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March 14, 2011
Mock Draft, Episode I: A New Hope (for the 49ers)

First, some mealy-mouth prefacing. This mock presupposes a long work stoppage -- which, judging from recent events, is not much of a stretch -- and a draft that precedes free agency. You might figure that without free agency, quarterback-needy teams would be more eager to land a quarterback in the draft. However, OTAs and minicamps might be washed away this year, too, meaning there would be no way for teams to coach their newly-drafted quarterbacks. The top two prospects, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, already have steep learning curves ahead of them after playing in spread offenses in college. Can a bad team risk a Top 3 pick on a player who can't help right away and who already has question marks?

1. Marcell Dareus, DT. Threat of shortened offseason convinces Carolina to stay away from QBs who need a lot of work. Team goes with the safe pick instead.
2. Da'Quan Bowers, DE. There are question's about a knee injury that kept Bowers out of the combine. If he is true to form on his April 1 pro day, Denver coach John Fox will have no problem taking him this high.
3. Nick Fairley, DT. The Bills make it three defensive linemen in a row. Fairley dominated some games like Ndamukong Suh did at Nebraska but was not as consistent.
4. A.J. Green, WR. Numero ocho is needed to take over from Ochocinco.
5. Blaine Gabbert, QB. The QB-desperate Cardinals break the seal on the quarterbacks. Arizona is pretty certain it can land Marc Bulger during free agency, but how long will Bulger be an option?
6. Julio Jones, WR. The Browns may have found their quarterback leader in last year's third rounder, Colt McCoy. Now they must surround him with weapons.
7. Patrick Peterson, CB. Yowsers. The Peterson v. Von Miller debate gets put to the test in this scenario. Niners conclude that Peterson is slightly closer to being Charles Woodson than Miller is to being Clay Matthews.
8. Cam Newton, QB. Again, Newton likely would be long gone by this point in a normal year but the Titans, who can re-sign Chris Simms for this season, can't pass him up. He becomes the third Top 10 QB they've taken in the last 16 years.They hope he's more Steve McNair than Vince Young
9. Von Miller, OLB. The smart choice here is Cal's Cameron Jordan because the Cowboys badly need a defensive end. Still, Jerry Jones can't pass up the best pass rusher in the draft ... and he's from Dallas, to boot! Yee-haw!
10. Cameron Jordan, DE. He might be the safest pick in the draft and one that helps the Redskins fill out an incomplete 3-4 defense.
11. Prince Amukamara, CB. Houston finished 32nd in pass defense in 2010, not a great stat when you're trying to wrest the division from Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and the Colts
12. Anthony Castonzo, OT. The talent-laden Vikings look hard at a quarterback -- Jake Locker? -- but decide not to reach for someone who will be on little help much in 2011. When in doubt, re-stock your o-line.
13. Robert Quinn, DE. Quinn goes from Carolina blue to Honolulu blue, and the Lions get a dangerous inside-outside combo on their defensive line. Little known fact: Detroit finished fifth in sacks last year.
14. Aldon Smith, DE/OLB. St. Louis was hoping for a receiver but settles for a raw but gifted pass rusher who can play either weakside linebacker or eventually move to defensive end.
15. Mark Ingram, RB. Hard-charging Alabama tailback is the perfect fit in Tony Sparano's gritty offense. (He's still the coach, right?)
16. Ryan Kerrigan, DE. The Jaguars are another AFC South team that can't stop the pass. Only one team, Denver, had fewer sacks in 2010 than Jacksonville's 26.
17. J.J. Watt, DE. High-motor defensive end promises to be the best J.J. on New England since J.J. Stokes (2003-03).
18. Phil Taylor, NT. Dumpster-sized nose tackle looked very good at the Senior Bowl and showed better movement than expected.
19. Tryon Smith, OT. The Giants can afford to allow the supremely talented Smith a year to mature and fill out his 6-5 frame.
20. Adrian Clayborn, DE. Shoulder, schmolder. Bucs overlook Clayborn's Erb's Palsy and take the most relentless 4-3 defensive end in the draft.
21. Gabe Carimi, OT Big Badger helps rising Chiefs team fill out its offensive line. Carimi would go from a team that loves to run the ball to a team that loves to run the ball.
22. Mike Pouncey, OG. It's not a splashy pick, but it will add stability to an offensive line that was anything but stable in 2010. If only there was some way to gauge whether someone of Pouncey's dimensions and genetic makeup will be effective at the next level.
23. Jimmy Smith, CB. Some teams might be scared off by reported character issues. The Eagles are not one of those teams as recent history has shown. Smith will be their Dez Bryant buster.
24. Stephen Paea, DT. The Saints could use another run stuffer in the run-heavy NFC South. Paea's combination of strength and quickness meshes well with Sedrick Ellis'.
25. Jake Locker, QB. The Seahawks go for the local product, who could apprentice behind Matt Hasselbeck. Of course, this scenario would eliminate Seattle as an Alex Smith landing spot and -- brace yourselves, 49ers fans -- make Smith's return to San Francisco more likely.
26. Nate Solder, OT. This would allow Michael Oher to move back to right tackle where he is more comfortable and give Solder the responsibility of protecting -- irony alert -- Joe Flacco's blindside.
27. Torrey Smith, WR. Full disclosure: I have no idea about this guy. I figured a fast wide receiver would be perfect for a team that needs to loosen up the short to mid-range passing game for Roddy White and Anthony "Father Time" Gonzalez.
28. Christian Ponder, QB. The Panthers trade back into the first round to take perhaps the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. Panthers foil Trent Baalke and 49ers, who were planning a similar move.
29. Corey Liuget, DT. Bears stay in state to select a quick, gap-penetrating defensive lineman for their 4-3 front.
30. Justin Houston, OLB. Jets replace Vernon Gholston with battle-tested SEC linebacker who had 18 1/2 tackles for loss last season.
31. Colin Kaepernick, QB. Reno goes nuts after Jim Harbaugh taps the raw but supremely gifted Kaepernick as his next quarterback project. Baalke makes the move because none of the three QBs the team has circled -- Ponder, Kaepernick and Andy Dalton -- figures to be there when he picks in the second round.
32. Akeem Ayers, OLB. I wanted to pick Brooks Reed here, giving the Packers the ability to confuse opponents with blond-locked doppelganger pass rushers. Ayers, however, moves better in space and is a better complement to Clay Matthews.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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