A deep and unwavering assemblage of defensive backs strongly close out the class of 2011. Versatility, experience, and a knack for directly affecting the outcome of games disassociate these athletes from other classes of the decade. Each player on the following list is blessed with round-1 potential and it's certainly reasonable to say that they will all receive second glances from all 32 teams, which are always looking for that game-changer to help them make the jump to the next tier of the elites.
1. Patrick Peterson, Junior - LSU
-Even in a class as deep and diverse as this, Peterson stands out as the clear-cut #1. At 6'1" and 222lbs, the man who seems to be buried in praise is more than physically worthy of his own hype. His size and athleticism make him a stout run-support defender with sound form tackling skills. But his run-defense only describes a portion of his superior play - his coverage can be described as determined, just short of perfection. His physical tools allow him to make plays and create paths to the ball that other athletes normally wouldn't be able to manifest, but his actual route recognition leaves much to be desired. Peterson seems to struggle reading the body language of receivers and making timely jumps on routes, but then again, Joe Haden and Charles Woodson showed the same kind of issues near the end of their college careers and both proved that its an issue worth coaching up. After a dazzling combine performance, Patrick Peterson still has a chance to steal Marty Hurney's heart and be the #1 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. No matter what goes down at the top spot, there's no way Peterson will slip out of the top-5.
Here's our Patrick Peterson jersey
2. Ras-I Dowling, Senior - Virginia
-Although most experts see him as a 2nd-3rd round pick, I feel that Ras-I Dowling has put together a more solid and exuberant 4-year body of work than any DB in the 2011 class. The 4-year letterman has impressive attributes, clocking in a 40-yard dash time of 4.40 seconds and a 4.44 second 3-cone drill. Dowling has the size (6'1", 198lbs) and skill-set to step in immediately at either cornerback or safety in the NFL while his superior route recognition and natural athleticism will make him a disruptive force. Dowling's stock took a serious hit after an injury plagued Senior season left him with only two starts to show for the final chapter of an otherwise creditable collegiate career. However, if this young man can rebound from these haunting leg problems then I can see a long, successful career ahead of him. I personally believe Dowling is one of the five best players in this draft.
3. Prince Amukamara, Senior - Nebraska
-A 6'1", 205lb, 1st Team All-American, Amukamara is in prime condition to be considered for a top-10 pick. The former Arizona HS Player of the Year registered 16 pass breakups and 59 tackles while making his presence felt from every spot on the field. Amukamara caused headaches by lining up in unexpected spots and launching an unaccounted for blitz in the most surprising scenarios. The Prince has everything it takes to be a shutdown corner in the NFL and he's only beginning to realize his potential. He shouldn't stay on the board long come April 28th.
We've got your Prince Amukamara jersey
4. Brandon Harris, Junior - Miami
-Maybe the most coachable player in this class, Miami's stand out secondary defender plays with an intense passion and an ingenious knack for pass breakups. While fighting an uphill battle against his petite size, Harris managed to record 4 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, 28 passes defended, nine tackles for loss, and 132 total tackles during his 3-year tenure at U of M.
Although he doesn't look the part, the Thorpe Award semi-finalist is wonderful in run-support. His form tackling needs improvement but that doesn't stop him from always finding away to get the ball carrier on the ground. Expect him to be selected in the mid-late 1st round.
5. Rahim Moore, Junior - UCLA
-Moore was an interception machine as a Bruin, posting 14 picks in three years including 10 as a Sophomore alone. His tremendous ball-skills make him the most sought after safety in the class of 2011 - a good position to hold with the current need for safeties relatively high. At 6'0" and 202lbs, you can imagine that his run support skills aren't quite up to par. He's no Eric Berry by any means, but he should be a late 1st round pick and an opening day starter regardless.
6. Aaron Williams, Junior - Texas
-The sizely Junior from Round Rock brings to the board the build of a free safety with the coverage essentials of a cornerback. Williams's form tackling is of near-perfect technique. He uses his 200lb body to his utmost advantage in upending the few receivers who manage to catch the ball against him. 4 career INTs don't tell an accurate story of his ball-hawking abilities as he earned a reputation as one of the least targeted cornerbacks in the country.
7. DeAndre McDaniel, Senior - Clemson
-I wouldn't be one to sleep on this all-purpose playmaker. Although McDaniel showed a bit of a drop off during his Senior year, including a variety of disciplinary issues, he still proved he can play up to the level of the nation's dominant safeties. The statistical dream recorded 15 career interceptions (more than anyone on this list) and 275 tackles, including 98 in his Junior year alone. DeAndre McDaniel is clearly a gifted athlete who will likely be selected in the mid-2nd round with potential to slide into the late-1st with a little good fortune.
8. Jimmy Smith, Senior - Colorado
-Large, lanky, reliable in all coverages"¦sounds like Smith is going to be a pretty solid starter at the next level. The only thing anchoring Jimmy's draft stock is his lack of statistical production. Only 3 picks ranging over a 4-year career aren't exactly what I'd describe as impressive numbers. However, one stat that doesn't show up on most sheets is his efficiency in man-coverage. During his Junior season, Smith allowed merely 11 pass completions while locked onto a man. That's a Revis-esc comparison.
9. Ahmad Black, Senior - Florida
-Let's go ahead and start with the negatives. Black is severely undersized and had horrific combine and pro-day workouts. Flip-side: Much like his UF produced brethren, Joe Haden, Black's 40-time is in no way, shape, or form reflective of his game speed. His ball skills and rout reading are exceptional, apparent as he posted 13 interceptions for over 300 yards and 3 scores over the span of his career. Making big play after big play in conference where toughness is as sought-after as talent earned Black high honors from the coaches of the SEC, who made him a 1st Team All-Conference selection.
10. Brandon Burton, Junior
- Utah-There were so many fine players worthy of this final spot that I tore myself up trying to choose just one. There are several factors that make me a believer in Burton: Great quickness, fox-like instincts, and near-perfect technique reinforce 1st round talks. Although not ideal, his size is more than adequate to play well in the NFL and he knows how to use it to upend ball carriers. The NFL Combine and pro-day workouts didn't exactly bolster Brandon's stock. He performed sloppily in the various position drills and didn't match his 40-time to his game speed. Nevertheless, don't expect him to slip out of the early 2nd. Additional props to Curtis Brown, Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams, and Tyler Sash for narrowly missing out on this list.
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