    San Francisco shouldn't pass on a dynamic pass rusher—especially in a division like the NFC West. Seattle and Arizona are both weighing the pros and cons of drafting a quarterback and Sam Bradford will be in only his second year.

    One or two sacks each week from Von Miller could be exactly what San Francisco needs to get back in the title hunt.

8) Tennessee Titans—Prince Amukamara (CB/S Nebraska)

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    ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 5:  Prince Amukamara #21 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers catches the ball for an interception in the first quarter in front of James Kirkendoll #11 of the Texas Longhorns at Cowboys Stadium on December 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. (Ph
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Some think Prince Amukamara lacks the initial step or top-end burst to be an NFL corner. Whether or not every team falls into that line of thinking is moot, as some team is going to fall in love with one of the most polished defensive back prospects since Quentin Jammer.

    Amukamara doesn't make a lot of mistakes on the football field and is a leader in both the locker room and in film study. Mike Munchak is expected to look for many of the same traits in football players as his former boss, Jeff Fisher, did. Amukamara fits those to a T.

    On the field, he fits provides valuable insurance to Cortland Finnegan's antics and could provide competition for either safety in Jerry Gray's new pressure-packed defensive scheme.

9) Dallas Cowboys—Nate Solder (OT Colorado)

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    Although this video shows some of Nate Solder's better qualities, his most eye-popping highlights are going to come this upcoming week in Indianapolis.

    Solder has improved throughout his entire college career and has shed much of the criticism that dogged him following his junior season. Still, he's a "waist-bender" and overreaches too much as he engages pass rushers. In the NFL, that kind of poor technique will get you beaten like a rented mule.

    The crazy thing about Solder is that when he reaches, he's tall enough to still steer his opponent off of the play and, of course, he bends. How many 6'8" guys don't?

    Teams will see Solder and see a lump of coal ready to be a diamond. They're right. He has as much upside as anyone in the 2011 NFL Draft class. He's also a high-character guy, smart and should impress coaches throughout the interview process.

    Solder will have Jerry Jones drooling from now until April.

    Someone has to keep Tony Romo upright.

10) Washington Redskins—Tyron Smith (OT Southern California)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:   Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans throws a pass as Tyron Smith #70 blocks Jesse Feagin #98 of  the Washington State Cougars during the second quarter of the college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial C
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The Washington Redskins need a quarterback.

    If they go head over heels for Jake Locker or feel comfortable with Ryan Mallett, either one of those prospects has a solid chance at being slotted here.

    However, the Washington Redskins need to get some sort of handle on their offensive line as well.

    Yes, they drafted Trent Williams in the first round last year. No, no one is saying he's a bust already. He just wasn't any good in 2010. Pro Football Focus rated him the 65th overall tackle in football last year out of 78 total. He allowed 11 sacks, 11 hits and 24 pressures.

    Soon-to-be 30, Jamaal Brown wasn't much better as No. 63.

    Both of those current Redskins have the bulk to play guard, which is good, because Washington had one of the worst guard tandems in football as well.

    The line is a mess.

    Tyron Smith, who played right tackle during his time at USC, has the athleticism to play on the blind side—the same type of athleticism that drew Mike Shanahan to Trent Williams. If the Redskins are serious about protecting whoever is under center and running the football, Smith should be the pick in this scenario.

11) Houston Texans—Marcell Dareus (NT/DE Alabama)

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 02:  Marcell Dareus #57 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Everyone assumes that nose tackles need to be mammoth defenders, but the truth is, not all 3-4 defenses are the same.

    For instance, last year Jay Ratliff was the nose tackle (and sometimes end) of the Dallas Cowboys' defense.

    This year, Wade Phillips has moved to Houston and will be running his scheme with the Houston defenders. Right now, the roster doesn't have a 330-lb behemoth, and the closest thing they have to a player like Ratliff is Amobi Okoye.

    In Dareus, the Texans get a skilled defensive lineman who can easily add bulk (adding muscle instead of some of the soft weight he currently has) and can play either nose or 5-technique in their new defense.

12) Minnesota Vikings—Cameron Jordan (DE California)

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    The Minnesota Vikings are going to place the franchise tag on LB Chad Greenway. So, in addition to quarterback, the Vikings need to take a look at several other positions.

    The Vikings are built around the defensive line, and Leslie Frazier won't be changing that anytime soon. If they lose Ray Edwards, they have other ends who could be good in his place, but good isn't the word Frazier wants people associating with his defensive line.

    Cameron Jordan is great.

    The Cal defender is an expert at using his hands to separate himself from blockers, the ball from the ball carrier and the quarterback from his head. Jordan is one of the most intense players in the draft and can be unblockable for long stretches.

    On passing downs, the former 5-tech can move inside and aid the pass rush that much more.

13) Detroit Lions—Anthony Castonzo (OT Boston College)

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    CHESTNUT HILL, MA - OCTOBER 06:  Andre Callender #32 of the Boston College Eagles is congratulated by teammates Anthony Castonzo #74 and Ty Hall #78 after Callender scored touchdown in the second quarter against the Bowling Green Falcons  on October 6, 20
    Elsa/Getty Images

    When all is said and done, thanks to the possible descent of top skill position players like Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, this pick could be ripe for trading. Then again, what pick isn't?

    If the Detroit Lions can't get out of picking at 13, they need to take the top player on their board at a position of need. It could be a defensive end, a cornerback or even one of the aforementioned skill players.

    It just seems unlikely that many players will be above Anthony Castonzo on their board.

    The Lions like seniors, players who are team leaders, smart and have a hard-nosed mentality to their game. All of that describes Castonzo, and his versatility—the ability to play LT, RT or OG—will make him that much more attractive.

    For the Lions, he is a possible replacement for Jeff Backus or Stephen Peterman down the road, or for  Gosder Cherilus right away—the right tackle has struggled with inconsistent play and is coming off  microfracture surgery.

14) St. Louis Rams—Julio Jones (WR Alabama)

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    In the St. Louis Rams' wildest dreams, they could not have imagined that they could nearly make the playoffs and then have a chance to acquire the perfect wide receiver for their quarterback and offense.

    Sam Bradford excels in the two-step passing game and is at his best hitting receivers in stride and letting them run after the catch.

    Julio Jones excels as a two-step wide receiver—quick, durable and sure-handed, reminding some of Hines Ward and others of Larry Fitzgerald. He also blocks extremely well, which will help Steven Jackson pick up yardage down the field.

15) Miami Dolphins—Mark Ingram (RB Alabama)

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    Alabama offensive players go back-to-back as the Miami Dolphins get their running back of the future.

    When scouts describe the perfect back, they talk about prototypical size—and Ingram has it.

    Scouts talk about balance being the most important quality, followed closely by vision, speed and strength and Ingram has all of those in spades.

    Most importantly, Ingram has all of that and somewhat fresh legs, after splitting carries with Trent Richardson this year.

    With Ronnie Brown (likely) out of town and Ricky Williams unable to shoulder the load, this pick becomes a no-brainer.

16) Jacksonville Jaguars—Robert Quinn (DE North Carolina)

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  Robert Quinn #42 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after a sack with teammate Marvin Austin #9 against the East Carolina Pirates at Kenan Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by St
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Someone has to fall.

    Robert Quinn had some issues with the NCAA and didn't play in 2010—his junior year. That means he only has two years of high-level football. In his sophomore year he was outstanding, earning second team All-American honors.

    Again, someone has to fall. Castonzo, Solder, Gabbert or Dareus could all be that person. In this scenario, it's Quinn.

    Not every prospect with a top 10 grade goes in the top 10. If he falls to the Jaguars, they'll be glad to take a top end to pair alongside Tyson Alualu and beef up their defense.

17) New England—Aldon Smith (DE/OLB Missouri)

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Jordan Webb #2 of the Kansas Jayhawks is sacked by Aldon Smith #85 of the Missouri Tigers during the game on November 27, 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Aldon Smith is an official "tweener" by NFL standards. At 260 lbs, he isn't big enough to play defensive end for most schemes and he doesn't project well as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

    Lucky for the New England Patriots.

    Smith is a perfect fit as a rush backer for teams like the Baltimore Ravens or the Patriots. In that type of scheme he doesn't need to be in coverage very often and can create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

    In New England, he would also be an immediate upgrade over journeymen like Rob Nincovich and Tully Banta-Cain

18) San Diego Chargers—J.J. Watt (DE Wisconsin)

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    The San Diego Chargers are the most enigmatic team in the NFL.

    Last year, their offense was supposed to be stunted by the loss of their starting left tackle and numerous wide receivers. Instead, they were first in the NFL in total offense.

    On defense, the Chargers were also good, leading the NFL in total defense (by yards).

    One place they could use improvement however, is the defensive line. Luis Castillo has played well for the Chargers, but they lack the overall talent to keep blockers off of any linebacker not named Shaun Phillips.

    J.J. Watt transferred to Wisconsin from Central Michigan where he had been a tight end. He converted to defense as a Badger and made the transition nicely. Watt was a consensus All-Big Ten athlete in 2010 and a second team All-American. He's also a high character prospect and was an academic All-American as well.

    UPDATE: In a previous version, this slide contained incorrect info about the San Diego Chargers defense. It has been corrected.

19) New York Giants—Jimmy Smith (CB Colorado)

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    BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 07:  Wide receiver Jeff Fuller #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies makes a reception against the defense of Jimmy Smith #3 of the Colorado Buffaloes during NCAA college football action at Folsom Field on November 7, 2009 in Boulder, Colorado
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Aaron Ross isn't the player he once was and none of the other cornerbacks for the New York Giants are elite players.

    Jimmy Smith just might be the best cover cornerback in the draft.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa...Patrick Peterson is an athletic stud, Prince Amukamara has a lot of skills and Brandon Harris is a good prospect in his own right.

    Smith just has it all, and a nice big frame to go along with it.

    At 6'2" and over 200 lbs, Smith could be a first-round lock with even slow combine times. If he runs well, this could end up being much too low for him.

20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Adrian Clayborn (DE Iowa)

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    TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Defensive end Adrian Clayborn #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in action during the Insight Bowl against the Missouri Tigers at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24.  (Photo by
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Before the 2010 college football season, Adrian Clayborn was one of the top prospects in the nation. He had a disappointing season by his standards, but was still a consensus All-American.

    Clayborn isn't the elite speed rusher many had him pegged as, but he can still be a great defensive end and create mismatches against most opponents at the NFL level. Unlike some prospects going above him, he'll also be a force in the run game.

    Tampa Bay needs a defensive end in the worst way. Stylez White is an unrestricted free agent and no one else on the roster can provide even a semblance of a pass rush. The Buccaneers doubled up on defensive tackles last year, but need to draft pressure off the edge.

21) Kansas City Chiefs—Phil Taylor (NT Baylor)

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    Not many people knew who Phil Taylor was before this year. In fact, a lot of football fans still have no idea that Baylor (of all places) had one of the most dominant forces in the entire nation along the defensive front.

    Taylor was a one-time Penn State Nittany Lion who lost his starting position to Jared Odrick and was suspended after a fight with teammates.

    Years later, scouts believe Taylor has matured and are duly impressed with his ability to stand up double teams and penetrate when asked.

    Kansas City needs help at the nose tackle position if they want to move forward defensively. Taylor at the pivot will allow more production from Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey.

22) Indianapolis Colts—Derek Sherrod (OT Mississippi State)

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 15:  J.C. Brignone #70 and Derek Sherrod #79of the Mississippi State Bulldogs get ready on the line of scrimmage during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 15, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The good news for the Indianapolis Colts is that all signs point to Peyton Manning being a Colt for a long time.

    The bad news is that Manning just isn't enough to get to the playoffs all by himself anymore.

    For years, Manning dragged the rest of the Colts kicking and screaming into the postseason—bad running backs, mediocre offensive lines, aging defensive players and injuries on both sides of the ball all were nothing compared to the aging gunslinger's mighty arm.

    Now, the Colts need to give Manning some help.

    Derek Sherrod is as ready to play as any offensive lineman in the draft. No prospect is more steady, more safe, than Sherrod.

    Sherrod also fits the Colts profile. He was the 2010 recipient of the William V Campbell award which is the academic equivalent of the Heisman. 

23) Philadelphia Eagles—Akeem Ayers (LB UCLA)

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    PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Linebacker Akeem Ayers #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the game with the Houston Cougars at the Rose Bowl on September 18, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 31-13.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Akeem Ayers isn't his older brother.

    He's close though. 

    Robert Ayers has been a huge disappointment since being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. An athletic specimen, Robert has just never put it all together.

    Akeem Ayers is much the same way. Although smaller and playing a different position, Akeem relies on his tremendous athleticism to get around defenders and to make up for his lack of football polish. He isn't a bad football player, just not a very skilled one. 

    In college, Ayers has been a turnover hound, but it seems hard to project him as such in the NFL.

    Still, some coach will convince his personnel department to take a crack at Ayers and attempt to coach him up to his true potential.

    For Philadelphia, Ayers would be just too tempting to pass up.

24) New Orleans Saints—Mikel LeShoure (RB Illinois)

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    Say goodbye to Reggie Bush.

    Say goodbye to Pierre Thomas.

    Lynell Hamilton? Chris Ivory? Psh...

    Some consider Mikel LeShoure the top running back in the entire draft. Yes, even better than that guy from Alabama. Now, he certainly has more straightline speed than Ingram, and in a dome that's important.

    LeShoure is more than speed, though. He also has impressive talent in the open field and nice balance.

    Drew Brees will love LeShoure, who has underrated hands out of the backfield. He also has blocking ability which could give Brees that much more time to get rid of the ball.

    Most importantly, the Saints will finally have a running game that isn't just able to take advantage of the passing game's reputation, but rather, a rushing attack that actually brings the defense up and makes the playaction that much more dangerous.

25) Seattle Seahawks—Jake Locker (QB Washington)

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    It seems like a lifetime ago that Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian were coaching together at USC and sent a scholarship offer to young Jake Locker, a Wing-T quarterback out of Ferndale High.

    Years later, Locker had turned down the offer, but Sarkisian got to coach him anyway—accepting the head coaching position at Washington. Now Carroll might have a shot at him as well.

    Think about it: who's going to give Locker a more glowing review than his head coach?

    Who is going to listen and trust Sarkisian more than Carroll?

    The Seahawks need a quarterback and could fall in love with any number of first or second-round prospects. They could be swayed by the fact Jake Locker never led his college team to any success. They could doubt his natural accuracy as many NFL scouts do.

    In the end, all of that could happen, but it won't. If Jake Locker is available, he will be a Seahawk.

26) Baltimore Ravens—Torrey Smith (WR Maryland)

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    Who is the third wide receiver in this draft?

    Is it Torrey Smith—beneficiary of far too many Heyward-Bey comparisons? He is a tougher, more hard-nosed WR who can go over the middle, run better routes than many in the class and high point the football with ease.

    Is it Titus Young? Jerrel Jernigan? Leonard Hankerson? Randall Cobb?

    Whoever it is, he's probably going to Baltimore.

    Ray Rice is being wasted in Charm City. Without a deep threat, teams are stacking the box, giving Rice little room to run after the handoff or the catch. Similarly, Joe Flacco—possessor of one of the, if not the, strongest arms in the NFL—is being wasted.

    Anquan Boldin is a nice receiver and might still be the No. 1 guy with Torrey Smith around. Todd Heap will still be a great target, especially in the red zone. Derrick Mason, two years after his almost-retirement, is still a fine football player.

    Smith does what those players cannot do—stretch the field vertically and get opposing safeties out of the middle of the field. He's a legitimate big-play threat on every snap.

27) Atlanta Falcons—Kyle Rudolph (TE Notre Dame)

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 03: Kyle Rudolph #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs after making a catch against the Washington Huskies on October 3, 2009 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Washington 37-30 in overtime.  (Pho
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Tony Gonzalez is still a very good football player. He's dedicated to football and to nutrition, and will probably play a few more years, just not at the high level we're all accustomed to. 

    Enter Kyle Rudolph.

    The Notre Dame product is a complete tight end. He not as good of a blocker as Luke Stocker from Tennessee and he's not as much of a vertical threat as DJ Williams from Arkansas. He's not the blocker at the second level that Lance Kendricks is.

    He's not elite at one thing like those tight ends, but he's near elite at all of them.

    People have compared him to current Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but Rudolph has better fluidity and plucks the ball better out of the air.

    He's a good ballplayer and will be a great target for Matt Ryan.

28) New England Patriots—Gabe Carimi (OT Wisconsin)

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    TAMPA, FL -  JANUARY 1: Lineman Gabe Carimi #68 of the Wisconsin Badgers sets to block  against the Tennessee Volunteers in the 2008 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 1, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  The Volunteers won 21 - 17. (Photo by Al Mess
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots like big offensive lineman.

    Operating primarily out of a two-point stance, the Patriots don't need a compact player to in-line block and get under opponents. Instead, they love a tall, wide-framed lineman with long arms to keep rushers off of Tom Brady. 

    Matt Light is 32 and looking for one last, big contract in the NFL. The Patriots are renown for never dishing out that sort of sweetheart deal. If Light goes elsewhere, as many expect, Gabe Carimi could step right into the starting lineup at either tackle position.

    If Light stays, Carimi could provide decent competition and might be the better pass blocker right now. Worst case, Carimi also showed he can play guard at the Senior Bowl and would fit nicely in the Patriots scheme there.

    In fact, if the Patriots don't pull the trigger on Carimi here, they might be looking at him at the top of the second round.

29) Chicago Bears—Mike Pouncey (OG/OC Florida)

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    Mike Tice deserves some sort of medal for the work he did with the Chicago offensive line last year.

    Jay Cutler is never going to be worth what Chicago gave up for him if the Bears never protect him. In the Mike Martz offense, that need for protection is compounded with a high volume of down-the-field throws.

    The Bears need to grab the best lineman on their board in the first round and maybe the second as well.

    Here, that's Mike Pouncey. The twin brother of Steelers' center Maurkice isn't the tactician his brother is, and isn't a great center prospect. Yet, he won the Rimington Award as a guard in 2009 and has the versatility to play any interior position. He's also the better raw athlete of the two.

    If anyone is going to help Mike Pouncey reach his true potential, Tice is that guy.

30) New York Jets—Justin Houston (LB/DE Georgia)

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    ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 27:  Justin Houston #42 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates after returning a fumble for a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Ima
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Adding a premier pass rusher needs to be a top priority for the New York Jets this offseason.

    Jason Taylor didn't work out for Rex Ryan and company and will be headed elsewhere (likely to retirement) in 2011. Vernon Gholston is a bust of the highest order while Bryan Thomas is 31 and seems to have lost a step.

    The Jets need someone opposite Calvin Pace to keep quarterbacks off their game.

    Justin Houston is one of the best pure pass rushers in this class. He's not stout enough against the run to be an every down 4-3 end and he's not fluid enough in coverage to warrant an every down spot in his first year in a 3-4 defense.

    He's just a good pass rusher.

    Bryan Thomas will still probably get the starting nod in the Big Apple over Houston, but on passing downs, Houston can wreak havoc on opposing QBs in the AFC East. Down the road, he has the athleticism to develop into a potential starter and he is a great value in the second half of the first round.

31) Pittsburgh Steelers—Aaron Williams (CB Texas)

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    AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Cornerback Aaron Williams #4 of the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    While debating another prospect, Chad Reuter (CBS/NFL Draft Scout) joked about the Pittsburgh Steelers, saying: "I just saw a team lose the Super Bowl because they valued safeties over cornerbacks."

    That couldn't be more true.

    While Troy Polumalu and Ryan Clark are both good football players, Ike Taylor is the only quality cornerback on the Steelers, and he might be headed out of town.

    This team has plenty in the tank when it comes to the defensive front seven. They like their offense skill players and will tweak their injury-plagued offensive line rather than overhaul it. 

    Aaron Williams is a ball hawk with prototypical size and long arms able to bat down passes anywhere near him. He plays with good balance and could go much higher in the draft if he runs well in Indianapolis.

    If Pittsburgh can reel in Williams and re-sign Ike Taylor, they can start planning on a return trip to the Super Bowl.

32) Green Bay Packers—Corey Liuget (DT/DE Illinois)

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    What do you give the team that has everything?

    The Packers don't need a ton of help on the offensive side of the ball. If a top offensive lineman or a wide receiver they like falls to No. 32, though, they could pull the trigger. If an outside linebacker were here—Martez Wilson (Illinois) or Justin Houston—they could make that pick too.

    This is Ted Thompson we're talking about.

    The Packers don't need a ton of help on the defensive line, but Corey Liuget is a mid-first round prospect and is falling because other teams have greater needs.

    The Packers just won a Super Bowl with those aforementioned "holes" in their roster and did so with a spate of injuries.

    Thompson isn't looking to wow anyone with this draft pick, but he will get the player with the most talent who can help his football team.

    Corey Liuget is a prototypical 5-tech who can get after the passer and help in the run game. He weighs 300 lbs, but he could easily add weight and has experience at the nose tackle position as well.

    Again, this pick seems like a luxury pick for a team that has so much talent on their defensive front, but this same roster building plan just brought the Lombardi back to Green Bay, so let's not ask questions.

    Michael Schottey is an on-call editor for the Bleacher Report College Writing Internship. He is also an NFL Featured Columnist and an NFL Draft Expert. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, he has professionally covered the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the Scouting Combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.com/Schottey.