The 2011 NFL Draft Has Just Four Elite Players

April 27, 2011 – 1:04 pm by Ryan Phillips

While the Carolina Panthers hold the No. 1 pick in tomorrow night’s NFL Draft (which we will be live blogging here), that doesn’t mean they will take one of the “elite” talents available. For weeks rumors have persisted that they are all but set to take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the top pick. There have been rumors that Carolina has shifted away from that stance over the past few days however, and now may be looking at other options.

As we see it, this draft has four sure-fire future studs. Plenty of others could develop into something special, but right now there are just four guys we think are worthy of the No. 1 pick. Our list follows.

Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, LSU
There is really no clean comparison for Peterson in the NFL. Frankly, if Calvin Johnson was a cornerback, he’d be Peterson. That’s the level of physical freak we’re dealing with here. He’s 6-feet tall, weighs in at 219 pounds and ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the Combine. On top of that, he has ridiculous ball skills, can help in the return game and dominated on the field in college. This isn’t some workout warrior who has inched his way to the top, he’s got the tape to back up all of those physical attributes. Oh, and he loves to hit.

Most experts think he could move to safety in the pros because he’ll probably add at least 10 pounds of muscle and moving back will likely give him a longer career. But wherever you put Peterson on the field he’s going to make an impact. He is far and away the best talent in this draft. Scouts Inc. gives him a grade of 97 and he’s No. 1 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board.

Von Miller, Linebacker, Texas A&M
Miller is 6’3, 237 pounds of mean. An extremely hard worker who is easily the best pass-rusher in this year’s draft (17 sacks in 2009, 10 sacks in nine games in 2010), Miller has the ability to get to the quarterback and drop in coverage. Easily the most complete player in the field after Peterson, he has all the tools to be an elite outside linebacker at the next level. He has explosive power in his upper body and won’t get pushed around. Sheds blockers well but does need to add some strength to his lower half.

He’s a great athlete and a phenomenal tackler who possesses the innate instincts needed to play linebacker at the next level. Racked up 39 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine, showed a vertical jump of 37 inches and threw up 21 bench reps, showing his overall athleticism. Scouts Inc. gives him a grade of 97, and Mel Kiper has him at No. 2 on his Big Board.

A.J. Green, Wide Receiver, Georgia
While Julio Jones may be the more impressive physical specimen, Green has a more complete toolbox to make an impact right away in the NFL. Green is a 6’4, 211-pound wideout, who ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine. While that speed isn’t the best you’ll see at his position, he makes up for it by running precise routes and getting in and out of breaks fluidly. He’s an easy strider and has a great initial burst, which may be more important for a receiver in the NFL. On top of that, his hands and ability to go up and get the ball are unmatched in this class.

Green almost always catches the ball with his hands, rarely letting it get to his body. He may not have the top-end wheels of most deep threats, but he has enough speed to stretch the field, then go up and get the ball. Scouts Inc. claims he does his separating in the air, and we can’t think of a better description than that.

Green is another guy who is an extremely hard worker and just wants to improve and win. Again, Julio Jones might be more of an eye-popping talent, but Green is an elite prospect that can’t be overlooked. In fact, on Wednesday, Mel Kiper made his pitch for the Panthers to take him with the No. 1 pick. Scouts Inc. gives Green a grade of 97 and Kiper has him at No. 3 on his Big Board.

Marcell Dareus, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle, Alabama
Dareus may be the safest pick of the elite prospects in this year’s draft. He’s a beast at 6’3, 319 pounds, he’s scheme-versatile and can play anywhere on the line. He’s probably best suited to play defensive end in a 3-4, which would allow him to penetrate and cause the most havoc. He’s naturally ridiculously strong and has amazing agility for his body type. As with the other top prospects mentioned here, he is an extremely hard worker.

Dareus is also incredibly well-liked and respected by his teammates and notoriously hard to please NFL execs. His father died when he was six years old and his mother (who had to raise six boys and a girl on her own before remarrying) nearly died of heart failure and is now in a wheelchair. Clearly the kid has had a tough go of it and word is, he knows what’s important in life.

Todd McShay has made a case for Dareus as the No. 1 overall pick and most feel he won’t last past the Denver Broncos at No. 2. He is the top player on Scouts Inc.’s board, carrying a grade of 97. Mel Kiper currently has Dareus as the No. 4 player on his Big Board.

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