2011 NFL Mock Draft Competition

In the season of mock drafts, frankly they can all run together. Although there are thousands of schlubs like me guessing what will happen on Thursday night, only a small percentage of writers actually talk to anybody involved, and most of them are being used, misled, and outright lied to. Then everybody reads everybody else's mocks, and picks and chooses the reports they want to believe.

The result is a massive case of groupthink, the artificial setting of "value" for each of the available prospects, and a journey farther and farther away from the only things that really count — how the players performed in college, how they project to play in the NFL system in which they will be drafted, the existing rosters and contracts on each team, and the history of the decision makers involved.

Every year, I take a selection of "professional" mock drafts and score them as follows: player/team/draft position all correct = 3 points; team/player = 1 point; player/draft position = 0.5 points; highest point total wins.

To put it gently, most of the "professionals" aren't very good at this. While Mel Kiper, Jr. took last year's title, he finished ninth in 2009 as Mike Mayock took the crown. Mike Lombardi, though a very good reporter, has finished last each of the past two years. Peter King, the master of MMQB, finished a "career-best" third last year after finishing seventh the year before. Todd McShay and his Scouts, Inc. cohorts finished 10th last year. The CBS Sports guys are terrible (Rob Rang excepted). And I always — ALWAYS — beat SC's own Matt Thomas.

So keep that in mind as you check around these things this week. The guys with the big checks may not be the guys with the best mocks. Come back here next week to see who did best. I'll post the results in the comments section.

1. Carolina Panthers — Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

Does Newton carry red flags? No doubt. But when people only pay attention to the red flags, they miss the real story — this kid can play. In his only two seasons of being a starting quarterback, at Blinn College and Auburn, his team won the national championship. In his only season at Auburn, he adapted to a new system run by offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to become the first SEC player to ever throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. In 2009, he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American. In 2010, he won the Heisman. He's 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and runs a 4.56 40. He's got a cannon for an arm. He commands the huddle and is a leader in the locker room. He knows how to handle adversity (and then some) and is an engaging enough personality to be the face of a franchise.

Now tell me which of these things wouldn't instantly make the Panthers a more competitive and compelling franchise.

2. Denver Broncos — Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

The Broncos are moving to a 4-3 defense, and the other top two defensive linemen at the beginning of draft season, Nick Fairley and Da'Quan Bowers, have more red flags than a 1965 Soviet military parade. Dareus is a beast on the field and doesn't carry the risk off it.

3. Buffalo Bills — Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

People expected so little out of Ryan Fitzpatrick that his 57 percent completion rate, 23 TDs and 15 INTs actually seemed respectable. It wasn't. The Bills have to develop a stud behind center if they ever hope to climb the AFC East ladder. After taking speed back C.J. Spiller at number 9 last year, I'm guessing Buddy Nix can talk himself into the ideally-built QB prospect Gabbert.

A note here on "reporting": not a single person in last year's mock competition had the Bills with Spiller. Most (myself included) had Iowa OT Bryan Bulaga, with a few picks for Tennessee DT Dan Williams. Nix knows how to put up a smoke screen, so don't take the complete lack of connection between Buffalo and Gabbert as a sign that they're not interested.

4. Bengals — Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

Here's where we start to go our own way. Does Fairley have all kinds of character concerns? Absolutely. But not even Al Davis loves ultra-talented guys with character flags more than Bengals boss Mike Brown. Fairley brings a special kind of nasty to the interior defense, and while all these Albert Haynesworth comparisons are supposed to be bad, remember there was a reason the Redskins gave Haynesworth all that money — dude can dominate in the middle.

5. Cardinals — Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

Remember Aaron Curry a few years ago coming out of Wake Forest? He was the last "can't-miss" linebacker, and though he hasn't been a full-on bust, his impact in Seattle hasn't exactly been transformational. Miller is small and his reputation is based on doing one thing (rushing the passer) extremely well. Still, the Cards are in need of defensive playmakers, and Miller's speed off the edge could prove very useful in a division with relatively immobile quarterbacks.

6. Browns — A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

With Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Joshua Cribbs, the Browns are not without talent at receiver. But they need a true number one in order to make everything else fall in place. Enter Green, the most polished receiver to enter the draft since Calvin Johnson in 2007.

7. 49ers — Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

No need to over think this. Peterson has incredible physical skills, and the 49ers need to improve their secondary. Match made in heaven.

8. Titans — Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

This team was so desperate for playmakers last year, they signed the corpse of Randy Moss. Jones is a super stud on the outside and could finally give the Titans some stability in the pass game so defenses can't just stack up on Chris Johnson. Plus, it's only a matter of time before Kenny Britt pulls a Pacman Jones and gets himself suspended for a year, so it's best to be prepared.

9. Cowboys — Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Only three teams allowed opposing quarterbacks a higher QB rating than did the 2010 Cowboys. The best case scenario here is that Amukamara lights a fire under Mike Jenkins, who was garbage last year, while allowing new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to float Terence Newman as a nickel corner.

10. Redskins — Jake Locker, QB, Washington

Mike Shanahan has to have a mobile quarterback to run his offense. Locker gets killed for his completion percentage in college, but he has the best athletic skills this side of Cam Newton, and Shanahan didn't exactly mind taking Jay Cutler's 57% college completion percentage back in 2006 (Locker is at 54%).

11. Texans — Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina

When you're building a 3-4 defense, you have to have a nose tackle to control the middle of the line and outside linebackers who can create pressure. Since there's no B.J. Raji-type nose to build around, the Texans take Quinn and his elite athleticism in hopes he becomes their own version of DeMarcus Ware.

12. Vikings — Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois

After being one of the best run defenses in football for years, the Vikings slipped a bit last year, allowing over 100 rush yards per game to opposing offenses for the first time since 2005. Now Ray Edwards is a free agent who will likely get a monster deal elsewhere, and Pat Williams is a 38-year-old free agent. The Vikings spent a second-round pick on defensive end Everson Griffen last year, so this year they fortify the interior with the powerful Liuget.

13. Lions — Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

The Lions keep being connected to Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers, but pressure on opposing quarterbacks wasn't the problem in 2010. Detroit had 44 sacks last year, sixth most in the NFL and just four back of the NFL-leading Steelers. The problem was their inability to cover on the outside (Alphonso Smith anyone?). If you have any hopes of competing with the Packers in the North, you have to be able to cover. Jimmy Smith bring the same kind of aggression to the secondary that Ndamukong Suh did to the front.

14. Rams — Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

The Rams need to come out of this draft with upgrades at wide receiver and safety. Unfortunately, those are two areas where there is no value at this point of the first round. The best case for Billy Devaney is the Rams find a way to move back. But, barring that, Bowers has the highest upside of anybody on the board and the Rams have the luxury of giving him the time to fully recover from his knee injury.

15. Dolphins — Mike Pouncey, C, Florida

Before the Dolphins go drafting a new running back or giving up on Chad Henne, they should really try to fix the root of their issues — the interior of their offensive line. When you're playing against three other teams in your division that run a 3-4 with very good nose tackles, you need a center and guards who can open up the middle because you won't be able to beat them to the outside. There is still debate over whether Pouncey will be a top-line NFL center, but I've not heard anybody question whether he will be a very good guard. That's a start.

16. Jaguars — Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA

There are some strong d-line prospects available, but after taking linemen with their first four picks last year, it's time to build up the LB corps. Ayers is to linebackers what 2010 first-rounder Tyson Alualu was to defensive linemen — unspectacular, but somebody you can trust to step on the field every week and do his job. That's saying a lot compared to some of the Jags' recent defensive starters (Justin Durant).

17. New England Patriots — Tyron Smith, OT, USC

If Matt Light comes back at the Patriots' price, Smith gets to provide insurance while learning from one of the best offensive line coaches alive in Dante Scarnecchia. If Light leaves, Sebastian Vollmer moves from right tackle to the left side and Smith competes with Nick Kaczur (assuming he's healthy) and Mark LeVoir to start on the right side. Either way, this is great value and the Pats make a long-term investment in Tom Brady's wellbeing. Win Belichick.

18. San Diego Chargers — J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin

The Chargers had 47 sacks last year, ranked fourth overall in rush defense and first overall in pass defense. Still, defensive end Jacques Cesaire is a free agent and reports are that GM A.J. Smith isn't super eager to bring him back. Enter his replacement in the relentless Watt.

19. New York Giants — Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

This couldn't have worked out any better for the Giants. Need, meet opportunity.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Despite the strong season in 2010, the Bucs still have a lot of holes to fill before they can expect to be looking down on the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South. With his strength, intelligence, motor and personality, Carimi fits what GM Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris are building.

21. Kansas City Chiefs — Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

It will be hard for Scott Pioli to top his 2010 draft class, but the in-state Smith is a great start. Smith will take a bit to transition into a 3-4 OLB you can rally trust, but with Mike Vrabel still around, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel can use Smith's raw athleticism early without over-exposing him as he learns the finer points of the position.

22. Indianapolis Colts — Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

For all the accolades about the Colts' strong drafting, they've come out of the past few drafts with very little out of their top picks. This year, Indianapolis has to find a way to reinforce their pass protection, and their run game. You could make a case here for Alabama's Mark Ingram, but there's a lot of depth at RB in this class. There isn't at OT, so Solder is the pick.

23. Philadelphia Eagles — Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

Okay, hear me out.

As it stands, the Eagles have Mike Vick on a franchise tender, plus Kevin Kolb in the last year of his rookie deal. Say they play this year out with those two, plus 2010 fourth-rounder Mike Kafka. Now going into 2012, they have an unrestricted Vick, an unrestricted Kolb, and Kafka, meaning they are guaranteed to lose either Vick or Kolb for no compensation (save a compensatory pick), forcing them into giving a long-term deal (or another franchise tender if still available under the new CBA) to Vick, who will be 31 and injury prone, or Kolb, who has never proven himself worth a long-term deal. And then they have Kafka as their only back-up with system experience.

But, if they take Mallett here, that leaves them free to flip Kolb for at least a second, if not a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, and gives them cover if the new CBA forbids a player from being franchised two years in a row and/or Vick breaks down from the beating he will take in 2011. So in 2011, they have Vick/Kafka/Mallett, and the guarantee that their worst-case scenario in 2012 is Mallett with a year of experience in their system. Plus, it gives them leverage in the Vick negotiations (ala the Packers with Brett Favre when Ted Thompson knew he had Aaron Rodgers in his back pocket).

You have to admit — that's not entirely unreasonable.

24. New Orleans Saints — Cameron Jordan, DE, California

The Saints don't have a real glaring weakness on their roster, save maybe at safety where Darren Sharper got abused by the Seahawks in the Wild Card round. Still, this is too early for Rahim Moore, so give defensive coordinator Gregg Williams another explosive pass rusher with which to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

25. Seattle Seahawks — Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor

Despite their division championship in 2010, this is still a 7-9 team with some major holes. With new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell coming over from Minnesota's run-first offense, it's a good bet the Seahawks will be looking to bolster the interior of their offensive line. As a 26-year-old who started every game during his tenure at Baylor, Watkins can step into the starting line up from day one.

26. Baltimore Ravens — Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

The Ravens don't ask their outside linebackers for much — just kill the quarterback. With his combination of speed, strength, instinct, and attitude, Kerrigan is well suited for the job.

27. Atlanta Falcons — Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

In their beatdown by the Packers in the playoffs last year, Aaron Rodgers shredded the Falcons to the tune of an 86% completion rate (31-of-36) for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. Drew Brees averaged nearly 350 yards per contest in their two games last year. Carson Palmer threw for 412 yards and 3 TD. Kevin Kolb threw for 326 yards and 3 TD. So, yeah, I'd say they could probably use some help in the secondary.

28. New England Patriots — Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple

There's virtually no chance the Patriots hold on to this pick, but I don't predict trades, so here we are. At 17, Wilkerson would have been a good pick. At 28, he's an incredible pick.

29. Chicago Bears — Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

Ideally, the Bears move up for one of the better offensive tackles to protect Jay Cutler's ego. But without a move up, the best available OT is Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod and that guy has bust written all over him. Paea is a bit of a reach in the first round, but he is a beast on the defensive line who set the all-time record for the bench press at the combine. He's just a Bears defense kind of guy, if that makes any sense.

30. New York Jets — Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

Couldn't you just see Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum sitting there, thinking, "Man, we can get a Heisman-winning running back that Belichick loves and run his ass against them twice a year? Hell yeah."

(That, and LT is washed up and Shonn Greene has more fumbles than touchdowns in two years.)

31. Pittsburgh Steelers — Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia

Pittsburgh has a variety of options with some good defensive front seven prospects still on the board. You could see them picking somebody like Arizona DE Brooks Reed and putting him into the OLB developmental program that produced James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. Still, with memories of Aaron Rodgers' Super Bowl MVP performance fresh on their minds, my bet is they go for the immediate upgrade at corner. Dowling has the best combination of instincts and physicality on the board.

32. Green Bay Packers — Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor

You can't teach size, and Taylor would provide good depth behind B.J. Raji at nose. And because the Packers won't be counting on Taylor to step in and start, they can take a tough line with him if he doesn't adapt to the rigors of being a pro. He'll have to earn his snaps, and that's the best thing for a guy with weight and work ethic questions.

Comments and Conversation

April 28, 2011


Here are the competitors in the 2011 NFL Mock Draft Competition: Me and Matt Thomas from Sports-Central, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay from ESPN, Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston, Peter King and Don Banks from CNNSI, Mike Mayock and Mike Lombardi from the NFL Network, Rob Rang from CBS Sports, Peter Schrager from Fox Sports and Evan Silva from Rotoworld.

Bill Simmons is out after one year because he didn’t do one, and Rick Gosselin, the respected draft guru who finished fourth each of the past two years, is regrettably out because the Dallas Morning News put his mock behind a pay wall and I’m not subscribing to the freaking Dallas Morning News just to read it.

May 2, 2011


Bill Belichick turned in a very puzzling draft haul, and I not only lost to Matt Thomas for the first time, but I finished dead freaking last in the sixth anual Mock NFL Mock Draft Competition. Bloody hell.

The final standings:

Mike Mayock: 24
Mike Lombardi: 22
Mel Kiper: 19.5
Todd McShay: 19
Matt Thomas: 18.5
Don Banks: 17
Peter Schrager: 15
Peter King: 14
Mike Reiss: 13.5
Evan Silva: 13
Rob Rang: 10.5
Me: 10

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