NFL draft: No slam-dunk top pick this year

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 22 2011 10:15 p.m. MDT

In these handout photos released by the NFL and taken in February 2011, top NFL Draft prospects are shown at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. They are, top row from left: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue; Joe Lefeged, FS, Rutgers; Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois; Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois; Jake Locker, QB, Washington; Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon. Bottom row, from left: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas; Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford; Colin McCarthy, LB, Miami; DeAndre McDaniel, SS, Clemson; Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M; Rahim Moore, FS UCLA.

NFL, Ben Liebenberg, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The draft is the only game in town. In every NFL town.

In the midst of the lockout, the one piece of business that has not ground to a halt is the draft. None of the 32 teams are allowed to be in contact with their players, but they've been free to handle all the scouting and testing and interviewing that goes into making their draft picks.

Those picks begin Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall. Here's how the first round might go.

1. CAROLINA (2-14) can't go wrong with the first pick of 2011 because so much went wrong in 2010 for the Panthers. This is a team in need of help almost everywhere, and with no free agency during the lockout, it needs to get things right in the only open avenue for improvement.

So where will the Panthers look for immediate aid? Perhaps quarterback. Or defensive line. Or anywhere else on the defense. Or on offense, for that matter. This is a team with virtually no strengths heading into the 2011 schedule — if there is a season.

On the theory that quarterback really is the most important position, give the Panthers a Heisman Trophy winner.

CAM NEWTON, QB, AUBURN.

2. DENVER BRONCOS (4-12)

No questions, here: Broncos must address an awful defensive front, even with Elvis Dumervil returning from injury. Another SEC standout:

MARCELL DAREUS, DT, ALABAMA.

3. BUFFALO BILLS (4-12)

Bills might be tempted to go for a quarterback, but their needs in their defensive front seven are huge after making only 27 sacks in 2010. They will think about Auburn's Nick Fairley before grabbing the best linebacker in this crop.

VON MILLER, LB, TEXAS A&M.

4. CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-12)

Team dysfunctional either admits Carson Palmer really won't come back, or calls his bluff. Owner Mike Brown's stubborn streak gets the best of him, he ignores QB needs and takes the most ready player in the entire draft.

PATRICK PETERSON, CB, LSU.

5. ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-11)

Cardinals have to blink twice when they see the quarterback they wanted fall to them. Drop the talk of trading for Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb when the lockout ends.

BLAINE GABBERT, QB, MISSOURI.

6. CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-11)

Browns wait to address their defensive holes in the second round and beyond. They use as much time as it takes him to run a 40 to announce ...

A.J. GREEN, WR, GEORGIA.

7. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-10)

Undaunted by his missing last year because of an NCAA suspension, 49ers get the bookend for Patrick Willis and a linebacker who can stop the run as well as Willis can.

ROBERT QUINN, LB, NORTH CAROLINA.

8. TENNESSEE TITANS (6-10)

Like Buffalo and Cincinnati, Tennessee opts to find its QB of the future in a later round and finds the pass rusher it needs. But Titans need to be patient because he's coming off a slow recovery from knee surgery.

DA'QUAN BOWERS, DE, CLEMSON.

9. DALLAS COWBOYS (6-10)

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