2011 NFL Mock Draft: First Half of the First Round
The time has come for NFL owners, general managers, coaches, and scouts to congregate in the annual nervous breakdown segmented into 7 rounds known as the NFL Draft.
There is no science in a mock draft, as all 32 teams have done an admirable job of not tipping their hands on players.
The best that a sportswriter with limited connections can do is take an educated guess and back it up.
I aim to do just that, and without further ado, I present my 2011 first round mock draft.
1. CAR: QB Cam Newton
Cam Newton is a gifted athlete and has all of the makings of a franchise quarterback or colossal bust.
Ron Rivera isn't sure which one Newton is, but for a team coming off of a 2-14 season, simply taking the safest player on the board only delays a return to respectability.
The Panthers get risky with Newton, but he could make Carolina a competitive team.
Quarterback play was a marker of success in the 2010 NFC South, and the teal-and-black wearing team gets to bring its own ace to the table for 2011.
2. DEN: DT Marcel Dareus
With all of the changes going on in Denver, the Broncos choose a 10-year starter at the defensive tackle position and install the first measure of consistency under the Fox-Elway regime.
Dareus would anchor a weak defensive line and make the players around him better.
The Alabama product will stuff the run and can be a good pass-rusher.
Dareus has no questions about his motor and will make a huge impact at the next level with his stellar play in the trenches.
3. BUF: LB Von Miller
Someone started the "Von Miller to Buffalo" train and it hasn't lost any steam going into draft day.
It seems as though Miller and the Bills are on a collision course with the third pick, and coach Chan Gailey can't wait until Miller is on a collision course with opposing ballcarriers.
The Texas A&M linebacker is a physical mauler and a tackling machine, and he showed versatility during the Senior Bowl, playing well in pass coverage and stopping the run.
Miller is a true blue-chip prospect, and will give the Bills a cornerstone defensive player.
4. CIN: WR AJ Green
There are reasons why the Bengals shouldn't choose AJ Green and I acknowledge those reasons.
There are also many reasons why the Bengals should choose AJ Green, and he is the pick at four.
There is no true number one receiver on the roster, and Green brings all of the qualities that a team would want for a top wideout.
Green is a meticulous route runner with good size, good hands and a knack for the big play. Most importantly, though, Green is the guy to help the Bengals leave the Chad Ochocinco era behind.
5. ARZ: LB Robert Quinn
Arizona passes on a quarterback here because Ken Whisenhunt realizes that only a veteran quarterback can unlock the potential of this team.
The Cardinals get a hybrid pass-rusher who is young and certainly fresh.
Quinn is certainly athletic, but unlike the Vernon Gholstons and Aaron Maybins of past drafts, the UNC product fits in actual NFL-schemes.
He is a bit of a gamble, but the Cardinals are a more talented team than their play showed and the team can afford to take a project pass-rusher and ease him into the rotation.
6. CLE: CB Patrick Peterson
Peterson is the top player on some boards, but he falls out of the top five because of the position he plays.
The Browns stop his fall and form a tandem of Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden. That's truly scary for opposing offensive coordinators.
While it is tempting for the Browns to add a wide receiver a la Julio Jones, Pat Shurmur may feel that he can make Colt McCoy a successful quarterback without a true top wideout in the same fashion that he made Sam Bradford successful in 2010.
The Browns resist the temptation to go wide receiver or even pass-rusher, and choose a lockdown cornerback in Peterson.
7. SF: CB Prince Amukamara
Well, that was quick, wasn't it?
In two back-to-back picks, the top tier of cornerbacks is gone, and Cleveland and San Francisco are to blame.
With Nate Clements growing long in the tooth, the 49ers add the talented Nebraska product Amukamara and get a cornerback with great technique who will be a technician at the position.
The 49ers have a talent-laden defense, but need help in defending the pass—Amukamara fills the void well.
8. TEN: DT Nick Fairley
Nick Fairley is a big, nasty defensive tackle who can be disruptive; the only thing holding him back is his work ethic.
The Titans will be reminded of Albert Haynesworth, and Tennessee will bring in the Auburn product to help the Titans return to what they do best—dominate the defensive line.
The Titans played their best football with a stout defensive line, and bringing in an anchor like Fairley would bode well for the team.
9. DAL: OT Tyron Smith
Smith will need some time to develop, but could eventually be a franchise left tackle in Dallas.
The USC product has added weight to his frame and had good showings in all of his Pro Day drills.
Smith can eventually protect Tony Romo's blindside after a few years of development on the right side of the line.
10. WAS: QB Blaine Gabbert
Mike Shanahan is seeming less and less like a quarterback guru as the years go on.
Certainly he was successful with John Elway, but the veteran coach couldn't win with Jay Cutler, alienated a proven talent in Washington with Donovan McNabb and has now tipped his interest in a quarterback who hasn't shown the ability to make NFL reads, have NFL footwork or be consistent throwing the ball deep.
Gabbert has severe trouble diagnosing pass rushes, and looked clueless at times when the pocket broke down, leading to happy feet.
Nevertheless, in a weak quarterback class, Gabbert is vaulted to the top of some quarterback boards, and the Redskins nab him with the tenth pick.
11. HOU: LB Aldon Smith
While Smith played with his hand in the dirt at Missouri, he projects well as a rush linebacker in an NFL scheme and can have success playing the position.
The Texans need to compensate for a weak secondary by having a strong pass-rush, and Aldon Smith helps the team reach that goal as early as 2011.
12. MIN: DE Da'Quan Bowers
Da'Quan Bowers has become a taboo topic of late, and mentioning him going somewhere other than the Buccaneers is almost frowned upon at this point.
A team will eventually realize how talented Bowers is, and take a chance on him in middle of the first round.
The Vikings need an injection of youth on defense, and would be well suited to take a chance on Bowers with an already stout defensive line.
13. DET: OT Anthony Castonzo
Ranking the offensive tackles after Tyron Smith has become an issue of contention for many draft analysts.
Castonzo is the most NFL-ready of the bunch, and can protect Matthew Stafford's blind side for the next 10 years.
Castonzo could, conceivably, come in and challenge Jeff Backus for the starting job immediately.
14. STL: WR Julio Jones
The Rams are able to get the player they wanted from day one of the process, as Julio Jones falls to the 14th pick.
Sam Bradford gets a dynamic playmaker to run the offense through, and the Rams become a legitimate threat to officially rise from the cellar and post a winning record.
Jones steps in and becomes the number one receiver on the Rams, and Sam Bradford continues his ascent to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.
15. MIA: RB Mark Ingram
The Dolphins get a running back to offset their impending losses at the position when free agency begins.
While the Dolphins have a number of other needs, Ingram is the best fit with this pick and the Alabama product has proved that he is a good warm-weather back.
Ingram is a complete football player, good at running the football, catching out of the backfield and pass protecting. He is the pick for the Dolphins here.
16. JAX: DE Ryan Kerrigan
Kerrigan has a non-stop motor, and has vaulted himself into the middle of the first round with a good pre-draft showing.
The Jaguars continue to build their defensive line through the draft, and Kerrigan can become a long-time starter at the position.
The former Purdue Boilermaker can be a force for Jacksonville, and the Jaguars continue to get younger on the defensive side of the ball with this pick.
The End Is the Beginning
We end the slideshow in the middle of the draft.
So far, the winners of the draft would be the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and St. Louis Rams.
The losers of the draft would be the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Washington Redskins (I repeated myself on purpose), and Miami Dolphins.
Follow Eli Nachmany on Twitter @EliNachmany