The combine begins tomorrow and runs through next Tuesday. As you all know, it is a place where players show teams how big, fast, and strong they really are. As a result, players see their stocks rise and drop at a sometimes alarming rate. So, here are my top 5 prospects at each position, and keep an eye on how they do. A few will undoubtedly disappoint while a few will solidify their status as early round picks, first round picks, or top ten selections.
- Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (late 1st round): A huge arm and prototypical size, Mallett consistently got the job done in the toughest conference in college. He has work ethic and maturity concerns to answer though.
- Cam Newton, Auburn (2nd round): Newton has elite physical tools, but he plays in a fluke offense and has a ton of adjusting to do once he gets to the pros. I’m not sold on him at all, regardless of what he does this week.
- Jake Locker, Washington (2nd round): Sometimes, Locker looks phenomenal, but his brilliant moments are too few and far between. He has to significantly improve his accuracy to develop into a starter, but the potential is there.
- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (3rd round): I have no idea what people see in Gabbert, but he plays in a fluke offense and has no poise in the pocket whatsoever. His deep accuracy is also pretty shaky and he will be over-drafted.
- Andy Dalton, TCU (3rd round): Dalton doesn’t have the potential of the guys before him with just average size and arm strength, but he understands the game and looks like everything you want in a quality, steady backup.
- Mark Ingram, Alabama (mid 1st round): Ingram won’t wow you with either power or elusiveness, but he is a complete player who has an ideal blend of everything you want in a feature back.
- Mikel Leshoure, Illinois (2nd round): Leshoure is a big, physical back who will be productive in the NFL. He’s got a bit of Jonathan Stewart in him.
- Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (2nd round): Williams was plagued by injuries last season, but he is a very elusive back with good speed that could be a starter pretty early in his NFL career.
- Delone Carter, Syracuse (3rd round): Carter is not the biggest guy in the world, but he has a very low center of gravity and is extremely powerful. He is a complete back and is a poor man’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
- DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (3rd round): Despite an extensive injury history, Murray was one of the best backs in Oklahoma history who is a dynamic receiver out of the backfield. He’s not a starter though.
- Julio Jones, Alabama (top 5): Jones has the size, speed, and production that screams pro bowls in the NFL. He has improved in the dropped balls and route running categories as well.
- A.J. Green, Georgia (top 5): Green is one of those guys who always seems to make plays. With his height and speed, he will continue to be an absolute nightmare for defensive coordinators in the NFL.
- Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh (mid/late 1st round): Baldwin isn’t a polished route runner, but he has incredible height and leaping ability that can make him just about impossible to cover down the field at times.
- Torrey Smith, Maryland (2nd round): An explosive player who has an unbelievable off-the-field story, Smith will be a big weapon for the team that drafts him, although he isn’t a go-to-guy.
- Leonard Hankerson, Miami (2nd/3rd round): Hankerson has good size and hands, but he doesn’t do anything that blows me out of the water. I’m very curious to see what he runs at the combine.
- Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (2nd round): Rudolph is the only tight end I see in this draft class who is a sure-fire starter. He has good size and can be a match-up nightmare with his height and receiving ability.
- Luke Stocker, Tennessee (3rd round): Stocker lacks speed, but otherwise is a very complete player who reminds me a bit of fellow Tennessee product Jason Witten and current Eagle Brent Celek (but not there yet).
- D.J. Williams, Arkansas (mid rounder): Williams is severely undersized, but he is extremely tough to cover one-on-one. If the team that drafts him can carve a niche for him in the offense, he will be very effective.
- Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin (mid rounder): Kendricks is yet another undersized Wisconsin tight end who can catch the ball very well. He reminds me a lot of Travis Beckum (Giants’ H-Back).
- Robert Housler, Florida Atlantic (mid/late rounder): I haven’t actually seen Housler play, but he has decent size and is apparently a fluid athlete who is a good receiver.
- Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin (mid 1st round): Carimi has great size, comes from a great program, and is a very complete player. He can play left tackle in the NFL, but might be better on the right side.
- Tyron Smith, USC (mid 1st round): Smith has elite athleticism and is extremely powerful for his size, but needs to add more bulk and has no left tackle experience. He has unlimited potential though.
- James Carpenter, Alabama (2nd round): Carpenter is severely underrated. He can pass protect a lot better than people give him credit for, and can play either tackle or guard at the next level.
- Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (2nd round): Castonzo has room for improvement in his pass blocking and strength departments, but he has very good athleticism and is a pretty solid player overall.
- Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State (2nd round): Sherrod is not all that strong, but is a pretty good pass blocker who can start at either tackle spot down the road. Reminds me a bit of Seattle’s Sean Locklear.
Centers and Guards
- Mike Pouncey, Florida (mid/late 1st round): Pouncey has elite mobility skills and can play any of the three spots inside. He’s not as physically dominant as his brother, but should be a fine player at the next level.
- Orlando Franklin, Miami (1st/2nd round): Franklin has everything you want in a guard. He is strong but athletic, and plays with a nasty demeanor. He will be a very, very good value pick in round three.
- Ben Ijalana, Villanova (2nd round): Ijalana was absolutely dominant at left tackle for the Villanova Wildcats in 2010. He may be too short to play tackle in the NFL but will thrive at guard.
- Marcus Cannon, TCU (2nd/3rd round): I believe Cannon can play tackle at the next level, but he makes my top 5 list at guard because of his incredible size and run blocking abilities.
- Rodney Hudson, Florida State (2nd/3rd round): Hudson is undersized, but plays with very good leverage and is athletic. He is widely regarded as one of the top linemen in college football.
Edge Rushers (3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE)
- Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson (top 10): Bowers is a monster physically, but still is only scratching the surface of his potential. If he can be more consistent, he will be a premier pass rusher in the NFL.
- Von Miller, Texas A&M (top 10): Miller is undersized and will likely be a 3-4 edge rusher, but he has unbelievable speed and instincts, making him an ultimate defender in the box who can get after the passer, make plays in coverage, and track down plays from behind.
- Robert Quinn, North Carolina (top 10): Quinn is the most fluid pure pass rusher out of the big three (Bowers, Miller, Quinn), but needs to develop more effective counter-moves to be dominant in the NFL, which he can be.
- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (mid 1st round): Kerrigan possesses an incredible first step and is the most polished pass rusher in the draft along with Von Miller. He is also a master at forcing fumbles.
- J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (mid 1st round): Watt is regarded by some as a 3-4 end, but he is a 4-3 end because he thrives when he’s allowed to get to the passer. He is an absolute monster who affects the game in more ways than any other defender in this draft.
*Honorable mention: Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), and Aldon Smith (Missouri) also deserve first round grades, but didn’t quite make the cut at the top five players at their position.
Interior Defensive Linemen (4-3 DT, 3-4 DE, 3-4 NT)
- Nick Fairley, Auburn (top 5): Fairley is dominant against both the pass and the run and plays with a mean streak. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the draft regardless of position.
- Marcell Dareus, Alabama (top 10): Dareus can play in any scheme and is a very complete player. He is not as unblockable as Fairley, but is still a future cornerstone of somebody’s defensive line.
- Corey Liuget, Illinois (mid 1st round): Liuget is very stout against the run and can push the pocket on passing downs. He will be a very solid pro, but probably not dominant.
- Cameron Jordan, California (mid 1st round): Jordan is a 3-4 end who can provide a very consistent pass rush but will also hold up well against the run.
- Drake Nevis, LSU (1st/2nd round): Nevis is purely a 4-3 tackle, but he is a phenomenal penetrator who can disrupt plays in the backfield just about as well as anybody in this draft class.
Linebackers (excluding 3-4 OLB)
- Akeem Ayers, UCLA (mid 1st round): Ayers is not an unbelievable player, but his versatility will help him a lot in the NFL. He can play pretty much anywhere in any scheme and can do anything a team could possibly ask of him and do at least an adequate job.
- Greg Jones, Michigan State (2nd round): Scouts are souring on Jones, but he’s a tackling machine who is tough and durable. He is good against both the run and the pass and he could certainly use a good combine.
- Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (2nd round): Sheppard is a versatile linebacker who is very big and physical. He is a great blitzer and shows decent range and good instincts.
- Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina (2nd/3rd round): Sturdivant is a sideline-to-sideline player who can blitz and is a reliable tackler. He should be a starter as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
- Colin McCarthy, Miami (3rd round): McCarthy is a very tough player who is best suited in a 4-3 scheme. He’s a good run stopper and is a solid two-down MIKE or SAM linebacker.
- Patrick Peterson, LSU (top 5): Peterson has a freakish size-speed combination but is also a very good technician. I see him as a solid starter who will also be a dynamic return man.
- Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (mid 1st round): Amukamara is extremely instinctive and I love how physical he is. However, it really bothers me that Justin Blackmon owned him in a 2010 game.
- Aaron Williams, Texas (1st/2nd round): Williams is not an elite player now, but he has the height, speed, and athleticism to be a much better pro than college player. He’s similar to Devin McCourty.
- Ras-I Dowling, Virginia (1st/2nd round): Dowling will make for a dominant zone corner because his only weakness is his long speed. If he runs under a 4.45, I wouldn’t hesitate to take him in the first round. He reminds me a lot of Malcom Jenkins, who had to switch to free safety with New Orleans, but is thriving in that role.
- Johnny Patrick, Louisville (2nd round): Patrick is fast, physical, and confident. He has some character concerns and isn’t a shutdown player, but he could start as a rookie. Don’t overlook him.
- Rahim Moore, UCLA (1st/2nd round): Moore is a great ball-hawk who will thrive in a zone scheme. He’s not very physical, but is a sure tackler nonetheless.
- Quinton Carter, Oklahoma (2nd round): Carter is a huge hitter at safety who is a leader. He has good size and is adequate in coverage. He should be a good starter who reminds me of T.J. Ward, who made a huge impact for Cleveland as a rookie last year.
- Ahmad Black, Florida (3rd round): Black is very undersized, but has elite instincts and creates turnovers as well as anybody in this draft class. I have a feeling he will defy the odds at the next level.
- DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (mid rounder): McDaniel is an intimidating hitter who can hold his own in coverage. However, he has character concerns and may be too big of a liability in coverage in the NFL.
- Erig Hagg, Nebraska (mid rounder): Hagg is a solid but unspectacular player who should be a great special teams contributor at the next level. He could develop into a starter, but I wouldn’t draft him as one.