If you think it's too early to look into next year's class, consider that NFL teams meet to share notes on 2012 senior prospects every year at this time. It's the tipoff to the draft process starting anew, the initial gathering of information shared by scout services that aids in lining up travel schedules for scouts who return to college campuses beginning in August.
They won't yet focus on all players listed below, as 20 of the 32 are underclassmen, but it will be difficult for scouts not to take a peek. As with the 2011 class, the talent is in the non-senior prospects.
|Andrew Luck passed up the chance to be likely the No. 1 pick last week and is projected to be the same next April. (US Presswire)|
1. Washington Redskins: *Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Coach Mike Shanahan didn't get his future quarterback in the 2011 draft, but the upside of a bad season would be Lucking into the player Carolina would have taken No. 1 overall in '11.
2. Cincinnati Bengals: *Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
Paige-Moss has the potential to be the same type of edge rusher Robert Quinn was hyped to be if he can get his weight into the high 250s before the season and then posts a double-digit sack total on Butch Davis' very strong defense.
3. Carolina Panthers: *Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
If Jeffrey steps up his game the way Alabama star receiver Julio Jones did in his junior season and keeps his nose clean unlike the talented Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State), he could go very high in the first round.
4. Denver Broncos: *Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Unless Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow becomes a breakout star and the team defense greatly improves under John Fox, John Elway may have no choice to pick a strong-armed quarterback like Jones.
5. Minnesota Vikings: *Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie might not return for 2012 if his play doesn't improve after a poor performance in 2010, especially if letdowns by McKinnie lead to recent draftee QB Christian Ponder getting bruised and battered.
6. Miami Dolphins: *Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal
Chad Henne is fighting for his job, as is head coach Tony Sparano, and both could be gone if the Dolphins don't win in 2011. Barkley doesn't have elite measurables but has enough to be a Mark Sanchez-type starter at the next level.
7. Buffalo Bills: *Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
High character and extremely high production at linebacker. He'd add strength and exceptional instincts to the Bills' second-level defense.
8. Cleveland Browns: *Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
The Browns traded out of the sixth overall selection once they couldn't get Patrick Peterson. Kirkpatrick could be the player the Browns covet most next season.
9. Arizona Cardinals: *Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt would love to land Philadelphia backup QB Kevin Kolb via trade, so finding a legitimate NFL left tackle like the athletic Kalil to protect him would be the next logical step.
10. Seattle Seahawks: *Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Marshawn Lynch boosted the running game late last season, but the Seahawks just might opt to let him leave via free agency after the 2011 season. Richardson is too talented to fall out of the top 10 despite the devaluation of the position.
11. Houston Texans: *Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
How about adding a talent like Blackmon to play across from Andre Johnson? Defenses will struggle to stop Matt Schaub's passing attack with that dynamic duo to contend with and 2010 rushing champion Arian Foster in the backfield.
12. Tennessee Titans: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
With free agency potentially limiting their depth at defensive end this year, the tall, 280-pound Coples could fit the Titans' scheme quite well.
13. San Francisco 49ers: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Although Dennard is a bit undersized, he's the toughest corner in the draft and the Niners will still need help outside.
Andrew Luck leads the top 32 prospects for 2012. Read More >>
Handing out the final grades for this year's draft. Read More >>
14. Oakland Raiders: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Brown's speed and productivity as a weak-side chaser is exactly what Raiders owner Al Davis wants on his football team.
15. Chicago Bears: *Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Gilmore's thin build belies a toughness and attitude that all cornerbacks need to succeed. Though no guarantee to be a first-round pick without a strong junior year, his upside warrants this projection.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: *Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
Hard-working, explosive middle linebacker, the type of player Jaguars general manager Gene Smith should like quite a bit.
17. St. Louis Rams: *Marcus Forston, DT, Miami (Fla.)
The Rams might still need a pass rush force inside, and Forston's got a chance to be just that if he approaches his potential in 2011.
18. Kansas City Chiefs: Nate Potter, OT, Boise State
Could be the high-character, tough right tackle prospect the Chiefs didn't pick up early in this year's draft.
19. New York Giants: *Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
Like their 2010 pick, Jason Pierre-Paul, Burfict is explosive but raw. His talent is greater than the Giants are likely to pass up at this point in the first round.
20. Detroit Lions: *Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
Another talented player who is just starting to "get it," Harris' cover and ball skills may allow teams to overlook his slight build. He could go higher than this with a really strong year.
21. San Diego Chargers: *Don'ta Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Although they've used a couple of mid-round picks at linebacker recently, Hightower's potential inside in the 3-4 could make him a fine value. He needs to prove his health in 2011 before earning a first-round grade.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: *Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Davis and LeGarrette Blount would make an excellent 1-2 duo in the backfield, taking pressure off QB Josh Freeman and the passing game.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: *Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
The Eagles take a value pick in Worthy -- a rising star to watch -- adding more strength and quickness to their defensive line, a constant area of focus for team management.
24. Cleveland Browns: (from Atlanta): Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
The Browns took six picks from Atlanta instead of drafting Julio Jones this year, but why not take a chance on a potential West Coast offense playmaker like Floyd for QB Colt McCoy here, despite his off-field issues and average speed?
25. Indianapolis Colts: Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Talented but rail-thin corner and the son of former NFL star corner Frank. The Colts don't much care about size in their cornerbacks, so they'll leap at the chance to pick Minnifield because of his coverage and ball skills.
26. Dallas Cowboys *Robert Lester, FS, Alabama
Dallas might still be looking for a free safety next April, and Lester's height, speed and ability to find the ball in the air should strike owner Jerry Jones as a high-impact pick at a typically low-priority position in the first round.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Lindsey, DE/OLB, Pittsburgh
Terrell Suggs is getting older and the Ravens can always use explosive linebackers in their 3-4 scheme. Lindsey could be yet another 4-3 college end transitioning to the rush 'backer spot for a 3-4 NFL team.
28. New England Patriots: Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
Crick didn't put up great stats without Ndamukong Suh around in 2010, but he is still a high-motor, strong five-technique prospect the Patriots would love to see available to them at this pick.
29. New England Patriots (from New Orleans): Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
Fuller's value as a big-bodied receiver able to make plays downfield despite average speed will be too much for Bill Belichick to ignore--although the likelihood of him keeping both these late first-round picks is nearly zero.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kelechi Osemele, OG/OT, Iowa State
Osmele has the build Pittsburgh looks for in its offensive linemen, and the revolving door of talent up front means the Steelers could be looking to upgrade there again.
31. Green Bay Packers: Courtney Upshaw, ILB, Alabama
General manager Ted Thompson has a habit of picking the best player on the board, and Upshaw's ability to play inside or outside in the teams' 3-4 scheme would be a great fit.
32. New York Jets: Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, West Virginia
Rex Ryan did not address the linebacker position early in the 2011 draft, and Irvin is just getting on the NFL radar as a pass rusher who has a chance to prove himself an all-around player in 2011.
Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @ChadReuter.