Draft Top 40: Julio Jones shows elite skills
Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts identify the players whose stock is rising and falling for the 2011 NFL draft:
Entering the season, Alabama's Julio Jones was talked about as a premier wide receiver and a near lock to be a top-10 pick in the '11 NFL draft.
Jones had faded into the background a bit with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton grabbing SEC and national headlines as a dominant runner and passer, pushing his way to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race. Georgia star wide receiver A.J. Green, himself also an elite prospect, also got more attention than Jones because of an injury and then a spectacular catch in his return.
Jones, a junior, has not been receiving the attention he deserves but made a big statement Saturday.
In catching 12 passes for 221 yards vs. Tennessee on Saturday, Jones again proved he has all the physical tools to be an elite NFL receiver.
Jones (6-4, 211) has the size and hands to make great catches, but against Tennessee he also showed the burst to separate from man-to-man coverage and the shocking speed to make big plays downfield. Not many big receivers have Jones' combination of athleticism, hands, body control and explosiveness.
Assuming Jones and Green both enter the '11 draft, it'll be a race to the wire to see who gets drafted higher. Both, for sure, would go in the top half of the first round and perhaps both would be top-10 picks.
Auburn's Fairley shoots to the top
Pass rushers always draw the headlines, but Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley is shooting up draft boards and could well end up being the first defensive lineman selected.
Fairley, a junior, had a dominant performance against LSU on Saturday and now is the unquestioned top interior prospect. He displayed tremendous power, athleticism, leverage and hand usage, bullying the LSU guards all day and seemingly tossing them aside at will en route to three sacks.
Fairley (6-4, 298) must be more consistent off the snap and at shedding blocks at the point of attack against the run, but his ability to take over games in the fourth quarter is rare. He has big-play ability vs. the pass and run and has the size and athleticism to play end in any 3-4 scheme or tackle in any 4-3 defense.
On the outside
Oklahoma outside linebacker Travis Lewis, a junior, had been talked about as a possible first-round prospect for '11 but has failed to live up to the hype. Our film breakdown of his '09 season left us wanting, and his disappointing play has continued this season. Against Missouri on Saturday night, he really struggled to make plays in the open field. Lewis (6-2, 232) is tough and competitive, but he struggles to make plays when he has to work through contact or defeat a blocker. He also looks like a straight-line athlete who lacks the hip flexibility to make quick cuts. Lewis definitely should stay in college for his senior season.
Indiana offensive tackle James Brewer (high ankle sprain) and Kentucky running back Derrick Locke (shoulder stinger) have missed several games the past month, which could hurt their draft stock because of durability worries.
Brewer showed great improvement early this season and had a chance to move into the second round or perhaps sneak into the bottom of the first. When healthy, Brewer (6-6, 332) was a better prospect that '09 teammate Rodger Saffold, now the Rams' starting left tackle.
Locke (5-8 1/2, 178) can be a big playmaker as a ballcarrier, receiver out of the backfield and as a return man. Some scouts compare him to Chiefs rookie phenom Dexter McCluster. Locke is not a big back and his time missed will raise the durability concerns to a new level. Locke, with a standout and healthy senior year, could have worked his way into the second round but now likely will drop to the third or fourth round.
Off the radar
Green, Jones, Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd are all junior receivers with first-round potential should they enter the '11 draft. Arizona junior Juron Criner deserves mention in that elite group, too, especially after his big game vs. Washington.
Criner (6-4, 210) is a tall and athletic receiver who looks like a tight end at times because of his height and long arms. He shows outstanding hands to consistently make tough catches with defenders draped all over him. He shows deceptive quickness and speed, too; his long legs and linear frame does not make it seem as if he's fast but defenders rarely catch him.
For more than 145 player scouting reports from Lande and his team of former NFL scouts plus a weekly updated Mock Draft and Super 99 player rankings, go to warroom.sportingnews.com.
Lande's Fab 40
* -- underclassman
1. Andrew Luck*, Stanford, QB
2. A.J. Green*, Georgia, WR
3. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa DE
4. Cameron Jordan, Cal, DE
5. Julio Jones*, Alabama, WR
6. Nick Fairley, Auburn, DT
7. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska CB
8. Da'Quan Bowers*, Clemson, DE
9. Von Miller, Texas A&M, OLB
10. Patrick Peterson*, LSU, CB
11. Robert Quinn*, North Carolina, DE
12. Ryan Williams*, Virginia Tech, RB
13. Michael Floyd*, Notre Dame, WR
14. Anthony Castonzo, Boston College, OT
15. Mark Ingram*, Alabama, RB
16. Stephen Paea, Oregon State, DT
17. Akeem Ayers*, UCLA, OLB
18. Bruce Carter, North Carolina, OLB
19. Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State, OT
20. Jonathan Baldwin*, Pitt, WR
21. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
22. Christian Ponder, Florida State, QB
23. Cameron Heyward, Ohio State, DE
24. Ryan Broyles*, WR, Oklahoma
25. Jacquizz Rodgers*, Oregon State, RB
26. Raheem Moore*, S, UCLA
27. DeMarcus Love, Arkansas, OT
28. Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy
29. Ross Homan, Ohio State, ILB
30. Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State, C
31. Jake Locker, Washington, QB
32. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma, RB
33. Kyle Rudolph*, Notre Dame, TE
34. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
35. Greg Romeus, Pitt, DE
36. Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss, NT
37. Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson, DT
38. Marvin Austin, North Carolina, DT
39. Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
40. Greg Jones, Michigan State, ILB
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