This mock is probably a little different than what most of you have seen already. As you will see, I have a good amount of quarterbacks in the top 16 picks, but I explain every pick. Take it for what it is, an opinion. Comments are greatly appreciated! Picks 17-32 are coming later.
1. Carolina Panthers- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
How many people expected this to happen two and a half months ago? I actually made a prediction back then that should he still be around when the Saints make a pick, his upside may be too good to pass up. But I digress. Newton has taken a lot of flak from sportswriters, analysts, and experts, but their reasoning is silly. The uneducated ones will say he's the next Jamarcus Russell, but that is a total load. Newton possesses unlimited upside, unmatched leadership qualities, ridiculous intangibles, exception arm strength, and underrated accuracy. I think that even if Andrew Luck did come out for the draft this year, Newton would have pushed him for the top spot because he has all the makings of a truly great player in more ways than just throwing passes.
The Panthers need a new identity, and Newton can fill that role as a franchise player. Give him some time to learn the system, and this guy is going to wreak havoc on NFL defenses for years to come.
2. Denver Broncos- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Denver has next to nothing at the DT position. The entire defensive line is a joke really, aside from Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos have no playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Dareus had a somewhat disappointing year after seeing his masterful performance in the 2010 National Championship game against Texas, but scouts are looking past that and looking at the whole picture. This defensive line class is really deep, but even with its talent, there's no immediate difference maker like an Ndamukong Suh. Dareus may have similar size, but I think his upside may be slightly capped as a player that is already near his ceiling. In my opinion, Nick Fairley was only just tapping his potential this season, and should go in front of Dareus regardless of the one year wonder of a season, but the consensus says Dareus, so I'm taking him here.
3. Buffalo Bills- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
The Bills defense lost its decency when Perry Fewell left. The secondary is still intact, but Fewell managed to get the best out of players like Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin two years ago, and without him, they have regressed. Then again, no secondary is going to be very good when there isn't a single person who can rush the passer on the entire roster. Von Miller is an elite talent at the OLB spot. He's an exceptional pass rusher and offers versatility in being a hand-in-the-dirt DE or dropping back into coverage. Miller can bolster the defense again to help get the best out of those playmakers in the secondary. QB can wait for this team.
4. Cincinnati Bengals- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Green is a phenomenal athlete with the size and length to catch any pass. He's the ultimate playmaker for any team needing a wide receiver, and the Bengals certainly need one of those. He's also drawn comparisons to Randy Moss and Andre Johnson. Their receiving corps hasn't been relevant since T.J. Houshmandzadeh left, and the stop-gap players like Terrell Owens have just got to go. Green may be enticing enough for Carson Palmer to come out and play, but I doubt it. The Bengals can get a better QB than him in round two as Palmer is one of the most consistently overrated players in the game.
5. Arizona Cardinals- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Cardinals really have a dire need at rush linebacker, unfortunately Von Miller is off the board, so they will just have to take the best cornerback prospect since Charles Woodson. The Cards have been looking for an adequate player to pair with DRC since their magical Superbowl run a few years ago. Greg Toler is a nice player, but he's no more than a nickel or dimeback. Peterson is a playmaker in the truest sense of the term. He possesses elite speed for the position, fantastic press-man cover skills, and a nose for the ball and endzone. His only negative is his lack of discipline. At LSU, he knew he could stop anyone, so he sometimes took plays off and opposing QBs would take advantage. If Arizona's staff can teach him discipline and consistency, then there's no doubting he could pave his way to Canton. He's my consensus number one player, and it's not an LSU or SEC bias.
6. Cleveland Browns- Robert Quinn, DE, UNC
Cleveland finds itself in a bit of a jam here. DT or DE? The answer to me is defensive end. The Browns at least have a starter at tackle with Ahtyba Rubin, but at end they only have free agent Matt Roth who has never even played the spot before. Quinn is the best 4-3 end in this draft, and has potential to be a number one overall selection. Getting a quality defensive end that is NFL ready is an extremely difficult task. Take an end now, and look for a tackle early in the second. Perhaps, one like Stephen Paea.
7. San Francisco 49ers- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Mizzou
Alex Smith is not the answer and Coach Harbaugh knows that, but Smith will still open the season as the starter even if Gabbert is the choice. I like Gabbert, but any other year, he would not be a top ten or maybe even top twenty pick. He has great arm strength and accuracy, but his numbers were never great even in a spread system designed to get the most out of a quarterback. Chase Daniel, current Saints backup QB, was a Heisman runner-up, touchdown passing, game winning machine for Mizzouri a few years ago, yet went undrafted because of his height and the SYSTEM he came out of. That system is still intact, yet Gabbert is a top ten prospect because of his size, arm strength, and accuracy. Not to mention, he never won any meaningful games. But maybe he just wasn't a good fit for a spread offense and will work better in a pro-style one. We will see as Gabbert is one of the highest risk/reward prospects of the year.
8. Tennessee Titans- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
You have no idea how badly I wanted to put Ryan Mallett here, but I just couldn't pull myself to do it. The Titans are probably caught in a spot where they will reach a bit for a need or take the best player available for another need. In this mock, I have them doing the latter. Fairley presents as much upside as any defensive lineman in this draft. Freakishly athletic and very productive last season, Fairley made a name for himself. However, reports and questions arose about his character, motor, and just one year of production. To me, these statements are a bit crazy. Marcell Dareus is getting all the love from the media right now with a less impressive résumé. But at a close look, they both have the same motors and physical tools as well as playing time. Fairley is a fantastic prospect and I believe with a good defensive line coach like he would have in Tennessee, he can continue to improve and maybe be better than he was in college.
9. Dallas Cowboys- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
The Boys really want a corner, and could go that way with Prince Amukamara. They also want a defensive end and a safety, but they have got to look at their biggest need area. Marc Columbo is done. He may keep playing, but he is an injury risk and liability that could cost the Cowboys Tony Romo for the season again. Smith could step in on the right side immediately and bolster that spot for years. His upside is limitless with his freak athleticism and strength, even though he doesn't have much playing experience. Jerry Jones needs to make this pick if he really wants to build a contender, as well as keep Tony Romo upright.
10. Washington Redskins- Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Donovan McNabb was a disaster last season in D.C. I watched a few of his games and it was painful. Donovan is a pocket passer, not a bootleg/play-action passer. I think he would fit much better in Arizona with Larry Fitzgerald to throw to. As for Locker, he's a really good player to me, and deserves to be in the first round. His production wasn't great at Washington, but for his first three years, neither was his coaching. He's not a pocket passer either. His accuracy and upside is when he rolls out on the bootlegs and play-action passes Mike Shanahan loves so much. He also offers good ability to get on the run and make things happen with his feet. This guy is a pure play maker and great football player, with excellent athleticism to go along with it.
11. Houston Texans- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Texans secondary is abysmal. End of story. If they have the chance to double dip at corner, then they will. Glover Quin is best suited as a safety, and adding Amukamara to a young secondary group would instantly boost the pass defense. While I do not believe Prince has the ability or upside of elite corners in this league, he can be a very good one. His only downside is his lack of ball skills. But questions have risen concerning his production against good collegiate receivers, mainly getting burned by Justin Blackmon of Ok. State. Even so, Amukamara presents a nice value and prospect that fills a need for the Texans.
12. Minnesota Vikings- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Mallett is the best pro prospect in this class period. He does have a questionable character, but he is the only QB in this class that can really step in and make a Pro-Bowl in year one. He has a cannon arm, great accuracy, and excellent understanding of pro style offenses. He lacks mobility, but makes up for it with the attributes listed above as well as great production. Two of the top signal callers in the league are statues in the pocket anyway. If Mallett can get over himself and humble out a little bit, then he has a chance to truly be successful at the next level, and help out this Vikings team for years to come.
13. Detroit Lions- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
The Lions secondary is almost as bad as the Texans. There's no reason a team's best cornerback should be Chris Houston. Jimmy Smith had amazing production at Colorado and proved he can do it all. With his elite size, speed, and skills he falls to thirteen only because of some character issues. A polished player in both the pass and stopping the run, Jimmy Smith will fit nicely with Alphonso Smith and Louis Delmas in that secondary.
14. St. Louis Rams- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Rams get a blessing from the football gods on this one. Jones possesses top five talent, but falls this far because other teams had bigger holes and more important needs. The Rams get a real weapon for Sam Bradford, but also one for Stephen Jackson who finally has a big receiver that can block on the outside. If Jones can overcome his dropsy season at Alabama, then he has a real shot to be a special player in the NFL, and perhaps bring St. Louis back to the post season for the first time in who knows how long.
15. Miami Dolphins- Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
This is really what the Dolphins need. Their offensive line is just awful, with only Jake Long being a viable and consistent option. Pouncey can step in at guard immediately, giving a boost to both the running and passing games. This draft is deep at running back, so finding a new one can wait until round two. Drafting a good lineman also negates having to pick a QB early this year because Chad Henne will get one more chance to prove himself. The guy deserves a break anyway, he has zero offensive weapons and virtually no offensive line, that's just offensive.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers, once considered a lock for the top three, takes a big tumble. He led the NCAA in sacks and tackles for loss last season, but has had knee issues since the year ended, perhaps needing microfracture surgery later on. However, he has been cleared by several team doctors saying that the knee is good to go. Bowers has great athleticism, size, and strength, but his pass rush moves are limited. He can also get lazy and just try to outmuscle a player which will cost him a lot in the NFL. But if he can get some good coaching, then he has a chance to continue to get better and prove to everyone why he should have been a top three choice regardless of his knee.