My time overseeing the college football projects for the site has necessarily involved me ingesting a lot more college football than I ever have, and I'm nearing the point of all-out draft obsession that I otherwise wouldn't have reached until February or so.
Still, changes occur rapidly and so a lot of the things I list here, particularly the rankings, are definitely subject to change. But I think I've got a decent idea of who will be important to NFL fantasy players in the 2011 season.
I'm going to list the players at QB/RB/WR/TE according to how I rank them personally, and in parentheses I'll list my best guess as to their general draft stock (round projection, more specifically). I'll also include the listed height/weight for each player and my best guess as to their general 40-yard dash time.
This post will focus on quarterbacks.
1. Andrew Luck|STAR|, Stanford (Top Five). 6-4, 235, 4.65.
-Despite the non-stop adoration he's received from the media, Luck is a modest prospect in most ways. He mostly is good in all areas but brilliant in none. Still, he's very polished as a prospect due to playing in Jim Harbaugh's pro-style offense, and his mechanics are difficult to criticize. He's also demonstrated a sharp mind for the game, and he seems all but immune to pressure situations.
2. Ryan Mallett|STAR|, Arkansas (Top 20). 6-6, 238, 5.10.
-This is one of the more volatile prospects of this year, draft projection-wise. He has a far stronger arm than Luck, but he's not as mobile or accurate. He has a bit of exposure to pro-style formations, but in general his mechanics probably aren't comparable to Luck's. In any case, he's been highly productive in the SEC and has incredible upside as a passer. He's shown the ability to excel in pressure situations. I feel like this is a guy who would have gone 1st overall easily 3-4 years ago, but I think the JaMarcus episode might have scouts/GMs developing an increasing interest in intangibles and charisma over athletic potential. Sam Bradford's early success in the NFL has only reinforced that paradigm shift. Mallett is the subject of various (so far) unsubstantiated rumors, and it wouldn't be surprising if he burned some bridges by transferring out of Michigan. This issue proved crippling for Jimmy Clausen's draft stock, so this will be an important issue for Mallett. Another thing that limits Mallett is, funny enough, his size. He just isn't very nimble (relative to players like Luck and Locker), and his one-dimensional game limits his schematic versatility to mostly vertical offenses. I'd be surprised if any west-coast offense teams have a genuine interest in this guy.
3. Jake Locker, Washington (Top 20). 6-3, 230, 4.55.
-There's no doubt about it: Locker messed up big-time by returning to school this year from a financial standpoint. The possibility of a new rookie salary system in the new CBA alone made his decision to return dubious, but he managed to make matters worse by playing downright terrible at times. The fact that he's missed time with a rib injury is bringing his toughness into question, too. But in the end, Locker's athleticism is too rare for him to not be a safe 1st-round selection. He's more athletic and might have a stronger arm than Luck, but his mechanics and composure don't seem as stable. He has a weaker arm than Mallett but is much more athletic and, if he does well in interviews/background checks, could easily go before Mallett.
4. Robert Griffin|STAR|, Baylor (Top 50). 6-3, 210, 4.35.
-This is my personal favorite of the bunch. I have few doubts that Griffin is the best player in all of college football–it's just that playing for Baylor isn't the best way to go about making that known. He's a legitimate burner and a talented sprinter, but his performance as a passer is too widely uncredited. In 716 career pass attempts, he's thrown just nine interceptions. He has a big-time arm, perhaps stronger than Luck or Locker, and his production is just dynamite. His mechanics are probably a bit questionable–his brilliant athleticism probably hasn't made it necessary for him to have sharp footwork, and so he's a bit raw in that regard. Still, his decision-making is perhaps better than anyone, and he's a determined competitor who will improve if it's at all possible. He might be a first-round WR prospect if he doesn't pan out at QB.
5. Cameron Newton|STAR|, Auburn (1st round). 6-6, 250, 4.55.
-Newton is just about flawless from an athletic standpoint. Huge, fast, powerful, big arm. He was remarkable against Georgia last week, exhibiting spectacular accuracy as a passer. The problem is the Auburn offense is designed in a way that basically doesn't require him to read defenses. His ability to think on the go is an entire unknown. That doesn't mean he can't do it, of course, but it will discourage GM's from gambling on him over Luck, Mallett or Locker, I think.
6. Zach Collaros|STAR|, Cincinnati (4th-to-6th rounds). 6-0, 216, 4.60.
-Collaros would actually be kind of crazy to leave early, but I'm listing him just in case. The odds are very much against him due to the fact that he probably will measure in under 6-feet tall. However, his skill set is almost flawless. He's a talented runner and is skilled at evading pressure in the pocket. He has a good arm and shows excellent accuracy, as well as very good decision-making. His mechanics are basically perfect. Tight footwork, quick release, sees the field well and keeps his eyes downfield while escaping pressure. He reminds me a lot of Drew Brees as a passer, but he would obviously be an extreme exception if he turned out half as good as Brees is. He might be damaged goods after taking a beating behind a pitiful Cinci o-line this year, but he seems very competitive and I doubt he'll be shaken permanently. This is a guy I would never bet against, though all reasonable thinking suggests his odds are poor.
7. Brandon Weeden|STAR|, Oklahoma State (3rd-to-6th rounds). 6-4, 219, 4.95.
-Weeden is basically Chris Weinke, though he may be a better athletic specimen. He's 27 years old due to the time he spent as a baseball player. He has a pretty huge arm and shows good accuracy as a passer. Shows good footwork, too. His ability to read defenses will come into question given his dependency on Justin Blackmon, however. In any case, Weeden is a relatively unique prospect who will be a big challenge for conventional scouting wisdom. His stock could be injured by the fact that he plays in a Houston-style spread, meaning he might not be as polished as his age might lead some to believe.
8. Ryan Colburn, Fresno State (3rd-to-6th rounds). 6-3, 220, 4.85.
-Colburn is a tough one to predict. He has a great deal of potential and has been groomed as a two-year starter in Pat Hill's pro-style system, so he has the benefit of getting judged in a setting that reflects pro potential more directly. His production has been hit-or-miss and he's generally a bit goofy, but there's no denying the upside. There are times when he'll make borderline jaw-dropping throws that, in a highlight reel, would make him look like a sure-fire 1st-rounder. Other times, he just isn't remarkable. His performance in interviews and Combine-like settings will have a lot of sway with his stock.
9. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (4th-to-6th rounds). 6-3, 205, 4.95.
-I won't front: I'm a big Tolzien fan. I'm not a Badgers fan, though, so my confidence in him can't be explained by homerism. He's not overly impressive from an athletic standpoint and his upside is certainly limited, but I think he's the perfect third-QB project for a team in a playaction-heavy offense. He's very smart, extremely tough and shows great accuracy on the majority of his throws. His main flaws are pocket presence and decision-making. He's improved drastically in the second-area during his second season as starter, however. The first one isn't as easy to measure, because there's a thin line between toughness (willingness to take a hit in the pocket) and poor pocket awareness. In other words, does Tolzien take the huge hits he does because he isn't afraid or because he doesn't know any better? I'm betting on the toughness side. One of the main reasons I'm impressed with Tolzien is his work on third down: In two years as a starter, he's completed 106-of-158 third-down passes (67.1 percent) for 1,304 yards (8.3 yards per attempt), seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
10. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa (4th-to-5th rounds). 6-4, 230, 5.0.
-Front offices that are big on 'winners' will be drawn to Stanzi. Prior to this year, Stanzi was known as the guy who would make games unnecessarily close with stupid turnovers, only to win the game with inexplicable heroics in the closing minutes. This year, he just produces all game long. After throwing 15 interceptions last year, Stanzi has 22 touchdowns to four interceptions as a passer through 10 games this year. He's completing 66.4 percent of his passes while averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. The fact that he's worked exclusively in a pro-style setting can't hurt. Still, it's hard to have unconditional faith in his decision-making after the stuff he's done prior to this year. He's boosting his stock significantly right now, though, and as long as he resists old habits he can keep improving it even more.
Others to watch: Nathan Enderle (Idaho), Jordan La Secla (San Jose State), Pat Devlin (Delaware)
Christian Ponder (No Good)
Colin Kaepernick (No Good)
Jerrod Johnson (No Good)
Landry Jones (Can't see him declaring)
John Brantley (Can't see him declaring)