With the 2009 NFL Draft completed, let’s turn our attention to 2010 and take a look at some of the top prospects for the upcoming season. In the first of a five-part series identifying my top 100 players for next year’s draft, I take a look at the top 20 prospects.
1. Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
An explosive, quick-twitch lineman who would have likely been the top defensive tackle off the board if he had come out this year. McCoy plays with natural leverage, can anchor inside and uses his long arms to consistently shed blocks. His combination of athleticism, burst, and motor makes him nearly unblockable one-on-one, and he looks poised to be a top 10 pick in 2010.
2. Strong Safety Eric Berry, Tennessee
I don’t think there’s a better overall play-maker on the defensive side of the ball than Berry. He showcases tremendous burst, fluidity, and closing speed in space, and his instincts allow him to consistently make plays on the ball. A year under new Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin should enhance his draft stock.
3. Free Safety Taylor Mays, USC
It isn’t often you find a safety with Mays’ combination of size—6'3", 230lbs—and speed—4.4. There are even whispers out of Southern Cal that he might be the fastest Trojan on the team and has the ability to run in the 4.3 range. Either way, he’s a physical freak and is already being mentioned in the same sentence as former Trojans safety Ronnie Lott.
4. Defensive Tackle Terrence Cody, Alabama
A mountain of a man who is an ideal two-gap plugger inside and has the ability to anchor a 3-4 defense. Cody is absolutely impossible to move off the ball and does a great job eating up blockers at the point of attack. He has made it a point to lose some weight from his 365-plus frame during the offseason, which should enhance his stock.
5. Quarterback Jevan Snead, Mississippi
Some might be surprised to see Snead ranked as my top quarterback prospect, but I think the kid has all the makings of a potential franchise quarterback. He has a great arm, smooth footwork, and good anticipation skills on all levels of the field. Plus, he had to battle through adversity after being beaten out by Colt McCoy for the starting quarterback spot at Texas and has proven he can bounce back. I love that kind of toughness in a quarterback.
6. Offensive Tackle Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
As talented as the offensive tackle class was this year, it would have been even stronger if Okung had declared. He’s a gifted athlete who moves well in space and does a nice job using his length to keep defensive lineman off his frame. He needs to add a bit more girth to his lower half but has the makings of a franchise left tackle.
7. Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
An explosive, strong-armed defensive tackle who plays with a nasty demeanor inside, Suh understands how to gain initial leverage and has the power and suddenness to shed blocks and get after the ball. He was downright dominant toward the end of last season and has the ability to anchor an NFL defense inside.
8. Defensive End Carlos Dunlap, Florida
Dunlap possesses a big, long frame at 6'6" and 290 pounds and does a great job using his length and power to consistently get into offensive tackles and shed blocks on the outside. He also possesses an impressive first step for his size, and that combination of size, length, power, and athleticism overwhelms offensive lineman in the SEC.
9. Tight End Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
Gresham has the potential to be the highest-selected tight end since Vernon Davis in 2006. He’s an elite athlete for the position and looks more like a wide receiver when he gets down the field. He does a great job gaining separating out of his breaks and knows how to go up and make a play on the ball. Gresham is the type of off-the-line Y that NFL teams always seem to fall in love with at draft time.
10. Inside Linebacker Brandon Spikes, Florida
A big—6'3", 256lbs—physically imposing linebacker who runs well for his size—4.65, he’s also a tough, instinctive athlete who reads and reacts quickly to the action and has a nose for the ball. Spikes plays with great passion and work rate inside and is an ideal three-down backer at the next level.
11. Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins, Georgia
Atkins is another talented defensive tackle in this group who has the potential to take over games with his ability to penetrate an offense’s backfield. He’s a bit under-sized at 6"1' and 290lbs, but plays with natural leverage and is an ideal fit in a one-gap scheme.
12. Quarterback Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
Bradford is a mature pocket-passer who has the accuracy to consistently throw receivers open at the next level. However, I have concerns about him coming from the Oklahoma spread offense as well as not seeing much pressure throughout 2008. Next season will be a good indicator of how well he can deal with adversity since the Sooners will have four new starters on the offensive line.
13. Wide Receiver Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
Bryant may lack elite straight-line speed, but it’s his body control and burst that allow him to consistently separate in and out of his breaks. He does a great job setting up corners and showcases impressive footwork and balance for a guy his size. Plus, he catches the ball away from his body as well as any receiver in the country and has the toughness to work the middle. A complete wideout.
14. Defensive Tackle Marvin Austin, North Carolina
North Carolina Head Coach Butch Davis has done a nice job not only recruiting talent, but also coaching his players up into big-time prospects. The first of the defensive line group will be Marvin Austin, an explosive, interior lineman who displays an impressive first step and good closing speed in space. He consistently makes plays away from his body and has the ability to penetrate and create havoc in the opponent’s backfield.
15. Wide Receiver Arrelious Benn, Illinois
Benn has been a difference-maker since setting foot on the Illinois campus and now looks poised to take his game to the next level. He’s a big 6'2", 214-pound, physically imposing wideout who runs well for his size and has the body control to cleanly get out of his breaks and separate on all levels of the field. He’s also a load to bring down after the catch and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands.
16. Offensive Tackle Trent Williams, Oklahoma
Williams was over-shadowed by the talent on the Oklahoma offensive line in 2008, but he was probably the best prospect of the bunch. He will make the transition to left tackle and shouldn’t have any problem anchoring the Sooners’ line and keeping the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford clean all season.
17. Inside Linebacker Rolando McClain, Alabama
McClain is another big SEC middle linebacker—6'4", 250lbs—who runs extremely well for his size and has the closing speed to consistently make plays sideline-to-sideline. He displays a nose for the ball and does a nice job making the correct reads inside.
18. Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga is the next big-time offensive lineman to come out of Iowa as this 6'6", 304-pounder displays the type of length and body control needed to handle the left side in the NFL. He exhibits impressive athleticism for the position, understands how to anchor at the point and, like all Kirk Ferentz-coached linemen, possesses very good technique. Bulaga has a shot to fly up draft boards with a strong junior year.
19. Defensive End Greg Hardy, Mississippi
The only thing that slowed down Hardy last season was a slew of nagging injuries. However, he still had eight and one-half sacks in only nine games and should be 100 percent healthy and ready to terrorize SEC backfields in 2009.
20. Defensive End Everson Griffen, USC
I have Griffen rated a bit higher than his production would indicate, but the kid’s physical skill set suggests a big 2009 season. With an increased role on the USC defense, I think he has the power and burst off the edge to develop into one of the nation’s most devastating pass rushers.
Be sure to check out the rest of my college breakdowns at National Football Post.