The NFL draft is just over two weeks away, and a consensus is forming for the top three picks. Assuming no trades, I'd put a 95 percent chance on Cam Newton
going first to Carolina, 98 percent on Marcell Dareus
to Denver, and 85 percent on Von Miller
to Buffalo. The Bills covet Newton, but they will
take the 2010 Butkus Award winner if the Heisman winner goes off the board ahead of them.
The wild card is Cincinnati.
As SI's Peter King told PFT Live
Monday, "I will not believe the Bengals aren't
taking Blaine Gabbert
until I see it with my own eyes." Popular mock-draft thinking has Mike Brown
's team drafting a receiver, either A.J. Green
or Julio Jones
. We're sticking with Gabbert in the fourth spot.
How the Bengals approach the fourth pick will have a major impact on the remainder of round one.1. Panthers: Cam Newton, quarterback, Auburn.
The Panthers have decided to take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick, and prefer Newton's upside and dominant track record to Blaine Gabbert
's mediocrity. With 93 touchdowns in 31 career college appearances, Newton defines "playmaker" at the most important position in the sport.2. Broncos: Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle, Alabama.
Dareus' impressive college production has been overlooked in Nick Fairley
comparisons; he was really only a full-time player one year at Alabama, yet racked up 11 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. A stronger option than Fairley, Dareus gives Denver's woeful defensive line depth chart credibility.3. Bills: Von Miller, linebacker, Texas A&M.
33 sacks, 50.5 tackles for loss, and 10 forced fumbles. The 2010 Butkus Award. Miller's body of work compares favorably to any of this year's top-ten picks, and his ability to bend and explode by offensive tackles is also second to none. Chan Gailey will wait for his franchise quarterback.4. Bengals: Blaine Gabbert, quarterback, Missouri.
Gabbert is the highest rated pocket passer in the 2011 draft, even if he never fully put it together at Mizzou. Cincinnati has been linked to pass catchers, but Jerome Simpson
, Jordan Shipley
, Jermaine Gresham
, and Andre Caldwell
form a passable nucleus. Who's going to throw to them?5. Cardinals: Robert Quinn, linebacker, North Carolina.
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson
is another strong possibility, but need trumps value when the talent differential is so small. A freakish athlete with 4.57 speed at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, Quinn would combine with O'Brien Schofield
to give Arizona a formidable long-term outside pass rush.6. Browns: A.J. Green, wide receiver, Georgia.Brian Robiskie
, Mohamed Massaquoi
, and Chansi Stuckey
won't cut it if the Browns are going to give Colt McCoy
a serious chance to establish himself. Green has some Randy Moss
to his game, scoring 23 touchdowns across 27 college starts in UGA's aggressive, downfield offense.7. 49ers: Patrick Peterson, cornerback, LSU.
The 2010 Thorpe Award winner as college football's top defensive back, Peterson projects as a press-man corner capable of bottling up vertical, split end-type receivers. Also a playmaker fresh off a four-interception season, Peterson would allow the Niners to turn the page on Nate Clements
.8. Titans: Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, Auburn.
Lacking scheme versatility and a consistent motor, Fairley's "boom or bust" factor and inability to appeal to all teams will push a top-five talent out of the top seven. The 2010 SEC Defensive Player of the Year won't bypass the Titans as a near lock to be the best player left on their board.9. Cowboys: Tyron Smith, tackle, USC.
Smith was a right tackle only at SC, but his impressive feet and overall athleticism have generated comparisons to D'Brickashaw Ferguson
. With Peterson certain to go in the top seven, Smith will be Dallas' highest rated player at a position they must upgrade with Marc Colombo
on his way out.10. Redskins: Jake Locker, quarterback, Washington.
Statistically, Locker grades out as an undrafted free agent with a 53.9 career completion rate, 15-25 record, and 6.65 yards-per-attempt average. Athletically, Locker is a picturesque fit for the Shanahans' scheme, which relies heavily on its quarterback making throws outside the pocket.