2011 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

Missouri Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert runs onto the field for a game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri on October 23, 2010. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

2011 NFL Draft Needs: AFC East | AFC North | NFC East | NFC North

I usually don’t release my first mock draft until after the scouting combine, but if devote one more post to Albert Pujols’ contract situation I think my head will explode.

This is an extremely rough draft, one in which I’m basically just trying to match needs. With it only being February 14, it’s hard to do much else at this point.

1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Carolina’s biggest need may actually be defensive tackle, which is why Auburn’s Nick Fairley is being talked about at this spot. But if you have the chance to draft a franchise quarterback with your first pick, you don’t pass on that opportunity. There have been reports that Gabbert’s stock is falling, but I don’t buy that. He’s got great size, a strong arm and is an accurate passer. What more do you want out of a quarterback prospect?

2. Denver Broncos: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The Broncos’ top two needs are cornerback and defensive tackle, so with the Panthers passing on Fairley at No. 1, he’s a great fit for Denver at No. 2. The Broncos are expected to switch to a 4-3 under new head coach John Fox and what better way to usher in a new scheme than to add the best defender in the draft? Jamal Williams probably won’t be back because he’s not a great fit for the 4-3, while Marcus Thomas and Justin Bannan are fits for the scheme but not disruptive players. That’s where Fairley comes in.

3. Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn Tigers
The opinions on Newton vary. Some believe he’s sure to go in the top-10 while others think he’ll fall into the second round. I’m somewhere in between. He certainly has the size and athletic ability to be a top-5 pick but there are questions about whether or not he can run a pro-style offense. That’s why Buffalo is an intriguing landing spot for him. Chan Gailey likes quarterbacks who can run and are versatile, which obviously fits Newton. Will the Bills think highly enough of him to take him at No. 3 though?

4. Cincinnati Bengals: D’aQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Bengals’ biggest needs are wide receiver and safety, so Georgia wideout A.J. Green is an option here. But if Bowers falls, I can’t see the Bengals passing on one of the best defenders in the draft. Carlos Dunlap is a fixture at one end spot and Robert Geathers is nice in a rotation, but Antwan Odom has been a major injury concern the last two years and Michael Johnson is still a project, so the team would find room for Bowers.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
The Cardinals’ biggest need is at quarterback but many pundits believe they’ll look to add a signal caller through free agency. The Cardinals have drafted only one offensive lineman in the first four rounds since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. They’re due to address the position and while Smith may be a reach at this spot, he’s an athletic marvel that could give the Cards options at tackle down the road.

6. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Green may not fall this far but if he does, Mike Holmgren would be wise to snatch him up. Holmgren has been slowly building his West Coast Offense and now that he’s found his quarterback (Colt McCoy), his running back (Peyton Hillis) and his tight end (Ben Watson/Evan Moore), he needs to find his Jerry Rice. The WCO is predicated on having a receiver that can go from sideline to sideline, catch the ball in open space and quickly get up field. Mohammad Massaquoi has had his moments and is fine as a starter, but Green is the type of game-breaker that the Browns need to really make their offense go.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
It’s unlikely that Jim Harbaugh will start off his tenure in San Francisco by making a full commitment to either Alex Smith or Troy Smith. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Harbaugh doesn’t use his first pick on a quarterback and given his familiarity with Locker (whom played at Washington while Harbaugh coached at Stanford), it seems like a good fit.

8. Tennessee Titans: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Vince Young won’t be back, which means quarterback is the Titans’ No. 1 priority this offseason. I could see owner Bud Adams falling in love with Cam Newton’s athleticism, just as he did with Young’s. But with Newton off the board in this mock, Mallett is the best available. The big, strong-armed quarterback can learn under Kerry Collins for a year and then take over in 2012.

9. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Cowboys need to upgrade the safety position but there isn’t a safety in this year’s draft that’s worth taking in the top-10. Cornerback isn’t a pressing need, but the production of Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman fell off a cliff last year and their poor play was one of the main reasons why the Cowboys struggled defensively. Peterson has all the athletic tools to become as good as Champ Bailey, which is saying a lot.

10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
I don’t know what to make of this team, or where to start in breaking down their needs. If they part with Donovan McNabb, they’ll need a quarterback. They also need help at linebacker, running back, corner and offensive tackle. But receiver might be their biggest need, as Santana Moss is a free agent and Malcolm Kelly has been a major disappointment. This team needs more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.

11. Houston Texans: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Miller might not make it out of the top-10 but if he does, I have a hard time believing that the Texans would pass on him. They need someone besides Mario Williams that can rush the passer and Miller would give new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips some versatility.

12. Minnesota Vikings: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Vikings need a quarterback but Ricky Stanzi isn’t going to cut it. Ryan Mallett would be a potential fit here, but I have him coming off the board to the Titans at No. 8. With Pat Williams probably not coming back, the Vikings will need to repair their defensive wall. Neither Jimmy Kennedy nor Letroy Guion can be counted on as full-time starters besides Kevin Williams, which is where Dareus comes in. He didn’t have a great junior year and while he played end in Bama’s 3-4 scheme, he has the frame and quickness to excel in a 4-3 at the next level.

13. Detroit Lions: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Prince might not fall this far but if he does, the Lions would get a steal at this pick. He’s big, physical and can play the run just as well as he can hang with the league’s top receivers. Facing predominantly passing teams like the Packers and Bears in the division, the Lions need to upgrade their secondary.

14. St. Louis Rams: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Liuget’s stock seems to be rising over these last couple of weeks. He racked up 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a third-year junior in 2012, and leading Illinois in quarterback pressures. The injury to Clifton Ryan hurt the Rams last year, as they had to rotate guys like Gary Gibson, Jermelle Cudjo and Dorell Scott, all of whom aren’t considered worthy of being starters. The Rams need to get younger at the D-tackle position and Liguet (who isn’t yet 21) can help them in that area.

15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
There’s a good chance that Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have played their last downs in Miami, which means running back becomes the Dolphins’ top priority this offseason. Ingram offers the Dolphins a rare blend of power and speed, plus gives them an injection of youth at the running back position.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
The Jaguars are one of those teams I never know what to do with. They seemingly want to upgrade the quarterback position but with all the top signal callers off the board, they’ll probably look elsewhere. Safety is a top priority, but there aren’t any safeties worthy of this spot. So cornerback makes the most sense…I guess. They could get away with starting Derek Cox opposite Rashean Mathis, but he would probably be a better fit as a nickel. With Mathis turning 31 and entering the final year of his contract, cornerback will be a priority for Jacksonville this offseason, whether it’s in free agency or the draft.

17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
The Patriots need to add pass-rushers this offseason and Houston fits the bill. He has a good first step and speed off the edge to play in New England’s 3-4 alignment.

18. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The Chargers never seem to have many pressing needs, but they could stand to upgrade their defensive line. Luis Castillo is no longer the elite 3-4 end that he once was and Jacques Cesaire (who is a free agent) is a better backup than starter. Watt has the size and strength to fit nicely into a 3-4 scheme.

19. New York Giants: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Jonathan Goff isn’t a great option in the middle but he’s good enough and while Keith Bulluck was serviceable for half the year at the strongside position, he probably won’t be back next season. Ayers is big enough to hold his own against the run, but he’s also quite an athlete and would give the Giants yet another pass-rusher in their front seven.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
There’s a good chance that Quinn won’t last this long but if he does, the Bucs would likely trip over themselves rushing his name up to the podium. Both Stylez G. White and Tim Crowder are free agents and even if both are re-signed, the Bucs still need to upgrade Crowder’s (who is fine in a rotation but exposed as a starter) spot.

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Dwayne Bowe had a great season but he needs someone on the opposite side to help take some of the pressure off his shoulders. Smith is big, fast and has the talent to be a No. 1 at the next level. The Chiefs need a better No. 2 than Chris Chambers, who can still be productive but is a better fit as a No. 3 at this point in his career.

22. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Offensive tackle has to be the Colts’ biggest need this offseason, especially considering they’ve neglected the position for too long now. Charlie Johnson is a serviceable tackle but he would probably be more effective at guard. Castonzo isn’t a big-bodied tackle but he seems like the perfect Colt.

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Ellis Hobbs is a free agent and is unlikely to come back as he contemplates retirement. Dimitri Patterson flashed some potential last year in replacing Hobbs, although he’s probably better suited in a backup role than a starter. Joselio Hanson is a good nickel corner but isn’t viewed as a starter and the Eagles would love to find someone to compliment Asante Samuel. Williams is tall and fast and would fit in well on the Eagles’ defense.

24. New Orleans Saints: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
The Saints’ lack of a pass rush was one of the reasons their defense took a step back in 2010. Alex Brown is good against the run but Clayborn would give the Saints a solid pass-rusher opposite Will Smith to help solidify their defensive line.

25. Seattle Seahawks: Jon Baldwin, WR, Pitt
From running back to cornerback to even quarterback, the Seahawks have a bunch of needs that are all about the same in terms of priority. But adding a receiver that can stretch the defense like Baldwin would be nice. He’s a big, physical wideout and could be a nice complement to Mike Williams.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Titus Young, WR, Boise State
This might be a little high for Young and the Ravens certainly have other needs than receiver (such as defensive end). But neither Anquan Boldin nor Derrick Mason are getting younger and it remains to be seen whether the team brings back T.J. Houshmandzadeh and/or Donte Stallworth next year. Young is small but has great hands and speed.

27. Atlanta Falcons: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The Falcons’ top priority this offseason will be to add a pass-rusher. John Abraham is coming off a productive year but he’s no spring chicken and former No. 8 overall pick Jamaal Anderson has been a bust as a pass-rusher. The team thought Kroy Biermann would develop into a quality starter last year but he was largely a disappointment. Kerrigan is exactly the high-energy player that GM Thomas Dimitroff covets and he would address a huge need.

28. New England Patriots: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
The Patriots’ defense hasn’t been the same since they traded Richard Seymour to the Raiders a couple of years ago. Drafting Heyward, someone who has drawn comparisons to Seymour, would fill a huge need along the D-line. Heyward is versatile enough to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, and seems like a multi-talented player that Bill Belichick covets.

29. Chicago Bears: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Frank Omiyale really struggled at left tackle and would probably be more valuable as a backup than a starter, while J’Marcus Webb suffered through some ups and downs as a rookie. Solder needs to fill out more, but he’s someone that could play on the left side and force Omiyale into a swing-role as a backup.

30. New York Jets: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Some pundits regard Smith as one of the best pure pass-rushers in the entire draft. He played defensive end at Missouri, so he would have to learn a new position in the NFL but who better to teach him than Rex Ryan? I’m not entirely convinced that he’ll last this long though, and I’m sure I’ll be moving him up as Mock Draft 2.0 and 3.0 are released.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Steelers like Max Starks and Willie Colon, but both are coming off injuries and one of their backups, Jonathan Scott, is a free agent and probably won’t be back. If they’re looking for a bookend left tackle, Sherrod could be their guy.

32. Green Bay Packers: Jeremy Beal, OLB, Oklahoma
The defending champs don’t have a ton of holes to address (especially considering they’ll get guys back from injury next year), but if there’s one spot they’d like to upgrade it would be the outside linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews. Frank Zombo and Erik Walden were decent last year, but if the Packers can find a better option in the draft then I expect Ted Thompson to pounce. Beal would be a reach at this spot, but Thompson proved with the selection of Justin Harrel in the 2007 draft that he isn’t opposed to taking a player a round early. Beal has great football intelligence, quickly finds the ball and does a nice job closing down cutback lanes.

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