Here are my best overall available players in the 2011 NFL Draft.
1. WR A.J. Green, Georgia – Green is the top receiver prospect to come out since Calvin Johnson from in-state rival Georgia Tech in 2007. Green is 6-4 212 pounds with exceptional hands, body control, speed, and runs very smooth routes. He projects to be an instant difference maker on the next level and will be a top 5 pick.
2. DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson – Bowers has had extremely high expectations since high school when he was a 5 star recruit. This past season he put it all together to earn the 2010 Nagurski award as well as the ACC defensive player of the year with 67 tackles and 16 sacks. Bowers uses his long arms and strong hands very well against the run making him the all-around package.
3. DE Richard Quinn, North Carolina – Quinn missed the 2010 campaign due to a suspension for accepting improper benefits from an agent so he automatically has some character concerns yet his physical tools cannot be ignored. Quinn may be the most gifted player in this draft and in 2009 had 19 TFL, 11 sacks and six forced fumbles. He also plays with a non-stop motor and is an absolute terror off the edge. It is important to know that Quinn was diagnosed with a brain tumor in high school and didn’t let that derail his football career, battling and beating the disease.
4. CB Patrick Peterson, LSU – Peterson could be the new age corner of the football world or just a once in a lifetime player. Standing 6-1 and weighing an astonishing 222 pounds his size has scouts salivating over him and for good reason. He carries his weight masterfully and runs like he weighs 190, not 220+ lbs. The designated “best athlete in the draft” Peterson did it all at LSU earning the 2010 Bednarik, 2010 Thorpe, and 2010 SEC Defensive Player of the Year awards for his work as a corner and kick returner. Whoever drafts this kid will get the total package who can start at safety or corner as well as return kicks.
5. DT/DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama – Dareus is a guy who has made an enormous impact as a 3-4 defensive end and 4-3 defensive tackle while at Alabama. His prototypical size/strength combination with his burst off the line and excellent hands is why I have him this high. In 2009 he was named the defensive MVP of the National Championship game in which he was unstoppable. Dareus has everything you look for in building a team from the inside out and can be a force right away in the NFL.
6. LB Von Miller, Texas A&M – Once you turn on the film and watch this guy he jumps out at you and is all over the football field. His motor and energy rubs off on his teammates and changes the entire game. I love his versatility that he showed at the Senior Bowl, showcasing his ability to drop in coverage. Miller lead the nation in 2009 with 17 sacks as a 4-3 defensive end. In 2010 as a 3-4 outside linebacker he had 10.5 sacks and won the Butkus Award for the nation’s best linebacker. The 3-4 defense is becoming the standard defense in the NFL and Miller is the highest rated player at one of the most important positions on the defense; outside linebacker.
7. DT Nick Fairley, Auburn – Fairley like his counterpart Marcell Dareus was named defensive MVP for the national championship in 2011, in which he almost magically appeared in the backfield constantly throughout the game. Fairley’s most impressive quality is his quickness off the line. He is a relentless player who has drawn comparisons to current NFL defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Part of the reason for this comparison is Fairley’s knack for delivering cheap shots on players in which he has done multiple times this past season (check the Georgia film). Ultimately, Fairley started only 2 games in 2009 and was in junior college before that. With only one full season, as great as it was, I can’t see teams having enough tape to feel like he is clearly better then Marcell Dareus.
8. CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska – Amukamara has ideal size 6-1 202, excellent technique, and tremendous coverage ability. In 2010, Amukamara was thrown at 52 times allowing only 13 completions on the year. He also was a 1st team All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year without recording a single interception. He blankets receivers with such regularity that the ball hardly ever comes his way. The only real trouble he has had is with guys who have world class speed, so his 40 times at the combine and his pro day will be huge. If he can run a mid 4.5 or lower I think he will be fine and go within the first 10 picks on draft day.
9. RB Mark Ingram, Alabama – There are very few halfbacks that get by on effort and instincts the way the former Heisman Trophy winner does. In 2009-2010 Ingram carried Alabama’s offense on his shoulders, winning the Heisman and leading them to victory in the BCS National Championship game. Ingram is also the only player in Alabama’s rich history to have ever won the Heisman Trophy. His size (5-10 215), number (22), college production, and running style remind many of Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith. The knocks on Ingram are his durability issues as well as his breakaway speed. I think that is overrated in Ingram’s case, but the combine and his pro day can really boost his draft stock if he runs well. Expect Ingram to be a great pro if he can stay healthy.
10. WR Julio Jones, Alabama – Jones along with Green are part of the same high school recruiting class and have been battling for the ‘best receiver in the nation’ title ever since they began their respective college careers. Jones is a more physical player then Green, one of the most physical receivers I have seen in years. He is a great blocker with great ball skills and leaping ability. Jones also is extremely tough, having played through injuries throughout his stellar three year career at Alabama. Expect him to have an immediate impact in the NFL his rookie season.
11. QB Cam Newton, Auburn – Potential, potential, and potential. I know these words are usually reserved for the NBA, but Cam Newton is a special breed of quarterback. Standing 6-6 and weighing 250+ lbs, Newton is a big, fast, fearless player with underrated accuracy. He has won back to back National Championships on the Juco level as well as the BCS title last year. In one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen, Newton’s Auburn Tigers were down 24-0 against hated rival Alabama in the 2nd quarter and Newton capped the biggest comeback in Auburn history to win the game 28-27. He also won the Heisman trophy and became the 3rd player in history to rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season. With all this college production, it was only one season. Newton has many doubters coming out of college based on the spread system he played in, yet I still feel if he goes to the right situation (Washington, Arizona, Minnesota) he can have tremendous success on the next level.
12. DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa – The 2010 1st team All-American, Clayborn has been the type of player that Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz is known for recruiting; hard-working and relentless. When you see Clayborn play he is going full speed every play. At 6-4 285 pounds Clayborn has the chance to play as a 4-3 or 3-4 end in the NFL, this type of versatility only adds to his stock. I could see him going as high as number 12 to Minnesota but no lower then 27 to Atlanta.
13. DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin – Watt reminds me a lot of former Cornhusker Adam Carriker coming out of college with his size and style of play and could one day be like current Steelers DE Aaron Smith. Watt plays with reckless abandon and has no quit in him. He has ideal size for a 3-4 end at 6-6 292. Watt is a high character guy that any NFL team would love to have on their roster. In his shortage of athleticism he more then makes up for it with sheer effort to beat the man in front of him.
14. OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin – Wisconsin Badger offensive lineman have a reputation and Carimi fits the mold to the tee. He’s big (6-7 327), battle tested (started all four years), and has plenty of experience going against top level competition. He plays with a mean streak and has very good technique. I can see him moving over to the right side in the NFL and being a perennial pro bowler as well.
15. OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College – From the games and tape I have seen on Castonzo, there isn’t much not to like about him. He is 6-7 287 pounds so he will need to add some weight and see how his frame can handle it. I don’t see him having too much of a problem with that but I do see him having issues with the Dwight Freeney’s and DeMarcus Ware’s of the world, the super athletic, fast rushers. I like how he constantly battles his opponents and with some good coaching, could be a starter in the league for a long time, I just don’t see him ever being great.
16. DE Cameron Jordan, California – Jordan blew away the competition at the Senior Bowl and really showed his ability to rush the passer. Jordan wasn’t a very highly recruited player coming out of high school but worked himself into a 32 game starter and had 34 career tackles for loss. Jordan practically lived in the backfield this season due to his knack for shedding blocks. I rarely saw him blocked by one person and he gave fits to the undersized OT Tyron Smith this past season.
17. LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA – Ayers has tremendous size (6-4 255) with almost a slender, long looking build which kind of reminds me of Rolando McClain. Ayers lines up all over the field as a defensive end, middle linebacker, and his primary position was lining up outside the defensive end standing up as a linebacker. He has fluid hips and uses his hands extremely well keeping blockers away from his body. A solid tackler who flies around the field. His versatility makes him a lock for the first round.
18. QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri – A big, strong armed quarterback with above average accuracy. Gabbert lead his team to big wins this season including a victory over then #1 ranked Oklahoma. Gabbert had a better 2009 campaign in passing yards, touchdowns, and efficiency but in 2010 he did improve his completion percentage from 58 to 63 while attempting 30 more passes. I like Gabbert but I don’t love him, we’ll see how he does at the combine and pro days before I reach my final determination on him.
19. OG Mike Pouncey, Florida – Being the identical twin brother of one of the most successful rookie offensive lineman in NFL history has it’s benefits. This Pouncey has similar traits in that he has great feet, agility, and athleticism. He struggled badly at snapping the ball as a center early in the year and will most likely play guard in the NFL. He may not be a first rounder, but when it’s all said and done I think will be a solid starter in the league.
20. DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue – Kerrigan is one of the most productive players in this entire draft. He has started three years at Purdue and finished his senior season as a 1st team All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He lead the entire nation in tackles for loss with 26 and is part of a long list of great Purdue pass rushers who have succeeded at the NFL level. He doesn’t possess outstanding speed off the edge but he more then makes up for it with his intangibles and technique.
21. CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado – Smith flew under the radar at Colorado but has the size and speed to flourish in the NFL. He is a great man to man cover corner who only allowed 11 completions during his junior and senior seasons combined. He got by on his excellent athletic ability but will need to refine his technique on the next level. Smith could go earlier then the tape would indicate based off his sky high potential.
22. DE Aldon Smith, Missouri – Looks a lot like Jason Pierre-Paul from last year’s draft. Extremely quick off the ball and has freakish athleticism. I love how he is such an elusive pass rusher. He absolutely dominated against Colorado last year, abusing OT Nate Solder on more then one occasion in that game recording three sacks. He was hurt most of this last season and finished with 6 sacks. As a redshirt freshman in 2009 he had 11 sacks. Smith could go as high as #11 to Houston.
23. OT Nate Solder, Colorado – Solder is one of the most intriguing players in the draft due to his towering stature (6-8 319) and long arms. He is very athletic as well and has a lot of room left to gain 15-20 pounds. He also can get much better with his hands, on tape he got beat with inside moves way too much. He needs to develop more of a mean streak as well. After a year or two with the proper coaching, he could be a 10 year starter. More potential then substance right now.
24. OT Tyron Smith, USC – Smith is a guy many are comparing to former Terrapin OT Bruce Campbell because of his freakish athleticism for his position. He has some of the longest arms ever measured at the combine with 36 ? inches and huge hands (11 inches). He looks like he needs to grow into his body and add 10-20 pounds of weight to really be effective on the next level. I like his potential, but feel like he would be a reach inside of the top half of round one.
25. DE Cameron Hayward, Ohio State – Jordan lacks a huge burst off the line and won’t lead the NFL in sacks but he has been a fixture at Ohio State as a four year starter and team captain. He is best suited as a 3-4 end but can easily play 4-3 tackle or end as well. Jordan has a high football IQ to go along with NFL bloodlines. Very powerful and stout at the point of attack, fits the 3-4 end mold perfectly.