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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Mock draft: Plunging into the great unknown

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Will there be free agency before the NFL Draft?

That's the billion-dollar question. If the NFL owners and the NFLPA can't agree on a new CBA, there won't be free agency, which will impact the draft greatly.

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That doesn't mean there won't be free agency at some point. So drafting this year will be far more challenging for teams than in years past. You might not be able to fill a hole or two before the draft. That means filling holes on draft day could be even more important.

It also makes it tough to do mock drafts. But this is my first attempt at a mock this year. I will do two or three more leading up to the April draft, the next one coming in early March.

So don't hold me to this one. It's just a beginning:

1. Carolina Panthers -- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: Have you taken a peak at their inside people? They need a power player inside to go with some young ends who have talent. They still think Jimmy Clausen can play, so they pass on a quarterback.

2. Denver Broncos -- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: New coach John Fox had Julius Peppers in Carolina. This kid is often compared to him, although I don't think he's in that class. But the Broncos need a pass rusher and lots of other defensive help.

3. Buffalo Bills -- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: They've been trying to replace Jim Kelly with a franchise leader for years. Now they can with a strong-armed quarterback who can handle the weather of playing outside in Buffalo.

4. Cincinnati Bengals -- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: This is a team that badly needs to add a young receiver who can stretch the field. Green has big-play ability. The issue now is whether he will have Carson Palmer throwing to him.

5. Arizona Cardinals -- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M: Miller was the star of the Senior Bowl and would be a much-needed addition to a pass rush that needs help at outside linebacker. New coordinator Ray Horton comes over from Pittsburgh, where outside rushers were a big part of their defense.

6. Cleveland Browns -- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: He will team with Joe Haden, last year's first-round pick, to give the Browns a nice cover duo. If the playoffs taught us anything, it's how important cover players are in the NFL.

7. San Francisco 49ers -- Marcel Dareus, DE, Alabama: They will continue to use a 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Dareus is the perfect 3-4 end. He is a power player who can be a disruptive pass rusher as a 3-4 end.

8. Tennessee Titans -- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Cortland Finnegan is good on one corner, but they need help at the other. This kid is too valuable to pass up in a league where cover players are vital.

9. Dallas Cowboys -- Nate Solder, T, Colorado: They have to upgrade that offensive line. Solder is a huge left tackle who had a great Senior Bowl week. It isn't the sexiest pick, but Jerry Jones needs to fix that line to better protect Tony Romo.

10. Washington Redskins -- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: They showed they are clearly not excited about Donovan McNabb, so they have to address this position. They could also go defense heavy in this draft with lots of needs.

11. Houston Texans -- Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: Mario Williams needs help. The rest of the Texans line isn't very good and that shows up on Sundays. Quinn could give the Texans a heck of a 1-2 pass rush punch.

12. Minnesota Vikings -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Hey, somebody has to play the position. Locker has all the tools, but he is coming off a so-so season. But some thought he'd be the first player picked last year. That means there is talent there that he'll show off at the combine.

13. Detroit Lions -- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: The corner position is a big problem in the Lions defense. They have to upgrade this offseason. Harris makes sense, although there are some other possibilities at the position.

14. St. Louis Rams -- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: He will team with Sam Bradford to give the Rams a big-time passing combination for a long time. The one thing Bradford lacked last year was somebody to throw to deep. Jones would remedy that.

15. Miami Dolphins -- Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: This is high for a back, but the Dolphins need a talented runner to feature in their run-heavy offense. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner reminds me of Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: They need major help with their pass rush. Kerrigan plays with a relentless motor that Jaguars general manager Gene Smith loves in his players. The defense was a big problem for the Jaguars last season.

17. New England Patriots (From Raiders): Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri. He played end at Missouri, but would move to a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Patriots. They need major help there and he could team with Jermaine Cunningham to give them two good outside rushers for a long time.

18. San Diego Chargers -- Cameron Jordan, DE, California: They need to improve their defensive front. This versatile kid with bloodlines (the son of former Vikings Pro Bowler Steve Jordan) can step in as a 3-4 end. He could provide pass rush from that position.

19. New York Giants -- Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: The Giants need more speed and big plays out of the linebacker position. The athletic and versatile Ayers can run and has shown he is physical enough in the run game.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: He isn't the pure speed rusher off the edge, but he plays with a relentless style. He did wear down in games late last season, but he makes sense for the pass-rush needy Bucs.

21. Kansas City Chiefs -- Mike Pouncey, G-C, Florida: Center Casey Wiegmann is considering retirement and guard Brian Waters is getting up in years. They need to address the inside of their line and Pouncey is the best of that group.

22. Indianapolis Colts -- Tyron Smith, T, USC: It isn't Bill Polian's style to take a lineman this early, but with the way his line has played in recent years it's time. Smith can move in at left tackle, a position that has troubled the Colts for some time.

23. Philadelphia Eagles -- Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin: Andy Reid always seems to draft big people. He can use another tough-guy offensive lineman. Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner, is a tackle, but he could also play guard.

24. New Orleans Saints -- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: They need to get more help for Will Smith in their pass rush. Watt isn't a speed rusher, but the 6-foot-6, 288-pound Badger should be able to step in and anchor the left end for the Saints.

25. Seattle Seahawks -- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: Did you see the way 35-year-old veteran Matt Hasselbeck played for most of last season? And Charlie Whitehurst doesn't look to be the answer to that problem.

26. Baltimore Ravens -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: The corner position has been a problem for the Ravens for a while. It's time they tightened up in that area. Smith reminds some of former Ravens CB star Chris McAlister.

27. Atlanta Falcons -- Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland: The shortage of speed on the outside really showed up in their playoff loss to the Packers. They need more weapons to stretch the field for Matt Ryan. Smith can really run.

28. New England Patriots -- Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: The Patriots will get a huge steal if he falls this far. He had a great Sugar Bowl, showing off his abilities. He can rush the passer as a down end in their 3-4.

29. Chicago Bears -- Derek Sherrod, T, Mississippi State: The Bears had offensive line problems most of the season, and Sherrod could come in and play left tackle. Veteran holdover Frank Omiyale is just a guy.

30. New York Jets -- Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: The one thing that showed up as a huge negative for the Jets was a lack of pass rush from their outside linebackers. Houston has the speed to be a factor off the edge.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas: Williams didn't play as well as expected last season, but he has the size and speed that teams love. The Steelers need to upgrade this spot and Ike Taylor is a free agent.

32. Green Bay Packers -- Anthony Castonzo OL, Boston College: The weak link on the Packers line is left guard Darryn Colledge. This kid would be an upgrade right away. He can also play tackle, which he did in college.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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