What players will be "Ready" for the NFL Draft?
Your franchise could easily be set back by one pick and money could be easily drained from your franchise quicker than you can say Ryan Leaf.
A team like the Cardinals may get lucky and cash in on the stock of a rising player like last year's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Yet for every Rodgers-Cromartie, there is a Troy Williamson being drafted as a team's future "No. 1 receiver."
Despite the inevitable bad choice that every team makes once in a while, there are always certain players who can come in and be a solid to great starter for a franchise, with little worry as to whether they will be able to acclimate to the NFL.
Players that fit that mold have had little to no injuries during their college career, are consistently motivated to stay in NFL shape, and have every facet of the game covered to play all four downs.
With that in mind, these are the top 10 players that have answered that call throughout their college careers.
1) Aaron Curry (OLB) 6'2, 254 lbs.; Wake Forest
Although Curry was rarely seen on the national stage, he has proven to be the most consistent player entering the Draft.
As a four-year senior, Curry has proven that he has the smarts and dedication to improve his game to where he can step in at any of the linebacker spots on a team. Watching Curry make plays is like watching Patrick Willis play for the 49ers.
He doesn't get much recognition, but the true football fans have at least seen video of his complete game in action.
The one thing that stands out on tape is Curry's reaction to read plays before they happen. Although he is not the most athletic specimen, he knows how to cover adequately enough to play in either the 4-3 or 3-4 defense in the NFL.
Any team that drafts him knows they have a solid all around starter for the next 10 years.
2) Malcolm Jenkins (CB/S) 6'0", 204 lbs.; Ohio State
As arguably the top cornerback in the draft, Jenkins has found a way to remain in the top 10 despite returning to school last year.
Watching Jenkins against Michigan for the past four years, it was obvious that his natural talent would lead him to success in the NFL.
Although it was painful watching him shutting down receivers on the Maize and Blue, his size, speed, and athleticism set him apart from nearly everyone on the field.
His hips are very fluid, which is probably the most important aspect of a cornerback that likes to play physical.
Like many corners, quicker, smaller players like Wes Welker will be able to separate from Jenkins.
Yet he seems to have the closing speed to get to them before they are able to pull away.
With Jenkins, a team will be finding a player similar to Anthony Henry, who could be a very solid corner for a team in need of secondary help.
His possible shift to safety would only give Jenkins added value as a multidimensional player in the NFL.
3) Michael Crabtree (WR) 6'1, 215 lbs.; Texas Tech
There seems to be a consensus by the majority of the NFL pundits that Crabtree will be the next Larry Fitzgerald.
Although that sounds extremely premature for a two-year player in college, Crabtree has shown that he has what it takes to make an impact in the NFL, next year and beyond.
Year-in and year-out, the wide receiver position is the one position on the field that teams have problems drafting. Just ask the Detroit Lions.
Sometimes, you make the right choice, and the talent develops into Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams. Other times, that player is cut from your team after three years of disappointment and becomes the next Mike Williams or Charles Rogers.
Because of his ability to do everything on the field, Crabtree will surely be able to help a struggling team's offense. His body control is what truly separates Crabtree from the rest of the competition.
Although his injury may damage his stock somewhat, his great hands and unquestionable toughness will have any quarterback in the NFL more than willing to the get the ball to the young star from Texas Tech.
4) B.J Raji (DT) 6'1, 337 lbs.; Boston College
Before the combine and senior bowl, B.J. Raji wasn’t getting anything near the recognition that he’s been receiving lately.
As a true NT in the 3-4, Raji could help a team like the Packers or Broncos make the transition more smoothly than most defensive tackles would. Built ideally for a defensive tackle, he has the ability to close the running lanes but still be quick enough to get around opposing offensive lineman.
Very rarely do NFL-ready players not attain some recognition before the Senior Bowl, but Raji has separated himself into a different class. Watching the Boston College alum at the point of attack is what is truly amazing.
Most defensive tackles at his weight have the tendency to wear down quickly, yet he still finds a way to make an impact play after play.
Although Raji was a quick riser during the college football offseason, he makes an appearance on the board because of his aggressive play at Boston College and his ability to play all four downs effectively.
5) Brandon Pettigrew (TE) 6'5", 263 lbs.; Oklahoma St.
Hailed as the best tight-end before the combine, Pettigrew’s stock has taken a hit on many draft boards.
Yet his play on the field is what will give real value to NFL teams.
Another member of a high flying offense in the Big 12, Pettigrew is possibly the best all-around tight-end in the draft. With ideal size and very good hands, Pettigrew has proven that he can catch anything thrown to him.
His lack of breakaway speed at the combine may have turned some away, but as a 263-pound tight-end, he should do just fine.
What separates Pettigrew from every other tight-end has been his willingness to block.
Although he may fall into the second round because of his average speed, the value many teams have in toughness over flashiness ensures that he will play a major role as a tight-end next year.
6) Tyson Jackson (DL) 6'4", 296 lbs.; LSU
Although he might not be a household name or the flashiest player on the field, Jackson has shown that he can be one of the most effective defensive linemen in college football.
With the LSU defense having a down year in 2008, Jackson was still able to find a way to remain in the first round range of this year’s draft. Although he has the versatility to be a solid player along the defensive line, he is best suited for the 3-4.
He has ideal size, and most importantly, knows how to play the run. In the 3-4, a player like Jackson could be extremely effective in a supporting role, despite his lack of a pass rushing ability.
When I saw Jackson at LSU, it was reminiscent of New York Giant, Chris Canty. Although he may not be as big as Canty just yet, he has the body type to put on the weight and make an impact for a team’s 3-4 defense next year.
7) James Laurinaitis (LB) 6'2", 244 lbs.; Ohio St.
The "little animal," known as James Laurinaitis has proven himself to be one of the best linebackers in the country. Winning possibly every award a linebacker can receive, he has shown his all-around game.
Like teammate and fellow NFL-ready player, Malcolm Jenkins, Laurinaitis decided to return for his senior year.
Unlike Jenkins, however, he might have hurt his stock. As with most players in their senior year, some of the critics have picked apart his game, despite there being very little to condemn.
Although he might not be the most athletic player in football, (as shown by his 40-time at the combine), he's undoubtedly one of the best leaders anytime he's on the field.
The Ohio State product may carry with him the dreaded "Ohio State linebacker" label to the pros, but with his skill set, he should be rid of it rather quickly. Unlike many middle linebackers, Laurinaitis has the ability to cover receivers and tight-ends.
His hip movements are as fluid as any linebacker in the draft and that can also allow him to play on the outside for any team set at inside linebacker. Plus, with a name like Laurinaitis, he has starting linebacker written all over him.
8) Alex Mack (OL) 6'4", 311 lbs.; California
And the run on seniors continues. Mack is arguably the best non-tackle offensive lineman in the draft.
Although some project him at guard, Mack is a starting center in the making. As a solid part of Cal's offensive line for four years, Mack has shown that he has the ability to control the line of scrimmage. As a center and leader, that will only help him as draft time nears.
Because he is a center, Mack will most likely fall to the end of the first round, if not to the second. Efficiency and NFL-readiness sometimes aren't as appealing as someone with immense athleticism and potential.
The most noteworthy aspect of Mack's game has been his ability as a center and guard to get his hands on defenders in the running game. Just ask former Cal Bear running back and current Seattle Seahawk, Justin Forsett.
If an NFL team wants a stalwart at center for the next 10-12 years, Mack would definitely be their best option.
9) Duke Robinson (OL) 6'5", 329 lbs.; Oklahoma
A senior himself, George "Duke" Robinson, has given the high-flying offense, led by Sam Bradford, the time to be dynamic during his time at OU.
A mammoth guard, Robinson has the god-given ability to open running lanes and keep them open. Despite being larger than your average human being, Robinson has also demonstrated the quickness to pull and lead running backs down the field.
Similar to Dallas Cowboy guard, Leonard Davis, teams may attempt to place Robinson at the tackle position.
Yet after watching him at Oklahoma and the combine, it was obvious that he lacked the foot speed to keep up with outside rushers. Ideally, a team at the beginning of the second round will choose Robinson as a guard and make their running backs delighted.
10) Hakeem Nicks (WR) 6'1", 212 lbs.; North Carolina
As one of the two underclassmen on my NFL-ready draft board, Hicks performed extremely well as a receiver both at North Carolina and the combine. Not afraid to cross the middle, Nicks, should find his way onto the field sooner rather than later.
With unbelievable hands and such natural body control, Nicks has already received my Torry Holt label before he even enters the NFL.
Ironically, Holt went to North Carolina State, only a few hours from UNC.
Similar to Holt, he does everything well, but nothing spectacular. Although Holt blazed the combine with a 40-time close to 4.30, he was still viewed as too small, at 6'0" (with cleats on) and too thin.
With average size and average speed, Nicks may seem like nothing more than an average receiver. Yet, he has the natural hands and toughness to make a difference for a franchise, as a possible second or third wide receiver, as soon as he enters the NFL.
Top 5 that missed the cut:
1) Knowshon Moreno (RB) 5'11", 217 lbs.; Georgia
Despite how much I like Moreno as the top running back in the draft, it is difficult to place him in my top 10, considering his lack of size.
Although listed at 217, his thin frame is evident when he's on the field. If Moreno had the legs of Maurice Jones-Drew, he would be even more dangerous than he is now.
The best part about Moreno is his all-around ability to make plays. As both a running back and receiver, he knows how to break away from defenders and continue to make them miss.
With great hands (a la Derrick Ward), the Georgia running back should find his way into someone's rotation next year.
2) Jeremy Maclin (WR) 6'0", 198 lbs.; Missouri
If my top 10 had room for a kick/punt returner, Maclin would be the guy. Yet as a receiver, Maclin hasn't had the opportunity to show that he can run precise routes.
With Chase Daniel firing passes and allowing Maclin to make plays, he was able to compile huge amounts of yardage within ten yards of scrimmage.
Given more precise and deeper routes in the NFL, there is no way of telling whether he will adapt. Either way his NFL-readiness as a special teams ace leaves him right outside my top 10.
3) Alphonso Smith (CB) 5'9", 193 lbs.; Wake Forest
Arguably one of the top 5 risers on draft boards during the offseason, Smith has shown that he can be a factor in the secondary.
After five minutes of viewing him on film, it is evident to anyone that his ball-hawking skills are among the best in college football.
Although he is extremely tough and physical with receivers, his lack of size will probably relegate him to nickel back duty for his first year in the NFL.
As a vertically-challenged individual myself, I know that his height will play a role in personnel decisions, until he establishes himself.
After that, however, his lack of size shouldn't prevent him from attaining a starting position and becoming the next Asante Samuel.
4) Patrick Chung (S) 5'11", 212 lbs.; Oregon
With safety being one of the least-valued positions in the NFL, Chung will most likely fail to get drafted in the first round, although he still could be the top safety taken in April.
At Oregon, Chung demonstrated an ability to attack the line of scrimmage, while still being able to recover and play deep.
Yet, despite the high level of awareness on the field, he lacks the size as a possible strong safety in the NFL. Although he plays tougher than he looks, Chung will probably being his career focusing on special teams.
5) Juaquin Iglesias (WR) 6'1", 210 lbs.; Oklahoma
While playing at Oklahoma, Iglesias appeared to be the second coming of Anthony Gonzalez.
Although nothing flashy, Iglesias has the ability to come into the NFL and automatically play in the slot.
He may not be a No. 1 receiver in the making, but he has shown the willingness to lineup all over the field. With hands like glue, Iglesias will likely find himself being selected in the second round.
As with most all-around receivers, his lack of any great skill or asset should, at first, land him a spot in a team's wide receiver rotation.
*As the draft nears, it is likely that some of these players will fall further down draft boards as teams continue to prefer drafting based on potential rather than current talent.
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