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Senior defenders: Top prospects by position

by | The Sports Xchange/

With one month of the 2010 season in the books, NFLDraftScout has updated its draft board to reflect the current draft value of the top senior prospects in the 2011 draft.

There have been movers in both directions, and there's more jockeying for position to be done before offseason all-star games and workouts help separate the projects from the prospects.

Most of the players who showed promise in 2009 have continued to impress scouts this season. But a few -- West Virginia CB Brandon Hogan, Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus -- have dropped due to off-field issues and injuries. A few others are on the cusp of falling out of the top five at their positions.

Cameron Heyward flashed some of his skills in Ohio State's big win over Miami. (US Presswire)  
Cameron Heyward flashed some of his skills in Ohio State's big win over Miami. (US Presswire)  
Others pushed themselves into the top tier of prospects with strong starts to the 2010 season. Cal DE Cameron Jordan, LSU DT Drake Nevis, Auburn MLB Josh Bynes, Washington OLB Mason Foster are a few of the players earning high grades for their September play.

Of course, the biggest off-field story of the college football season also affected these rankings. Several prospects from the ballyhooed North Carolina defense have been spectators to date because of an NCAA investigation into their dealings with agents. Cornerbacks Kendric Burney and Charles Brown and safeties Da'Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams are among those who have not played, while top-rated junior defensive end Robert Quinn is also not yet eligible.

Suspensions were recently handed down for Burney (six games, including the two he has already missed) and Williams (two more games to fill out his four-game suspension). Others continue to await their fate.

It still appears unlikely these suspensions will have a significant negative impact on the elite players' draft stock. They made poor decisions taking money or in-kind gifts from agents, but teams will probably forgive their trespasses -- as long as they get back on the field and play at or near the level they did in 2009.

Note that these rankings will continue to fluctuate during the season because of injuries and great (or poor) performances. The regular season is the jumping-off point for the formation of rankings before the introduction of underclassmen into the fray, postseason all-star games, February's scouting combine and two months of campus pro days.

As was the case with our preseason rankings, expect more shuffling as the draft nears.

Top five by position: Player/School/Height/Weight/Speed/Proj. Round.


1. Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) 6-0/200/4.49/1
Size, speed, physicality, fluid hips and great hands as a former wide receiver -- that's a top-10 pick.

2. Ras-I Dowling (Virginia) 6-2/200/4.54/1-2
A preseason hamstring injury kept him off the field until last week, but his height, long arms and hands make him difficult to beat downfield.

3. Curtis Brown (Texas) 6-0/180/4.42/2
Has only average size and physicality, but has good quickness and can extend to make the interception.

4. Jimmy Smith (Colorado) 6-2/205/4.49/2
Prototypical size and better speed than expected, Smith is being coached up by Ashley Ambrose in Boulder.

5. Davon House (New Mexico State) 6-0/190/4.46/2-3
Not as polished as former WAC/Boise State CB Kyle Wilson but matches up with tall receivers and could be a starter with NFL coaching.

Defensive end

1. Cameron Heyward (Ohio State) 6-5/285/4.92/1
Strong five-technique/inside pass rusher had his Ndamukong Suh moment when dropping into coverage and returning an interception 80 yards against Miami.

2. Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) 6-3/286/4.79/1
Going up against left tackles, he brings constant pressure by using leverage and strong hands off the edge.

3. Allen Bailey (Miami, Fla.) 6-4/288/4.79/1
Like Heyward, he looks to project nicely as 3-4 defensive end (12 tackles, three for loss, one sack).

4. Cameron Jordan (California) 6-4/285/4.85/1-2
Another excellent 3-4 prospect, Jordan is consistently pushing the pocket and playing strong against the run. He could shoot to the top of this list by season's end.

5. Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue) 6-4/263/4.82/1-2
The nation's leader in tackles for loss combines strength and hustle to be a pass rusher in the Aaron Kampman mold.

Defensive tackle

1. Stephen Paea (Oregon State) 6-2/310/4.98/1-2
His lack of size and experience might keep him from going too high up boards, but his hustle and strength are formidable.

2. Marvin Austin (North Carolina) 6-3/310/4.9/1-2
Can be very disruptive in the middle, but his preemptive suspension by Butch Davis can't be good for his reputation in the eyes of the "character conscious" NFL.

3. Drake Nevis (LSU) 6-1/292/5.04/2
Smallish interior player with a great motor, proving he's ready to take on the leadership role up front this season.

4. Jerrell Powe (Ole Miss) 6-2/328/5.16/2
Powe has not been a dominant player this season, but still has the strength to be a starting NFL nose tackle.

5. Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson) 6-4/315/4.98/2-3
Bullish tackle can play tall but he is capable of penetrating after the snap and disengaging to make plays.

Free safety

1. Quinton Carter (Oklahoma) 6-1/195/4.57/2-3
Fighting Williams for the top spot of a weak group, Carter brings big hits, solid athleticism and ball skills to the position.

2. Deunta Williams (North Carolina) 6-1/210/4.53/3
Still out of action for the Tar Heels, Williams hasn't been able to replicate his six-interception '09 season.

3. Jaiquawn Jarrett (Temple) 6-0/197/4.57/3-4
Underrated first-team All-MAC defender with a good mix of tackling and coverage ability.

4. Jermale Hines (Ohio State) 6-2/215/4.59/4
Played closer to the line for the Buckeyes as a junior, but seems to be handling deep coverage responsibilities this season.

5. Tejay Johnson (TCU) 6-0/208/4.56/5
Can be a big hitter and is also a reliable tackler -- the traits can be mutually exclusive -- for one of the top defenses in the country.

Inside linebacker

1. Greg Jones (Michigan State) 6-1/235/4.64/1-2
Jump-started his season with two interceptions and forced fumble against FCS foe Northern Colorado.

2. Quan Sturdivant (North Carolina) 6-2/235/4.63/2
Instinctive defender who has played inside and outside for the Tar Heels, did not miss any games due to the NCAA probe.

3. Kelvin Sheppard (LSU) 6-2/245/4.64/2-3
Another versatile inside/outside defender without great size; he's a factor against the run and can jump into passing lanes.

4. Colin McCarthy (Miami, Fla.) 6-3/235/4.67/3
A strong leader in the middle who is second on the 'Canes with 21 tackles, including three for loss.

5. Josh Bynes (Auburn) 6-2/235/4.78/3-4
Explosive tackler against the run, finds gaps and makes running backs pay for trying to get through them.

Outside linebacker

1. Bruce Carter (North Carolina) 6-3/230/4.57/1
Exceptional athlete who could be a star as a 3-4 rush linebacker at the next level.

2. Von Miller (Texas A&M) 6-2/232/4.56/1-2
Not playing at 100 percent due to an ankle injury, Miller has no sacks yet this season.

3. Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma) 6-3/260/4.74/1-2
The future NFL 3-4 linebacker's hustle and strength puts him among FBS leaders in tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (4.5).

4. Mark Herzlich (Boston College) 6-4/245/4.75/2
Beating cancer is a great story, but his continuing to play well while getting into game shape is what gets him a top grade.

5. Mason Foster (Washington) 6-2/240/4.73/2-3
Last year, former Husky Donald Butler was selected in the third round. Foster's athleticism and production could push him even further.

Strong safety

1. DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson) 6-0/215/4.54/1-2
His ability to play in the box and make the high-point interception (just ask Auburn) gives him the overall skill set to be a top 40 pick.

2. Ahmad Black (Florida) 5-10/190/4.51/3
Some doubt his ability to start in the NFL because of his corner-like size, but he will create turnovers.

3. Shiloh Keo (Idaho) 5-11/216/4.62/3-4
Intense player who is all over the field, hammers ball-carriers and is an effective punt returner despite average speed.

4. Nate Williams (Washington) 6-0/218/4.59/4-5
In-the-box safety with a linebacker mentality, Williams will be a starter in the right system.

5. Joe Lefeged (Rutgers) 6-0/205/4.58/5
Lays the wood over the middle, makes quarterbacks regret overthrows, returns kicks and has two blocked kicks this year.


1. K Kai Forbath (UCLA) 5-11/192/4.78/5
The 2009 Lou Groza Award winner (28 of 31 FG) is only 1 of 3 from 49 yards and out this season.

2. P Ryan Donahue (Iowa) 6-2/190/4.90/6
Has a big leg (46.3 average this year) but needs to speed up his delivery, get more consistent hang time and decrease his touchbacks (five in 15 punts).

3. K Alex Henery (Nebraska) 6-2/175/4.87/6-7
Only has two field-goal attempts (making both) because of a prolific offense, but showed promise hitting 24 of 28 last year.

4. P Chas Henry (Florida) 6-3/220/4.85/6-7
Averaging 45.5 yards a punt this year, and has a 54-12 ratio of punts inside the 20 against touchbacks.

5. K Josh Jasper (LSU)5-10/170/5.06/7-FA
Doesn't have a huge leg, but has not missed a field goal since Week 1, going 9 for 9 including a 49-yarder against West Virginia.


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