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2011 NFL Draft: Ranking top 50 prospects heading into combine

One week before the NFL Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis and it's time to revisit the draft board. Several players improved their grade with impressive performance at events such as the Senior Bowl and Shrine Game. Others were passed by and now rank lower.

Once again it looks like the first two rounds will be heavy with quality defensive line prospects. Twenty-one players who can make a living on the defensive line grace our top 50, a number that's sure to stand out in April.

An interesting side note is that no quarterback ranks among our top 10, although many mock drafts project two to be selected in the first handful of picks. More than anything else, this illustrates the dire need many franchises have at the position and, as witnessed in past drafts, the willingness to roll the dice on a lower rated prospect in the hopes of developing stability underneath center.

Here's a look at the top 50 draft prospects as we head towards the combine:

1) A.J. Green/WR/Georgia: Green is a game-breaking receiver with the skills to be a No. 1 wideout at the next level. He does not possess Calvin Johnson ability but is the best and safest prospect available in April.

2) Da'Quan Bowers/DE/Clemson: The Tigers' pass rusher extraordinaire was a force in the ACC from his freshman campaign on. He has all the skills to be an impact lineman at the next level and would do well in a four-man front.

3) Nick Fairley/DL/Auburn: Fairley was one of the most dominant defensive players in the country last season after breaking into Auburn's starting lineup. He has the skills to play several positions on the defensive line and can be an immediate starter.

4) Patrick Peterson/CB/LSU: Scouts graded Peterson as a big-time NFL cornerback the moment he stepped on the field at LSU. He ranks as the top athlete in April's draft.

5) Marcell Dareus/DL/Alabama: Dareus was the dominant force on the Alabama defensive line, a unit that has put a lot of talent in the NFL the past two drafts.

6) Cameron Jordan/DL/California: Jordan finished off a stellar college career by wowing scouts at the Senior Bowl. He's the top senior prospect.

7) Prince Amukamara/CB/Nebraska: The Cornhuskers star has been steady and solid the past two seasons. Questions about his speed have arisen as scouts await his combine workout.

8) Aldon Smith/DE-OLB/Missouri: Smith suffered through the '10 season with injury, yet at times looked like a one-man wrecking crew. Teams must watch the '09 film to see the explosive Smith at his best or they will be doing themselves a disservice.

9) Von Miller/LB/Texas A&M: He was considered by most as the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospect in the draft. Now Miller ranks as the top 4-3 weak side prospect after a great week at the Senior Bowl.

10) Robert Quinn/DE-OLB/North Carolina: A year ago, many mentioned Quinn's name in the conversation for the first pick in this year's draft, but a season-long suspension pushes him out of the top eight.

11) Blaine Gabbert/QB/Missouri: The Missouri junior is a strong-armed QB, but will need time to acclimate himself to a disciplined NFL passing system.

12) Tyron Smith/OT/USC: Smith is the number one tackle in the draft. He's an athletic blocker who possesses the strength to play on the right side as well as the footwork to be a blind-side protector in the NFL.

13) Cam Newton/QB/Auburn: Newton is all the rage outside of scouting circles but NFL decision-makers are not yet convinced. There's no doubting his physical skills, but many wonder how long it will take Newton to develop into a disciplined NFL-style passer.

14) Mark Ingram/RB/Alabama: The '09 Heisman Trophy winner was hobbled by preseason knee surgery and lost an edge on his game last season. Still, Ingram is one of the few complete backs available in this year's draft.

15) J.J. Watt/DL/Wisconsin: The former tight end has been a devastating force since moving to the defensive side of the ball. Watt is athletic, powerful and a defender who viciously sacks the quarterback or chases down running backs in pursuit.

16) Cameron Heyward/DL/Ohio State: Heyward is not as flashy as many of the highly rated defensive linemen, rather just a good football player who does the little things well.

17) Julio Jones/WR/Alabama: Jones was a dominant presence from Day 1 at Alabama. Despite his enormous talent he does not consistently play like a number one receiver, which concerns NFL scouts.

18) Akeem Ayers/OLB/UCLA: Ayers is one of the most complete linebackers available in April's draft. He has the athleticism to be used as a weak-side defender in a conventional alignment as well as the strength to stand up over tackle in a 3-4 system.

19) Ryan Kerrigan/DE-OLB/Purdue: One of the most polished seniors in the draft, Kerrigan has the skill, character and work ethic that scouts love. His 255-pound frame is a slight concern.

20) Adrian Clayborn/DE/Iowa: Scouts graded the Iowa product as one of the highest rated seniors before the season began, but a disappointing campaign in 2010 has caused him to slip.

21) Brandon Harris/CB/Miami-Fl: Harris is a natural cover-corner with the size and ball skills to start at the next level. He's best in a man-cover system and is a prospect who can help a franchise as a rookie.

22) Christian Ballard/DL/Iowa: Unlike teammate Adrian Clayborn, Ballard is zipping up draft boards. He's a sensational athlete at 288 pounds and offers the ability to play several defensive line spots.

23) Derek Sherrod/T/Mississippi State: Sherrod has shot straight up draft boards after a terrific senior campaign. He's one of the few pure left tackles available in the draft.

24) Ryan Mallett/QB/Arkansas: Mallett is a pure pocket passer and enters April's draft with possibly the strongest arm of any quarterback available. He needs a lot of work on his fundamentals and decision-making.

25) Nate Solder/OT/Colorado: The former tight end is considered a project in the works. He has the size and athleticism to start at the all important left tackle spot yet needs to polish his game.

26) Phil Taylor/NT/Baylor: He impressed scouts with his play on the field and the work he put in off it. Taylor, who transferred from Penn State, is the top nose tackle prospect in the draft.

27) Anthony Castonzo/T/Boston College: Castonzo's stock is on the rise after impressing scouts the past five months. He offers potential at both offensive tackle spots.

28) Jimmy Smith/CB/Colorado: Smith is a large, physical cornerback who quarterbacks purposely avoid. He has starting potential at the next level.

29) Muhammad Wilkerson/DL/Temple: Wilkerson is one of the most underrated defensive line prospects in April's draft. He's a great combination of size, athleticism and brute force.

30) Gabe Carimi/OT/Wisconsin: Carimi played well against top competition last season and continued the momentum with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. He's another with possibilities at either tackle positions.

31) Allen Bailey/DL/Miami: Bailey disappointed scouts as he never improved off the brilliance he showed early in his Miami career. He's still a quality lineman and may just need proper coaching.

32) Jonathan Baldwin/WR/Pittsburgh: The next top receiver from the Pittsburgh program, Baldwin is a tall, imposing wideout who takes over contests when focused on his game.

33) Brooks Reed/DE-LB/Arizona: Reed is on the rise as he's a nasty defender whose style is drawing comparisons to Clay Matthews.

34) Marvin Austin/DL/North Carolina: The incredibly talented Austin flashed dominance in Carolina yet also displayed a lot of inconsistency and poor judgment in his college career.

35) Aaron Williams/CB/Texas: Williams comes off a solid year and offers big-league size with the ball skills to match.

36) Torrey Smith/WR/Maryland: Smith is one of the few game-breaking receivers available in April. He needs work on the details of his game yet comes with a high upside.

37) Drake Nevis/DL/LSU: Nevis was unstoppable for most of his senior season. Size concerns (6-1, 291 pounds) will push him down draft boards.

38) Jake Locker/QB/Washington: Locker's physical skills and leadership qualities are early round-one caliber. His poor mechanics, accuracy and often suspect decision-making drops him a full round.

39) Titus Young/WR/Boise State: Young is drawing comparisons to DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles. He's a play-making receiver who also breaks games open as a return specialist.

40) Kendall Hunter/RB/Oklahoma State: Hunter lacks the size to be a feature runner in the NFL but has the makings of a Leon Washington-type player.

41) Colin Kaepernick/QB/Nevada: Kaepernick answered the call at the Senior Bowl and improved his draft stock by a full round. The combine will give him an opportunity to prove it was no fluke.

42) Jabaal Sheard/DE-OLB/Pittsburgh: Sheard stepped up last season after his talented teammate Greg Romeus went down with injury. He offers potential at defensive end or outside linebacker.

43) Leonard Hankerson/WR/Miami-Fla: The Miami senior comes off a career season and has positioned himself as the top senior wideout in the draft.

44) Danny Watkins/OL/Baylor: The former firefighter from Canada plays smart, tough football and continues to exceed expectations.

45) Justin Houston/DE-OLB/Georgia: The Georgia junior is a tremendous pass rusher out of a three-point stance. The problem is Houston lacks the size for the defensive end position and has poor instincts as a linebacker.

46) Jerrel Jernigan/WR/Troy State: Jernigan is a tremendous skill player who positively affects the game as a receiver, return specialist and on the occasions he's asked to run reverses.

47) Jerrell Powe/NT/Mississippi: Powe is a big man who controls the line of scrimmage. He's a dominant force at the top of his game yet has stretches where he disappears from the action.

48) Michael Pouncey/G/Florida: Though not as gifted as his brother Maukrice, first-round pick of the Steelers last April, Michael is still legitimate starting material in the NFL.

49) Stephen Paea/DT/Oregon State: Disappointing play as a senior followed by an injury during the Senior Bowl has pushed Paea into the second round.

50) Kyle Rudolph/TE/Notre Dame: Rudolph sits atop a very weak class of tight ends. He's a terrific blocker and solid pass catcher but not a consistent downfield playmaker.

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