Posted: Thursday April 21, 2011 11:25AM ; Updated: Thursday April 21, 2011 4:48PM
Peter King
Peter King>INSIDE THE NFL

2011 NFL Mock Draft

Story Highlights

The 10 most difficult decisions in trying to project the first round

Patriots and Seahawks are teams likely to pursue trades in the top 32

With so many teams needing QBs, expect five to be taken on Thursday

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Marcell Dareus will tempt the defense-needy Panthers, but if Carolina passes, expect the Broncos to pounce on the Alabama DT.
Marcell Dareus will tempt the defense-needy Panthers, but if Carolina passes, expect the Broncos to pounce on the Alabama DT.
Todd Rosenberg/SI

Here's my third-annual SI mock draft. Before you go through it, I'll give you my 10 toughest decisions putting it together:

1. Carolina picking Cam Newton. I'm not convinced the Panthers will. Not at all. You can't be sold on him after watching his performance in the classroom with Jon Gruden on his ESPN quarterback show. Ron Rivera's a defensive coach, and he can get a 10-year defensive tackle in Marcell Dareus. I still put Newton number one, but shakily.

2. Houston trading up for Patrick Peterson with San Francisco. Just a guess, because I know how much the Texans love Peterson, and they'd be drooling if he drops to number seven. But the Niners would be drooling too.

3. The Redskins passing on Ryan Mallett. This one has Mike Shanahan/Jay Cutler written all over it. Remember how, five years ago, Shanahan didn't tell anyone, even in his own building, until draft morning he was taking Cutler? There's another shroud of silence around Shanahan this year. Look out.

4. Da'Quan Bowers. Lions could take him. He could sink like a stone.

5. Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder. I've got them going 15 and 28. I think both go in the first round. I just don't know where. But if you read my piece in the magazine this week about how tough it is to get the quarterback-pick right, you'll see why I have Dalton to Miami.

6. Jimmy Smith's baggage. He's got a lot of it, from substance abuse to being the kind of kid who's been allowed to be a prima donna over the years. Lots of teams love him. He could go anywhere from Philly at 23 to out of the first round, but I have the Ravens taking him.

7. The run of offensive linemen. I've got the Patriots starting it with Mike Pouncey at 17, but the Pats could go J.J. Watt or deal it down too. I don't think it starts later than the Giants at 19, and it'll stretch to Chicago at 29.

8. Phil Taylor. The Baylor defensive tackle is the best nose man in the draft, and his lateral quickness makes him a fit for the 3-4 or 4-3. He's adamant that there's nothing wrong with his foot, which is rumored to be a chronic problem. (I'll have more about this in Monday's column; I tend to side with Taylor, based on one team's strong opinion on it.) I don't have him in my mock, but if I had it to do again, I'd give him to Rex Ryan or Dick LeBeau at 30 or 31.

9. Where to put Mark Ingram. If I had a 33rd pick, I'd either have New England trading it, or picking Ingram. New England certainly could choose him low in the first -- if the Saints don't get him first.

10. How many quarterbacks in the round. I've got five, with Mallett and Colin Kaepernick lasting until the second. Now that's eminently arguable. I might even argue with myself on that.

On with the draft, but please remember one Peter King Self-Preservation Point. All those analysts who crow about hitting nine picks on the nose, or getting 29 guys right in the round overall? The key is when you turn it in. Mine was 11 days before the first pick. Apples and oranges to compare this one to those posted the morning of the draft. As my daughters would say, "I'm just saying.''

(Click prospect name for complete profile.)

1. Carolina Panthers

Will Pick: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Should Pick: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

Touchdowns scored in the NFC South last year: Atlanta 47, New Orleans 44, Tampa Bay 39 ... Carolina 17. While you may not want to blame Jimmy Clausen for being in the wrong place at the wrong time as a rookie last year, you have to be skeptical of him after the Panthers' offensive meltdown. Hard to pass on a player with Newton's talent, even if the supporting cast in Carolina may not give him the chance to show it right away.

2. Denver Broncos

Will Pick: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Should Pick: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

Let's get one thing straight: The 6-foot-3, 319-pound Dareus is not the second coming of Ndamukong Suh. No defensive tackle in this draft rushes the passer like Suh, but then again there's rarely a defensive tackle in any draft who does. What Dareus will do is stop the run better than anyone Denver has, a good thing for a team that allowed 4.7 yards per carry last year. A safe pick for John Fox's new 4-3, and the right pick.

3. Buffalo Bills

Will Pick: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Should Pick: Anthony Castonzo, T, Boston College

Buffalo's biggest needs are a left tackle and a run stopper, but those will be addressed in later rounds, because Miller's potential is so great. He has the chance to be a double-digit sacker, the guy '09 first-rounder Aaron Maybin hasn't become. But projecting pass rushers is always risky. For a team whose QB was hit way too much last year, I'd rather have a Day One left tackle. Castonzo started 54 games at BC and was never overmatched.

4. Cincinnati Bengals

Will Pick: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Should Pick: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Whether they'll admit it or not, the Bengals will look for a quarterback to succeed Carson Palmer. Gabbert, who rarely threw downfield at Missouri, isn't as football-smart or as prepared to play in new coordinator Jay Gruden's quick-decision passing scheme as some of the other quarterbacks coming out, like TCU's Andy Dalton. Jones is a big, fast worker bee who'll block like Hines Ward -- a better fit for Cincinnati here.

5. Arizona Cardinals

Will Pick: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Should Pick: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

The way Arizona figures it, a veteran QB can be had at some point before the season to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball. What else would help the Cards' best player? The top-rated receiver on most teams' boards, who could further deflect attention from Fitzgerald. I'd prefer the best corner in the draft, to boost the 29th-rated defense, improve the athleticism in the secondary and help the return game.

6. Cleveland Browns

Will Pick: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Should Pick: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

The Browns are desperate for an edge rusher, and they may reach for Robert Quinn of North Carolina. They shouldn't. Quinn's a terrific prospect and probably the best pass-rushing end in this draft. But Cleveland has zero weapons in the passing game for new West Coast coach Pat Shurmur, and with Mike Holmgren having final say over football ops, I'd be surprised if he didn't make the obvious pick: a topflight receiver and blocker in Jones.

*7. Houston Texans

Will Pick: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Should Pick: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

*PROJECTED TRADE WITH 49ERS
I see the Texans trading up four spots with the 49ers here. With a horrendous secondary that allowed opposing QBs to complete 64.7 percent of their passes for 33 touchdowns, Houston can't afford to take a chance on missing out on either of the corners of great value. The Texans will also be tempted to fill a need with defensive end Robert Quinn, but the smarter choice is Peterson, who's much more of a sure thing at his position.

8. Tennessee Titans

Will Pick: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Should Pick: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU

Top QB Prospects
Source: SI
SI.com takes a look at some of the best quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Tennessee was rarely as toothless defensively under Jeff Fisher as it was in his last season, and the lack of interior pressure from the line was a big part of that. Fairley doesn't come without risk, however. He was a one-year wonder at Auburn, and there are questions about how dedicated he'll be. This is too high for Dalton, of course -- unless you think he's got a good chance to be the best QB in this draft. Which I do.

9. Dallas Cowboys

Will Pick: Tyron Smith, T, USC
Should Pick: Anthony Castonzo, T, Boston College

Dallas can take the long-term replacement for right tackle Marc Colombo here, and the choice is between the raw but athletically gifted 20-year-old (Smith) or the proven commodity who is the most versatile lineman in the draft (Castonzo). Smith's not a bad pick, but with a roaming QB in Tony Romo, who's subjected to lots of hits and coming off a season-ending injury, give me the surer thing, please.

10. Washington Redskins

Will Pick: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Should Pick: Mike Pouncey, G-C, Florida

With this choice, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can team Quinn with Brian Orakpo and have the best bookend pass rushers in the NFC -- presuming Quinn is as good as advertised. Though Washington needs a passer, there's no lock at this spot, and I'd rather see the Skins help the hurting offensive line with the versatile Pouncey, who can be a mainstay for 10 years. Quarterback? Build the lines first. And get a receiver.

*11. San Francisco 49ers

Will Pick: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Should Pick: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU

*PROJECTED TRADE WITH TEXANS
You can't knock San Francisco for taking a relative sure thing in the clean-living, clinging cover man who will step in as a rookie and upgrade a mediocre secondary. But when I envision Jim Harbaugh's West Coast offense, I see it being run by Dalton, a smart, egoless player who's just a smidge shy on the deep outs but works and processes the passing game like Peyton Manning -- and just might be the next Drew Brees.

12. Minnesota Vikings

Will Pick: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Should Pick: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU

The broken record continues. Hey, I like Dalton. Re Locker: Other than his 54% completion rate over four seasons -- which could consign him to the Kyle Boller Hall of Mediocrity five years from now -- there's a lot to like about him. "He's as tough as any player, quarterback or otherwise, in this draft, and he is one great leader,'' says Jon Gruden, who analyzed Locker for his ESPN quarterback-prospect show. So, the Vikes roll the dice.

13. Detroit Lions

Will Pick: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Should Pick: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

He's a medical risk, and playing on the rug isn't good for a guy who might need microfracture surgery on his right knee. But two people who've done exhaustive work on Bowers told me they think he's a solid mid-first gamble. Jim Schwartz knows if he gets a young edge rusher to pair with Ndamukong Suh, his defensive front will be competitive with the league's best. But watch for Castonzo or Colorado tackle Nate Solder here.

14. St. Louis Rams

Will Pick: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Should Pick: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois

Look back at Steve Spagnuolo's Super Bowl defense, when his Giants beat the Patriots. Players came in waves, particularly from the interior, to batter Tom Brady. Liuget just turned 21. He had 17 tackles behind the line last season, with 10 QB pressures and six passes batted down. His stock's rising, and it should. Some teams like him better than Nick Fairley as a sufficient run stopper and possible Warren Sapp-type rush tackle.

15. Miami Dolphins

Will Pick: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
Should Pick: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU

Of the 19 teams that worked out Dalton individually or hosted him for a visit, none was as exhaustive as the Dolphins, and I hear they liked what they saw. I could see them trading down -- they're desperate to recoup the second-round pick they lost in the Brandon Marshall deal -- and taking either Dalton or Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett later. With solid running backs available in the middle rounds, Miami won't go for Alabama's Mark Ingram here.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars

Will Pick: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Should Pick: Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri

The Jags continue to pay for the abominable 2008 draft -- spending all their draft capital on a pair of defensive end busts, Derrick Harvey (eighth) and Quentin Groves (52nd), and then not choosing until 103 picks later -- by drafting into the strength of this class, the defensive line. Kerrigan, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, had 26 tackles for loss and has the kind of motor G.M. Gene Smith loves in an edge player.

17. New England Patriots

Will Pick: Mike Pouncey, G-C, Florida
Should Pick: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

Watt's a speedy, versatile defensive end who'd allow Vince Wilfork to move back inside where he belongs. Pouncey? He's a Day One starting guard, with the ability to someday replace Dan Koppen (32 in September) at center if need be. Either of these picks would make the Patriots better immediately. I give them Pouncey because of the interior-line urgency and the Urban Meyer/Bill Belichick connection.

18. San Diego Chargers

Will Pick: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal
Should Pick: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

The Chargers are still looking for the kind of pass rusher they thought they were getting in 2009 with end Larry English (24 career games, five sacks). At 6-4 and 287 pounds, Jordan is flexible: He played all over the line at the Senior Bowl, and last season he had a combined 18 sacks and tackles for loss. The fact is, San Diego doesn't have a D-lineman whom opposing teams have to game-plan around. Jordan could be that guy.

19. New York Giants

Will Pick: Anthony Castonzo, T, Boston College
Should Pick: Anthony Castonzo, T, Boston College

Some see Castonzo as a mauler with great competitive spirit, others as a second-rounder who has peaked as an ACC tackle. But he was the most versatile lineman at the Senior Bowl, started for four seasons at the school where Tom Coughlin used to coach, and is one of the quickest studies of any player in this draft. The Giants have three starting O-linemen (Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert, David Diehl) who are 30 or older, and Castonzo can plug in at four line spots.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Will Pick: Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
Should Pick: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Tampa Bay is still saying novenas that Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers will fall because teams are worried about the health of his knee, and it's not impossible that he'll still be available here. But these two pass rushers are safer choices. Personnel men I've spoken to are very high on Smith, but Clayborn, though he'll likely be a right end only, looks better suited to be an edge rusher than Smith.

21. Kansas City Chiefs

Will Pick: Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin
Should Pick: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

G.M. Scott Pioli would have loved to take Baylor's Phil Taylor, the best nose man in the draft, here, but Taylor's foot problems will make Kansas City turn elsewhere. If Mike Pouncey were still around at 21, he could be Pioli's man, to slot in as a long-term guard or center. But with Pouncey likely out of the picture, the Chiefs will turn to a Day One starting mauler at right tackle in Carimi, a safe guy at a need position from a good program.

22. Indianapolis Colts

Will Pick: Nate Solder, T, Colorado
Should Pick: Nate Solder, T, Colorado

The long-armed, 6-8 Solder should make up for the miscall on Tony Ugoh four drafts ago. Frankly, the Colts have been scotch-taping the O-line together for the past couple of years, and they should have chosen tackle Rodger Saffold instead of pass rusher Jerry Hughes in 2010. Whether it's Solder or Anthony Castonzo, the pick has a good shot to start early and then protect Peyton Manning's blind side for the last few years of his career.

23. Philadelphia Eagles

Will Pick: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
Should Pick: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Baylor coach Art Briles has been saying for the past year that Watkins, the former firefighter from Canada who didn't play football until junior college, would be a first-round pick. And he was hooted down. Art, you're going to have the last laugh. Philadelphia would consider pass rushers Aldon Smith and Adrian Clayborn here. But Andy Reid has an affinity for O-linemen, and Watkins is the kind of tough player Eagles fans will love.

24. New Orleans Saints

Will Pick: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Should Pick: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

A very strong proviso here: Watch out for Alabama RB Mark Ingram. I think he's the player Sean Payton loves the most at 24. But he looks at his running back crop, including undrafted free agents Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, and knows he can get a good back later. He also realizes it's now or never to get a defensive end who's got a chance to be a pass-rush force. New Orleans likes Anthony Castonzo too -- but he'll likely be off the board by this point.

25. Seattle Seahawks

Will Pick: Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Should Pick: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

No team wants to trade down more than Seattle, which has seven big holes to fill, including two at guard and one at tackle, and that's before we even get to quarterback. The Seahawks will probably lose Matt Hasselbeck to free agency, but I don't see them taking a passer in the first two rounds unless they trade down. They're willing to go with Charlie Whitehurst and a vet in '11, while Austin, a penetrating DT, fortifies another need position.

26. Baltimore Ravens

Will Pick: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Should Pick: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Smith would love to play alongside Ed Reed and behind Ray Lewis. Some teams are shying away from him because of off-field problems. Some teams would like to shy away because of off-field problems but can't -- because he might be as good a player as Patrick Peterson when his career's over. The Ravens can put in enough safeguards to make sure Smith behaves. And this just in: They desperately need a shutdown corner.

27. Atlanta Falcons

Will Pick: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Should Pick: Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia

The Falcons are looking for a long-term speed-rush replacement for veteran John Abraham, who'll turn 33 in May, and Houston fills the bill. But even though Watt doesn't fit G.M. Thomas Dimitroff's theme for this draft -- finding "explosive players" -- the chance to get a guy who's in the top 10 on more than one draft board around the league is an opportunity Atlanta can't let slip.

*28. Tennessee Titans

Will Pick: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Should Pick: Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada

*PROJECTED TRADE WITH PATRIOTS
The Titans will have thought about pulling the trigger on Locker earlier, and they're very high on Andy Dalton. If the QBs start to fly off the board, I expect Tennessee (not San Francisco) to look into moving up (I have them trading with New England here) for one of the remaining clean-résumé passers. Ryan Mallett? I doubt it. Too much static. This pick allows the Titans to use Kerry Collins in 2011 while grooming a replacement for '12.

29. Chicago Bears

Will Pick: Derek Sherrod, T, Mississippi State
Should Pick: Derek Sherrod, T, Mississippi State

Offensive line coach Mike Tice would have pulled calf muscles in both legs jumping for joy if Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi were still on the board here. The word on Carimi is he'd have been able to start early at tackle for the line-starved Bears. Sherrod -- more of a technician than a brawler -- isn't really Tice's type, but he is the best available lineman, and the Bears simply have to address this position of major need.

30. New York Jets

Will Pick: Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple
Should Pick: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

Speaking of value picks, I've seen Wilkerson projected as high as No. 11 in this draft. Rex Ryan, who's been to every good defensive line prospect's Pro Day this spring, would be able to use the 6-4, 315-pound Wilkerson as a poor man's Haloti Ngata, which is to say all over the front. When you can run 4.96 seconds in the 40, and you're as powerful as Wilkerson, you're made for Ryan's attacking defense.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers

Will Pick: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Should Pick: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

Did you see the Super Bowl? Packers receivers Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings abused Pittsburgh's secondary, and without knowing if he's going to be able to improve the backfield through free agency this year, Steelers personnel czar Kevin Colbert can't afford to outthink himself here. He's got to take the best cornerback left, unless one of the top two or three tackles Colbert's eyeing falls all the way down to here.

32. Green Bay Packers

Will Pick: Cam Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Should Pick: Cam Heyward, DE, Ohio State

G.M. Ted Thompson could choose more of a rush twin for Clay Matthews in Brooks Reed from Arizona. And if J.J. Watt falls, as I project, I wouldn't be surprised if Thompson jumps up a few slots to grab him. But the 294-pound Heyward is a good fit here because he can play all over the line, and versatility in Dom Capers' scheme will be vital with Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly possibly missing from the defensive front in 2011.

PETER KING: 1-minute drills for every team's needs heading into the draft

 
SI.com
Hot Topics: Sammy Watkins NFL Draft Rick Adelman NFL Questions Aaron Hernandez Donald Trump
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint