|Matt Barkley maintains his top-five status with a big game against Minnesota. (Getty Images)|
One of the most important rules in scouting is to avoid overreacting to one surprising performance.
This is the one reason NFL teams employ a number of scouts to check -- and then cross-check -- each prospect before the annual "draft season" of all-star games, workouts and private visits begin.
For this reason, you won't be seeing Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III or Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard on my Big Board. While among the country's most electric performers in their team's season-opening victories, neither has demonstrated the consistent spectacular play to warrant inclusion in my list of the truly elite draft-eligible prospects.
That isn't to say that there aren't changes necessitated by single-game performances.
Creating a "Big Board" at this point in the year isn't necessarily designed to predict the first 32 picks of the 2012 NFL Draft. Obviously, with a full season, all-star games, workouts and interviews each playing critical roles in determining a player's final grade, much will change between opening weekend and April.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Statistically speaking, Luck was rather ho-hum in his first start of the season (17 of 26 for 171 yards and two touchdowns, one rushing TD), but the scouts on hand say he was actually improved from last year.
2. Quenton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Coples emerged as a star at defensive tackle last season, but will be returning to defensive end this fall and played well immediately, recording three tackles (including two sacks in the opener against James Madison). At 6 feet 6 inches, 278 pounds, he's the physical prototype there and my top-rated senior prospect in the country.
3. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: A more consistent and technically sound blocker than his former teammate Tyron Smith (who was drafted No. 9 overall by Dallas), Kalil is the reason Smith was kept at right tackle throughout his Trojans career. The younger brother of Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl center (and former Trojan) Ryan Kalil.
4. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal*: A strong performance from Barkley against Minnesota (34 of 45 for 304 yards and three touchdowns) in the season opener has his junior season off to the type of start that could result in a top-10 pick.
5. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: The next in the long line of Kirk Ferentz-coached top offensive linemen, Reiff is a legitimate top-10 prospect himself, and could overtake Matt Kalil as the top tackle in the country.
6. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Like his former teammate Dez Bryant, Blackmon is simply a man among boys at this level. He plays faster than he'll run for the clock.
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7. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: 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.
8. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Want in on an NFL secret? One of the primary reasons that Prince Amukamara "slipped" to the 19th overall pick was that Dennard, not the Giants rookie, was the Cornhuskers' top cornerback last year. To maintain this ranking, Dennard will have to prove the muscle strain he suffered in mid-August won't linger into the season.
9. 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 last year, his future might lie outside in the 3-4.
10. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins recorded five tackles and broke up a pass against Central Oklahoma in his UNA debut, already solidifying his status as an elite prospect.
11. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: A long, lanky corner whose size and physicality could lead to a move to safety at the NFL level.
12. 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 if allowed to remain in a West Coast offense similar to the one he's in with the Aggies.
13. 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 OLB.
14. 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 performance in 2011.
15. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina*: Physically dominant at this level due to his incredible size advantage (6-4, 233), but needs to be a more consistent route runner and hands catcher to warrant his hype.
16. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: A stout run-plugger who plays the game with passion. Too many of his tackles, however, come a few yards downfield to warrant an elite grade at this time.
17. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*: An athletic left tackle who has capably protected Andrew Luck's blind side. Looks smaller than listed (6-6, 304 pounds) and might lack the physicality for some schemes.
18. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma*: Strong-armed passer with eye-popping production who needs to improve his poise amid pressure and accuracy downfield to move up my board.
19. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon*: The Ducks could have used the playmaking Harris in their season-opening loss to LSU. A natural ballhawk and All-American returner, Harris is among the elite prospects in the country and only "slips" this far due to off-field concerns.
20. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Kuechly recorded a game-high 18 tackles and an interception to lead to Boston College's first touchdown of the 2011 season, but he lacks the bulk (6-2, 235 pounds) scouts prefer for the middle, limiting his pro grade.
21. Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State: Not the powerful Earth mover Kalil and Reiff are, but a quality zone-blocking left-tackle prospect due to his athleticism and use of leverage.
22. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: A dominant performer at guard, Glenn struggled a bit with Boise State's speed in the opener when asked to slide out to left tackle. How he performs there in the coming games will draw plenty of scouts' attention.
23. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina*: Though not the big-play artist Harris is, Gilmore (6-1, 194) has been a standout in the SEC since Day One and is 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.
24. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State*: Unlike Kuechly, Burfict (6-3, 254) does possess the size NFL scouts are looking for at the mike position. Explosive in every meaning of the word, if Burfict can control his temper, he could wind up the first Pac-10 ILB drafted in the first round since the Rams took former UCLA star Robert Thomas in 2002.
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 head coach Al Groh credit -- the man could identify, recruit and coach up press corners. The son of former Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl selection Frank, look for this all-ACC pick to "chase" former UVA corners Chris Cook and Ras-I Dowling as a top-34 pick in 2012.
27. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Tannehill (6-4, 230) entered last year 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 Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman's pro-style offense.
28. Billy Winn, DT, Boise State: Winn's size, speed and athleticism proved too much for a talented Georgia offensive line in the Broncos' impressive season-opening victory (three tackles, including 2.5 for loss). Winn has been impressive in other games against top competition and needs only to play with more consistency to warrant a first-round selection.
29. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina*: Taylor won't generate the hype of his some of his teammates, but if he can add some more upper body strength, he could shoot up draft boards. An explosive athlete (6-6, 250) just scratching the surface of his potential.
30. Courtney Upshaw, DE/ILB, Alabama: In 1996, the New England Patriots drafted then-defensive end Tedy Bruschi out of the University of Arizona. It is far too early to compare Upshaw to Bruschi, but the size, rush skills and versatility shown by Upshaw last season is reminiscent of the physical skill set owned by the former Patriots great.
31. Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia: Irvin popped off the tape, but I didn't include him in my Initial Top 32 for fear of him being an undersized (for defensive end) fluke. After all, Irvin (6-2, 245) racked up All-American numbers last season even though he never started a game. He picked up where he left off with a sack in the season opener against Marshall.
32. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: Like his former teammate Bruce Carter, Brown has extraordinary athleticism for the position, and thus, spectacular upside. I'd like to see him play with greater physicality, however.