• Carolina Panthers: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
    With Andrew Luck going back to school, this pick is now down to three players: A.J. Green, Da’Quan Bowers and Nick Fairley. Mel Kiper and Sun Tan Man will probably have Bowers up here in their mock updates, but I personally wouldn’t touch him. First of all, he fills the lesser of the three needs between wide receiver, defensive tackle and defensive end. And second, Bowers is an athletic freak who posted great numbers this year, but he has some really bad tape and one has to wonder why he didn’t produce in his first two years at Clemson.

    Nick Fairley satisfies the greatest need, and I think there’s a much greater chance he’s the No. 1 pick in the wake of his tremendous Co-National Championship performance (congrats, by the way, to Auburn and TCU for winning it all.) The question is, would Carolina’s new regime pay No. 1 overall money to a defensive tackle who is labeled a dirty player? Fairley could actually lead the NFL in personal foul penalties next year.

    Green, in my opinion, is the best available talent. He is the next of the elite receivers in the mold of Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Steve Smith is a rapidly declining player, so it’s not like the Panthers don’t need a wideout. Green is my early favorite to go No. 1 overall, though Fairley has made things a lot more interesting.

    But as Facebook friend Horace S. wrote, the Panthers continue to lose even though the season’s over. It’s quite apparent that Jimmy Clausen is not the answer. I made a huge mistake when I really underestimated how important it is not to be a loser in college. If you’re a winner as a quarterback, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll succeed in the NFL. However, if you can’t win, I think it says something about your attitude. And I’m not just referring to wins and losses. Clausen is not a leader; conversely, seems to have this Matt Leinart-esque sense of entitlement.

    Clausen just doesn’t seem to have “it.” Granted, he had no help from his teammates – malcontent Steve Smith dropped a ton of passes and the offensive line refused to block – but Clausen lost all confidence in himself and his body language was absolutely abysmal. Maybe he can get it together somewhere down the road, but he’s not even close to being ready as an NFL starter.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Nick Fairley, DT – The Panthers’ pass rush stinks and there’s a huge hole at defensive tackle. Fairley was unblockable in the Co-National Championship.

    2. Da’Quan Bowers, DE – Carolina needs to improve its pass rush. Maybe they’ll look past the bad tape and prior inconsistency, and instead see Bowers as the next Julius Peppers.

  • Denver Broncos: Nick Fairley, DE/DT, Auburn
    The Broncos finished dead last in the NFL with just 23 sacks. That figure will rise next year with Elvis Dumervil back in the lineup, but Denver still needs another pass-rusher up front.

    Nick Fairley, a great fit in either the 4-3 or 3-4, has been unstoppable. He completely dominated Alabama’s offensive line on Thanksgiving weekend. And everyone saw what he did to Oregon’s poor offensive front in the Co-National Championship.

    Despite being a defensive tackle, Fairley could easily go No. 1 overall. If the Panthers don’t take him, he’s not making it past the Broncos.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Patrick Peterson, CB – If Nick Fairley is off the board, the Broncos will probably take Patrick Peterson. Champ Bailey is a free agent, while Perrish Cox could be headed to prison on a rape charge.

    2. Da’Quan Bowers, DE – If the Broncos move to a 4-3, Da’Quan Bowers will be an option. Robert Ayers would be the projected left end, though he would probably have more success in a 4-3 himself.

  • Buffalo Bills: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
    The cornerback position is definitely not the biggest need for the Bills. But if Nick Fairley is off the board – and it’s looking like he’s not going to make it past Denver – I think this pick will be Patrick Peterson for two reasons.

    First, Terrence McGee can’t stay healthy. He’s a good player, but he’s missed 12 games in the past two years. At 30 years old, his best days are behind him as well.

    And second, Peterson is the best player on the board. Cornerbacks are seldom taken in the top three, but then again, we said the same thing about defensive tackles prior to the 2010 NFL Draft. Like Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, Peterson is a special sort of talent that doesn’t come around very often.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB – Aaron Maybin is a bust and could be cut this offseason. Help is needed at rush linebacker.

    2. Da’Quan Bowers, DE – If the Bills opt to stick with the 4-3, Da’Quan Bowers will be considered.

  • Cincinnati Bengals: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
    The Bengals would love it if Antwan Odom could successfully make it back from his latest injury, but that’s not a realistic scenario. Odom has missed 22 games in the past two seasons, and wasn’t even effective when he was in the lineup this year. Odom has a $4.5 million salary in 2011, so he could be cut.

    Da’Quan Bowers makes sense here. He would project as a great complement to Carlos Dunlap, who had an outstanding rookie year. Plus, if there’s one team that’ll look past Bowers inconsistencies and poor tape, it’s the Bengals.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. A.J. Green, WR – If the Panthers pass on A.J. Green, the Bengals will take him.

    2. Robert Quinn, DE – The other defensive end option.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
    Arizona drafting a quarterback makes absolutely no sense to me. New regimes mean new quarterbacks. Old ones don’t. Ken Whisenhunt is on the hot seat. Why would he risk his job with some rookie signal-caller? Whisenhunt will sign a veteran like Donovan McNabb or Marc Bulger (or trade for Kevin Kolb), and have that signal-caller compete with John Skelton next year.

    With that in mind, the best player available who makes sense for the Cardinals is Robert Quinn. The Cardinals have a sorry pass rush (26 sacks prior to the Dallas game) and will be letting go of some of their ineffective veterans this offseason. Quinn, who projects well as a 3-4 rush linebacker, would fill a huge need for Arizona.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Prince Amukamara, CB – The Cardinals had issues at cornerback early in the year, but that’s been somewhat resolved. Still, they may like Prince Amukamara enough to take him.

    2. Blaine Gabbert, QB – Hey, I’ve been wrong before. But I don’t see this happening.

  • Cleveland Browns: Marcell Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama
    The Browns would love to land a top-tier weapon for the impressive Colt McCoy like A.J. Green. But if Green isn’t available, Cleveland will almost certainly beef up its front seven.

    The worst player on Cleveland’s stop unit is defensive end Brian Schaefering, who took over for an injured, free agent-to-be Robaire Smith. He has to be upgraded.

    Marcell Dareus is the best player on the board who would help improve Cleveland’s defense. Dareus hasn’t been as dominant as some would have hoped this season, but he’s still a top-10 prospect capable of playing in any scheme.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Prince Amukamara, CB – With Eric Wright coming off a poor year, the Browns need someone across from Joe Haden.

    2. Julio Jones, WR – Cleveland desperately has to find a play-maker for Colt McCoy.

  • San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
    With a new coaching regime in San Francisco, the 49ers could be targeting a quarterback early in the 2011 NFL Draft. But do any of these guys fit Jim Harbaugh’s offense? Blaine Gabbert, the supposed best of the bunch, is constantly out of shape, terribly inaccurate and the product of a gimmick offense. But because of his size, arm strength and upside, he’s widely considered to be a top-10 prospect. I give up.

    I have faith that Harbaugh will see right through this farce and target a veteran quarterback this offseason. Harbaugh may go after Donovan McNabb in free agency or Kevin Kolb via a trade. Kolb for the team’s second-round pick would be the best option.

    At any rate, the 49ers need help at corner. Nate Clements is due $7.25 million in 2011 and $9 million in 2012. For a 31-year-old declining corner, that’s a bit pricey. Meanwhile, Shawntae Spencer is very inconsistent.

    While Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback prospect to come along in a very long time, Prince Amukamara isn’t too far behind him.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Blaine Gabbert, QB – The Sun Tan Man is deeply in love with Blaine Gabbert, almost as much as he was with Brian Brohm. Maybe he knows something us common-sense people don’t.

    2. Marcell Dareus, DE/DT – San Francisco could use an upgrade at defensive end next to Justin Smith and Aubrayo Franklin. If the Browns pass on Marcell Dareus, he’s definitely an option.

    Pick change; previously Blaine Gabbert, QB

  • Tennessee Titans: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
    Vince Young is gone. Titans fans have to be relieved that Bud Adams made the right choice. Sticking with an inaccurate quarterback with no work ethic would have been disastrous.

    However, Tennessee now lacks a franchise signal-caller. It could opt to sign or trade for a veteran, or select a quarterback at No. 8 overall. With Jeff Fisher in his contract year, my thinking is that he goes after someone who can help him win now like Donovan McNabb.

    As for this pick, it’ll all depend on what happens with Jason Babin. Babin is a 31-year-old free agent coming off a 13-sack campaign. He may ask for a lot of money, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Titans give him a big contract. The problem is that aside from the 2010 campaign, Babin’s best season was 2006, when he recorded a measly five sacks with the Texans.

    If Tennessee doesn’t retain Babin, defensive end will be a big need. A potential replacement could be Aldon Smith. Smith missed some action this year, which would explain why he had only 10 TFL and 4.5 sacks. However, he’s a freak of nature and pretty much a lock for the top 15. Smith has drawn comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul in terms of raw athleticism.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Blaine Gabbert, QB – Bud Adams may “insist” that his team drafts a quarterback this April.

    2. Stephen Paea, DT – If the Titans can’t acquire Albert Haynesworth, they may look for another large defensive tackle.

    Pick change; previously Ryan Mallett, QB

  • Dallas Cowboys: J.J. Watt, DE/DT, Wisconsin
    Jay Ratliff and Stephen Bowen figure to start on Dallas’ defensive line for a long time. There is a void at the right end position, however, currently occupied by an ineffective Igor Olshansky. The Cowboys could use an upgrade there, and J.J. Watt happens to be the best player available who makes sense for Dallas at this juncture.

    The Cowboys could be the first team to move down. In this version of my 2011 NFL Mock Draft, none of the top players available fit Dallas’ needs (RB, CB, S, DE, OL).

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Prince Amukamara, CB – I’ve mocked Prince Amukamara to the Cowboys in recent updates, but he is off the board in this version.

    2. Trade Down – Mentioned above.

    Pick change; previously Prince Amukamara, CB

  • Washington Redskins: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
    As mentioned earlier, Blaine Gabbert supposedly is the best quarterback available. He seems like he could fit into Mike Shanahan’s offense, so he’ll probably be the pick if he’s on the board. I don’t need to tell you how much the Redskins need a quarterback.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Ryan Kerrigan or Von Miller, DE/OLB – If the Redskins don’t like any of the quarterbacks, they’ll take the best defensive player available. That could be Ryan Kerrigan or Von Miller, both of whom would upgrade a poor pass rush.

    2. J.J. Watt, DE/DT – Albert Haynesworth probably won’t be back, so the Redskins will need an upgrade on their defensive front.

    Pick change; previously Cam Newton, QB

  • Houston Texans: Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
    Rejoice, Texans fans! Wade Phillips is your new defensive coordinator.

    With the shift to the 3-4, Houston will need a nose tackle to pair with ends Mario Williams and Antonio Smith. DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing would play inside linebacker, while the outside pass rushers would be Connor Barwin and… umm… Von Miller.

    Von Miller has really come on strong after a slow, injury-plagued start to the 2010 season. He’s a sack machine who can also drop into coverage.

    Other 2011 NFL Draft Possibilities:

    1. Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB – The other rush linebacker option I considered.

    2. Brandon Harris, CB – The Texans need help at corner so they can move Glover Quin to nickel. Brandon Harris is a reach here, however.

  • Minnesota Vikings: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
    A couple of weeks ago, Leslie Frazier may have tipped his hand when he told the media that he was interested in finding the next Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco this offseason. With a plethora of mediocre quarterbacks available here, Minnesota could take one of them.

    The Cam Newton Hype Train isn’t running on full speed anymore, as the Co-National Championship exposed some of Newton’s flaws to the viewing public on a national stage. There’s still a good chance he’ll be taken in the middle of the first round because of his upside, leadership and intangibles, but it’s quite evident Newton is not ready to play in the NFL just yet.

    Pick change; previously J.J. Watt, DE

  • Detroit Lions: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
    The Lions’ top player available could match one of their needs this year. Julian Peterson, who struggled at times last season, was informed of his release recently. Detroit needs to find a replacement.

    Akeem Ayers is a talented linebacker capable of playing multiple positions in any scheme.

    Pick change; previously Aldon Smith, DE

  • St. Louis Rams: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
    St. Louis’ No. 1 goal this offseason is to find a play-maker for Sam Bradford. The Rams could not get anything downfield in the ugly season finale at Seattle because of their abysmal receiving corps. Drafting Julio Jones would fix that.

    Jones’ downfall is the inconsistency with his hands, but he’s an elite talent otherwise. He was great in the Auburn game, and has lifted his stock after a slow start. The fact that he’s playing hurt only helps, as teams will love his toughness.

    Pick change; previously Justin Blackmon, WR (going back to school)

  • Miami Dolphins: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
    Jake Locker has really struggled this year, and has not looked like an NFL quarterback in way too many games. He lost confidence late in the season, which should draw a Jimmy Clausen-esque warning signal. Locker is just not ready to start in the NFL, and there are way too many red flags: He can’t win games, his completion percentage is abysmal, and he went back to school instead of taking the next step.

    However, the Dolphins could be desperate enough to pull the trigger. They really have nothing at the quarterback position, so they’ll draft a signal-caller unless they can sign a veteran like Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger or Brett Favre (yes, Brett Favre).

  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
    You can’t beat Peyton Manning if you can’t pressure him. Excluding a game against the Raiders, the Jaguars had just three sacks in their final five games.

    With Aaron Kampman coming off his second ACL tear in two years and Jeremy Mincey unproven, Jacksonville desperately needs help at defensive end.

    Ryan Kerrigan had an amazing senior campaign and has moved into top-10 consideration. He led the nation with 26 TFL to along with his 12.5 sacks. It looks like he’s this year’s version of Brandon Graham (in terms of his situation as a draft prospect).

  • New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, California
    Bill Belichick will probably move down a couple of times, but I’m not going to predict any trades in this mock.

    Even with Ty Warren due back next year, the Patriots still need help on their defensive line. Cameron Jordan had an incredible season with 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks.

  • San Diego Chargers: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
    Right tackle Jeromey Clary is a sieve. He’s the No. 1 player who needs to be upgraded on San Diego’s roster this offseason.

    Nate Solder is a bit raw, but has tremendous athleticism and upside. He’s going to thrive at the Combine.

    Pick change; previously Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB

  • New York Giants: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
    The Giants need a left tackle of the future; William Beatty has not looked good in limited action.

    Tyron Smith is drawing rave reviews from various scouts and appears as though he’ll be taken in the middle of the first round this April. Highly athletic at only 290 pounds, Smith has the frame to put on a lot of bulk. He shut down Cameron Jordan in their matchup this season.

    Pick change; previously Akeem Ayers, OLB

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
    Forget the fact that teams will be worried about Adrian Clayborn’s character issues for a second; he just hasn’t been all that good this season. Once considered a top-10 talent, Clayborn will likely come off the board in the late teens or early 20s unless he has a dynamic pre-draft workout.

    One team that will ignore Clayborn’s character concerns is Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers desperately need an outside pass-rusher to complement Gerald McCoy.

  • Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
    The Chiefs have only one reliable pass-rusher. Adding a solid complement across from Tamba Hali would take Kansas City’s defense to the next level.

    Justin Houston has really opened up some eyes with 19.5 TFL and 11 sacks as a junior this season. He has soared into top-25 consideration.

    Pick change; previously Julio Jones, WR

  • Indianapolis Colts: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
    We all saw what happened to Peyton Manning amid pass protection issues against the Chargers on a Sunday night and the Cowboys the following week. Upgrades are needed everywhere.

    Left tackle Charlie Johnson will be a free agent in March 2011. He’s definitely not the elite blind-side protector Manning needs.

  • Philadelphia Eagles: Gabe Carimi, OT/G, Wisconsin
    The Eagles’ most glaring weakness is the offensive line. They surrendered 52 sacks this year, including six in that weird Tuesday night game against the Vikings.

    Gabe Carimi, who played well to close out the year after a slow start, is perfect for Andy Reid’s blocking scheme. Carimi can take over for Winston Justice, who was benched in the playoff loss to Green Bay.

  • New Orleans Saints: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
    The Saints don’t have many holes on their roster, but they could certainly use some upgrades on their defensive front, particularly at defensive tackle next to Sedrick Ellis.

    Stephen Paea projects as a nice complement; he’s a 310-pound tackle who had 11 TFL and seven sacks on the year.

  • Seattle Seahawks: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
    The Seahawks need some help with their atrocious pass defense, especially with Kelly Jennings heading for free agency this March.

    Brandon Harris said he was “85-percent sure” he was heading back to Miami before declaring last week. Harris is a talented corner, but struggled in his team’s winter exhibition game against Michael Floyd.

  • Green Bay Packers: Corey Liuget, DE/DT, Illinois
    As of March, the Packers will only have Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal as viable options at defensive end. Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly are both free agents. Jenkins is 30 and can’t stay healthy. Jolly is 28 and can’t stay out of trouble.

    Pick change; previously Mark Ingram, RB

  • New York Jets: Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State
    The Jets will likely have to defeat the Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl in the next couple of years. To do so, they’ll need to put as much pressure on Tom Brady as possible without sending multiple blitzers and in turn exposing their secondary. Upgrades are needed at 3-4 end and rush linebacker.

    Cameron Heyward really struggled at times this year, but had an outstanding State Farm Sugar Bowl. He’s back to being a mid- to late-first-round prospect.

  • Baltimore Ravens: Allen Bailey, DE/DT, Miami
    Allen Bailey is one of the top players available who makes sense for the Ravens. He’s a good fit in Baltimore’s scheme, as he would supplant Cory Redding at left end. Redding just hasn’t offered much of a pass rush this year.
  • Chicago Bears: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
    Jerry Angelo should be exiled if he doesn’t improve Chicago’s offensive line this offseason. The Bears lead the NFL in sacks allowed (55), as Jay Cutler was constantly pummeled into the turf against the Packers in the regular season finale.

    Pick change; previously Nate Solder, OT

  • Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Pouncey, G, Florida
    There’s a lot of uncertainty for the Steelers on the offensive line. Left tackle Max Starks is coming off neck surgery. Right tackle Willie Colon, a free agent in March, suffered a torn Achilles in July. Flozell Adams, meanwhile, will turn 36 a month after the 2011 NFL Draft. There’s also a huge void at right guard.

    Mike Pouncey, brother of Steelers Pro Bowl rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, fits well into this blocking scheme.

  • Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
    Tony Gonzalez told reporters earlier that he’s “50-50” on retiring after this season. If he hangs it up – I think he definitely will if he wins the Super Bowl – the Falcons will really need help at tight end.
  • New England Patriots: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
    Do the Patriots need Mark Ingram? Absolutely not. But he’s the best available player and a major bargain with the final pick in the first round. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to pair him with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.
  • WalterFootball.com: 2011 NFL Mock Draft.