The potential availability of veteran QBs Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer on the trade market could play into the decision of some quarterback-needy teams early in the draft and sway decisions to reach for QBs early in the first round. With NFL rules designed to encourage scoring and offenses airing out the ball more than ever, the league has proven to be more quarterback-driven than ever.
That is why the Panthers can feel justified taking such an enormous risk rolling the dice with the first overall pick and why many quarterbacks will be drafted much more highly than they grade out on tape. PFW projects five quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round, with the greatest flurry of activity to come at the end of the round.
This mock draft does not project any trades, instead paying the most attention to the order in which players will fall in the draft, not the teams that necessarily will draft them.
Heavy trade discussions have taken place and have been pre-arranged, with enough interest from teams wanting to move up and trade partners wanting to move down to spark a flurry of trades early in the draft. Trade interest expressed in the past 48 hours is indicated in parentheses, with a (U) designating a team's interest in moving up, a (D) for teams desiring to move down or a (U-D) to show teams exploring all options heavily with multiple targets.
1. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton | QB | Auburn [Jr.]
GM Marty Hurney puts his legacy on the shoulders of the highly scrutinized, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, seeking a spark at the QB position.
2. Denver Broncos
Von Miller | OLB | Texas A&M
After running two brilliant offensive minds out of town, the Broncos brought in John Fox to fix a defensive unit that has been broken far too long. Miller sparks one of the league's worst defenses and gives Fox a mismatch piece.
3. Buffalo Bills
Marcell Dareus | DL | Alabama [Jr.]
The key to improving the worst run defense in the league is to add a scheme-diverse, run stuffer who fits the Bills' multilook front.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (D)
A.J. Green | WR | Georgia [Jr.]
Green is stacked as the draft's most highly graded talent on many team boards and quickly could become a No. 1 receiver. The Bengals have to hope QB Andy Dalton slides out of the first round and are candidates to jump back into the first round for the passer in this draft that best fits Jay Gruden's offense.
5. Arizona Cardinals (D)
Patrick Peterson | CB | LSU [Jr.]
The Cardinals need a veteran quarterback more than a rookie passer. So, they use this pick to address the need to bolster a struggling defense.
6. Cleveland Browns (D)
Julio Jones | WR | Alabama [Jr.]
The demand for Jones is too great in this slot. He is strong, physical, polished and very NFL-ready.
7. San Francisco 49ers (D)
Blaine Gabbert | QB | Missouri
A flurry of trade activity pushes the board in favor of the raw talent from Missouri at a most pressing area of need.
8. Tennessee Titans (D)
Nick Fairley | DT | Auburn [Jr.]
Reunites with former Auburn DL coach Tracy Rocker and helps replace the sack production lost when Albert Haynesworth left town.
9. Dallas Cowboys (D)
Tyron Smith | OT | USC [Jr.]
One of the most heavy-footed offensive lines in football is in line for a pair of fresh legs to keep QB Tony Romo standing. Smith is easily the most athletic offensive tackle in the draft and draws interest from teams below this spot in need of a premier tackle. Smith's medical issue remains a concern.
10. Washington Redskins (D)
Cameron Jordan | DE | California
Jordan could be a key piece of the Redskins' 3-4 front. However, what Mike Shanahan would most like to do is trade back and land his quarterback of the future, Christian Ponder, later in the first round, along with acquiring additional picks lost in the Donovan McNabb trade. Jordan has the most value in this slot.
11. Houston Texans (U)
J.J. Watt | DE | Wisconsin [Jr.]
One of the safest picks in the draft will be a starter and locker-room leader for the next 12 years.
12. Minnesota Vikings (U-D)
Aldon Smith | DL | Missouri [Soph.-3]
A pressing need at quarterback makes the Vikings very active on the trade front. However, their need at defensive end remains in clear sight.
13. Detroit Lions (U)
Prince Amukamara | CB | Nebraska
The Lions are prime players to trade up to fill their most pressing area of need [offensive tackle]. Amukamara will have too much value to slide far down, with teams at the bottom of the first round that are in need of cornerbacks willing to jump up to get him.
14. St. Louis Rams
Corey Liuget | DL | Illinois [Jr.]
The lines remain the priority in St. Louis for Steve Spagnuolo the same way they were in New York and Philadelphia and Liuget can make an impact from a number of positions.
15. Miami Dolphins (D)
Mike Pouncey | OG | Florida
Heavily seeking to move down in the draft, a former OL coach like Tony Sparano knows a good offensive line makes a team go.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (D)
Robert Quinn | DE | North Carolina [Jr.]
Gene Smith has made rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines a priority since taking over as general manager and needs more explosion off the edge with Aaron Kampman coming off injury.
17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) (U)
Christian Ponder | QB | Florida State
The pick the Patriots acquired in the Richard Seymour trade could produce a suitable replacement in a DE-rich draft, even if it requires moving. The strong demand for quarterbacks plays into the favor of Bill Belichick, who understands value.
18. San Diego Chargers
Ryan Kerrigan | OLB | Purdue
GM A.J. Smith hit big on Shaun Phillips [in 2004] and is comforted knowing that Purdue defensive ends have translated very well to the outside linebacker position.
19. New York Giants
Anthony Castonzo | OT | Boston College
Hailing from a program that Tom Coughlin once coached, Castonzo could become a starter for the next 10-12 years.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (U)
Adrian Clayborn | DE | Iowa
The Buccaneers' front seven could sorely use an upgrade.
21. Kansas City Chiefs (D)
Phil Taylor | DT | Baylor
The Chiefs need help in the middle of their defensive line and know the importance of building up front, landing Taylor in the same slot that brought the Patriots Vince Wilfork [in 2004].
22. Indianapolis Colts
Nate Solder | OT | Colorado
The Colts must improve protection for Peyton Manning to keep the quarterback happy.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (U-D)
Gabe Carimi | OT | Wisconsin
The offensive line remains a top priority for the Eagles.
24. New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram | RB | Alabama [Jr.]
Sean Payton has followed a value-driven approach and could be too enticed by a runner with the base and balance to become a bellcow in the pros.
25. Seattle Seahawks (D)
Jake Locker | QB | Washington
A quarterback of the future remains heavily on the mind of Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, who did not anticipate Locker being available.
26. Baltimore Ravens (U)
Jimmy Smith | CB | Colorado
GM Ozzie Newsome feels confident that he can keep Smith in check with a locker room featuring Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
27. Atlanta Falcons (U)
Andy Dalton | QB | TCU
With the Falcons strongly seeking to make a play into the top of the round, the fifth quarterback could potentially come off the board in this slot.
28. New England Patriots (D)
Danny Watkins | OT | Baylor
Bill Belichick struck gold with Logan Mankins at the back of Round One [in 2005] and can find a replacement for the retiring Stephen Neal.
29. Chicago Bears (U-D)
Stephen Paea | DT | Oregon State
The Bears remain a strong player to jump up and land a lineman who can help either Rod Marinelli or Mike Tice readily.
30. New York Jets (D)
Muhammad Wilkerson | DE | Temple [Jr.]
Landing a five-technique to replace Trevor Pryce is critical to the future of the Jets' defense.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers (U)
Aaron Williams | CB | Texas [Jr.]
A good-sized, versatile cover man fills a pressing area of need for a need-driven drafting team.
32. Green Bay Packers (D)
Brooks Reed | OLB | Arizona
A prime candidate to trade down, the Packers could settle on a physical edge-setter in the mold of OLB coach Kevin Greene to complement Clay Matthews.