2011 NFL Draft Preview: Round 1, Picks 21-32

words // Brandon Richard

What makes this year’s NFL Draft unique is the fact that the lockout has prevented teams from making free agent moves prior to filling in their holes for the future. Depending on how the recent lift on the lockout holds up, it’s likely that teams will be building their teams in reverse; first through the draft and then through free agency heading into next season.

Despite the inability of owners and players to get on the same page during the offseason, the incoming class of players is clearly excited about an opportunity to play at the next level. According to reports, a record 25 players are expected to attend Radio City Music Hall on Thursday Night.

Prior to the start of the NFL Draft, we’ll be showing you a final mock preview of potential landing spots for some of these kids. The mocks will be broken up into three separate parts that will be posted leading up to the big event. The NFL Draft starts Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST.

Also check out Eastbay’s 2011 NFL Combine interviews with several of the top incoming prospects. These players may be the future difference maker for your favorite team.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

21. Kansas City Chiefs
2010 (10-6): The Chiefs shocked the football world by going from the AFC’s worst in 2009 to division champions in 2010. They looked completely overwhelmed by the veteran Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, but the future is bright.
Needs: They need help on the offensive line, particularly at right tackle, where Barry Richardson and Ryan O’Callaghan are struggling.
The Pick: NT Phil Taylor, Baylor. Taylor is undoubtedly a first round talent, but recently being diagnosed with an inoperable foot condition leaves teams worried. At this point in the round, he’s great value and gives the Chiefs some versatility on the line, but they may look elsewhere if the concerns over that injury are too heavy.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Indianapolis Colts

22. Indianapolis Colts
2010 (10-6): Not your typical season for the Colts. They squeaked their way into the playoffs after the Jaguars choked down the stretch and Mark Sanchez out-Manning’d Peyton in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Needs: Pass protection, pass protection, pass protection. Peyton is getting older, and after a career of not being hit much, now isn’t the time to start letting him get laid out.
The Pick: OT Nate Solder, Colorado. Solder will bring a nice change of pace to that Colts o-line. He’s a former tight end that comes to the table with a certain degree of athleticism rarely seen in offensive lineman.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

23. Philadelphia Eagles
2010 (10-6): Philly one of the biggest stories in the NFL last season, led by the NFL’s comeback player of the year Michael Vick. The Eagles had dreams of a storybook-ending, but Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers had other ideas and prevailed in their Wild Card playoff match-up.
Needs: Depth at offensive line, running back and linebacker. Their depth at cornerback needs to be addressed as well, with the retirement of Ellis Hobbs.
The Pick: CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado. The Eagles have a pressing need at cornerback and a great prospect falls in their lap. Jimmy brings impressive size and speed to the table, and more consistent play would have landed him in the Top 15.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: New Orleans Saints

24. New Orleans Saints
2010 (11-5): The Saints didn’t fall victim to the “make it to the Super Bowl, miss the playoffs next year” club, but the season wasn’t a rousing success. They dropped the NFC South title to the Atlanta Falcons and then found themselves upset by the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Needs: Chris Ivory showed great promise at running back, but health and departures will open up a spot in the backfield. They need a run stopping DT, DE depth and a kicker as well.
The Pick: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa. On top of impressive size, speed and strength, Clayborn possess the non-stop motor that NFL head coaches look for on the defensive line. His senior year wasn’t as impressive as expected, but the talent is there.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Seattle Seahawks

25. Seattle Seahawks
2010 (7-9): This is a tough spot for a 7-9 team to land, but the division title and playoff win over the defending champions will prove to be invaluable moving forward.
Needs: The division title doesn’t erase the fact that this team needs to get much better. Their offensive line needs to be addressed, as do the potential exits of CB Kelly Jennings and SS Lawyer Miloy. They could also use a boost at DE, LB and need a playmaking DT.
The Pick: DL Marvin Austin, North Carolina. Some have Austin falling to the second round, but he’s undeniably a first round talent. He possesses great speed and strength, giving any team that picks him an explosive pass rushing threat.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Baltimore Ravens

26. Baltimore Ravens
2010 (12-4): The Ravens were up 21-7 on the Pittsburgh Steelers in their division playoff match-up, then were outscored 24-3 in the second half to miss out on the Conference Championship Game. Tough break.
Needs: The Ravens are primed to make another deep run, but still face some aging and free agency concerns. Look for them to address pass coverage and Trevor Pryce’s hole.
The Pick: DT Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple. Wilkerson brings a ton of versatility to a defensive-minded team who likes players that can take on multiple roles. His athleticism and upside make him hard to pass at this point.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Atlanta Falcons

27. Atlanta Falcons
2010 (13-3): The Falcons had a 4-game turnaround in 2010, surprisingly beating out the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South division title. They looked nearly unbeatable at home, but like many other teams in the playoffs, ran into a red hot Packers team that refused to be beaten.
Needs: Atlanta is well built for the future, but the inevitable downfalls of two aging superstars may leave them will holes to fill; DE John Abraham and TE Tony Gonzalez.
The Pick: TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame. Tony Gonzalez is finally starting to show his age, so replacing him with the best all-around tight end threat in the draft makes plenty of sense for the Birds.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: New England Patriots

28. New England Patriots
2010 (14-2): Once again the Patriots looked like the clear-cut front-runner for the Super Bowl heading into the playoffs and suffered a disappointing early exit. After embarrassing the New York Jets 45-3 in a Week 13 game, the Pats found themselves on the wrong end of a revenge game, falling to the same Jets 28-21 in the playoffs.
Needs: The Patriots could use some help with a rush linebacker, and though they’ve never needed a top-tier running back, could use a home-run hitter if one is available.
The Pick: RB Mark Ingram, Alabama. As stated, the Patriots aren’t pressed for a running back, but the best of the class is available for them to steal right here. We all know Bill Belichick stockpiles pick, so they can take risks in this spot. Still, don’t be shocked if this one is traded if the player they desire most isn’t available.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Chicago Bears

29. Chicago Bears
2010 (11-5): Sometimes it came by luck; other times, nostalgic grind hard Chicago  Bears football. The Bears got back on track in 2010, winning the NFC North and advancing to the Conference Championship Game. Unfortunately, quarterback Jay Cutler found himself sidelined with injury when it mattered and the Bears had nothing for the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
Needs: How much did Jay Cutler find himself buried in the dirt last season? Too many times to ignore the offensive line. Look for the Bears to get Jay some extra protection early.
The Pick: OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi. This draft is deep with offensive line talent projected to go in the First Round, so the Bears select the next best guy available. Sherrod is a prototypical left tackle in terms of stature and intangibles. He does well with both pass protection and run blocking.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: New York Jets

30. New York Jets
2010 (11-5): Head Coach Rex Ryan is one of those guys that can seemingly talk things into existence. In his mind, the Jets are always Super Bowl bound and his players continue to buy into his thinking. After an up and down regular season, the Jets won consecutive games against the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in the playoffs before running into the freight train known as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Needs: The Jets need to upgrade their defensive front seven. A rush linebacker will be ideal in this spot, as would a nose tackle for the future.
The Pick: OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA. Ayers is a perfect example of a really talented guy whose draft stock fell because of a sub-pair Combine performance. I’ve always been a fan of placing more value on actual game play than a few non-contact drills. Ayers brings versatility to any defense, being a usable asset against the run, in coverage and as a pass rusher.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

31. Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 (12-4): Starting the season without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers came ever-so-close to becoming the first team to win 7 Super Bowls, but stumbled at the finish line to a very game Packers squad.
Needs: Not that it was a big secret, but Aaron Rodgers exposed the fact that airing the ball out early against Pittburgh’s aggressive pass rush can and will lead to success. Especially with Ike Taylor looking to test free agency, expect the usually unpredictable Steelers brass to pick up a cornerback.
The Pick: CB Aaron Williams, Texas. Steelers miss out on some quality cornerback prospects at the top of the board, but will be happy to see Williams available here. Great athlete with a desirable combination of size and speed. If they bring back Taylor, Williams is still a great fit lining up opposite of him.

2011 NFL Draft Preview: Green Bay Packers

32. Green Bay Packers
2010 (10-6): Against all odds, the Green Bay Packers brought home the Lombardi Trophy this February after besting the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. They were only the second #6 seed to make it to the Super Bowl, ironically following in the footsteps of the 2005 Steelers.
Needs: Cullen Jenkins is set to become a free agent; Johnny Jolly is facing some off-field legal problems; and Justin Harrell is often injured. The Packers need to shore up their front seven defensively, but could also use some offensive line help to keep Rodgers from hitting the turf too much.
The Pick: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State. Aaron Rodgers could still use a little extra protection, but GM Ted Thompson has had great success with picking outright talent over best fits. Saying that, Heyward actually helps out the Pack in a big way. The son of “Ironhead” Craig Heyward addresses any concerns they may have at DE and is great value at this pick. Experts have said Heyward is Green Bay’s primary target. Check out Eastbay’s 2011 NFL Combine Interview with Cameron below.