There haven't been a lot of surprises through the first nine picks of the 2011 SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft, as things are sort of falling the way one would expect them to thus far.
With the top overall pick, the Carolina Panthers grabbed Missouri signal caller Blaine Gabbert, as our friends at Cat Scratch Reader clearly aren't buying into the Jimmy Claussen Experience thus far. There was no team more disappointed that Andrew Luck declared his intentions to return to Stanford rather than come out and be the top overall pick in the NFL Draft, and the Panthers have started their rebuilding process in earnest with this pick. While I'm not enamored with Gabbert, he does have a lot of tools to work with, and big things will be expected of him by the Panthers.
We'll get into the rest after the jump.The Denver Broncos went with a mild surprise at number two, taking Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. The Broncos are switching back to the 4-3 defense under new head coach John Fox, and they do have a significant need at the linebacker position. I'm not saying that Miller doesn't have a world of potential, because he does. . .I'm just surprised that with the way the Broncos defense looks right now, they didn't go with the guy that went with the next pick.
That pick belongs to the Buffalo Bills, and with that pick they selected cornerback Patrick Peterson from LSU. While the Bills could be in the market for a quarterback or a defensive lineman, they took the guy that (in my opinion) is the safest pick in the draft, and might be the best overall defensive player available this year. Peterson is an outstanding cornerback, and would have value on special teams as well, though it would remain to be seen if the Bills would want to use him in that way.
With the fourth pick, the Cincinnati Bengals took Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. After a season of the Chad Ochocinco/Terrell Owens circus, and with both of those guys likely being gone before the 2011 season kicks off, the Bengals need a playmaker like Green to give another weapon to (insert Bengals 2011 starting quarterback that probably won't be Carson Palmer here). Green has fallen behind Julio Jones on some boards, but I don't think the Bengals can go wrong with either of them, and they decided they liked Green more, in this case.
The Arizona Cardinals took the plunge to draft quarterback and entertainment icon with the fifth overall pick. Although they have an interesting developmental quarterback in John Skelton, the Cardinals obviously love Newton's physical talent and think they can develop him into something special. Having a receiver like Larry Fitzgerald for a young quarterback to throw to obviously helps.
The Cleveland Browns, rather than go after another offensive playmaker like Jones, took Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the sixth selection. I would be surprised if Dareus lasted this long in the real draft, but he would represent a steal for the Browns if they could get him at this spot. He could step in immediately and make an impact on the Cleveland defense.
With the seventh selection, the San Francisco 49ers shored up a major weakness when they took Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara. While Patrick Peterson is clearly the #1 cornerback in this year's draft, the gap between him and Amukamara isn't as large as you might initially think. With Nate Clements getting older (and likely getting cut) and Shawnte Spencer not really having distinguished himself, Amukamara makes perfect sense for the Niners.
After "losing" Albert Haynesworth last year. . .if you can call it that, I guess. . .the Tennessee Titans will attempt to fill the middle of their defensive line with Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley in this scenario. Fairley, who is still in the mix to be the top overall pick, by some accounts, will help a Titans front four that dropped off dramatically last season.
Finally, the Dallas Cowboys took the draft's first offensive lineman, grabbing USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth overall selection. The Cowboys' offensive line has been a bit contentious for some time, and in this scenario they had their pick of any offensive lineman they wanted. They took Smith, who is a bit on the raw side, but may have the most physical talent of any offensive lineman in this year's class.