Naturally, the draft talk is heating up. In an effort to mix things up a bit, why don't we take a break from the "Yes QB / No QB" and "Yes Upshaw / No Upshaw" talk, and take a stab at trying to sort out the premier talents in this draft. I've posted one mock draft so far and plan on posting another two, but I'm waiting on the all star games for the next one.
The idea of this list is to slot the 10 best players as I see them right now, and then point out some guys who (in my opinion) have the skill set to shoot up draft boards and into the top 10 come April. Between now and then there will absolutely be one or more players who go from 'fringe first rounder' to 'absolute top15/10 pick', thereby shaking everything up. Von Miller did it last season, and I believe someone will do it again this season. The good news here is: the Bills will not have to settle for second tier talent in the first round of the 2011 draft. There is definitely more than 10 complete studs in this draft class, which means one or more will certainly be on the board when the Bills pick. But who are they? That's the tricky part.
1) Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) 6'4 235lbs
Nothing to see here. We can dream of this man wearing a Bills uniform all we want, but it's impossible.
2) Matt Kalil (OT, USC) 6'7 295lbs
Probable franchise LT. Bills have no chance at Kalil.
3) Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU) 6'0 185lbs
Skill set to develop into a premier man-to-man cornerback in the NFL. Quite possibly the best pure cover guy of the LSU studs (Peterson, Claiborne, Mathieu).
4) Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama) 5'11 224lbs
Adrian Peterson kind of talent, except he's actually stronger. His being a running back could push him down to the Bills at 10, and although they would likely pass on him for obvious reasons (and probably should in that situation), I think that would be a tougher decision to make than most realize. Richardson can be special.
5) Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor) 6'2 220lbs
Nothing to see here. We can dream of this man wearing a Bills uniform all we want, but it's very close to impossible.
6) Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama) 6'3 192lbs
Significantly better tackler and zone defender than Claiborne, but doesn't have the same kind of man-to-man capability. Can still very much be a big time NFL cornerback with his strength and aggression.
7) Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma St.) 6'1 215lbs
Best and most pro ready receiver in this year's draft. Nowhere near the talent of last year's sensation AJ Green, but can still be a difference maker in the pros.
8) David DeCastro (OG, Stanford) 6'5 310lbs
Unlikely to be a top10 pick because of his position, but make no mistake: DeCastro is a rare interior OL prospect, and one of the best future pros of this draft class.
9) Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa) 6'6 300lbs
I'm not completely sold on Reiff becoming great NFL left tackle, but nonetheless I believe he warrants a high draft pick because of his upside to be at least a good one. Has the ability to become a starter at RT if the speed on the left proves to be too much for him.
10) Michael Brockers (DT, LSU) 6'6 306lbs
This man is incredibly powerful. I think he made a good decision coming out early (RS sophomore) because he's immediately the best defensive tackle in this class. Definitely more run stuffer /block occupier than gap shooter, though.
This next list is 5 guys, in no particular order, who I think all have a chance to crack the top 10 in the coming months with the combine, all star games, and pro days.
Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) 6'4 222lbs
I'll get him out of the way. As the third best QB in this class (which he almost certainly is with T. Wilson returning to Arkansas), Tannehill could definitely rise into the top10. Without the senior bowl, the interviews at the combine will be huge for him, as well as any time he can throw in front of scouts (whether it be the combine or A&M's pro day). I'm not sold on him by any stretch, but not including him in this list would be silly. If Buddy Nix is sold on Tannehill as a franchise QB by April, this is 100% the player the Bills should be drafting.
Nick Perry (OLB, USC) 6'3 250lbs
Another name that will crop up around here a lot in the coming weeks/months. I think he's the best pure 3-4 OLB in this draft class. His first step is not elite, but it's very good. He's got the strength and frame to develop into a solid run defender in the pros. Even though he wasn't very productive against Stanford (3 total tackles), I was still impressed by the game he played against Jonathan Martin, often being too much for the 'elite LT' to handle cleanly. Perry's lack of production in that game was more about Andrew Luck's prowess than Martin's, in my opinion.
Jerel Worthy (DT, MSU) 6'3 310lbs
Devon Still will probably be the guy most people talk about as being second (or first) best DT in this draft. I'm a bigger fan of Worthy. He is just as quick off the ball and violent in his hand usage as Still, but Worthy plays the run with better leverage and has more power/bulk in his lower half. I think his skill set translates very well to the pros and that he can be disruptive in a number of different ways.
Dont'a Hightower (LB, Alabama) 6'4 260lbs
As we all know, Courtney Upshaw's name caught fire around here pretty quickly. I think Upshaw is very clearly the second best linebacker prospect on his college team. Hightower is just as versatile and powerful as Upshaw is, and I think he would be the one with all the sacks if Saban had him rush the passer more often. I'd venture a guess that Hightower tended to play in the middle of that defense because he's the more rangy athlete. When he was asked to rush the passer I was much more impressed with his first step and burst than I was Upshaw's. I believe Hightower's ceiling is significantly higher and that he has the ability to do just about anything very effectively in the pros.
Bruce Irvin (LB, WVU) 6'3 245lbs
Bruce Irvin has two major problems: (1) with his thinner frame, he'll have a difficult time setting the edge and playing the run effectively in a 3-4 scheme. (2) he was way out of place in WVU's 3-3-5 defense which limited his playing time and production. I think Bruce Irvin is a similar athletic talent to Von Miller, but he's also a much bigger risk because of he's more of a projection with his lesser experience. His burst off the line is hands down the best in this draft class, and his change of direction skills are elite (and I mean elite) for his size. He also plays the game like his helmet's on fire. If he develops properly I think he can be an impact defender in the NFL for a coaching staff smart enough to play him off the line (in space, where he won't necessary have to meet blockers head on) in running situations, and to get after the quarterback from several different spots in passing situations.
There you have it. My top10 as of now, and 5 of the guys (I had a very tough time trimming that down to 5) I think have a real shot to rise up the draft boards this offseason and into the top15.
Who did I miss? Who do you want to fall to the Bills? Who on this list actually stinks and doesn't have a prayer? This post is for discussion purposes. Questions/comments are strongly encouraged.