1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The Panthers have a ton of needs, so they should really just go with the best player available. With the emergence of Charles Johnson, I doubt Carolina will take Da’Quan Bowers, so this pick comes down to Nick Fairley and A.J. Green. Fairley gets the nod because defensive tackles have been going higher and higher over the years and he is regarded as a better overall prospect than Green.
2. Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Champ Bailey is as good as gone in Denver, and there is no way the Broncos can compete with Andre Goodman, Nate Jones, and Perrish Cox as their top three corners. Patrick Peterson will immediately provide the cover skills that can help this defense take strides in the right direction.
3. Buffalo Bills: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina
Buffalo is really in a tough spot here because their needs either do not match up with the talent in this draft or are at positions where players don’t get drafted this high (inside linebacker, tight end). Don’t be surprised if they try to trade back so they can grab an offensive tackle and front seven defender. However, if they stay put, I think the pick will be Robert Quinn. I though about Marcell Dareus, Da’Quan Bowers, Blaine Gabbert, and even Tyron Smith here but in the end, Quinn’s pure athleticism and natural fit in a critical spot in the 3-4 scheme win out.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
It’s becoming clear that A.J. Green will be the pick for Cincinnati if he is still on the board. The Bengals need to reinvent their offense, and Green is the type of playmaker that can keep Carson Palmer happy and open things up for Cedric Benson again.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
This was a tough selection because Arizona has so many desperate needs. Blaine Gabbert, Da’Quan Bowers, and Von Miller got serious consideration here, but Arizona has hinted that it will try to find a veteran signal caller instead of drafting a rookie one, Bowers is not a very good fit in a 3-4, and Von Miller is not very good value in the top 5. So, Prince Amukamara will step in across from Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie to form one of the top cornerback tandems in the league.
6. Cleveland Browns: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
The Browns are moving to a 4-3 defense, and I have no clue how they will pull it off. Matt Roth is the only player on their roster that is a good fit as a 4-3 end, so rushing the passer could be an enormous problem. Coincidentally, Da’Quan Bowers, many scouts’ favorite prospect, is still on the board after Carolina, Buffalo, and Cincinnati all passed on him.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
This may come as a shock, but Cameron Jordan is absolutely lighting up the Senior Bowl and San Francisco has reportedly shown a ton of interest. Mocking him so high after just two practices is a bit premature, but if Tyson Jackson can go in the top 3, Cameron Jordan can go seventh. The 49ers are very unsatisfied with Isaac Sopoaga and feel that a defensive line composed of Aubrayo Franklin, Justin Smith, and Cameron Jordan would be elite.
8. Tennessee Titans: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
I don’t believe Blaine Gabbert has the deep accuracy that Tennessee looks for in a passer, and defensive end is a possibility if Jason Babin leaves in free agency, but Marcell Dareus is too good to pass up at eight overall. He will be the true impact defensive lineman that Tennessee has been sorely lacking since the departure of Albert Haynesworth.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
I’ve been mocking a pass rusher to Dallas lately, but I’m now believing that one of the two offensive tackles will rise into top 10 status before draft day. This pick could easily be Tyron Smith, but Solder has had an excellent start to the Senior Bowl and has the size and wingspan that the Cowboys love in their tackles (Flozell Adams, Marc Colombo, Doug Free, Alex Barron, Sam Young…) at 6’9″.
10. Washington Redskins: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Gabbert has gotten past Arizona, Tennessee, and San Francisco, but he will not slide nearly as far as Jimmy Clausen. He has the mobility and size that Mike Shanahan loves in his quarterbacks, and the pick will excite the fan base, which goes nuts every time a skill player is brought in.
11. Houston Texans: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
The Texans need some pieces for their new 3-4 defense, and with no true nose tackles worthy of this slot, Houston will look to solidify their pass rush. Mark Anderson and Brian Cushing could have success in the rush linebacker role, but Von Miller is a much better athlete and a more natural fit. He and Mario Williams could be terrorizing on the same defensive unit.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
With Joe Webb on the roster, I don’t see Minnesota picking Cam Newton. This selection will be traded for Kevin Kolb or used on a defensive lineman. Corey Liuget’s stock is soaring right now and Pat Williams will be 39 during the 2011 season.
13. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
I always go back and forth between Tyron Smith and Akeem Ayers here, but Smith plays a much more important position and the Lions have not been able to keep their quarterbacks upright yet. When they do, their offense could become one of the scariest units in the league.
14. St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
With Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander, and Danny Amendola, the Rams could get away with drafting a defensive lineman or linebacker here. However, Julio Jones is much better than any defender on the board here so he should be the pick. The Ram offense suddenly becomes very potent with their explosive receivers and Steven Jackson.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Miami is a mess offensively and they need a piece that they can build around. With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams slated to become free agents, the Dolphins could opt to go in a different direction at running back. A quarterback is also an option, where it looks like Cam Newton would be the next guy off the board.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Jacksonville needs an awful lot of help in an awful lot of areas, and pass rushers are always a good place to start. Aldon Smith is young, but has a ton of untapped potential and has unbelievable burst at 6’5″, 260.