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Blue-chip talent scarce, so teams must weigh risk vs. potential

Brett Davis / US Presswire
Von Miller is the of the few true blue-chip players in the 2011 draft and should be able to make an immediate impact.


Every draft is filled with blue-chip players. Sometimes they come off the board early -- such was the case in the 1989 draft, which produced four Hall of Famers in the first five picks -- and sometimes they last until the later rounds. As I mentioned last week, the key to any draft is being able to accurately define the blue-chip players and those who have blue traits.

The definition of a blue-chip player is as follows: He has unique ability and will become one of the best players (top five) at his position in the league, or will eventually be a featured player on the team. This player has no weaknesses, nor does he have any off-the-field issues that impact his performance on the field. Players with blue traits share the same definition, but need more time to refine their talents.

Based on the definition of a blue-chip player, each draft features only a few prospects with clear-cut blue talent. Therefore, the challenge moves to determining the players with blue traits and making sure those prospects do not have any social or medical concerns that might prohibit them from reaching their full potential.

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Blue-chip prospects

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU: He has rare size, can play more than one position and can impact the game in many ways with his ball-hawking talent and return ability. He shows rare skills and should make an impact on any team.

Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama: Athletic and talented, Dareus can play and produce on every down. His power is unique, and combined with his foot quickness, he can be a disruptive player on passing downs.

Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M: Miller can make plays off the edge and rush with explosive power and effort. He can make an instant impact.

Blue-chip traits

A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: Most might think I am crazy to put Green here, but until I am convinced he can escape press coverage, he cannot be a blue-chip player. While Green has blue traits he has yet to display his entire repertoire, in part because college defenses rarely press receivers.

Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: Jones is a strong, powerful receiver who worked out much faster than he shows on game tape. Nonetheless, Jones is a rare athlete who, like Green, will need to show a complete skill set before he can become a true blue-chip prospect.

Cam Jordan, DE, California: He can impact the game on every down, has the skills to play on the edge and the quickness to rush inside. He is an extremely skilled player.

Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: Smith is long, has position flexibility and is young (came out as a redshirt sophomore). Smith is a younger version of former Patriot Willie McGinest.

Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida: Pouncey is like his brother, Maurkice, in that he can play anywhere inside and has the skills to make an impact -- quickly.

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: Fairley is talented, but plays too high at times. His lack of consistent production makes me worry that he might struggle early in his career. I've avoided giving Fairley an off-the-field red flag for now, but am not totally convinced.

Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: An extremely athletic player with great speed and, most importantly, great balance.

Tyron Smith, OT, USC: Smith has gotten bigger and stronger in the last few weeks, which will help him once he enters the league. He is athletic and should be able to man the left side of the line.

Marvin Austin, DL, North Carolina: Austin might have missed last season, but he has rare talent. He is athletic, strong and can impact the game on all three downs. He might be the best North Carolina prospect.

Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: Quinn, like Austin, missed last season, but he can play with power and possesses athletic skills that can help him make a difference on all three downs. Quinn is not an elite athlete, but has enough ability. He will also mature as a player.

Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Gabbert will display blue traits once he gets into the league and is in the right system that enhances his skill set. Coaching will help Gabbert improve in the NFL, but most of his growth will be because of his talent.

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Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: Although Newton has blue-level talent, the concern is whether he will he work as hard as he needs to in order to be a great player. There is a risk in taking Newton. Not because of skill, but due to his unknown level of commitment. If a team feels comfortable with Newton off the field, his ability is clearly as a blue.

Ben Ijalana, OL, Villanova: Even though Ijalana might have played against a lower level of competition, he dominated and has outstanding athletic talent. Ijalana also has position flexibility.

Now, there are many more prospects who might have blue skills but are not on this list because of medical or off-the-field concerns. I realize I included both North Carolina players who missed all of last season, but based on my information they made mistakes and do not have character problems that will affect their performance.

I included Newton because his overwhelming talent makes me feel he can achieve blue-chip status. I am concerned about his off-the-field work habits, but am willing to include him on this list -- just not sure I would draft him if I had the opportunity.

In total, there are 16 players here with blue skill level, and I am sure most teams will have fewer. The key will be to find the right fit for each team, both in talent and character.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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