Updated: April 28th, 2011
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1. Carolina Panthers- Cam Newton, Quarterback (Auburn)
> It appears as though Carolina, after only one year, has lost faith in Jimmy Clausen being their quarterback of the future. The Panthers now appear poised to spend the first overall pick of the 2011 draft on their new franchise player, Cam Newton. Newton has plenty of raw physical ability, from his behemoth size (6’5”, 248) to his rocket arm, but anyone who saw him play college football knows just how much he needs to grow as a football player. Newton has plenty of potential, but he’ll need to sit and learn so that he doesn’t get burned in a baptism by fire.
2. Denver Broncos- Von Miller, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker (Texas A&M)
> Denver will be switching back to a 4-3 defensive scheme under new coach John Fox, and will need to add as many new pieces in order to make the transition a smooth one. They already have one pass rusher, DE Elvis Dumervil, but it looks like the most recent news is that the Broncos want to grab Von Miller to pair with him. Miller is undersized, like Dumervil, and isn’t the greatest fit in a 4-3, but he has the athleticism to make an impact anyways.
3. Buffalo Bills- Marcel Dareus, Defensive End/ Defensive Tackle (Alabama)
> Buffalo needs to upgrade its run defense. There’s no questions about it; they’ve fielded the worst run defense in the NFL for the past three years. With Denver now passing up on Marcel Dareus, there is no way the Bills can do the same. He has the size (6′ 3″, 319) and skill to be the run-stuffing presence Buffalo has lacked since Sam Adams left. He can play any position on the Bills’ 3-4 defensive front, and will give them more freedom to move around Pro Bowl DL Kyle Williams.
4. Cincinnati Bengals- A.J. Green, Wide Receiver (Georgia)
> If Carson Palmer does in fact make good on his threat to get out of town, then Cincinnati may trade up for either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. If they decide to stay put at #4, then the Bengals may add another receiver to compliment the emerging Jerome Simpson. After all, Cincinnati’s offense actually looked quite good over the last few weeks of the regular season without Terrell Owens or Chad OchoCinco, and may decide that parting ways with those two is their best course of action. A young, talented tandem or Green and Simpson could be quite potent, and be enough to persuade Palmer to finish his tenure in black and orange.
5. Arizona Cardinals- Patrick Peterson, Cornerback (Louisiana State)
> Arizona fielded the 23rd ranked pass defense last year. Part of that can be chalked up to their abysmal pass rush (33 sacks in 2010), but a large part of that fact can be attributed to poor cornerback play. Domonique Rogers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, but Greg Toler leaves much to be desired. Arizona can instantly boast one of the best young cornerback duos in the league by drafting Patrick Peterson, whom some say is the best defensive back prospect since Charles Woodson.
6. Cleveland Browns- Julio Jones, Wide Receiver (Alabama)
> Cleveland desperately needs viable threats in the passing game. Colt McCoy appears to be the Browns’ quarterback of the future, and if they want him to succeed, they’re going to have to do better than Mohammad Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie at wide receiver. Julio Jones is a tough (he performed every combine drill on a broken foot, and played much of the year hurt), fast (4.39 40 yard dash) wide receiver who has the talent and potential to be a #1 receiver in an offense.
7. San Francisco 49ers- Robert Quinn, Defensive End/ Outside Linebacker (North Carolina)
> As a team, the 49ers registered only 36 sacks in 2010, and their best edge rusher was 31-year-old Justin Smith, who notched 8.5 sacks last year. San Francisco’s pass defense as a whole suffered from the lack of rush, finishing as the 24th ranked unit in that category. Adding someone like Robert Quinn, an athletic, productive edge rusher (19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his sophomore year), would do wonders for the 49er defense.
8. Tennessee Titans- Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle (Auburn)
> Tennessee loves adding talent to its defensive line, and grabbing a player like Lombardi Award and National Championship Defensive MVP winner Nick Fairley would be a big boost to an already solid unit. If either quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton are somehow still available, one of them could be the pick, given the teams’ recent disassociation with former first round pick Vince Young. If not, then Fairley will be the pick. The Titans will be getting a steal in Fairley, who can absolutely dominate games along the line of scrimmage.
9. Dallas Cowboys- Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle (Southern California)
> Dallas is in the market for either a cornerback, right tackle, or defensive end. They don’t appear sold on either CB Prince Amukamara or DE J.J. Watt, so Tyron Smith has pretty much become the consensus pick here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; Smith is a very athletic tackle who may eventually take over at left tackle for the ‘Boys.
10. Washington Redskins- Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback (Missouri)
> Out of circumstance, Gabbert slides to #10. I just don’t think Buffalo likes Gabbert enough, or that the Cardinals are ready to give up on John Skelton, or that the Titans will want him more than Nick Fairley. In the end, the Redskins end up with a potential franchise quarterback who can sit behind (gulp) Rex Grossman for a year. Gabbert has good size (6’5”, 242) and a solid arm, but he ran a spread offense in college and needs time to learn the pro game.
11. Houston Texans- Prince Amukamara, Cornerback (Nebraska)
> Could the Texans really go cornerback in the first round two years in a row? Well, given how horrendous their pass defense was last year, they very well may have to. Amukamara is a potential shutdown cornerback with plenty of talent. The only knock on him is his lack of interceptions, but hey, Darrelle Revis doesn’t pick off a whole lot of passes either. Amukamara will be a huge upgrade over Glover Quin, much to the relief of Texans fans.
12. Minnesota Vikings- Cameron Jordan, Defensive End (California)
> Unless the Vikings are desperate enough to reach for Jake Locker or Ryan Mallet with this pick in order to find their “Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco,” I can see Cameron Jordan donning purple in 2011 for a couple of reasons. For one, his father, Steven Jordan, played 13 seasons with Minnesota as a tight end. And secondly, the Vikings badly need a compliment to Jared Allen.
13. Detroit Lions- Aldon Smith, Defensive End (Missouri)
> Detroit may have to trade up if it wants to acquire either one of its top targets (Tyron Smith and Prince Amukamara, whom in this projection they would have to move up to draft). If they stay where they are, I can see them drafting Aldon Smith to complete their defensive line. They already have a trio of stud defensive tackles (Corey Williams, Sammie Lee Hill, and last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler Ndamakong Suh), they have a good young edge rusher in Cliff Avril; now all they need is an heir apparent to DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. KVB is still good, but he’s not getting any younger, and there’s no reason to pass up a chance to replace him with elite young talent.
14. St. Louis Rams- Corey Liuget, Defensive Tackle (Illinois)
> Last year, St. Louis had the choice to either grab a franchise quarterback (Sam Bradford) or an elite defensive tackle (Ndamakong Suh). They chose the former (rightly so), but they still need to upgrade their defensive tackles. Liuget is the best available, and will be very potent next to Chris Long. Another option here is to grab a pass rusher to pair with Long, but it appears as though the Rams like Liuget.
15. Miami Dolphins- Mark Ingram, Running Back (Alabama)
> Not changing this pick, come Hell or high water. It just makes too much sense. Ricky Williams is old, Ronnie Brown can’t stay healthy; the Dolphins need a new threat out of the backfield. Might as well select the former Heisman Trophy winner to be that new threat. Miami may very well trade down, but if not, then Ingram should be the pick.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars- Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End (Purdue)
> Jacksonville finally erases the nightmare of the 2008 draft by selecting a pass rusher to replace bust DE Derrick Harvey. Kerrigan is a high-effort player who gets sacks and forces fumbles; in short, everything the Jaguars envisioned Harvey to be after they surrendered four draft picks to move up from the 26th slot to the 8th overall pick in order to get the former Florida DE. Kerrigan will team with an already potent line of Terrence Knighton and Tyson Alualu, and should be productive from day one.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland)- Mike Pouncey, Guard (Florida)
> New England will likely be losing both Stephen Neal (retirement) and Logan Mankins (contract). They’ll need to keep their offensive line as talented as possible so that Tom Brady can stay healthy, and adding an elite guard like Mike Pouncey would be a good addition for the Patriots.
18. San Diego Chargers- J.J. Watt, Defensive End/ Defensive Tackle (Wisconsin)
> San Diego needs add more talent to its defensive line. They’re set at most positions, but when your starters are Antonio Garay, Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire, improvement can be made. J.J. Watt is a former tight end who can converted to defensive end, and he has thrived there, notching 11 sacks in two years with the Wisconsin Badgers. At 6’6”, 295, he’s the perfect fit as the 3-4 defensive end the Chargers could use.
19. New York Giants- Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle (Boston College)
> New York’s offensive line, once the strength of its Super Bowl Championship team, has become a rapidly aging, oft-injured patchwork unit. Youth is needed, and adding a player like Anthony Castonzo would upgrade the left tackle position while allowing current LT David Diehl to slide inside to guard, a position he is better suited for now.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Justin Houston, Defensive End (Georgia)
> Tampa Bay’s biggest need is at defensive end. They finished the 2010 season tied for second last in the league in sacks with a mere 26; an average of less than two per game. Tampa needs better edge rushers, and have made it known that they are enamored with a few prospects, including Georgia defensive end Justin Houston. Houston notched 17 sacks in the past two years, and could be what Tampa Bay needs to fix their pass rushing woes.
21. Kansas City Chiefs- Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver (Maryland)
> Kansas City’s lack of a good secondary receiver was exposed in their blowout playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Dwayne Bowe is very good, but if the Chiefs want to advance past the first round of the postseason, they’ll need to add a viable threat to compliment him in the passing game. Torrey Smith could be what the Chiefs need to open up their passing game, given his size (6’1″) and speed (4.37)
22. Indianapolis Colts- Derek Sherrod, Offensive Tackle (Mississippi State)
> Indianapolis needs to protect their quarterback better, and upgrade the blocking for their 29th ranked rushing offense. So how do you do that? Draft a stud offensive linemen. The Colts recent admission that Peyton Manning may be reaching the end of his tenure with the club makes it more imperative that they have good protection for whichever young signal caller takes over. With all that in mind, I think the Colts will have to take the best offensive lineman available.
23. Philadelphia Eagles- Jimmy Smith, Cornerback (Colorado)
>Philadelphia’s opening round loss in the playoffs to the Packers made it apparent just how thin they are at corner after Asante Samuel. Ellis Hobbs’ career is likely over, and neither Dmitri Patterson nor Trevard Lindley appears capable of being starters in the NFL. They’ll need to grab a top-tier cornerback early in the 2011 draft, and since they don’t care about potential character-risk players (as evidenced by their acquisitions of Michael Vick and Jason Peters), they could very well grab the twice arrested Colorado star.
24. New Orleans Saints- Akeem Ayers, Outside Linebacker (UCLA)
> New Orleans doesn’t have many holes, but it could stand to improve the linebackers who flank Pro Bowler Jonathan Vilma. Neither Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Marvin Mitchell, Scott Shanle nor Danny Clark was very impressive at outside linebacker for the Saints this year, so they may seize the chance to grab an athletic, talented linebacker like Akeem Ayers, whose versatility and pass rushing ability make him the perfect fit for Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme.
25. Seattle Seahawks- Jake Locker, Quarterback (Washington)
> Matt Hasselbeck has likely played his last game as a Seattle Seahawk. And since Charlie Whitehurst did little in limited action to show he’s capable of taking over the reigns as Seattle’s quarterback, the Seahawks will probably draft a new franchise signal caller this year. A move that will endear fans is drafting local star Jake Locker, who was once a candidate to go #1 overall, before a disastrous senior season exposed some of his flaws (inaccuracy being the most prevalent). Still, Locker can be coached, and he as the arm strength, mobility and athleticism to become a good pro quarterback.
26. Baltimore Ravens- Cameron Heyward, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle (Ohio State)
> It has been reported that the Ravens like Cameron Heyward quite a bit. Following the suit of other mocks drafts, particularly WalterFootball.com, I’m going to have to give the Ravens their man. It makes sense too; a line of Cameron Heyward, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody would be big, young, and talented enough to keep the Ravens’ elite defense intact for another decade.
27. Atlanta Falcons- Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End (Iowa)
>Atlanta’s lack of athleticism and talent at the defensive end position was badly exposed in their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. A young defensive end who can get to the quarterback and wrap him up is what the Falcons need most, and I can’t see them passing on a talent like Clayborn, who racked up 15 sacks in his last two years of college action.
28. New England Patriots- Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive End/ Defensive Tackle (Temple)
> New England doesn’t have many holes, but one that was obvious in their playoff loss to the Jets was their lack of pass rush. Muhammad Wilkerson is the prototypical 3-4 defensive end who can get to the passer, and could be New England’s pick, if they choose not to trade down.
29. Chicago Bears- Gabe Carimi, Offensive Tackle (Wisconsin)
> Welcome back to the first round of the NFL Draft, Chicago! Jay Cutler was worth it, but now the Bears need to spend a first round pick to protect him. The Chicago line gave up a brutal 56 sacks in 2010, and another five in the playoffs. Cutler won’t survive if he’s subjected to that kind of abuse again. Chicago will have to draft the best offensive lineman available with their first pick, and in this case its former Wisconsin Badger Gabe Carimi.
30. New York Jets- Brooks Reed, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker (Arizona)
> The Jets need to get younger, more athletic, and more productive at outside linebacker, something that was evident when Ben Roethlisberger ran all over them in the AFC Championship Game. No Jets linebacker recorded more than six sacks in 2010, and none of their starting edge rushers is under 30 years old. If the Jets want to finally get to the Super Bowl, the way they’ve “guaranteed” for the past two years, they’ll need to bring in an athletic, explosive, high motor edge rusher like Brooks Reed.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers- Phil Taylor, Nose Tackle (Baylor)
> Pittsburgh, like the Jets, needs to get younger up front. Ziggy Hood finally became productive this year, but he’s only one part of the line. Nose tackle Casey Hampton probably doesn’t have much left in the tank, and Pittsburgh can replace him and keep the anchor position of their line manned with talent by drafting Phil Taylor, a massive nose tackle at 334 pounds who can tie up blockers and even get to the quarterback when needed (five career college sacks).
32. Green Bay Packers- Danny Watkins, Guard (Baylor)
> Green Bay likes taking the best player on the board, and in this case its the 27 year old guard from Baylor. It actually somewhat fits a need, given how poor Aaron Rodgers’ protection has been. Baylor played left tackle at Baylor, has been projected as a guard in the pros, but undoubtedly has the versatility to play and upgrade whatever position the Packers want him playing.
FEBRUARY 21st VERSION:
1. Carolina Panthers- A.J. Green, Wide Receiver (Georgia)
> In the wake of Andrew Luck returning to Stanford to complete his architecture degree, the Panthers will have to address another position with the first pick in the 2011 draft. As odd as it may sound, Carolina actually benefits from Luck’s decision to return to school, even if Luck himself foolishly passed up a guaranteed $50 million. Now they can give Jimmy Clausen one more year to prove himself (as bad as he was last year, he was just a rookie), and they can add a top talent to another position. And if Clausen flops again, Carolina will be in a position to draft Luck at the top of the 2012 draft, in all likelihood. As for Clausen, he’ll be in the best position to prove himself as Carolina’s quarterback if he has some decent playmakers around him in the passing game. Steve Smith is old, slowing down and a bit of a liability due to his attitude, and David Gettis and Brandon Lafell didn’t exactly light up the league last year. Carolina has to address their receiving game, and lucky for them, a great talent in the 6’4” Green is available for them to take.
2. Denver Broncos- Patrick Peterson, Cornerback (LSU)
> Denver doesn’t have that many holes, their failure this year was due to poor coaching by the now departed Josh McDaniels. Tim Tebow has certainly given the impression that he can be Denver’s quarterback of the future, and the rest of the offense has plenty of talent. The defense will get a boost with the return of Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil (who missed all of 2010 with a torn pectoral), but still has a few key areas of need. The defensive line could use an upgrade, particularly at nose tackle, and the cornerback position could also use some help. Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger, and Perrish Cox is facing legal trouble. Patrick Peterson is an elite talent at the corner position, and will add a lot of talent to Denver’s secondary. With no nose tackle worthy of being taken this high, Peterson has to be Denver’s pick in order to help the team’s 25th ranked pass defense.
3. Buffalo Bills- Nick Fairley, Defensive End (Auburn)
> Buffalo has many needs, but none outweigh their need for improvement with their run defense. For the second year in a row, they were ranked dead last against the run. A player like Auburn’s Nick Fairley, who can disrupt the line and take over a game with his backfield penetration, is just what Buffalo needs to cure what ails their defense. They also need an offensive tackle, but there are none worth taking this high (there were plenty last year though…how’s C.J. Spiller working out?).
4. Cincinnati Bengals- Da’Quan Bowers, Defensive End (Clemson)
> Cincinnati registered a mere 27 sacks in 2010. Carlos Dunlap looks like he’s the answer at one defensive end spot, as he racked up 9.5 sacks in his rookie year, but the Bengals need someone who can provide him with a complimentary rush from the other end spot. Antwan Odom has struggled with injuries since signing with the Bengals as a free agent in 2009, and it may only be a matter of time before he’s out of Cincinnati. Enter Da’Quan Bowers, who registered sixteen sacks as a junior at Clemson.
5. Arizona Cardinals- Von Miller, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker (Texas A&M)
>Arizona had a weak pass rush in 2010, registering only 33 sacks (roughly two per game). Darnell Dockett and Calais make a great tandem on the inside, but they only combined for 11 sacks last year. Arizona needs a true threat off the edge, and Von Miller, who registered 27 sacks the past two years, can be just that.
6. Cleveland Browns- Marcell Dareus, Defensive Lineman (Alabama)
> Cleveland finished in the bottom half of the league in run, pass and total defense. The Browns need an impact defensive lineman for this to change. Marcell Dareus can provide an inside pass rush (11 career sacks in only two years) to boost Cleveland’s ability to get to the quarterback (only 29 sacks in 2010), and he has great ability against the run. If A.J. Green is here, he’ll be the pick, but if he’s not, then Dareus will be the next Cleveland Brown.
7. San Francisco 49ers- Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback (Missouri)
> I’m not sure where all the Blaine Gabbert hype came from, perhaps it was just a knee jerk reaction after Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford, but it seems now he is the #1 quarterback in this class. He did run a spread offense in college, but he does have two full years as the starter at Missouri, a solid touchdown to interception ratio, great size (6’5”, 240) and a strong arm. He seems, at least on paper, to have plenty of potential to be a good NFL quarterback. Unless Jim Harbaugh wants to wait a year for his college protégé (Luck) to declare, I don’t see how San Francisco passes on Gabbert.
8. Tennessee Titans- Cam Newton, Quarterback (Auburn)
> Now that the Vince Young experiment is over in Tennessee, its once again time to start fresh. And personally, I think Bud Adams is going to take one look at Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton and see what could have been with Vince Young. Both are option quarterbacks with strong arms, National Championship rings and Heisman trophies. Not to mention the Houston/Tennessee franchise loves African American quarterbacks. Warren Moon, Steve McNair and Vince Young were all long term starters for the Oilers/Titans, Cam Newton could easily be next.
9. Dallas Cowboys- Prince Amukamara, Cornerback (Nebraska)
>Dallas needs major upgrades in their secondary if they want to get back into contention. Terrence Newman isn’t getting any younger, and former first round pick Mike Jenkins inexplicably regressed after a Pro Bowl season. There’s still hope for Jenkins, but Dallas needs to find a replacement for Newman. Amukamara has the potential to be an elite player, and could be what the Cowboys need on the back end.
10. Washington Redskins- Ryan Mallet, Quarterback (Arkansas)
> Mike Shanahan has made it clear that he does not want Donovan McNabb as his starting quarterback next year. With that in mind, he’ll move quickly to draft “his guy” to lead the Redskins. Since Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are off the board, the only other real options are Ryan Mallet and Jake Locker. Mallet had a far better season, so expect him to be the pick.
11. Houston Texans- Robert Quinn, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker (UNC)
>Houston is switching to a 3-4, under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. They’ll need an edge rusher on the outside to compliment Mario Williams, and Robert Quinn is an athletic freak who can be just that. Houston’s been looking for a compliment to Williams for years, and I don’t see them passing on a player of Quinn’s caliber if he’s available.
12. Minnesota Vikings- Aldon Smith, Defensive End (Missouri)
> Head coach Leslie Frazier has voiced his desire to find the next “Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco”, so a quarterback could easily be the pick. Unfortunately, the top three have already come off the board, and reaching for a quarterback can set a franchise back for years. Minnesota could make a play for Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb or Vince Young, and address another position at #12 overall. Minnesota went through stretches of games without even registering a sack this year. A compliment to Jared Allen is needed, and Aldon Smith could fill that need. He’s young, athletic, and productive, things Minnesota badly needs for its defensive line.
13. Detroit Lions- Akeem Ayers, Outside Linebacker (UCLA)
> Detroit recently released OLB Julian Peterson due to his high contract. Detroit is an up-and-coming team, and need to keep adding youth to key positions. Ayers is a complete player, and will benefit from playing behind a dominant defensive line like Detroit’s. Another option here is cornerback, but it will likely take Amukamara being available for Detroit to pass on Ayers.
14. St. Louis Rams- Julio Jones, Wide Receiver (Alabama)
> Sam Bradford is well on his way to becoming a great quarterback, and will only continue to get better. One thing that would help his, and the Rams development, is a true #1 wide receiver, as well as some height at the position. St. Louis will be getting Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery back from injuries, but they’re both 5’11”, as is slot receiver Danny Amendola. The 6’3” Julio Jones is a great talent, despite his occasional problems dropping the football. He can stretch the field and give the Rams the #1 receiver they’ve lacked since Torry Holt.
15. Miami Dolphins- Mark Ingram, Running Back (Alabama)
> This one’s been a lock for a while. Ronnie Brown can’t stay healthy, Ricky Williams isn’t getting any younger, so the Dolphins need a new franchise running back. Ingram is the complete package, and will help the Dolphins offense a lot. Miami could also look for a quarterback here, but Jake Locker has recently played himself out of the first round, so they should look for a new signal caller in the later rounds.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars- Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End (Purdue)
> Despite drafting pass rushers in the first round two of the last three years, Jacksonville still struggles to pressure the passer. Derrick Harvey looks like a bust, and free agent signee Aaron Kampman tore his ACL again, casting doubt on his future. You can’t win in this league without being able to rush the passer, so they need to add someone who can get into the opposing backfield. Ryan Kerrigan is a high-motor player who registered twenty five sacks in his last two years as a Boilermaker, and should be able to help Jacksonville’s lacking pass rush.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland)- J.J. Watt, Defensive End (Wisconsin)
> New England doesn’t have many needs, but they do need to upgrade their pass rush, as they had only 36 in 2010, and no one player had more than 5.5. J.J. Watt is the prototypical 3-4 end, and will fit perfectly in New England’s defense.
18. San Diego Chargers- Cameron Jordan, Defensive End (California)
> San Diego needs some more youth on its defensive line. Jacques Cesaire and Antonio Garay are both 30+, and could be replaced. Cameron Jordan tore it up at California in his senior season, and already has experience playing in a 3-4, since that’s what the Golden Bears run. He’ll fit right in.
19. New York Giants- Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle (Colorado)
>New York needs more youth and talent on their offensive line. The same unit has been together for years, and is beginning to break down. New York no longer controls the line of scrimmage, and Brandon Jacobs has suffered because of it. A big left tackle like Solder would be a perfect fit on New York’s line.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End (Iowa)
> Tampa Bay has quickly turned around, thanks to a very successful youth movement spearheaded by second year quarterback Josh Freeman and rookie wide receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. They’ll compete for an NFC South title very soon, but they still need a few pieces. One of the pieces in particular that is needed is a pass-rushing defensive end. Tampa Bay registered a paltry 26 sacks in 2010 (an average of less than two sacks per game), and no player got to the quarterback more than five times. An aggressive pass rusher like Adrian Clayborn, who is no slouch against the run either, would be the perfect fit on an evolving Tampa Bay defense.
21. Kansas City Chiefs- Jonathan Baldwin, Wide Receiver (Pittsburgh)
> Kansas City’s biggest priorities this offseason are retaining pass rusher Tamba Hali, and adding a complimentary receiver for Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs were badly exposed in the playoffs against Baltimore when Bowe was hurt, as quarterback Matt Cassel couldn’t find anyone else to throw to, finishing with only 70 yards passing. With Bowe out of the picture, the Ravens shut down the Chiefs running attack and left Arrowhead Stadium with an easy 30-7 victory. If the Chiefs don’t want to be one-and-done again in 2011, they need to add another threat in the passing game. Jonathan Baldwin is a massive secondary receiver at 6’5”, and will give opposing defenses something to worry about when he’s lined up across from Dwayne Bowe.
22. Indianapolis Colts- Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle (USC)
> Indianapolis struggled through a slew of key injuries (TE Dallas Clark, WR Austin Collie, pretty much every defensive back on the roster…). They’ll contend again in 2011, but they still need some work done. Peyton Manning has been under siege ever since Tarik Glenn retired in 2007. Since then, Tony Ugoh and Charlie Johnson have provided Manning with substandard protection. It’s no coincidence the Colts have failed in the playoffs without good quarterback protection; they haven’t won the Super Bowl since Glenn retired. Tyron Smith is a potential franchise left tackle, and could be what the Colts need to get back over the hump.
23. Philadelphia Eagles- Brandon Harris, Cornerback (Miami at Florida)
> Philadelphia had almost all the pieces this year, but couldn’t muster enough defense to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the first round of the playoffs. Major upgrades on the back seven are needed. With no linebackers left worth taking at #23 overall, Philadelphia should probably opt for a compliment to CB Asante Samuel. Ellis Hobbs’ career is probably over, and Dmitri Patterson was constantly burned as a starter. And upgrade is needed, and Brandon Harris can step right in.
24. New Orleans Saints- Corey Liuget, Defensive Tackle (Illinois)
> The Saints loss to the Seahawks in the wild card round of the playoffs proved their need for defensive upgrades. Particularly, the one play in which NINE Saints failed to tackle Marshawn Lynch on his way to a 67-yard game winning score. A linebacker or defensive tackle would be the best choice here, and once again, with no linebacker worth taking here, the Saints should opt for the best defensive tackle on the board, who in this projection turns out to be Illinois’ Corey Liuget.
25. Seattle Seahawks- Gabe Carimi, Offensive Tackle (Wisconsin)
> Seattle badly overachieved in 2010. A division title and playoff win over the defending Super Bowl champions may sound great, but its really not when it drops you about 11 spots in the draft. Seattle was 25th in total offense and 28th in total defense this year, and finished 7-9. Matt Hasselbeck isn’t getting any younger, and he didn’t exactly burn the league down with a 73.2 passer rating and an ugly 12:17 touchdown to interception ratio. Supposed “quarterback of the future” Charlie Whitehurst was no better, going 1-1 as a starter while posting a 65.3 passer rating. Seattle could have used a higher pick. Still, they’ll have to make do with what they have, and upgrade with the best player available. Seattle surrendered 35 sacks in 2010, and ranked 31st in rushing offense. A massive left tackle like Gabe Carimi would be the perfect compliment to 2010 first round pick Russell Okung.
26. Baltimore Ravens- Titus Young, Wide Receiver (Boise State)
> Despite Baltimore’s best effort’s to upgrade its receiving corps, they were betrayed by two big drops in the playoffs by wide receivers Anquan Boldin (touchdown drop) and T.J. Houshmanzadeh (4th down drop with under two minutes to go in the game), whom were both added before the 2010 season. Boldin also had a penchant for disappearing in games, registering two or fewer catches in FIVE games this year. Not good for a supposed #1 wide receiver. Derrick Mason isn’t getting any younger either, as he’ll be 37 at the start of the 2011 season. Baltimore needs a young stud at receiver, and would be well served to take a vertical threat like Boise State’s Titus Young, who is being compared (albeit prematurely) to DeSean Jackson
27. Atlanta Falcons- Leonard Hankerson, Wide Receiver (Miami at Florida)
> Atlanta desperately needs to diversify its offense with some more talent. Throwing the ball to Roddy White 90% of the time and throwing a deep sideline route to Michael Jenkins the other 10% of the time gets old pretty quickly, as evidenced by Atlanta’s blowout loss to the Packers in the playoffs. With Tony Gonzalez no longer a threat, Atlanta needs another weapon on offense. Miami’s Leonard Hankerson put on a clinic during the Senior Bowl, and will probably take over as the second receiver on the depth chart by season’s end, if drafted.
28. New England Patriots- Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver (Maryland)
> New England doesn’t have many needs, and will probably trade down multiple times. However, if they stay in this spot, they’ll probably address their need for a vertical threat on offense. The offense picked up after Randy Moss was traded, as Tom Brady no longer had to force the ball deep to him, but was all their short routes to Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were neutralized in the playoffs by the Jets. Brandon Tate doesn’t look like he’ll be much more than a kick returner at this point, so adding a tall deep threat like Torrey Smith could be an option for New England at the end of the first round.
29. Chicago Bears – Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle (Boston College)
> Chicago surrendered sixty sacks in 2010. Sixty. I’m not surprised Jay Cutler didn’t want to line up behind his line in the second half of the NFC Championship Game; he was probably sick of getting knocked around. Chicago has to upgrade its pass protection this year. There is no other choice for them in the draft this year. They can’t pass on a left tackle like Anthony Castonzo at #29.
30. New York Jets- Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker (Georgia)
> One thing is very clear about the New York Jets defense: they need to do a much better job getting to the quarterback if they want to get to the Super Bowl. 34+ year old players like Shaun Ellis, Jason Taylor and Trevor Pryce just can’t get it done in the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger had all day to move around in the AFC Championship Game, and as a result, the Jets suffered their second consecutive loss in the conference title game. Youth is needed at the pass rusher position, and a 22 year old like Justin Houston who registered 10 sacks as a junior in the SEC could be just what the Jets need.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers- Phil Taylor, Nose Tackle (Baylor)
> Pittsburgh needs to continue to get younger on defense. They can’t keep relying on 33+ year old linemen like Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is finally developing into an impact player, but he’s still just one man. A 3-4 defense needs a good nose tackle, and Phil Taylor can learn behind Casey Hampton, and then step into the starter’s role in a year or two.
32. Green Bay Packers- Sam Acho, Defensive End/ Outside Linebacker (Texas)
> Green Bay doesn’t have many needs. As long as they stay healthy, they’ll continue to compete for Super Bowls given their youth and talent. One spot they could stand to upgrade is pass rusher. Clay Matthews is a beast, but Green Bay can do better than starting Frank Zombo across from him.