Despite slipping slightly on some draft boards, Nick Fairley remains in the top ten (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

NFL Mock Draft: The First 10 Picks

The 2011 NFL Draft is only 2 weeks away. It is crunch time for teams who are feverishly assembling and dissecting their draft boards and determining a strategy. It is an exciting time for all the fans out there who are sick and tired of reading only about the lockout. Members of the media are pumping out mock drafts and rumors all over the place, so now it’s my turn to look into the crystal ball. Amazingly, the Oakland Raiders are not drafting within the top 10 picks this season, so we can be relatively certain that nothing too stunning will take place at the top of the draft, with movement via trades being the possible exception. The Carolina Panthers have been on the clock for a while now, so what do they do with the #1 overall pick?

1) Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, Quarterback, Auburn

Cam Newton has a great shot at being the #1 overall pick (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

ESPN’s John Clayton is very confident that Cam Newton will be going to the Panthers at the top spot. Draft guru Mel Kiper has also tabbed Newton as the top pick for several months. Todd McShay, a.k.a. Kiper’s sidekick, has had Marcell Dareus going number 1 in most of his mock drafts up until last week when he moved Newton to the top spot as well. Now the overwhelming consensus is that Newton will be the top pick in the 2011 draft. Based on what I’ve read, I feel like there is something going on behind the scenes that has persuaded the national media that this is the case. At this point, I would be surprised if Carolina went a different direction. Quarterback is one of their many positions of need, and the Panthers are in position to choose the guy that they want.

2) Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

Marcell Dareus is generally considered the top prospect in the draft (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

If Newton goes #1 overall, the Broncos will find themselves in the best scenario possible. It is believed that they do not want a quarterback at this spot, although they may look for a QB in later rounds. That means they can pick the very top defensive player on their entire draft board, whoever that may be. In my opinion, the Broncos should go after one of the following players (in order of my preference): Dareus, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, or  Nick Fairley. Todd McShay has had Dareus ranked as his #1 overall player for quite some time, and I think he should be the target for the Broncos if Carolina passes him up. He will be the Broncos’ defensive anchor up the middle, and with Champ Bailey re-signing, and Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers returning from injury, the defense will be immediately improved with this pick. The Broncos will have their impact defender and run-stopper for years to come, and it will provide John Fox  with a foundation for the defense he will be rebuilding. If for some reason Dareus does go to Carolina at #1, then and only then would I be okay with the Broncos trading down a few spots. But I would still rather they grab either Miller or Peterson at this pick rather than move down.

3) Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, Linebacker, Texas A&M

If Cam Newton falls to #3, you can bet that the Bills will pick him up here.  If he goes #1 as predicted here, the Bills will most likely go with Miller, Blaine Gabbert, or Patrick Peterson. Much like the Broncos, the Bills have a ton of defensive holes to fill, but they’re hole at quarterback is bigger than most teams as well. The majority of the national media believe that Von Miller is the pick here, and I tend to agree. No player out there has climbed the draft boards as quickly as Miller during this off-season, and it will earn him the #3 overall selection.

4) Cincinnati Bengals: Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, Missouri

There is not much doubt that the Bengals will go offense here. I believe their selection will essentially come down to Blaine Gabbert or A.J. Green. The question becomes what is the status of the standoff between Carson Palmer and the Bengals ownership? Palmer has convinced many that he is done with the Bengals and will sit out the season if necessary. The Bengals have stated publicly that they will not be trading Palmer. If they draft Green at this position, then they will be a big player in the Kevin Kolb sweepstakes once the CBA is finally hammered out. But I think they will go ahead and get their QB when they have the chance here. There is just too much unknown for them at the QB spot.

5) Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU

Patrick Peterson will be a hot commodity on draft day (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

At this point, Arizona is completely stunned that Gabbert did not fall to them. They absolutely were going to take him, and now they have to go with plan B. The Cardinals biggest needs are at quarterback and the offensive line. Number 5 may be just a little too early to reach for OT Tyron Smith, even though he will definitely be on their radar. In this situation, they will probably go with the best available talent at an area where they could use some help. That means Peterson is the pick.

6) Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Georgia

The Browns will have to take Green if he falls to them, but they will also have their eyes on the defensive ends. In the end, Green is just too big of a talent to pass up, and they need to start bringing in some weapons for Colt McCoy.

7) San Francisco 49ers: Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn

The 49ers will most likely draft Peterson if he is available at #7, but if he is already gone they will look for a defensive lineman. Fairley was the hottest thing going for a little while after Auburn won the BCS title, but he has come back down to earth in recent weeks. That will play right into the 49ers hands who could use a play-maker on the defensive line, and that is exactly what Fairley will be.

8 ) Tennessee Titans: Robert Quinn, Defensive End, North Carolina

The Titans will also be looking at the defensive line, and will most likely take the first defensive end in the draft. The best available defensive ends are Da’Quan Bowers, Robert Quinn, and J.J. Watt. It really comes down to the Titans individual rankings of these 3 players. A month ago I would have said that Bowers at this spot would be a slam dunk, but the injury concerns with him seem to be growing very quickly. Because of that, Quinn will be the pick here.

9) Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle, USC

Offensive tackle is their biggest need, and Tyron Smith is universally seen as the best OT available in this draft. They may take a serious look at Da’Quan Bowers with this pick, but I would be surprised if Smith doesn’t become a Cowboy.

10) Washington Redskins: Julio Jones, Wide Receiver, Alabama

Julio Jones will round out the top ten picks of the draft (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Redskins will be ecstatic if Jones drops to this point. They need offensive play-makers, and they will not hesitate on a top 2 wide receiver if he is available.

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Tags: A.J. Green Arizona Cardinals Blaine Gabbert Buffalo Bills Cam Newton Carolina Panthers Champ Bailey Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns Da'Quan Bowers Dallas Cowboys Denver Broncos Elvis Dumervil John Fox Julio Jones Marcell Dareus Nick Fairley Oakland Raiders Patrick Peterson Robert Ayers Robert Quinn San Francisco 49ers Tennessee Titans Tyron Smith Von Miller Washington Redskins

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