Updated: August 31, 2011
1 WASHINGTON REDSKINS: ANDREW LUCK, QB, STANFORD
It’s a foregone conclusion that Stanford QB Andrew Luck will be the first overall pick next April, just like he would have been this year, and the only thing left to determine is which team will be fortunate enough to land the franchise signal caller. Technically Luck is just a junior eligibility-wise but he is on pace to graduate in the spring and has already said this will be his final season of college football. Arguably the best prospect the NFL Draft has seen since John Elway in 1984 or Peyton Manning in 1998, Luck is as close to a can’t-miss prospect as it gets. Not only does Luck have the size, arm strength and athleticism that you look for but his intangibles such as intelligence, leadership ability and pedigree are absolutely off the charts. In many ways Luck is the LeBron James of the NFL Draft and he is the type of rare prospect who will change the fortunes of an organization for the next decade or more. Considering the difficult division they play in and their abysmal situation under center it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Redskins aren’t an awful team this year. Whether or not they will be bad enough to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes remains to be seen, but either way Washington simply must find a top young quarterback to build around. If the Redskins don’t get "Luck-y" on Draft Day look for them to turn their attention to USC's Matt Barkley or Oklahoma's Landry Jones.
2 BUFFALO BILLS: MATT KALIL, OT, USC
If the Bills miss out on Stanford QB Andrew Luck they could still look to bring in Matt Barkley of USC or Landry Jones of Oklahoma as their long-term solution under center. However, Buffalo also has a couple of glaring holes at offensive tackle so it would be hard to argue if they went with a blocker. USC’s Matt Kalil is the reason that former teammate Tyron Smith, who was the #10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, was relegated to playing the right side in college. Kalil, whose brother Ryan plays for the Carolina Panthers and is one of the leagues premier centers, isn’t a finished product just yet but he possesses the physical tools and intangibles to develop into an elite blindside protector at the next level. The Bills are still very much in rebuilding mode and thus have a number of needs but it would be quite an upset if they didn’t target either a quarterback or offensive tackle with this choice.
3 CINCINNATI BENGALS: TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA
It’s been a few years since we’ve had an elite running back prospect worthy of a Top 5 overall pick but there are many who feel Alabama’s Trent Richardson deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden. Richardson was a highly-touted prep recruit out of Escambia High School in Pensacola, Florida, which is also the alma mater of Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith. After spending two years backing up Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram for the Crimson Tide the starting job now belongs to Richardson and a breakout season should be forthcoming. A well-rounded player with a terrific blend of power and speed, Richardson projects as a top-tier runner at the next level. Even though Cedric Benson has been solid the past few years he isn't getting any younger and Cincy has signed him to a succession of short-term contracts. The Bengals could be intrigued by the idea of building their new offense around Andy Dalton, AJ Green and Trent Richardson.
4 CAROLINA PANTHERS: ALSHON JEFFERY, WR, SOUTH CAROLINA
Some might look at this projection and note that Carolina probably has other more pressing concerns than wide receiver. However, for better or worse the Panthers have hitched their wagon to Cam Newton so it only makes sense to provide him with the tools needed to be successful. Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina is a huge target who has proven to be a dynamic, impact performer in Steve Spurrier’s high-powered passing system. Jeffery may not be an elite prospect along the lines of Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, but assuming he can alleviate concerns about his speed and overall conditioning in pre-draft workouts Jeffery could ultimately carry a grade similar to those of Michael Crabtree and Dez Bryant. Carolina could also be in the market for a defensive end or cornerback but Jeffery may be the most logical option when it comes to value and need since Steve Smith is on the back end of his career and none of their numerous young wideouts profiles as a true go-to performer.
5 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: MATT BARKLEY, QB, USC
For some reason the Seahawks actually think Tarvaris Jackson can be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL, but they are going to learn the hard way that’s not the case. With Charlie Whitehurst also failing to establish himself as the long-term solution under center, Pete Carroll is forced to go back to his old Trojan stomping grounds for a signal caller. USC’s Matt Barkley was a high-profile recruit who has lived up to the lofty expectations, establishing himself as not only an excellent college player but also a top pro prospect. While not the most physically imposing player in terms of height and arm strength, Barkley is an accurate passer with top intangibles along the lines of Mark Sanchez. At this point it appears as though Barkley will be targeted as a consolation prize for QB-needy teams that miss out on Stanford’s Andrew Luck, but don’t sleep on Oklahoma’s Landry Jones either. Seattle could also use a difference-making defensive end or perhaps an upgrade at cornerback, but that utterly dire situation at quarterback will simply have to take precedence above all else.
6 DENVER BRONCOS: QUINTON COPLES, DE, NORTH CAROLINA
The new Broncos regime used the 2011 NFL Draft to plug a number of holes and upgrade their overall talent level. However, there is only so much that can be done in a single offseason and one area that fell by the wayside was the defensive line. With Denver in the process of transitioning from a 3-4 scheme to an even front they need to completely revamp their d-line and right now there are more questions than answers. Unless first round bust Robert Ayers finally turns his career around the Broncos will need another pass rusher to play opposite Elvis Dumervil and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples would be an ideal fit. A fantastic athlete with excellent size, Coples has all the tools to be an impact, every-down player at the next level. Denver also has major issues on the interior, but there isn’t an Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Marcell Dareus or Nick Fairley type of defensive tackle prospect in this class. The Broncos could use a good young cornerback to compliment Champ Bailey as well.
7 MIAMI DOLPHINS: LANDRY JONES, QB, OKLAHOMA
Perhaps due to a lack of better options, the Dolphins are giving Chad Henne one last chance to prove that he’s the long-term solution at quarterback. However, if Henne falters again Miami will have to make finding a young stud quarterback their top priority next offseason. While USC’s Matt Barkley is widely regarded to be the second best draft-eligible quarterback prospect after Stanford’s Andrew Luck, there are some who feel as though Oklahoma’s Landry Jones could ultimately contend for that honor as well. A classic pocket passer with prototypical size, Jones took over the reigns of the Sooners offense from Sam Bradford and has posted some eye-popping numbers. While not quite as accurate as his predecessor, Jones does have a stronger arm and considerable upside. The Phins could also use an upgrade at wide receiver opposite Brandon Marshall, but at the end of the day it really won’t matter who the wideouts are if they don’t have someone who can get them the ball consistently.
8 OAKLAND RAIDERS: DRE KIRKPATRICK, CB, ALABAMA
Nobody ever really knows what Al Davis is thinking, which is why the Raiders are historically among the most difficult teams to get a read on for mock drafts. With that said, the impact of losing Nnamdi Asomugha can’t be taken for granted so Oakland will likely be in the market for a cornerback to play opposite the underrated Stanford Routt. There are a number of potential first round corners in the senior class but Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick could leapfrog them all if he opts to come out early. A tall, rangy cover guy who isn’t afraid to get physical, Kirkpatrick has the physical tools and pedigree to rank amongst the leagues best at his position. The Raiders might also be on the lookout for help at defensive end or outside linebacker and left tackle could be a need depending on how Jared Veldheer performs in his second season. Quarterback is a wildcard, but even if Jason Campbell falls flat they already added a developmental signal caller in Terrelle Pryor via the 2011 Supplemental Draft.
9 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: JUSTIN BLACKMON, WR, OKLAHOMA ST.
The Jags have their quarterback of the future in place with Blaine Gabbert, but they will have to give the young signal caller some more weapons to throw to. Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon would have been the third wide receiver selected in the 2011 NFL Draft after A.J. Green and Julio Jones, most likely in the middle of the first round, had he come out as a redshirt sophomore. Instead Blackmon opted for one more year in college and another big season in Stillwater could push the Biletnifoff award winner into the Top 10 overall. A big, physical, super competitive wideout with reliable hands, Blackmon may lack elite timed speed but he is more than fast enough with the pads on. Blackmon has what it takes to be a go-to target at the next level, which is exactly what the doctor ordered in Jacksonville. The Jaguars may also look for reinforcements at defensive end and possibly in the secondary at safety / corner.
10 MINNESOTA VIKINGS: JONATHAN MARTIN, OT, STANFORD
When the Vikes sent an out-of-shape and underperforming Bryant McKinnie packing it created a huge void at left tackle, both literally and figuratively. Granted Minnesota did sign veteran free agent Charlie Johnson, but he is merely a stop-gap solution and is probably better suited to be playing inside at guard. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin is an athletic blocker with nimble feet and a large frame who just needs to work on mastering the nuances of the game to maximize his immense potential. The loss of wide receiver Sidney Rice in free agency was a huge blow to the Vikings passing attack so they could opt to bring in Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina or Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma St. as a replacement. If Erin Henderson struggles in his first year as a starter a weakside linebacker could be high on the Vikings list of priorities next offseason as well. The safety position is also a major issue but there isn’t a Sean Taylor or Eric Berry level prospect who is worthy of such a premium selection this year.
11 CLEVELAND BROWNS: DEVIN TAYLOR, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA
After years of collecting talent to fit a 3-4 defensive scheme the Browns began to make the monumental shift to an even front this past offseason, which requires a different type of personnel in the front seven. Cleveland did bring in a couple of pieces to build around early in the 2011 NFL Draft, but more help is needed. South Carolina’s Devin Taylor isn’t a household name just yet but he’s a big-time talent with considerable upside who scouts are very much aware of. A fantastic athlete who can rush the passer either from a down position or standing up, Taylor just may be this year’s version of Aldon Smith. The Browns could also use a quick, penetrating defensive tackle to team with Phil Taylor as well as reinforcements at outside linebacker and on the other side of the ball an upgrade at right tackle could be called for. Quarterback may or may not be a huge need depending on how Colt McCoy develops in Year 2.
12 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: JARED CRICK, DE, NEBRASKA
When Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach he opted to stick with the 3-4 scheme that the Niners have been running in recent years. However, in order to run it more effectively they will need to bring in some upgrades. Nebraska’s Jared Crick emerged from Ndamukong Suh’s shadow last year and could solidify himself as a mid-first round pick with a strong senior season. A poor-man’s J.J. Watt, Crick is an intense, active, disruptive presence who has a knack for making impact plays behind the line of scrimmage. Even though Crick plays inside for the Cornhuskers most feel his best fit at the next level will come as a five-technique in an odd front. San Francisco has plenty of other needs they could address too though, including but certainly not limited to cornerback, wide receiver and outside linebacker. If the 49ers somehow wound up with the top overall pick, which is a very real possibility, Harbaugh would obviously jump at the chance to be reunited with former protégé Andrew Luck of Stanford.
13 TENNESSEE TITANS: ALFONZO DENNARD, CB, NEBRASKA
On paper the Titans aren’t nearly as bad of a team as last season’s record would lead you to believe and even upon close examination of their depth chart it’s difficult to pinpoint a ton of glaring holes. With that said, they could use another starting-caliber cornerback to team with Cortland Finnegan. Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard played second-fiddle to Prince Amukamara for most of his college career but he is a fine player in his own right and, like his former teammate, a potential first round pick. A solidly built, physical cover guy with adequate speed, Dennard would represent a major upgrade for Tennessee’s secondary. The Titans could also be in the market for an impact defensive end since none of their young pass rushers have emerged to this point. As a darkhorse keep a close eye on wide receiver because there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about beyond Kenny Britt, whose outlook is clouded by off-the-field issues.
14 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: VONTAZE BURFICT, ILB, ARIZONA ST.
It’s relatively rare to see an inside linebacker selected in the top half of round one, but Vontaze Burfict of Arizona St. is the type of talent who could be an exception. A big, fast, athletic, violent ‘backer with a real nasty streak, Burfict has a tendency to get out of control at times and must get a better handle on his emotions but you’d rather have to reign in a guys aggressiveness than vise versa. The Chiefs could use an impact presence up the middle of their defense and Burfict would be a nice compliment to Derrick Johnson. Kansas City still has some question marks along their offensive line, specifically at right tackle, so that could be a possibility as well and don’t rule out a nose tackle either. Other than that the Chiefs are actually in pretty good shape and you just can’t say enough about the job GM Scott Pioli has done of rebuilding this team.
15 ARIZONA CARDINALS: RILEY REIFF, OT, IOWA
The Cardinals have somehow gotten by with an extremely tenuous situation at offensive tackle for a couple of years now, but they can only tempt fate for so long. An upgrade is especially called for at left tackle, where Levi Brown has absolutely no business protecting Kevin Kolb’s blindside. Iowa’s Riley Reiff is the next in a recent string of top offensive line prospects from the Hawkeye program. A versatile player with experience at both left and right tackle as well as guard, Reiff is a well-rounded blocker who is effective in both the pass and run games. Reiff isn’t the elite prospect that Robert Gallery was coming out of college but he could ultimately carry a grade similar to that of Bryan Bulaga. Arizona could also use a top pass rushing outside linebacker and they could probably do a lot better at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson as well.
16 CHICAGO BEARS: CORDY GLENN, OG, GEORGIA
Even though the Bears just used a first round pick on an offensive lineman they still have some significant issues up front that need to be resolved. Georgia’s Cordy Glenn is a four-year starter who moved to tackle as a senior after playing guard earlier in his college career. A mountain of a man with a truly rare blend of size, strength and athleticism, Glenn is a dominant mauler who will draw favorable comparisons to Shawn Andrews and Andre Smith. The versatile Glenn could project inside or outside at the next level but regardless of where they play him in the Windy City it will be an upgrade. Chicago could also be in the market for a wide receiver early on since they lack a legitimate go-to target and they could use another starting-caliber cornerback to play opposite Charles Tillman too. Don’t rule out an outside linebacker either and North Carolina's Zach Brown would be a perfect fit in their scheme.
17 ST. LOUIS RAMS: JEREL WORTHY, DT, MICHIGAN ST.
Leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft there was rampant speculation that the Rams were zeroing in on Illinois DT Corey Liuget in round one, but when Robert Quinn somewhat unexpectedly fell into their laps those plans changed. St. Louis could get a second bite at the apple though with Jerel Worthy of Michigan St., who is similar to Liuget in many ways. An explosive penetrator with terrific athleticism and outstanding quickness, Worthy is still a work in progress but he clearly possesses first round talent. The Rams also have huge holes at both outside linebacker spots so even though they haven’t prioritized the position in recent years it may be time to rectify that. St. Louis did just spend a couple of early picks on wide receivers but they still lack a true go-to target for Sam Bradford so that could be a possibility as well.
18 DETROIT LIONS: NATE POTTER, OT, BOISE ST.
For years draftniks have been giving the Lions left tackles in their mocks, only to see the team ignore the position on Draft Day. Sooner or later they will have to replace Jeff Backus though, right? That day can’t come quick enough for Matthew Stafford, who has taken a beating the past couple seasons. When it comes to Boise St. offensive linemen, Nate Potter probably falls somewhere in between Ryan Clady and Daryn Colledge as a pro prospect. An athletic finesse blocker with a large frame, Potter is still inconsistent but has all of the physical tools to protect the blindside at the next level. The Lions other most pressing concern is in the secondary, where they lack a true shutdown cornerback. Another possibility could be outside linebacker since both Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant were only signed to short-term contracts. Don’t rule out a defensive end either because Kyle Vanden Bosch is getting up there in years and counterpart Cliff Avril may be more of a situational type.
19 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: CHASE MINNIFIELD, CB, VIRGINIA
No team has put together a better collection of young talent the past couple of years than the Bucs. However, one position that still needs work is cornerback since Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his career and Aqib Talib is one bad night away from getting booted off the team. In the past two years the Virginia program has produced not one but two top next level corner prospects in Chris Cook and Ras-I Dowling and Chase Minnifield will soon follow in their footsteps. Minnifield, whose father Frank was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Cleveland Browns from 1984 to 1992, is a terrific natural athlete with good size and excellent ball skills who could ultimately hear his name called even earlier on Draft Day than his former teammates did. Tampa Bay also has a huge need at safety, so one way or another look for the Buccaneers to aggressively pursue upgrades for that uncertain secondary next offseason.
20 DALLAS COWBOYS: JANORIS JENKINS, CB, FLORIDA
The Cowboys aren’t afraid to go out on a limb and this would certainly qualify as a perfect example. Janoris Jenkins was an All-SEC performer at Florida, where he made a name for himself with gamebreaking plays and by shutting down elite wideouts such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery. Jenkins was considered to be a potential first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft but he opted to return to Gainesville for his senior year, which in hindsight may have been a mistake. Jenkins was dismissed from the Gator football team in April following a second drug-related arrest in three months. Many speculated that Jenkins would enter the NFL’s Supplemental Draft but he ultimately opted to transfer down a level to North Alabama for his final year of eligibility. On talent alone Jenkins is arguably an early first rounder, but he could also drop like a rock on Draft Day. There is still plenty of time for Jenkins to rehabilitate his stock but he will have to keep his nose clean and convince scouts that the off-the-field issues are behind him. Dallas will likely be in the market for a cornerback since Terence Newman is past his prime and overpaid while Mike Jenkins has regressed and the Cowboys are one of a handful of teams that could be willing to take a big chance on Janoris Jenkins.
21 HOUSTON TEXANS: T.J. MCDONALD, S, USC
After years of being hamstrung by a horrendous pass defense the Texans appear to have finally shored up the cornerback position. However, questions remain at safety, where they are relying on converted corner Glover Quin and the talented but inconsistent Danieal Manning. Needless to say there is a very good chance that Houston will be looking to bring in some additional help next offseason. USC’s T.J. McDonald is an all-around performer at free safety with the range to match up in coverage as well as the physicality to support the run. Don’t forget about those impressive bloodlines either as T.J. is the son of former NFL All-Pro Tim McDonald, who played thirteen seasons in the league for the Cardinals and 49ers in the late-1980's and early-1990's. The Texans could also look to upgrade at nose tackle and wide receiver, but all of that uncertainty at safety is hard to ignore.
22 NEW YORK GIANTS: LUKE KUECHLY, ILB, BOSTON COLLEGE
In recent years the Giants have done an outstanding job of managing their roster with one notable exception: Linebacker. It seems as though every offseason there is talk about how the G-Men need to upgrade at outside and / or middle linebacker but despite their best efforts the position continues to be a problem area. Perhaps Luke Kuechly of Boston College will be the solution. An extremely productive player with just average physical tools but top intangibles, Kuechley is an super instinctive middle ‘backer with a nose for the ball. Tom Coughlin used to coach at B.C. and seems to have an affinity for prospects from that program so it’s only natural that he’d bring in a guy Kuechly to serve as the field general of his defense. New York could also be in the market for a tight end if Travis Beckum isn’t up to the task of replacing free agent defection Kevin Boss and don’t rule out a center like Michael Brewster of Ohio St. either. Then of course this is the New York Giants we are talking about so you certainly can't overlook the possibility of a defensive end.
23 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: DONTE PAIGE-MOSS, OLB, NORTH CAROLINA
At one point not that long ago outside linebacker was among the Chargers team strengths. However, Shawne Merriman was sent packing and Larry English has failed to live up to his first round billing so now San Diego is left with a couple of aging veterans and questionable depth. North Carolina’s Donte Paige-Moss is an athletic college defensive end who could also transition to outside linebacker in an odd scheme. A developing prospect with the talent to come off the board much earlier than this, “DPM” would give San Diego the top young edge pass rusher that they are currently lacking. Depending on how Antonio Garay performs this season the Chargers could also be in the market for a space-eating nose tackle to anchor the middle of their d-line and don’t rule out an offensive lineman either. Otherwise San Diego will basically be looking to bolster the overall depth situation on both sides of the ball.
24 BALTIMORE RAVENS: MANTI TE'O, ILB, NOTRE DAME
From top to bottom the Ravens have one of the leagues most stacked rosters, but even they aren’t without needs. With Ray Lewis nearing the end of his career and guys like Jameel McClain, Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe all failing to establish themselves as long-term starting material, it might be time to bring in a top inside linebacker. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o was a highly-regarded recruit out of Punahou High School in Hawaii, which also happens to be the alma mater of some guy named Barack Obama. A big, tough, physical, aggressive ‘backer with experience in both an even and odd front, Te’o would be a perfect apprentice to and eventual successor for Lewis. Baltimore could also use an outside linebacker who can rush the passer and perhaps a five-technique defensive end if none of their youngsters emerge. On the other side of the ball the Ravens will have to find a replacement Matt Birk at center in the near future and also replenish their depth on the interior.
25 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: ZACH BROWN, OLB, NORTH CAROLINA
Over the years the Colts have been reluctant to invest heavily on linebackers, opting instead to let guys like Mike Peterson, David Thornton and more recently Clint Session bolt as free agents then replacing them from within. However, there have been instances where Indy has used premium draft choices on the position and this could be one of those exceptions to the rule. Indianapolis is always willing to sacrifice some size in exchange for speed and athleticism, which is why North Carolina’s Zach Brown and the Colts are a match made in NFL Draft Heaven. An explosive, speedy weakside ‘backer with outstanding range, Brown may be a better pro prospect than his former teammate Bruce Carter who was a second round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Indy could also look to bring in some reinforcements for their secondary and after addressing the offensive tackle position in last year’s draft they could turn their attention to the interior of the o - line this time around.
26 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (f/NO): MICHAEL FLOYD, WR, NOTRE DAME
New England has some big names at wide receiver but many of them are either getting older or are already well past their prime. Granted the Pats do have some young wideouts, but none of them really profile as go-to types. On talent alone Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd is a clear-cut first rounder, but off-the-field issues could push him down draft boards. Bill Belichick is secure enough to take a risk from time to time and can also get a good feel for the type of person Floyd is from his old buddy Charlie Weis, who recruited and coached him during his tenure with the Fighting Irish. As a player Floyd will draw comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald. A big, physical target who is a terror in the redzone, Floyd lacks elite timed speed but plays fast and is a proven vertical threat. Floyd is just the type of physically imposing, downfield, jump-ball, Randy Moss-esque weapon that the Patriots are currently lacking.
27 NEW YORK JETS: BRANDON JENKINS, OLB, FLORIDA ST.
Rex Ryan is a defensive guru and one of the keys to running his scheme successfully are outside linebackers who can bend around the edge and apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Unfortunately both Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are getting long in the tooth and there is little or no depth to speak of. Florida St. has come to be known for producing undersized, speedy pass rushers and Brandon Jenkins is helping to carry on that tradition. A classic ‘tweener, Jenkins is a defensive end for the Seminoles but will most likely have to play on his feet at the next level. Landing in New York would be an ideal scenario for the relatively unrefined Jenkins as the Jets would be able to bring him along slowly. Both Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason are merely short-term solutions so the Jets could also be in the market for a top young wide receiver as early as next offseason. Other possibilities could include an offensive tackle or guard, a five-technique defensive end or perhaps a safety.
28 CLEVELAND BROWNS (f/ATL): BRANDON THOMPSON, DT, CLEMSON
It might seem like overkill for the Browns to use their top two picks in back-to-back drafts to address the same general area, but that’s how bad of shape their defensive line was in. After getting an end to team with Jabaal Sheard earlier in the round, Cleveland goes back to the well one more time to find a partner in crime for Phil Taylor. The Clemson program seems to be pumping out top d-line prospects on a yearly basis and Brandon Thompson follows former teammate Jarvis Jenkins, who was a second round pick of the Washington Redskins. Thompson is a quick, disruptive presence who excels at getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. A prototypical three-technique, Thompson would be a perfect compliment to Taylor on the inside. The Browns could also use an upgrade at weakside linebacker, right tackle and safety, but nobody would fault them for going d-line with both first round picks.
29 PITTSBURGH STEELERS: DONT'A HIGHTOWER, ILB, ALABAMA
In this day and age most teams are forced to use their first round picks to plug holes in their starting lineup, but Pittsburgh is an exception. The Steelers are such a well run organization that they have the luxury of using premium choices on prospects who will spend a year or two as backups while being groomed for more significant roles. The Steelers have taken this approach with Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood and more recently Cameron Heyward and this would be another example of that approach. Much was expected of Alabama ILB Dont’a Hightower, who was supposed to emerge as an early first rounder like his former teammate Rolando McClain. However, Hightower still wasn’t completely recovered from the knee injury that wiped out his 2009 season and it showed. Now two years removed from that injury, Hightower might finally be ready to live up to the hype. A big, physical presence who is a perfect fit for the Steelers odd front, Hightower could eventually replace the 36-year-old James Farrior. Pittsburgh might also look for some offensive line help, depth at safety or perhaps a replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton like Washington's Alameda Ta'amu or Alabama's Josh Chapman.
30 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: ANDREW DATKO, OT, FLORIDA ST.
The Eagles certainly made a splash in free agency, but when Vince Young labeled Philly a “Dream Team” he obviously wasn’t referring to the offensive line. To say that Philadelphia has some issues up front would be an understatement so even though they just used a first round pick on Danny Watkins they might have to nab another blocker early on next April. Of particular concern is right tackle, where Winston Justice has been up and down his entire career and may be best-suited for a backup role. Andrew Datko of Florida St. is just the type of big, technically sound blocker with a nasty streak that the Eagles love. Don't rule out Ohio St. C Michael Brewster as a darkhorse either. Linebacker continues to be a major problem for Philly as well and sooner or later they will have to devote a premium resource, if not two, to finally correct it. Andy Reid and the Iggles also have a tendency to look toward defensive linemen in the early rounds so that is always a distinct possibility too.
31 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: MARK BARRON, S, ALABAMA
The Patriots once again have multiple first round picks, although knowing them they will parlay one of them into a future selection. This selection will obviously hinge on what they do with their earlier pick, but defense is always a good bet when it comes to Bill Belichick. Brandon Meriweather has a rather impressive resume but is widely considered to be overrated in league circles and may not be a part of the Pats long-term plans. Alabama’s Mark Barron was better as a sophomore than as a junior but is still widely considered to be the top senior prospect at his position. An impressive physical specimen, Barron is at his best in the box but has also flashed some playmaking ability in coverage at times. New England desperately needs to upgrade their anemic pass rush too so a defensive end or outside linebacker is also a strong possibility.
The year's upcoming draft and the college game can be discussed here.
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