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2011 NFL Mock Draft

Last Updated: April 26, 2011
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

Oakland's first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft went to New England in the Richard Seymour trade; the other 31 picks (as of this writing) belong to their respective teams.

The look-ahead to the 2011 NFL Draft has been one of the most challenging projection processes that I've had since launching this site because of the suspensions of a number of high-profile players. Save for the Ohio State quintet of juniors going back to Columbus for 2011 and facing a five game suspension out of the box, all of the elite draft-eligible underclassmen who faced the inquisition of the NCAA's AGA (Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities) division declared for early entry into the NFL.

Most interesting to me will be watching the forthcoming projections about North Carolina DT Marvin Austin and DE Robert Quinn, neither of whom played a snap of college football in 2010. Both looked like sure-fire first round picks coming into 2010, but their connection to the John Blake/Gary Wichard scandal cost them a chance to play for UNC this past season.

Note that Jake Locker isn't in this first round mock, and that is not by mistake. Accuracy is a concern for him, and particularly his two games against Nebraska exposed him, at least in my estimation, as a prospect who will need time and work to develop into a suitable NFL quarterback.

2011 NFL Mock Draft

1. Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn ~
By late February of last year we had the first definitive report (by Adam Schefter on WXOS radio) that the Rams planned to draft Sam Bradford #1 overall. This year we're three days and counting from the start of the NFL Draft and there is no confirmation yet on who Carolina will take.

This spot would have almost surely gone to Andrew Luck had he left Stanford for the NFL. But Luck went back to the Cardinal for 2011, which has opened the door for Newton to go in the top spot to Carolina.

It's my belief that Newton is the best NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. Some disagree with me on that, but seeing how quickly Newton picked up the offense at Auburn revealed to me a capacity to quickly learn an offense. And, for anyone who questions Newton's ability to handle adversity, I suggest that you go back and re-watch the 2010 Iron Bowl and how Newton didn't lose his cool with his team down 24-0 on the road against the defending BCS champion Alabama Crimson Tide.

2. Denver Broncos - Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama ~
Dareus played the 3-4 DE position in college at a very high level, and he forever cemented his place in Crimson Tide lore when he knocked Colt McCoy out of the BCS Title game in January 2010 with a clean hit. But Dareus also projects well as a 4-3 DT prospect, perhaps even more so than the other top defensive lineman in the draft, Auburn's Nick Fairley.

Denver is shifting to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4 they ran last season with former New Orleans Saints secondary coach Dennis Allen in as Denver's new defensive coordinator, and a playmaker at defensive tackle would be a wise addition. LSU CB Patrick Peterson would have seemed like a strong possibility for this spot had Denver not signed Champ Bailey to a new deal, but the Broncos locked Bailey in with a new contract before the end of the last CBA.

3. Buffalo Bills - Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
The Bills ran an oddball hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense last year, and while most signs point toward the team primarily utilizing a 3-4 in 2011, a player like Miller could fit in either system. Miller had a fantastic showing at the Senior Bowl, to the point where he stood out as a likely future star in the NFL. Miller began his career at A&M in a 4-3 defense; in 2010 they switched to a 3-4, and Miller looked very good in that scheme.

Why not a quarterback here? First, in this mock, Newton is off the board at this spot, Second, I think Ryan Fitzpatrick bought himself a year to show if his run toward the end of the 2010 system was a fluke or the sign of him being a potential solid starting QB. This is not to say that the Bills won't address QB later in the draft, but for a team that struggled so much at times on defense last year, a player like Miller might be too good to pass up.

4. Cincinnati Bengals - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia ~
Bengals QB Carson Palmer has made it clear that he wants to be traded, but at this point Cincinnati doesn't appear inclined to deal Palmer to another team. Moreover, even if the Bengals wanted to trade him right now, they can't due to there not being a new CBA in place.

The west coast offense is heading to Cincinnati by way of new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, the younger brother of former Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden. Jay was a mainstay with Orlando's Arena Football League team, both as a player and as a coach, and most recently he served as the head coach for the UFL's Florida Tuskers.

If Palmer really is serious about leaving Cincy, perhaps the Bengals can pick up a QB like Jake Locker in round two who might be adept at running the west coast offense. But adding a young star receiver in this spot would be a logical move, and while Alabama WR Julio Jones has been very impressive this off-season, I still think at this point that Green will be drafted before him.

5. Arizona Cardinals - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri ~
Quarterback is a major need for Arizona, which will find itself facing a huge dilemma on draft day if there's not a new CBA in place. Unable to sign new players or make trades, the Cardinals won't be able to make a run at Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Vince Young, or any other quarterback by draft day. This could be a serious issue for the team, which had sub-par play from the position in 2010.

I'm considerably less sold on Gabbert than many other draft prognosticators are, though he looked good at his pro day and he definitely looks the part at 6'5" 240 pounds. Gabbert's arm strength is outstanding and he has very good mechanics.

Some believe that there will be *less* drafting for need because of the draft almost for sure coming before free agency this year, but I think it will be the other way around. With no guarantee that any given team will be able to fill a need spot via free agency, filling need positions via the draft will be the only way to guarantee that any position will for sure be filled prior to a new CBA going into effect.

6. Cleveland Browns - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama ~
There's a reason why Jones has pushed Georgia WR A.J. Green for the top spot in the wide receiver projections as of late: Jones is a freakishly talented athlete. Jones is 6'4" 220 pounds with good hands and 4.45 speed in the 40. There have been some concerns about route-running, but that is the sort of thing that can be corrected by coaching.

I've heard whispers of LSU CB Patrick Peterson for this spot, but I don't buy it, not with the team drafting Florida CB Joe Haden in the first round in 2010 -- unless the plan is to convert the 220-pound Peterson into a safety. The Browns need an elite WR prospect, and Jones would fit that role quite nicely.

7. San Francisco 49ers - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU ~
Much like the Cardinals, the 49ers need help at QB. But if Newton and Gabbert are off the board and an elite talent like Patrick Peterson is sitting here at #7, the 49ers would be well-served to snatch him off the board. Peterson is strong enough of a talent where he could potentially go #1 overall to the Panthers -- an unheard of thing for a corner in most years. But, to be sure, this is not a typical NFL year.

San Francisco broke the bank in signing free agent CB Nate Clements to an 8-year, $80 million dollar contract in March 2007. But NFL base money isn't guaranteed money, and now the word out of the 49ers camp is that the 31-year-old Clements will be required to take a pay cut to avoid being released. Clements is slated to earn $7.5 million for the 2011 season.

Peterson could make losing Clements considerably less painful for the 49ers. Despite playing against top-notch competition in the SEC, Peterson held his own and is the near-consensus projection to be the first defensive back to be drafted in 2011. With or without Clements, the 49ers would receive a major boost to its secondary by drafting Peterson.

8. Tennessee Titans - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn ~
While the Titans have needs at QB with the team planning to cut or trade Vince Young when the new CBA goes into effect, them stretching to take a signal-caller here with Newton and Gabbert off the board would be a terrible move, particularly if an elite defensive tackle prospect like Fairley is on the board at this spot.

While there are some questions about Fairley's motor and him being a possible one-year wonder, there is no doubting his physical skill and rare ability to reach the quarterback from a 4-3 defensive tackle position. Fairley had a fantastic season for Auburn in their 2010 BCS Championship season, and with the Titans using a rotating system at DT to keep their interior defensive linemen fresh, it's entirely possible that Fairley could find himself getting snaps early on in his pro career if he ends up in Nashville.

9. Dallas Cowboys - Tyron Smith, OT, USC ~
The Cowboys have some specific needs, most of which they won't be in a good position to adequately address at this spot (such as free safety). But offensive tackle is a need for the Cowboys, and they'll likely be able to take their pick of the litter of the offensive linemen in this draft.

Smith went mostly overlooked on many draft boards going into the 2010 season at USC, which was understandable considering that he was a junior playing right tackle. But he performed very well for the Trojans last year, attracting the attention of scouts and NFL general managers.

Smith has been linked to Dallas at this spot in multiple media articles, and while I would normally brush off speculation linking Smith to the Cowboys here as a smokescreen, Jerry Jones is rather fearless about letting his intentions for his top pick become common knowledge. This isn't to say that Smith is a lock for this position, but I feel better about this projection than I do about most of the others.

There has been late word that the Cowboys might try to trade down or could consider Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt (the best 3-4 DE prospect in the draft IMO) at the spot, but I believe this will finally the year that the Cowboys finally use a first-round pick on an offensive lineman, something that has never happened during the Jerry Jones era as owner of the Cowboys.

10. Washington Redskins - Robert Quinn, OLB/DE, North Carolina
With Washington entering year two of running a 3-4 defense, adding another piece to that front seven who fits the system with this pick is a logical move, especially with Newton and Gabbert off the board as far as being QB temptations for the team.

Quinn hasn't played since 2009 due to what happened with him (and other players at North Carolina) in relation to the John Blake/Gary Wichard scandal that rocked the Tar Heels, but he has the skill and talent to potentially develop into an elite 3-4 OLB. Having him play opposite Brian Orakpo would give the Redskins all sorts of blitzing options on any given play.

There are some projections that have University of Washington QB Jake Locker going to the Redskins in this spot. I don't anticipate that happening, not this high up in the draft and not with the Redskins having such a variety of team needs -- and I'm not alone on this line of thought.

11. Houston Texans - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Typically a team shifting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense would look for a front seven player if it was to draft defense in round one, but the need for the Texans on defense is most evident at the cornerback position. Def. coordinator Wade Phillips is bringing his brand of 3-4 to Houston, but this is a Texans team that was 30th in total yards given up and dead last against the pass in 2010. Amukamara would fill a hole never properly filled by the departure of Dunta Robinson to Atlanta via free agency in March 2010.

12. Minnesota Vikings - Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson ~
Time waits for no man, not even an immortal like Brett Favre. $16 million and peer pressure brought Favre back for the 2010 season, but he's not coming back in 2011. And while there is some humor to be found in Favre's Terry Funk-esque retiring and unretiring, this time it looks like Favre really is finished.

But this isn't an ideal spot to take a QB, not with the top two prospects off the board. Perhaps more importantly, this is a chance to land a player in Bowers who had a fantastic 2010 season for Clemson, finally living up to the huge billing he had coming out of high school by leading all of I-A/FBS in sacks last fall.

So why is Bowers falling? The perception is that he's still not healed from a January surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, which showed at his pro day where he posted a less-than-impressive performance. But he has the talent and showed last season that he can be a dominant force as a pass rusher, which could lead to him being a huge steal for Minnesota at this spot. Also, it's worth noting that the Vikings appear likely to lose defensive ends Ray Edwards and Brian Robison to free agency.

13. Detroit Lions - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
DB would seem like a top need for the Lions, but with the top two defensive backs gone at this point, the Lions may look to fill another need position: offensive tackle.

The elite draft prospects at offensive tackle for 2011 aren't going to be vying for a top five spot, but while there might not be a sure-fire guy like Jake Long or Joe Thomas in the mix, there is plenty of depth from which to choose. Solder is a massive human being; he is 6'8", weighs 300+ pounds, and from most indications he has impressed with his off-season workouts.

14. St. Louis Rams - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois ~
With Stephen Paea suffering a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in a practice at the Senior Bowl, it increased the already rising stock of Corey Liuget for the 2011 Draft. He would fill the defensive tackle spot the Rams passed on last year when they opted to draft QB Sam Bradford instead of DT Ndamukong Suh.

Liuget recorded 4.5 sacks last fall for Illinois, revealing his ability to reach the QB in passing situations, a valuable asset for any defensive tackle.

15. Miami Dolphins - Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois ~
Mikel LeShoure is a talented running back, with solid size (6' 230) to go with great quickness and, perhaps more importantly, impressive elusiveness. In the bizarro Wrigley Field game against Northwestern in November, LeShoure ran for a single game school record 330 yards. The success that former Illini and current Pittsburgh Steeler RB Rashard Mendenhall has had in the NFL won't hurt him, particularly since both are similar in size.

It may be surprising to some to see LeShoure go before Alabama RB Mark Ingram, but LeShoure has superior size to Ingram and may be a better fit than him in Miami's offense.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Opinions vary considerably about Smith, moreso than you might think for a player who looks to be leading the second-tier of corners in this draft process. He's 6'2" 210 and can run a 4.45 40, though he is seen by some as an unrefined product as far as his technique goes.

17. New England Patriots (via Oakland) - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin ~
The Patriots traded DE Richard Seymour to the Raiders in September 2009 to acquire this pick, and they could very well end up taking a defensive end with this selection. This would be a bit lower than some foresee Watt going in the draft, but he is a natural 3-4 DE who would seemingly be a good fit for New England's system.

18. San Diego Chargers - Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
It's hard to imagine a team that was #1 in passing defense and #4 in rushing defense missing the playoffs, but that's what happened to the 2010 Chargers. And it's not like San Diego was weak on offense, not at all. And that makes trying to project what the Chargers will do with this pick rather difficult.

In this case, the Chargers can add a solid 3-4 DE in Jordan, a three-year starter at Cal who many are bullish on as an NFL prospect. He's a slightly shorter and quicker version of Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt, and adding him into the mix can only help the Chargers maintain their stout defensive front.

Lou Pickney's 2024 NFL Mock Draft

19. New York Giants - Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
Much like there are numerous reports of interest in OT Tyson Smith by the Cowboys at #9, there are plenty who think the Giants have interest in Pouncey in this position. I'm more inclined to think this is a smokescreen, but Pouncey would fit a need for the Giants on their interior offensive line and he could very well end up in New York.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA ~
The Bucs have excellent linebackers with Barret Ruud at MLB and Geno Hayes at OLB. Adding Ayers could quietly allow Tampa Bay to have a very impressive linebacking trio. The "Tampa Two" defense doesn't require great size at linebacker, so in some ways the 6'2" 250 pound Ayers would be larger than usual for this defensive approach. But what makes Ayers special is his playmaking ability, a knack for intercepting the ball that most guys simply don't have.

21. Kansas City Chiefs - Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple ~
Kansas City's 3-4 defense finally came alive this past season under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, and adding a run-stuffer like Wilkerson would help that unit become even stronger in 2011. Wilkerson had a fantastic 2010 season team for an 8-4 Temple team that never received the national attention it deserved, having one of the best seasons of any interior defensive linemen in the country. He can shed blocks, stuff the run, pressure the QB, and perhaps most importantly open holes for his teammates at linebacker.

It took Kansas City a few years to get the pieces in place for a 3-4 defense, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel came on board to flourished in 2010. Adding a player like Wilkerson into the mix should only help with that.

22. Indianapolis Colts - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Tony Ugoh didn't work out for the Colts, who haven't found a suitable replacement for longtime standout Tarik Glenn, who retired after the Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI (41). This would be more of an issue if Peyton Manning wasn't so lightning-quick with his reads that he doesn't require the type of pass protection that most QBs do.

But some players were able to get to Manning last year, particularly Houston DE Mario Williams, who is slated to face Indianapolis twice in 2011. Whatever the case, the Colts would benefit greatly by adding a talent like Castonzo would be a wonderful addition to the team. The Colts may also look at a QB here or trade down with a team looking to move into this spot to land a second-tier quarterback.

23. Philadelphia Eagles - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami ~
Philly needs help at corner, and Harris has the speed and athleticism to play the position well at the pro level. He's only 5'11" which might cause him to slide to this point or perhaps even lower in round one. Typically the Eagles look first at their offensive and defensive line in the draft, but adding youth and talent to the corner spot could be a nice move by Philadelphia.

24. New Orleans Saints - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Kerrigan may be a better fit for a 3-4 defense in some scouts' opinions, but keep in mind that Kerrigan lead I-A/FCS football in tackles for loss in 2010 with 26. In a 4-3 he would be able to potentially make more of those types of plays behind the line of scrimmage on the NFL level.

25. Seattle Seahawks - Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
It's true that the Seahawks made a trade to bring in Charlie Whitehurst in March of last year, but that doesn't preclude them from drafting a quarterback in round one -- or in potentially trading down with another team that might be interested in moving up to acquire a QB. Dalton is coming off an unbeaten season at TCU where he finished his college career with a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. He's only 6'2", short for the position by NFL standards, but he has strong potential as an NFL prospect.

26. Baltimore Ravens - Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Yes, the Ravens need help at corner, but there may not be a corner worthy of first round consideration on the board by the time pick #26 rolls around.

Hankerson is a 6'2" 210 pound wideout, and while there are some concerns about his route-running and hands that will likely keep him from going in the top half of the draft, he could be an excellent fit for a team like Baltimore with veterans at wide receiver but not a great deal of youth at the position.

27. Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame ~
There's no argument about who the top tight end prospect is for the 2011 Draft: it's Kyle Rudolph. He suffered a torn hamstring in October, but he is well on his way to recovering from it. Rudolph could be a Heath Miller type who will fall because of an injury but then go on to be a productive NFL tight end.

And, while Tony Gonzalez says he's coming back for the 2011 season, Atlanta would be wise to draft Rudolph if they have the opportunity to do so.

28. New England Patriots - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama ~
There are some who believe that there won't be any running backs taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. I disagree, particularly with a player of Ingram's ability being in the mix (along with Mikel LeShoure from Illinois).

Ingram was NFL ready this time last year, fresh off a Heisman Trophy win and a BCS Championship. But NFL rules prevented him from joining the league since he was only two years removed from his high school class graduation, not the minimum three. But he's still ready, and he could provide a wide variety of options for the Patriots.

29. Chicago Bears - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
With Jay Cutler having been knocked around quite often during his time with the Bears, it serves to reason that the Bears would make moves this off-season to provide him with better protection for 2011. At this point many scouts believe that Carimi will be best suited to play right offensive tackle. But there is no doubting his size (6'7" 315), and he should be able to fit into any number of NFL systems with his skill set.

30. New York Jets - Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina
Thanks to a snafu on my end, I didn't have this pick properly updated earlier (with Georgia's Justin Houston still slotted here, a long shot with his reported failing of a drug test and the NFL Combine). But Carter might be a better overall fit anyway, considering that he's quicker and a bit lighter than Houston, perhaps making him a better choice for the Jets as they look to add one or two more pieces to their defensive front seven to potentially take themselves over the top and into the Super Bowl this season.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Sherrod shot up draft boards last fall with steady play for the Bulldogs against some very talented SEC defensive competition. He's 6'5" and weighs 310 pounds, and he has the bulk to handle NFL-sized defensive ends. Sherrod proved himself worthy of NFL consideration with his strong, skilled performances against some solid talent for Mississippi State in 2010.

32. Green Bay Packers - Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
This might be a bit of a stretch, but Watkins is a talented player who, while older than most all of his 2011 NFL Draft contemporaries, would provide help protecting Aaron Rodgers and opening holes for whoever ends up starting at RB for the Packers in 2011.

* indicates player with NCAA eligibility for 2011 who may opt to enter the 2011 NFL Draft
~ indicates player with NCAA eligibility for 2011 who has either declared for the 2011 NFL Draft or who has signed with an agent

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