Let’s get one thing clear. This is not a mock draft. This is a list of the best 32 players in the 2011 NFL Draft.
You’re going to see that 20 of my 32 players are defensive players, 14 defensive linemen. That’s not going to happen in the first round. But these are the guys I’ll bang the table for, and here’s why:
1. Marcell Dareus*, DT, Alabama
This is my favorite player in the country this year. He has tremendous foot speed for a player his size. He can play the nose, the three-technique and showed he can play the five-technique. From my perspective, I don’t think he can possibly get past Denver at No. 2.
2. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
He’s a special guy off the edge and reminds me an awful lot of DeMarcus Ware that way. However, he’s not as big, so therefore won’t generate quite as much power.
3. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
A lot of people think he might be the best player in this draft, and he might be. He has the return skills of a man 40 pounds smaller than he is. He has the ability to move, to press, to play off. He’s a little tight in the hips, but I don’t care. He’s a great football player.
4. A.J. Green*, WR, Georgia
Oh my goodness. If you have any questions about this kid, after being suspended the first four games last season, he came out in week five against two future NFL cornerbacks against Colorado and had seven catches for more than 100 yards. That includes one of the best back-of-shoulder catches I’ve ever seen in my life.
5. Blaine Gabbert*, QB, Missouri
He’s my No. 1 quarterback. He comes out of a spread offense, and his footwork needs to improve, but he has all the rest. He’s athletic, has a big arm, loves the game of football, has anticipation to throw into small windows, and the accuracy to back it up. He could be the first guy off the board.
6. Robert Quinn*, DE, North Carolina
He’s a one-year wonder because of his NCAA suspension. I think from an edge-rush perspective, he might be the best guy in the draft.
7. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
He’s a warrior. He ran 4.39 at the combine, but on tape I think he plays more like a 4.5 guy. That’s what I think he plays at, and that’s fine. His throwing radius, ability to run and ability to catch are phenomenal.
8. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
To me he’s a lightning rod. I was at his pro day workout, and from a foot-speed perspective, it doesn’t get much better than what he can do. He ran through the bag drills, and it was ridiculous. However, he’s a boom-or-bust guy. Right now, I have him here, but he’s got more talent than that. Depending on what type of kid he is, I could have him dropping out of the first round entirely.
9. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
This kid is a gifted cornerback who can play press and can play off. Watch the game tape against Oklahoma State and Justin Blackmon, maybe the best one or two receivers in college last season, because there are some misnomers. The kid played a lot better than people give him credit for.
10. Da’Quan Bowers*, DE, Clemson
I boxed him in here for a reason. He has more ability than No. 10, but he’s a one-year wonder. He had 15.5 sacks last season, and the two years before that he only had four combined. I want to know why.
11. Anthony Castonzo, OL, Boston College
I really believe he or (Tyron) Smith are the first tackle off the board. He’s a tough guy in the run game, he has great feet as a former tight end. I love his upside, and he had a great week of Senior Bowl practice, although he didn’t play quite as well in the game.
12. J.J. Watt*, DE, Wisconsin
I believe this kid is the real deal. He’s another prototype of a five-technique, a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. If you don’t like him, put the TCU game tape on. The numbers weren’t big, but the kid dominated.
13. Tyron Smith*, OT, USC
He played on the right side and came out as a junior, and has the most potential of any tackle in the draft.
14. Aldon Smith*, DE, Missouri
This young man has so much potential, it’s scary. Put the 2009 game tape on against Russell Okung and Danny Watkins and you’ll get a better view of what he can do. He played through a lot of pain last season.
15. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
He brings scheme-versatility. I think he’s an ideal defensive end in a 3-4, but can kick inside and overwhelm guards too. He can even play out on the edge.
16. Mark Ingram*, RB, Alabama
This is one of the angriest runners I’ve ever seen. He’s a three-down back. This is a kid who can play 16 games and want to play more. He can pass protect, catch the football, and has tremendous balance and vision.
17. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Had 33 sacks, 14 forced fumbles. With this kid, you know what you’re getting. You know what your floor is, and he might not have the same upside as some of these other kids. But I think he can play defensive end or stand up and be an outside linebacker.
18. Muhammad Wilkerson*, DT, Temple
He can play the 5-technique, and he can get kicked inside. He reminds me of Trevor Pryce.
19. Gabe Carimi, OL, Wisconsin
I think the kid is a plug-and-play right tackle. Throw him in there and he’s a starter on day one. And he’s a starter for the next 10 years. He’s got a little attitude and there’s something tough about him. He’s a good football player.
20. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
He’s got top-10 ability but he’s got a hole in his game — poor pocket awareness and accuracy within the pocket. He’s as accurate on the edges as any quarterback I’ve seen on tape. I’ve talked to a lot of NFL quarterback coaches that believe over time, a one-year period, that his pocket awareness can be corrected. He’s a little bit of a project.
21. Cam Newton*, QB, Auburn
I know, Cam Newton at 21 — why? I believe in this kid. I believe in him as an athlete, I believe in his arm strength, but I don’t believe he’s in the top 10. He’s got top-10 ability, but he’s a developmental prospect. As a general manager, I would be comfortable taking him somewhere in the 20s.
22. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Interesting guy. After his junior year, most would have called him a top-10 to top-15 pick. All that stuff about Erb’s Palsy and will it affect his draft stock, I say watch the tape. He’s a football player. Gabe Carimi got the better of him this year, but I though he dominated Carimi a year ago. If he goes in the low 20s, what a great football player you’re going to get.
23. Corey Liuget*, DT, Illinois
He’s a prototypical 3-technique — a defensive tackle in a 4-man front. At 298 pounds, he ran a sub-5 40. As we get closer to the draft, I expect his stock to continue to increase. A lot of upside for him.
24. Akeem Ayers*, OLB, UCLA
On tape, he’s a natural edge pass rusher. He didn’t perform well at the combine; ran in the 4.9 range in the 40. There’s also questions about whether he can handle a complicated defense, both with his hand down or standing up. But he is a great athlete and a natural 3-4 outside linebacker.
25. Nate Solder, OL, Colorado
Solder has a wonderful skill set, but he needs to get stronger and have more consistent technique. He reminds me of D’Brickashaw Ferguson in that he’s a little bit underpowered, has great feet, and an awful lot of upside. That’s value right there.
26. Aaron Williams*, DB, Texas
He didn’t run well at the combine and I didn’t think he looked particularly great, but I’ve been struggling all along with whether he’s my No. 3 corner or my top safety. Every time I look at this kid, I think you could drop him on the slot, or he could also play free safety. One thing I do know, he makes plays.
27. Cam Heyward, DT, Ohio State
In the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, but if you watch that game, you might be convinced he’s a top 15 pick. He’s had injuries, he’s a little inconsistent, and there’s a question about where you play him, but he’s got a great motor. To me, he’s a 5-technique, the defensive end in a 3-4. Some team at the end of the first round is going to get a bargain.
28. Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida
If the name sounds familiar it should. His twin brother was an all-pro as a rookie with the Steelers last year. He’s remarkably similar to Maurkice. He didn’t test very well but he can play all three interior positions on the offensive line, and he should do it in Year 1.
29. Phil Taylor, DL, Baylor
He’s one of the biggest risers in this draft class. There aren’t many 334-pound defensive tackles in the league that have the movement skills of this kid. he’s had some off-the-field issues, but I don’t think a guy his size and with his movement skills gets out of the first round.
30. Jimmy Smith*, DB, Colorado
He had an inconsistent junior season at Colorado, but he’s a tremedous athlete. He’s long and physical, but he’s too inconsistent, which is the reason he isn’t higher up on the board.
31. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
He lifted 225 pounds a record 49 times at the combine, and the best part about those reps is it translates to functional strength on the field. He’s a 3-technique player who can really get it done.
32. Kyle Rudolph*, TE, Notre Dame
Someone’s going to get value when they pick this guy. This guy is Rob Gronkowski. He’s an inline blocker if you need him to be, but he can also get down the field and he’s a tremendous athlete.