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2011 NFL Mock Draft: Defense & Quarterbacks Should Dominate the Top 20 Picks

2011 NFL mock drafts are starting to pop online, so I figured I’d take a crack at what things could look like in April for non-playoff teams. (The day after the Super Bowl, I’ll have another 2011 mock draft.) Andrew Luck’s decision really mucked things up last week, putting Carolina in a brutal spot of having to pay big bucks to a non-QB. In the last 10 NFL drafts, QB’s have gone No. 1 overall eight times. The two exceptions were Jake Long (Miami, 2008) and Mario Williams (Houston, 2006). Here’s a look at a mock draft I did in September. 2010.

1. Carolina Panthers - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. That’s if they don’t trade the pick. Andrew Luck may have set the franchise back a few years by deciding to stay at Stanford. An option – go defense-heavy in the draft (26th in scoring, 23rd against the rush) and if you get the No. 1 pick next year (nobody could tank an entire season), you’re more than halfway through the rebuilding project. A lot of mock drafts have Clemson DT Da’Quan Bowers here.

2. Denver Broncos – Defense, obviously. They were last against the rush, and nobody gave up more points or yards per game. But do you want to take a DL, LB or DB? With Champ Bailey turning 33 in June, do you grab his heir apparent? That’d be LSU’s Patrick Peterson. Or do you take Bowers, the Clemson run-stuffer? Or do you go with a DE (Denver was 2nd-to-last in sacks this year with 23) along the lines of UNC’s Robert Quinn? It’s probably too high to take a DB, but Peterson is a budding superstar, and assuming Bailey has another year or two as an elite DB, perhaps he can teach the kid a few things.

3. Buffalo Bills - Depends on a) How you value QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (coach Chan Gailey loves him), b) What you think of Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert (Mel Kiper loves him), c) what area of the defense you think is the worst (last four years against the run: 25th, 22nd, 30th, 32nd). Or, do you think in a division with the Jets and Patriots, maybe what would be best is upgrading the WR corps? Play it smart and go defense. Tough not to go Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers here, and hope in addition to stuffing the run, he can help you improve on that meager sack total of 26.

4. Cincinnati Bengals – They’ve kept Marvin Lewis. It looks like they’ll keep QB Carson Palmer. The running game took a major step back (128 ypg in 2009, when they made the playoffs – 95 ypg this year), but defense is a bigger concern. They gave up 18 ppg last year; 24 this year. Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, come on down! And then help bolster Cincinnati’s pathetic sack total of 27.

5. Arizona Cardinals – Assuming they can’t land Donovan McNabb, they’ll draft a QB, since they want to keep Larry Fitzgerald happy and their offense went from 23 ppg and 344 ypg to 18 ppg and 269 ypg. You guys really buying the Blaine Gabbert hype? I’m not. I go with Arkansas QB Ryan Mallet, who may not be able to throw on the run, but neither could Kurt Warner. Jake Locker hasn’t done anything this year to warrant a spot this high. What about Cam Newton? We like Mallet – assuming those off-the-field issues are minor ones.

6. Cleveland Browns – No-brainer. Georgia WR AJ Green.

7. San Francisco 49ers – Jim Harbaugh’s first order of business will be to find a QB. It would make sense to go after Donovan McNabb, because all the other pieces appear to be in place offensively. We’re going to project McNabb or Kevin Kolb to the 49ers in the offseason. And that San Francisco will fortify its pass defense with Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. They’ll win the NFC West next year, too. And the Harbaugh legend will grow!

8. Tennessee TitansBlaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Would have love to have gone Cam Newton here, but the guess is too many people in Tennessee will see him and think Vince Young. Because that’s will people do! (Newton’s more like a Roethlisberger, in my opinion.)

9. Dallas Cowboys – Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. Had hoped he’d fall to the Jets in the 20s, but that’s not happening. We give Kerrigan a slight edge over UNC’s Robert Quinn, but only because Kerrigan had a monster year and Quinn didn’t play.

10. Washington Redskins – Do the Brothers Shanahan think Rex Grossman is their guy? Or does Deep Pockets Danny step in and say he wants something shiny and flashy and certain to sell tickets, like … Auburn QB Cam Newton? I hope Newton lands in a better spot, though. Big fan.

11. Houston Texans – The worst secondary in football would have loved to have gotten Peterson or Amukamara, so in response, they reach for …UCLA safety Rahim Moore. [Note: When we put this together Sunday, we went with Florida CB Janoris Jenkins, but he decided this morning to stay at Florida for one more year. Probably a smart move – he could easily move into the top 10 with Peterson and Amukamara already in the league.]

12. Minnesota Vikings – They come to their senses and realize that one good Joe Webb performance does not earn you a starting job, so … Washington QB Jake Locker. This won’t be a popular pick at all. Briefly contemplated a pick for the CB or DL … but with all this young talent on offense (Harvin, Rice, Peterson) you have to get a QB. Locker has fallen dramatically due to a terrible senior season, but the talent is still there. Never know how long that Super Bowl window will be open, so you have to go QB.

13 Detroit Lions – Your QB, Matt Stafford, needs to stay healthy (13 games played out of a possible 32 in two years). So you take the best OL available. We’ll go with Colorado OT Nate Solder, a 6-foot-9, 315-lb monster.

14. St. Louis Rams – Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Sam Bradford gets a great receiver to go with the WRs that come back from injury.

15. Miami Dolphins – How do you have Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown and Brandon Marshall, yet finish with the 3rd lowest scoring offense in the league? QB issues, that’s how. Do you take a QB or fortify the offensive line? I don’t think much of Henne, but the guess here is all the premiere QBs are gone. We’ll go with Boston College OL Anthony Costanzo.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars - One of the worst passing offenses in the league (27th) gets some help for David Garrard in the form of Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon.

17. New England Patriots (from the Raiders) – Belichick will obviously trade down, like he normally does, and accumulate multiple picks. The good news is that Oakland finished strong, and this isn’t a Top 10 pick. If the Patriots do keep it … we’ll guess JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin.

18. San Diego Chargers – Statistically, they had the best offense and defense in the league. Special teams was a disaster. So you … draft a punter? No. But with Vincent Jackson probably leaving, why not add a WR to the fold? Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles is our guess. (And yes, we’re aware Oklahoma WRs – Clayton, Kelly, Iglesias – have been something of a disappointment in the NFL recently.) [UPDATE: Silly me. Broyles is staying in school. Let’s go with Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin, who declared for the draft today.]

19. New York GiantsMark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Bradshaw’s got fumble issues, Jacobs’ best days suddenly seem behind him, and even though the defense collapsed down the stretch, they go with a guy who will help take some pressure off mistake-prone Eli Manning. Nice subplot: Ingram’s dad, now incarcerated, starred on the Giants in the 80s.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - It came down to another weapon for for Freeman, or a linebacker to help one of the worst run defenses in the league. We went with Texas A&M LB Von Miller, who probably won’t fall this far, but if he does, the Bucs should be competitive again next year.

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