With mere days to the draft, front offices are putting the hay in the barn. It's time to make those last calls to the people you trust around the league to do that final due diligence, watch that last little bit of game tape if possible, and get your final board in order. Most importantly, this is where the positional fantasies and "what-if" ideals fly out the window. It is now up to 32 different NFL front offices to set their mindsets to the same page and wrap it all up. For the teams at the top of the first round, the question is clear — do you overdraft a quarterback out of respect for positional need, or do you stick with the Best Player Available mantra, which would push even the marquee signal-callers down a bit by anyone's measure? Links in the names of the players go to their Shutdown 40 scouting reports.
Picks 1-16 are here, you can see the second half of the first round here.
1. Carolina Panthers — A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Cam Newton here? Well, maybe. Yahoo! Sports has learned that the Panthers have been making all sorts of calls to people they trust, asking about every possible top-10 non-quarterback, from Marcell Dareus to A.J. Green and back again. And in the end, while Clemson end Da'Quan Bowers has been racking up some serious frequent flyer miles to the NC, the smart money might be on Carolina looking to spend one more season justifying the Jimmy Clausen pick by giving him the best receiver possible. Green is a superior vertical threat with amazing hops, and if Clausen can't make it go with Green in the fold, the Panthers will know all they need to know.
2. Denver Broncos —Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
John Elway has made a lot of noise about the lack of a franchise quarterback on Denver's current roster, and he has no reason to blow smoke — any mistakes belong to the previous administration. But as appealing as Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert may be if they're both still on the board, Elway knows that Kyle Orton is good enough, and Tim Tebow can make some plays, in the short term. The disaster is on Denver's defensive line, and with his ability to play just about every position in any front, Dareus brings the best value to a defense that John Fox will move back to a 4-3.
3. Buffalo Bills —Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Bills head coach Chan Gailey has a history of success with option quarterbacks that dates back to his work with Kordell Stewart in the mid-1990s. In 2008, as the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, he took backup Tyler Thigpen and started running the pistol offense with surprising success. Newton has just one full season as a starter in any major college offense, and hooking up with Gailey would be his best bet for short- and long-term success.
4. Cincinnati Bengals — Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Bengals owner/head rube Mike Brown has said that he's ready to play chicken with Carson Palmer and his vow to retire rather than play another down in Cincinnati. But if one of the Big Two quarterbacks should fall to him, Brown would be even goofier than he normally is if he took a pass. Gabbert played in a pass-option spread at Missouri, but he has all the attributes necessary for success in the pros. We'll just have to see if "the pros" include "the Bengals."
5. Arizona Cardinals — Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Ken Whisenhunt needs a quarterback, but he's just as likely to focus on free agency whenever it happens to fill that hole. He also brought Joey Porter and Clark Haggans from his old stomping grounds to try and replicate Pittsburgh's edge-rushing success, but it hasn't happened and time is running out for the veterans. Miller brings a burst off the edge that puts many in mind of Clay Matthews, and he's as clean a player as there is in this draft. In Arizona's hybrid defenses, and with Darnell Dockett at his side, Miller could make an immediate NFL impact.
6. Cleveland Browns — Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Don't be surprised if the Browns take a defensive end here; they need a dominant edge presence as they transition back to a 4-3. But they also may find the specter of getting the best overall player in this draft class with the sixth overall pick too tempting to turn down. Peterson would combine with Joe Haden to form one of the best young duos in the league, and his return skills, combined with the efforts of the already-legendary Josh Cribbs, would make the Browns a special teams nightmare for every opponent.
7. San Francisco 49ers —Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The 49ers have put some major coin into the defensive end position in the last few years, but nobody has risen up to match the efforts of tackles Aubrayo Franklin and Justin Smith. New head man Jim Harbaugh may wait to fix his quarterback situations and fortify his line with Quinn, who brings an outside linebacker-level of speed and an ability to peel off and stop the run to make him an elite prospect.
8. Tennessee Titans — Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The good news about Fairley is that he reminds people of Albert Haynesworth. The bad news? Well, pretty much the same thing. While Fairley disrupts inside in ways that bring the former Tennessee Terror to mind, he also has questions surrounding him about conditioning, work ethic, and a desire to color outside the lines when it comes to dirty play. Sound familiar? The Titans know that kind of risk/reward prospect, and they might just take another chance on a player who, if put in the right environment, has Rookie of the Year potential. Having former Auburn assistant Tracy Rocker on the Titans' new staff couldn't hurt.
9. Dallas Cowboys — Tyron Smith, OT, USC
If there are two things we know about the 2011 Dallas Cowboys, they're these: First, the team needs help along the offensive line, especially at the tackle position. Second, Jerry Jones has no problem taking risks in athletic reach picks. That's what Smith would be, to a degree — he's 20 years old, played right tackle in college, and suited up at just 280 pounds — he's never played in the 27 pounds he's gained since then. But he's also the most athletic tackle in this class, and the upside is tremendous. Smith could start out on the right side for Marc Colombo, and eventually swing over to be Dallas' first franchise left tackle since Flozell Adams.
10. Washington Redskins — Jake Locker, QB, Washington
No player has bounced around big boards more than Locker in the last year and change. Thought to be a guaranteed top-3 pick had he come out in 2010, the pride of Ferndale, Wash., stayed another year with the Huskies, let talent evaluators see another season of game tape, and saw his stock drop as a result. But Mike Shanahan has been in love with the Elway-ish aspect of Locker's skill set for years, specifically his accuracy on the move — and it wouldn't be a surprise if Locker was picked here. Whether that would be best for Locker's career is another matter altogether.
11. Houston Texans — Prince Amukamara, DB, Nebraska
This one's pretty simple, folks. The Texans aren't going to sniff the playoffs until they do something about their secondary, and if they miss another postseason, head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith could very well be gone. Drafting Kareem Jackson in the first round last year was a step in the right direction, but adding Amukamara to the mix would be huge. A physical press corner with outstanding instincts, Amukamara might be saving a couple jobs if he plays to his game tape.
12. Minnesota Vikings — Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Yes, they need a quarterback. But the biggest need the Vikings have is defensive line in total. Jared Allen is getting up there in years, the Williams Wall isn't what it used to be, and Ray Edwards could bolt as a free agent in time. The Vikings base their defense on tackle strength and edge pressure, and Kerrigan provides the latter as well as anyone in this class.
13. Detroit Lions — Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Last year, the Lions did a major number on their defensive line by selecting tackle Ndamoking Suh, the best college player I've seen in years. Castonzo isn't at that level, but he's pro-ready and looks like the type of player who will get a starting spot and stick with it for a decade or so. The Lions need to replace Jeff Backus at the left tackle position, and this is the quickest option.
14. St. Louis Rams — Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
You thought Billy Devaney was happy to take Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in 2010? Imagine how pleased the Rams GM will be if Jones is there at 14 to provide the pass-catching spark the Rams still didn't have, even with Bradford's prodigious skills. Imagine the upside version of Jones as a faster Anquan Boldin, or a young Terrell Owens without all the ancillary garbage — this is a tough kid with an extreme desire to play, and he could be even better in the pros.
15. Miami Dolphins — Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Tony Sparano tried to throw possibilities up in the air last season to fix the Dolphins' interior line issues, but it's time to recommit to the Parcells theory of building the team from the lines out. Pouncey is a bit underrated as a center — people tend to focus on a few errant snaps early on — but he may be best at guard, where he can use his tremendous strength and leverage to bull ends and tackles out of the way for whoever's replacing Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Pairing Pouncey with Jake Long would give Miami an unreal left side from a smashmouth perspective.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars — Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
Yes, the Jags have blown a lot of draft currency on pass-rushers, but when you strike out on Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, it's time to go back to the well and get a pure edge guy to combine with underrated tackles Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu. Smith gets to the quarterback with impressive speed, great foot movement, and an excellent command of the fundamentals. If Aaron Kampman can hold on for a little while longer, adding Smith would provide some serious uptick for a longtime disappointing line.