The 2011 NFL Draft is over. Contracts are being negotiated and players are heading off to their new homes with dreams of being the next big thing.
Expectations are always high, but in this period of time, directly after the draft, players, fans and pundits alike can only bask in the gloriously optimistic unknown.
Who will live up to the hype? Who will exceed it? Who will be the biggest draft bust?
The following 10 players have the best chance of succeeding in the NFL.
Round 1, pick 24—California
Cameron Jordan was a surprisingly unknown commodity in this year's draft. While his 2010 numbers at California weren't eye-popping, Jordan has the measurables necessary to succeed in the NFL.
An adept pass-rusher with excellent size and speed, Jordan produced 5.5 sacks for the Golden Bears in 2010. At 6'4" and 287 pounds, he can play both end and tackle, which is a major plus. The Saints have an experienced defensive line and both starting ends are reaching the zenith of their careers. Productivity has been an issue with this unit.
Expect Cameron Jordan to compete for a starting job. He is also a high-character guy who is extremely intelligent.
Round 4, pick 120—Nebraska
It might seem odd to have a kicker on this list, but Alex Henery is as close to a sure thing as anyone in the draft. The "Skinny Assassin" finished his career at Nebraska as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, booting 68 field goals in 76 attempts. He connected on 18-of-19 fields goals in 2010, with the only blemish being a blocked 51-yard attempt.
With the Eagles selecting Henery in the fourth round, that all but spells the end of the David Akers era in Philadelphia. Kickers are usually on the board until the sixth or seventh rounds and most sign on as undrafted free agents. The Eagles have apparently found their next kicker in Henery.
Round 1, pick 4—Georgia
A.J. Green is the most solidly complete wide receiver in this year's draft. The combine and pre-draft battle between him and Julio Jones was tantalizing, but while Jones might be the better true athlete, Green is a sure-handed, physical receiver who runs precise routes.
Green missed five games in 2010 and still caught 57 passes for 848 yards and nine touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He is fearless in one-on-one match-ups and usually comes down with the ball because of his good hands and unwillingness to lose.
Terrell Owens is out in Cincinnati. Chad Ochocinco is more of a distraction than anything. Will this pick persuade QB Carson Palmer to stay with the Bengals?
Round 2, pick 42—Arizona
While Brooks Reed projects as a solid starter in the NFL, he is on this list because of where he stands to fit in within Wade Phillip's defense in Houston. Listed as linebacker, Reed is an imposing 6'2" and 260 pounds. While he played defensive end in college for Arizona, the most likely fit for him will be stand-up outside linebacker/DE in a 3-4 scheme.
Highly productive while with the Wildcats, Reed recorded 6.5 sacks his senior year despite seeing quite a few double teams. Well known for his long flowing locks, look for Reed to post double-digit sacks as a bullish outside rusher.
Round 1, pick 15—Florida
The most NFL-ready offensive lineman in the draft. Mike Pouncey is an incredibly gifted lineman who can play either center or guard. He is extremely light on his feet and has a good feel for the game.
Pouncey is another draftee who benefits from the situation he was drafted into. The only sure-fire player on the Dolphins offensive line in 2011 is Jake Long, and Pouncey will be looked at to help improve a rushing game that produced a horrendous 3.7 yards per rush.
Like his brother Maurkice, look for Mike to start right out of the gates and become an immediate impact player.
Round 1, pick 10—Missouri
It might be a bit odd to label the 10th overall pick as a steal, but that is exactly what Gabbert is. The most accurate quarterback at the top of the draft, he has the size and tools to succeed at the next level.
A polished passer who plays tough, Blaine Gabbert is a leader in the huddle, and has the football IQ to help ease the learning curve he will experience in the NFL. While the Panthers and Titans chose mobile quarterbacks ahead of Gabbert, he is a surprisingly adept runner for his size.
Standing at 6'4" and weighing 230 pounds, Gabbert has the prototypical NFL QB build. He finished the 2010 season with over 3,000 passing yards to go along with 16 touchdowns. Landing in Jacksonville is a great fit, where he can backup David Gerrard for a season, learn the system and take over the keys in 2012.
Round 1, pick 3—Alabama
Defensive linemen were all over the board in this draft. Dareus was the third overall pick and the Bills had to make moves to improve the NFL's worst rush defense. Adding a physically imposing 320 pounder to the middle of the line definitely helps.
Marcell Dareus is no Ndamukong Suh, but he has the elite power and motor to stuff the run and instantly help Buffalo get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While only notching 4.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide in 2010, Dareus is a disruptive force in the middle and is an anchor for the rest of the line.
This is a pick that has little chance of failure for the Bills. Watch for Dareus to start immediately and become an elite defensive tackle within a year or two.
Round 1, pick 27—Colorado
While off-field issues have been a major concern, the sheer athletic ability of Jimmy Smith is undeniably tantalizing. He is a big, physical and fast cornerback with elite cover skills.
On tape, Smith is as NFL-ready as any player in the draft. Not only does he do a great job of blanketing receivers, he has tremendous leverage for a cornerback and can knock receivers off their routes. Although he failed to record an interception in 2010, Smith is a shutdown corner with keen instincts.
If he can stay out of trouble, this pick out of Colorado can pay dividends for the Ravens. With three of their top corners facing free agency, Smith can step in immediately and provide a physical edge to the pass defense that has been someone lacking in Baltimore.
There may not have been a more athletically gifted defensive back in the draft, if not for this guy...
Round 1, pick 5—LSU
A true physical specimen who is a once-in-a-generation talent, Patrick Peterson brings it all to the table: size, speed, awareness, intelligence. Everyone knew how good he was before and during his last season at LSU. Then came the NFL combine where Peterson continued to impress, running a sub 4.3 40-yard dash.
At 6'0" and 220 pounds, Peterson can play either corner or safety, but it seems almost certain the Cardinals will want his services on the outside, matching up against elite receivers. This is a player that will immediately step in and be a playmaker.
This is a win/win pick for the Cardinals. If Peterson for some reason doesn't pan out at corner, he can transition to safety and still be one of the best in the league. Oh, and he also handles punt and kickoff returns quite well, returning two punts for touchdowns in 2010 for the Tigers.
Round 1, pick 2—Texas A&M
Seemingly overnight, Von Miller's draft stock began to skyrocket and with good reason. There isn't a better outside rusher in the 2011 NFL Draft. This ultra-productive outside linebacker out of Texas A&M boasts good size and elite speed for his position. The Broncos will look to Miller for help along the defensive line and as a linebacker.
Sacks were an issue for the Denver Broncos last year (23), and plugging Von Miller into the equation should help increase that total dramatically. In 2010, Miller recorded 10.5 sacks from the OLB position. In 2009, he went on a tear and posted 17 sacks.
With Denver looking to fix its defense, Von Miller should be a sure-fire starter from day one. Because he can line up as a pass rusher on the edge and as an outside linebacker, his versatility should benefit the Broncos tremendously.
Von Miller has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him.