Editor’s Note: This mock was submitted prior to the beginning of the NFL Draft.
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*
Rarely this late in the process is the first pick still such an open-ended question, but with Carolina unable to start contract negotiations due to the lockout, there will be some element of drama right down to the wire tonight. Despite this, the nearly unanimous opinion is that Newton will be the pick, and the reports suggest that Carolina has spent the most time looking into him. As discussed even back when Nick Fairley or Da’Quan Bowers were topping mocks, eight of the last ten drafts have started with a quarterback, and the pressure to follow that path is immense if you don’t have an obvious franchise quarterback on your roster. QB Blaine Gabbert is still in consideration, but Newton appears to have a higher ceiling and there is no denying he is a winner after winning a JUCO and FBS National Championship over the last two years. I would have the non-quarterback finalists in this order: DL Marcell Dareus, WR A.J. Green, and CB Patrick Peterson.
Previous pick: Newton
2. Denver Broncos – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU*
I still believe Peterson is the best player in the draft and don’t see a corner with his skill falling out of the top five. He is a unique talent as a big, speedy, playmaking corner 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*
Even though Chan Gailey seems impressed enough with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to use this pick instead to help his struggling defense, I get the feeling he and the Bills could cave to the pressure of drafting QB Blaine Gabbert. If Cam Newton falls here, he is a no-brainer; otherwise, they are probably looking at defense. A lot of people are mocking OLB Von Miller in this spot, and while that makes some sense, a linebacker at the third pick is 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: Dareus
4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia*
I previously mocked QB Blaine Gabbert here because I believe Carson Palmer is serious about not returning to Cincinnati and owner Mike Brown has previously had no problem pulling the trigger on a quarterback early in the draft. However, I now think Brown will play chicken with Palmer and see which quarterback prospects fall to them in the second round. Even without the acrimony, Palmer has been falling apart the last few years, and it would be a smart move to bring in a potential successor this year with an early pick. As I now project them to wait on a quarterback, WR A.J. Green is the easy pick. With Terrell Owens gone and Chad Ochocinco seeming likely to follow him, or taking his talents to the soccer pitch, the Bengals land the top wide receiver prospect in the draft.
Previous pick: QB Blaine Gabbert
5. Arizona Cardinals – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Many mocks have Miller gone by this pick, and that is a possibility, but even the fifth pick is unusually high for a linebacker—even one regarded as perhaps the safest pick among the elite prospects in the draft. 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 quarterback 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. They already have a couple of developmental prospects I don’t think Whisenhunt is ready to give up on yet, so acquiring a veteran passer and addressing their other needs seems like their best strategy.
Previous pick: Miller
6. Cleveland Browns – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama*
While some of Cleveland’s young receivers have potential, Jones is an elite talent who gives QB Colt McCoy the big-play target he currently 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 Jones—or WR A.J. Green if he falls—getting by Cleveland.
Previous pick: WR A.J. Green
7. San Francisco 49ers – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri*
I have some doubts Gabbert will fall this far, but I have far more doubt that CB Patrick Peterson, who is frequently mocked here, will make it out of the top five. I think Peterson and Gabbert are the top two players on Jim Harbaugh’s draft board, and as I said in my last mock, I think he would love to get his hands on Gabbert. Physically, Gabbert is a similar prospect to Andrew Luck, with the prototypical build, a nice arm, and some good athleticism. I’m not saying Gabbert is as good a prospect as Luck, but I think Harbaugh could see in him someone with the raw materials he needs to build a franchise quarterback.
Previous pick: CB Prince Amukamara
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 is 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. It’s 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 round 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, if Jones fell here.
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 still available, and I could see DE J.J. Watt as an alternative here. However, the offensive line needs help, and keeping Tony Romo off the turf to utilize all their weapons has to be a priority. Tyron 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. He alleviated concerns about his playing weight being well under 300 lbs in college 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. However, I expect them to fix secondary issues by going after free agent Nnamdi Asomugha, who played under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Oakland.
Previous pick: Smith
10. Washington Redskins – Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
This will be a panic pick by head coach Mike Shanahan if he can’t move up to get QB Blaine Gabbert or if QB Jake Locker doesn’t fall here. Addressing the defensive line or going with WR Julio Jones, as I did in my previous mock, would be a smarter pick, but I think Shanahan will worry about waiting to see what quarterback falls to him in the second round. He has backed himself into a corner after creating irreconcilable differences with QB Donovan McNabb and after learning what the rest of the NFL already knew about backup QB Rex Grossman: He is too inconsistent to be a starter. Having already failed at going the veteran route with McNabb, Shanahan seems to have little choice but to draft a new quarterback this year. While Ponder has gained momentum as a first-round pick in the mock draft community—and I agree he is probably the most NFL-ready quarterback right now—I think his unspectacular arm strength and injury history would be enough to push him out of the first round in most other years. But this isn’t a typical year, and Washington has some unusual pressure on them to find a quarterback in this draft.
Previous pick: WR Julio Jones
11. Houston Texans – Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri**
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips gets a player with the potential to be another DeMarcus Ware for their new 3-4 defense. I’ve been going back and forth on whether that player is Smith or Robert Quinn, but I’m settling on Smith. CB Prince Amukamara seems to be the most likely alternative if they don’t add a pass rusher.
Previous pick: OLB Robert Quinn
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, and while I’ve previously stated my belief that Mallett’s talent will win out over his alleged character concerns, I believe this team is done with any sort of drama at the position and will be influenced more than other teams by their choice’s baggage. I also believe they are the top contender to acquire Donovan McNabb and get right back to being a playoff contender with a veteran solution like that. It appears some of the shine is off the Lombardi Award winner after his MVP performance in Auburn’s national championship victory, but if Fairley 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 defensive tackle will be a big priority this offseason—even bigger than defensive end, which seems to be the most popular alternative (other than quarterback) among most mock drafts.
Previous pick: Fairley
13. Detroit Lions – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
I think if Amukamara falls here, he is a no-brainer pick. I’ve gone back and forth on whether he will make it this far, and if he doesn’t, I think the Lions go offensive tackle, likely Anthony Castonzo, as I picked in my previous mock.
Previous pick: OT Anthony Castonzo
14. St. Louis Rams –Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina*
It’s a disappointment that WR Julio Jones isn’t available here, but the Rams move on to address their lack of an elite pass rusher, and I think they will be happy with the choices they have at wide receiver in the second round. 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. Quinn is more of a pure speed pass rusher, better suited at right defensive end. A benign brain tumor he has 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. Steve Spanuolo likes flexibility in his defensive line, which also makes ends Cameron Jordan or Adrian Clayborn potential fits here, as well as Bowers. But in addition to my previous comments on Bowers, a team that plays most of their games on turf may also be additionally concerned, for right or wrong, about his knee.
Previous pick: DE Aldon Smith
15. Miami Dolphins – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama*
Sometimes a pick becomes so obvious and unanimously agreed upon that everyone starts to look for a reason to change their mind; then it ends up being the guy we all originally had slotted there in the first place. Ingram is exactly that guy and I’m going to stick with him here. 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. Others have strayed from this pick because of concerns about Ingram’s knee. I previously stated this is a bit of a smokescreen—likely started by the Patriots, who would love Ingram to fall to them—and I still believe in Ingram as a first-round talent. The intriguing alternative I see here is QB Ryan Mallett. Miami took a long, hard look at him and this might be the last spot in the first round, barring a trade, that makes sense for him. Alas, I still can’t pull the trigger on him going here. I think this spot is too high for any interior line prospects, and teams are confusing Mike Pouncey with his brother a bit in how high they are rating him. So if the pick isn’t Ingram or Mallett, I’d expect a defensive prospect.
Previous pick: Ingram
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 the defensive side of the ball. A shutdown corner is one possibility, but with the value Smith places on character, I think Jimmy Smith scares him off. Continuing to address the pass rush seems the most likely option. Bowers’ freefall could stop here, but with a clean record off the field and a tireless motor on it, Kerrigan is a perfect fit.
Previous pick: DE Da’Quan Bowers
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. 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. I think the Chargers are all about the front seven in this draft, and if one of the tweeners like Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, or Ryan Kerrigan falls here, any one of them could easily be the pick as well.
Previous pick: Watt
19. New York Giants –Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
GM Jerry Reese is hardcore advocate of drafting the best player available, so this pick could go a number of ways. I think offensive tackles are being underrated in most mocks, including this one, so one should be an excellent value here. 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. The ties of head coach Tom Coughlin to Boston College don’t hurt, either. I’ve gone back and forth with Castonzo and OT Nate Solder at this pick. I don’t see Solder as an elite talent; he doesn’t seem to have the footwork to protect the blindside. However, many respected opinions like those of Rick Gosselin and Mike Mayock have him going in the first, so I’ll fit him in later. I see this as the ceiling for G Mike Pouncey, as well, and the interior line is a need—and Castonzo did some work at guard at the Senior Bowl, so his potential flexibility could help his value. You can also never rule out the Giants taking a defensive lineman. Their free agent additions to the interior haven’t panned out as well as hoped, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see DT Corey Liuget go here.
Previous pick: OT Nate Solder
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson*
This is a great draft for the Bucs to address their need at defensive end. Fortunately this scenario offers them a couple of choices (Bowers and Adrian Clayborn) in a freefall. Tampa Bay would probably like more of a pure speed pass rusher, and it was rumored that tweener Justin Houston was a target here. But a failed drug test will probably push him out of the first round.
Previous pick: DE Ryan Kerrigan
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 – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
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. I made my opinion known on Solder under the Giants pick above, but I see him as a good fit here. The Colts have shown interest in OT Derek Sherrod, who I had here in my last mock, so I could see him as another likely pick. I think there is zero chance they take a quarterback with this pick.
Previous pick: OT Derek Sherrod
23. Philadelphia Eagles – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
I’ve had OT Gabe Carimi projected here since my first mock, but I’m now coming around to thinking Andy Reid addresses a bigger need with Smith here. Reid isn’t scared off by character concerns, although Smith has quite a laundry list, so it wouldn’t be a surprised to see him fall out of the first round. Unlike linebacker, which may be their biggest need, corner is one of the positions Reid isn’t averse to addressing in the first round (Lito Sheppard in 2002, when Reid went DB with the Eagles’ first three picks). I could still see Carimi going here if they don’t take Smith. Carimi lacks the footwork to be a left tackle, but the right side is just as important in Philadelphia, with the left-handed Michael Vick under center. 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.
Previous pick: OT Gabe Carimi
24. New Orleans Saints –Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
The run defense needs help, and with no playmaking linebacker a good value here, New Orleans will look to strengthen the front four. Although regarded as one of the top overall prospects entering the year, Clayborn saw his stock drop after a disappointing senior season. And he didn’t do himself any favors by not participating in the Senior Bowl. Concerns about the Erb Palsy in his right arm gained some legitimacy with the limited strength he displayed in the bench press despite his short arms. I believe Clayborn could fall out of the first, but in this part of the draft, a team with need up front could see him as a value pick. His flexibility to slide down inside should be appealing to DC Gregg Williams.
Previous pick: DT Corey Liuget
25. Seattle Seahawks –Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois*
I don’t see Charlie Whitehurst as a franchise quarterback. And Seattle fans should be really alarmed if head coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider already feel that way, too, after supposedly putting in the due diligence to trade a third-round pick for him. While I’ve tinkered with mocking a quarterback here previously, I now think there is no way the Seahawks give up on Whitehurst already. They have more than enough holes to fill elsewhere, despite their backing into the playoffs last year. This could also be a landing spot for G Mike Pouncey.
Previous pick: QB Ryan Mallett
26. Baltimore Ravens – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi
With only Lardarius Webb and Domonique Foxworth under contract, and with the latter coming off a blown knee last year, cornerback is the Ravens’ biggest need. But with CB Jimmy Smith off the board, I’m not sure they reach for CB Aaron Williams. Efforts to plug the position with free agents haven’t been successful and they need an influx of talented youth, but there are deep second and third tiers for them to choose from later in the draft. If they don’t address corner here, they likely finally resolve their strained relationship with Jared Gaither by selecting Sherrod, a player they expressed interest in at the Senior Bowl and combine. One way or another, I think they will part ways with Gaither when the lockout ends.
Previous pick: CB Jimmy Smith
27. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame*
The severe hamstring injury that ended Rudolph’s season early helps 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 into a feature role as he learns from watching one of the best. If not Rudolph, this pick will be about speed—either an edge rusher, which I don’t see value at here, or a wide receiver to spread the field for Roddy White, though they could still find good options at the position in the second round.
Previous pick: Rudolph
28. New England Patriots – Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
Although it’s an impossible exercise to predict Bill Belichick’s moves, expectations are that edge rusher and offensive line will be addressed among their windfall of picks in the first two rounds. The value looks best at defensive end with their first pick, but I could go either way here. Pouncey seems like the value pick over the outside linebackers, so I give him the nod over Brooks Reed or Akeem Ayers here. O-lineman Danny Watkins is another possibility. The 26-year-old Canadian and former firefighter has the versatility and blue-collar work ethic that appeal to Belichick.
Previous pick: OLB Justin Houston
29. Chicago Bears – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
In my last mock, I bought into the growing sentiment that DT Marvin Austin would go here. The Bears lost Tommy Harris, DC Rod Marinelli has previously brought the best out of players with some baggage, and GM Jerry Angelo only knows defense. Then a highlight reel of Jay Cutler’s Greatest Hits (on him by the opposition) played through my head and I realized they have to do something to protect the most-sacked quarterback in the league. Offensive line coach Mike Tice reportedly loves Carimi, although this is probably the absolute floor for him, so he might not even make it this far.
Previous pick: DT Marvin Austin
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 Steelers may see those two strategies converge this year. The end is near for stalwart DE Aaron Smith after suffering season-ending injuries in three of his last four years and having turned 35 this year. 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 –Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
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 taking a gamble here. I think Austin has made his way back in to the first round and he has some potential as a flexible player in a 3-4 front.
Previous pick: OLB Brooks Reed