After watching a lot of bowl games and studying some film, my opinions of a lot of pro prospects have changed. Also, a bunch of underclassmen made their decisions to declare or to stay in school, which obviously alters the rankings. My second version of the big board is highlighted by Nick Fairley’s rise to number one after absolutely dominating Oregon. Here are, regardless of positional value, projected draft slots, or Eagle team needs or scheme demands, my top 32 prospects in America.
1. Nick Fairley, 4-3 DT, Auburn. Fairley is easily the most disruptive defensive player in the country and will excel against both the run and the pass in any scheme.
2. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. A physical marvel who has polished his game (route running, hands) since arriving at Alabama. He will play through pain and looks the part of an elite NFL receiver.
3. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. A phenomenal college receiver whose skillset translates favorably to the NFL. Should be a perennial pro-bowler if he can add a little more bulk to his frame.
4. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. An unbelievable athlete and return man who can impact a game in many ways. He also displays great technique and has the potential to be on the same level as guys like Darrelle Revis.
5. Marcell Dareus, 4-3 DT/3-4 DE, Alabama. A well-rounded defensive lineman who can play in any scheme. He’s a polished pass rusher, very athletic, and is stout against the run.
6. Da’Quan Bowers, 4-3 DE, Clemson. I don’t love him as much as most, but he can certainly use his power/speed combo to overwhelm offensive tackles at the next level. He has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to be great.
7. Robert Quinn, 3-4 OLB/4-3 DE, North Carolina. Did not play this season, but is the best pure pass rusher in the draft who has unbelievable athleticism. His ceiling is very high, but is not the safest pick in the draft.
8. Von Miller, 3-4 OLB, Texas A&M. Undersized, but a premier pass rusher that could be a cornerstone of a defense for many years to come.
9. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. Looks all-world against average college receivers, and there are no real flaws in his game besides average long speed. However, he was abused by Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.
10. Ryan Kerrigan, 4-3 DE, Purdue. Not an impressive athlete, but is a very smooth, polished, and relentless pass rusher who will be a solid-but-not-great pro.
11. J.J. Watt, 4-3 DE/3-4 DE, Wisconsin. Does not have great speed off the edge, but finds a way to make plays and is very intelligent and versatile. He plays best in big games and will be a playmaker in any scheme.
12. Akeem Ayers, 4-3 OLB/3-4 OLB, UCLA. The total package at linebacker who can rush the passer, drop into coverage, pursue from the back-end, and tackle one-on-one. Not an elite player, but will make those around him better.
13. Tyron Smith, OT, USC. Despite being only 290 pounds, Smith is a very effective run blocker and has elite footwork and agility. My only concerns are his slight frame and the fact that he has never played left tackle.
14. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas. More mobile than people give him credit for, and nobody in college has really been able to shut him down. However, accuracy is sometimes questionable and he cannot deal with the blitz. These issues are correctable though, and Mallett could be an elite passer if he sets his mind to it.
15. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. A tough runner who can run inside and out, break tackles, and catch the ball out of the backfield. A workhorse who can handle 20 carries a game.
16. Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida. The best puller I have ever seen at the collegiate level who is better suited as a guard than as a center and may even be able to play tackle. Should be a pro-bowl guard early in his career.
17. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Very talented and effective as both a run and pass blocker who can play either tackle spot. However, he plays up and down to his level of competition and is a bit lazy.
18. Stephen Paea, 4-3 DT/3-4 NT, Oregon State. Very powerful and can push the pocket as well as hold his ground against the run. Best suited as a 1 technique, but may be able to play nose in a 3-4 scheme.
19. Cameron Jordan, 3-4 DE, California. Not a monster against either the run or pass, but is disciplined, gives good effort, and can play three downs. Should be a solid 5 technique for most 3-4 teams for a long time.
20. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. Has great length in pass protection (6’9″) and is not hurt by it when run blocking. Very agile, but is far from polished as a pass protector. Should not start as a rookie.
21. Corey Liuget, 4-3 DT/3-4 DE, Illinois. Quietly a very good player who does not have bad games. He won’t dominate, but is a three down defensive lineman at the next level who will play at a high leve and is scheme versatile.
22. Adrian Clayborn, 4-3 DE, Iowa. A very solid, well-rounded defender who had a somewhat disappointing senior season. He can get after the passer and will hold his own in the run game, though he will only be a two down left defensive end in a 4-3 system in the pros.
23. Jake Locker, QB, Washington. Played on a very poor team, but is very mobile, has extensive experience in a pro-style offense, and is a good enough passer to succeed as a starter in the NFL.
24. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh. A massive receiver who can elevate and win most jump ball situations. Is a phenomenal run blocker, plays in a pro-style offense, but struggles to separate from NFL-caliber corners and is not a very good route runner yet.
25. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. Tough to evaluate since he plays in a gimmicky offense, but has great physical tools. Is a natural passer, but has not demonstrated any ability to march down the field with the mid-range passing game. Classic risk-reward selection.
26. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas. A very fluid athlete with good height and cover skills. Does not project as a bump-and-run corner and does not have elite feel for the game yet. Has a very high ceiling, though.
27. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia. A tall, lanky corner who is very physical and great in run support. Would be a great cover 2 corner or maybe a free safety, but could struggle if asked to play too much man-to-man due to questionable long speed.
28. Cameron Heyward, 3-4 DE, Ohio State. Very good against the run and is a very high-motor player. Does not have the pass rush moves to be effective in a 4-3 though and does not have very much potential for a first round pick.
29. Allen Bailey, 3-4 DE, Miami. Does not have the size or pass rush ability to play in a 4-3, but could be a perfect fit as a 5 technique, where he can play the run well and push the line of scrimmage backwards.
30. Jurrell Casey, 4-3 DT, USC. Short and squatty, but plays with very good energy and remarkable lateral quickness. Needs to be a more consistent pass rusher and will not dominate against the run.
31. Jabaal Sheard, 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB, Pittsburgh. Quite possibly the most underrated player in the draft. Surprisingly good against the run given his size (6’3″, 255) and a very good pass rusher. Has some character concerns though.
32. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois. A big pounder who run hard with good leverage. He’s tough to take down and can also run outside. Will never be great, but reminds me a bit of Jonathan Stewart of Carolina. Could be a feature back.