Top NFL draft prospects for 2011 - By Rotoworld's Evan Silva
1. Jake Locker,
Tremendously gifted at 6-3, 226 pounds with ideal arm strength and 4.5 speed, Locker is already UW's all-time leader in rushing by a quarterback and sixth on the Huskies' career passing list. The rising fifth-year senior has racked up 28 starts and stands to benefit greatly from Steve Sarkisian's pro-style system. However, Locker's accuracy is still a work in progress (53.4 career completion rate), and some NFL officials will question his commitment to the gridiron. The 22-year-old has been selected twice in the major league baseball draft and signed a six-year agreement with the Los Angeles Angels in 2009. The Angels are currently paying his scholarship costs at Washington.
2. Andrew Luck,
A rising third-year sophomore, Luck decisively won Stanford's starting job in '09 spring ball and went on to complete 56.3 percent of his passes with a 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio and impressive 8.94 yards-per-attempt average as a first-year starter. Also a plus-yardage scrambler, the athletic Luck averaged 5.8 yards per rush. Cardinal coach John Harbaugh took a run-first approach with Toby Gerhart as last season's centerpiece, but will lean heavily on Luck this year. At 6-4, 234 pounds, Luck is built for the NFL, and the 20-year-old is only going to get stronger. Harbaugh also runs a pro-style offense, which will expedite Luck's transition period if he declares.
4. Jonathan Baldwin,
A certain top-four member of what projects to be one of the best wideout drafts since '04, Baldwin so far has been the most dominant deep threat. Starter of 16 games to this point, the rising third-year junior averaged 20.2 yards per catch as the Panthers' split end. Baldwin, a native of Aliquippa (Penn.) - which has also produced Mike Ditka, Darrelle Revis, and Ty Law - was also a heavily recruited prep guard/forward, garnering numerous Division-I offers to play hoops. The 6-5, 225-pounds wideout's basketball background shows up on the field with leaping, highlight-reel grabs, elusive open-field running after the catch, and the ability to "go get" the football in traffic.
5. Gabe Carimi,
Former No. 3 overall pick Joe Thomas' successor, Carimi enters his fourth year as Wisconsin's starting left tackle with 2009 first-team All-Big Ten honors and 36 career starts. Carimi could afford to add weight to his 6-7, 315-pound frame, but is a ready-make NFL pass blocker and helped key a Badgers running game that led the conference and ranked 15th nationally last season. Carimi is the early favorite for 2010 Outland Trophy accolades as D-I's top lineman. Assuming he stays healthy, he also projects as the first tackle taken.
6. Marcell Dareus,
Dareus was a situational rusher behind a litany of future pros on Nick Saban's line, but still led the Crimson Tide in sacks (6.5) and posted nine tackles for loss off the bench. Set to start as a third-year junior, his production is likely to soar. Dareus, who made the hit that ended Colt McCoy's college career in January's BCS title game, has gained 26 pounds to reach 6-4, 306 pounds. His skill set is similar to Richard Seymour's as a freakish athlete with the ability to take over game by either crashing the pocket or commanding double and triple teams.
7. Adrian Clayborn,
A 22-year-old rising fifth-year senior, Clayborn earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors as a junior after dominating the Hawkeyes' difficult schedule en route to 20 tackles for loss (10th most in the nation), 11.5 sacks (tied for ninth nationally), and four forced fumbles. The 6-3, 282-pound edge-rushing beast is no one-trick pony, also excelling against the run for an Iowa rush defense that ranked 34th in the nation. Clayborn projects as the ideal strong-side end in a 4-3 system, though he'll have questions to answer after pleading guilty to assault for allegedly punching in a cab driver's face during the spring of 2009.
8. A.J. Green,
Green wasted no time getting on the field at Georgia, taking over as the Bulldogs' starting flanker as a true freshman and ranking second on the team in receiving behind Browns 2009 second-round pick Mohamed Massaquoi. The departure of Matthew Stafford took most of the life out of last season's offense, but Green remained dominant, earning consensus first-team All-SEC honors as a sophomore. Green combines elite downfield speed with a Randy Moss-like 6-4, 205-pound frame. Holder of a career 16.2 yards-per-catch average in Mark Richt's pro-style, vertical offense, Green is fearless over the middle and experienced beating double teams. He would benefit from a healthy season, though, after missing three games and part of another with a shoulder sprain.
9. Ryan Mallett,
Pushed out at Michigan when Rich Rodriguez (unsuccessfully) brought the read-option offense to Ann Arbor, Mallett resurfaced at Arkansas with former Falcons coach Bobby Petrino. Mallett took over the Razorbacks' offense in '09 with redshirt sophomore eligibility, immediately setting single-season school records for passing yards (3,627), touchdowns (30), and consecutive attempts without an interception. Mallett goes 6-6, 220 pounds and has an absolute cannon, but carries a couple of red flags. He was arrested in March 2009 for public intoxication, to which he'd pled guilty, and underwent surgery in February to fix a fractured left foot. Mallett is also only a 52.6-percent career passer.
10. Patrick Peterson,
Peterson, still just 19, emerged as one of the SEC's top cover corners as a true sophomore in 2009. Les Miles' coaching staff was so confident in the 2007 USA Today High School Player of the Year's ability that they assigned him to cover opposing No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis. Peterson responded by ranking third in the conference in pass breakups (15) and adding two interceptions, including a 37-yard pick six. Listed at 6-1, 211 pounds, Peterson is a true size corner who's been timed at 4.47 in the 40-yard dash. Also related to NFL players Santana Moss, Bryant McFadden, and Sinorice Moss, Peterson's lineage is almost as impressive as his physical gifts.
11. Julio Jones,
The 2008 SEC Freshman of the Year - beating out A.J. Green - Jones' numbers sank in 2009 following the graduation of quarterback John Parker Wilson. The Crimson Tide used a heavily run-oriented offense featuring Heisman winner Mark Ingram and explosive No. 2 back Trent Richardson. Also limited by an early-season knee sprain, Jones finished the year with 43 catches for 596 yards and four touchdowns - numbers good enough to lead Alabama but left him without all-conference recognition. He's an excellent bet to rebound with second-year starting QB Greg McElroy entering his senior season. At a Nike camp in high school, Jones was timed at 4.45 in the 40 with a 38.6-inch vertical jump, and measuring in at 6-4, 215 pounds. He's clearly got NFL tools.
12. Michael Floyd,
Notre Dame, WR
A product of the same high school as Joe Mauer, Matt Birk, Paul Molitor, and Chris Weinke, Floyd set Irish freshman records for catches (48), yards (719), and touchdowns (7) in his first year at South Bend. He led the nation in yards-per-catch average (29.1, with four more scores) as a true sophomore entering Notre Dame's Week 3 game, while arguably emerging as Jimmy Clausen's No. 1 receiver ahead of Seahawks 2010 second-round pick Golden Tate. A broken collarbone on an end-zone fall would cost Floyd the next six weeks, but he'd return to average eight grabs for 110 yards and a touchdown per game over the final month. Though he lacks blazing speed, the 6-3, 220-pound flanker is dominant on jump balls and poised to break out.
13. Mark Ingram,
Commonly compared to Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, Ingram is a versatile (32 catches in 2009), no-nonsense back with outstanding vision and good size (5-10, 215 pounds). The 2009 Heisman winner has been exceptionally durable throughout his career, dating back to high school. A workhorse, Ingram is coming off a 271-carry campaign in which he was the offensive focal point for the national champion Crimson Tide. Ingram has scored 32 touchdowns and averaged 5.8 yards per carry through two college seasons. Though he lacks home run speed and difference-making moves, Ingram projects as a hard-working, reliable pro who will fit well in a power-running offense.
14. Anthony Castonzo,
Boston College, T
Castonzo became the first true freshman to start on B.C.'s line in 10 years when he earned the Eagles' right tackle job in the fall of '07. He kicked to the blind side the following season, replacing Lions first-round pick Gosder Cherilus. Castonzo has yet to miss a start while piling up annual All-ACC accolades. Listed at 6-7, 295 pounds, Castonzo will have to bulk up to be an effective run blocker. But he is currently on track to become the next great prospect in a long line of heralded Boston College offensive linemen.
15. Prince Amukamara,
A special teamer/sub-package cornerback in his first two years, Amukamara earned a starting job as a third-year junior in 2009. He went on to intercept five passes, pace the Cornhuskers with 16 pass breakups, and record two sacks on corner blitzes as a first-team All-Big 12 pick. Nebraska also ranked first nationally in pass efficiency defense, yielding just seven touchdowns through the air. The unit will fall off some after losing all-world defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, trusty safety Matt O'Hanlon, and all-conference linebacker Phillip Dillard, but Amukamara returns as the top performer. If his dominant play keeps up, the 6-1, 205-pound corner could push for top-15 draft status.
16. Evan Royster,
Penn State, RB
Widely expected to enter the 2010 draft after a solid, if unspectacular junior year, Royster instead opted to stay in school for his senior season. The 6-1, 213-pound back's yards-per-carry average did slip from 6.5 in '08 to 5.7, so he'll be looking to display improved burst. Royster is a solid receiver (33 catches in 2008-09) and experienced in blitz pickup coming from the Nittany Lions' pro-style scheme. A one-cut runner with plenty of speed and power, Royster will be relied on more heavily than ever following the graduation of quarterback Daryll Clark. If Royster capitalizes on the opportunity, the fourth-year senior should hear his name called in round one next April.
17. Von Miller,
Texas A&M, DE
A ready-made 3-4 rush 'backer, Miller moved to the "Jack" position for A&M's defense last season after playing strictly linebacker as a freshman and sophomore. The athletic 21-year-old responded by leading the nation in sacks (17), finishing fifth in tackles for loss (21.5), and forcing four fumbles. Still raw and a liability against the run, Miller opted to stay in school for his senior season. He is relentless in the weight room and on the field, and figures to realize his potential as a three-down defender this year. Miller should enter the 2011 draft prepared for the pros with new Aggies defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter installing a 3-4 scheme in College Station.
18. Greg Jones,
Michigan State, LB
The Big Ten's leading tackler in 2009, Jones is an ubiquitous presence at middle linebacker. He's also the favorite for the 2010 Butkus Trophy and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, after sharing the latter award with Jared Odrick last year. Though undersized (6-1, 228 pounds), Jones atones with terrific instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed. He led MSU in tackles in each of his three years, including 36.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. Jones returned for his senior year with his sets set on improving in coverage, and spent the spring working with Michigan State's defensive backs. If he accomplishes the goal, he's a likely first-rounder.
19. Marvin Austin,
North Carolina, DT
A possible first-round pick had he declared this year, Austin withdrew his name from consideration for the 2010 draft due to the depth at the position. The 2006 High School Defensive Player of the Year instead returns for 2010 in search of a true senior-season breakout. Though exceptionally strong and hard to move, Austin managed just six tackles for loss and four sacks in 2009, and will need to improve his up-field penetration skills to solidify a spot among the top-10 picks. At the moment, the 6-3, 305-pound power player's best projection is at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
20. Joseph Barksdale,
Originally recruited as a five-star defensive tackle, Barksdale switched to offense as a freshman backup. He joined LSU's starting lineup as a sophomore right tackle, and has since started 25 straight games. With Ciron Black moving on, Barksdale will now kick to quarterback Jordan Jefferson's blind side. Barksdale is far more athletic than Black and projects as an immediate upgrade. If the transition goes smoothly as expected, Barksdale's NFL prospects will skyrocket.