Alabama’s DT Dareus stiff-arming the Longhorn QB Gilbert
As I’ve mentioned previously, mock drafts are difficult. This year even more so than usual. Draft gurus and experts such as Rick Gosselin, Peter King and Mike Mayock have talked about how unpredictable this draft this – Gosselin even went as far as to call it one of the most unpredictable drafts he could remember. Even figuring out the first pick is extremely difficult this year. I have seen mock drafts with Da’Quan Bowers, Marcell Dareus, Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and even Nick Fairley going first overall. And some people think (myself included) that Patrick Peterson is better than all of them.
What I am trying to say is that I have changed my mind. I am going with my gut this time around and changing the first pick of the draft. This obviously has ripple effects for the rest of the mock, so I have made some changes in the first 14 picks.
It is not necessarily because I think that is what Panthers’ GM Marty Hurney is likely to do. I have changed mainly because I think it would be a better pick for them going forward. Therefore I give you my 2.0 version of the top 14 picks.
1. Carolina (2-14) – Marcell Dareus
I can’t bring myself to give the Panthers a QB here. I just don’t think Gabbert (or Newton for that sake) is worth the pick. Yes, Clausen was awful last year but one year is just not enough to evaluate a QB.
Blaine Gabbert is good, but not special and Cam Newton has thrown less than 300 passes in college and will take a lot of development before he is ready. Sure, Mike Mayock says he has better mechanics than Vince Young or Tim Tebow – whom Newton is often likened to – but they shouldn’t have been picked in the first round either, let alone first overall. The only problem is that they don’t have a second round pick and can’t get a shot at a QB before pick 65.
But even though Carolina’s offense was clearly the weak link in the chain in 2010, I still give them this defensive upgrade. Dareus is no Ndamukong Suh, but he is one of the safest players in the draft who comes plug-n-play and ready “straight out of the box”. He will upgrade the run defense instantly and defensive-minded head coach Ron Rivera can build the defense around him.
2. Denver (4-12) – CB Patrick Peterson
I am not changing my mind on this one. This is not only a need pick but a value pick. Peterson is the best player in the draft in my opinion and Denver will not regret picking him here. He will immediately upgrade one of the league’s worst defenses that gave up a league high 62 passes of 20 yards or more.
Denver also finished last in sacks last year with 23 so a pass rusher would be welcome here. Sadly Von Miller is the only one with the quality to be picked top five and he probably fits better in a 3-4 as an outside rusher. Denver did also play all of last season without sack meister Elvis Dumervil, so having him back this season will most certainly help.
3. Buffalo (4-12) – QB Blaine Gabbert
Like I said in my last mock, Buffalo would take Gabbert if he was still available so they do. In my opinion he is better than Newton, but still doesn’t deserve a top five pick in my book. He might do that in GM Buddy Nix’ book though and that’s still the book that counts. With Gabbert the Bills might finally get the franchise passer they have been seeking for so long.
4. Cincinnati (4-12) – WR A.J. Green
No change here either as the Bengals still take A. J. Green. Green has been flying a little under the radar lately, but he is a solid player with great upside. More importantly, he doesn’t flash the diva mentality of a Chad OchoCinco and Terrell Owens and that is probably a huge plus to the Cincinnati staff. Maybe drafting Green and cutting the Batman & Robin Show will also help head coach Marvin Lewis convince Carson Palmer to stick around.
5. Arizona (5-11) – QB Cam Newton
I cannot make my mind up on Arizona’s intentions. Are they going QB or does coach Whisenhunt still feel that Max Hall is the way to go and chooses to upgrade the new 3-4 defense instead? Hall had an atrocious passer rating of 35.7 last year which was bad enough to make even Jimmy Clausen look good. That’s why I still think they go QB over defense and bring Newton into the fold. This move might also appease Larry Fitzgerald and keep the disgruntled receiver on the team for a few more years.
6. Cleveland (5-11) – WR Julio Jones
Mike Holmgreen and new head coach Pat Shurmur would have loved to see Dareus still on the board as this point. Another dream scenario would be A. J. Green, but they are both gone and the Browns choose the next best thing with Jones who some say is just as good as Green. I am not too sure about that but he will definitely help the development of promising QB Colt McCoy.
DT Nick Fairley and DE Da’Quan Bowers are also possibilities for Cleveland as their d-line needs a lot of help, but the depth at WR is very thin this year and very deep at DL so this pick makes more sense.
7. San Francisco (6-10) – CB Prince Amukamura
San Francisco is one of the few QB needy teams in the top ten that I don’t think will try to trade down. They are quite happy with this years crop as a number of the available players could help them. I do think a QB is something they will address in round two as the Alex Smith experiment must surely be over by now.
Von Miller has dropped, which a player of his talent shouldn’t, but San Fran’s need for some help in pass coverage outweighs their need in their front seven. Amukamura is a top ten talent who is just outshined by Peterson and therefore tends to be underrated a bit.
8. Tennessee (6-10) – DE Da’Quan Bowers
I still believe that Nick Fairley has too much of an Albert Haynesworth stink on him to be taken by Tennessee, though they could use a player like him.
Bowers has been dropping like a stone in most mock drafts and even though a lot of people had him going first overall to Carolina just a few months ago, he is now going in the late teens in most mocks. He is not dropping that far in my mock. There was a scare over his knee a few weeks ago, but the knee turned out to be in better shape than feared and last year’s college sack star is not dropping out of the top ten.
9. Dallas (6-10) – OT Tyron Smith
Smith has been placed in this spot in a lot of mocks for a long time now. It just makes sense. Dallas badly needs o-line help and Smith is the highest rated tackle. No need to overthink this one.
10. Washington (6-10) – RB Mark Ingram
I am being stubborn on this one, even though nobody else seems to believe that this will happen. Washington needs a RB big time and Mark Ingram is a star. Sure, he was injured last year, but that was a year ago and I believe he is worth the shot. My only real concern is that it is not Shanahan’s style, as I mentioned in my last mock. Still it is not Shanahan’s choice to make, it is GM Bruce Allen’s and he has previously showed a willingness to take RB’s high as he did with Cadillac Williams in 2005 when he was GM for the Bucs.
11. Houston (6-10) – LB Von Miller
This is a dream come true for Houston as they get their second-highest rated player (the first being Peterson) without having to spend a pick on trading up. They are switching to the 3-4 and need help with their pass rush. Miller is far and away the best linebacker in this year’s draft and they are very fortunate if he lasts this long.
12. Minnesota (6-10) – DT Nick Fairley
Fairley drops once again in this mock and he is a top ten talent. He is not as safe as Dareus and some worry that his college production won’t translate well to the NFL as he has relied a lot on psychically overpowering opponents so far. That won’t be as easy in the NFL for Fairley who weighed in at just 291 lbs at the combine. That is a little undersized for today’s defensive tackles and he will need to add at least 15 lbs of bulk which might hurt his burst.
13. Detroit (6-10) – OT Anthony Castonzo
Jeff Backus is no spring chicken and he needs to be replaced soon. Castonzo has the tools to play the crucial left tackle position but he may need some grooming. If Backus plays through 2011, Castonzo will have time to grow. Detroit played better last year than most people think and they don’t need to reach for a player here. This pick continues their development and sets them up nicely for the future with 2008 first round pick Gosder Cherilus bookending the o-line.
14. St. Louis (7-9) – DE Robert Quinn
The Rams would have loved for WR Jones to fall to them, but he didn’t. Instead they have Quinn sitting there and that’s a pretty good consolation prize. DE Chris Long – the Rams’ first round pick in 2008 – finally showed signs of life with 8.5 sacks last year and DE James Hall had 10.5, so pass rush doesn’t seem to be a big problem for St. Louis. But Hall just turned 34 and his long-term replacement is needed. Head coach Spagnuolo likes to stock up on d-linemen, which the Giants did a lot when he was defensive coordinator there, so this fits the profile.
After these 14 picks I have wound up using the same 14 players as I did in the first mock. This suits me fine as the rest of the draft was made so recently that I am still quite satisfied with it. It is therefore unchanged:
15. Miami (7-9) – C/G Mike Pouncey
It seems the consensus that Miami will go RB in the first round. I don’t see that. I realise that Ronnie Brown has been quite injury prone and that Ricky Williams is getting old. Still I don’t think it is something that requires first round attention. I am much inclined to believe those that think they will try to strengthen the lines. Here they could pick up the highly overrated Mike Pouncey. He is riding the success of his twin brother and he is in my opinion not the same caliber player. Especially his inability to snap consistently worries me, but Miami might be looking at him for the guard position which he is probably better suited for.
16. Jacksonville (8-8) – DE Aldon Smith
The Jags would like to get a weapon in the receiving game here, but there is no one left that rates high enough to be drafted here. They could also be tired of the inconsistent performance of QB David Gerrard altogether and that would make Jake Locker an option. Still I think they will take one of the many good defensive linemen available. Here the pass-rushing skills of Aldon Smith might come in handy to bookend with Aaron Kampmann who they hope will be more productive in his second season with the team.
17. New England – from Oakland (8-8) – DE J. J. Watt
The Richard Seymour pick and New England’s first of three picks in the top 33. They will need to strengthen the lines both offensive and defensive with these picks as they have been an uncharacteristic weakness for Belichick’s team as of late.
They also need some help with the running game and Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure is therefore a possibility but Belichick doesn’t value RB’s that high and the one time that he did, it didn’t work out that well (see Maroney, Laurence). Therefore I think Watt is the replacement. Quite fitting that they pick a big 3-4 DE with the pick they got from the Seymour trade.
18. San Diego (9-7) – DT Phil Taylor
San Diego’s biggest need last season was decent special teams play but the first round is obviously not where you cover that need. That’s what the later rounds are for.
The Chargers are still a well-stocked team at pretty much every position. Their d-line could use some help though and 3-4 end Muhammad Wilkerson is option now that Watt is gone. Still I think some help at nose tackle is the way to go. The athletic (for a guy at +330lbs) Taylor gives them some penetration from the nose and further strengthens their pass rush.
19. New York Giants (10-6) – DT Corey Liuget
The Giants have always put a premium on defensive linemen and in a draft so deep at the position I don’t see why they shouldn’t exploit that. This is a good spot for a player like Illinois’ Liuget and the rich get richer.
20. Tampa Bay (10-6) – DE Adrian Clayborn
Last year’s 10-6 season was a surprise to pretty much everyone and much needs to be done if they are to build on the 2010 season and get in to the playoffs that only just eluded them last year.
One of the first needs to attend to for Tampa is pass rush which makes this the fifth defensive lineman in a row off the board. California’s Cameron Jordan is probably higher rated by now but he is better suited for a 3-4 defence, so they go for Clayborn who is dropping in some people’s eyes because of the Erb’s Palsy condition in his left arm, but he is an over-achiever and his kind tend to do well in the NFL
21. Kansas City* (10-6) – OT Gabe Carimi
The Chiefs need help on both the offensive and defensive lines but Clayborn, Watt and Taylor are gone, and that leaves offensive linemen for Scott Pioli to pick between. Carimi is the superior of those remaining and will help keep QB Matt Cassel upright.
22. Indianapolis* (10-6) – OT Nate Solder
The Colts have had a clear need at OT for years now and it needs to be handled even though their defense and running game could also use a hand. The passing game can’t get them back to the Superbowl on its own. Still it’s too early for the remaining RB’s and after the run on DT’s there isn’t enough quality left, so Solder it is. Solder is an excellent pass blocker and will help the Colts continue to do what they do best.
23. Philadelphia* (10-6) – T/G Danny Watkins
The Eagles gave up too many sacks last year (49) but a lot of those can be attributed to Michael Vick’s playing style which puts him outside the pocket where his linemen can’t help.
Nontheless their o-line – which looked so solid two seasons ago – needs a little help. Watkins is a bit of a reach at 23, but it’s a need pick and he will help in the run game as well.
24. New Orleans* (11-5) – DE Cameron Jordan
Some say that New Orleans will go RB in the first round which would probably spell the end for high-priced Reggie Bush. I highly doubt that will be the case with the emergence of Chris Ivory – even if Mark Ingram should fall this far which he doesn’t in my scenario.
Some help for the mediocre run defense seems more likely to me. Cameron Jordan has been dropping and is a bargain at 24. He can be moved all over the line and will also help with the sack production which wasn’t great in 2010.
25. Seattle* (7-9) – QB Jake Locker
The Charlie Whitehurst Project was not exactly a success and with Matt Hasselbeck rapidly getting older, something needs to get done in this draft. Seattle doesn’t pick again until 57th and by then players like Locker, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Ryan Mallett are probably all gone. Locker has accuracy issues and needs work, but he has tremendous athletic ability and with time he can be a great player.
26. Baltimore* (12-4) – DE Cameron Heyward
I can’t bring myself to give the Ravens CB Jimmy Smith like everyone else seems to be doing. He has a ton of character issues which should give most teams pause. Also I don’t think Baltimore really needs a cornerback that badly. They had a 76.4 defensive QB-rating last year even though they only registered 27 sacks, so if they really want to improve their pass defense then they need to rush the QB better. The question is if they still believe that Sergio Kindle can do that for them. I don’t think they feel confident about him so they take Heyward who is a great value at 26 and the tenth defensive lineman off the board so far.
27. Atlanta* (13-3) – DE Ryan Kerrigan
Atlanta was the favourite to make to Superbowl late in the season last year and they were solid in all phases of the game. Their pass rush was average at best though with 30 sacks where 13 of them came from the 32 year old John Abraham. They can’t keep relying on Abraham who needs plenty of plays off every game to stay fresh for a whole season.
The arrival of Kerrigan keeps the run on d-linemen going and will probably mean goodbye to Jamaal Anderson who has only had 4,5 sacks in four seasons.
28. New England* (14-2) – OT Derek Sherrod
I seriously doubt that Belichick retains this pick. When their time comes around there will be plenty of teams eager to get a QB like Mallet or Dalton and “The Hooded One” loves to trade down. But I haven’t included trades in my mock, so assuming they stay at 28, they will look to the offensive line. Both LT Matt Light and LG Logan Mankins are disgruntled and with Sherrod in the roster the Patriots suddenly have a lot of leverage in their negotiations with the players.
29. Chicago* (11-5) – WR Jonathan Baldwin
The Bears led the league in giving up sacks and though that is one of the downsides to Mike Martz’ system, it is still something that needs to be remedied. The Bears will be really disappointed if both Carimi, Solder, Watkins and Sherrod are gone before it’s their turn, but that is the case here, so they turn to another area of dire need: wide receiver. The 6’4″ Baldwin from Pittsburgh is a bit of a gamble, but his ability to get open will give Cutler a big target and a much-needed safety valve down the field.
30. New York Jets* (11-5) – Muhammad Wilkerson
Rex Ryan has not made it a secret that he wants to help the d-line, showing up to the Pro Day of every major DT. In this mock there has been a hefty run on d-linemen and there aren’t that many left. One of the only ones left, and by the way one of the rare small school prospects at the position, is Temple’s Wilkerson and he will fit well at DE in the Jets’ 3-4.
31. Pittsburgh* (12-4) – OT James Carpenter
The Steelers have been top ten in “most sacks given up” for five seasons in a row now, albeit a lot of that can be attributed to Ben Roethlisberger’s mind boggling tendency to hold on to the ball too long, he also needs some help up front. Every remaining o-lineman is a reach at this point, but Alabama’s James Carpenter gives them a good player who might be a bit slow, but is technically sound in his pass blocks.
32. Green Bay* (10-6) – LB Akeem Ayers
The Packers went all the way last season but they lack a good pass rusher to take the heat off LB Clay Matthews. The versatile Ayers has been dropping because of his poor combine numbers, but he is a terrific pass rusher and GM Ted Thompson won’t hesitate to make this pick, though talented but troubled CB Jimmy Smith will also get a look.
* = made the playoffs in 2010
In parentheses = 2010′s win-loss for the team in regular season