NFL teams will not be going through the exercise of a mock draft until mid-April, but with the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror, it's a good time to see how the first round of the draft is shaping up. Pro days are firing up this week and teams will be bringing in up to 30 prospects for individual workouts over the next eight weeks, which means much will change before the April 28-30 draft.
Here's the first of several mock drafts I will be doing over the next two months:
1. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have a lot of needs after they basically put a freeze on personnel last year. They could take a quarterback or a defensive tackle, but opt to attempt to replace Julius Peppers for now. Ron Rivera is a defensive-minded coach and he needs more talent if his scheme is going to work.
2. Denver Broncos
John Fox is switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3, and anytime you can get a three-technique DT that can penetrate and disrupt the offense you take him. Re-signing Champ Bailey put an end to speculation about drafting Patrick Peterson.
3. Buffalo Bills
Some will say Ryan Fitzpatrick is just fine, and that might be true, but you never pass on a franchise quarterback. Gabbert would not have to play right away, which is ideal. Still, with Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez in the division, it might be time to get a talented youngster for the position. This could turn into the spot Cam Newton goes, but I will go with things I heard at the combine at this point. If teams like San Francisco or Washington want a QB they might have to move up.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Even though the Bengals have needs at defensive end, safety and wide receiver, they might feel compelled to take a quarterback here, especially with the situation surrounding Carson Palmer, who sounds serious about never playing in Cincinnati again.
5. Arizona Cardinals
If history is any indicator of what happens in a draft, then the Cardinals might find the top two quarterbacks gone by this point. Miller is an outstanding talent and a great selection here. He starts from Day 1 and will be a pass-rush factor.
6. Cleveland Browns
The Browns lost all of their playmakers over the past few years and Colt McCoy needs a No. 1 receiver. One general manager told me at the combine that Julio Jones had a great weekend, "but there is something special about Green as a playmaker." While the Browns need a defensive end and right tackle, they will expect to cover those issues in the second and third round.
7. San Francisco 49ers
Even though the 49ers might want a QB here, it is a bit high to take Jake Locker. Peterson is an outstanding corner/safety. The Niners have 10 draft picks and should be able to address most of their needs even if they have to move up in other rounds.
8. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are another team that needs a quarterback, but unless they like Locker at this spot they probably take the defensive tackle. Too early to take an interior offensive lineman, although they could give very strong consideration to DE/OLB Robert Quinn.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys need a corner and a right tackle, but unless they shore up the defensive front they aren't going anywhere. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wants athletic people up front who can handle all the schemes he's going to throw at opponents.
10. Washington Redskins
Jones put on a show at the combine and then the news came down about his foot injury. He could fall from this spot at a later date, yet right now he fits a need for Washington, and his grade warrants the selection here. Will the Redskins consider Locker? He has skills like Jake Plummer, and Mike Shanahan got all the way to the AFC Championship Game with Plummer.
11. Houston Texans
Amukamara turned a lot of heads when he ran a 4.43 40 at the combine. The Texans will consider a hybrid player like Quinn here, but with Peyton Manning in the division they need coverage help.
12. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings need a defensive end, a quarterback, and sooner rather than later a left tackle. Bryant McKinnie struggled last year and it could be worse this season with an inexperienced QB under center.
13. Detroit Lions
While the Lions need defensive help, they also must protect their big investment in quarterback Matthew Stafford. They pick again at Nos. 44 and 75, and should be able to get defensive help there.
14.St. Louis Rams
The Rams want a big-time receiver but Jones' performance at the combine might have put him out of reach. Quinn can really blend into Steve Spagnuolo's zone-blitz defense.
15. Miami Dolphins
This is a popular pick for the Dolphins, but I suspect there could easily be another position player in this spot by the draft.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kerrigan has a high motor and is loaded with technique. Jack Del Rio will love coaching this kid if they take him. The Jaguars could also look at a corner or a wide receiver.
17. New England Patriots
18. San Diego Chargers
Smith is an edge player who could work out as a defensive end or outside linebacker. In the meantime, he works as a pass rusher. The Chargers could go inside linebacker, another top need, in the next round.
19. New York Giants
The Giants need a tackle and Castanzo is the most versatile one in the class. He played both tackle spots and guard at the Senior Bowl.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's no secret the Bucs need an outside pass rusher. They will look at Cam Heyward, but they might have to move up to get one of the better pass rushers.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
I watched Taylor forklift an offensive guard at the Senior Bowl on multiple occasions. He's 334 pounds and fits nicely in the Chiefs' 3-4 scheme.
22. Indianapolis Colts
Carimi can play on both sides and brings a run-blocking presence the Colts need. He is very competitive and super smart. I spent some time with him at the Senior Bowl and was impressed with his football knowledge, something you better have with Peyton Manning up there changing plays all the time.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
He's a big corner with a physical attitude. He was awarded the "Gatorade" shirt 17 times at Colorado for knocking a wide receiver right off the field.
Heyward to skip pro day
DE Cam Heyward, who had Tommy John surgery in January, will miss Ohio State's pro day on March 11. Instead, he will hold an individual workout on March 30. **More ...**
24. New Orleans Saints
The son of former Saints running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward is a tweener who can play inside or outside. Good versatility for Gregg Williams' defense. Good pedigree.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Even though Wilkerson is a raw player from a lower division, he has the size Pete Carroll is looking for up front. Remember when the Seahawks lost DT/DE Red Bryant? The run defense tanked.
26. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have a fine offense with very little speed at wide receiver. Smith can fly and he has return skills. He's a nice complement to Anquan Boldin.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Baldwin has a physical presence at 6-4 and 228 pounds. A bit raw but Matt Ryan will get him up and running in no time. With Roddy White on the other side, opponents will have matchup problems.
28. New England Patriots
The Patriots need a starting left tackle and Sherrod impressed me at the Senior Bowl. At 6-5, 321 pounds, and with long arms, he fits the bill.
29. Chicago Bears
While some feel Houston is a better fit in a 3-4 defense, the Bears need a "Sam" linebacker with some pass-rush skills. Houston had 10 sacks in 2010 and would fit nicely with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
30. New York Jets
The Jets need an edge rusher as well as a defensive end, but at this point in the first round the OLB is a higher-graded player. Ayers looks the part and will make the big play. He could fall out of the first round if his film study by the coaches leave them with more questions than answers.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers
32. Green Bay Packers
The Packers build through the draft and here's a guy that could play 10 years. Pouncey told me he can play tackle as well, and that kind of versatility is what every team is looking for. He measured 6-5 and 303 pounds at the combine and is plenty big enough for any spot up front.