COLUMBIA SC - NOVEMBER 06: Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks celebrates after a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 6 2010 in Columbia South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Every year I talk about which players in the draft I happen to have a "mancrush" on - defined as a player that has grown on me to the point where they are among my favorite players in the draft. But keep in mind this list is obviously very subjective, based on team need, and takes the idea of "draft value" into consideration.
Also keep in mind that this list is not my draft board. For example, I wouldn't have any of the quarterbacks listed below rated at the top of my board. That honor goes to Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. However, the players on this list all have specific traits that - for some reason - have stolen my NFL Draft heart.
This list will also be made up of mostly explosive players. If you're looking to discuss some offensive or defensive linemen, then you've come to the wrong place. I'm not saying those positions aren't important. But they just aren't exciting enough to make this list.
In no particular order, I present the first half of the dozen players who make up my 2011 NFL Draft Mancrush List:
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
I understand that there are a ton of risks involved here. He has those "character concerns" we've all hears so much about. And I'm aware he's about as athletic as a sloth. But when I watch him fling the football around, I can't help but imagine how he'd fit in here in Miami.
Like I've said in the past, there isn't a better pure passer in the draft. His combination of arm strength, accuracy on short, intermediate, and deep balls, and ability to read the defense at the line and make any necessary adjustments is as impressive as I've seen coming out of college. And when you watch him on tape, he isn't the statue in the pocket that people are making him out to be. He can dodge a defender or two or even throw on the run (if you can call it running).
Bottom line - he adds an element this this Miami offense we haven't seen since you know who.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
He might be a little bit of a project - or, at least, that's what many draft analysts want us to think. But I also think this kid has the potential to be an absolute stud. He has all of the arm strength you could want. He's as athletic a quarterback as we've ever seen coming out of college outside of Mike Vick. He's a respected leader who can become the face of a franchise, both inside and outside that locker room. And he's just, by all accounts, a good guy.
Does he have mechanical issues to work through? Sure. Is he accurate with the football? At times.
I'm not saying he doesn't have question marks. I am saying his positives outweigh his negatives.
Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
He might be the most NFL-ready quarterback available in this draft. He come from a pro-style offense. He's a smart kid who earned his bachelors degree in two and a half years and his MBA not too far after. He understands the game and can read the field. Most importantly, he's athletic and extremely accurate with the football.
He comes with injury concerns, of course. And those Chad Pennington comparisons are both a positive and negative. But when it comes down to it, I've been convinced Ponder can become a very good NFL quarterback - perhaps quicker than any of the other quarterbacks in this draft.
Jordan Todman, RB, UCONN
Take those Donald Brown comparisons and shove 'em. The only thing Todman and Brown have in common is that they were both UCONN running backs. But Todman, on film, is a superior running back to Brown - who was selected in the first round a couple years ago.
Todman is a quick, elusive back with home run speed (4.4). He shows good vision and great burst. He can be a workhorse back, having run the ball over 550 times combined over the past two seasons - though I'd prefer him to be part of a committee in the NFL. He won't break too many tackles, though, and would need to be replaced at the goal line.
I love the kid's potential, however.
Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
Short and compact with a sturdy base, Hunter has a style like Maurice Jones-Drew. He's got great speed, can make defenders miss, and was ultra-productive at the collegiate level. I also love his willingness to pass protect - and his surprising effectiveness as a blocker. He's versatile and can catch the football out of the backfield.
Again, he's another guy who would probably have to get replaced in short yardage situations. But he would provide the Dolphins with the speed they need and the ability to gain chunk yardage they desire.
Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington
Even since burning up the field at his Pro Day by running a 4.3 40, Jones has become everyone's favorite fast-rising running back. That's not to say he doesn't come with some risk. He runs upright and has injury concerns due to his thin frame. And a stiff breeze could knock the kid over.
But he has elite speed and outstanding acceleration. He can get to the corner in the blink of an eye. And is easily the best home run threat in the 2011 class of running backs.
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