published Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Octet of options at No. 1

There are six weekends remaining before the arrival of the 2011 National Football League draft, and there are even more candidates for the top overall pick.

“Everybody is kind of all over the place with who the No. 1 player should be,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said this past week. “There are eight guys who are definitely worthy.”

Among Kiper’s eight are five from the Southeastern Conference, including Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. Kiper’s top three prospects — LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Alabama’s Dareus — hail from the SEC, with Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers rounding out his top five.

Kiper’s projections differ from his rankings, as he pegs Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert going No. 1 to Carolina, Fairley second to Denver, Dareus third to Buffalo, Newton fourth to Cincinnati and Miller fifth to Arizona. New Panthers coach Ron Rivera attended Auburn’s pro day last Tuesday and watched Fairley and Newton.

“What Ron has to do first of all is assess where Jimmy Clausen is,” Kiper said. “He’s a quarterback he inherits, and he wasn’t 100 percent coming off the foot injury and had no talent around him. Do you think one of these other guys is a franchise guy, or do you think you can move forward with Jimmy?

“They could take a defensive lineman or a quarterback, or they could take who people say is the safest and most exciting and go with Patrick Peterson, because he’s also a great return man. They’ve got all kinds of options, and I think trading down is a distinct possibility.”

While Peterson is Kiper’s safest bet, the player he believes could have the biggest “boom or bust” factor is Fairley.

“He had one great year and didn’t have the two or three great years,” Kiper said. “Ndamukong Suh had three or almost four years, because he showed flashes as a redshirt freshman. This kid had one year, and that’s an issue, and then there were the lulls in his play. In college, you are playing against guys that you are not going to see in the NFL, guys you can just physically manhandle.

“The big plus with him is that when he needed to turn it on and they needed a big play, he was the guy who did it. He was as valuable to that team as Cam Newton, in my opinion. He was a dominant defensive player that came out of nowhere.”

EIGHT IS ENOUGH

The eight players ESPN analyst Mel Kiper believes are worthy to be the top overall pick in next month’s NFL draft:

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert

“Just because of his size, arm, quick release and mobility. Third down was where he struggled, and people will pick apart that completion percentage on third down, but the receiving corps wasn’t nearly what it used to be when they had Chase Daniel.”

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton

“You can make an argument for Cam Newton. We certainly know about what he did at Auburn, but his intangibles and his football acumen have to be checked out between now and then, which that whole process started at the combine.”

Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus

“Marcell Dareus is certainly worthy because he gives you scheme versatility. His weight is up around 319, and you factor in the great job he did despite the suspension for two games, and then he was a little banged up. He has got a ton of talent.”

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley

“Nick Fairley is certainly worthy, but he is that one-hit wonder unlike Ndamukong Suh, who I loved last year and had three great years compared to just one for Fairley. He’s a talented kid and had his weight up to 297 from 291 at the combine.”

Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green

“Possibly, but he’s a wide receiver, and I think people always believe that’s the last building block. It’s like the argument against cornerbacks, because you can take a corner out of the game. People are a little leery of cornerbacks and receivers.”

Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller

“You can make a case for Von Miller because of the great, great leverage he has coming off the edge and his ability to just fly off that edge. The sack numbers and the harassment numbers of the quarterback were great. He’s certainly worthy.”

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson

“Peterson is my No. 1 player. I remember in 1987 when I had Rod Woodson near the top. He was certainly the No. 1 athlete in that draft and dropped to No. 10. I have Peterson going No. 7 to the 49ers, but he would be worthy of being that high guy.”

Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers

“I think Da’Quan Bowers would have been, but he had the injury that he is coming off. He is perhaps the draft’s most gifted pass rusher and has the potential to go as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end. I still think you can make the case.”

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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