1. Carolina Panthers - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn (6-5, 295)
The Panthers could go a number of directions with this pick, taking anyone from Fairley to Patrick Peterson, Cameron Newton, Robert Quinn or Da'Quan Bowers. The hiring of coach Ron Rivera makes it likely that they look to defense, however. With Charles Johnson's emergence at defensive end and youngsters Everette Brown and Greg Hardy occupying the same spot, Fairley easily jumps out as the best value for Carolina. The Panthers have nothing at defensive tackle, and while Fairley is a risky pick, the same would be the case for almost any option, and Fairley's game tape from 2010 was almost as good as Ndamukong Suh's college tape. The reason Fairley isn't as good a prospect as last year's No. 2 overall pick is that Suh played at a high level for multiple seasons, while Fairley was invisible before 2010. Also, Suh possessed top-notch character, while Fairley is a knucklehead and doesn't necessarily come off that well in interviews. Character concerns aside, Fairley did at least show a ferocious motor in 2010, so there's at least reason to believe that he takes the game seriously, even if he's liable to do stupid things at times.
2. Denver Broncos - Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU (6-1, 215)
Peterson still has to answer skeptics who question his ability to turn and run in the NFL, as it's surprisingly fashionable to proclaim that Peterson will need to move to safety in the NFL. But Peterson looks closer to Nnamdi Asomugha than Antrel Rolle as far as CB/S tweeners go, though his performance in offseason workouts will ultimately determine whether NFL teams agree. Assuming Peterson shows up well in those workouts, Denver won't have much of a choice here but to take him. The team's likely move to the 4-3 leaves it with Elvis Dumervil and former first-round pick Robert Ayers as the probable starters at defensive end, limiting the utility of a Da'Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn at this spot. Tim Tebow is obviously the team's quarterback of the future, so there's no interest in Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. The team is extremely thin at cornerback, on the other hand, as its top guy (Champ Bailey) is a free agent and will be 33 next season. If Peterson doesn't show up well in workouts, Denver is in a rough spot at this pick.
3. Buffalo Bills - Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (6-5, 250)
Few teams are more difficult to anticipate in the draft than the Bills, and few prospects in recent memory are more of a wild card than Newton. Those two points seem to make Buffalo and Newton a good pair. Despite his admirable showing in 2010, Ryan Fitzpatrick is not an NFL franchise quarterback, and Newton's stock is higher than most might assume. He's flawless as far as measurables go - huge, fast, cannon for an arm - and he's surprisingly very accurate as a passer. His mechanics as a passer are also surprisingly refined. The reason he's a boom-or-bust pick is because he hasn't played in a remotely pro-style system and was never asked to make the reads he'll need to make in the NFL. Particularly in the event that a rookie pay scale is implemented, Newton is almost a lock to go in the top-10. If the days of overwhelming signing bonuses for top-10 picks are gone, the risks that might normally make a team think twice about drafting a player like Newton are almost entirely negated. With no cap penalty threat in the event that he busts, Newton's mammoth upside basically becomes the only thing that matters. He'll have to show up well in interviews in response to the pay-to-play allegations that followed him around during 2010 and his laptop incident at Florida, but otherwise all indications are that Newton is a great teammate and a natural leader.
4. Cincinnati Bengals - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri (6-5, 235)
This pick likely will depend mostly on the Carson Palmer situation. If the team thinks it can convince Palmer to play in 2011, taking wide receiver A.J. Green to appease Palmer makes plenty of sense. If the Bengals think the cause is lost, then they'll need to waste no time finding a replacement. Gabbert isn't necessarily pro-ready, so it's not the greatest idea for him to start from Day One, but he does present long-term potential that Cincinnati could eventually capitalize on. With Carlos Dunlap's dominant play in the second half of 2010, defensive end likely won't be viewed as a huge need here for the Bengals.
5. Arizona Cardinals - Robert Quinn, (3-4) OLB, North Carolina (6-5, 270)
The assumption by most is that Von Miller is the top 3-4 outside linebacker, but I can't see it. As great of an edge rusher as he is, I think Miller is just too much of a containment liability in an NFL 3-4. Quinn, on the other hand, has the build to shut down the run while still terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Arizona might have a player in O'Brien Schofield, but 3-4 teams can't afford to have just one good outside linebacker. For the record, I think Quinn is the top 4-3 end, too, not Da'Quan Bowers.
6. Cleveland Browns - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia (6-4, 200)
If he's there, Green is an absolute slam-dunk pick for Cleveland. With Colt McCoy's development being the top priority, the Browns can't keep waiting on Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie to show up. Green would be the team's top wideout if the games started today - he's that good. While he's not a burner, Green's incredible ability to accelerate in and out of cuts and ability to high-point the ball give him the possibility to become one of the NFL's dominant wideouts.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska (6-0, 205)
Amukamara probably won't run in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash, but he's heavy on press-coverage experience and generally shows enough athleticism to hold up in one-on-one coverage. As a physical corner willing to defend the run, Amukamara fits perfectly with coach Jim Harbaugh's hard-nosed nature.
8. Tennessee Titans - Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (6-4, 275)
Most consider it unfathomable for Bowers to fall this far, but it's hard to see how he goes earlier than this. His athleticism a bit overrated, expect Bowers to get shown up by Robert Quinn during offseason workouts. Still, Bowers projects as a Day One starter as a strongside end for some 4-3 team, and Tennessee could use such a player. Despite Tennessee taking Derrick Morgan in the first round last year, Bowers is a good pick here because he's arguably the best player available, and the team still can't be sure what it has in Morgan. Moreover, there's a big chance the team won't be able to re-sign Jason Babin.
9. Dallas Cowboys - Marcell Dareus, (3-4) DE, Alabama (6-4, 306)
Dallas would be smart to trade back and target a true nose tackle (Stephen Paea or Phil Taylor), allowing Jay Ratliff to move to his correct position of defensive end. Dareus at nine would be a nice way to go, too, though not ideal. Still, Dareus is an excellent prospect who could go earlier than this with the right workout numbers. Dallas is weak at defensive end, so Dareus would be a Day One starter.
10. Washington Redskins - Jake Locker, QB, Washington (6-3, 230)
Public opinion is turning heavily against Locker, but it's still hard to see him fall out of the top-20. As with the Newton pick, the presence of a rookie pay scale would make Locker much more valuable, as his upside is off the charts. Additionally, Locker likely will show better in interviews and staged workouts than he did at the Senior Bowl. Expect his stock to swing back upward soon enough, though never to the level it was when the 2009 college season ended. A trade down to get him would be more ideal, but Locker might not last past the Vikings at 12.
11. Houston Texans - Von Miller, (3-4) OLB, Texas A&M (6-3, 243)
Although he's overhyped, Miller would be justifiable for Houston at 11. The team is ill-suited to transition into the 3-4, and an edge rush threat like Miller is a mandatory addition before the season's start. The Texas connection wouldn't hurt, either.
12. Minnesota Vikings - Cameron Jordan, DE, California (6-4, 283)
The Vikings want a quarterback, but the 12 pick isn't a good spot to land one in this draft. If Jake Locker is gone, the next quarterback might be Colin Kaepernick, but 12 seems way too high to take him. A player like Jordan, however, would be a nice fit for the Vikes. Ray Edwards is looking for big free-agent dollars, so securing Jordan would allow the team to lower its costs at defensive end to target other areas in free agency.
13. Detroit Lions - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (FL) (5-11, 195)
Detroit is as desperate as can be for some cornerback talent, so Harris matches up well at this spot. An offensive tackle pick isn't out of the question, but there aren't any particularly great matches at this draft slot.
14. St. Louis Rams - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (6-4, 225)
Jones could be had in a trade-up earlier than this, but the Rams would have almost no choice but to take him if he lasted this long. Sam Bradford needs some better targets in St. Louis, and Jones has the skill set to turn into a workhorse wideout. He lacks A.J. Green's gamebreaking ability, but seeing Jones in a Pro Bowl or two down the road would hardly surprise.
15. Miami Dolphins - Tyron Smith, OT, USC (6-5, 280)
The Dolphins could obviously use a quarterback, but there aren't any good fits at this pick. They could also use an upgrade on the offensive line, however, and the first offensive tackle is likely to come off the board in this range. Smith would plug into a right tackle role for Miami, allowing Vernon Carey to move inside to guard, which should improve the team's run-blocking. Despite his lack of weight, Smith is not necessarily lacking strength - he's just in extremely good shape for a lineman.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue (6-4, 265)
Like Tyson Alualu from last year, Kerrigan both addresses a huge need on the defensive line and possesses the high-motor, no-nonsense demeanor that GM Gene Smith seems to be bringing into Jacksonville lately. Kerrigan is extremely polished and would have a great shot to start from Day One in Jacksonville.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) - Justin Houston, (3-4) OLB, Georgia (6-3, 258)
Bill Belichick has only shown a mild interest in securing a top-notch edge rusher, so he might not consider it as much a need as the conventional standard would. Simply stated, New England doesn't have any especially talented pass-rushers. Last year's second-round pick, Jermaine Cunningham, can't rival the explosiveness that a player like Houston would bring. He's under the radar right now, but it wouldn't be shocking if Houston ended up being the first 3-4 outside linebacker drafted (though it would take a 4-3 team drafting Robert Quinn for that to happen probably).
18. San Diego Chargers - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland (6-1, 205)
One can look at how Philip Rivers put up big numbers throwing to players like Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu and Richard Goodman and conclude that San Diego has no need for wide receivers. Or one could argue the team should secure more wideout talent to maximize Rivers' production. If the team's passing game is good with marginal talents, it's tempting to see what's possible when the passing game is provided with star talent. Smith isn't well-known nationally at the moment, but he's an excellent receiver prospect who has the skill set to emerge as a dangerous all-around wideout - big and strong enough to move the chains and explosive and fast enough to burn teams deep. Getting Smith to a relatively cheap contract would prepare the Chargers for life without Vincent Jackson.
19. New York Giants - Anthony Costanzo, OT, Boston College (6-7, 308)
The Giants are in good condition as a team without any glaring needs. They could stand to add some more talent to an aging offensive line, however, so Costanzo would be a nice pick at this spot. He's a bit lean to project as a strong-side blocker at the moment, leaving his ideal position at left tackle in most cases. In an organization like the Giants, though, Costanzo would probably be able to concentrate on bulking up in a reserve role until his number gets called, regardless of whether it's on the left or right side.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri (6-5, 260)
Smith is a major athletic specimen who could go higher than this with the right workout numbers, but this generally his best landing spot. Tampa went a long way towards fixing its defensive line by drafting Gerald McCoy and Brian Price last year, but upgrades are still necessary on the edges. Smith has the athleticism to eventually fit like a glove in Tampa's defense, though he's raw at the moment. I think Allen Bailey might also draw some serious interest here.
21. Kansas City Chiefs - Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois (6-4, 250)
I think the Chiefs would love to grab J.J. Watt here, but the team has a gigantic heap of cash tied up in Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey at the end spots, so that's a big roadblock to spending another high pick on a 3-4 end. Wilson, on the other hand, would address an area where the team doesn't have as much invested already. Wilson has the size and athleticism to perhaps play any linebacker position, but he generally projects to an inside role. Wilson is under the radar at the moment, but he figures to shine in a workout setting and has a lot of potential.
22. Indianapolis Colts - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin (6-6, 325)
Carimi probably isn't quite as athletic as the Colts prefer their offensive linemen, but they ought to be willing to concede athleticism in this case in exchange for Carimi's polish and run-blocking ability. Although better running back talent would help, too, Indy's running game needs a better push from the line, and Carimi would go a long way toward helping in that regard. Carimi would probably fit best at right tackle in a quick-strike offense like Indy's.
23. Philadelphia Eagles - Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (6-2, 200)
It wouldn't be shocking if Smith went ahead of Brandon Harris, but he'll probably need to shake the �tweener� label that automatically gets tagged to big corners by showing up well in a Combine-type setting before that happens. Until it does, he seems like a good bet to go in the 20s rather than the top-15. If the Eagles want to restore their defense to the level it was at under the watch of the great Jim Johnson, they'll need to improve the team's talent at cornerback. Basically, all their corners outside of Asante Samuel were a liability last year. But drafting Smith might give the team the Bobby Taylor they need to match up with the Troy Vincent (Samuel) they already have.
24. New Orleans Saints - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa (6-3, 285)
Clayborn had a puzzlingly weak 2010 campaign after looking unreal as a junior the year before, which makes him a steal outside of the top 15 if he can regain his previous form. The Saints could use more talent at both end and tackle on defense, so there are a number of directions they could go here. End figures to be the greater need, however, in light of the StarCaps ruling that could result in a suspension for Will Smith. Even if it weren't, Clayborn might be the clearly best value out of the remaining defensive linemen.
25. Seattle Seahawks - Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada (6-6, 225)
Pete Carroll probably knows by now that he got fleeced by the Chargers in the Charlie Whitehurst trade, and if he does, he also knows his team has zero talent for the future at quarterback. Kaepernick's weird throwing motion and background as a pistol quarterback in the WAC makes him a huge gamble, but a rookie pay scale would make those points far less worrisome. Moreover, risk seems to be the attraction for Carroll half the time. Between the Whitehurst trade, the Mike Williams project and the installation of a lopsided 4-3, Carroll's shown basically zero concern for convention to this point, making a flashy, unusual prospect like Kaepernick a natural fit.
26. Baltimore Ravens - Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh (6-5, 225)
There's still a good amount of sorting out to do with Baldwin's stock, as he's one of the bigger wild cards in the draft. As a former top recruit he's widely expected to make noise in offseason workouts, perhaps to the point that he goes in the top-20. Until he does, however, there's always the chance that he's just another James Hardy. In the meantime, it's seems safe to say that he definitely does offer Baltimore something it needs - a big wideout who can stretch the field. Baldwin made a living taking teams deep at Pitt, though that fact also leads to the point that he's a bit raw in other areas.
27. Atlanta Falcons - Allen Bailey, DE, Miami (FL) (6-4, 285)
Since he carries the �workout warrior� tag, Bailey figures to be one of the more widely doubted prospects in the draft. He definitely didn't put up the production you'd expect from a player as freakishly athletic as he is, but he might not be getting enough credit for the things he does well. Although he doesn't show the greatest instincts or moves, he's still very explosive and has the strength to contain the edge. For Atlanta, he'd immediately plug into a strong-side role, and hopefully he'd improve as a pass-rusher by the time John Abraham retires. Jabaal Sheard is a player who might make some noise in this range, too.
28. New England Patriots - J.J. Watt, (3-4) DE, Wisconsin (6-6, 292)
Watt could definitely go earlier than this, but he ultimately might wind up a bit underrated because he probably won't look quite as good in workouts as he does on game film. If he fell to this point, in any case, it's hard to imagine how New England could pass on him. His smarts, motor and dedication to the game make him the perfect fit for a Bill Belichick team.
29. Chicago Bears - Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (FL) (6-3, 205)
Hankerson's good showing in the Senior Bowl likely will make him one of the fan favorites at wideout in the draft, though he doesn't have the athleticism to rival the upside of players like Baldwin and Smith. Still, his skill set would fit nicely into a Chicago wideout group that basically consists of nothing but slot receivers. Hankerson would generally plug into a possession role to complement Johnny Knox and Devin Hester as speed threats.
30. New York Jets - Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor (6-4, 340)
Taylor still needs to show up in offseason workouts to elevate his stock to this point, but momentum is on his side in the race to be the top 3-4 nose tackle. Stephen Paea is another top option in that regard, though he lacks the measurables at just 6-1, 300, that the mammoth Taylor possesses.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers - Mike Pouncey, G, Pittsburgh (6-4, 313)
He's no Maurkice, but if you get the chance to reunite the Pouncey twins, you have to pull the trigger, right? Plus, it's not as if the Steelers don't have an urgent need to upgrade their offensive line. A tackle would be more ideal, but the pickings are slim if Smith, Costanzo and Carimi are gone. With Chris Kemoeatu being perhaps the biggest goat of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl loss, some competition at guard would hardly be unwelcome for Pitt. Derek Sherrod wouldn't be a bad option if they're determined to get a tackle, instead, though.
32. Green Bay Packers - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama (5-10, 215)
Many see Ingram going earlier than this, but the demand for running backs is remarkably low, and Ingram isn't an exceptional enough of a prospect to go much higher. This is particularly true due to the potentially historic amount of defensive line talent available. In any case, Ingram would obviously be a smash-hit pick for Green Bay, both because he'd come at a bargain contract and because his skill set plugs in perfectly to Green Bay's pass-heavy offense. Ryan Grant would probably retain the starting spot for the 2011 season, but Ingram would probably force something close to an even split in the workload by midseason or so.
Cam Newton - Newton definitely has the skill set to make an immediate impact in the NFL, particularly as a runner, but it's hard to see Buffalo giving him the starting spot as a rookie over Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Blaine Gabbert - If Gabbert lands in Cincinnati, there's a good chance it means Carson Palmer isn't around. If that's the case, then there's also a good chance he wouldn't have much competition for the starting spot. That said, don't expect Gabbert to do well as a rookie. He's coming from a screen-heavy spread offense, and his high draft stock has more to do with potential than on-field productivity.
Jake Locker - Locker is raw, he'd have a decent shot at starting 10 games or so for the Redskins as a rookie. Rex Grossman looks like the only competition he'd face, and a team that starts Grossman is likely to be the subject of a great deal of misfortune. It probably wouldn't take more than six weeks for the Skins to take away the keys and hand them to Locker, who has the rushing ability to be a useful fantasy option with the right matchup.
Colin Kaepernick - As would be the case with Locker in Washington, Kaepernick might see a few starting snaps for the QB-needy Seahawks if the team's season falls apart under the watch of Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst. Also like Locker, Kaepernick can put up big rushing numbers.
Mark Ingram - Ryan Grant is a decent starter for Green Bay and would likely remain the team's lead rusher for the majority or all of 2011, but Ingram probably has a bit more to offer down the road. At the very least, Ingram would represent an immediate upgrade on passing downs. Ingram would have high keeper value with the Packers, as Grant is heading into the last year of his contract, and it's difficult to imagine the team re-signing him with Ingram around.
A.J. Green - Cleveland probably isn't the most ideal spot as far as putting up big numbers goes, but what Green would have going for him is the fact that he'd likely be the team's best receiver from Day One. He'd likely be the team's best receiver right now, actually. If Green lands in Cleveland, Colt McCoy would be wise to toss it up to Green as often as possible.
Julio Jones - Although it's fashionable to bash the Rams wideouts, they at least deserve credit for their depth. They lack star power, but they have a large group of guys who excel in limited capacities. Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton (if re-signed) in particular would represent an obstacle for Jones in his rookie year. Down the road, however, none of the Rams receivers would be likely to hold Jones off from the No. 1 receiver role.
Torrey Smith - As we saw last year, almost any San Diego wideout will be productive by default. However, unlike Patrick Crayton, Seyi Ajirotutu, Legedu Naanee and the rest of the gang, Smith brings legitimate star power to the table. The upside for Smith in San Diego would be off the charts, though he might struggle to make an impact initially since Crayton and Vincent Jackson have a big head start in the team's offense.
Jon Baldwin - With Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason around in a run-heavy offense, it's difficult to see how Baldwin would make much of a fantasy impact for Baltimore in 2011. Outside of the occasional downfield gamble, the Ravens presumably wouldn't have a big workload for Baldwin unless Boldin or Mason get hurt, which is always a possibility.
Leonard Hankerson - Hankerson just might be able to make a decent immediate impact if he landed in Chicago. Johnny Knox and Devin Hester are basically just fast guys who happen to play wideout, while Hankerson is a natural receiver who actually knows how to play the position. Hankerson's skill set could make him the team's top possession receiver right out of the gate, though his potential would be limited due to the presence of Knox, Hester and Earl Bennett.