I’m not a big fan of big boards. How do you distinguish between prospects of a similar level? What puts a guy at #3 instead of #4? It’s a way for the likes of Mel Kiper to tally who’s stock is rising or falling, but the changes are sometimes so intricate it’s hardly worth the bother.
I like the way Gil Brandt does things. He separates the prospects into tier’s, grouping guys together of a similar quality.
A few people have asked about a big board on the blog and it’s something I’ve avoided previously. With less than a fortnight to go until the 2011 draft, I thought I’d put something together using the Brandt methodology. It’s a top-25 broken into seperate tiers that are explained along the way.
Tier one: Prospects in contention to go first overall
This is only a small list, but if you own the #1 overall pick you don’t need a cluster of names. These three are the prospects I’d consider drafting with the top choice and if I’m in the top five, I’m hoping to grab one of these guys. The quarterback will always take preference if you have a need at the position, although you don’t just include the top prospect for the sake of it. If you have a franchise quarterback or made that investment recently, you probably aren’t going in that direction here.
Cam Newton (QB, Auburn)
Newton has limitless potential and is a better passer than he gets credit for. He’s a player you can build a franchise around for the long term, but I also believe he can have an instant impact working in a scaled down playbook. If I was forming a listed big board like Mel Kiper, Newton would be #1.
AJ Green (WR, Georgia)
A really polished route runner who flashes a competitive streak despite not having the biggest frame. He’s quick rather than elite in terms of speed, but he has so much control and should produce quickly in his career. Capable of spectacular plays and can become a quarterback’s best friend.
Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
Bowers is a beast and despite all the recent talk of injuries – if he passes the medical checks I’m still taking him very early. You watch him during that 16-sack season and see major potential to be a dominant force at the next level. I’d be looking for 8-10 sacks as a rookie, which is a realistic target.
Tier two: Prospects you’d consider in the top-ten
The next group are players you’d be happy to take in the first ten picks and would provide excellent value in that 11-20 range if they fall.
Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas)
If I don’t have a quarterback and I’m picking in the top ten, I’m looking at Mallett strongly. He has the physical tools, he understands pro-concepts, he’s a surgeon progressing through reads and he has the necessary experience controlling an offense and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. There’s been too much negativity surrounding this guy.
Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
Peterson has all the tools to become an all-rounder – he’s a good coverage guy, physical against the run and he provides a threat as a kick returner. He’s capable of taking on a top-receiver one-on-one and competing, we saw that in two games against Julio Jones.
Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado)
Perhaps a player with even more potential than Peterson. When you watch Smith on tape, he has everything you look for in a cornerback. Many would argue differently, but I think there’s every chance he’ll have a better career than Peterson.
Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama)
Scheme flexible and is more than capable of playing as a disruptive force up the middle or setting the edge against the run. He won’t be a big stat-guy at the next level, but whoever takes him will notice his value.
Nick Fairley (DT, Auburn)
Unmatched quickness off the snap and has a cluster of moves to compliment that burst. He will consistently get into the backfield warranting extra attention, which will create opportunities for your edge rushers. Has a nasty streak which will lead to penalties, but manage it and you can turn it into a positive.
Cameron Jordan (DE, California)
He’s quick for his size and teams in a 4-3 should still consider him. Fluid technician who finds ways to get into the backfield. Jordan’s best years will come in the pro’s and with a star personality to match his talent, there’s no reason why teams shouldn’t consider him very early.
Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
Bounced back from an inconsistent 2009 to show real progress in Alabama’s run heavy offense. Understands routes and how to get open, elite size and speed combination. Jones can make Hollywood plays but also offer a safety net for a young quarterback. He’s dedicated and comes from a great programme that emphasises blocking.
Tier three: Prospects who could go in the top 10-15 based on need but are graded between 10-25
If your big need is quarterback or left tackle and you’re picking in the top ten, you might consider a guy in tier three. I hate using the word ‘reach’ because some positions are too important to ignore. If I’m holding a pick in the 11-25 range these are the guys I look at first, including anyone else who may have fallen out of my top two tiers.
Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri)
Has everything you look for in a top quarterback – mobility, good arm, character and he’s accurate. Even so, he’s been inconsistent and there is a certain degree of ‘unknown’ about Gabbert. The system he comes from in Missouri makes it difficult to make a full judgement either way. I’d take him in the top ten, but I put him behind Newton and Mallett and into tier three.
Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama)
Loves the game and plays every snap like it might be his last. Ingram has major star quality minus the elite breakaway speed, but he’ll be a work horse with major production if he’s drafted by a team that can run the ball. Intelligent, driven, understands blocking and has the vision to turn a small hole into a big gain.
Corey Liuget (DT, Illinois)
Ideal size for the three technique position and has a great first step off the snap. Consistently disruptive on tape and he’ll get into the backfield and force mistakes. He hasn’t got the production of Fairley or the scheme adaptability of Dareus, but he comes a close third in a strong group of defensive tackles.
Tyron Smith (OT, USC)
It became apparent towards the end of the college season that Smith would be the best offensive tackle in a class lacking that elite player at the position. This choice is based completely on upside - he has the frame, the lateral mobility and the strength to be one of the best in the NFL. You’re taking a chance, but it’s a calculated gamble.
JJ Watt (DE, Wisconsin)
He hasn’t got the elite speed and he’s more perspiration than style, but JJ Watt finds a way to make plays. Every week he’ll play hard and he’ll over achieve. In 2010 he had seven sacks, an interception and he blocked three kicks. He’s strictly a 3-4 defensive end, but in that scheme he’ll do what it takes to have an impact.
Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina)
There are things that concern me about Quinn – the tumor and the lack of football for two years ahead of his rookie season. I think he’s best suited to an orthodox 4-3 or the LEO position in Seattle. The tape shows real edge quality and no lack of effort, but he hasn’t got a great repertoire. If he plays college ball in 2010 and gets 10+ sacks he’d be a candidate to go second overall, instead he drops into tier three.
Aldon Smith (DE, Missouri)
Another player who could be higher but has some issues. Did he return from injury too quickly in 2010? He didn’t look the same dominant player from 2009 with top-ten potential. Smith was anonymous in the bowl defeat to Iowa. Otherwise he’s got perfect size for a 4-3 end, great technique and a better range than Robert Quinn.
Jabaal Sheard (DE, Pittsburgh)
Under rated player with the potential to be better than Quinn and Smith. Sheard plays hard every snap and he’s great against the run. He’s not the biggest statistically, but he looks big on tape. Speed is right up there off the edge and he was one of the quicker ends at the combine. Love the guy, his best years are to come and he fits both schemes.
Mike Pouncey (OG/C, Florida)
Just a solid player who starts in week one and gets on with his job. Had problems snapping early in the 2010 season but made corrections. I still prefer him at guard but teams who need a center should have no issues making this pick. The ultimate safe, unspectacular choice and good teams like New York and San Diego should consider this, with Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Philadelphia close behind.
Von Miller (OLB, Texas A&M)
I have Miller as a pure 4-3 outside linebacker. He can rush the passer from that position and still generate sacks – he could have a Julian Peterson type impact on the league. But the fact he’s a linebacker and can’t play up at the line lowers his stock for me. He’ll get washed out against the run up front and speed is really his only true asset. It’s also a big asset to have, of course.
Tier four: Prospects I’d grade as top-25 picks
Obviously players in this group will be off the board due to need (I fully expect Jake Locker to be drafted by Washington). However, these are the last five players I’d grade as part of my top-25.
Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
If I needed a quarterback and the top three are gone, in this range I take a chance on Locker’s upside. He can become a great player in the NFL, something that’s often forgotten. There will be growing pains.
Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor)
Looks sensational given his size and moves freely for a big tackle. The weight instantly makes people think he’ll play the nose, but I could see him at the five technique and maybe even playing some three technique.
Stephen Paea (DT, Orego State)
Slightly undersized for a 4-3 nose tackle, but offers so much value against the run. Added some pass rush production as a senior but his value in the NFL will come as a run stopper. If I’m Indianapolis, I ignore the need at offensive tackle to take this guy at #22.
Kyle Rudolph (TE, Notre Dame)
Injuries have hampered his stock but there’s no doubt to me a clean bill of health secures a first round grade. He’s a playmaker who adds dimensions to an offense, opening up the playbook.
Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska)
You’re getting an athletic player with potential to become a solid if unspectacular starter. He will make mistakes and he’s not going to be a great playmaker, but he’s a solid pick.
Just missed out:
Rodney Hudson (OG, Florida State), Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa), Derek Sherrod (OT, Miss. State), Brooks Reed (DE, Arizona), Akeem Ayers (OLB, UCLA).
Players I rate higher than most:
Jordan Todman (RB, Connecticut), James Carpenter (OT, Alabama), Jeremy Beal (DE, Oklahoma), Brandon Burton (CB, Utah), Pernell McPhee (DE, Miss. State), Ricky Stanzi (QB, Iowa)