The Head Cheese Mock Draft XXXI

This is my third of four mock drafts, each named after a Packer Super Bowl title. I've changed my mind a lot since the last mock, and am still unsure about #1. But for now, we'll go with the current sentiment, that the Panthers can't pass up the potential upside of:

1. Carolina: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: An expected new rookie wage scale allows the Panthers to roll the dice, without having to deposit $50 million into the precocious youngster's bank account. By all accounts, he's a ways away from being able to lead a complex NFL offense; but his 2010 season speaks for itself, especially the performance in the rivalry game against Alabama. Jimmy Clausen starts Week 1. Then when the Claymaker knocks him out in Week 2, Newton takes over.

2. Denver: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama: I've moved off Patrick Peterson here. Ultimately a new 4-3 scheme in the Mile High City demands a potential Pro Bowl defensive tackle more than a corner and Dareus has that kind of potential.

3. Buffalo: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M: The Bills like QB Ryan Fitzpatrick enough that they can grab a difference-making pass rusher and grab a quarterback early in the second round. Miller's stock has been climbing in recent days and fills a major need for the Bills.

4. Cincinnati: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: I've had Green going to Cleveland in my previous mocks. But this pick will rebuild an aging position and make Carson Palmer drool. Palmer swears he's played his last game as a Bengal. This might tempt him to change his mind. Expect the Bengals to grab a QB with their next pick, as Palmer insurance.

5. Arizona: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Peterson would make sense here as would Robert Quinn. Though WR Larry Fitzgerald swears his team won't take a QB, the guess here is that the Cardinals go with Gabbert and address defense with their next few picks.

6. Cleveland: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina: The Browns were hoping Green would still be here. Instead they grab the best pass rusher left on the board. WR will be addressed with their 2nd or 3rd round pick.

7. San Francisco: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: The 49ers turn in this pick in the blink of an eye. The best corner in the draft will provide an instant upgrade for a secondary that was embarrassed in a number of games in 2010.

8. Tennessee: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: This has been my pick from the start. Seems like an ideal fit to me, though it wouldn't be shocking if they picked a QB like Locker here.

9. Dallas: Tyron Smith, OT, USC: Smith is rocketing up draft boards and the Cowboys' offensive line has exposed. CB Prince Amukamara will tempt them here, but ultimately Romo needs a better line and the Cowboys need to upgrade this unit. Smith is a rare talent who could man the left tackle spot for the next decade.

10. Washington: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Another team desperate for a QB. If Mike Shanahan falls in love with a guy like Locker or Mallett they could move in that direction. But WR is also bereft of talent and Jones is the clear-cut second best receiver in the draft, with a big drop-off to the next guy. The Redskins will cross their fingers that they can grab a QB with their next pick--or move up to do it.

11. Houston: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: The Texans were terrible in the secondary and are thrilled that Prince is still on the board. This pick breaks the hearts of the next team on the clock, the Vikings. They will now look to move down a few spots if they can find a taker. Prince can practice against the best receiver in the game, Andre Johnson, every day--something that should make both players better.

12. Minnesota: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Not finding any takers, the Purple nabs Bowers to complement Jared Allen as a replacement for free agent Ray Edwards. There are concerns about Bowers' knee, but a number of teams have cleared him. A few months ago he looked like the top guy on the board. The Vikings are hoping they get that guy.

13. Detroit: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: The rebuilding of the D-line is complete in Motown with this pick. Watt can learn from veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch and benefit from having the defensive rookie of the year next to him. An upgrade in the secondary later could make the Lions really tough defensively.

14. St. Louis: Cameron Jordan, DE, California: With the top two WRs off the board, the resurgent Rams address the other side of the ball and add a top pass rusher.

15. Miami: Mike Pouncey, G, Florida: I've had Mark Ingram in my previous mocks, but now I'm thinking the Dolphins address the line and add a running back in the second round. One of the top three backs in the draft should still be available to them there. Pouncey will help make that back's like easier by solidifying a line that needs assistance.

16. Jacksonville: Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Purdue: The Jags are desperate for a pass rusher, since they can't count on the fragile knees of Aaron Kampan. Watt, Jordan, Kerrigan: whoever is available will be the pick for a Jags team that needs to jump up in 2011 or Jack Del Rio will be gone.

17. New England: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: I'm sticking with this pick. The Pats have a lot picks early and may go in a different direction here, but Clayborn could be an instant stud on a D-line that is aging and needs to get after quarterbacks.

18. San Diego: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: The run on D-linemen continues with this selection. The Chargers have a dynamic offense, but need playmakers on defense. Smith provides one. He's another climber who may end up getting pick earlier than most expect. Two Missouri guys drafted before anyone from Ohio State, Florida or Miami. Crazy.

19. N.Y. Giants: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: You could see fear in the eyes of Eli Manning last year, because he didn't trust his line to keep pass rushers away. Castonzo will step right in and settle down a unit that was really bad at times last season.

20. Tampa Bay: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple: I'm sticking with this pick, too. The Bucs were a surprise in 2010 but are desperate for a pass rusher. This guy has a lot of upside for a team that was second to last in sacks last season.

21. Kansas City: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: The Chiefs are due to address this position and realize they need to get help for Matt Cassell. They're not going to sneak up on teams this season and were exposed in the playoffs. Carimi is an instant starter and the kind of guy Scott Pioli loves.

22. Indianapolis: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: With Manning starting to show his age and wear and tear, the Colts need to do whatever they can to protect him. Solder is the next best tackle on the board and it's an easy pick for Indy.

23. Philadelphia: Derrek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi: Most mocks have the Eagles going defense here, but I think Andy Reid realizes his line needs help, or else Mike Vick won't last till Halloween.

24. New Orleans: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: The Saints need upgrades in their front seven and are thrilled to find Liuget still on the board. In a division featuring Turner, Blount and DeAngelo Williams, the Saints need to stop the run effectively and Liuget will help.

25. Seattle: Jake Locker, QB, Washington: I still think the hometown lure is too great for John Schneider and Pete Carroll to pass up.

26. Baltimore: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: The defensive lapses last season were due in large part to a secondary that just couldn't cover. Smith is the clear-cut #3 corner in this draft and fits right in with the Ravens.

27. Atlanta: Akeem Ayers, OLB-DE, UCLA: The Falcons need to find a pass rusher to replace John Abraham in the next year or two. Ayers has shown flashes of brilliance but was also inconsistent. His stock is rising and the Birds can't pass him up.

28. New England: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: In my last mock, I had the Patriots taking guard Danny Watkins here and it could still happen. The Pats could probably get Ingram at pick 33, but I'm guessing they trade out of that spot. They could trade out of this one too if a QB-needy team comes calling.

29. Chicago: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor: The Bears' line needs addressing and the 27-year-old Watkins can step right in and start.

30. N.Y. Jets: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: I'm sticking with my previous pick here. Rex Ryan can't pass up the best 3-4 pass rusher left on the board.

31. Pittsburgh: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas: The failure at this position may have caused the Steelers the Super Bowl. They need an instant upgrade and Williams fills the bill.

And so the Packers are on the clock. I continue to maintain the Pack will be prime candidates to trade down, especially if a QB-desperate team doesn't want to roll the dice and wait till round two on Friday. But if they turn in their pick, the Packers select:

32. Packers: Cameron Heyward, DE Ohio State: This is my third different pick for the Pack (Watkins and Sheard) and becomes the 11th defensive lineman drafted in the first round. With a starting spot opening up, pending the departure of free agent Cullen Jenkins, the Packers have youngsters Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn, along with veterans Ryan Pickett and Howard Green to surround B.J. Raji on the line. Heyward is a potential fixture at this position who could play both running and passing downs and provide depth at a hugely important position in the 3-4.

My final mock will be up next Wednesday, where I'll take a stab at all nine Packer selections.

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