I wanted to be as brave as Gagnon and put both Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton out of the top five where they belong, a fate that should especially apply to Newton, the draft’s most glaring boom or bust candidate. But the realist in me wouldn’t allow it.
If he’s available, the Cardinals will acknowledge the risk and hope for a hefty reward on Newton at No. 5. My voice of reason also said that Newton likely won’t even last that long given Carolina’s continued infatuation, but I ignored that jerk.
1. Carolina Panthers: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri — I’m stubbornly sticking with this, even though Gabbert’s stock is fading. The reason is simple, and it’s the same one I gave two weeks ago: if the Panthers are bent on selecting a quarterback, a franchise starved for success needs to take the safer option, and the safer option is not named Cam Newton.
2. Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU — Marcell Dareus would be a fine pick here too, and it seems like the Broncos are leaning heavily in his direction.
3. Buffalo Bills: OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M — A team that rarely sacked the quarterback (27 sacks), and had the league’s worst run defence needs a versatile outside presence who performs well in both areas.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green, Georgia — And so begins the flip-flopping. I had Green here in our first round of mocking the draft a month ago, and then replaced him with Newton. But the more Mike Brown digs his heels and wags his fingers, the less likely it seems he’ll cave and bow down to Carson Palmer.
5. Arizona Cardinals: QB Cam Newton, Auburn — There’s risk involved here given the factors we’ve all had imprinted on our cranium by now (no Warren Moon, I’m not being racist). Given Arizona’s other options at the position, it’s a risk that has to be taken. The reward could be well worth it, or Newton could do his JaMarcus Russell impression. There’s no middle ground.
6. Cleveland Browns: DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama — The Browns are among the wide receiver-needy teams at the top of the draft, so Julio Jones could go shortly after Green. But if the QB crunch causes Dareus to fall, he can’t fall further than this spot.
7. San Francisco 49ers: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska — The cornerback currently known as Prince stays here, improving a middle-tier secondary. Amukamara’s selection also complements Nate Clements.
8. Tennessee Titans: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn — There’s been talk of Fairley joining Da’Quan Bowers in his draft tumble. Character questions have plagued Fairley, specifically his inability to attend meetings. But the fit remains too good here with Jason Babin possibly leaving and weakening the front four.
9. Dallas Cowboys: OT Tyron Smith, USC — I nearly put Smith here last time around, then hit the delete key after thinking the value isn’t right. That was before the Cowboys’ love affair with Smith began.
10. Washington Redskins: WR Julio Jones, Alabama — Green maintains his edge on Jones due to sheer explosiveness, but the wide receiver battle at the top of the draft remains tight.
11. Houston Texans: DE Robert Quinn, UNC — Before his murky and ever-changing health status, Da’Quan Bowers was a steal here. Quinn will complement Mario Williams, and help a pass rush that ranked 23rd last year.
12. Minnesota Vikings: DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson — And here’s the aforementioned Bowers, who becomes a steal at 12th instead of 11th. It seems every day more conflicting reports about his knee emerge, so this feels like a safe projection.
13. Detroit Lions: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College — Nothing changes here. After selecting Ndamukong Suh second overall last spring, the Lions shouldn’t be lured by this year’s strong defensive lineman class.
14. St. Louis Rams: DT Corey Liuget, Illinois — The third defensive tackle off the board is still the best option for a front-seven with two ends consistently meeting at the quarterback, but needing a big, athletic body to plug running lanes.
15. Miami Dolphins: RB Mark Ingram, Alabama — Dropping Ingram entirely out of the first round was very tempting, because if the Dolphins don’t see him as a mid-first round talent, it’s unlikely that he’ll find a home amongst the teams picking after Miami. But the Dolphins don’t have a second-round pick, and other top running backs like Mikel Leshoure and Ryan Williams will likely be long gone by the time they’re on the clock again at 79th overall.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue — The Jaguars’ courtship of Kerrigan may be quiet now, with other teams kicking the tires. But if he’s available, Kerrigan will bring his 13 sacks and 70 tackles to a defensive front that struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): DE Cameron Jordan, Cal — Ideally suited for a 3/4 defence after thriving with the Golden Bears, Jordan could replace the 32-year-old Gerard Warren.
18. San Diego Chargers: DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin — Watt falls slightly because of Jordan’s rise, but either would be a fine fit for an already ferocious pass rush.
19. New York Giants: C Mike Pouncey, Florida — Pouncey has bounced around to a number of places in mock drafts where he’ll provided depth and develop behind an aging but effective offensive line, which is exactly what he’ll do here.
20. Tampa Bay Bucaneers: OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA — Still the best candidate to add muscle to the second level and help a poor run defence.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple — Ron Edwards will likely be re-signed and return for a 12th season, but some young blood needs to be injected into Kansas City’s 3/4 front.
22. Indianapolis Colts: OT Nate Solder, Colorado — Similar to Pouncey, Solder provides fortification for an aging unit, and is the best option here for a team without any other glaring need.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi — I Still like him as the best tackle to work in front of the mobile and unpredictable Michael Vick.
24. New Orleans Saints: DE Justin Houston, Georgia — The need for insurance behind an inconsistent Will Smith remains.
25. Seattle Seahawks: QB Andy Dalton, TCU — Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepatrick could also easily creep into this spot, but Jake Locker falls because of growing accuracy concerns. One good day of throwing against air doesn’t change the nervousness surrounding Locker’s ability to fit a football into a receiver’s hands consistently.
26. Baltimore Ravens: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa — Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward could fit here too, but his lack of pass rush ability is discouraging.
27. Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame — Tony Gonzalez isn’t getting any younger, and while he’s still around the Falcons can utilize Rudolph in two-tight end sets similar to those used by New England last year.
28. New England Patriots: OG Danny Watkins, Baylor — Watkins will be the safety net for the uncertain future of Logan Mankins. A very large safety net.
29. Chicago Bears: OT Orlando Franklin, Miami – Jay Cutler may start being a little bit happier if he’s not planted on his backside all fall and winter, and having his manhood questioned.
30. New York Jets: DT Phil Taylor, Baylor — With Kris Jenkins likely gone, depth becomes a problem as the Jets look for a big body to anchor their 3/4. They don’t come much larger in this draft than the 351 pound Taylor.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado — Offensive line help is where the Steelers should have their crosshairs, but the value isn’t right with Watkins and Franklin gone. Physically, Smith has been compared to Darrelle Revis, but it’s the mental aspect of the game and his effort that’s drawn criticism.
32. Green Bay Packers: OLB Brooks Reed, Arizona — One of the few picks that hasn’t changed since we began making bad draft predictions a month ago, I still see Reed as the ideal addition to an already potent pass rush.