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 – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn*
It appears the Panthers are settling on taking the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback with the first overall pick. It’s a coin flip between Gabbert and Newton at this point, with Newton getting more buzz currently and having the higher ceiling. This year we won’t be certain of the pick until the contract is signed. CB Patrick Peterson, WR A.J. Green, DL Marcell Dareus, and DE Da’Quan Bowers, a South Carolina native, are the non-QB finalists.
Previous pick: QB Blaine Gabbert
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 edges with the return of Elvis Dumervil, and Robert Ayers has the opportunity for a fresh start at his natural position. Defensive tackle 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 defensive linemen, which makes Peterson a better value at this spot.
Previous pick: Peterson
3. Buffalo Bills – Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama*
Chan Gailey seems impressed enough with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to instead use this pick to help his struggling defense. If Cam Newton falls here, it could change his mind: otherwise they are probably looking at defense, although WR A.J. Green could go here based on talent. I previously mocked DE Da’Quan Bowers at this spot, and I believe he would be a great fit as the pass rushing threat they lack. While I think the press about his knee is exaggerated and/or a smokescreen, I also believe that if Buffalo doesn’t go with Newton, they will make a safe pick. Between the knee—for right or wrong—and concerns about being a one-year wonder, Bowers isn’t that guy. A lot of people are mocking OLB Von Miller in this spot, and while that makes some sense, a linebacker at three is also a big risk. Peterson and Dareus are the two safest picks on defense. Not only is Peterson not available in this mock, but if he were, the front seven would remain a bigger need than the secondary. The Bills can’t decide if they are a base 3-4 or 4-3, but Dareus is a good fit for either.
Previous pick: DE Da’Quan Bowers
4. Cincinnati Bengals – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri*
Carson Palmer appears to be serious about not returning to Cincinnati, so the Bengals will be in the market for a quarterback. When they have been before, owner Mike Brown has had no problem pulling the trigger early in the draft. Even without the acrimony from Palmer, he has been falling apart the last few years, and it would be a smart move to bring in a potential successor this year. 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.
Previous pick: QB Cam Newton
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. QB Blaine Gabbert has gained a lot of steam in mocks, and he should be here if Cincinnati doesn’t blink at Carson Palmer, but QB Ryan Mallett may remind head coach Ken Whisenhunt of another super-sized QB he helped develop when he was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. However, this division is winnable if the Cardinals bring in a veteran starter, and Arizona should be high on the list of desired destinations for most of the top free agents and trade targets.
Previous pick: Miller
6. Cleveland Browns – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia*
While some of Cleveland’s young receivers have potential, Green is an elite talent who gives QB Colt McCoy—who the team appears satisfied with—the big-play target he lacks. It would be hard not to address the defensive line, but this draft is deep up front on defense and I can’t see Green getting by Cleveland.
Previous pick: Green
7. San Francisco 49ers – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
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. Amukamara is being underrated after helping his stock in the post-season and will go in the first half of this round.
Previous pick: DL Marcel Dareus
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. With Reinfeldt getting an extension, he appears to have emerged from the changes in Tennessee as the man with the most power over personnel decisions. 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 think Locker’s intangibles will factor heavily for a team looking for a leader who has proven he can weather tough times. If they chose to leave the first round with Rusty Smith as their only quarterback under contract, this would be the floor for OLB Von Miller. Not likely that he makes it this far, but a stud outside linebacker could be their biggest need. It is popular to mock DT Nick Fairley here, but addressing the edges seems a bigger concern. While they went with DE Derrick Morgan in the first last year, both of last year’s starters (Jason Babin and Dave Ball) are UFAs. Jacob Ford may also be, depending on the results of the new CBA. In this mock, all the 4-3 ends are still on the board, so that could be the Titans’ plan if they decide against a quarterback. Despite Kenny Britt’s latest legal problems, I don’t think they go wide receiver here, although the run blocking of WR Julio Jones would be welcomed by RB Chris Johnson.
Previous pick: Locker
9. Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith, OT, USC*
Three of the Cowboys’ top four ends are free agents, so it will be 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. No way CB Patrick Peterson falls this far, but don’t rule out Jerry Jones trading up if he’s in love with Peterson. Other than that, this pick seems a lock to be an offensive tackle or a defensive end.
Previous pick: Smith
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 had fallen here, but he didn’t in this mock. However, this year’s rumor is that Washington wants to trade up for Gabbert. 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. Addressing the defensive line is probably smarter, but intelligence never gets in the way of owner Daniel Snyder’s moves.
Previous pick: Jones
11. Houston Texans – Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina*
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips gets a player with the potential to be another DeMarcus Ware for him. In my last mock, I had this player pegged as Aldon Smith, but Robert Quinn fits the same profile. I think Quinn is best suited as a 4-3 end but talented enough to be a success as a 3-4 outside linebacker. A benign brain tumor he’s dealt with since high school and his 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 pass rush ability make him worth the gamble.
Previous pick: DE/OLB Aldon Smith
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 could follow him. I think the Vikings would prefer to start fresh at the position, and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave helped develop a rookie quarterback to quick success with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. However, the only option in this mock would be QB Ryan Mallett. 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 Fairley 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 defensive tackle will be a big priority this offseason.
Previous pick: Fairley
13. Detroit Lions – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
If CB Prince Amukamara falls here, as he did in my last mock, I think Detroit pulls the trigger on him over an offensive tackle, but this is the other scenario. The order the offensive tackles will come off the board remains highly debatable, but with ideal measurables, four years of quality starting experience, and enough athleticism, most agree Castonzo is the safest pick because he has the highest floor.
Previous pick: CB Prince Amukamara
14. St. Louis Rams – Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri**
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. This could be where the freefall for DE Da’Quan Bowers stops, but I think he is too similar a player to the Rams’ current defensive end, Chris Long. Smith is more of a pure speed pass rusher, better suited at right defensive end. Steve Spanuolo likes flexibility in his defensive line, which also makes ends Cameron Jordan or Adrian Clayborn nice fits here.
Previous pick: DE/OLB Robert Quinn
15. Miami Dolphins – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama*
Expected to be the strength of the Dolphins offense in 2010, 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. After near unanimous agreement on this pick among draftniks a few weeks ago, most have now strayed from this possibility because of concerns about Ingram’s knee. I feel this is a bit of a smokescreen and still believe in Ingram as a first-round talent. The intriguing alternative I see here is QB Ryan Mallett. I still believe Mallett’s talent will win out over drug rumors and character concerns, and this might be the last spot in the first round that makes sense, barring a trade. I think this spot is too high for any interior line prospects, which seems to be the new mock trend, so if it isn’t Ingram (or LeShoure) or Mallett, I’d expect a defensive pick.
Previous pick: Ingram
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson*
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 the defensive side of the ball. A shutdown corner is one possibility, but continuing to try to address the pass rush is another. Bowers’ freefall stops here as the Jaguars add the FBS leader in sacks (with 15.5) and second-ranked in tackles for loss (26). I believe the knee is a bit of smokescreen, but this is probably the floor for Bowers even if some concern comes with it.
Previous pick: DE Ryan Kerrigan
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 his long-term replacement. Tweener Ryan Kerrigan, another classic Belichick type of guy, could have been this pick. I could also easily see this pick and the next flipped.
Previous pick: Jordan
18. San Diego Chargers – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin*
Watt has the prototypical build for a five-technique end and rose up draft boards after showing some surprising ability to penetrate as a pass rusher.
Previous pick: Watt
19. New York Giants – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
GM Jerry Reese is hardcore advocate of drafting the best player available, so this pick could go a number of ways. While the Giants offensive line is aging, it isn’t completely broken down, so Solder has time to develop his freakish athleticism into talent on the field. I’m caving a bit to popular opinion here, as I don’t see Solder as an elite talent; he doesn’t have the footwork to protect the blindside. However, many think he’s a first-round lock—including Mike Mayock, whose opinion I respect—so I’ve fitted him in here, where Solder’s ceiling will be hard for Reese to pass on.
Previous pick: OT Anthony Castonzo
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
This is a great draft for the Bucs to address their need at defensive end. While this spot could stop the freefall of DE Adrian Clayborn, I think Tampa Bay is looking more for a pure pass rusher. Tweener Justin Houston is also apparently a target here.
Previous pick: DE Adrian Clayborn
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 Chief’s year of transition, but both are free agents, and Taylor has risen up draft boards after an impressive Senior Bowl week—although the expected red flags are now surfacing. Concerns about his feet and workout habits sound like smokescreens and I expect Taylor to remain in the first round.
Previous pick: Taylor
22. Indianapolis Colts – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The need and importance of offensive tackle, along with the quality of candidates who should still be available here, seem to make addressing tackle at this spot a no-brainer. The interest the Colts have displayed in Sherrod and my belief that he’s the next best available at the position make him the pick here.
Previous pick: OT Nate Solder
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 physical similarities to Jon Runyan, Carimi will remind some of the man Winston Justice has been unable to successfully replace at right tackle. Cornerback will be the other strong consideration here.
Previous pick: Carimi
24. New Orleans Saints – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois*
The run defense needs help, and with no playmaking linebacker a good value here, New Orleans will look to strengthen the interior.
Previous pick: DE/OLB Justin Houston
25. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas*
Pete Carroll has a lot of holes to fill in his second season, despite backing in to the playoffs, and I don’t think he sees Charlie Whitehurst as a franchise quarterback. I still don’t believe rumors and character concerns will push Mallett’s talent out of the first round. If they pass on Mallett, defensive line, corner, and guard are other big priorities.
Previous pick: QB Christian Ponder
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.
Previous pick: Smith
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.
Previous pick: Rudolph
28. New England Patriots – Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia*
The opportunity to improve their pass rush will make the Patriots wait until later picks to address the offensive line. Houston has played as both a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker in college—versatily head coach Bill Belichick will appreciate.
Previous pick: OLB/DE Brooks Reed
29. Chicago Bears – Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
While they’d prefer to address offensive tackle, this mock doesn’t provide the value at this pick, and GM Jerry Angelo turns to what he knows best: defense. The loss of Tommie Harris puts an increased priority on the interior line. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli turned supposed character challenges like Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice into consistent studs, so there shouldn’t be much concern about Austin’s baggage.
Previous pick: OT Derek Sherrod
30. New York Jets – Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple*
The biggest strength of this draft may be 3-4 defensive end prospects, so the Jets should find a great value here at a position where age and depth on their squad are a concern. Although he remained under the radar in the MAC, Wilkerson has been a beast at defensive tackle this season. And he has the agility and the ability to penetrate, which should make him a great fit at end for the Jets.
Previous pick: Wilkerson
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
While usually 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 his 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 end 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.
Previous pick: Heyward
32. Green Bay Packers – Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
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. Clay Matthews wore down as the season went on, partly because the team lacked another consistent pass rush threat opposite him, so they fill that gap with a guy who is drawing comparisons to Matthews. Wide receiver could also 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.
Previous pick: WR Jonathan Baldwin