The deep DL class has been the talk of the draft, and it could comfort teams who need pass rushers, knowing they still could find them later in the first round, if not the second and third, and create a higher premium on the offensive skill talent that is in such short supply. As a result, three of the first five picks, and potentially four if overinvolved owners interfere, could surprisingly come from the offensive side of the ball, starting with WR A.J. Green, who was the easiest evaluation in the draft and could most immediately upgrade the Panthers' offense.
1. Carolina Panthers
A.J. Green | WR | Georgia [Jr.]
The Panthers have one of the best offensive lines and backfields in the NFL when healthy, and QB Jimmy Clausen has a lot of untapped talent that could blossom if GM Marty Hurney can surround him with more talent. Disgruntled WR Steve Smith is at his best when he has another legitimate threat opposite him. However, as one of Clausen's biggest detractors, Smith could be sent packing, creating the need for a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Despite criticism of Clausen, there remains interest in the league for his services via the trade market should the Panthers give up on him too soon. Conventional NFL wisdom is that Hurney will hold the line and find a way to support his second-year quarterback now that Clausen has a year under his belt.
2. Denver Broncos
Patrick Peterson | CB | LSU [Jr.]
Yes, new football czar John Elway is a former quarterback, and the Broncos are currently unsettled at the position, but it is still far deeper than the ugly QB mess John Fox inherited when he arrived in Carolina 10 years ago. The Broncos can win with Kyle Orton, and it's too soon to write off Tim Tebow and maybe even Brady Quinn. While the Broncos are feigning interest in Cam Newton in hopes they could find an interested suitor so they could trade down, Fox remains most interested in upgrading his defense, and their greatest struggles have come in the secondary. DE Elvis Dumervil is returning from injury and Robert Ayers is entering his third season — which is when the light tends to come on for raw pass rushers. Both stand to benefit heavily from the switch to a "40" front and should immediately spark the pass rush. Their job will get easier with Peterson providing blanket coverage on the back end.
3. Buffalo Bills
Von Miller | OLB | Texas A&M
When Chan Gailey entered Buffalo, he immediately overhauled the defensive look and switched to an odd front. When he realized Aaron Maybin could not produce and that they lacked the pass rushers to make the scheme work, he reverted back to a "40" front near midseason. However, Gailey still prefers add odd front, and provided overinvolved owner Ralph Wilson doesn't interfere the way Titans owner Bud Adams did in 2006, when he forced Vince Young on GM Floyd Reese and head coach Jeff Fisher, ultimately pushing both out of town, the Bills will be very well positioned to land the most explosive rusher in the draft. Miller could be dynamite in the team's hybrid defense.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Julio Jones | WR | Alabama [Jr.]
Bengals president Mike Brown is a stubborn, hard-headed, clear-thinking owner, and he will not be bullied. If Carson Palmer does not want to play football in 2011, he can sit out the season. The Bengals had two first-round picks on the table in the past for Chad Ochocinco, and Brown refused to deal. He might like to get them back now, given how undisciplined the sensationalistic receiver has been on the football field. That said, Ochocinco has brought a lot of attention to an underpublicized franchise and appears to remain a part of the Bengals' future plans for the long haul, despite a personality clash existing between the star receiver and head coach Marvin Lewis. What could go a long way for Lewis and the offense is adding a more level-headed receiving threat than Terrell Owens opposite Ochocinco. Jones is a very hardworking, determined pro's pro who could help balance rather than bring out all the quirks in Ochocinco's personality.
5. Arizona Cardinals
Blaine Gabbert | QB | Missouri [Jr.]
Watching how miserably Ken Whisenhunt suffered last season without Kurt Warner drove home the need for a quarterback. Derek Anderson was awful and could not hit the broad side of a barn, and the roster is barren of passing talent. Gabbert does not grade out like a top-five quarterback on tape, but in a class lacking a surefire quarterbacking solution, he is the safest of the lot with the most promising upside. If Gabbert is available at the No. 5 slot, the Cardinals will be sprinting to the podium.
6. Cleveland Browns
Marcell Dareus | DT | Alabama [Jr.]
Privately, the Browns are not as confident in Colt McCoy as they have been posturing — he still has a long way to go and might never be a bona fide solution to the QB quandary that has buried the Browns since Bernie Kosar was released during the 1993 season. Since then, the Browns have cycled through 20 different starters, and a quarterback such as Cam Newton should not be ruled out. However, Mike Holmgren has shown he can develop quarterbacks from the middle rounds and is looking to clean up the franchise, having shown NT Shaun Rogers the door and shifting to a 4-3 defense. If Dareus remains available — and questions about his maturity easily could allow him to slip — new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron could have a staple of his defense for years to come.
7. San Francisco 49ers
Prince Amukamara | CB | Nebraska
Although the Niners' offense has been stuck in neutral since Jeff Garcia departed, Jim Harbaugh has enough pieces in place to make it hum, and the 49ers would be best served continuing to bolster a solid defense. They could use the most help at outside linebacker, with Manny Lawson's contract up, or cornerback, where Nate Clements has regressed. Amukamara brings the most value to GM Trent Baalke, a value-driven decision maker.
8. Tennessee Titans
Nick Fairley | DT | Auburn [Jr.]
The Titans face a QB quandary not unlike the Cardinals, with Vince Young set to be shipped out and Kerry Collins a mere stop-gap solution. The Titans need to address the position, but the best way to improve collectively is to upgrade the defensive line, which will be a new challenge without longtime DL coach Jim Washburn. Although Da'Quan Bowers could appeal to them to fill the DLE slot, new DL coach Tracy Rocker has familiarity with Fairley from their time together at Auburn, knows how to maximize Fairley's talent and will be one of the few teams in the top 10 comfortable overlooking red flags that stem from Fairley's label as an undisciplined, inconsistent one-year wonder.
9. Dallas Cowboys
Da’Quan Bowers | DE | Clemson [Jr.]
Despite having been a wrecking ball as a junior despite finishing the season with ligament damage in his knee, Bowers could fall out of the top five, potentially even the top 10, as a result of concerns about the injury. Regardless of how he fares at his pro day on April 1 or whether he clears medically at the Combine re-check, some NFL teams already have considerable concerns that could affect his draft status. Nonetheless, Jerry Jones has a pressing need to fill on his defensive line, and Bowers' game is best suited for power. He can stack the edge and upgrade a pass rush that has not been able to create with the front three since Chris Canty departed.
10. Washington Redskins
Cam Newton | QB | Auburn [Jr.]
Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen take pride in crafting misperceptions, playing poker and never revealing their hand, and traditionally both do a very thorough job of concealing their draft intentions. The Redskins' roster is still littered with holes from the days of former personnel chief Vinny Cerrato, who placed too much authority in the hands of a revolving door of coaches, and the team could go any number of ways with huge needs to fill. If Newton remains on the board, Shanahan could have a difficult time resisting his urge to address the all-important QB position. Newton's physical skill set compares closely to that of John Elway and Jay Cutler.
11. Houston Texans
Robert Quinn | OLB | North Carolina [Jr.]
The key to a 3-4 defense is having the pass-rushing talent to create pressure off the corners, and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips knows how important DeMarcus Ware was to the Cowboys' defense. Quinn is very raw, but he plays a finesse game similar to Ware, and could be best maximized in an odd front.
12. Minnesota Vikings
J.J. Watt | DE | Wisconsin [Jr.]
Although common perception is that a 3-4 defense will select Watt to man the five-technique post, Watt played in "40" front in Wisconsin and possesses the type of power, energy and leadership traits desired by personnel boss Rick Spielman and new head coach Leslie Frazier. Watt can alleviate some of the pressure on Jared Allen, kick inside along Kevin Williams on third downs to create havoc inside, and mirror the type of power the division-champion Bears brought last season with Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
13. Detroit Lions
Anthony Castonzo | OLT | Boston College
The Lions should have their choice of offensive tackles, and although each has some type of glaring deficiency, Castonzo's intelligence, versatilty and confidence could be the most attractive to supremely confident head coach Jim Schwartz, who could plug in Castonzo at left tackle and allow Jeff Backus to move inside, bolstering the offensive line. Having played with ORT Gosder Cherilus at Boston College is a plus.
14. St. Louis Rams
Aldon Smith | DL | Missouri [Soph.-3]
Smith is raw and still developing, but he possesses as much upside as any pass rusher in the draft and was especially effective rushing from the inside, where much of his sack production has been concentrated. Pass rushers might slide in the draft at the very top, but once the run starts, it will create a flurry of activity. Smith could be the fifth to come off the board in a span of seven picks, staying in his backyard and giving head coach Steve Spagnuolo the type of versatile rusher to invoke fear in opposing offenses.
15. Miami Dolphins
Jake Locker | QB | Washington
Locker did little to prove himself as a franchise quarterback as a senior, and did not grade out as a first-round pick, not showing the consistency, accuracy or decision making desired. There's an outside chance that Locker could be available in the second round, but the Dolphins traded away their second-round pick in the Brandon Marshall deal, and if they want to address their most glaring need, they could be forced to reach. It's more likely they will seek to deal down, acquire the additional second-round pick they are missing, and land their quarterback of the future at the end of the first round.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
Ryan Kerrigan | DE | Purdue
Jaguars GM Gene Smith has employed a conversative, base-hit philosophy in Jacksonville to upgrade what had been a boom-or-bust strategy when Jack Del Rio formerly wielded more personnel authority. The approach has worked very well for the Jaguars, as their roster largely has been re-shaped via the draft the past two years. Though not flashy, Kerrigan is a very safe, know-what-you're-getting selection who will add to Smith's high batting percentage in the draft.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland)
Mark Ingram | RB | Alabama [Jr.]
No one used a multifaceted, three-back approach last season better than Bill Belichick did, but the downside of not having a three-down featured back who does not need to leave the field is that opposing defensive coordinators are often easily tipped off to what is coming. That's not to mention that Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are 34 years old and Fred Taylor is 35 and all have been injury-prone. Belichick could be comforted knowing that Ingram comes from a well-run NFL program like Nick Saban's. With rules in place to encourage passing, the contrarian Belichick looks to increase running, and there is only one first-round runner in this year's draft.
18. San Diego Chargers
Cameron Jordan | DE | California
The Chargers' defensive line took a big hit last season after the team decided to cut NT Jamal Williams, but defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was still masterfully able to work around the talent he had. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky could use an infusion of talent on the edges, however, with DLEs Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson both hitting free agency, and Jordan is ideally suited to handle playing the edge. He has the smarts, versatility and pedigree that GM A.J. Smith covets.
19. New York Giants
Mike Pouncey | C | Florida
C Shaun O'Hara turns 34 in June and is coming off season-ending knee surgery. Staying true to former GM Ernie Accorsi's philosophy, GM Jerry Reese has done as good a job as any at prioritizing the offensive and defensive lines via the draft. Pouncey does not grade out like a first-rounder on tape, and could be better at guard than center, but his pedigree will allow him to come within a spot of where his twin brother, Maurkice, was drafted a year ago by the Steelers.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Adrian Clayborn | DE | Iowa
After giving up on Gaines Adams in 2009, head coach Raheem Morris has a set of cast-offs manning the DE position, from undrafted free agent Michael Bennett to Tim Crowder and Alex Magee. They could use help on both sides, and GM Mark Dominik will be hard-pressed to not address the position early in the draft.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Danny Watkins | OG | Baylor
GM Scott Pioli was able to get by with 37-year-old stalwart Casey Wiegmann at center and 34-year-old Brian Waters at guard, but the interior of his offensive line could use an infusion of youth, and the talent at the position is bleak in this year's draft outside of a few bona fide prospects. That could elevate the draft standing of Watkins, who compares somewhat favorably to 49ers OLG Mike Iupati — who was selected 17th overall last year — and has the versatility to play anywhere along the line.
22. Indianapolis Colts
Gabe Carimi | OT | Wisconsin
The Colts have been able to get away with a marginally talented offensive line because of Peyton Manning's quick trigger and football intelligence, which allows him to almost always check into the right call. However, the running game has suffered and ranks among the five worst in the league because the unit has not been able to create any surge. Carimi would bring the size and attitude to pave some room in the running game and help personnel czar Bill Polian better protect the investment in his franchise quarterback.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Aaron Williams | CB | Texas [Jr.]
The Eagles' defense has gotten smaller over the years and become very injury-prone, especially in the secondary. Williams could provide much-needed size and versatility in taking over for the retiring Ellis Hobbs in the slot at what is clearly Andy Reid's greatest position of need. If Reid wants to give first-time defensive coordinator Juan Castillo a chance, he needs to continue investing heavily in the defense as GM Howie Roseman did in his first year on the job.
24. New Orleans Saints
Muhammad Wilkerson | DE | Temple [Jr.]
Veteran free-agent addition Shaun Rogers brings some much-needed girth in the middle of the Saints' defense and will help shore up the run defense, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams still could use an upgrade at the DLE position where Alex Brown struggled to get the job done.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Derek Sherrod | OL | Mississippi State
Pete Carroll bypassed some USC standouts a year ago, and questions about Tyron Smith's intelligence could sink Smith's standing and even allow the Seahawks to pass him by. Given the weakness of Seattle's offensive line, however, it will be difficult for the Seahawks to ignore the O-line early in the draft. Sherrod easily could be selected to shore up the other side opposite Russell Okung, with versatility to help anywhere along the line.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Tyron Smith | OT | USC [Jr.]
GM Ozzie Newsome has shown he will roll the dice on immense physical talents such as Smith, and consistently has overlooked concerns about intelligence, as he did with Michael Oher, Oniel Cousins and Jared Gaither — three of the Ravens' top four tackles. Smith might require some patience, but he has the foot quickness, arm length and recovery speed to plug in readily and help secure the edges.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Brandon Harris | CB | Miami (Fla.) [Jr.]
Nickel cornerback Brian Williams is not under contract, and his inconsistency and absence in the playoffs really hurt the Falcons last season. Harris has experience working in the slot and brings the tenacity and aggressiveness that GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith seek in their corners.
28. New England Patriots
Nate Solder | OT | Colorado
Owning a boatload of picks to maneuver with, including the 33rd overall selection from the Panthers, it's highly unlikely the Patriots will keep this pick. If Bill Belichick stays put, a future left tackle to replace free-agent OLT Matt Light would address a glaring area of need.
29. Chicago Bears
Corey Liuget | DT | Illinois [Jr.]
Julius Peppers worked wonders for Chicago's defensive line last season, and if Rod Marinelli could find an interior rusher capable of upgrading the inside, the Bears would be in business. Liuget has the initial quickness to thrive in gaps and could help replace Tommie Harris, who was cut.
30. New York Jets
Phil Taylor | NT | Baylor
The Jets still could sign the injury-prone Kris Jenkins to a one-year deal, but his services will be in demand when the free-agent market opens, and the nose tackle position is a key piece of Rex Ryan's "30" front. Taylor has been a very inconsistent underachiever, but he does possess unique size and movement skills to draw late first-round interest at a position that has become increasingly difficult to fill given the elevated use of odd fronts across the league.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers
Orlando Franklin | OL | Miami (Fla.)
Big, physical, tough and ornery, Franklin fits the mold of a Steelers offensive lineman. Director of football operations Kevin Colbert tends to take a need-based approach to the draft and has a number of positions to fill on his offensive line. He could reach to fill the position if six of the prior 12 picks become offensive linemen as PFW projects.
32. Green Bay Packers
Christian Ballard | DE | Iowa
GM Ted Thompson's hits far outrank his misses, but his biggest gaffe as the Packers' personnel boss might have been the selection of Tennessee's Justin Harrell, who possessed outstanding physical traits similar to Ballard's but did not show them enough after missing most of his senior season with injury. Ballard underachieved at Iowa, and might be best suited for the inside in a "40" front, but he could readily help apply pressure in sub-packages.
For scouting reports on all the top prospects featured in PFW's 2011 Draft Preview book, visit The PFW Store.