The 2010-2011 NFL season is officially behind us. When the Green Bay Packers captured the Lombardi Trophy, the focal point for the NFL has now shifted to the negotiations of the labor agreement as well as the NFL Draft.
In my last version of the mock draft, I had the Buffalo Bills taking CB Patrick Peterson from LSU and OLB Justin Houston from Georgia. But I'll tell you that both those picks have changed this time around. In this round of projections, neither of those players are available to the Bills when I had them selecting those prospects last time around.
So who else may the Bills target? Here's an early look at how the draft could shake out.
1. Carolina Panthers - DT Nick Fairley, Auburn - Fairley is still the top player on the board in my eyes. He's destructive against the run, brings down the quarterback viciously and is constantly in the backfield. The Panthers will definitely go defense here based on their new head coach, Ron Rivera.
Last Mock (1/19): DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
2. Denver Broncos - CB Patrick Peterson, LSU - Champ Bailey being a free agent is a big hurdle, so they bring in someone at the same position with just as much potential talent as Bailey once had. Peterson said he hopes to run a sub 4.2 forty-yard dash at the Combine later this month. If he even gets close, watch out.
Last Mock (1/19): DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
3. Buffalo Bills - OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M - This is a big time jump for Miller, but one that I can see happening very easily. For those of you that didn't pay any attention to the Senior Bowl a couple of weeks ago, Miller was borderline dominant. His speed off the edge is second to none. In fact, he had Mike Mayock of the NFL Network so flustered that he called Miller's technique in turning the corner as "defying gravity." Mix that all in with the fact that the Bills need pass rushing help and Chan Gailey and company coached Miller at the Senior Bowl (where he was named defensive MVP), I see a match. Now, there is a concern with Miller. He's just under 6-foot-3 and weighed in at 237 pounds in Mobile. But he's no Aaron Maybin, trust me. Miller had 27.5 sacks the past two seasons, and 33 total for his career. A one-year wonder he is not.
Last Mock (1/19): CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
4. Cincinnati Bengals - QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri - Will Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals be able to work it out? Who really knows at this point. But with the lockout staring everyone in the face, and Palmer only having one year left on his deal, it would make sense for Cincinnati to address the situation sooner rather than later.
Last Mock (1/19): WR A.J. Green, Georgia
5. Arizona Cardinals - OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri - The Combine will show what Smith is all about. If he flops there, he'll move down from this spot, but if he is the talk of the league like some are expecting, this will be right in his range.
Last Mock (1/19): OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri
6. Cleveland Browns - DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson - With the Browns switching back to a 4-3 defense, they lack in the true defensive end department. Bowers is someone that I don't find as impressive as some of the pass rushers in the draft, but he's consistent against the run and gets a bunch of coverage sacks. I think he's a perfect fit for Cleveland.
Last Mock (1/19): DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
7. San Francisco 49ers - WR A.J. Green, Georgia - This is a pure best player available pick. Having Green, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis on the same field will help any quarterback succeed, whoever he may be.
Last Mock (1/19): DE/OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
8. Tennessee Titans - CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska The Titans' top need is at quarterback, and there simply isn't one to take at this point. I highly doubt that they go for Cam Newton with the way the Vince Young tenure ended. So the Titans instead shore up their corners with a college shutdown cornerback.
Last Mock (1/19): QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
9. Dallas Cowboys - DE/DT Marcel Dareus, Alabama - Same pick as I had for the Cowboys last time. Between picks 4 and 8, there really isn't a need for a five-technique defensive end for those teams, and Dareus is too small to play the nose. He's a fine talent though. Good fit for Dallas.
Last Mock (1/19): DE/DT Marcel Dareus, Alabama
10. Washington Redskins - DE Cameron Jordan, Cal - Jordan was the star of Senior Bowl week, and made himself in to a top ten talent. Jordan has the versatility to play end in both a four and three man front, so he fits right in to Washington's scheme. I had temptation to put Newton here, but I don't think he's a Shanahan guy.
Last Mock (1/19): OT Tyron Smith, USC
11. Houston Texans - DE/OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina - Quinn falls a bit. He's as talented as any, but until we see him live in action I can't justify him being a top pick. Scorn me if you will, but that's my feelings on the matter. A good showing in Indianapolis can change that.
Last Mock (1/19): OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
12. Minnesota Vikings - DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue - A defensive-minded head coach in Leslie Frazier takes a defensive end to replace unrestricted free agent Ray Edwards. Kerrigan had an up and down Senior Bowl week, but showed he has the overall speed to get to the quarterback consistently.
Last Mock (1/19): DE Cameron Jordan, Cal
13. Detroit Lions - CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado - Smith has been the 'it' player the past couple of weeks, and he's emerging as the third best cornerback on the board. He's a 6-foot-2 cornerback that can keep up with the speediest receivers -- at least he did at the Senior Bowl.
Last Mock (1/19): CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
14. St. Louis Rams - WR Titus Young, Boise State - This may be a choice you don't understand. 'But Julio Jones is still on the board!' Yeah, I know that. When you see Young play, the exact player you think about in the NFL is DeSean Jackson. His impact on the league has been tremendous, and if the Rams have the chance at taking an impact player like him, it'd be a great choice in my estimation. No disrespect to Julio, though.
Last Mock (1/19): DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
15. Miami Dolphins - HB Mark Ingram, Alabama - No change here. This is a lock if he gets to 15.
Last Mock (1/19): HB Mark Ingram, Alabama
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - QB Cam Newton, Auburn - I had this last time around and I think it's a good fit for all sides. Garrard isn't sure if he's a good quarterback or not, and everyone knows by now Trent Edwards isn't the answer.
Last Mock (1/19): QB Cam Newton, Auburn
17. New England Patriots - OLB Justin Houston, Georgia - The Patriots were largely unable to put pressuer on the quarterback throughout the entire season. Tom Brady can't mask all deficiences.
Last Mock (1/19): DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
18. San Diego Chargers - WR Julio Jones, Alabama - They have needs on the defensive side of the ball, too. But both Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd are free agents. If you notice one thing about the majority of Chargers' receivers. They are super tall, heavyweight types of receivers. Julio Jones is a match.
Last Mock (1/19): DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
19. New York Giants - OT Nate Solder, Colorado - Solder is the best offensive tackle in this year's crop, but that isn't saying much. I honestly don't think any of the offensive tackles are worthy of a first round pick this year. But at least three or four will get picked because it's a demand position.
Last Mock (1/19): OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa - The revamping of the defensive line is almost complete, and a big piece could be found in Adrian Clayborn. After spending their top two picks on defensive tackles last year, their defense still left a little to be desired this season. Clayborn can help that.
Last Mock (1/19): OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
21. Kansas City Chiefs - OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College - The Chiefs may opt for a rookie offensive lineman rather than re-signing Ryan O'Callaghan.
Last Mock (1/19): OT Nate Solder, Colorado
22. Indianapolis Colts - OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin -The Colts are in dire need of an offensive tackle and in the right range to get one of the best in this year's class.
Last Mock (1/19): OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
23. Philadelphia Eagles - CB Brandon Harris, Miami (FL) - Ellis Hobbs is a free agent, and with a lot of money invested in cornerbacks already I could see them letting him walk.
Last Mock (1/19): S Rahim Moore, UCLA
24. New Orleans Saints - OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA - A linebacker is needed in this system, and there's not that many impact types at the position this year. There's more depth on the defensive line, which is what the Saints can focus on later on.
Last Mock (1/19): DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
25. Seattle Seahawks - QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas - He might be trending down on draft boards, and I'm not that high on him, but I expect him to impress a team or two with his arm. One of those teams in the market for a quarterback are the Seahawks.
Last Mock (1/19): QB Jake Locker, Washington
26. Baltimore Ravens - OG Danny Watkins, Baylor - Watkins was a big time winner from the Super Bowl week. He's an older prospect (27 years old), but was among the most consistent the entire time through practice.
Last Mock (1/19): OG/C Mike Pouncey, Florida
27. Atlanta Falcons - DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin - John Abraham won't be around forever for the Falcons, and if that debacle at home against Green Bay was any indication, Atlanta needs to put pressure on the quarterback.
Last Mock (1/19): WR Julio Jones, Alabama
28. New England Patriots - DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State - The Patriots need defensive help in the worst way to regain their championship form in the playoffs especially.
Last Mock (1/19): WR Randall Cobb, Kentucky
29. Chicago Bears - OT Ben Ijalana, Villanova - Ijalana is the lesser known of the offensive tackle prospects, but has the highest ceiling of all the players at his position. One thing is for sure, the Bears need to be better in keeping Jay Cutler upright.
Last Mock (1/19): OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
30. New York Jets - DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple - Shaun Ellis is a free agent and is getting up there in age as it is. Wilkerson had 13 tackles for loss and nearly 10 sacks for Temple last year. Two-year starter.
Last Mock (1/19): DE/DT Drake Nevis, LSU
31. Pittsburgh Steelers - OG Rodney Hudson, Florida State - Hudson was amongst the most impressive in Mobile and was extremely consistent in all his years starting for Florida State. He'll be a starter in the NFL.
Last Mock (1/19): CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
32. Green Bay Packers - DE/DT Phil Taylor, Baylor - Taylor has some off-the-field concerns, but it was hard to ignore his play at the Senior Bowl. Taylor is versatile like their other big man, B.J. Raji, and can play the one-technique or the three-technique in Green Bay's front.
Last Mock (1/19): DE/DT Corey Liuget, Illinois
33. New England Patriots - OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State - The Patriots address the offensive line in the case that Matt Light doesn't return next season. I'm almost positive the Patriots will move this selection for a bevy of picks, including a first round pick in 2012. It's just what they do. Someone clammoring for Jake Locker will want to do it. Hey Washington, this means you.
Last Mock (1/19): HB Mikel LeShoure, Illinois
34. Buffalo Bills - QB Christian Ponder, Florida State - This is the pick in the top of the second round for many reasons. Ponder is enjoying a VERY successful draft process thus far. He displayed consistency throughout Senior Bowl week, and more importantly, showed that the injury isn't holding him back. Much of his final season with the Seminoles was marred by injury upon injury to his throwing arm. He took the time to get surgery to be ready for the Senior Bowl week, and it did him wonders. Ponder has an above average arm, not a great arm. But he makes smart decisions, is accurate on NFL types of throws and likes to take a chance a time or two. The most important fact you can't overlook is that Chan Gailey worked with Christian Ponder extensively for an entire week in Mobile. Gailey made Ponder his starter, and the former Seminole quarterback went to win the game's MVP award. Gailey also tried recruiting Ponder to Georgia Tech when he was the head coach there. His accuracy and overall poise under center gives him the leg up on Locker in my opinion. And no, I didn't make him the pick just because he went to Florida State. I promise.
Last Mock (1/19): OLB Justin Houston, Georgia