Around the NFL Combine, College Football Editor, Danny Hobrock and I released our first top ten list of the draft season. After evaluating players’ offseason workouts at the Combine and at pro days, we’ve now updated our lists.
With this effort we’ve also chosen to break up the defensive linemen and linebacker categories to reflect defensive alignments. Here we will look at not only the top defensive ends in this class, but which players are best suited for the 3-4 or 4-3 defensive end positions, which are best suited as a 3-4 or 4-3 outside linebacker, and so on.
Without further ado, the Top Ten’s…
- Colin Kaepernick, Nevada Wolf Pack: Kaepernick combines accuracy with a rocket arm. He can also beat defenses with his legs but is wise enough to go through his reads before running.
- Cam Newton, Auburn Tigers: He could be a faster Ben Roethlisberger if he continues to develop his craft. It’ll be tough to break him of his natural tendency of running after his first read.
- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri Tigers: Has the intangibles that teams like in quarterbacks but he needs more development than most people are willing to admit.
- Jake Locker, Washington Huskies: Most people either hate him or love him. He’s the best passer we’ve seen out of the pocket. He needs to develop his in-the-pocket accuracy.
- Ryan Mallett, Arkansas Razorbacks: His talent is worthy of a higher ranking. He has the most natural throwing motion and looks effortless. Character issues and late game mistakes are big problems.
- Andy Dalton, TCU Horned Frogs: He can cut through defenses with precision. He isn’t the flashiest quarterback, but he can make all the throws and is deadly accurate.
- Christian Ponder, Florida State Seminoles: Can he stay healthy is a big question. Ponder looks like a pro quarterback coming from under center, but doesn’t wow us with his game film.
- Nathan Enderlie, Idaho Vandals: It appears that he’ll be able to play at the next level, but it would have been nice to see him perform against top college talent before facing the pros.
- Pat Devlin, Delaware Fighting Blue Hens: He has multiple personalities on the football field. He starts to impress us on film and then he begins to look like a completely different quarterback.
- Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes: He has benefited a lot from his footwork, but we aren’t as high on Stanzi. Don’t believe that he’ll be more than a backup at the next level.
- Mark Ingram, Alabama Crimson Tide: Not worried about his forty time. Ingram is featured back material and should come off the board sometime in the mid-first round.
- Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech Hokies: Phenomenal field vision. Climbing up draft boards and could hear his name called near the bottom of round one.
- Mikel Leshoure, Illinois Fighting Illini: The third potential first round running back in this year’s class, Leshoure possesses an excellent combination of size and speed.
- Daniel Thomas, Kansas State Wildcats: Very productive for the Wildcats: 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns in ’09 followed by 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns in ’10.
- DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma Sooners: Rounded out a productive collegiate career with 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior.
- Delone Carter, Syracuse Orange: One of the main reasons for Syracuse’s success last season. Rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the wild Pinstripe Bowl win over Kansas State.
- Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh Panthers: Could be a game changer. Shifty runner with good footwork, Lewis fell off in production in 2010, but had a fantastic 2009 season.
- Da’Rel Scott, Maryland Terrapins: Great forty time at the Combine (4.35). Had some injury concerns throughout his career, but should nevertheless be a third day pick.
- Jordan Todman, Connecticut Huskies: Very productive junior season, rushing for 1,695 yards and 14 touchdowns. Also productive in 2009, rushing for 1,188 yards and 14 touchdowns with the same 5.1-yard average he had in 2010.
- Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State Cowboys: Had two 200-yard rushing performances in 2010. Rushed for over 1,500 yards for second time in his career (also in 2008). Injured much of 2009 season.
- A.J. Green, Georgia Bulldogs: An explosive play maker that can start from day one. Green provides matchup problems for some of the game’s best cornerbacks.
- Julio Jones, Alabama Crimson Tide: A different style but a lot closer to AJ Green than what many people believe. Jones is a more physical receiver than Green.
- Leonard Hankerson, Miami Hurricanes: He’s the premier possession receiver in this draft with the ability to play the number one role.
- Torrey Smith, Maryland Terrapins: Physical freak with game changing speed. Cut in the mold of Anquan Boldin, but with the speed to get over the top.
- Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh Panthers: He has the height and leaping ability to be a top receiver, but doesn’t play as physical as a 6’5 receiver needs to.
- Titus Young, Boise State Broncos: Smaller receiver with quick cuts and good speed. He can get separation with a quick switch on his change of direction. Hard for defenders to stay with.
- Tandon Doss, Indiana Hoosiers: Doss has everything that you would want out of a rookie receiver, but isn’t the elite talent of Green or Jones, or a specialty player like the four guys in front of him.
- Greg Little, North Carolina Tar Heels: Character issues and the awful knack of always getting caught in lies has made Little’s stock plummet. On game day, though, one lucky team will be happy they got him.
- Jerrel Jernigan, Troy Trojans: Jernigan can fill a lot of holes for a team. He can play receiver, kick returner, and punt returner. We like him better than Randall Cobb.
- Terrence Toliver, LSU Tigers: Tolliver is a bigger receiver that can move. He showed his heart at his pro day. After getting injured, he continued to go through the rest of his workout.
- Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Collegiate career was affected by injuries, but that shouldn’t keep him from being the first tight end taken.
- Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin Badgers: Effective pass catcher with good hands. Kendricks was the Wisconsin leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last year.
- Luke Stocker, Tennessee Volunteers: Stocker has good size and is an effective pass catcher and blocker.
- Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic Owls: Moving up draft boards following a phenomenal showing at the Combine. Put on a lot of bulk and carried it extremely well.
- D.J. Williams, Arkansas Razorbacks: Good run blocker, but perhaps an even better pass catcher. He has been productive for the Razorbacks with 699 receiving yards as a sophomore, 411 yards as a junior and 627 yards as a senior.
- Virgil Green, Nevada Wolf Pack: A warrior during the workouts, but was productive for Colin Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack offense, catching 35 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
- Mike McNiell, Nebraska Cornhuskers: May play out of the slot in the NFL. Six touchdowns in ’08, four in ’09 and one in ’10.
- Jordan Cameron, USC Trojans: Limited experience, but great athleticism for somebody 6’5 and 254 pounds. Former basketball player.
- Julius Thomas, Portland State Vikings: Another former basketball player, Thomas looked good in drills at both the Combine and at his pro day.
- Weslye Saunders, South Carolina Gamecocks: Once considered perhaps the top tight end prospect in this class, Saunders was released from the team and then was injured during the Combine. He could fall into the late rounds.
- Tyron Smith, USC Trojans: He has done everything asked of him this offseason. He needed to add weight and he’s already put on 20 pounds. He fits perfectly in the zone blocking scheme.
- Nate Solder, Colorado Buffaloes: Former tight end that is still developing. He isn’t the most pro ready but could become the best out of this class.
- Anthony Castonzo, Boston College Eagles: Moves well off the ball. He’s the most ready to step into game action tomorrow, but isn’t far from his ceiling.
- Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State Bulldogs: The forgotten man in this group. Sherrod is a mauler that will put defenders on their backs looking up at the roof.
- Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin Badgers: Probably the most controversial tackle in the group. There are reports some teams like him as the best prospect, but we aren’t buying that.
- Benjamin Ijalana, Villanova Wildcats: He could play inside if needed, but we like him on the edges. He’ll make a roster as a right tackle.
- James Carpenter, Alabama Crimson Tide: He’s a bigger player that doesn’t move as quick, but if he gets his hands on the opponent, then it’s over. Could be a sleeper in this class.
- Joseph Barksdale, LSU Tigers: Cut in a similar mold of Carpenter, we have some of the same questions about whether he can be successful against speed rushers off the edge.
- James Brewer, Indiana Hoosiers: He is a talented player that will have mental breakdowns at times. He focuses on a player’s strength and will overstep to make up for it.
- Chris Hairston, Clemson Tigers: Shows a great ability to get to the second level to break open big gainers.
- Danny Watkins, Baylor Bears: Hasn’t been playing the game long, but is already one of the top at his position. Mature and takes coaching well. Doesn’t have a lot of bad habits.
- Mike Pouncey, Florida Gators: Extremely talented player that is getting better reviews due to the success of his brother.
- Rodney Hudson, Florida State Seminoles: It was hard to not put Hudson above Pouncey. Hudson is that talented on the interior of the line. He may be best at center in the NFL.
- Marcus Cannon, TCU Horned Frogs: Shows the talent and ability to play tackle, but is better suited to use his 350 pound frame on the inside.
- Stefan Wisniewski, Penn State Nittany Lions: A fortress over the ball, he’ll make his quarterback feel comfortable taking snaps from him.
- Clint Boling, Georgia Bulldogs: Another one of those players that has moments of mental lapses. He could stonewall players all game and then have a play that has you wondering about his thought process.
- Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU Horned Frogs: A huge key to the success of Dalton at TCU. Dalton never had to worry about pressure from up the middle.
- John Moffitt, Wisconsin Badgers: Another version of Gabe Carimi, but as an interior lineman. He plays like a bully, which is beneficial.
- Orlando Franklin, Miami Hurricanes: He could actually be taken higher due to his skill set. Reports are some teams have him rated an early second rounder.
- Tim Barnes, Missouri Tigers: Huge player for the center position. He anchors well, but his height would prevent me from taking him on any team with a quarterback under 6’3.
4-3 Defensive End
- Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson Tigers: Concerns over injuries could force him out of consideration for the top overall selection, but he’s the best talent in this class.
- Robert Quinn, North Carolina Tar Heels: Forced to sit the 2010 season as part of the UNC scandal, but was considered possible top overall pick heading into last season. Should come off in first half of the first round.
- Cameron Jordan, California: Pretty swim move. We like him as a top ten pick on April 28.
- J.J. Watt, Wisconsin Badgers: An effective end in either a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment. Better athlete than many expected.
- Aldon Smith, Missouri Tigers: High-motor player with great agility and athleticism. Relatively limited collegiate experience as a redshirt sophomore, but a first round guy nonetheless.
- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue Boilermakers: Listed as a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect, too, but we like him as a 4-3 end. Twelve sacks in 2009 and 13 in 2010. Very productive.
- Justin Houston, Georgia Bulldogs: Seven sacks in 2009 and 10 in 2010. Improved his forty from 4.68 at the Combine to 4.57 at his pro day.
- Brooks Reed, Arizona Wildcats: Another fast riser this year, Reed could play the 4-3 end spot or could line up at 3-4 outside linebacker.
- Adrian Clayborn, Iowa Hawkeyes: He’ll probably work better as a 3-4 end, but don’t be surprised if a team running a 4-3 alignment comes calling.
- Sam Acho, Texas Longhorns: Acho was the recipient of the Wuerffel Trophy and the Campbell Trophy, which are given to individuals combining athletics with academics and community service. Another hybrid 4-3 end/3-4 outside linebacker.
3-4 Defensive End
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama Crimson Tide: Will probably go in the top three. Six sacks last year and five this season. Good size, strength, speed combination.
- Cameron Jordan, California Golden Bears: Cameron would probably work out best as a 3-4 end. Good size and is able to get into the backfield to disrupt the play or get to the quarterback.
- Nick Fairley, Auburn Tigers: Fairley is this year’s top defensive lineman if he’s lining up at the tackle spot. In a 3-4 alignment, he would also be an very good end.
- J.J. Watt, Wisconsin Badgers: Great pass rusher who is versatile in terms of alignment. Also an effective defender against the run.
- Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple Owls: Wilkerson is sort of a wildcard in this draft. He could go anywhere from the 17th pick to the New England Patriots, or could fall into the second round.
- Adrian Clayborn, Iowa Hawkeyes: Will work best out of a 3-4 alignment. Good size with a knack for disrupting the play.
- Cameron Heyward, Ohio State Buckeyes: Once considered a high-first rounder, Heyward could come off in the second. A hard worker and good defender against the run.
- Christian Ballard, Iowa Hawkeyes: Part of some tough Iowa defensive lines with Adrian Clayborn. He has shown that he’s an intelligent player who is tough in against the pass and against the run.
- Allen Bailey, Miami Hurricanes: Once considered a first rounder, Bailey may not hear his name called until the third. In all likelihood, though, he’ll be a second rounder. He’s a versatile player, but the 3-4 end spot fits him best.
- Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson Tigers: Good strength and is tough against the run. Also a 4-3 tackle prospect.
4-3 Defensive Tackle
- Nick Fairley, AuburnTigers: Wonder what people are seeing that has made them sour on Fairley. When you put on the tape, he shows he’s a playmaker and the best defensive tackle in the draft.
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama Crimson Tide: Don’t take the prior statement as a knock on Dareus; he’s a playmaker, but is better suited as a 3-4 defensive end.
- Corey Liuget, Illinois Fighting Illini: You can’t watch film in which Liuget is involved and not be immediately drawn to his game plan.
- Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple Owls: Shows inconsistency and wears out during games, but he’s a beast when he isn’t fighting for air.
- Phil Taylor, Baylor Bears: He’s obviously best at the nose tackle, but will draw a lot of attention as a defensive tackle due to how well he moves his weight.
- Marvin Austin, North Carolina Tar Heels: He’s able to eat up space, but don’t mistake that to mean he can’t move. He’ll pursue backs from behind.
- Stephen Paea, Oregon State Beavers: He’s become known for his strength, but that isn’t just who he is. He reads and reacts well to the offense.
- Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson Tigers: He uses his length and reach to cause havoc in the middle. Has proven he’s able and willing to fight off consistent double teams.
- Jurrell Casey, USC Trojans: Once he was one of the top prospects in this class. He isn’t as ready as some of these other top prospects, but has the ability to develop as a force.
- Sione Fua, Stanford Cardinal: A clog that will force backs out of their comfort zone and generate plays for everyone else around him.
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama Crimson Tide: He’s cut more in the mold of a 3-4 defensive end, but can step up and play the middle at a high level for a team wanting him in that role.
- Phil Taylor, Baylor Bears: This is what he was born to do. His name will be mentioned in the league for years to come because of this role.
- Jerrell Powe, Mississippi Rebels: Until Taylor blew on the scene, Powe was getting all the recognition as the premier 3-4 nose tackle.
- Kenrick Ellis, Hampton Pirates: Small school prospect that isn’t getting the press he should. Moves well and attacks the ball carrier.
- Ian Williams, Notre Dame Fighting Irish: As is true of most nose tackles, his effectiveness decreases with more reps. Seems to tire easy.
- Chris Neild, West Virginia Mountaineers: Plays with a chip on his shoulder due to the fact that he should be a household name and not many even know who he is.
- Sione Fua, Stanford Cardinal: He’s more suited for this position than at 4-3 defensive tackle. He’ll make it easy for linebackers to have clear lanes.
- Anthony Gray, Southern Miss Golden Eagles: In a limited nose tackle class, Gray could benefit from all of the 3-4 teams in need of this craft.
- Frank Kearse, Alabama A&M Bulldogs: Another player that has the ability to make players around him better. Doesn’t get the publicity due to the fact that he does the dirty work.
- Terron Sanders, Florida Gators: A feisty player that seems to feed off of the contact. Almost plays better against double teams. He’ll take up the interior.
3-4 Outside Linebacker
- Von Miller, Texas A&M Aggies: Just a terror in the pass rush.
- Robert Quinn, North Carolina Tar Heels: Like him best as a 4-3 end, but would be a good rush linebacker, too.
- Aldon Smith, Missouri Tigers: Great athlete, great pass rusher. Will probably come off the board in the middle of the first.
- Akeem Ayers, UCLA Bruins: A natural athlete even if his forty time has some worried. Knows how to get the quarterback.
- Justin Houston, Georgia Bulldogs: Excellent pass rusher. Could come off the board in the late first round.
- Brooks Reed, Arizona Wildcats: Could find himself playing the 3-4 outside linebacker spot. Recorded 73 tackles and seven sacks in 2010.
- Sam Acho, Texas Longhorns: Great athlete with a high motor. High football IQ who works hard on his game both on the field and off of it.
- Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh Panthers: Very productive pass rusher with five sacks each in 2008 and 2009 and nine sacks in 2010.
- Chris Carter, Fresno State Bulldogs: Came away with eleven sacks in 2010. Good explosion at the snap.
- Dontay Moch, Nevada Wolf Pack: Another Wolf Pack player whose draft stock was helped at the Combine. Had nine sacks in 2010, but was not a one-hit wonder by any means. Recorded 11 sacks in 2008 and six in 2009.
4-3 Outside Linebacker
- Von Miller, Texas A&M Aggies: Best as a 3-4 rush linebacker, but could play 4-3 outside linebacker as well.
- Akeem Ayers, UCLA Bruins: Slower forty time has to have some teams worried, but should be picked up somewhere in the bottom of the first round.
- Bruce Carter, North Carolina Tar Heels: An injury will probably knock Carter out of first round consideration. He should ultimately be a second day pick.
- Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut Huskies: Wilson has reportedly met with several teams and even has a few scheduled workouts. He’ll likely be taken by a team running a 4-3 alignment.
- Ross Homan, Ohio State Buckeyes: A tough player who was extremely productive as a junior with 108 tackles. Recorded 73 tackles as a senior.
- Mason Foster, Washington Huskies: Could be a second day pick. Good senior season in which he recorded 162 tackles and seven sacks, and was impressive at the senior bowl.
- J.T. Thomas, West Virginia Mountaineers: A leader on the third-ranked defense in the country. Came up with 73 tackles as a senior and 76 as a junior.
- K.J. Wright, Mississippi State Bulldogs: Productive throughout his career with 72 tackles as a sophomore, 82 as a junior and 93 as a senior.
- Eric Gordon, Michigan State Spartans: Ran a 4.53 forty at his pro day. Recorded 92 tackles as a senior. Combined with Greg Jones to create a tough linebacker corps for the Spartans.
- Adrian Moten, Maryland Terrapins: Weighed in at only 228 pounds, but a solid athlete and defender nonetheless.
- Martez Wilson, Illinois Fighting Illini: Ran well at the Combine, but reports indicate his footwork was not what many would have liked.
- Greg Jones, Michigan State Spartans: Jones was very productive in college, recording 106 tackles as a senior and 154 tackles as a junior.
- Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina Tar Heels: Missed a chunk of the 2010 season due to injury, but generally considered a top linebacker at his position.
- Colin McCarthy, Miami Hurricanes: Looked good in position drills at Combine and his pro day. Came away with 120 tackles in 2010. Moved to the middle as a senior.
- Nate Irving, North Carolina State Wolf Pack: A possible third round pick, Irving performed well at his pro day after he did not workout at the Combine.
- Kelvin Sheppard, LSU Tigers: Athletic, experienced and good lateral movement make Sheppard a versatile prospect who should come off the board in the mid-rounds.
- Casey Matthews, Oregon Ducks: Injured during the Combine, Matthews did not blow anybody away at his pro day. Nevertheless, he’s likely still a mid-round pick.
- Josh Bynes, Auburn Tigers: Bynes possesses good strength and was productive at Auburn, recording 104 tackles in ’09 and then 73 in ’10.
- Mike Mohamed, California Golden Bears: Another productive inside prospect, Mohamed recorded seven interceptions in his career. He’s a solid tackler who plays with a high motor.
- Akeem Dent, Georgia Bulldogs: Had 125 tackles in 2010 including 6.5 for a loss. He plays from the snap to the whistle on every play and is a good leader on the field.
- Patrick Peterson, LSU Tigers: The prototype of the new NFL cornerback. He can do whatever a team asks of him.
- Brandon Harris, Miami Hurricanes: Maybe the most underrated talent in this draft. He looks like an NFL corner while running through drills. He has perfect technique and will start as a rookie.
- Jimmy Smith, Colorado Buffaloes: Character issues could cause him to slide into the second round, but he’s a top 15 talent.
- Curtis Brown, Texas Longhorns: Brown covers a ton of ground and is a ball hawk that will terrorize NFL quarterbacks.
- Ras-I Dowling, Virginia Cavaliers: Another player that a team should be able to steal in the second round due to injury concerns.
- Johnny Patrick, Louisville Cardinals: He’s getting attention from tons of teams and will go higher than what anyone expects. Has the ability to cover anyone.
- Davon House, New Mexico State Aggies: Blazing speed to go with great height, and ability to help against the running game.
- Chris Culliver, South Carolina Gamecocks: Shows amazing awareness of where his teammates are as well as the receiver. Can run with anyone.
- Kendric Burney, North Carolina Tar Heels: He would be higher on the list if he was more consistent. He has letdowns a few times a game.
- Brandon Burton, Utah Utes: He plays physical and completely shutdown Jonathan Baldwin when they faced off. A team can put him on bigger receivers and allow him to take him out the game.
- Prince Amukamara, Nebraska Cornhuskers: For all of the weaknesses we see in his game as a cornerback, he shows strengths as a safety. He would be a Pro Bowl safety multiple times over.
- Rahim Moore, UCLA Bruins: A ball hawk that plays from sideline to sideline. No ball that’s put in the air is safe when he’s on the field.
- Aaron Williams, Texas Longhorns: Much in the same way as Prince, Aaron’s game equates better as a safety. He can cover and is physical enough to make receivers regret catching the ball.
- Quinton Carter, Oklahoma Sooners: A team would be happy to get Carter’s playmaking skills. He reads what the offense is doing well.
- Tyler Sash, Iowa Hawkeyes: A complete safety that has the ability to step in quickly with the right mentoring.
- DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson Tigers: A big hitter that can get caught out of position. He has a great mix of pop and ball awareness.
- Deunta Williams, North Carolina Tar Heels: He has a knack of being around the ball. He’s able to get over to help his corners and protect the back end.
- Ahmad Black, Florida Gators: Extremely talented safety that shows well on film, but there are questions concerning his speed.
- Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple Owls: He moves well enough and coverage is good enough to play corner, but he’s best suited to protect the back end and play centerfield.
- Jeron Johnson, Boise State Broncos: Shows equal awareness to the run and pass protection. He can pick the holes and read the quarterback’s eyes naturally.
Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You may email Jayson directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock
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