As the NFL regular season and NCAA bowl games begin to wrap up, the mind naturally turns to the next stage in the football cycle: the NFL Draft.
There are several intriguing quarterback prospects in the draft, including Auburn's Cam Newton, Stanford's Andrew Luck and Arkansas' Ryan Mallet.
While some players have already hinted that they are likely to forgo any remaining years of eligibility, other stars such as LaMichael James and Terrelle Pryor have already indicated that they intend to return to their respective teams.
Taking into account likely draft order, team needs and the fact that not every highly touted college player will turn pro, here is a prediction of the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft:
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
New England may be dominating this season, but their pass defense has been seriously lacking. The Patriots are ranked just 30th against the pass this season.
Smith could likely start in his rookie season across from Devin McCourty. A member of the All-Big 12 first team and a candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award, Smith is the second-best cornerback prospect in college this season to Nebraska's Prince Amukamara.
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
The Falcons do not have many glaring needs, but Carimi is a big body that the Falcons could insert into their offensive line immediately. Atlanta could also go with a defensive lineman in this spot.
Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Smith is a versatile lineman, and he proved it by winning the 2010 Pac-10 Morris Trophy. Smith needs to put a little more bulk on his frame before he can move to the next level. The Steelers may even move Smith to guard if he cannot put on the size needed to play outside.
Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State
The Baltimore running game was not as impressive as expected this season, and the problem laid within the offensive line. Wisniewski is an All-American second team center. He is highly skilled, physical and an extremely intelligent player who will fit nicely within the Ravens line.
Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
The Bears had a variety of issues with their offensive line this season. Just think about the New York Giants game when Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game by a pass rush getting through an offensive line with more holes than swiss cheese.
Sherrod is a second team All-American offensive lineman and could be an immediate plug-in player in his rookie season for the Bears.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
New Orleans has struggled with the pass rush at times this season, allowing too much time for opposing quarterbacks to sit back and throw. Kerrigan is one of the most dominant pass rushers in the college game today and should thrive on the next level. The Saints just have to hope that he falls to them.
Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
The Eagles are set at the tackle positions with Winston Justice and Jason Peters, but for a team with so many strengths, it would not hurt to take Solder for depth purposes. Solder is an absolute monster at 6'8'' and 320 pounds.
DeMarcus Love, OT, Arkansas
The Jets' biggest needs come on the offensive side of the ball. New York will continue to trust Mark Sanchez and give him time to develop. They also have a ridiculous amount of depth at wide receiver and running back. Therefore, offensive line is the only logical way to go with their first pick.
Love is an absolute mauler out of Arkansas. He spent five years in college and is definitely ready to contribute in the NFL.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
The Chiefs had a great season thus far; however, the offense is entirely too focused on the running game. The only true wide receiver threat right now is Dwayne Bowe, who has been inconsistent this season.
Pairing him with Julio Jones, a dynamic threat as a wide receiver, could put the Chiefs over the top as one of the elite teams in the NFL.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
Green Bay is really lacking depth and talent on the defensive line behind B.J. Raji. Heyward is an immensely talented player who can play anywhere on the defensive line because of his size. Green Bay should be a good fit for the Buckeye defender who was a member of the All-Big Ten Conference first team.
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
It was evident this season that Peyton Manning just didn't have the same kind of pass protection of previous years. Moreover, the running game just didn't have room to work in Indianapolis.
Therefore, the Colts will go after an offensive lineman who can be a difference-maker. Castonzo fits the bill as a four-year starter and talented tackle.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Tampa Bay could use some help with their rush defense, which ranked 28th in the NFL this season. Clayborn was undoubtedly both an emotional and physical leader on a stout Iowa defense, and he could immediately contribute to a Buccaneers defense that was good but not great this season.
Phillip Taylor, DT, Baylor
The Giants produced an excellent pass rush from the outside this season but could use an upgrade from defensive tackle Barry Cofield in the middle. Taylor comes in with enormous size at 6'4'' and 340 pounds. Taylor is a riskier pick, but the Giants should be willing to take a shot on him.
Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Jordan, an All-Pac-10 first selection, is an excellent pass rusher with a terrific burst off of the line and good size. The Chargers defense has been terrific this season, except for Jacques Cesaire, who should not be starting for any NFL team. Jordan would start as a rookie and could put up big numbers for such a talented defense.
Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
The Jaguars have to do something to improve their secondary, which was one of the worst in the NFL this season. Moore is one of the best safeties, if not the best, in the country at the college level. He could immediately contribute to a team that needs to do something to plug the gaping holes in the secondary.
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The Miami running game was not nearly as effective as previous years. The Ronnie Brown-Ricky Williams combination is simply not talented enough to be relied upon as a difference-maker.
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, Ingram is the type of playmaker that could come in and make a huge difference in a Dolphins offense that looked stagnant at times this season.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
The Rams, despite likely being a playoff team, have several holes to fill. The first should be finding a decent number one wide receiver for Sam Bradford to throw to.
Another Sooner, Ryan Broyles, could be the answer. Broyles has all the tools to succeed in the NFL and could form a terrific connection with Bradford should the Rams draft him.
Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
The Patriots will get Oakland's pick from the Richard Seymour trade. The Patriots will continue to rebuild their defense with Miller, a First Team All-American and an absolute monster on the defensive side of the ball. Miller is one of the best pass rushers in college football and could replace the production that Seymour took with him to Oakland.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Locker lost a ton of value with his decision to stay in college last season. The Vikings are in desperate need of depth at quarterback, but will likely have to settle for Locker with Luck, Newton and Mallet off the board. Locker has all the tools to succeed and looks like the prototypical NFL quarterback, but he will have to convince scouts that this season's performance was an anomaly.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Blackmon set all kinds of records at Oklahoma State and was the unquestioned number one wide receiver in college football this season. The Redskins could use some talent at wide receiver behind Santana Moss. Blackmon will be the type of difference-maker that can change an offense. It might take a few years, but Blackmon will be a top wide receiver in the NFL some day.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida
The Titans really struggled against the pass this season, ranked 28th and allowing over 250 passing yards per game. Jenkins was one of the few bright spots for the Gators this season. Jenkins has the ability to see the field well, has excellent hands and gets terrific jumps on the ball. The Titans have a lot of needs, but the secondary is one that should be addressed immediately with Jenkins.
Ryan Mallet, QB, Arkansas
The Seahawks were able to compete in a weak NFC West this season, but mostly because of how weak the division really was. Seattle is looking for a replacement for Matt Hasselbeck, who did not have a great season. Mallet is a strong-armed, big quarterback who could very well end up being the best quarterback to emerge from the 2011 draft.
Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
Quinn was suspended in his senior season for receiving improper benefits at North Carolina. Still, the defensive end is immensely talented despite his off-the-field troubles. The Lions will continue to revamp their defense and add yet another talented player to their defensive line in Quinn.
Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama
The Browns were one of the worst teams against the run this season, allowing over 130 rushing yards per game. Dareus can play either inside or outside on the defensive line and is one of the best defensive line prospects in college football this season. As a junior, Dareus was selected to the All-American Third Team.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
The Texans are another team that had major problems in their secondary this season. Amukamara projects as an immediate starter in the NFL with the size and speed to translate his game to the next level. While he is sometimes considered overaggressive at the cornerback position, Amukamara is one of the safest picks in the 2011 draft and could be an NFL Pro Bowler within a few years.
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
J.J. Watt still has some question marks whether he will enter the 2011 NFL Draft, but his talent will likely lead him towards declaring. Watt is one of the better leaders in college football and projects as a defensive standout and special player on the next level. The Cowboys could use some leaders and playmakers on the defensive end outside of DeMarcus Ware.
Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The 49ers have several needs and quarterback could be one way to go. However, San Francisco is also in desperate need of a nose tackle who fits their 3-4 defensive scheme, as Aubrayo Franklin was simply underwhelming this year. Fairley is a special player that could immediately change the face of the 49ers defense.
Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn
The Cardinals seem like they are several players away from competing again, but quarterback is their most obvious and glaring hole. Max Hall and Derek Anderson have failed miserably this season.
Newton is a risky pick because he has some bad habits that will not translate well into the pros. However, he also has the most upside of any offensive prospect in college football. Essentially, he could be Michael Vick with a better arm, or JaMarcus Russell.
The talent is too good to ignore, so the Cardinals will scoop him up with the fifth pick.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
The Bengals will likely be without at least Terrell Owens and maybe Chad Ochocinco next season. Green is the type of prospect at wide receiver that can come in and replace the production that those veterans will take with them. Green has terrific size for the wide receiver position and has drawn some comparisons to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers is one of the most talented defensive prospects in college football this year. A member of the AP All-American First Team, Bowers has the size at 6'4'', 280 pounds and speed to be an absolute nightmare for opposing offensive lines in the NFL. The Bills could certainly use defensive playmakers on their defensive line, and Bowers will surely fit the bill.
Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Peterson is the best cover corner in the nation. NFL teams have been salivating at his talent since the 2008 season. The Broncos need to do something to improve their defense, and with many holes, the secondary is a great place to start.
Peterson, a First Team AP All-American selection, will start opposite Champ Bailey right away and improve a Denver defense that allowed 387 yards per game this season.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Luck is pretty much the unanimous No. 1 pick in most mock drafts. The Carolina Panthers have mediocre quarterback options in Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen, but no real talent at the position.
Luck still has question marks about whether he will leave school, but it will be tough to ignore the amount of money that will likely be thrown at him for a No. 1 selection.