As I put the finishing touches on my final 2011 NFL Mock Draft, it dawned on me. The draft starts at eight o'clock tonight. By about 8:30, we'll probably be able to tear up all of these mock drafts. Craziness will ensue tonight at Radio City. It's not a matter of if, but a matter of how quickly.
So for the sake of my mock, I didn't predict any trades. But I did note positions where I think a trade is likely.
With that said, I present my final 2011 NFL Mock Draft:
1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. This is probably one of the few picks I'm fairly confident about. This team needs help on offense and have to jump-start their passing attack. Newton can be an electrifying player in this league if he's given a little time to develop.
2. Denver Broncos: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M. I'm on board with the flip-flop of these two guys at picks 2 and 3. Like Mike Mayock has been saying this week, it makes sense for Denver to take the only elite LB in the draft here and then worry about the defensive line, which is far deeper, in round two.
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. The Bills will likely be doing back flips in their draft room if Dareus remains on the board after the first two picks.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. I think the Bengals draft plan is simple. Get the top receiver on the board in round one and then see how the quarterbacks fall late in the first or early second.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. If the Cardinals keep this pick, Peterson makes the most sense to them with Von Miller already taken. They'll give some thought to Blaine Gabbert, of course. But I think they'll go the veteran QB route rather than draft one in round one. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
6. Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. This team has two glaring needs - defensive line help as they switch back to a 4-3 defense and a play-making wide receiver. With this draft class being stronger at DL, they take the stud WR here with the sixth pick.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. The steal of the draft right here. Gabbert is personally my number two player in the entire draft. The Niners got burnt once by taking a QB high. But not this time.
8. Tennessee Titans: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. If the Titans don't talk themselves out of this pick, they will end up with an elite talent - though we all know there's some risk involved here. The coaching staff will have to make sure Fairley plays with a full tank - which will be a challenge. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. The Cowboys could go cornerback, defensive end, or outside pass rusher here. But the team needs a left tackle and Smith has the most upside as a LT in this draft. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
10. Washington Redskins: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. With no elite WR or QB still on the board, the Redskins "settle" for a pass-rushing bookend to team with Brian Orakpo. Quinn is a top five talent and the Skins will be lucky to have him, though they could also look to trade down. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
11. Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri. Houston is converting to a 3-4 defense and need to get the proper personnel in place. Smith can come in and be a starter at outside linebacker right from day one, though cornerback could be a target here as their secondary is a mess.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. The Vikings need a QB and I have a feeling they are going to reach to take one. Locker would be a good fit for Minnesota's offense.
13. Detroit Lions: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. The Lions will be ecstatic if the Prince falls to them here. I had thought the Lions would go offensive line here. But Amukamara fills their most glaring defensive need.
14. St. Louis Rams: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. With both top receivers long gone, the Rams decide to throw head coach Steve Spagnuolo a bone and give him a new toy to play with along the defensive line. Liuget is rising on draft boards and is an excellent fit for this team.
15. Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida. I said earlier today that the Dolphins taking Pouncey at 15 would be my nightmare first round scenario. But if the Dolphins can't trade down, I'm on board with what most are predicting here - that Pouncey will be the pick. But I have a gut feeling that the Dolphins will be able to move down in round one via trade. If they do, I'm going on record and saying that either Ryan Mallett or Christian Ponder end up in Miami. Again, that's only if they can trade down. If they stay at 15, my nightmare comes true. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. A high motor, high character guy that fills a position of glaring need? Almost seems too simple.
17. New England Patriots: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal. The Patriots need pass-rushing help and help along the defensive line. Jordan is one of the top two "5 technique" defensive linemen available. Having played in a 3-4 in college, the Pats will take the kid with experience at the position.
18. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. The Chargers need help up front and Watt might have more upside than the player I have going one spot ahead of him. Either way, San Diego will go with one of the two 3-4 DEs here.
19. New York Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. The Giants are getting old up front and need some fresh blood along the line. Pouncey would be the pick if he was still on the board. Since he isn't in this scenario, they go with one of the two top tackles in the draft.
20. Tampa Bay Bucs: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Tampa's number one need? A defensive end who can rush the passer. Bowers has fallen this far because of overblown injury concerns. Bucs don't make the mistake of passing on him, and land a steal.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. I could see the Chiefs going a couple of different directions. Defensive line could he boosted here with a player like Phil Taylor. But solidifying the offensive line has become their top priority.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. The Colts need to finally invest in a young LT to protect their star quarterback as he ages. The Colts chose to pass on Rodger Saffold last year. They won't pass on the best LT still on the board this year.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. The kid will come with character concerns. But he's so talented and is unquestionably the 3rd best corner in this draft. I think the Eagles will roll the dice on the kid, who could be a great player if he keeps his head on straight.
24. New Orleans Saints: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa The Saints need to address their defensive line. A player like Clayborn who can rush the passer and defend the run fits their needs, though a running back like Mark Ingram could entice them.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida St. Sorry but I'm not buying the "Charlie Whitehurst can be the guy" smoke screen. The Seahawks need to find a QB and Ponder is an ideal fit for that offense.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple. Wilkerson may be the draft's fastest riser since his Pro Day workout, which is where the buzz began. Now word is the Ravens covet this kid. He may not even be available depending on how the draft plays out and which teams possibly trade up for the big man. But in this scenario, the Ravens luck out and get their guy.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor. The Falcons could use a pass rusher as well as a cornerback. A tight end could even entice the Falcons. But getting bigger and more physical along the interior defensive line is the direction the team will take. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
28. New England Patriots: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. I had said in previous mocks that I could see the Pats, notorious for trading for future picks, trading away this pick to a team interested in Ingram. But now there seems to be a buzz that the Pats actually are high on the former Heisman winner.
29. Chicago Bears: Danny Watkins, OT, Baylor. Chicago's offensive line, though much improved late in the year, is still a big issue. So they take the top lineman still on the board.
30. New York Jets: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA. Ayers had a solid Pro Day, improving his 40. On tape, he plays fast and can attack the quarterback. The Jets need pass rush help. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. The Steelers have some issues at cornerback. The Packers exploited that fact in the Super Bowl. Some think Williams is a better fit at safety. But I think he would fit in well in Pittsburgh's defense opposite Ike Taylor.
32. Green Bay Packers: Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona. The Packers could either address their offensive line or find a bookend to go with Clay Matthews at outside linebacker. I now think that finding a bookend end for Clay Matthews wins out. (POSSIBLE TRADE DOWN)