Top 5 most NFL-ready draft prospects for 2011

It’s difficult to gauge whether or not a prospect is NFL-ready heading into the draft because we have no idea where he’ll end up. I may like Ryan Mallett as a prospect, but if his best fit is in a vertical offense and he winds up in the West Coast, well then he might not pan out. And that’s not my fault if he doesn’t. It’s your fault, NFL Team.

But based on their physical skills and strengths as they apply to the next level, here are the top 5 most NFL-ready prospects in my eyes.

1. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Hands down, Green is the most NFL-ready prospect in this year’s draft. What I like most about him is his body control and balance. When he runs routes, he’s fluid getting out of his breaks and he uses his quickness to separate from coverage. He could stand to be more physical at the line of scrimmage and when the ball is in the air, but that’s not to suggest he doesn’t have great leaping ability or he doesn’t locate the ball well (because he does). He also catches passes away from his body, is good about getting up field after he secures the catch and he uses his hips incredibly well (an important trait that all players must have at the next level).
Best Fit: Cincinnati or Cleveland. Both teams run a version of the West Coast Offense, which relies on receivers to run a lot of horizontal routes (think sideline to sideline) and force defenses to stretch itself across the field. I would love to see Green wind up with the Browns because I think he would fit in well with the receivers they already have on the roster (i.e. Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Chansi Stuckey and Brian Robiskie) and he would give Colt McCoy a true No. 1. But if the Bengals release Chad Ochocinco, I could see them pulling the trigger on Green at No. 4.

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SEC losses another star, as Georgia’s Houston opts for NFL draft

Chris Low of reports that Georgia All-SEC outside linebacker Justin Houston has decided to declare early for the NFL draft. Houston finished second in the SEC this season with 10 sacks, which gave him 17.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

Houston is the latest SEC underclassmen to turn pro over the past month. Teammate A.J. Green announced last week that he was skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft, which means the Bulldogs will lose four linebackers and their star receiver this offseason. (Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent were seniors, while Marcus Dowtin is transferring to another school.)

Late last week, quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley of Auburn decided to forego their senior seasons and enter the draft. Kentucky will also be without Randall Cobb next season, while Alabama will lose running back Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and defensive end Marcell Dareus to the NFL.

Fairley could have company in the top 5 if scouts view fellow SEC player Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) as a top selection. At 6-6 and 238 pounds, Mallett certainly has the size and arm strength to develop into a starting quarterback at the next level, but some have questioned his inability to close out big games and lead his team in crunch time.

LSU’s Patrick Peterson and Stevan Ridley are two more names that the SEC will lose this offseason, but the conference is always producing new talent. It will repopulate.

Alabama gets back to its roots in comeback victory

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram smiles on the sideline during the second half of their NCAA football game with the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, North Carolina September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jim R. Bounds (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

While the face of college football is constantly changing, one thing seems to remain a constant: If you can play good defense and run the ball, you’re going to win a lot of football games.

Alabama has those qualities, which is why its the reigning national champion, and the current No. 1 team in the country.

The Tide fell behind today, but on the back of its defense and run game clawed back into its game with Arkansas and eventually picked up a 24-20 win in front of a raucous crowd in Fayetteville.

Mark Ingram ran for 157 yards, many of which came with one or more Razorback on his back. His counterpart Trent Richardson added 85 more yards, and the team finished with 228 on the ground. It was punctuated with a 2-yard run by Greg McElroy on fourth-and-inches from midfield with under a minute to play. I’d say Nick Saban made a gutty call going for it in that situation, but I don’t know if anyone had any doubt the Tide was going to convert at that point.

The defense gave up some yards to Ryan Mallett, who threw for 357, but they also forced a career-high three interceptions from the highly-touted quarterback. Two of those came in the final 5 minutes, one setting up the go-ahead score. Arkansas isn’t much of a running team, but it was held to 64 yards on 20 carries.

This was just the first game in a really tough three-game stretch for Alabama, but it’s arguably the toughest of the three. Florida is next, but that’s at home, and the Gators’ offense doesn’t seem like it will pose much of a threat. That’s followed by a trip to South Carolina, and while the Gamecocks look much improved this year, I don’t think they’re ready for the Crimson Tide.

I had my doubts early in the year about Alabama’s chances to repeat, but Ingram and Richardson can run on anyone, and that defense — which just passed what will be its toughest test of the season — is only going to continue to get better. At this point, I don’t know who can beat the Tide.

Oh, right – Mark Ingram is pretty good, isn’t he?

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram (22) sprints past Duke Blue Devils linebacker Adam Banks (39) and defensive end Justin Foxx (92) during the first half of their NCAA football game in Durham, North Carolina September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jim R. Bounds (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Welcome back, Mark Ingram. Thanks to Trent Richardson and the 19 other All-Pro backs that your football program has, you weren’t necessarily missed over the last two weeks but it was certainly nice to see you running around again.

And run you did.

In a 62-13 lambasting of Duke on Saturday, Ingram went berserk in his first game since having knee surgery three weeks ago, as he rushed for 151 yards on just nine carries. He also scored twice and on his first handoff (which came on the first play of the game) he broke off a 48-yard run.

Of course, when a team scores 62 points it usually has more than one hero, which the Tide did. Quarterback Greg McElroy threw for 258 yards on 14-of-20 passing for three touchdowns and one interception, while the aforementioned Richardson chipped in 61 rushing yards on seven carries and one score. He also broke free on a long ride himself, as his went for 45 yards.

Fun fact: With Duke’s loss today, ACC schools are now 0-7 against reigning BCS national champions. So, yah, ACC teams.

Mark Ingram unlikely to play against Penn State

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07: Running back Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball against the Texas Longhorns during the Citi BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Alabama head coach Nick Saban said his Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram probably won’t play this Saturday against Penn State.


“We’ll continue to progress him day-to-day,” Saban said. “He hasn’t had any swelling or problems. If he can continue to progress — I would say he’s probably not going to be ready to play this week. He might be ready by the game, but he won’t be able to practice enough.

“After that, maybe we have a chance to get him back if he continues to progress.”

When the news surfaced last week that Ingram was having surgery, I questioned whether or not he could recovery in less then 14 days and play against Penn State (which it doesn’t look like he will).

And there’s no reason to rush him back. Penn State might be a top 25-team, but they have plenty of issues offensively and had to replace all three starting linebackers on defense. Why risk further injury with Ingram when Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy can carry the load until he’s healthy enough to play again?

I’m thinking we’ll see Ingram return next week against Duke, although again, if he’s not 100% then there’s no reason Saban should rush him back onto the field. The Tide needs Ingram down the stretch – not now.

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