2011 NFL Draft: The Top 20 Juniors Who Will Go Pro
As the college football season nears it close, numerous underclassmen players have an important decision to make.
The NFL offers promises of millions of dollars, possible fame and no more classes. Evidently, for some Ohio State players the promises of riches could not come soon enough.
On the other hand, there are some intangibles that the NFL cannot offer. There is something magical about the college game that professional football cannot match.
The fans are better. The players care more. There is true team spirit and camaraderie.
Still, with the NFL collective bargaining agreement and rookie salaries in question next year, many juniors may decide to skip their senior seasons for the security of a comfortable contract.
Here are the top 20 junior players who will declare for the 2011 NFL Draft.
1. Patrick Peterson
Peterson is the top ranked cornerback prospect to enter the NFL draft next year. The LSU defensive back was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. He also won the Jim Thorpe Award for best defensive back in the country.
Peterson will surely be a top five pick.
2. A.J. Green
Green is a three year starter for the Georgia Bulldogs. He has lit up opposing cornerbacks in the SEC for the past three years.
Green is the best wide receiver in this 2011 draft class due to his length, hands and jumping ability. He has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson for his unbelievable athleticism.
Green will likely go within the first five picks of the draft.
3. Da'Quan Bowers
Bowers has been an absolute nightmare for opposing defensive lines this year at Clemson. The former number one recruit in the country, Bowers has fought off injuries in his career and could be one of the riskier top picks in the draft this year.
Nevertheless, Bowers has already declared and will be a top ten pick in this year's draft, if not top five.
4. Nick Fairley
Fairley is a junior who has anchored the Auburn Tigers' defensive line this season. Fairley has demonstrated a terrific ability to stuff the run, but he also has some speed to be effective as a pass rusher.
He will have an excellent chance to improve his draft stock in the National Championship game against the Oregon Ducks. For now, Fairley should be a top five pick, but this draft is absolutely loaded with talent on the defensive line.
5. Marcell Dareus
The defensive line talent in this draft is absolutely unbelievable. Dareus, a junior out of Alabama, is a versatile player who has the size and speed to play either defensive tackle or defensive end in the NFL.
Dareus should be a top ten pick, but like Bowers and Fairley before him, questions abound concerning how much talent is needed on the defensive line.
6. Robert Quinn
Quinn missed his entire junior season at North Carolina due to a suspension from receiving improper benefits. The fact that he is still projected as a top ten pick says a lot about his talent and size at the defensive end and outside linebacker position.
Quinn is the best pass rusher that will enter the 2011 draft, outside of Da'Quan Bowers. He could be a double-digit sack threat on the next level.
7. Cameron Newton
There's not much to say about Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner that hasn't been said already. Newton is a dynamic threat who combined for 48 total touchdowns this season.
Some question whether Newton's style will translate to the NFL, where defensive ends are faster and he will have less time to scramble. Newton could still find himself drafted within the first half of the first round.
8. J.J. Watt
Watt is yet another talented defensive lineman likely to enter the NFL draft in 2011. For the Wisconsin Badgers, Watt was more than just a defensive force, but also an emotional leader on the team.
Watt may not have the natural athletic ability of some of the other pass rush prospects, but he has the intangibles and drive that NFL coaches just love.
9. Ryan Mallett
Mallett may have hurt his draft stock slightly with his performance against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. However, the Arkansas quarterback still has one of the biggest arms in the draft and is the second best quarterback prospect in the draft behind Cameron Newton.
Mallett's position in the draft will be dependent on how many teams need a quarterback and how many of those teams are willing to settle for a second tier prospect. On the other hand, we saw how well that worked for the Carolina Panthers when they waited to draft Jimmy Clausen.
10. Janoris Jenkins
Jenkins comes out of Florida one year after former teammate Joe Haden, who had a very solid rookie season for the Cleveland Browns. Jenkins does not have the same talent as Haden, but he is still a very good cover corner.
Several teams are in need of help in the secondary, so Jenkins should find a quick taker in the first round.
11. Mark Ingram
Last year's Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram did not have the best follow up season to his Heisman campaign. However, he still has the talent to be a first round draft pick.
In a draft with little depth at the top of the running back position, Ingram will be a hot commodity come draft time. Alabama shouldn't miss Ingram too much with backup Trent Richardson ready to step in and handle the bulk of the carries.
12. Brandon Harris
Harris's statistics were down in his junior year, but that was mostly a result of a refusal to throw in his direction. The Miami cornerback's cover skills are some of the best in the country and consequently, he will be a first round draft pick.
13. Julio Jones
Jones is an outstanding wide receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Jones has terrific size at 6'4'', 220 pounds and combines that size with unbelievable athleticism.
Jones should be the third wide receiver off the board, after A.J. Green and Justin Blackmon.
14. Akeem Ayers
Ayers, a junior out of UCLA, was named a third team All-American this season. Ayers has some excellent cover skills for an outside linebacker and also has the ability to get after the quarterback.
Ayers should find himself picked in the 20 to 25 range in the upcoming draft.
15. Justin Houston
Houston had a terrific junior season for the Georgia Bulldogs, compiling 10 sacks. With such depth and talent in pass rushers in this draft, Houston may be relegated to further down in the first round.
Houston could help several teams (maybe Houston) in pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
16. Michael Floyd
The wide receiver out of Notre Dame put together a nice season with over 1000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Floyd only improved his draft stock in the Sun Bowl, where he torched the Miami Hurricanes' secondary.
Floyd has some good size and, with a good showing at the combine, could guarantee himself a spot in the first round of the draft.
17. Aaron Williams
Williams is a cornerback out of Texas who may find himself outside of the first round despite incredible talent as a defensive back. Williams has the coverage skills, tackling ability and speed desired by any NFL team, but he is not even in the top five cornerbacks in the nation.
Williams already declared for the NFL draft, but may have served himself better by waiting a year and returning for his senior season.
18. Rahim Moore
The UCLA safety is one of the top safety prospects in the country. Moore has terrific size, quickness and reading ability, making him one of the best secondary options for teams with struggling pass defenses.
Moore gets terrific jumps because of his ability to read routes and also is a solid tackler. He should find himself within the first round come draft time.
19. Jonathan Baldwin
The Pittsburgh wide receiver never truly performed up to his potential this season, but that does not change what NFL scouts see in him. The first team All-Big East selection has an enormous frame at 6'5'' and 230 pounds.
Baldwin has solid hands and is a nice deep threat with his combination of size and speed. He could make his way into the first round with a good performance at the combine.
20. Blaine Gabbert
Gabbert's decision to enter the NFL draft was somewhat surprising, considering his minimal experience behind center for the Missouri Tigers. He does, however, have prototypical NFL size and arm strength at the quarterback position.
Gabbert may have been influenced by his performance against Iowa in the Insight Bowl, in which he torched the Hawkeyes defense for 434 passing yards despite losing the game 27 to 24. Gabbert could sneak into the first round, but it will be tough with so many terrific quarterback prospects in the draft this year.