Mel Kiper NFL Mock Draft 2.0 February 16, 2011Posted: February 16, 2011
2011 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
Cam Newton’s rise up the draft board highlights a lot of moves in Mel’s second mock
It’s a strange year. You have a league tied in knots over a labor agreement set to expire, public relations haymakers being thrown by both sides, uncertainty everywhere. But somewhere in the middle of the mess, there’s still an NFL draft to look forward to. The draft, however, could be impacted. If the NFL Players Association and the owners don’t agree to a deal, it will put a stop to draft-pick deals that involve players already in the league. Last year, pre-draft deals involing names like Brandon Marshall and Donovan McNabb shifted the board.
For my second mock of the year, the biggest attention-getter will be the rise of Cam Newton, who now is going within the first five picks. After that, there is a ton of movement, so as always, I look forward to the — ahem — helpful commentary and debate. (As always, an asterisk denotes non-seniors.)
Fairley is hanging tough as my No. 1 overall player, remaining atop the latest Big Board. This is a defensive lineman with small weaknesses, such as leverage and composure, but he masks those as a dominant presence against the run, a remarkably instinctive pass-rusher who can overwhelm the opposition with speed, power or hand skills and explosiveness that would impress the late Reggie White. A safe pick in a draft position that will be hard to move from. And as I’ve said, a slight mean streak in a DT isn’t the worst trait. Ask the Lions about Ndamukong Suh.
I can see Denver looking at Patrick Peterson here, but remember this is a team that could be looking at a system change up front. And in that vein, in Bowers the Broncos can take a player who could be a dominant pass-rusher as a 4-3 defensive end or stand up as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He is the most pure pass-rusher in the draft and can quickly add production at either spot. Further, given health and system changes, Denver can’t assume great production from Elvis Dumervil. Bowers makes a lot of sense and can stay in orange.
From the day he landed on the Big Board for the first time, I’ve said that Newton’s physical skills and underrated ability as a passer could lead him all the way to the top of the draft. In Buffalo, what you have is an ideal foundation for his career. The Bills can keep Ryan Fitzpatrick around and develop Newton at a slower pace. But given Newton’s total package of skills and size, and his proven ability as a guy who can adapt, deal with adversity and win, he represents a real possibility to land in the top five.
It’s hard to find a safer pick at the wide receiver position in recent years. Green already has imposing size, making him a deep threat and obvious red zone option, but he also offers refined route-running, good speed and the ability to bring down anything thrown in his direction. As for the need, it’s doubtful that either Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens will be back for Cincinnati, leaving a big void on the outside. Regardless of what happens with Carson Palmer, the Bengals need to find a new target, and Green is a safe option.
Joey Porter is unlikely to be back, and Miller would represent an immediate pass-rushing upgrade on the edge of Arizona’s 3-4 scheme. The Texas A&M standout made his name in 2009 as a sack artist but developed a range of skills in 2010 and has become a complete player. He stands up well against the run and drops into coverage seamlessly.
The Browns need to upgrade along the defensive line, and outside of the top two guys in this mock draft, you won’t find a more consistently disruptive and versatile player along the defensive line than Watt, who can come in and provide immediate help as either a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive end as the Browns adjust. He’s a guy who can thrive regardless of the system. If Green still was sitting here, he would be a tantalizing option, but this might be a slight reach for Julio Jones.
San Francisco has other needs — in fact, I count three ahead of cornerback — but Peterson would be too much to pass up here in terms of talent. A freakish athlete, he immediately steps in as a starter at corner, moving that to a position of strength for the Niners. Peterson also adds a dangerous element in the return game. A corner with safety size, Peterson won’t need the NFL combine to assure evaluators of his physical skills.
Dareus is the rare player you can draft with almost no concern for systems. A player who can be a dominant pass-rusher from the 3-4 defensive end position, he also profiles to star in his more natural 4-3 defensive tackle position. I have defensive tackle as one of the top needs for Tennessee, which also could surprise some folks and take a quarterback here to develop if they bring back Kerry Collins. But for immediate help, Dareus is a safe pick.
As with Peterson to San Fran, Cowboys fans might believe the team would be better suited addressing offensive tackle or even safety. But because the mock draft can’t account for draft board trades, if the draft played out this way with the picks ahead of them, the Cowboys could do a lot worse than to grab the best pure technician at the corner position. Amukamara should transition quickly, and Terence Newman isn’t getting any younger.
Gabbert might be more ready than Newton to read defenses at the NFL level, and as a quarterback with very good accuracy, instincts and size, he could come into a franchise in Washington that might need him early. Gabbert is a guy whose stock rose a lot this year and will be under the microscope during the workout process. But what he doesn’t give you is a quarterback who elicits a wide range of opinions or the boom-or-bust concerns many have with Newton and Ryan Mallett.
I can see Houston looking here for a fit at outside linebacker as well, but Jones is a hunch call as a perfect option to take some of the pressure off Andre Johnson. Jones has Johnson’s size and as a physical receiver brings his lunch pail as a blocker. He can stretch the field, can work underneath and isn’t a distant second to Green in terms of overall talent. A good option to take advantage of Matt Schaub‘s growth into an elite quarterback.
Minnesota, like Houston, is a team that could use a safety but simply can’t pick one within its value range if it stays at this position in the draft. In Quinn you have a guy whose skills as a pass-rusher might rival those of Bowers were he able to suit up this year for North Carolina. A first-rate athlete with an ideal skill set to become a Pro Bowl 4-3 defensive end, he’s an immediate upgrade along the Vikings’ defensive line.
Smith is a late riser, a good player on a bad team and a guy who got less attention partly because quarterbacks wouldn’t put a ball near him this past season. But the film is stacking up now, and it proves why NFL personnel are really high on him. The final test for Smith will be whether he grades out well in Indianapolis. Based on what I know, he will, and he offers the Lions the cornerback help they need without having to sacrifice on value at this stage in the draft.
A relentless player who plays powerfully and locates the ball extremely well against both the rush and the pass, Liuget fills a need spot for the Rams. If Jones still was on the board, I suspect St. Louis would target the receiver, but if he isn’t and the Rams stay here, an interior lineman like Liuget offers much greater value than a reach on a wideout. I also can see the Rams going for an outside linebacker at this spot. Liuget has drawn more buzz from NFL folks, causing many to take a closer look. The reviews are very good.
Sticking with this angle from the first mock, Miami goes with the top back on the board. Ingram will step in effectively for Ricky Williams and make sure the ground game doesn’t lose a step, even if there’s some turmoil at the quarterback position. Ingram runs with great pad level and leverage, and seems to explode from contact. Once he gets through the initial hole, he’s a terror on the second level.
Jacksonville addressed the interior of its defensive line in last year’s draft and sought out bandages at defensive end. With Smith, the Jags get a raw talent with the size to add sacks from that position. Smith is a guy who would be a potential lock for the top 10 if he stuck around for his senior year, so if the Jags soak up some of the developmental work, they could have a player long term.
In the previous mock, I had the Patriots taking Watt here. While his stock is up, Jordan is another player who has seen a jump since bowl season ended. A defensive end with the versatility to play either the 4-3 or the 3-4, his experience at the 3-4 at Cal makes him an ideal kind of Bill Belichick player. Smart, versatile and able to help the team in that role early.
Because of his length and build, Smith doesn’t look like a mauler, but his outstanding footwork, athleticism and comfort as a blindside pass-protector make him an ideal fit to grow into the guy responsible for protecting Philip Rivers from that spot. The Chargers also could pursue a wideout, safety or defensive end, but based on this board, unless they move off the pick, Smith makes a lot of sense here. He’s also very underrated as a run-blocker. Should continue to get better.
Solder is another tackle defined by his athletic frame and ability to move for the position. Probably not an immediate starter at left tackle because of developing pass-blocking skills, Solder still is a good value here. A player with a massive 6-foot-8 frame who manages good leverage at the point of attack, he gets good surge as a run-blocker and works well to the second level. No injury history and very smart, he should become a solid NFL starter in short order.
Clayborn fits the Tampa system well and provides immediate help at a need position. A year after they addressed the interior of the line, with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, the Bucs can use Clayborn to turn the defensive line into a long-term strength. Clayborn has good size, holds up well against the run and can battle big offensive lineman as a physical pass-rusher. He should hold the edge well and start early for Raheem Morris.
Kansas City must draft an outside linebacker, and in Ayers the Chiefs get a player who can learn from Mike Vrabel if he’s there or step in for him immediately if he’s not. Ayers is known for freak athleticism, but his versatility is the real draw. He has good skills as a pass-rusher, can drop off into coverage and holds up well in the run game. A sound fit for KC’s scheme.
One more that stays the same from the first mock draft. The Colts must strengthen their line to improve the running game and keep heat off Peyton Manning. Castonzo offers stability as a versatile tackle who will never miss a snap. He could add some bulk, but that’s not the most difficult area to address. With well-above-average smarts, awareness and work rate, he fits well in Indy at a position the Colts need to fill.
Here’s a pick where value meets need. Philadelphia should look inside on both sides of the ball, because aside from secondary help, the Eagles have great pieces in place at offensive skill positions and linebacker. In Carimi they get a guy who loves to run block and will sustain his blocks into the second level. He plays with an edge and should develop as a pass-blocker. His film against some big-time prospects this past season shows a guy ready to contribute.
The Saints must improve their front seven on defense, from the interior to defensive end, and target an outside linebacker. Athletic enough to be a penetrator as a 3-4 defensive end, Wilkerson profiles similarly to Dareus as a guy who can get to the quarterback from the inside of that 4-3. He would be a potential top-10 pick were he to stay in Philadelphia for another year. The Saints get good value without having to trade up at a position of need.
When Seattle was at its best, it was a running team built behind the left side of Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson. The Hawks addressed the tackle position in last year’s draft, adding Russell Okung for the left tackle spot. Pouncey, who has good bloodlines and good smarts as an interior blocker, can help at either guard or center. Seattle needs better blocking after starting many different line combinations this past season, and Pouncey will shore it up.
The Ravens notably didn’t take a cornerback with any of their picks in 2010, and Williams is a good fit at this spot in a position of need. A burner, Williams can be overly aggressive sometimes as a guy hunting for the turnover, but combine that trait with a little refinement (and a good pass rush) and you have a player who should create turnovers. Aggressive as a tackler, he fits in with a physical Ravens unit.
Behind a wideout who can take some of the pressure off Roddy White, defensive end is the top position of need I see on the Falcons. Kerrigan led the nation in tackles for loss as a senior and is the kind of rusher coaches have to plan for because he can require help. Combine an improving array of moves with a relentless attitude, and he should be able to contribute early on passing downs and develop into a complete 4-3 defensive end.
The Patriots did a great job of changing their passing game by adding top-end pass-catching talent at the tight end position last year, and while they have some talent at wide receiver, Wes Welker is by no means a player who can stretch the field, and Deion Branch isn’t a player defenses worry about with the deep ball. Smith adds speed and the chance to turn short catches into touchdowns. He will develop as a deep threat as well. New England shouldn’t wonder whether it gave Tom Brady enough weapons.
While the questions after a playoff loss centered around the toughness of the quarterback, many Bears fans forgot that Jay Cutler was hit as much or more than any other QB in the league all season. Even on many of his good plays, he was dodging rushers. The Bears did some decent work on their line in last year’s draft with a late steal but should attack it early in 2011. Ijalana offers versatilty and the ability to step in early. Solid fit.
I’m split between my own gut and sources on what the Jets could do here. They have to improve the defensive line, but it’s also a deep draft at those positions. Moore represents great value at a need position, the top safety in the draft and a guy who can fly all over the field to intercept passes for coach Rex Ryan, who knows how to get pressure and create forced throws.
Pittsburgh needs help at a couple of positions on the defensive line, and that makes Heyward an ideal pick as a player who has shown a lot of versatility in his career in Columbus. With his size, Heyward fits well as a 3-4 defensive end in Dick LeBeau’s scheme, and as an experienced player who is solid against both the run and pass, he could be called on early.
We know the Packers are set at one outside linebacker position. The question now is whom they can get to provide pressure and matchup problems on the other side. Houston has the ideal frame, quickness and pass-rushing skills to develop into a rusher who can give Dom Capers all kinds of options i