It's All-Star season for selected seniors in college football for the next couple of weeks. In Orlando this weekend, the East West Shrine Bowl takes place. That leads us up to the hyped Senior Bowl which is especially important to the Buffalo Bills this year.
Head coach Chan Gailey and the rest of his staff will be in Mobile, Alabama for the entire week working with the South squad in this year's version of the Senior Bowl. But before any of that gets in full swing, I wanted to take a very early look at how this year's NFL Draft could take shape.
Keep in mind, these projections are very early. Some prospects can and will fluctuate from this point in time to late April. But after reviewing some of the needs by other teams in the league, I've prepared my inaugural look at the 2011 NFL Draft with my very first mock of the year.
I've taken it all the way to the Bills second pick (34th overall) in the second round. Enjoy!
1) Carolina Panthers - DT Nick Fairley, Auburn - Much to the dismay of most Bills fans, Fairley will likely be the top overall selection. Fairley's borderline dominance in big game settings will help new head coach Ron Rivera in his first season. The Panthers have a dire need for a defensive tackle. The current players on their roster at that position are Ed Johnson and Nick Hayden. Yikes.
2) Denver Broncos - DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson - With the hiring of John Fox in Denver, it likely means the Broncos will make a switch from their 3-4 defense to a traditional four man front. Elvis Dumervil is coming back from an injury this year, and former first rounder Robert Ayers has been misused to the point of no return. Fox knows how much a top notch pass rusher will do for his team (See: Julius Peppers) and history could repeat itself with his new gig.
3) Buffalo Bills - CB Patrick Peterson, LSU - Yeah. I know. You're probably not overly enthused by this pick. But let's get one thing straight. Patrick Peterson may be the most talented player in this draft. And if you think Chan Gailey, Buddy Nix and the rest of the Buffalo Bills are going to neglect Peterson as a possibility just because the Bills have a history of taking defensive backs high in the draft, then you're kidding yourself. The Bills will take the best player available approach, and in my opinion Peterson is the best prospect remaining. It's a positional need as well, with Drayton Florence, Donte Whitner and George Wilson all free agents, along with a rapidly aging Terrence McGee. Peterson makes a lot of sense.
4) Cincinnati Bengals - WR A.J. Green, Georgia - T.O. is out the door, Ochocinco is likely to follow suit. If Carson Palmer is going to succeed in the final year of his contract, he needs a target like Green to go to early and often.
5) Arizona Cardinals - OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri - Aldon Smith has the pure athleticism that could garner the fifth overall selection. Smith had 11 sacks in his redshirt freshman season but was sidelined early on this season after recovering from an injury, and came back for a handful of sacks. Smith's speed and strength combo could blow people away February at the combine.
6) Cleveland Browns - DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue - Kerrigan is a player that I like a whole lot. Just a non-stop player that racked up four sacks in one game in a big game agaisnt Michigan. He can play in both style of defenses, which will be perfect for Cleveland because it's yet to be decided which defensive front they'll use.
7) San Francisco 49ers - DE/OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina - Quinn is amongst the most talented, but sat out the entire year because of the crackdown at UNC by the NCAA. But unlike other UNC products that were affected, Quinn's talent will be too tough to pass on in the first round of this draft.
8) Tennessee Titans - QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri - I don't believe Blaine Gabbert will be a successful quarterback. Nothing about him stands out in my opinion. But it is a quarterback driven league, and Tennessee is in an interesting situation. Jeff Fisher hung on to his job and Vince Young is out the door. So the team needs a new quarterback of the future, and you better be sure Fisher goes nowhere near Cam Newton in this draft. That leaves Gabbert as the "top" quarterback prospect in this year's draft. I've soured on a lot of the players at this position after going back and watching their games again.
9) Dallas Cowboys - DT/DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama - Here's a perfect fit for the Cowboys. They need a 3-4 defensive end, and Dareus fills the void.
10) Washington Redskins - OT Tyron Smith, USC - The team did draft Trent Williams last year with their first round pick, but the offensive line was still a major issue for the Redskins last year. Smith and Williams will give them bookend tackles for the forseeable future.
11) Houston Texans - OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M - Wade Phillips is in the fold which means he'll be running a 3-4. And right now, the Texans don't have any 3-4 rushing linebackers on the roster. Miller would have a local appeal, and played in that role as a member of the Aggies.
12) Minnesota Vikings - DE Cameron Jordan, Cal - I think the Vikings will probably find their quarterback outside of the draft, which opens room for them to take a pass rusher opposite Jared Allen.
13) Detroit Lions - CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska - By far, cornerback is the largest area of need for the up-and-coming Lions. Amukamara's fall down the board will gladly be greeted by Detroit at 13th overall.
14) St. Louis Rams - DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State - One of the biggest needs for St. Louis is a wide receiver, but I just don't see it with Julio Jones. Sure, wide receivers drop passes. But you can get another wide receiver that drops a pass or two occassionally in later rounds. The Rams can plug in Paea immediately for the defensive minded Steve Spagnuolo.
15) Miami Dolphins - HB Mark Ingram, Alabama - This pick is a no brainer. If he's there, Ingram is the pick. Both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free agents. Ingram is made for the NFL. If he gets to Miami, he will be the offensive rookie of the year -- barring injury of course.
16) Jacksonville Jaguars - QB Cam Newton, Auburn - Can David Garrard decide if he's going to be good? Three years ago he was very, very good. Two years ago Garrard was a hot mess. And last year Garrard was a solid starter for Jacksonville again. What are the Jaguars going to get out of him next year? Instead of taking that chance, they draft a quarterback like Newton as a just in case move for 2011, and the long-term starter for beyond.
17) New England Patriots - DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State - Heyward strikes me exactly as the Bill Belichick type for that three man front. His ability to hold the edge and dominate blockers are exactly what the Patriots need on the defensive side of the ball.
18) San Diego Chargers - DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa - Clayborn took a step back from his dominance as a junior, but is still very solid against the run. His body type mixed with that game in the Big Ten makes me think he'll be a five-technique end at the next level.
19) New York Giants - OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College - The Giants need an offensive tackle with the likely move of David Diehl inside. Castonzo is among the best in this class, and is a Giants type of player.
20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA - Geno Hayes has been an adequate starter, but the Buccaneers need an upgrade.
21) Kansas City Chiefs - OT Nate Solder, Colorado Former first round pick Branden Albert has been okay, but could be better used on the right side or on the interior.
22) Indianapolis Colts - OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin - Peyton Manning couldn't get comfortable because free agent-to-be Charlie Johnson struggled throughout the year. The Colts will likely use this pick on an offensive lineman.
23) Philadelphia Eagles - S Rahim Moore, UCLA - Kurt Coleman had a solid outing or two, but isn't the long-term answer at safety.
24) New Orleans Saints - DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin - The Saints are in need of another pass rusher, and Watt is the best available at this point in the draft.
25) Seattle Seahawks - QB Jake Locker, Washington - The Seahawks need a lot, but lost a lot of draft positioning by making the playoffs. A future quarterback is necessary because of the age of Matt Hasselbeck along with the terrible perfomances of one Charlie Whitehurst. Locker has a local appeal and was coached at Washington by Carroll's former offensive coordinator at USC, Steve Sarkisian.
26) Baltimore Ravens - OG/C Mike Pouncey, Florida - The Ravens could use linemen of any kind, but the interior is especially pressing. What better way to spark the rivalry with Pittsburgh even more by selecting their starting center's twin brother.
27) Atlanta Falcons - WR Julio Jones, Alabama - The Falcons lacked a real second target for Matt Ryan this year. Wide receivers normally drop in the draft, so this could be the perfect spot to snatch up a talented player at that position.
28) New England Patriots - HB/WR Randall Cobb, Kentucky - If one thing was evident in the game against the Jets, it's that Tom Brady can't do it alone. Randall Cobb is a do it all type on offense. In one game, he threw for, ran for and caught a touchdown this past season. Has the same type of game as Dexter McCluster.
29) Green Bay Packers - DE/DT Corey Liuget, Illinois - The Packers could use an outside linebacker to get after the quarterback, but they do need a replacement for Ryan Pickett. Liuget would be a nice fit for that role.
30) New York Jets - DE/DT Drake Nevis, LSU - The Jets could use a wideout if both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards don't re-sign with the team. But a five-technique defensive end is needed as well for the team with Shaun Ellis getting up there in age and being a free agent.
31) Chicago Bears - OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State - The Bears struggled to keep Jay Cutler upright this season. Simple logic, and offensive lineman would be needed.
32) Pittsburgh Steelers - CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia - Steelers' top cornerback Ike Taylor is a free agent, so if they fail to re-sign him some young energy could be needed.
33) New England Patriots - HB Mikel Leshoure, Illinois - Leshoure would be a sound pick to help the run game early on for Tom Brady and company.
34) Buffalo Bills - OLB Justin Houston, Georgia - I like this pick for the Bills for many reasons. Houston has experience in both a 4-3 and a 3-4, and that will be invaluable for the team that intends to use a multiple front look throughout next season. Having a versatile player on your defense like that is exactly what the doctor ordered. Miami (FL) DE Allen Bailey is also an option here. And yes, I know, Ryan Mallett was not selected in the top 34 picks. That's because I don't think he's good enough to be in the first 34 picks. And he certainly is not a good fit for the Buffalo Bills.