The single largest event of the offseason, the NFL Draft, is finally here for 2011! With no Free Agency for the past month, it creates a unique situation for those involved in a teams draft process. What holes do you fill now? Will a prime free agent target for your team be available, or should you get a rookie for the slot now?
For Bears fans, this is an even more special event. We haven't seen a Bears first round pick in a while, and we're all chomping at the bit to see if they use it or trade it.
Dane, Lester, and I are going to live blog the heck out of this thing for you, and provide our near-instant analysis, as well. As a bonus, we're keeping track of how the Staff Mock Draft plays out to the real thing. Feel free to congratulate and/or mock us as necessary.
The analysis is after the jump. Make sure to refresh often to get our thoughts on the draft. We'll see you there!
1. Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Kev Says: Well duh. If you didn't see this coming, you're nuts. With new head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers need to work to turn things around, and they play in a division that's not going to get any easier, with the Falcons, Bucs, and Saints all playing at consistently high levels. With Newton in, they hopefully have the man to build their offense around. What will that offense be like? Can he learn and play the pro game? Time will tell, but this draft pick is already laying out the groundwork for how we'll judge a new direction for this relatively young franchise.
Lester says: A no brainer... I hope the Panther fans are patient. He'll need time to acclimate himself to a pro offense, but he has all the talent in the world. It wouldn't surprise me to see Jimmy Clausen outplay him in the preseason and win the #1 job, but Newton will see the field as a rookie.
2. Denver Broncos - Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Kev Says: Frankly, they need the help. Quick and hard-hitting, this is the kind of person who should be able to make plays for them on defense. John Fox should be able to make some things happen, and with Dumervil back, it'll be nice for them to have some extra playmakers there. If they can shore up that line and linebacking corp, it'll take some of the pressure off of their defensive backs, especially in a sometimes pass-happy division. Miller should be able to step in this season and be a difference maker, and this #2 pick reflects that.
Lester Says: Mike Mayock made perfect sense when he explained that Denver would get the best edge rushing OLB on the board then turn around and pick up a good DT as that is the deepest position in the draft. MIller will start from day 1.
3. Buffalo Bills - Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Lester Says: Dareus is a beast. The Bills must be content with Fitzpatrick at QB (until the 2nd round at least), and by taking a disruptive force for the interior of d-line that will make those outside pass rushers that much better.
Kev Says: Big scary dude. Bills must realize that they're going to be working overtime 6 games a season just in their own division, trying to get to the quarterback. Dareus should be able to help make that happen.
4. Cincinnati Bengals - A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Kev says: The Bengals are losing virtually all of their receivers over the next season or so. This is an obvious counter to that. It seems to suggest, too, that they think Palmer will come back. Or they secretly plan to get a later round guy to throw it to Green. A big, quick receiver, Green should become a playmaker if used in the scheme properly.
Lester says: Green is talented enough to entice Carson Palmer to stick around. Bengal WR Jordan Shipley is primed for a good season from the slot, and now with Green on the outside the Bengal offense should be ready to roll. Green will need to get better vs. the press.
5. Arizona Cardinals - Patrick Peterson, DB, LSU
Kev says: Dane should be happy. The Cardinals, much like every other team in the NFC West, need to do something to help themselves standout. Given the general lack of solid quarterback play in that division, someone like Peterson should hopefully be able to step in and get the Cardinals an edge. Big, quick, can break up a pass, but still has soft hands to snag one out of the air, he could be something really special. Particularly if the guys in front of him can get some pressure on the QB.
Lester says: Peterson is the best player in the draft. He'll be a day one starter at corner and be a Champ Bailey type player. He'll have the ball in his hands in the return game, and he'll have plenty of opportunities to pick off the QBs in the NFC West.
6. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE with Browns) - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Lester says: The Falcons paid a huge price for Jones, but they feel they are a Super Bowl ready team. That offense will be sick, and Matt Ryan with another weapon is almost unfair. I think he's the best receiver in the draft because he's so damn physical.
Kev says: Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge. Except I didn't say fudge. Jones has his questions, but if he can be healthy, and learn and get rhythm with that offensive scheme quickly, you're looking at a tough passing game. Depending on their defense, they could still be gotten...but they won the most games in the NFC with that style, and making the offense better is only going to help. Also, the Browns made out like bandits, if they chose more Peyton Hillis and less Brady Quinn.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Kev says: A player who can move around a bit in a scheme, he's a quick big guy who can really get to the quarterback. Much like the Cardinals pick of Peterson will help them turn around and get to that terrible quarterback play in the NFC West. Look for him to start as a pass specialist if he's starting on the line, or possibly switching out to the OLB spot. He's young and will require some grooming, and if the Bears had a top 7 pick, probably would've been an Angelo choice. That 49ers D just got a little more fierce.
Lester says: This is such a great draft for d-linemen, and Aldon Smith can get after the QB. I'm with Kev in thinking he might move to OLB. Either way he'll be rushing off the edge.
8. Tennessee Titans - Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Lester says: I had Locker going to the Titans in my mock, but I figured they would trade down for him. I like Locker, but he'll need time. He's athletic, but he'll need to work on his accuracy. The Titans have their franchise as long as they groom him.
Kev Says: Hmm. earlier than I'd expected, Locker should be a good fit there. It could be argued that the Titans spun their wheels awhile with their less than stellar quarterback selection over the past few years, but it's hard to say that they'd have been that competitive with the division they play in. Locker should, however, be able to have a franchise built around him, if he adjusts to the big-kid game quickly.
9. Dallas Cowboys - Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Kev Says: A quality linemen, the Cowboys will really need it. He's strong, and can put defensive ends into the backfield. He's very good in pass protect, and that's something the Cowboys are definitely looking for after the injury to Romo last year. THeir line was starting to fall apart, and he Smith can be a likely anchor for that line for a few years to come.
Lester says: He looks good on film, he looked great at the combine, but why didn't he play left tackle at USC... The Cowboys need help on the line, this is a good pick for them.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (Trade with Redskins) - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Kev says: Awesome. The Jaguars need to plan a bit for the future, and seem to want to go a little more dynamic in their passing game. Garrard played very well for them, though, and they may be thinking about getting their future set early. Can Gabbert out play Garrard for a starting job right away? Probably not, but if he can sit and learn for a year or two, they might be ready to try and keep up better with the Colts, Texans, and Titans.
Lester says: This surprised me, as I think Gerrard is a serviceable QB, and the Jags need some help on D. But Gabbert is gonna compete for the job. If he does end up #2, Gabbert will sit and learn and end up a real good pro. Some QB needy teams have to pissed off with this pick.
11. Houston Texans - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Lester says: Watt is a great 5 technique DE prospect. With Wade Phillips molding their d into the 3-4. he could start right away. He has speed, strength, and a great motor. I like this pick.
Kev says: This big boy is scary. Have a backup plan, because there's a good chance he'll blow up your tackle if you let him. Wade Phillips should be able to do good things in Houston, and this kind of move should help put them near the top of the AFC South consistently.
12. Minnesota Vikings - Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Kev says: Uh, I'm sorry, what? Can't say I was necessarily expecting this pick, but alright. Now we know who their QB. With that running game, they should be able to keep him from having to do too much early. Is this a return to their up and down QB woes? Possibly. Time will tell, but this is the first move we've seen from the direct enemy, and I have to say, it's nice to know what's going on. They've got the other pieces, but the wear and tear will start to show on the offense. They're getting ready to go all-in soon, so watch out.
Lester Says: I love this pick as a Bears fan. Not only is this a huge reach, but it might let a big time OL make it to Chicago. Ponder could have been had much further down. But I do think he'll be a quality QB, but he'll need some time. I can see them getting a veteran for a year or two, then Ponder taking over eventually.
13. Detroit Lions - Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Lester says: Nooooooooooo! The Lions have drafted damn good since they rid them selves of Matt Millen. Fairley is a nasty 3-tech type player that will kill it lined up to Suh. Scary. Who the hell is gonna run up the middle against those two. NFC North teams better upgrade their o-lines immediately.
Kev says: This sort of makes me want to kick myself in the groin. If he plays to his potential (#draftdaycliche), this line is going to be all kinds of nightmare for the Bears.
14. St. Louis Rams - Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Kev says: The Rams have the offense...they need the defense, and this is going to help them out. I hate to spend so much time picking on how bad the quarterbacks in the NFC West are, but, they're bad. As such, he should be able to come in and do some work in pass rushing immediately. Getting the rest of his game around will be some work, but he's a guy you can coach into the future anchor of your pass rush.
Lester Says: I expected them to go O-Line to protect Bradford, but Quinn is a solid choice. Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo loves him some pass rushers and that is Quinn'd forte. St. Louis must go O-line in the 2nd round.
15. Miami Dolphins - Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
Kev says: Miami is slowly putting pieces in place to get a good team going, and Pouncey should become an anchor for their line. They have the running game pieces, and are working on the WR and QB. Keep an eye on them...they could surprise.
Lester Says: I mocked Pouncey here in our Staff mock draft and some couldn't believe he'd go that high. Na na na na boo boo. Pouncey came on strong as his college season went on, and he could start at C or G as a rookie. That run game will have a boost this season.
16. Washington Redskins - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Kev says: Washington needs all the help they can get. This is some. I don't really know anything about Kerrigan, to be honest, so, good on you, Redskins.
Lester says: I think Kerrigan would be a better DE and Washington will probably stick him at OLB, but either way he'll get to the QB. He's relentless and he'll be a difference maker as a rookie.