2011 NFL Mock Draft: Carolina Panthers and an In-Depth Analysis of Picks 1-8


Because it’s just time for another NFL Mock Draft. If there is one thing that I know, it’s that NFL fans love mock drafts, and they love seeing who somebody thinks there team will get.

Mock drafts cause debate, and for 30 NFL team’s, the draft is the next most important date on the schedule. Steelers’ and Packers’ fans have something a lot bigger to think about.

The NFL Draft will still take place in April regardless of whether or not the

The Carolina Panthers have plenty of options with the number one pick. There isn’t a clear-cut number one like there was with Andrew Luck. I think the best thing the Panthers could do would be to trade the pick, but I don’t think anyone is gunning for the number one spot.

Everyone has a mock draft, and here’s mine. Because this list is so long I have decided to break it into four pages. Here is page one and it features picks one through eight.

For more first round analysis of every pick, you can find that here: 1-8, 9-16, 17-24, 25-32

8. Tennessee Titans: Aldon Smith, OLB

Projected Round: 1

Overall Rank (Position): 11 (2)

School: Missouri

Vitals: 6-4, 258 lbs.

40 time: 4.69

Analysis, from CBS Sports:

Pass rush: Great length and upper-body development with room to grow and become a top-notch pass rusher. When given the green light to attack the passer, he is able to turn the corner or quickly go outside-in to get a more direct path to the QB. Uses strength to get movement in his bull rush; able to release with his hands to harass a scrambling passer. Moves inside to a three-technique spot on some plays to take advantage of his quickness, as well as his height, to disrupt passing lanes (seven pass breakups in 2009-2010). Jumps over and uses his hands to beat cut blocks.

Run defense: Potentially strong edge run defender as 4-3 end or 3-4 linebacker. Stays balanced out of his stance, extends his arms to keep distance, able to shed to get to the ball on either side of the block. Good backfield awareness. Willing to lower his shoulder and stand his ground against pulling guards and moving tight ends. Gets down the line while engaged to be involved on inside runs. Beats reach blocks to get into the backfield.

Explosion: Still more potential than practice as a pure outside pass rusher, but shows glimpses of explosive ability on the edge. Pops his man with big swipes to get past blockers. Brings a punch in his bull rush, sometimes knocking back even strong college tackles.

Strength: Plays stronger than his height/weight numbers indicate. Does not give up room when holding the line. Violent with his hands, able to push aside blockers when rushing the passer or shedding to chase ballcarriers. Still requires time in pro strength and conditioning to gain 15-20 pounds before becoming a three-down player as a 4-3 defensive end.

Tackling: Uses his long, strong arms to wrap up quarterbacks and ballcarriers in the backfield; can chop down hard to force fumbles. Speedy chase tackler who closes well for his size due to that length, hustle, and straight-line speed. Misses tackles when leaving his feet early or short-arming (ducking his head and not fully extending.)

Intangibles: Right fibula fractured against San Diego State in October 2010; fracture was high enough above ankle and below the knee so it could heal on its own without surgery. Returned just three weeks later and played hurt for the rest of the season. Only a redshirt sophomore, which is a positive given his upside, but some might view as negative given his relative lack of experience.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Robert Quinn, DE

Projected Round: Top 10

Overall Rank (Position): 5 (2)

School: North Carolina

Vitals: 6-5, 268 lbs.

40 time: 4.64

Analysis, from CBS Sports:

Pass rush: Inconsistent off the snap. Is often among the last linemen off the ball, though he has such an explosive burst he can still beat the tackle with speed even when late and can leave his opponent grasping at air when he anticipates the snap correctly. Possesses a rare combination of burst and flexibility to dip under the reach of the tackle. Good agility and balance to turn the corner and has very good closing speed. Possesses a good rip move and the footwork to jab-step outside and cut back inside to split the gap; otherwise shows surprisingly little technique.

Run defense: Too light to hold up at the point of attack on rushing plays designed to go directly at him. Possesses good upper-body strength and explosive hands to shed blocks, but can be engulfed and driven off the ball. Doesn’t do a good enough job keeping contain, too often slicing inside and losing his gap integrity when he incorrectly judges the speed of the ballcarrier. Good lateral agility, flexibility and balance to change direction and pursue. Good straight-line speed and effort to pursue.

Explosion: Perhaps his best asset. Can explode off the snap and fly by offensive tackles. Opponents have to gameplan around his burst off the edge. Good use of hands to pop the offensive lineman and shed the block. Arrives with a bang as a tackler. Forced eight fumbles in only two seasons.

Strength: Improving in this area and has the frame to handle an additional 10-15 pounds of muscle without a significant loss in quickness or speed. Good, not great strength at the point of attack. Lacks the sand in his pants to hold up against the run, though he does wrench himself free when he has space to operate. Good strength to drag down the ballcarrier.

Tackling: Good lateral agility and balance to break down in space and make the open-field tackle. Generally wraps up, though he’ll go for the strip and miss tackles. Only average instincts but gets to the football quickly when he locates it.

Intangibles: Fluid athlete who appears capable of handling the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Was occasionally asked to drop into coverage while at UNC. Suspended for the entire 2010 season after an NCAA investigation found that he had accepted benefits from a player agent. Despite the suspension, those close to the UNC program describe Quinn as a quality person and teammate and are endorsing him to NFL teams. Had his senior season at Ft. Dorchester High School shortened due to brain surgery to remove a benign tumor. Was originally told that the tumor and resulting surgery could end his football career. Has had no known complications following the surgery. Didn’t start his first career game but did start the other 25 in his two seasons.

6. Cleveland Browns: Marcell Dareus, DT

Projected Round: Top 10

Overall Rank (Position): 6 (2)

School: Alabama

Vitals: 6-3, 309

40 time: 4.95

Analysis, from CBS Sports’ Rob Rang:

Pass rush: Good initial quickness off the snap. Doesn’t possess the burst upfield to cross the tackle’s face and turn the corner. Quick enough, however, to split the gap and collapse the pocket from the interior. Explosive hands to disengage from blocks. Needs a clear lane to close, but shows a late burst toward the ball when he has it. Flashes some legitimate pass-rush technique, including a swim move and good inside rip. Possesses surprising lateral agility and balance to track down elusive quarterbacks.

Run defense: Stout at the point of attack. Plays with good leverage and can anchor to create a pile. Cognizant defender who works hard to keep containment. Good lateral agility and balance to slide while fighting blockers. Long arms and good strength to lock-out. Explosive hands to disengage. Won’t shed the block until he reads where the ballcarrier is going. Good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit. Surprising speed for a man his size.

Explosion: Can provide an explosive initial punch to jar the offensive lineman back onto his heels. Powerful and quick hands to shed blocks. Flashes some explosiveness as a hitter, needing little momentum to rock the ballcarrier.

Strength: Thick lower body, which helps him anchor well against the run. Powerful bull rusher with good hand strength to disengage quickly. Good upper-body strength to pull down ballcarriers while occupied with a blocker.

Tackling: Shows surprising lateral agility and balance to break down against elusive athletes. Isn’t always capable of making the tackle in the open field himself, but often does a good enough job of forcing elusive ballcarriers to dance in an effort to elude him that secondary defenders are able to get there and help make the play. Good strength for the pull down tackle inside. Good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit. Will lay out for the diving tackle, showing good hand-eye coordination to trip up the ballcarrier. Flashes some explosiveness as a hitter.

Intangibles: Suspended by the NCAA for the first two games of the 2010 season when it was discovered that he’d accepted inappropriate benefits from an agent. Endured a troubled childhood. Father died when Dareus was six, leaving mother to support six children. Dareus has lived with others throughout much of his life, including an assistant coach in high school and a sponsor family while in college.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert, QB

Projected Round: Top 10

Overall Rank (Position): 8 (1)

School: Missouri

Vitals: 6-5, 235 lbs.

40 time: 4.72

Analysis, from CBS Sports:

Accuracy: Regularly shows the ability to place the ball on his target’s numbers, though most of his best throws came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage because of the Missouri spread offense. Throws darts to either side of the field on short timing routes and passes between the hashes. Gives his receivers a chance to make a play after the catch on crossing routes, leading them perfectly when he’s comfortable in the pocket. Inconsistent throwing outside the hashes, however, making some fantastic throws on out routes and sailing many others above the head of open receivers or coming up short on touch throws over the top. Also inconsistent on short throws when under pressure.

Arm Strength: Has a solid NFL arm and throws a tight spiral, giving him the capability to stretch the field horizontally and vertically. Threads the ball between the corner and safety against cover-two and needles the ball through tight windows over the middle. Flashes nice touch on seam throws to the tight end. Needs to throttle down a bit more consistently; will overthrow passes in close proximity and sail sideline patterns.

Setup/Release: Looks the part of a pocket passer, standing tall in the pocket. Usually has a quick release, almost whipping the ball out. Winds up and double-clutches on occasion, but still releases the ball quickly. Completes downfield passes with traffic around him, but will short-arm throws and panic with pressure coming straight at him. Generally balanced, sometimes throwing from his back foot. Pats the ball to keep rhythm on long throws. Does not feel backside pressure well. Can get happy feet against a strong defense, though he will re-set his feet and deliver at times. Almost always in the shotgun formation, must master the traditional snap from center. When not taking one step back and firing a short throw, gets a bit long with his final drop step making it difficult to transition back forward and leaving him susceptible to pass rush.

Reading Defenses: Will take time to transition to the NFL because he runs the typical spread offense. Only reads one receiver on many plays, or even half of one side of the field. Stares down receivers and defenders read him easily. Does not look for secondary receivers, tends to take off instead. Fails to see blitzes coming consistently, even when they aren’t disguised.

On the Move: Nice athlete for a quarterback his size, makes plays outside the pocket and able to pick up more than a first down on the run. Shows some elusiveness in the pocket, but chooses to run outside rather than step up to find a receiver. Falls forward for first downs, but must learn how to push the pile on sneaks. Willing to throw the ball away if nothing is available. Good mobility outside the pocket, but gets inconsistent in his accuracy and makes some poor decisions because he gets impatient. Is not overly elusive, will not escape NFL pockets and tackles as easily as he is able to do in college. Needs to learn how to slide.

Intangibles: Respected leader in the locker room. Has the confidence to win over the huddle. Willing to put in the time in the film room to master the offense. Very competitive, gives full effort on the field. Played only five games as a high school senior because of foot and shoulder injuries.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, WR

Projected Round: Top 5

Overall Rank (Position): 3 (1)

School: Georgia

Vitals: 6-4, 212 lbs.

40 time: 4.49

Analysis, from CBS Sports:

Release: Quick, active hands to slap away defenders attempts at press coverage. Good lateral agility and impressive acceleration to elude and gain an early advantage. Hits top speed quickly and shows rare balance and explosiveness to gain separation against shorter, quicker defenders.

Hands: Unquestionably his best attribute. Long arms, big, soft hands and excellent body control to contort and make the highlight-reel catch, including seemingly impossible one-handed grabs. Rarely allows the ball into his pads, snatching the ball out of the air and securing it quickly when he is anticipating taking a bit hit. Has proven the ability to absorb a pop and maintain control.

Route running: An underrated element of his game and a reason why Green appears better suited than most rookies to make an immediate impact in the NFL. Doesn’t rely on his size and speed to generate separation from cornerbacks, though he’s a terrific jump-ball threat and has the straight-line speed to work the deep part of the field in the NFL. Possesses surprising balance and burst out of his breaks considering his size. Plants his foot and can explode on the slant route, shielding defenders from the ball. Good hesitation and acceleration for double-move routes.

After the catch: Possesses good vision and the lateral agility to cutback against the grain, though his long legs limit his shiftiness. Accelerates quickly and has the straight-line speed to ruin pursuit angles. Surprisingly strong runner. Fights through arm tackles.

Blocking: Looks to help out his teammates by securing blocks downfield, but has only marginal strength and physicality in this area.

Intangibles: Suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for selling a jersey to an agent. Recipient of Neel Family Football Scholarship. Member of the Summer 2009 Honor Roll. Respected by teammates and coaching staff. Voted Team MVP following the 2010 season.

3. Buffalo Bills: Da’Quan Bowers, DE

Projected Round: Top 5

Overall Rank (Position): 3 (1)

School: Clemson

Vitals: 6-4, 275 lbs.

40 time: 4.64

Analysis, from CBS Sports:

Pass rush: Combines explosion out of his stance and pure upper-body strength to overwhelm most college right tackles. Senses bootlegs to his side of the field, keeps outside leverage and sheds — or gets a hand on a receiver to slow him up — before chasing down the quarterback. Gets his hands into passing lanes when stalemated at the line, with a great vertical and the length to block passes at the line. Lines up on either side of the line. Does not have an elite first step as an edge rusher, relies on bull rushes and poor footwork by college tackles to turn the corner. When lined up wide, he can get inside lane with his hands and is tough to stop once in his man’s jersey. Better tackles can stand him up as the game progresses. Too often, he is late coming off the snap.

Run defense: Ready-made strong-side NFL defensive end because of his strength as a run-stopper. Uses thick upper body, quickness and awareness, and leverage to keep containment on the edge, and sheds most tackles easily. Stays square to the line of scrimmage and shows good awareness throughout the play. Competes, chasing to either sideline, even after losing his balance. Takes on multiple blockers, (tackles, pulling guards and fullbacks) as they come with violent hands so he can hold his ground. Generally stays alive against cut blocks, but loses his balance regularly and needs to use his hands better to defeat.

Explosion: Has explosive strength on the edge, bringing his full force in his hand punch to the chest of overmanned college tackles on bull rushes and when shedding blocks. Flashes the ability to come hard off the snap and turn the corner as a pass rusher on the strong side, but may struggle to do so against NFL right tackles without improving technique.

Strength: Already looks like an NFL end, pushing some tackles into the backfield with one arm, and will only grow stronger over the next couple of years in a pro strength and conditioning program. More developed in the upper body than the lower body, but plays with excellent leverage against bigger linemen. Strong hands to shed on the outside.

Tackling: Combines NFL-quality strength and length to provide explosive tackling on the edge. Most ballcarriers find it difficult to evade him once in his grasp. Closing speed and strong wrap give him the capability of forcing fumbles on sacks or against ballcarriers in the open field. Changes direction well for his size and is able to keep himself in outside runs to force a decision. NFL backs won’t go down as easily as college backs do when he gets one hand on them, however.

Intangibles: Matured and turned on his game after losing his mentor, former DE Gaines Adams (cardiac arrest) and his father (seizure) over the past year. Lost 20 pounds between junior and senior seasons. His best football is ahead of him. Has become a student of the game.

2. Denver Broncos: Patrick Peterson, CB

Projected Round: Top 5

Overall Rank (Position): 1 (1)

School: LSU

Vitals: 6-1, 222

40 time: 4.22

Analysis, from CBS Sports’ Rob Rang:

Read & React: Possesses good instincts for the position. Reads his man and will sneak a peek at the quarterback, showing the anticipation necessary to make the big play. Can get over-aggressive and bite on double-moves, though he shows good straight-line speed to recover and possesses excellent ball skills. Could come up more aggressively when he reads run, as he’s content with allowing teammates to make the tackle, but isn’t afraid to come up in run support when he has to.

Man Coverage: Rare fluidity and straight-line speed for a defender of his size. Quick feet and balance when backpedaling and when he switches to a side shuffle technique. Rarely uses his hands to jam the receiver, opting instead simply to turn and run with his opponent. Will occasionally misjudge the speed of his opponent when in off-man coverage, allowing the receiver to eat up too much of the cushion. Easily flips his hips and shows very good burst out of his breaks (especially considering his size) to mirror the receiver. Good acceleration and has a burst to close. Good route-recognition. Good body lean and use of the sideline to ride wideouts out of bounds. Excellent size, overall physicality and competitiveness for jump-ball situations. Times his leaps well and can high-point the ball due to excellent hand-eye coordination.

Zone Coverage: Good recognition for zone coverage, but will drift out of position when he’s reading the eyes of quarterbacks, resulting in some big-play interceptions, but also in allowing receptions when savvy passers bait him. Quick feet and balance to change directions. Good route anticipation. Switches off his target quickly when he sees the quarterback throwing elsewhere. Closes on the ball quickly.

Closing/Recovery: Some concern over what his time in the 40-yard dash will be, but shows very good field speed and possesses a second gear of acceleration to close on the ball. Locates the ball quickly and has the long arms to break up passes (or even make the interception) when it appears that he is beaten. Has good, but not elite burst to break downhill out of his cuts, making him susceptible to comeback routes against bigger receivers who challenge him vertically (see Alabama, Texas A&M).

Among best attributes is his size, leaping ability and ball skills on fade and go-routes against bigger receivers. Matches up well in jump-ball situations. Isn’t afraid to get physical in these confrontations, but because he’s going for the ball, doesn’t draw the flag. Very good ball skills. Times his leap well, showing a good vertical and possesses the long arms and soft, strong hands to pluck the ball out of the air. Excellent return skills once he has the ball in his hands.

Run Support: When not in press coverage, reads run quickly and either provides the contain to push the runner back inside or makes the tackle himself. Focuses on his primary target – the receiver – when he’s in press coverage and can be a step slower to recognize run. Trusts his teammates to make the play, showing good strength and toughness to fight through blocks, but not always the sense of urgency scouts would prefer. Good effort in pursuit. Takes good angles to the ball and has the speed to run down the ballcarrier.

Tackling: Reliable open-field tackler. Breaks down well in space to make the stop against elusive athletes. Willing to take on the bigger ballcarrier and does a nice of wrapping his arms securely around the legs to make the effective stop. Good effort in pursuit. Not an explosive hitter, but plays his size, strength and long arms help him knock down ballcarriers quickly.

Intangibles: Confident, almost cocky demeanor on the field. Possesses the short memory of all great cornerbacks. Extremely competitive. Seems to relish the battles against top receivers in man coverage. Campaigned to be used on special teams and even offense while at LSU due to his natural playmaking skills. Good bloodlines. Cousins of NFL cornerback Bryant McFadden and wide receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss. Characterized as “freak” athlete.

1. Carolina Panthers: Nick Fairley, DT

Projected Round: Top 5

Overall Rank (Position): 2 (1)

School: Auburn

Vitals: 6-4, 298 lbs.

40 time: 4.92

Analysis, from CBS Sports’ Rob Rang:

Pass rush: Explosive initial burst off the snap. Good flexibility and balance to “get skinny” and penetrate gaps. Uses his hands well to slap away blockers’ attempts to get their hands on him. Possesses a rare combination of long arms and quick feet, helping him avoid cut blocks. Good swim move. Locates the ball quickly and has the lateral agility to redirect. Good short-area closing burst. Good effort in pursuit. Surprising speed for a man of his size.

Run defense: Relies on his quickness to penetrate gaps and make plays behind the line of scrimmage more than his strength to hold up at the point of attack. Long, relatively thin limbed for the position and can be knocked off the ball due to his lack of an ideal anchor. Good flexibility to twist through double-teams. Locates the ball quickly and pursues well laterally.

Explosion: Quick burst to penetrate gaps. Can shock his opponent with his quickness, strong initial punch and quick hands to disengage. Has an explosive burst to close when he sees a playmaking opportunity and can make the eye-popping collision without needing much space to gather momentum.

Strength: Good, but not elite strength, especially in his lower body. Has a tendency to come up at the snap and can be pushed back because of it. Possesses very good natural strength, however, including in his core as he can twist through double teams. Very good hand strength to rip through blocks. Good strength for the pull-down and trip-up tackle.

Tackling: Possesses a good closing burst and brings his hips to supply the big hit. Good strength for the drag tackle. Willing to lay out and has good hand-eye coordination to trip up the ballcarrier running away from him.

Intangibles: Former high school basketball player who shows surprisingly quick feet. An ascending talent, but is nonetheless labeled as a player with some true bust potential, as there are concerns about his work ethic. Carries a little bit of extra weight around his middle and is more “country” strong than weight-room defined. Has developed a reputation as a dirty player; repeatedly flagged in 2010 for late hits and there have been instances when he has speared ballcarriers with his helmet, banged into their lower legs purposely and pushed off downed players to lift himself up. One of nine siblings.

For more first round analysis of every pick, you can find that here: 1-8, 9-16, 17-24, 25-32