The Senior Bowl practices will be getting underway today, and there is only one game left to play before the draft order is finally set. If the draft were being held tomorrow, here's how I think everything could fall.
1. Carolina Panthers
Da'Quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson
It's going to be a tough decision for the Panthers come the week of the draft. They have a lot of good prospects to choose from, and I think it will be one of Bowers, Patrick Peterson, Nick Fairley, AJ Green, or Blaine Gabbert. Due to the fact that they were so set on taking Andrew Luck, I wouldn't be shocked if they went QB, and given the state of their WR corps, it wouldn't be a shock to see them go after a guy like AJ Green here.
In the end, though, I think they will take the best defensive player available, and that is going to change a lot between now and the draft. Right now, the consensus is that Bowers and Peterson are the top two players in the draft, but the opportunity to pair Bowers with Charles Johnson on the edge will be very enticing for Ron Rivera and company, and you've got to know that a great pass rush is the key to any successful defensive unit.
2. Denver Broncos
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback/Safety, LSU
The Broncos are in a good spot here. I do not like Nick Fairley for them, and I think they will choose between Peterson, Amukamara, Marcell Dareus, and AJ Green here. Yes, I said AJ Green.
Obviously, Fairley will be under consideration, but all of the other players are 21 or younger, have been consistently good in college for at least two or three years, and do not have the glaring character concerns. The Broncos cannot miss on this pick, and really, between those four players, they can't really get it wrong. With a rookie cap in place, do not be shocked to see the Broncos trade this pick to the highest bidder, whether it's to select AJ Green or a quarterback, or whatever, even though historically trading the second pick has not been done very often.
Peterson is the pick here because in my mind, he's the best athlete on the board, plain and simple. I wouldn't even question it.
3. Buffalo Bills
Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, Missouri
This is my first wildcard pick. In my last mock, it was Cam Newton going to Arizona, but it seems that the tides have turned in favor of Gabbert as the hottest QB prospect in the draft. Ryan Fitzpatrick showed guts in 2010, and I admire him for it. However, he's not a franchise quarterback, and the Bills cannot afford to go another season with him starting.
Gabbert has a strong arm, great size, good mobility, and he's got a ton of upside. He makes some bonehead plays (see Iowa game), but overall, this would be a decent pick for Buffalo, who could also go for a defensive lineman or pass rusher.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
The Bengals have never been afraid to take a guy with character concerns, and I think over the course of the next three months, the hype surrounding Fairley will die down a bit. He is extremely productive and reminds me of a young Albert Haynesworth. Personally, I wouldn't touch Fairley here, but that doesn't mean the Bengals wouldn't be thrilled to have him fall into their laps.
5. Arizona Cardinals
Prince Amukamara, Cornerback, Nebraska
Amukamara is a technician at the cornerback position. He had some slip-ups as a senior, but ultimately, he proved that he will still be a solid NFL defensive back. He is an intelligent player with a very well-rounded game, and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie would be thrilled to play alongside him. The Cardinals need to revamp their secondary.
6. Cleveland Browns
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Georgia
This is a steal here. The Browns need a big play wide receiver, and Green is the best one in the entire draft. He's got great size and big play ability, and he will help Colt McCoy's development dramatically, not to mention giving the Browns the deep threat they have needed since Braylon Edwards flopped after a Pro Bowl season.
7. San Francisco 49ers
Robert Quinn, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, North Carolina
The 49ers take a flyer on one of the best athletes in the draft. Quinn didn't play in his junior season, but is considered to be such a dominant prospect that he will still go in the top 10 picks. He has a freakish frame and great athleticism and would provide the 49ers with a great pass rushing threat from the outside.
8. Tennessee Titans
Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
This is simply a value pick here. The Titans need help along the defensive line, and Dareus can provide that. He is as polished of a lineman prospect as I have seen in a while and should go much earlier than this. However, the Titans will be doing no complaining, and Dareus would be penciled in immediately to the starting lineup. He has great strength and is equally capable against the run as he is getting to the quarterback.
9. Dallas Cowboys
Derek Sherrod, Offensive Tackle, Mississippi State
This is a reach here, but the Cowboys' needs are unfortunate given the pool of players. They could use a safety and defensive back help, but they will get better value in the second round. They need to revamp some of their offensive line, and Sherrod is probably the best tackle in the draft, so they get him here. It's not a flashy pick like Dez Bryant, but Sherrod will likely do exactly what he's expected to, no matter where he is drafted, which is start from day one and have an impact.
10. Washington Redskins
Jake Locker, Quarterback, Washington
Surprise, surprise, Mike Shanahan's love affair for athletic quarterbacks continues. Donovan McNabb was signed to a monster contract extension, and he will either be traded or released, or he'll be a very highly paid backup. My guess is he gets cut, because the Redskins will not be able to trade his contract.
Locker was expected to go first overall in 2009, but his stock took a nice hit this season. I expect him to have a solid offseason and get back into the top ten mix.
11. Houston Texans
Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Purdue
With Houston moving to a 3-4 defensive front, they are going to need players to fit the scheme. Kerrigan is great value here and provides them with another blue-collar player who will be an absolute terror for opposing quarterbacks.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle, Colorado
Another bit of a reach here, but the Vikings' only other huge need is safety or quarterback, and they are not going to get good value from one here. You could say Cam Newton, but the team already has a project quarterback. Newton would sell tickets for a franchise that has been rumored to be on the move in the near future, but I am not so sure the team wants to make that kind of risk here.
Solder is a massive lineman who will help the Vikings get back to the basics of running the football, and I think the team could use its second round pick as a trade piece for a veteran quarterback like Kyle Orton.
13. Detroit Lions
Brandon Harris, Cornerback, Miami
The Lions need help at cornerback, and Harris is a pretty good one. They could also use help at linebacker, but this is really the way they need to go here. I wouldn't be shocked either to see them take a wild-card player like Julio Jones to give them an elite wide receiver duo, but the defensive backfield must be addressed.
14. St. Louis Rams
Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Alabama
Does anything need to be said about this pick? I think the Rams are candidates to trade up and try to nab Jones earlier as well as be players for veteran receivers on the open market. With Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator, I wouldn't be shocked to see them give up a fourth or fifth round choice for a veteran receiver like Jabar Gaffney and then make a pick like this to solidify their corps.
15. Miami Dolphins
Cam Newton, Quarterback, Auburn
Goodbye, Chad Henne, you're simply not that good. With all of the interesting sports personalities making their way to South Beach lately, why not give the nod to Cam Newton, who would spark some energy into a team that desperately needs it?
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
Martez Wilson, Linebacker, Illinois
Last year, the Jags reached for Tyson Alualu, and they really hit it big with that pick. Wilson is a freak athletically who would be a nice replacement on the inside for veteran Kirk Morrison. He is 6'4" 250 and has a lot of upside.
17. New England Patriots
Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M
Miller is a little small for the hybrid linebacker position, but he is a smart player who knows how to put pressure on the quarterback. The Patriots need more players who can do just that.
18. San Diego Chargers
Akeem Ayers, Linebacker, UCLA
The Chargers need to revamp their defensive front seven, specifically at inside linebacker and defensive end. They did a good job of applying pressure on opposing teams with the group they had, but Ayers has the versatility and athletic ability to play any of the linebacker positions, and he's also pretty solid in coverage.
19. New York Giants
Mike Pouncey, Offensive Lineman, Florida
The Giants have a need on the interior offensive line, and Pouncey is probably the best interior lineman in the draft. He owes his brother a big thanks for that, but he's a pretty good player in his own right. He can play either center or guard.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cameron Jordan, Defensive End, California
Jordan might be mis-cast as a 4-3 defensive end, but he has the size and quickness to be able to succeed as a LDE, and the Bucs need help rushing the passer. Jordan can provide that, and he also has the kind of personality that Raheem Moore will love on that side of the ball.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Stefen Wisniewski, Center/Guard, Penn State
Casey Wiegmann and Brian Waters are getting old, and Wisniewski is a great fit for the zone blocking scheme. This would be a solid pick for the Chiefs, who really don't have a ton of glaring needs right now. They could also go with the best player available at wide receiver or linebacker.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, Colorado
23. Indianapolis Colts
Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle, Boston College
Castonzo is a solid offensive lineman who would be decent value here for the Colts. They need to keep Peyton Manning, who could be receiving the richest contract in NFL history, injury free. Castonzo carries on a long history of Boston College linemen who have had NFL success.
24. New Orleans Saints
Stephen Paea, Defensive Tackle, Oregon State
The Saints simply need to add the best defensive player available here, but with the status of some of their offensive linemen, they could look to that side of the ball to keep that side of the ball an area of strength. With all the problems they had at running back and the status of Pierre Thomas, I could see a guy like Mark Ingram going here as well. Paea is such a strong player who has a tremendous motor, and he can make plays in the backfield.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Aldon Smith, Outside Linebacker, Missouri
This is a great value here for the Seahawks, who have no business picking this low. By the time the draft rolls around, I wouldn't be shocked to see Smith projected way higher than this, and some sites are already putting him in the top 10. He's got great potential and could be an elite rush linebacker.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Gabe Carimi, Offensive Tackle, Wisconsin
Jared Gaither out, Gabe Carimi in. Carimi is a physical marvel who will likely play right tackle in this power offense. He had a solid career blocking at Wisconsin and was considered one of the best OT's in the draft at the start of the season.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Rudolph, Tight End, Notre Dame
With Tony Gonzalez coming back for more, the Falcons really don't have a huge need at the tight end position, but Rudolph is a special talent. They can ease him into the lineup while he heals from his injury from this season, and whenever Gonzalez decides to hang up the cleats, they will not miss a beat.
28.New England Patriots
J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Wisconsin
The Pats are going after value here, and Watt would be a fine addition to their defensive front. After already getting Von Miller, this is a solid pick to upgrade the defensive side of the ball as well as the pass rush.
29. New York Jets
Justin Houston, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Georgia
The Jets don't have a ton of pass rushing options off the edge, so they could be looking for the best available guy here. Houston had a great season for the Bulldogs and would be a good fit at this point in the draft.
30. Chicago Bears
Jason Pinkston, Offensive Tackle, Pittsburgh
The Bears allowed so many sacks in 2010 that I don't even care to look up the actual number. Pinkston could be a late bloomer who would start for the Bears at either tackle position.
31. Green Bay Packers
Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle, USC
An athletic freak that would likely play one of the two tackle positions when Chad Clifton retires, depending of course on where the team decides to put Bryan Bulaga eventually. The Packers are the best team in the league in terms of finding talent through the draft, and Smith is a physical marvel who would be a nice fit.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers
Brandon Burton, Cornerback, Utah
Burton combines good size with good speed, and like the other Pittsburgh defensive backs, he certainly doesn't lack for confidence. This would be a nice pick here, and Burton could learn behind Ike Taylor or start in Bryant McFadden's spot immediately.
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