Note: Listed by pick, team, player, position, and college. Underclassmen indicated by a single asterisk (*) for juniors and a double asterisk (**) for third-year sophomores.
1. Carolina Panthers – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri*
It appears the Panthers are coming around on taking the opportunity to draft a franchise QB with the first overall pick. It’s a coin flip between Gabbert and Newton at this point. CB Patrick Peterson or DE Da’Quan Bowers would be the non-QB possibilities.
2. Denver Broncos – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU*
John Fox loves his athletic big-play ends, so I could easily see DE Da’Quan Bowers being the pick here. But Fox will have more to work with on the edge with the return of Elvis Dumervil, and Robert Ayers has the opportunity for a fresh start at his natural position. DT is a bigger need, and DL Marcel Dareus is gaining consensus as the pick here; still, I don’t see a talented corner like Peterson falling far, even though the team re-signed Champ Bailey. Peterson is a unique talent as a big playmaking corner with speed and as a returner in the mold of Charles Woodson. This draft is deep at DT, which makes Peterson a better value at this spot.
3. Buffalo Bills – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson*
Chan Gailey seems impressed enough with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to instead use this pick to help his struggling defense. An impressive physical specimen, Bowers finally put it all together on the field, leading all FBS schools with 15.5 sacks and ranking second with 26 tackles for loss. The Bills can’t decide if they are a base 3-4 or 4-3, but Bowers is a good fit for either.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn*
Carson Palmer appears to be serious about retiring if he isn’t traded, so Cincinnati will be in the market for a QB, and they never shy away from talent, regardless of off-the-field concerns. If they wait on a quarterback, WR A.J. Green would be the pick, with Terrell Owens gone and Chad Ochocinco possibly following him…or taking his talents to the soccer pitch.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
After being limited by an ankle injury early in the season, the 2009 FBS sack leader was back to terrorizing quarterbacks as the year closed. Ryan Mallett may remind head coach Ken Whisenhunt of another super-sized QB he helped to develop when he was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, but this division is winnable if the Cardinals bring in a veteran starter.
6. Cleveland Browns – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia*
While some of Cleveland’s young receivers have potential, Green is an elite talent who can give QB Colt McCoy—who the team appears satisfied with—the big-play target he lacks. It would be hard to pass on DL Marcel Dareus, but I can’t see Green getting by Cleveland.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama*
New head coach Jim Harbaugh would love to get his hands on QB Blaine Gabbert, but he’ll have to trade up to do it. CB Patrick Peterson is a popular mock choice here, and would be a no-brainer if he were available, but I don’t see him falling this far. Not sure Dareus is the ideal player for them, but I also can’t see him falling much farther than this.
8. Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Despite the departure of Jeff Fisher, GM Mike Reinfeldt has said the team still plans to follow through with their previously announced intention to trade or cut Vince Young. Locker’s valuation differs wildly, but I don’t see him getting out of the first round. Without free agency this year, teams as bare at quarterback as Tennessee will feel additional pressure to address that position earlier in the draft. I previously had QB Ryan Mallett here, and I still think his talent won’t be overlooked, but I’m temporarily caving to the overwhelming opinions and rumors that have him falling out of the first round.
9. Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith, OT, USC*
Three of the Cowboys’ top four ends are free agents, so it’s hard to pass on all the great five-technique ends here, but the offensive line needs help, and keeping Tony Romo off the turf to utilize all their weapons has to be a priority. Smith is raw, but an incredible physical specimen who could immediately replace Marc Colombo at right tackle, working his way to the left side in the future. Concerns about his playing weight being well under 300 lbs in college were alleviated when he showed up to the Combine at 307.
10. Washington Redskins – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama*
Rumor was that Mike Shanahan was a big fan of Locker last year, so that pick wouldn’t have been a surprise if he fell here, but he didn’t in this mock. Jones has blown everyone away with his athleticism and seems a lock to be a top ten pick. He also fills a big need for this team.
11. Houston Texans – Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri**
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips gets a player with the potential to be another DeMarcus Ware for him.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn*
After bringing in Craig Johnson from Tennessee to be their new quarterbacks coach, there was speculation that Vince Young would follow him. I think the Vikings would prefer to start fresh at the position, and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave helped develop a rookie QB to quick success with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. However, the only option in this mock would be QB Ryan Mallett, and I already covered my concerns with him early in the first round. In this scenario, with Fairley falling to them, they have more reason to wait on selecting a quarterback. It appears some of the shine is off the Lombardi Award winner after his MVP performance in Auburn’s national championship victory, but if he falls this far, the Vikings will be sure to sweep him up. With the Williams Wall crumbling, between Pat’s age and Kevin finally about to serve a four-game suspension for the StarCaps mess, addressing DT will be a big priority this offseason.
13. Detroit Lions – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Cornerback is a strength in this draft class, so the Lions could look in other directions at this pick, but I don’t think they pass up Amukamara if he is available here.
14. St. Louis Rams – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina*
It’s a disappointment to not have WR Julio Jones available here, but the Rams move on to address their lack of an elite pass rusher. A brain tumor in high school and missing this past season as part of the agent scandal that rocked the UNC program make Quinn a risky pick. However, his freakish athleticism and ability, reminiscent of another former Tar Heel, Julius Peppers, make the reward high.
15. Miami Dolphins – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama*
Expected to be the strength of the Dolphins offense, the running game was extremely disappointing behind Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Both are free agents and past their prime, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both gone and Ingram or Mikel LeShoure as the new face of the Miami backfield.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
While it’s always difficult to predict what GM Gene Smith will do in the draft, he’s been very forthcoming about his intent to focus on improving talent on the defensive side of the ball. A shutdown corner is one possibility, but continuing to address the pass rush is another. With a clean record off the field and a tireless motor on it, Kerrigan is a nice fit for Smith, who values character highly.
17. New England Patriots (via Oakland Raiders) – Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The versatile and fundamentally-sound Jordan is the ideal Belichick player, but he may not fall this far after an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. If he does, the Patriots use the pick they acquired for Richard Seymour to get him. Tweener Ryan Kerrigan, another classic Belichick type of guy, could have been the pick here if Jacksonville had let him slip by. I could also easily see this pick and the next flipped.
18. San Diego Chargers – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin*
Watt has the prototypical build for a five-technique DE and rose up draft boards after showing some surprising ability to penetrate as a pass rusher.
19. New York Giants – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The value in this draft looks like it will be at offensive tackle. Despite a number of potential left tackle prospects, none have separated themselves from the pack yet. After the NFL Combine, one or more are likely to be locked in to the top half of the draft because of the importance of the position. With ideal measurables, four years of quality starting experience, and plenty of athleticism, Castonzo is a good bet to be the first off the board.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
After being regarded as one of the top overall prospects entering the year, a disappointing season dropped Clayborn’s stock. He didn’t do himself any favors by not participating in the Senior Bowl. He could be a value pick for the Bucs here, who look to bolster their edge pass rushing after focusing on the interior line in last year’s draft. However, an underwhelming performance at the NFL Combine could have him fall out of the first round.
21. Kansas City Chiefs – Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
The increase of 3-4 defenses in the league has put a premium on true nose tackles. Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith formed a serviceable tandem during the team’s year of transition, but both are free agents, and Taylor has been rising up draft boards after an impressive Senior Bowl week.
22. Indianapolis Colts – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Here’s another pick I’m caving a bit to popular opinion on. The position is fine; it’s the player that concerns me. I don’t see elite talent in Solder—lots of potential, but I don’t think he has the footwork to protect the blindside right now. Many think he’s a lock in the first round—including Mike Mayock, whose opinion I respect—so I’ve fitted him in here, where the Colts seem likely to address the position.
23. Philadelphia Eagles – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
He might lack the footwork to be a left tackle, but the right side is just as important with a left-handed Michael Vick in Philadelphia. With a nasty attitude and some physical similarities to Jon Runyan, Carimi will remind some of the man Winston Justice has been unable to successfully replace at RT.
24. New Orleans Saints – Justin Houston, DE, Georgia
I think Houston has more potential with his hand on the ground than as a 3-4 OLB, but the versatility doesn’t hurt, as New Orleans also needs help at linebacker.
25. Seattle Seahawks – Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Pete Carroll has a lot of holes to fill in his second season, despite backing in to the playoffs. Cornerback might be the most immediate concern, but I don’t think he sees Charlie Whitehurst as a franchise QB.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
No one collects passed-over talent better than the Ravens. Concerns about Smith’s personality and off-the-field issues are less important on a team with such outstanding veteran leadership. They only have Lardarius Webb and Domonique Foxworth under contract, with the latter coming off a blown knee. Efforts to plug the position with free agents haven’t been successful and they need an influx of talented youth.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame*
The severe hamstring injury that ended Rudolph’s season early will help the Falcons get their eventual replacement for Tony Gonzalez. With the future Hall of Famer around for another year, Rudolph has time to fully recover and be eased in to a feature role as he learns from watching one of the best.
28. New England Patriots – Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona State
After a strong Combine that showed he should be able to play with his hand off the ground, Reed has been moving up draft boards. Visions of a poor man’s Clay Matthews force the Patriots to wait on addressing their offensive line.
29. Chicago Bears – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The only surprise at this pick will be which offensive tackle GM Jerry Angelo selects. He tried but failed to strengthen their protection on the edge the last time the Bears had a first-round pick (2008), with Chris Williams moving to guard this year. This draft sets the Bears up nicely for another opportunity to fill their biggest need, after leading the league in sacks allowed.
30. New York Jets – Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple*
The biggest strength of this draft may be 3-4 DE prospects, so the Jets should find a great value here at a position where age and depth on their squad are a concern. Under the radar in the MAC, Wilkerson has been a beast at DT this season, but he has the agility and the ability to penetrate that should make him a great fit at end for the Jets.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
While usually strictly adhering to a policy of drafting the best player available over need, the two may converge this year. After season-ending injuries in three of the last four years and having turned 35 this year, the end is near for stalwart DE Aaron Smith. After an up-and-down season for Heyward, a dominating performance in the Sugar Bowl reminded teams of why he was one of the top prospects as a five-technique DE at the beginning of 2010. Tommy John surgery in January has prevented him from working out and is hurting his draft stock, but it isn’t a long-term concern.
32. Green Bay Packers – Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh*
The depth of the Packers was highlighted on their way to winning the Super Bowl despite a number of key injuries, so they definitely have the luxury of drafting the best player available. WR could be more of a need than expected as Donald Driver’s career is coming to an end and James Jones could look to cash in on free agency.