When we gamble with our time, we choose our destiny."
Again, the way the Pats' season ended was dreadful, but at least the football season itself ended on a high note, as Aaron Rodgers had one of the better performances by a QB ever in the Super Bowl, helping Green Bay knock off the Steelers en route to being named MVP of the game. I was very pro-Pack heading into the game because I really like the way that team is set up and I have to say...not so big on Pittsburgh at all (I respect they probably have the best fan base in football, but that fan base happens to hate the Pats, so good luck getting support from this guy...also, unless you're a Steelers fan, how can you possibly root for Ben Roethlisberger objectionably at this point?).
So, thankfully, this season is over, but before I completely switch over into Sox mode (three days 'til pitchers and catchers!), let's take a quick peak at how the draft is shaping up right now. With the Pats holding two picks in each of the first four rounds, I expect to at least be getting this mock into the three-round territory within the coming weeks. For now, we're going to focus in on the first round. So, let's get right into it...
- Carolina- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: The consensus right now is that Fairley will be the top pick. Of course, the combine, pro days, and other factors may change this up, but it seems fairly locked in. The Panthers were desperately hoping that Andrew Luck would declare this year, as it's evident the Panthers have no faith in both Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen. The Panther brass still contests that QB is the #1 need, and while that may be true, there is no way a QB goes #1 this year. The Panthers really have needs everywhere except running back and middle linebacker. What I don't understand is why Da'Quan Bowers is not going here. Bowers fills out very similarly to Julius Peppers, who they are obviously missing tremendously in Charlotte. Also, with the Clemson connection, I would have figured that would be a slam dunk. The reasoning behind Fairley going here is consistency. There seems to be some lingering questions out there about how consistently Bowers can bring it (not from this journalist of record though), so I guess we're going with the "safe" play here. Again, this is all subject to change, but Fairley seems to have a big lead on Bowers for #1.
- Denver- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: This pick almost becomes a lock with Fairley off the board. Denver was able to jump off to such a fast start in 2009 largely in part to how well they were able to put pressure on the quarterback and force mistakes. In 2010, with an early, season-ending injury to Elvis Dumervil, who led the team and the entire NFL with 17 sacks, the Broncos finished last in the NFL in sacks. They get Dumervil back, but clearly, this is a pressing need, and there is no way you can pass on a talent like Bowers here. Also, remember who just took over in Denver. John Fox just saw what happens when you take a guy like Julius Peppers off a team. Keep an eye on Patrick Peterson here as well. While corner doesn't appear to be an issue for now, Champ Bailey is a free agent, and if they can't get a deal done, there will be a glaring hole in the D-backfield.
- Buffalo- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: The Bills are yet another team that just has needs all over the field. At this point, it is tough to say which direction they will be going here, and it will be clearer come April, but as of right now, I'm thinking they go with Green over Peterson purely due to the fact that Lee Evans will likely be a cap causality heading into 2011, meaning there will be a hole opposite Steve Johnson at receiver. Green is getting a ton of praise, and some are even heralding him as "one of the best receiving prospects since Randy Moss"...okay, can I say something real quick? I think A.J. Green is a tremendous talent, and in saying that, in the time since Randy Moss and now, we've had Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Andre Johnson, and a plethora of other elite receivers go through the draft process, and Green's talent doesn't stack up nearly as well as those I just listed...he's a great talent, but he's getting a little too much love here.
- Cincinnati- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: This pick is contingent on the rumor that Carson Palmer will be traded after he has come out and has voiced his displeasure with the current situation in Cincy. If you look right now at draft grades, Newton is probably a mid-first rounder at best. However, the Combine is a mother in terms of sliding guys up and down the draft board based on physical attributes, and I have to say that the Combine will be Cam Newton's playground. Unless I'm way off, he's going to be turning heads all week long, much like Tim Tebow did last year (who was graded as a 3rd round pick to start the process). If Palmer is traded, the Bengals will need a franchise-like QB to get in right away. In this year's draft, you have two chances to draft a franchise QB, and that's with Newton and Ryan Mallett.
- Arizona- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Generally, when you let your entire defense hit the free agency market, you're probably going to be doomed. Such was the case for 'Zona last year, who despite playing in a horrible division, managed to outperform the suckiness of their counterparts. If secondary is what you need, this is your guy. You can make the case that Peterson is the best corner to come out since Darrelle Revis, and like Revis, can contribute in the return game as well.
- Cleveland- Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M: Miller has launched his draft status into the top 10 thanks to a fine senior season and perhaps an even more impressive Senior Bowl. You can never have enough of those "hybrid" defensive ends in a 3-4. Arizona will also have interest in Miller, and if he does go #5, look for the Browns to still go defensive end with Robert Quinn, or perhaps shift inside and take tackle Marcell Dareus.
- San Francisco- Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: If you're looking for numbers on Quinn from last season, good luck with all that. Quinn was suspended for his entire senior season after coming into contact with an agent. However, looking back on his '09 highlights, Quinn could have easily been in the discussion with Bowers in terms of who would be the best pure pass-rushing D-End of the draft.
- Tennessee- Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama: If the Titans can somehow navigate past the Blaine Gabbert QB pitfall, they could end up with a solid addition to their D-line with Dareus. I'm not sure though that the Titans can get by without taking a QB here. They have been scorned by Vince Young, and unless they can convince Donovan McNabb to sign with them, they are going to have a glaring hole at the most important position heading into the draft (right now, Tennessee, 'Zona, Oakland and Minnesota look like the most favorable landing spots for McNabb). Blaine Gabbert, simply put, could be the most overrated QB to enter the draft since Alex Smith (note: the guy who should have gone #1 in that draft just won a Super Bowl MVP...these are the facts).
- Dallas- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: He is being overshadowed by Peterson at the moment (which will happen), but Amukamara could easily have the better career. I'm going by the Ndomakung Suh principle of a guy from Nebraska with an interesting name and a game that simply cannot be quantified at his current level. This guy is so good that the Big 12 basically stopped collectively throwing to him. Think of him as the college Nnamdi Asomugha.
- Washington- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Someone's going to take the bait, and right now, there doesn't seem to be another team that is more vulnerable of taking it than the 'Skins. They have struck out on quarterbacks as often as Oakland has, but this streak of incompetence has gone a little below the radar. Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey, J-Camp...unless someone shows them this page (and please do because I need all the exposure I can get), it might happen again.
- Houston- Cameron Jordan, DE, California: The Texans will be switching to the 3-4 with Wade Phillips now at the defensive helm. Jordan will compliment Mario Williams at the other end, and with Okoye at the nose, Houston could have one of the best and youngest fronts in the league.
- Minnesota- Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: If you're trying to think of a team that might be moving up the board to get Cam Newton, think Minnesota. Solder is an absolute monster (6'9, 313), and is by far and away the best offensive line prospect in the draft, but I feel like the Vikings, above basically any team, needs Cam Newton. The lineage of Brett Favre replacements includes Aaron Rodgers and Mark Sanchez...you need a "name" to come in after that guy.
- Detroit- Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: The Lions will also be a team on the move, but their need will be to get one of the top two corners available. This team needs a corner more than the two teams I have taking Peterson and Amukamara, so look for Detroit to make an attempt to enter the top 6 or 7. If they do stay here, they will be thinking either Ayers or Aldon Smith, two big outside linebackers whose games are quite comparable.
- St. Louis- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Sam Bradford did an even better job than anyone could have thought last year especially considering his best deep threat (Donnie Avery) missed the entire '10 season. Jones will be able to start immediately opposite of Danny Amendola and provide that deep threat that could expand Bradford's game even more.
- Miami- Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown will both be free agents in 2011, and clearly, the Dolphins are a team that needs two featured running backs regardless of who they keep. Ingram also has wildcat experience from playing at 'Bama.
- Jacksonville- Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: The Jags attempted to fill their need at D-end via free agency last year with Aaron Kampman, but he suffered yet another season-ending knee injury, and J-ville will be looking to move on from him with their first round pick this year. Look for Kerrigan or J.J. Watt here.
- The New England Patriots (from OAK)- Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: This is probably the highest I have seen Houston go, but I was doing my first round mock, and there is simply no way he gets to them at 28, so unless they move up from there (possible) or move down from here (extremely possible), they will lose out on the Justin Houston sweepstakes. This is my guy this year. Every year, there's one guy I would kill to see play for the Pats. All of a sudden, you have a top-10 talent in Houston who can rush the passer, and for some reason is being given a 20-25 grade. You have to believe me here. A Cunningham/Mayo/Spikes/Houston linebacking core will look really good for the next decade.
- San Diego- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: Watt would be a fine pickup for the Chargers, as they will be looking for a "five technique" D-end for their scheme (five technique means that, in a 3-4 formation, the defensive end will be responsible for the gap between the tackle and the guard (the "B" gap), and the gap between the tackle and space or the tight end (the "C" gap), while lining up towards the outside of the tackle (Richard Seymour seems to come up as the most common example of this)).
- New York Giants- Tyron Smith, OT, Southern Cal: You could make the case that the Giants could use this pick to bolster their pass rush, but when breaking down the offensive line, it seems like Smith is the more logical choice. David Diehl looks to project better as a guard than a tackle, so the G-Men could bump him inside and have Smith or Will Beatty become their starting left tackle.
- Tampa Bay- Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri: The Bucs clearly need to continue to stock up along the defensive side of the ball. Their pass rush was horrendous last year, and Smith's stock may get an uptick once his workouts and the Combine come along. He may very well get a top-10 stamp when all is said and done.
- Kansas City- Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor: The Chiefs will want to express their pass-rush linebacker need here, but there is simply no value on any of those players once Smith is off the board. So, the thought has to go to Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel wanting to get that Vince Wilfork kind of guy to devour blockers up the middle. It seems like Taylor would fit that mold, entering the draft tipping the scales at around 340 lbs.
- Indianapolis- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: The Colts' O-line is getting incredibly old, and they really have to be regretting not taking a tackle in the first round last year. I think that Indy is almost going to be forced to rectify that mistake and take a tackle here, whether it be Carimi or Anthony Castonzo.
- Philadelphia- Brandon Harris, CB, The U: Philly could be in trouble secondary-wise as it doesn't appear like they have anyone to line-up opposite Asante Samuel as a starting cornerback. Miami has produced some big talent from the corner position recently, and it's being said that Harris may be the best of all of them at this point in his career.
- New Orleans- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: Clayborn was thought to be in the top 10, perhaps top 5 of this class before last season, but a lackluster senior campaign has brough his stock back down to Earth. Will Smith is great for the Saints, but they have no one else at the end position who can get to the quarterback.
- Seattle- Jake Locker, QB, Washington: This was the toughest pick I've had to make so far. The Seahawks are in desperate need to find a replacement for Matt Hasselbeck, and it comes down to either Locker or Ryan Mallett. For me, this is an absolute "homer" pick because while Mallett is a better all-around QB right now, Locker will come in with a ton of support from the Seahawk fan-base, who were watching him last year decide to come back to school rather than enter the draft where he would have been the #1 overall pick.
- Baltimore- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: I don't even know if the Ravens have a corner that they will be calling a "lock" to start next season, so this seems to be the most glaring need. I've been very interested to see a lot of mocks going with guys like Titus Young and Randall Cobb, two undersized but speedy receivers, going here. That may be something to keep an eye on.
- Atlanta- Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland: Smith's name keeps popping up on the Atlanta radar because it seems like he's a "Belichick" guy, and with a former Pats personnel man running the show (Thomas Dimitroff), this doesn't seem very far off at all. Also, they do need something more consistent than what Michael Jenkins has given them.
- The New England Patriots- Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: You have to look at the Matt Light situation and really wonder how far the Pats will go to bring him back. I've always thought Light was very good, but he has shown a lot of inconsistency, which makes me wonder if the Pats, who are notoriously thrifty when it comes to keeping their own guys, will make the kind of concessions they haven't made in the past to keep Light, and I keep thinking they won't.
- Chicago- Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh: The Bears need O-line help and they need a big receiver. Baldwin will help their red zone offense because when you look at what the Bears have right now, they don't have the big target for Cutler to hit down the field.
- New York Jets- Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: There are a lot of questions about the future of Kris Jenkins, as there have been for the bulk of his career, so spending a first rounder on his eventual replacement would seem to be a wise option here. The only problem will be if Liuget can be in the middle of the 3-4, as he was mostly used in the 4-3 at Illinois.
- Pittsburgh- Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: All throughout the year, the most talked about area of concern for the Steelers was their offensive line, whether it be injuries or just plain ineffectiveness. This has got to be the primary target going into the first few rounds of the draft this year.
- Green Bay- Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: I think at this point, Green Bay will be looking to draft for value and not so much for need. Heyward is the best player on the board at this point, and is probably a top-20 talent.