Diehard college football fans have already drawn their own conclusions on the 2011 draft class. Others are still getting familiar with the names and faces of the top prospects in 2011.
NFLDraftScout.com bridges the gap between college and pro by finding the player we consider the most reasonable NFL facsimile -- not a carbon copy -- for each of its top 50 prospects.
The mission is not to project the career path or future of the current class, but to find an established or recently retired NFL likeness with some similarities to our top 50 2011 draft prospects.
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1. Patrick Peterson, LSU (6-0, 219)
Pro comparison: Charles Woodson
If Peterson is as dedicated as Woodson, he has the footwork to be just as versatile and the strength to be equally difficult to fend off outside. He can also be an ace in the return game, something the future Hall of Famer Woodson wasn't allowed to show fully because of injuries and further injury risk.
2. Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson (6-3, 280)
Pro comparison: Shaun Ellis (Jets)
Ellis came out of Tennessee as a thick pass rusher, and eventually his body matured. He became the perfect fit as a 3-4 five-technique. Bowers, too, could put up double-digit sack totals early in his career from the strong side.
3. Nick Fairley, Auburn (6-4, 291)
Pro comparison: Kevin Williams (Vikings)
Fairley came in a bit lighter than expected at the combine, but adding 10-15 pounds to his frame should not be difficult. He shares the length and quick first step that helped Williams become a perennial Pro Bowler.
4. Marcell Dareus, Alabama (6-3, 319)
Pro comparison: Gerard Warren (Patriots)
Although Warren's career has been disappointing since his strong rookie year, he and Dareus share great size, quickness off the snap, and versatility to play 4-3 three-technique and 3-4 five-technique.
5. Von Miller, Texas A&M (6-3, 246)
Pro comparison: Joey Porter (Cardinals)
Porter went in the third round because he played at Colorado State, but Miller has the same relentless pass-rushing skills and his excellent combine (added 15 pounds and still ran sub-4.5 40) make him a top-10 cinch.
6. A.J. Green, Georgia (6-4, 211)
Pro comparison: Keyshawn Johnson
NFL coaches hope Green's attitude is not similar to Johnson's, but they are alike in height, lanky frame, and uncanny ability to make plays on jump balls and in traffic. That gives the Georgia receiver an outside chance to be the first receiver to go No. 1 overall since Johnson in 1996.
7. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (6-0, 206)
Pro comparison: Darrelle Revis (Jets)
Both Revis and Amukamara were labeled too tight-hipped to be effective corners at the next level, but it's unlikely teams let Prince fall to the 14th overall selection after his combine performance and the strong start Revis has had to his career.
8. Julio Jones, Alabama (6-3, 220)
Pro comparison: Andre Johnson (Texans)
Playmaking 220-pound receivers with sub-4.4 speed are rare breeds, but Jones entered Johnson territory with an outstanding combine. Like Johnson at Miami (Fla.), Jones was inconsistent early in his career but stepped up as a junior to blossom into the star many expected him to become.
|If Patrick Peterson is as dedicated as consummate pro Charles Woodson, he has the footwork to be just as versatile. (US Presswire)|
Pro comparison: Gaines Adams
The late Adams is a better blueprint for Quinn than he is for former teammate Da'Quan Bowers, because the former Tar Heels' relatively svelte frame makes him more likely to stay a 4-3 defensive end rather than add weight for a role on a 3-4 defensive line.
10. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (6-4, 234)
Pro comparison: Sam Bradford (Rams)
Finding an appropriate comparison for Gabbert is difficult, as his arm and mobility outclasses former No. 1 picks Alex Smith and Eli Manning. Not as accurate or productive as Bradford, it is intriguing to consider what Gabbert's stats would have been on those 2007-2008 Oklahoma squads.
11. Cam Newton, Auburn (6-5, 248)
Pro comparison: Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
Newton's cannon for an arm, size and strength hanging in the pocket reminds teams of "Big Ben." Unfortunately for Newton, character issues are also making the comparison apropos.
12. Cameron Jordan, California (6-4, 287)
Pro comparison: Cory Redding (Ravens)
The long, athletic Redding has really played well in Baltimore's 3-4 after struggling at times as a strong side end early in his career; Jordan should be lucky enough to use his strength and quickness in a three-man front right away.
13. Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (6-7, 311)
Pro comparison: Marc Colombo (Cowboys)
The Boston College uniforms, nearly identical size, and similar combine results all make it difficult to not project Castonzo having a similar career to Colombo. However, that makes some teams wonder if Castanzo has a future as a long-term starting left tackle.
14. Tyron Smith, Southern Cal (6-5, 307)
Pro comparison: Jammal Brown (Redskins)
Two long, athletic tackles who, despite lacking great girth, can play with strength on the strong side. Smith will probably get a shot at left tackle at the next level but, like Brown, might settle at right tackle.
15. Mark Ingram, Alabama (5-09, 215)
Pro comparison: Frank Gore (49ers)
Ingram is compared to Emmitt Smith, but comparing any player to a Hall of Famer before stepping on the field is treacherous ground to walk. Gore's tough inside running style and vision are as close a template to Ingram's game as any modern mortal.
16. Aldon Smith, Missouri (6-4, 263)
Pro comparison: Jarvis Moss (Raiders)
Scouts figured Moss' length and speed off the edge would be difficult for offensive tackles to handle, and despite Moss' uneven career to date, will value Smith's similar build because of the importance of pass rushers.
17. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (6-5, 290)
Pro comparison: Adam Carriker (Redskins)
People were impressed with Watt's combine performance, but scouts saw very similar results from Carriker four years ago. Carriker seemed to fit Washington's 3-4 scheme well in 2010, so Watt's career might get off on the right foot if he can find a similar situation as a rookie.
18. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa (6-3, 281)
Pro comparison: Will Smith (Saints)
Teams weren't sure if Smith would be explosive enough a pass rusher to take him high in the draft. Fellow Big Ten star Clayborn faces similar skepticism, but could also use his low center of gravity to be a constant thorn in the side of quarterbacks.
19. Nate Solder, Colorado (6-8, 319)
Pro comparison: Robert Gallery (Raiders)
Solder is not coming into the draft with the hype Gallery did out of Iowa in 2004, but their size and athleticism are remarkably similar. The fact Gallery ended up a guard for the Raiders, even though he's a Pro-Bowl caliber one, can't sit well with teams considering Solder for their open left tackle spot.
20. Corey Liuget, Illinois (6-2, 298)
Pro comparison: Ziggy Hood (Steelers)
Hood and Liuget are active defenders without great size, but enough strength to make life difficult on interior linemen. Liuget's ability to play with leverage and quickness could push a 3-4 team to use him at defensive tackle.
21. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (6-4, 267)
Pro comparison: Kyle Vanden Bosch (Lions)
Given the successful career of Vanden Bosch and former Big Ten star Aaron Kampman, it's unlikely Kerrigan -- an underrated athlete who plays with a high-running motor -- will fall out of the first round like Vanden Bosch (second) and Kampman (fifth) did.
|Von Miller has the same relentless pass-rushing skills as Joey Porter, and his excellent combine makes him a top-10 cinch. (US Presswire)|
Pro comparison: Maurkice Pouncey (Steelers)
Comparing a player to his twin brother could be seen as a copout, but let's face it: Few players in recent years have had the size, versatility, athleticism and likable personalities shared by the Pounceys.
23. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin (6-7, 314)
Pro comparison: Michael Roos (Titans)
Roos might have been a first-round pick, as Carimi is projected to be, if he had played at Wisconsin instead of Eastern Washington. Expect Carimi to get a shot on the left side, like Roos, because of his toughness despite lacking exceptional athleticism.
24. Mikel LeShoure, Illinois (6-0, 227)
Pro comparison: LaMont Jordan
Two big backs with light feet in the hole and a burst in the open field, Jordan and LeShoure have many attributes scouts like in their ballcarriers.
25. Jimmy Smith, Colorado (6-2, 211)
Pro comparison: Antonio Cromartie (Jets)
Smith is very similar to Cromartie in stature, speed, and unfortunately, attitude and off-field concerns. Smith is more physical than the former Florida State star, so his talent will also be too much for teams to pass up in the first round.
26. Jake Locker, Washington (6-3, 231)
Pro comparison: Donovan McNabb (Redskins)
He has an ideal combination of athleticism, arm strength and intangibles, and Locker, like McNabb, can make the highlight-reel play despite being only a moderately accurate passer. If a team is willing to accept the normal growing pains of a young quarterback transitioning to the challenge of dissecting complex defenses and throwing through tight windows, Locker, like McNabb, could wind up a Pro Bowl quarterback.
27. Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.) (5-10, 191)
Pro comparison: Marcus Trufant (Seahawks)
Athletic and surprisingly physical, Harris is typically in good position to make a play on the ball, but like Seattle's Trufant, he loses too many battles at the critical moment, especially to bigger receivers.
28. Martez Wilson, Illinois (6-4, 250)
Pro comparison: Karlos Dansby (Dolphins)
A better athlete than football player, Wilson's eye-popping measurables make him 2011's most exciting and versatile linebacker. Like Dansby, he could be successful inside or out in both the 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, only increasing his value. However, there are concerns about his true instincts for the position.
29. Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State (6-5, 321)
Pro comparison: Chris Williams (Bears)
He has the long arms, quick feet and experience against top competition to remain on the left side in the NFL, but scouts might always wish to see Sherrod (and Williams, who was drafted in the top half of the first round to be a left tackle) pick up their level of physicality.
30. Cameron Heyward, Ohio State (6-5, 294)
Pro comparison: Marcus Spears (Cowboys)
Long, strong and experienced in both fronts, don't expect Heyward to post big sack totals, but he'll hold up well at the point of attack, especially as a five-technique defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. His ultimate stock will hinge on how well he's recovering from elbow surgery.
31. Akeem Ayers, UCLA (6-3, 254)
Pro comparison: D.J. Williams (Broncos)
Athletic and versatile, Ayers could develop into a standout inside or outside linebacker in either alignment. Like Williams, however, his playmaking skills are due in large part to his size and athleticism, rather than ideal instincts for the position.
32. Stephen Paea, Oregon State (6-1, 303)
Pro comparison: Trevor Laws (Eagles)
Short, squat and powerful, Paea is difficult to move off the line of scrimmage. He can play inside in the 4-3 or 3-4, but don't expect him to make many plays -- he has only "phone booth" quickness and doesn't locate the ball quickly.
33. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame (6-6, 259)
Pro comparison: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
Like Gronkowski, questions about Rudolph's health and conversion from a spread offense lower his grade entering the draft. Rudolph's size, underrated athleticism and soft hands make him a legitimate mismatch.
34. Justin Houston, Georgia (6-3, 270)
Pro comparison: Robert Ayers (Broncos)
Houston has the similar ability to gain the edge starting from the three-point stance and is better as a down lineman than when rushing from the stand-up position. The instincts in coverage might not be there for either to replicate their SEC success as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment against NFL competition.
35. Aaron Williams, Texas (6-0, 204)
Pro comparison: Malcolm Jenkins (Saints)
Possessing good speed, a physical nature and instincts, Williams will be seen by some clubs as a cornerback and others as a free safety. In either case, his consistent play at the collegiate level makes him one of the safer and more versatile defensive backs of this class.
36. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (6-7, 253)
Pro comparison: Jeff George
No one questions Mallett's ability to throw a football. In fact, he's the most talented pure passer in the 2011 draft. However, his personality is enough of a concern that he could stumble in the NFL.
37. Torrey Smith, Maryland (6-1, 204)
Pro comparison: Nate Burleson (Lions)
A better athlete than football player at this point, Smith's blazing speed and good vision make him one of the best deep targets and kick returners in this draft. Scouts would like to see more consistent hands and routes.
38. Phil Taylor, Baylor (6-3, 334)
Pro comparison: Kris Jenkins
Big and powerful, Taylor projects nicely as an interior player in both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. If teams are convinced that the off-field concerns that prompted his transfer out of Penn State are a thing of the past, he could wind up a first-round pick.
|Scouts say J.J. Watt's combine performance was similar to Adam Carriker's four years ago. (US Presswire)|
Pro comparison: James Jones (Packers)
A tall, athletic receiver capable of sneaking downfield and making the highlight catch because of his good body control, Hankerson is eerily similar to Jones. Hankerson ran considerably faster than anyone expected at the combine (4.40) but isn't fast on the field. He's also prone to ugly drops.
40. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (5-9, 212)
Pro comparison: Clinton Portis
Williams is an undersized back who plays faster than he timed but has struggled with durability. His acceleration out of his cuts makes him an ideal fit in the zone-blocking offense, where his vision and burst could make him a second-round steal.
41. Randall Cobb, Kentucky (5-10, 191)
Pro comparison: Antwaan Randle El (Steelers)
The most versatile player in the 2011 draft, Cobb's ability to impact the game as a receiver, returner and occasional Wildcat quarterback will give the team that drafts him plenty of flexibility. Like Randle El, Cobb is also valued due to his locker-room presence.
42. Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple (6-4, 315)
Pro comparison: Ty Warren (Patriots)
A college defensive end whose length and strength might be best served outside as a five-technique defensive end in the 3-4 alignment, Wilkerson has been overshadowed in college, but could surprise as a late first-round pick and a longtime starter in the NFL.
43. Christian Ponder, Florida State (6-2, 229)
Pro comparison: Tony Romo (Cowboys)
Like Romo (undrafted), Ponder's size and struggles with durability are enough to push him down the board. In reality, Ponder's arm strength, accuracy, mobility and intelligence could make him a very effective pro quarterback. He'll need to be better in critical situations, however.
44. Danny Watkins, Baylor (6-3, 310)
Pro comparison: Logan Mankins (Patriots)
While perhaps not an elite athlete, Watkins' prototype size, strength and nasty, physical play inside should make him an immediate contributor at the pro level despite having just four years experience. Like Mankins, Watkins could surprise as a late first-round pick.
45. Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh (6-3, 264)
Pro comparison: Tamba Hali (Chiefs)
A little smaller than scouts prefer as a 4-3 defensive end, Sheard's greatest assets are his burst, surprising power and a high-revving motor. He'd have some limitations in coverage if asked to make the switch to a 3-4 rush linebacker, but like Hali, Sheard's ability to pressure the quarterback makes him a valuable commodity.
46. Rodney Hudson, Florida State (6-2, 299)
Pro comparison: LeCharles Bentley
Undersized with rare mobility and instincts, Hudson's best fit against the behemoths of the NFL might be inside at center. He could wind up in the second round, but if placed in a zone-blocking scheme, he'll more likely be remembered as a Pro Bowl player.
47. Christian Ballard, Iowa (6-4, 283)
Pro comparison: Shaun Cody (Texans)
Big, athletic and capable of contributing inside or out for either the 3-4 or 4-3 alignment, Ballard has a great deal of potential. He flashed as a playmaker, but teams would like to see more consistency from him.
48. Rahim Moore, UCLA (6-0, 202)
Pro comparison: Madieu Williams (Vikings)
Due to his athleticism and ball skills, Moore should wind up as the first pure safety selected in the 2011 draft. His inconsistent angles and breakdowns as an open-field tackler are enough to push him into the mid-second round (or further) despite safety becoming an increasingly valuable position against pass-first offenses.
49. Brooks Reed, Arizona (6-3, 263)
Pro comparison: Tully Banta-Cain (Patriots)
Quick, instinctive and armed with an impressive array of pass-rush moves, Reed could ultimately prove to be one of this draft's better pass rushers. He also demonstrated surprising athleticism during workouts at the combine, leading some to believe he'll wind up as a 3-4 rush linebacker. Others wonder if he's maxed out -- meaning he's reached his full potential as a player -- and not quite the sum of his parts.
50. Marvin Austin, North Carolina (6-2, 309)
Pro comparison: Tank Johnson (Bengals)
Austin has the combination of quickness and strength to warrant consideration as a first-round pick. But Austin's off-field concerns could push him down the board significantly. Like Johnson, there is no questioning Austin's ability to impact the game -- only if he'll show the maturity to stay on the field.
Rob Rang and Chad Reuter are Senior Analysts for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.