For draft fanatics like myself, the minute this draft over, you start to look toward the next year. Here is my 2011 Mock Draft for next year. But instead of trying to predict where teams will be picking, I’ll just rank players based off their potential to where they could be drafted. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. There are many rising seniors and juniors I have not seen play that are top players, but this is based off my own observations. This appears to be set up for another year where the junior class makes up the bulk of the top half.
1. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (Senior)
Locker has all the tools to be a top quarterback. Frankly, if he makes significant improvement this year with another year under Steve Sarkisian, I might be willing to consider him the greatest quarterback prospect I’ve ever seen. Now I must qualify that is that I’ve only been paying attention since 2001. The reason for that is the amount of improvement Locker has shown since his freshman year where he completed only 47% of his passes and had 14:15 TD-INT ratio and was more like Eric Crouch as a running quarterback. This past year, that number was 58% and 21:11. If he can get that number up to around 65% and 30:10, then that sort of improvement is uncanny. Locker still trusts his legs a bit too much, but if he gets to a point where he trusts his arm to a similar level, he’ll be as good a prospect as any franchise QB to come out since Peyton Manning, if not better.
2. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas (Junior)
He has room to grow but with his size (6-6/240) and big arm, he has all the tools that NFL scouts love. He plays in Arkansas spread offense, unlike the pro style system that Locker employs, so that can hurt his stock. But for a second team looking for a big-armed and talented at the top of the draft could have their eyes set on Mallett.
3. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama (Junior)
Many compare Ingram to Emmitt Smith, and with his vision, burst, and power, it makes sense. The Heisman winner will have a target on his back from defenses this season, and from NFL scouts, so his stock could dip by next April. But if he can stay healthy, one imagines he’ll be considered a top back going into 2011.
4. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin (Senior)
Carimi is another solid Big Ten tackle. He probably isn’t a great prospect, but he has good size (6-7/325), strength, and ability as a run blocker. He’s probably not quite the athlete most teams look for in a top offensive tackle prospect, but until someone emerges from this class, he looks to be near the top.
5. Don’ta Hightower, ILB, Alabama (Junior)
He’ll presumably slide in the spot vacated by Rolando McClain. He was injured for much of last year, but in some early games actually outplayed McClain. If he can continue that this year then he stands a good chance to be a Top 10 pick like his ex-teammate. If you project his production from his 4 appearances last year to a full 14-game season, he would have had 56 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks.
6. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU (Junior)
Peterson is a top prospect with good size (6-1/210) and playmaking ability as LSU’s most feared defender. He has a tendency to gamble and play undisciplined, but if he can play at a more consistent level he has the physical tools and production to be the heir apparent to Joe Haden as the SEC’s and the 2011 draft’s top corner.
7. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (Junior)
The big wideout (6-4/210) for Alabama will have a chance to explode this junior year with defenses keying on Ingram. Jones has been an impact receiver ever since he stepped on the field at Alabama two years ago, but will need to play consistently at a high level this year. He’ll need to improve his production (43 catches, 4 TDs) to be considered an elite prospect.
8. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia (Junior)
Another player like Jones that hit the ground running when he first arrived at Georgia as a freshman. He also has excellent size (6-4/205), but has a bit thinner of a build than Jones. The SEC should be interesting this year as both vie for the potential top wideout in the class.
9. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina (Junior)
Quinn flashes elite potential as a pass rusher in some games, and in others looks okay. To rise up draft boards next year he’ll need to do more of the former (11 sacks last year). With his frame (6-5/255) he has the potential to be both appealing to 4-3 and 3-4 teams.
10. Mark Barron, FS, Alabama (Junior)
Barron has the potential to be regarded similarly to Eric Berry this past year and has elite safety potential. He can work at cornerback, and has good size (6-2/215) and ability in run support. He has the potential to develop as a complete safety as NFL scouts always scour Nick Saban’s defense for pro prospects. He had 7 picks last year.
11. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA (Junior)
Ayers has the athleticism and size (6-4/250) that 3-4 teams covet. He needs to get better in coverage, but is simply a playmaker. In the final four games of last year, he had 30 tackles, 4 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions. If he can produce on a comparable level throughout the entire season, he could solidify himself as a Top 10 pick.
12. Allen Bailey, DE/DT, Miami (Senior)
Bailey is a stellar athlete that was still growing into his position last season. He played both end and tackle for the Hurricanes. Teams will love his size (6-4/290), athleticism, and ability to fit in any scheme at the next level whether it’s as an end or tackle. He had 7 sacks last season.
13. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech (Sophomore)
He’s probably a bit under the radar because he’s only a redshirt sophomore, but Williams had a huge year for the Hokies finishing fifth in the nation with 1,655 yards and tied for third with 21 touchdowns. If he were to have comparable production again as a sophomore, he could challenge Ingram as the top back in the class. He is an explosive runner that offers a lot of power for his size (5-10/205).
14. Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina (Senior)
Along with several other juniors at UNC, Carter decided to stay for his senior year. Carter is an impressive athlete, that has good speed, range, and hits like a mack truck. He needs to show better instincts, awareness, and consistency, but if he makes the necessary improvements 4-3 teams will covet him.
15. Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma (Junior)
Lewis has been an impact player on OU’s defense for two years now, and is a rangy, speedy guy that makes plays all over the field. He could use some improvement in coverage, and his production dropped a bit as a sophomore, but if it rebounds to the level he showed as a freshman (144 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions), then he’ll be a high pick when he chooses to come out.
16. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA (Junior)
He’s a ballhawk that led the nation in interceptions (10), and if he continues to produce on that level he’ll rise up the boards more. Doesn’t have great size (6-1/195) but with his production in coverage, that didn’t really hurt people like Earl Thomas this past year.
17. Cameron Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio State (Senior)
Heyward is your classic fit in a 3-4 scheme at the next level. He is a high motor player with good size (6-6/285) and excellent strength, that I’m sure will remind some teams of Richard Seymour. He has the potential to be a Top 10 pick, but will likely depend on whether there is a 3-4 team at the top of the draft.
18. Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska (Junior)
He was the linemate of Ndamukong Suh this past year that had high production (9.5 sacks). If he can maintain a high level of production now that he’ll be the guy that is double teamed instead of Suh, then NFL teams will like his potential. He probably projects more as a 3-4 end at this point with his frame (6-6/285), but could be a good pass rushing tackle.
19. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina (Senior)
Austin has been a highly-touted prospect that is a bit overrated. But teams love his size (6-3/305), athleticism and strength. But he’s not developed into a consistent impact playmaker like other recent top tackles. But if the light does go on this year, then he can shoot up the boards as a potential Top 5 pick. Right now, he probably projects better in a two-gap scheme.
20. DeAndre McDaniel, SS, Clemson (Senior)
McDaniel had as many picks as Earl Thomas a year ago (8). He has good size (6-1/210) and is good in run support. He has the potential to challenge if not surpass Mark Barron as the top safety in next year’s class, and is light years ahead of the rest of the senior class.
21. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State (Senior)
He’s a bit lost in the shuffle among the quarterbacks, but with a good year can rise up boards as teams are always looking for smart, accurate quarterbacks with a good arm like Ponder. His season was sidetracked by an injury last year. But if he’s healthy this year and produces, he could be the best QB to come out of the ACC since Matt Ryan if not better.
22. Quan Sturdivant, OLB, North Carolina (Senior)
Sturdivant plays in the middle for the TarHeels, but is miscast in that role as he’s a natural weakside linebacker. The few times he got reps there last year he was a force. He has great speed, range, and together with Bruce Carter gives UNC a pair of head hunting linebackers.
23. Orlando Franklin, OG/OT, Miami (Senior)
Franklin is a massive (6-7/320) that will be making the switch to left tackle. He got reps there in the bowl game this past year, and didn’t look bad. With his size, athleticism, and ability to play both inside and outside, he could be reminiscent of a past Hurricane prospect named Vernon Carey.
24. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame (Junior)
With the departure of Golden Tate, Rudolph stands a chance to improve his production in the redzone (3 TDs last year). His size (6-6/260), speed, and athleticism, along with soft hands make a guy that projects very well to the NFL level.
25. Greg Little, WR, North Carolina (Senior)
Little is a former running back that moved full-time to wide receiver last year. His size (6-2/215), strength as a runner, and athleticism are very reminiscent of Hakeem Nicks. With most NFL scouts heading to Chapel Hill to check out the defensive prospects, he stands a chance to open their eyes if he can improve on his production (62 catches, 5 TDs).
26. James Carpenter, OT, Alabama (Senior)
There are several mid-round tackle prospects that could jump up into the first round as teams scour the nation for the best options after Carimi. I picked Carpenter because of his size (6-5/305), his stature playing at Alabama, and the fact that he can be a devastating blocker at times. Teams love left tackles that can run block, something Carpenter does well. If he can show that he can pass protect at a high level as well this year, then he can shoot up boards.
27. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson (Junior)
NFL teams tend to covet ends with his size (6-4/280) and athleticism. The key with him will be improving his production as he only has 4 career sacks. But if he could produce more as a junior, he could catapult himself to a top pick.
28. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa (Senior)
Clayborn is super productive (11.5 sacks), but what hurt his NFL stock is the lack of ideal NFL measurables (6-3/280). But teams won’t be able to deny him if he continues to produce on a high level against quality Big Ten competition.
29. Mike Pouncey, OC, Florida (Senior)
Mike takes over for brother Maurkice’s duties at center this year. Like his brother, his size (6-5/320) and ability to play multiple spots inside will have scouts intrigued. It remains to be seen if he can play on a level that will have teams thinking he’s a better prospect than Maurkice, but the odds are in his favor that he’ll be a late first round pick regardless.
30. Jerrell Powe, DT, Ole Miss (Senior)
You can draw comparisons between Power and Terrence Cody. Powe is massive (6-2/340), but has done a better job keeping his weight under control, and if he continues to do that, unlike Cody he stands a much better chance to be a first round pick for a 3-4 team looking for a space eater at the nose.
31. Greg Jones, ILB, Michigan State (Senior)
Jones is hurt by his lack of ideal size (6-1/225). He plays middle linebacker at Michigan State, but is a productive player that can make play vs. the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher. If he can add some size and continue his production (154 tackles, 9 sacks) then he stands a good chance to be a top candidate on the inside for 3-4 teams as well as outside linebacker in the 4-3.
32. Josh Bynes, ILB, Auburn (Senior)
Bynes has the size (6-2/240) and speed that teams look for in a middle linebacker at the next level, and of course gets points from being from the SEC which steadily produces top NFL linebackers. Bynes problem is that he doesn’t always show great instincts, but if he can play consistently at a high level, then he stands a good chance to be selected in the first round.
Other Noteworthy Prospects
RB John Clay, Wisconsin (JR) A power back that draws comparisons to Beanie Wells, but like Wells has issues with durability.
RB Shane vereen, California (JR) He’ll take over for Jahvid Best. A bit undersized, but is a productive receiver and runner with big play potential just like Best.
RB Evan Royster, Penn State (SR) The top senior, but doesn’t have the burst and big play potential that scouts like in their first rounders.
RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (SR) Has never been able to stay healthy, and unless he disproves that he’ll have a hard time cracking the first round.
WR Austin Pettis, Boise State (SR) May have the best hands in the nation, but doesn’t have the big play potential that teams like in first rounders.
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh (JR) Has the size (6-5/225) teams look for in top wideouts, but perhaps not the burst and speed.
WR Ronald Johnson, USC (SR) Can rise up boards if he ably fills Damian Williams shoes as a playmaker.
WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (JR) Not very big (5-11/180) and will probably be limited as a slot reciver prospect, but is a game breaker as a receiver and return threat.
WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (JR) Injuries limited him this past year, but he’ll be counted on heavily as a playmaker in Brian Kelly’s offense.
WR Terrance Tolliver, LSU (SR) Has good combo of size (6-4/305) and speed that will have scouts intrigued.
TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee (SR) The top senior prospect is a good, athletic, receiver.
OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (SR) – A good left tackle, but isn’t as big as teams want in first rounds (6-7/295).
OT Nate Solder, Colorado (SR) Has the height (6-9) but not the bulk (305) that teams look for their top blockers.
OG Rodney Hudson, Florida (SR) Arguably better than any guard in this past year’s draft, his NFL prospects are hurt from less than ideal size (6-2/290). Might be asked to move to center on the next level.
OC Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State (SR) A good center with NFL bloodlines helps his cause.
OC Kris O’Dowd, USC (SR) Has experience playing both center and guard, which boosts his stock.
DE Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh (SR) Has good production but not always a consistent enough force to merit a top pick.
DT Phil Taylor, Baylor (SR) Lack of conditioning killed his stock last year, but if he’s in shape can be a dominant guy in the middle due to his size (6-4/355).
DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State (SR) A high-motor and disruptive player that his stock is limited due to his lack of size (6-1/290).
OLB Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma (SR) A productive pass rusher (11 sacks) that may not have the size (6-3/260) to stay on the defensive line.
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M (SR) He led the nation in sacks (17) and if he continues to produce at that level and bulk up some (6-2/240) then he’ll be a first rounder for a team looking for a 3-4 pass rusher.
ILB Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (SR) Any good linebacker for LSU will be on NFL radars. He’s a good run stopper with nice speed that could rise up boards.
CB Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech (SR) Hokie corners are always on NFL radars, and if he continues to produce (6 INTs), then he’ll be hard to keep out of the first round.
CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia (SR) Is a bit of a tweener with his size (6-2/200) and might move to safety at the next level like a Marlin Jackson.
CB Kendrick Burney, North Carolina (SR) Had 5 picks on a talent-laden UNC defense, but his lack of size (5-9/180) will limit his stock.
S Deunta Williams, North Carolina (SR) A productive starter (6 INTs) that is a good ballhawk that fits well as a Cover-2 safety at the next level.