Now that the 2009 draft is in the books, scouts have already started identifying the top prospects in next year’s draft. Using a combination of game tape evaluation and background research, the preliminary draft board is beginning to take shape in war rooms around the league.
With the notion of getting a head start on the year-long process, here’s a look at the top 16 senior NFL prospects for the 2010 draft class, in order of when they might get drafted:
1. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State (6-5, 300)
Okung is a dominating tackle prospect with exceptional size and nimble feet. He is equally adept as a run or pass blocker, and has all of the requisite tools to be a franchise-caliber left tackle as a pro.
2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (6-4, 305)
Suh is a disruptive interior player with exceptional strength, power and athleticism. He is not only a dominant run defender, but also is an excellent pass rusher with natural instincts. With few interior defenders possessing his overall skill set, it’s not surprising that Suh is considered one of the top prospects in next year’s draft.
3. Taylor Mays, FS, USC (6-3, 230)
Mays is a hard-hitting safety with outstanding athleticism and movement skills. He shows natural instincts in coverage, and is the kind of teeth-rattling enforcer that defensive coordinators crave in the middle of the field.
4. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma (6-6, 262)
As a big, athletic tight end with exceptional hands and ball skills, Gresham is the ultimate weapon in the passing game. He is a matchup nightmare in space, and projects as an Antonio Gates-like tight end at the next level.
5. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama (6-5, 365)
The massive run-stuffer dominates the point of attack and is a disruptive force against single- and double-teams. Though Cody’s weight is a concern, his ability to single-handedly suffocate running games will make him a highly coveted prospect next spring.
6. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (6-3, 210)
The savvy signal-caller has all the intangibles to be an outstanding pro. Though he doesn’t have the strongest of arms, McCoy’s instincts, anticipation and awareness allow him to pick apart defenses with an assortment of accurate throws. In addition, he has the leadership skills to command respect from his teammates. With checkmarks in all the right areas, McCoy enters the season as the top-rated senior prospect at the position.
7. Mark Herzlich, OLB, Boston College (6-4, 239)
Herzlich is a high-motor player with outstanding instincts and rush skills. With more teams looking for hybrid-type players to plug into 3-4 schemes, Herzlich’s versatility and toughness will lead to a high ranking on most draft boards.
8. Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas (6-4, 254)
Kindle is an athletic marvel with outstanding speed and quickness. He dazzles scouts with his explosive first step, and flashes natural rush skills off the edge. With Kindle expected to log more snaps at defensive end this season, Kindle could wind up as the top hybrid rusher on the board in the spring.
9. Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma (6-5, 309)
Williams surprised many by returning for his senior season, but the extra year will give him the opportunity to work extensively at left tackle. If he can display the footwork and lateral quickness to handle elite pass rushers, he could make a strong case for being the top tackle taken in next year’s draft.
10. Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida (6-3, 256)
The Gators’ star is an instinctive playmaker with superb vision and awareness. Spikes has a knack for being around the ball, and is a punishing tackler on contact. With natural leadership skills to boot, it is not surprising that Spikes ranks as one of the top linebackers in the 2010 draft.
11. Trevard Lindley, CB, Kentucky 6-0, 178)
As a polished cover man with exceptional speed, athleticism and movement skills, Lindley has all of the tools to be a lockdown corner on the next level. Although he is a little on the thin side, Lindley’s superior cover skills will earn him high grades on most draft boards.
12. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson (5-11, 193)
The electrifying speedster tantalizes scouts with his big-play potential. As a multi-purpose threat with a rare combination of burst and elusiveness, Spiller is a dynamic weapon worthy of carrying a high grade heading into the fall.
13. Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU (6-3, 209)
As a big, physical receiver with excellent hands and running skills, LaFell has all the tools to serve as a No. 1 receiver on the next level. With the game evolving into a big man’s game on the outside, scouts are pegging LaFell as the top receiving prospect in the 2010 draft class.
14. Greg Hardy, DE, Mississippi, (6-4, 265)
Hardy is a rangy, edge player with good instincts and overall skills. Though Hardy doesn’t display outstanding first-step quickness, he displays an uncanny ability to get to the quarterback and is regarded as one of the best pass rushers available in the next year’s draft.
15. George Selvie, DE, South Florida (6-4, 252)
The explosive pass rusher flashes exceptional first-step quickness. Selvie routinely blows past blockers on speed rushes, and uses an outstanding closing burst to run down quarterbacks. If Selvie returns to full health (he missed the better part of three games with an ankle injury in ’08) and displays the form that led to 14.5 sacks as a sophomore, he could skyrocket up the charts as a top pass rushing prospect.
16. Ciron Black, OT, LSU (6-5, 325)
The grizzled veteran is not the prettiest athlete, but he is an effective blocker on the edge. Though his skills may be best suited for right tackle as a pro, teams will rank the LSU standout high on their boards if he can show more consistency in his play as a senior.