Here are two keys to get you ready for the 2011 NFL Draft class:
It will be loaded with good quarterbacks and you should spend a lot of time watching the North Carolina defense.
|Arkansas' Ryan Mallett's talent will make scouts pay attention. (Getty Images)|
On my list of the top 32 players heading into next year's draft, five are quarterbacks and four play defense at North Carolina.
The top player is quarterback Jake Locker from Washington. Most have him as a consensus top player heading into next season, but he will be challenged by a slew of good quarterbacks, including Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, Christian Ponder from Florida State and Andrew Luck of Stanford.
Two of the North Carolina defensive players, end Robert Quinn and tackle Marvin Austin, will be potential top-10 picks.
A year ago at this time, many, including myself, had Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead as a possible top pick. He flopped so badly as a junior that he wasn't even drafted. By the way, for all you ripping me for putting him at the top, I know at least two teams that had him as a preseason top-10 selection last summer.
That shows how things can change. So just remember there's a long way to go until next April. But this gives you a starting point for what should be a really good draft, especially with all the quarterbacks.
1. Jake Locker, QB, Washington: He would have been a top-five pick in this year's draft. He will probably be the first player taken next year.
2. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU (Jr.): This silky smooth corner was the best cover player I saw last year. He was better than Joe Haden, who went seventh overall to Cleveland in this year's draft. This kid is special.
3. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina (Jr.): In a league starved for pass rushers, here's a big-time edge player. He is 6-feet-5 and 260 pounds with explosive speed.
4. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas (Jr.): He is a big, powerful kid with a strong arm. He is raw, but the tools make the scouts salivate. Playing another year in Bob Petrino's offense will really help him.
5. Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: He thought about coming out this year, but opted to stay in for 2011. With his size, power and speed, the scouts will love him.
6. Anthony Castanzo, T, Boston College: He started as a true freshman at right tackle, but moved to the left side as a sophomore. He has added weight each year to his 6-7 frame, all while maintaining good athletic ability.
|Marvin Austin is one of four Tar Heels among the top 32 prospects for 2011. (Getty Images)|
8. Matt Reynolds, T, BYU (Jr.): This 6-5, 325-pound junior impressed as a first-time starter last season. He is good in pass protection, which the scouts love.
9. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (So.): He will be a redshirt sophomore, so he can enter the 2011 draft. If he does, he has a real chance to go in the top 10. He is smart, understands the passing game and his arm is plenty good enough.
10. Allen Bailey, DT, Miami: He's a 6-4, 290-pound player who thought about coming into the 2010 draft. He made a wise move. With another good season, he could be near the top of this list.
11. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia: He's a 6-2, 200-pound corner who is better than fellow Cavalier Chris Cook, who went early in the second round this year to the Vikings. He has great speed for a corner his size.
12. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: He considered this draft, but opted to return to Iowa. He always seems to show up when you watch the Hawkeyes. He did have an off-field incident this spring when he punched a cab driver.
13. Marcel Dareus, DE, Alabama (Jr.): He played in the big shadow of Terrence Cody in 2009, but if you watched the BCS title game you saw what kind of player he could be.
14. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: At 6-1, he is a good cover player who showed up a ton when you watched Nebraska. He seemed to improve as the 2009 season moved along.
15. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas (Jr.): He's a 6-1, 200-pound corner who can run. He has been a good cover player for the Longhorns and he has skills that translate to the next level.
16. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. (Jr.): At 6-4, 205 pounds, he has good speed. He will be hurt some this season by being forced to play with an inexperienced quarterback, but he's the real deal.
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17. Joseph Barksdale, T, LSU: This big, athletic tackle will move from the right side to the left side. It is there that scouts will truly come to appreciate him.
18. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: Watch how he flourishes this season with Jimbo Fisher running the whole show. This kid can move, he has a good arm and he's smart. I love him. He might be a better NFL quarterback than he was in college.
19. Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin: At 6-7, 325 pounds, he's another in a line of good linemen coming from this school. He replaced Joe Thomas at left tackle in 2008 and has been a quality starter since.
20. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame (Jr.): At 6-6, 265, he is as good a prospect as Jermaine Gresham, who went in the first round this year. He is a huge target and he can get down the field.
21. DeAndre McDaniel, S, Clemson: He has great range and really shows up on Saturday. He had eight picks last season. The Ed Reed comparisons are valid.
22. Nate Solder, T, Colorado (Jr.): He is a massive tackle at 6-9 and 310 pounds. He came to Colorado as a tight end, which speaks volumes about his athletic ability.
23. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame (Jr.): Golden Tate went in the second round this year and this kid is bigger and better. He was injured last season, which hurt his production.
24. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (Jr.): Moore led the nation with 10 interceptions last season. He has a knack for finding the football and he's a willing tackler.
25. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: He's a smaller defensive tackle at 6-1, 311 pounds, but he did 44 reps at 225 pounds. He's as good a player as Tyson Alualu, who was picked 10th overall by the Jaguars. His height might hold him back.
|Heisman winner Mark Ingram reminds our expert of another former SEC great who wore No. 22. (Getty Images)|
27. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri (Jr.): He is big, strong and has a good arm. He is the prototype. He was slowed last year with an ankle injury, but he has all the tools.
28. Deunta Williams, S, North Carolina: He is 6-2, 205 and runs under 4.5. That's the formula for a big-time NFL safety. You need the speed to cover.
29. Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh: He is 6-6, 270 pounds and he has good speed off the edge. He could have been a second-round pick this year.
30. Evan Royster, RB, Penn State: At 6-1, 215 pounds, he has good size and speed. He makes people miss, but he's also strong in the hole. He should become Penn State's all-time leading rusher this year.
31. Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina: He is 6-3, 225 and can run. He is a perfect 4-3 outside linebacker.
32. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (Jr.): He's a big receiver who has been productive since he stepped on campus. His most important number will be his 40 time. How fast is he?
Just missed: Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware; Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee; Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M Mike Pouncey, G, Florida; Curtis Brown, CB, Texas; Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Jr.); Jerrell Powe, NT, Mississippi; Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh (Jr.); Terrance Toliver, WR, LSU; Weslye Saunders, TE South Carolina; Kris O'Dowd, C, USC; Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State; Quan Sturdivant, LB, North Carolina; Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma; Lee Ziemba, T, Auburn; Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska (Jr.); Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida (Jr.); Jurrel Casey, DT, USC (Jr.); Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma; Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson (Jr.).