1. Quinton Coples, Sr, North Carolina, 6’6 275– Has the prototype size, length, and strength for a base end in any alignment. He can line up on both sides and was also used inside at tackle. Shows power to drive down the pocket and length to close off throwing lanes.
2. Jared Crick, Sr, Nebraska, 6’6 285– Lined up almost exclusively inside for the Cornhuskers, but has the size and strength to play the end spot in a 3-4 at the next level. Very Similar to first round pick J.J. Watt of Wisconsin.
3. Vinny Curry, Sr, Marshall, 6’4 255– Looks and plays bigger than his listed weight. Curry played both end spots in a base 4-3, and also lined up at the 5-technique on 3-4 installments. Very disruptive pass rusher who chases the ball to the opposite side. Great stamina.
4. Jake Bequette, Sr, Arkansas, 6’5 271– A hustle player who knows how to leverage the edge in his pass rush, Bequette is stout in containment and gives maximum effort. He has 12 sacks the past two seasons. I could see him duplicating that number in 2011.
5. Donte Paige-Moss, Jr, North Carolina, 6’4 242– Moss lines up in a three-point stance for North Carolina but would probably best suited as a two-point rush linebacker at the next level. He’s a very good athlete with good rush skills; flashes excellent closing burst.
Players to Watch: Devin Taylor, Jr, South Carolina, 6’6 250, Andre Branch, Sr, Clemson 6’4 258, Vince Browne, Sr, Northwestern 6’5 265, Alex Okafor, Sr, Texas 6’4 260
Comments: Every year it seems a few lesser known players emerge throughout the season at both defensive end and defensive tackle. The end position is a bit harder to read because of the different fronts the NFL employs, making players more system specific than in the past with half the teams in the NFL now utilizing a 3-4 alignment. Quinton Coples and Jared Crick are standout prospects who can fit any system and be productive.
1. Josh Chapman, Sr, Alabama, 6’1 310– The anchor of a very talented Crimson Tide defense, Chapman is stout against the run and shows good pad level in his release. A strong and reliable nose tackle who can push the pocket and hold two gaps in run support; plays taller than his 6’1 height.
2. Alameda Ta’amu, Sr, Washington, 6’3 330– The prototype nose tackle for the NFL level. Ta’amu has uncommon quickness for his size to loop and stunt effectively. Shows very good strength in his upper body.
3. Kheeston Randall, Sr, Texas, 6’2 295– Despite his lack of pure size Randall often lines up across from center in the Longhorns front. Plays with good aggressiveness and balance; effective in run support and disruptive in the backfield.
4. Jerel Worthy, Jr, Michigan State, 6’3 305– A good athlete who often wins leverage off the snap. Worthy shows good pad level and lower body strength to hold the point and drive the pocket. A first round talent.
5. Tydreke Powell, Sr, North Carolina, 6’1 310– Powell shows good gap containment in run support. He uses his size well and can be extremely effective when he sinks his hips. A possible early round pick with better consistency in 2011.
Players to Watch: Marcus Forston, Jr, Miami (FL), 6’3 300, Kendall Reyes, Sr, Connecticut, 6’4 300, Jaye Howard, Sr, Florida, 6’3 302, Armond Armstead, Sr, USC, 6’5 295
Comments: My early impression of this class is that it lacks a sure top ten pick going into 2011. Josh Chapman and Alameda Ta’amu look like first round picks but could polish up their technique this season. Based purely on talent, Marcus Forston of Miami could be the best tackle available, but injuries and inconsistency haven’t allowed his potential to develop into production. A solid class but no dominant presence yet.
1. Brandon Jenkins, Jr, Florida State, 6’3 234– Jenkins lines up in a three-point stance for the Seminoles but projects best as a rush linebacker at the next level. He shows good power off the snap with a smooth transition to flatten down and close on the quarterback. Produced 13.5 sacks in 2010.
2. Zach Brown, Sr, North Carolina, 6’2 225– An ideal fit for a Cover 2 scheme. Brown shows good range, instincts, and tackling ability; a well rounded skill set with upside as an outside pass rusher in pressure packages.
3. Nigel Bradham, Sr, Florida State, 6’2 241 – A three year starter, Bradham can play the weak side in either alignment. He does a good job reading his keys and using his arms to scrape and untie off blockers. Very consistent.
4. Travis Lewis, Sr, Oklahoma, 6’2 233 – A tackling machine at Oklahoma; Lewis has racked up over 300 tackles in three seasons. He shows good instincts and discipline both in run support and in coverage. Best fit would be outside in a 4-3 front at the next level.
5. Bruce Irvin, Sr, West Virginia, 6’2 235 – Irvin registered 14 sacks last season for the Mountaineers at defensive end. His skills translate best as a rush linebacker in the NFL. He shows good closing burst and plays with good functional strength for his size; has the frame to add 15 pounds.
Players to Watch: Sean Spence, Sr, Miami (FL), 5’11 225, Adrian Robinson, Sr, Temple, 6’2 250, Nico Johnson, Jr, Alabama 6’2 240, Tank Carder, Sr, TCU, 6’2 237
Comments: Much like the defensive end position, outside linebacker has become more system specific, with many college ends transitioning to outside linebacker in 3-4 alignments. It’s a solid crop of linebackers for each scheme with talented prospects available into the middle rounds.
1. Vontaze Burfict, Jr, Arizona State, 6’3 252 – The prototype middle linebacker; can do it all. Shows excellent instincts, range, aggression, toughness, power, coverage depth, and strength to handle lineman. One of the top players in this draft class, but can still improve his game.
2. Courtney Upshaw, Sr, Alabama, 6’2 263 – A versatile linebacker who can line up anywhere on the field, including defensive end. Played inside and out for Alabama; shows a complete skill set with very good athleticism. Upshaw shows up to play in big games.
3. Luke Kuechly, Jr, Boston College, 6’2 235 – An exceptional football player. Kuechly is almost never out of position, shows textbook technique, intelligence, instincts, and toughness. Posted more than 100 solo tackles last season. Can play the weak side in a 3-4 but could be a Pro Bowler if he stays in a 4-3.
4. Don’ta Hightower, Jr, Alabama, 6’4 260 – A powerful player with a good combination of size and quickness. Hightower moves twenty pounds lighter than he‘s listed. He had a solid season last year, but is only scratching the surface.
5. Manti Te’o, Jr, Notre Dame, 6’2 255 – The best player on the Notre Dame defense. Te’o posted 133 tackles last season and has played every game since his freshman year. Instinctive and physical, Te’o only has a few things to improve on in 2011.
Players to Watch: Jerry Franklin, Sr, Arkansas, 6’1 242, Chris Gallipo, Sr, USC, 6’2 250, Shayne Skov, Jr, Stanford, 6’3 237, D.J. Holt, Sr, California, 6’1 250
Comments: An impressive group of inside linebackers, every player in the top five has the ability to warrant being drafted in the top half of the first round. All of them fit inside in either alignment. The instincts and anticipation score off the charts with this group, without even mentioning the size and speed. The quality of the class will depend largely on whether or not the underclassmen declare.
1. Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr, Alabama, 6’2 190 – Smooth cover corner who shows solid footwork and great length to challenge deep throws and close the cushion quickly in zone coverage. Alabama’s system allows him to play a variety of coverage looks.
2. Cliff Harris, Jr, Oregon, 5’11 185 – Fluid cover corner with great hips and quick feet. Harris is a playmaker in the return game, returning 4 punts for scores in 2010. Shows top ten pick athleticism.
3. Alfonzo Dennard, Sr, Nebraska, 5’10 195 – A physical press cover corner, Dennard played as well as teammate Prince Amukamara at times last season. Aggressive in run support and physical challenging receivers downfield.
4. Chase Minnifield, Sr, Virginia, 6’0 185 – A rangy and intelligent zone cornerback who quickly plants and drives on the football produced 6 interceptions in 2010. Good size and straight line speed to challenge big receivers.
5. Janoris Jenkins, Sr, North Alabama, 5’11 185 – Jenkins was dismissed from the University of Florida for a marijuana arrest in April. His skills are first round worthy and he’ll have an opportunity to rebound his stock at North Alabama in 2011.
Players to Watch: Stephon Gilmore, Jr, South Carolina, 6’1 192, Coryell Judie, Sr, Texas A&M, 5’11 188, Brandon Boykin Sr, Georgia, 5’10 185, Donnie Fletcher, Sr, Boston College, 6’1 200
Comments: A very good crop of cornerbacks in this year’s draft class. It should rival the seven cornerbacks selected in the first two rounds of last year’s draft. There isn’t a prospect that possesses the elite size/strength/speed combination of Patrick Petersen, but there are a few who show better lateral agility and easier hips. I could see 4 or 5 prospects taken in the first round of the 2012 draft.
1. Robert Lester, Jr, Alabama, 6’2 206 – He shows good range and ball skills; able to cover the deep half. Lester is also willing to attack in run support. Had 8 interceptions as a first year starter in 2010.
2. Ray Ray Armstrong, Jr, Miami (FL), 6’4 220 – An aggressive strong safety who plays like a linebacker, Armstrong flashes very good closing burst in his tackling. Has good playing speed for his size, he should be even better this year.
3. T.J. McDonald, Jr, USC, 6’3 205 – McDonald has great size and playing strength for the position. He rarely misses tackles when the play is in front of him. Reliable in the box or in back end coverage.
4. Mark Barron, Sr, Alabama, 6’2 210 – Good size and playing strength, Barron is physical in run support and can cover tight ends underneath when necessary. Has produced 10 interceptions the past two seasons.
5. Janzen Jackson, Jr, Tennessee, 6’0 187 – Jackson has very good speed the cover the field and has made noticeable improvements in coverage the past two seasons. Has the ability to play cornerback effectively; high upside talent.
Players to Watch: Tony Dye, Sr, UCLA, 5’11 205, Eddie Whitley, Sr, Virginia Tech, 6’1 195, Delano Howell, Sr, Stanford 5’11 200, Lance Mitchell, Sr, Oregon State, 6’2 208
Comments: This draft class has the potential to be better than last seasons if every player progresses as expected from last year. There’s plenty of talent but most of the top prospects are underclassmen. The value of this class will largely depend on the amount of junior prospects that declare. Lester, Armstrong, and McDonald are underclassmen with first round ability.