When Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck made the controversial, highly strange decision to stay in school, he inadvertently made the 2011 NFL draft far more interesting. After all, with the surefire No. 1 overall pick pulling his name from the race, a hole opened up at the top of the board that will need to be filled by the Carolina Panther ASAP.
Various draft boards have all kinds of plans for how the first five picks will go. Essentially, the layout of the first five or so picks depends entirely on the first overall selection.
If the Panthers go with the most talented offensive player available, they’ll likely select A.J. Green. But if they decide they’re looking for defense, Nick Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers would make wonderful young cornerstones to build a defensive unit around.
Or they could just go with the original plan and pick a passer.
If they go with that last decision, one particular rising-star QB has watched his stock skyrocket over the past couple of weeks. While I’m not entirely sold on his abilities translating to the professional level, there is no denying that teams are very interested in Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert.
With that in mind, here is how the top five will likely look if Carolina takes Gabbert with the No. 1 overall pick.
1. Carolina Panthers – Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Assuming the Panthers decide to make Gabbert the ninth QB taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the last 11 years, it will be interesting to see what he’s able to do with his new offense. Considering the limited opportunities Jimmy Clausen had to turn this ship around, you have to wonder if Carolina management would simply make a move like this to start anew with a fresh face of the franchise even if he isn’t entirely necessary.
2. Denver Broncos / 3. Buffalo Bills – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn and Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Essentially, these two guys are interchangeable at the two and three spots. The Broncos desperately need to add some youth to their aging defense, and both of these players bring something fresh to table. On the year, Denver had a league-low sacks total and either one of these guys could go a long way in helping change that. The Bills, meanwhile, desperately need someone who they can plug in against the run. On the year, they allowed over 200 yards on the ground in eight games.
4. Cincinnati Bengals – A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
If the Bengals are able to get Green at this point in the draft, they will count their blessings. Terrell Owens and Twitter Dumber should be off the roster come next year, and Green will fit in nicely as a talented weapon for Carson Palmer to utilize.
5. Arizona Cardinals – Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
While I’m a big fan of Newton and his style, it’s important to acknowledge what a risky pick he’s seen as amongst many NFL scouts. Personally, I think he’s worthy of a No. 1 overall pick over Gabbert. However, that’s not the scenario being analyzed today. Newton is a good passer, athletic and a proven winner. If Tim Tebow is seen as a guy who could turn his team around, then there is no reason Newton can’t be recognized as an equally promising QB for a team in desperate need of someone to fill the void left behind by Kurt Warner.