The 2012 NFL Draft is a mere nine months away, but the summer sun is no excuse for a holiday in the scouting profession.
Creating a "Big Board" before fall practice begins in August isn't designed to predict the order in which the first 32 players will be drafted next April. Obviously, with a full season, all-star games, workouts and interviews to be completed, much will change before players are assigned final draft grades.
|A lot can change in nine months, but bank on Andrew Luck going No. 1. (Getty Images)|
(*-denotes player will be an underclassman this season)
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*
Believe the hype. Luck is the complete package and barring a career-threatening injury will be the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
2. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Coples emerged as a star at defensive tackle last season but will be returning to his natural position in 2011. At 6-feet-6 and 278 pounds, he's the physical prototype at the position and my top-rated senior prospect.
3. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California*
A more consistent and technically sound blocker than former teammate Tyron Smith (who was drafted No. 9 overall by Dallas), Kalil is the reason Smith was kept at right tackle throughout his Trojan career. The younger brother of Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl center (and former Trojan) Ryan Kalil.
4. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Want in on an NFL secret? One of the primary reasons Prince Amukamara "slipped" to the 19th overall pick was that Dennard, not the Giants' rookie, was hailed by insiders as the Cornhuskers' top cornerback last season.
5. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California*
Perhaps a little smaller than scouts would like, but that won't keep him from being a top-10 pick.
6. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*
The next in the long line of Kirk Ferentz-coached top offensive linemen, Reiff is a legitimate top-10 prospect and could overtake Kalil as the top tackle in the country.
7. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*
Like former teammate Dez Bryant, Blackmon is simply a man among boys at this level. He plays faster than he'll be timed by the stopwatch.
|Alabama RB Trent Richardson (Getty Images)|
Blessed with more natural ability than former teammate Mark Ingram, Richardson will have to play well in his first opportunity as the go-to option for the Tide to justify this lofty preseason ranking.
9. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*
A long, lanky corner whose size and physicality could invite a conversion to free safety at the NFL level.
10. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Forced to transfer after being suspended by the University of Florida for multiple run-ins with the the law, Jenkins might be the draft's most instinctive corner and is a natural playmaker.
11. Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina*
A more explosive edge rusher than teammate Coples, Paige-Moss has the athleticism to intrigue 4-3 teams as a defensive end and 3-4 teams as an outside linebacker.
12. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
A penetrating three-technique defensive tackle who was overshadowed last year by Da'Quan Bowers, Thompson could enjoy a Drake Nevis-like breakout season in 2011.
13. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
Strong, instinctive and productive, Crick played his way out of Ndamukong Suh's shadow last year. An All-American defensive tackle for the Cornhuskers in 2010, his future might be outside in the 3-4.
14. Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State
Not the powerful earth-mover that Kalil and Reiff are, but a quality zone-blocking left tackle prospect due to his athleticism and use of leverage.
15. Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
Big (6-3, 215 pounds), athletic and physical. Fuller's lack of breakaway speed limits his stock, but he'll prove a standout as a pro if allowed to remain in a West Coast offense similar to the one he's in with the Aggies.
|Boston College LB Luke Kuechly (US Presswire)|
A little smaller -- 6-2, 235 pounds -- than ideal as an inside linebacker, but I haven't seen a combination of instincts and open-field tackling skills like this at the collegiate level since Lofa Tatupu was starring for Southern California.
17. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina*
Physically dominant at this level, he has an incredible size advantage (6-4, 233) over college defensive backs. To win over scouts, he needs to be a more consistent route-runner and hands-catcher to warrant his hype.
18. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*
A stout run plugger who plays the game with passion. Too many of his tackles come yards downfield, and he doesn't warrant a truly elite grade at this time.
19. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*
An athletic left tackle, he has capably protected Andrew Luck's blindside. Looks smaller than his listed size of 6-6, 304 pounds and might lack the physicality to be used in some schemes.
20. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma*
Strong-armed passer with eye-popping production. Needs to improve his poise amid pressure and accuracy downfield to move up my board.
21. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State*
Unlike Kuechly, Burfict (6-3, 254) has the size NFL scouts are looking for at the "Mike" position. Explosive in every aspect of the game, if Burfict can control his temper, he could wind up the first Pac-10 inside linebacker drafted in the first round since the Rams took former UCLA star Robert Thomas in 2002.
22. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia
A difference-maker at left guard for the Bulldogs the past two seasons, Glenn is expected to move outside to left tackle in 2011. How the 6-5, 338-pounder fares on the edge ultimately determines his grade and projected NFL position.
23. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon*
A dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams, Harris led the country last year with 23 passes defended and the Pac-10 with six interceptions. He also returned four punts for scores. He's slight (5-11, 170) and comes with off-field baggage, but his talent is obvious.
|South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore (Getty Images)|
Not the big-play artist that Oregon's Harris has been, but Gilmore (6-1, 194) is a standout in the SEC and he's a more physical and reliable tackler than the Ducks star. With another strong season and a fast 40-yard dash, he could prove a top-20 talent.
25. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
Big (6-2, 218), physical and technically sound, Barron's consistency stands out in comparison to several highly touted but erratic underclassmen at the position.
26. Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Give former Virginia coach Al Groh credit, the man identified, recruited and coached up press corners (see: Chris Cook, Ras-I Dowling). The son of former Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl corner Frank could be a top-32 pick in 2012.
27. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Tannehill (6-4, 230) entered last season as a standout receiver for the Aggies, but after taking over for incumbent starter Jerrod Johnson at quarterback midway through the season, he showed flashes of brilliance and led the Aggies to the Holiday Bowl. Tannehill is undeniably a project, but has all the tools to emerge as a first-round prospect if he continues to develop in former Packers coach Mike Sherman's pro-style offense.
28. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina*
Taylor won't generate the hype that past teammates have, but if the 6-6, 250-pounder improves his upper-body strength, he could shoot up draft boards. An explosive athlete just scratching the surface of his potential.
29. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
His combination of size and body control reminds me of Chiefs first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin. Floyd has undeniable talent. But to maintain a high grade, he'll need to get his off-field issues in order.
30. Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
Boykin is quietly among the country's top corners and returners, but his 5-10, 183-pound frame could push him down the board.
31. Billy Winn, DT, Boise State
An athletic and versatile defender who needs to play with more consistency to emerge as a legitimate first-round prospect. Has played well against top competition.
32. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Like former teammate Bruce Carter, Brown has extraordinary athleticism for the position and thus spectacular upside. I would like to see him play with greater physicality
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.