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 James Ronstadt’s initial take on Round 1 of the 2011 NFL Draft:
1. Carolina Panthers–Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama Crimson Tide
The 2011 Draft class is ripe with stud defensive lineman. While the Carolina Panthers have needs all over the field and on both sides of the ball, their most glaring weakness is at the defensive tackle position. New head coach Ron Rivera, a longtime linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, has surely watched all 16 Panthers games from last season. No doubt he saw how ineffective current starting defensive tackles Nick Hayden and Derek Landri were. Marcell Dareus headed into the Scouting Combine within shouting distance of Nick Fairley for the right to be called the No. 1 player in the 2011 NFL Draft. In the end, the more versatile Dareus was clearly the better performer and he’s leapfrogged Fairley as a result.
Other Possibilities:Cam Newton, QB, Auburn Tigers; Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri Tigers; Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson Tigers; Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn Tigers
2. Denver Broncos–Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn Tigers
Assuming that he slips past Carolina, it would benefit the Denver Broncos to shore up a run defense that was repeatedly shredded in 2010 by selecting the freakishly gifted Nick Fairley at No. 2. Fairley is massive at 6”4”and 298 pounds and he possesses all the tools to become this year’s version of Ndamukong Suh. Not only does Fairley excel at containing his gaps and shutting down the opposition’s running game, he’s also an ferocious pass rusher, as evidenced by the 11.5 sacks he compiled during his junior season. Fairley reportedly stole the show at Auburn’s Pro Day, a particularly impressive feat when you consider the “entertainer and icon” who was also present during the workout.
Other Possibilities: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers; Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson Tigers
3. Buffalo Bills–Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson Tigers
Let the Bruce Smith comparisons begin, Bills fans! Da’Quan Bowers was a one-man wrecking crew during his breakout junior campaign at Clemson, tallying 67 tackles (41 of which were solo tackles) and leading the nation with 16 sacks. Head coach Chan Gailey recent announcement that Buffalo plans to use both the 4-3 and the 3-4 (as opposed to only the 3-4) lends credence to the idea that Bowers would be a good fit for the team. Either way, Bowers has more than enough athleticism to thrive even as a five technique. The biggest concern surrounding Bowers right now is a slow to heal knee injury that prohibited him from participating in the NFL Combine and forced him to delay his Pro Day until next month. The results of that workout will be a factor in determining whether the Bills select him at No. 3 overall.
Other Possibilities: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri Tigers; Cam Newton, QB, Auburn Tigers; Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies; Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers
4. Cincinnati Bengals–Cam Newton, QB, Auburn Tigers
With former franchise quarterback Carson Palmer hell-bent on continuing his NFL career with a franchise other than the Bengals or not continuing it at all, the top quarterback on the Bengals’ depth chart is Palmer’s younger brother Jordan Palmer So, unless something happens to change Palmer’s mind between now and April 28, finding a new franchise quarterback should be Cincinnati’s No. 1 priority come Draft Day. Cam Newton’s natural ability is surpassed by only a handful of prospects. He has the 6’5” 248-pound body of an undersized outside linebacker, ideal arm strength and a 40-yard dash time under 4.6 seconds. However measurables only go so far when it comes to making the leap from college football to professional football. While Newton is known for having shaky accuracy when it comes to throwing the football, his myriad of character issues is also well documented. The Bengals have never been ones to shy away from players with questionable character, therefore there’s no reason to expect them to be put off by any of Newton’s negatives.
Other Possibilities: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia Bulldogs; Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers; Julio Jones, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide
5. Arizona Cardinals–Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri Tigers
There’s talk that the infamously frugal Cardinals would fail to address their roster’s most conspicuous void (quarterback) in favor of drafting a much less vital position (linebacker) in April. The belief here is that sanity will prevail and Arizona will tag Blaine Gabbert with the No. 5 pick in the draft. While they finished a dismal 5-11 in 2010, the Cardinals are in surprisingly good shape overall. They’re a little more than one year removed from being within a single victory of the Super Bowl, they play in the horrendously bad NFC West and they have some legitimate superstars on both sides of the ball. The loss via retirement of the still great and future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner is what transformed the Cardinals from near glory to cellar dwellers in a mere 12 months. After cutting Matt Leinart before the start of the 2010 regular season, Arizona rotated Derek Anderson, Max Hall and undrafted rookie John Skelton under center with primarily disastrous results. Gabbert is by far the most polished signal caller in his class. He’s blessed with a rocket for an arm, 4.62-second 40-time speed, pinpoint accuracy and sought after smarts (42 on Wonderlic). The former Tiger is a better bet than any of the 2011 class to pull off a Matt Ryan-esque revival of a down in the dumps team like the Cardinals.
Other Possibilities: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M; Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers
6. Cleveland Browns– A.J. Green, WR, Georgia Bulldogs
Team President Mike Holmgren knows he has to put his young quarterback Colt McCoy in a position to succeed and that means upgrading the Cleveland’s underperforming receiving corps. Enter A.J. Green, a 6’3 5/8” 211-pound gazelle from the University of Georgia who could very well be the playmaker the Browns need at wide receiver . In his three years and 32 games as a Bulldog, Green caught 166 passes for2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns. Cleveland needs to stretch the field more effectively and speed on the outside is the best way to get open out of coverage. Green, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds at the Combine and whose game speed is probably even better, is a perfect fit for the Browns.
Other Possibilities: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers; Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies; Julio Jones, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide
7. San Francisco 49ers–Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers
Though you could argue that the 49ers aren’t in desperate need of pumping up their defensive backfield, cornerback Nate Clements is clearly nearing the end of his days as an effective contributor. Selecting Patrick Peterson here could open the door to the Niners deciding to release Clements outright rather than simply negotiating his contract as originally expected. A three-year starter at LSU, Peterson was the top defensive back in college football in 2010 and the best cornerback prospect to come down the pike since Charles Woodson. Peterson has an amazing combination of size, speed and athletic ability rarely seen at the position. Not only does he have what it takes to be the league’s next shutdown corner, his skill as a blue-chip return man would be an instant and significant upgrade for San Francisco’s special teams.
Other Possibilities: J.J. Watt, DT, Wisconsin Badgers; Julio Jones, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide; Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska Cornhuskers; Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies
8. Tennessee Titans–Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina Tar Heels
With the departure of Vince Young, there’s no doubt that the Titans will target a quarterback in the upcoming draft. However several teams picking ahead of Tennessee are also in need of quarterbacks, therefore it’s unlikely that the team will use the No.8 overall pick on the third or fourth best quarterback. The Titans have clear-cut needs on the defensive side of the ball, including adding depth and an injection of youth. Right defensive end Jacob Ford has been performing poorly and while left defensive end Jason Babin had resurgence in 2010, he’s on the wrong side of 30. North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn has been shooting up draft boards in recent weeks thanks to an excellent showing at the Combine. Quinn, who was suspended for the entire 2010 season for accepting improper benefits from an agent, he shook off the rust in time for his highly anticipated workout. He measured in at 6’4”and 265 pounds and posted a respectable 40-yard dash time of 4.70 seconds. Some consider Quinn the best pure pass rushers in the 2011 NFL Draft class. He’s a highly gifted athlete whose size, speed and passion for the game give him the potential to become one of the top defensive ends in the league. The Titans could see a return on their investment in Quinn fairly quickly.
Other Possibilities: J.J. Watt, DT, Wisconsin Badgers; Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska Cornhuskers; Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies
9. Dallas Cowboys–Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Dallas Cowboys see themselves as only a player or two away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The team’s biggest weakness is their defensive secondary, where cornerbacks Terrance Newman and Mike Jenkins have given up far too many big plays in recent years. The Cowboys tied with the Houston Texans in allowing a league-worst 33 passing touchdowns during the 2010 season. Although three of the Cowboys last nine first-round draft picks have been used on cornerbacks, that won’t stop Jerry Jones from snagging Nebraska Cornhusker Prince Amukamara. During his senior season, Amukamara limited opposing quarterbacks to 18 pass completions in 52 attempts. He so locked down his corner that they gave him the “Revis treatment,” choosing to look to the other side of the field rather than throw in his direction. Amukamara was the cornerstone of Nebraska’s secondary and in time, his presence could do the same for the Cowboys.
Other Possibilities: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies; J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin Badgers; Tyron Smith, OT, USC Trojans
10. Washington Redskins–Julio Jones, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide
Although Donovan McNabb absorbed the lion’s share of the criticism for the Redskins’ failed season, the lack of a potent receiving corps was also a significant contributing factor. With top wideout Santana Moss hitting unrestricted free agency this offseason (gulp), it’s about to get even worse. The Redskins would love it if Alabama’s Julio Jones fell into their lap at No. 10. Prior to the Combine, the overwhelming consensus was that Jones trailed former University of Georgia star A.J. Green by a wide margin. Jones made a strong statement that he should be the first receiver taken in April when he turned in a 40-time of 4.39 seconds and recorded a long jump of a 11 feet, 3 inches, best among all wideouts at the Scouting Combine. The one caveat with Jones is that he’s dealing with a broken foot; however he’s expected to be fine for training camp. The injury could very well work to Washington’s advantage if it deters another team from selecting him.
Other Possibilities: Tyron Smith, OT, USC Trojans; Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies
11. Houston Texans–Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M Aggies
While it’s hard to imagine a player as skilled as former Aggie Von Miller slipping outside the top 10, there a feeling among some organizations that he could wind up as a major bust. Chief among the concerns over Miller is the decline in sack production from his junior season (17 sacks) to his senior season (11 sacks). The Texans would be thrilled to nab the draft’s top linebacker, not to mention a top-five talent with their pick at No. 11 overall. Miller clocked a 40-time of 4.53 seconds at the Combine, then upstaged himself with a 4.49-second 40-time at his school’s Pro Day. He has the upside of a Clay Matthews.
Other Possibilities: Tyron Smith, OT, USC Trojans; Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri Tigers; J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin Badgers; Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, CAL Golden Bears
12. Minnesota Vikings–J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin Badgers
The Vikings will need to find a suitable replacement for stud defensive end Ray Edwards, a free agent who’s likely to sign elsewhere in the coming months. If J.J. Watt is still on the board when Minnesota comes to the podium, then don’t be surprised if they peg the 6’5” 290-pound lineman at No. 12. Watt amassed 43 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception during his junior season. He impressed at the NFL Combine, displaying athleticism for a guy his size and finishing in the top five for every D-line drill. Watt’s presence in Minnesota would help take pressure off of veteran Jared Allen.
Other Possibilities: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois Fighting Illini; Cameron Jordan, DE, CAL Golden Bears; Jake Locker, QB, QB, Washington Huskies
13. Detroit Lions–Tyron Smith, OT, USC Trojans
The Lions revamped their much maligned defense last year with the signing of free agent and ex-TitanKyle Vanden Bosch and drafting Ndamukong Suh with their first-round pick at No. 2 overall. They head into the 2011 Draft in need of help along the offensive line and also in their defensive backfield. Detroit might find the defensive back talent too much of a reach for No. 13 and decide to shore up the O-line instead. Former USC Trojan Smith is the best option among a somewhat weak offensive tackle class. A natural athlete, Smith is still a bit raw and will need time to develop at the next level. He surprised everyone at the Combine when he weighed in at 307 pounds, 17 pounds more than his college playing weight. Smith would be an immediate upgrade for Detroit in their efforts to better protect oft-injured quarterback Matthew Stafford and keep him upright.
Other Possibilities: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida Gators; Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College Eagles; Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado Buffaloes
14. St. Louis Rams–Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois Fighting Illini
It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Rams trade up in order to take one of the truly elite defensive linemen of the 2011 NFL Draft class. However assuming that St. Louis stands pat at No. 14 overall,Corey Liuget would be a nice consolation prize for a team in desperate need of help along their front seven. In Fred Robbins and Gary Gibson, the Rams have a pair of past their prime tackles who wouldn’t be starters on almost any other team in the league. Some consider Liuget a bit undersized at 6’2” and 298 pounds, however he excels at knifing through the point of attack and making plays in the backfield. He’s also a stout run defender with a good motor.
Other Possibilities: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri Tigers; Cameron Jordan, DE, CAL Golden Bears; Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue Boilermakers
15. Miami Dolphins–Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama Crimson Tide
Mark Ingram to Miami may very well be the most anticlimactic pick of the entire 2011 NFL Draft. Nevertheless, based on team needs for the Dolphins and the fourteen teams that pick ahead of them, it’s very likely that Ingram will be wearing green and orange in 2011. Although the Dolphins have had one of the most prolific rushing attacks of the last decade, veterans Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are slowing down and both are headed toward free agency this offseason. Ingram, with his impressive blend of 4.62-second 40 speed and between-the-tackles power, would be an excellent addition to the backfield. He could also be an immediate antidote to the Dolphins’ short-yardage woes. Ingram ran for an absurd 42 touchdowns in his three seasons at Alabama.
Other Possibilities: Jake Locker, QB, Washington Huskies; Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State Seminoles; Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida Gators
16. Jacksonville Jaguars–Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue Boilermakers
The Jaguars could very well go quarterback with this pick, except that head coach Jack Del Rio probably feels like he can squeeze another useful season or two out of starter David Garrard, who had a career year in 2010. Defensive end is Jacksonville’s most significant area of need, given that free-agent acquisition Aaron Kampman suffered a serious knee injury last season and his status is still up in the air. Kerrigan was a three-year starter at Purdue, racking up 192 tackles, 32 sacks and four forced fumbles from his sophomore through his senior season. In addition to his skills on the field, Kerrigan possesses all the intangibles that general manager Gene Smith looks for in a draft pick including smarts (Academic All-American), leadership (team co-captain), character and a relentless motor.
Other Possibilities: Jake Locker, QB, Washington Huskies; Christian Ponder, QB, South Carolina Gamecocks; Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri Tigers
17. New England Patriots (From Oakland)–Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri Tigers
Bill Belichick clearly has no qualms about spending first-round picks on defensive players. The last time they used a first rounder on an offensive player was in 2006, when they selectedLaurence Maroney at No. 21 overall. New England is a talented enough team that they can pretty much take the best player available with this pick and in this simulation, Aldon Smith is fits the bill. The Patriots are getting pretty stale up front and their inability to generate a consistent pass rush likely cost them a shot at the title. Blessed with ideal size and 4.78-second 40-yard dash speed, Smith would be a vast improvement over either Gerard Warren or Brandon Deaderick.
Other Possibilities: Cameron Jordan, DE, CAL Golden Bears; Justin Houston, DE, Georgia Bulldogs; Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, UCLA Bruins
18. San Diego Chargers–Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa Hawkeyes
The Chargers are another team fortunate to have few holes, giving them the luxury of nabbing the best available talent. Head coach Norv Turner’s squad could use an improvement over left defensive endJacques Cesaire to prevent right defensive end Luis Castillo from being constantly double teamed. Not only does Clayborn have the ability to get to the quarterback, he’s equally qualified against the run. He measured in at 6’3” 281 pounds at the Scouting Combine, where he posted an awe-inspiring 4.83-second 40-time and a broad jump of 9 feet, 5 inches.
Other Possibilities: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State Buckeyes; Anthony Castonzo, Boston College Eagles, Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida Gators; Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado Buffaloes
19. New York Giants–Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College Eagles
The Giants are in need of help along their sputtering offensive line and Anthony Castonzo would make a lot of sense for them at No. 19. The 6’7” 311-pound Castonzo is capable of stepping in on either the right or left side of the line and has the ceiling of a Joe Thomas. While Castonzo occasionally struggles to maintain leverage against shorter defenders, the Giants are among the most well coached teams in the league. Head coach Tom Coughlin is also a BC graduate and should do wonders toward improving Castonzo’s footwork.
Other Possibilities: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida Gators; Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers–Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State Buckeyes
Heyward is a four-year starter out of Ohio State who is capable of playing both defensive end and defensive tackle at the next level, both of which are positions of need for Raheem Morris’ Bucs. Heyward is a towering 6’5” 294-pound beast, and while not much of a pass rusher, he’s adept at swallowing up the oppositions’ running game. Heyward suffered a statistical decline during his senior year and he had a propensity for disappearing every few games. However he saved his best for last, dominating Arkansas’ line in the Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately Heyward suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Although he missed the Combine and the Buckeyes’ official Pro Day on March 11, Heyward will work out for scouts at Ohio State on March 30.
Other Possibilities: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA Bruins; Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa Hawkeyes; Justin Houston, DE, Georgia Bulldogs
21. Kansas City Chiefs–Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA Bruins
While the Chiefs might be inclined to take an offensive lineman with this selection, linebacker Akeem Ayers is the best player on the board and merits consideration. Moreover, Kansas City could use a replacement for a regressing Mike Vrabel who could take some of the pressure off of sack king Tamba Hali. Ayers’ stock fell some after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.80 seconds, slightly worse than what was expected from the 6’2 ½’ 254-pounder. Ayers has a tendency to commit gaffes in pass coverage, however he’s excellent in pursuit, has ideal explosiveness and is a gifted pass rusher. Teaming Ayers with Hali could really take the Chiefs defense to the next level.
Other Possibilities: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers; Mike Pouncey, OT/C, Florida Gators; Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa Hawkeyes
22. Indianapolis Colts–Nate Solder, OT, Colorado Buffaloes
Thirty-five year old Peyton Manning remains one of the most prolific and durable quarterbacks in the NFL. If Manning’s elite play is to continue, then the Colts will need to reshuffle their offensive line to keep their superstar in one piece. Indy’s pass protection has shown gradual decline over the last few years before they experienced a near collapse in 2010. While Indianapolis could use help at defensive tackle and safety, the offensive line will be top priority for the team in the upcoming draft. Colorado’s Nate Solder would be an instant and quality upgrade for the Colts offensive line. The 6’8” 319-pound Solder is a truly dynamic athlete with a very high ceiling. His 5.05-second 40-time at the Combine was the second best among offensive tackles. Solder is a better pass blocker than run blocker, which suits the Colts offense. Sounds like a match made in heaven.
Other Possibilities: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers; Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida Gators; Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State Bulldogs
23. Philadelphia Eagles–Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida Gators
That the Eagles were among the league leaders in sacks taken has a lot to do with Michael Vick’s run-first tendencies, but that’s not to say their offensive line was particularly good last season. Center Jamal Jackson tore his biceps muscle in the first game of the 2010 season and found himself on the Injured Reserve (IR) list for the second consecutive year. The Eagles would find the big, athletic and versatile Pouncey particularly appealing given his experience in the competitive SEC. Pouncey is considered one of the most NFL-ready prospects in the draft and his ability to play either center or guard would give Philadelphia depth across the offensive line. Pouncey measured in at 6’5” 303 pounds and clocked a 40-time of 5.28 seconds at the Scouting Combine. The Eagles would be thrilled if Pouncey performed anywhere close to as well as his identical twin brother and Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey did in his rookie season.
Other Possibilities: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers; Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State Bulldogs
24. New Orleans Saints–Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia Bulldogs
The most glaring difference between the 2009 Super Bowl Champion Saints and the 2010 Divisional Round exiting Saints was their inability to make big plays on the defensive side of the ball. The key to forcing turnovers is to create pressure that penetrates the line of scrimmage. New Orleans defensive ends Alex Brown and Will Smith are certainly getting paid like premier defenders, however both suffered significant declines last season and are on the wrong side of 30. If Georgia defensive end Justin Houston slips to New Orleans at No. 24, then general manager Mickey Loomis would be well advised to take him. The 6’3” 270-pound Houston is adept at using his below 4.70-second 40 speed to blow past linemen and wreak havoc in the backfield. A quality tackler with an excellent feel for the game, Houston tallied 56 tackles (18 of which were for a loss) and 10 sacks during his junior year.
Other Possibilities: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple Owls; Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado Buffaloes; Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois Fighting Illini
25. Seattle Seahawks–Jake Locker, QB, Washington Huskies
Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been little more than a stopgap for the last three years and if former Washington Huskie Jake Locker is still on the board when Seattle comes to the podium at No. 25, expect Pete Carroll to pounce on him. With Hasselbeck currently unsigned for the upcoming season and little available in the free-agent crop, the Seahawks are in the precarious spot of having to focus in on one position with their first-round pick as opposed to having the luxury of selecting the best talent on the board. The 6’2” Locker is slightly undersized by the league’s current standard for ideal height at the position. Nevertheless, he made some radical strides in accuracy as a junior in 2009 following his freshman and injury-riddled sophomore seasons. Like several other quarterbacks in the 2011 class, Locker is a truly dynamic athlete, who possesses awesome arm strength and even better speed, as indicated by the 4.59-second 40-yard dash time that he ran at the Combine.
Other Possibilities: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State Seminoles; Jimmy Smith, CB Colorado Buffaloes; Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers; Cameron Jordan, DE, CAL Golden Bears
26. Baltimore Ravens–Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado Buffaloes
If it weren’t for the fact that he comes with more personal baggage than the undercarriage of a 747, Jimmy Smith would be a surefire top-15 pick. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details and without access to Smith’s team interviews during the Combine, it’s impossible to say what sort of vibe the troubled cornerback gave off. A reported positive drug test and confirmed arrest aside, Smith is blessed with otherworldly talent that scouts salivate over. Smith’s excellence was on display at the Scouting Combine, where he posted a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and managed to do 24 reps of 225 pounds at the bench press. The Ravens could really use a top tier cornerback to bring their subpar defensive backfield a notch or two closer to their dominating front seven. While Baltimore surely has no interest in taking on a locker room cancer, perhaps they’re confident in Ray Lewis’ ability to bring out the best in Smith.
Other Possibilities: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State Bulldogs; Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers; Brandon Harris, CB, Miami Hurricanes
27. Atlanta Falcons–Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers
A key element in the Matt Ryan revolution in Atlanta has been a mauling offensive line that’s paved the way for one of the top running games in the NFL and kept Ryan from eating turf. With several starting offensive linemen due to hit free agency this offseason, the Falcons will be proactive with their pick at No. 27 overall and take the best available offensive tackle. At 6’3” and 314 pounds, Gabe Carimi would qualify as a steal if he falls to the Falcons this late in Round 1. Much like Joe Thomas, his predecessor at Wisconsin and now a Pro Bowler with the Cleveland Browns, Carimi is a stalwart run blocker, adept at sealing the edge off the left side and plowing the way for big gainers. Carimi is also a fine athlete for his stature, having registered 40-yard dash and shuttle drill times of 5.27 and 4.40 seconds respectively.
Other Possibilities: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Danny Watkins, OT/OG, Baylor Bears; Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa Hawkeyes
28. New England Patriots–Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State Bulldogs
The right defensive tackle position has been a problem spot for the Patriots for a number of years, plus Matt Light is an impending free agent on the other side. Odds are good that New England will exit the first round with an offensive lineman and former Bulldog Derek Sherrod would be a solid addition if he’s still available at No. 28. Sherrod is especially adept in pass protection, though he’s fully capable of turning himself into a premier run blocker as well.
Other Possibilities: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple Owls; Brandon Harris, CB, Miami Hurricanes
29. Chicago Bears–Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor Bears
Although the embattled offensive line showed steady improvement over the course of the season and was at its best late in the year, there could be an uprising on the streets of Chicago if the Bears neglect to use their first rounder on offensive line help. The Bears O-line allowed a whopping 52 sacks to Jay Cutler, including a franchise record 10 during the course of the team’s 17-3 loss to the New York Giants in Week 4. Former Baylor BearDanny Watkins is an interesting smaller school prospect that had a four-year career as a firefighter before he decided to play football at age 22. Watkins earned high marks for his strength, agility and excellent technique during his two years as the starting left tackle for Baylor. At 6’3” and 310 pounds, Watkins has less than ideal size to play tackle at the next level, however he could easily make the move from tackle to guard. His versatility adds to his attractiveness as a draft prospect and he could be an impact player fairly early on.
Other Possibilities: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT Temple Owls; Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh Panthers; Rahim Moore, S, UCLA Bruins
30. New York Jets–Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple Owls
Rex Ryan’s Jets are in serious need of a defensive end and they’d be doing jumping jacks if Muhammad Wilkerson slipped to them at No. 30. With Shaun Ellis likely to walk this offseason, the classic five-technique power rusher could fill the void quite nicely. Wilkerson measured in at 6’4 1/8” and 315 pounds at the Scouting Combine. He demonstrated his outstanding athleticism by turning in a 40-time of 4.96 seconds and a three-cone drill time of 7.31 seconds. The small school prospect is admittedly a bit of a first-round sleeper, however Wilkerson quietly put together a fantastic junior year, collecting 68 tackles (43 solos) and 10 sacks.
Other Possibilities: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami Hurricanes; Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State Beavers; Rahim Moore, S, UCLA Bruins; Ahmad Black, S, Florida Gators
31. Pittsburgh Steelers–Brandon Harris, CB, Miami Hurricanes
Former Miami Hurricane Brandon Harris lacks ideal size (5’9 1/2”), however he has more than enough tools to be a well above average corner at the next level. He’s yet another example of a frontline collegiate corner whose numbers (48 tackles, eight passes defended, one interception in 2010) don’t jump out at you because opposing quarterbacks throw away from him. Harris is a little rough around the edges and known for occasionally dropping routine interceptions during his career at the U. That said, he is a very good in man-to-man coverage and holds his own against the run. Pittsburgh’s weak secondary unit was exposed in their Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers. Expect them to make defensive back a priority throughout the draft.
Other Possibilities: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas Longhorns; Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina Tar Heels; Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois Fighting Illini; Brooks Reed, LB, Arizona Wildcats
32. Green Bay Packers–Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois Fighting Illini
The Packers could use a Robin to Clay Matthews’ Batman, and Wilson actually has a similar yet complementary skill set. At 6’3 3/4” and 250 pounds, Wilson has the ideal frame for an outside linebacker. His 4.49-second 40-time at the Combine showed that he has more than enough speed to turn himself into a prolific edge-rusher. Wilson amassed 111 tackles (46 solos), four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception during his junior year at Illinois. He would make impending free agent Cullen Jenkins a distant memory in Cheesehead country. Heck, if Wilson bulked up 15 pounds, he would probably make for a pretty good defensive end.
Other Possibilities: Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina Tar Heels; Brooks Reed, LB, Arizona Wildcats; Phil Taylor, DE, Baylor Bears
:: If you are looking for more NFL Mock Drafts, don’t forget to check out Walter Football, where you can find over 350 mocks for the 2011 draft::