The natural response to my blog post listing some potential surprise top ten picks earlier this week is to inquire who might be the highly-rated players most likely to drop into the mid-first round?
There seems to be four players almost certain to hear their name called in the first ten picks on Thursday night, April 28th at Radio City Music Hall: LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (though some still can't admit it), Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, and Alabama DL Marcell Dareus.
The large drop in value at wide receiver after Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones makes it very likely to be called to the Radio City stage in the top third of the first round.
That leaves four spots up for grabs in the coveted top ten. One or two of these five players will land there, but unfortunately, at least one will not. They are listed in order of least likely to stay in the top ten.
1. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers
If new Denver Broncos head coach John Fox is convinced by General Manager Brian Xanders, VP/Football Operations John Elway, or team doctors that Bowers is not the next Julius Peppers, then Bowers could be this year's version of Derrick Morgan.
Like Bowers, Morgan was the ACC Defensive Players of the Year in his junior season but fell to Tennessee with the 16th overall pick in the draft because he lacks great explosiveness as a pass rusher. Bowers was already hearing that talk before his knee injury forced him to put off working out until his private pro day April 1st.
A strong campus workout could help Bowers stay in the top ten, but enough teams could have concerns about his knee that he may fall to Minnesota at #12 or Jacksonville at #16 (again, mirroring Morgan's fall).
2. North Carolina DE Robert Quinn
Sitting out a year because of his dealings with agent is not the reason Quinn could be available to Houston or Minnesota in the mid-first round. Teams may have concerns about a tumor still located at the base of his brain, although he has not had any episodes since he had surgery on the tumor after his high school career was complete.
Despite the continual need of pass rushers for multiple teams in the top ten, similar players (Shawne Merriman, Demarcus Ware, Kamerion Wimbley) ended up on the outside looking in despite their potential--and they have not had the medical issue with which Quinn, unfortunately, must deal.
3. Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara
Amukamara has been considered a potential pick to Dallas at #9, San Francisco at #7, and even Cincinnati at #4. But the strength of the defensive line class and regularity that corners land in the mid-first (Darrelle Revis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Marcus Trufant) could allow Houston to snap him up with the 11th overall selection.
His sub-4.5 forty at the Combine could help his cause, though watching position drills in Indianapolis closely revealed the somewhat stiff hips some teams fear when considering a corner in the top ten.
4. Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert
Until we actually see Gabbert throw at his pro day next week, it's tough to project where he will go. However, this year is starting to get that 2005 (Aaron Rodgers) , 2007 (Brady Quinn) or even 2010 (Jimmy Clausen) feel, when a guy who was thought to be in the conversation for the overall number one pick ends up falling out of the top ten.
Even teams picking early like San Francisco, Tennessee, and Washington in need of a passer may pass on Gabbert if they think second-third round prospects like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton present better value.
Gabbert has good reason to think he'll stay in the top ten, like Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart managed to do in recent years despite being questioned by many. Some teams have him the number one quarterback prospect on their board because of his size, athleticism, and arm strength. And the needs of the Niners, Titans, and Redskins--or another team trading up into the top ten to grab him--could win the day.
Next Thursday's workout will be as big as Sam Bradford's was last year in terms of his draft status.
5. Auburn DT Nick Fairley
There is no doubt about Fairley's athleticism; his Combine and pro day workouts showed exceptional footwork for a man his size. But junior college prospects and "one-year wonders" are often considered risky prospects, so teams preferring Alabama's Marcell Dareus as the draft's top defensive tackle or needing a receiver or cornerback may decide to go in those directions rather than taking Fairley in the single digits.
I listed Fairley last because it seems unlikely Fairley is available to Minnesota or St. Louis because of the need for athletic big men in today's NFL, especially considering his fit in Tennessee and teams like Cleveland, Buffalo, and Denver moving from a base 4-3 or playing more four-man fronts. But it's something to watch for...
--Contributed by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter