Putting together a mock draft is always an exercise in futility, but never more so than this year. Anybody who tells you he has a feel for what will
transpire tonight is deluded.
The NFL's unprecedented offseason of uncertainty continues tonight, when the Carolina Panthers are on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. First-year coach Ron Rivera might take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The former Bears linebacker and defensive coordinator also might play it safe and select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.
Because there is little talent disparity at the top of the draft, the rest of the top 10 might be just as unpredictable.
''Every draft is exciting, but this one is even more so because of the setting we're in,'' said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network. ''This draft is wide-open and completely unpredictable.''
If Rivera is still unsure about which direction he will go in, imagine how Bears general manager Jerry Angelo must feel about holding the 29th overall choice.
Though teams aren't allowed to trade players because of the labor impasse, some predict more draft-pick trades than ever, especially late in the first round, where several teams might want to trade up to choose from a second tier of quarterbacks. For that and other reasons, don't be surprised if Angelo drops into the second round for additional picks.
Because needs have not been filled via free agency, teams also might reach for players more than they would during a normal draft, adding another element of unpredictability.
Given all that, here's one man's mock draft, for what it's worth.
1. Carolina Panthers -- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: With Julius Peppers gone, Rivera must excite the fan base, resulting in this calculated risk.
2. Denver Broncos -- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama: John Fox lands a defensive anchor for a decade.
3. Buffalo Bills -- Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M: Too early to take a left tackle when there's no sure thing in the draft.
4. Cincinnati Bengals -- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Time to rebuild passing game with Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco wanting to bolt.
5. Arizona Cardinals -- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: Cards have other needs but can't resist this talent.
6. Cleveland Browns -- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Browns draft a playmaker for Colt McCoy.
7. San Francisco 49ers -- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Jim Harbaugh needs a quarterback, but not this high.
8. Tennessee Titans -- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: Fairley's college defensive line coach knows him best and is now with Titans.
9. Dallas Cowboys -- Tyron Smith, OT, USC: Jerry Jones hasn't used first-round pick on offensive lineman in his 22 years as owner. It's time.
10. Washington Redskins -- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Mike Shanahan doesn't need another quarterback with accuracy issues, so he takes Gabbert over Jake Locker.
11. Houston Texans -- Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: Ex-Cowboys coach and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips looking for next DeMarcus Ware.
12. Minnesota Vikings -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Vikings so desperate for quarterback, they reach for Locker.
13. Detroit Lions -- Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: Whether he plays right or left tackle, Lake Zurich native will play for a long time.
14. St. Louis Rams -- Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: With top two receivers gone, Rams opt for help on defensive line.
15. Miami Dolphins -- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: Dolphins take mauler who can play guard or tackle.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: Jags finished last season ranked 31st in sacks.
17. New England Patriots -- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: Coach Bill Belichick looking for depth after defensive line was ravaged by injuries last season.
18. San Diego Chargers -- Cameron Jordan, DE, California: End not big need, but he's too good to pass up.
19. New York Giants -- Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: Giants wanted an offensive tackle but settle for Liuget. Bears likely would have done same here.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Bucs need pass rusher and get steal, provided he can stay healthy.
21. Kansas City Chiefs -- Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida: Chiefs could go in several directions, but they need youth up front.
22. Indianapolis Colts -- Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: Bill Polian invests in player who might become anchor at left tackle.
23. Philadelphia Eagles -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Sure, he might have character issues. But if Andy Reid can resurrect Michael Vick . . .
24. New Orleans Saints -- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: The Saints need help on the defensive line.
25. Seattle Seahawks -- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: A reach. With Matt Hasselbeck a free agent, coach Pete Carroll has little choice.
26. Baltimore Ravens -- Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple: He has the traits to be standout defensive end in Ravens' scheme.
27. Atlanta Falcons -- Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame: Tony Gonzalez is nearing the end, and Matt Ryan needs a big target.
28. New England Patriots -- Danny Watkins, G, Baylor: Pats take somebody who can step right in for retired Stephen Neal.
29. Bears -- Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina: Ideal replacement for Tommie Harris, and Bears are comfortable with character concerns.
30. New York Jets -- Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor: Coach Rex Ryan finds perfect anchor for his 3-4 scheme.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers -- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: Aaron Rodgers exposed secondary in Super Bowl.
32. Green Bay Packers -- Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Bears might regret not taking offensive tackle after Packers find rushing partner for Clay Matthews.