Mock Draft  

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Initial look has Gabbert at No. 1, Newton out of top 10

What has been the fastest way to turn around a team's woebegone fortunes the past few years? Acquiring the right quarterback, mainly through the draft.

Lots of teams need them, and there are plenty to be had but only a few are considered to be immediate difference makers -- and even that's up for deliberation.

Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Auburn's Cam Newton and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett are the probable first-rounders, with Gabbert and Newton seemingly being the only sure things.

While Newton has deservedly drawn most of the attention, because he won the BCS national championship, the Heisman Trophy, and he's been the most visible in the media, Gabbert is viewed by most personnel people as more ready to make an impact. There's no buzz now -- largely because he didn't throw at the NFL Scouting Combine -- but there will be plenty after his pro day on March 17.

The dilemma for teams at the top of the draft is whether to gamble on a quarterback (you miss, it could be a franchise changer, but the same could be said if you hit) or play it safe with one of the dynamic defensive linemen in this D-line heavy draft.

Based on conversations I had with some people at the combine, and considering team needs, here's my first crack at a mock draft. We have a long way to the real deal in April, but with free agency on hold because of uncertain labor talks, more teams could be drafting for need.

  1. Pick No.
    1
    CAR
    BLAINE GABBERT
    QB
    Missouri
     
    When all the pre-draft workouts and interviews are done, Gabbert emerges as the quarterback the Panthers and coach Ron Rivera opt to build around.
  2. Pick No.
    2
    DEN
    DA'QUAN BOWERS
    DE
    Clemson
     
    The Broncos badly need defensive tackles in their switch to a 4-3, but it's hard not to hand Elvis Dumervil this compliment as an edge rusher.
  3. Pick No.
    3
    BUF
    MARCELL DAREUS
    DT
    Alabama
     
    The Bills could move on Auburn QB Cam Newton here, but the versatile D-lineman can help ease some of Buffalo's problems up front.
  4. Pick No.
    4
    CIN
    NICK FAIRLEY
    DT
    Auburn
     
    Carson Palmer's threat to retire puts them in need of a QB, but Fairley is the type of playmaker the Bengals need and want in their front seven.
  5. Pick No.
    5
    ARI
    VON MILLER
    OLB
    Texas A&M
     
    Again, a quarterback is needed but with Max Hall and John Skelton, adding one in the draft won't be the way they go. Miller is a must.
  6. Pick No.
    6
    CLE
    A.J. GREEN
    WR
    Georgia
     
    The Browns can go a lot of different ways, but Green is the type of playmaker that can make Colt McCoy better and open up the offense.
  7. Pick No.
    7
    SF
    PATRICK PETERSON
    CB
    LSU
     
    It will be Christmas for the 49ers if the best player in the draft falls this far. He cures two needs: skilled cover DB and returner.
  8. Pick No.
    8
    TEN
    ROBERT QUINN
    DE
    North Carolina
     
    The best outside linebacker is off the board so the next best thing is Quinn, an explosive player who can get to the quarterback.
  9. Pick No.
    9
    DAL
    ANTHONY CASTONZO
    OT
    Boston College
     
    The Cowboys could go CB with Prince Amukamara here, but Dallas was at its best when its O-line dominated. It's time to address that area.
  10. Pick No.
    10
    WAS
    ALDON SMITH
    OLB
    Missouri
    Mike Shanahan might not want to develop Cam Newton at quarterback. More 3-4 personnel is needed on defense. Smith bolsters Brian Orakpo.
  11. Pick No.
    11
    HOU
    PRINCE AMUKAMARA
    CB
    Nebraska
     
    They could be eyeballing Nnamdi Asomugha, but with the draft possibly coming before free agency, they can't risk missing on the second best corner in the draft.
  12. Pick No.
    12
    MIN
    CAM NEWTON
    QB
    Auburn
     
    He's too good to pass for this QB-needy team, and OC Bill Musgrave can develop quarterbacks. Vikes will also acquire a vet in case Newton's not ready.
  13. Pick No.
    13
    DET
    GABE CARIMI
    OT
    Wisconsin
     
    They could opt for DEs J.J Watt or Cameron Jordan or OLB Justin Houston, but Carimi might be too tempting to bypass.
  14. Pick No.
    14
    STL
    JULIO JONES
    WR
    Alabama
     
    They need OLB and safety help in a bad way, but they need WR help in a worse way. Jones could be Sam Bradford's prime target for years.
  15. Pick No.
    15
    MIA
    MARK INGRAM
    RB
    Alabama
     
    This could be the least expensive and most productive way to address a huge void. QB Ryan Mallett could be a sleeper here.
  16. Pick No.
    16
    JAC
    ADRIAN CLAYBORN
    DE
    Iowa
     
    Jacksonville is still in search of front-four help and Clayborn is powerful and versatile.
  17. Pick No.
    17
    NE
    J.J. WATT
    DE
    Wisconsin
     
    If Watt makes it this far, Bill Belichick won't trade this pick to move back in the draft.
  18. Pick No.
    18
    SD
    CAMERON JORDAN
    DE
    Cal
     
    An ideal 3-4 defensive end who can set and hold an edge. Athletic enough to be used in coverage in zone-blitz schemes.
  19. Pick No.
    19
    NYG
    MIKE POUNCEY
    C/G
    Florida
    The Giants have to begin to replenish the interior of their offensive line, and Pouncey could be as good as his twin, Maurkice.
  20. Pick No.
    20
    TB
    AKEEM AYERS
    OLB
    UCLA
     
    Bucs need a rusher, and Ayers should run a better 40 at his pro day than he did at the combine to alleviate concerns about his speed.
  21. Pick No.
    21
    KC
    NATE SOLDER
    OL
    Colorado
     
    Solder has a nasty temperament and his potential is too promising to pass up. Could compete to start at either OT spots.
  22. Pick No.
    22
    IND
    TYRON SMITH
    OT
    USC
    Enough with not investing a high pick in an offensive lineman. Smith is needed to make sure Manning plays at least four more seasons.
  23. Pick No.
    23
    PHI
    MARTEZ WILSON
    LB
    Illinois
     
    The athletic Wilson can play outside or inside and the Eagles need someone who can play both. DT Corey Liuget wouldn't be a surprise here.
  24. Pick No.
    24
    NO
    RYAN KERRIGAN
    DE
    Purdue
     
    This high-motor havoc-wreaker would flourish under high-energy defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
  25. Pick No.
    25
    SEA
    RYAN MALLETT
    QB
    Arkansas
     
    This might seem like a surprise, but unless a trade for Kevin Kolb materializes, Seahawks select most pro-ready QB in the draft.
  26. Pick No.
    26
    BAL
    JIMMY SMITH
    CB
    Colorado
     
    At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Smith is a physical corner who would fit right in, at worst, as a rotational fixture in nickel coverage.
  27. Pick No.
    27
    ATL
    AARON WILLIAMS
    CB
    Texas
     
    The Falcons want more size at corner, and Williams provides that. He would offer immediate help at nickel back, which the Falcons need.
  28. Pick No.
    28
    NE
    DEREK SHERROD
    OT
    Mississippi State
    A perfect slot and fit for Sherrod, an athletic player who can develop in a great environment.
  29. Pick No.
    29
    CHI
    BRANDON HARRIS
    CB
    Miami
     
    An OT, DT and DE are needed, but Harris is a solid player who is coachable and loves to compete.
  30. Pick No.
    30
    NYJ
    JUSTIN HOUSTON
    OLB
    Georgia
     
    The Jets need a pass rusher, and Houston is built like LaMarr Woodley and is ascending up some draft boards.
  31. Pick No.
    31
    PIT
    BEN IJALANA
    OL
    Villanova
    Ijalana is raw but was dominant on the FCS level and can play guard or tackle, which is big for a team in need of versatile linemen.
  32. Pick No.
    32
    GB
    CAM HEYWARD
    DE
    Ohio State
     
    With the likely loss of Cullen Jenkins, Heyward fills a need and could compete for a starting job.

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