Every site and expert is seemingly in the middle of releasing their own 2011 NFL mock draft. Many are now onto the 2nd or 3rd iteration of it. The fact is that such things as new information, misinformation, character judgments, medical assessments and combine performances, are continually introducing new variables into the equation – almost to the point to which a mock draft is obsolete the moment it is released.
We in fantasy still often march to this same tired drummer, ultimately releasing our own mock draft versions in an attempt to stay viable. In the end, it’s mostly an act of futility. This year, I’m doing things a bit differently – I’m focusing only on the skills positions, and also from a player perspective for a new slant.
I’m primarily focusing on the first 2-3 rounds of skill position players for this exercise.
Likely Pick: 1.04 – Bengals
The Bengals are between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they need to use the pick in another position but with Carson Palmer threatening (and sounding awfully serious about it) to never set foot in their stadium again, their hand is being forced. Unless they can trade for a veteran, and the pickings are slim, the Bengals must add a signal caller in 2011. My assessment is that they don’t have the luxury to wait until the second round. The choice comes down to Gabbert and Newton and while Newton is a better prospect for starting day one, Gabbert has more long term potential and fits the offensive mold of the Bengals rather well. That all said, the Bengals have a penchant for taking head cases and players of questionable character, a mold that Gabbert does not fit.
The Cardinals need QB help as well but are intrigued by what Skelton offers longer term. Skelton should not be the opening day QB and Arizona is likely to look at established veterans to take the role for at least part of 2011. Carolina doesn’t know enough about Clausen yet in my mind to make a Gabbert or Newton their #1 choice. Defensive minded head coach Ron Rivera will likely be looking to replace the departed (2010) impact of Julius Jones on the DL.
Next Likely: 1.05 – Cardinals
No Later: 1.10 – Redskins
Surprise: 1.01 – Panthers
Likely Pick: 1.07 – 49’ers
There is no hotter draft discussion topic than the prospects for Auburn’s Cam Newton. On one hand, you have a one-year phenom who completed more than 66% of his passes in a down-field passing offense while showing notable mobility, arm strength and leadership. On the other, you have an athlete whose on-field abilities are eclipsed only by his own ego and opinion of himself. It’s as intriguing a mixture as it is risky.
Newton’s skills project as a day-one starter as well as any drafted QB in the recent past. In 2011, numerous teams have an immediate starting need. What these teams don’t need is a head-case likely to be anything but fully accountable if/when he fails to live up to expectations. You want your quarterback to have leadership ability, confidence and even a swagger, but there’s a fine line between confidence and entitlement. There’s a blizzard of misinformation blowing currently and it’s impossible to determine just what is fact and what is fabrication as teams jockey for position by raising the stock of untargeted players while, at the same time, disparaging those that they do have interest in. Tis the season.
My view on Newton is that he’s worth the risk for a team that has an immediate starting QB need. Accuracy is of utmost importance on my list of abilities and Newton has that in spades. His mechanics are relatively sound and as a mobile QB, I like that while scrambling in the backfield, his eyes are down the field. He has great hips and a solid base providing for great balance and power. If his head is on straight, he’s a clear #1 choice without question. That not being the case, it’s a question of maturity and ego vs. confidence. I take that risk, but not in the top 4 or 5 picks in the draft.
I very much like the fit for new coach Harbaugh in San Francisco and fully believe that if Newton is on the board at 1.07, his name will be called. Carolina has to be intrigued but the jury is still out on the strong-armed and similarly cocky Jimmy Clausen. With new coach Ron Rivera in town, I believe Clausen will be given another year of development. Cincinnati remains a possibility but the team needs a face for the franchise after Palmer and can’t afford a big ego. Arizona remains a slight possibility but I don’t see a character fit. Daniel Snyder would be all over Newton at 1.10.
Next Likely: 1.10 – Redskins
No Later: 1.10 – Redskins
Surprise: 1.01 – Panthers
Likely Pick: 1.25 – Seahawks
I don’t like the pick, nor do I like Locker in the first round. But until Coach Carroll calls me for my opinion, I have to believe that he’ll be going to Seattle. There are just too many connections here and Locker does contain an intriguing array of skills including arm strength, mobility and character. What he doesn’t have is tremendous size or accuracy. Lacking accuracy, the decision to draft Locker comes down to the ego of the head coach as to whether he believes that his staff can develop that which has not yet been displayed.
Hasselbeck is certain to be in his last year as a Seahawk and the expensive gamble on Charlie Whitehurst did not pay off. Seattle must bring in a signal caller this year and their late selection likely means they need to do it in the first round. I like Kaepernick better than Locker, but not at this pick. Additionally, his baseball career could beckon at some point, offering further risk.
Many experts believe that Locker will be off the board by Seattle’s pick.
Next Likely: 2.02 – Bills
No Later: 2.09 – Redskins
Surprise: 1.10 – Redskins
Likely Pick: 2.02 – Bills
Kaepernick raised his stock at the combine by doing well in all drills. A well built, tall and strong armed passer, Buffalo will be hard pressed to let Kaepernick slide unless they jumped at the chance to draft Gabbert or Newton at 1.03. Kaepernick likely has one of the top two (Mallett) arms of the QB class and displayed better than expected speed with a 4.53 40-yard dash. Always one to like mobility, Bills head coach Chan Gailey will like what Kaepernick offers across the board and at a reasonable value in the 2nd round.
Incumbent QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick was a pleasant surprise in 2010 but that won’t stop Buffalo looking for a young passer with upside. Kaepernick fits the bill.
Next Likely: 2.06 – Cardinals
No Later: 2.25 – Seahawks
Surprise: 3rd Round
Likely Pick: 2.09 – Redskins
Shanahan has always loved a project and a project with a rocket arm and pocket presence even moreso. Shanahan doesn’t shy away from character concerns and has an ego to match Mallett’s arm. The Skins are in need of a face of the franchise and departing QB Donovan McNabb leaves a huge hole to fill. With the two big names likely off the board by their first round selection, I’m not in the camp that believes that Locker could be the selection here, not with other names still available early in the second.
There is no questioning Mallett’s on-field production or ability. But significant questions remain about his maturity, off the field issues and decision making. As Rich Eisen said on the Dan Patrick show this AM (3/4/11), Mallett “…has more red flags than a carnival”. Shanahan’s success with quarterbacks is unquestioned and the match is an intriguing one. I’m looking for Mallett to be the starter in Washington early in 2011.
Next Likely: 2.07 – Titans
No Later: 2.25 – Seahawks
Surprise: 2.02 – Bills
Likely Pick: 3.05 – Cardinals
Ponder isn’t in my top five, but that doesn’t mean that the needs of teams early in the second round could necessitate an earlier selection than he would otherwise be. I still believe that Ponder is a 3rd round passer and that Arizona will be rewarded by not over-drafting other names in the first or second rounds. I’m still fully expecting Arizona to bring in a veteran passer either through free agency or via trade, but should that not happen, Ponder is a legitimate up-side quarterback in the third round.
I’m also not buying much of the leaked information coming out that Ponder is greatly on the rise on draft boards. He’s a good kid with a very nice short to intermediate range game, but doesn’t have a big arm and doesn’t leap off the page. But he has the character, work ethic and mechanics to be selected relatively highly. He’d be a good fit with Whisenhut in Arizona
Next Likely: 3.12 – 49’ers
No Later: 3.15 – Dolphins
Surprise: 2.06 – Cardinals
A lot of mystery exists in 2011 as it relates to running backs. Historically speaking, the quarterback and running back positions are most likely to slip on draft day and backs like Daniel Thomas, DeMarco Murray and Jacquizz Rodgers will likely exemplify that. In reality, all backs after Ingram and Leshoure could slip significantly.
Likely Pick: 1.15 – Miami
Ingram, at least in my eyes, is clearly the first RB off the board. Mikel Leshoure is a good looking back to be sure but Ingram has the talent to be an every down back in the NFL. Smooth hips, quick feet and sneaky power all wrapped up into a 215 lb. frame sets him apart from the rest of the 2011 class. I would have preferred to have seen him above 5’10” in height and run in the 4.4s, but game tape is all you need to see to understand what there is to know about Ingram and his abilities. I don’t believe he’s a home run threat type of runner, but in the right system could be a Clinton Portis (the early years) type of back – Cadillac Williams is another comparison I have used as a similar style of running.
Miami is in clear need of a back and Ingram would seemingly easily fall to them at 1.15. Would Shanahan in Washington make a play at 1.10? … let’s hope not. And let’s not forget about Trader Bill in New England, who could easily trade up before Miami to snatch Ingram. Dare I say this seems to be the likely scenario unless Belichick covets Leshoure as a power back.
Next Likely: 1.17 – Patriots
No Later: 1.17 – Patriots
Surprise: 1.10 – Redskins
Likely Pick: 2.01 – Patriots
Leshoure is most certainly an intriguing back. Good size, bulk and somewhat surprising speed (4.59) are enough to see him sneak into the first round. In the end, I think he’ll slip just outside the first to New England who will likely use one of their three high picks on a RB. Leshoure was on the radar early and often in 2010 as he steamrolled nearly every opponent standing in his way. Much like Rashard Mendenhall, Leshoure is a bruising downhill runner, but unlike Mendenhall, he has added agility that I didn’t expect to see. His hands are capable, certainly enough to be considered as an every-down back as long as blitz recognition can be learned.
Draft prospects for Leshoure are limited late in the first round but it’s not hard to see how a team with an aging back (Atlanta) could opt to draft him as an eventual replacement. New England’s last first round selection is at #28, following Atlanta at #27. If the Patriots do covet Leshoure, it would behoove them to make the leap to get him before Atlanta is on the clock. That said, Atlanta does have other needs that could be addressed and my belief is that they won’t reach for Leshoure at 1.27.
Next Likely: 2.04 – Broncos
No Later: 2.20 – Giants
Surprise: 1.27 – Atlanta (not too surprising however)
Likely Pick: 2.27 – Falcons
Michael Turner is aging but still likely has at least one more solid year ahead of him. Jason Snelling looks capable in spot duty but likely isn’t an every down back. Matt Ryan needs more weapons and Williams provides long term value at 2.27.
After a stellar 2009 campaign where Williams amassed 21 TDs and over 1,600 yards rushing, an injury left him looking pedestrian in 2010. His yards per carry average dropped from 5.7 to 4.3 and the dynamic that was once shown was no longer visible. It’s a tale of two years and any drafting coach has to hope that his sub-par 2010 was due to injury recovery. Williams was disappointing in the 40 (4.61) and I was hoping to see a height greater than 5’10” (5’9 3/8″). For myself, he’s some distance down from the displayed 2010 talent of Leshoure and could slip on draft day
Next Likely: 2.20 – Giants
No Later: 2.28 – Patriots
Surprise: 2.12 – Detroit
Likely Pick: 2.30 – Bears
I’m not a fan of small backs, but there have been smaller backs that I have liked. In the mold of Ray Rice, Kendall Hunter measured in just over 5’7″ and nearly 200 lbs. Small in size doesn’t define his running style or numbers, notching 32 TDs combined in his sophomore and senior years. Hunter doesn’t have the bulk to be a three down back but I believe he has the dynamic to be on the field in many situations. The Bears need a complement to Matt Forte’ and Hunter would seemingly fit well.
It’s hard to slot a runner like Hunter but I expect that in this year’s weak RB class, a productive and good-character back like Hunter will actually see his value increase.
Next Likely: 3.14 – Rams
No Later: 3.29 – Bears
Surprise: 3.02 – Bengals
Likely Pick: 3.14 – Rams
Vereen helped himself immensely at the combine with a surprising size, bulk and a speed. Those that have watched Cal games aren’t surprised by his fluidity or toughness. A 5+ ypc. average back every year, Vereen was productive in all phases for the Bears. I came away more impressed with Vereen during the combine than with any other player in the running back class. I believe he has a great opportunity to vastly out-produce his selection position.
St. Louis would seem to make the most sense in round three. The Rams are likely to run the wheels off of starter Steven Jackson but have had difficulty in finding a back to reduce his workload. Vereen’s toughness, work ethic and better than average hands would make for a nice complement to Jackson.
Next Likely: 3.27 – Falcons
No Later: Mid-Fourth R0und
Surprise: 5th Round
Likely Pick: 1.06 – Browns
Cincinnati would love to have Green at 1.04 but I believe they’ll be looking at the QB position due to the uncertainty surrounding Carson Palmer. Green may not have had the combine that Julio Jones did, but nor did he need to. Green is a dynamic receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson and will be highly coveted come draft day. For the record, I’m not as high on Green as I was with Calvin Johnson or even Larry Fitzgerald, but there is little doubt about his talent or ability to play at the next level.
There is little way that Green gets beyond Cleveland and I do believe that there is almost as likely a chance that Cincinnati finds a way to select Green, but at this early date, he’ll be wearing dog pound brown.
Next Likely: None – He won’t make it past Cleveland
No Later: Browns
Surprise: 1.04 – Bengals
Likely Pick: 1.10 – Redskins
Jones blew up the combine and without a doubt raised his draft stock. Always considered to be the #2 wide-out after Green (post NFL declarations), Jones has been slotted as the best WR on the board by some experts. In my book, Green is 1.a to Jones at 1.b. A physical specimen, Jones ran a ridiculous 4.39 40 as well to cement himself as a first half of the first round selection.
Jones has great hands, is physically cut and is a willing and able blocker. Speed was the only remaining question and that has been answered.
Next Likely: 1.06 – Browns (should Green be off the board)
No Later: 1.12 – Vikings
Surprise: 1.08 – Tennessee
Likely Pick: 1.26 – Ravens
I have both Baldwin and Smith ranked neck and neck on my rankings, yet both are very different receivers. Baltimore needs to give QB Flacco another weapon and Smith could provide the deep threat that would allow the Ravens to better stretch the field. I was a bit underwhelmed by Smith’s 40 time (4.43) but it is a very good time. I’m not as high on Smith as many are and find him to be a bit one dimensional, but not without quickness and good route running.
Slotting a receiver like Smith in the draft is difficult as I could easily see him falling into the 2nd round and coming off the board after Baldwin. In fact, I believe Baldwin has more suitors than Smith would after the Raven’s pick but Smith does fit what the Ravens need, even if it might be earlier than would be expected.
Next Likely: 2.01 – Patriots
No Later: 2.17 – Jaguars
Surprise: 1.21 – Kansas City
Likely Pick: 1.27 – Falcons
Like Smith, Baldwin is a difficult receiver to slot to a particular team. I believe he’s a better 2nd round selection but there are enough teams late in the first round and early in the second round that may force a team’s hand. Atlanta is in dire need of a big receiver to start opposite of Roddy White. Michael Jenkins continues to hold onto the position but doesn’t provide anything other than possession-receiver ability.
Baldwin, with big hands, leaping ability and sufficient speed should provide an immediate upgrade over Jenkins for Atlanta and, thus, hears his name called on day one.
Next Likely: 2.03 – Bengals (if they haven’t selected Green)
No Later: 2.05 – Browns (if they haven’t selected Green)
Surprise: 1.21 – Chiefs
Likely Pick: 2.17 – Jaguars
The Jaguars will be in the market for a replacement to oft-injured Mike Sims-Walker and Hankerson provides a good prospect with a high ceiling. Hankerson didn’t have a great combine but did have a stellar Senior Bowl showing and his draft prospects remain good.
Hankerson helped himself immensely by stunning many with a 4.43 40 but came in shorter than expected at just over 6’1″. His troubles catching the ball during the gauntlet were a hot topic but won’t affect his draft stock. Hankerson has been known to have “spotty” hands but not so much as to drastically affect his value in the 2nd round.
Next Likely: 2.23 – Chiefs
No Later: 2.27 – Falcons
Surprise: 2.01 – Patriots
Likely Pick: 3.01 – Panthers
A poor man’s DeSean Jackson, and without the combine speed expected (4.53), Young does play faster on tape. At 174 lbs., Young hopes to benefit from the success that Jackson had in Philly and may be over-drafted for just that reason. Young would provide an immediate spark in the area of special teams for any team and in an offense with established go-to receivers, could flourish in a deep route role.
Next Likely: 3.09 – Texans
No Later: 3rd Round
Surprise: 2.26 – Baltimore
1.04 CIN Blaine Gabbert, QB
1.06 CLE A.J. Green, WR
1.07 SFO Cam Newton, QB
1.10 WAS Julio Jones, WR
1.15 MIA Mark Ingram, RB
1.25 SEA Jake Locker, QB
1.26 BAL Torrey Smith, WR
1.27 ATL Jonathan Baldwin, WR
2.01 NWE Mikel Leshoure, RB
2.02 BUF Colin Kaepernick, QB
2.09 WAS Ryan Mallett, QB
2.17 JAX Leonard Hankerson, WR
2.27 ATL Ryan Williams, RB
2.30 CHI Kendall Hunter, RB
3.01 CAR Titus Young, WR
3.05 ARI Christian Ponder, QB
3.14 STL Shane Vereen, RB
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