For the last few weeks we’ve been going through our Pewter Plank big board, highlighting the best players at every position in the 2011 NFL Draft. We’ve already gone through each positional group, starting with quarterbacks and working all the way to safety (you can check out the positional rankings here), now it’s time to rank them all independently of their spot on the field. Here are my top 100 players in the 2011 NFL Draft.
For what it’s worth, this wasn’t easy. I’ve watched more film than I care to admit along the way to putting together these rankings. I’ve consulted literally dozens of scouting reports, tried to get as many perspectives as I could and I’ve probably forgotten an entire year’s worth of high school math just to remember inane facts about players that will probably never even come close to playing for the Bucs.
My point is this was a massive undertaking, and unless I’m being paid for this like Mel Kiper or Todd McShay, I hope I never have to do it on my own again. There’s a reason teams have entire departments dedicated to this stuff.
I’ve tried to weigh the level of competition, the athletic potential, the statistics and the projections for all the top players in the 2011 draft and this is what I came out with. I do tend to favor players on winning teams, to favor bigger conferences and to value athleticism over technique. You can always be coached up, you can’t learn quickness, you can’t learn instincts. Some things you either have or you don’t, other skill-sets, fundamentals, techniques, etc… can be improved.
This is not like a lot of the other lists you will read, and that’s something I take pride in. This is my list and my opinion, and you may not agree with it but this list was not compiled by throwing darts. It was scrutinized (probably overly so) and adjusted until I felt good about it. There’s also a reason this list wasn’t done until the Combine and Pro-Days were done. With all the information available, these are my top 100 players in the 2011 Draft.
1.) Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU - Peterson is the unquestioned best player in the 2011 NFL Draft. How dominant was Peterson last year in college? He won the Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defender, the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back and was named the SEC’s Defensive and Special Teams MVP’s. And he did it as a junior. Peterson is just 20 but he has the kind of athleticism and instincts that rarely come in one package, he combines ideal size for a corner with 4.31 speed and freakish athletic ability. There are little things here and there that Peterson can address to improve his game, but he is the most complete player with arguably the highest ceiling of anyone in the 2011 draft class. Peterson will be out-of-the-box ready for the NFL, he’ll contribute immediately on defense and special teams (he is an elite return-man) and should develop into an upper-echelon cover corner.
2.) Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M - Von Miller is an absolute beast of an athlete, the Bucs would be lucky to have a shot to draft him, which they absolutely will not. Barring a move to the top five, the Bucs have no shot at Miller. Miller is exceptionally gifted and has massive raw potential, but he’s still very green. With all due respect to the Texas A&M coaching staff and scheme, Von Miller’s role in college can basically be described as “see ball, get ball.” He will develop quickly, and has all the intangibles you want including the maturity, work ethic and character to be a great NFL player, but he is not out-of-the-box ready in the way some of the ‘backers have been in recent draft. Ultimately he should develop into an elite NFL talent that excels in pass rushing and coverage, a truly well-rounded outside linebacker.
3.) Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn – Nick Fairley is a classic example of how the 24-7 news cycle can hurt a kid. If you go off of merit there isn’t a better option at D-Tackle in the whole draft. Fairley was the dominant defensive players on the best team in the hardest conference in football last season. He has the quickness and agility to be a very talented interior pass-rusher and he has the strength and instincts to be a detriment to any opposing team’s run-game. But when you give the media three months to dissect a kid you get asinine statements like, “he’s more country strong than weight-room defined.” Put it this way, the only legitimate question mark about Fairley is his work ethic. But considering he worked his way through junior college to reach his goal of one day playing for Auburn, I don’t think there’s a lack of drive there.
4.) Julio Jones, WR, Alabama - The consensus top choice at receiver is AJ Green, and you really can’t go wrong with either, but in my book Jones is the superior receiver. It’s tough to compare these two statistically, Green was better in the same conference when you look at numbers but when you consider the caliber of the teams they played on and the offense each ran, it’s apples and oranges. Here’s why I like Jones, he’s a more complete receiver. He’s a better athlete (better measurables than Green with a stress fracture in his foot), he’s faster, he’s a little bigger and he is just as talented at hauling the ball in. What separates Jones is his experience in a pro-style offense and his willingness to block. Can AJ Green block? Yes, does he always? No. But Julio Jones at Alabama was a beast when it came to downfield blocking. He’s a kid looking to help his team out however he can. He’s willing to play through injuries (including a broken hand in 2010) and he’s got dynamic ability after the catch. The biggest knock on Jones is his route-running, he does tend to rely on athleticism instead of precision at times, but that will come and the rest of his game is NFL-ready. It’s really one and one-a, but Jones edges out Green for his intangibles.
5.) AJ Green, WR, Georgia - Green is really close to Julio Jones in terms of caliber. He came on at UGA as a freshman and was arguably the most prolific receiver in major college football over his career. Green combines tremendous size and speed with surprisingly good body control, but his long legs limit his agility and elusiveness after the catch. Green’s best assets are his hands, he has the best hands in the draft and knows how to use them, this isn’t a guy that’s going to catch the ball in on his pads and he can hold on to it when he gets leveled too. His route-running is also superior to that of Julio Jones, a factor many NFL scouts value highly. In terms of raw speed, Green is a tad slower in the 40 but in pads there’s really not much of a difference between the two. Green is a tremendous receiver and it’s extremely justifiable to put him on top of any list, but for NFL-purposes I feel like Jones’ game fits into that style of play a little better right now.
6.) Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri - Blaine Gabbert has become the consensus surest thing in the NFL draft. His physical ability is that of an NFL quarterback, he won a lot of games, managed the ball well and played in a major conference. I have nothing against Blaine Gabbert but his distinction as the top QB in the draft doesn’t mean he’s amongst the best players in terms of potential. Personally I just don’t see the “wow” factor from Gabbert. He’s a solid quarterback who does a ton of things right and he probably will have a great NFL career. But he was never amongst the best quarterbacks in any of his years in college in terms of either his numbers, wins or the eye test. And he isn’t amongst the most physically gifted of QB’s either. He’s safe. He lacks the injury issues of Christian Ponder, the character concerns of Cam Newton and the inconsistency of Jake Locker. The question is are you drafting Gabbert because of who he is, or because he doesn’t come with the same concerns as the other guys?
7.) Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina – If Marvin Austin had played last season he would arguably be first on this list. As it stands he was suspended for improper contact with an agent and missed his entire senior season. The questions with Austin are all off the field. He’s gained a reputation as a me-first player as a result of his suspension this year. Teams wonder if he has kept himself in adequate football shape and whether he’s going to continue to develop and meet his impressive potential. On the field, you can’t help but like what you see and his combine numbers and pro-day certainly seem to indicate he’s in peak physical shape. Austin is a supremely gifted athlete with above-average footwork, impressive upper-and-lower body strength and good speed and agility. If he keeps his head on straight, he should be a very good NFL defensive tackle.
8.) Cam Newton, QB, Auburn - Newton is hands-down the best athlete playing quarterback in the 2011 draft. He made Auburn this season. Without Cam Newton, Auburn runs middle of the pack in the SEC. The problem is Cam knows that. He knows how good he is. He refers to himself in the third person, he makes grandiose statements about his ability and there are still some questions about whether he took a pay-out. I’m not knocking on Newton, in a lot of ways I can admire his honesty and candor. But there are some considerable concerns about character to weigh down his athletic upside. There is a history of incidents. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get kicked off an Urban Meyer-coached football team? In his tenure as the UF head coach Meyer had over 35 arrests, more than double FSU and Miami’s combined in that time. A lineman once fired off an AK-47 over the Gainesville strip, players stole cars, Chris Rainey threatened to “kill a bitch.” Yet in that whole time only one player was (actually) dismissed from the team, Cam Newton. That’s a pretty big concern.
9.) Marcel Dareus, DT, Alabama - To me, the top three tackles in the draft are all so talented this list could be ordered several different ways. Marcell Dareus is first on many people’s lists but it’s not as if he doesn’t come with a few concerns as well. First of all, Dareus had inappropriate contact with an agent as well. Unlike Austin, Dareus only missed the first two games of 2010 but the me-first perception people have of Austin could certainly be true of Dareus as well. Dareus is also an under-classman and still needs a little more time to develop to get close to his potential. That potential is staggering though. Dareus looks to translate a little better to 3-4 Nose Tackle. He could put on a little more weight and his lower-body strength and ability to anchor and hold the point of attack would be ideal for teams running out of the 3-4. His pass-rushing ability will develop (if coached properly) but he’s never going to be exceptional there.
10.) Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson - A lot of people are down on Da’Quan Bowers because he’s been nicked up recently, that may actually work to the Buccaneers’ advantage. Bowers could potentially fall from the top of the first into the 20′s, that’s a prospect the Bucs would jump at. Bowers has all the physical tools to be a solid pass-rusher, the one knock on his pass-rushing is he needs to improve his first step. Beyond that though there’s not much to change, Bowers has elite upper-body strength and good leverage to abuse college tackles. He is already well-equipped to be a run-stopper on the strong side though he does need to improve some fundamental issues here and there. Bowers has become a student of the game. In the past year after losing his father and mentor (Gaines Adams), Bowers has dropped 20 pounds and recommitted himself to football. All the marks against him during the draft process are also fuel for that fire. This kid is going to be very good.