Each year at least one top ten selection surprises even those who follow the draft process very closely. Last year's draft included two such picks, with Buffalo picking running back C.J. Spiller and Jacksonville selecting California defensive lineman Tyson Alualu. The Chiefs took DE Tyson Jackson with the third pick in 2009, the Patriots ILB Jerod Mayo at #10 in 2008.
In today's "land of a thousand web sites", I'm sure someone picked some of these selections in the weeks leading up to the draft...but they were fairly surprising, even to some folks in the league.
There will certainly be some slight movement within the top ten of where the top seven or eight players in this draft end up: Denver could take DE Da'Quan Bowers instead of DT Marcell Dareus, Cincinnati could select QB Blaine Gabbert or Bowers instead of WR A.J. Green, etc.
But thinking a bit more outside of the box for this year's draft brings up some potential "wow" picks come April—open your mind before discounting these possibilities:
OT Tyron Smith to Arizona at #5:
Five years ago, the Cardinals picked Levi Brown with the fifth overall selection. If head coach Ken Whisenhunt gets a veteran quarterback to run his team in 2011 (Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb, trade for Kevin Kolb), he may push for another offensive lineman to protect the signal caller—and Smith's ridiculous upside makes him the most likely targeted (though some teams love the athletic Nate Solder). Enough people are projecting Smith to Dallas at #9 that it's not worth a separate mention here--but people should not discount that possibility if they have in the past.
RB Mark Ingram to San Francisco at #7, Dallas at #9
Despite scouts' assertion that teams do not need to pick running backs high in the draft, one has been picked in the top ten five of the last six years. Ingram should be, at worst, a younger version of Niners' Frank Gore (who is a free agent after 2011 and missed 9 games over the past three seasons). At best? Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could buy into the Emmitt Smith comparisons.
LB Martez Wilson to San Francisco at #7
If pass rusher Von Miller is picked up before the 49ers select, they could look to the ultra-athletic Wilson to move outside. The only reason he wouldn't go in the top 11 (Houston would love him as a 3-4 ILB/OLB) is due to the herniated disc in his neck that cost him the 2009 season--but if team doctors give GMs the thumbs-up, it could send him high up boards.
DE/DT J.J. Watt to Tennessee at #8
Some have Dallas selecting the tall, athletic Watt with the ninth pick, and Tennessee could select DT Nick Fairley, DE Robert Quinn, or even one of the top two quarterbacks if they are available. But the Titans have potential free agents in Dave Ball and Jason Babin, and have valued players like Watt enough in recent years to consider him with their top selection. I could list DE Ryan Kerrigan here, but Watt could have a better chance at this spot because he could play inside or outside in their scheme.
DL Cameron Jordan to Dallas at #9
So maybe this isn't a HUGE stretch, but most talk right now is on Watt or CB Prince Amukamara going to Dallas (and I wanted to make the last an even five players). Jordan's pedigree (father, Steve, was a Pro Bowl tight end in Minnesota) and potential as a difference-maker in the 3-4 as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher could push him above the lankier Watt and others in the minds of the Cowboys' brain trust.
--Contributed by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter