The Vikings Taking Da’Quan Bowers at 12? NFL Draft 2011
1. Carolina: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. Newton is raw enough to create some reasonable worry, but he has the most upside of any passer in this class. With a new coaching staff, excellent running game and above-average offensive line, it may be the perfect time for the Panthers to draft a talented quarterback and develop him.
2. Denver: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. With its first top-five pick since 1991, the Broncos will consider Texas A&M pass-rushing linebacker Von Miller, but the hole in the middle of the front four is gaping. Dareus is versatile, athletic and 319 pounds– a good combination to fill the void.
3. Buffalo: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M. Blaine Gabbert will get strong consideration, but defense is the biggest problem on this team. Only three clubs had fewer sacks than the Bills last season. Because they can’t assume Shawne Merriman will bounce back from three injury-plagued seasons, taking the draft’s best natural pass rusher makes sense.
4. Cincinnati: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. With Chad Ochocinco entering the final season of his 11-year career in Cincinnati, the Bengals need Green as their big-play receiver of the future. With great size, speed and hands, he will stretch the field and give the offense some much-needed punch under new coordinator Jay Gruden.
5. Arizona: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. The Cardinals will be tempted by Gabbert, but they need a player who can make an impact in his first season. Peterson has that type of potential. Cornerback isn’t the team’s greatest need, but pairing Peterson with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will give the team a talented duo.
6. Cleveland: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. Georgia’s Green might be more electric than Jones, but Jones might be tougher. Jones’ explosion off the line and run-after-catch ability make him a good fit in the West Coast offense the Browns are installing. Adding a legitimate No. 1 wideout gives new coach Pat Shurmur a huge jump-start.
7. San Francisco: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. The 49ers will be tempted to trade down with another team–perhaps Washington or Minnesota–that is hungry for a quarterback. But the 49ers arguably need one more than anybody and Gabbert has prototypical size, speed and arm strength.
8. Tennessee: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. The Titans need to make big improvements in the defensive line, and Fairley could make an immediate impact while being reunited with his position coach at Auburn — new Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker. Then they cross their fingers that they can nab a quarterback with their second-round pick.
9. Dallas: Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Smith would bring some needed athleticism to the right side of the line. He’s only 20, and if it turns out later that he’s better suited for left tackle, then flipping him and Doug Free would work. Smith has huge upside.
10. Washington: Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina. The Redskins opt for defense after doing a poor job of getting talent last year for their transition to a 3-4 scheme. The Redskins need a pass rusher opposite Brian Orakpo, and Quinn fills that hole. They also like Missouri’s Aldon Smith, but Quinn’s raw athleticism is too tempting to pass up.
11. Houston: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri. The Texans need a 3-4 outside linebacker who can pressure the quarterback for new coordinator Wade Phillips. Smith has the motor and burst around the edge to bolster a pass rush that recorded only 30 sacks in 2010.
12. Minnesota: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. The Vikings’ No. 1 need is quarterback, but without good value left on the board, they won’t pass up a top-three talent that slides to them, especially considering Bowers plays end–a position of need with left end Ray Edwards not expected to return.
13. Detroit: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. Amukamara has good speed, is a solid all-around player and will be immediately plugged into a starting spot. He does a good job in press coverage and has the size to match up against big wideouts.
14. St. Louis: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. With Clifton Ryan not returning and Darell Scott a disappointment in 2010, defensive tackle is a major need. Coach Steve Spagnuolo wants all of his defensive linemen to have pass-rush ability, and Liuget has the quickness and penetration skills to be a potentially disruptive 3 technique guy in the team’s 4-3.
15. Miami: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas. The Dolphins have met four different times with Mallett leading up to the draft, and there’s no question they are giving him strong consideration. Only five teams had fewer passing touchdowns than the Dolphins’ 17 last year, and Mallett has the arm to provide big plays downfield.
16. Jacksonville: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. The Jaguars had only 26 sacks last season after a paltry 14 the year before. With standout end Aaron Kampman coming off a torn ACL for the second straight season, the Jaguars need pass-rushing help. Kerrigan is the safest pick.
17. New England: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner can play all three downs, increasing the offense’s unpredictability and providing a bruiser between the tacklers who can take it the distance. Ingram’s presence takes pressure off Tom Brady to do it all himself.
18. San Diego: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. The Chargers want to upgrade their defensive front. They could go with an outside linebacker, but if the hard-working, playmaking Watt is available, he fills a need at right end.
19. N.Y. Giants: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida. Three players who lined up at center last year are coming off surgery and are physical question marks. Pouncey can step in at center but may be better suited to play guard. He should be close to NFL-ready as a rookie.
20. Tampa Bay: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal. The Bucs need to improve their run defense and pass rush, and Jordan helps them do both. He’s very strong against the run, and with some work on his technique could become a dominant pass rusher. He is a good value at No. 20.
21. Kansas City: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. The Chiefs are old and injury-prone in the middle of their offensive line and have two young tackles struggling to establish themselves. Carimi gives the Chiefs some versatility because he can play guard or right tackle. Plus, he has the toughness GM Scott Pioli likes in his offensive linemen.
22. Indianapolis: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. The offensive line has been in steady decline and still hasn’t recovered from Tony Ugoh’s failure to fulfill expectations. With Peyton Manning on the back stretch of his Hall of Fame career, the team must provide him with better line play.
23. Philadelphia: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. This is a classic best-available player pick for the Eagles, who are expected to deal backup quarterback Kevin Kolb after the lockout. Locker can be groomed for two or three years and eventually succeed Michael Vick, whose shelf life is short. Locker’s athleticism and big arm are ideal for Reid’s system. His mechanical issues can be fixed just like Vick’s were.
24. New Orleans: Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple. The Saints generally select the highest-rated player on their board, regardless of position. But this year, the tiebreaker will go to players who can add some athleticism to their defensive front seven. Wilkerson is a raw prospect, but he is a great athlete with great potential and has the versatility to play tackle or end in different schemes.
25. Seattle: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU. Arm strength isn’t Dalton’s biggest asset, accuracy is. A four-year starter, Dalton completed 66.1 percent of his pass attempts last season. That experience and accuracy make him a good fit in Seattle’s West Coast offense.
26. Baltimore: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. The son of former NFL running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward bolsters a pass rush that posted only 27 sacks in 2010. He also does a great job of holding his ground against double-teams in the running game.
27. Atlanta: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. The team is determined to improve its pass rush. Combine that goal with a strong pool of defensive ends in this year’s draft and the Falcons will take the best available end. Clayborn is an aggressive player who has the ability to bend the corner and get to the quarterback.
28. New England: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor. There’s nothing sexy or exciting about selecting a guard in the first round, but the Patriots don’t care. Watkins is a can’t-miss guy who will help instill a sense of toughness in the line. Watkins can take the place of right guard Dan Connolly in 2011 and could be the long-term replacement for disgruntled Logan Mankins beginning in 2012.
29. Chicago: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. At 6-8, 319 pounds, Solder brings something GM Jerry Angelo says the offensive line needs badly–size. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz and line coach Mike Tice want bigger players, and Solder can play left or right tackle.
30. N.Y. Jets: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia. The Jets need a pass rusher opponents must game-plan for, and Houston had 10 sacks and 44 quarterback pressures last season. He has the size (6-3, 270) to help the run defense, too. Unlike 2008 draft flop Vernon Gholston, Houston has the motor to succeed.
31. Pittsburgh: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. Cornerback is the weakest position on the team, and the Packers exposed that by using four- and five-wideout sets in the Super Bowl. With the Steelers’ best corner, Ike Taylor, an unrestricted free agent, they must address this position.
32. Green Bay: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. The Packers would be thrilled if the draft fell this way. They value pass blockers and need an eventual replacement for left tackle Chad Clifton. Sherrod will be able to learn behind a savvy veteran and be ready to start in 2012.
Nicks Take: I really don’t like the idea of the Vikings taking a DE at #12 but Da’Quan Bowers might be an exception in my book. Assuming his knee injury isn’t nearly as big of a concern as people are making it, it could be a huge value. I still think the Vikings need to focus on a QB if the right player is available at that pick. I also wouldn’t be upset if the Vikings drafted Julio Jones. That might help entice a veteran QB once the CBA is figured out.