LSU CB Patrick Peterson
Heading into the 2011 NFL Draft, many college players are already thinking about which teams might take them and which teams they would like to play for.
But for some, the road is tougher. They have to worry about impressing scouts at the NFL Draft Combine due to injuries, character issues, or just the emergence of other players who have performed well lately, either at private workouts (Cam Newton) or the Senior Bowl.
Here are the top ten players who are ready to breakout at the 2011 NFL Combine.
QB Jake Locker
The Sam Bradford "Stay One More Year in College" rule didn't pan out as well for Locker as it did for Bradford.
Had Locker come out of college early, he might have been one of the top five players chosen last year.
Fast forward to this year and he might not even get drafted until day two of the draft. His production took a slight hit, but it was big enough to make teams wonder if he is "pro" ready.
He needs to show he has "pro" accuracy and the ability to throw on the run, while being rushed.
If Locker doesn't show up at the Combine, he might be more Matt Leinart than Sam Bradford come draft day.
CB Patrick Peterson
For some strange reason, in almost every mock draft, Patrick Peterson has been slipping closer and closer to being picked out of the top ten.
Teams like the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers could all use him in their secondary.
So what does he have to do?
If he does that, he will shoot right back up to the top five.
QB Ryan Mallett
Ryan Mallett's stock in the draft has dipped to an extreme low, thanks to a sub-par showing during the most important game in his career.
Against Ohio Sate in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, Mallett had a good game, not a great game.
He threw one costly pick and missed a handful of throws a "pro" quarterback needs to make. He finished the game 24 of 47 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick.
Thanks to this game, scouts say he lacks NFL-type accuracy and the ability to throw on the run.
If he displays these two skills well at the combine, Mallett might sneak into the early second or late first round.
CB Jimmy Smith
This is not the Jimmy Smith that played wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This is Jimmy Smith, the cornerback from Colorado. He is underrated so far, but deserves to have his name in the conversation of the first cornerback selected.
He possesses the ability to play great man-to-man coverage and possesses sneak-fast speed.
At the combine, if he shows that ability of a shutdown corner in man-to-man coverage, he might be the first cornerback taken off the board.
DE Robert Quinn
The ONLY reason he is on this list is because of his suspension that took away his 2010 season.
He is one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the draft and could quite possibly be the second one taken off the board.
He has the size and explosiveness you like to see in a defensive end, but he needs to show up to the combine in shape and show he still has that burst.
He also needs to show that he can tackle consistently.
When the draft comes around, Quinn might sneak into the top ten.
DE/OLB Aldon Smith
When teams see players who are "tweaners", they tend to let other teams draft them, unless they can use that player in multiple defensive schemes, a la the Baltimore Ravens.
Aldon Smith is 6'5" and weighs 260 lbs. He isn't quick enough to play defensive end and not big enough to play line backer.
He needs to prove he can play both positions, or at the very least play one exceptionally well. He could easily be a top fifteen pick, as long as he puts in the effort show he is versatile enough to play OLB in a 3-4 defense.
OLB Justin Houston
He's too small, doesn't react quick enough, and he isn't strong enough.
That is what Justin Houston is hearing going into the draft.
At 6'3" and weighing 254 lbs., he is a bit undersized at linebacker, but he isn't big enough to play defensive end. So the ideal spot is to stay at outside linebacker.
He can always fill out his body, while maintaining his quickness and speed.
When the combine rolls around, he needs to be ready to show that size doesn't matter.
WR Randall Cobb
If A.J. Green wasn't in this years draft, Randall Cobb would be the first wide receiver off the board.
Cobb is a strong wide receiver with great speed. He can also help a team in their return game.
He isn't getting a lot of love because he went to the University of Kentucky and all the attention being paid to Green.
Come April, Cobb needs to show that A.J. Green isn't the only wide receiver ready to make some noise in the NFL.
Back at Illini Media Day, University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook said his defense was going to be one of the most dominate defenses he had coached.
Much of that is due to Corey Liuget (pronounced "Legit").
He is a big boy (6'3", 300 lbs.), but possesses speed rare for someone with his size.
He won't out jump you, but he will beat you off the snap. He is quick off the ball and can chase plays from behind.
Corey has the talent to be a top fifteen pick, but he needs to show that this big boy is "Legit".
QB Cam Newton
For a guy who is constantly being called a "project", draft experts still see Cam Newton being drafted in the top ten.
I don't see that. Not yet.
He has shown he has an arm, can escape the pocket, and can make "pro" throws.
Newton just doesn't do it consistently enough.
When the draft combine comes around in April, he needs to have a perfect workout in order to show he isn't just a "project".