Defense Wins Championships: 2011 NFL Draft Prospects

David BartonContributor IApril 30, 2010

It's that time of year again...wait...oh shoot still grading the 2010 draft. Well any way here is a look at the 2011 defensive side of the draft. Now much will change come next April with players staying in school, suspensions, and some just playing their wayy up the board.

Defensive Tackle:
1.) Marvin Austin, North Carolina
Marvin is a career under achiever, and hasn't lived to his immense potential, he is built like a tank and moves extremely well for his size. The Tar Heel tackle will be keying one of the nations most talented defenses in the upcoming season. Austin turned down an almost guaranteed reservation for the first round in 2010, because he felt if he returned he could have a monster year similar to that of Ndamukong Suh, a lofty goal but he has the skills to perform.

2.) Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss
With the abundance of 3-4 defenses in the NFL, nose tackle is becoming a huge need for the big men only play around thirty snaps a game. Powe is a massive force on the Rebel's defensive line, capable of stuffing out the run or pushing the pocket. Jerrell is a menacing force at 6-3, 330 lbs in the middle possessing the size-strength combination to play in the NFL. Shows explosiveness off the line, where he displays great hand use to rip off and disengage from blocks. Powe shows that he can find the ball in a cluttered backfield acquiring numerous tackles in the backfield. Can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme playing the nose.

3a.) Allen Bailey, Miami(Fla.)
Could end the three year drought of no Hurricanes' drafted in round one. At 290 lbs. is an athletic freak who plays light on his feet but can throw his weight around if need be. Has outstanding leg drive and takes short powerful steps while using his long arms to keep lineman off his body. Does a good job of sliding down the line and closing on run plays, a very dangerous rusher coming off a stunt. Made the move to defensive end toward the end of his junior season, but will make his mark at the next level as a three-gap penetrator.

3b.) Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Showed the ability to take over games as a sophomore, as he did against Texas in the BCS championship game, when he knocked Colt McCoy out of the game and returned an interception for a touchdown. Marcel is a stout tackle that excels in stuffing the run, also a force on third down, showing he has an array of pass-rush moves racking up 6.5 sacks. Dareus didn't get the publicity he deserved while playing in the shadow of Terrence Cody, however 2010 is his year to shine. Showing the versatility to play end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3. If a pure tackle easily the top choice.

On the radar guys: (Jared Crick, Nebraska) (Adrian Taylor, Oklahoma) (Phil Taylor, Baylor) (Stephen Paea, Oregon State) (Jurrell Casey, USC) (Marcus Fortson, Miami, Fla.) (Alameda Ta'amu, Washington)

Compared to last years crop, it's very strong almost on par but is lacking two top five talents such as Suh & McCoy but none the less very, very deep.

Defensive End:
1.) Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Many say Quinn is the second-coming of Julius Peppers, the 6-5, 260 lb. Quinn already has the strength, speed and size to shed blockers. His speed in pursuit of the quarterback and on backside plays is just as impressive, as are his long arms and hand placement skills that help him to disengage and stun his opponents.

2.) Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
The 6-3, 280 lbs. Clayborn stayed true to his word and surprisingly returned for his senior season after an MVP performance in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech, outplaying Derrick Morgan. Clayborn shows an elite motor, dominating the line of scrimmage using a handsome array of rush moves. Adrian plays in the offensive backfield, pursues well down the line and is a factor in the run game finding the ball in garbage. Has long arms and great use of hands keeping blockers off his body. Is a very effective asset on special teams having a knack for blocking kicks and punts. Needs to mature off the field.

3a.) Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
The son of former NFL running back Craig Heyward, the 6-6, 285-lb. plugger has the size and strength so highly desired to be a 3-4 lineman. he will never be a top sack artist, but he will bring more value stacking the corner and stuffing the run. In a league where almost half the teams run a 3-4 he should be a top commodity. Can play in the 4-3 though should not be counted on as a double digit sack man.

3b.) Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh
Romeus could have the biggest upside in this group, the former basketball player has only played football since his senior year in high school. At 6-6, 270 with an enormous wingspan which he utilizes to keep blocker's at bay and blocks PAT's every year. Possesses the ultimate combination for a defensive end in strength, length and speed; covering ground quickly on his way to the quarterback. Needs to improve football IQ diagnosing run/pass, that should come though with more experience.

On the radar guys: (DaQuan Bowers, Clemson) (Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue) (Cliff Matthews, South Carolina) (Sam Acho, Texas) (Ricky Elmore, Arizona) (Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma) (J.J. Watt, Wisconsin) 

Compared to last year's crop, this seasons bunch is bigger and bulkier with more sacks.

Outside Linebacker:
1.) Mark Herzlich, Boston College
Herzlich was a higher rated prospect than Aaron Curry (beating him out for the ACC defensive POY) in the 2009 draft. It was announced that Herzlich was diagnosed with a rare cancer, Ewing Sarcoma, which was in his leg. It seems he has overcome the illness and is primed for another spectacular season. Mark had a great junior season as he had 110 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 sacks and 6 interceptions. He greatly benefited playing behind two massive tackles in BJ Raji and Ron Brace, nevertheless his skills and talent are undeniable. He is primed for a monster 2010 senior campaign.

2.) Bruce Carter, North Carolina
Carter always seems to be around the ball, he is an athletic linebacker with the strength and speed to get NFL teams excited. Bruce makes plays all over the field. . He is a bit undersized and will most likely be relegated to a 4-3 weakside position, plays a lot like Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers. 

3.) Von Miller, Texas A&M
A very agile, hybrid speed rusher, Miller led the nation in sacks (17) as a junior and has exceptional athletic ability to continue running the arc and notching big sack totals in 2010. What he might lack in size he more than makes up for with elite explosion off the line, his initial burst is rare always being the first off the ball. Abused Oklahoma States' Russell Okung last year giving him fits all game, did the same with Nate Solder of Colorado. Plays a lot of stand-up defensive end and should transition naturally to a 3-4 strong side outside linebacker.

On the radar guys: (Travis Lewis, Oklahoma) (Lawrence Wilson, UConn) (Akeem Ayers, UCLA) (Ross Homan, Ohio State) (Chris Walker, Tennessee) (Nigel Bradham, Florida State) (Chris Gallipo, USC)

Compared to last years crop, 2011 seems to have three potential first rounders, compared to last year having only Sean Weatherspoon go on the first day.

Inside Linebacker:
1.) Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Suffered a season ending knee injury in 2009, but has since feverishly worked his way back to be ready for kickoff in 2010. At 6-4, 260 looks the part, he’s a physical specimen. He has terrific size and strength. Has incredible football instincts that make-up for his imperfections in tackling technique. He’s so big, strong, smart and intimidating that players usually go down on contact. Lines up as an end in third and long situations purely for his explosive play making ability. He plays with passion and a high motor. Hightower is mentally tough as well as being the definition of a height-weight-speed prospect.

2.) Geg Jones, Michigan State
He is a three year starter who is improving every year, leading MSU in tackles each of the last two seasons. His sophomore season was huge with 127 tackles, 14 TFL and 2 sacks. Jones improved upon that as a junior with 154 tackles, 14 TFL and 9 sacks. He has above average speed making plays outside the hashes as well as in, has a nose for the ball seldom letting a play go by without finding himself near the ball. Can cover tight ends and runnong backs on pass plays. Needs to bulk up to play mike in the NFL, weighing only 235 lbs. needs to add some meat to his frame otherwise might become a weak-side linebacker.

3.) Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina
Quan's biggest strength is his athleticism. At 6-2, 238, he displays great quickness and sideline-to-sideline ability. Sturdivant reads and reacts well, finds the ball well in garbage and makes a bee line for the man with the ball. Because of his athleticism, he excels in coverage blanketing tight ends. As a freshman and sophomore started at outside linebacker, but moved inside his junior year showing the versatility to all three spots. Needs to bulk up if he wants to continue playing inside at the next level, as guards at the next level can negate his impact.

On the radar guys: (Mike Mohamed, California) (Kelvin Sheppard, LSU) (Alex Wujciak, Maryland) (Casey Matthews, Oregon) (Obi Ezeh, Michigan) (Barquell Rivers, Virginia Tech) (Ben Jacobs, Fresno State)

Compared to last years crop, last year four mike linebackers went in the first two rounds, this year three could go in the first round.

Strong Safety:
1.) DeAndre McDaniels, Clemson
McDaniels thought about entering the draft last year as a junior, but wisely stayed in school he would of been the thrid rated safety behind Earl Thomas and Eric Berry. McDaniel said he was motivated by wanting to win an ACC championship. He also has made it a goal to win the Jim Thorpe Award. In 2011 he figures to be the top overall safety having the size and physical prowess to play strong safety, possesses the range and ball skills to play free safety registering 8 interceptions his junior year. Played wide receiver in high school because of his hands and playmaking ability. DeAndre's versatility will boost his stock, but off the field issues might keep him out of the top ten.

2.) Mark Barron, Alabama (Jr.)
As a sophomore this safety led the SEC in both pass deflections with 15 and interceptions with seven. Barron brings both size 6-2, 214 and speed, and if the numbers are any indication, he possesses the ball skills. Barron was a situational player as a frosh but played with a fire in '09, the former high school wide out is dangerous when he gets the ball after an interception. He is a sure tackler who rarely misses trying to throw a shoulder, showing proper form and leg drive.

3.) Ahmad Black, Florida
Had a breakout season in 08 with 54 tackles and 7 interceptions, returning 2 for touchdowns. Lost some playing time in 09 due to a safety rotation that utilized the depth of Florida's secondary, he still posted 57 tackles and 1 sack but had only one interception. Fellow safety Will Hill had been poaching some of his playing time, mostly due to academic issues. Black is not a burner but is instinctive and great in run support, should see the field more with Major Wright graduating.

On the radar guys: (Davonte Shannon, Buffalo) (Max Suter, Syracuse) (Jay Valai, Wisconsin) (Taylor Sash, Iowa) (Shiloh Keo, Idaho) (Charles Mitchell, Miss St.)

Compared to last years crop, T.J. Ward was the first SS of the board at 38 to Cleveland, McDaniels is poised to go top 15.

Free Safety:
1.) Rahim Moore, UCLA (Jr.)
Had Moore been able to enter the draft in 2010 it would be him, not Earl Thomas, fighting Eric Berry for at safety early in the draft. Moore is the definition of a ball-hawking free safety but has the size to help out against the run as well. In the 09 season he picked off 10 passes which led the nation, with three multiple interception games and against San Diego State he had 3 interceptions. Is always around the ball, Rahim should be the undeniable leader of his team and the Pac 10 Defensive POY.

2.) Deunta Williams, North Carolina
This former wide receiver has 12 career interceptions and 138 tackles to match his equally impressive athleticism. He feeds off a super talented front that allows him to make plays all over the field and take chances. Deunta has long arms, a tall frame with an elite motor that always runs hot. Williams isn't just a ball-hawk, he makes plays in the run game utilizing his frame. The three-year starter at 6-2, 208 runs like deer he has all the tools to be a game changer in the NFL.

3.) Will Hill, Florida (Jr.)
Hill is very explosive when he has the ball in his hands and an exceptional kick returner. Will has very good speed and see's the field well. Defensively, he shows great anticipation, can support the run and shows great range. He has great hips and can change direction skill. Will can cover the slot as well as blitz.

On the radar guys: (Brian Lainhart, Kent State) (Quinton Carter, Oklahoma) (Lance Mitchell, Oregon) (Chris Culliver, South Carolina) (Curtis Brown, Texas) (Charles Brown, North Carolina) (Jaiquwan Jarrett, Temple) (Blake Gideon, Texas)

Compared to last years crop, two FS went off the board in the top 15 in 2010, that is unlikely to happen again. Duenta Williams and Rahim Moore look to be the only FS to go in Round one in 2011.

Denfensive Back:
1.) Patrick Peterson, LSU (Jr.)
A big, physical, shutdown cornerback with NFL pedigree, Peterson consistently matched up against the best receivers in the SEC and showed he could be a game-changer, locking up with A.J. Green and Julio Jones very well. Patrick has the size of a safety at  6-1, 208 lbs. but the speed and skill-set of a shut down corner, this silky smooth corner is a better prospect than Joe Haden was last year.

2.) Aaron Williams, Texas
Williams is great in run support. He has superb instincts, closes to the ball carrier quickly and is a big hitter. He plays the pass well, showing great cover skills, has smooth hips, is agile, fast and shows ball skills. Williams is a ball hawk that can blitz and shut down his receiver, he is a bit undersized though.

3a.) Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
Is better than fellow Cavalier, Chris Cook who went 34 overall. At 6-2, 203 he has great speed, very long arms and  is a three year starter who is great at forcing fumbles. Plays the game smart not getting beat deep often. Has fluid hips and takes good angles in run-support. Dowling's best football is ahead of him, his technique needs work.

On the radar guys: (Prince Amakamura, Nebraska) (Rashad Carmicheal, Virginia Tech) (Brandon Harris, Miami) (Nieko Thorpe, Auburn) (Kendrick Burney, North Carolina)

Compared to last year's crop, on par four or five could go round one.


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