It's Thursday, which means it's time for our weekly chat about college football and, more importantly, 2010 NFL Draft prospects. We've done several posts in this series and it's been generally pretty popular - so, naturally, we're tinkering with it again today. It's a little early to be doing anything like this, but what the heck - top ten lists are fun to rip apart at any point in the season.
This is our list of the top ten NFL prospects currently playing college football. The list is a combination of our opinions on players, as well as the general buzz surrounding players from the pros at this point. Feel free to offer up your opinions on each player on the list, as well as whether you think other players need to be mentioned amongst this elite group as well.
1. Jake Locker, QB, Washington. No player's draft stock is higher right now than this 6'3", 226-pound junior's. That's a little scary, considering there are some pretty serious question marks surrounding Locker's game, particularly his accuracy (he's only completing 57% of his passes this season). No player does more with as little as Locker does at UW; his leadership skills are paralleled (or, as it happens, probably eclipsed) only by those of Tim Tebow. His stats won't blow you away, but scouts love his intangibles, his huge arm and athleticism, and the fact that he's operating a pro-style offense under Steve Sarkisian. He'd probably be better served finishing his college run in 2011, but if he comes out after this season, he's a very serious contender to be selected No. 1 overall.
2. Ndumakong Suh, DT, Nebraska. This guy is outstanding. At 6'4" and 302 pounds, Suh has the most NFL-ready body of any defensive lineman in the country. He's been a dominant force in the Big 12 for the last two seasons, and while he has all of the traits that any dominant defensive lineman possesses (size, brute strength, athleticism, motor), what sets him apart is the fact that he's constantly around the football despite receiving so much attention from opposing blockers. Scouts love the fact that he's so involved, game in and game out. Scheme versatility is the icing on the cake. Barring injury, there's no way this guy slips out of the top five.
3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma. Yes, I put Suh ahead of the 6'4", 298-pound McCoy on this list, but McCoy might have the most potential of any defender in the nation. The junior has probably been even more dominant than Suh this season; he's anchored an Oklahoma defense that's had a lot of pressure on it as the Sooners try to win games without Sam Bradford. He'll always be compared to former OU star (and current Bears star) Tommie Harris, but McCoy is a better pro prospect. He's explosive at the point of attack and is a tremendous athlete. Another sure-fire top five prospect at the moment.
4. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame. Simply because of the school for which he plays, Clausen is hyped up and scrutinized more than most players in the nation. The 6'3", 223-pound junior has taken it in stride and is having by far his best college season, despite ND's 4-2 record. He's been absolutely clutch late in games this season, flashing outstanding leadership skills and playmaking ability with games on the line. Scouts love the fact that he's performing at an extremely high level at perhaps the most difficult college school to play for, and he's doing so with excellent poise and maturity. Charlie Weis' NFL ties help as well. You'll hear concerns about his arm angle on throws - much like David Carr did when he came out - but rest assured that Clausen is a very legitimate pro prospect, and has an outside shot at being the first player taken if he comes out and has a strong close to the '09 season.
5. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee. It's really tough for safeties to make a name for themselves in college, and most that do do so based on athletic prowess alone. Berry - a 5'11", 203-pound junior - made his name based on production in his first two years at Tennessee. He had 12 interceptions, 3 sacks and 3 defensive scores in his first two seasons at UT, and while his stat production has slipped under Monte Kiffin (he has just one INT this season), he's still the best player on the field for the vast majority of his snaps. His instincts and intangibles are through the roof, and while his big plays are the big selling point, he's a big hitter and a great athlete, too. One of the few instant-impact defensive backs in the country, and another virtual lock for the top ten.
6. Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa. The 6'6", 312-pound junior (yeah, there are a lot of juniors on this list) has made a full recovery from an overblown thyroid problem and injury issues earlier in the season, and has very nearly regained the form that made him one of the top underclassmen on scouts' lists entering the season. Bulaga is big, with quick feet and long arms, and he can sink his hips against speed rushes - that's pretty much all you need (along with a mean streak, of course) to become an elite NFL offensive tackle. With a strong finish to the '09 campaign, Bulaga will cement himself as the top tackle available should he decide to leave Iowa a year early.
7. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas. Let's be frank - Mallett, a 6'7", 238-pound sophomore, is nowhere near ready to become the face of any NFL franchise. There are still serious questions surrounding his accuracy and leadership qualities - because let's face it, not many sophomore quarterbacks are the assertive, willful leaders that cause scouts to nudge said players up draft boards. To say he's made strides in his second year under Bobby Petrino, however, is a massive understatement. Arkansas has been surprisingly competitive in the SEC this season, and that includes their most recent loss, a 23-20 road decision to No. 1-ranked Florida. Mallett has thrown just three interceptions and 14 touchdowns this season - that's as many as Clausen - and clearly he's got the size, arm strength and athleticism that scouts drool over. His potential is elite, but he'd be silly not to return to Arkansas for his junior season. His game needs a lot of polish.
8. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama. Well, he's definitely big - 6'5", 365 pounds big. He surprised some folks a year ago when he elected to return to Alabama for his senior season, and it's really paid dividends for a Tide team that features the best defense in the nation. Cody isn't a stats guy, but he's so massive and strong that he has what we might refer to as the Ted Washington effect - he makes life infinitely easier for every other Tide defender simply by being on the field. He can collapse pockets and he pursues well for a man of his stature. Considering the continued emergence of the 3-4 defense as the scheme of choice in the NFL, plenty of NFL teams will have Cody at or near the top of their boards come April.
9. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama. I realize that I just got done talking about how McClain's teammate, Cody, makes life easier for everyone. McClain is obviously benefiting from playing with Cody, but the 6'4", 256-pound junior is a top-flight prospect on his own merit. He produces (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT and a forced fumble to this point this year), and he's one of the biggest and most athletic linebackers in the country. Big linebackers that can run are a rare commodity in the NFL, and when you add in his experience, leadership and scheme versatility, McClain will almost certainly be the first linebacker off the board. He can play inside in a 3-4 or a 4-3, and he'll captain a defense at the NFL level. His potential is vast.
10. Arthur Jones, DT, Syracuse. Who else is as genuinely excited about the fact that we've got a fourth defensive tackle on this last as I am? Jones' stock continues to slowly rise in his senior season at Syracuse, which remains one of the worst football programs in the nation (though things are certainly looking up for the program under head coach Doug Marrone). The 6'3", 295-pound senior was considered a high-round prospect entering the season, but his stock has never been higher - he's not the biggest guy, but he plays with great power and leverage, and like the first two tackles on this list, he always seems to be around the ball despite receiving more attention than any of his SU teammates. The fact that he has the body type to play inside in a 4-3 or, more importantly, end in a 3-4, will do more for his draft stock than anything else. Again, Jones has the look of an instant-impact defender at the NFL level.