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The Post Combine Mega-NFL Draft Post, Players by Round

Dec 30, 2010; San Diego, CA, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Locker (10) celebrates after the Huskies' 19-7 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 2010 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Photo via Newscom

The NFL is through it’s annual scouting combine, which means that LiveBall Sports will now rate all of it’s top prospects by the round they should be taken in.

This is a weaker class than I can remember in past seasons.  This is neither the fault of seniors or underclassmen entirely, as the senior class offers quality at the top but limited quantity elsewhere, notably at positions such as running back, tight end, linebacker, and safety.  The underclass doesn’t really fill in those positions in quality or depth either; the whole draft just appears to be a bit light at those positions.  The perception of this class as weak is also compounded by the remarkable strength of the 2010 NFL draft class, best in at least five years, and within the last decade, only the 2004 NFL draft appears to rival it in overall strength.  The 2011 draftees are following a historically strong class, and simply don’t have the name brand value to run with the standards of other recent classes.

This write up will go position by position, identify top players, other first round players, other second day players, and some good names for third day consideration.

Quarterback

Top Ten Prospects

  • Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

Gabbert may be a fringe prospect in the top ten picks, but he may be the best quarterback, and most pro-ready top ten quarterback to come out in either the 2011 or 2012 draft with the lone exception of Andrew Luck, likely to be the first overall pick next draft.  That makes him a top ten value because teams can fill a need with Gabbert now and since only one team can have a shot at Luck, Gabbert gives the best value for the pick anytime after the first four picks in this upcoming draft.

Other First Round Prospects

  • Christian Ponder, Florida State

Ponder has separated himself from Delaware’s Pat Devlin as a first rounder (in my evaluation) because of his pro-readiness.  When the prospect is the age of Gabbert or Newton (21 on draft day), pro-readiness is a secondary concern.  But Devlin and Ponder will both be 23 year old rookies.  And though I think Devlin is both more accurate from the pocket and less of an injury risk than Ponder, the onus is on both of them, no matter where they are drafted, to produce as soon as they have the opportunity to play.  And while my down-the-road projection may favor Devlin a little, Ponder’s advanced understanding of pro offense concepts makes him the guy (other than maybe Gabbert or Mallett) most likely to produce immediately in the pros.  Ponder, then, gets the nod as the other first rounder in this class.

Day Two Prospects

  • Pat Devlin, Delaware
  • Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

Both Devlin and Mallett have appeared as first rounders at times on my list.  They are still “swing” values, not reaches at the back end of the first round, but the overall lack of quality in this draft has depressed this quarterback class a bit.  If I didn’t account for this, I’d end up with five quarterbacks in my top 30 players, and that would be overstating the quality of the QB class by a great amount.

  • Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
  • Cam Newton, Auburn
  • Andy Dalton, TCU

Dalton is in-danger of dropping to third day consideration on these rankings because his best NFL skill — getting rid of the ball quickly — may not directly translate to the NFL.  Without that skill, Dalton is a quality backup, not worthy of top three round consideration.  Kaepernick has the entire package, except that his completion percentage at Nevada was close to, but just under, project-able NFL standard.  This (unlike that of Jake Locker) is an improvement that can be made, but Kaepernick is a backup unless he gets in a good situation with someone who will grill him until he fixes those issues.  Ultimately, I have five guys with a second or third round projection, which is a lot.  It’s more than will actually pan out as starters from this class.  That’s one of many reasons why Dalton could drop off this list by my next evaluation.

The Third Day Projections

  • Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
  • Ricky Stanzi, Iowa
  • Greg McElroy, Alabama
  • Jake Locker, Washington
  • Blake Bolles, NW Missouri State
  • Troy Weatherhead, Hillsdale
  • Mike Hartline, Kentucky

I just threw eight more names on to this list as QB prospects who could intrigue at the top of the second day.  Yes, Jake Locker will probably be gone on day two.  He’s not going to fall this far.  There’s too much to like about him in a league where quarterbacks often get misvalued anyway.  I’ve pulled Alex Tanney off the board in the small school player watch, but not because of this video (though you should watch it).  He’s apparently returning to Monmouth on a medical redshirt.  Blake Bolles was an excellent D-II quarterback, but Tanney is a once in a generation success at the D-III level, who just happened to lose most of his senior season to injury.  Troy Weatherhead is almost certainly going undrafted out of D-II Hillsdale, but record setting quarterbacks do deserve a look in free agency.  It does appear that of what once looked like a banner year for small school QBs, only Bolles now still has a legitimate chance to be drafted from the sub D-I ranks.  Mike Hartline could be a nice value in the sixth round, as he did a lot of really good things spinning the football at UK before a public intoxication arrest got him suspended for the bowl game he had brought them to.

Running Backs

Other first round prospects

  • Mikel LeShoure, Illinois

While I think there’s a decent chance that Mark Ingram ends up being the best runner in this class, I don’t think he brings the physical tools to the table that LeShoure does to be a top five runner at the next level.  Also: consider the rookie year of Toby Gerhart, who could have easily been awarded the Heisman that Ingram got, and is solidly a no. 2 back on the Vikings.  Success is not promised to Ingram, so LeShoure’s elite physical set should be taken at face value, not to mention his impressive production.

Day Two prospects

  • Mark Ingram, Alabama
  • Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
  • DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
  • Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
  • Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington

I have Taiwan Jones — a boom or bust transfer from Cal who was hurt during Eastern Washington’s FCS championship run — higher rated than most.  I like him as an early third round value in a weak class.  Based on college production, both Kendall Hunter and DeMarco Murray are undervalued right now, and should go in the middle of the second round.  Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams is a power/speed specimen who projects well based on his skills, but split time for the Hokies.

The Third Day Projections

  • Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
  • Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
  • Jamie Harper, Clemson
  • Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh
  • Jordan Todman, Connecticut
  • Shane Vereen, Cal
  • Derrick Locke, Kentucky
  • Delone Carter, Syracuse
  • Bilal Powell, Louisville

Jacquizz Rodgers becomes a good value by the middle of the fourth round.  Optimistically, he’s Maurice Jones-Drew, but if he ends up as a Reggie Bush type matchup nightmare, that’s a lot of bang for a diverse offense in the fourth round.  Daniel Thomas could be the steal of the entire draft if he enters the NFL healthy.  Otherwise, there’s a lot of depth here that was on display at the senior bowl.

Wide Receivers

Top Ten Prospects

  • A.J. Green, Georgia

A.J. Green is the best offensive player in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Other First Round Prospects

  • Leonard Hankerson, Miami
  • Torrey Smith, Maryland

It’s hard to overstate the difference that will make Leonard Hankerson more valuable in the NFL than Julio Jones, but the best pro receiver prospects find the end zone in college more often than Jones did.  And I don’t think the “he wasn’t thrown to as much” argument holds a lot of water here, because Julio Jones’ reception numbers match up well with other receivers in this class.  I think there’s more value in Torrey Smith at the bottom of the first round than their is in Jones, but I’m not going to act like Torrey Smith is bust proof.  With that said, I’ll point out that Smith is good enough to creep into the top 20 or 15 if he could just avoid the baseless Darrius Heyward-Bey comparisons.  Heyward-Bey was a long project coming out of Maryland, where as Smith should develop on a much more normal basis.

Second Day Prospects

  • Julio Jones, Alabama
  • Titus Young, Boise State
  • Randall Cobb, Kentucky
  • Vincent Brown, San Diego State
  • Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh
  • Jerrel Jernigan, Troy
  • Austin Pettis, Boise State

Jones is a no. 2 type player in the NFL, think Mike Sims Walker or Santana Moss.  Moss had 4.3 speed as well coming out of college, and had a long productive career.  But the Jets likely didn’t get mid-first round value on his (16th overall) selection, considering they dealt him for an older Lav Coles in 2005, after four seasons in green.  Jones won’t bust in my estimation, and will be able to line up on the edge of an offense against no. 1 corners for ten seasons, but he doesn’t deserve to be in the same discussion as A.J. Green, who truly has the skills to break the game open.  Titus Young comes with a little bit of risk, but is the last potential number one  in this class (the one that will leave the board last).  Randall Cobb is more intriguing in the second round than a polished pro prospect.  Vincent Brown is a number one receiver in a west coast offensive scheme, and a number two in most others.  His best possible comparable is Derrick Mason.  Jon Baldwin has first round ability, but is a mid-rounder in terms of work ethic and game prep.  Think a more physical Mark Clayton.  Jerrel Jernigan might be a better investment at the end of round two or top of round three.  Austin Pettis may ultimately come out of the slot in the NFL, but is perhaps the toughest receiver in this class.

The Third Day Projections

  • Edmund Gates, Abilene Christian
  • Niles Paul, Nebraska
  • Jeremy Kerley, TCU
  • Greg Salas, Hawai’i
  • Cecil Shorts, Mount Union
  • Terrence Toliver, LSU
  • Jordan White, Western Michigan

Kerley, Salas, and White are my three favorite late rounders (great special teams value on all three), but I also believe that Terrence Toliver could be a pretty nice steal out of LSU where he was simply underutilized as a senior.  I don’t have UNC’s Greg Little rated because I don’t think he’s a top six rounder as a pure receiver.  He’s rated in the middle rounds as an offensive player, but may too easily get miscast in the pros.

Tight Ends

First Round Projections

  • Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame

Second Day Propsects

  • Virgil Green, Nevada

Virgil Green pretty much made himself at the combine, but he might, in all honesty, have been the second best TE in a weak class anyway.  There’s no doubt that Rudolph is the only blue-chipper in this class.

Third Day Prospects

  • Jordan Cameron, USC
  • D.J. Williams, Arkansas
  • Luke Stocker, Tennessee
  • Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
  • Weslye Saunders, South Carolina

Lots of blockers and prospective blockers here.  Williams is the H-Back type TE, the Chris Cooley prototype.  Cameron is more of an in-line player.  Stocker is a blocker first, and is good around the goal line.  Weslye Saunders is hurt and less projectable than Stocker, but offers pretty much the same “sixth lineman” skill set.  Kendricks is the next in a long line of Wisconsin TE hopefuls in the NFL.

Offensive Tackles

First Round Prospects

  • Anthony Castanzo
  • Gabe Carimi
  • Tyron Smith

Projecting USC offensive linemen has been an adventure, so everyone is skeptical when Tyron Smith gets a first round grade.  Is he the real deal at left tackle?  I can tell you that I think he’s more pro ready and younger than Nate Solder, who scouts love because of his size and great athleticism.  Castanzo is the best OT in this class, the only one who may be ready to start at LT from day one.  Gabe Carimi is more of a right tackle, but the importance of that position is inflating his value, and he can start right away at RT.

Second Day Prospects

  • Nate Solder, Colorado
  • Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
  • Marcus Cannon, TCU

I view Solder and Sherrod as similar pro players, both as league average left tackles for 5-7 seasons who may struggle as first round rookies.  While that’s pretty much the conventional wisdom verbatim on Sherrod, I think that Solder is a bit overvalued in a tackle class with no obvious top guy.  It’s true that you can’t teach a big guy to be that athletic, but its going to be an adventure teaching one that big to block.  Marcus Cannon has been so good the last two seasons at RT and then LT for the Horned Frogs, that I’m actually one of the few people that sees him sticking at OT in the pros and earning a starting job as a rookie, but a one-year apprenticeship on the bench might actually do more for him than a move inside, which wastes his underrated athleticism.

Third Day Prospects

  • Lee Ziemba, Auburn
  • Marcus Gilbert, Florida
  • Jason Pinkston, Pitt
  • Orlando Franklin, Miami
  • Joseph Barksdale, LSU
  • Derek Newton, Arkansas State
  • James Carpenter, Alabama

Ziemba is a warrior who made 50 starts for the Auburn Tigers on the OL.  He tore up the senior bowl as a right tackle.  He’s probably going to guard in the NFL, and is a good candidate to make the switch.  At worst, he’s a three position backup, and a great value in the fourth round.  Gilbert has what it takes to start on an NFL offensive line at any position, but will be playable a lot quicker on the interior.  Franklin is an NFL starting left guard who will have the athleticism to bump out to tackle in a pinch.  Pinkston will play on the right side, either as a tackle or a guard.  Carpenter will likely start in a camp on the left side, but scouts feel he might just lack enough athleticism to stick.

Interior offensive linemen

First Round Prospects

  • Rodney Hudson, Florida State
  • Ben Ijalana, Villanova

Ijalana, in my opinion, will be able to stick at offensive tackle, and if he’s drafted in the first round to do so, will likely be the fifth OT taken in the first.  Hudson is the most natural of all interior blockers in this class and can start immediately at either RG or C for a pro team with a need.

Second Day Prospects

  • Stefan Wisnewski, Penn State
  • Mike Pouncey, Florida
  • Danny Watkins, Baylor
  • Will Rackley, Lehigh
  • Clint Boling, Georgia

Watkins may be the most pro-ready of all these players, but also is the oldest prospect.  Wisnewski and Pouncey are both good enough to start as rookies.  Third round values Rackley and Boling are first year starters as left guards only.

Third Day Prospects

  • Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU
  • Kristopher O’Dowd, USC
  • Jason Kelce, Cincinnati
  • DeMarcus Love, Arkansas
  • Brandon Fusco, Slippery Rock
  • James Brewer, Indiana
  • Chris Hairston, Clemson
  • John Moffitt, Wisconsin
  • Keith Williams, Nebraska
  • Zach Hurd, Connecticut

At the top of this list, I have three developmental centers as well as Love, a college OT who could develop into either a starting LG or RG by year two of his career.  Fusco, out of Slippery Rock, could play any position on the interior, but is at least a year away and may be a longshot.  The others on this list project no better than average starters at interior OL positions, and are valuable in the 5th through 7th rounds.  James Brewer is physically adept enough to be a left tackle, though will probably be drafted as a guard.

Interior Defensive Linemen

Top Ten Prospects

  • Marcell Dareus, Alabama
  • Nick Fairley, Auburn
  • Cameron Jordan, Cal

This interior position is significantly easier to grade this year than the edge rushers, but I suppose that’s why edge rushers miss so often.  You have three top ten picks here.  Dareus, in my opinion, should be the first overall pick.  He’s perfect as a 3-4 end.  Fairley’s problem is not his undeniable talent, it’s that he needs to be in a 4-3 pressure scheme to excel as a one-gap player, and few of those exist in the truest sense.  It will be interesting to see what scheme Denver is running.  Fairley could fall.  Jordan can play three positions in the NFL: 3-4 five technique, 4-3 3-technique, or 4-3 strong side end.  He won’t fill all needs, but still should go before the 10th pick.

Other First Round Prospects

  • Corey Liuget, Illinois
  • Stephen Paea, Oregon State

Paea projects best as a disruptive nose type against the run in either the 3-4 or 4-3 schemes.  Liuget could possibly make the move to 5-technique in the 3-4, but projects best in the 4-3.

Second Day Prospects

  • Marvin Austin, North Carolina
  • Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
  • Phil Taylor, Baylor
  • Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss
  • Kenrick Ellis, Howard
  • Drake Nevis, LSU
  • Ian Williams, Notre Dame

There’s been some talk about Austin as a 3-4 nose.  He’s big, but isn’t adept in that way.  He’s best as a 4-3 run stuffer.  Same for Wilkerson and Williams.  Both Phil Taylor and Jerrell Powe probably could handle nose or end in the 3-4.  Nevis probably belongs in a 4-3.  Ellis should be able to play in many defenses at the next level, and that versatility should raise his stock.

Third Day Prospects

  • Jurrell Casey, USC
  • Martin Parker, Richmond
  • Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson
  • Sione Fua, Stanford
  • David Carter, UCLA
  • Lawrence Guy, Arizona State

Defensive Edge Rushers

Top Ten Prospects

  • Von Miller, Texas A&M
  • Aldon Smith, Missouri
  • Robert Quinn, North Carolina
  • Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson

After much deliberation, I decided to put four edge rushers inside the top ten players on my big board.  I don’t feel great about either Quinn or Bowers, but both are too talented to slip outside of the top ten and while neither would be in my top five, both need to be gone by the 10th pick.  Aldon Smith is the furthest away because of his age (21 this season), but he’s going to develop into one of the most feared players from this class.  Von Miller could be the best all around player in the entire draft.  If I was more confident in my own ability to project pass rushers, I might push both out of the top 20 in the class.  I’m a contrarian, but don’t the track record to feel that confident in my doubting abilities.

Other First Round Prospects

  • JJ Watt, Wisconsin
  • Justin Houston, Georgia

Watt needs to be in the edge rusher category for sure, but his best fit might be in a 3-4 scheme that doesn’t rely on brining additional guys to get to the quarterback (San Diego, for example).  I think he probably stays in a 4-3 at the next level, a 3-4 would be a pretty good switch for him.  Justin Houston is probably the best LB in this draft once Von Miller is gone.  He needs to be gone by the 20th pick or he’s a steal.

Second Day Prospects

  • Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
  • Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
  • Christian Ballard, Iowa
  • Jabbaal Sheard, Pitt
  • Brooks Reed, Arizona
  • Akeem Ayers, UCLA
  • Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
  • Sam Acho, Texas
  • Bruce Carter, North Carolina
  • Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State

There were a lot of great combines from this group, meaning I just threw out a lot of names I’d like my team to take in the third round, and called this a group.  The rankings between the players don’t mean much, any of these players who slips to the third day is a steal.

Third Day Prospects

  • Allen Bailey, Miami
  • Pierre Allen, Nebraska
  • Ricky Elmore, Arizona
  • Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
  • Greg Romeus, Pitt
  • Brandon Bair, Oregon
  • Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State
  • Wayne Daniels, TCU

Linebackers

First Round Prospects

  • Martez Wilson, Illinois

5-star recruit Wilson overtook Greg Jones and Adrian Clayborn this year as the best defensive player to come out of the Big Ten to declare for the NFL draft.

Second Day Prospects

  • Greg Jones, Michigan State
  • Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina
  • Colin McCarthy, Miami
  • Chris Carter, Fresno State

I’m still a buyer on Greg Jones.  Scouts believe him too stiff to play coverage as a MLB in the NFL, but it’s not hard to see him having the most successful career of any LB in this class.  Colin McCarthy is a tackling machine while Sturdivant could play OLB in the 4-3 and has the best coverage skills of this group.

Third Day Prospects

  • Mason Foster, Washington
  • Kelvin Sheppard, LSU
  • Mark Herzlich, Boston College
  • Josh Bynes, Auburn
  • Casey Matthews, Oregon
  • Dontae Moch, Nevada
  • K.J. Wright, Mississippi State
  • Nate Irving, NC State

Casey Matthews is an interior prospect in the NFL, and thusly does not over an elite projection.  I would take him in the 5th round, but not earlier.  Mark Herzlich should go in either the fourth or fifth round now that his battle with cancer is firmly in the past.

Cornerbacks

Top Ten Prospects

  • Patrick Peterson, LSU

Peterson is probably the best player in this draft at any position.  While he may not be the safest pick of all time, his game has very few weaknesses and he can return kicks and punts as a rookie, meaning no team is going to just waste a year with his selection.

Other First Round Prospects

  • Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
  • Brandon Harris, Miami
  • Aaron Williams, Texas

Amukamara is a good cover corner who could excel in a zone-based scheme, or could make the move to free safety to excel in any scheme.  He is the best safety prospect in this class (outside of Peterson, of course), or the second best corner.  Harris and Williams also have top level cover skills.

Second Day Prospects

  • Jimmy Smith, Colorado
  • Curtis Brown, Texas
  • Brandon Burton, Utah
  • Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech
  • Shareece Wright, USC
  • Ras-I Dowling, Virginia
  • Davon House, New Mexico State
  • Justin Rogers, Richmond

Smith, Brown, Burton, and Carmichael may not be elite players at the CB position, but each one has no. 1 CB level potential.  The other four guys in this class are likely to start as nickel players as rookies, and should be able to step into the starting lineup as soon as their second years, but no later than their fourth years.

Third Day Prospects

  • Curtis Marsh, Utah State
  • Brandon Hogan, West Virginia
  • Kendric Burney, North Carolina
  • Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
  • Johnny Patrick, Louisville
  • Cortez Allen, Citadel
  • Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
  • Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson
  • Buster Skrine, Chattanooga
  • Jalil Brown, Colorado
  • Ryan Jones, NW Missouri State
  • Korey Lindsey, Southern Illinois
  • Ryan Hill, Miami

There are a couple of interesting zone corner prospects here, including Rucker, Gilchrist, Burney, Hogan, and Marsh.

Safeties

Second Day Prospects

  • Rahim Moore, UCLA
  • Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
  • Deunta Williams, North Carolina
  • DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson
  • Ahmad Black, Florida

Moore and Carter rank well above the rest of this class, but as far as scheme oriented players go, Ahmad Black provides perhaps the best value of any of these players.

Third Day Prospects

  • Robert Sands, West Virginia
  • Jeron Johnson, Boise State
  • Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple
  • Chris Conte, Cal
  • Joe Lefeged, Rutgers
  • Tyler Sash, Iowa
  • Da’Norris Searcy, North Carolina
  • Nate Williams, Washington
  • Jermale Hines, Ohio State
  • Shiloh Keo, Idaho
  • Eric Hagg, Nebraska
  • Chris Culliver, South Carolina

All of this is subject to change over the next month and a half, but this concludes the LiveBall Sports value chart for the 2011 NFL draft as it sits on March 5.

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  1. March 10, 2011 at 6:27 pm

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