With the regular season over and the Heisman being polished, some college football players are looking toward their NFL futures. As NFL teams jockey for position atop the Spring NFL Draft, let's see who's out there and where we think they'll land . . .
Mock It Up! Get After It!
Prince Amukamara, CB Nebraska I've watched some film on the Cornhusker senior and from what I've seen, I'm impressed. Amukamara is a bit undersized listed at 6'1", which I believe to be a stretch from watching him play opposite Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, who is also listed at 6'1". However, after re-watching his performance against Colt McCoy and Texas during the 2009 Big 12 Championship, he makes up for it. Amukamara is very quick and recovers extremely well, more so he's an excellent tackler. Playing under former LSU defensive coordinator and now current Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, Amukamara has learned to play top tier defense.
Who needs him most? The Dallas Cowboys are really in need of secondary help. Third-year cornerback Mike Jenkins has had an awful season and Terence Newman isn't getting any younger (32-years old, 8 seasons). If Prince is available in that 8-15 range, the Cowboys will have to consider him.
Patrick Peterson, CB LSU Hands down, Patrick Peterson should be the most coveted player in the 2011 NFL Draft. He's the anchor of a defense that held opponents to just 17 points a game. The LSU junior cornerback was most recently named to the 2010 Coaches Association All-American team, a team which includes the previously mentioned Amukamara, Air Force's Reggie Rembert, and Sooner Quinton Carter, all the nation's top defensive backs. Peterson has played against two of the top receivers in the country for the past two seasons in A.J. Green from Georgia and Julio Jones at Alabama, and played very well. Whether it's playing the run, blitzing off the edge, or squaring up against the top receivers, Peterson is phenomenal. Did I mention he's also an even scarier return man?!?
Who needs him most? The Detroit Lions need a player like Peterson in their secondary, and they'll have an opportunity to get him as one of the top three picks. Currently Detroit gives up close to 230 passing yards per game, however more alarming would be the average QB rating against them is 96.3!
Andrew Luck, QB Stanford He is and has been the best quarterback prospect in the country, even before Washington's Jake Locker took a step back in his senior season. With former 1,800-yard running back Toby Gerhart graduating, head coach Jim Harbaugh put more of the Stanford offense on Andrew Luck's shoulders in 2010, and Luck took advantage of it. In 2010 Luck increased his completion percentage by 13.9%, his passer rating by 22.63%, his touchdown total by 15, his attempts by 83, and his passing yards by almost 500. The 2010 Heisman Candidate is a prototypical NFL quarterback prospect. At 6'4", 235 lbs, Andrew Luck not only plays the part but he absolutely looks it. Over 3,000 yards passing in the regular season, Luck will take center stage in the Discover Orange Bowl against Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense, and NFL teams will get one more look the Stanford field general.
Who needs him most? Carson Palmer is done and the Cincinnati Bengals need Andrew Luck most, and a head coaching change. Luck has shown the ability to progress in an NFL style system at Stanford while being coached up by former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh. If the Bengals were to begin cleaning house and rebuilding, Luck would be the cornerstone.
Nick Fairley, DT Auburn With all the buzz around the Auburn Tiger offense that scores a mind numbing 43 points-per-game, people overlook a ferocious defense lead by 6'5", 295 lb. junior Nick Fairley. With 10.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss, Nick Fairley has dominated the SEC in 2010. I will admit that there is more than one instance of Fairley showing immaturity on the field whether it be late hits or the near brawl he almost caused against Georgia after driving his helmet through quarterback Aaron Murray, yet those could all be signs of an intensity with which he plays the game. Fairley is one of these guys who should impress people during combine season, he's got enough speed to move his near three-hundred pound frame right into the backfield causing havoc for defensive coordinators. Giving the success of Ndamukong Suh in Detroit, teams will be more likely to draft a player with nearly the same physical dimensions.
Who needs him most? The Buffalo Bills are the worst team in the NFL against the run. Giving up 170-rushing yards per is a massive problem, exactly what Fairley can help improve. Against Alabama this season, Fairley and the Auburn defense held Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram to just 60 yards on 20 carries combined!
Da'Quan Bowers, DE Clemson The ACC Defensive Player of The Year, a first team Coaches Association All-American, Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, Da'Quan Bowers is one dominant defensive player. Recording 16 sacks in his junior season, Bowers broke out. While his inconsistency over his first several years at Clemson is concerning, his speed off the edge as a pass rusher can't be overlooked. I had the pleasure of watching Bowers play in person against Boston College and it's tough to not cue in on Bowers applying pressure to the quarterback and making the running back find his hole even quicker than normal. He's got size and speed that remind me of Indianapolis Colts pass rushing monster Dwight Freeney.
Who needs him most? The Carolina Panthers once drafted an elite Carolina born defensive end who anchored their defense for eight seasons. Now with Julius Peppers gone, the Carolina born Da'Quan Bowers could be the answer to bringing back a defense that currently allows nearly 340 yards per game.
Marcell Dareus, DT Alabama The 'Bama defensive tackle is tailor made for the NFL and has been since last season. Dareus runs a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, for a guy with a 300 lb. frame that's impressive. However, even with the All-SEC honors and being part of a top ranked defense for at least two seasons, Dareus has character issues. Suspended for the first two games this season due to NCAA infractions, Dareus took a while to get going. For a player who jumped out front and center during the National Championship game a season ago, taking two games off then another two to get going, wasn't exactly what scouts were looking for from Dareus. All things considered, the guy gets after the quarterback which is something every team in NFL needs.
Who needs him most? Whatever the Denver Broncos decide to do with their head coaching vacancy, they've got their work cut out for them. Allowing a head coach with no experience to trade away your frachise quarterback and all-pro receiver is your own fault. Build up your defense by adding Dareus and getting Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil to come back form injury. It's a solid move.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE Purdue The Purdue senior is a very, very good football player and he's about as strong a football player as you're going to draft in 2011. Kerrigan is a 6'4", nearly 270 lb. defensive end who stuffs the run in the Big 10 conference. His most impressive game this past season had to be against Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines, a game which saw Kerrigan record 10 solo tackles and sacking Robinson four times while holding him to just over 3 yards per carry. I expect Kerrigan to be a lock high-first round selection given he picks up his speed during combine week. No questions about character, a three-year starter who got a ton of time as a freshman, teams love seniors who have played at a high level throughout their career in the collegiate ranks.
Who needs him most? The Seattle Seahawks went out and got their offensive tackle last season and their linebacker the previous season, time to bolster their defensive line. I like Kerrigan for Seattle, he adds to a defense that is developing a bunch of young talent and adding Kerrigan would certainly continue that trend. Defense is the side of the ball Seattle needs to work on through the draft, 28th isn't good enough for a team playing in the NFC West.
Cam Newton, QB Auburn I'm including the future Heisman Trophy winner, (we'll see on Saturday) just because I actually think he can play in the NFL. A couple things come into play here with Newton:  I gave Sam Bradford no shot in the NFL during pre-draft discussions, so I'm not going to be as hard on Cam Newton.  We've given everyone a shot in this league in 2010, from Rusty Smith of Florida Atlantic to John Skelton of Fordham, we can give Newton the benefit of the doubt.  Tell me the difference between Vince Young and Cam Newton when they played at the collegiate level? Haven't we always said that if Vince could get his head straight he could produce at a high level in this league? Look, Cam Newton is a game changer from what we've seen, I do believe with a quality running game and receivers who can go up and get the ball, Newton can duplicate some of the same success that he has experienced this season early in his career.
Who needs him most? The Arizona Cardinals would be an interesting fit for Cam Newton. I think Ken Whisenhunt wouldn't mind a young athletic quarterback that he can move outside the pocket and find Larry Fitzgerald down the field. If Beanie Wells can stay healthy the Cardinals could have a core of young talent that can take the NFC West by storm. Who wouldn't want to see battles between Newton & Bradford for the next six years in that division? I think it's an interesting fit.
Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State After watching Dez Bryant on Dallas and Blackmon at Oklahoma State, I'm convinced he and Blackmon are the same person. Justin Blackmon is a big, physical wideout that goes up and takes the ball away from defensive backs. He's the only receiver who seemed to get the best of Nebraska All-American Prince Amukamara, that's because he's physically imposing. Again though, he's got the character issues people were concerned about with Bryant which also made him drop in the first round. Let's take a peak at the numbers for a second; The Oklahoma State receiver caught 18 touchdown passes this season, 1,665 yards, averages 16.3 yards per catch, and make no mistake about it, dominated the Big 12. In every game he played this season, he caught a touchdown pass. However, getting arrested mid-season for DUI isn't exactly the way to impress NFL onlookers.
Who needs him most? The Cleveland Browns would be a very good fit. Immediately Justin Blackmon would add to an offense that has had it's share of success this season with running back Peyton Hillis. I've also got to think that the Browns want to surround Colt McCoy with as much talent as they can, if he's their quarterback of the future, why would they wait? With Joe Thomas already a great left tackle in the NFL, the success of Hillis, Josh Cribbs, and even Mohamed Massaquoi, wouldn't Blackmon be a great addition to an emerging offense?!?
Ryan Mallett, QB Arkansas Now hold on, I'm not a Mallett fan. For some reason I believe he screams myth. Against LSU, Auburn, and Mississippi, Mallett completed no more than 13 passes in each of those games. Then again he has put together two straight seasons of 30 touchdowns and 3,500+ yards passing, which is more than eye opening. With more than one team in desperate need of a franchise quarterback, the numbers Mallett has put up are going to look really enticing. Allow me to caution teams on another Bobby Petrino product: Brian Brohm, who showed similar production at the collegiate ranks and has yet to get an opportunity in the NFL.
Who needs him most? Tennessee Titans or San Francisco 49ers really need a starting quarterback. Troy Smith isn't the guy in San Francisco and Tennessee really has to make a decision on Jeff Fisher or Vince Young, if they stick with Fisher which is what they should do, then he needs a quarterback he can coach up and rely on week in and week out. San Francisco could be moving toward a coaching change which is the perfect time to bring in your quarterback, like Ravens, Falcons, Lions, and Rams have all successfully done as of late.
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