Commentary

Pair of defenders atop the board

DT and OLB players the new projection; offensive skill players take next three spots

Originally Published: March 16, 2011
By Todd McShay | ESPN.com

The NFL combine has come and gone and the final piece of the pre-draft process, on-campus pro day workouts, are in full swing with top prospects across the country are making one last pitch to NFL teams and hoping to boost their draft stock.

The combine and all the other goings-on have shuffled my latest mock draft, which has a new name at No. 1 and a pair of quarterbacks in the top five. I also have an offensive tackle in the top 10 for the first time and plenty of good values in the first round.

Here's how I see things shaking out over the first two rounds at this point in the process.


Carolina Panthers

Record: 2-14 | Top needs: DT, QB, CB, OLB, DE

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

I would think long and hard about passing on Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert with this pick, but general manager Marty Hurney drafted Jimmy Clausen last year and signed Matt Moore in 2007 so there might not be as much support in Carolina for drafting a quarterback as there's rumored to be. Dareus, CB Patrick Peterson and OLB Von Miller are the cleanest of the elite prospects in the 2011 class and defensive tackle is Carolina's top need so Dareus appears to be the most logical choice with his size, quickness and versatility.

Denver Broncos

Record: 4-12 | Top needs: DT, LB, TE, DS, DE

Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

The Broncos are transitioning to a four-man front under new head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, and upgrading the defensive front seven tops their priority list. Dareus should be the pick if he's available but he's not in this scenario. So, if it comes down to a choice between Peterson and Miller, I would choose the pass rusher (a greater need for Denver) with an identical grade. Miller can provide an immediate upgrade at SLB and he also would team up with a healthy Elvis Dumervil to help resurrect a pass rush that had a league-low 23 sacks in 2010.

Buffalo Bills

Record: 4-12 | Top needs: LOT, QB, DE (3-4), OLB (3-4), TE

Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

The Bills' biggest need is at offensive tackle, where they have not drafted a player earlier than the fifth round since taking Mike Williams in the first in 2002, but there isn't a tackle prospect in this class worth the No. 3 pick. There are also needs along the defensive front seven but it will be tough to pass up the opportunity to significantly upgrade the quarterback position. Gabbert has a higher ceiling than current Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and with his football intelligence, accuracy, size, arm strength and mobility Gabbert has all the tools to become a very good starter in the NFL. There is a lot of talk about Buffalo taking Auburn QB Cam Newton here, but I believe strongly that Gabbert is not only the safer choice but the better quarterback.

Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 4-12 | Top needs: QB, WR, DT, OT, RB

A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

Using a top-10 pick on a wide receiver isn't always a wise move but Green is a special player. Lots of wideouts are big and fast, but Green's route-running savvy, toughness, body control and ball skills separate him from most other receivers. The Bengals could also deal with the reality of the Carson Palmer situation and draft Newton in this scenario or upgrade at defensive tackle, but with Terrell Owens gone and Chad Ochocinco likely on his way out, Green becomes the best value here.

Arizona Cardinals

Record: 5-11 | Top needs: QB, OLB, OT/OG, TE, CB

Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

Gabbert would be the better choice if he's available. Miller would also be a consideration as a perfect fit at OLB in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme. But Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt witnessed first hand the impact Ben Roethlisberger made in Pittsburgh and he knows what a quarterback of with Newton's size and mobility can do for an offense. If Arizona pulls the trigger on Newton expect its offense to be modeled after the system the Steelers have put in place for Big Ben.


Where will other big-name defensive prospects land? Which teams could get good values on cornerbacks in the first round? And how does Todd see the second round playing out? Become an ESPN Insider to find out. Insider