ESPN’s Mel Kiper has posted his initial Top 25 Big Board for the 2011 NFL Draft (only 11 months early). There are very few head scratchers, but no one should get too attached to his analysis right now.
Last year he did get it right with Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford on top, as well as hitting on the value of three other Sooners—DT Gerald McCoy, OT Trent Williams and TE Jermaine Gresham. However, those were pretty much no-brainers.
Let’s not forget that he also tabbed Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead as the seventh-best prospect and he went undrafted, and Texas QB Colt McCoy at No. 11 and he slipped to the Browns in the third round.
This year Kiper doesn’t project any team to be as dominant in the first round as Oklahoma, but there are three teams with multiple players. His list also includes 11 offensive and 14 defensive players.
He also prefers the talent in ACC (seven), SEC (six) and Pac-10 (five), and Kiper is a bit skittish on Florida Gator talent (Tebow backlash still?).
So based on Kiper’s initial Big Board should we expect those players to lead their programs to success in 2010? Let’s take a look.
Wisconsin (1 player)
The Badgers are known for producing lineman and Kiper believes Wisconsin has another round-one talent.
OT Gabe Carimi (No. 24) took over for former first-round pick Joe Thomas and has answered the call. At 6-7, 325, Carimi is now a veteran blocker who will adjust well to the NFL game.
Overall impact: The Badgers are one of the top 4 teams in the Big Ten and Carimi will solidify and offensive line that will face a number of defenses in 2010.
Nebraska (1 player)
Under Bo Pelini the Cornhuskers are not far away from returning to the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s under Tom Osborne. That also means more NFL talent coming to Lincoln again.
CB Prince Amukamara (No. 23) almost transferred after his freshman season, but now he’s one of the nation’s top secondary guys. The 6-1, 200-pounder is a former running back who plays very physical and is solid in coverage.
Overall impact: The Cornhuskers are on the rise, so Amukamara won’t be asked to carry the team but he’s clearly a key component to their success.
USC (1 player)
The Trojans are another first-round juggernaut with recent picks including Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Clay Matthews.
Next year, DT Jurrell Casey (No. 22) should be able to add his name to the list. The 6-1, 295-pounder uses his quickness to cause havoc in the backfield. Casey has also developed a reputation as a hard worker on and off the field.
Overall impact: After a disappointing 2009, USC under first-year coach Lane Kiffin are not considered a Top 10 team. Casey should anchor the defensive line and the Trojans could be a surprise team.
Virginia (1 player)
As bad as the Cavaliers played under Al Groh, it always seemed UVA had some top talent. So the Groh affect is alive and well.
CB Ras-I Dowling (No. 21) could have come out early last year, but wanted to return to improve his game and earn his degree from one of the best academic institutions in the nation. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Dowling is a big corner who also has the speed to play at the highest level.
Overall impact: Virginia is still rebuilding and expectations are low, but first-year coach has to be pleased that Dowling is back this year.
Notre Dame (1 player)
After watching QB Jimmy Clausen plummet into the second round, there’s no guarantee that Kiper has a good feel for Irish players.
But watch WR Michael Floyd (No. 19) and it’s easy to see why NFL teams would like him. He has the right size (6-3, 220) and he can stretch a defense with his speed. It’ll also be interesting to see if he flourishes in Brian Kelly’s offense this fall.
Overall impact: The Irish need someone to step up and Floyd is the perfect candidate to help Notre Dame get past back-to-back mediocre seasons. Floyd will be a reason ND gets to at least eight wins.
Miami, Fla., (1 player)
The U is a first-round factory. OK, the Hurricanes didn’t have one this past season. But that won’t happen again next year.
DE Allen Bailey (No. 16) came on late last year and he’ll need to be more consistent in 2010 to remain in the first round. At 6-4, 288 pounds, Bailey has contributed all three years in Coral Gables.
Overall impact: Bailey is an impact player, but he won’t dictate if Miami is going to return to elite status again.
Virginia Tech (1 player)
Frank Beamer gets more out of marginal NFL talent than anyone. But the Hokies have also had their fair share of elite talent.
RB Ryan Williams (No. 15) is shifty, powerful and could be better than former Hokie Kevin Jones, who was a first-round pick of the Lions. The 5-10, 207-pounder rushed for 1,655 yards and a mind-boggling 21 TDs.
Overall impact: If he stays healthy all year Williams will be the best back in the ACC and lead VT to an ACC Championship. He’ll also be a nightmare for Boise State in the opener.
Pittsburgh (1 player)
Hey look, a Big East player! The conference is no SEC, but the Big East has seen its fair share of first rounders.
WR Jonathan Baldwin (No. 14) garnered a lot of attention last season with 57 receptions for 1,111 yards and eight TDs. With his great size (6-5, 225) and speed (4.4) he has to be considered a No. 1 target or an outstanding No. 2 in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald-Anquan Boldin or Marvin Harrison-Reggie Wayne.
Overall impact: In a wide open race in the Big East, Baldwin should lead Pitt to its first conference title since 2004.
Texas (1 player)
Coach Mack Brown has been a recruiting dynamo the past decade, so sending players to the NFL is a pretty regular occurrence. What may be a little more surprising is that the Longhorns have just one listed on Kiper’s board.
The lone representative is a keeper, though. CB Aaron Williams could easily move ahead of Peterson on the list. The 6-1, 190-pounder has a bit of a nasty streak and he shows a knack for making big tackles.
Overall impact: The Longhorns reached the pinnacle last season, but fell one victory shy of the goal. Peterson is a good place to start for DC Will Muschamp, as Texas should be a Top 5 team again.
LSU (1 player)
It’s no surprise that LSU is represented on this list and Kiper’s pick is one of the best in the SEC.
CB Patrick Peterson (No. 10) is just as likely to play safety in the NFL, but he’ll likely start as a corner. The 6-1, 211-pounder borders on cocky, but has the skills to back it up.
Overall impact: Peterson will shut down one half of the field and LSU needs to improve on defense if the Tigers have any chance of upsetting Alabama in the SEC West.
Ohio State (1 player)
Talking about Buckeyes in the first round is pretty common. Kiper believes Ohio State will return in round one after a year off.
DE Cameron Heyward plays huge when the game is big. Remember how he put on a dominating performance in a tough loss to USC last fall? If he can play like that on a regular basis, the 6-6, 287-pounder will be a hot commodity at the draft.
Overall impact: Ohio State needs Heyward’s leadership as the Buckeyes look to repeat as Big Ten champs. Heyward could also be a key in getting OSU back to a national title shot.
Boston College (1 player)
The Eagles have produced some outstanding pro lineman and that tradition should continue.
OT Anthony Castonzo (No. 8) should be able to play left tackle in the NFL making him extremely valuable. He has the size (6-7, 298) and the polished footwork to be both a quality run and pass blocker.
Overall impact: Dave Shinskie, a former minor league baseball player, should feel protected by Castonzo. The Eagles also return a number of starters and should be stronger, but not necessarily an ACC contender.
Arkansas (1 player)
There may be a lot of people who don’t like Bobby Petrino’s style, but the guy can coach.
When he convinced QB Ryan Mallett (No. 6) to come to Arkansas when he was looking to leave Michigan, Petrino snagged one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. The 6-7, 238-pounder has the best arm strength of any prospect, and fits the mold of Ravens QB Joe Flacco.
Overall impact: With Mallett and Petrino this could be a big year in Fayetteville. Mallett is a big reason why the Razorbacks are back in the upper echelon of the SEC.
Iowa (1 player)
The NFL likes Hawkeyes and there’s a very good chance another Iowa player will be called in the first round.
DE Adrian Clayborn (No. 5) is what you call a safe pick and should have a nice pro career. He’s fast (4.8 40) for his size (6-3, 282). He could also be an every down player since he’s great at creating pressure on the quarterback, but also holds his own against the run.
Overall impact: Iowa is a legitimate Big Ten contender and potential Top 10 team. Offensively the Hawkeyes return just four players, but if the defense comes up big and Clayborn could cause major problems for some of the league’s best QBs.
Georgia (1 player)
The Bulldogs were shut out of the first round this year, but that’s very unlikely to happen again.
WR A.J. Green (No. 4) has been considered a top-tier player since he arrived in Athens. With his size (6-4, 207), speed and natural ability Green easily projects as a No. 1 target for any NFL team.
Overall impact: Green can only do so much, especially with a quarterback situation a bit iffy with Aaron Murray currently on top of the depth chart. Green can’t single-handedly lift UGA past Florida in the SEC East.
Stanford (1 player)
Jim Harbaugh is working his tail off pulling in top talent at a school with some of the toughest admission requirements.
Luckily for Harbaugh, QB Andrew Luck (No. 2) is the true definition of scholar athlete. This is something the NFL will love also as he’ll probably ace the Wunderlich. Now Luck isn’t a guarantee to leave early, but he’s smart enough to know how much money he’d be leaving on the table. The 6-4, 235-pounder has the pedigree (his father Oliver played in the NFL) and he projects well as a franchise QB.
Overall impact: When Luck injured his hand in the final regular season game he needed surgery and missed the Sun Bowl, a game the Cardinal lost to Oklahoma. He’s the key to Stanford’s success and with the Pac-10 hierarchy in disarray he could be a key to leading Stanford to the top.
Washington (1 player)
Just one season with Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies are a team on the rise. Sark’s impact was so profound that he convinced QB Jake Locker (No. 1) to return for his senior season.
The 6-3, 226-pounder may be the most gifted quarterback, as he possesses a strong arm and has the agility to move in the pocket. He’s still working on his accuracy, but most analysts believe he’s a top-five pick.
Overall impact: When Locker announced he was returning for his senior, bypassing millions from the NFL, the Huskies immediately became a bowl contender, which is a big step for this once proud program.
UCLA (2 players)
In two years under Rick Neuheisel, UCLA has improved from 4-8 to 7-6. But the offensive minded coach seems to be attracting more talent on defense. Kiper projects two Bruin defenders going late in round one.
For the few people who watched last year’s EagleBank Bowl, OLB Akeem Ayers (No. 20) is remembered for his pick six that led to a Bruins win over Temple. The interception helped him earn the MVP Award for the game. At 6-4, 252-pounds, Ayers has an NFL ready body and the athleticism to be a star.
S Rahim Moore (No. 25) also cracks the list after leading the country in interceptions last year with 10. He made a number of All-America teams in 2009 and should be on most preseason teams. With great speed and a knack for being around the ball, Moore will fit in well in the NFL and strengthens the Bruins secondary with great instincts.
Overall impact: UCLA returns 14 starters, but the Bruins are still weak in some key positions and finishing much higher than last year seems very unlikely.
North Carolina (3 players)
Tar Heels coach Butch Davis has been stockpiling top prospects in Chapel Hill the past few years. The talent has been most noticeable on defense and Kiper agrees as all three North Carolina projected first-round picks come from the defensive side. There may not be a better front seven.
North Carolina has the highest ranked defensive player in DE Robert Quinn (No. 3), who is still just 19 as he begins his junior year. He’s on the Ronnie Lott Trophy Watch List and possibly has the most upside of any potential first-round pick in 2011. He may also be one of the biggest risks as he’s still growing and developing. In the NFL, though, his skills are too much to overlook for long.
ACC quarterbacks beware. If Quinn isn’t enough offensive coordinators much game plan for DT Marvin Austin (No. 13) as well. The 6-3, 305-pounder has been known to take plays off, but when he’s going 100 percent he’s arguably the top lineman. He takes up space and has shown dominance as a run stuffer.
UNC returns nine defensive starters and Kiper doesn’t even include a few potential first rounders (MLB Quan Sturdivant or FS Duenta Williams), but he doesn’t overlook OLB Bruce Carter (No. 18). The 6-3, 230-pounder is consider the top prospect at his position and is a tackling machine. He also has a knack for making big plays on special teams, especially blocking kicks.
Overall impact: Is the ACC’s best defense enough to overcome Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami in the ACC Coastal? Unfortunately the Tar Heels offense will cost them a shot at playing in the ACC title game.
Alabama (3 players)
Wonder why most pundits believe Alabama could repeat as national champs? It’s all of that NFL talent. Kiper likes three Crimson Tide players to go in the first round. This after seven Bama players were drafted last month.
Alabama’s deep talent pool starts with defensive end Marcel Dareus (No. 7 on Kiper’s board). The 6-3, 296-pounder is an athletic beast. He has the size, strength and speed necessary to succeed in the NFL. He had a breakout season in 2009 and expectations are even higher for the junior. He’ll be called on to anchor and solidify the Tide defense, but he’ll also see more double teams.
The most recognizable Tide player on Kiper’s board is the reigning Heisman winner, tailback Mark Ingram (No. 11). Ingram is fresh off rushing for nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 5-10, 212-pound back is a durable and straight-ahead back who is difficult to bring down. He also has the luxury of not having to carry the load with the versatile and shifty Trent Richardson more than capable of spelling Ingram during the tough SEC season.
The final Bama projected first rounder is the physically gifted wide receiver Julio Jones (No. 17). Injuries slowed the 6-4, 211-pound Jones the first half of last season. He’s as physically gifted as any receiver in the college game, but there are concerns about his concentration. To be fair, Jones started to look like his old self in the SEC Championship game. If he returns to form as a junior he’ll be a hot prospect and will make life for QB Greg McElroy that much easier.
Overall impact: These three are the nucleus of a Crimson Tide squad that could easily repeat as SEC Champs as well as National Champs.