The 2011 NFL Draft is right around the corner! Only six months! Based on early college football and NFL returns, we decided to take a gander at what the Top 10 in April 2011 could look like. The common theme here: With the exception of the Patriots (who have Oakland’s pick), eight teams either need a QB (yes, we included Jacksonville) or have a very young QB who looks like a keeper (Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa). Denver has Tim Tebow on deck to supplant Kyle Orton, though it remains to be seen if Tebow can be a pro QB. We’ll revisit this periodically throughout the season.
1) Buffalo Bills – It’ll be a QB, and right now the top two choices seem to be Andrew Luck of Stanford and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas. Jake Locker’s death grip on the spot has been loosened (considerably) but he’s a vastly superior athlete to Luck and Mallett, and if he partakes in the February combine, who knows if he can leap back to No. 1.
2) Cleveland Browns – Unless you think Colt McCoy is the QB of the future, you’re likely looking at whoever is left from the Luck/Mallett/Locker triumvirate.
3) Carolina Panthers – The franchise overhaul is coming. Steve Smith could get dealt. It’s very likely that they’ll have a new coach. It’s too early to tell if Clausen has QB-of-the-future potential. Carolina hasn’t had a 1st round pick in the last two years. If they don’t draft a QB, then perhaps OL or DT (Marvin Austin or Marcell Dareus?) make sense. What about this – if Smith is traded, is Georgia WR AJ Green an option here?
4) Detroit Lions – Set at the offensive skill positions. Through three games they’re giving up 148 yards on the ground, worst in the league. But instead of fortifying the front seven, we’d protect the investment and get Matt Stafford some help. Among the highest-rated offensive lineman at this point: Anthony Castonzo of Boston College, DeMarcus Love of Arkansas, and Nate Solder of Colorado.
5) St. Louis Rams – Don’t love taking receivers this early, but Sam Bradford desperately needs AJ Green. Between Green, Bradford and Jackson, plus an improving defense (again, it’s early, but they have seven forced fumbles, and are only giving up 16.3 ppg vs. 27 last year), the Rams could be contending the NFC West by 2012.
6) Jacksonville Jaguars – The David Garrard contract extension appears to have been a major mistake. But we’d actually draft defense here, because it has gotten increasingly worse in the last three years. Go get LSU lockdown corner Patrick Peterson and then spend the draft collecting offensive lineman and fortifying the abysmal defense.
7) New England Patriots (via Oakland) – There’s been plenty of speculation that the Patriots will use this pick on Alabama RB Mark Ingram, but it’s way too high for the Heisman Trophy winner, who could probably be had in the late teens or 20s. The way Belichick has drafted (or rather, been taught how to draft by Pioli), the Patriots will trade down in the first round and acquire more picks. And then draft Ingram.
8) Tampa Bay Bucs – Ronde Barber’s going to be 36 when the next draft rolls around, why not replace him with a supposed star in Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara?
9) Denver Broncos - How about Adrian Clayborn, the defensive end terror at Iowa, to put on the left? Clayborn from one side, and Elvis Dumervil, when he returns from injury, blitzing from the other end? The way the Chargers are falling apart, Denver and Kansas City could leapfrog them next year with smart drafts.
10) Arizona Cardinals - Jason Snelling and Darren McFadden have rushed for over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, and the Cards are 2nd worst in the league against the run so far. We’ll lean toward someone in the defensive front seven. We’re looking forward to seeing LB Von Miller of Texas A&M Thursday night. Other LB studs include Michigan State’s Greg Jones and UNC’s tandem of Greg Sturdivant and Bruce Carter.