Over in the Insider section on ESPN.com there is a Football Outsider's (ironic, Outsiders part of Insider!) ranking of the top 25 prospects heading into 2012. But the unique (strange?) list isn't the best young players as it doesn't include first- or second-round picks and only includes player from the 2009-11 draft classes.
So don't look for names like Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Ras-I Dowling or Shane Vereen.
A lead in to the list says that Football Outsiders uses, "a combination of statistics, measurables, context and expected role to compile a list of under-the-radar players whom we expect to make an impact in the NFL, both in 2012 and beyond."
Still, the Patriots are well represented with three players on the list: Stevan Ridley (5th), Ryan Mallett (16th) and Marcus Cannon (19th).
Because the content is for paid subscribers, I can't provide the link. So I'll do the next best thing and include the write-ups for each of the three Patriots. Enjoy!
Ridley – "Ridley has good lower-body control and balance with a powerful stride, although he's not the fastest back out there. (He has a speed score of 95.4, where 100 is generally average). The Pats really started to use him in the last five weeks of the regular season, when he had 5.2 yards per carry and a 57 percent success rate. He needs work on blocking and receiving, which limits his ability to play on third downs but also makes him a nice complement to Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead. Of course, he also needs work on his hands after fumbling in back-to-back games near the end of his rookie season, which put him on the bench for most of the playoffs. But he didn't have fumble problems at LSU, and there's a good chance that the back-to-back fumbles were just random chance, not evidence of a real issue."
Mallett – "Even though Mallett didn't step on the field during the regular season, everything that scouts said about him a year ago is still true. He's still a tall, classic pocket passer with elite arm strength who can drop the deep ball in with a beautiful touch pass. He also can't throw well on the run and will take a ton of sacks. He's had a year under the tutelage of Bill O'Brien and Tom Brady, and hopefully they helped him work on improving his decision-making skills, both on and off the field. Mallett is still likely to earn a job as an NFL starter someday, and it's still likely to be somewhere other than New England."
Cannon – "Cannon was a flat-out steal for the Patriots. He's a huge guy with quick feet, and draftniks expected him to go as early as the second round before he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma before the draft. The Pats were perfectly happy to take him in the fifth round and wait for him to complete chemotherapy, and by Week 11 he was getting snaps in a regular-season game. Cannon was a right tackle at TCU and could spell Sebastian Vollmer in a pinch if necessary, but he's much better suited for guard in the pros because he has trouble with bull rushers. He will likely replace Brian Waters at right guard whenever Waters decides he feels like retiring."
Which of these three "prospects" do you think has the brightest NFL future? Let us know with a comment below!