What top 2011 draft prospects must work on next season

With the 2010 NFL draft behind us, it’s time to look at 2011—but from a different perspective. Here’s what the top 25 prospects need to improve on this fall to increase their draft stock (asterisk denotes a rising junior).

A better completion percentage could cause Ryan Mallet's stock to rise even more.
A better completion percentage could cause Ryan Mallet’s stock to rise even more.

Quarterback

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas*: I really believe much of Mallett’s accuracy problems—he completed just 55.8 percent of his passes last year—are maturity based. The more games he plays, the more defenses he sees, the more decisions he makes, the sharper he becomes. Imagine that from a guy who had a TD-to-INT ratio of 30-7 last year.

Jake Locker, Washington: Every scout is in love with Locker, but if he puts up another sub-60 percent completion season, he will be dissected almost as much as Tim Tebow was. Don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback this unfinished with so little criticism from scouts.

Running back

Mark Ingram, Alabama*: Doesn’t have top-end speed, but then again, neither did Emmitt Smith. The more carries TB Trent Richardson gets this fall, the more obvious it will become that Richardson is the Tide’s best back.

Daniel Thomas, Kansas State: Great size and 4.5 40 speed—and better than average hands. But he has to show he can be more of a force in games that matter. His only 100-yard games in Big 12 play came against Colorado and Kansas—two of the league’s worst defenses in 2010.

Wide receiver

A.J. Green, Georgia*: Development was hurt last year by poor play from the quarterback position, and there will be more uncertainty at that position this fall. Clearly has the best skill set of any receiver in the game—in 2009 and 2010.

Michael Floyd, Notre Dame*: Not a speed guy like Green, but has plenty of juice, and the NFL will love his frame, ability to shield defenders and adjustments with the ball in the air. Has to show he can catch tough balls over the middle.

Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma*: Does everything well but needs to show he can take over a game. Can he be a guy defenses have to game-plan against, have to double-team?

Offensive line

Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: The best lineman in the game—and the most complete left tackle. Needs to add bulk this offseason but has more than enough upper-body strength.

Rodney Hudson, Florida State: His technique is terrific, but he needs to be more of a mauler.

Jason Pinkston, Pitt: Good size/frame for an NFL tackle, but lacks concentration at times. Athletic skill set a plus.

Mike Pouncey, Florida: Twin brother Maurkice paved the way in this draft, and Mike also will be a first-round pick if he has a seamless transition to the center spot.

Marvin Austin has excellent athletic ability, but he must show more desire.
Marvin Austin has excellent athletic ability, but he must show more desire.

Defensive tackle

Marcell Dareus, Alabama*: He’s playing end this fall, but at 300 pounds, he’s a true tackle. His stock will soar—top five—if he shows consistent pass-rush skills.

Jared Crick, Nebraska*: Can be as dominant as Ndamukong Suh at times but needs to show he can be a consistent interior run stuffer without Suh by his side.

Cameron Heyward, Ohio State: Can play end or tackle, but for the sake of draft argument, we’ll put him on the interior. A disruptive pass rusher, he needs to strengthen his run-stuffing resume.

Marvin Austin, North Carolina: On athletic talent alone, should be the No. 1 interior lineman in the draft. Has to play with more consistency and nasty desire. The reality: DE Robert Quinn is the best lineman at UNC—not Austin.

Defensive end

Adrian Clayborn, Iowa: Probably would’ve been a top-15 pick had he left after last season. Rare that you see an end who is as dominant against the run as the pass. The only issue: doing it every game.

Allen Bailey, Miami: Injury and position change have stunted his growth—and so has the muscle weight he continues to add. The big question: inside or outside? He might be better suited to inside at the next level.

Robert Quinn, North Carolina*: Look at these huge (and key) numbers: 11 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles. That’s domination. Needs to show he can anchor at end and stop the run.

Linebacker

Bruce Carter, North Carolina: Speed, speed and more speed. But can he use it wisely? Overruns plays at times and needs to prove he can take on lead blockers and still make plays.

Greg Jones, Michigan State: He’s not the fastest linebacker, but he’s fast enough and a true football guy—much like Brandon Spikes of Florida. Needs to improve pass drops and coverage.

Von Miller, Texas A&M: Strictly a rush end, and the best in the game last season. He’ll play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in the NFL and must show he can drop and cover. That, or gain 35 pounds to become a true rush end.

Cornerback

Patrick Peterson, LSU*: Might be the best player in the game this fall. Sleek skill set and an NFL frame to match. Must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Prince Amukamara, Nebraska: He and Miami’s Brandon Harris should go back and forth all season for the No. 2 corner behind Peterson. Physical in man but needs to show better off-man cover skills.

Safety

Deunta Williams, North Carolina: The back end of UNC’s physical, athletic defense. Terrific ball skills (6 INT, 8 passes defended), but has to show he can stick his nose in a pile and tackle. No way a safety should have only 47 tackles

Will Hill, Florida*: Shared time the last two seasons with Major Wright and Ahmad Black but is clearly Florida’s best safety. Big hitter must show better reaction in coverage. Gaining that skill, though, could be as simple as getting more repetitions.

Sponsored link: Notre Dame football tickets available

Matt Hayes covers college football for Sporting News and is an analyst for the NFL Network. Tune in to Total Access weeknights. E-mail him at mhayes@sportingnews.com.

With the 2010 NFL draft behind us, it’s time to look at 2011—but from a different perspective. Here’s what the top 25 prospects need to improve on this fall to increase their draft stock (asterisk denotes a rising junior).

A better completion percentage could cause Ryan Mallet's stock to rise even more.
A better completion percentage could cause Ryan Mallet’s stock to rise even more.

Quarterback

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas*: I really believe much of Mallett’s accuracy problems—he completed just 55.8 percent of his passes last year—are maturity based. The more games he plays, the more defenses he sees, the more decisions he makes, the sharper he becomes. Imagine that from a guy who had a TD-to-INT ratio of 30-7 last year.

Jake Locker, Washington: Every scout is in love with Locker, but if he puts up another sub-60 percent completion season, he will be dissected almost as much as Tim Tebow was. Don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback this unfinished with so little criticism from scouts.

Running back

Mark Ingram, Alabama*: Doesn’t have top-end speed, but then again, neither did Emmitt Smith. The more carries TB Trent Richardson gets this fall, the more obvious it will become that Richardson is the Tide’s best back.

Daniel Thomas, Kansas State: Great size and 4.5 40 speed—and better than average hands. But he has to show he can be more of a force in games that matter. His only 100-yard games in Big 12 play came against Colorado and Kansas—two of the league’s worst defenses in 2010.

Wide receiver

A.J. Green, Georgia*: Development was hurt last year by poor play from the quarterback position, and there will be more uncertainty at that position this fall. Clearly has the best skill set of any receiver in the game—in 2009 and 2010.

Michael Floyd, Notre Dame*: Not a speed guy like Green, but has plenty of juice, and the NFL will love his frame, ability to shield defenders and adjustments with the ball in the air. Has to show he can catch tough balls over the middle.

Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma*: Does everything well but needs to show he can take over a game. Can he be a guy defenses have to game-plan against, have to double-team?

Offensive line

Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: The best lineman in the game—and the most complete left tackle. Needs to add bulk this offseason but has more than enough upper-body strength.

Rodney Hudson, Florida State: His technique is terrific, but he needs to be more of a mauler.

Jason Pinkston, Pitt: Good size/frame for an NFL tackle, but lacks concentration at times. Athletic skill set a plus.

Mike Pouncey, Florida: Twin brother Maurkice paved the way in this draft, and Mike also will be a first-round pick if he has a seamless transition to the center spot.

Marvin Austin has excellent athletic ability, but he must show more desire.
Marvin Austin has excellent athletic ability, but he must show more desire.

Defensive tackle

Marcell Dareus, Alabama*: He’s playing end this fall, but at 300 pounds, he’s a true tackle. His stock will soar—top five—if he shows consistent pass-rush skills.

Jared Crick, Nebraska*: Can be as dominant as Ndamukong Suh at times but needs to show he can be a consistent interior run stuffer without Suh by his side.

Cameron Heyward, Ohio State: Can play end or tackle, but for the sake of draft argument, we’ll put him on the interior. A disruptive pass rusher, he needs to strengthen his run-stuffing resume.

Marvin Austin, North Carolina: On athletic talent alone, should be the No. 1 interior lineman in the draft. Has to play with more consistency and nasty desire. The reality: DE Robert Quinn is the best lineman at UNC—not Austin.

Defensive end

Adrian Clayborn, Iowa: Probably would’ve been a top-15 pick had he left after last season. Rare that you see an end who is as dominant against the run as the pass. The only issue: doing it every game.

Allen Bailey, Miami: Injury and position change have stunted his growth—and so has the muscle weight he continues to add. The big question: inside or outside? He might be better suited to inside at the next level.

Robert Quinn, North Carolina*: Look at these huge (and key) numbers: 11 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles. That’s domination. Needs to show he can anchor at end and stop the run.

Linebacker

Bruce Carter, North Carolina: Speed, speed and more speed. But can he use it wisely? Overruns plays at times and needs to prove he can take on lead blockers and still make plays.

Greg Jones, Michigan State: He’s not the fastest linebacker, but he’s fast enough and a true football guy—much like Brandon Spikes of Florida. Needs to improve pass drops and coverage.

Von Miller, Texas A&M: Strictly a rush end, and the best in the game last season. He’ll play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in the NFL and must show he can drop and cover. That, or gain 35 pounds to become a true rush end.

Cornerback

Patrick Peterson, LSU*: Might be the best player in the game this fall. Sleek skill set and an NFL frame to match. Must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Prince Amukamara, Nebraska: He and Miami’s Brandon Harris should go back and forth all season for the No. 2 corner behind Peterson. Physical in man but needs to show better off-man cover skills.

Safety

Deunta Williams, North Carolina: The back end of UNC’s physical, athletic defense. Terrific ball skills (6 INT, 8 passes defended), but has to show he can stick his nose in a pile and tackle. No way a safety should have only 47 tackles

Will Hill, Florida*: Shared time the last two seasons with Major Wright and Ahmad Black but is clearly Florida’s best safety. Big hitter must show better reaction in coverage. Gaining that skill, though, could be as simple as getting more repetitions.

Sponsored link: Notre Dame football tickets available

Matt Hayes covers college football for Sporting News and is an analyst for the NFL Network. Tune in to Total Access weeknights. E-mail him at mhayes@sportingnews.com.

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