Final 2011 NFL Mock Draft: 1st Round

With the 2011 NFL Draft just around the corner and with visits and personal workouts complete, I present my completed 1st round mock draft, which includes projected trades (a surprise trade up) and one or two notable players who fall out of the first round, which will put the Patriots in a strong trading position with the 33rd pick.  As always feedback is welcomed...

1.       Carolina Panthers (2-14)               Cam Newton     (6'5 - 250lbs)     QB     Auburn

With all the offensive talent developing in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers must do something to keep pace and improve their offense.  The Panthers took Jimmy Clausen in the 2nd Round of the 2010 Draft but his less than stellar rookie year has many in the Panther organization clamoring for Newton.  Despite character concerns, the Panthers seem to becoming more comfortable with Newton as their franchise quarterback.  He will inject some excitement into their fan base, and by all accounts, will work very hard to improve his game.

2.       Denver Broncos (4-12)                   Marcell Dareus     (6'3 - 306lbs)     DL     Alabama

Resigning Champ Bailey negates their need at cornerback somewhat.  Defensively, Denver is an aging team with so many holes but John Fox believes in building from the lines out and so will look to strengthen the Denver defensive line.  Marcel Dareus is as clean a prospect as you can find in this draft - solid production, great all around game and comes from a pro style defense.  He would be a terrific starter for the Broncos for the next 10 years.

3.       Buffalo Bills (4-12)                          Von Miller    (6'3 - 243lbs)     OLB     Texas A&M

Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey really wanted Cam Newton to fall into their waiting arms but it did not work out. Despite Blaine Gabbert still on the board, they take perhaps the most talented player in the draft in Miller to inject some much needed pass rush.  Whilst not the biggest, Miller has awesome quickness and an array of rush moves which helped him rack up a nation leading 17 sacks in 2009 and 11 sacks in his senior year.  They also need another lineman to help Kyle Williams but with a deep draft in this area, the Bills know quality defensive linemen will be available in the second round.

4.       Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)             Blaine Gabbert     (6'5 - 240lbs)     QB     Missouri

Although Mike Brown appears intent on keeping Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, trading Palmer would be a very good option for the Bengals.  Not only do they find his replacement in Gabbert but they could acquire a 2nd round pick with which to add more defensive or receiver help (although this would hinge on a CBA agreement which appears unlikely).  Gabbert is plenty talented, with the arm strength and accuracy of a first round pick.  He has great size and intangibles.  The only real knock on him is that he comes from a spread attack and without the correct tutelage could really struggle in the league, particularly facing some of those AFC North Defenses.

5.       Arizona Cardinals (5-11)               Patrick Peterson     (6'1 - 222lbs)     CB     LSU

The Cardinals biggest need is at QB but since the top rated QBs are off the board, they will have to pick one up later in the draft or in free agency.  Not all is lost however - the Cardinals can console themselves with the most talented defensive back in the draft.    Peterson has terrific size and speed and would star opposite of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie to provide the Cardinals with outstanding outside coverage in the offensive orientated NFC.

6.       Cleveland Browns (5-11)                AJ Green     (6'4 -  211lbs)     WR     Georgia

Arguably the most talented player in the draft falls right into the Browns' lap.  Cleveland needs explosive players at the wide receiver position.  Colt McCoy showed promise in 2010 and Cleveland really needs to examine what they have in McCoy.  Giving him AJ Green to throw to would elevate his game, as well as taking some pressure off the Cleveland running game.  Green is a special talent and although not as dominant as Calvin Johnson, has the talent and poise to really dominate defensive backs in the NFL.

7.       San Francisco 49ers (6-10)            Robert Quinn     (6'5 - 268lbs)     DE/OLB     North Carolina

The 49ers would have loved Gabbert to fall to them, but since he's gone, they look to add a QB in the second round.  Quinn lit it up at his pro day posting a 4.59 40 yard dash, 4.26 short shuttle and 24 reps on the bench, seemingly proving he's been hard at work whilst suspended in 2010.  While some question his production against better opponents, Quinn has all the physical tools to excel in the 49ers talented defense.

8.       Tennessee Titans (6-10)                 Nick Fairley     (6'3 - 291lbs)     DT     Auburn

Whilst the Titans are in need of a QB of the future, the only quarterbacks who carry value here are already gone.  The Titans therefore look to address their defensive line.  The Titans accumulated 40 sacks and drafted promising rookie DE Derrick Morgan in the 1st round of the 2010 Draft.  When Fairley is on his game, he plays with an energy and mean streak Titan fans will love.  The Titans face a couple of prolific passers in the AFC South in Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub - adding Fairley will help them combat these passers.

TRADE: Dallas Cowboys trade the 9th pick to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the 14th& 78th picks.

9.       St. Louis Rams (7-9)                    Julio Jones     (6'4 - 220lbs)     WR     Alabama

Jerry Jones feels he can find better value in the middle of this draft and so decides to move down while the Rams surprise everyone and make a very bold move and jump up ahead of the waiting Redskins and no one is happier than Sam Bradford.  Jones has elevated his game in the past two years.  He has the size and speed to be a number 1 receiver in the NFL, has solid character and would help elevate Bradford's game above the impressive standard he set for himself in his rookie year.

10.   Washington Redskins (14-2)       J.J. Watt     (6'6 - 292lbs)     DE     Wisconsin

Since Julio Jones is off the board, the Redskins opt for a cornerstone piece to their 3-4 defense in the highest rated five technique defensive end in the draft in J.J. Watt.  He is an outstanding talent, with the character and work ethic Mike Shanahan is looking for.  He would instantly upgrade the pass rush and could move inside or stay on the edge in sub-packages.  Watt would pair up with Brian Orakpo on the edge to form a fierce pass rushing duo.

11.   Houston Texans (6-10)                  Cameron Jordan     (6'4 - 283lbs)     DE     California

The Texans are changing schemes from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and as such, need to acquire talent to fit their one-gap, attacking scheme. With Brian Cushing projecting to slide inside with DeMeco Ryans, the Texans will be looking to add OLB help to get to the QB in order to improve their 32nd ranked pass defense but with Robert Quinn the only value at this point in the draft, the Texans address their defensive line.  Jordan has the size and speed to play defensive end, but has the versatility to move inside on obvious passing downs in a 4 man line and even flip outside to linebacker.

12.   Minnesota Vikings (6-10)             Corey Liuget     (6'3 - 298lbs)     DT     Illinois

The Vikings wait to address their quarterback need until the 2nd round.  Ray Edwards is likely done in Minnesota and Pat Williams may well retire, so the Vikings will need to give themselves some security along the defensive line.  Liuget is a clean prospect who will thrive in Minnesota's attacking defensive front.  Liuget is a solid presence against the run - a prerequisite in the Viking defense, and can rush the passer very well.  He will work alongside Kevin Williams to terrorise the talented quarterbacks in the NFC North.

13.   Detroit Lions (6-10)                         Prince Amukamara     (6'1 - 205lbs)     CB     Nebraska

The Lions find great value by taking Amukamara with the thirteenth pick.  The Lions are improving each year but their defense is in need of a shutdown presence in the secondary. Their defensive line generated plenty of pressure last year led by Ndamukong Suh - now the Lions need somebody to take advantage of rushed throws in the secondary.  Amukamara would bring his outstanding cover skills to give a real edge to the defense that Jim Schwartz is building in Detroit.

14.   Dallas Cowboys (6-10)                   Jimmy Smith     (6'2 - 210lbs)     CB     Colorado  

Jerry Jones just doesn't like to take offensive linemen in the first round particularly this high in the draft.  Jones does like to draft star talent and is not deterred by character concerns (see Bryant, Dez).  Jimmy Smith has raised red flags for many teams in the buildup to the 2011 Draft but many scouts feel that when all is said and done, Smith could well be considered the best cornerback from the 2011 draft class.  He is a shutdown corner with terrific size who will allow the Dallas pass rush to return to its former glory.

TRADE: Miami Dolphins trade the 15th pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for the 20th & 84th picks.

15.   Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)     Da'Quan Bowers     (6'4 - 280lbs)     DE     Clemson

The Bucs make a bold move by deciding to move up to get their man since the Jaguars, Patriots and Chargers are potentially in the market for defensive end talent.  In recent weeks, no player is seeing his stock drop quite as much as Bowers due to his recent knee surgery and substandard pro day workout.  Scouts also question the fact he only had one outstanding year of production, but at this stage of the draft, he represents great value for the Bucs who halt his freefall.

16.   Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)             Ryan Kerrigan     (6'4 - 263lbs)     DE     Purdue

In the 2010 Draft, the Jaguars added a high motor pass rusher in Tyson Alualu.  In 2011, they decide to add another.  Kerrigan has a motor that will not quit and the type of character which will appeal to Gene Smith.  Pairing Kerrigan with Aaron Kampman would provide fearsome outside rush for the Jaguars with Alyualu anchoring the middle of the line.  In the past few years Peyton Manning has had his way with the Jaguars - adding Kerrigan would certainly give Manning something extra to think about.

17.   New England Patriots (14-2)       Anthony Castonzo     (6'7 - 308lbs)     OT     Boston College

The Patriots will think long and hard about trading back from 17 into the twenties and trying to pick up a 2nd rounder in the process but they doubt Castonzo will make it past the Giants.  Dante Scarneccia already worked with Castonzo at the Boston College Pro Day, so will have first hand input into his suitability to the Patriot system.  Like Sebastian Vollmer, Castonzo can play either tackle position, and is a talented pass protector and run blocker.  While he has a little trouble with speed rushers, he will learn his craft under the best line coach in the league and form a dominating bookend tackle combination. 

18.   San Diego Chargers (9-7)              Muhammad Wilkerson     (6'5 - 305lbs)     DE     Temple

The Chargers could just as easily go OLB here but they need to give former first rounder Larry English an opportunity to prove himself.  Instead they add the rising Wilkerson, who already has 3-4 experience and terrific run stuffing and pass rushing skills.  He has prototypical size for the five technique role and would instantly upgrade the Charger front for some of the awesome rushing attacks in their division.

19.   New York Giants (10-6)                 Tyron Smith     (6'5 - 307lbs)     OT     USC

Eli Manning's very high interception total in 2010 was in part due to the heavy pressure he was consistently put under.  Adding Smith will help the Giants counter some of the tremendous pass rushers in the NFC East, whilst allowing their offensive line to return to the dominant force it has been in recent years.  Smith is a very good pass protector and run blocker and he brings versatility to the Giants in that he can play right tackle from day one but could develop into a star left tackle for the future.

20.   Miami Dolphins (7-9)                     Ryan Mallett     (6'6 - 238lbs)     QB     Arkansas

Mallett is arguably the most talented quarterback in this years draft but his stock is not high due to lingering concerns about his leadership skills.  Miami is a team in dire need of a playoff run and they seem to have lost confidence in Chad Henne.  Miami has already conducted two private workouts with Mallett so appear to be persuaded by him as a prospect.  Mallett's football acumen and ability would appease the concerns of owner Stephen Ross about the direction the franchise is headed.

21.   Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)              Aldon Smith     (6'4 - 258lbs)     DE     Missouri

With recent health questions about Phil Taylor, Scott Pioli looks to address the Chiefs pass rush by adding outside linebacking prospect Aldon Smith to star opposite Tamba Hali in the Chiefs improving defense.  Smith will need time to develop as an outside linebacker but will be tutored well under Romeo Crennel.  Smith is an explosive outside rusher with excellent length for the position.  He will be another talented piece in the Chiefs ever-improving defense. 

22.   Indianapolis Colts (10-6)              Mike Pouncey     (6'5 - 303lbs)     OG/C     Florida

The Colts have a need all across their offensive line so can take the highest rated offensive lineman on the board.  They would have liked Castonzo or Tyron Smith to fall this far but settle for the highly regarded Florida Gator.  Pouncey is a really good pass protector, but importantly for the Colts, could bring a nastiness to their run game that has been absent for too long.  Pouncey will start at guard from day one and could also be a long term successor to Jeff Saturday and Center.

23.   Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)           Gabe Carimi     (6'7 - 327lbs)     OT     Wisconsin

Anyone who saw what Clay Matthews did to Winston Justice in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs will not need to question this pick.  Carimi can come in from day one and claim the right tackle spot (the blind side for the left handed Michael Vick), where he will play with a mean streak and inject some attitude into the Philly offensive line as well as provide better protection for the oft injured Vick.

24.   New Orleans Saints (11-5)           Adrian Clayborn     (6'4 - 285lbs)     DE     Iowa

The Saints need to address their pass rush as well as their line backing positions.  However, at 24 they take the best available in a position of need in Adrian Clayborn.  Some have voiced concerns after Clayborn's lackluster senior year and a physical condition has seen his stock drop some but what the Saints will get is a solid pass rusher who can get after some of the promising passers in the NFC South.  Clayborn has a great work ethic and solid leadership qualities and will be a good fit for Greg Williams' attacking defense.

TRADE: Seattle Seahawks trade the 25th pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for the 28th & 125th picks.

25.   New England Patriots (14-2)       Cameron Heyward     (6'5 - 294lbs)     DE     Ohio State    

The Patriots cannot afford to wait their turn to get their right defensive end since they know Baltimore will be interested as will the Jets and Packers.  Therefore, they move up to select the Ohio State product who draws many comparisons to Richard Seymour.  Heyward has ideal size and strength to hold up against double teams in the Patriots two gap system and has tremendous pass rush ability.  He has faced top competition in his career and has flashed dominance.  He will need to improve his consistency but could thrive under Bill Belichick.

TRADE: Baltimore Ravens trade the 26th pick to the Washington Redskins in exchange for the 41st and 2012 2nd round pick.

26.   Washington Redskins (6-10)       Jake Locker     (6'3 - 230lbs)     QB     Washington

The Ravens trade out of the first round and gain a second round pick in 2012 in the process, since the Redskins have no 3rd round pick in 2011 to offer as part of any deal.  Locker will thrive in Mike Shanahan's version of the west coast offense since it will play to his strengths - movement out of the pocket and arm strength.  Locker can sit and learn behind Rex Grossman but I think Shanahan will want Locker in there as soon as possible to allow him to develop game experience.

27.   Atlanta Falcons (13-3)                    Torrey Smith     (6'1 - 205lbs)     WR     Maryland

The Falcons need to address their pass rush but know they stand a very good chance at landing a solid pass rusher at the end of the 2nd round.  They also need to think about a replacement for Tony Gonzalez but I think they will wait for a stronger tight end class next year to address that position.  Here, they take the speedy Smith, who will stretch the field opposite Roddy White and, given his talent for running routes, should fit in with the Falcons timing based offense.

28.   Seattle Seahawks (7-9)                 Danny Watkins     (6'4 - 310lbs)     OG     Baylor

I just don't buy the whole Jake Locker to the Seahawks thing, hence the reason the Seahawks trade down with the Patriots.  Here, they look to improve their offensive line in the first round once again in 2011 with the addition of Danny Watkins.  Seahawks fans will love the blue collar approach Watkins brings to the game.  He is a punishing blocker who excels in both pass protection and in the run game. 

29.   Chicago Bears (11-5)                       Nate Solder     (6'9 - 315lbs)     OT     Colorado

Sitting at 29 in the draft, the Bears could opt to go with Derek Sherrod, however they go with Solder who has huge upside at left tackle for the Bears who desperately need to upgrade their line play.  In Mike Martz's complex offense, the quarterback needs time to throw as receiver routes take time to develop.  Adding Solder would greatly reduce the sack count that Jay Cutler took last season, including being knocked out of games.

30.   New York Jets (11-5)                      Jabaal Sheard     (6'4 - 260lbs)     OLB     Pittsburgh

Jabaal Sheard has been shooting up draft boards recently.  The Jets pass rush is in need of an infusion of youth and power and the technically sound Sheard will provide just that.  Sheard has been very consistent in his career at Pittsburgh but really stepped up last year when Greg Romeus went down to injury.  Although the Jets could use help on the defensive line and offensive line, they will look to address this need later in the draft and instead opt for the Pitt product who will remind Rex Ryan of Terrell Suggs.

31.   Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)            Brandon Harris     (5'11 - 195lbs)     CB     Miami

Although the Steelers could use more help on the offensive line, cornerback is their biggest need, as the Steeler defense can sometimes be exposed when spread out with 3 or 4 wide receivers.  Harris is a Steeler kind of player: talented, smart and a student of the game.  Harris has good speed and a nose for the ball as well as being a sound tackler.  He will thrive in Dick LeBeau's defense.

32.   Green Bay Packers (10-6)             Mark Ingram     (5'10 - 223lbs)     RB     Alabama

The Packers were recently dealt a blow with the idiocy of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly being again caught with Codeine and a likely suspension to boot!  However, despite their defensive end need, the only talent representing value to the Packers here is Ingram and he is simply too good to pass up.  Ingram is a complete back and will fit in well with the explosive Packer offense.  Ryan Grant is coming back from a season ending injury and may be surplus to requirements in Green Bay - Ingram will progress their running game to the next level.

Patriots Analysis:

With their first pick in the first round, the Patriots address a key position of need, by taking a player who fits their mold and system.  Castonzo is one of the most pro-ready prospects in the draft and the Patriots will have an immediate contributor.  Out of need, the Patriots trade up from 28 surprising many as a number of commentators have them moving down from that spot.  However, with most of the top tier five technique defensive ends off the board, the Pats make a solid move to nab Cam Heyward, who will be an ideal replacement for Richard Seymour.   Furthermore, the Patriots find themselves in a position of power with the 33rd pick on day two, as they know a number of teams will be eager to move up and grab the best quarterback prospect remaining on the board so they can pick and chose their deal.  The Patriots will be working the phone lines overnight to see what kind of deal they can conjure.

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