2011 NFL Draft: Which Pros Do the Top 50 Prospects Best Compare To?
The 2011 NFL draft is less than a month away and teams are busy finalizing their draft boards. However, even after hundreds of workouts, interviews and scouting reports there's still one thing on everyone's minds—what are these players going to do in the NFL?
There's no way of knowing whether someone will live up to the hype or if he will be the next big bust. But one effective way to find the answer is to see how some of these guys compare to current NFL players and what their futures may hold in store for them.
So here's a look at the top 50 prospects and what pros they compare to.
Prospect rankings courtesy of Matt Miller over at New Era Scouting.
50. Benjamin Ijalana, OT, Villanova
Ijalana absolutely dominated collegiate competition, but the reason he doesn't get much love from pro scouts is because he did it at a Division I-AA football program. Still, he has all the tools you want for an NFL offensive tackle: size (6'4" and 320 pounds), athleticism and strength. He may even be able to play inside at guard.
The fact that Ijalana didn't face any big-time pass rushers at Villanova won't deter teams from selecting him early in the draft, much the way Ducasse's career at UMass didn't deter the Jets from taking him 61st overall.
NFL Comparison: Vladimir Ducasse, New York Jets
49. Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa
With so many great defensive line prospects in this draft, Ballard is just the icing on the cake. The 6'4", 283-pound man is a versatile defender who can play anywhere on the line and excels at using his athleticism to penetrate into the backfield.
He won't get by on speed alone in the NFL, so he'll have to bulk up a bit to play either end or tackle. If he does, he has a comparable skill set to last year's 10th overall pick.
NFL Comparison: Tyson Alualu, Jacksonville Jaguars
48. Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU
If the name isn't enough of a clue, Cannon is a beast on the offensive line. At 6'6" and 350 pounds he's big enough to play either tackle or guard and has surprisingly nimble feet.
Cannon should be able to immediately help any team looking for line help because he is a polished blocker with proven results (zero sacks allowed in 2009). He should anchor a line much the same way Nicks does for the Saints.
NFL Comparison: Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints
47. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
Austin's name may not belong alongside the Nick Fairleys and Marcell Dareuses of the world, but he's still a terrific defensive tackle. He's surprisingly agile despite lugging around a 6'2", 310-pound body and uses his strength to stop ball carriers at the point of contact.
Character concerns and an NCAA investigation have probably pushed Austin to the second round, but wherever he ends up getting picked he should be able to start as a nose tackle for almost any 3-4 defense.
NFL Comparison: Jay Ratliff, Dallas Cowboys
46. Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky
Cobb is a jack-of-all-trades. He catches passes, returns kicks and he's even been known to throw a pass or two. Although he's not good enough at any one of these things to warrant a first-round selection, his intelligence and positive locker room presence makes him a guy that teams just want to have.
The Steelers seem happy with what they've gotten out of Randle El over his career (370 receptions, 1,759 kickoff returns and 21 total touchdowns), so this feels like a safe comparison.
NFL Comparison: Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh Steelers
45. Rodney Hudson, C, Florida State
The draft is a bit weak in interior linemen (centers especially), but Hudson is one of the few players who could be taken as high as the second round. He was an excellent run-blocker in college as a guard and is athletic enough to change directions and stay with defenders.
Like Kalil, Hudson is undersized at just 6'2" and 299 pounds and may need to move to center. He's good enough to have success there even if he's not as strong as most of the players he's going against.
NFL Comparison: Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
44. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Depending on whom you ask Williams could play either cornerback or safety in the NFL. He's a good enough athlete to be a corner, but he'd be one of the slowest in the game (4.55 40-yard dash). He's big enough to be a safety (6'0", 205 pounds), but he's not good in coverage.
Without knowing where he'll end up I'm going to err on the side of caution and compare him to Rolle—a skilled player who was drafted as a cornerback but ended up moving to safety.
NFL Comparison: Antrel Rolle, New York Giants
43. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Rudolph is a wide receiver in a tight end's body, with good speed and terrific ball skills. At 6'6" and 259 pounds he's close to unstoppable running down the same size corner and is a threat to score anytime the ball is thrown in his direction.
If healthy, he should have a monster rookie season.
NFL Comparison: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
42. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
Williams is more than a tad undersized at just 5'9" and 212 pounds, but he makes up for it with a surprising burst and good agility getting into his cutback lanes.
The Virginia Tech star has terrific vision so it won't be long before he's starting in the NFL. One area he could definitely improve is his pass-catching ability out of the backfield, but even if he doesn't it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him put up Portis-like numbers.
NFL Comparison: Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
41. Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Scouts are impressed with Smith's blazing speed (4.41 in the 40) and elusiveness as a kick returner, but the Maryland wideout doesn't have particularly good hands and doesn't run consistent routes.
He's a perfect complementary receiver for a team looking to stretch the field, but by no means is he capable of being a No. 1 receiver and beating double-teams. He's not quite Devin Hester-good on kick returns, but it's not a stretch to say he looks and plays like Hester's teammate.
NFL Comparison: Earl Bennett, Chicago Bears
40. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
Sheard makes a living as a pass-rushing defensive end out of a 4-3, and his exploits terrorizing quarterbacks earned him the title of Big East Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Sheard is limited in the rest of his game, but as long as he keeps accumulating sacks he'll have a job in the NFL. At 6'3" and 265 pounds he's also very similar to Cole (6'3", 270), one of the NFL's premier pass rushers with 57 sacks in six seasons.
NFL Comparison: Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
39. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Mallett has a big-time arm and a 6'7", 238-pound frame that screams quarterback. Unfortunately, everything else about him screams "bust." He's about as mobile as an SUV in the pocket and has been known to miss his intended receiver by a yard or 20.
I'm tempted to put JaMarcus Russell here as the comparison, but that would just be insulting. Anderson is a better comparison because at least his lack of athleticism is genetic rather than "purple drank"-induced.
NFL Comparison: Derek Anderson, Arizona Cardinals
38. Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois
The athleticism is off the charts with Wilson and he can play linebacker in pretty much any defensive scheme. However, he's yet to really translate that raw talent into on-field production and he needs to add some muscle to his 6'4", 250-pound body.
Wilson reminds me a lot of Dansby, another player who needed a couple of years of seasoning before he finally put it all together and became an All-Pro player. If Wilson puts in the time in the film room then he should follow suit.
NFL Comparison: Karlos Dansby, Miami Dolphins
37. Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Houston absolutely dominated SEC competition and it's easy to see why. He's a freakish athlete who uses speed (4.62 in the 40) and impressive strength to get after the quarterback.
There's some debate as to whether Houston is a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, but wherever he ends up he's a pretty safe bet to rack up a ton of sacks.
NFL Comparison: LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
36. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Some scouts think Harris, and not Jimmy Smith, is the third-best cornerback in this draft, and reading his scouting report it's easy to see why. He can stay with almost any receiver thanks to decent size (5'10") and good speed (4.46 40-yard dash), and is a smart player who always takes good routes to the ball and gets his hands up to disrupt the pass.
He may never be a shutdown corner in the NFL, but any team would happily slide him in as the No. 2 guy. Like Hobbs, Harris doesn't grab many interceptions but is still as solid of a defensive back as you could ask for.
NFL Comparison: Ellis Hobbs, Philadelphia Eagles
35. Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
At 26, Watkins might be the oldest player to get drafted later this month. But even if he doesn't get any better he should still enjoy a strong career as a guard.
He's very strong and plays with a toughness that might tire out some of the more timid defensive linemen. He lacks quickness and is not the most fundamentally sound player, but in the right system he could dominate.
NFL Comparison: Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
34. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
The biggest knock on Wilkerson is that he did all of his damage in a relatively weak conference (the MAC). On paper he has the size (6'4" and 315 pounds), speed and brains to be a great five-technique player.
Without a true pass-rushing move Wilkerson probably won't earn many sacks. But he'll be a major asset in stopping the run and collapsing the pocket, just like another very successful NFL defensive end.
NFL Comparison: Ty Warren, New England Patriots
33. Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
Dalton is the epitome of a game manager. He has solid instincts, a strong arm and good accuracy. He may not be able to sling it down the field or run for 20 yards, but he keeps his team in the game by making smart decisions.
One thing that Dalton definitely has in common with McCoy is that both are winners. Dalton won 42 games as a starter at TCU while McCoy won 45. Though neither is a game-changer at the quarterback position, you can't stress enough how important it is to have a winning mentality.
NFL Comparison: Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns
32. Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
Reed looks like the complete package as a potentially lethal pass rusher with a frightening array of moves and an athleticism that seems to just be blossoming. Some think he might be a better fit as a 4-3 end because of difficulty changing direction, but his speed would almost be wasted on the defensive line.
Reed is a virtual replica of the player Matthews was coming out of college. It'd be something of a shock to see him reach Matthews' level as quickly as the Green Bay star did, but the possibility is definitely there.
NFL Comparison: Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
31. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Ponder is a tad undersized at just 6'2", but his lack of inches didn't stop him from carving up most college defenses. He's usually a very smart passer who is deadly accurate on short and medium throws, but he forces some passes too.
Injuries have ravaged Ponder's short collegiate career, so maybe it's fitting that he projects to follow in the footstep of another injury-prone, accurate and intelligent quarterback.
NFL Comparison: Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins
30. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
A lot of teams like Ayers because he's so athletic and can play so many different positions, but he's not really a great pass rusher or even an average run stopper. He still finds a way to make plays, though, and that's an important skill at any level of football.
Ayers' name has shown up all over the draft board, and the reason it's difficult to pinpoint a place for him is because he's undersized for his ideal position at inside linebacker. He's still a good outside linebacker and even a decent defensive end, so his versatility will get him a starting job somewhere in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Mike Vrabel, Kansas City Chiefs
29. Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
The former Buckeye has great size (6'6", 290 pounds) and strength to be a huge force on the defensive line. Even without a marketable pass-rush move Heyward still gives blockers serious trouble.
Heyward's a tricky player to project because he can be unstoppable one game and a non-factor the next game. I'm willing to bet he'll get inspired in the NFL and turn into a very capable five-technique defensive end.
NFL Comparison: Marcus Spears, Dallas Cowboys
28. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
He's not in the same class as Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara, but he's not very far behind either. Smith has the size (6'2" and 210 pounds) and speed (4.42 in the 40-year dash) to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
The only reason Smith isn't being hyped more is because he didn't put up big numbers at Colorado. But that's only because he's so good no rational team would ever throw at him.
NFL Comparison: Nnamdi Asomugha, Free Agent
27. Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
First on the list of potential first-round offensive tackles is Sherrod, a 6'5", 321-pound behemoth who is best known for his work in pass protection.
The other parts of his game may need some work, and another 10-15 pounds wouldn't hurt either, but Sherrod is one of the few players in this year's draft with the skill set to actually start on the left side.
NFL Comparison: Chris Williams, Chicago Bears
26. Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Big would be an understatement for this guy. He checks in at 6'3" and nearly 335 pounds on top of an incredibly powerful frame. Taylor's best asset is his ability to take up space, since he's not really athletic enough to get after the quarterback.
He definitely projects as a nose tackle in the NFL, but he's not quite in the same class as guys like Vince Wilfork and Kris Jenkins.
NFL Comparison: Cam Thomas, San Diego Chargers
25. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
Solder is an above-average athlete in a 6'8", 315-pound body. He ran the 40 in just 4.96 seconds, as fast as any offensive lineman in this draft and easily the fastest among the first-round talents.
Where Solder struggles is getting low enough to sustain blocks and contain speed rushers. He still needs to develop if he wants to play tackle in the NFL and may have to follow the same career path as another athletic lineman who was moved to guard.
NFL Comparison: Robert Gallery, Oakland Raiders
24. Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Liuget is an impressive player who can do a lot of things to help a team win. He can rush the passer, he can stuff the run and he can push the line of scrimmage backwards.
At just 6'3" and 300 pounds I'm not sold yet that Liuget can play nose tackle in NFL. But he's scheme versatile and will find a fit somewhere on the defensive line, probably as a penetrating tackle in a 4-3.
NFL Comparison: Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans Saints
23. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Smith is a freak of nature athletically and explodes off the edge in pursuit of the quarterback. He lacks strength but is almost impossible to contain because of his speed and length.
Like Pierre-Paul, Smith is being touted as a pass-rushing specialist. The only question is where to put him. He played a 4-3 defensive end in college, but might project better as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
NFL Comparison: Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
22. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
We all know he's athletic and has a good arm. We also all know that he's not a particularly accurate passer. The skill set may be there to eventually be as good as someone like Donovan McNabb, but if he couldn't improve his technique in four years as a college starter there's little reason to think that will change in the NFL.
Like Stanton, another two-sport star, Locker may have been better off sticking to baseball.
NFL Comparison: Drew Stanton, Detroit Lions
21. Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida
Pouncey is an athletic interior lineman who is an above-average pass blocker and consistently gets into a good position. Strong pass rushers give him trouble though, so he'll probably need to add some bulk to his 6'5", 303-pound frame.
Pouncey isn't quite as good as his brother Maurkice and probably shouldn't play center in the NFL, but the two are still twins. Maybe Mike can still grow into his body.
NFL Comparison: Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
20. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
After dominating during his junior season and winning the Heisman Trophy, Ingram closed out his collegiate career as the consensus best running back in the country. He's a physical and athletic runner who is difficult to bring down and doesn't shy away from tacklers.
Ingram isn't nearly as fast as Jones-Drew, but he has a similar body type and runs with the same kind of force. Both backs are also threats in the passing game.
NFL Comparison: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
19. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Kerrigan is about as solid of a defensive prospect as there is in this draft, if for no other reason than his most comparable players have had long and successful careers.
He was a stud in college as a defensive end thanks to an unmatched level of strength and energy. He's not the most athletic player and may be best suited as an outside linebacker, but players this intelligent rarely fail in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville Jaguars
18. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Clayborn has sort of been forgotten in a draft that is loaded with quality defensive ends. But he's definitely worthy of a look or two because he's scheme versatile and can get into the backfield.
The knock on the Big Ten star is that he isn't an elite pass rusher and may have already peaked. Tough to say if the athleticism is there to become a big-time sack artist, so I'll be conservative with the comparison.
NFL Comparison: Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs
17. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
"Big," "tough" and "elusive" are three words you could use to describe Leshoure, a talented back who has been climbing draft boards recently. He uses his 6'0", 227-pound frame to get extra yards and rarely falls backward.
Like Benson, Leshoure is also a threat out of the backfield. He lacks the top-end speed of most premiere running backs, but would be a great fit in a dual-back system as the bruiser.
NFL Comparison: Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
16. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
On paper, Newton's skill set is most similar to Ben Roethlisberger. Both quarterbacks are big, strong and athletic. But while Roethlisberger definitely has the ability to escape pass rushers and gain yards, it's not a focal point of his game.
In practice Newton plays a lot more like current free agent Vince Young, complete with questionable decision-making and character concerns. If he develops into more of a pure pocket passer then the Roethlisberger comparisons would be warranted, but not yet.
NFL Comparison: Vince Young, Free Agent
15. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Some scouts think that Watt is the best five-technique defensive end in this draft. At 6'5" and 290 pounds he's certainly big enough, but what sets him above his peers is impressive athleticism and quickness.
Watt is still a bit raw, but if he gets a chance to play in a 3-4 defensive scheme then he should be every bit as good as Carriker is for the Redskins.
NFL Comparison: Adam Carriker, Washington Redskins
14. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
At 6'7" and 311 pounds, Castonzo was born to play offensive tackle in the NFL. He's a terrific athlete who has spent his entire collegiate career starting for one of the best offensive lines in the nation.
If he adds a handful of pounds then he could have a similar career to another former Boston College product who's been dominant on the left side.
NFL Comparison: Marc Colombo, Dallas Cowboys
13. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Carimi tops the charts at a massive 6'7" and 314 pounds, making him one of the biggest players in the entire draft and probably the best run-blocker. But all that size comes with its drawbacks and Carimi doesn't look like someone athletic enough to play left tackle.
Tempted to put Jon Runyan here, but the longtime Philadelphia tackle retired a couple of seasons ago. Trueblood is another similar player who has enjoyed a modest, but unspectacular career as a right tackle in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Jeremy Trueblood, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers is just a knee injury away from being the consensus No. 1 pass rusher in this draft. He's quick, strong and consistently gets into the backfield to wreak havoc on quarterbacks and ball carriers.
He has the skill set to lead the NFL in sacks for the next decade, and there are only a handful of players in the NFL who can say that. Julius Peppers is one of them.
NFL Comparison: Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears
11. Tyron Smith, OT, Southern California
Smith declared early for the 2011 NFL draft despite some questions about his size (6'5", 307 pounds) and ability to play on the left side. He's already a phenomenal pass blocker and it's rare to see somebody this big move so easily.
Smith needs to work on his run blocking and could stand to add a couple of pounds, but he stands to follow a similar career path as his former teammate at USC.
NFL Comparison: Charles Brown, New Orleans Saints
10. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
The word on Jordan is that he is a smart, athletic player who is only an average pass-rushing threat. But don't let the lack of sacks fool you. He's still a complete player who projects to be a three-down defensive end in the NFL.
Physically, Jordan is an almost exact replica of Dockett. Both are 6'4" and right around 290 pounds with similar athleticism and production.
NFL Comparison: Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals
9. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Gabbert is a bit of an enigma. He has terrific arm strength and the ideal size (6'5" and 235 pounds) to play quarterback at the next level, but he's never been able to put up big numbers (despite playing in a spread offense at Missouri) and struggles with deep throws.
He looks like a solid quarterback, but lacks that "it" factor that accompanies most first-round picks. He reminds me of another quarterback who's carved out a respectable career as an on-again, off-again starter.
NFL Comparison: Kerry Collins, Tennessee Titans
8. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Although not quite in the same class as A.J. Green, Jones still projects to be a big-time receiver. Guys that big (6'3") with plus speed don't come along very often, and Jones is an absolute beast at catching the ball.
The only thing stopping Jones from being a guaranteed No. 1 receiver in the NFL is a troubling tendency to drop easy passes. Sound familiar?
NFL Comparison: Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins
7. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Amukamara is everything an NFL corner should be. He has great size and strength, good athleticism and terrific ball skills. He's even a good tackler.
The only knock on Amukamara is that he lacks elite speed. But that didn't seem to stop a certain former NFL Defensive Player of the Year from giving quarterbacks nightmares.
NFL Comparison: Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
6. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Green is one of the best wide receiver prospects to come along in about a decade, with only Calvin Johnson ranking higher. He doesn't have quite the size or speed to live up to the Johnson hype, but he's definitely a dominant receiver in the making.
At 6'4" and 211 pounds Green has the height and ups to go after any ball and enough speed and intelligence to get open consistently. He's not quite as fast as Randy Moss or as strong as Larry Fitzgerald, but is somewhere in between. He'll have the chance to bulk up, however, so this comparison is pretty easy.
NFL Comparison: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
5. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
It's difficult to get a feel for Quinn because he sat out all of last season, but most experts agree that Quinn has the physical tools to be an elite defensive end in the NFL.
He has that rare blend of size (6'4" and 265 pounds), speed and athleticism to dominate against most offensive linemen and could be an annual double-digit sack threat if he gets enough playing time.
NFL Comparison: DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
4. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Fairley is the best run-stopper in this draft and a more than capable pass rusher. He's a smart, athletic player who even at 6'4" and 291 pounds is a ferocious player inside.
Fairley needs to add some muscle if he wants to keep playing tackle, or he could line up as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Either way, questions about his work ethic make this comparison too obvious to ignore.
NFL Comparison: Albert Haynesworth, Washington Redskins
3. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Dareus is every bit as good of a pro prospect as Gerard Warren was a few years ago. He has great size (6'3" and 319 pounds), is stronger than anyone else at his position and is agile enough to shed blockers and collapse the pocket.
It would be a shock if Dareus didn't become an impact player in the NFL, so I'm hesitant to call him the next Gerard Warren. Instead, I think he projects better as Seymour because he is an ideal fit as a 3-4 defensive end.
NFL Comparison: Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders
2. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
Miller could be the best defensive player in this draft even if he never shakes that "tweener" label. He's one of the fastest players in the draft (sub-4.5 40-yard dash) and an incredible athlete who is relentless in pursuit.
He's a bit undersized at just 6'3" and 246 pounds, but you don't keep someone with Miller's talent off the field. If he adds some size then he could enjoy a career similar to All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews.
NFL Comparison: Joey Porter, Miami Dolphins
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
The best prospect in this draft is, not surprisingly, most similar to one of the best defensive backs in NFL history: Deion Sanders. He has great size (6'0", 219 pounds), speed and ball skills that have earned him a reputation as a lockdown corner.
There's little doubt that Peterson will have an All-Pro career regardless of where he ends up. But since some of us are too young to remember what it was like to watch "Showtime Sanders" play, here's another future Hall of Famer that also likes to wear yellow.
NFL Comparison: Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers