1. Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
There really is no consensus top pick in the draft. This very well could be Fairely or Bowers, but with a new regime there is often a new quarterback. Newton has incredible physical tools and his play last year proved he has immense ability. If the Panthers feel his character concerns are not an issue, he has to be the pick.
2. Denver Broncos – Nick Fairely, DT, Auburn
Despite weighing in an inch shorter and seven pounds lighter than his college listing, Fairely still put up some solid numbers at the combine. However, it was his play last year against SEC opponents that make him a top prospect. While Dareus is making a push to be the top defensive tackle off the board, Fairely provides a better pass rush, which would go well with Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil.
3. Buffalo Bills – Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Bills have not been able to stop the run for years. Dareus is an absolute beast at 6-foot-3, 319 pounds with 4.9 speed. He is an explosive athlete who knows how to take on double teams and is a very good run stopper. While it isn’t as flashy a pick as Blaine Gabbert or Patrick Peterson, he would fit right in next to Kyle Williams to give the Bills a terrific pair of interior linemen.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
This pick all depends on what happens with Carson Palmer. If he’s somehow released or traded, Blaine Gabbert will be the pick. But what better way to entice Palmer to stay then to take the top receiver in the draft? Green may not have tested as well at the combine as Julio Jones, but he has far superior hands, route running and big-play ability.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Since the end of the season, Miller has only boosted his draft stock. He may in fact be one of the top-3 prospects in this draft, but his best fit is as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Miller has tremendous speed, quickness and agility and should be a pass-rushing force from day one. The Cardinals have the worst pair of starting outside linebackers in the league, so Miller would be an immediate upgrade.
6. Cleveland Browns – Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers slips from the top-5 due to his knee injury and the Panthers selecting a quarterback. While he has some bad tape and didn’t have a consistent collegiate career, he was a force his junior year, racking up 15.5 sacks. The Browns are shifting back to a 4-3 defense and don’t have a legitimate pass-rushing defensive end on the roster. If Bowers can put it all together, he could be a Pro Bowler down the line.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
At 6-feet, 219 pounds with 4.32 speed, Peterson is a freak athlete. The SEC’s best defensive player could play free safety or corner and is a great returner, too. It’s rare that a corner gets drafted in the top-5, but Peterson is one of, if not the best, prospect in the draft.
8. Tennessee Titans – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Vince Young is heading out of town and the Titans certainly can’t count on Kerry Collins for the future. Gabbert has had a quiet offseason, but is a very talented player who put up good numbers, albeit in a spread system.
9. Dallas Cowboys – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins were not very good last season and the secondary is still the Cowboys’ biggest weakness. Amukamara silenced skeptics who questioned his speed by running a sub-4.4 at the combine. He is a shutdown corner who has good size and a solid resume to back it up.
10. Washington Redskins – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Dan Snyder is known for making the big splash, and after one of the best combine performances, who better to select than Jones? The former Crimson Tide star ran a 4.39 in the 40, recorded a broad jump over 11 feet and vertical jumped 38 ½ inches. While he doesn’t have the most consistent hands, he is a great blocker due to his size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and is a physical receiver.
11. Houston Texans – Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
The former Tar Heel is a top-5 talent who could go anywhere from 1 to 14. He didn’t play last season due to a suspension, so there is no tape to go off of. He also didn’t have an overly impressive performance at the combine, running a 4.7 flat. However, he had one of the best 10-yard splits, which measures explosiveness. Quinn could transition to outside linebacker in Houston’s new 3-4 defense, giving Wade Phillips a Demarcus Ware-type player.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The former Golden Bear continues to have an impressive offseason. After a dominating Senior Bowl performance, Jordan ran an impressive 4.74 at 6-foot-4, 287 pounds and had a vertical jump of 34 inches. His best asset is his versatility. He could play at left end or a three-technique defensive tackle. With Ray Edwards and Pat Williams likely leaving, he could step in and be a force on a talented Minnesota line.
13. Detroit Lions – Tyron Smith, OT, USC
For some reason Jeff Backus is still the starter in Detroit. When you make the investment at quarterback like the Lions did with Matthew Stafford in 2009, you need to protect it. Smith is a tremendous athlete who scouts believe can make the transition to the left side. If he has a good pro day, he should be the Lions’ pick.
14. St. Louis Rams – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Chris Long is continuing to develop into a very solid defensive end, but his counterpart, James Hall, is getting up there in years. Coach Steve Spagnuolo is known as a defensive guru and had a wealth of pass-rushing talent in New York. Smith has great upside and is highly athletic.
15. Miami Dolphins – Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams used to be a pretty dynamic combo but those days are probably done. Brown is simply too injury-prone and Williams is too old. The Dolphins offense is built to run the football behind a good offensive line and Ingram is clearly the best back in this draft. His combination of power and vision make him a good fit for this offense.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Kerrigan is an ideal fit as a 4-3 weakside end and plays with a great motor. He was extremely productive with 12.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss his senior season. He had a strong combine, proving that he has the measurables to match his production. He would be a good fit on a line that features Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton.
17. New England Patriots – J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Watt may not be available by the time the Pats pick, but he is an absolute beast who would be worth trading up for. He is a high-effort player who wowed scouts with a great combine performance. Measuring in at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, Watt ran a 4.84 and led all defensive ends with 34 reps on the bench press and a 37-inch vertical jump. He would be a great complement to Ty Warren as Watt is more athletic and a better pass rusher.
18. San Diego Chargers – Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
Not many fans follow Temple football, but scouts are not overlooking Wilkerson. And it’s easy to see why. He is a tremendous physical presence at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds with sub 5.0 speed. The Chargers have no one to play defensive end in their 3-4 system and Wilkerson has the ideal body type to play the position. This may be a little high for him, but general manager A.J. Smith has proven he isn’t afraid to get his guy.
19. New York Giants – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Opinions are mixed on Solder. He is highly athletic, but very raw. However, his upside is high as he brings tremendous size (6-foot-8, 319 pounds) with 4.9 speed. The Giants’ offensive line is aging and Solder could be a stabling presence on an offense that has a lot of playmakers.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Clayborn came into the 2010 season with a ton of hype after posting 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss as a junior. His production took a huge hit as he only had 3.5 sacks and 7 TFL, but he represents good value for the Buccaneers at No. 20. The addition of Clayborn to a young defensive line with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price would instantly upgrade the pass rush.
21. Kansas City Chiefs – Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor
Scott Pioli has proven that he values defense. He took Tyson Jackson (who has been a bust to this point) with the third pick in the 2009 draft. However, the Chiefs’ biggest need is a nose tackle. Taylor is a good athlete despite weighing 334 pounds and could be Pioli’s version of Vince Wilfork.
22. Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Peyton Manning will make a lot of players look good. His ability to move around in the pocket has masked the poor play of his offensive line over the past few seasons. Castonzo has a ton of experience and has good height and length. He should fill in as the starting left tackle from day one.
23. Philadelphia Eagles – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Smith is ranked by many as the No. 3 corner behind Peterson and Amukamara, but the former Bear is no slouch in his own right. He has terrific size at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and is said to run in the 4.3s. That combination will have teams drooling and his play backs it up. He only allowed 11 completions his senior season. He does have major character concerns.
24. New Orleans Saints – Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Ayers slips out of the top half of the draft after a disappointing combine. However, he is a do-it-all type linebacker who can rush the passer and chase down running backs. The Saints have long neglected their linebacking corps and Ayers would be a physical presence on the strong side.
25. Seattle Seahawks – Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Despite his accuracy problems, Locker seems to have lifted his stock after a good combine performance. With 4.5 speed and experience in a pro-style offense, he is an intriguing player due to his upside. The Seahawks don’t have a quarterback of the future on the roster, so Locker makes sense as a developmental option.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Many people have the Ravens taking a receiver, but at this stage in the draft, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on who’s the third-best one behind Green and Jones. The Ravens’ pass defense has slipped over the past few years due to average cornerback play. Harris is a tough player who had a great sophomore season before slipping a bit last year. However, he would join Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Tavares Gooden as former Hurricanes who can play defense at a high level.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Justin Houston, DE, Georgia
While some think Houston could be an effective 3-4 outside linebacker, I tend to think his best position is defensive end in a 4-3. He has good size at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds and ran a 4.62 at the combine. Houston was a very productive pass rusher at Georgia and would be an ideal replacement for John Abraham when he retires.
28. New England Patriots – Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida
There have been plenty of rumors that the Patriots were interested in drafting a Pouncey last year. However, the Steelers scooped up Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th pick so the Pats may just have to settle on his twin brother, Mike. That may not be such a bad thing as Mike was a very good guard his sophomore and junior seasons before switching to center his senior year. He struggled with snapping, but showed improvement by the end of the year and could start at guard and make the switch to center. With Stephen Neal retiring and Logan Mankins likely gone, the interior of the Patriots line is a huge concern.
29. Chicago Bears – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
It’s a simple formula in football: you need a quarterback to win. The Bears have a good quarterback in Jay Cutler, but they do a pretty bad job of protecting him. Chris Williams hasn’t cut it as the left tackle of the future and the options outside of him are limited. Carimi is a first-round talent who presents good value this late in the round. He can step in day one and provide some stability in protecting Cutler in the pocket while opening holes in the running game.
30. New York Jets – Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
To say the Jets defense didn’t live up to its expectations would be fair. The front seven created little pass rush and the defensive line is full of no-name players like Mike DeVito and Sione Puoha and aging starters in Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins. Heyward is a tough, strong player who has the ideal frame to play 3-4 end.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Steelers’ Achilles heel is still their offensive line. You simply can’t count on Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott to be your starting offensive tackles. Sherrod is a first-round talent who slips due to the depth of the tackle class. He could start day one on either side and would help brotect Big Ben.
32. Green Bay Packers – Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
With the top tackles off the board, I have the Packers going with a little bit of an unorthodox pick. Wilson played both outside and inside linebacker at Illinois, but he could be an intriguing 3-4 outside linebacker. He has great size at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and ran a 4.49 at the combine. That athleticism would seem to make him a solid fit opposite Clay Matthews and his versatility is definitely a plus.