2011 NFL Draft: 5 Prospects Who Have Helped Themselves the Most This Offseason
With the 2011 NFL draft getting closer, and mock drafts reaching their 3.0, 4.0 and 10.0 stages for the more neurotic football followers, the excitement of potential boom or bust players coming to a team near you is reaching its peak.
As fans, this is the time when you think you know everything. You know exactly what your team’s strengths and weaknesses are, you know how they can address them and if your wishes aren’t met, you will fall over the couch come draft day screaming your GM’s name in disgust.
But before that happens, let’s take a look back at some of the players who may not have crossed the GM’s radar during the 2010 season, but raised their value considerably through the combine and pro day.
Here are the top five prospects who made themselves more valuable this past offseason.
5. J.J. Watt—Defensive End, Wisconsin
A truly unique talent, Watt transferred to Wisconsin from Central Michigan after his freshman season in hopes of raising his game to the NFL level, and that he did. Possessing dynamic athleticism, Watt played tight end while at Central Michigan, but was quickly moved to defensive end once he became a Badger.
On defense, Watt lived in opponent’s backfields, amassing 29 tackles for loss in 2010. At 6’5" and 290 pounds, he has a great frame, coupled with gifted hands from his tight end days which allows him to shed blockers with ease. His long arms will also allow him the opportunity to bat passes down, as well as stretch out for ankle tackles most players of his position can’t accomplish.
His relentless work ethic and intelligence has not gone unnoticed by scouts and he is most certainly a first-round pick.
4. Chris Culliver—Defensive Back, South Carolina
Coming off of a torn pectoral muscle that ended his senior season, scouts were questioning Culliver’s ability to return to top form. He answered those questions at the combine, where he posted a blistering 4.36 40-yard dash. He has the versatility to play cornerback or safety and possesses good ball-hawking skills. While he may take a few years to become fully competent in the defensive backfield, he will make an immediate impact as a return man.
Culliver ranked third in SEC conference history in kick returns and kick return yards. His durability remains questionable, but his speed and play-making ability in the return game would be a great value in the third and fourth rounds.
3. Mike Pouncey—Offensive Guard, Florida
The brother of Steelers 2010 first-round pick, Marquice Pouncey, saw his stock take a brief dive when he struggled to snap the ball after the Gators switched him from a guard to center. Those days appear to be in the past, as Pouncey rebounded to cement himself as the top interior linemen in his class with a strong showing at the combine.
He ran a 5.28 40 and a 4.64 shuttle, and showed the quick feet needed to mirror pass rushers. Pouncey also uses his hands well in pass protection and might have the best understanding of blitz packages and combo blocking of any linemen at his position. He’s as close to a sure thing as it gets in terms of his ability to make an immediate impact.
He may even crack the top 20 depending on certain team’s needs.
2. Muhammad Wilkerson—Defensive Tackle, Temple
Talk about a player who produced in college. Wilkerson was a huge part of the Owl defense, posting 61 tackles in his junior season and then topped that with 70 in his senior season, impressive numbers for a defensive lineman.
At 6’5" and 310 pounds, he wreaks havoc in the run game with his size, and at the combine, he showed the ability to play in a 4-3 or the five technique in the 3-4. His 85-inch wingspan should lend itself to plenty of tipped passes, and the Temple prospect should go in the late first or early second round.
1. Taiwan Jones—Running Back, Eastern Washington
If you are looking for a Chris Johnson/Jamaal Charles prototype, this is your guy.
Coming off of a broken foot that caused him to miss the FCS championship, Jones needed to leave little doubt in scouts minds that his speed and explosiveness hadn't dipped in the process. His eagerly anticipated workout did not disappoint, as his 40 clocked in the 4.27 to 4.35 range on all stopwatches. Of course, straight-line speed isn’t everything in the NFL, and he’ll need to demonstrate the ability to harness that speed in and out of his cuts.
Plus, he’s from a small school in the weak Big Sky conference, so his talent hasn't been showcased among NCAA’s elite defenses. He came into the draft ranking third amongst running backs, but I think he may be a steal in the late first round, much like Chris Johnson was a few years back.
I am sure certain teams are still kicking themselves for passing on Johnson (Cowboys anyone?), so GM's may be quicker to pull the trigger on a similar prospect this time around.