Jake Locker is projected by many to go first overall

When the blog relaunched this week I posted a 2011 mock draft. You can view it by clicking here or simply selecting ‘Mock Draft’ in the navigation bar underneath the headline logo. Firstly, trying to project the NFL Draft this year is premature at best and impossible at worst. None of the projections I’ve made here can seriously be considered because we have no idea how prospects will perform, if they’ll stay healthy or draft order. The point of such an early projection is merely to consider the pre-season ‘hype’ for want of a better word. Who are the prospects being talked about going into the 2010 college season? Who will live up to expectations and who will fall?

If you looked at mock drafts this time last year you might have seen Jevan Snead (QB, Ole Miss) amongst the top picks. He went undrafted and was recently cut in Tampa Bay after joining as a UDFA. His career appears to be over before it ever started. At the same time, the likes of Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Eric Berry were almost locked in amongst the top picks and never dropped.

So what about my most recent mock? I have Jake Locker (QB, Washington), like a lot of other draft sites, going first overall. Unless a team like St. Louis or Detroit are picking first overall, it’s safe to assume the best quarterback available will end up going first overall. There are a handful of candidates, but Locker appears to be the one most expect to continue to develop in a pro-style offense. His greatest challenger according to some is Stanford’s Andrew Luck. I left Luck out of my mock mainly because a.) I’m not convinced he warrants the hype and b.) I’m not sure he’ll declare for the NFL draft next year as a redshirt sophomore. Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas) has the kind of tools that will interest some teams but he needs to be more consistent especially against the top teams in the SEC. Christian Ponder (QB, Florida State) is a mobile, accurate passer who is capable of earning a first round grade, but he’s not physically gifted enough to challenge the top spot. Other prospects like Nick Foles (QB, Arizona), Jerrod Johnson (QB, Texas A&M) and Terrelle Pryor (QB, Ohio State) are worth monitoring as potential picks in rounds 1-3 but appear unlikely to land in the top ten barring dramatic performances this year.

Robert Quinn (DE, UNC) is the consensus top ranked defensive end. He’s perhaps best suited to a 3-4 outside position but could have some use in Seattle’s ‘LEO’ position (likewise for other teams who utilise a separated rush specialist). I had him going #2 in my mock, but he’ll need a big year to justify that. He has room on his 6’5″ to improve upon the 260lbs he current lists at and getting up to 275lbs might broaden his horizons. He could compete with other talented defensive lineman such as Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama) and Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa) to be the first off the board.

After a rich three years of offensive line talent, this could be a relative down year. Gabe Carimi (OT, Wisconsin) is over rated and I’d recommend ignoring suggestions he’ll be a first round pick next year, or even a left tackle at all in the NFL. Anthony Costanzo (OT, Boston College) is tall at 6’7″ and that will concern a lot of teams, but he might be the most naturally gifted tackle legible for 2011. Keep an eye on Joseph Barksdale (OT, LSU) because he might come into contention to be the first off the board. BYU’s Matt Reynolds can also break the first round and could go earlier than he otherwise would in what should be a down year for one of the NFL’s premium positions.

It should be a good year for first and second round receivers. A.J. Green (WR, Georgia) is by far the best and could be a top ten pick with consistent quarterback play next year. The QB situations at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh may also harm the stock of Michael Floyd and Jonathan Baldwin, but both are bigger receivers with playmaking qualities who could be first round picks. Julio Jones (WR, Alabama) will benefit from the most secure quarterback situation (Greg McElroy is steady if unspectacular) but he needs to be better in 2010. On a talented Crimson Tide roster, he failed to shine last year and made too many mental mistakes (basically – drops).

There are two stand-out linebackers on offer, although you wouldn’t necessarily expect Seattle to spend first round picks on the position next year. Bruce Carter (LB, UNC) and Travis Lewis (LB, Oklahoma) are both superb talents that thoroughly deserve any pre-season hype being thrown their way. At cornerback, Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska) could be a top ten pick and is worth watching this year. It’ll be interesting to see how Jared Crick (DT, Nebraska) performs without Ndamukong Suh next to him, but I like Crick a lot. Finally at running back – Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama) is the current Heisman Trophy winner and could walk into the league today. However, his physical running style could concern some teams cautious of investing in a work horse. He may also share carries with talented sophomore Trent Richardson. Ingram will be productive if he stays healthy and he could be a top pick. He could also be brilliant again this year and last until later in the first – but you suspect he’ll be a starting NFL running back this time next year either way,