After the combine draft boards are largely set. The teams have been review the players’ tape for months and now thanks to the combine they got numbers on size and raw athleticism as well as a chance to poke and prod the prospects, medically and personally. There will be real movement as guys with injuries show progress or a lack thereof and as a few guys surprise teams at their Pro Days, but by and large the teams know all they are going to get about the prospects.
With this in mind I’m going to lay out my rankings of the prospects if I was running the show in Indy (scary thought, I know). Given the Colts roster, scheme and philosophy this is the order I would take this draft’s best players.
Tier 1: Only in dreams
1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
A freak athlete with big time college production to show for it. Peterson ran the second fastest 40 of the combine (4.34) despite coming in at 6’0″ 219lbs (LSU listed him at 222lbs). Became a starter halfway through his true freshman season followed by back to back All-American seasons at CB and an early entry to the draft. With neither A.J. Green nor Nick Fairley blowing people away at the combine (although with the expectation level for a top 5 prospect at the combine that’s no surprise or big knock) Peterson looks like the clear top prospect in the draft class, though Carolina’s needs may push them to select someone else.
2. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Coming off an excellent combine Dareus is the likely candidate to edge Peterson for the top pick if the Panthers chose to address a much greater need with a slightly less fantastic prospect. Dareus tipped the scales at 6’3″ 319lbs, but was clocked under 5.0 in the 40 and looked quick and smooth in position drills. Dareus lacks the kind of college production Peterson put up, but still has an excellent resume. Dareus was a rotational player his first two years coming to national attention as a Sophomore with 9TFLs and 6.5 sacks playing part-time as a DE in Alabama’s 3-4 defense. With all 3 of ‘Bama’s starting linemen leaving after 2009 Dareus wasn’t able to top his previous season, but put up a strong 11TFLs and 4.5 sacks as a starting DE and the clear focus of opposing blocking schemes.
3. AJ Green, WR, Georgia
Lacks the pure freak aspect of the previous two, but at 6’4″ with solid speed (4.50 40 and plenty of production going deep in college) he’s no slouch in the athleticism department. Great production and polish is what makes Green an elite prospect. Green hit the field imediately as a true freshman and put up 166 receptions, 2,619 yards and 23 touchdowns over his 3 year career at Georgia. Excellent hands and well developed route running skills combined with his size and very good athleticism makes Green a prospect ready to produce early with low risk and a high ceiling.
4. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Only one year of production, with some character/work ethic concerns and a lack of elite size and strength against the run, why is he a top 5 prospect? 24 TFLs, 21 QB hurries and 11.5 sacks last year, from a DT! Fairley was the most disruptive force on the interior in college football last year. There’s quite a bit of risk with him, but his 2010 season stacks up against Suh’s dominant 2009.
5. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Jones is a mirror image of Green in many ways. Stronger and bulkier than Green, Jones put up a blazing 4.39 40 (on a broken foot) and topped Green in just about every drill at the combine, but while Green is sure handed and a polished route runner, Jones has struggled with inconsistent hands and is an improving, but not great route runner. Jones is less pro ready than Green and carries more risk, but has better physical tools.
6. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
Well rounded corner who answered the biggest concern about his game with a 4.43 40 at the combine. Good size at 6’0″ 206lbs, 2 1/2 years as a starter with the skills to play zone or man and is strong in run support. Prince has just about everything you’d want in a corner and lacks any serious flaws in his game, but falls short of Peterson’s freakish size/athleticism combo.
7. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
An excellent run defender Bowers exploded onto the scene as a pass rusher this past year with 15 sacks. Bowers looks ready-made to terrorize right tackles for the next decade, but the lack of an elite burst off the line could limit him as an edge rusher. He did produce his first two years, but nowhere near the level of this past season. While he claims that his knee is 100% after postseason surgery to repair a torn meniscsus his decision not to work out at the combine raises red flags that his Pro Day will need to address or his stock will suffer.