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Tar Heels among top defensive prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft

With college football kicking off this weekend, here's a look at the top defensive prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft. For a look at the top offensive prospects, click here. (*denotes underclassman)

Robert Quinn*/DE/North Carolina: Quinn's athleticism, playing style and ability to take over games is reminiscent of former Tar Heel Julius Peppers. He's an exciting defender who makes plays all over the field. Quinn will be a very early pick once he enters the draft.

Marcell Dareus*/DL/Alabama: His status for the season is up in the air due to the ongoing NCAA investigation but scouts already know Dareus has talent. He offers potential at defensive tackle and as a two-gap end and comes with a large upside.

Aldon Smith*/DE/Missouri: Smith was the dominant force for the Tigers last season. He's an undersized yet explosive pass rusher.

Greg Romeus/DE/Pittsburgh: Romeus caught the eye of scouts as a redshirt freshman and his game has only gotten better.

Allen Bailey/DL/Miami-Fla: Bailey is another versatile prospect who can impact a game from several defensive line positions. He constantly defeats double team blocks to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Adrian Clayborn/DE/Iowa: Clayborn is a tremendous pass rusher. He's fast up the field but struggles defending the run. His inability to handle blocks will limit the number of schemes he will be effective in at the next level.

Stephen Paea/DT/Oregon State: The Beavers top defensive lineman is drawing comparisons to former USC first-round pick Sedrick Ellis. Paea is slightly undersized yet explosive, intense and a potential starter in the NFL.

Jerrell Powe/NT/Mississippi: Powe moves towards the 2011 draft as the top nose tackle in the nation. He commands double and often triple team blocks.

Cameron Heyward/DL/Ohio State: Heyward bypassed NFL riches in April to return for his senior season with a first-round grade. Like many others on this list, Heyward is being considered at defensive tackle and as a two-gap end.

Pernell McPhee/DE/Mississippi State: McPhee took the SEC by storm last season after transferring from junior college. He's a terrific pass rusher who also holds his own defending the run.

UNDERRATED -- Christian Ballard/DL/Iowa: Ballard takes a backseat to his headlining teammate Adrian Clayborn yet is just as athletic and explosive. He plays the tackle position with tremendous quickness and also offers the skills to be used at defensive end in a 3-4 alignment.

OVERRATED -- Marvin Austin/DT/North Carolina: Presently under the glare of an NCAA investigation, Austin is an incredibly gifted lineman. However, he does not play hard on every down and is close to being labeled an underachiever by scouts.

Bruce Carter/North Carolina: Carter is the quintessential weakside linebacker prospect. A three-down defender, he's fast, fluid and covers a lot of area on the field. Carter offers starting potential in a traditional 4-3 alignment.

Von Miller/Texas A&M: He's the top rush linebacker in the nation. He plays with great balance, athleticism and awareness.

Akeem Ayers*/UCLA: The UCLA junior has as much upside as any other linebacker in the nation. He has the potential to be a dominant strongside linebacker in the NFL.

Mark Herzlich/Boston College: Herzlich's story has been well-documented and his football skills are on a par with any defender in college football. Can his cancer-free body hold up over the course of the season? That is the question NFL scouts need answered.

Kelvin Sheppard/LSU: This hard-working inside linebacker has a terrific nose for the ball. He moves well sideline-to-sideline and displays skill defending the pass.

UNDERRATED -- K.J. Wright/Mississippi State: Wright has the size, speed and instincts to be a three-down defender. He's effective stuffing the run and covering the pass.

OVERRATED -- Quan Sturdivant/North Carolina: He's considered a possible first-round talent in many quarters. On film he's presents himself as a two-down defender who struggles making plays outside the box and in pass coverage.

Prince Amukamara/CB/Nebraska: Amukamara has a terrific game. He's physical, possesses solid football speed and top ball skills. A good senior campaign followed by top workouts before the draft could push him into the top 10 next April.

Patrick Peterson*/CB/LSU: The argument can be made that Peterson possesses better physical skills than Prince Amukamara and has a larger upside. And though the arrow is pointing north for Peterson, he needs a lot of work.

Ras-I Dowling/CB/Virginia: Dowling is a talented corner with an improving game. He possesses better ball skills than former Cavalier Chris Cook, the 34th pick in April's draft.

Kendric Burney/CB/North Carolina: Burney is an opportunistic cornerback who took his game to another level last season. He offers good size and NFL ball skills.

Charles Brown/CB/North Carolina: The Tar Heels' other cornerback is also a legitimate NFL prospect. If there's one negative, it's that he occasionally takes unnecessary chances, which results in big receptions for the opposition.

Chykie Brown/CB/Texas: Brown is a nice-sized corner who beats down opponents to defend the pass. He offers a large degree of athleticism yet needs to improve his instincts.

Mark Barron*/S/Alabama: Barron was a key member of Alabama's talented secondary last season. He's a forceful centerfielder with a knack for making plays.

Marcus Gilchrist/DB/Clemson: Gilchrist does not get the hype many of his teammates do, yet he's a complete defensive back who displays toughness against the run and good ball skills in pass coverage.

UNDERRATED -- Richard Sherman/CB/Stanford: The former Stanford wideout moved to cornerback last season and showed a variety of skills. He's a nice combination of size, speed and toughness. Sherman also impacts the game returning punts.

OVERRATED -- DeAndre McDaniel/S/Clemson: Despite his eight interceptions last season, McDaniel is a straight-line safety who struggles making plays outside the numbers.

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