As the NFL combine prepares to wrap up, nothing much more has been answered for the teams heading into the 2011 draft. Most teams needs are pretty clear cut, with only few teams that could start out in any direction.
Trades may be as big a part of the draft day as the players themselves, but trying to speculate who wants to move up or down is pointless at this early stage.
Here is an early peek at how the draft could go down in just over a month from now :
1. Carolina Panthers : Da’Quan Bowers, Defensive End
Ron Rivera, the Panthers new head coach, is a former linebacker who appreciates athleticism and versatility. Bowers has both. Going defensive tackle here is possible, but it was apparent Carolina really missed the freshly departed Julius Peppers off the edge last year.
Some critics fear Bowers is a one-year wonder, while others think the light finally turned on. If this light is indeed on, the Pro Bowl will be a recurring event in his future.
Here is where the trading could start, yet no one really knows the direction John Elway is headed. John Fox, the Broncos new head coach, is a defensive expert. The current group of defensive tackles Denver has signed is pretty crummy, so Darius fills a big need.
Though Elway just signed Champ Bailey to remain the top cornerback, his being 33-years old is an obvious sign to look into the future. Patrick Peterson could go here, becoming the highest drafted cornerback in NFL history.
3. Buffalo Bills : Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle
Buffalo just released Marcus Stroud, clearing the way for Fairley. He showed excellent speed at the combine, so he could fit in the Bills 3-4 scheme, looking real good next to nose tackle Kyle Williams.
Wide receiver A.J. Green could get a good look because Lee Evans is 30-years old. If Patrick Peterson is there, he could go despite the Bills already having a deep group at this position.
4, Cincinnati Bengals : Cam Newton, Quarterback
Even if malcontent Carson Palmer stays another year, he is on his way out and has no pop left in his throwing arm. His leadership is obviously questionable, so the Bengals need to look in the future and not let the ghosts of Akili Smith and David Klingler haunt them.
Newton is worth the risk here, but the Bengals may go the safer route. They don’t need Peterson or Green, but could grab Fairley or Darius if they are sitting there.
5. Arizona Cardinals : Patrick Peterson, Cornerback
The Big Red gets a gift here, finding a lock-down defender to bookend Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. While Arizona needs a quarterback and pass rusher, they can fill those slots in the free agent pool. Donovan McNabb, who lives in Arizona, could be available since the Washington Redskins seem intent to keep him on the bench.
Some think Von Miller could go here, but critics think he may be another Aaron Maybin or Vern Gholston as that workout warrior whose measurables never add up on the gridiron.
6. Cleveland Browns : A.J. Green, Wide Receiver
Cleveland gets their man. Green will instantly be the top receiver on a group desperately needing an upgrade for quarterback Colt McCoy, or whoever they plug in.
Cleveland could look to bolster the defensive line with a Cam Jordan or J.J. Watt, but Green should be too tempting to not pass on.
7. San Francisco 49ers : Von Miller, Defensive End
The Niners need a force off the edge and Miller’s strength is rushing the passer. He had 26.5 sacks in his last two years in college, proving he can go get the ball.
Some think new head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, will look for a signal-caller here, but I could only see them grabbing Newton at this spot. They might grab Jordan here because he is a defensive end and Miller is more a combo DE/ OLB type.
8. Tennessee Titans : Blaine Gabbart, Quarterback
With Vince Young gone, the Titans need someone at quarterback besides Rusty Smith and the ancient Kerry Collins. This team could try to trade up for Newton as well.
Tennessee also needs help on defense, mainly at linebacker. But there are no linebackers worth grabbing this high.
9. Dallas Cowboys : Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End
Dallas needs help everywhere on defense. J.J. Watt is as solid defensive end who could start right away for them, Rahim Moore would be a big upgrade at free safety, and they desperately need inside linebackers.
Clayborn had 11 sacks as a junior, then spent his senior year being double-teamed. He is also solid against the run and has a frame that additional bulk is possible, He fills a huge need for Dallas.
10. Washington Redskins : Ryan Mallett, Quarterback
The Redskins are probably the only team that could threaten Miami in looking at halfback Mark Ingram. They’d love to get Newton to fall into their laps as well. A cornerback like Prince Amukamara or offensive tackle like Nate Soldier or Anthony Castonzo also would help immensely.
Getting Mallet gives the team the quarterback they need since it was already announced that Donovan McNabb’s days as a starting in D.C. are done. But who knows with head coach Mike Shanahan because Vince Young is out there available.
11. Houston Texans : Prince Amukamara, Cornerback
Houston needs the secondary upgraded immediately, and Amukamara would start as as soon as he was signed. The Texans should concentrate on defense this draft, and try to sign free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha at any price he demands.
A guy like linebacker Robert Quinn could get looked at here, but the issues at the Texans secondary is too great to overlook.
12. Minnesota Vikings : Cameron Jordan, Defensive End
He is the son of Vikings great Steve Jordan and will provide a good pass rushing bookend to Jared Allen. He had a great Senior Bowl and has OLB abilities as well.
Now that wide receiver Sydney Rice has announced his Vikings days are over, Julio Jones could get a look. Minnesota needs a quarterback, but it is doubtful they’d prefer the erratic Jake Locker over an available veteran. Minnesota also needs help on the offensive line, so they might choose to address this issue first.
13. Detroit Lions : Ryan Kerrigan, Linebacker
The 2010 Big-Ten Defensive Player of the Year is the kind of guy you want in a locker room of a team looking to change their losing culture. He is relentless and would fill in the spot emptied by the recently released Julian Peterson. Kerrigan is a good pass rusher who can play defensive end if needed.
Akeem Ayers could get a look here, as well as some blockers to try to get quarterback Matt Stafford to finally play an entire season. A cornerback like Brandon Harris would help too, since Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is a former NFL cornerback himself.
14. Saint Louis Rams : Julio Jones, Wide Receiver
Jones showed better speed than expected at the combine, yet has a history of injury problems. If healthy, he gives the Rams a much needed weapon in their passing attack.
The Rams need help at the defensive line as well. A guy like J.J. Watt might be intriguing to them, or a cornerback like Brandon Harris provides an upgrade. Yet getting their young quarterback more options might be the top priority in the first round.
15. Miami Dolphins : Mark Ingram Jr., Halfback
Ricky Williams, nearing 34-years old, once said that 2010 would be his last year in the NFL, and the oft-injured Ronnie Brown is not an every down type of back. Miami needs to look into the future considering the run game is their bread and butter on offense. Ingram is not a big back, but he could be the type of back to share carries with Brown.
Quarterback is a position some think needs an upgrade, and the Dolphins do need more blockers. Mike Pouncey would help them if he is tabbed here.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars : Rahim Moore, Free Safety
The Jaguars need help in their secondary, especially at safety since Reggie Nelson flamed out and ended up a bust. Linebacker could use more bodies, but the safety situation in Jacksonville is pretty ugly.
If they choose to look in other areas, linebacker and even defensive end could get looked at. Derrick Harvey and Aaron Kampman were terrible last year. Jack Del Rio saved his job as head coach last year, but he needs to upgrade the defense.
17. New England Patriots : Mike Pouncey, Guard
The Pats, who love to wheel and deal on draft day, have two first round draft picks that they might end up trading to move up…or even down. They also own the 33rd pick of the draft, so expect the unexpected with them.
New England is rumored to get ready to release veteran Nick Kazur and Logan Mankins is unhappy with his contract situation. Pouncey, who has center ability, can add depth and last a decade in the league with his abilities. If he plays half as well as his twin brother did with the Steelers last year, the Patriots win here.
18. San Diego Chargers : Akeem Ayers, Linebacker
A defensive end at nearby UCLA, Ayers will give the Bolts another pass rusher off the edge. When you are coming off a season with the top offense and defense, you are playing with house money in the draft.
Losing defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to Carolina will be a task for San Diego to overcome. Too bad they can’t draft a head coach, as the horrid Norv Turner somehow holds onto his job for another season.
19. New York Giants : Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle
A few years ago, I mocked James Laurinaitis to the Jints. They passed on him for Hakeem Nicks and are still searching for a middle linebacker. There are none here worth a first round pick, so adding depth to the offensive line is the next best move.
Soldier is huge. At 6’8″ 320, he can learn from Dave Diehl this year and end up protecting Eli Manning down to road. If they blow off the offensive line, the G-Men could look at outside linebackers like Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, and Justin Houston. They could even think running back depth with Mikel LeShoure since Brandon Jacobs days appear numbered.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers : Aldon Smith, Defensive End
Last year saw the Bucs begin to build a special defensive line. Roy Miller, Gerald McCoy, and Brian Price all have bright futures, but a fourth piece here completes the task. Stylez G. White led the team with 4.5 sacks last year, so an improved pass rush is a must.
Smith is very raw, having just two years of college ball under his belt because of injuries. He is an athletic freak with long arms and a non-stop motor. The Bucs just hired NFL great Keith Millard to teach their kids how to get to the quarterback, so Smith has a chance to be part of something very special.
21. Kansas City Chiefs : Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle
Part of the reason for the Chiefs surprise dominance of the AFC West last year was the top rushing attack in the NFL. Journeyman Ryan O’Callaghan performed admirably at right tackle, but an upgrade is needed. Castonzo started 53 games in college and is 6’7″ 310. He could start right away and bookend Branden Albert for many seasons.
Kansas City might opt to look for a guy to learn from the ancient Mike Vrabel in 2011 at OLB. Guys like Robert Quinn and Justin Houston might get considered. Yet keeping the ground game strong gives the young Chiefs a better chance to duplicate last years success.
22. Indianapolis Colts : Gabe Carimi, Offensive Tackle
The Colts really need help in the trenches on both sides of the ball, so drafting any big body is the right move here. Carimi is 6’8″ 320 as well as very smart and tenacious. He could allow right tackle Ryan Diem to move back to guard and upgrade the line for their aging superstar quarterback Peyton Manning.
Indianapolis might look at the secondary too. Jimmy Smith and Brandon Harris are physical cornerbacks. Since the Colts run defense stinks, defensive tackles like Corey Liuget and Muhammed Wilkerson could help.
23. Philadelphia Eagles : Jimmy Smith, Cornerback
Smith is a big cornerback who plays a physical game. At 6’2″ 205, he is very strong and is excellent at jamming receivers. He is very smart and a hard worker willing to help in run support. Opponents were scared to throw his way in college.
The Eagles seem to yearly be looking for defensive tackle help for their smallish defensive line. Muhammed Wilkerson, who can play defensive end as well, is a local kid from Temple University shooting up draft boards with his 6’5″ 305 frame and upside. Corey Liuget will also get considered.
24. New Orleans Saints : Robert Quinn, Outside Linebacker
Quinn drops due to his 2010 suspension, which brings character issues into question, and a benign brain tumor in his past. He is explosive off the edge, but raw. If the Saints put him on the line, he will need bulk. He also needs to upgrade his pass coverage abilities.
Yet Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams loves to blitz and New Orleans needs to get much better off the edge. Quinn would give them the needed boost they desire and has the makings of a Pro Bowler written all over him.
25. Seattle Seahawks : Jake Locker, Quarterback
Locker has looked terrible since he left school to do skills events. His arm strength and accuracy have been putrid, to say the least. Yet there are those who love his drive and dedication. Seattle needs their quarterback of the future and head coach Pete Carroll knows Locker well.
Seattle might continue to upgrade the secondary or offensive line insteads. Versatile offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, who can play guard too, or cornerback Brandon Harris might get considered.
26. Baltimore Ravens : Brandon Harris, Cornerback
Harris loves to play and is willing to stick his nose in a pile. The Ravens need cornerback help, and he has the ability to win a starting job day one. He also gets to learn under former Miami Hurricanes and future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
The Ravens could look at Derek Sherrod. His versatility is intriguing and he has the ability to challenge Marshall Yanda for the starting job at right tackle. The Ravens may prefer Jimmy Smith over Harris. Aaron Williams should get consideration as well.
27. Atlanta Falcons : Aaron Williams, Cornerback
Atlanta found out in the playoffs last year that they did not have enough cornerbacks. Williams, coming out after his junior year, started for two years in college. His is a big kid who likes to hit and has good speed. He is good enough to help Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson right away.
The Falcons could consider adding offensive line depth here as well. Sherrod and the raw Tyron Smith might be considered. Luiget and Wilkerson could help the defensive trenches as well.
28. New England Patriots : J.J. Watt, Defensive End
Remember, we are pretending the Pats stand pat and just draft in order. Watt would be a good get for a team that could surely use an upgrade the defensive end. Watt is a big man with all five tools and propensity to hit opponents hard. He would provide a better option that Brandon Deadrick against the run.
New England could always look at wide receiver too. Torrey Smith is a home run hitter who also excels at returning kicks. Jonathan Baldwin, Reggie Cobb, Jerrel Jernigan, and Titus Young are all wide receivers with good upsides who shouldn’t last on the draft board too much longer.
29. New York Jets : Corey Liuget, Defensive Tackle
The Jets need help in the trenches on defense, so Liuget can help. He is big and strong, but could still use work on conditioning. Liuget has nose tackle ability and reminds many of Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft. The Jets could select the massive Phil Taylor instead.
The Jets could look at linebacker here too. Justin Houston would provide youthful depth for the Jets old outside linebackers. Especially since Vern Gholston has been a complete bust. If free safety Raheem Moore is on the board, he would help the Jets.
30. Chicago Bears : Derek Sherrod, Offensive Tackle
Now that the Bears have parted ways with Tommie Harris, getting another body would help. Liuget went to college at Illinois University, but he is off the board here. They may grab him if he is available. The versatile Wilkerson is also one to consider.
Yet Chicago also needs blockers. Tyron Smith will be considered. Smith is raw, but athletic. Sherrod is experienced and able to play all over the offensive line. He should help protect quarterback Jay Cutler’s knee.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers : Phil Taylor, Nose Tackle
At 6’4″ 340, Taylor is a huge man. He dropped 40 lbs last year and was excellent. He is violent and incredibly strong with surprising agility. He still needs work, but will serve as an apprentice to the aging Casey Hampton as a rookie.
Pittsburgh has major issues at offensive tackle, so they might take the very raw Smith to develop down the road. Hampton will soon be 34-years old and coming off the worst season of his career, as well as his most unproductive. Help is desperately needed.
32. Green Bay Packers : Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle
Green Bay needs to look ahead at offensive tackle. Veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will be 35 and 34-years old respectively next year. Smith needs to bulk up and get stronger, as well as work on his hands technique, but spending a season on the bench learning from the pair of veterans will go a long way.
Smith’s future is at left tackle, which works out well for the Packers. Brian Balaga, the Packers first draft choice last year, was excellent for 12 games for the injured Tauscher, but some think right tackle is his best position down the road.