We are now less than two weeks from the only NFL off-season activity not involving courtrooms, lawyers and mediators. The current landscape of no trades or free agency is also making this year's draft extremely interesting. One has to assume that there are quarterbacks available via trade, but without a deal in place or the uncertainty of how much time there will be once a deal is done and the season starts, which teams will risk potentially going into the season with the same quarterback mess they had in 2010? That is driving up the value of what appears to be a quarterback class full of as many question marks as glaring positives. With that, here is my Mock Draft version 1.0....
1. Carolina Panthers select Cam Newton, QB, Auburn Tigers - When it comes down to it, Newton is the type of player you take #1. The Panthers brass seems to like him and a trade out of this spot is unlikely, so I doubt this is a smoke screen. The red flag with this is that Jimmy Clausen was a high investment with a 2nd round pick a year ago, albeit under different direction. Right now, my gut tells me that Newton is the guy here.
2. Denver Broncos select Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama Crimson Tide - Dareus is probably the only lock to go in the top 2. He would be a great selection for the myriad of needs in Carolina, or more likely he will fall to the Broncos. Dareus will instantly upgrade a porous run defense in Denver.
3. Buffalo Bills select Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M Aggies - The Bills are a wildcard when it comes to the draft, with C.J. Spiller coming as a surprise last year. They are one team that could opt quarterback, but may be comfortable enough with Ryan Fitzpatrick to wait until Round 2 for a competing signal-caller. The safe pick is Miller, who upgrades the pass rush immediately, especially from the outside.
4. Cincinnati Bengals select A.J. Green, WR, Georgia Bulldogs - The Bengals would be the place for Newton if Carolina passes on him, but with the Heisman winner off the board, Cincy opts for the top offensive playmaker in the draft. The undercurrent right now says the Bengals do not love Blaine Gabbert, so either they are trying to lay low or they will also address quarterback in Round 2. Right now, the tall, smooth Green is the pick.
5. Arizona Cardinals select Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU Tigers - Another spot for a QB, but the current vibe is that the Cardinals will bring in a veteran, maybe a Marc Bulger at the very least, to compete with their current less than mediocre possibilities at QB. Peterson is the top overall talent on many boards and also could be a plus special teams contributor on punt returns. Coach Wisenhunt is a smart man and smart men take the most talented player.
6. Cleveland Browns select Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn Tigers - The Browns covet Green, so after the blow of seeing him going to a division rival, they upgrade their defensive line with the enigmatic Fairley, who might be the biggest boom/bust player in this draft. Julio Jones is also an option here, but Mike Holmgren has never had tremendous luck with high picks at WR.
7. San Francisco 49ers select Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri Tigers - San Fran wants to bring Alex Smith back, but there is no certainty he wants to come back at this point. Even so, bringing in a Gabbert to compete for the job would not be a bad move for Coach Harbaugh. The experts have gushed about Gabbert with many having him ahead of Newton, but the production test says that this ascension may be unwarranted.
8. Tennessee Titans select Da' Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson Tigers- This is always right about the time when the draft get interesting, mainly because something happens unexpected in the top 5-7 and then all heck breaks loose. Of course, without the Raiders or Jaguars to reach for a player in this area, maybe the script will be easier to follow. The Titans biggest need is probably quarterback, but with Newton/Gabbert off the board, they choose to address other areas. Bowers is a big risk/reward pick, with injuries being a major concern.
9. St. Louis Rams (from Dallas Cowboys) select Julio Jones, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide - With Jones sliding past Cleveland and Tennessee, the Rams choose not to risk it and move up to get Sam Bradford his new playmaker. The Cowboys have needs that can be addressed still at 14, so they make a perfect trade partner with St. Louis.
10. Washington Redskins select Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina Tar Heels - The Jake Locker watch starts here, but if the Redskins have been paying attention to my blog the last 18 months, they know Locker is a stretch at 10. The Redskins seem desperate for an offensive upgrade and might trade down out of this pick to obtain more help later. Right now, lets keep them here selecting the drafts best pass rusher from Carolina.
11. Houston Texans select Aldon Smith, LB/DE, Missouri Tigers - A change to the 3-4 is going to dictate this draft for Houston. Smith will be a perfect piece to aid in the transition for new D.Coordinator Wade Phillps.
12. Minnesota Vikings select Jake Locker, QB, Washington Huskies - With the coveted defensive lineman off the board, Minnesota could look at trading down a little and still secure Locker. The fascination of the Patriots at 17 with the former Husky probably means 16 is as low as they can go. Right now, I don't have a trading partner identified, as Jacksonville would have to be desperate for someone that fell to move to this spot.
13. Detroit Lions select Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska Cornhuskers - Lions brass gets their pick in immediately when the corner from Nebraska is still around.
14. Dallas Cowboys (from St. Louis Rams) select Tyron Smith, OT, USC Trojans - Dallas slides down and still gets their man in the Smith.
15. Miami Dolphins select Mike Pouncey, G, Florida Gators - There is a lot of talk about a RB here, but that is a position that can be had a little later. Some think this is the better Pouncey brother and based upon what Maurkice did a year ago, the Dolphins are the smart team that grabs Mike.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars select J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin Badgers - Watt's sack totals were deceiving a year ago, as his impact on each game was lost in the statistics. A high-motor, high character player, Watt will aid a Jaguar defense in need of a spark.
17. Philadelphia Eagels (from New England Patriots) select Anthony Costanzo, OT, Boston College Eagles - there is a danger that a run on OL is in progress and the Eagles will be left out at 23. The Patriots oblige and allow Philly to stick it to the Giants who want the B.C. product with the 19th selection.
18. San Diego Chargers select Muhammed Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple Owls - The Chargers take the draft's fastest riser, not quite as quickly as the Jaguars did a year ago. Wilkerson is a five-technique who fits San Diego well.
19. New York Giants select Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin Badgers - New York settles for Carimi as the run on OL continues. The Badger product is solid prospect who should be a poor man's Joe Thomas.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue Boilermakers - Tampa probably does not want to sacrifice the ammunition to get up to 10 for Quinn, but the depth at this position will work out in their favor. Kerrigan, Cameron Heyward or J.J. Watt should be available here. I'll go with a high-character machine out of Purdue in Kerrigan at this spot.
21. Kansas City Chiefs select Justin Houston, DE/LB, Georgia Bulldogs - Kansas City has a myriad of choices here. Cameron Heyward continues to slide as Houston is the better fit for the Chiefs.
22. Indianapolis Colts select Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State Tigers - This is a toss-up between Sherrod and Nate Solder to give Peyton Manning a new left tackle.
23. New England Patriots (from Philadelphia Eagles) select Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama Crimson Tide - Benjarvus Green-Ellis is not a franchise back. A year ago, Mark Ingram was the next Emmitt Smith. Smith was picked in this area. The Patriots coach is a smart man. That is my math with this one.
24. New Orleans Saints select Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, California Golden Bears - The Saints are the beneficiary of the drop in Jordan who could go as high as 10-15. He fits a need and the Saints mold for this position.
25. Seattle Seahawks select Jimmy Smith, DB, Colorado Buffaloes - We are starting to get to the area where the early 2nd round teams that still need a QB will start to get antsy. I think Seattle stays put as Smith fills a priority and would be gone by the early 2nd.
26. Baltimore Ravens select Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State Buckeyes - The Ravens get their man in Heyward and the QB trade-up has to wait one more slot.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (from Atlanta Falcons) select Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas Razorbacks - The Bengals get a tall, strong-armed replacement for the disgruntled Palmer by finding a trading partner in Atlanta. The Falcons can drop to 34 and get better value for another receiving weapon for Matty Ice.
28. New England Patriots select Akeem Ayers, LB/DE, UCLA Bruins - Nobody thinks New England will keep this pick. I think they will when they can add a defensive pick who is on their radar in Ayers.
29. Chicago Bears select Nate Solder, OT, Colorado Buffaloes - The Bears get protection for Cutler by securing the services of the last tackle with a first round grade.
30. New York Jets select Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois Fighting Illini - The Jets beef up their defense by getting great value in Liuget, who could go much higher.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers select Ben Ijalana, OL, Villanova Wildcats - Pittsburgh's offensive line woes were well-publicized in a Super Bowl run and the versatile Ijalana makes sense for the Steelers.
32. Green Bay Packers select Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky Wildcats - The age of Donald Driver and the pending departure of James Jones trends the Super Bowl champs in this direction. A replacement for Cullen Jenkins is also an option, but no one jumps off the board at 32.