I prefer to use a tier system to sort the first round prospects based on value…
- Tier ONE consists of the elite; first round locks. (VALUE: Would take in top 20)
- Tier TWO prospects have first round abilities and high ceilings, but they are riskier than Tier ONE prospects. (VALUE: Would not hesitate with a pick #25 to #45)
- Tier THREE prospects have received first round hype from various outlets, however, I would not select a tier three prospect in the first round. (VALUE: Stay away in the first round, consider in the 2nd)
TIER ONE (VALUE: Would take in top 20)
1. Da’Quan Bowers 4-3 DE, Clemson (6’4, 275, Junior)
Elite edge rusher with a complete game. Has the athleticism and size to be considered a potential elite end in a 4-3 defense. Has an array of passing rushing moves. Can be effective with the bull rush. Will put up double-digit sack numbers and contribute against the run. May fit best as a strong-side end. I’ll only pay #1 overall money to a QB, OT, or DE.
2. AJ Green WR, Georgia (6’4, 212, Junior)
Has All-Pro potential. His long frame and athletic ability make him an elite option in the red zone. Even at his size, he’s a fluid route runner with terrific hands. He can work all levels of the field and will force defenses to game plan around him. A true #1, X-receiver at the next level with low-bust potential.
3. Nick Fairley 4-3 DT, Auburn (6’5, 298, Junior)
Dominant as a junior and is a major reason why Auburn won a title. He’s a terrific athlete and fits best as a 4-3 UT. Has elite hand technique and short area quickness. He’s usually the first lineman off the ball. His ability to rush the quarterback rivals Ndamukong Suh. He plays with a Warren Sapp-like mean streak, though there are questions about his character on-and-off the field.
4. Patrick Peterson CB, LSU (6’1, 212, Junior)
Has shutdown corner potential. He’s a physical athlete with a rare blend of size, speed, instincts and tackling technique. His long frame helps him match up with bigger receivers at all areas of the field. He can play in both a zone and man coverage scheme and he has experience as a reliable return specialist. Will be a top 5 pick.
5. Aldon Smith 3-4 OLB, Missouri (6’4, 258, Junior)
Played defensive end at Missouri and dominated off the edge. Has the athleticism and freakish ability to stand up as an edge rusher. He’s a rangy player and a fearless tackler with a non-stop motor. Could run in the 4.5′s at the combine and cement himself as the next unblockable 3-4 linebacker.
6. Marcell Dareus 3-4 DE/4-3 DT, Alabama (6’3, 309, Junior)
The top 3-4 DE in this class. Dareus is a wide-bodied, stout space eater who has the strength and power to demand consistent double-teams. He’s not an elite pass rusher, but his lower body strength and heavy hands make him an elite bull rusher. He has the potential to kick inside in passing situations as a true 3-down lineman. He’s scheme diverse and could fit inside in a 4-3 alignment.
7. Von Miller 3-4 OLB, Texas A&M (6’3, 237, Senior Bowl)
Fast edge rusher who will immediately contribute in passing situations. He dominated Senior Bowl practices with elite burst and range. He played the WILL role in Texas A&M’s 3-4 front racking up 32.5 career sacks and 50.5 career TFL. He’s the most athletic 3-4 linebacker in this class, though he’ll need to get stronger against the run.
8. Prince Amukamara CB, Nebraska (6’0, 205, DNP Senior Bowl)
One of the main contributors for Nebraska’s top pass defense. True man corner with great instincts and route recognition. Has solid size/speed combination and is rarely beat deep. One of the best corners at playing the football; picked off five passes as a junior and was rarely tested as a senior.
9. Blaine Gabbert QB, Missouri (6’5, 235, Junior)
Where he excels: live arm; above average accuracy; footwork; and leadership qualities. Where he needs work: needs to show he can work under center; that he can stay tall and handle pressure in the pocket; show that he can work through multiple progressions. He’s a potential elite west coast signal caller with first round abilities, but questions about his game will keep him out of the top 5.
10. Cameron Jordan 3-4 DE, California (6’4, 287, Senior Bowl)
Nearly unblockable during Senior Bowl workouts. Has elite hand technique and showcases an array of pass rushing moves. Has a strong and powerful club and will fit best as a 3-4 DE who can kick inside in passing downs. He’s a better pass rusher than Dareus (6th) but not as stout against the run. Played the 3-4 DE role at California and was a 4-year starter.
11. Julio Jones WR, Alabama (6’4, 220, Junior)
Physically gifted receiver in the mold of Terrell Owens (without the attitude). Strong and physical route runner with reliable hands and great down-field body control. He’ll have success early in his career because of his ability to get off jams at the line. He’s the best blocker among receivers.
12. Gabe Carimi OT, Wisconsin (6’7, 315, Senior Bowl)
May lack the lateral footwork to be an elite LT, but he’s an incredibly safe option to have success at right tackle or guard if needed. For a team that runs a power running scheme, Carimi will instantly boost the ground game. His long arms, strength at the point of attack, and excellent balance makes me believe he’ll fit at LT with coaching.
13. Mark Ingram RB, Alabama (5’10, 215, Junior)
He has the mold of a true featured pro-back: Patient feet, excellent vision, and elite lateral quickness. He may lack big-play speed, but his mix of power and feet will keep Ingram over the 1,000-yard plateau early in his career. He’s a pro-ready back who can carry the full workload and catch passes out of the backfield.
14. Adrian Clayborn 3-4 DE/4-3 DE, (6’3, 286, DNP Senior Bowl)
Elite hand technique at the point of attack. He’s scheme diverse and can play all three-downs at the next level. He’s stout and physical at the point of attack and has experience inside and outside. Deceptively athletic and a true playmaker. High motor guy.
15. Cam Newton QB, Auburn (6’6, 250, Junior)
The biggest enigma of the draft; he has no true NFL comparison. He has the feet of Vince Young and the arm strength of Ben Roethlisberger. His playmaking potential is matched by no one in this class. He has elite size and will move the chains with his feet and his arm. He’s a game plan-headache who will need to show that he can work in a multiple-progression offense. He’s a top 15 pick with a high ceiling and a low floor. Someone will pull the trigger early.
TIER TWO (VALUE: Would not hesitate with pick #25 to #45)
1. Jimmy Smith CB, Colorado (6’2, 205, DNP Senior Bowl)
Athletic freak with top size/speed combo among corners. Surrendered only 11 receptions in two seasons, though he was rarely targeted. Could run sub-4.45 at 6’2.
2. JJ Watt 3-4 DE/4-3 DE, Wisconsin (6’6, 292, Junior)
Relentless motor off the edge. Not extremely athletic but built perfectly for the 3-4 defensive end role. He’s a true three-down end with leadership qualities.
3. Derek Sherrod OT, Mississippi State (6’5, 312, Senior Bowl)
True LT prospect with great feet. Must improve leverage, but he has the athleticism to succeed as a pass blocker. Could fit best in a zone-blocking scheme.
4. Akeem Ayers 3-4 OLB, UCLA (6’4, 255, Junior)
Has experience in UCLA’s 3-4 defense; played the SAM role. Excellent form tackler with elite tools. He can stop the run, drop back in coverage, and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Lack of elite pass rushing skills push him out of the top 20.
5. Muhammad Wilkerson 3-4 DE, Temple (6’5, 305, Junior)
Added 50 lbs since freshman year. Dominant and versatile player who has the ability to play inside and outside. Long arms and heavy hands make him an ideal fit to play 3-4 DE. Should explode at the combine.
6. Aaron Williams CB, Texas (6’1, 195, Junior)
Physical corner, works well in press. One of the top tackling corners in this class. Has long arms, fluid hips and C.O.D skills to work well in a Tampa-2 scheme. The combine will sort him out between the end of the first and early second.
7. Kelvin Sheppard ILB, LSU (6’2, 250, Senior Bowl)
Safest non-top 20 pick in the draft. Tackling machine with great range for his size. Always around the football. Pro-ready to make the defensive calls. A true leader on-and-off the field. Size and athleticism to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
8. Robert Quinn DE, North Carolina (6’5, 268, Junior)
Sat out 2010 season because of a NCAA-benefit infraction. Based on sophomore tape, he’s a tier one player, but there are obvious red flags. Long arms and various pass rushing moves make him an immediate situational pass rusher. Has the body to add bulk.
9. Ryan Kerrigan DE, Purdue (6’3, 255, Senior Bowl)
Elite burst off the line. More quick than fast. Limited athletically and may not be able to stand up in a 3-4 defense. Will have to add bulk to his frame to stay at 4-3 end. Motor and production are tops in the class. (55.5 career TFL, 31.5 career sacks)
10. Titus Young WR, Boise State (5’11, 174, Senior Bowl)
Has the potential to run in the 4.3′s at the combine. Elite route runner who finds ways to get open with lateral quickness and body control. Can work every level of the field and will contribute as a return specialist. Could be a 1st round pick based on the production of similar receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace.
11. Danny Watkins OG, Baylor (6’3, 312, Senior Bowl)
Arguably had the best Senior Bowl performance of any participant. Strong, physical, heavy hands and stout balance. Has all the tools to succeed at the next level. Will be 27 next fall which could push him out of the first round.
12. Brandon Harris CB, Miami (5’11, 195, Junior)
More than likely will break 4.40 at the combine. Elite short area quickness and above average ball skills will make him a hot commodity for a team that runs a lot of man coverage.
TIER THREE (VALUE: Stay away in 1st Round, consider in 2nd)
1. Nate Solder OT, Colorado (6’8, 314, Senior Bowl)
Has the tools but is still a project. Lacks proper technique but he is athletic. A project–early 2nd round–left tackle.
2. Stephen Paea DT, Oregon State (6’1, 295, DNP Senior Bowl)
Recently underwent surgery on his knee. Paea was supposed to breakout at the combine and now there’s a good chance he won’t workout. His pro day will be important.
3. Mike Pouncey G/C, Florida (6’4, 310, DNP Senior Bowl)
Not nearly as good as his brother, Maurkice, who played well at center for the Steelers as a rookie. He’s a 2nd round pick with position versatility.
4. Jake Locker QB, Washington (6’2, 228, Senior Bowl)
Did nothing to prove the critics of his lack of accuracy during Senior Bowl workouts. Far too inconsistent for a first round grade, though he does have the leadership skills that teams covet.
5. Anthony Castonzo OT, Boston College (6’7, 305, Senior Bowl)
Lacks the nimble feet to work at LT. Has proper technique but struggles with speed. Was seen mostly at guard last week at the Senior Bowl.
6. Cameron Heyward 3-4 DE, Ohio State (6’5, 288, DNP Senior Bowl)
Injured in bowl game and required surgery on his elbow. Has the tools and strength but this is not the first time he’s been injured.
7. Justin Houston 3-4 OLB, Georgia (6’3, 258, Junior)
Edge rusher with speed, but I don’t believe he has the array of moves to succeed at the next level.
8. Ryan Mallett QB, Akransas (6’6, 238, Junior)
Many questions have come up about his character on-and-off the field. There have always been questions about his footwork and decision making. Though, arm strength is best in the class.