1. Carolina Panthers – Cameron Newton QB Auburn
Analysis: If there is one thing that the Panthers needed, it is a franchise quarterback who can be the face of the franchise, and Cam Newton without a doubt fits the bill. Newton has some of the best physical skills that the draft has ever seen, with the production to back it up. With a good offensive line and run game, Newton has some weapons to work with, though wide receiver needs to be upgraded. However, despite all of Newton’s physical gifts, he has many question marks. There is obviously the huge controversy over Newton’s father accepting money in return for Newton attending Auburn. Newton was also caught cheating multiple times while he was at Florida, and was also arrested for being in possession of a stolen laptop. Newton also played in an offense where his decision making was limited and he didn’t have to make many reads. Overall, it is hard to blame Carolina for looking to address the quarterback position, but Newton is certainly a boom or bust pick, that could either make the Panthers look like geniuses, or the team that ignored all the warning signs.
2. Denver Broncos – Von Miller OLB Texas A&M
Analysis: Going into the draft, everyone knew that this would be either Miller or Marcell Dareus, and the Broncos opted for the speedy pass rusher. Miller will play weakside linebacker as Denver converts from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. Though Miller has never played this position before, he projects well to the scheme and should become a dynamic three-down defender, rushing the quarterback from defensive end in passing situations. Miller is considered the draft’s most talented edge rusher, and should give the team another sack artist to pair up with Elvis Dummerville. The biggest concern with Miller here is how well he projects to playing linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He has very limited experience dropping back in coverage, but he has the athleticism and ability to become excellent at it. The Broncos were in a tough spot with the 2nd pick and didn’t have any great options, but Miller is a solid selection.
3. Buffalo Bills – Marcell Dareus DE Alabama
Analysis: As the Bills continue their conversion to a 3-4 defense, they add yet another player for their front seven. Dareus excelled in Alabama’s 3-4 defense and will have the same role in Buffalo. Despite not being incredibly explosive, the 319 pound Dareus is a great overall player who should be a force for the Bills. Few players are as well rounded as Dareus is, and he has both the size and strength to stop the run and the quickness to rush the passer. Though Dareus is an extremely versatile player who can play in any defensive scheme, 5-tech in a 3-4 is actually his best fit. In a 3-4, his lack of elite burst won’t hurt him, and he can use his strength and overall athleticism to dominate while also taking up blockers.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green WR Georgia
Analysis: Green is arguably the best player in the draft, and fits a big need for the Bengals. With Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens likely on their way out, the team desperately needed a target on offense. Green is the best wide receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson and has the ability to be the league’s best. The 6’4” 211 former Bulldog catches everything in sight, and is an extremely dangerous weapon. Few college receivers are as skilled at getting open and running precise routes. However, Carson Palmer has threatened to retire if he is not granted his trade request, and it appears he is serious. If Palmer is indeed done in Cincinnati, the Bengals have what is, without a doubt, the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. Blaine Gabbert has franchise quarterback potential, but the Bengals chose to take their chances on Palmer returning and instead add a weapon for him.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Peterson CB LSU
Analysis: At this point, the Cardinals’ main target in Von Miller is already off the board and it is nearly impossible to address a need without reaching, so they instead go with a BPA approach and select Patrick Peterson. Although Arizona already possesses a top cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Peterson is really the only option for the team. Peterson is an incredible athlete and one of the draft’s top two players. Arguably the best defensive back prospect since Sean Taylor, Peterson is a physical freak with unlimited potential. With a secondary of Rodgers-Cromartie, Peterson, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, the Cardinals should have an elite secondary capable of shutting down the best of passing attacks. However, no secondary can cover forever and Arizona’s pass rush is severely lacking. Ideally, the team would have added a threat off the edge here, but the value simply was not there, and instead they selected one of the draft’s best players.
6. Atlanta Falcons (from CLE) – Julio Jones WR Alabama
Analysis: In one of the most shocking moves of draft day, the Falcons jumped up 21 spots to select the electrifying Julio Jones. While Jones is definitely worthy of the selection and fits a need for Atlanta, it is highly debatable whether he is worth the price. The Falcons were forced to surrender their 1st round pick 2nd round pick, 4th round pick this year, as well as their 1st and 4th in 2012. Jones is an incredibly physical player with big play potential. He is great at working underneath and with his YAC ability is a great fit in Atlanta’s west coast offense. It won’t be long before Roddy White and Jones combine for one of, if not the, best wide receiver combinations in the NFL. The Falcons already had a dangerous offense, and the addition of Jones only makes it more lethal, but the team has other needs to address. Defensive end remains a huge area of concern, and the team will have a hard time adding a quality player there without their 2nd round pick. While the Falcons may have given up too much in the deal, the potential of Jones on Atlanta’s offense is definitely exciting.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Aldon Smith OLB Missouri
Analysis: The 49ers were definitely in need of a pass rusher, and Smith isn’t a terrible value at 7, so the pick isn’t necessarily a bad one. Smith is a very athletic edge rusher with the potential to be a dynamic sack artist. Though he is risky, Smith has the perfect size and skill set for outside linebacker in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense. However, Alex Smith has proven that he doesn’t deserve to be a starting quarterback and the 49ers could have added Blaine Gabbert to fill that role. Jim Harbaugh is likely taking the strategy of finding a quarterback later in the draft, but the golden rule of the draft is to never pass on a franchise quarterback if you are need of one. Gabbert could be exactly that, and even if Smith develops into a great player, the team may end up regretting passing on the quarterback.
8. Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker QB Washington
Analysis: With the Vince Young experiment over, the Titans start a new era with a very different signal caller. Locker is a tough, hard working, extremely high character quarterback with limitless potential. With a cannon arm and great speed, there is nothing on the field that Locker does not have the ability to do. Despite Locker’s potential, he is still raw and would greatly benefit from time on the bench behind a veteran. Locker has a few bad habits from his time at Washington to break, and it is much easier to do so from the bench. However, few people rank Locker as the best available quarterback here, and quite honestly, Blaine Gabbert probably would have probably been the better pick. It’s hard to call the pick a huge reach, but it definitely was not a good value pick. In the end it is hard to complain too much about this pick given Locker’s overall ability and potential as a franchise quarterback.
9. Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith OT USC
Analysis: The offensive line is quite possibly the Cowboys’ worst unit, and Smith is a good value at nine. Smith is an incredibly athletic tackle, with freakish upside. His 36” arms give him a huge advantage against defenders, and he is also surprisingly strong for his size. Smith will likely start out at right tackle with Doug Free manning the blind side, but projects as the team’s future left tackle. Dallas will probably look to bulk Smith up for him to play in their power blocking scheme. Smith is a bit thin at under 310 pounds, but has the frame to bulk up some.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (from WAS) – Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri
Analysis: It’s pretty evident that David Garrard has taken the Jaguars as far as he can, and the team looks to add its franchise quarterback here. If the team ever wants to advance beyond mediocre, an upgrade is needed. Gabbert is a talented player who should actually be better in the pros than he was in college. Though he isn’t as physically talented as some of the other quarterbacks, Gabbert makes up for it with his physical ability and was actually many people’s top ranked signal caller. While Gabbert has significant potential, he is raw and would benefit from time on the bench, which he should get in Jacksonville. With a decent offensive line and Maurice Jones-Drew to help him out, the cupboard isn’t bear, but the team should look to add some talent at wide receiver. This selection cements Jacksonville as one of multiple teams on the rise.
11. Houston Texans – J.J. Watt DE Wisconsine
Analysis: As Houston switches to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, some new personnel is needed. Watt is an excellent fit for the scheme the Texans will be running, and should contribute immediately. While he is at his best against the run, Watt is also a capable pass rusher and will contribute in all facets of the game. But most importantly, the addition of Watt gives Houston versatility in how they can use Mario Williams. With another defensive end, Phillips can move Williams around and possibly play him quite a bit standing up. However, the Texans are in desperate need of help in the defensive backfield and Prince Amukamara may have been a good fit. Robert Quinn would have also been ideal as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Overall, Watt is a very solid pick here who solidifies the team’s defensive line while giving them much more schematic versatility.
12. Minnesota Vikings – Christian Ponder QB Florida State
Analysis: Though the Vikings desperately needed a quarterback, it is hard to justify Ponder this high. Minnesota is one of the most talented teams in the NFL, and quarterback is the only position that is truly holding them back. Look for the Vikings to add a veteran to start in the short term because it is highly unlikely that Ponder could lead the team to the playoffs in his first season. The Florida State product is a smart, athletic player with good accuracy. However, Ponder lacks great arm strength and could limit an offense in the NFL. It’s impossible to argue with the position, but it would have been ideal if the Vikings could have traded back and still selected Ponder.
13. Detroit Lions – Nick Fairley DT Auburn
Analysis: Most people were expecting the Lions to either add Prince Amukamara or Robert Quinn here, but the team instead decided to pair Nick Fairley with Ndmaukong Suh. Fairley isn’t the best fit next to Suh, as both are better off as 3 techniques, but the duo has incredible potential. If anyone can figure out how to use Fairley and Suh, it is head coach Jim Schwartz, who is a big of a defensive line guru. Fairley is a dynamic pass rusher who has the potential to truly dominate, but he is extremely risky. The value is great here at 13, but the team definitely has bigger needs with Suh and Corey Williams already at defensive tackle. However, the sheer value and potential of the pick makes it difficult to criticize.
14. St. Louis Rams – Robert Quinn DE North Carolina
Analysis: The Rams don’t have much at defensive end after Chris Long, and Quinn is an excellent value outside of the top 10. In fact, it could be argued that only wide receiver was a bigger team need than defensive end. Arguably a top 5 pick, Quinn has huge potential as a pass rusher, and should be a great player in Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme. Quinn was suspended for the 2010 season along with many of his teammates, and if he had played, might have been the first pick of the draft. Though he has the most upside of any defensive end since Mario Williams, Quinn is not great against the run and is still raw. But even with his flaws, Quinn is ready to start immediately and he will be noticed.
15. Miami Dolphins – Mike Pouncey C Florida
Analysis: Interior offensive line is definitely a big need for the Dolphins, but Pouncey simply isn’t a good value here. Joe Berger really struggled at center last year, and Pouncey will be an upgrade, but in the top 15, he is hard to justify. Only elite interior line prospects are worthy of top 15 picks, and Pouncey is not one of them. Though his brother is an excellent player, Pouncey doesn’t have the same ability. However, Pouncey is a relatively safe pick who should be a starter for years to come, and that is hard to criticize.
16. Washington Redskins (from JAC) – Ryan Kerrigan OLB Purdue
Analysis: As the Redskins continue their transition to a 3-4 defense, they add another pass rusher to play opposite of Brian Orakpo. Kerrigan is a big, strong linebacker with underrated athleticism. Few players have more dedication and play harder than Kerrigan, and he is the type of player a coach loves. However, he might be a bit too stiff to be effective in coverage and a 3-4 isn’t his best fit. Also, with Brian Orakpo already weak in coverage, it is difficult to add another player who may be weak in that area. But the position is a need and Kerrigan is unlikely to fail.