No further preamble is needed — this is it. The boards are set, the draft rooms are relatively quiet, and everyone's just waiting for the bell to ring and the draft to begin. This is our final first-round mock at Shutdown Corner for this year's draft' we'll have a second/third-round mock tomorrow, and some interesting recon on the sleeper kids before the late rounds begin Saturday morning. Here are picks 17 through 32; the top half of the first round can be found here.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland Raiders) —Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Patriots are the best team of the last decade from a regular-season success perspective, but they haven't won a Super Bowl since the end of the 2004 season. That season was also the last in which they had a dominant running back, when Corey Dillon mashed it up for over 1,600 yards. Now that Bill Belichick has turned the former pseudo-spread offense into a fast-break set with two tight ends all the time, the need for a three-down back is obvious, and Ingram's skills project best to that need.
18. San Diego Chargers — Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
The Chargers need pass rush help, and Smith, though still developing his technique, has the first-step quickness and good feet to help Shaun Phillips re-establish San Diego's already strong defense as a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
19. New York Giants — J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
How many defensive linemen are too many? Don't ask the Giants, who stack 'em up about as well as any team. Offensive line needs will also be considered, but Watt's pure athleticism breaks the tie.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers —Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Similarly, while the Giants go against the supposed greater need and reinforce the defensive line, the Bucs avoid the temptation to select a much-needed sackmaster in the first round, figuring that they can wait until later in a very deep draft class. Protecting franchise quarterback Josh Freeman is Job One as the Bucs move forward, and Sherrod can do that from the right or left side sooner than later.
21. Kansas City Chiefs — Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
The Chiefs were the AFC's surprise team in 2010, but as much as everything finally did come together for Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, there's still a hole in the front of their defensive line. That's where Paea comes in. The strongest player in this draft (he broke the combine bench press record, and that root strength shows up on the field), Paea can play over center in a two-gap look, slip into one-tech, play outside the guard, and soak up blockers wherever he goes.
22. Indianapolis Colts — Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Colts have a lot of needs along their offensive line, which makes Carimi a perfect pick. He can play left tackle, looked strong at right tackle during Senior Bowl week, and some believe that he may also be a great guard because he plays so physically.
23. Philadelphia Eagles — Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Lots of character issues here, but the talent is undeniable, and the Eagles have never shied away from high-maintenance guys if the fit is right. Pairing Smith with Asante Samuel might be the thing that sets the Eagles apart in what looks to be a very tight NFC East.
24. New Orleans Saints — Cameron Jordan, DE, California
More than anything else, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams requires versatility from his defensive players. Few playcallers mix up their schemes more often and more effectively. Jordan may be the most underrated defensive player in this draft class — a top-10 talent on tape, he'd be an amazing fit in a Saints defense that alternates between 4-3 and 3-4 principles at a moment's notice.
25. Seattle Seahawks — Corey Liuget, DL, Illinois
The Seahawks would feel very fortunate if Liuget fell this far, because he could fill two potentially pressing issues — three-tech tackle and five-tech end. Inside, he would allow Brandon Mebane to play a roving inside guy, or replace Mebane outright if the veteran bolts in free agency. Outside, he could shore up the rush in rotation with, or instead of, Red Bryant.
26. Baltimore Ravens — Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
If Cam Jordan isn't the most underrated player in this draft class, Harris may very well be. He doesn't flash off the tape because his sub-par ball skills lead to more deflections than picks, but he's a smooth, practiced defender with the ability to pay deep or in the nickel. Baltimore will need that help in coverage if they are to finally take the Steelers' AFC North (and AFC overall) crown.
27. Atlanta Falcons — Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Between Mike Peterson's age and Stephen Nicholas' possible free agency, the Falcons could be in a heap of trouble when it comes to their outside linebackers. And playing in a division with Drew Brees and Josh Freeman means that Atlanta may want to play a lot of nickel defense. Wilson would be perfect for that role; he shows impressive range in Illinois' frequent nickel sets, and he can also come up and rush the passer, giving veteran John Abraham some help.
28. New England Patriots — Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
The battle between the Pats and left guard Logan Mankins doesn't look to be cooling off anytime soon, and Bill Belichick has always had a good sense of when to replace his guys a year or so sooner than he needs to, just to stay ahead of the expiration date. Watkins was a tackle at Baylor, but he could be an absolutely dominant pulling/trapping guard in the NFL, making a perfect fit for New England's new offense.
29. Chicago Bears — Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Sure, the Bears need offensive line help, but the last time Mike Martz cared about the offense line, he was probably coaching at San Jose State, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils were topping the charts. In this millennium, the Bears also need a replacement for Tommie Harris, and though Austin needs technique work after that lost year at UNC, he could be a devastating inside defender under the tutelage of D-line coach Rod Marinelli.
30. New York Jets — Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
The only thing that would make Rex Ryan happier than getting creative with his defensive chess pieces is if Slim-Fast came out with a drink that tasted like enchiladas. Until that happens, Rex will have to contend himself with Taylor, a massive (6-foot-4, 330 pound) tackle with the speed and agility of a three-tech. The Jets have made two AFC Championship games ina row without the Kris Jenkins they wanted, and Taylor could be the piece that puts them in the Super Bowl.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers — Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Steelers have needed offensive line help for years, and they're finally going to get it — they will just have to wait a while for it to bear fruit. Solder, a former tight end with amazing athleticism, is probably a two-year project from a technique perspective, though Pittsburgh' relatively uncomplicated blocking schemes ("see guy, hit guy") will give him a leg up.
32. Green Bay Packers — Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
Aaron Rodgers may have been the man most responsible for the Packers' Super Bowl title, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers might be #2 on the credit list. GM Ted Thompson will reward Capers with the intriguing Wilkerson, a guy with defensive tackle build and the potential to rush off the edge like a smaller end. He's a perfect chess piece for Capers, who is always looking for different ways to play outside the box.