I'm not saying I think this scenario will go down this way, or that all these picks will happen, but I like to put some "what-ifs" in my mock drafts.
Carolina Panthers, #1: Patrick Peterson, CB. I've heard the arguments for Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert in this space, but if the Panthers think that Jimmy Clausen can be their guy, I see them taking the best pure talent on the board and giving their secondary a huge boost. With a rookie wage scale incoming, the Panthers can afford to take a CB at No. 1 overall.
Denver Broncos, #2: Marcel Dareus, DT. With new coach John Fox moving back to a 4-3, and with a pair of defensive ends already on the books in Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers, an interior tackle like Dareus (and a safer pick than Nick Fairley) could give them a Detroit-like defensive line. (Wow, I can't believe Detroit is setting the standard at something...)
Buffalo Bills, #3: Cam Newton, QB. The Bills will never be able to compete in the AFC East until they have a legitimate quarterback of their own, defense or no defense.
Cincinnati Bengals, #4: Julio Jones, WR. The Bengals' offensive skill positions are right where nobody wants to be. Their quarterback, starting wide receivers and running back are all aging and could potentially all be gone by opening day, 2011. With that in mind and a choice of the top receiver prospects on the board, Cincinnati snaps up the bruising, physical Jones, whose style of play makes him a good fit in the AFC North.
Arizona Cardinals, #5: Blaine Gabbert, QB. An obvious pick at this stage, but I don't think any team in the league has a worse collection of QBs than the Cards.
Cleveland Browns, #6: Robert Quinn, DE. Like the Broncos, the Browns are moving back to a 4-3 defense, and consequently have a big hole at 4-3 defensive end. Even in a deep D-line class, Mike Holmgren takes perhaps the most talented man on the board.
San Francisco 49ers, #7: Von Miller, OLB. The top 3-4 OLB in the draft serves as a perfect complement to Patrick Willis inside, and gives a punchless pass-rush some weaponry.
Tennessee Titans, #8: Nick Fairley, DT. The Titans aren't afraid of D-linemen with character issues, and the big, strong lineman will be an asset to Mike Munchak's new defense.
Dallas Cowboys, #9: Tyron Smith, OT. The most talented tackle in the draft goes to a team that's been looking for tackle help since Flozell Adams got old.
Washington Redskins, #10: A. J. Green, WR. Dan Snyder snaps up the talented Green to be his new No. 1 on a team that doesn't have much depth at all at WR.
Houston Texans, #11: Jimmy Smith, CB. Despite concerns about his character, the Texans grab the best corner on the board after Peterson.
Minnesota Vikings, #12: Da'Quan Bowers, DE. Ray Edwards will leave in free agency, and the Vikings will need help on their famous defensive line after Pat Williams retires.
Detroit Lions, #13: Prince Amukamara, CB. The Lions don't have one solitary corner that's guaranteed to be on their roster in 2011. They desperately need CBs.
St. Louis Rams, #14: Aldon Smith, DE. With Bowers off the board, the Rams take one of the best DE prospects remaining.
TRADE: Philadelphia Eagles, #15: Anthony Castanzo, OT. With Castanzo falling farther than expected, the Eagles trade up to secure one of their bigger needs.
Jacksonville Jaguars, #16: Cameron Jordan, DE. The Jags continue to fortify their defensive line.
New England Patriots, #17: J.J. Watt, DE. Since Richard Seymour went to Oakland, the Pats haven't had a dominating defensive lineman. Watt could be that guy.
San Diego Chargers, #18: Mike Pouncey, C-G. The Chargers could use interior line help to assist Ryan Matthews.
New York Giants, #19: Derrick Sherrod, OT. With a need at tackle, the Giants grab a developmental type of player that should develop into Eli Manning's blind-side anchor.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, #20: Ryan Kerrigan, DE. The Bucs got their inside pass-rusher with Gerald McCoy last year, and now could use a complementary outside man. Kerrigan could be that guy.
Kansas City Chiefs, #21: Gabe Carimi, OT. The Chiefs have a hole at tackle, and with so many defensive linemen already off the board, the Chiefs snap up the best tackle remaining.
Indianapolis Colts, #22: Danny Watkins, OG. Keeping Peyton Manning upright is their biggest priority.
Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia), #23: Mark Ingram, RB. Ingram to the Dolphins has been called since February, but the Dolphins get him here and pick up extra draft choices from Philly in the process.
TRADE: Cincinnati Bengals, #24: Jake Locker, QB. With Seattle next on the clock, the Bengals trade up to get their QB of the future. New Orleans could take Phil Taylor or Corey Liuget in this space, but with the class as deep as it is, the Saints are content to trade into the second round and not suffer a loss in quality.
Seattle Seahawks, #25: Adrian Clayborn, DE. Thwarted, the Seahawks settle for Patrick Kearney 2.0.
Baltimore Ravens, #26: Nate Solder, OT. With the massive Jared Gaither set to leave in free agency and Michael Oher flopping on the left side, this pick allows Oher to go back to RT and gives the Ravens a quality duo to protect Joe Flacco.
Atlanta Falcons, #27: Jon Baldwin, WR. Imagine what Atlanta's offense would look like with Michael Turner running the ball and Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White and Baldwin. They've been lacking a No. 2 receiver in Atlanta since eternity, and with Baldwin, that offense could be dangerous.
New England Patriots, #28: Stefan Wisniewski, G-C. This will probably be a trade down, but without any outstanding prospects remaining in my mock, the Patriots settle for one of the best players still on their board.
Chicago Bears, #29: Phil Taylor, DT. The Bears have two huge needs in this draft: offensive tackle and giant interior defensive lineman. Need, fulfilled.
New York Jets, #30: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE. The Jets always seem to be short on the defensive line, and Wilkerson has been getting a lot of hype recently.
Pittsburgh Steelers, #31: Brandon Harris, CB. We all saw what the Packers did to the Steelers' secondary in the Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers, #32: Benjamin Ijalena, G/T. I may be overvaluing the Packers' potential picks here, but in my mock, Akers, Watkins, Ingram, Baldwin, Watt and Pouncey are long since off the board. The Packers take a talented tackle here, but one who will need motivation from James Campen. I don't see that as a problem, though; a small-school player, Ijalena will be playing at the same level as his competition for the first time in years, and will quickly learn to bring his best game at all times.