Carolina Panthers: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
The Panthers lost out on Andrew Luck, as he stays at Stanford to pursue his degree in architectural design. Smart move. Who wants to play in the NFL making millions of dollars when you can go to class and no longer play for your genius of a head coach, Jim Harbaugh? Sorry to Panthers fans for missing out on Luck, but A.J. Green is worthy of a No. 1 overall pick and I still think Jimmy Clausen is capable of being an NFL starting quarterback, but we have to see what the coaching staff looks like. Green gives this offense a much-needed weapon since Steve Smith is on his last legs.
Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
WalterFootball.com certainly isn't surprised Denver is where they are. Let's recap Josh McDaniels' first offseason in Denver: ran Jay Cutler out of town, selected the most overrated player in the 2011 NFL Draft in Robert Ayers, traded the 2010 first-round pick for Alphonso Smith, and also selected a blocking tight end later in the second round. Yeah, when you make moronic personnel moves, it is going to come back to bite you.
Denver fans love Tim Tebow because they can't face the possibility of Tebow failing. He's all they have. If Tebow busts (and he will because he's very inaccurate in the intermediate range of the field and is on a limited playbook), then this organization has been set back another five years. But hey, when you have a chance to hire someone from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, you gotta do it.
Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
The Bills have to take a shot on a quarterback sooner or later after especially passing up on Josh Freeman in the 2008 NFL Draft when the current starter was Trent Edwards. Newton is favored to beat Oregon in the National Championship, and if that happens he could go very high, a la Vince Young. I don't have a major problem with this pick if Newton's personality, character and work ethic genuinely checks out, but I'd rather have a quarterback who is more polished like Blaine Gabbert or Vince Young.
Cincinnati Bengals: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
This is process of elimination for the Bengals, but ultimately I think they are extremely likely to trade out of this pick. With so many quarterbacks whom teams feel like are first-rounders (excluding Ryan Mallett, whom I don't believe like will go in the first round), teams will want to get their guy, and Arizona, Cleveland, San Francisco, Tennessee and Washington are near enough to this pick where it wouldn't be a colossal jump.
I don't make trades in mocks, so this pick will likely have to be Bowers if Green goes No. 1 overall. The Bengals look set at corner and defensive tackle, and they are planning on bringing back Carson Palmer. The ownership here is too frugal to spend No. 4 money on a quarterback when they are currently paying Palmer. Moving down is the best option by far for Cincinnati because of the first-round talent at defensive end, and they could always target Julio Jones or JUstin Blackmon.
Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
The Cardinals are in need of a franchise quarterback, and if you need a franchise quarterback then this is the NFL Draft to pull the trigger. The Cardinals need a face for the organization with Matt Leinart moving on. This all makes sense, but thinking Leinart or Derek Anderson were the answer made no sense - and that's why it will be very difficult to predict Arizona's offseason strategy. If the Cardinals don't add a veteran in free agency you can assume they are targeting a couple quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Cleveland Browns: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Fairley is an extremely physical football player, and some believe 5-technique is his best position in the NFL. He can succeed
both there and at the 3-technique spot (4-3 under tackle) because he has a great skill set. His athleticism, hands and motor
are all top notch. The Browns are looking at getting more physical on defense, so it looks like this could be a great pick.
San Francisco 49ers: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
On the surface, Locker had a mediocre senior season. He lost games and wasn't statistically great. If you watch the tape, you see a very accurate quarterback who is a much better decision-maker than nearly everyone gives him credit for. He has polished mechanics and HUGE upside. He has great character and a strong work ethic. My biggest concern is he might be lacking some confidence after his senior season, but he'll probably bounce back if in the right situation. His receivers at Washington were garbage. Josh Freeman had a mediocre record at Kansas State and was thought to be an inconsistent decision-maker. At 22 years old, he's regarded now by many as one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the league.
Locker could drop to the lower part of the first round; it's very possible, but I think he's an extremely underrated prospect and could go a lot higher than some expect. Locker fits Jim Harbaugh's offense better than any quarterback prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft because he has experience under center and did a lot of similar reads at Washington. Blaine Gabbert played in a shotgun spread, Cam Newton did too much zone read, and Ryan Mallett is a product of Bobby Petrino's spread that has produced elite NFL quarterbacks like Brian Brohm, Dave Ragone and Stefan LeFors.
Tennessee Titans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Titans aren't drafting Ryan Mallett here. Forget it. Bud Adams admitted he made a mistake by releasing Vince Young, and Jeff Fisher isn't drafting another quarterback who is a complete headcase with a mediocre work ethic. The Titans are likely going to take the best player on the board, and without a doubt that player is Prince Amukamara. Amukamara is more highly rated than Patrick Peterson by some, and it's so close I wouldn't criticize those who do rate him so high. He's a very polished, tough cornerback with the athleticism to match up against the best in the NFL. The Titans have needed a shutdown corner for a while and finally get their guy.
Dallas Cowboys: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
The Cowboys have been looking for some toughness at 5-technique and they just haven't found it in the last five years. Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky are just too inconsistent, but Watt is the prototypical 5-tech and he's what this defense needs in terms of leadership, size and strength on the line.
Washington Redskins: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Albert Haynesworth experiment failed in Washington, but they still need to add a difference maker to the defensive line. Dareus didn't put up big stats for Alabama, but he was still very productive. Dareus isn't Ndamukong Suh, but that doesn't mean he isn't a very good prospect. Dareus has a good motor and has very active hands. He's athletic and explosive. He's a good fit at 5-technique for the Redskins, and he can always move to 3-technique if they ever switch to the 4-3.
Houston Texans: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
The Texans' biggest needs are nose tackle and defensive back. Unfortunatley, there is no nose tackle or defensive back worthy of the No. 11 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. I really like Brandon Harris, but it seems as though he is being graded out as a late first-rounder by most NFL teams. Quinn is the best defensive player on the board and he would pair with Connor Barwin at rush linebacker in Houston's new 3-4 defense.
Minnesota Vikings: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Smith is reminiscent of Jason Pierre-Paul in terms of his talent level. He's a freak with the size, speed, and athleticism you want in a 4-3 end. Jared Allen had a down year and Ray Edwards is likely gone in free agency. It would be smart to take a highly talented defensive lineman here with no quarterback really worth this pick - unless you want to set the franchise back five years by drafting Ryan Mallett.
Detroit Lions: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Kerrigan is a high-motor defensive end who dominated at Purdue. He'll likely be taken in the top 16 picks, but he lacks the speed, first step and agility you want in a right defensive end. This said, Brandon Graham went fairly high too with midget arms and no first step, so it's safe to say Kerrigan will go high too. I like Kerrigan, but I don't love him. The Lions always take best player available regardless of need and I think this pick makes sense because they are lacking an elite pass rusher.
St. Louis Rams: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Bradford needs a vertical threat on this offense, and Blackmon certainly is that. He has solid speed and terrific body control. He's a physical receiver with an NFL body. Now that the Rams have a quarterback, it's time to weaponize the offense.
Miami Dolphins: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
I have no idea what Miami is going to do in terms of a new head coach and a new quarterback. Drafting Chad Henne was a stupid idea - he won nothing at Michigan when surrounded by Mike Hart, Adrian Arrington Mario Manningham, Jake Long and the Michigan defense. If you can't win in that situation, then you can't win in the league - period. And when you have a chance to draft a Wildcat backup quarterback, you certainly can't pass up that opportunity.
Julio Jones is the best player on the board and when you pair him with Brandon Marshall, that's a good situation. The Dolphins will then take a quarterback in Round 2 or 3 and try the John Beck/Chad Henne strategy again.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
I have no idea what Gene Smith will do, and I'm not going to pretend like I have a clue. Nobody has any clue what Jacksonville will do. They completely disregard need and since their big board is top secret, their pick will always be pretty impossible to predict. I pulled Baldwin from a hat - the only way to mock for the Jags after drafting Tyson Alualu last year. I'm not saying Smith can't evaluate talent; I'm saying I don't have a crystal ball.