2011 NFL Draft Preview: Power-Ranking the Top 20 Defensive Players
With less than three weeks until the 2011 NFL Draft, the National Football League is still in the middle of a lockout with its players. However, the draft will still take place on April 28th, 2011.
From Cameron Newton to A.J. Green, there is a deep pool of offensive talent entering the NFL this year.
The majority of this year's first-round selections, however, are expected to be on the defensive side of the ball.
The draft values of each player have been continuously fluctuating since the end of the college football season.
At one point, DE Da'Quan Bowers and DT Nick Fairley were considered to be the top defensive players entering the professional level this upcoming season, but a lot has changed since the NFL combine and player workouts.
Patrick Peterson and Marcell Dareus are now considered among the top defensive assets as the draft approaches.
The following slides exhibit the top 20 defensive players entering the 2011 NFL Draft.
20. OLB Justin Houston, Georgia
Weight: 258 pounds
Season Stats: (2010) 56 total tackles (30 solo, 26 assisted), 10 sacks and one interception
This past season, Houston was second overall in the SEC in sacks, with 10.
Houston has the talent and size to be an immediate impact to whichever team may draft him.
19. OLB Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
Weight: 263 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) Recorded 66 total tackles (43 solo, 23 assisted), 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception
(2010) Recorded 72 total tackles (41 solo, 31 assisted), nine sacks and one forced fumble
Bowl Game Performance: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl vs. Uconn (W 48-20) Recorded six total tackles (one assisted, five solo) and one pass deflection
At Oklahoma, Beal was an excellent edge rusher who recorded a total of 28 sacks throughout his four-year college career.
Todd McShay described Beal as having "the type of size and versatility that they look for in an outside linebacker."
18. DT Drake Nevis, LSU
Weight: 285 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) Recorded 50 total tackles (26 solo, 24 assisted) and four sacks
(2010) Recorded 56 total tackles (30 solo, 26 assisted), six sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception
Nevis is a talented defensive tackle who plays with a great deal of passion. He has proven to be solid against both the run and pass, exhibiting outstanding leverage.
Nevis has shown an innate ability to disrupt plays in the backfield, along with a quick first step.
17. DE Allen Bailey, Miami
Weight: 288 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) Recorded 32 total tackles (18 solo, 14 assisted) and seven sacks
(2010) Recorded 46 total tackles (22 solo, 24 assisted) and seven sacks
Bowl Game Performance: (L 33-17 to Miami Hurricanes) Recorded two total tackles
While at Miami, Bailey exhibited versatility and elite interior pass-rushing skills.
Bailey has a very similar game to Jevon Kearse, with his great size and incredible athletic abilities.
16. DT Corey Liuget, Illinois
Weight: 298 pounds
Season Stats: (2010) Recorded 63 total tackles (29 solo, 34 assisted) and five sacks
Bowl Game Performance: Texas Bowl @ Baylor(W 38-14) Recorded five total tackles (two solo, three assisted) and one sack
Corey Liuget is an explosive defensive threat that has consistently clogged up the middle for his defense.
Once Liuget gets adjusted to the professional level, he will be one of the best defensive tackles in the National Football League.
15. DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
Weight: 288 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 48 total tackles (25 solo, 23 assisted), four sacks and one interception
Throughout four seasons played for Ohio State, Heyward recorded a total of 156 tackles, 14 sacks, one interception and one safety.
Cameron Heyward was selected to the 2010 All-Big Ten Conference Football first team (coaches).
14. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
Weight: 311 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 45 total tackles (20 solo, 25 assisted), six sacks
Stephen Paea has shown superb quickness for his size and has a seemingly non-stop motor.
Paea also has a unique passion and knowledge for the game, and may eventually move to DE depending on the team that selects him.
13. DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
Weight: 315 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) 58 total tackles (33 solo, 25 assisted), six sacks and one forced fumble
(2010) 68 total tackles (43 solo, 25 assisted), 10 sacks and one forced fumble
Muhammad Wilkerson was a 2010 first-team All-MAC honoree who knows how to get to the quarterback with reckless abandon.
With a deeply talented draft this year, Wilkerson may fall to the third round, which would be a steal for any team in search of a defensive end.
12. DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Weight: 290 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) Recorded 44 total tackles (32 solo, 12 assisted) and four sacks
(2010) Recorded 62 total tackles (43 solo, 19 assisted), seven sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception
Watt has the dedication and skill set to be an immediate factor on any NFL team.
He has the potential be one of the most dominant defensive players in the National Football League.
11. DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Weight: 267 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) Recorded 66 total tackles (42 solo, 24 assisted), 12 sacks and two forced fumbles
(2010) Recorded 70 total tackles (50 solo, 20 assisted), 13 sacks and one forced fumble
Last season, Ryan Kerrigan led the nation with 26 tackles for a loss, becoming virtually impossible for opponents to block, even when facing double-team scenarios.
Todd McShay has Kerrigan going 18th to the New England Patriots, saying "Kerrigan is probably higher on our board than on most others, but very few players with his touchiness, pass-rushing savvy, a nonstop motor and passion for the game fail to contribute in the NFL."
10. S Rahim Moore, UCLA
Weight: 196 pounds
Season Stats: (2009) Recorded 45 total tackles (34 solo, 11 assisted), one sack and 10 interceptions
(2010) Recorded 77 total tackles (51 solo, 26 assisted) and one interception
Rahim Moore is the most talented safety entering the 2011 NFL Draft, and is very likely to be selected in the late first round.
Moore has proven to be excellent in deep-zone coverage throughout his college career, which should help him to make a fast transition at the pro level.
9. CB Aaron Williams, Texas
Weight: 192 pounds
Season Stats: (2010) Recorded 45 total tackles (30 solo, 15 assisted), one sack and two forced fumbles
Throughout his three seasons with the Longhorns, Williams recorded a total of 89 tackles, three sacks, four interceptions, five fumbles forced and a touchdown.
Williams would be a steal for any team if he's still around in the second round, which is fairly likely.
8. OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
Weight: 251 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 68 total tackles (45 solo, 23 assisted), four sacks and two interceptions
Akeem Ayers was on the watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation's top defensive player, and the Rotary Lombardi Award, which is presented to the nation's top lineman.
Ayers has proven he can be consistent, earning very similar numbers over the past two seasons.
Throughout three seasons with the UCLA Bruins, Ayers has recorded a total of 177 tackles, two fumbles forced, 11 sacks, six interceptions and two touchdowns.
7. DE Robert Quinn, UNC
Weight: 270 pounds
2009 Season Stats: 52 total tackles (35 solo tackles, 17 assisted), 11 sacks and two forced fumbles
Robert Quinn was unable to play this season for violating NCAA policies by accepting thousands of dollars in jewelry from an agent, but his 2010 season should speak for itself.
In one season, Robert Quinn recorded 11 sacks and two forced fumbles.
He's a talented athlete who has been awarded the 2008 Brian Piccolo Award and was named to the 2009 Second-Team All-America (CBSsports.com) and the 2009 First-Team All-ACC.
Quinn was also named the Naagurski, Lombardi, Hendricks and Lott trophy award candidates—along with being selected for the 2010 Preseason First-Team All-America—before becoming permanently ineligible in the NCAA.
6. DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
Weight: 298 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 56 total tackles (32 solo, 24 assisted), 12 sacks and one interception
Bowl Game Performance: BCS National Championship v. Auburn(won 22-19)—Five total tackles (three for a loss), one sack and one forced fumble.
While at Auburn, Nick Fairley has exhibited an explosive first step and proven that he can be a highly effective pass rusher.
Mel Kiper Jr. has Fairley as a top-10 lock and believes that he "epitomizes the ideal penetrating 4-3 tackle."
5. CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Weight: 205 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 59 total tackles (36 solo, 23 assisted) one sack
Bowl Game Performance: Holiday Bowl v. Washington Huskies(Loss 19-7)—One tackle
After a tremendous junior season, opposing quarterbacks began to limit their throws to receivers being covered by Prince Amukamara.
He has the potential to be a highly effective shutdown corner in the NFL, after exhibiting tremendous abilities at Nebraska.
4. DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
Weight: 280 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 67 total tackles (41 solo, 26 assisted), 16 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception
Bowl Game Performance: Meineke Car Care Bowl v. USF (Lost 31-26); Six total tackles (three solo, three assisted)
Da'Quan Bowers has proven to be a natural pass rusher who led the FBS in sacks this season, with 15.5.
College football analyst Todd McShay has said that "Bowers is a stud, can fit any defensive scheme and is blessed with a rare combination of size and athleticism."
Bowers was a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Award in 2010.
While at Clemson, Bowers recorded the most sacks in a season by any lineman in the school's history.
Bowers is one of the most NFL-ready defensive lineman in the entire draft.
3. OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Weight: 243 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 68 total tackles (38 solo, 30 assisted), 11 sacks and one interception
Bowl Game Performance: AT&T Cotton Bowl v. LSU Tigers (lost 41-24); Nine total tackles (four solo, five assisted), one sack
Todd McShay described Miller as having "a freakish combination of size, speed and athletic ability."
Miller has shown he can continuously get after the quarterback and has improved his ability to drop and cover, which will be a valuable asset to the team that selects him.
2. DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Weight: 306 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 33 total tackles (20 solo, 13 assisted), five sacks
Bowl Game Performance: Capital One Bowl v. Michigan State (Won 49-7); three tackles (two solo, one assisted) and one sack
Marcell Dareus has shown the consistent capability to penetrate against the pass defense, as well as anchor effectively versus the run.
1. CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
Weight: 222 pounds
2010 Season Stats: 36 tackles (24 solo, 12 assisted) and four interceptions
Bowl Game Performance: Cotton Bowl v. No. 18 Texas A&M (won 41-24)—six total tackles (five solo, one assisted)
As one of the best cornerbacks in the 2011 NFL draft, Patrick Peterson is likely to be selected within the top 10 picks.
Heading into the 2010 season, ESPN listed Peterson as the best defender and fourth-best overall player in college football.
Throughout his three seasons with LSU, Peterson has exhibited rare athleticism and superb instincts.
College football analysts and experts all over have been raving about this kid and the potential he possesses.
Peterson is expected to develop into one of the premiere cornerbacks in the National Football League.