DT Muhammad Wilkerson
Rob Christy/US Presswire
If he's still available at No. 27 overall in Round 1, then the Falcons have to take Muhammad Wilkerson.
Atlanta is in very good shape on the offensive side of the ball, as Matt Ryan has quickly developed into a franchise quarterback, Michael Turner is maybe the most bruising running back in the league and no receiver was more productive this past year than Roddy White, plus future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez is still getting it done despite celebrating his 36th birthday in February. Sure, there are some needs on offense, namely another wideout so White doesn't have to continue to do it all by himself, but this is an organization that must get better defensively at every position. Up front is the place to start, particularly since 2009 first rounder Peria Jerry has contributed next to nothing so far at tackle.
Wilkerson, a 6-4, 315-pounder out of Temple, is a name most fans aren't familiar with because of where he played collegiately, but he has been one of the scouts' favorites in recent weeks and could be a monster in the middle.
DT Marcell Dareus
If he's still available at No. 1 overall in Round 1, and he will be unless he decides at the last minute to play for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL, then the Panthers have to take Marcell Dareus.
Just about every mock draft has Carolina taking Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first pick, which would quickly put an end to the Jimmy Clausen experience on Tobacco Road, but first-year coach Ron Rivera may want to pick up the phone and ask Mike Nolan about that idea. Remember, Nolan -- always a defensive guy, like Rivera -- had just been named coach of the 49ers in 2005 and ended up taking Alex Smith No. 1, and largely because of Smith's inability to live up to his lofty draft status, Nolan was pink-slipped midway through the 2008 campaign and has been an assistant coach ever since. Rivera was defensive coordinator of the Bears when Tommie Harris was in his prime, so he knows how much easier it is to win when you have a three-technique tackle ripping the enemy offensive line to shreds snap to snap.
Dareus, a 6-3, 319-pounder out of Alabama, has leapfrogged the sliding Nick Fairley of Auburn and is now clearly the best prospect on the board at that position, a position where incumbents Nick Hayden and Derek Landri don't scare anyone.
New Orleans Saints
RB Mark Ingram
If he's still available at No. 24 overall in Round 1, then the Saints have to take Mark Ingram.
If Rivera would be wise sticking to defense in the first round, then an offensive coach like Sean Payton in New Orleans should follow that lead and stick to the phase of the game he knows best. Payton likes to rotate running backs based on down-and-distance situations and has burned through a bunch of them the last few years, from Pierre Thomas to Chris Ivory and Julius Jones to Mike Bell, not to mention the last of what Deuce McAllister had left in the tank, and even though Reggie Bush is an important piece of the puzzle because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, he can't be counted on between the tackles. While Payton doesn't necessarily need a 300-carry bell cow, not with Drew Brees under center, Pierre and Ivory were both undrafted free agents out of college and, therefore, limited talent-wise.
Ingram, a 5-9, 215-pounder out of Alabama, won the Heisman Trophy in 2009 as a down-to-down pounder and led the Crimson Tide to a national championship, and even if his workouts haven't been overly impressive and he didn't have to be a receiver very often in Tuscaloosa, a creative mind like Payton would put him to good use.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE Adrian Clayborn
David K. Purdy/Getty
If he's still available at No. 20 overall in Round 1, then the Buccaneers have to take Adrian Clayborn.
Tampa Bay unexpectedly went 10-6 this past season and is way ahead of schedule under coach Raheem Morris, due in large part to the throwing of Josh Freeman, the running of LeGarrette Blount and also the catching of Mike Williams -- all of them are 24 or younger, by the way. But defensively, not only is Geno Hayes the lone starting linebacker scheduled to return in 2011, but the pass rush up front is lacking and needs an injection of speed and power. 2010's first rounder, Gerald McCoy, looks like he's going to be a very good tackle one of these days, so getting him more help at the end positions than he got from Stylez White and Tim Crowder as a rookie is a must.
Clayborn, a 6-3, 281-pounder out of Iowa, turned in a disappointing senior season for the Hawkeyes following his dominating junior performance, and his stock is slipping as a result, but he started the evaluation process with top-10 potential and could turn out to be a bargain.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|