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Michael Morelli's Lionbacker 2011 Mock Draft Version 1.0

Alas, it is time for me to make my initial fearless prediction of what is to come for the NFL's second biggest media spectacle. Of course, many things will change very soon, given the amount of movement that occurs as a result of the Combines. But, why wait? So here you go, Lions fans and Lionbacker readers. This is my first version of my 2011 Mock Draft:

1. Carolina Panthers – DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
Carolina could go a number of ways with their pick, but in the end they need to get some quality defensive tackles out of this draft. Everyone saw what a difference a dominant defensive tackle could do for a team, with Ndamukong Suh invigorating the Lions defensive line in 2010. While Fairley isn’t the prospect Suh was, he’s a disruptive player who could become something special with the right coaching.

2. Denver Broncos – DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
A toss up between Bowers and Patrick Peterson. However, I have Bowers going here because the Broncos are switching back to the 43 alignment and desperately need outside pass rushers for this to work. The Broncos are likely to lose Champ Bailey and really have no quality corners beyond that, but getting a pass rusher will be first on their list of desires.

3. Buffalo Bills – DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
The Bills may go with Peterson here, but given that in the last draft they took the best player and ignored needs, and it didn’t work out too well, I think they’ll look at needs here. Marcell Dareus could turn out to be a better NFL defensive tackle than Nick Fairley, and would play defensive end for the Bills in their 34 defense. His ability to stop the run and collapse the pocket would greatly improve their defense.

4. Cincinnati Bengals – WR A.J. Green, Georgia
The Bengals too will be tempted to take Patrick Peterson, but instead they elect to do what they can to pacify their quarterback (if he is still their quarterback) by getting a tremendous receiving talent in A.J. Green. Green has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson in regards to his freakish combination of size and athletic talent. With Terrell Owens gone and Chad Johnson likely to be gone, this is too much to overlook.

5. Arizona Cardinals – CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
The Cardinals aren’t suffering at the corner position, but Peterson is a special talent that could play either corner or free safety for the Cardinals. With the likely loss of Steve Breaston in free agency, getting Peterson would also give the Cardinals a replacement in the return game. Von Miller is an option, but I think they’d take Peterson first.

6. Cleveland Browns – LB Von Miller, Texas A&M
The Browns are yet another team that will be likely to switch to the 43 defensive alignment, and need to get some pieces to make the defense work. I don’t think they’ll reach for Julio Jones with this pick, and Robert Quinn is a possibility. But in the end, Miller is just too good of an athlete to pass on here. He will be an asset in both the run and pass defense for the Browns.

7. San Francisco 49ers – QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
I know there are some that feel new coach Jim Harbaugh will prefer a veteran QB over a rookie to lead his team. But often times the vet QB is a stop gap, and having a future franchise signal caller is practically a must for any new head coach coming into a team that lacks one. Gabbert has all the tools, and Harbaugh will help him in his development.

8. Tennessee Titans – DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
It’s possible the Titans will take Cam Newton here, but the natural comparisons of Newton to Vince Young are too much to ignore. Instead the Titans take a player who would easily have been a top three pick had he played in 2010. Robert Quinn is a ferocious pass rusher who could be paired with last years first round pick Derrick Morgan to form the best bookend pass rushers in the NFL.

9. Dallas Cowboys – CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
The Cowboys would feel themselves lucky if Amukamara falls to them here. There are some who feel that Prince could be a better NFL prospect at corner than Patrick Peterson, a player who relies more on his athletic talent than the technique to play the position like Amukamara possesses. This would be a spot where the need and best player available meet, making Jerry Jones very happy.

10. Washington Redskins – QB Cameron Newton, Auburn
It’s expected that the Redskins will either trade or release Donovan McNabb, after the one year experiment failed. Shanahan likes athletic quarterbacks, and no quarterback available in this draft has the athletic talents of Newton. He’s got to work on his touch, his accuracy and his defense reading skills, but Shanahan will likely let the rookie get a trial by fire by naming him the starter by the first week of the season.

11. Houston Texans – LB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
While some teams are switching to a 43 defense, the Texans are going in the opposite direction under Wade Phillips as the DC. The Texans could use a true nose tackle, but they also need an outside pass rusher who can drop into coverage. Kerrigan has the skills to be that player, and has a never stop motor that the Texans will love.

12. Minnesota Vikings – DE Cameron Jordan, California
The Vikings could use a quarterback, but they won’t reach with this pick for that position. With Ray Edwards likely to leave in free
practices, and barring poor workouts will be considered one of the top defensive ends available in April. Jordan has drawn some comparisons to Mario Williams because of his combination of size and speed.

13. Detroit Lions – CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado
Smith is a big corner who is very fluid and has the speed to keep up with most NFL receivers. Even if the Lions are able to retain Chris Houston, they still need someone to start opposite him. Jimmy Smith is climbing draft boards quickly, and good workouts could easily see him taken this high by Detroit.

14. St. Louis Rams – WR Julio Jones, Alabama
The Rams would feel themselves blessed if Julio Jones fell to them this late in the first round. Considered by most to be a top ten talent, he can be somewhat inconsistent catching the ball. Still, the Rams are in desperate need of a true number one receiver for Sam Bradford. Jones fits the bill perfectly.

15. Miami Dolphins – RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
Many consider Mark Ingram to be a top ten talent. However, much to the delight of the Dolphins, few teams picking ahead of them have a need at runningback. Ingram possesses great vision, good instincts and excellent burst. With the loss of either Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, or both, this is a match made in heaven.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
The Jaguars shocked many people last year, using the tenth overall pick on defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, a player some thought as a late first round or second round player. They took Alualu because of his strength and his non-stop motor. J.J. Watt is a player of the same mold, a tireless pass rusher with the size to play either inside or outside in the Jaguars defense.

17. New England Patriots (f/OAK) – OT Tyron Smith, USC
The Patriots are a team that usually trade out of picks this high. However, they have some needs to take care of, and one of them is at left tackle. Matt Light is going into his 10th season, and has shown some signs of wear. Tyron Smith is the most athletic of the left tackle prospects available, and if he can gain some muscle before the draft, he’ll see his stock rise dramatically. Assuming that happens, the Patriots will be more than willing to select him here.

18. San Diego Chargers – DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
San Diego is experiencing a shortage of defensive ends suitable for their 34 defense. Cameron Heyward was a difference maker for the Buckeyes along their defensive line, and has the size to play immediately for the Chargers. He has pass rushing skills, and is strong enough to hold the point of attack against the run.

19. New York Giants – OT Nate Solder, Colorado
Personally, I am not that impressed with Nate Solder. However, there are some scouts and analysts that feel he is the most NFL ready tackle in the draft. The Giants could use an upgrade on either side of the bookend positions, but likely will groom Solder to eventually be their left tackle of the future.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Last year the Buccaneers doubled up on defensive tackles with their first two picks. This year they need to add talent at the defensive end positions. Clayborn had a humdrum 2010 season for the Hawkeyes, but there’s little question that he possesses the talent and size to be a force in the NFL.

21. Kansas City Chiefs – LB Aldon Smith, Missouri
The Chiefs really need to add a pass rusher opposite Tamba Hali to make their defense complete. With a solid secondary in place, along with a good core of defensive linemen, having Aldon Smith drop to them here would make the Chiefs draft war room erupt in joy. Smith is a physical freak who some compare to a young Jevon Kearse.

22. Indianapolis Colts – OT Anthony Castonzo
The Colts are desperate to protect their franchise quarterback, and they can’t really afford to wait until later rounds to get the player for the job. Castonzo had an impressive Senior Bowl week, and was reported as the most consistent tackle among the prospects in attendance. He might need some technical work, but it wouldn’t surprise if he’s the opening day starter at the left side.

23. Philadelphia Eagles – OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
Philadelphia historically likes to take linemen in the first round, and this year will be no exception. Whether or not Mike Pouncey is a top twenty talent is debateable, but there is little doubt he is the best offensive guard prospect in this draft. The Eagles would like to start running the ball more than relying on Mike Vick to pass. Pouncey will help them in that regard.

24. New Orleans Saints – DT Cory Liuget, Illinois
The Saints defense got exposed against the Seahawks in their playoff loss. The lack of a pass rush allowed Seattle to throw the ball all over the field. Cory Liuget is a strong defensive tackle, with good quickness and tenacity. He is a tireless worker who will bring a great presence into an already upbeat locker room. Destined to start immediately for the Saints this year.

25. Seattle Seahawks – CB Brandon Harris, Miami
The Seahawks have a number of needs on both sides of the ball, but Brandon Harris is easily the top player available on the board. Pete Carroll knows the value of having solid pass coverage, which will help prevent their lackluster pass rush from being exposed. It was expected that the Seahawks would look to upgrade their secondary in this draft. This would be a great start.

26. Baltimore Ravens – WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
With the likely retirement of Derrick Mason, the Ravens know they have to get Joe Flacco another weapon to throw to. Jonathan Baldwin is a very big target who uses his body well and catches the ball with his hands rather than his body. While he’s not the athlete that A.J. Green or Julio Jones are, he is well worth a pick here.

27. Atlanta Falcons – TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez has another year, maybe two, left in his career. Matt Ryan has grown accustomed to having a solid receiving tight end to throw to, so the Falcons had better start grooming one. Kyle Rudolph is a versatile tight end who can block pretty well, and is an excellent receiver.

28. New England Patriots – LB Justin Houston, Georgia
The Patriots need to start shoring up some of their defense, and getting an outside pass rusher would be a nice next step. Justin Houston isn’t going to make too many people forget about Willie McGinest, but he may help them to stop missing him so much. Houston was a top pass rusher in the SEC in 2010, and has the skills to play OLB in the 34 defense in the NFL.

29. Chicago Bears – OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
Frank Omiyale is not a left tackle in this league, and never should have been forced into that spot. Chris Williams doesn’t seem to be up to the job, so the Bears had better find someone who is. Derek Sherrod didn’t have a great senior season, but he does have the skillset to play left tackle in the NFL.

30. New York Jets – DT Phil Taylor, Baylor
The Jets might want to choose to go in a different direction with this pick, but I personally think they’d be foolish to pass on a talent like Phil Taylor. You won’t find too many 350 lb linemen that move as well as he does. With Kris Jenkins likely to not return to the team, getting Taylor would give them someone to replace him.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
The Steelers struck gold for their offensive line last season with Maurkice Pouncey. This year they still need to add to that offensive line, and take the aggressive Gabe Carimi to play either guard or tackle. Carimi opened some eyes during the Senior Bowl practices, often holding up well against the top rushers at the collegiate level. He worked at guard and tackle, and didn’t seem out of place at either position. That type of versatility doesn’t go unnoticed.

32. Green Bay Packers – OG Danny Watkins, Baylor
Like the Steelers, the Packers need to keep addressing their offensive line. Bryan Bulaga was solid as a right tackle, but will likely be asked to move to the left side soon to replace Chad Clifton. Taking Danny Watkins would allow the Packers to make that move, and either put Daryn Colledge at right tackle, or put Watkins there. Watkins, like Gabe Carimi, worked at both guard and tackle during the Senior Bowl, and played well at both positions.

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Written by: Michael Morelli, Senior Writer

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