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.
Tier 2 Realistic Targets
8. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Opinions on Carimi vary from "Jake Long in a yarmulke" (credit to ColtsHomer) to a Pro Bowl caliber RT. I wouldn't mind adding either of those. Carimi is a 4 year starter with 49 starts at LT under his belt. Carimi is an excellent run blocker, it's whether he has the quickness to pass protect on the blindside that is the overriding concern. His performance in Senior Bowl practices and at the combine has won him some converts, but didn't put the question to rest.
9. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Like Carimi, Castonzo is a very experienced senior OT, with legitimate academic chops, but his skillset is a strong contrast to Carimi's. Castonzo has excellent athleticism, his game is built around the quickness that is questioned in Carimi. Castonzo's struggles are related to a lack of strength and bulk. He doesn't get good push in the running game and can be beaten by the bull rush. Adding bulk and strength will be key to Castonzo's success as a pro.
10. Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi St.
Another prospect with extensive experience at a BCS school playing LT and strong academics. Sherrod falls in-between Carimi and Castonzo in quickness and strength, but is the least experienced of the 3 (only 3 years starting to Carimi and Castonzo's 4) and comes from an offense that is run-heavy and not pro-style. Of the 5 LT prospects considered likely 1st round picks, he's the last who would be considered "polished" as opposed to "raw".
11. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon St.
Tremendously strong, built wide and low to the ground and possessing a quick burst off the line Paea is an elite run stopper. Paea was talked about as a 3-4 NT prospect until he came into the Senior Bowl significantly under his listed 311lbs. Was up to 303lbs for the combine, but still doesn't have the pure mass that most 3-4 schemes want in a NT. He was productive as a pass rusher in college (15 sacks in 3 years), but doesn't have great speed or many pass rushing moves. He could definitely be distruptive against the pass as a pro with his quickness and power, but he'll probably create more sacks for his teammates than himself.
12. Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
Liuget holds up against the run well and excels at disrupting the backfield, but his size and skillset are better suited for the 3-tech where he can shoot gaps and exploit one-on-ones as opposed to the more natural 1-tech Paea. Liuget could probably play the 1-tech wel, but it's not the best use of his skills. Liuget's production over 3 years at Illinois was solid, but never eye-popping.
13. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
A rare physical talent Solder is a touch over 6'8" and weighed in at 319lbs at the combine. An excellent athlete with 3 years experience starting at LT after seeing significant time as a blocking TE his redshirt freshman season. Technique still needs work and his huge frame makes him rather lanky, even at almost 320lbs. Like most towering offense tackles a short, compact, rusher can give him fits (think of the Freeney vs Ogden matchups).
Tier 3: Darkhorses
14. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
A big strong corner at 6'2" 211lbs with excellent man coverage skills leading to comparisons to Nnamdi Asomugha. Smith is reminisant of Utah CB Sean Smith (no relation as far as I can tell), a 2nd round pick who has started 24 games the last two years for the Dolphins, but Jimmy seems like a better fit for a zone team than Sean was, though both were at their best playing man to man. Smith raised some eyebrows at the combine with comments that for some crossed the line from confident into arrogant:
asked for a reaction to a comparison to Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, Smith said;
“I like the comparison, he’s a shutdown corner in the NFL. I mean, I like the comparison a lot. I think I have better ball skills than he does, though.’’
15. Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois
A big powerful back with experience and very good skills in the passing game, LeShoure's skillset on the field is very attractive for the Colts scheme. Being a true junior who had disciplinary issues his first two seasons seriously hurts his fit with the Colts philosophy though. He had decent production his Sophomore year as the 1A back in a 2 back system, but was only a workhorse back this past year.
16. Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Smith is a fantastic athlete, but is the least experienced of the top 5 LT prospects by far and a suspension for academics in 2009 raises a work ethic red flag that the other prospects lack. After backing up LT Charles Brown as a true freshman Smith started the past two years at right tackle. Having played at 285lbs his size was a concern, but he weighed in at 307lbs at the combine. He didn't workout though, coming off a knee injury, so his Pro Day will be very important to his draft stock. He needs to keep the weight on and show that gaining over 20lbs didn't compromise his athleticism.
17. Mike Pouncey, G/C, Florida
He isn't considered quite the prospect his brother Maurkice was last year, but he has comparable size, athleticism and (with the extra year at UF) experience. While Maurkice hit the starting lineup on the OL as a true freshman, Mike actually got 4 starts on the DL after injuries pushed a temporary position switch. Started every one of Florida's games the following 3 years at guard and center. Biggest concern is his early season issues with shotgun snaps, but he improved and his unquestionably a great guard prospect.
18. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami (Fl.)
A great athlete with 32 starts in 3 years at Miami, but he's a bit small, needs work tackling (though he makes the effort) and is better in man than zone. Of course those were the same flaws in the scouting reports that made Jerraud Powers a puzzling pick when it happened and we know how that worked out.
19. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Big WR at 6'4" 228lbs with fantastic hands and good speed. His route running is still rough and there are concerns about his character/work ethic, but a surehanded WR with his size/speed combo is going to be a hot prospect.
First Round Value, Poor Fit
Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Prolific pass rusher with 27 sacks the past two seasons and 32.5 in his college career. At 6'3" 246lbs with little experience with his hand on the ground or in coverage he doesn't really have a position in a 4-3 D, but will almost certainly be drafted top 10 to play OLB in a 3-4 D.
Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
Entered the starting lineup immediately at UNC and put up 19 TFLs and 11 sacks in his Sophomore season. Fantastic athleticism for a 6'4" 265lb player. He was suspended for the entire 2010 season for accepting benefits from an agent and there are concerns that he tended to feast on inferior opponents and disappear against quality teams. 4 of his 13 career sacks came against non-BCS conference opponents with another 7 coming in 3 games against very bad Virginia and Duke teams. Only 1 sack in 7 games against ranked opponents.
JJ Watt, DE/DT, Wisconsin
Watt is sneaking into the top 10 in some mock drafts due to a combination of size (6'5" 290lbs), strength and athleticism that makes him an attractive option as a 3-4 DE. Success as a pass rusher mostly came rushing from a DT spot or bull rushing the OT meaning he's unlikely to be a good option as a full time DE in a 4-3. Not a fit as a 1-tech DT as he's tall, lanky and vunerable to double teams.
Cameron Jordan, DE/DT, California
Ready made 3-4 DE, Jordan was excellent against the run and effective as a pass rusher in Cal's 3-4 D. Not a speedy edge rusher and size isn't great for a 4-3 DT at 6'4" 287lbs, so unlikely to follow former teammate Tyson Alualu into a 4-3 defense.
Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
Excellent pass rusher with experience as a 3-4 OLB (rare as the scheme is only recently catching on as a base D at the college level). Not as big or strong against the run as you'd like from a 4-3 DE and asking him to play coverage rather than rush often is a horrendously bad use of his skillset, so it's a safe bet he lands in a 3-4 D.
Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
A raw, less experienced prospect who will need to bulk up to be a 4-3 DE or learn to play some coverage to be a 3-4 OLB, but has great physical tools and was productive in his two years on the field at Missouri.
Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Disappointed at the combine and so might not be considered an option as an edge rusher anymore, but Ayers was a productive versatile linebacker at UCLA and has excellent size. Almost universally considered the best option for a 4-3 LB or a 3-4 ILB in the draft.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue
Fantastic production with 54.5 TFLs and 30.5 sacks the last 3 years, but his size and athleticism are unspectacular at best, limiting his upside. Will almost certainly be a solid player, but whether his game will translate well enough to justify a first round pick is often questioned.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Disappointed this year after a dominant junior season, but has the skills to justify a 1st round selection. Clayborn got off blocks quickly against the run and was an effective pass rusher thanks mostly to excellent strength rather than great edge rushing speed/quickness. Was considered for a move inside to DT, but Christian Ballard was moved instead, Clayborn rarely played on the inside.
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
The premier runner in the class, but pass blocking needs work and he was significantly less productive last season than in 2009. While he's likely to be the first back selected in this draft, many think he wasn't the best back on his team.
Cam Heyward, DE/DT, Ohio St.
Strong, versatile, experienced and productive Heyward should make for a good late 1st round pick for a team looking for a 3-4 DE or a 3-tech DT who can be a run stopper at DE as well. His Sugar Bowl performance started DeMarcus Love's freefall from the 1st round LT mix to a midround guard prospect.
Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Versatile linebacker who showed off excellent athleticism at the combine. Size, athleticism and skillset makes him a fit somewhere in pretty much any scheme. Missed almost all of the 2009 season with a serious neck injury and really only lived up to his fantastic potential this past season.
Part 2 coming: Trade Back Options, Late 2nd Targets and More!