Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 NFL Draft - Mock 2.0

................ Is Nick Fairley Carolina's primary target at #1 overall?

With Andrew Luck deciding to return to Stanford for at least one more year, mock drafts must be revisited. He wasn’t alone. Justin Blackmon, Janoris Jenkins, and Michael Floyd surprisingly followed Luck’s lead and stayed in school. That won’t help the overall talent pool of a class that pales in comparison to last year’s; one that figures to have its first round dominated by linemen on both sides of the ball. I think we’re going to see defensive players dominate the early portion of the draft, with as many as 9 of the first 10 picks being spent on that side of the football.

Here’s how I currently see things playing out. (FYI, the positions listed under each team are the ones that I believe they should/will be considering with their pick, and they are in no particular order.)

1) Carolina Panthers
(DT, WR, DE)
Man, if I’m Carolina and don’t have Luck as an option, I’d really rather be picking 3 or 4 spots later. I see no #1 dominant player that stands out as the obvious pick, but as I recently wrote, I think the Panthers’ pick comes down to two players. In Carolina, defensive tackle is in worse shape than receiver, much worse if Steve Smith sticks around.

The pick – Nick Fairley (DT, Auburn)
Previous pick – Andrew Luck (1; number is draft spot where team picked player in last mock)

2) Denver Broncos
(DE, DT, CB)
I’m listening to the whispers and basing my pick on the likelihood of the Broncos returning to a 4-3 base defense. 4-3, 3-4, or 5-2, this pick must be spent on a unit surrendered more yards per game than any other in the league. Prefacing, I think Fairley would be the pick if Green or Bowers goes #1 to Carolina. Since he’s not, I see two players worth considering; Patrick Peterson and Da’Quan Bowers. Future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey is a free agent, and if he’s interested in winning before he retires (3 playoff appearances with 2 wins in 12 seasons), re-signing with Denver will not be his #1 choice. That said, if you’re Denver, do you take Peterson based even though you only made the playoffs twice in Bailey’s seven years as a Bronco? Bailey obviously isn’t the reason Denver hasn’t been any good, but where did the Broncos get with having someone of his caliber shutting down opposing #1 receivers? The smarter use of the pick may be on NFL defensive gold, a pass rusher. Elvis Dumervil missed the whole year with a pectoral injury, and while he should be 100%, there’s no guarantee that he jumps right back in and picks up where he left off. At the other end spot, Robert Ayers has totaled a whopping 1.5 sacks in his two professional seasons. When you finish worse than the Bucs in sacks (Denver was last with 23), serious changes are in order. Dumervil or not, Denver must do a better job of getting to the passer.

The pick – Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
Previous pick – Marcell Dareus (4)

3) Buffalo Bills
(DL, CB)
Buffalo was home to the league’s ugliest rush defense in 2010, and the pass defense had one of the worst TD-INT ratios at 28-11. On offense, Ryan Fitzpatrick gave them the most stability they’ve seen at the position since Drew Bledsoe, yet for some reason I seeing names like Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert mentioned as picks for the Bills. The offensive and defensive lines are the areas in most need of improvement, but with Buffalo you never know what they’re thinking. With no offensive tackle worth a top 10 (let alone 5) pick, Buffalo could once again go the best player available route with Patrick Peterson. I’ve got this one coming down to him or Marcell Dareus. With Buffalo likely to run a combo 3-4 / 4-3 defense again next season, adding a flexible defender up front might be a wiser use of resources.

The pick – Marcell Dareus (DL, Alabama)
Previous pick – Patrick Peterson (3)

4) Cincinnati Bengals
(QB, WR, DE, CB)
Whether it’s Cedric Benson breaking down and/or the line regressing, the Bengals ran for just 95.1 yards per game compared to 128.5 in 2009. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, a solution to their problem will not be found in the top 5 picks. What’s Mike Brown going to do with Carson Palmer? Given Brown’s stubbornness, for now I’m going with the assumption that Palmer’s a Bengal next season. Cincinnati had only 4 more sacks than Denver and was led by rookie Carlos Dunlap with 9.5. Rookie Michael Johnson added 2.5, and Robert Geathers only got to a QB once. With Bowers off the board, would the Bengals go for Robert Quinn? What about Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara as a possible replacement for impending free agent Jonathan Joseph? At receiver, Terrell Owens won’t be back, and although Chad Ochocinco is under contract for next season, I wouldn’t assume his return is guaranteed. Better chance he’s gone than Palmer. Jerome Simpson exploded for 247 yards and 3 TDs in his last two games, but his 6 catches in week 16 were double his career total of 3 catches in 3 seasons up to that point. Jordan Shipley showed a lot of promise as a rookie, but he’s a #2 or #3 receiver. Unless Brown is willing to go all in with Simpson, with or without 85, this team needs a game changing addition at receiver. They have a chance to do just that with this pick, and with Bowers off the board, I think it’s what they’ll do.

The pick – AJ Green (WR, Georgia)
Previous pick – Da’Quan Bowers (2)

5) Arizona Cardinals
As I mentioned in my Cam Newton piece, I think the Cardinals may already have their QB of the future in John Skelton, and they’d have to be 100% sure he’s not to take one with this pick. Even if they don’t, I think it would be more likely that they’d pursue a veteran in free agency (Marc Bulger) or trade (Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton) rather than draft one here. Upgrading a secondary that saw its best cover man, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, experience his worst year as a pro wouldn’t be a bad way to go. The Cardinals finished middle of the road in sacks this year, but you’d need to look behind the numbers to get an appreciation for their ranking. 11 sacks came from Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, both of their starting ends; an unlikely/undesired feat in a 3-4 base defense. Adding another 10 (combined) were the 33 year old OLB duo of Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. The primary thing I took from the Cardinals games I was able to watch this year is how they lack a serious, consistent pass rushing threat; no sack specialist the opposing team needs to scheme for. One player with such skills got a ton of buzz at the Senior Bowl. I don’t question his talents, but I do have reservations about his ability to be a full time contributor in the NFL at his size (6-2, 237).

The pick – Von Miller (OLB, Texas A&M)
Previous pick – AJ Green (5)

6) Cleveland Browns
(WR, DL, LB)
With Dick Jauron replacing Rob Ryan as DC, the Browns are likely to move to a 4-3 base defense. It won’t be an easy switch in my opinion. They’ll need a lot of new bodies up front as I see no viable pass rusher at DE or playmaker/gamechanger at LB on their current roster. Is D’Qwell Jackson a run stuffing 4-3 MLB? Shaun Rogers is 4-3 familiar but has been banged up the last two years. How much more does he have? On offense, it’s no secret that one of the game’s ugliest passing games could use a legitimate #1 receiver. They were never going to throw it 50 times a game, but what does it say that Ben Watson (68) had more catches from the TE position than Cleveland’s starting wideouts combined?! With Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie joining forces for 65 glorious receptions, help is an absolute must if Colt McCoy is going to get any better as a pro passer. With AJ Green off the board, do the Browns move on to Julio Jones? Will the Browns phase in the 4-3 or go full force in 2011? I’d go with a guy who can get to the passer either as an end or rush linebacker.

The pick – Robert Quinn (DE/OLB, North Carolina)
Previous pick – Julio Jones (9)

7) San Francisco 49ers
New head coach Jim Harbaugh won’t have to apologize to anyone if he takes a QB with his first draft pick. No one wants to see Alex or Troy Smith under center next year, but do any of the top talents stand out as being worthy of this pick? Harbaugh has a WCO background, but his Stanford team focused more on establishing the run to set up the passing game. If he wants to go more WCO, that would tend to point towards Locker, Ponder, and Dalton as his top options. If he’s looking for a QB to go vertical, Gabbert, Mallett, and Kaepernick might be more to his liking. Perhaps trading for Carson Palmer or Josh Johnson and drafting a QB later on is the way to go. Palmer would be a fine fit in Harbaugh’s offense, but there’s compensation and, most importantly, Mike Brown’s ego to deal with. Johnson would be reunited with his former coach at San Diego. As a Bucs fan I’d have mixed feelings about a trade. While I’d like to get something for John Johnson before he (possibly) leaves as a free agent in ’12, I’d like to keep a guy I believe is a capable backup QB. We all know how valuable viable QBs are, and Rudy Carpenter doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in many folks. In the secondary, Nate Clements is past his prime, and Shawntae Spencer isn’t a game changer. Oh, and they tied with Takeo Spikes, yes Takeo Spikes for the team lead with 3, yes 3, INTs. You know who is still on the board.

The pick – Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
Previous pick – Jake Locker (11)

8) Tennessee Titans
(QB, LB, CB, DL)
Ok, so Jeff Fisher is out. That won’t change things with Young either, as reportedly, the Titans are going to look to draft a rookie passer and bring in a veteran via free agency. I don’t have one going off the board yet, so the Titans could have their pick of whoever they prefer. Tennessee had one of the worst pass defenses in football this season, surrendering nearly 1,100 yards through the air in their four games against the Colts and Texans. Yes the Colts and Texans will pass on a lot of defenses, but when you face them both twice a year every year, you need a strong secondary. A pass rusher may be on the need list if Jason Babin leaves as a free agent, but the Titans hope to get more than 4 games out of Derrick Morgan this year.

The pick – Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska)
Previous pick – Nick Fairley (7)

9) Dallas Cowboys
(DL, T, CB, FS)
I had the Cowboys getting Derek Sherrod last time, but with the draft playing out as it has, I’m going in a different direction. They’d love to upgrade the secondary early on with Peterson or Amukamara, but they’re off the board. No safety goes this high this year. I’m shifting my focus to the defensive line and am going with possibly the most versatile defensive lineman in this year’s draft. This guy is capable of playing end in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, and recently, players with his skill set have been going a little higher than initially anticipated.

The pick – Cameron Jordan (DL, California)
Previous pick – Derek Sherrod (12)

10) Washington Redskins
(QB, WR, CB, RB)
Donovan McNabb won’t be starting for the Redskins next year, and I’m not sure how replacing him with Rex Grossman is making them any better. I still don’t have a QB being taken yet, so Shanahan has his pick of Locker, Gabbert, Mallett, and Newton. I don’t think Mallett’s immobility matches well and doubt that Shanahan wants to spend a ton of time developing someone like Newton. Can he develop Gabbert into a pro style passer quick enough? Does he still like Locker? The team’s best wide receiver, Santana Moss, is a free agent, and if he’s smart he’ll try to sign with a winner. That would leave Anthony Armstrong as the team’s top receiver, and unenviable situation for any QB. Regarding corner, see Dallas above. I mentioned Mark Ingram as a possibility in the last mock, but I don’t think that’s terribly likely. I believe Shanahan feels the most urgency of the top 10 teams to get that franchise passer. Maybe the way they postured and utilized Rex at the end of this season was foreshadowing him being their one season gap to the next franchise passer.

The pick – Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri)
Previous pick – Justin Blackmon (8)

11) Houston Texans
In what I see as a really positive move, the Texans brought in Wade Phillips to run the defense. With Wade comes the 3-4 alignment, so Houston will need to fill some of the holes that come with making the move. Mario Williams and Antoine Smith are slated to play the ends with Shaun Cody at nose. Brian Cushing will likely take one of the outside backer spots with DeMeco Ryans occupying one of the inside positions. They drafted corner Kareem Jackson in R1 last year and will need to upgrade the opposite spot that Glover Quinn currently holds. I also see the need to upgrade both safety spots, get both an inside and outside linebacker, and someone to hold down the nose. I don’t see a safety or nose going here, and it’s still way too early for the third corner. Here’s a guy who comes in with tremendous athleticism and loads of potential.

The pick – Aldon Smith (DE/OLB, Missouri)
Previous pick – Janoris Jenkins (14)

12) Minnesota Vikings
(QB, CB, S, DL)
Favre is gone, and Tarvaris Jackson should be too. Joe Webb should be plan B at best, so finding a starting QB this offseason in priority 1 for Minnesota. The Vikings were all kinds of bad this year, and I think just having a fresh season of no Favre or Childress is going to make a big difference in itself. They have the game’s best running back and Rice and Harvin in the passing game, so it’s not like they’re talentless. Do you trade for Kolb or Orton or spend this pick on Locker, Mallett, or Newton? If I had the best running back in football and wanted to maximize his talent, I’d get a QB who can play and win as soon as possible. That would take QB out of the equation here for me. Both the offensive line and secondary could use talent upgrades, but I don’t know that there’s proper value here. Ray Edwards seems poised to leave for a big free agent contract, but is Everson “don’t taze me bro” Griffen going to be counted on to take his place? I think this draft choice would be a great replacement for Edwards and a fine compliment to Jared Allen on the other side.

The pick – Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue)
Previous pick – Ryan Mallett

13) Detroit Lions
(OLB, CB, T)
I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a tackle here, but would this finally be the year and position that Detroit spends a pick on one? Selecting a starting corner would be ideal, but would they go for the draft’s third best at this point, given their need to locate a playmaking linebacker? I’m not terribly high on this guy and think it might be too early for Detroit to take him. He seems like a fit; just not sure it’s great value at this point.

The pick – Akeem Ayers (LB, UCLA)
Previous pick – Prince Amukamara (6)

14) St. Louis Rams
The big news this offseason so far for Rams fans is the hire of Josh McDaniels as OC. He’ll be building his aggressive passing offense around last year’s #1 pick, Sam Bradford. A key reason the Rams failed to win the division was the last of a serious receiving threat for their rookie passer. Danny Amendola excelled as Bradford’s reliable possession target, but the Rams don’t have a receiver opponents need to roll coverage towards. Until now.

The pick – Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
Previous pick – Travis Lewis (21)

15) Miami Dolphins
(RB, QB, FS, CB, G)
I’ll keep this short and sweet. With Ronnie Brown almost certain to play elsewhere in ’11 and Ricky Williams likely having only one more year in him, RB is a huge need. Would they take Locker, Newton, or Kaepernick here? They’re said to be in love with the latter passer, but I think you can trade back into the bottom portion of the round and still get him.

The pick – Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama)
Previous pick – Ingram (16)

16) Jacksonville Jaguars
(QB, S, CB, DE)
Do they draft David Garrard’s eventual replacement here? I wouldn’t. They’ve got to get another pass rusher still have a few to choose from at #16. That secondary is a mess, ranking among the league’s worst in passing yards and TDs allowed. Rashean Mathis has lost a step or two, and Derek Cox continues to play hot potato with the other starting job. As much as I’d like to give them Jimmy Smith, I believe they’ll go with a pass rusher.

The pick – Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa)
Previous pick – Brandon Harris (17)

17) New England (via OAK)
I think they can wait for the next pick and still get the offensive lineman I believe they’re targeting. That would put my focus on the defensive front seven. With Bill Belichick’s history of handling the OLB position, calling for one here might be long odds. Here I have them taking a guy I think will be quite a valuable 5-technique.

The pick – JJ Watt (DE, Wisconsin)
Previous pick – Cameron Jordan (15)

18) San Diego Chargers
Given the way the board shakes out, I don’t see WR, SS, or ILB being the pick here. Would they take an OLB and basically (at least partially) be giving up on Larry English? I’ve got the run on defensive lineman continuing with a guy who I think will bring some versatility to San Diego’s defensive front.

The pick – Stephen Paea (DL, Oregon State)
Previous pick – Adrian Clayborn (26)

19) New York Giants
(OLB, T, G, DT)
I don’t see a LB worth taking, and this might be too high for the next best DT. The Giants have a need on the offensive line and their pick of any such player in the draft seeing as how none have been chosen so far. I think they break the seal.

The pick – Nate Solder (T, Colorado)
Previous pick – Greg Jones (23)

20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’ll be shocked if this isn’t a pass rusher, and I’m currently centering on two players as the most likely picks in my opinion. One of them is Clayborn, but I have him going to Jacksonville. There’s no MLB or DB worth the pick, so the only thing I could see other than a pass rusher is if they fell in love with an offensive lineman. Doubtful.

The pick – Justin Houston (DE/OLB, Georgia)
Previous pick – Ryan Kerrigan (20)

21) Kansas City Chiefs
(OLB, WR, T, NT, CB)
I’m sure they’d love to get a pass rusher, but I see all the value already being drafted. Would Todd Haley spend this pick on a receiver, someone other than Dwayne Bowe for defenses to key on in the passing game? I think they’ll go OL here, but not necessarily the position everyone expects. This might be seen as high for a player of his position, but he’s certainly addressing a key need.

The pick – Stefan Wisniewski (C, Penn State)
Previous pick – Akeem Ayers (19)

22) Indianapolis Colts
(OL, DT, CB)
I think this comes down to either an offensive or defensive tackle. Do they want someone to protect Peyton Manning or get after the opposition? I like the fit here as this guy comes in with some pretty good pass blocking skills for a newbie.

The pick – Derek Sherrod (T, Mississippi State)
Previous pick – Anthony Castonzo (22)

23) Philadelphia Eagles
If things played out like this, I think Philly looks for either a corner or offensive lineman here. After watching them surrender the 3rd most passing TDs in the league, I think they’ll go corner, and I think Smith will end up being a steal if he lasts this long.

The pick – Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado)
Previous pick – Rodney Hudson (29)

24) New Orleans Saints
The Saints could use a pass rusher, but the talent pool has dwindled quite a bit in the first 23 selections. With Pierre Thomas being sidelined for the majority of the season, the Saints were more pass heavy than they had hoped. I like Chris Ivory in tandem with someone, not as the lead guy. Thomas is a free agent and may be better off elsewhere, and if Reggie Bush has proven anything, it’s that he’s not an NFL RB.

The pick – Mikel Leshoure (RB, Illinois)
Previous pick – JJ Watt (28)

25) Seattle Seahawks
Seattle should be looking at good value in key positions of need with this pick. They could take any of the tackles other than Solder or a guard to address an interior need. They also have their pick of QBs other than Gabbert, so if Pete Carroll isn’t sold on Charlie Whitehurst (which I believe to be the case considering his reliance on a hobbled Matt Hasselbeck in the playoffs), he could get his future passer here. Mike Pouncey makes sense here, but I’m going in a different direction.

The pick – Cam Newton (QB, Auburn)
Previous pick – Robert Quinn (13)

26) Baltimore Ravens
(WR, OL, CB, DE)
With the draft falling this way, I think this pick would be either a tackle or receiver. The Ravens will need a tackle to play the side opposite wherever they plan on keeping Michael Oher. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason don’t separate from NFL corners, so a legit deep threat is needed to take this offense to the next level.

The pick – Torrey Smith (WR, Maryland)
Previous pick – Gabe Carimi (27)

27) Atlanta Falcons
I think Smith would be a target of Atlanta’s if he was still on the board since they need someone to draw attention away from Roddy White. Tony Gonzalez probably has one more year in him, but this might be too high for Kyle Rudolph. Brandon Harris is still on the board, but I think they’ll look to upgrade at left tackle. I’m going with a guy who played RT in Matt Ryan’s senior year at BC.

The pick – Anthony Castonzo (T, Boston College)
Previous pick – Kyle Rudolph (31)

28) New England Patriots
After getting a DE with their first pick, I’m looking at either an offensive lineman or pass rusher here. I think this guy is a great fit and would have a fine future in New England.

The pick – Mike Pouncey (G, Florida)
Previous pick – Jeremy Beal (32)

29) Chicago Bears
I expect the offensive line to be the priority all offseason for Chicago. Getting a bigger receiver like Jonathan Baldwin here would make some sense, but a tackle is better value in my opinion.

The pick – Gabe Carimi (T, Wisconsin)
Previous pick – Tyron Smith (18)

30) New York Jets
With Braylon Edwards and Santinio Homes set to be free agents, receiver will likely be an area of need. They could use some youth at DE, but do they like Cameron Heyward enough to take him here? I’m thinking a little outside the box on this one.

The pick – Jabaal Sheard (DE/OLB, Pittsburgh)
Previous pick – Michael Floyd (24)

31) Pittsburgh Steelers
(OL, CB, DL)
I’m guessing they’d take Pouncey, Carimi, or Castonzo if one of them was still available, but do they like Tyron Smith? Maybe they see Brandon Harris as best available. Casey Hampton is willing but not necessarily as able anymore. I like this guy as their future run stopper up front.

The pick – Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor)
Previous pick – Ras-I Dowling (30)

32) Green Bay Packers
I’d like to give them a pass rusher to pair with Clay Matthews, but I’m not sure they’re high on the guys on the board. A corner like Harris would bring valuable depth. I’m going with a versatile defensive lineman with a high upside.

The pick – Corey Liuget (DL, Illinois)
Previous pick – Von Miller (25)

As you can see, I’m expecting defensive linemen to be the hot commodities in this first round and for passers to slide down the board. I also have more offensive linemen being selected than receivers and backs combined.

Some notable players left out of R1:
Brandon Harris (CB, Miami)
Cameron Heyward (DE, Ohio State)
Greg Jones (LB, Michigan State)
Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
Jeremy Beal (DE/OLB, Oklahoma)
Jonathan Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh)
Martez Wilson (LB, Illinois)
Rahim Moore (FS, UCLA)
Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas)
Ryan Williams (RB, Virginia Tech)
Tyron Smith (T, USC)

I hope to have a full 7 round Buccaneer draft projection complete later this month, but if they're able to get a pass rusher with the first pick, I'd (for now) look to draft a LB, FS, RB, OL, CB, and another pass rusher with the remaining 6 selections.

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