2011 Pre-Combine NFL Mock Draft: Will Nick Fairley go No. 1?

It has only been a week since I released my first mock draft and I’ve already found myself waking up in a cold sweat thinking about whom I mocked too high, too low or not at all. So with the NFL scouting combine ready to kick off, I’ve gone mocking again this week…

Check out 2011 NFL Mock Draft 1.0.

1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Mock 1.0 Pick: Blaine Gabbert
I had Gabbert going to the Panthers in my first mock because that seems to be the default thinking. But I’m starting to buy into the notion that new head coach Ron Rivera will try to build his defense first and while Jimmy Clausen haters will disagree, defensive tackle is actually Carolina’s most pressing need heading into the draft. Fairley was one of the most dominant defensive players in the country last season and can play several positions along the D-line.

2. Denver Broncos: D’aQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Mock 1.0 Pick: Nick Fairley
Defensive tackle is a bigger need for the Broncos, which is why I had them selecting Nick Fairley in my first mock. But there are a couple of factors that now lead me to believe they’ll select Bowers here. The first is that they’re switching back to a 4-3 and Justin Hunter is the only potential 4-3 end they have on the roster. Elvis Dumervil will be healthy again, but can he be as effective in his old end spot as he was as a 3-4 OLB? In his first draft with the Panthers, John Fox selected a defensive end with the second overall pick and I think that turned out pretty well. (Uh, until that defensive end signed with Chicago last season.)

3. Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Mock 1.0 Pick: Newton
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? There are obvious questions about his character, too.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Mock 1.0 Pick: Bowers
I had Bowers going to the Bengals at this spot in my first mock, but with him off the board they fill a major need with Green (who is the most NFL-ready prospect in the entire draft). T.O. is a free agent and won’t be back and I don’t see the Bengals paying Chad Ochocinco the $6 million he’s owed in the final year of his contract. Green will become the new face of the team’s receiving corps.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Mock 1.0 Pick: Tryon Smith
The Cardinals may have faith in John Skelton, but if Gabbert falls into their laps I find it hard to believe that Ken Whisenhunt wouldn’t pull the trigger. The concerns about Gabbert are just: he ran the spread in college and there are some scouts who think he’ll have trouble being a leader at the next level. But he certainly has the size, arm strength and accuracy to succeed and there’s no doubt Arizona needs to establish consistency at the quarterback position.

6. Cleveland Browns: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Mock 1.0 Pick: A.J. Green
I loved mocking Green to the Browns last week but since he’s off the board, the Browns could do worse than add the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in the draft. D’Qwell Jackson missed last year with a chest injury and is a free agent, as is Matt Roth. Scott Fuijita and Chris Gocong are a capable pair inside, but the Browns need to boost their outside linebacker spot. Miller projects as a versatile 3-4 OLB and was highly impressive at the Senior Bowl.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Mock 1.0 Pick: Locker
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. I don’t think Locker is a top-10 pick, but he makes sense here.

8. Tennessee Titans: Cam Jordan, DE, Cal
Mock 1.0 Pick: Ryan Mallett
The Titans are deep at defensive end, but three of their five rotation players are free agents: Jason Babin, Jacob Ford and Dave Ball. Babin and Ball were the team’s best pass rushers last year, so if they re-sign those players then I don’t see them taking Jordan with this pick. But with the uncertainty of the CBA, it might be hard for them to pass on such a talented playmaker.

9. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Mock 1.0 Pick: Peterson
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. At some point though, I’ll probably have to move him up because he’s too talented to fall this far.

10. Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Mock 1.0 Pick: Jones
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: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Mock 1.0 Pick: Von Miller
Dareus is worthy of a top-10 selection so he might not last this far. If he does, he seems like a logical fit for the Texans, who are switching to the 3-4 under new DC Wade Phillips. Amobi Okoye doesn’t appear to be a great fit for the 3-4, so Dareus might have the opportunity to play NT right away.

12. Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Mock 1.0: Marcell Dareus
For the record, I love Mallett as a prospect. Although I wonder if he has the ability to lead at the next level, I’m enamored with this size and arm strength. That said, I think his talents would be wasted in Minnesota, which will run a more conservative, run-first offense under new OC Bill Musgrave. Mallett would be a better fit for a team like Oakland, San Diego, Dallas, Kansas City or Chicago, which have offenses that like to throw vertically. Nevertheless, the Vikings need a quarterback and I don’t see Mallett dropping out of the top 15. Thus, he’s a fit that’s not really a fit if that makes sense. (It doesn’t? Whatev, man, whatev.)

13. Detroit Lions: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Mock 1.0 Pick: Amukamara
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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Liuget
This may be too high for Liguet, but his stock seems to be on the rise. He racked up 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a third-year junior in 2012, and lead 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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Ingram
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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Harris
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: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB North Carolina
Mock 1.0 Pick: Justin Houston
A year ago Quinn was considered a top 5 pick and while he’s still regarded as a top 10 selection in this year’s draft, I think he’ll slip after severing a season-long suspension. The Patriots always seem to find value in every round and if they don’t trade down (which Bill Belichick is accustomed to do), then Quinn looks like a solid need-based pick.

18. San Diego Chargers: Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh
Mock 1.0 Pick: J.J. Watt
The Chargers could stand to upgrade their defensive line, which is why I had Watt mocked to them in my first draft. But Vincent Jackson is destined to play only one more year in San Diego and Malcolm Floyd is a free agent. Norv Turner’s vertical offense works a lot better when QB Philip Rivers has someone to throw to, which is why I could see the Bolts selecting a wideout in the first round.

19. New York Giants: Tryon Smith, OT, USC
Mock 1.0 Pick: Akeem Ayers
The Giants could go in a couple of different directions with this pick, which is why I mocked Ayers to them in my first draft. But Smith (who I had going in the top 5 last week) is the number one tackle in the draft and if he falls to the Giants here, they would be hard-pressed to pass on him. If they do draft an offensive tackle worthy of starting on the left side, then they could move David Diehl (who missed four starts last year due to injury and played at an average level when he was healthy) inside to guard.

20. Tampa Bay Bucs: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Mock 1.0 Pick: Robert Quinn
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 spot. (He’s fine in a rotation but was exposed as a starter last year.) There’s a good chance that Smith won’t fall this far but there’s some question about his durability after playing last year with an injury. That said, he was outstanding last season and one of the most explosive defenders in the draft.

21. Kansas City Chiefs: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Mock 1.0 Pick: Smith
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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Castonzo
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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Williams
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. If they sign Nnamdi Asomugha (and therefore eliminate the need for a cornerback), then I could see Philly addressing the interior of its offensive line.

24. New Orleans Saints: JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Mock 1.0 Pick: Adrian Clayborn
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 Watt would give the Saints a solid pass-rusher opposite Will Smith to help solidify their defensive line. If he’s gone by this pick, then Clayborn remains an option.

25. Seattle Seahawks: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Mock 1.0 Pick: Jon Baldwin
Russell Okung is entrenched at one of the tackle spots, but the Hawks won’t bend over backwards to re-sign Sean Locklear. If they can sign him to a reasonable contract, then they obviously won’t take an offensive tackle with this pick (wide receiver, cornerback, running back or quarterback would become priorities). But if they don’t, then Sherrod is someone who could step in from Day 1 and start.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Mock 1.0 Pick: Titus Young
The Ravens might not view cornerback as a need seeing as how Dominque Foxworth will be back next year after missing all of 2010 with an injury. But both Josh Wilson and Chris Carr are free agents and Foxworth’s rehab may come along slowly. Smith is a big, physical corner that seemingly fits in well with Baltimore’s defensive philosophy.

27. Atlanta Falcons: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Mock 1.0 Pick: Kerrigan
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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Heyward
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
Mock 1.0 Pick: Solder
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: Justin Houston, DE/LB, Georgia
Mock 1.0 Pick: Aldon Smith
I’m not convinced that Houston will drop this far and seeing as how he’s better with his hand in the dirt, he might not be a great fit for the Jets. But Rex Ryan needs to upgrade his defensive end and linebacker position and no coach does more with his defenders than Ryan.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
Mick 1.0 Pick: Derek Sherrod
Offensive tackle is the Steelers’ biggest need but now that the top prospects are off the board, I could see them grooming Casey Hampton’s replacement with this pick. Taylor impressed scouts with his play last year, is the top nose tackle in the draft and whose stock seems to be rising heading into the combine.

32. Green Bay Packers: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Mock 1.0 Pick: Jeremy Beal
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 were one spot they’d like to upgrade it would be the outside linebacker position 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. Ayers might not fall this far, but the Packers would certainly get a ton of value if he did.

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