With the exception of one major move, there’s little shifting in my top 10. But after that, Mark Ingram and Da’Quan Bowers begin their tumble, while one team is willing to take a risk and reach on a quarterback, starting or perhaps continuing a run on pivots in the first round.
That run could very well happen, with some mocks projecting up to six quarterbacks for the opening round. In a draft that isn’t anchored by a marquee name, the quarterbacks could have the most unpredictable fate.
1. Carolina Panthers: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri — And we begin with a pick that won’t happen. My stubbornness with Carolina continues as it has for the past month. There’s definitely a gap between Gabbert and an arm like Colin kaepernick who’s likely to be selected much later, but it’s not large enough to merit taking any QB with the top pick. However, if the Panthers are determined to go against this logic they should take Gabbert instead of living out their love affair with Cam Newton.
2. Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU — This is one of my few picks that hasn’t changed since we started mocking the draft way back on St. Patrick’s Day, and it still won’t. There are other needs, but Peterson is far too dynamic to pass on.
3. Buffalo Bills: OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M — Sticking with my early theme of replication–because that’s exciting–Miller stays in Buffalo. The pass rush is far too weak, and Miller is far too strong.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: WR A.J. Green, Georgia — At this point there’s little doubt that Green will be a top five pick. Nothing has changed on the Carson Palmer front, while plenty has changed with Chad Ochocino’s ongoing circus act.
5. Arizona Cardinals: DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama — A quarterback is a popular pick here, most likely Gabbert, and possibly Newton. But Arizona will be able to pick their future QB during their next turn on the clock at 38th overall.
6. Cleveland Browns: WR Julio Jones, Alabama — The race between Green and Jones has been razor thin since the Combine. With Green gone, the Browns give Colt McCoy the speedy target he needs.
7. San Francisco 49ers: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska — The 49ers need defensive back help, and while this may now be a little high for Amukamara, the only other option here is Jimmy Smith, who likely won’t crack the top 10 because of some lingering character concerns.
8. Tennessee Titans: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn — I want to believe in Fairley’s fall, and put a top defensive end like Robert Quinn here. But Fairley’s performance in the national championship game still sticks out, despite what he’s done in the zero snaps he’s been on the field for since then.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, USC — This could be a little too soon for an offensive lineman, but keeping Tony Romo upright for a full season is a clear priority in Dallas.
10. Washington Redskins: QB Cam Newton, Auburn — Newton’s fall that will never happen is complete, and Mike Shanahan gets his piece of quarterback play-doh that he can mold into a pro-style play-caller.
11. Houston Texans: Robert Quinn, UNC — The run on defensive linemen begins. This draft is so thick with fast, big, mobile bodies up front, that someone like Cameron Jordan or J.J. Watt could easily be selected here too.
12. Minnesota Vikings: DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue — With his 25 sacks over his last two seasons in Purdue, Kerrigan is Da’Quan Bowers-lite, just without knee concerns. Jake Locker is also a strong possibility for the Vikings, either here, or more likely after moving down and picking later in the first round (stay by that phone, Pete Carroll).
13. Detroit Lions: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado — The first major riser, Smith benefits from a team that’s willing to look wide-eyed at his talent and coverage skill, and past his questionable work ethic.
14. St. Louis Rams: DT Corey Liuget, Illinois — Jumping head first into the defensive end pool doesn’t make sense for a team with two ends that combined for 19 sacks. Liuget plugs an interior hole.
15. Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas — Mallett becomes the highest climber in this mock, and starts the wild and unpredictable landings of that second group of talented but flawed arms. Reports of Mallett’s perpetual partying have likely been overblown and exaggerated (surprise!). He’s the best pure passer in the draft, and can be groomed behind Chad Henne, who becomes a free agent in 2012.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Cameron Jordan, UCLA — After excelling in UCLA’s 3/4 front, Jordan upgrades the pass rush of a team that put the quarterback on the ground only 26 times last year.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland): DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin — Another powerful pass rusher ideally suited for a 3/4 defence, Watt could step in quickly to replace some creaky legs currently driving New England’s front three.
18. San Diego Chargers: DE Aldon Smith, Missouri — With few major holes and even fewer offensive options at this point in the draft, the Chargers upgrade an already highly effective pass rush.
19. New York Giants: C Mike Pouncey, Florida — Hey, I just link to rumours about the possibility of Pouncey joining his twin brother in Pittsburgh. I don’t actually believe them.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson — And so ends what will likely be the most painful fall to watch tonight. As recently as our last mock I still expressed faith in modern medical technology, largely disregarding the scrutiny of Bowers’ knee by keeping him in the top 15. Now there’s talk of Bowers only making it through one NFL contract. He’s become this year’s prospect that has more red flags than a store that sells only red flags.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple — Ron Edwards may or may not be resigned, but he’s declining anyway, and at his size (315 pounds) he’s not suited to anchor a 3/4 as a nose tackle. Wilkerson and his 10 sacks will slide in nicely.
22. Indianapolis Colts: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College — Without a glaring need at any position, the Colts inject some youth into the league’s best offensive line.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: OT Nate Solder, Colorado — I’ve had Derek Sherrod here before, and he remains a leading candidate to play in front of Mike Vick next season. Both Solder and Sherrod offer the strength and mobility required to protect a strong and mobile quarterback.
24. New Orleans Saints: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State — I was ready to ship Georgia’s Justin Houston to the Big Easy, but then he had to go and flunk a drug test.
25. Seattle Seahawks: QB Andy Dalton, TCU – Locker may be the subject of Minnesota’s reaching at No.12, but if Seattle keeps this pick and he’s still around, it feels like they’ve soured on the local boy’s inaccurate arm.
26. Baltimore Ravens: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa — Another team without a true glaring need shrugs its shoulders and adds a pass rusher who had 11 sacks in 2009 to a group that already includes Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding.
27. Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame — My grandmother gave up doing mock drafts a few years ago, but if she still competed with Kiper and McShay she’d probably have a DE–possibly Clayborn or Houston– going to Atlanta to provide health insurance for an aging John Abraham. But Tony Gonzalez isn’t getting any younger either.
28. New England Patriots: RB Mark Ingram, Alabama — My grandmother also would have already packed Ingram’s bags for South Beach. Combin Ingram’s knee worries with the group of running backs he’s not worthy of joining by being selected in the top half of the first round, and the Heisman winner falls to a team that wouldn’t mind a powerful downhill runner.
29. Chicago Bears: OG Danny Watkins, Baylor — Jay Cutler needs to stay healthy, because if he doesn’t then Chris Dart from our Buzz section will steal his soon-to-be bride.
30. New York Jets: DT Phil Taylor, Baylor — Whenever free agency happens, the Jets will likely have a hole in the middle of their 3/4 front with the departure of Kris Jenkins. At 351 pounds, Taylor won’t have a problem filling that hole.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin — The Steelers could also decide to upgrade at cornerback, with Aaron Williams getting the nod. Carimi fortifies a weak offensive line that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked nine times during the playoffs.
32. Green Bay Packers: OLB Brooks Reed, Arizona — Joining the small handful of teams without a gaping hole to address in the first round, the Packers solidify a position of strength and add another strong tackling linebacker.
Check back Thursday evening for our live NFL mock draft commentary.