Should I Stay Or Should I Go:
While much is being made on the fact that some projected top draft picks have decided not to declare for the 2011 Draft, it really isn’t nearly as big of a deal as some people have made it out to be. Sure some first round names have gone back to school, but this is not the weak class that some people are trying to make it out to be. Here is a position by position break down on the depth of this class. *I’ll include some guys still expected to declare but haven’t formally yet.
Quarterback: Andrew Luck might be returning to school, but there are four other legitimate quarterback options with 1st-2nd round grades. After the big names there are plenty of interesting developmental guys, like Pat Devlin or Delaware, Ponder from Florida State, and Andy Dalton from TCU. Don’t count out some late round guys like Nathan Enderle whom I love, and Colin Kaepernick. While a quarterback might not be taken first overall, I like this classes depth and talent more than the last two drafts.
Running Back: There was little in the way of senior talent, but a high number of players have declared to make this a solid class. Guys like Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Mikel Leshoure, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, and Jordan Todman should all hear their names in the first three rounds. And there is a lot of additional depth beyond that.
Fullback: Fullback is never a make or break position for a draft class, but there are actually a couple of interesting names for the 4-6th rounds (and one or two could sneak into the end of round 3).
Wide Receiver: This position has had the most ‘names’ stay in school, but it is still a very talented group. A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Jon Baldwin are elite receivers with number 1 receiver talent. While losing names like Blackmon, Floyd, Broyles and Criner hurt the depth of this class and will keep it from being unreal, it is still very talented. After the top 3 guys there are still a number of good 2’s and 3’s in this class, with a good mix of speed guys, and tall targets. Even without those top guys, I’d put this class above last year’s unit, and at least on par (maybe even better) then the 2009 receiver class. That is pretty impressive and the news that some top players are returning only ensures that 2012 is a top class as well.
Tight Ends: This is one of the weaker positions in the draft, as outside of Kyle Rudolph, it would be a shock to hear anyone’s name called in the top 80 picks. One or two additional names might go off the board by the middle of round 4, but the majority of tight ends are late round guys. There are a number of names that have upside, so we should see some guys who can contribute as solid number 2 tight ends right off the bat.
Offensive Tackle: While it is true there isn’t a true blue chipper in this class, the same could have been said about last year’s class and there were two drafted in the top 10. Sure both Trent Williams and Russell Okung flashed potential, but I don’t think either are of the Joe Thomas/Jake Long variety. Tyson Smith, Nate Solder, Anthony Costanzo, and Gabe Carimi form a solid group at the top and there are a handful of other tackles that could make an impact and be drafted in the top couple of rounds. I see a lot of future starters coming out of this group, though a couple could take a year or two to reach that level.
Guards/Centers: The guard position is likely to be helped by the move of a couple of tackles to the interior (specifically Marcus Cannon and Ben Ijalana), and is overall a solid position. Now most of the top guards also project as centers (and some project better as centers) so it is hard to separate them as a unit. While the center talent isn’t as good as 2009, the overall talent is pretty strong in the interior line. Only a handful of these guys will be Top 50 picks, but I think there will be a number of starters from this group.
Defensive Ends: While every year there are strong defensive end classes, this one might be the best given its balance. There is a good mix of pass rushing defensive ends, as well as run stopping guys. With many of the later projecting as 3-4 ends. There is a lot of talent at this position and we could see ten names called in the top 50 (note, some will end up as DT’s in a 4-3 or rush linebackers in a 3-4).
Defensive Tackle: Although Nick Fairley and Marcel Dareus aren’t ‘as’ good as Suh/McCoy last season, they aren’t that far off the mark. In addition to having another two elite defensive tackles, there are a number of other very good names such as Stephen Paea, Corey Liuget, Drake Nevis and more. The nose tackle position isn’t particularly strong but there are a few good 3rd-5th round names. Some of the top tackles could end up playing DE, just as some of those big ends could move inside.
Outside Linebacker: This unit is a bit top heavy as after the top 5 there isn’t a lot of early impact potential, but it is a pretty good class at the top. Beyond them there are a number who project as developmental linebackers, and others who are projected as pass rush specialists. I wouldn’t put this as a great class, but it is certainly comparable to recent years.
Inside Linebacker: There isn’t a Willis or McClain in this year’s class, but there are a couple interesting men in the middle. Overall the class is thiner than you’d like, but there are a number of interesting mid-round projects that could bear fruit. Keep an eye on Alex Wujciak from Maryland and Casey Matthews from Oregon. Both could develop into very good starters at the next level.
Cornerbacks: This class has great depth and talent and that is with losing Jenkins to Florida for another year. Both Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara profile as true shutdown corners, and behind them are a number of other frontline starting prospects.
Safety: This class doesn’t have any top 10 picks, and might even only have one first rounder (if any at all) in Rahim Moore, but I really like the depth of this class. I think you will have a number of NFL starters develop from this group, with quite a few of them turning into impact guys. Sure there isn’t a blue-chipper here, but the depth is pretty impressive.
As it stands now I think this is a very good draft class, with a good mix of franchise talents and very good prospects. Although it has lost some luster with Luck returning to school, the talent is there for this class.