The time has finally come. After countless hours spent by scouts, general managers, coaching staffs, and team doctors alike, dissecting countless prospects on and off the field, it is now time to make the final decisions for the 2011 NFL Draft.
There has been a myriad of rumors, smokescreens, and supposed insider information over the past few weeks and what follows is an attempt to make sense of all the madness. These selections reflect which prospect I feel will ultimately end up with which franchises. Some of these picks will feature draft day dealing either up or down the board and I have presented that in my analysis where applicable. I have only gone through Round 2 as after that point the draft board is sure to be dramatically different due to trades.
Without further ado, here are the future booms and busts of the NFL...
PROS: Cam Newton is the most physically gifted offensive player in the draft. He's got a big time NFL arm and defenses must honor what he can do as a runner. Unquestionably the most exciting player in the nation last year, he led the Auburn Tigers to an undefeated National Championship season en route to winning the 2010 Heisman Trophy. His unmatched charisma is infectious both on and off the football field.
CONS: He left Florida after having off-the-field issues involving allegations of theft and cheating, neither of which were proven conclusively. At Auburn he became involved in a pay-for-play scandal that centered on his father, but has yet to be found guilty of any wrong doing by the NCAA. On the field, there are concerns of how he will take to a pro-style offense after playing in Auburn's spread.
HOW HE FITS: After a disastrous 1-15 season, the Carolina Panthers are looking to start anew. As the most exciting and recognizable prospect in the 2011 class, Cam Newton gives the organization a face for the franchise as it looks to move in a new direction.
PROS: Tremendous size at 6'3" and 319 lbs., puts Marcell Dareus among the most physically imposing prospects in the 2011 draft class. What makes him special is an elite burst that rivals any defensive line prospect, end or tackle. He has the versatility to line up at any spot on the defensive line regardless of whether it's in an even or odd front—hailing from a Nick Saban-coached defense, he is NFL ready.
CONS: The only blemish for Dareus is a NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits from an agent that cost him the first two games of the 2010 season.
HOW HE FITS: Denver finished dead last in sacks last season and had the second worst run defense as well. The organization let go of veterans Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan creating a need to an immediate impact player at defensive tackle.
PROS: Von Miller is the most explosive defender in the 2011 draft. After leading the NCAA in sacks in 2009, Miller returned to Texas A&M for his senior year and improved both his run defense and pass coverage. He is scheme versatile with the ability to play outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3 and can even line up as down defensive end on passing downs.
CONS: Still improving as a run defender, specifically in disengaging blockers, and has not reached his full potential yet in pass coverage.
HOW HE FITS: It is safe to call Aaron Maybin a bust and Shawn Merriman gave the Bills little after being signed following his release from San Diego, creating a major need for pass-rusher to help improve a pass-rush that yielded just 27 sacks last season. Head coach Chan Gailey has said he plans to run a 3-4 hybrid scheme on defense, making Miller's versatility very attractive.
PROS: The NFL combine showed Jones to be the most physically impressive of all the 2011 wide outs, combining imposing size and strength with home run speed. He is excellent with the ball after the catch, and capable of turning short to intermediate routes into big gains. Jones also has a high level toughness playing through numerous injuries at a high level. In the running game he offers a strong blocker on the edge. It's been reported that he is a hard worker on the practice field.
CONS: He improved his route running as a junior, but still has work to do in that area especially when considering his impressive workout numbers. Jones' biggest issues are drops as a result of a lack of concentration. Consequently, some scouts have compared him to Terrell Owens on the field.
HOW HE FITS: Odds are that Chad Ochocinco will either be released or traded once a new CBA is in place, leaving Cincinnati without a primary target in the passing game. Reports hold that the Bengals have Julio Jones rated of Georgia's A.J. Green on their board for his superior abilities as a run-blocker and rumored edge in regards to work ethic.
PROS: Seen by most scouts and analysts as the draft's best overall prospect, Patrick Peterson has the potential to develop into a shutdown corner early in his career a la Darrelle Revis. Peterson is equally comfortable in zone and man coverage and is a factor in run support. He certainly has benefited from a ton of big game experience against top level competition having played in the SEC. Beyond his expertise as a defensive back he is also an accomplished return man.
CONS: His confidence can sometimes be taken as cockiness, but that is more a reflection of his competitive nature rather than a referendum on his character.
HOW HE FITS: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie struggled last season as the Cardinals primary corner and the pass defense as whole was unimpressive despite facing few elite passing attacks. Peterson gives Arizona a true number one corner and would allow Rodgers-Cromartie to settle into a more appropriate secondary role.
PROS: Green may be the most refined route runner to ever come out of the college ranks. Beyond that, he seemingly catches everything within his long reach. He knows how to use his 6'4" frame to shield defenders, giving himself the best chance at the football. In jump ball situations, he is always the favorite to come down with the football. Once he's secured the catch, Green is a major threat to break off a big gain. To his credit, he has produced even though the Bulldogs have had quarterback trouble since Matthew Stafford left after the '08 season.
CONS: There is some concern over his lack of elite speed and how it will effect his ability to get separation at the next level. Additionally, his thin frame presents a potential injury risk.
HOW HE FITS: Cleveland features the most unimpressive receiving core in the NFL. With Colt McCoy entering his first full season as starter, with the pressure to establish himself as the Browns' first franchise QB since Bernie Kosar, it's important that Mike Holmgren gives him a legitimate number one target to make his job a little easier.
PROS: From a physical stand point, there isn't a more impressive pass-rusher in this year's class. He has taken advantage of the pre-draft workouts to earn the confidence of 3-4 teams that he can make the transition to outside linebacker in that scheme. Although he didn't play in 2010, he was one of the nation's most effective pass-rushers as a sophomore in '09.
CONS: A NCAA suspension for improper contact with an agent cost Robert Quinn his junior season. As a result, scouts only have one good year of game tape on him.
HOW HE FITS: San Francisco's starting outside linebacker duo of impending free agent Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, teamed for just 6.5 sacks in 2010. At least one will not be returning for 2011 and it's possible that both could be playing with different teams if the 49ers can find acceptable replacements.
PROS: Easily the most dominant defensive lineman in the NCAA during the 2010 season. Nick Fairley has a rare Warren Sapp-like ability to simply take over games as a three technique going stretches where he seems literally unblockable. When he is firing on all cylinders, he can be a spark who inspires the entire defense to elevate its play. Showed a willingness to play through pain.
CONS: There have been some who accuse Fairley of taking plays off. He has also drawn criticism for a perceived lack of maturity causing concern for his ability to handle life as a professional.
HOW HE FITS: Injuries left the Titans razor thin at defensive tackle last season. Beyond that, the franchise is looking to get bigger up front. Fairly would help achieve that goal by enabling Jason Jones to slide outside to play a five technique in new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray's scheme, while he takes Jones' vacated spot in the interior. With Fairley's defensive line coach now holding the same position on Gray's staff, Tennessee will know how to get the most out of talented tackle.
PROS: Smith is as good an athlete as you can ever find on the offensive line. He has a long wingspan that makes it very difficult for defenders to get into his body. His ability to add weight to his large 6'7" frame, while still maintaining his unrivaled athleticism during the pre-draft process, has greatly helped his stock. Pass-blocking is his strong suit and he has a future on the left side in the NFL.
CONS: Tyron Smith played some left tackle at USC, but all 24 of his starts came on the right side. He must continue to add weight to fill out his frame. Run-blocking is not his forte and he must become a more aggressive drive blocker, especially if he remains on the right side as a professional. Only three years removed from high school, he is still learning to bring his performance on the field up to where it should be in light of his physical gifts.
HOW HE FITS: Head coach Jason Garrett wants to turn Dallas into a tougher football team and that starts by winning the battle up front. Left tackle Doug Free is a free agent who the Cowboys will aggressively work to re-sign. Meanwhile, right tackle Marc Columbo has been rumored to be on the chopping block. Smith offers Dallas a replace for Columbo and insurance in the unlikely event that Free signs with another franchise. Jerry Jones has expressed interest in trading down on draft day, meaning this selection could occur somewhere in the early teens.
PROS: Following in the foot steps of Chase Coffman, Blaine Gabbert stepped into the starting quarterback role under pressure to continue Mizzou football's newly found relevance on the national stage. He delivered two seasons under center, leading the Tigers to 18 wins over that period. He has a great pocket presence, displaying a lightning release while standing tall amidst the rush. Excels in the short passing game, but showed the arm strength to throw an the entire route tree at his pro day.
CONS: After a fantastic sophomore season, Gabbert's numbers fell in 2010. While he is extremely accurate when throwing shorter routes, that accuracy begins to wane as he works beyond the 10-yard range. Having played in a spread offense at Missouri, he lacks experience working through a progression and will have to adjust to taking snaps from under center.
HOW HE FITS: The Redskins need a long-term answer at the quarterback position. Mike Shanahan is rumored to be high on Gabbert, enough so that he would trade up into the top five. Gabbert can run Shanahan's passing game that places a premium on mobility at the quarterback position, featuring a significant amount of play action passes and roll outs. He is the most NFL-ready of the top tier QBs.
PROS: A true shut down corner for the Cornhuskers, Amukamara consistently took his assignment out of the game. He plays with a physicality that makes him excellent in press-man coverage and an asset when defending the run. When asked to play zone, he's shown solid awareness. Unwarranted questions concerning his speed were answered at the NFL combine by a sub-4.4 forty-yard dash. Opposing quarterbacks rarely tested his side of the field.
CONS: Does not possess the ball skills of an elite NFL cornerback only having picked off five passes during his collegiate career, all of which came during his junior season in '09. Some of that can be contributed to a lack of opportunities as a senior.
HOW HE FITS: The Texans lead the league in both passing yards and touchdowns allowed last season. Rookie Kareem Jackson was in over his head as a starter and was often out of position or simply flat out burned. The spot across from Jackson is in a state of limbo with Glover Quin facing a possible move to free safety. Houston could use a corner who would allow Jackson to play a more appropriate complementary role and Quin to move to safety.
PROS: Athletically, Jake Locker is on par with probable first overall pick Cam Newton. His mobility makes him a difficult target for pass-rushers and he is a always a threat to tuck the ball and take off for a big play. His arm strength makes the entire route tree fair game. Unlike many other top quarterbacks, Locker actually played in a pro-style offensive under Steve Sarkisian. A Huskie's team captain the past two seasons, he is a good on-field leader.
CONS: Accuracy is Jake Locker's most fatal flaw, drawing concerns that he is bound to be an easy target for ball-hawking defensive backs in the NFL. He shows too much faith in his legs, making for a poor pocket presence often rolling out or taking off prematurely. His decision-making can be questionable and he will try to force balls into coverage.
HOW HE FITS: Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has come right out and said that ideally the Vikings will use a top pick on a quarterback who can be plugged in right away and developed as the long-term solution at the position. Despite a down senior year, reports are that the franchise still holds Locker in high regard and will consider the former Huskie in the absence of Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton.
PROS: No other defensive ends possess the unique blend of size, strength, and speed that J.J. Watt brings to the table. His 1.64 10-yard split at the NFL combine would have been impressive for a skill position prospect—much less for a 6'5", 290-pound defensive lineman. Uses his strength to simply blow opposing linemen off the ball. A relentless pass-rusher, he goes all out on every snap, playing with an intensity that spreads to his teammates. A sure tackler, opponents are almost guaranteed to go down once Watt has his hands on them. Draws extremely high marks as far as character is concerned. He has the versatility to line up inside as well.
CONS: His bullrush will not be as effective as it was in college against bigger, stronger professional linemen. Struggles at times to anchor against the run when asked to line up inside, but will not often find himself in that position in the NFL.
HOW HE FITS: The Lions top defensive ends in 2010 all had their limitations. Aging veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch is always an injury risk, Lawrence Jackson's lack of production in the past raises concerns as to whether he'll be able to build on a solid performance last season, and Cliff Avril simply lacks the size of an every down end. Watt could play as a base left end who could slide inside to tackle in passing situations.
PROS: A superior athletic talent as an interior lineman, Pouncey is consistently able to work his way to the second or even third level of the defensive when run-blocking. He plays light on his feet with active hands in pass protection. Has the the versatility to play either center or guard in the NFL. Good bloodlines being the twin brother of Pittsburgh Steeler pro-bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey.
CONS: Struggled snapping the ball early in 2010, but was able to rectify the problem as the season progressed. Most scouts feel his best fit in the NFL is at left guard, not center. Not quite to lineman that his brother Maurkice was as a prospect.
HOW HE FITS: Tony Sparano is looking to recommit to pounding the football in 2011, but must first get stronger up front. Depending on where Miami chooses to line Richie Incognito up in 2011, the team is going to be weak at either guard or center. The versatility to project as either a guard or center would give the Dolphins the option to try Pouncey and Incognito at both positions allowing them a greater chance at finding an effective combination inside.
PROS: He has utilized the pre-draft workouts to show that he is almost back to 100 percent after fracturing his leg in September. When healthy, he is as gifted a pass-rusher as you'll find, which is evident by a standout year as a sophomore in 2009. Superior athlete with a ton of upside. Aggressive in run support and can even play inside at times despite his lack of size.
CONS: Debatable if his leg is back to full strength. His prospects as a pro are based more off potential than actual production.
HOW HE FITS: Although James Hall had an excellent season in 2010, it would be unwise for the Rams to assume he'll have a repeat performance in 2011. First and foremost, at 34-years-old, his skills are due to begin to erode sooner rather than later. Secondly, factoring out the outliers of last year and 2004, Hall has averaged under four sacks a year in his other nine NFL seasons. A more consistent long-term option is required opposite Chris Long.
PROS: From a production stand point, you can do no better than Kerrigan who has racked up 54.5 tackles for a loss including 30.5 sacks in three years as a starter for the Boilermakers. A team captain and unquestioned leader of the 2010 Purdue defense, he draws high marks for his character and unmatched work ethic. Proved himself to be more of an athlete than previously given credit for at the NFL combine. Has experience dropping into pass coverage.
CONS: Will struggle to disengage from stronger offensive linemen. Lack of agility when playing in space may lead to issues corralling more elusive ball carriers. Despite experience in pass coverage, it is not a strong part of his game.
HOW HE FITS: During the 2010 NFL season, Jacksonville managed just 26 sacks—tied with Denver for the second lowest total in the entire league. Aaron Kampman is a poor bet to remain healthy or ever be the player he was for the Packers before '09, after finishing the last two seasons on the IR due to ACL tears. Former eighth overall selection Derrick Harvey, lost his starting job in 2010 and can safely be labeled a bust. General manager Gene Smith places a premium on character and work ethic making Kerrigan a nice fit for a push-rush-needy Jacksonville team.
PROS: Muhammad Wilkerson is a fantastic all around athlete and was a coveted football and basketball recruit coming out of high school. Excellent production during his two years as a starter with 23.5 tackles for a loss including 16 sacks. Knows how to use his length to his advantage especially when closing on ball carriers. Has lined up in almost all techniques making him one of the more versatile linemen available. He gives maximum efforts every down, going sideline to sideline and never gives up a play.
CONS: Does not possess the strength that you would expect for a man his size and he must learn to use his hands better to disengage blockers, especially when lining up inside where interior linemen can man handle him at times. The MAC conference, which Temple plays in, does not feature elite NCAA talent.
HOW HE FITS: The Patriots have yet to adequately replace Richard Seymour following his trade to Oakland just prior to the 2009 season. Moreover, injuries left the Patriots so thin at defensive end that even nose tackle Vince Wilfork was forced to take some snaps as a five technique last year. Wilkerson will immediately bolster the depth along the defensive line, offering a potential future stud once his full potential is reached and he adjusts to NFL-caliber competition. His versatility to line up inside in a 4-3 or outside in a 3-4 makes him an excellent fit for a New England defense that utilizes both fronts frequently.
PROS: Cameron Heyward is just a relentless defender. As a three year starter for the Golden Bears, he averaged 11 tackles for a loss and over 5.5 sacks a year. His best work comes defending the run where he is a wall, sealing off the edge. He was one of a select few college prospects who actually has experience playing in a 3-4 scheme. At the Senior Bowl, he showed that he can also be effective in an even front and was a star all week in Mobile. He is ready to contribute immediately.
CONS: He gives great effort as a pass-rusher, but should not be expected to produce anything more than a handful of sacks in a given year. His tackling can be suspect in the open field, especially against shiftier ball carriers.
HOW HE FITS: By all accounts, Chargers GM A.J. Smith intends to use his first overall pick on a front seven defender. The consensus coming out of San Diego is that Smith does not wish to re-sign 2010 starting defensive end Jacques Cesaire, so he should jump all over a defensive lineman who would be an upgrade over Cesaire in the starting lineup, right from the get-go.
PROS: Castonzo's has a ton of expeience earning the rare honor of starting for the Eagles as a true freshman. In pass protection, he displays excellent balance, stays light on his feet, and uses his length to keep pass-rushers from getting into his body. As a run-blocker, he routinely plays with superb technique and puts himself in good position. Off the field he is highly intelligent and should have no problem digesting the intricacies of a NFL blocking scheme. His long frame is the prototype for a NFL left tackle
CONS: Most of Castonzo's issues stem from a lack of strength. In the running game, he struggles to drive defenders and in pass protection he can be susceptible to the bull rush. Due to his length, it's difficult for him to sink his hips making it hard for him to anchor. When run-blocking, he must do a better job disengaging his initial block and working to get to the next level of the defense.
HOW HE FITS: The health of guard Rich Seubert is a real concern following off-season micro-fracture surgery that makes him doubtful for the start of the season and possibly all of 2011. The Giants have shown an inclination towards moving current left tackle David Diehl inside but, in order to do so long term, a proper replacement must be found.
PROS: With 15 sacks last season, Da'Quan Bowers was the NCAA's most dangerous pass-rusher in 2010. Fantastic upper body strength allows him to effectively use the bull rush when getting to opposing quarterbacks. Offensive tackles stand little chance once Bowers gets into their bodies and he will take advantage of poor foot work to drive them into the backfield. Run defense may actually be his best attribute. His strength allows him take on multiple blockers and he plays with such awareness that he does not allow himself to be taken out of the play. Shows sideline to sideline range and effectively wraps up ball carriers in the open field.
CONS: There are major concerns over the health of a knee that he had scoped following the 2010 season. Reports have ranged anywhere from him having a degenerative condition and potentially needing micro-fracture surgery, to being 100 percent by the start of training camp. Outside of his health, there are concerns over his lack of an elite burst. He will not be able to man handle tackles in the NFL like he did in college. There are also concerns over motivation with his only productive season at Clemson conveniently coinciding with the first year he would be eligible for the NFL draft.
HOW HE FITS: Unquestionably the top priority for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this off-season is increasing the pass-rush after finishing the last two seasons at the bottom of the league in sacks. Depending on the Buccaneers team doctors' opinions regarding Bowers' knee, general manager Mark Dominik should aggressively pursue making a move up the draft board if Bowers makes it into the teens.
PROS: At 334 lbs., Phil Taylor is one of the few potential nose tackles in the 2011 draft class. He has a massive frame and uses that size to command the attention of multiple blockers. Moreover, he has the strength to control those blockers. As far as mobility goes, he is surprisingly agile and quick for his size. He takes good angles when attacking the ball carrier and will work his way to the sideline. If he is able to get by on a single move, he can get to the quarterback as well. He's been a model player for the Baylor Bears after running into trouble earlier in his career.
CONS: Original played at Penn State, but was dismissed from the team due to an assault charge he received during his freshman year which was later dropped. On the field, he must learn to recover after being stood up by initial contact. Additionally, as with most players his size, conditioning is always a concern.
HOW HE FITS: The Kansas City Chiefs defense improved dramatically in its first year under Romeo Crennel. However, they still lack a true nose tackle who can anchor the defense front.
PROS: Next to USC's Tyron Smith, there isn't a more athletically promising offense tackle prospect than Nate Solder. His physicality is everything a franchise would want in a left tackle. A strong upper body allows him to be a dominant run-blocker at times and he utilizes his athleticism to work his way downfield. When using proper technique in pass protection, he is nearly impossible to get around, thanks to a lengthy 6'8" frame. Beyond the gridiron, he possesses an admirable work ethic and performs very well in the classroom.
CONS: His technique is very raw and needs a significant amount of work before he can play on the left side in the pros. Specifically, Solder has difficulty consistently dropping his hips, allowing quicker defenders to get their pad level lower than his and they end up blowing by him. Poor foot work in pass protection provides too many opportunities for speedy pass-rushers.
HOW HE FITS: Once a new CBA is in place, Colts owner Jim Irsay unsurprisingly intends to make Peyton Manning the highest paid player in the NFL. In order to protect that investment, the offensive line has to be improved upon. Solder can likely handle the duties of a right tackle as he is groomed for the blindside.
PROS: Most scouts and analysts agree that Jimmy Smith is a top 20 talent. He has the size to line up against bigger, stronger wide receivers and the speed to keep up with the home run threats. Performs well in both zone and man coverage. His ball skills make quarterbacks pay for throwing off target throws his way. Active in run support and shows good form when making tackles. Extremely confident in his abilities and is a good teammate on the field.
CONS: Lots of off-the-field issues with Smith. During his time at Colorado, he ran into trouble with at least one positive drug test along with multiple arrests for minor in possession. Reportedly was less than honest regarding these troubles at the combine. There is plenty of concern over whether or not he is mature enough to handle life as a pro athlete.
HOW HE FITS: The Eagles have a significant need for a sizable corner capable of making an immediate impact to complement Asante Samuel. If the organization strikes a level of comfort with Smith as a person, then he is a steal and should be the favorite to start opposite Samuel Week 1 of the 2011 season.
PROS: No prospect has worked harder to improve his stock than Corey Liuget, who is seen by most as a sure-fire first-rounder after being given a third round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee. He is a gifted penetrator who requires multiple blockers to keep him out of the backfield. A stout build enables him to anchor well against the run. Coaches say he is a leader in the locker room.
CONS: Conditioning is not up to NFL standards. He will run out of gas especially at the end of games. Does not feature an elite closing burst when getting to the ball carrier. NFL teams will have to make sure he keeps his weight under control.
HOW HE FITS: The addition of Shaun Rogers on a one-year deal can hardly be considered the solution to the Saints' search to find someone to pair with Sedrick Ellis inside. For starters, Rogers is 32-years-old and his last two seasons in Cleveland were uneventful. A rotation of Ellis, Rogers, and Liuget would ensure that the Saints have fresh bodies in the middle all game long and will also serve to help Ellis and Rogers remain healthy.
PROS: Of all the 2011 QB prospects, Ryan Mallet has the most NFL-ready skill. He played in pro-style offenses under Lloyd Carr at Michigan and more recently under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. He'll stand tall in the pocket and patiently work through his progression. Delivers accurate balls, especially on short to intermediate routes. His arm strength is second to none.
CONS: Rumors of heavy partying and drug use have dogged Mallet throughout the pre-draft process. Most troubling are accusations regarding cocaine. His personality in general can come off as arrogant and brash. Football wise, a lack of mobility leaves him as a sitting duck in the pocket.
HOW HE FITS: Seattle needs to find an heir to replace free agent veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and must do so quickly. Of all the quarterback pro days, the only one Seahawks general manager John Schneider personally attended was Arkansas. Reports hold that Mallet had a positive two-day visit with the organization.
PROS: Gained experience as a 4-3 defense end and a 3-4 outside linebacker during his time at Georgia. Finished 2010 ranked second in the SEC with 11 sacks. Shows awareness in run defense and can shed blocks quickly. Improving in pass coverage.
CONS: Used primarily as a pass-rusher, Houston has limited experience in pass coverage. Relies too heavily on his impressive burst to get to the quarterback and must develop a wider repertoire of pass-rush moves to be an effective NFL pass-rusher. Not particularly fluid when playing in space.
HOW HE FITS: Baltimore relies far too heavily on Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata to carry the pass-rush. With experience as a 3-4 linebacker and as a 4-3 end, Houston fits well within Baltimore’s hybrid defense. His initial value would come in relief of Jarrett Johnson in passing situations with the long term objective being to have him replace Johnson, who is in the final year of his contract, after 2011.
PROS: A powerful and experienced pass-rusher who has gone against top level competition. Plays under control and with intelligence, going out his way to disrupt the routes of backs and tight ends on his way to the quarterback. He will give a second and even third effort if initially stalled in either run or pass defense. He's earned praise for his intensity and work ethic from coaches, teammates, and opponents. Named a permanent team captain for the Hawkeyes.
CONS: Lacks an explosive first step and does not have the burst to play right end in the NFL. After becoming subject to consistent double teams, his sacks dropped from 11.5 in 2009 to just 3.5 in 2010. Suffers from Erb's Palsy in his right arm. Was charged for aggravated assault for punching a cab driver in January of 2009, but later plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
HOW HE FITS: A perfect fit as a strong side NFL end, Clayborn would be able to supplement Kroy Biermann in Atlanta. This would allow the Falcons to slide Biermann over to relieve aging veteran John Abraham, more often helping to keep the 33-year-old passer fresh all game and, more importantly, all season long.
PROS: Stoutly-built workhorse type of running back. Displays a great burst through the line while keeping his shoulders square and a low center of gravity. His vision and patience is atop the 2011 running back class. He'll absorb the initial contact and keeps his feet moving, allowing for plenty of second chance opportunities and broken tackles. Knows to protect the football with only two career fumbles. In the passing game, he shows good technique as a blocker and is a sure-handed receiver who is a real threat on screens and swing routes. Was the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.
CONS: Does not have the speed to run away from the defense, especially at the professional level. Missed two games in 2010 due to an arthroscopic knee surgery before the season. Saw his numbers dip as a senior, as Alabama gave Trent Richardson more carries and took to the air more often.
HOW HE FITS: The New England backfield has not had a sturdy workhorse since Corey Dillion’s stint with the Patriots back in the mid-2000s. Even with the success that Belichick has had going with the running back by committee approach the last few years, there is still a certain element of toughness and consistency that is lacking in the ground game which Ingram could provide.
PROS: Stepped into the starting lineup at left tackle as a redshirt freshman and went on to record 49 starts at the position. A multiple All-Big 10 selection and Outland Trophy winner, Carimi is as decorated a prospect as you'll find. Has experience against some of the best pass-rushers the NCAA has to offer. Plays with sound technique in pass protection and a nasty demeanor when run-blocking. Possesses a strong work ethic and is highly intelligent both on and off the field.
CONS: Does not have the elite athleticism, drawing concerns that he may be limited to the right side in the NFL. Has a tendency to lunge at defenders and will lose his balance at times.
HOW HE FITS: Chicago's offensive line gave up 52 sacks in 2010, and did not do the running game any favors—frequently finding itself over-powered and grading out at the very bottom of the league in short yardage situations. Carimi offers an immediate solution at the right tackle position and insurance in the event that JaMarcus Webb fails to show progress on the left side in 2011.
PROS: Carries a wealth of experience with him to the NFL, having played in every game during his fourth season in Columbus. Lined up in a variety of techniques both inside and outside for the Buckeyes. Plays with a tremendously high motor and can simply outwork opponents. Knows how to use his length and upper body strength to his advantage. Rarely takes himself out of position. Draws high marks for character, work ethic, and locker room presence.
CONS: Lack of speed and agility limit his prospects in the NFL. Projects best as a strong side end or a five technique in a 3-4. Saw a drop in productivity as a senior, after receiving a bevy of preseason accolades.
HOW HE FITS: Free agent Shaun Ellis should return to New York, but at age 34 by the time the 2011 season kickoffs, he may not have more than another season or so left in the tank. Not good for a team that is already shorthanded at defensive end and the entire defensive line as a whole. Heyward will keep Ellis fresh and add much needed depth while he's groomed to take a spot in the starting lineup.
PROS: Started third season for the Bulldogs at left tackle. Great wingspan that allows him to keep defenders from getting into his body. Excels in pass-protecting, moving well laterally and remaining balanced while mirroring pass-rushers. Plays with tremendous awareness. Has earned numerous accolades outside of the gridiron and is highly active in community service.
CONS: Plays too tall at times, affecting his ability to drive defenders off the ball. Lacks a sense of tenacity and does not finish blocks. Not a particularly great athlete and will struggle when trying to work beyond the first level of the defense.
HOW HE FITS: The fact that the Steelers actually gave up their lowest sack total since 2005 this past season, with starters Willie Colon and Max Starks both on injured reserve, says a lot about the quality of protection the two provide. Having the duo back healthy for 2011 will not aid a Pittsburgh team looking to avenge a tough loss in Super Bowl XLV. Sherrod will likely have to spend his rookie season in a back up role as a swing tackle while he improves his abilities as a run-blocker.
PROS: A very complete linebacker prospect who can contributes in all phases of the defense. Shows fluid agility in coverage and is savvy enough to read the quarterback's eyes. Has great ball skills, picking off six passes during his collegiate career. Is a serious threat when blitzing, showing an impressive burst when getting after the quarterback. Aggressive when attacking the run, but remains cognizant of his gap responsibilities. Relishes the more physical aspects of the position.
CONS: Does not have anything special when it comes to speed. Relies too much on innate talent, especially as a pass-rusher. Some scouts question his passion for the game.
HOW HE FITS: The only weakness that really sticks out for the Packers is a need for a complement to Clay Matthews at outside linebacker. In the past two seasons, the franchise struck up in an attempt to convert Aaron Kampman from an end to a linebacker, played a seventh round draft pick, and most recently started an undrafted rookie. One of the better draft day operators in the league, expect Ted Thompson to make a move for Akeem Ayers if he is still on the board beyond the early 20s.
PROS: Jabaal Sheard is as good a football player as any defensive end in this year's draft class. He plays with a power that you would not expect from a player of his size. Tenacious as both a pass-rusher and run-defender. Plays with discipline. Athletic enough to play in a 3-4 at the next level. Was a team captain and a favorite amongst coaches and teammates alike.
CONS: Lacks a wide array of pass-rushing moves and does not feature a particularly elite burst. Had an off-the-field issue this past summer when he continued to assault a man after being told to stop by police. Felony assault chargers were reduced to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and he was order to pay the victim's medical bills and apologize.
HOW HE FITS: At some point in either the first or second round, the Patriots are likely to address a lackluster pass-rush that did a young secondary no favors last season. If Bill Belichick waits beyond the 33rd pick, he will be running a significant risk of missing out on a prospect capable of making the immediate contribution that he needs.
PROS: Christian Ponder is seen by most scouts as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. He gained a lot of experience as a three-year starter in the Seminoles pro-style offense. Good mechanics and foot work. Moves well both inside and outside of the pocket and can take off if given the opportunity. Plays with a confidence that franchises look for in a starting QB. Very intelligent and will have no problem digesting a NFL playbook.
CONS: He does not have a cannon for an arm, and as a result his accuracy and velocity decrease on deeper routes. His career at Florida State has featured some costly turnovers leading to questions concerning his ability to breakdown coverages and make the proper reads. Has been plagued by injuries including a separated shoulder in 2009 and an elbow issue that required weekly drainings and ultimately surgery to remove tissue in 2010; both on his throwing arm.
HOW HE FITS: Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix have given every indication that they see Ryan Fitzpatrick more as a stop-gap at quarterback, and intend to find the long-term answer at the position early in the 2011 draft. If they don't go with a quarterback with the third overall pick, Ponder is a prospect the pair has shown a lot of interest in and could make a move for in the later first to early second round range.
PROS: With a 42-7 record as a starter, including two BCS appearances and a Rose Bowl victory, Andy Dalton is a proven winner. Good throwing mechanics make for an accurate and very catchable ball. Hard worker who had a firm command of the Horned Frog's offense. A team-first guy and natural leader on the field and in the locker room.
CONS: Does not have the measurables that are typically sought in a potential franchise quarterback. He's short at 6'2", does not have a cannon for an arm, and will not be avoiding pass-rushers with his feet. His mechanics can break down at times, especially when under pressure, as will his decision-making. Coming out of TCU's spread offense, he will need to adjust to making reads and dropping back from under center as a professional.
HOW HE FITS: Carson Palmer’s vow to retire if the Cincinnati Bengals do not trade him once a new CBA permits the organization to do so, puts the franchise in a state of limbo. Signals coming out of Cincinnati suggest that the franchise will go with a wide receiver in the first round and look to go after a QB with its second overall pick. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is said to be very high on Dalton.
PROS: Aaron Williams has excellent size for a defensive back, making him never at a physical disadvantage. Has solid ball skills and will find a way to get a hand of balls within his reach. Many scouts feel he can play safety in the NFL. Does not shy away from contact in run support.
CONS: Lacks awareness and burst in coverage. Has a tendency to fall victim to double moves too often. Does not play nearly as physical as his size would lead you to believe and will get pushed around by stronger wide outs. Inconsistent as a tackler.
HOW HE FITS: The debate as to whether Williams is a safety or corner at the next level may be enough to keep the former Longhorn from hearing his name called in the first round, but it could lead him to a nice home with a Denver Broncos team that has needs at both positions, allowing Williams to contribute regardless of where he ultimately sticks in the NFL.
PROS: Has all the tools needed to become a starting NFL corner. Very good speed that allows him to stay with quicker receives and recover if initially beaten on a route. Much more physical than most corners his size. A scrappy, yet reliable, tackler. Excellent instincts and awareness when deciphering routes. Seems to possess a genuine passion for the game. Shows maturity beyond his years in his ability to understand the volatility of the position.
CONS: Measuring in at under 5'10" he will find difficulty when matched up against some of the game's taller wide outs. Not strong in zone coverage. Some scouts feel his ceiling is limited as a professional to being a secondary corner or nickel corner. Had some particularly terrible games, most notably against Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
HOW HE FITS: Since drafting Joe Haden, the expectation has been that Cleveland would move veteran Sheldon Brown to free safety.The amount of interest the Browns have shown in corner prospects leading up to the draft, including Brandon Harris, seems to substantiate those rumors.
PROS: Reed plays the game with a passion and fire that you simply cannot coach. Goes all out every snap and never gives up a play. Vociferous leader on the field. Stays low in his pass-rush, generating strong leverage. Has performed better than expected in pre-draft workouts, really boosting his stock in the process.
CONS: Outside of the bull rush and the speed rush, his pass-rush moves are limited. Stiff hips and limited experience dropping into coverage. Can get manhandled once bigger linemen get their hands on him, particularly in the running game. Essentially a one trick pony at this point in his development who has benefited from unwarranted comparison to Clay Matthews.
HOW HE FITS: Arizona absolutely must upgrade the pass-rush before the 2011 season kicks off. Veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are well past their primes and substantially over-paid. It is likely that Porter will be released at some point this off-season due to his $5.75 million salary each of the next two years. The only pass-rush with potential on the Cardinals roster is O'Brian Schofield, who has yet to see substantial NFL action since tearing his ACL before the 2010 draft.
PROS: During his three years at the helm of the Nevada offense, Colin Kaepernick became one of the NCAA's most prolific quarterbacks of all time. A tremendous athlete, Kaepernick's feet are just as dangerous as his arm. Possesses NFL-caliber arm strength. Excels at delivery of an accurate ball on the move. Is smart and careful with the football. Commands the respect of teammates and coaches. Great teammate and very coachable.
CONS: Faces a stiff learning curve going from Nevada's pistol offense to a pro-style passing game. Thin frame makes him a real injury risk going against NFL defenders. His elongated throwing motion will not work in the pros. Did not face top level NCAA competition.
HOW HE FITS: Mike Munchak has reiterated that Vince Young's time in Nashville is absolutely over, leaving the franchise without a viable option at quarterback beyond 2011 (and that's if Kerry Collins returns for one more year and can stay healthy). Tennessee showed an interest in Kaepernick well before he was being talked about as a top 50 pick. The rise in his stock may mean it will require some maneuvering, but expect him to be a Titan by the end of day two.
PROS: Hands down the best, perhaps even the only, ball-hawk in the 2011 draft class. Stepped into the starting lineup as a true freshman and started 37 consecutive games for the Bruins. Led the NCAA with 10 interceptions as a sophomore. Is a threat to return a pick for a score. Voted a team captain as a junior.
CONS: Picked off just one pass after his phenomenal junior year, leading some scouts to question if '09 was an outlier. Not a great athlete for a defensive back. Tackling is poor and is not much of an intimidating presence for a receiver crossing the middle. Does not have much experience playing any other coverage outside of a deep middle zone.
HOW HE FITS: The pass defense hit a new low in 2010 and things do not look much better for 2011 unless personnel changes are made. Free safety has been a problem area for the Cowboys, going back to the early 2000s. Having a safety with ball skills over the top will at least make opposing QBs think twice before launching it deep.
PROS: Very versatile thanks to an intriguing mix of size and speed. Lined up as a nose tackle, a defensive end, and everything in between for the Hawkeyes. Very tough one on one assignment, being more athletic than most offensive linemen and too strong for backs and receivers. Maintains gap discipline and will hold his ground against the run. Ideal five technique.
CONS: Not very fluid or agile in space. Does not have the best form when going to make the tackle and can lose sight of his target. As a result, he misses too many tackles in space. Has a tendency to play too high.
HOW HE FITS: The Redskins need all the talent they can get on the defensive line. Top talent Albert Haynesworth's unwillingness to give his best effort and distaste for the 3-4 defense led to a quick clash with Mike Shanahan resulting in Haynesworth spending most of 2010 on the bench. It's just a matter of time before he is traded or released. Ballard is a much different player than Haynesworth, but he will at least make the defensive line, as a whole, better by offering a solid end capable of holding the edge and garnering a handful of sacks.
PROS: Paea is hands down the strongest prospect, regardless of his position in this year's class. Did an unreal 49 reps on the bench at the combine. Uses that strength along with a very wide frame to control the line of scrimmage. Fires off the ball with a violent and powerful initial burst. Stout build makes it easy for him to stay lower than opposing blockers. Impressive quickness when shooting the gap allows him to be active in the pass-rush. Ton of upside having only played seven years of organized football. Very high intensity player.
CONS: Not as heavy as your traditional nose tackle, weighing in at just under 300 lbs. Does not move well laterally. Wears down quickly after firing off the line. Struggles to work through double teams. Still recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered during Senior Bowl practices.
HOW HE FITS: A rotation of Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell does nothing for a sound anchor of Houston's new 3-4 defense. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has had a lot of success in the past with undersized linemen in his 3-4 front, making Paea a viable candidate in the second round.
PROS: Most dynamic and complete tight end available. He is an excellent weapon in the passing game, getting off the line quickly, running crisp routs, and offering soft hands. At 6'6", 258 lbs., he offers the quarterback a nice target to throw to. A punishing ball carrier after the catch. Adjusts well to the ball and is willing to make the tough catch in traffic. Grades out well as blocker, showing good form and uses his long arms to keep defenders at bay.
CONS: Suffers from the occasional easy drop due to a lack of concentration. Not as physical as he can be, given his size. Lacks great straight line speed. Presents an injury risk having had surgery on a separated left should before 2010 and then missed most of the season with a hamstring injury.
HOW HE FITS: Minnesota reportedly is looking to replace Visanthe Shiancoe with a young, more dynamic option. With a good chance of having a rookie under center in 2011, and Sidney Rice potentially being able to walk as a free agent this off-season, it would not be unwise for the Vikings to grab the best pass-catcher on the board in the second round.
PROS: Possesses the athleticism of a top 15 pick. Has been among the fastest and most explosive linebackers in the country for the past two seasons. Uses those attributes effectively when attacking the line of scrimmage and pursuing the ball carriers. Very fluid in coverage. Can deliver violent hits, but secures the tackle first and foremost. Special teams ace when it come to blocking kicks. Work-out warrior.
CONS: Can be too aggressive at times, leaving him open to play fakes and misdirection. Does not always locate the ball in a timely manner. Tore his ACL in November and has not been able to workout for NFL scouts. No definitive answers as to when he will be cleared to return to the field.
HOW HE FITS: All three linebacker spots in Detroit are fair game this off-season. When he's at full strength, Carter is a prototypical strong side linebacker ready to contribute as a pro right away. This pick will ultimately come down to how the Detroit team doctors feel about Carter's knee. If he can contribute as a rookie, then he should be the pick. Judging by the Lions interest in the former Tar Heel, it can be assumed that there exists a degree of comfort with where he is at in his rehab process.
PROS: Looks the part of a future NFL workhorse. A punishing runner who loves contact. Accelerates quickly and hits the hole hard. Excellent vision when weaving through traffic. Protects the football. Does not go down easy and will lower his shoulder rather than trot out of bounds. Solid in pass protection. Showed improved maturity as a junior.
CONS: Not the most patient runner when waiting for the holes to open up or following his fullback. Catches the ball with his body too often. Has had numerous off-the-field incidents including a fight with a teammate that resulted in his jaw being broken. Was suspended for a game in '09 for violating team rules.
HOW HE FITS: Jim Harbaugh’s 2010 Stanford team averaged over 41 attempts on the ground, even though it had the nation’s best quarterback Andrew Luck under center. To put that type of workload solely upon the shoulders of Frank Gore, is a dangerous proposition. Mikel Leshoure's power would act as the perfect compliment to Gore and he would take some of the more punishing carries between the tackles.
PROS: Has as much upside as any of the 2011 prospects, having just four years of organized football to his credit. Very technically sound. Plays with excellent leverage when facing a bull rush and mirrors fineness rushers well. Strong lower body aids him in driving defenders off the ball. Will disengage from his initial assignment and continue to work down field when run-blocking. Very coachable.
CONS: Will have to make a position change to guard in the NFL due to not having the necessary agility of measureables to remain outside at tackle. Still learning the game and will miss assignments due to indecisiveness. Age is a major concern as he will be a 27-year-old rookie. Many scouts wonder how many seasons he'll be able play at his peak performance level.
HOW HE FITS: Now that John Fox is running the show in Denver, you can bet that he is going to focus on improving upon a running game that was one the worst in the NFL last season. Having an interior lineman to open up holes at the line of scrimmage and work his way to the second level of defenders will be a tremendous help in revitalizing the ground attack. Watkins does have the advantage of having minimal wear and tear and it is not unheard of for offensive linemen, especially interior linemen, to play into their late 30s, so it is not unreasonable to believe that he can give an organization eight to 10 years of service.
PROS: Torrey Smith has the potential to be a big play primary target in the NFL. Smith has top notch speed and accelerates quickly off the line. Shows good concentration tracking the ball on deep routes. Is extremely dangerous after the catch due to his quickness and agility. Doubles as an excellent return man. A very mature young man who overcame a tough childhood.
CONS: Not a very experienced route runner. Mainly asked to run deep patterns or comeback routes in college. Allows the ball to get to his body too often. Although he is a willing run-blocker, he must become stronger to become more effective in this area in the NFL.
HOW HE FITS: You would be hard pressed to find a more average receiving core in the NFL outside of St. Louis. Not only do the Rams suffer from a lack of talent, the group has also proven be quite injury-prone. The lack of a clear cut No. 1 will not aid Sam Bradford’s task of building on his terrific rookie campaign. Getting a young potential primary receiver who can grow with Bradford is a must this off-season.
PROS: Very athletic prospect who was a talented high school basketball player. Athleticism has allowed him to become a very strong pass-protector. Can mirror quick edge rushers and does a nice job of sinking his hips when doing so. Moves very well when pulling and does not struggle to make blocks in the open field. Just scratching the surface of his full potential.
CONS: Limited experience with just 21 starts. Spent his first two seasons as a back up and had his junior year ended by a mid-season ankle injury. Missed three games in 2010 with an ankle injury. Legitimate concerns over his ability to stay healthy. Lacks a sense of tenacity and rarely looks to dominate his opponent. Just average when run-blocking.
HOW HE FITS: Oakland needs offensive linemen and Al Davis loves athletes even at non-skill positions. Brewer's upside and pure athletic talent should appeal to Davis. He and Jared Veldheer could battle it out for the left tackle spot in training camp, if there is a training camp, with the loser simply moving across the line to the right side. Brewer could also potentially be tried at left guard as well.
PROS: Shows first round talent when on the field. Was an impact player from the time he first stepped foot on campus. Very savvy. Does not fall for doubles move or misdirection. Delivers a pop at the line of scrimmage and maintains contact with assignment. Remains very aware when playing in zone coverage. Aggressive in run support and can deliver a big blow. Voted a team captain in 2010.
CONS: A fractured left foot essentially wiped out his senior season. Experienced another set back at the combine when he hurt his hamstring running the 40-yard dash. May not be able to catch up to faster NFL receivers if initially beaten on a route.
HOW HE FITS: Jacksonville's secondary has been on the decline since the 2007 season. Reshean Mathis is no longer a viable option as a primary corner and Derrick Cox has done nothing but regress after a promising rookie season. A healthy Ras-I Dowling could quickly find himself locking up with opponents' primary receivers in Jacksonville.
PROS: As far as talent is concerned, Jonathan Baldwin is in the same class as both A.J. Green and Julio Jones. His size and physical style of play make him a hard matchup for most corners. Capable of making exceptional grabs even when defenders are in position to make a play on the ball. Gained experience running the entire route tree in Pittsburgh's pro-style offense.
CONS: Attitude is a major concern for NFL teams. Those concerns, along with a tendency to drop very catchable balls, have lead to comparisons to Terrell Owens. His work ethic is questionable at best and he does not routinely give the best effort on the field. Does a poor job after the catch, often going out of bounds to avoid contact. Could be a good run-blocker, but does not give the necessary effort.
HOW HE FITS: Vincent Jackson's days in San Diego are likely numbered. If he keeps his head on straight, Baldwin could emerge as a Pro Bowler and an actual upgrade over Jackson, who is has Pro Ball talent himself. Having Phillip Rivers under center and a non-sense GM in A.J. Smith, Baldwin would find little tolerance for any shenanigans in San Diego and could be kept on a relatively straight and narrow path.
PROS: Explosive once he gets the football in his hands. Hits the hole hard and is able to burst out of his cuts, quickly returning to his top speed. Displays patience running both inside and outside. His short stature and ability to remain low to the ground does not leave much of a target for would-be tacklers. Excellent in getting yards after contact. Has soft hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Little wear and tear after just two seasons of game day action in college.
CONS: His 2010 season was pretty much a wash due to a hamstring injury that dogged him all season. Injuries are always a concern for NFL decision makers, but those concerns become heightened in regards to running backs. Still needs to learn the finer points of the game such as pass protection. Although he plays much quicker than his timed 4.64 speed, he is not a threat to run away from the defense once he breaks into the second level.
HOW HE FITS: By all accounts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are quite serious about adding a running back in the early stage of the draft should they have an opportunity to select a prospect they feel has franchise back potential. A healthy Williams is arguably the best back in the 2011 class, even over Alabama’s Mark Ingram. At the later part of the second round, the risk to reward ratio leans heavily in the favor on the reward side of the equation.
PROS: A tremendously gifted athlete. Makes use of his superior speed to make plays against both the run and the pass. Shows good hustle in zone coverage and can match up with backs and tight ends. Excels in applying pressure up the middle where his speed is no match for interior linemen. One of the nation's leading tacklers last season.
CONS: Relies exclusively on pure talent rather than sound technique and on-the-field intelligence, and will not be able to continue to do so against professional competition. Read and react skills are sub-par. Takes too long to diagnose a play and locate the football. He'll over-pursue too often. Must prove that there are no residual effects from a 2009 neck injury. Carries some past off-the-field baggage.
HOW HE FITS: The Giants did not find a long-term answer at the middle linebacker position last off-season following the release of Antonio Pierce, making it a position of need once again this off-season. In Perry Fewell’s Cover 2 scheme, the man in the middle must not only be a force in run defense, but also must be one of the better athletes on the the field in order to meet his duties on passing downs, specifically the ability to get proper depth in zone coverage. It may take a season or more for Fewell to develop, but Wilson's athleticism makes him an ideal fit for the scheme.
PROS: A very versatile weapon who can aid in offense in a number of different roles. Cobb can line up wide, in the slot, or the backfield on any given play and has the ability to hurt a defense as a receiver, runner, and even as a passer. Runs surprisingly crisp routes for a prospect who was unable to focus solely on being a wide out. Tougher and stronger than most would expect, given his size. Very quick off the line and in and out of breaks. Snags the ball with his hands and rarely drops a catchable pass. Dangerous after the catch. Great leader on and off the field who truly loves the game of football.
CONS: His stature limits him to some degree physically. Although, he is a technically sound blocker in the running game, willing to sacrifice his body as he is unable to drive larger opponents. Willingness to play whatever role was asked of him did not allow him to devote all his time and energy to the wide receiver position. Quick, but not a true burner.
HOW HE FITS: After Dwayne Bowe's 72 receptions, 1162 yards, and 15 TDs, the most productive Kansas City wide receiver was Chris Chambers with just 22 catches for 213 yards and one lone touchdown. That's not going to cut it in 2011 when defense begins to subject Bowe to consistent double teams. In order to keep opponents honest in their coverages, the Chiefs must add another threat in the passing game or face a possible regression back to the blandness of 2009.
PROS: Marvin Austin can make a case for being the second most talented defensive tackle in the draft behind Nick Fairley. He explodes off the ball with a quickness that is second to none. Shoots the gap to disrupt plays in the backfield. Strong lower body makes for good leverage. Uses his hands well to quickly get off blocks. An active pass-rusher who has the awareness to get his hands into pass lanes when unable to reach the quarterback. Sound and agile as a tackler with the ability to deliver some punishing hits.
CONS: Serious red flags in regards to his character. One of three Tar Heels kicked off the team in 2010 for receiving illegal benefits from agents and consequently did not play a single down as a senior. He's reportedly earned a reputation as a me-first type of guy who is quick to pass the blame. His rumored lack of discipline carries over to the football field where he can lose sight of his assignment, especially when in pursuit of the quarterback.
HOW HE FITS: Selecting a prospect with the off-the-field issues like Austin in the second round, would fly in the face of Bill Polian's usual draft strategy, but Indianapolis has firm leadership both on and off the field and can certainly get the best out of him. If remains focused on the field, Austin is a Pro Bowl type talent and that will be awfully tempting for a team that has been consistently hurting for an interior presence year in and year out.
PROS: Two-time All SEC tackle with experience going up against the best competition college football has to offer. Technically sound both as a run-blocker and in pass protection. Moves well when pulling or trapping. Plays with power and a strong base. Durable.
CONS: Not quick enough to remain on the left side in the NFL and will have to move to either right tackle or guard. Does not move well in space. Quick pass-rushers and double moves can get the best of him.
HOW HE FITS: Right tackle Winston Justice has not been able to consistently give the Eagles a bookend to Jason Peters. Much of that has been on account of an inability to remain healthy. Andy Reid is going to want to limit the amount of hits Michael Vick takes in 2011 with the likelihood of Kevin Kolb being traded this off-season and Vick being in line for a long term contract either during or after the season. Carpenter offers competition and insurance for not only Justice, but right guard Max Jean-Gilles, who is also injury-prone as well.
PROS: Unequaled when is comes to production. Showed during pre-draft workouts that he is more athletic than typically given credit for. Plays with great instincts. Quickly reads the play and locates the football. A difficult assignment for a would-be blocker. Keeps his head on a swivel in pass coverage, always looking for work. Can stick with backs and tight ends when locked up in man coverage. Experienced coming on the blitz. The best tackler in the 2011 class.
CONS: Lack of size stands to pigeon hole him solely as a 4-3 weakside linebacker in the NFL. Is not exceptionally physical and can get manhandled by stronger blockers. Must add strength to be effective in the league.
HOW HE FITS: New Orleans needs to flank Jonathan Vilma with better talent at both outside linebacker spots. Of the three top outside backers from 2010, two, Scott Shanle and JoLunn Dubar, are free agents and one, Jonathan Casillas, is coming off Lisfranc surgery. Foster finds himself in a position to possibly earn a starting role as early as training camp.
PROS: Was absolutely dominant against FCS competition in all four year as starter. Started an amazing 52 games for the Wildcats. Simply a better athlete than his competition. Mirrors well in pass protection and will ride pass-rushers around the pocket. Powerful run-blocker, capable of displaying a mean streak. Effective when asked to pull.
CONS: Faces a major jump in the quality of his opponent, going from FCS to the NFL. While he was athletic enough for the left side against his college competition, he'll have to move to right tackle or guard in the NFL. Must become more cognizant as a professional. Cannot afford to have momentary lapses in technique.
HOW HE FITS: Seattle needs help at every offensive line spot except left tackle and center. Ijalana can contribute at either guard spot at right tackle, giving new offensive line coach Tom Cable more options when trying to find the most effective starting front for the 2011 season.
PROS: Big play threat with the ability to stretch the field. Runs crisp routes and sells his fakes. Shows toughness when going over the middle. Elusive in the open field. Contributes on special teams as a dynamic return man.
CONS: Thin frame will give him trouble in the NFL. Physical corners can jam him easily on the line and knock him off his routes. Will get out work in jump ball situations. Does not offer anything as a blocker. Lacks concentration and will look to get up field before securing the ball, resulting in too many dropped balls. Reportedly does not always take well to coaching.
HOW HE FITS: The Baltimore receiving core lacks a deep threat that can take advantage of Joe Flacco's arm strength. Young could fill that role as a slot receiver while also helping to improve a very average Baltimore return game, taking over as the primary punt and kick-off returner.
PROS: Dynamic home run threat with a brilliant college career as a receiver and returner. Very quick off the line and has the speed to get behind the defense. Dangerous with the football when he gets in space. Versatile with the ability to line up inside or outside and even in the backfield. Strong for his size and gives good effort when blocking.
CONS: At only 5'9", he lacks the height typically sought in a starting wide receiver. Ran a limited number of routes in a non-conventional offense. Not particularly intelligent and may struggle to digest a professional playbook. Did not face top level competition.
HOW HE FITS: With tight end Tony Gonzalez entering the final season of his career, Atlanta must act quickly to add weapons for Matt Ryan to work with in the passing game in addition to Roddy White. With Michael Jenkins expected to return as the No. 2 receiver for 2011, Jernigan could be used in a Percy Harvin type role out of the slot.
PROS: Hankerson looks the part of a starting NFL wide receiver. He's got the size and strength to beat press coverage. Respectable straight-line speed forces make him a threat to go deep and capable of picking up yards after securing the catch. Improved tremendously as a senior in catching the ball with his hands.
CONS: Has not lived up to his potential. Still lets balls get to his body, resulting in inexcusable drops. Not a crisp route runner. Lacks quickness off the line and when changing direction or momentum. Could be a much better blocker on the outside with better effort.
HOW HE FITS: Starting wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch will both be free agents after the 2011 season. It's probable at least one of those two, namely Branch, will be allowed to walk. Hankerson has the size that the Patriot receiving core currently lacks and would be a nice fit in an offense that features a lot of intermediate routes.
PROS: One of the most underrated prospect in the 2011 draft class. Has everything you look for in a nose tackle for an even front. Has a very stout build making him hard to move off the line. Makes offensive linemen's lives more difficult by continuing to drive his legs and remaining low. A strong upper body allows him to shed blockers. Explodes off the snap. Uses a variety of pass-rush moves, including an effective swim move.
CONS: Needs to play with more discipline. He'll freelance at times, which will create running lanes in the gaps he should have been occupying. Still very young and it can show on the football field.
HOW HE FITS: All the indications coming out of Chicago hold that the Bears are high on the potential of Henry Melton who will be replacing Tommie Harris. Additionally, the Bears recently re-signed Matt Toeaina. However, neither of those two have proven themselves inside, and depth behind them is weak and could get weaker if Marcus Harrison is released.
PROS: Productive player who is a hard worker on and off the field. Intelligent prospect who has earned academic awards and puts in the work to breakdown his opponent in the film room. Has the ability to rush inside or outside. Plays the run strong and is capable of taking on multiple blockers. A workout warrior in the weight room. Knows his assignment and makes sure to do his job.
CONS: Acho is much more of a hustle player than a great athlete. A lack of pure athletic talent will limit his upside as a pro. Will play too high at times, making it difficult for him to turn the edge when pass-rushing. He has just average agility in space, which will give him difficulty against more elusive NFL ball carriers.
HOW HE FITS: Although he has played in just two NFL seasons, the San Diego Chargers are losing patience with former first round pick Larry English and he is firmly on the hot seat going in to 2011. A failure to begin to live up to expectations will almost assuredly earn English his ticket out of town.
PROS: Excellent all-around athlete with a lot of upside. Plays much faster than his timed 4.5 speed, regularly showing the ability to recover from initial errors in coverage. Very agile when against double moves. Wide receiver-like ball skills. Potential as a zone defender who keeps the play in front of him.
CONS: Not the best in run support and tackling due to a lack of strength, not effort. Must spend more time in the weight room. Needs to become more consistent when tackling in terms of wrapping up and keeping his head up. Did not have workout numbers that jump off the page.
HOW HE FITS: It is only because a fantastic pass-rush gave opposing QBs little time in the pocket in 2010 that the Pittsburgh corners, outside of Ike Taylor, were not talked about more often as one of the worst groups in the NFL. Bryant McFadden is not suitable as a starting corner and none of the youngsters on the roster have given any indication that they are primed for a bigger role. After getting torched by Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV, it's blatantly clear that improvements must be made before the Steelers can again reign as Super Bowl champions.
PROS: Carries a ton of experience with 47 starts over a highly decorated career. Very fluid when moving in space which he was asked to do a lot of with the Seminoles. Versatile enough to play any of the three interior offensive line positions. Does not back down when going against bigger defenders. Routinely beats his opponent off the ball.
CONS: Undersized for the NFL, but has been putting on weight during the pre-draft process. Has to add weight and strength. Does not play with the mean streak many teams like to see from interior linemen. Although he moves well in space, he can struggle to maintain his balance.
HOW HE FITS: Left guard Daryn Colledge is currently slated to be a free agent if and when a new CBA is agreed upon and after 2011 both right guard Josh Sitton and center Scott Wells will be up for new contracts. Odds are one of those three will not have a long term future as a Packer, making a guy like Hudson, who can been plugged into any of their spots in the starting lineup, very valuable.