The NFL Draft is just a day away, and so many picks are still up in the air. We know Cam Newton is going Number 1. Or do we? Carolina has said they won't announce their decision until they're on the clock. Here's my best guess at how the first round will play out on Thursday night (although I think there will be a lot of trades)...
CAM NEWTON, QB, AuburnHe might be the most dynamic player to ever come into the NFL. Newton has a lot of risk—he ran a simplified offense at Auburn and won’t be able to run like against NFL defenses like he did in college. But his ability to simply shed would-be tacklers and make plays is absolutely special.
PATRICK PETERSON, CB, LSUThey could go with run-stuffing defensive tackle Marcell Dareus here, but new team president John Elway knows the NFL is a pass-first league right now. There are few true shutdown corners in the NFL, but with his size and amazing speed and athleticism, Peterson has a chance to be one of them.
VON MILLER, OLB, Texas A&MThe Bills got up close and personal with Miller when their coaching staff worked with him for a week at the Senior Bowl. He’s not only incredibly fast as a pass-rusher coming around the corner, but he has amazing balance and flexibility. That allows him to make moves without having to slow down. He’ll give the Bills D the top-notch pass rusher they’ve needed since Aaron Schobel retired.
A.J. GREEN, WR, GeorgiaThe Bengals need a quarterback since Carson Palmer swears he won’t play for them again. But I don’t see another QB worthy of a top five pick. I expect them to either wait until the second round, or trade up into the late first-round to get their next signal-caller. Meanwhile, picking up Green would be a definite upgrade for the passing game. He’s not only big and fast, but he has that special ability to come up with the tough catches downfield.
MARCELL DAREUS, DT, AlabamaDareus is one of the safest picks in this draft; he can play either defensive tackle spot, or (as he would in Arizona) line up as a 3-4 defensive end. He could go higher than this. But because his strength is stuffing the run, rather than rushing the passer, I don’t think he has elite value in the pass-happy modern day NFL.
NICK FAIRLEY, DT, AuburnThe Browns are transitioning from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, meaning they need defensive linemen. I know a lot of people love Dareus, but I think Fairley is the best d-lineman available in this draft. He was absolutely unblockable for Auburn last season. He has a ton of value because of his ability to disrupt opposing quarterbacks.
ROBERT QUINN, DE/OLB, North CarolinaA quarterback is a possibility here, but new head coach Jim Harbaugh would be better off trying to trade down, or trade later picks to move into the late first-round for a guy like Christian Ponder. Quinn fills a major need as a pass rusher, and he has the athleticism to play outside linebacker in San Fran’s 3-4 defense.
BLAINE GABBERT, QB, MissouriThe Titans are in need of a franchise quarterback now that they’ve given up on draft bust Vince Young. Gabbert might be the most naturally gifted passer in this draft class, and he has the size and athleticism to succeed. Like Newton though, he comes from a simplified college offense that didn’t take a lot of chances. On top of that, I think he panics under pressure too often.
TYRON SMITH, OT, USCSmith has the incredible athleticism, at 300 lbs., to be a franchise left tackle. He only played the right side at USC, and it’s not always easy to make the switch to the other side of the line. But even as a right tackle, he’d provide some much-needed protection for Tony Romo.
JULIO JONES, WR, AlabamaThe ‘Skins will take a long, hard look at the quarterbacks left on the board, but I’m not sure any of them will be what Washington coach Mike Shanahan is looking for. Because of his great size and ability to run after the catch, Jones would be a perfect fit in Shanahan’s West Coast offense. And man, can this guy run block!
PRINCE AMUKAMARA, CB, NebraskaThe Texans desperately need help in the secondary. After Patrick Peterson, Amukamara is the best cornerback on the board.
JAKE LOCKER, QB, WashingtonLocker could go anywhere from top 10 to second-round, but I think he’d be a great fit in Minnesota. His accuracy issues have been overblown (he didn’t have a great supporting cast at Washington, which is a big reason why his completion percentage was so low). There’s no doubting that Locker has a strong arm and great athleticism. Plus, he’s an outstanding leader and true winner. Sounds like a pretty good pick to lead a franchise.
DA’QUAN BOWERS, DE, ClemsonThey won’t be able to get the defensive back they’re looking for this late in the first round, but Detroit can help out their struggling secondary by upgrading their pass rush. Bowers has some risk because of a bum knee, but he also has the rare size and athleticism to be a double-digit sack guy.
COREY LIUGET, DT, IllinoisI think Liuget is one of the most overlooked players in this draft, a guy capable of being a force breaking into opposing backfields. He’d be a great fit next to Chris Long on the Rams’ defensive line.
MIKE POUNCEY, G/C, FloridaThe Dolphins have some issues on the interior of their offensive line. Pouncey’s brother, Maurkice, was the best offensive rookie in football last year, starring as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ center. Mike could make a similar impact for Miami.
CHRISTIAN PONDER, QB, Florida StateThe Jags have wanted to replace David Garrard with more of a pure passer under center. Ponder would be a top 10 pick if he hadn’t been injured so often the past two years. He’s the kind of smart, accurate QB Jacksonville has been searching for.
ANTHONY CASTONZO, OT, Boston CollegeI’m not sure if Castonzo will last this long, but the Pats would love it if he did. He could spend a year as Matt Light’s understudy, then take over as one of Tom Brady’s key pass protectors in another year or two.
CAMERON JORDAN, DE, CaliforniaThe Chargers could use some help on their injury-plagued defensive line, and Jordan is a perfect fit. He’s the best 3-4 defensive end available in this draft, and that’s the formation the Chargers play.
GABE CARIMI, OT, WisconsinCarimi is an absolute crushing run blocker who can hold his own in pass protection. With the Giants’ offensive line struggling with injuries as they get older, Carimi is the kind of young talent they need.
ALDON SMITH, DE, MissouriThe Bucs’ biggest weakness is their pass rush, but Smith could fix that. He’s a quick, athletic defensive end who could make a big difference getting to the quarterback.
PHIL TAYLOR, NT, BaylorFinding a nose tackle for a 3-4 defense is tough. They play have to have the size and athleticism to eat up blockers and stuff the entire middle of the opposing offensive line. Taylor can do just that. There are concerns over a foot injury, but as the best pure nose tackle available, he’s worth the risk for K.C.
J.J. WATT, DT/DE, WisconsinWatt would play mostly defensive tackle in Indy. He has the kind of football smarts and non-stop motor that would fit right in with the Colts, not to mention help their hapless run defense.
JIMMY SMITH, CB, ColoradoThere are some concerns about his attitude, but no one doubts Smith’s talent. He has great size, speed, and athleticism, as well as that supreme confidence that cornerbacks need. If he teamed up with Asante Samuel in Philly, the Eagles will be awfully tough to throw against.
RYAN KERRIGAN, DE, PurdueNew Orleans is looking to upgrade their front seven, and Kerrigan would fit nicely. He could play across from Will Smith on the defensive line and really upgrade the Saints’ pass rush and run defense.
AARON WILLIAMS, CB, Texas
The Seahawks’ pass defense was terrible last year, but Williams could help. He’s better playing against slot receivers rather than on the outside, and Williams might eventually move to safety. But really, Seattle’s secondary could use help just about everywhere.
MUHAMMAD WILKERSON, DT/DE, Temple
The rich get richer here. The Ravens already have one of the best defensive linemen in football in Haloti Ngata. Wilkerson could make that line even better. He’s a 300-pounder with the kind of versatility that the Ravens love.
TORREY SMITH, WR, Maryland
The Falcons desperately need another receiving option to go with Roddy White. Smith has the size, rare speed, and playmaking ability that will make teams think twice about double-teaming White.
CAMERON HEYWARD, DT/DE, Ohio StateWith no elite pass rushers left on the board, the Pats get the next best thing in Heyward. He’d be a big help for Vince Wilfork on New England’s injury-prone defensive line. Wilfork could go back to playing nose tackle fulltime while Heyward takes over at defensive end.
NATE SOLDER, OT, Colorado
Solder is a rare athlete. He’s 6’ 8”, 300 pounds and runs as well as a lot of tight ends. The Bears need help across the offensive line, especially when it comes to protecting Jay Cutler. And pass protection is Solder’s specialty.
ADRIAN CLAYBORN, DE/DT, IowaThe Jets need to get younger on the defensive line, and Clayborn would be a great fit. He’s better as a run-stopper, but he also has the ability to beat blockers and get to the quarterback every once in awhile.
DANNY WATKINS, OT/G, BaylorThe Steelers need to add some youth and talent to the offensive line. Watkins could play a number of spots on the front five. He can protect the passer, and he has the kind of vicious, run-blocking attitude that the Steelers love.
AKEEM AYERS, LB, UCLAAyers has phenomenal athleticism; the question is whether he has the instincts to be a playmaker in the NFL. The defending Super Bowl champs can afford to take a chance on him. Ayers could end up being a nice upgrade for their linebacking corps.