2011 NFL Draft Preview Picks 1-8

The one certainty we have about the NFL going forward in 2011 is that the NFL Draft will take place April 28-30th in New York City. The major challenge in this years draft is formulating a strategy for teams that do not yet know what their team will look like with the uncertainty of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). Free agency has not begun and there is no timetable for it to begin. Every team knows their major needs, but without knowing which players will be signed and re-signed, they do not have a clear view of their roster leading into the draft. We will also see far less trading than past years since players are not able to be traded to other teams at this time. The draft usually provides an opportunity to trade mid round picks for proven veterans and sees heavy player movement. Today I will preview my mock draft and preview for picks 1-8.

1. Carolina Panthers- Cam Newton – QB – Auburn

Great Quarterbacks are key to winning today in the National Football League. While the Panthers do have a young Quarterback in Jimmy Clausen, he never looked sharp last year and there are a lot of questions about whether he can become a franchise QB. Cam Newton is an unbelievable athlete and had a fantastic 2010 collegiate season at Auburn. He has the tools to become a great player but also has the baggage. In the end his physical tools become too much to pass up for the Panthers.

2. Denver Broncos- Marcell Dareus – DT – Alabama

A strong Defensive Tackle for the Broncos and new coach John Fox who are changing over their defense to a 4-3 after running the 3-4 under formed coach Josh McDaniels. The Broncos and GM John Elway began re-making the defense with cutting Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan and need a major presence up front. A solid player, Dareus will be a great pick to remake their defensive front.

3. Buffalo Bills- A.J. Green – WR – Georgia

While the Bills have several needs on defense, a star WR and the class of the draft would be a great target alongside Steve Johnson who had a breakout year in 2010. Having two quality young Wide Receivers can greatly help offensive coach Chan Gailey who seems to believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick after a breakout 2010 season.

4. Cincinnati Bengals- Blaine Gabbert – QB – Missouri

Will the Bengals budge and draft a QB with Carson Palmer’s trade demand in place? The Bengals insist they will not trade him and Palmer is their QB still, not believing his retirement threats. Players often win out in these battles and QB’s like Gabbert don’t also fall in your lap. Even if they believe Palmer will stay, it’s time to begin grooming a young successor.

5. Arizona Cardinals- Von Miller- LB – Texas A&M

The Cardinals would love if Miller fell to them at #5 with several 3-4 defensive teams in front of them and rush LB’s always being a priority in the 3-4. Miller could go much higher but would fit in very well with the Cardinals defense and would be a major contributor immediately.

6. Cleveland Browns- Julio Jones – WR – Alabama

The Browns appear committed to Colt McCoy at QB but have to find him weapons to throw to. They do not have a #1 target and Jones can fill that role. A fast, tall WR, he is the perfect compliment for a young QB like McCoy and a building block for the Browns offense.

7. San Francisco 49ers- Patrick Peterson – CB – LSU

With pick 7 the 49ers could end up with the best overall player in the draft. Nate Clements has not turned into the player the 49ers wished he would when he signed such a large free agent contract and a shut-down corner would be a great building block for a defense looking to rebound in 2011 in the QB-weak NFC West.

8. Tennessee Titans- Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn

Big risk pick but major reward for the Titans. With a new coaching staff in place, Fairley is the most talented player remaining and can be a game changer for the Titans on the defensive line. He will even draw comparisons to a young Albert Haynesworth, who was dominating in a 4-3 and was almost unstoppable at times with the Titans.

Each of these picks would provide major contributors in their rookie seasons and are franchise players for whichever teams they end up with. I’ll be back previewing picks 9-16 coming up soon and offering a full preview of all 32 first round picks before the draft begins April 28th for Round 1.