2011 NFL Draft: Ranking top 50 prospects heading into combine
No quarterback ranks among the top 10 players available
The defensive linemen will be stars of the show come April
DL Christian Ballard, QB Colin Kaepernick among rising prospects
One week before the NFL Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis and it's time to revisit the draft board. Several players improved their grade with impressive performance at events such as the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game. Others were passed by and now rank lower.
Once again it looks like the first two rounds will be heavy with quality defensive line prospects. Twenty-one players who can make a living on the defensive line grace our top 50, a number that's sure to stand out in April.
An interesting side note is that no quarterback ranks among our top 10, although many mock drafts project two to be selected in the first handful of picks. More than anything else, this illustrates the dire need many franchises have at the position and, as witnessed in past drafts, the willingness to roll the dice on a lower rated prospect in the hopes of developing stability underneath center.
Here's a look at the top 50 draft prospects as we head towards the combine:
1) A.J. Green/WR/Georgia: Green is a game-breaking receiver with the skills to be a No. 1 wideout at the next level. He does not possess Calvin Johnson ability but is the best and safest prospect available in April.
2) Da'Quan Bowers/DE/Clemson: The Tigers' pass rusher extraordinaire was a force in the ACC from his freshman campaign on. He has all the skills to be an impact lineman at the next level and would do well in a four-man front.
3) Nick Fairley/DL/Auburn: Fairley was one of the most dominant defensive players in the country last season after breaking into Auburn's starting lineup. He has the skills to play several positions on the defensive line and can be an immediate starter.
4) Patrick Peterson/CB/LSU: Scouts graded Peterson as a big-time NFL cornerback the moment he stepped on the field at LSU. He ranks as the top athlete in April's draft.
5) Marcell Dareus/DL/Alabama: Dareus was the dominant force on the Alabama defensive line, a unit that has put a lot of talent in the NFL the past two drafts.
6) Cameron Jordan/DL/California: Jordan finished off a stellar college career by wowing scouts at the Senior Bowl. He's the top senior prospect.
7) Prince Amukamara/CB/Nebraska: The Cornhuskers star has been steady and solid the past two seasons. Questions about his speed have arisen as scouts await his combine workout.
8) Aldon Smith/DE-OLB/Missouri: Smith suffered through the '10 season with injury, yet at times looked like a one-man wrecking crew. Teams must watch the '09 film to see the explosive Smith at his best or they will be doing themselves a disservice.
9) Von Miller/LB/Texas A&M: He was considered by most as the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in the draft. Now Miller ranks as the top 4-3 weak side prospect after a great week at the Senior Bowl.
10) Robert Quinn/DE-OLB/North Carolina: A year ago, many mentioned Quinn's name in the conversation for the first pick in this year's draft, but a season-long suspension pushes him out of the top eight.
11) Blaine Gabbert/QB/Missouri: The Missouri junior is a strong-armed QB, but will need time to acclimate himself to a disciplined NFL passing system.
12) Tyron Smith/OT/USC: Smith is the number one tackle in the draft. He's an athletic blocker who possesses the strength to play on the right side as well as the footwork to be a blind-side protector in the NFL.
13) Cam Newton/QB/Auburn: Newton is all the rage outside of scouting circles but NFL decision-makers are not yet convinced. There's no doubting his physical skills, but many wonder how long it will take Newton to develop into a disciplined NFL-style passer.
14) Mark Ingram/RB/Alabama: The '09 Heisman Trophy winner was hobbled by preseason knee surgery and lost an edge on his game last season. Still, Ingram is one of the few complete backs available in this year's draft.
15) J.J. Watt/DL/Wisconsin: The former tight end has been a devastating force since moving to the defensive side of the ball. Watt is athletic, powerful and a defender who viciously sacks the quarterback or chases down running backs in pursuit.
16) Cameron Heyward/DL/Ohio State: Heyward is not as flashy as many of the highly rated defensive linemen, rather just a good football player who does the little things well.
17) Julio Jones/WR/Alabama: Jones was a dominant presence from Day 1 at Alabama. Despite his enormous talent he does not consistently play like a number one receiver, which concerns NFL scouts.
18) Akeem Ayers/OLB/UCLA: Ayers is one of the most complete linebackers available in April's draft. He has the athleticism to be used as a weak-side defender in a conventional alignment as well as the strength to stand up over tackle in a 3-4 system.
19) Ryan Kerrigan/DE-OLB/Purdue: One of the most polished seniors in the draft, Kerrigan has the skill, character and work ethic that scouts love. His 255-pound frame is a slight concern.
20) Adrian Clayborn/DE/Iowa: Scouts graded the Iowa product as one of the highest rated seniors before the season began, but a disappointing campaign in 2010 has caused him to slip.
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