The 2011 NFL Draft class looks to be an exciting one if some of these phenomenal underclassmen decide to head for the draft and forgo their last year of college football. Here are some of the most exceptional players and what they bring to the table.
Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford Cardinal
There isn’t much more you could want in a quarterback than a player like Andrew Luck. He has all of the tools that a scout looks for in a prototypical NFL quarterback, and he’s only in his second year as the starting quarterback for Stanford. He has outstanding athleticism and awareness to go with his excellent arm strength, precision passing and impressive decision making. He is easily one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in recent years, and he still has two more years of eligibility left. This season, he completed 245 of his 349 passes for 3,051 yards and 28 touchdowns, while holding himself to only seven interceptions. In two years, he turned a Stanford team that was 4-8 into a team that was 11-1 (the school wins in a season record) and headed to a BCS bowl game as the number four team in the nation. If he decides to enter the draft, which many expect him to, half the league will be trying to find a way to secure his services. The number one pick in the 2011 NFL Draft will almost certainly be used on him if he declares.
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU Tigers
Whether it’s on defense or special teams, Peterson seems to make his presence felt on just about every play. On defense, opposing quarterbacks emphasize not throwing to his side, and when they do, it usually ends poorly for them. This season, Peterson racked up 36 tackles, four interceptions and six passes defended. Some may say that these stats aren’t of a super star player, but all you have to do is watch this guy play to know he’s special. And even after the defense is off the field and you think you’ve seen enough of Peterson, he’s right back out there returning kickoffs and punts. In 2010, he had a 16.9 yard average on 26 punt returns, including two touchdowns. He also averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return. This dual-threat athlete has made life difficult for opposing SEC teams who will surely be glad to see him head to the NFL. If he decides to forgo his senior year and enter the 2011 NFL Draft, he is a lock for a top 10 pick.
Da’Quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson Tigers
Bowers could easily be the next Julius Peppers with the amount of talent and athleticism that he possesses. During the 2009 season, Bowers proved that he could be a force in the run game but struggled to be dominant while rushing the passer. In 2010, he took his first step towards being an elite NFL defensive end. He improved from three sacks in 2009 to 16 sacks in 2010, proving his ultimate athleticism and quieting doubters in the process. Against the Maryland Terrapins, he even managed to take down the opposing quarterback for three sacks. He fights hard against the run with his impressive strength, but can use outstanding speed and sound technique to be an offensive tackle’s worst nightmare. With so much athleticism and potential still waiting to be developed, Bowers could easily be taken in the top five if he decides to enter the 2011 NFL Draft.
Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Alabama Crimson Tide
Dareus took 2010 as a chance to prove that he was one of the elite defensive tackles in the NCAA, and he didn’t disappoint. Although his stats weren’t eye-popping (30 tackles, 4 sacks), his presence on the defensive front and in the offense’s backfield are enough to prove that he is capable of being a disruptive force. His pass rush abilities have improved since 2009 despite notching two less sacks this year. He soaks up double teams and allows his teammates to make plays. From a size standpoint, he fits the mold of a prototypical defensive tackle, and possesses rare speed and quickness for the position. If he can get drafted into a scheme that fits his style, continue to unlock his potential and play more consistently, Dareus could easily be one of the best defensive tackles in recent draft history. He will most likely go in the top 15 of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Things weren’t looking too good for Oklahoma State’s offense after losing both their starting quarterback and wide receiver this past off-season. However, it didn’t take long for them to find their newest quarterback-receiver tandem that would strike fear in opposing defenses. Quarterback Brandon Weeden made it his hobby to connect with Blackmon over and over again in 2010. Blackmon ended the year with 102 receptions for 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns despite missing a game due to an ankle injury. No matter what the opposing defense did, no one could slow down Blackmon, who had at least 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in every game he played in during the 2010 regular season. He replaced Dez Bryant who went on to be a big success in the NFL, and could easily follow in Bryant’s footsteps if he decides to enter the 2011 NFL Draft.
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Georgia Bulldogs
Robert Quinn, Defensive End, North Carolina Tarheels
Ryan Mallett, Quarterback, Arkansas Razorbacks