The ugly posturing by the NFL owners and players has distracted from a strong draft class blessed with extraordinary talent at quarterback and along the offensive and defensive lines.
What the class lacks in sizzle at the top it more than makes up for in depth at the positions most critical to today's NFL game. Expect a run on each of those positions to highlight the first two days of the draft. As such, they are well represented in my final Top 100 rankings.
Anyone can recognize raw talent. I'm most interested in identifying players who, along with those physical traits, possess the maturity, intelligence and work ethic to become NFL stars.
|Patrick Peterson's ability to make big plays in the return game helps put him ahead of the pack. (AP)|
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: A standout corner with the ability to impact the game as a returner, Peterson is simply the best player in the draft.
2. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M: A pass-rushing phenom, Miller will compete for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
3. Marcell Dareus, DT/DE, Alabama: Strong, stout and quick, Dareus' physical skills are enhanced by his work ethic and toughness. He's among the relatively sure things in the draft.
4. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Sure, Julio Jones overshadowed Green at the combine. But put on the tape -- Green's size, body control and hands are reminiscent of a young Larry Fitzgerald -- and Green is faster.
5. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: I'm not buying the argument that Ingram is hurt or too slow to be effective in the NFL. His rare combination of vision, balance, burst and low-center of gravity remind me of only one back -- the NFL's all-time rushing leader, Emmitt Smith.
6. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: Big, physical and fast, Amukamara is not only an elite prospect, he's also among the most dedicated and "clean" players in the draft.
7. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina: The most explosive pass rusher in the draft, Quinn is capable of becoming a star off the edge for either a 4-3 or 3-4 team.
8. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: Athletic, intelligent and durable, Castonzo is this year's safest offensive tackle. He may never make a Pro Bowl, but could lock down the blind side for a decade.
9. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Jones' combine workout was as surprising as it was impressive. That said, the 4.3 speed he demonstrated in Indianapolis was never evident on the field for the Crimson Tide.
10. Cameron Jordan, DE, California: Showed everyone at Senior Bowl (and confirmed at the combine) what I've been saying for months -- Jordan is arguably the most versatile defensive lineman in a class blessed with a lot of them.
11. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: At 6-5, 290 pounds, Watt has the perfect blend of size and strength (34 reps of 225 pounds) to star as a 3-4 defensive end. He then demonstrated much better overall athleticism at the combine to reassure teams he could remain outside in the 4-3.
12. Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida: With Size, strength and the athleticism to block at the second level, Pouncey's ability to stand out against SEC competition makes him an easy first-round pick.
13. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: Proved the rare agility and straight-line speed at the combine that has led some to label him as the most talented player in the draft. However, I have concerns about his maturity and work ethic once he gets a multi-million dollar contract.
14. Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Despite the fact he led the nation with 15.5 sacks, Bowers doesn't boast great quick-twitch explosiveness, as his disappointing pro day workout unfortunately proved. The reason he's slipping isn't just concern about his surgically repaired knee. Bowers simply won't be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL.
15. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Size, arm strength, good accuracy and a quick release, Gabbert has all of the tools to be a top-five pick. I have too many concerns about his deep accuracy, however, to rate him higher than the surefire stars of this draft.
16. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: Whether as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 rush linebacker, Kerrigan's burst, agility and hustle make him one of the safer pass rushers in this class.
17. Tyron Smith, OT, USC: In terms of pure talent, Smith is this year's best tackle -- but his experience lies on the right side; his future lies on the left and scouts have questioned his maturity. Teams also tell me he has medical concerns to worry about.
18. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: It is hard not to get excited about Newton's upside and leadership skills, but his success came in a scheme perfectly tailored to his unique talents. Can he adjust to a pro-style offense? I'm not sure enough to invest a top-15 pick in him.
19. Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: Possessing an explosive burst, good flexibility and the upper-body strength to compete immediately, Liuget is a classic three-technique defensive tackle who is earning grades closer to Dareus and Fairley from more teams than many realize.
20. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: Smith's burst off the snap and long arms are two elite attributes which could make him a star pass rusher in the NFL. Only moderate lateral agility and flexibility, however, likely make him a defensive end, which limits the number of teams who may be interested.
21. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: A road-grader with enough size and reach for pass protection, Carimi would be best off moving to right tackle.
22. Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor: Don't let his marginal tests at the combine or the fact he's 26 years old distract from the fact that Watkins is the toughest, nastiest interior lineman in this class. He may not make the first round ... but will one day be viewed as a steal if he doesn't.
23. Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: I'm admittedly higher on Sherrod than most, but see him as an ideal swing tackle capable of stepping in immediately and well worth a first-round pick.
24. Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor: A top-20 talent athletically, but concerns about his health and transfer from Penn State could push him further down the board.
25. Jake Locker, QB, Washington: One impressive 30-minute throwing session at the combine does not erase four years of inaccurate passing, but it does provide evidence that Locker might be capable of improving his accuracy with better technique.
26. Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple: Position- and scheme-versatile, Wilkerson might be considered a top-20 lock had he played in the Big Ten or SEC rather than the MAC.
27. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: Ayers boosted his stock with scouts by reassuring them that the athleticism they'd seen on tape was, in fact, no figment of their imagination. Ayers needed a vastly improved workout at UCLA's pro day March 29 after a disappointing combine -- and he produced.
28. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: Solder's weak base and moderate strength concern me, but his rare size (6-8, 314), athleticism and flexibility make him an ideal left tackle prospect.
29. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Proved that he has legitimate speed (4.42) and agility, despite his 6-2, 211-pound frame, to remain at cornerback in the NFL. But his moderate ball skills and significant character red flags could push him right out of the first round.
30. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: Like Bowers and Smith, Clayborn's medical concerns are enough to potentially drop him lower than his play warrants. He'll prove a steal if he drops into the second round.
31. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: Ponder is shorter (6-2) and certainly more injury-prone than I'd prefer, but I like the grittiness he's shown in coming back from two arm surgeries to win Senior Bowl MVP honors and upstage more naturally gifted quarterbacks at the combine. His short to intermediate level accuracy, mobility and intelligence make the West Coast Offense his best fit.
32. Aaron Williams, CB/FS, Texas: Like Ayers, Williams needed a strong workout to ease concerns scouts raised about his fluidity and straight-line speed after disappointing showings before. I believe Williams can play press corner in the NFL, but wouldn't be surprised to see him moved to safety.
33. Rodney Hudson, C, Florida State: Sure, he's a bit shorter than I'd prefer, but the tape doesn't lie. Hudson earned the Jacobs' Blocking Trophy as the ACC's top blocker after each of the past two seasons because he combines great quickness and technique with underrated power.
34. Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: A dominant Sugar Bowl against Arkansas boosted Heyward's stock, but the reality is he'll provide very little as a pass rusher in the NFL. He's a safe bet as a five-technique who, if teams are convinced his elbow is recovering on schedule, could sneak into the late first round.
35. Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois: A big back (6-0, 232) with power and acceleration, LeShoure could prove a better player in the NFL than he was in college. Considering he ran for 1,697 yards and 17 TDs last season, that's saying something.
36. James Carpenter, OT, Alabama: Capable of starting early in his career at right tackle, inside at either guard position or even sliding over to left tackle (as he played for the Tide) in a pinch, Carpenter's versatility and toughness make one of the safer players at an important position in this draft.
37. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh: Possessing enough quickness to get the corner, a strong bull rush to push the pocket and the tenacity to make plays after his initial move is handled, Sheard is the last of this year's "safe" defensive ends.
38. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: I've been saying it before it became cliché -- Mallett has the most talented arm in the draft. It is the head and feet I don't trust enough for the first round.
39. Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland: Possessing a rare combination of size (6-1, 204) and pure speed (4.41), Smith's ability to impact the game as a vertical threat and kick returner makes him my No. 3-rated wideout, though he's currently a more raw route runner and receiver than others lower on my list.
40. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: The epitome of the phrase "a bull in a china shop," Paea's power can ruin plays before they have a chance to begin. He doesn't possess the vision and agility, however, to make enough plays outside of the tackle box to warrant a first-round pick.
41. Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky: Mr. Versatility for the Wildcats, Cobb's quickness, soft hands and willingness to go over the middle make him the year's top slot receiver.
42. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: Athletic and competitive, Harris possesses a lot of the traits I look for in a cornerback, but too often was beaten at the critical moment despite being in good position to make the play, including by Notre Dame's Michael Floyd in the Sun Bowl.
43. Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU: At 6-5, 358 pounds, Cannon doesn't fit every offense, but he's a potentially dominant right tackle in a drive-blocking scheme.
44. Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina: Undeniably a first-round talent, but there was too much me-first characteristics to his game even before his season-long suspension. I'd be willing to take a gamble on him in the mid-second round, but not earlier.
45. Andy Dalton, QB, TCU: Dalton's instincts, quick release and good short to intermediate accuracy make him an ideal fit in a true West Coast Offense that attacks the field horizontally, protecting Dalton's lack of ideal arm strength.
46. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame: At 6-6, 259 pounds, Rudolph has the size I'm looking for in an all-around tight end. He's the best at the position this year, but his production was enhanced by Notre Dame's offense and his struggles with durability concern me.
47. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia: Dowling entered the 2010 season as a top-20 pick in my mind, but suffered through a disastrous senior campaign full of leg injuries. Assuming he gets a clean bill of health, he'll be drafted in the second round and prove to be a steal.
48. Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy: Possessing elusiveness and the electric speed to turn the routine play into a long touchdown, Jernigan -- not Boise State's Titus Young -- will prove the best of the "second-tier" receivers.
49. Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech: When healthy, Williams shows the vision, burst and agility to be a star in a zone-blocking offense. There is some Clinton Portis to Williams' game.
50. Justin Houston, DE, Georgia: I've been lower on Houston than most for quite some time. His ranking here isn't a reflection on the drug test he reportedly failed. I view him as a 'tweener who could struggle to ever come close to duplicating his success in the SEC against NFL competition.
51. Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
52. Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina
53. Benjamin Ijalana, OG, Villanova
54. Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
55. Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
56. Christian Ballard, DL, Iowa
57. Chimdi Chekwa, CB, Ohio State
58. Jarvis Jenkins, DT, Clemson
59. John Moffitt, OG, Wisconsin
60. Titus Young, WR, Boise State
61. Orlando Franklin, OT, Miami
62. Davon House, CB, New Mexico State
63. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
64. Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
65. Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
66. Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
67. Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida
68. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
69. Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
70. Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
71. Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii
72. Clint Boling, OG, Georgia
73. Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington
74. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
75. Shareece Wright, CB, USC
76. Pernell McPhee, DE, Mississippi State
77. Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
78. Sam Acho, DE/OLB Texas
79. Quan Sturdivant, ILB, North Carolina
80. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
81. Will Rackley, OG, Lehigh
82. Allen Bailey, DL, Miami
83. Chris Carter, DE/OLB, Fresno State
84. Chris Conte, FS, California
85. Mason Foster, OLB, Washington
86. Colin McCarthy, ILB, Miami
87. Shane Vereen, RB, California
88. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut
89. Quinton Carter, SS, Oklahoma
90. Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
91. Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
92. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
93. Lance Kendricks, TE, Wisconsin
94. Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
95. Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida
96. Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
97. DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
98. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State
99. Dontay Moch, OLB, Nevada
100. Tyler Sash, S, Iowa
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.