As the combine has already been completed and the pro-day tour is wrapping up, here’s a look at the top prospect in the draft.
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The more research that is done on Peterson, the harder it is not to like him as a prospect. The former LSU standout is by far the most versatile player in the draft, as he is a superb special teams player and has drawn attention for his ability to possibly switch to center. After the combine, it is clear that Peterson was born to play defensive back, as he moved quite smoothly through each drill. As of now, it does not seem apparent that the Carolina Panthers would spend their first overall pick on Peterson, mainly because teams do not like to make a large investment on the defensive back position. If Peterson is not the first player taken off the board, do not expect him to wait much longer afterwards. As the draft is right now, I don’t see Peterson making it past the San Francisco 49ers, which hold the seventh overall pick.
2. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Before the combine and pro-days, I had Fairley as the top player in the draft. However, Fairley weighed in at the combine less than 300 pounds, which may lead to teams looking elsewhere if they want a true nose tackle. While Fairley’s weight is not a large issue, it still may affect his draft stock. Regardless, Fairley was by far the most dominant defensive player in college football last season, and I expect his success to continue in the NFL. If pro teams believe that Fairley wasn’t just a one-year wonder, then he still has a chance to be a top-three pick.
3. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Despite Julio Jones’ eye-opening combine performance, A.J. Green is still the top receiver in the draft. In fact, he is the top offensive player in the draft. Green has drawn comparisons to the likes of Randy Moss and Andre Johnson, mainly due to Green’s ability to stretch the field as a vertical threat. While Green’s combine performance was not as productive as most thought it would be, he still possess the skill to take over a game at the wideout position. If the current draft order remains as it is, I don’t see Green falling past the Cleveland Browns, which hold the sixth pick.
4. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
No player in this year’s draft has helped his draft stock more in the past month than Marcell Dareus. Dareus’ combine performance was much better than Nick Fairley’s and some mock drafts now have him going to the Panthers with the first pick. While I do believe that Dareus is a top-five talent, I don’t see the Panthers taking him, as the Panthers have larger needs, mainly on the offensive side of the ball. I currently have Dareus below Fairley mainly because Fairley has the ability to change a game on the defensive line. Outside of Dareus’ interception return in the 2009 BCS National Championship, he has lacked the ability to make game-changing plays, which could affect his stock.
5. Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
For Von Miller, his rise up the draft boards has been much quieter than that of a guy like Marcell Dareus. Miller quietly had an excellent combine, and has recently been praised for not only his pass-rushing skills, but his ability to drop into pass-coverage. Clearly, Miller is the top pass-rusher in this year’s draft, as he recorded 17 sacks in 2009 and 11 sacks in 2010. For teams that need an all-around defensive player, Miller is the way to go. He is scheme-flexible, as he is capable of playing in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. That versatility will likely earn him a spot in the top five picks.
6. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
While prospects such as Marcell Dareus and Von Miller’s stocks have risen in the past moth or so, Bowers’ has greatly fallen. At the end of the 2010 season, Bowers was considered the top player in the draft by many analysts, including ESPN’s Todd McShay. However, Bowers was unable to participate in the combine due to a knee injury that required surgery. On top of that, teams will have to evaluate whether Bowers was a one-year wonder, as he recorded 16 sacks in 2010, but just three in 2009. Regardless, Bowers has the ability to greatly affect the opposing teams’ pass-offense, as he gets to the quarterback and records his sacks with ease.
7. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
While Patrick Peterson is the top defensive back in the draft, I believe that Amukamara will be the better cornerback. What I mean by that is I believe that Amukamara is better than Peterson strictly as a corner. However, Peterson has the ability to move to either safety position, which I do not believe Amukamara can do. What separates Amukamara from Peterson as a cornerback is Amukamara’s ability to completely shout down a receiver. One eye-opening number about Amukamara is that he had zero interceptions in 2010, but there is reasoning behind that. Like Nnamdi Asomugha, Prince Amukamara is the type of corner that will shut down any team’s top receiver. By doing that, teams tend to not throw Amukamara’s way, which limits his chances of recording an interception. If selected by a team with a large need for a cornerback, I expect Amukamara to be a starter as a rookie.
8. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Let me start off by saying I do not believe that the Panthers should take Blaine Gabbert with their No.1 pick; however, I believe they will. This year’s quarterback class is fairly deep, but it lacks any quarterbacks that scream franchise quarterback. With that said, Gabbert is at the top of this year’s class, as he is much more pro ready than Cam Newton. I have talked with ESPN’s Kevin Weidl before and he told me one thing to remember when evaluating prospects, stats aren’t everything. Clearly, Gabbert’s stats are not up to par with Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, but I do believe that he is the one quarterback in this year’s draft that could help change a franchise within two or three years.
9. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Had Robert Quinn played at any point in 2010, then I would likely have him in my top five. However, that year off from football will likely make teams think twice on taking him over a player such as Von Miller, who played all of the 2010 season with superb stats. If Quinn does fall to anywhere from picks 7-11, that team would get the steal of the draft. Many top defensive end prospects are praised for their play as a “high-motor” player, meaning that they never stop until the whistle. Quinn is the epitome of high-motor players, as he is a natural pass-rusher that could consistently get a team 8-12 sacks per year.
10. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
After the combine, I was tempted to move Jones up to a spot much higher than No. 10. However, it was revealed just days after the combine that Jones was working out with a broken foot that required surgery. While Jones is not necessarily a game-changing player that A.J. Green is, he still is capable of being a productive NFL receiver. If NFL teams believe that he will not have durability issues moving forward, then he will likely not make it past the Washington Redskins, which hold the No. 10 pick.