I decided to make some rather drastic changes in my final mock draft. The top seven picks remain the same, but I’ve blown things up after that. Why? Because I’ve realized that this draft contains far too many generic pass rushers, and I don’t believe teams will bite early. Instead, with labor uncertainty delaying free agency and making teams nervous, I can envision the good-but-not-great quarterbacks becoming hotter commodities than they probably should be.
Keep in mind that, for the most part, I’m giving teams the players I think they should take. If I had to bet my life savings in Vegas, I’d surely be riding with Cam Newton to Carolina. But that’s not the case, so I’m sticking with Patrick Peterson. Let’s do this.
1. Carolina Panthers: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU – I refuse to believe the Panthers are crazy enough to select Cam Newton until I see it. Peterson is a much surer thing and is likely the best overall player in this draft class. (It also should be noted that the Panthers have every reason to make teams think they want Newton.)
2. Denver Broncos: DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama — But I’ve heard the Von Miller rumblings, and I don’t think they can really go wrong either way.
3. Buffalo Bills: OLB Von Miller, Texas — This pick is obvious unless Miller is off the board. They’ll be tempted to take Newton or Blaine Gabbert, but they’d be better off selecting a quarterback at the start of Round 2. (Based on what I have going down in this mock, it’d Colin Kaepernick or Ricky Stanzi.)
4. Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green, Georgia — No way they spend a bunch of money and potentially waste a top-five pick on a quarterback with Carson Palmer still under contract. If they don’t trade down, Green is the guy.
5. Arizona Cardinals: DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina — Here’s another team that would look to trade down here, especially with the top-ranked quarterbacks still available. But Quinn has flown under the radar, and he’ll immediately help a poor pass rush.
6. Cleveland Browns: WR Julio Jones, Alabama — I think they give Colt McCoy another year to prove himself and/or consider taking a signal caller later on.
7. San Francisco 49ers: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri — The Niners take advantage of the Newton/Gabbert slide and take the guy Jim Harbaugh tried to recruit just four years ago.
8. Tennessee Titans: QB Andy Dalton, TCU — It’s either Dalton or Nick Fairley, and I think the Titans organization is sick of drafting standard pass rushers. There’s no way they take Newton, who is a Vince Young waiting to happen.
9. Dallas Cowboys: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College — When weighing Castonzo with Tyron Smith, I think the Cowboys will go with the more NFL-ready prospect. That said, they might be able to trade down before making the pick.
10. Washington Redskins: QB Cam Newton, Auburn — I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Shanahan preferred Andy Dalton (if available) or Jake Locker, but the ‘Skins would be crazy not to roll the dice on the athletic Newton at this point.
11. Houston Texans: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn — On paper, he’s the best pass rusher in the draft. He’d be an ideal fit as a 3-4 end in Houston, which in turn would help that awful secondary.
12. Minnesota Vikings: QB Jake Locker, Washington — It’s obvious at this point that quarterbacks are flying off the board. The Vikes could probably trade down a few spots, but their goal will be to take someone to compete soon with Tarvaris Jackson or a veteran acquisition.
13. Detroit Lions: OT Tyron Smith, USC — I realize that they need a cornerback, but they have to think about providing better protection for Matthew Stafford first and foremost.
14. St. Louis Rams: DT Corey Liuget, Illinois — Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t have Liuget going here? That probably means he won’t, and the Rams will grab a pass rusher like Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt or Ryan Kerrigan instead.
15. Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas – That’s right, five quarterbacks in the top 15, mainly because it’s tough to tell who’s good and who’s bad and a lot of teams need QBs. I don’t think the Dolphins have any patience for Chad Henne at this point.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Christian Ponder, Florida State — Make that six in the top 16. Sensing that they’re not going to have their choice of quarterback in Round 2, their hands are tied. Besides, there will likely be a good defensive end available later.
17. New England Patriots: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska — Who are we kidding? The Patriots won’t keep this pick. But if they do, they won’t let the talented Amukamara fall beyond this spot.
18. San Diego Chargers: DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin — I think they take the best 3-4 end available. Watt’s that guy.
19. New York Giants: G Mike Pouncey, Florida — Sometimes I get the feeling the media is hyping up Pouncey because of his name. Still, I can’t see the Giants passing on a player with his versatility. He’d immediately upgrade the interior of that offensive line.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue — He and Gerald McCoy would be a sick young duo. Kerrigan would help a pass rush that recorded an NFC-low 26 sacks in 2010.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: NT Phil Taylor, Baylor — You can’t succeed in a 3-4 without a big, strong nose tackle. The Chiefs have a perfect opportunity to fill that hole here.
22. Indianapolis Colts: OT Nate Solder, Colorado — It’s still a toss-up between Solder and Gabe Carimi here.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado — In my last mock draft I had him going 13th to Detroit. But since Prince Amumakara dropped to the Lions this time, Smith slides 10 spots. Character concerns and being a cornerback will do that.
24. New Orleans Saints: DE Cameron Jordan, Cal – I think the Saints go with the top pass rusher available.
25. Seattle Seahawks: OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State – I think the Seahawks are still quite unsure about Russell Okung. If they’re in this spot with no quarterbacks available, this is the move.
26. Baltimore Ravens: OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin — The Ravens need someone other than Michael Oher to protect Joe Flacco’s blind side. Carimi might be able to contribute immediately.
27. Atlanta Falcons: DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson — And the slide finally ends here, with the Falcons gambling. And when you’re already a winning team, why not?
28. New England Patriots: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple — The massive Wilkerson will give the entire defense a boost right away. Getting him 28th would be a huge steal, too. Imagine the Pats landing Amukamara and Wilkerson in Round 1…
29. Chicago Bears: DT Marvin Austin, North Carolina — Forget about Tommie Harris.
30. New York Jets: DE Aldon Smith, Missouri – Rex Ryan will love this guy. And he can probably drop back and play outside linebacker.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Aaron Williams, Texas — With cornerback a need in Pittsburgh and Ike Taylor slated to become a free agent, this one’s obvious.
32. Green Bay Packers: OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA — The Pack want to bolster the outside linebacker position and Ayers is the best pass-rushing linebacker available.
Check back Thursday evening for our NFL draft live commentary.