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 Friday, and some interesting recon on the sleeper kids before the late rounds begin Saturday morning. Here are picks 1 through 16; the back half of the first round can be found here.
1. Carolina Panthers — A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Cam Newton is the obvious pick, but GM Marty Hurney has been making calls to those in the know about every high-ranking position player. Green has that high upside without the risk, and with Hurney not yet willing to admit he made a mistake with Jimmy Clausen, he's going to give Clausen an A-level talent. Green would be the first receiver taken first overall since Keyshawn Johnson by the New York Jets in 1996.
2. Denver Broncos —Von Miller, OLB, Texas A & M
Marcell Dareus is the sensible pick here — the Broncos are moving back to a 4-3, and they didn't have enough good linemen back when they were running three-man fronts. But when you watch tape on Miller, and he pops off the tape as he does, one wonders if the Broncos are thinking how they could get creative with their pass rush, having a dual threat in Miller and a healthy Elvis Dumervil.
3. Buffalo Bills —Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Newton probably gets some very serious consideration, as he would be an amazing (possibly franchise-transforming) fit with Chan Gailey's offensive concepts. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good enough spackle quarterback in the short term, and Buffalo's defensive front is a hot mess. Dareus, with his ability to play well just about anywhere along a defensive front, will be a team cornerstone for years to come.
4. Cincinnati Bengals — Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Team owner Mike Brown calls Carson Palmer's bluff and drafts Palmer's replacement. The Bengals would have to simplify their offense, and it would be a bad time to lose Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, but Newton is a big, flashy athlete with ridiculous upside and a high potential he may not have the Spartan will to attain. In other words, he's a Bengal.
5. Arizona Cardinals — Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
I've heard a lot of claims that the Cards would pass on Gabbert if he fell this far, and I would love to hear Ken Whisenhunt's explanation if that were to be the case. Not only is Gabbert the most pro-upside quarterback in this draft, but his familiarity with trips and bunch concepts out of shotgun, short-drop sets would make him a total fit in the offense Whisenhunt has run since he did so for the Steelers.
6. Cleveland Browns — Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Depending on where things sit, the Browns could go a number of different ways, but it's known that they're enamored of Bowers — he passed the medical tests given by the Browns' doctors, and Cleveland is another team switching to a 4-3 without enough quality linemen for a 3-4. At some point, I believe that a team will look at Bowers' truly impressive combination of pass rush and run defense, and pull the trigger despite the alleged "disaster scenario" his knee has become (despite reams of medical evidence to the contrary).
7. San Francisco 49ers —Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The 49ers were hammered against the pass last season, a year after a surprising defense emerged, and the safety-style play of Nate Clements was a primary reason. Peterson is the most complete cornerback in this draft — Jimmy Smith may be more explosive from a man press perspective, but Peterson is the most pro-ready, and he brings a great return ability as well. A day-one impact starter.
8. Tennessee Titans — Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
There are many questions about Fairley — his conditioning, maturity, motivation, and tendency to play dirty on the field — but here's thinking that the Titans will take a shot on his amazing potential as a penetrating defensive tackle with position coach Tracy Rocker (who coached Fairley at Auburn) pounding the table and winning the argument for selecting him.
9. Dallas Cowboys — Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
The thought has been that the 'Boys would select Tyron Smith as their upside lineman and wait for him to develop as a left tackle. But Jerry Jones always thinks that he's that one player away from a Super Bowl berth. That isn't really the case right now (have you seen their pass defense lately?), but the real need is along the offensive line. Doug Free is a decent left tackle, but the ideal scenario would be for Castonzo, the most pro-ready tackle in this class, to kick Free over to the right side.
10. Washington Redskins — Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
As usual, the Redskins have a boatload of needs. They could trade up for the ideal quarterback, paste up a horrible offensive line, or get the nose tackle needed for Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense. But if Quinn falls to the 10th overall pick, Mike Shanahan would be hard-pressed to find a more talented player on his big board, especially for a team needing pure pass rush and run defense on the other side of Brian Orakpo. Quinn is an elite pass rusher who can set the edge as a 4-3 end or kick outside and scream around the tackle to kill the quarterback. He can also back off and stop the run, making him an exceptional value for any team.
11. Houston Texans — Prince Amukamara, DB, Nebraska
This one's pretty simple. The Texans have never made the playoffs in the Gary Kubiak era, despite one of the most explosive passing offenses in the game. Last year, the reason was the worst pass defense in the game, despite the first-round selection of cornerback Kareem Jackson. Kubiak and GM Rick Smith are basically playing for their jobs this year, and Amukamara has the ability to help them out with his elite athleticism.
12. Minnesota Vikings — Jake Locker, QB, Washington
We wish Locker a lot of luck in wresting that No. 10 jersey away from vaunted loudmouth Fran Tarkenton, but this would be a perfect situation for him — handing off to Adrian Peterson and throwing to Sidney Rice (if he's still there under whatever rules) and Percy Harvin.
13. Detroit Lions — Tyron Smith, OT, USC
The Lions fixed their defensive line last year by selecting Ndamukong Suh, the best college player I have ever seen. Smith doesn't have quite the same "wow" factor, and he's a work in progress, but he could slip over to right tackle to start and has the skill set to replace Jeff Backus on the left side sooner than later.
14. St. Louis Rams — Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones may not slip this far — at least, he shouldn't — but other team needs may make it happen. If that is the case, Jones will eventually thank his lucky stars, as Sam Bradford will be the best quarterback in the NFL within three years, and Jones would be a big reason for that happening.
15. Miami Dolphins — Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Tony Sparano did a lot to shuffle the cards with his interior offensive line in 2010, and the former O-line coach will see the value in Pouncey, who could be a good center, but already looks like a dominant guard.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars — Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
The Jags have spent a lot on their D-line in the last few years in both draft currency and actual cash, but it's starting to pay off. Adding Kerrigan's killer pass rush to the underrated inside team of tackles Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu would give Jack Del Rio one of the better front fours in the league.