2011 NFL Draft: Who will Fall to the 49ers?

Hello Niners Nation, this is my first thread as a front page writer. I am sure that most of you are familiar with me, however, i would like to introduce myself and give you a brief bio. I live in Northern California,  the town of Sonoma to be exact. I have spent pretty much my entire life in Northern California, living in Marin County as well as Sonoma County. I absolutely love it here. I am in school, and have a rewarding job at "The Institute of Reading Development".

My first memory of our San Francisco 49ers was their second Super Bowl game against Cincinnati, that game still sticks out in my memory. My mother is a Dallas Cowboys fan, and my father a 49ers fan. I am not sure why i chose the 49ers, but am extremely happy that i did. I don't think that i have missed a 49ers game in over a decade, and i consider myself a diehard fan, much like many of you do. Enough about me, and onto the article. Please invoke constructive criticism as i would like to progress as a writer for SB Nation. I thank Fooch for giving me this opportunity and hope to be a long standing member of Niners Nation.

The 2011 NFL Draft will be held in April, and it may actually be the only off-season activity for all 32 teams because of the possibility of a lockout. This article will focus on the six teams that are slotted to select before the 49ers do at #7. I will take a look at their needs, what "experts" think that they will do, and give my opinion on where and who they may turn.

1. Carolina Panthers:    2010 Record: 2-14

Top Three Needs

1. Quarterback: Obviously Jimmy Clausen didn't get it done this season, he had the lowest QB rating in the NFL in 2010. That said, he was a 2nd round pick and has some upside. So why is QB a need? Well, Clausen had 1-3 TD/INT ratio in 2010 and completed just over 50 percent of his passes. Carolina also ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards per game. After Clausen the Panthers really have nothing. Matt Moore is slated to become a free agent, and will most likely go somewhere else. The main question is whether or not the Panthers will reach for a QB with the 1st pick considering Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford for his junior season.

2. Offensive Line: Not helping their passing game was the fact that Carolina QBs were sacked a total of 50 times in 2010, among the highest in the league. With the exception of Jordan Gross, Carolina should upgrade at every position in the near future. The offensive line was real good in run blocking, but absolutely horrible in pass blocking. Adding to the problem is the fact that Ryan Kalil, their second best offensive lineman, is a free agent.

3. Defensive Line: Playing a 4-3 system, it is unacceptable how poorly their two top defensive tackles played in 2010. Derek Landri and Nick Hayden combined for only 51 tackles and 4 sacks in 2010. Additionally, they finished 23rd in the NFL in rush defense, allowing 95 or more yards a total of 14 times.

What the experts think

Todd McShay: DE- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

Mel Kiper: DT- Nick Fairley, Auburn

NFL Draft Site: DT- Nick Fairley, Auburn

New NFL Draft: DT- Nick Fairley, Auburn

My Conclusion

As evidenced by their 2-14 record, Carolina is in need to major upgrades at nearly every position. However, they will only be able to make one upgrade here. If Andrew Luck had declared we would already have the answer to who would be the #1 pick, but he didn't so we don't. I tend to actually agree with Todd McShay on this one. Bowers fits better in their 4-3 scheme than does Fairley. While not making a judgement on who is a better player, i will conclude that Carolina takes Bowers here. He will be an immediate upgrade at DE and provide them the pass rush they need. However, i wouldn't rule out the possibility of Carolina trading down and selecting a QB later on. That said, i am not sure what the market will be for the #1 pick because there is not true franchise type QB in the 2011 draft. Da'Quan Bowers

2. Denver Broncos:          2010 Record: 4-12

Top Three Needs

1. Defensive Line: Denver ranked 31st in opponent rushing yards in 2010. Not exactly where you want to be on that list, and it doesn't promise to get better in 2011 if they don't change the personnel they have. Jamal Williams isn't getting any younger and Robert Ayers looks like an absolute bust. Additionally, Denver only had 23 sacks in 2010. The defense is in a major need for an upgrade, and it may indeed start with the defensive line.

2. Cornerback: Champ Bailey is going to switch to safety in 2011, and it won't be with Denver. He is extremely upset about the fact that they didn't offer him an extension prior to the season, and is prepared to walk. This could bode well for the 49ers because of his ties to Ed Donatell, however, that is a story for another time. Denver did pick up Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson in the 2010 draft, but neither is #1 corner material.

3. Linebacker: On the exterior you may think that they are set at LB with D.J. Williams and Mario Haggan, but looking further into it, i see it a different way. Williams has regressed a bit over the last couple seasons, and Haggan really isn't the long term answer here. I don't see Denver reaching for a LB with the 2nd pick, but this is an area of concern for them

What the experts say

Todd McShay: DT- Nick Fairley, Auburn

Mel Kiper: CB- Patrick Peterson, LSU

NFL Draft Site: CB- Patrick Peterson, LSU

New NFL Draft: CB- Patrick Peterson, LSU

My conclusion: Once again i am going to be in the minority here, and agree with McShay. The CB position appears to be pretty deep this season, and they could get a solid corner with one of their two 2nd round picks. Nick Fairley is an absolute beast, and would be an anchor on that defensive line for the next decade. He is great against the run, and can get to the QB on a consistent basis. I see a top tier DL as being more of a need at #2 for Denver than a CB. Either way, Denver finished dead last in defense in 2010, and will be looking to upgrade that position here. Nick Fairley

3. Buffalo Bills           2010 Record: 4-12

Top Three Needs

1. Quarterback: Some tend to think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the answer for Buffalo at QB, i don't. He is too inconsistent to be a starting QB in the NFL, and the Bills need to upgrade here. Fitz threw 15 picks in just 13 starts. Additionally, he threw for less than 200 yards in seven of his starts. These are not stats indicative of an NFL starting QB.

2. Defensive Line: 5 sacks between Spencer Johnson and Marcus Stroud. That isn't going to get it done, whether or not you play a 3-4 or a 4-3. Additionally, Buffalo finished 32nd in rush defense. They need an upgrade at one or two of their defensive line positions.

3. Wide Receiver: Not helping the fact that Buffalo was so poor on offense was their lack of skilled receivers. Steve Johnson did have over 1,000 yards receiving, but he dropped way too many passes. Lee Evans regressed a great deal in 2010 with only 37 receptions in 13 starts. Roscoe Parrish is no better than a #3 WR, if that. They need major upgrades in the passing game.

What the experts say

Todd McShay: QB- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

Mel Kiper: DE- Marcell Dareus, Alabama

NFL Draft Site: DE- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

New NFL Draft: DE- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

My Conclusion: All three of the players projected by the experts above could go to Buffalo, they have needs at all those positions. However, i would be inclined to believe that they need to upgrade the receiving corp more than anything. Fitzpatrick is serviceable for 2011, and this isn't a great QB draft class. I also believe that Green would have the most immediate impact of any of those three options. He could come in right away and be the true #1 WR in Buffalo. Not only does Green have all the athletic ability to be a great receiver in the NFL, he is sound in all aspects of the game including route running etc... I think it would be a great pick for Buffalo. A.J. Green

4. Cincinnati Bengals            2010 Record: 4-12

Top Three Needs

1. Quarterback: Carson Palmer has demanded a trade and threatened to retire if not traded. So, it goes without saying they need a QB. The problem is that there really isn't a great QB option at #4. That said, Cincinnati cannot go into 2011 with Jordan Palmer and Dan LaFevour battling for the #1 QB spot.

2. Wide Receiver: Chad Ochocinco isn't getting any younger, and there are rumblings that he may want out of Cincinnati, especially if Palmer is traded. Terrell Owens will not be back in 2010 either. With those two losses, Cincinnati loses 140 receptions and over 1800 yards. Needless to say, Cincinnati needs to upgrade this position and have someone opposite Jordan Shipley.

3. Running Back: Cedric Benson is slated to be a free agent, and he may continue what could be a mass exodus. Without Benson the Bengals really have no one to carry the load. Even with Benson, Cincinnati finished 27th in the league in rushing. Another problem, Mark Ingram would be a reach at #4. I think you could easily see the Bengals trade down from #4.

What the experts say

Todd McShay: WR- A.J. Green, Georgia

Mel Kiper: DE- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

NFL Draft Site: WR- A.J. Green, Georgia

New NFL Draft: WR- A.J. Green, Georgia

My Conclusion: Considering that i don't have A.J. Green available here, i would conclude that Cincinnati goes QB and reaches for Blaine Gabbert. If the Bengals completely blow up what they have, then they would need to start with a new QB, and not wait until 2012 to do so. If A.J. Green falls to #4, then the Bengals have a difficult decision to make. Take the WR when they have no one to throw the ball, or take the QB when they have no one to catch the ball.  Blaine Gabbert

5. Arizona Cardinals:     2010 Record: 5-11

Top three needs

1. Quarterback: Four different QBs combined for just 10 TDs and 19 INTs, not good to say the least. A season that started with the release of Matt Leinart, finished with Richard Bartel playing QB, yes that Richard Bartel, you know the one we have never heard of. Arizona threw for less than 200 yards 11 different times in 2010, pretty pathetic. They have weapons in Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, now they just need someone to throw them the ball.

2. Offensive Line: Couple a horrible passing game, with only 1,388 yards rushing as a team, and you have an issue. Additionally, Arizona QBs were sacked a total of 50 times in 2010. This offense was completely enemic, and they need to upgrade the line in order for any QB to succeed.

3. Defensive Line: Arizona was 30th in rush defense in 2010. They also compiled a total of 33 sacks in their 3-4 scheme. It wasn't the LBs that had the issue, the defensive line was unable to open up lanes for the likes of Joey Porter etc... A defense that ranked 30th in the league in scoring is in need of major upgrades pretty much everywhere.

What the experts say

Todd McShay: CB- Patrick Peterson, LSU

Mel Kiper: QB- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

NFL Draft Site: QB- Ryan Mallett, Missouri

New NFL Draft: DL- Marcell Dareus, Alabama

My Conclusion: In the NFL it all starts with QB, and they do not have one. Pretty simple conclusion right? Draft a QB! However, with Gabbert off the board, the decision gets more difficult. Reach for a Newton or Mallett, or simply ignore the QB in the draft and go the route of acquiring a veteran. The problem with that is i doubt that Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer or Donovan McNabb would want to come to Arizona. So in my opinion, the Cardinals go with Ryan Mallett over Cameron Newton here. I may get a lot of slack for picking two QBs to go top 5, but i honestly believe that it is a real possibility. Ryan Mallett

6. Cleveland Browns         2011 Record: 5-11

Top three needs

1. Wide Receiver: Cleveland really has no outside threat on offense, and with McCoy who is a nice young QB, they really need one. Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, their two starting receivers, combined for a grant total of 65 receptions, 800 yards and 5 TDs. They need a lot of help here.

2. Defensive Line: Cleveland ranked 27th in the league in rushing defense, allowing 129 yards per game. When you have an offense void of the big play, the defense needs to step up and get off the field, and Cleveland's didn't. Their major issue was on the defensive line as their secondary is pretty darn good. With Dick Labeau coming in, i see Cleveland utilizing the 3-4, which will have some impact on who they decide to draft.

3. Linebacker: Eric Barton and David Bowens are on their last legs, and Chris Gocong isn't the answer. Switching to the 3-4 system, Cleveland may be forced to reach for a LB here. Ultimately, the Browns need to upgrade their fron 7, no matter what scheme they play.

What the experts say

Todd McShay: DE- Robert Quinn, North Carolina

Mel Kiper: WR- A.J. Green, Georgia

NFL Draft Site: DL- Marcell Dereus, Alabama

New NFL Draft: CB- Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

My Conclusion: Cleveland could reach for Julio Jones here, but i doubt that they do. They can get another receiver in the later rounds with more value. Cleveland wasn't a horrible team in 2010, and they could contend with some upgrades. I look for the Browns to go with Robert Quinn here. He could play a 4-3 end, or a 3-4 OLB, something that will extremely help their team overall. I do have an issue with Quinn being an immediate impact rookie because he is switching positions and missed 2010. However, he has as much upside as any defensive player not named Patrick Peterson. Robert Quinn

So the long (and short) of it.

                                 McShay                  Kiper                            NFL Draft Site                New NFL Draft        

1. Carolina              Bowers                  Fairley                           Fairley                           Fairley                   

2. Denver                 Fairley                    Peterson                      Peterson                       Peterson               

3. Buffalo                 Gabbert                  Dareus                          Bowers                         Bowers                   

4. Cincinnati            Green                     Bowers                         Green                            Green                    

5. Arizona                  Peterson               Gabbert                         Mallett                           Dareus                 

6. Cleveland             Quinn                     Green                            Dareus                         Amukamara      

Under my theory both Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara will be available when the 49ers select at #7. That could be the homer in me, but i really do see both Gabbert and Mallett going in the top five. Usually cornerbacks are not selected in the top five. There hasn't been a CB taken in the top five since Dallas took Terence Newman in 2003. Additionally, Newman and Charles Woodson are the only CBs to go top five since 1998. Considering that Cleveland doesn't need a corner, i believe that the 49ers will have both of the top corners available to them at 7.

Of course all of this could change with pending off-season moves, free agent signings, trades etc... However, team needs ahead of the 49ers will play an important role in who does or does not fall to #7. Also, i think that the 49ers may have the opportunity to select A.J. Green, this depending on whether or not Buffalo decides to go QB. In my humble opinion, the 49ers will be looking at the defensive side of the ball with the #7 pick. That may not make a whole lot of sense considering that they brought in an offensive minded coach, Jim Harbuagh. That said, the 2011 draft if top heavy with defensive players, and that could fit nicely into what the 49ers plan to do.

CBS Sports has a real nice top prospect list here. Amazingly, the list goes as far down as the 2,650th best 2011 NFL draft prospect. You can click on each player to find a profile. I swear by this chart in making my extended mock, which i will post at a later date.

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