With the 2010-11 NFL season winding down, and the college football bowl games beginning, draft talk is starting to become a major topic among sports fans.
While high-profile college players like Cameron Newton and Andrew Luck receive all the hype, you must familiarize yourself with the nation's most talented NFL prospects.
Don't be surprised if the majority of players selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft are from the defensive side of the ball.
The pure athletes such as CB Patrick Peterson, DE Da'Quan Bowers and CB Prince Amukamara should immediately make a serious impact to the team they are drafted by in 2011.
The following slides exhibit mock selections for the 2011 NFL Draft.
Top Needs: CB, OLB, TE
Selection: CB Aaron Williams, Texas Longhorns, 6'1", 195 lbs.
Reason: Atlanta has a solid cornerback in Dunta Robinson, but doesn't have much depth after him. Williams would be a solid selection for the Falcons if he's still on the board. If not, they could possibly select Virginia's Ras-I Dowling, Utah's Brandon Burton, Miami's Brandon Harris or Williams' Texas teammate Curtis Brown. Throughout his three seasons with the Longhorns, Williams recorded a total of 89 tackles, three sacks, four interceptions, five fumbles forced and a touchdown.
Top Needs: RB, DE, OL
Selection: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State Buckeyes, 6'5", 288 lbs.
Reason: Throughout four seasons played for Ohio State, Heyward recorded a total of 156 tackles, 14 sacks, one interception and one safety.
Top Needs: OL, CB, DE
Selection: OG Mike Pouncey, Florida Gators, 6'4", 310 lbs.
Reason: Todd McShay described this selection best, saying, "The Pouncey twins won a national title together at Florida, so who says they can't win a Super Bowl together in Pittsburgh? Mike has a similar skill set to that of his brother Maurkice, a 2010 first-rounder who is currently the starting center for the Steelers."
This would be a great pick for the Steelers, giving them a solid and young offensive line to protect Ben Roethlisberger for years to come.
Top Needs: OT, CB, WR
Selection: CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida Gators, 5'11", 185 pounds
Reason: If Janoris Jenkins is still on the board, expect the Baltimore Ravens to scoop him up with their need for a cornerback. Jenkins is probably the most underrated defensive back in this draft, exhibiting solid covering skills and a seemingly innate ability to play the ball.
Throughout his three seasons with the Florida Gators, Jenkins recorded a total of 106 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, eight interceptions and one touchdown.
Top Needs: S, DE, WR
Selection: S Rahim Moore, UCLA Bruins, 6'1", 196 lbs.
Reason: Rahim Moore will be the most talented safety entering the 2011 NFL Draft if he decides to leave school early, and the Jets could use some more talent at the position. Moore has proven to be excellent in deep-zone coverage throughout his college career.
Top Needs: DE, DT, OLB, SS
Selection: DE Allen Bailey, Miami Hurricanes, 6'4", 285 lbs.
Reason: The Saints are likely to mainly concentrate on defense in this year's NFL draft, with the offensive side of the ball looking quite solid. Defensive end seems to be their biggest need, and the best remaining player at that position would be Allen Bailey.
While at Miami, Bailey exhibited versatility and elite interior pass-rushing skills.
Top Needs: OT, RB, DT
Selection: OT Demarcus Love, Arkansas Razorbacks, 6'5", 315 lbs.
Reason: According to Todd McShay, "the Giants are looking for the toughest, most NFL-ready offensive lineman available at their spot and Love fits the description," and I absolutely agree. With an aging front line, the Giants will choose an offensive lineman in the first round to help keep Eli Manning protected.
Top Needs: OLB, OG, RB, CB
Selection: OLB Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma Sooners, 6'3", 267 lbs.
Reason: At Oklahoma, Beal was an excellent edge rusher who recorded a total of 28 sacks throughout his four-year college career. Todd McShay described Beal as having "the type of size and versatility that they look for in an outside linebacker."
Top Needs: OL, CB, SS
Selection: OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin Badgers, 6'7", 327 lbs.
Reason: Carimi has proved himself against elite competition this past season and has drastically improved his footwork, which was once seen as an issue.
Top Needs: OT, OLB, DT
Selection: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College Eagles, 6'7", 295 lbs.
Reason: The offensive line for the Bears has done a poor job protecting Jay Cutler this season, as well as struggled to consistently open holes for their running game. Castonzo has proven to be a smart and reliable athlete, with a long frame and excellent footwork.
Top Needs: OT, WR, TE, OLB
Selection: OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State, 6'6", 305 lbs.
Reason: Mel Kiper has Sherrod listed as "an athlete at offensive tackle, that moves his feet well and has been steady against good players; continues to improve." Todd McShay is also very high on Sherrod, describing him as "a big and strong right tackle prospect who could also move inside to guard once he reaches the NFL."
Top Needs: DE, WR, OL, OLB
Selection: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa Hawkeyes, 6'4", 285 lbs.
Reason: Tampa Bay's defense has not been very effective against the run, and their pass rush has been poor for quite some time. With no potential elite wide receivers left on the board, the Bucs are likely to draft on the defensive side of the ball. Clayborn would be a great fit because he has an everlasting motor, and is constantly hindering the opposing offensive line.
Top Needs: WR, DE, MLB
Selection: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State Cowboys, 6'1", 207 lbs.
Reason: Justin Blackmon scored at least a touchdown in every game he played in this season. In his last four games Blackmon made a total of 40 catches for 553 yards and four touchdowns, along with one rush for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Top Needs: DT, OT, OG, RB
Selection: DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State Beavers, 6'1", 311 lbs.
Reason: Stephen Paea has superb quickness for his size and has a seemingly non-stop motor. He also has a unique passion and knowledge for the game.
Top Needs: RB, DE, OLB, OT
Selection: LB Von Miller, Texas A&M Aggies, 6'3", 243 lbs.
Reason: Todd McShay described Miller as having "a freakish combination of size, speed and athletic ability." Miller has a great aptitude for continuously getting after the quarterback and has improved his ability to drop and cover, which will be a valuable asset to the team that selects him.
Top Needs: RB, OL, FS,
Selection: RB Mark Ingram, Alabama Crimson Tide, 5'10", 216 pounds
Reason: Mark Ingram is a physical and explosive back that needs to work on his top-end speed. He has a great work ethic and has proven to be a solid finisher.
Top Needs: OL, DT, OLB
Selection: DT Drake Nevis, LSU Tigers, 6'2", 285 lbs.
Reason: Nevis is a talented defensive tackle who plays with a great deal of passion. He has proven to be solid against both the run and pass, exhibiting outstanding leverage. Nevis has shown an innate ability to disrupt plays in the backfield, along with a quick first step.
Top Needs: WR, OLB, TE
Selection: WR Julio Jones, Alabama Crimson Tide, 6'4", 220 lbs.
Reason: Sam Bradford had a tremendous rookie season with mediocre receivers. St. Louis is likely to add some more weapons to their offense to assist Bradford.
If Julio Jones is still on the board when the Rams make their selection, they are likely to snag him. He has supreme physicality for a receiver, and is as athletic as they come.
Top Needs: DE, S, MLB
Selection: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue Boilmakers, 6'4", 263 lbs.
Reason: Last season, Ryan Kerrigan led the nation with 26 tackles for a loss, becoming virtually impossible for opponents to block, even when facing double-team scenarios. Todd McShay has Kerrigan going 18th to the New England Patriots, saying "Kerrigan is probably higher on our board than on most others, but very few players with his touchiness, pass-rushing savvy, a nonstop motor and passion for the game fail to contribute in the NFL."
Top Needs: DT, QB
Selection: DT, Marcel Dareus, Alabama Crimson Tide, 6'4", 306 lbs.
Reason: The Tennessee Titans need some help on their defensive line. Dareus has the capability to penetrate against the pass defense, as well as anchor versus the run, which makes him a great choice for Tennessee with their top-15 selection.
Top Needs: DT, S
Selection: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn Tigers, 6'5", 298 pounds
Reason: While at Auburn, Nick Fairley has exhibited an explosive first step and proven that he can be a highly effective pass-rusher. Mel Kiper Jr. has Fairley as a top-10 lock and believes that he "epitomizes the ideal penetrating 4-3 tackle."
Top Needs: QB, RB, OL, WR
Selection: QB Cameron Newton, Auburn Tigers, 6'6", 250 lbs.
Reason: It looks like Donovan McNabb will not be a Washington Redskin next season, which means they will have to draft a quarterback in the 2011 Draft if they don't want Rex Grossman to lead this franchise.
Cameron Newton is the best quarterback left on the board, and that's who they are likely to select. Cam Newton is known for his unbelievable running abilities, but also has a cannon for an arm with underrated accuracy.
Top Needs: DE, WR
Selection: WR A.J. Green, Georgia Bulldogs, 6'4", 212 lbs.
Reason: With a talented quarterback in Colt McCoy, the Cleveland Browns are very likely to select a wide receiver with their first-round pick, to assist the rising young stud.
If A.J. Green is still on the board, then it should be a no-brainer for the Browns. Todd McShay has described A.J. Green as "the most complete wide receiver prospect to enter the NFL draft since Calvin Johnson."
Top Needs: OL, LB, CB
Selection: OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA Bruins, 6'4", 251 pounds
Reason: Akeem Ayers was on the watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation's top defensive player, as well as the Rotary Lombardi Award, which is presented to the nation's top lineman.
Ayers has proven he can be consistent, recording very similar numbers over the past two seasons. Throughout three seasons with the UCLA Bruins, Ayers recorded a total of 177 tackles, two fumbles forced, 11 sacks, six interceptions and two touchdowns.
Top Needs: S, CB, QB
Selection: QB Jake Locker, Washington Huskies, 6'3", 230 lbs.
Reason: With Brett Favre most likely retiring (but who knows), and not much potential seen in either Tarvaris Jackson or Joe Webb, the Vikings should take the best available quarterback.
Locker's stock continues to drop, but his extreme competitiveness, work ethic and natural skill set will land him on some team within the top 25 picks.
Top Needs: QB, DE
Selection: DE Robert Quinn, UNC Tar Heels 6'4", 267 lbs.
Reason: Robert Quinn is a pure athlete with good size and great quickness. Quinn was declared as permanently ineligible to play college football after accepting over $5,500 in extra benefits from agents. Despite not playing for the entire 2010 season, Quinn has still impressed scouts with his freakish talents.
Top Needs: QB, OLB, LT
Selection: OT Nate Solder, Colorado Buffaloes, 6'9", 315 lbs.
Reason: Nate Solder has proven to be a physical beast that has a passion for improvement. So far this season the Cardinals have allowed their QB to be sacked 43 times. Solder is ranked as the best offensive lineman by both Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.
Top Needs: CB, DE, OL, LB
Selection: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska Cornhuskers, 6'1", 205 lbs.
Reason: Detroit's weakest position on their roster has to be cornerback. With Patrick Peterson off the board the Lions would likely go with the next best defensive back in Prince Amukamara. Amukamara is a shutdown corner that scared opposing quarterbacks so much this season that they would rarely throw the ball his way.
Top Needs: DE, CB
Selection: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU Tigers, 6'1", 222 lbs.
Reason: Throughout his three seasons with LSU, Peterson has exhibited rare athleticism and superb instincts. College football analysts and experts all over have been raving about this kid, and the potential he possesses. Peterson is expected to develop into one of the premiere cornerbacks in the National Football League.
Top Needs: QB, T, OLB, WR
Selection: QB Ryan Mallet, Arkansas, 6'7", 238 lbs.
Reason: After missing out on Andrew Luck, the Bills will go after the next best quarterback. Many people may think Locker is the second best QB, but Ryan Mallet has a lot to offer at the professional level. In his junior season with Arkansas, Mallet has exhibited great patience and poise, recording 30 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 170.53 QB rating.
Top Needs: DE, RB, QB
Selection: DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson Tigers, 6'4", 280 lbs.
Reason: Cincinnati needs some serious improvements to their pass rush game on defense. Although the offense has been rather weak this season, an upgrade to the Bengals' defense would be more beneficial.
Bowers has proven to be a natural pass rusher who led the FBS in sacks this season, with 15.5. College football analyst Todd McShay has said that "Bowers is a stud, can fit any defensive scheme, and is blessed with a rare combination of size and athleticism."
Top Needs: DT, WR, QB
Selection: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford Cardinals, 6'4", 235 lbs.
Reason: Despite drafting Jimmy Clausen in the second round of last year's draft, Andrew Luck seems to be the complete package. Luck has received the highest quarterback grade from Scout.com since Matt Ryan in 2008.
He could make an immediate impact in the NFL, and create healthy competition with Clausen for the starting job.