Mock Madness: Projecting the First Round

1. CAROLINA: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
He’s a reach here — quarterbacks with this many potential red flags simply shouldn’t go No. 1 (see Tim Couch, Alex Smith and JaMarcus Russell). But the Panthers are staring at six games a year for the foreseeable future against a division stacked with long-term franchise quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman) and see this as their best chance to get one of their own. The reckless trade of this year’s second-round pick for New England’s third-rounder last year (which became Armanti Edwards) means the Panthers have little chance of finding a legitimate quarterback prospect if they can’t trade down from the pick.
TRADE CHANCE: 5 percent.

2. DENVER: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Patrick Peterson has the fewest “if’s” of the potential picks here. But Dareus is right behind him, can contribute on every down and in every scenario and provides an immediate jolt to a run defense that has allowed more yards per carry in the last four years (4.67) than anyone else in the sport.
TRADE CHANCE: 20 percent. It all depends on whether someone offers fair value.

3. BUFFALO: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
This is kind of pick that Carolina would make if they had their second-rounder. The Bills can sit tight, wait, and take their chances that one of Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder or Colin Kaepernick will be available in the second round. Miller is a perfect fit for the Bills defense, and another high-powered athlete on a team that is quietly assembling an explosive collection of players.
TRADE CHANCE: 10 percent.

4. CINCINNATI: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Carson Palmer says he’s done with the Bengals. Chad Johnson (nee’ Ochocinco) is poised to follow him, and for the moment would rather play soccer. One way or another, the Bengals will address the passing game here. If Buffalo grabs Gabbert, the Bengals will take A.J. Green, but since Gabbert’s on the board here, he’s the Bengals’ pick, even if he does represent a reach.
TRADE CHANCE: 2 percent. Mike Brown will almost certainly ask too much for the pick.

5. ARIZONA: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
This is a no-brainer if Miller and the two quarterbacks are gone. The Cardinals would be best served in their rebuilding by focusing on building a top-notch defense; they have enough weapons to where an average quarterback (Palmer?)would provide them an average offense. Average offense plus good defense, which Peterson can help build, is the quickest path for the Cardinals to return to playoff contention.
TRADE CHANCE: 15 percent.

6. CLEVELAND: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
The Browns have enough faith in Colt McCoy to give him a weapon to optimize his development. Green isn’t worth taking in the top three picks — Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald he isn’t — but is of reasonable value here.
TRADE CHANCE: 20 percent.

7. SAN FRANCISCO: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
The Niners have enough needs that an enticing offer could yield a trade down for volume. They might even be interested in picks for next year’s draft (assuming it happens), taking the chance that extra picks next year would provide ammunition to trade up into the No. 1 slot for 2012, allowing Jim Harbaugh to reunite with his Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck.
TRADE CHANCE: 25 percent.

8. TENNESSEE: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
I’ve got the Titans 50-50 on a trade because they need a quarterback, but not at this slot. Having seen Vince Young stumble after being the No. 3 selection, they’re likely to move down a few picks before taking a quarterback prospect with numerous, if correctable, flaws. Don’t be surprised if they go down two to 10 picks in the hopes of landing Jake Locker, who’d be a nice fit with a team that is in the first stage of rebuilding and can afford to be patient. If the Titans keep the pick and Fairley is on the board, he’ll go here.
TRADE CHANCE: 50 percent.

9. DALLAS: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
If it were my call, the tackle-challenged Cowboys would take Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, who has lower bust potential. But I’m not the one making the pick; Jerry Jones is. Jones plays at the big-money tables; I’m content to play for $1 a hand and minimize risk.
TRADE CHANCE: 10 percent.

10. WASHINGTON: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Shanahan compared Locker to Jake Plummer in a Scouting Combine press conference, and eye-rolling followed. But the truth is that Mike Shanahan was enamored with Plummer’s skills, clutch play and general feel for the game before signing him in free agency. Plummer didn’t work out, but Shanahan isn’t afraid to try something in which he ardently believes again.
TRADE CHANCE: 30 percent.

11. HOUSTON: Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips makes the call to bolster their pass rush. Houston could move up for Quinn or Peterson, but Phillips prefers to build a defense from the front seven back, starting with pass rushers. Smith gets the nod over Cameron Jordan.
TRADE CHANCE: 30 percent.

12. MINNESOTA: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones, at this spot, would be a Christmas gift. Minnesota might make a deal, but if Jones is still available, he’s tempting, even though the team still has yet to identify its long-term quarterback.
TRADE CHANCE: 15 percent.

13. DETROIT: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
14. ST. LOUIS: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
15. MIAMI: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida
16. JACKSONVILLE: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
17. NEW ENGLAND: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
18. SAN DIEGO: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
19. NEW YORK GIANTS: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
20. TAMPA BAY: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
21. KANSAS CITY: Danny Watkins, OT, Baylor
22. INDIANAPOLIS: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
23. PHILADELPHIA: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
24. NEW ORLEANS: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
25. SEATTLE: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
26. BALTIMORE: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
27. ATLANTA: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pitt
28. NEW ENGLAND: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
29. CHICAGO: Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
30. N.Y. JETS: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
31. PITTSBURGH: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
32. GREEN BAY: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.

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