More mocking while NFL fans wait

SCOTT GARBARINI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 7:01 PM ET

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Well, at least they're talking.

That's one way to view this week's resumption of negotiations between the NFL's owners and its Players Association, the latest episode in an ongoing soap opera that's well past its "jump the shark" stage. But for those hopeful that this new round of discussions, taking place only through sheer coercion by Federal Court, will finally lead to a meaningful breakthrough towards a new collective bargaining agreement in the near future, don't hold your breath.

With the union clearly banking that presiding Judge Susan Nelson will ultimately rule in favor of their injunction to lift the current lockout and the league believing that the players will eventually cave in a protracted standoff, there's little incentive for either faction to come off its hard- line stance right now. Which means the only thing we can be sure of at the moment is that the work stoppage will almost certainly remain in effect by the time the draft rolls around later this month.

So will the two sides continue to make a mockery of both themselves and this offseason, there's no better time than the present for another mock draft.

Two weeks ago I discussed in detail the risks involved with selecting Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who if he isn't the most talented member of this year's college crop, there's little doubt the Heisman Trophy recipient is the most polarizing, and shared my skepticism that a team choosing in this year's top 10 would realistically take such a gamble on a player who may be the second coming of Ben Roethlisberger -- or Akili Smith.

Well, consider my position changed on the subject. Unless the Carolina Panthers are in the midst of pulling off a con job of Bernie Madoff-esque proportions, all signs indicate they'll make Newton the top overall choice as long as they keep the pick.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Newton's former Auburn teammate and Carolina's projected selection in my first mock, is now the unwanted owner of a spiraling stock brought on by character questions. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Newton's chief competition to be the first quarterback taken, also appears to have undergone a slight status slip in recent weeks.

How far will they fall? Here's a guess in The Sports Network's second edition of the 2011 mock NFL draft:

1) Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn -- Panthers' desired move may still be to trade down and recoup the second-round pick they dealt away last year. It's no secret that the team really likes Newton, however, and appear comfortable taking him if it stays at No. 1. LAST PREDICTION: Nick Fairley, DT

2) Denver Broncos: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama -- Denver's attention has been primarily focused on repairing the NFL's worst defense from last season and seems to prefer Dareus over the riskier Nick Fairley and LSU corner Patrick Peterson as the first building block. LAST PREDICTION: Dareus

3) Buffalo Bills: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M -- If Newton's gone, Bills may wait until the 34th overall pick to land their intended quarterback of the future. With Shawne Merriman's injury history and Aaron Maybin's complete lack of production, grabbing the draft's best pass-rushing prospect would make sense. LAST PREDICTION: Blaine Gabbert, QB

4) Cincinnati Bengals: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama -- Carson Palmer's not bluffing that he wants out of town, but the Bengals may address the quarterback position later on. Adding Jones, a better fit than Georgia standout A.J. Green for the new West Coast scheme the team is installing, would instead hasten the departure of constant nuisance Chad Ochocinco. LAST PREDICTION: Robert Quinn, DE

5) Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU -- I would have swore the Cardinals would jump at the chance to nab Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert a week ago, but I'm more convinced they'll now go the veteran route and look towards adding a player who can make an immediate impact. LAST PREDICTION: Miller

6) Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia -- Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers was the choice in the last mock, but growing concerns about his troublesome right knee may scare the Browns off. Green may be atop Mike Holmgren's wish list regardless, and would provide a needed field-stretcher for young quarterback Colt McCoy. LAST PREDICTION: Bowers

7) San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska -- The quarterback- needy Niners have shown more interest in second-round types like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick than Gabbert, so targeting a potential shutdown corner like Amukamara with their top pick may be the strategy. LAST PREDICTION: Peterson

8) Tennessee Titans: Blaine Gabbert, QB -- There's little chance the Titans pass on Gabbert, whose impressive leadership qualities are attractive to a team seeking to move on from the ill-fated Vince Young era. LAST PREDICTION: Amukamara

9) Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith, OT, Southern California -- Lots of talk that the Cowboys are gaga over Smith, whose age (won't be 21 until December) and exceptional performance on the workout circuit have vaulted him to the top of the offensive tackle crop. LAST PREDICTION: Tyron Smith

10) Washington Redskins: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina -- Redskins' defense was old and atrocious last year, and if he checks out medically, the incredibly-gifted Quinn makes a dangerous pass-rushing complement to rising star Brian Orakpo. LAST PREDICTION: Green

11) Houston Texans: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia -- Texans in the market for a dynamic pass rusher for Wade Phillips' new 3-4 alignment and will consider the aptly-named Houston along with Quinn and Missouri tweener Aldon Smith. LAST PREDICTION: Houston

12) Minnesota Vikings: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson -- Vikes looking for a long-term replacement for possible free agent Ray Edwards, and Bowers -- once a serious candidate for the No. 1 overall pick -- would be an absolute steal at this point if he proves his knee is sound. LAST PREDICTION: Jones

13) Detroit Lions: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College -- Longtime left tackle Jeff Backus has one year left on his deal, so Lions pluck the soon-to- be 34-year-old's heir apparent in the highly-skilled Castonzo. LAST PREDICTION: Castonzo

14) St. Louis Rams: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn -- Maturity concerns and a limited body of work have caused Fairley's stock to plummet as of late, but the free-fall could end here. The talented tackle would have a chance to flourish as a penetrating three-technique on an improving Rams' front line. LAST PREDICTION: Corey Liuget, DT

15) Miami Dolphins: Mike Pouncey, C, Florida -- Minus a second-round selection following the Brandon Marshall trade, the Dolphins would ideally trade down and target their two greatest needs -- quarterback and running back -- at later spots, as the best available options could be considered reaches. If they stay here, the versatile Pouncey could help bring some needed depth to the interior offensive line. LAST PREDICITION: Newton

16) Jacksonville Jaguars: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue -- Jaguars lack reliable pass rushers and have shown a lot of interest in the ex-Boilermakers' star, whose work ethic and attitude have endeared him to the team's brass. LAST PREDICTION: Kerrigan

17) New England Patriots (from Oakland): Cameron Jordan, DE, California -- Can never really be sure just what the Pats are up to, but their dearth of quality playmakers across the defensive line was evident last year. Jordan's big enough to play end in a 3-4 and offers excellent athleticism to boot. LAST PREDICTION: Jordan

18) San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin -- Watt's been on the Chargers' radar for a while now, and makes sense for a team seeking an upgrade at the five-technique. Kerrigan, a potential 3-4 outside linebacker, and Ohio State end Cameron Hayward have drawn heavy consideration as well. LAST PREDICTION: Watt

19) New York Giants: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois -- Giants could use reinforcements on both the offensive and defensive lines, and the promising Liuget's the best available in this scenario. Pouncey would get a long look as well if he's still on the board. LAST PREDICTION: Pouncey

20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri -- No Bucs defender produced more than 4 1/2 sacks during last year's turnaround, and Smith's tantalizing skill set translates well to the Tampa 2. LAST PREDICTION: Aldon Smith

21) Kansas City Chiefs: Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor -- Scott Pioli hopes to find his next Vince Wilfork in the 335-pound Taylor, who could fill a potential void with interior stuffers Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith set to be free agents. LAST PREDICTION: Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami-Florida

22) Indianapolis Colts: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado -- Peyton Manning's midseason struggles last year were due in part to inadequate protection up front. Solder, a former tight end with exceptional agility, seems like a perfect fit for the Colts' finesse attack. LAST PREDICTION: Solder

23) Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado -- A lot of teams have Smith off their draft boards because of off-field issues, but cornerback-needy Eagles had him in for a visit a few weeks back. LAST PREDICTION: Jimmy Smith

24) New Orleans Saints: Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh -- Sheard's been a bit overlooked in a class that's well stocked at defensive end, but his quickness and pass-rushing abilities should intrigue a Saints squad that wants to generate more big plays on defense. LAST PREDICTION: Sheard

25) Seattle Seahawks: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU -- It's looking more and more like Matt Hasselbeck won't be back in the Emerald City. Dalton, whose attributes are better suited to a West Coast system like Seattle's than that of hometown favorite Jake Locker, is gaining steam among teams and may not get past the Bengals at No. 35. LAST PREDICTION: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami-Florida

26) Baltimore Ravens: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple -- Ravens are thin at defensive end in their 3-4 arrangement and have given both the fast-rising Wilkerson and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward long looks in the scouting process. LAST PREDICTION: Derek Sherrod, OT

27) Atlanta Falcons: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa -- The run on defensive ends continues with the Falcons, who could use a pass-rushing presence opposite the aging John Abraham up front. LAST PREDICTION: Clayborn

28) New England Patriots: Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona -- Reed's been rocketing up draft boards following a tremendous showing on the workout circuit, and the Clay Matthews-clone's speed and energy should appeal to a Patriots team that had trouble mounting a steady pass rush last year. LAST PREDICTION: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

29) Chicago Bears: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State -- The offensive line -- particularly left tackle -- is the unquestioned sore spot on the Bears' roster, and the dependable Sherrod would be a nice value pick. Wisconsin mauler Gabe Carimi will also be considered, though he's a better option on the right side. LAST PREDICTION: Carimi

30) New York Jets: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA -- Count the Jets among the teams on the lookout for an impact rusher off the edge, and the inconsistent Ayers' best trait as a collegian was his ability to pressure quarterbacks. New York has shown a willingness in the past to trade up for a player it covets, and that's certainly a possibility if the club has it sights set on guys like Taylor, Wilkerson or Reed. LAST PREDICTION: Reed

31) Pittsburgh Steelers: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State -- Starting ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are injury-prone and getting long in the tooth, and Heyward's size and high character make him a good fit. Steelers could also use this pick to shore up shaky situations at cornerback and on the offensive line. LAST PREDICTION: Wilkerson

32) Green Bay Packers: Benjamin Ijalana, OG, Villanova -- This pick probably wouldn't go over too well with the Cheeseheads if native son Carimi is still on the board, but the Packers have some depth concerns on the offensive line and Ijalana, albeit a project, is dripping with potential. Outside linebacker is Green Bay's biggest problem area, so Reed and Ayers could very well be snatched up if available. LAST PREDICTION: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland


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