With the 17th pick of the 2011 Greatest Mock Draft on earth:
The New England Patriots select
OLB Aldon Smith Missouri
In only two years on the field, Smith earned enough respect from Big 12 coaches to be named first-team all-conference despite playing only nine games because of a broken fibula. He gained that respect with production (48 tackles, 10 for loss, 5.5 sacks), but also his ability to come back from a slightly fractured right leg in only three weeks.
A consensus freshman All-American and the conference's Defensive Newcomer and Freshman of the Year (along with honorable mention All-Big 12 honors) in 2009, he had 64 tackles -- 19 for loss and 11.5 sacks, both of which ranked in the top 15 nationally. The year before, he proved to scouts he would eventually be a force, dominating the scout team and putting on muscle as a redshirt.
In addition to his exceptional athletic ability, Smith's toughness has impressed scouts. While still obviously less than 100 percent, he returned an interception 58 yards in a big win against Oklahoma and managed six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in his final six games. He's still raw, but evaluators look at Smith as a potential John Abraham or Julian Peterson type of pass rusher with very good length to play in a 4-3 or 3-4 base scheme as he matures physically.
Pass rush: Great length and upper-body development with room to grow and become a top-notch pass rusher. When given the green light to attack the passer, he is able to turn the corner or quickly go outside-in to get a more direct path to the QB. Uses strength to get movement in his bull rush; able to release with his hands to harass a scrambling passer. Moves inside to a three-technique spot on some plays to take advantage of his quickness, as well as his height, to disrupt passing lanes (seven pass breakups in 2009-2010). Jumps over and uses his hands to beat cut blocks.
Run defense: Potentially strong edge run defender as 4-3 end or 3-4 linebacker. Stays balanced out of his stance, extends his arms to keep distance, able to shed to get to the ball on either side of the block. Good backfield awareness. Willing to lower his shoulder and stand his ground against pulling guards and moving tight ends. Gets down the line while engaged to be involved on inside runs. Beats reach blocks to get into the backfield.
Explosion: Still more potential than practice as a pure outside pass rusher, but shows glimpses of explosive ability on the edge. Pops his man with big swipes to get past blockers. Brings a punch in his bull rush, sometimes knocking back even strong college tackles.
Strength: Plays stronger than his height/weight numbers indicate. Does not give up room when holding the line. Violent with his hands, able to push aside blockers when rushing the passer or shedding to chase ballcarriers. Still requires time in pro strength and conditioning to gain 15-20 pounds before becoming a three-down player as a 4-3 defensive end.
Tackling: Uses his long, strong arms to wrap up quarterbacks and ballcarriers in the backfield; can chop down hard to force fumbles. Speedy chase tackler who closes well for his size due to that length, hustle, and straight-line speed. Misses tackles when leaving his feet early or short-arming (ducking his head and not fully extending.)
Intangibles: Right fibula fractured against San Diego State in October 2010; fracture was high enough above ankle and below the knee so it could heal on its own without surgery. Returned just three weeks later and played hurt for the rest of the season. Only a redshirt sophomore, which is a positive given his upside, but some might view as negative given his relative lack of experience.
Selection made at 9-14am ET, San Diego and Req are now OTC.