There's no way around it -- the 2011 NFL draft is one of the more unpredictable we've ever seen. Sure, it started with a likely No. 1 pick deciding to stay in school, but there are other things that have compounded the issue. With the labor agreement nowhere in site, the question of how draft picks will be compensated -- which obviously plays into the trade value of the picks -- is still clouding the proceedings. There is also just a vast array of needs among teams drafting high, and rising and falling stocks among players we presume will be drafted high. It's all causing a lot of confusion.
The tape is always just one side to the story. As GMs, scouts and team personnel form their draft boards, I hear a wide range of opinions around the league. The questions are endless. But that doesn't mean we can't make a deep dive into the early rounds. Here is the first shot at a three-round mock draft. As always, an asterisk denotes non-seniors.
* Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
There are immediate needs, and there is a decision that you believe will change the direction of your franchise for years to come. While I don't believe Carolina is locked onto this pick -- if you're heard me at all lately, you'll know I see this is one of the more unpredictable top 10's I can ever remember -- if they really see Newton as the transformative player that can be both a Pro Bowl quarterback and face of the franchise who draws a lot of buzz, they can make this pick. If talent alone was all they were concerned with, Newton would be an easy choice. But this pick also requires a belief in his development and maturity. Certainly, however, Newton's potential is significant.
* Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
There are several guys Denver could take here to bolster their defense, but Dareus makes a lot of sense. A scheme-versatile player who can be a disruptive, penetrating force as an interior lineman, or a fantastic pass-rusher as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, Dareus is a safe pick. He doesn't have remarkable quickness, but his agility and versatility at a full 319 pounds is the stuff of an elite lineman. Denver could also consider a corner or linebacker here, but Dareus fills a significant, immediate need.
Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Few have seen their stock rise as much as Miller has since the season wrapped up. The pass-rush skills were there, as was a developed ability to drop and make reads. The tape shows a guy who can do anything on the football field, and do it explosively. Miller offers immediate help at one of the top two positions of need for the Bills. They simply can't get enough value here in drafting an offensive lineman, and Miller will impact games next year more than any rookie in the draft if you asked me today.
* A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Cincinnati is still dealing with a headache at the quarterback situation, but whether their answer is to trade Carson Palmer away, woo him back, or perhaps try to import the likes of Kevin Kolb, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb or someone else, they'll need to help whoever will be throwing the ball in 2011 and beyond. By drafting the best pure pass-catching talent in the draft, they can accomplish that. Green is an immediate starter and the rare big-time, physical, fast receiver who has the route-running skills and understanding to match his skill-set.
* Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
I could also see Arizona getting creative and looking for a veteran arm such as Kolb, but Gabbert is the quarterback in the draft most likely to help a team soonest, and if he's available here, it might be tough for Arizona to pass on him. He offers elite size, accuracy, athleticism and the smarts to pick things up quickly at the NFL level. This is a pick I could see going in several directions, but if Arizona isn't confident they can get a suitable veteran fix in at quarterback, Gabbert is a good choice.