Although the NFL labor situation is a complete mess, football experts and fans alike can take comfort in knowing that the 2011 NFL Draft will go on as planned. Bruno Boys Fantasy Football will bring you the latest news and developments leading up to the main event that kicks off on Thursday, April 28. We’ll also provide our perspective on how the 2011 Draft will play out. We’re keeping up with the latest post-Combine buzz and Pro Day results, analyzing team needs and priorities and tracking hot news about this year’s prospects ranging from individual team workouts and interviews to positional rankings and ever-changing stock reports.
Our 2011 NFL Draft coverage continues in this multipart series of mock drafts prepared by Bruno Boys staff writers Brad Berreman, Cory Steger and James Ronstadt. Brad, Cory and James will provide individual predictions and analysis on each team’s critical first draft pick in Round 1 of the 2011 NFL Mock Draft. Don’t forget to check back regularly for updated mocks as you can be sure that what happens between now and Draft Day will impact the fates of this year’s prospects.
Here is Bruno Boys Brad Berreman’s initial take on Round 1 of the 2011 NFL Draft:
1. Carolina Panthers - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
New Panthers head coach Ron Rivera will likely want to start building a solid defense as soon as possible and Fairley seems like a good starting point. Fairley is arguably the most talented player in this draft, but his maturity could be called into question with some problematic on-field conduct. Some might also consider him to be a one-year wonder, given that his production increased dramatically last season. Fairley is probably just too talented to fall very far in this draft, if he does at all.
Other Possibilities: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn; Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
2. Denver Broncos - Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Denver had one of the league’s worst defenses in 2010, a fact that new head coach John Fox will surely want to rectify quickly through the addition of a pass rusher like Bowers. Although he had surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus not too long ago, Bowers is slated to hold a private work out on April 1 and that should prove to scouts that he’s healthy. If the knee is not an issue and he has a strong workout, then he would make for a potent defensive end tandem with Elvis Dumervil, who missed all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle.
Other Possibilities: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn; Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
3. Buffalo Bills - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Buffalo had the league’s worst run defense last season and Dareus not only fills an immediate and glaring need, his experience at Alabama and its 3-4 defensive scheme makes him a good fit in the Bills. His upside may not be as great as Fairley’s, however he could be the more versatile of the two. The fact that a team drafting this high needs a player like Dareus could result in three consecutive defensive linemen off the board to kick off April’s draft.
Other Possibilities: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn; Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
4. Cincinnati Bengals - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
The Bengals clearly need a wide receiver, with Terrell Owens gone after just one season and Chad Ochocinco getting older. Although Green didn’t have as impressive a workout as Alabama’s Julio Jones did at the NFL Scouting Combine, Green has tremendous upside and is still the top wide receiver in the 2011 Draft class. Bringing Green aboard could be enough to convince quarterback Carson Palmer to continue to play despite his retirement threats. Well, okay. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.
Other Possibilities: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
5. Arizona Cardinals - Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
The Cardinals need a pass-rushing outside linebacker and Miller fits that bill (27.5 sacks over his final two collegiate seasons). He’s also capable in pass coverage, a skill that’s a must-have in 3-4 defensive schemes similar to the one that Arizona uses. The Cardinals could also target a quarterback of the future here as well, but Miller may be too tantalizing a talent to pass up. Some scouts think that he’s a “workout warrior” and has the potential to be a major bust at the next level.
Other Possibilities: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas; Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
6. Cleveland Browns - Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Although Quinn was suspended for all of the 2010 season for taking improper benefits from an agent, his character is generally not in question. The Browns clearly need playmakers on offense, however defensive end is also a big need as their current group is aging and not particularly impressive. Quinn is a raw prospect, however Cleveland may see his potential as simply too good to pass over.
Other Possibilities: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
7. San Francisco 49ers - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Peterson had an impressive showing at the NFL Combine, displaying impressive speed (4.34 second 40-yard dash) along with good size (219 pounds). The 49ers have a major need at cornerback with Nate Clements clearly in decline as a cover man and little else as far as proven talent at the position. Patterson is the best corner in the 2011 NFL Draft, and there’s a chance that he is gone by this pick. In any case, San Francisco could go defense with this pick even though quarterback should be considered an obvious need as well.
Other Possibilities: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina; Cameron Jordan, DE, California
8. Tennessee Titans - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Heading into the 2011 season, the Titans will have a new head coach as Mike Munchak replaces Jeff Fisher. Expect the Tennessee to target their quarterback of the future as the franchise looks ready to move on from Vince Young once and for all. Gabbert is one the top signal callers available, and by all appearances, he does not have the significant downside of Cam Newton. Most people consider him the top-rated passer in this draft, and there’s a good chance that Gabbert will be the first quarterback off the board.
Other Possibilities: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas; Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
9. Dallas Cowboys - Tyron Smith, OT, USC
The Cowboys clearly missed offensive tackle Flozell Adams last season and Smith could be simply too talented for Jerry Jones to resist. He played right tackle in college, but is considered athletic enough to easily make the transition to left tackle at the next level. The fact that he dropped out of the NFL Combine early is a concern, however he said that he is recovering from a knee injury that caused him to miss one game in 2010. At 20 years old, he is one of the youngest players eligible in this year’s draft and might have the most upside of any offensive tackle in this year’s crop.
Other Possibilities: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
10. Washington Redskins - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Questions about Newton’s character and NFL readiness may lead to him falling out of the top five. With the Redskins in need of a quarterback of the future, it’s hard to imagine him falling past this pick with Mike Shanahan as head coach and owner Dan Snyder’s desire to make a splash. While Newton has immense potential, he also comes with tremendous downside as he did not play in a pro-style offense at Auburn. If Newton proves that he’s willing to work hard, then this could look like a relative steal for Washington down the road.
Other Possibilities: Jake Locker, QB, Washington; Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
11. Houston Texans - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Texans had the league’s worst pass defense in 2010, so it’s safe to say their biggest Draft Day need is the secondary. Amukamara has the size (6’0, 205 pounds) and speed (4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) to potentially become a starter immediately. In any case, Houston should be happy if they get the second-best cornerback available.
Other Possibilities: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina; Cameron Jordan, DE, California
12. Minnesota Vikings - Jake Locker, QB, Washington
The Vikings clearly need to address the quarterback position and Locker may qualify as the most talented option available at this pick. He played in a pro-style offense under head coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington, and appears to have the makeup and willingness to work on his perceived shortcomings. Locker’s poor showing at the Senior Bowl hurt his stock, however a nice showing at the NFL Combine certainly helped him bounce back. While Minnesota could go in another direction here – an offensive tackle is another option – the need for a franchise quarterback should supersede any others.
Other Possibilities: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado; Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
13. Detroit Lions - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
With quarterback Matt Stafford proving to be brittle during his first two NFL seasons, the Lions have to make offensive tackle a priority with Gosder Cherilus coming off a knee injury and Jeff Backus not getting any younger. Castonzo is widely thought of as the top offensive tackle available. Plus he’s considered a high-character guy who seemingly has little downside and could play either tackle spot at the next level.
Other Possibilities: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Fla.), Tyron Smith, OT, USC
14. St. Louis Rams - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones had an excellent showing at the NFL Combine, as he ran a 4.39 second 40-yard dash, and then had surgery to repair a fracture in his left foot immediately afterward. The Rams need a go-to guy for quarterback Sam Bradford, and Jones may fall to them at this pick due to concerns about his durability. The dynamic receiver was often slowed by injuries during his collegiate career. His fall down the first round could be compared to Michael Crabtree’s situation in 2009 when the former Texas Tech star had a similar injury heading into the draft.
Other Possibilities: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri; Cameron Jordan, DE, California
15. Miami Dolphins - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams slated to become free agents, there’s a strong possibility that one or both could be gone in 2011,leaving the Dolphins in dire need of a running back. Ingram’s build and lack of measurable speed reminds some of all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. Though this is obviously a lofty comparison, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner at the very least seems more than capable of being a workhorse at the next level. His father is former New York Giants wide receiver Mark Ingram, so he has NFL bloodlines.
Other Possibilities: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Jacksonville allowed the most points to opponents (419) in franchise history last season and common sense dictates that they really need pass rushers. Watt had seven sacks and 21 tackles for a loss in his final collegiate season and he has the size (6’6”, 290 pounds) to play anywhere along the Jaguars’ 4-3 defensive line. The Jaguars should use a second straight first-round pick on a defensive lineman, the only question might be who they choose.
Other Possibilities: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue; Cameron Jordan, DE, California
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) - Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
Considering that guard Logan Mankins could potentially leave New England via free agency and fellow guard Stephen Neal’s recent decision to retire, the Patriots might take a hard look at drafting a guard with at least one of their two first-round picks. Pouncey took over as Florida’s starting center last season after the Pittsburgh Steelers chose his brother Maurkice in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. That said, Mike had a bit of trouble snapping the ball early last season and he might be best suited to play guard in the NFL.
Other Possibilities: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama; J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
18. San Diego Chargers - Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The versatile Jordan had 33 tackles for loss over his final three collegiate seasons and he could go off the before this pick. Assuming that he’s still available when the Chargers make the first-round pick, Jordan would be an excellent fit as an outside linebacker if he dropped weight. Alternately he could keep his weight (285 pounds) and play defensive end in the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. His NFL bloodlines (his father Steve played tight end in the NFL for 13 seasons) should also be looked at favorably.
Other Possibilities: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
19. New York Giants - Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
The Giants need an impact player at linebacker, and Wilson could fit that bill. He had a productive season in 2010, with 112 total tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss along with four sacks. Wilson did miss the 2009 season with a neck injury, but that does not appear to be a major concern for NFL teams. Wilson played inside linebacker in college, but has the speed (4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) and athleticism to transition to outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
Other Possibilities: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Fla.)
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Tampa Bay had just 26 sacks (tied for second-fewest in the league) in 2010, so defensive end is a clear priority on Draft Day. Smith does not have ideal size (258 pounds) for a 4-3 defensive end, however progressing to the next level of play could be the incentive Smith needs to add weight to his frame fairly quickly. Although his production was down last season (5.5 sacks in 2010 versus 11.5 sacks in 2009), Smith did miss three games with a fractured right fibula before he came back and played through the pain. He declared for the draft as a third-year sophomore, so there’s no denying that he’s a raw prospect. On the other hand, Smith’s upside is immense and he could be a nice fit at defensive end in the Buccaneers’ Cover-2 defense.
Other Possibilities: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue, Justin Houston DE/OLB, Georgia
21. Kansas City Chiefs - Stefen Wisniewski, C/OG, Penn State
Given that the interior of the Chiefs’ offensive line is aging (center Casey Wiegmann is 37 and guard Brian Waters is 34), using this pick on Wisniewski might not be as ridiculous as it sounds. Kansas City had the league’s best rushing attack in 2010, consequently maintaining continuity along the offensive line is important. Wisniewski is another prospect with NFL bloodlines. His father Leo played for the (then) Baltimore Colts for three seasons and his uncle Steve played guard for the Oakland Raiders for 13 seasons and was an eight-time Pro Bowler.
Other Possibilities: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
22. Indianapolis Colts - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Colts struggled to protect Peyton Manning in 2010 and incumbent offensive tackles Charles Johnson and Ryan Diem are not guaranteed to be back with the team. Solder is a converted tight end with imposing size (6’8”, 319 pounds) and significant upside in what looks to be a deep class of offensive tackles. He could step in right away as a starter and be a fixture for years to come.
Other Possibilities: Danny Watkins OG/OT, Baylor; Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
23. Philadelphia Eagles - Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Philadelphia gave up a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes last season and the team no doubt recognizes the need for an upgrade opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. Although Williams didn’t intercept a pass in 2010, he forced three fumbles and has the size (6’1”, 195 pounds) to be successful in man coverage for what is traditionally an aggressive Eagles defense. His style of play lacks physicality for his size, so he’ll have to improve upon that at the next level.
Other Possibilities: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida; Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor
24. New Orleans Saints - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
The Saints registered one or fewer sacks in seven games last season and an influx of youth along the defensive line could help turn that around. Clayborn’s sack production dropped off from 11.5 as a junior in 2009 to 3.5 sacks in 2010, leading to speculation that he was less aggressive as a senior to avoid injury. He suffered Erb’s Palsy in his right shoulder at birth, a situation that NFL teams will want to check out. The Saints could take him here and cross their fingers that he recaptures his 2009 form.
Other Possibilities: Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina; Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
25. Seattle Seahawks - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
With Matt Hasselbeck nearing the end of his career, Seattle needs to identify a new franchise quarterback–and they’d better do it soon. While Mallett comes with character concerns that require resolution, his size (6’6”, 238 pounds) and arm strength are hard to ignore. Comparisons to Ryan Leaf seem justified at this point, however the Seahawks might just think that Mallett is worth the risk this late in the first round.
Other Possibilities: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado; Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
26. Baltimore Ravens - Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
With cornerbacks Fabian Washington, Chris Carr and Josh Wilson slated to become free agents, the position could be the Ravens most pressing need on Draft Day. Smith has good size (6’2, 211 pounds) and ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He had multiple brushes with the law and a positive drug test during his collegiate career, so he comes with some major red flags. Rumor has it that at least one team has taken Smith completely off its draft board due to his off the field issues, but the Ravens may see him as a perfect fit for their defense.
Other Possibilities: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland; Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
27. Atlanta Falcons -Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Atlanta clearly needs to upgrade the wide receiver talent pool opposite Roddy White and fortunately, they should be able to find a solid option with this pick. Smith had an excellent showing at the NFL Combine, running a 4.43 second 40-yard dash and finishing near the top among receivers with a 41-inch vertical jump. His ability to return kicks may lead to Smith making an immediate impact as a rookie while he learns the finer points of playing wide receiver in the NFL.
Other Possibilities: Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor; Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
28. New England Patriots - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Kerrigan is just the kind of defensive end/outside linebacker “tweener” with strong intangibles that Bill Belichick can get the most out of (Mike Vrabel anyone?). New England needs to upgrade their outside pass rush and with 25.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Kerrigan looks to be a good fit. Moreover, his work ethic and other intangibles are in synch with the “Patriot way” of doing things. If Kerrigan falls this far, it’s only because other teams view him as a player without the huge upside of others at his position.
Other Possibilities: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA; Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
29. Chicago Bears - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Paea set an NFL Combine record with 49 bench press reps at 225 pounds, making him the undisputed strongest player in the 2011 NFL Draft. He didn’t participate in the Senior Bowl because of a knee injury, however that doesn’t seem to be a concern now. With the release of defensive tackle Tommie Harris, the Bears could conceivably look to grab an offensive tackled with their first-round pick.
Other Possibilities: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin; Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
30. New York Jets - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
The Jets need to secure an outside pass rusher to help quell the team’s blitz-centric approach to generate pressure on opposing passers. Ayers had 24.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks along with six interceptions over his final two collegiate seasons, just the type of versatility that could make him an asset as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The Jets might be a little leery of players like Ayers due to the monumental failure that 2008 first-round pick Vernon Gholston proved to be. However they have a pressing need and Ayers seems to have better all-around physical ability than Gholston.
Other Possibilities: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
31. Pittsburgh Steelers - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The reigning AFC champions have a critical need at offensive tackle. Veteran right tackle Willie Colon, who missed the entire 2010 season after tearing his Achilles is a free agent and left tackle Max Starks also missed time with a neck injury. Flozell Adams, who replaced Colon, is clearly on the downside of his career. A four-year starter at Wisconsin, Carimi played through various injuries during his college career, including the H1N1 virus as a junior 2009. He seems capable of playing right or left tackle in the NFL, which suggests the type of flexibility that would appeal to the Steelers.
Other Possibilities: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
32. Green Bay Packers - Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor
If the Packers had a weakness in 2010, it was the guard position and left guard Daryn Colledge is eligible for free agency this offseason. Though he played left tackle at Baylor, there’s a good chance that Watkins moves to guard at the next level after getting his feet wet at the position during Senior Bowl week. Watkins had a four-year career as a fire fighter and at 26 years old, his age is a concern for some. He’s still a raw prospect given that he has only four years of football under his belt. And while it can be a challenge to find significant upside this late in the first round, Green Bay might stumble upon it if they choose to go with Watkins here.
Other Possibilities: Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois; Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State