College football is just around the corner. With an eye on the 2011 draft, there are some key positions worth focusing in on and some outstanding players. Here is a look at who I will want to watch on Saturdays. ("*" indicates draft eligible non seniors)
MIKE LB: Hayes is a Free Agent in 2012 so even before his surgery I the MIKE LB was going to be a key priority in the draft. I like to have the 3-4 MIKE around 250 so if I list a player who is lighter I am making the assumption they can add 5-15 pounds under Lott.
-*Don't'a Hightower (Alabama 6'4" 255) He is a beast and if he recovers fully from last year's knee surgery he is a future pro bowl player. Big Hightower fan! I would take him over McClain.
-Greg Jones (Michigan St. 6'2 235) Needs to put on at least 10 pounds to play MIKE but he is instinctive inside and was a leader in tackles in the nation his junior year.
-*Nathan Stupar (Penn St. 6'2" 250) He reads well, hits hard, and is athletic enough to play on pass defense.
-Chris Galippo (USC 6'2" 250) Athletic. Talk he may move to OLB under new coaches. He could be a steal or dud. I want to watch him to see how he performs.
-Josh Bynes (Auburn 6'2" 239) Fills holes well. Want to see his lateral pursuit improve and fighting off blocks.
Mark Herzlich (Boston College) and Kelvin Sheppard (LSU) may be possibilities.
Tight End: Becht will likely retire next year. A starter talent would be good to find in the middle rounds.
-*Kyle Rudolf (Notre Dame 6'6' 260) Know he can catch. I want to see if he can block.
-Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin 6'4" 239) He is light and more of an H-Back but he can block surprisingly well despite his size. Watch out for Wisconsin this year.
-Charlie Gantt (Michigan St. 6'5" 248) Good blocker and mid range receiver.
-*Weslye Saunders (S. Carolina 6'5" 275) Very athletic. Want to watch his blocking. Had attitude problems last year and even got benched for a game because of it. Good go higher if shows maturity this year.
-Luke Stoker (Tennesse 6'5" 249) Reliable receiver and good blocker.
1st Round Options: Neither MIKE LB or Tight End is usually a position drafted in the 1st round simply because they are not every down players. Interior OL also are not usually drafted in the early rounds, especially in the Whizenhunt era. (I would take a healthy and aggressive D. Hightower in the 1st round, however, because I am that high on him) So who are some 1st round options to watch? Unless Brown or Keith implode (which I don't expect) I wouldn't look for an Offensive Tackle early in the draft. RB and WR are not likely in the 1st round either because the Cardinals are good there. DL is solid. (I am assuming an extension for Dockett and Watson or a FA being signed for depth at NT). In my mind that leaves three traditional 1st round options. I've listed them in order of priority.
Corner: Right now, Toler is not dominating. If he proves to be solid then this position might slide in priority. Right now Toler and McBride look like good nickel and dime corners. Cardinal's defense needs a larger corner due to their system as well as the big receivers in the NFC West. Good corners are always in demand.
-*Patrick Peterson (LSU 6'1" 211) Even if Toler is solid this year I would still take Peterson if there. He covers well, is great in run support and over night the Cardinals would have the best starting corners in the NFL. Big Peterson fan! Potentially the best corner coming out in years. He won't make it out of the top 10.
-Prince Amakamura (Nebraska 6'1" 200) Could be a great option.
-*Aaron Williams (Texas 6'1" 180) Where does Texas find these guys.
-Ras-I Dowling (Virginia 6'2" 200) Will want to see if he fits better as a safety or a corner.
-Curtis Brown (Texas 6' 180) Texas may have two corners drafted in the 1st round.
OLB: I think Schofield will be a solid starting OLB. C. Brown and W. Davis are solid depth but the jury is still out (for me) if they will be top tier starting OLB. In my book flooding this position with talent is smart. Projecting a 3-4 OLB is challenging. Here are some that I think have a chance to go 1st round.
-Von Miller (Texas A&M 6'2" 240) He is an Elvis Dubberville type of player and would be my first pick.
-Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma 6'3" 260) I want to see if he can play with his hand off the ground.
-Jack Crawford (Penn St. 6'5" 256) Aggressive and smart
-*Robert Quinn (N. Carolina 6'5" 260) Like many on this list, he is projected as a 1st round 4-3 DE.
-*Akeem Akers (UCLA 6'4" 252)
-Sam Acho (Texas 6'3" 260) Might be a stretch for him to play OLB but we will see.
QB: I think next year's off season will be interesting and not just because of the CBA issues. I think Leinart will be inconsistent in 2010. He'll tease with great games and then just have stinkers. Warner did that but he won more than he lost. I am not sure that will be true with Leinart. If Leinart's performance is sub-par I think the Cardinals will go after Marc Bulger or someone similar. That said there are likely three 1st round QBs in the coming draft. All have questions about them.
-Jake Locker (Washington 6'3" 223) He's played well. Will he play well now that everyone is watching.
-*Andrew Luck (Stanford 6'4" 235) His coach says he is the best in the country. We'll see.
-*Ryan Mallet (Arkansas 6'7" 238) He is big with a huge arm, but will he be accurate this year.
A lot of names, even still, there are probably some gems that I missed. Can't wait for football to start.