By this time of the year, I have usually published several versions of my mock draft. But this year I decided to hold off a little longer in hopes of getting a better feel for how things might play out next month. As it turns out, I was way off.
The more time I had to debate where these rookies would end up, the harder it became. Of course, I'm fully aware that these mock drafts are an exercise in futility. Still, they are always fun to discuss and usually spark some good debate.
So without further ado, I give you my first official mock draft of the year. And please keep in mind I did not factor in the potential for trades knowing very well that odds are there will be trades. Since they are so unpredictable, though, I chose not to include any...for now.
You might be surprised at who I have the Dolphins selecting at #15.
1. Carolina Panthers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Some seem to feel Gabbert is nothing special. I disagree. The kid has all the physical tools and possesses the "it" factor you look for when scouting college quarterbacks.
2. Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. The Broncos need to address their defensive line as they revert back to a 4-3 base. And Dareus is just the guy to anchor that line in the middle.
3. Buffalo Bills: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. The Bills could go in a number of directions. But I think that team is infatuated with Newton's raw physical talent.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. With two top QBs off the board, the Bengals select the top receiver on their board. Likely a surprise to some, Jones will be that guy.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M. They'd like a QB, I'm sure. But they'll have to settle for one of the safest players in the draft - a perfect match of need and talent.
6. Cleveland Browns: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Injury concerns aside, Bowers is a boom-or-bust player who will fill a huge need at DE as the Browns switch back to a 4-3 base.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. The steal of the draft right here. Peterson is going to be a stud and he falls to pick 7 simply because of the needs of the top 6 teams.
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.
9. Dallas Cowboys: JJ Watt, DE, Cal. The Cowboys could go cornerback or outside pass rusher here. They could go offensive line here. But in the end, they get some much needed defensive line help - taking the best "5 technique" defender in the draft.
10. Washington Redskins: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. Things couldn't have gone better for the Skins in this scenario, landing who many (including myself) believe is the top receiving talent in the draft.
11. Houston Texans: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. Houston's secondary is a disaster. Prince will help change that.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. The Vikings need a QB - but I admit this pick is a reach. Locker has seen his stock tumble recently. But all it takes is one team to fall in love with you. And Locker will be a good fit in Minnesota's offense.
13. Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, BC. The Lions have gotten more than they could have hoped for by sliding Jeff Backus to the left side. But it's time to get serious about protecting Matthew Stafford now. Though I won't say for sure Castonzo will be the pick, I'm fairly confident I got the position right.
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.
15. Miami Dolphins: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina. A defensive player? Am I nuts? Maybe a little. But in this particular situation, assuming the Dolphins cannot trade out of the pick, Quinn is the guy this regime is most likely to draft. Jeff Ireland said the team will not ignore the defensive side of the ball despite their improved performance in 2010. The offense has a ton of holes - I get that. But Quinn is too good of a talent to pass up here. A pass-rushing duo of Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn could potentially be epic.
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: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri. The Patriots need pass-rushing help. Smith is the best remaining pass-rusher on the board.
18. San Diego Chargers: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal. The Chargers need help up front and Jordan actually played in a defense similar to SD's 3-4 in college, which should help with the transition for the talented kid.
19. New York Giants: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. The Giants are getting old up front and need some fresh blood along the line. Smith might have the most upside of all the tackles available this year, though he's raw and will need time to develop.
20. Tampa Bay Bucs: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. Tampa number one need? A defensive end who can rush the passer and defend against the run. Clayborn fits the bill.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor. The kid's stock is on the rise as the top nose tackle available in the draft - which just so happens to be a glaring need for KC.
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: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Many think Philly goes cornerback here. I think they give OL coach Howard Mudd a new project.
24. New Orleans Saints: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio St. The Saints need to address their pass rush. And getting the son of former Saints fan favorite Craig "Ironhead" Heyward isn's a bad idea, either.
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: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. Receiver and offensive line help are all on the table here. But they can't pass on a talent like Smith who only fell because of character concerns.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida. Though not as talented as his brother, Pouncey is going to be a solid pro and can step in at either guard or center - two positions Atlanta will have to address as they risk losing guard Harvey Dahl to free agency and their center is in his mid 30s.
28. New England Patriots: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. I'm not actually saying that the Pats will draft Ingram, though they certainly could use a back like him. But should the former Heisman winner fall this far, some team will make a deal with New England to land him.
29. Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi St. Chicago's offensive line, though much improved late in the year, is still a big issue. So they take the top tackle still on the board.
30. New York Jets: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia. Houston's combination of size and speed could make for a dynamic pass-rusher off of the edge - a major need for this Jet defense. Of course, Houston has drawn some comparisons to Vernon Gholston - just another reason why this pick would make so much sense.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami. The Steelers have some issues at cornerback. The Packers exploited that fact in the Super Bowl. Harris is a talented corner who could probably start from day one opposite of Ike Taylor.
32. Green Bay Packers: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA. The Packers land that bookend threat to go with star Clay Matthews, giving GB a dynamic set of outside backers for years to come.