As we stare down the barrel of the 2011 NFL Draft, the time has come for The Viking Age to release its 2011 Mock Draft. Note that this is simply a fun exercise and at no point do we claim to have any inside information. It is also crafted without any trades and anyone who’s ever watched the draft knows that only one trade can immediately send a team’s plans haywire. But without any further delay, away we go…
1. Carolina Panthers — Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
John Fox is now in Denver with Ron Rivera running the Panthers. New regimes mean new QBs, so much for the Jimmy Clausen era in Carolina blue. Love or hate Newton, there’s simply too much talent to pass up. All that’s left is Carolina walking to the podium and Sheriff Goodell making the call.
2. Denver Broncos – Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Broncos are moving back to a 4-3 D. No better way to rebuild a d-line than getting a disruptive force in the middle. Dareus is considered by many to be the safest pick in this entire draft and if Carolina goes in a direction away from QB he would be almost a sure thing to go number one.
3. Buffalo Bills – Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Signs are pointing towards the Bills going defense here being happy with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is the best defensive player in this draft, but the Bills surprisingly ranked 3rd in the league last year versus the pass. A hybrid LB who has an explosive pass rush and also possesses the ability to cover the middle of the field is fantastic pick.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
The Bengals are starting to take seriously the threat of Carson Palmer never setting foot in Paul Brown Stadium again. Gabbert is one of two QBs projected to go in the top ten. It’s an easy way to stick it to Carson Palmer by immediately drafting his replacement and if Palmer decides to say home he’s leaving $12 million on the table this year.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
A lot of mocks have Peterson going 7 to San Francisco and Gabbert sliding here. And understandably so. No CB has gone top 5 since Terrence Newman went to Dallas in 2003, but expect that trend to be bucked with the theme for the league in 2010 being downfield passing. Grabbing a possible shutdown corner is like ordering a bottle of Chateau Lafite. I just don’t buy how that many teams will pass on Peterson. Plus Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t have the job security to tinker with a rookie QB and expect them to acquire a veteran when the CBA is finally resolved.
6. Cleveland Browns – AJ Green, WR, Georgia
The Browns need a dynamic target for Colt McCoy to throw to and open up the offense more for Peyton Hillis. Do the names of Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Chansi Stuckey, Demetrius Williams and Jordan Norwood excite you? Me neither.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Quinn played in the 4-3 defense with the Tarheels, but is so athletic he could make the transition to a 3-4 OLB. This would also instantly give the 49ers one of the most intriguing sets of LBs with Quinn, Manny Lawson and Patrick Willis. Quinn is also such an explosive pass rusher that had he not been suspended for the 2010 season that he’d be in contention for the number one overall pick.
8. Tennessee Titans – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The Titans sorely miss the disruptive presence in Albert Haynesworth since he left for Washington. The 300 lb quick footed Fairley would help clog the middle making it easier for second-year DE Derrick Morgan.
9. Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Dallas has plenty of weapons on offense, but anyone who watched them last year knows that Tony Romo had about a nanosecond to get rid of the ball. The 20 y/o high-upside Smith would give them a building block on the o-line and help Romo sleep better on Saturday nights.
10. Washington Redskins – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Redskins have an exorbitant amount of needs in this draft and only have 2 picks in the first four rounds. So why do I have a WR going there? Because Julio Jones monster combine performance vaulted him into the top ten and owner Daniel Snyder has a history of getting style over substance. Plus Santana Moss is aging and is also a free agent.
11. Houston Texans – Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The Texans defense was a sieve last season. In fact the only time the home team really bothered to play defense in Reliant Stadium over the past year was when UConn beat Butler in the NCAA Basketball Final. With Wade Phillips now in as the defensive coordinator in Houston they’re moving to a 3-4. Jordan could start day one as either a three or a five technique DE and make things a lot easier for Mario Williams.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
When you have to face Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford a total of 6 times a year there is no such thing as having too many quality CBs. Antoine Winfield is turning 34 this summer and would be a great mentor to the young Amukamara. Both Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin are coming off of injuries and Asher Allen has not proven to be anything more than an effective backup. Also if there’s anywhere that someone named Prince could wear purple and immediately become a fan favorite, he just has to go to Minnesota. Maybe he could even buzz around the Twin Cities in a Little Red Corvette. And you say, baby, have you got enough gas? Oh yeah.
13. Detroit Lions – Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Is Matthew Stafford brittle or has just had bad luck? Either way you answer it doesn’t change the fact he has only appeared in 13 games in his first two seasons. A $42 million investment needs to be protected better. Castonzo has drawn Jake Long comparisons and is a prides himself on being one of the best at what he does.
14. St Louis Rams – Muhammed Wilkerson, DT, Temple
If Julio Jones is still available at 14, expect the Rams to sprint to the podium giving Sam Bradford a target he can play with for years. But he’s not and Wilkerson’s stock has soared in the past month. Scouts are noticing how effective he is stopping the run as well as rushing the passer. This too may seem a little high for Wilkerson, however no one thought Tyson Alualu would have gone as high as 10th last year to Jacksonville and what’s a mock draft without a shocker.
15. Miami Dolphins – Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
Miami’s offense ranked 21st last year in spite of having horses in Brandon Marshall, Jake Long and a backfield of Ronnie Brown and the ageless Ricky Williams. Word now is they’ll go into the 2011 season with Chad Henne as their QB. No better way to help him than building the offensive line. This may seem a little early for Pouncey, but lets not forget a lot of mocks has his twin brother Maurkice going toward the end of round one last year. He went 18th, was a huge success and everyone noticed.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars – DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
With stories that Bowers knee will be completely healed in the next few weeks (worthy of a top 8 pick) to stories on how Bowers could need microfracture surgery and miss the 2011 season (possibly falling into the 2nd round) it’s nearly impossible to peg where he’ll land. That being said, Jacksonville has made some spotty decisions at finding their DEs. In 2008 they traded up into the top 10 to draft Derrick Harvey and signed for Aaron Kampman in the free agency market last year. Both moves were risky and the return has been minimal. For safety sake, lets place Bowers in the middle of round one to a 4-3 D and expect the Jaguars to continue their history.
17. New England Patriots – JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin
New England is a team that has a surplus of picks in the first two rounds and is the most likely team to move around. While they don’t have a number of glaring needs, a 3-4 pass rushing end is certainly one of them. Watt also fits Bill Belichick’s mold as a high motor, team-oriented guy who likes to get a little dirt under his fingernails.
18. San Diego Chargers – Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
The Chargers are another team that is set with a franchise QB, has plenty of firepower on offense, and yet is in need of pass rushing. Losing Shawne Merriman to injury and then to the Buffalo Bills has left a major void in their 3-4 D. Smith would give the Chargers a building block in their front seven and also provide a nice pairing with up-and-comer Larry English.
19. New York Giants – Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
You’d think that a team that finished 5th in overall offense and 7th in defense wouldn’t have missed the playoffs and be picking in the teens, right? Choke jobs aside, the Giants are another team that doesn’t have a glaring need in the first round. Still starting OTs Kareem McKenzie and Rich Seubert are getting a little long in the tooth. Solder debatably has the most upside of any OTs, yet is considered a bit of a project being a former tight end.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Iowa
Over the past couple of years the Buccaneers have gone from a team that was rebuilding to almost a team that is ready to go for a run and win now. Oh, the power in having a young franchise QB in Josh Freeman and other offensive weapons to work with. An area of need however is defensive line. Kerrigan was highly productive at Purdue, possesses a nonstop motor and would be a starter on day one.
21. Kansas City Chiefs – Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
This may be a little bit late for the stud defensive tackle and if he’s available expect Scott Pioli to draft the best player available. Liuget is an asset versus both the run and the pass. He could immediately start on the Chiefs replacing nose tackle Ron Edwards.
22. Indianapolis Colts – Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Rumor has it that Bill Polian has lost many nights of sleep passing on offensive tackle Rodger Saffold last year to instead take defensive end Jerry Hughes. Well with Peyton Manning in the final stretch of his career, don’t expect the GM of the Colts to pass on another opportunity to grab the best player available who could protect the future Hall of Famer’s blindside.
23. Philadelphia Eagles – Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Eagles are a team that loves to make draft day deals and move up. Many mocks have them moving all the way up in the first round to grab Patrick Peterson. But since we’re predicting trades here, lets give them the best available cornerback. Smith is a very instinctive corner with excellent size who would compliment the Eagles well opposite Asante Samuel.
24. New Orleans Saints – Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Having Cameron Jordan gone by the time the Vikings picked, I had to go with one son going to his father’s former team. The Saints have lately been a team that has featured a large and physical defensive line. Placing Ironhead Heyward’s son next to their latest pickup in Shaun Rogers would wreak havoc for opposing offensive lines and make it even easier for the Saints quick secondary.
25. Seattle Seahawks – Jake Locker, QB, Washington
This is too late for Locker and it’s widely anticipated that he’ll go in the top half of the first round, but I can’t bring myself to put a 54% collegiate passer who had a losing record that high. Don’t forget most everyone last year had Jimmy Clausen going in the top ten last year, only to have him slide to the second round. Locker gives the Seahawks their QB of the future with Matt Hasselbeck possibly playing next year in a different uniform and lessons learned on Charlie Whitehurst being a career backup.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
We’ve gotten to the point of the draft where teams have the ability to move around with their pick or draft for luxury. Ayers to the Ravens makes a lot of sense though, as he’s an outside linebacker who rushes the passer well. Him on the same field with learning from both Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis would quite the foundation for a bright future. Also Sergio Kindle’s future is entirely up in the air.
27. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
The Falcons last year ran the 2nd highest number of plays using two tight ends with only New England running more. Tony Gonzalez is 35 and ran more offensive plays than anyone other than Matt Ryan. See a possible match here? Me too. Plus it’s not every year you can get the best TE in the draft at 27.
28. New England Patriots – Mark Ingram, RB, New England
Again, I know. Highly unlikely the best running back in the draft slides all the way to 28 to a team that doesn’t believe in drafting running backs early (both Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead were undrafted free agents). This is the year things come full circle with New England having every other pick in the draft this year to give Tom Brady another offensive weapon to finish his career with. Also don’t rule out Nick Saban telling his old friend Bill Belichick on Ingram’s talent.
29. Chicago Bears – Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Bears basically have to either go offensive line, offensive line or offensive line with their first round pick this year. Anyone who feels differently didn’t watch Jay Cutler get sacked 52 times last year and also get hurt in the NFC title game. Carimi projects as a right tackle in the NFL, but if available Mike Tice would sprint to the podium on behalf of the Bears to submit this pick with Carimi staying in the Midwest.
30. New York Jets – Phil Taylor, DT, Jets
With Kris Jenkins tearing his ACL last season and later being released; a replacement is needed at nose tackle. Taylor is a run stuffing machine who could start from day one and provide another nice building block for Rex Ryan’s nasty defense.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers – Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
The Steelers have struggled at guard ever since Alan Faneca left town. While Maurkice Pouncey is a cornerstone at center, the likes of Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster weren’t getting the job done towards the end of last season. By drafting the 27 year-old former firefighter, who should be in the prime of his career, they immediately are upgraded on the interior line for this physical offense.
32. Green Bay Packers – Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
The Super Bowl Champion Packers are another team that doesn’t have a number of glaring needs. Even though Ted Thompson has the personality of a robot following a regimented draft plan they can afford to tinker with this pick. What I do know however is they are not entirely happy with their pass rush opposite Clay Matthews. Drafting another stud OLB would help. Plus he also has blonde hair.
So that concludes TVA’s 2011 Mock Draft. Notice that we have only have 3 QBs going in this. It’s very possible there could be several taken in the first round with a QB needy team trading pick into the first round to grab either Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick or Ryan Mallett. But that would require trades and we didn’t predict those for this mock draft. Will be interesting to see how this stacks up versus the Rick Gosselins, Mel Kipers and Mike Mayocks of the world. Only two more nights to go. Can’t wait!
Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig