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The 2011 NFL draft is fast approaching, and very well could be the only thing to look forward to this season. My rankings are not a prediction of draft order; they are just a breakdown of the top talent available this year. However, I will take a guess at where they will be drafted because it’s fun to do.

1. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU – Peterson may be the second most gifted athlete coming out of college this year. He is 219lbs and ran the 40 in 4.32. Some experts are calling him the best corner prospect since Charles Woodson. That is obviously the highest of praise for the player that is probably the closest thing to “can’t miss” in this year’s draft. Draft Prediction: 3rd to Buffalo or 5th to Arizona

2. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama – Dareus is one of those players that gets a bump up after a great Combine. He weighed in at 6’3”, 319lbs, but still had a faster 10-yard split in the 40 than the 291lb defensive tackle, Nick Fairley. He only has one full year of starting experience, but his run stopping size and pass-rushing speed, make Dareus an extremely safe pick, with monster upside, on draft day. Draft Prediction: 1st to Carolina or 2nd to Denver

3. Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M – Miller has awed all observers at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. In the Senior Bowl he was drawing comparisons to Clay Matthews and in the Combine he ran a 4.46 40 with a 37-inch vertical leap. His speed and leaping ability are made even more amazing by the fact that Miller is 6’3” and weighs 246lbs. He is one of those draft picks that could immediately make an impact in the NFL. Draft Prediction: 3rd to Buffalo or 5th to Arizona

4. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia – Julio Jones may have run a faster 40 time at the Combine, but Green is still the consensus top wide receiver in this year’s draft. He has the size, speed, and hands to be an elite pass catcher for years to come, and he should make an immediate impact his first year in the NFL. Draft Prediction: 4th to Cincinnati or 6th to Cleveland

5. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn – Newton is one of the most physically gifted athletes in any sport. He has a great arm and has shown incredible poise and leadership ability. He did not play in a pro-style offense and he did not have to make multiple reads, but his size, speed, and arm strength will be more than enough to get him by while he is adjusting to the pro game. Draft Prediction: 1st to Carolina or 3rd to Buffalo

6. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina – Quinn would have a lot more buzz around him right now if he had not missed the 2010 season because the NCAA said he had improper help from a tutor. So he misses the full season, but Cam Newton doesn’t? Anyway, I digress. He also had a scare with a brain tumor that turned out to be benign. This kid has a lot to prove and is talented enough that he probably would have been a top-five pick if not for his troubles. Draft Prediction: 5th to Arizona, 6th to Cleveland, 8th to Tennessee, 9th to Dallas, 10th to Washington, 11th to Houston (Houston would be extremely lucky to grab him here)

7. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson – Bowers is getting a bad rap because of his inconsistency, a bad knee, and a lack of solid tape. This may all be true, but with size and athleticism that reminds experts of Julius Peppers (who is inconsistent at times), Bowers will be tough to pass on early in the draft. Draft Prediction: 1st to Carolina, 2nd to Denver, or 4th to Cincinnati

8. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri – Gabbert has all the analysts and experts drooling. He may not be the physical specimen that Cam Newton is, but he has more of the qualities of a successful, classic NFL quarterback. He played in a spread offense in Missouri, but he ran a pro-style offense in high school. Newton may have the commercial value, but Gabbert may be the much safer pick. Draft Prediction: 1st to Carolina, 4th to Cincinnati, or 7th to San Francisco

9. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn – Fairley has bounced back and forth between being the top defensive tackle in the draft and being the second best (behind Marcell Dareus). In the end, I think it will come down to size. Dareus is the bigger player, but Fairley (currently at 291lbs) certainly has the frame to bulk up and he should be a quality NFL player for years. Draft Prediction: 6th to Cleveland or 8th to Tennessee

10. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama – The amazing thing about Jones’ 4.3 40 time, is that he did it on a broken foot. The difference between Jones and A.J. Green is very slight and both project as number one receivers. Draft Prediction: 10th to Washington or 12th to Minnesota

11. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska – Patrick Peterson is said to be the best cornerback prospect since Charles Woodson. Well, Amukamara is not that far behind Peterson in skill level and would make an excellent addition to any team. Draft Prediction: 7th to San Francisco, 9th to Dallas, or 11th to Houston

12. Tyron Smith, OT, USC – At the Combine, Smith weighed in at 307lbs with nearly 37-inch arms. Bottom-line, this kid is a beast and easily the best offensive lineman available this year. Draft Prediction: 12th to Minnesota, 13th to Detroit (Stafford could use the protection)

13. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama – Ingram is probably the biggest name in the draft, other than Cam Newton, and deservedly so. He is the best running back available this year and should make an immediate impact in the NFL and, if he lands in the right situation, in fantasy football. Draft Prediction: 15th to Miami or 19th to New York Giants

14. Cameron Jordan, DE, California – Jordan had an excellent 2010 season with 5.5 sacks and 12.5 Tackles for Losses. He impressed at the combine and showed his attitude at Senior Bowl practices by hitting the quarterback and almost getting tossed for it. Draft Prediction: 11th to Houston, 12th to Minnesota

15. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri – Smith is just a raw athlete. He had some injury issues in 2010, but still had 4.5 sacks and 10 Tackles for Losses. He has been described as a “freak” and this has always been a positive label for a defensive end. Draft Prediction: 11th to Houston, 13th to Detroit, 14th to St. Louis

16. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue – Kerrigan is a 3-year starter and an Academic All-American. He was team captain and is widely known as an extremely hard-worker. Guys with this kind of resume typically do very well in the NFL at the defensive end position where you not only need to have the physical gifts, but you also have to out-think the opposite offensive lineman. Draft Prediction: 16th to Jacksonville

17. J.J. Watt, DE/DT, Wisconsin – Watt is a guy this shooting up draft boards after tremendous work-outs. There is some speculation that he could go in the top-10 this year. I don’t really see a scenario where this will happen, but the draft is extremely difficult to predict. Draft Prediction: 16th to Jacksonville or 18th to San Diego

18. Nate Solder, OT, Colorado – The second best offensive lineman available, Solder is a blue-collar worker that has impressed at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Draft Prediction: 13th to Detroit, 17th to New England, 18th to San Diego

19. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa – Clayborn would probably be a top-10 pick if it wasn’t for some character issues. His talent will not allow him to fall out of the top-20, though, as there are a lot of teams in need of a solid pass-rusher. Draft Prediction: 14th to St. Louis or 20th to Tampa Bay

20. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado – Even though Smith is the third best defensive back in the draft, he will still drop a lot on draft day due to character issues (he was arrested twice and tested positive for drugs). Reports are that he even lied about the number of arrests during team interviews. But solid cover guys are extremely difficult to come by and I feel that someone in the Top-25 will have to take a chance on him. Draft Prediction: 23rd to Philadelphia or 25th to Seattle

21. Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, UCLA – Ayers is one of the players that could be drafted as high as 15th or as low as 40th. He is extremely versatile and should make an excellent pass rusher from the outside linebacker position. Draft Prediction: 17th to New England, 19th to New York Giants, 30th to New York Jets

22. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College – I’m sure this guy has heard all the Seinfeld jokes and has probably dealt with the nickname, Can’t Stand Ya. On second thought, probably not. This guy is huge and is extremely athletic for a big man as he showed at the Combine. Draft Prediction: 19th to New York Giants or 22nd to Indianapolis

23. Phil Taylor, DT/NT, Baylor – Another giant human being (334lbs) with great athleticism (ran a 5.18 40). He has had some weight issues and off-the-field issues, but by all accounts he has gotten both under control and is looking like a solid NFL run-stopper. Draft Prediction: 21st to Kansas City

24. Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin – Wisconsin has produced some great NFL offensive lineman and Carimi is looking like yet another. He is the best left tackle available in the draft and, other than quarterback, it is the most important position in football. Draft Prediction: 21st to Kansas City or 22nd to Indianapolis

25. Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois – Pass-rushing defensive lineman is the deepest position in the 2011 draft. In other years, a player like Liuget would be ranked even higher and will make a great value pick for whichever team grabs him lower in the first round. Draft Prediction: 14th to St. Louis, 17th to New England, 24th to New Orleans

Honorable Mentions:

26. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple – Wilkerson is a player that could move up a lot as we get closer to the draft because of his tremendous upside. He is versatile with a ton of athletic ability. Draft Prediction: 17th to New England, 18th to San Diego, 28th to New England

27. Mike Pouncey, G, Florida – Pouncey projects to have a solid NFL career and because he is a guard, teams should immediately be able to plug him into lineups. Draft Prediction: 15th to Miami, 22nd to Indianapolis, 25th to Seattle, 29th to Chicago

28. Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada – I wanted to add a third quarterback to my list since that is the one position that can single-handedly turn a franchise around. Kaepernick had an excellent college career and impresses everyone with his work-outs. Draft Prediction: 12th to Minnesota, 15th to Miami, 34th to Buffalo

The Fantasy Dick is the brain behind www.thefantasydick.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thefantasydick. Feel free to ask any fantasy sports related questions or just questions about life in general, The Fantasy Dick is an expert on both.

From Around The Web

  1. Jim Beam says:
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    Doc & Co., better start researching relacement players. This years fantasy landscape looks to be a crapshoot!

  2. Nomar Mr. Nice Guy says:
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    I went played football in high school with Anthony Castonzo.. Every time he messed up the head coach would scream CAN’T STAND YA. Pretty funny.. In all seriousness this guy has busted his ass since high school and his parents have him on a crazy diet to put on tons of pounds.

    In H.S he was just ok, he played some JV lol.. But his freshman year in college he went to a military academy and it really changed him from an unathletic big guy to a real beast. Wish him all the best.

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