Every year, nearly 300 college football players take the next step and get drafted into the NFL. Hundreds more are signed as undrafted free agents. But only the best, the very best, are first round selections. Who do I think is worthy of a first round pick? Who are my top 40 players? Below are my top 40 players entering the 2011 NFL Draft. They are ranked based on a combination of physical attributes, mental attributes, potential and most importantly, how good they look on tape.
1. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina - Elite explosion as a pass rusher. Athletic freak who's backed it up with great production. Impressive size (6'5 and 270) for his speed. The top playmaker on a defensive full of them.
2. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU - True shutdown corner. Elite speed and size. Can get too aggressive at times but is a playmaker nonetheless. Held Riley Cooper to 2 receptions, AJ Green to 5, and Julio Jones to 4.
3. AJ Green, WR, Georgia - Not the fastest receiver, but has more then enough to get behind the defense. Has the size and ball skills to make highlight reel catches.
4. Jake Locker, QB, Washington - Brings the spread athleticism and throwing ability to a pro style offense. Has shown to be clutch in big games (4/4, ran for key first down on final drive against USC), and has made the transition into a pro-style offense seamlessly. Has a great arm.
5. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame - 6'3 with fantastic hands (maybe even better then AJ Green's). Elite possession threat in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald, has major injury concerns.
6. Anthony Castonzo, T, Boston College - Extremely athletic at 6'7. Protected Matt Ryan during his final season for the Eagles and earned Freshman All-ACC Honors. Moved seamlessly over to the blind side, but will need to add bulk for the pros.
7. Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh - Not the athletic freak that Da'Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn are, but at 6'6 270 has great size, especially considering his quickness. Versatile enough to play rush 'backer or 4-3 end.
8. Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin - Big blindside protector for a prestigious offensive lineman factory. Dominates in the run game but occasionally has lapses in the passing game. Consistency could propel him to a top 5 pick.
9. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford - Doesn't have a killer arm but can make all the throws and has great accuracy. Comes from a pro style offense but has very good athleticism. Will need to take another step forward as a redshirt soph. next year without 2nd round pick Gerhart to hand off to.
10. Allen Bailey, DT, Miami - Explosive pass rusher in the Tommie Harris mold. Great quickness that allows him to penetrate the backfield to disrupt the passing game and the run game.
11. Cameron Heyward, DT, Ohio State - Prime fit is as a five technique. Stout run defender and is a smart player. Has football bloodlines (father Craig Heyward was a running back picked in the first round for the Saints) and will be a four year starter at a big time program.
12. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama - Fantastic power and strength. Elite body control and impressive speed for his size. Fantastic production in a strong defensive contest. 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.
13. Adrian Clayborn, DT, Iowa - At 6'3, 290 pounds, ended the season with a dominant final six games for the Hawkeyes, with seven sacks and 35 tackles. Speed may be a concern, but he has elite strength and has a nose for the backfield.
14. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas - Has all the sexy tools; 6'7, 240 size, elite arm strength (think Jamarcus Russell). Has a tendency to rely on his arm strength and can be sloppy in his footwork, throwing flat footed at times.
15. Bruce Carter, LB, North Carolina - Tenacious hitter with great speed. Doesn't rest on his laurels with the top playmakers around him. Has a nose for the football, racking up interceptions and sacks and simply making plays.
16. Matt Reynolds, T, BYU - Real strong offensive lineman who will start at left tackle for a pro style offense. Enough strength to be an elite run blocker but can also move his feet in the passing game.
17. Marcel Dareus, DE/DT, Alabama - Made a name for himself by returning an interception for a TD in the National Championship. Notched 6 sacks as a rotational pass rusher. Explosive enough to play left end but his size might bump him inside (6'4, 295 pounds). If he impresses as a full-time starter, he could be a top 15 pick.
18. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA - Elite playmaker. Fantastic speed and made a name for himself when he started his sophomore season with 5 interceptions in the first two games. Might not be physical enough but can make a lot of plays in coverage.
19. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma - Elite athletic ability. Has been coached extraordinarily well; elite blitzer, can analyze plays quickly and in general is polished. The only major concern is that he might be too soft for the NFL.
20. John Clay, RB, Wisconsin - Great speed for his size. Punishing runner, extremely tough to bring down. Plays a similar game to Ingram but is just a tad below in him the body control, power and speed departments.
21. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh - Huge receiver at 6'5, physical threat that can rake in fantastic catches. Comes out of a pro style, run first offense and still caught 57 receptions for 1,111 yards and 8 touchdowns.
22. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina - Not flashy, but is a stout 6'3, 310 who moves extremely well and is quick enough to penetrate in the backfield. Can do a lot of different things against the run, pass and as an all around defensive tackle.
23. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama - Comes from a run-heavy, pro-style offense so he'll never put up Michael Crabtree-like numbers, but really struggled his sophomore season, only notching 43 receptions for 596 yards and 4 TDs. Was dominated by much smaller corners.
24. Quan Sturdivant, LB, North Carolina - Stout against the run but has great speed and can make plays in pass coverage. Has started almost every game in his college career and is the leader for the North Carolina defense.
25. Ras-I Dowling, S, Virginia - Plays corner in college but has the size (6'2) over a safety. Has excellent speed but struggles in his backstep and would work best being allowed to locate the ball and have enough time to make a play, as he sometimes struggles locating the ball.
26. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska - Built like an NFL corner and does all the little things well. Isn't a standout in any one specific area but does everything very well and can start from Day 1. Decent speed but won't win any track meets.
27. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech - Dynamic threat. Ran for nearly 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman and caught 16 passes. Only 5'10 but plays larger. Decent quickness and short range burst but can really burn defenders once he gets going.
28. DeAndre McDaniel, SS, Clemson - Made a seamless transition from linebacker to strong safety, intercepting 8 passes in his first season starting at the position. Film rat from everything I've read and still has room to grow as a safety.
29. Cling Boling, T, Georgia - Big, strong tackle. Has paved the way for Knowshon Moreno and protected Matt Stafford's blindside and been successful at both. Does a lot of things well. Can sometimes get sloppy with his footwork and have lapses of concentration but overall is a solid, likable tackle.
30. Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin - 6'3 with some of the best hands in college football, he has the best name in football as well. On an offense looking to produce four big-time NFL prospects, he still stands out. Has about 4.55-4.6 speed but can work real well as a possession receiver.
31. Deunta Williams, S, North Carolina - Has the size and speed to start at free safety in the NFL, but sometimes struggles in the run support aspect of football. Needs to get his nose dirty more often and sometimes gets sloppy wrapping up as a tackler.
32. Terrance Toliver, WR, LSU - At 6'5, has number one target size along with the speed of one too. Should see a spike in production with Brandon LaFell in the NFL. Has all the tools of a number one receiver and massive upside.
33. Nate Potter, T, Boise State - Has excellent footwork but could use some more weight. Needs to bulk up, but has the ability to be a franchise left tackle because of his size and athleticism.
34. Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State - Leader. Only 6'1 and that might spark concerns about his size and might be a weakside backer. Has decent size and is a strong player.
35. Mark Barron, S, Alabama - Might not be fast enough to play anywhere but strong safety, but nonetheless led the Crimson Tide in interceptions. Can land the big hits.
36. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State - Natural leader who took hold when things got rough at the Doak. Extremely accurate and has a decent arm. Can move around in the pocket really well has made a natural progression from his sophomore to junior season, cutting his INT total in half. Needs to work on adding better touch and zip on some passes.
37. Mike Mohamed, LB, California - Decent speed and perfect size (6'3, 240 pounds). Knows how to read the quarterback and is a extremely smart player. I like him more and more the more tape I watch on him.
38. DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Mississippi - One of my favorite receivers in this class. Great size at 6'6, 231 and has extremely soft hands and a nose for the end zone. Decent speed that can get him downfield but also create some things across the middle. Had a terrifying leg break in the New Orleans Bowl two years ago that left his leg at a 75 degree angle, but looks to be recovered.
39. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State - Reminds me of MJD. Small but runs with a lot of power and is compact for his size. He may be 5'7, but plays and is built like he's much bigger.
40. Jerrell Powe, NT, Mississippi - Very good nose tackle prospect. 6'2 and 320 pounds, good quickness for his size. Underrated pass rusher. Versatility to play in either scheme.