We were all set to go crazy with the quarterbacks in this mock draft, but we still couldn't do it. The fact is, there just aren't any franchise QBs in this draft, in our opinion. In fact, our prediction is that this draft, which begins tonight at around 8 p.m. ET from Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, will produce very few impact players overall. There is some good, solid talent, but a few years from now we may find this is just an average group of players.
1. Carolina — Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
New head coach Ron Rivera knows the first pick will be linked to his tenure forever and has to be someone he and the Panthers trust. There are just too many questions surrounding Cam Newton for us to put full trust in him. Dareus is the safest, surest pick here.
2. Denver — Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Some see Miller only as a 3-4 OLB, but he can play the Sam in the 4-3 and his versatility will be invaluable as John Fox runs a hybrid system until all the pieces are in place for his new 4-3 scheme.
3. Buffalo — Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Though some think Gabbert is falling, he is smart, hard-working and athletic with a great arm. Chan Gailey is looking for coachable players who make plays.
4. Cincinnati — Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
At this point the Bengals have to take Carson Palmer's retirement threat seriously. They have many needs, but Newton can make plays now or can learn the ropes for a year the way Palmer did as a rookie.
5. Arizona — Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
Quinn has checked out medically and is moving up boards quickly. His game tape shows him as an impact player who can line up in a number of different places on the field.
6. Cleveland — A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Mike Holmgren was thinking offensively when he hired Pat Shurmur as HC. They will think offense here as well. They need help on the D-line and in the secondary, but those positions are deep in this draft. The list of impact playmakers at WR is very short and Green is at the top of it.
7. San Francisco — Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Another team with several needs, and former QB Jim Harbaugh can't be comfortable with his situation at the most important position. Word is the 49ers may like Andy Dalton, but they'll only do that if they can trade down. Locker is athletic and has experience in a pro style offense.
8. Tennessee — Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Fairley can penetrate with the best of them and will fit in nicely with the Titans' D-line rotation. He can shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield, which is key to Tennessee's defense.
9. Dallas — Tyron Smith, T, Southern Cal
The Cowboys need a corner and a DE to take some pressure off DeMarcus Ware. But above all else, they need to protect Tony Romo if they are going to be a factor. Smith is extremely athletic for his size and can play either side.
10. Washington — Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Think about Daniel Snyder here. Mike Shanahan is telling him he needs a QB, and Kaepernick is an athletic Elway type. Kaepernick mysteriously received an invite to New York this week, and if Locker goes early, Snyder will panic and take the QB. He'll also be thrilled to be the talk of the draft on day one.
11. Houston — Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The Texans gave up more passing yards and more 40-plus passing plays than anyone else in the NFL last year. Peterson shuts down half the field and gives Houston's high-powered offense a chance to win games rather than keep pace in games.
12. Minnesota — Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The Vikes are another team that could be in the QB mix, but they may have D-line needs as well. Jordan can play end and tackle in the 4-3, defends the run well, and plays strong on the edge à la Ray Edwards.
13. Detroit — Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Lions must look to upgrade the O-line as well, but they are in desperate need of a playmaker in the secondary. Amukamara has 4.4 speed and cover skills. If the coaching staff can improve his hands, he'll be the full package.
14. St. Louis — Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
This is the second time that Jones has fallen here in our mocks. It's an absolute steal, but with potential QB and DE runs, it could end up being reality. Sam Bradford gets a big, physical, reliable target.
15. Miami — Anthony Castonzo, T/G, Boston College
The Dolphins could be thinking QB here, but we think they'll look for a veteran. Could they go RB? Sure. But the value here wouldn't be good. The O-line, particularly on the interior, was suspect last year. Castonzo has experience at tackle but can play either guard spot as well. That versatility is invaluable.
16. Jacksonville — Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The Jags have to get pressure on the passer, and with a complementary piece to Aaron Kampman, the defense could be in great shape. Kerrigan made 90 plays behind the LOS in 48 career college games, including 34 sacks.
17. New England — Nate Solder, T, Colorado
The Pats need an impact pass rusher, but with Logan Mankins and Matt Light nearing the ends of their careers, Bill Belichick and company need to think about protecting Tom Brady long-term. Several teams in the next 10 picks will be looking for O-line help, so New England takes the tackle here and gets the pass rusher later.
18. San Diego — Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Smith has 17 sacks in 23 games. He's raw but explosive and can fill the OLB role that Larry English has been underperforming in. That will take pressure off Shaun Phillips.
19. New York Giants — Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
Most see offensive line as the Giants' top need, but there's little value at that position here. The LB play has been uneven at best and they haven't had an impact LB who can get to the QB in some time. Ayers is a late riser who has the rush and cover ability to play the strong side.
20. Tampa Bay — Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Many teams still have concerns about Bowers' knee, but several teams still think he's a worth a first-round pick. If he gets healthy, the Bucs get an explosive pass rusher who was once considered the top talent in this draft. He's worth a flyer here.
21. Kansas City — Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
The Chiefs defense is coming along nicely. They could use a pass-rushing OLB, but Taylor solidifies the front and sets the stage for the rest of the rebuilding process, much the way it worked when GM Scott Pioli was with the Jets and Pats.
22. Indianapolis — Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
The Colts have got to be able to stop the run. Liuget is a prototypical 3-technique player in a 4-3 scheme. He can penetrate on the interior and give the Colts a presence up front.
23. Philadelphia — Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Fans will want to look at an offensive lineman here, but the elite ones are gone and the one problem with Philly's defense last year was its inability to play effective man coverage behind its blitz schemes. Smith is big, physical and the best press corner in this draft. He's got some character issues, but that's never stopped Andy Reid before.
24. New Orleans — Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Saints have too many RBs and not enough at the same time. They have numbers but they also have questions. Ingram is falling on many boards, but he's a top-15 talent who now may have a chip on his shoulder and will play like he has something to prove.
25. Seattle — Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin
Carimi will fall because he's not an ideal NFL left tackle. But the Seahawks already have one of those in Russell Okung. Carimi is a strong run blocker and will give the 'Hawks a bookend at RT. He can also move inside and play guard.
26. Baltimore — J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
We expect Watt to go sooner than this. He has ideal strength, power and quickness to play the 5-technique in the 3-4 and can also play DE or DT if the Ravens' hybrid defense switches to a four-man front.
27. Atlanta — Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
The Falcons don't have a real pressing need. They'd like to improve the front seven on defense and they'd like to add some weapons for QB Matt Ryan at WR and TE, but the value here is along the O-line. Pouncey is not his twin brother, Maurkice, but he may be the top interior lineman in this draft.
28. New England — Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
The Pats don't have a single pass-rush threat. Some question whether Houston can make the move to OLB, but he's explosive and extremely quick off the snap. He averaged three plays behind the LOS per game in college and has 17½ sacks over the last two seasons. Belichick will find a way to get him on the field.
29. Chicago — Derek Sherrod, T, Mississippi State
O-line coach Mike Tice did a nice job of gluing together a unit during the second half of last season, but he needs talented players. Sherrod is a smart, tough, hard-working player who is at his best in pass pro — an ideal tackle in a Mike Martz offense.
30. JETS — Cam Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Don't worry, Jets fans, he's not Vernon Gholston. He's not a guy who flashes a lot of gaudy numbers, either, but he's a versatile lineman who can play DE or DT and is at his best as a 5-technique end. Think Shaun Ellis — a solid, productive two-way player who is a perfect fit up front for the Green & White defensive scheme.
31. Pittsburgh — Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
The Steelers get a tall, long-armed, quick-footed zone corner with ball skills who can also play safety. Williams is not a top talent but he's a talented, experienced player who has played in a lot of big games.
32. Green Bay — Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
Wilkerson has a unique combination of size and athleticism that will allow him to be effective in Dom Capers' scheme.