Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton will almost surely declare for the 2011 NFL Draft after Monday's BCS Championship against the Oregon Ducks.
He has little reason to return to Auburn, where he would remain under a cloud of NCAA scrutiny and where he could hardly prove more than he has en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Therefore, Newton will almost certainly be a first-round pick, going to one of the fistful of teams searching for a new signal-caller in 2011. He will not be the only prospective first-round pick on the field on Monday, either. Teammate Nick Fairley could actually go ahead of Newton.
Read on for the six best draft prospects who will appear in Monday's title contest for each side.
Fairley brings the girth and interior presence to play a tackle spot in a 4-3 defensive set and has the pass-rushing chops to play the end in a 3-4 scheme.
That combination makes him appealing to darn near everyone, but the most enamored bunch seems to be the Buffalo Bills. Fairley would fit their flex system and should be on the board when they select third overall.
Draft projection: Top five pick in Round 1
Something tells me NFL teams in need of an upgrade at the most critical position in football will not mind Newton's battles to remain eligible during this breakout season.
He is huge, fast, has a cannon arm and seems to see the field the way NFL passers do, though he must learn to look for receivers rather than creases through which to run. A half-dozen teams could feasibly take him before Pick 15.
Draft projection: Top 10 pick in Round 1
It should come as no surprise that the younger brother of Green Bay Packers pass-rush superstar Clay Matthews will be thought of highly entering the 2011 Draft.
Casey is the best of the brood or so say the scouting types, but that sort of platitude gets thrown out every time more than one family member reaches the big time. It usually isn't true. Still, Matthews is a beast and will get a shot somewhere.
Draft projection: Early pick in Round 3
Bynes is one of those guys who seems to be all over the field at once.
He has athleticism to burn, with speed and strength to make plays from sideline to sideline. Perhaps most importantly, he is a ball hawk who always seems to anticipate and put himself in the right spot to make a big play.
Draft projection: Middle of Round 4
Blanc is, in some sense, Fairley-light.
He is not a pass rusher commensurate with Fairley, but he is a well-conditioned and ox-strong athlete on the interior of the defensive line. He probably profiles best as a 4-3 defensive end or tackle, where he can use his agility and skills moving up and down the line of scrimmage to be a run stuffer.
Draft projection: High Round 5
Maehl had a tremendous senior season, showing his speed and agility en route to 12 touchdowns and 943 yards on 68 catches.
He gets little love from the pundits, but one last impact performance on the big stage of the BCS title contest could push him into broader consideration.
Draft projection: Low Round 6