Mel Kiper releases first 2011 NFL Mock Draft, has Fairley going No. 1

For Steeler, Jet, Bear and Packer fans, the 2011 NFL Draft doesn’t exist.

For the rest of us, it’s the only thing that exists.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper has released his first mock draft for 2011 and at least for the time being, he sees Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley coming off the board to the Panthers at No. 1.

The No. 1 overall player on the Big Board, and one who can pay immediate dividends. Fairley isn’t just a safe pick because of his excellent burst, violent hand action and ability to effectively penetrate and be a constant nuisance against both the run and pass; he also has the chance to be a dominant player regardless of system. Detroit and Tampa Bay drafted the top defensive tackles at Nos. 2 and 3 last year. Carolina should start earlier in 2011. A slight mean streak in a DT isn’t the worst trait. Even Ndamukong Suh showed a bit of one this season.

Kiper has LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson going to the Broncos at No. 2, Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus going to the Bills at No. 3, Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers going to the Bengals at No. 4 and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert going to the Cardinals at No. 5.

Regular readers know that I’m a draft nut and I will surely release several mock drafts before April 28 rolls around. I need to compile my notes from the bowl season, however, so I’m not ready to break out my mock 1.0 at this time.

That said, with the way Fairley dominated the BCS title game this year, I can definitely see the Panthers taking him at No. 1. (Don’t forget that new head coach Ron Rivera has a background in defense, so if he’s given his say on draft day, he may want to go with the best defender on the board.)

If you believe the reports, Carolina was set to take Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the top overall pick but now that he’s decided to return to school, who goes No. 1 will be discussed ad nauseum for the next three and a half months.

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Your 2009 Rumor Riser: Tyson Jackson

Every year a rumor emerges in the days leading up to the NFL draft that sends all the talking heads in the media into an absolute frenzy.

This year’s rumor? LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson moving into the top 10, no wait, the top 5! Wait! Late word is that the Lions have scratched their choice of Matthew Stafford and are now taking Jackson with the top overall pick!

A month ago, Jackson was projected to go in the top 20, but no higher than No. 13 to Washington. Scouts dumped on his pass-rushing ability, but said he would be a nice addition to a team that needed a big-bodied run-stuffer on their defensive line.

But just less than a week ago, the National Football Post ran a story that the Chiefs were reportedly “in love” with Jackson and could take him No. 3 overall. Then Gil Brandt of the New York Daily News wrote that Jackson’s stock was rising and that KC was “smitten” with the defensive end. Now, fading (and I do mean fading) draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has the Chiefs slated to take Jackson in his latest mock draft.

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Kiper’s latest mock has Sanchez falling to Redskins

In Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft, he has USC quarterback Mark Sanchez falling to the Redskins at No. 13.

5. Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: The stress fracture in his left foot shouldn’t affect his draft status. He’s a big-time player who should have a Larry Fitzgerald-type career in the NFL.

13. Washington Redskins (8-8)
Mark Sanchez, QB, USC: Sanchez definitely is one of the top five to eight players available in this draft, and getting him here would be a bit of a steal, because had he returned to USC for his senior season, he likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick.

14. New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State: Wells is a nice fit for the Saints after they let running back Deuce McAllister go in the offseason. He could be a perfect complement to Reggie Bush.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State: Freeman is an interesting prospect because he throws a great ball and has imposing size at nearly 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds. However, his inconsistent play puts him in the boom-or-bust category.

24. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: Pettigrew remains the No. 1 tight end on the board and would be a help to young Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

It’s easy to disagree with someone’s mock just days before the draft, but the above are the projections I find the most fault in.

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