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Pre-Combine Mock Draft: How much will Cam Newton help himself?

02.23.11 at 1:39 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS ‘€” It’€™s the most wonderful time of the year: the NFL scouting combine. Christopher Price and I will be bringing everything from reports on players, videos, and CBA goings on at a sickening rate.

Before all the fun starts, let’€™s take one last pre-combine look at how things might shake out. After all, the combine can change things drastically, and there are sure to be a few names entering the mix when all is said and done.

1. Carolina (2-14) Da’€™Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson Last season, it appeared a defensive lineman could have gone with the first pick of the draft, but the popular line of thinking changed to Sam Bradford around the time of the combine despite the quarterback’€™s shoulder reconstruction surgery. This year, another quarterback is flying up the board, but the safe line of thinking is that Bowers or Auburn’€™s Nick Fairley will be the first defensive lineman to go No. 1 overall since 2006 (Mario Williams).

2. Denver (4-12) Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn What better way to switch to a new defensive scheme (John Fox’€™s Broncos will have a 4-3 defense) than to add a ferocious presence on the line? Fairley’€™s MVP performance in the BCS championship game gives him a bit more star appeal than Bowers at the moment, but both prospects seem worth it this high.

3. Buffalo (4-12) A.J. Green, WR, Georgia I’€™ll still try to stay ahead of the curve and predict that Lee Evans might not be in this team’€™s plans going forward. The 13th overall pick of the 2004 draft is coming off a down year, and it’€™s debatable whether the team would willingly pay him his $1 million roster bonus or go the route of trading/releasing him. With the emergence of Stevie Johnson at one receiver spot and last year’€™s eighth overall pick in C.J. Spiller potentially stepping it up in year two, the Bills actually could boast a few offensive weapons with the selection of Green.

4. Cincinnati (4-12) Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU The Bengals took cornerbacks in the first round of both the 2006 and 2007 drafts, but neither Jonathan Joseph (2006) nor Leon Hall (2007) were as highly heralded. Joseph has been the less impressive of the two at the professional level and is set to become a free agent. Hall’€™s contract has just one year left, so this pick both gives them an elite corner to pair with Hall for the time being and insurance should the Michigan product leave down the road.

5. Arizona (5-11) Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina Interviews with teams this week will really help them get a feel of what Quinn’€™s all about, and in turn will help us figure out whether talent will win out over all that he’€™s been through. Quinn was considered one of the best pass-rushers in the nation after his 11-sack sophomore season, but was suspended for his junior season for improper dealings with an agent. With his speed and 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame, it makes sense that 3-4 teams would use him at outside linebacker.

6. Cleveland (5-11) Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M Miller was previously projected to go No. 5 to the Cardinals, but one shouldn’€™t rule out the possibility of teams passing on the speedy outside backer due to his lack of size (6-foot-2, 237 pounds). This pick would greatly help a defense that finished tied for 25th in the league with 29 sacks. Miller, whose athleticism makes him a favorite to put on a show here in Indianapolis, had 11 sacks in his senior year.

7. San Francisco (6-10) Cam Newton, QB, Auburn A year ago, everyone was astonished that a mid-round prospect named Dan LeFevour thought he was too cool for school by refusing to throw. Now, Cam Newton is fully participating in the combine. He says he’€™s doing it to be as transparent as possible in the pre-draft process, and it should pay off. The more teams see Newton’€™s athleticism and potential (he still remains a project but with tremendous upside) the better standing he’€™ll be in with talent evaluators. This might be a big premature, but assuming he wows everybody in Indy, he could be the first quarterback taken in a pretty weak class.

8. Tennessee (6-10) Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska The last time the Titans took a cornerback in the top 10, Adam Jones‘€™ legal issues caused some serious problems, but that shouldn’€™t make them fear this pick. It seems the only problems the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Amukamara will create will be for quarterbacks throwing his way.

9. Dallas (6-10) Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama Both Stephen Bowen and Marcus Spears are free agents, and the latter hit the IR last season with a strained calf. The Cowboys can’€™t be too sure of what their future holds at defensive end, but getting Dareus at No. 9 is the type of pick they wouldn’€™t have to think about. He possesses the talent and, more notably, the experience at five-technique, which is something not a lot of 3-4 defensive end prospects necessarily have.

10. Washington (6-10) Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri In the last mock, we had Gabbert in this spot, though it was as the first quarterback off the board. Even if Newton dazzles at the combine and becomes out of the Redskins’€™ reach, they should still be content with the Missouri product here. He doesn’€™t have the upside of a guy like Newton, but it’€™s hard not to see him starting in his second year of professional ball. That’€™s not such a certainty with Newton. Gabbert will not throw in Indianapolis.

11. Texans (6-10) Brandon Harris, CB, Miami The Texans allowed a league-worst 267.5 passing yards per game, and that was product of both Dunta Robinson leaving for the Falcons and the Texans replacing him with a rookie in Kareem Jackson. Despite being thrown on a ton as a rookie and being exposed quite a bit, Jackson showed that he can be a starter in this league, and should the team add more talent at the position, those ugly numbers will go down. Harris is one of the guys who could put up great combine numbers and could emerge as the third-best corner in a very good class.

12. Minnesota (6-10) Julio Jones, WR, Alabama This team needs help offensively, and while Newton was the pick in the last mock, the Vikings wish they could say their offensive needs end at quarterback. Whoever ends up as the signal-caller in Minnesota next season could use a talent like Jones, whose hands are his biggest concern at this point.

13. Detroit (6-10) Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado Smith has great size and speed, and should the 6-foot-2 Colorado product run anywhere in the sub-4.44 range (something that wouldn’€™t be unimaginable) it would be hard to imagine him not getting some serious looks in the first half of the first round. The Lions are improving against the pass (they allowed 218.6 pass yards per game last season after allowing a league-worst 265.6 the year prior), and adding a talent like Smith would be a step in the right direction.

14. St. Louis (7-9) Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa In a perfect world, the Rams would get Julio Jones with this pick and reward Sam Bradford for an impressive rookie season. Unfortunately for the Rams, it isn’€™t a perfect world, but they can grab a guy like Clayborn to make up for a not-so-perfect pick in Adam Carriker (2007), who they gave up on when they shipped him to Washington last season. Carriker didn’€™t end up a fit at either defensive tackle or end in St. Louis, but Clayborn’€™s size and athleticism make him a great candidate to thrive as a 4-3 end.

15. Miami (7-9) Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama Don’€™t expect Ingram to light it up at the combine, but he doesn’€™t really need to. As perhaps the only running back in this draft with a real first-round résumé, he might not be the flashiest pick, but he provides the potentially Ronnie Brown- and Ricky Williams-less Dolphins with something they need.

16. Jacksonville (8-8) Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida The Jaguars don’€™t really have an option at quarterback with Newton and Gabbert already gone, so they can make Pouncey the first offensive lineman to come off the board. Pouncey is a very safe pick at guard and would join a line that already features a couple of high picks from 2009 in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton.

17. New England (from Oakland (8-8)) Cameron Jordan, DE, California Jordan would fit in perfectly with the Patriots at the five-technique, and with Ty Warren returning from injury, a defensive line of Jordan, Vince Wilfork, and Warren would be stout. This would be a very good value pick for the Patriots and would allow them to use picks 28 and 33 to choose from plenty of options at outside linebacker, offensive tackle, and cornerback.

18. San Diego (9-7) Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri Smith bolted from Missouri after his sophomore campaign, but he showed enough in his two years of college ball that he can have an impact as a pass-rusher in the NFL. He would stay on the line for Chargers and would provide a nice upgrade for a team that could lose both Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson to free agency. Smith missed three games as a sophomore but had 11 sacks as a freshman.

19. New York Giants (10-6) Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College How possible is it that the first tackle to come off the board will have to wait until the 19th pick to do so? Until one or two of these guys can create some separation from the rest of the pack, more possible than you’€™d think. Castonzo would join a Giants line that already has one BC product on it in Chris Snee.

20. Tampa Bay (10-6) Aaron Williams, CB, Texas Ronde Barber will be 36 years old at the start of next season, which will presumably be his last. As a result, the Bucs would be wise to get their hands on a guy who could contribute as a team’€™s No. 1 corner someday.Plus, a good defensive line makes the rest of defenders behind it better. If Gerald McCoy can make the leap in his second year, Williams will have an easier time settling in.

21. Kansas City (10-6) Nate Solder, OT, Colorado Former first-round pick Branden Albert started 15 games at left tackle last season, but don’€™t be too quick to assume he’€™ll stay there long term. Many still believe he’€™s better suited to play right tackle, and adding a giant like Solder would allow them to make that move. Solder is raw, but the 6-foot-8, 314-pound Colorado product would give potential employers plenty to work with.

22. Indianapolis (10-6) Tyron Smith, OT, USC The Colts need help at tackle badly, and Smith is just their type of guy. The USC product would need to gain some weight to impress other teams, but his athleticism would make up for his 291 pounds (we’€™ll see how he weighs in this week).

23. Philadelphia (10-6) Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia The Eagles added Brandon Graham last season and still have yet to see what Ricky Sapp, who missed all of last season, can do. Adding someone like Houston, who had 10 sacks as a junior this past season, will provide further help to an already improving pass rush.

24. New Orleans (11-5) Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois Lots of people seem ready to send Virginia Tech’€™s Ryan Williams to Canton, but at this point it’€™s hard to see any back other than Ingram and Leshoure being a first-rounder. That can change this week, but if a team with uncertainty at the position (like the Saints, who could lose Pierre Thomas to free agency) is to grab a back in the first round, they might be wiser to opt for the more well-rounded one and the one with less injury concerns. That back is Leshoure.

25. Seattle (7-9) Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas Whatever movement Newton makes shouldn’€™t impact Mallett too much, as he was a safe bet to be taken after the Auburn product anyway. Still, the Seahawks would be wise to answer their quarterback questions once and for all with the strong-armed Mallett.

26. Baltimore (12-4) Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State The Ravens can go in a number of directions in this pick, but the Sergio Kindle uncertainty means they can’€™t be sure if they’€™ll ever see the defensive perks of their top pick a season ago. Here, they can grab help on the line. Heyward is coming off of Tommy John surgery but is versatile enough to help out at the five-technique or three-technique.

27. Atlanta (13-3) Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue Kerrigan is one of those ‘€œhigh motor’€ players, but such a tag can be a bit misleading. Many characterize such players as overachievers, but Kerrigan has the skill and numbers (13 sacks last season) to back up his workhorse reputation. John Abraham is in the final year of his deal, so this one makes sense on a couple of levels.

28. New England (14-2) Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA It makes sense to look at college defensive ends when trying to figure out who the Patroiots’ next outside linebacker will be, but in this case they could go for someone who is used to playing standing up. There’€™s a lot to like about the speedy Ayers, but it will be worth keeping an eye on seeing how he measures up to the Pats‘€™ standards, quite literally. If he is actually the 6-foot-4 at which he is listed, Ayers could be a real possibility.

29. Chicago (11-5) Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia You have to think that Dowling has been looking forward to the combine. A legitimate first-round talent, the Viriginia product’€™s senior season was derailed by injuries, and he ended up playing in only three games. A good performance can keep him in the late first/early second-round discussion.

30. New York Jets (11-5) Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor We’€™ll see if the combine does anything to change the direction the Jets might go in, but for now we will stick with Taylor at No. 30. The 351-pounds nose-tackle fills a need, and the Jets are just the type of team to overlook his character issues.

31. Pittsburgh (12-4) Benjamin Ijalana, OT, Villanova Ijalana has been a pick for the Steelers in a few of our mock drafts, and in this situation they would be choosing between the Villanova product and Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi. While Carimi will likely have the better career as a tackle, Ijalana’€™s versatility (many see him contributing as a guard at the next level) would be attractive to the Steelers.

32. Green Bay (10-6) J.J. Watt, DL, Wisconsin Being able to secure Watt with the last pick of the first round would play second-fiddle to the Super Bowl victory, but it would still be something worth celebrating. Watt would fit in the 3-4 and seems much less of a wild card than Johnny Jolly, who was suspended for all of last season with the Packers and will be a free agent after another season.

——

33. New England [from Carolina (2-14)] Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

[Note: The same Wisconsin player was accidentally slotted in two places (32 and 33). It's corrected now to project Watt to the Packers and Carimi to the Patriots. Sorry for the confusion and thanks for the replies.]

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, A.J. Green, Akeem Ayers, Cam Newton
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