April 27, 2010

The book is closed on the 2010 NFL Draft, yet it's never too early to start thinking ahead. Already NFL scouting services are processing information to prepare for next April's event, and it looks as though the 2011 draft will again be stacked with top defensive line prospects. Here's a list of the top 40 draft-eligible players who have the potential to impact next year's draft (*Denotes underclassmen):

1) Robert Quinn*/DE/North Carolina: Quinn comes from the Julius Peppers mold and is a sensational defender who constantly makes plays behind the line of scrimmage.

2) Ryan Mallett*/QB/Arkansas: The strong-armed pocket passer would have been a first-round pick had he entered this year's draft. He'll be the first signal-caller selected and a top-10 pick.

3) Julio Jones*/WR/Alabama: The Tide's game-breaking receiver has a terrific combination of size and speed.

4) Marcell Dareus*/DL/Alabama: Several scouts think Dareus could end up as the best NFL prospect from an Alabama defense that's been loaded with next-level talent.

5) Cameron Heyward/DL/Ohio State: He considered entering this April's draft but opted for another year in Columbus. He offers great upside and has improved his game every season at Ohio State.

6) Prince Amukamara/CB/Nebraska: Amukamara sits atop what looks to be a talented class of cornerbacks. He consistently shuts down opposing receivers and offers the size teams want in a starting corner.

7) Bruce Carter/OLB/North Carolina: Carter is a terrific outside linebacker prospect whose size and style perfectly fits a traditional 4-3 alignment.

8) Patrick Peterson*/CB/LSU: The LSU junior is a great talent and possesses a large upside to his game. His combination of size, speed and ball skills will awe scouts.

9) AJ Green*/WR/Georgia: Green displayed NFL skills the minute he stepped on the field as a freshman at Georgia. He's a complete wideout with very reliable hands.

10) Jake Locker/QB/Washington: Locker's decision to return to Washington for his senior campaign was a bold move, yet the correct one. He's a great athlete with terrific upside potential.

11) Greg Romeus/DL/Pittsburgh: Romeus has terrorized opposing quarterbacks the past three seasons and makes a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage. His decision to return to Pitt for one more year should enhance his draft grade.

12) Mark Ingram*/RB/Alabama: The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner moves toward 2010 as the top running back prospect in the land. He possesses the size and speed to be a feature runner on the NFL level.

13) Von Miller/DE-OLB/Texas A&M: Miller has been a pass-rushing terror at the defensive end position for A&M but some scouts project him to outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Miller could make a big move up draft boards this season.

14) Andrew Luck*/QB/Stanford: Luck was instrumental in Stanford's resurgence in 2009. He's a talented passer with a bright future.

15) Ras-I Dowling/DB/Virginia: Dowling's game really improved last season, and the large defensive back has the talents to play cornerback or safety.

16) Stephen Paea/DT/Oregon State: Paea gave serious consideration to entering this April's draft, but pulled back in the final hours. He's an explosive one-gap tackle who draws comparisons to Sedrick Ellis.

17) Michael Floyd*/WR/Notre Dame: The game-controlling receiver must return from the broken collarbone that sidelined him most of last season. He's highly thought of in the scouting community, as teams love his size and pass-catching skills.

18) Adrian Clayborn/DE/Iowa: Clayborn lacks the classic size/speed numbers, yet like many of his Hawkeye predecessors, he makes plays with hustle and by relying on his football intellect.

19) Da'Quan Bowers*/DE/Clemson: He's a talented defensive end who teases scouts with his potential. He flashes big-time ability then disappears for stretches. His draft stock will fluctuate over the next 12 months.

20) Cliff Matthews/DE-OLB/South Carolina: Matthews is similar to many of the defensive players selected in this year's draft: A terrific pass rushing defensive end many project to outside linebacker.

21) DeMarco Murray/RB/Oklahoma: He's struggled with injuries in the past, but offers solid size and potential as a feature runner in the NFL.

22) Marvin Austin/DT/North Carolina: Austin is a difference-maker when his motor's running. If he puts it all together in 2010, he could charge up draft boards.

23) Charles Brown/CB/North Carolina: Brown displayed big-time ability as a sophomore in '08, yet his game leveled out last season. He's a potential No. 2 cornerback at the next level.

24) DeAndre McDaniel/S/Clemson: McDaniel is an intimidating safety who effectively defends the run and pass.

25) Nate Potter*/T/Boise State: Potter is next in a long line of top offensive line prospects to come from Boise State.

26) Evan Royster/RB/Penn State: This well-rounded back does a little of everything well.

27) Chykie Brown/CB/Texas: His game has been on an upswing the past two seasons. He's poised for a big senior season.

28) Jerrell Powe/NT/Mississippi: He grades as the top senior nose tackle prospect. He's a space-eater who clogs the middle but also moves well on his feet.

29) Colin Kaepernick/QB/Nevada: This terrific athlete has really developed as a signal-caller the last two seasons. He has big-time abilities and could be rated much higher in a year's time.

30) Travis Lewis*/OLB/Oklahoma: The Sooners athletic linebacker possesses a lot of NFL promise, yet saw his game level off last season.

31) Michael Pouncey/G/Florida: Though not as talented as his twin brother Maurkice, this Pouncey does offers plenty of skills for the next level.

32) Ryan Kerrigan/DE/Purdue: Kerrigan is one of the more underrated prospects in the nation. He's effective stopping the run or rushing the passer.

33) Jarvis Jenkins/DL/Clemson: Jenkins is another lineman who doesn't receive the proper credit he deserves. He has potential at defensive tackle or as a two-gap end.

34) Chimdi Chekwa/CB/Ohio State: Chekwa must improve his consistency but has flashed big-time ability in the past.

35) Cameron Jordan/DL/California: Jordan offers a lot of skills as a conventional defensive end but has struggled recently in Cal's 3-4 alignment.

36) Mark Herzlich/OLB/Boston College: He was rated as the No. 1 senior by NFL scouting services entering the 2009 season. The college football world awaits his courageous return from battling cancer while NFL teams are hoping for the best.

37) Kendric Burney/CB/North Carolina: Burney is not as well-rounded as his higher-rated teammate, Charles Brown, yet possesses better ball skills.

38) Greg Jones/LB/Michigan State: Jones has been a tackling machine at Michigan State. He's a solid prospect.

39) Justin Boren/C/Ohio State: He did a terrific job at Ohio State last season after transferring from Michigan. He's athletic, effectively blocks on the move and can be used in a variety of NFL blocking schemes.

40) James Rodgers/WR-RS/Oregon State: Rodgers will be one of the true game breakers available next April. He's a threat to score anytime the ball is in his hands, but limited size will depress his draft stock.

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