Before I begin with my first draft preview of the 2011 NFL draft season, I would just like to say that from now until the end of April, I will be covering the draft for SportsNickel. Leading up to the draft I will keep everyone up to date with my latest mock drafts, big boards, and position rankings for the draft, which begins on Thursday, April 28th, 2011.
To begin, I compiled my first big board, consisting of my top 10 players in the upcoming draft. This is my first time doing a big board, so I am sure there may be some disagreements amongst the readers.
1. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn – 6’5, 310
Even before the BCS National Championship, Fairley proved he was at the top of the draft class. After a stellar performance Monday night, I believe Fairley showed that he is true NFL material and will surely be a top-5 pick. His play relates to how Albert Haynesworth dominated offensive lines while he was with the Titans.
2. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson – 6’4, 277
Bowers showed this season that he was worthy of the hype that he received when he came out of high school. He is a true physical specimen and has the perfect look of a defensive end. If the Panthers take him with the No.1 pick, he may be able to take the role of former Panther, Julius Peppers.
3. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia – 6’4, 207
If there is any person in the world that does not believe that Green is the top receiver and offensive player in the draft, then please let me know. A.J. Green proved this season that he has the ability to be one of the top wide receivers in the NFL in just a few years. Last year, Green was thought of as just a top tier athlete playing wide receiver, but this past season he showed that he is also a solid route-runner.
4. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU – 6’1, 211
Patrick Peterson may be the best overall athlete in this draft. He has the potential to be a shutdown corner in the NFL, but he can also be a Pro Bowl return man. Peterson has also been clocked at as fast as 4.3 seconds for his forty yard dash, showing that he has an impressive combination of size and speed.
5. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina – 6’4, 267
Although Quinn missed the entire 2010 season due to a suspension, he still has the potential to be a top-5 pick. Like Bowers, Quinn is the perfect size to be a defensive end in the NFL. With 11 sacks in 2009, Quinn has superb stats for scouts, but his draft status will ultimately rely on how effective pro scouts think he can be after missing a season.
6. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska – 6’1, 202
Amukamara may be a better cornerback than Patrick Peterson, but Peterson is ranked higher based on versatility. It is almost like Amukamara is a clone of Nnamdi Asomugha. Like Asomugha, his stats are not that great because quarterbacks don’t throw at him. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. stated that Amukamara will be an immediate starter and I couldn’t agree more.
7. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama – 6’3, 306
Despite missing the first two games of the 2010 season, Dareus still finished with five sacks and 20 solo tackles. His play relates to Nick Fairley, but Dareus is not as much of an intimidating force in the trenches. Dareus still has the potential to be a space eating lineman, as he showed in the 2010 National Championship against Texas.
8. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri – 6’5, 232
This year’s quarterback class is not that strong after the departure of Andrew Luck, but Gabbert still has pro potential. At 6’5, he has a prototypical quarterback size and is above average in accuracy. However, Gabbert showed in the Insight Bowl that he still needs to work on his decision making.
9. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State – 6’1, 304
If you take a look at Paea’s background, he may remind you of Haloti Ngata. Prior to football, Paea was a rugby player in his native country of New Zealand. Although he is not the perfect size for a defensive tackle, he will still likely go as high as the top-10 in the draft.
10. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn – 6’6, 250
Depending on whom you ask, Newton could be the best player in this draft, or a second round talent. I am a firm believer that Newton has the potential to be a solid starting quarterback in the NFL, based on his speed, size, and underrated accuracy. His play relates to Vince Young, but if he develops behind a veteran for a year, he may turn out better than Young.