With Andrew Luck preparing for his redshirt junior season rather than Stanford's pro day, the door is still open for seven or eight prospects to make a run at the No. 1 overall pick in April held by the Carolina Panthers.
The picture didn't get significantly clearer at the scouting combine. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson remains NFLDraftScout.com's No. 1-rated prospect after running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at 6-feet, 219 pounds. That still might not be enough to convince the Panthers to spend the top pick on a cornerback.
With a rookie wage scale almost certain to be part of the new collective bargaining agreement -- whenever it comes to pass -- teams won't be taking such an enormous financial gamble at the top of the draft. That will place even more value on certain positions.
Post-combine, quarterbacks inevitably rise leading up to the draft. Missouri's Blaine Gabbert was the only quarterback to skip the throwing sessions in Indianapolis, but remains NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated quarterback, and Auburn's Cam Newton remains this class' most polarizing figure.
The overriding theme during the opening round will again be the influx of underclassmen talent, which places a premium on the ability of NFL personnel to project raw talent. Six of the top seven overall prospects as rated by NFLDraftScout.com left school a year -- or two -- early.
Here is a closer look at the top 64 prospects following the combine.
Top 64 capsules
Rating, Player, Pos, College, Ht, Wt, Projected Round
1. *Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU, 6-1, 212, 1
The 2010 Jim Thorpe Award winner patterns his game after Charles Woodson, with whom he kept in touch during the Green Bay Packers' run to the Super Bowl XLV title. Like the fourth overall pick by the Raiders in 1998, Peterson leaves college with a truckload of accolades and the potential to be a shutdown cornerback in the NFL. One of the traits Peterson admires about Woodson is his versatility, and the former LSU star prides himself on the ability as a big, physical cover man with dynamic return skills. Peterson had 42 tackles, six pass breakups and four interceptions as a junior, despite rarely being tested by opponents. He ran a 4.42 40 at the combine despite adding seven pounds (of muscle, in his words). The highest drafted cornerback in modern league history was Shawn Springs, who went third to Seattle in 1997.
2. *Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn, 6-4, 298, 1
Take his size and explosiveness and combine it with an outstanding junior season that resulted in the Lombardi Award, and Fairley has all the makings of the next Warren Sapp. But there's just enough under the hood to make NFL teams navigating the draft's top five hesitate before turning on the ignition. Fairley signed with the Tigers in 2009 after two years in junior college, including a redshirt. And while he flashed potential at the end of his first year on the Auburn campus, no one could anticipate the monster 2010 Fairley would turn in. Among his 60 tackles were 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, as he demonstrated an explosive burst off the ball and a knack for slicing through gaps. But Fairley's body of work is limited in time frame, and a reputation for cheap shots only grew during the national title game. But this former high school basketball has quick feet and a rare ability to provide an upfield rush from an interior lineman.
3. *Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson, 6-4, 275, 1
The last time the Carolina Panthers used a high pick on a nearby defensive product, it worked out -- North Carolina native Julius Peppers was No. 2 overall in 2002. Bowers could get the Panthers considering a second such dip into the Carolina draft waters. Bowers grew up in Bamberg, South Carolina, and was one of the nation's top recruits when he chose to stay close to home - following in the footsteps of Ricky Sapp and the late Gaines Adams as defensive ends from his high school to Clemson. After two less than stellar seasons, Bowers exploded onto the scene in 2010 with a nation-high 15.5 sacks to win the Bronko Nagurski and Ted Hendrick Awards and be named All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Still, Bowers might be stronger against the run than he is as a pass rusher. That versatility could draw interest from teams running 3-4 schemes. Bowers did have recent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his knee and won't run for scouts until his March 10 pro day.
4. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M, 6-3, 237, 1
The Butkus Award winner proved you can stay in school and earn yourself money as a senior. After leading the country with 17 sacks as a junior, Miller put the NFL off for a year after the coaching staff cooked up a hybrid position called the "Joker" to take advantage of his versatility. He played through nagging injuries to still rack up 8.5 sacks. More important, Miller showed on film that he has the quickness to stay with running backs in coverage to go along with his exceptional pass-rushing ability. He continued to pile onto his body of work with a strong week at the Senior Bowl. What scouts don't see on film, they should pick up in interviews. Miller was quick to point out he can't compare himself to the late Derrick Thomas on the field, but told the Sacramento Bee that he plays with the same "fanatical effort."
5. *Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama, 6-3, 309, 1
Dareus is best known for the jarring hit that ended the career of former Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy in the 2009 BCS Championship Game. That was one of the last true impact plays Dareus made for the Crimson Tide, as he became the focal point of opponents with Terrence Cody, Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington moving on to the NFL. After serving a two-game suspension for accepting improper benefits from an agent, Dareus returned to post 33 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2010. But coach Nick Saban's 3-4 defense isn't about defensive linemen racking up big stats. Dareus can set his ample anchor into the ground and lock up interior running lanes, freeing others to make plays. And this isn't a youngster daunted by challenges. Dareus' father died when he was six, leaving him to live with others through much of his life, including an assistant coach in high school.
6. *Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina, 6-5, 268, 1
Quinn unfortunately first became a household name due to his involvement in the agent scandal that rocked the Tar Heels program in 2010. Suspended for the season, Quinn hasn't played a down of football since UNC's bowl game at the end of his sophomore season, but he still opted to leave the program as an expected Top 10 pick. His size and explosiveness have been evident since "El Roy" was part of a highly acclaimed recruiting class in 2008. He won a starting job by the second game of his freshman season and went on to win the ACC's Brian Piccolo Award winner as the league's most courageous picture. It's a stark contrast to the player who got caught up in the agent mess last summer. Most important to NFL teams will be Quinn's pre-draft interviews and his pre-suspension game film. He's raw, (doesn't turn 21 until May), but he's also a few pass-rush moves away from being a truly elite athlete who could even transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
7. *A.J. Green, WR, Georgia, 6-4, 212, 1
Green doesn't take long to make an impression. As a freshman, he led the Bulldogs with 56 receptions for 963 yards and eight touchdowns. After a slight dip during a banged-up sophomore season, Green was then suspended for the first four games of 2010 for selling his Independence Bowl jersey. No matter, he fired out of the gates when he became eligible to average 96.4 receiving yards and more than a touchdown per game. In just three seasons, in which he missed seven games, Green leaves Georgia ranked second with 23 career touchdown catches. For NFL teams looking for red flags and stuck on the suspension, Green was voted team MVP after last season. What they should focus on is his combination of size, speed and incredible hands, which he uses to slap away defenders who try to press him at the line and to pluck balls away from those trying to reach over his long arms.
8. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska, 6-0, 205, 1
A star high school running back, basketball player and track athlete in Arizona, Amukamara (ah-MOO-kuh-mare-uh) at one time regretted his decision to join the Cornhuskers instead of Fresno State or Arizona State. He was a dual threat as the state high school player of the year by the Arizona Republic, but had his heart set on playing running back and considered transferring when the coaching staff asked him to focus on defense. But everything changed when new coach Bo Pelini arrived and returned the Blackshirts to national prominence. Amukamara is big, physical and not afraid to get his jersey dirty in run support. The consensus All-American closed his career with 59 tackles and 13 pass breakups in 2010, but didn't intercept any passes. His speed will also be questioned after lapses against Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon last October. But Amukamara has the size, strength and speed to be an elite press-cover corner, and can contribute immediately with his special-teams acumen.
9. *Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri, 6-5, 235, 1
Plenty of signs pointed toward the Missouri native sticking with the Tigers for his senior season. Then he tore up Iowa for 284 passing yards in the first half en route to MU bowl records of 41 completions in 57 attempts for 434 yards in the Insight Bowl. When Andrew Luck announced he was returning to Stanford, Gabbert jumped at the opportunity to be the likely top prospect in an underwhelming quarterback class. Touted as one of the best pro-style recruits in the country, Gabbert chose to stay in-state and succeed Chase Daniels in the Tigers' spread attack. The primary question will be whether Gabbert can make the transition to taking snaps from center. But there's no denying his size, quick release and arm strength. He can beat the Cover-2 with a tight spiral, and is a surprisingly good athlete on the move for his size.
10. *Julio Jones, WR, Alabama, 6-4, 220, 1
Jones tore up the combine, besting Green in most every category -- and then it was learned he did it with a fracture in his foot. Jones will have surgery to have a screw inserted in his foot, and will reportedly require an eight-week recovery period. However, he's expected to be ready in time for training camp, and his draft status shouldn't be greatly affected. Rated as the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the country by most recruiting services coming out of high school, Jones made a calculated gamble to stay in-state and join the Crimson Tide's run-first offense. It paid off with a national title and a stamp on Alabama's record book despite coach Nick Saban's reliance on the ground game. Jones leaves Tuscaloosa with the team's single-season record for catches (78) and receiving yards (1,133), and he's second all-time with 179 career receptions for 2,653 yards in 40 starts. Jones is blessed with excellent size and strength, and he'll mix it up as a blocker in the ground game. But to challenge Green for the top receiver selected, he'll have to show more consistent hands than he did in college. Jones will make the highlight reel grab, but he needs better concentration to haul in the routine reception before kicking it into gear with his excellent running ability after the catch.
11. *Cam Newton, QB, Auburn, 6-6, 250, 1
Opinions on Newton personally and athletically spark debate almost as heated as the BCS. Built like a quicker, faster version of Ben Roethlisberger, Newton has an easy smile on and off the field that helped him weather an NCAA investigation into whether his father tried to sell his recruitment coming out of Blinn Junior College, where he won the 2009 NJCAA National Championship. Auburn was actually his third college. He started off at Florida, but was stuck behind Tim Tebow and transferred. Newton was also suspended in 2008 after being arrested for allegedly stealing a laptop computer. One of Newton's most impressive qualities has been his ability to brush aside the off-field distractions and continue winning football games. He passed for 2,874 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2010, and added 1,474 yards on 20 more scores on the ground. He'll have to prove he can take snaps from center, set up properly and read NFL defensive schemes, but Newton has an undeniably tantalizing upside. And if he puts it all together, it will be Newton to whom people begin comparing Tebow.
12. Cameron Jordan, DE, California, 6-4, 287, 1
This Chandler, Ariz., native is exactly what Smith isn't -- a productive four-year starter with proven size, strength and consistency who can jump right in and help an NFL team in a 3-4. While his ceiling might not be as high, Jordan impressed with his ability to remain productive as a senior even with 2010 first-round pick Tyson Alualu moving on to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He posted career highs in tackles (62) and tackles for loss (12.5), despite his primary job being to occupy blockers in the running game. And Jordan has a good mentor in his transition to the NFL. His father, Steve, played for Brown and went on to be a six-time Pro Bowl player in a 13-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings.
13. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College, 6-7, 305, 1
When he hangs up his cleats, this Rhodes Scholar nominee as a biochemistry major has aspirations of curing cancer. So he's hardly going to get tripped up trying to learn NFL blocking schemes. That's a good thing, too, because Castonzo might have to try a few different positions before settling in at the next level. Castonzo lacks great strength, and improved when he moved to the left side as a senior and didn't have to deal with power ends as often. Some teams will project him as a guard, where he was a willing participant but struggled at the Senior Bowl. But Castonzo will ultimately find his role. He has a long frame with good balance and quick feet, which were honed by starting a school-record 54 games as a three-time All-ACC pick.
14. *Tyron Smith, OT, Southern Cal, 6-5, 285, 1
Smith will be a bit of a blank canvas for his new offensive line coach. That's not a knock -- he has all the tools to emerge as an elite blind-side protector. The problem is, he has no significant experience at the position. He spent the past two seasons on the right side for the Trojans, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors as a junior, which proved to be his final season at USC. Smith is the 15th Trojan offensive or defensive lineman to win the Morris Trophy, the last being Charles Brown, who Smith backed up as a freshman. While he lacks the bulk teams look for on the right side, Smith has the size, balance and agility to ultimately prove to be the best offensive tackle in this class. He left the combine with a knee injury he was still rehabbing, which places a lot of importance on his pro day.
15. *Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama, 5-10, 215, 1
Ingram didn't arrive in Tuscaloosa as the most likely prospect to become the first Heisman Trophy winner in the storied history of the Crimson Tide. Rated a three- or four-star recruit by most services, he was certainly best known as the son of former New York Giants wide receiver Mark Ingram, Sr. But Mark Ingram, Jr. quickly made a name for himself as a freshman All-SEC pick as a prelude to his 2009 season in which he became the first running back since Tony Dorsett (Pittsburgh, 1976) to win the Heisman and a national title in the same season. Ingram is again overcoming critics who question his speed and how much of his 3,289 career yards and 5.75-yard-per carry average was due to an outstanding supporting cast. But those scouts trying too hard to find warts risk overlooking what so many productive NFL backs have in common, which are Ingram's vision, balance, burst and pure instincts for the game.
16. *Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri, 6-4, 258, 1
Gary Pinkel has done an excellent job of recruiting his backyard; if only he could convince some of his players destined for NFL stardom to stay in Columbia for another year. Smith joined Gabbert in declaring for the draft early, and is banking on NFL scouts drooling over his two years of game film at Missouri. A freshman All-America in 2009, Smith missed just three games with a fractured right leg last season and went on to record 48 tackles with 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. It's that toughness, along with an athletic frame with room to grow, that screams potential to be an elite pass rusher. But the history of the NFL Draft is also littered with raw pass-rushers who never lived up to the hype, so Smith will have to prove he's more Julian Peterson than Vernon Gholston or Aaron Maybin.
17. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, 6-3, 286, 1
Clayborn arrived in Iowa City as the 2005 Missouri Player of the Year as a tight end and linebacker who also was an accomplished basketball player. Suffice it to say, Clayborn is an excellent athlete. But he almost never got to put those skills to use on the athletic arena due to Erb's palsy, a nerve damage condition suffered during the birthing process that led doctors to advise Clayborn not to play contact sports in high school. The only damage when Clayborn has been on the field, however, has been to opposing quarterbacks. His best season came as a junior, when he had 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks among his 70 tackles. He lacked the same backfield presence in 2010, and the question for scouts will be whether he simply gutted it out through nagging injuries or truly lacks an explosive first step.
18. *J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin, 6-6, 292, 1
Leaving Madison early for the NFL wasn't an easy decision for Watt, who broke down in tears after Wisconsin's loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl and wrote an open letter to Badger fans in announcing he would forgo his senior season. Watt's stock is soaring after a junior year in which he routinely blew up opposing backfields, finishing third in the country with 21.0 tackles for loss to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. Watt reminds many NFL scouts of former Nebraska star Adam Carriker, who earned a first-round selection as a relentless pass rusher who can play inside or outside. But that comparison could also hurt Watt, who might be seen as a tweener with a great motor but not quite enough athleticism to beat NFL pass blockers or speed to track down faster ball carriers.
19. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado, 6-8, 314, 1
Tough to say who would be more intimidated by Solder - opposing defensive ends, or friends who see his 6-8, 314-pound frame barreling down a river in a kayak. The Colorado native enjoys a wide variety of outdoor activities, in addition to being a fairly accomplished artist. It would be difficult to classify his work on the football field as artistry, but he is an excellent athlete and excels in pass protection. And he's still learning the nuances of the position after spending his first two years on campus as a tight end. Solder started every game over the past three seasons, including playing all 847 snaps in his All-America senior season while grading out at 90 percent or higher in 11 of 12 games. Solder does have a bit of a slight frame, but should be able to add a few pounds without affecting his athleticism.
20. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin, 6-7, 315, 1-2
Unlike most first-round prospects, Carimi stuck around for five full years on campus after being a first-team all-state choice in Wisconsin on both sides of the ball as a high school senior. Carimi redshirted in 2006, then was handed the inglorious task of taking over for 2007 first-round pick Joe Thomas on the left side of the Badgers line. Carimi acquitted himself well, steadily improving to the point that he won the Outland Trophy as first-team All-American a senior. Carimi's drawback is that he'll likely have to move to right tackle, and therefore won't be as highly coveted as a top-tier left tackle come draft day. But he is a road-grader who could even be given a look at guard despite no experience at the position.
21. Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida, 6-4, 310, 1-2
After doing most everything with his twin brother growing up, Pouncey watched Maurkice leave Gainesville a year early and wind up as an All-Pro first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. To compound matters, Mike Pouncey was asked to slide over to center to fill in for his brother, and struggled mightily early in the 2010 season. He might not be able replicate Maurkice's incredible immediate success in the NFL, but Mike is a candidate to start for the next decade at any of the three interior line positions.
22. Jake Locker, QB, Washington, 6-2, 228, 1-2
A local hero credited with putting the Huskies back on the national radar, Locker returned to UW for his senior season despite the potential of being a top 10 overall pick last April. The goal was to continue to advance the Huskies program while becoming more pro-ready in his second season under the tutelage of coach Steve Sarkisian. Check mark for accomplishing the first goal, with Locker leading UW to its first bowl game since the 2002 season. But along the way, Locker failed to develop as a passer. It only takes one team to believe in Locker's immense athletic ability, which includes very good elusiveness and a big frame to finish off runs. But the film doesn't lie, and Locker continued to struggle with his accuracy on seam and out-routes at the Senior Bowl, although he did throw better at the combine.
23. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado, 6-2, 205, 1-2
It would have been difficult for Smith not to wind up on the gridiron after four of his brothers played in college. Smith was the only one to line up on the defensive side of the ball, and he's the only one staring at a potential first-round selection in the NFL draft. Green caught seven passes for 119 yards against Colorado in 2010, but Smith handled himself well in the matchup. His size allows him to be physical, and he often lined up against the opponent's biggest receiver. Smith allowed just 11 completions in man coverage the past two years, and finished his career with 183 tackles and 16 pass deflections.
24. *Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois, 6-0, 230, 1-2
Remaining in his home city to play college football appeared to be a poor choice for Leshoure early in his collegiate career. He suffered a broken jaw in a fight with a teammate in 2008 and was suspended for violating team rules in 2009. But the switch flipped last year; LeShoure was praised by coach Ron Zook for his improved maturity, which helped pave the way to a single-season school-record 1,697 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He helped the Illini to their first bowl victory since 1999 with 184 yards and three touchdowns in the Texas Bowl. He was also awarded the CFPA running back trophy, which is based on objective scientific rankings of how much an individual contributes to his team. But scouts don't need science to identify LeShoure's power to run between the tackles, vision to escape traffic and burst to rip off big chunks of yardage for a strong runner. He finished his career with 2,557 rushing yards, sixth-most in school history, and 28 touchdowns.
25. *Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA, 6-4, 255, 1-2
Ayers needs to prove he has as much substance as he does flash in order to be a first-round pick. After posting 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles as a sophomore, he turned in a career-high 68 tackles last season, although his impact plays dipped a bit. Ayers is blessed with excellent athleticism, which benefits him in coverage, and seems to enjoy the physicality of playing linebacker. The lone red flag is he too often bites on play-action and finds himself out of position, although he often displays the speed to recover.
26. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue, 6-4, 255, 1-2
Patrick Ryan Kerrigan is a Muncie, Ind. native who came to the Boilermakers as a mid-level recruit, and left with the nickname "Superman." That's what you get by earning the reputation of a tireless worker who consistently turns in game-changing plays. Among them was a Big Ten record 14 career forced fumbles to go along with 33.5 sacks and 57 tackles for loss. Kerrigan won't blow anyone away with his straight-line speed, but he uses hustle, excellent hands and good strength to live in opponents' backfields. He showed up to the Senior Bowl at 255 pounds and took part in outside linebacker drills, and could get a look from 3-4 teams seeking edge pass rushers.
27. Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State, 6-6, 312, 1-2
If Sherrod hears his name called among the top 32, it will be further validation that the 2006 Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year made the right choice in spurning offers Miami (Fla.), Michigan and Notre Dame. He would also become the first Bulldog selected in the first round since CB Walt Harris (Chicago) and WR Eric Moulds (Buffalo) in 1996. The odds are in Sherrod's favor because he's one of the few tackle prospects in this class with the potential to start immediately on the left or right side. The 2010 first-team All-SEC performer started 47 of 50 possible games during his career. The experience shows: he has some of the best recognition skills among blockers in this draft.
28. *Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois, 6-3, 300, 1-2
Pronounced "Legit," the Miami, Fla., native proved to be just that in Champaign after spurning offers from in-state powerhouses Florida State and Miami, along with LSU. A high school wrestler, that strength is evident on the field. But it took some time for Liuget to work his way up the depth chart and into a full-time starting role as a junior. He led the Illini with 12.5 tackles for loss in 2010 to go along with 4.5 sacks. It's that ability to provide an upfield pass rush along with his strength against the run that really intrigues NFL scouts. He has experience at a variety of spots along the interior of the line and will be considered closely by teams running 4-3 and 3-4 schemes.
29. *Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia, 6-3, 258, 1-2
Houston already has a leg up on some of his competition. Thanks to Georgia's scheme switch in 2010, he has a year of experience under his belt as a stand-up pass rusher. That provides real game film for scouts to review, rather than trying to project how undersized defensive ends will make the transition. The move worked for Georgia and Houston, who racked up 18.5 tackles for loss and finished second in the SEC behind Fairley with 10 sacks. The coaching staff credited Houston with 44 quarterback hurries, so he makes his presence known. However, he still has very limited experience dropping into coverage. For his career, Houston recorded 125 tackles with 20 sacks and 38 tackles for loss.
30. Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State, 6-5, 288, 1-2
The late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward was known as a punishing runner who had surprising agility for his size during 11 NFL seasons. His son possesses many of the same attributes on the defensive side of the ball. Cameron is strong enough to play the run inside and agile enough to display some pass-rush ability on the edge, but doesn't truly excel at either. He's also coming off a lackluster 2010 season, culminated by a hyperextended elbow suffered in the Sugar Bowl that ultimately required surgery.
31. *Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Fla.), 5-11, 195, 1-2
A good understanding of what offenses are trying to do is essential to playing cornerback with confidence. Of course, that has nothing to do with catching passes, and Harris dropped several interceptions during a rough freshman season in which he was thrown into the fire. But like any good cornerback, Harris has proven to have a short memory. He led the ACC with 15 passes defensed and picked off two passes as a full-time starter as a sophomore. By 2010, opponents largely stopped throwing his way, although Harris did have a rough bowl game against Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd. An excellent athlete, Harris is in his comfort zone in man-to-man coverage.
32. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State, 6-1, 295, 1-2
Paea is recovering from knee surgery, but that didn't stop him from hoisting 225 pounds a combine-record 49 times. He's another impressive, raw prospect who has made the most of his limited time on the gridiron. Born in Auckland, New Zealand as one of five children, Paea grew up in Tonga playing rugby, which he dreamed of returning to New Zealand to play professionally. When his family moved to the United States when Paea was 16, he wound up at Oregon State as a junior college transfer due to the school's Polynesian culture. Paea was a disruptive force for three years in Corvallis, and while he won't sniff the jersey of many quarterbacks, the wide-bodied run-stuffer is a two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10's most dominant defensive lineman.
33. *Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame, 6-6, 265, 1-2
The decision for prospects to leave school early often boils down to sizing up the competition. Seeing a relatively weak class of tight ends, Rudolph decided to take the plunge despite season-ending surgery after the sixth game of the year in 2010 on a severe hamstring injury -- the muscle separated from the bone -- that was an issue for months. Even with an abbreviated junior season, Rudolph closed his Irish career with 90 receptions for 1,032 yards and eight touchdowns. As long as the hamstring checks out medically (he skipped the combine), Rudolph has the ability to threaten the seam that is so coveted from tight ends in today's pass-heavy NFL. While he does have good size, he still must prove he can get away from faster NFL linebackers.
34. *Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple, 6-5, 305, 1-2
This highly-recruited basketball prospect out of high school opted to play football for Temple, and helped former Owls coach Al Golden resurrect the downtrodden program. A state title winner on the hardwood at Thomas Jefferson High School in Elizabeth, N.J., his athleticism certainly translates to the football field. Wilkerson flat dominated MAC competition with his strength and surprising agility. He can line up on either side of the formation, and will get looks as a 3-4 defensive end and a 4-3 tackle.
35. *Aaron Williams, CB, Texas, 6-1, 195, 1-2
Football runs in the blood of Williams' family. His father played for San Francisco State and his uncle, Ken Taylor, was a defensive back on the Chicago Bears' 1986 Super Bowl champion team. More important for Williams is that the Longhorns have put several successful defensive backs into the NFL in recent years. Williams plays a similar style to Cedric Griffin (Vikings) and Aaron Ross (Giants) and has the requisite size and short-area quickness, although he lacks great physicality in his play. His career numbers include 106 tackles, four interceptions, 24 pass break-ups and six forced fumbles.
36. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas, 6-7, 253, 1-2
He's tall, has a rocket arm and comes out of a pro-style offense. Those are three tremendous attributes for a quarterback prospect. However, the big question marks with Mallett have nothing to do with his immense athletic gifts. His maturity has been questioned, and when given an opportunity at the combine to address rumors about off-field drug use, Mallett refused to comment and eventually bolted the podium. Fortunately for Mallett, it's not the media he has to convince. If he impresses teams during private interviews, someone in the back half of the first round is going to take a strong look at a minor gamble.
37. *Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland, 6-1, 205, 1-2
Smith's first job is to distance himself from Darrius Heyward-Bey, the most recent wide receiver workout stud from Maryland who is bordering on bust status after just two years with the Oakland Raiders. What Smith has going in his favor is a record-breaking career as a receiver and return man, and a heaping of character praise from former Terrapin coach Ralph Friedgen. A dual-threat who also played quarterback in high school, Smith is electric with the ball in his hands and set Maryland's career all-purpose yardage record with 5,183 in just three seasons.
38. Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor, 6-4, 312, 1-2
Watkins was about the most unlikely person to wind up in the 2011 NFL Draft just four years ago. Hailing from Kelowna, British Columbia, where he once served as a volunteer firefighter, Watkins grew up playing hockey and rugby. It wasn't until he arrived a Butte College in Oroville, Calif., that he took up football. Watkins eventually landed at Baylor and went on to start all 25 games over two seasons at left tackle. He has already been drafted by his hometown B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, but Watkins' strength, agility and surprising technique for his limited experience will have him earning a far bigger paycheck in the NFL. However, it could be at guard due to his lack of ideal size. He also enters the league at 26 years old.
39. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (Fla.), 6-2, 205, 1-2
It took a while -- and an excellent mentor -- before Hankerson could live up to the hype of three consecutive Class 5A title games, Broward Country Male Athlete of the Year by the Miami Herald and comparisons to Andre Johnson before even setting foot on campus. Hankerson struggled with drops early in his career before seeking offseason help from former Miami Dolphins star Mark Duper. The result was a far more reliable receiver in 2009 -- and an explosive one in 2010. Hankerson's senior season ranked among the best in Miami history and his 13 touchdown grabs broke Michael Irvin's single-season school record.
40. *Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech, 5-10, 205, 1-2
Williams took a significant risk in declaring for the 2011 draft, and will put NFL personnel men in the uncomfortable position of weighing a highly inconsistent football resume. One of the top recruits in the country, Williams redshirted in 2008. When Darren Evans suffered a torn ACL before the 2009 season, Williams burst through the door of opportunity like the Kool-Aid Man in search of a parched child. He earned first-team All-ACC honors with 1,655 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, but regressed to 477 yards and nine scores while dealing with a hamstring injury much of last season. If 2009 is the barometer, Williams has the vision, acceleration and power to ultimate emerge as the top running back in this class.
41. *Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois, 6-4, 250, 2
One of three Illini juniors to make the jump to the NFL this year, Wilson chose Illinois over Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Florida and Michigan. He attacks gaps with aggression and is one of this draft's premier tacklers. Wilson doesn't deliver bone-jarring hits, but he would be a solid fit in a 3-4 scheme. His medical reports will be important after surgery on a herniated disk following the first game of the 2009 season.
42. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State, 6-2, 222, 2
On paper, no quarterback in this class stacks up to Ponder. At 6-2, 220, he has good size and arm strength. He also has very good mobility. Reading defenses? Ponder graduated in less than three years and earned his MBA last spring. However, a highly-anticipated senior season was derailed by inconsistency and injuries. Ponder played in 12 games last season, but suffered a concussion and has undergone two elbow surgeries to go along with a separated right shoulder in 2009. He enjoyed a strong Senior Bowl, and continued to build momentum with one of the best throwing sessions at the combine, where his arm appeared back to full strength.
43. Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor, 6-4, 337, 2
Filling a need certainly helps one's draft status, and there are plenty of NFL teams in desperate need of a massive nose tackle to plug the middle of their 3-4 scheme. Taylor fits that bill, which should help teams overcome his dismissal from Joe Paterno's program in 2008 after his alleged role in a fight at the Penn State student union. Taylor produced two solid seasons at Baylor, capped 62 tackles and 7.0 tackles for loss in 2010. His numbers are hardly staggering, but Taylor has rare mobility for his size and tosses in a little upfield push to go along with his ability to occupy multiple blockers.
44. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh, 6-3, 260, 2
Sheard was a rare highly-touted prospect to make it out of South Florida and to a Big East program. Once at Pittsburgh, he formed a fearsome trio with Greg Romeus and Brandon Lindsey. Even with Romeus injured in 2010, Sheard earned first-team all-conference honors with 52 tackles, 14.5 for loss and 9.0 sacks. He'll likely remain a pass-rushing force in a 4-3 defense, but has shown the ability to crash down on running lanes to potential move to outside linebacker in a 3-4. An assault arrest last summer prompted some in-depth questioning during team interviews at the combine.
45. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA, 6-1, 196, 2
The Bruins coaching staff knew it had something special in Moore from the time he stepped on campus, inserting him in the starting lineup as a freshman. He emerged as a big-time playmaker with a nation-leading 10 interceptions as a sophomore. Named to the Nagurski Trophy, Lott Trophy, Bednarik Award and Thorpe Award preseason watch lists in 2010, Moore struggled to replicate those game-changing plays but still opted to declare a year early for the NFL Draft. He will benefit from a weak class of safeties, and does have excellent athleticism and ball skills. But he must prove that 2009 was a sign of his potential and not an aberration.
46. Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State, 6-2, 291, 2
Hudson will need a hefty wagon with some good shocks to cart all of his accolades out of Tallahassee. An All-American who allowed just 1.5 sacks and drew just one penalty flag in 34 starts, Hudson was a rock at guard for the Seminoles who has been earning national honors since his true freshman season. His lack of size could predicate a move to center unless he lands with an NFL team that places high value on smaller, quicker linemen.
47. Christian Ballard, DL, Iowa, 6-4, 288, 2
Coaches are more than happy to find good athletes their true positions. Ballard came to Iowa as tight end who also played basketball and track in high school. He converted to defensive end as a freshman and eventually matriculated inside, where he could best take advantage of his size/quickness combination. Ballard didn't make a lot of big-time plays as a three-year starter, but many scouts will still see him as a potential 3-4 end with upside.
48. Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy, 5-9, 190, 2
A three-time first-team All-Sun Belt performer, Jernigan had many of his best games against SEC teams. That should help ease concerns about his level of competition, although an ankle injury robbed him of an opportunity to participate at the Senior Bowl. Jernigan is the Sun Belt's all-time leader in receiving yards (3,128), receptions (262) and all-purpose yards (5,971). His size is an obvious detriment, but Jernigan did add bulk during his time at Troy to help combat press coverage. He has an outstanding burst and brings immediate big-play ability to the return game
49. Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona, 6-3, 257, 2
Reed is one of several college defensive ends who project best to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL. He's not the most athletically-gifted prospect in this class, but he does provide hustle and quickness, and is a three-year starter and relentless pass rusher. His early contributions to an NFL team will likely be on special teams.
50. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina, 6-2, 312, 2
Austin was the only player actually kicked out of the Tar Heels program following the agent scandal, and has never been touted for his team-first approach. That's a significant amount of baggage to overcome, even for a prospect with first-round talent who plays a coveted position. Austin registered 42 tackles, six tackles for loss and four sacks during his junior season, which proved to be his last in Chapel Hill. The talent has always been there, dating back to being the top-rated defensive tackle in the country coming out of Washington D.C.'s Ballou High School. He has a good burst and ability to get into the backfield whether attacking the quarterback or a ball carrier.
51. Benjamin Ijalana, OG/OT, Villanova, 6-4, 320, 2
Ijalana was an ironman for Villanova, starting all 53 career games as a three-time all-CAA performer and two-time consensus All-American. He was so dominating that Ijalana was the only FCS player to make the Outland Trophy Watch list. However, a sports hernia robbed him of participating in the Senior Bowl, which helped former UMass lineman Vlad Ducasse propel into a second-round pick by the Jets last year. A left tackle for the Wildcats, Ijalana could stay outside with his size and speed, but he has to prove he can handle the speed of tougher competition.
52. Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee, 6-5, 255, 2
Stocker should be given a merit badge for sticking through three head coaches during his time in Knoxville. His reward at the end of the tumultuous rainbow is being one of the few potential starters out of a weak tight end class. In Stocker's corner is his experience in a pro-style offense and his increased production despite all the moving parts around him. Working against him is the fact he's a good, but not great receiving threat who has a lot of work to do in run-blocking.
53. Orlando Franklin, OT, Miami (Fla.), 6-6, 316, 2
Franklin probably lacks the athleticism -- primarily quick feet -- to be a blind-side protector in the NFL. But he does have experience at multiple positions, and could find a spot at right tackle with his ability to fire off the ball low and hard against strong-side ends. He'll also be a candidate to move inside, where his nastiness will pay dividends in the trenches.
54. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State, 6-3, 306, 2
Wisniewski embodies many of the traits of his uncle, eight-time NFL Pro Bowl guard Steve Wisniewski. And his father, Leo, played three seasons for the Colts. Stefen Wisniewski plays with similar fire, strength and athleticism. A repeat all-conference player at guard, he's expected to slide over to center in the NFL. Wisniewski has displayed the ability to fire into his defender after making the snap and has the agility to slide along the line.
55. Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky, 5-11, 190, 2
Give Cobb an NFL uniform, and he'll find a way to earn his paycheck -- heck, he might pay a team for the privilege of playing. The All-SEC Freshman team performer at quarterback started that season at wide receiver, and moved back to the position as a sophomore. A triple threat as a runner, passer and receiver, the Wildcats just found ways to get the ball in Cobb's hands, including kick and punt returning. He can even hold on field goals. Due to his small stature, Cobb projects as a potential No. 2 receiver specializing in underneath routes.
56. Curtis Brown, CB, Texas, 6-0, 180, 2
A two-time all-state selection who excelled at wide receiver and cornerback for Gilmer High School, Brown almost didn't make it to Austin because coach Mack Brown thought the shy kid lacked confidence. Brown did accept a scholarship, however, going on to start 28 of 52 games for the Longhorns. But it took a while to prove he was more than an exceptional athlete wearing a football helmet. Brown's initial value in the NFL will be as a versatile special teams performer, but he has the elite speed and good size to warrant a starting job on defense in a year or two.
57. *Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh, 6-5, 230, 2
The Aliquippa, Penn., native followed in the footsteps of other NFL greats from his high school -- Mike Ditka and Darrelle Revis -- in choosing to play for Pittsburgh. His recruitment wasn't hurt by the fact his father, Jeffrey, was a defensive lineman for the Panthers from 1981-84. By the time Jon announced he was departing for the NFL after his junior season, he had certainly left his own mark on the program. A standout as a freshman, Baldwin really caught the attention of the NFL with 57 catches for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009. He failed to build on those numbers last season, mostly due to sporadic quarterback play. Baldwin makes a lot of highlight reels, but he also struggles with concentration and must answer questions about his straight-line speed, both of which he struggled with at the combine.
58. Davon House, CB, New Mexico State, 6-0, 184, 2
NFL scouts won't be left wanting for film on House. He started 13 games as a true freshman and quickly emerged as one of the top cover men in the WAC. He draws comparisons to Kyle Wilson, the former Boise State Bronco who was on the all-conference first team with House in 2009 and was a first-round pick by the Jets last April. But House is better-suited as a man press corner with his height and speed. If he turns in blazing 40 times, House, as Wilson did, could see his draft stock rise.
59. Greg Jones, ILB, Michigan State, 6-0, 240, 2
The first Spartan to earn consensus first-team All-America honors since Bubba Smith and George Webster in 1965-66, Jones only landed in East Lansing because it was a shorter drive for his parents from Cincinnati than Minnesota. Jones closed his Spartans career as a three-time first-team All-Big Ten pick, and is second in school history with 46.5 tackles for loss. To have a similar impact in the NFL he will have to prove that his small frame can hold up to the punishment. There is a chance Jones could line up outside to capitalize on his speed.
60. Drake Nevis, DT, LSU, 6-1, 285, 2
It might have taken Nevis three years to earn a fulltime starting job, but former teammate and 2008 first-round pick Glenn Dorsey predicted the Thibodaux, La. native would emerge as a star for the Tigers. Nevis' time to shine proved to be 2010, when he earned second-team AP All-America honors. Despite starting just 18 career games, he ranks ninth in school history with 31.5 tackles for loss. He was the most dominating SEC defensive lineman not named Nick Fairley, and his squatty, powerful frame makes him a nightmare to block one-on-one against the run.
61. Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU, 6-5, 350, 2
The massive Cannon chose Fort Worth over Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M and UTEP, and it proved a wise move as he capped his Horned Frogs career with an undefeated 2010 season. He has surprising athleticism for his size and could stay outside if he proves he can handle the speed of NFL defensive ends. The more likely scenario is a move inside, where he can really rely on his size and strength, similar to Dolphins 2010 third-round pick John Jerry.
62. Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State, 5-07, 199, 2
The Tyler, Texas native considered TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor before landing in Stillwater. Hunter made an immediate impact with a 6.5-yard average per carry as a freshman, and went on to finish fourth in school history with 4,181 career rushing yards. An injury-plagued junior season is an example of what most concerns NFL scouts. Hunter could prove a big-play complement in a shared backfield role, but lacks the size and strength to be an every-down back.
63. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah, 6-0, 185, 2
It took a while for Burton to work his way up the Utes' depth chart, but once he finally earned a starting job he proved to be a strong ball defender. He's still a bit raw in his technique, but his rating reflects his high ceiling. Burton needs work on his footwork, but he has the recovery speed to make up for many of his mistakes. To move up draft boards, Burton must show he's willing to use his size more in man coverage and run support.
64. Allen Bailey, DE, Miami (Fla.), 6-3, 278, 2
Bailey was recruited to Coral Gables as a linebacker hoping to follow in the footsteps of Ray Lewis. But as he continued to bulk up and started four games at defensive end in 2008 he started to see time inside as a junior. NFL scouts know Bailey has loads of talent; he matched previous career highs with 11 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks as a senior. And they know he's versatile, moving wherever the 'Canes coaching staff asked him to go. What they don't know is where Bailey fits best -- and more important, if he will be a difference-maker at either spot.
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