NFL teams are forced to decide whether they should root for their team to "Suck for Luck" in 2011.
The opportunity to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is enticing -- he's been rated the top pro prospect by NFL scouts for more than two years. Of course, we don't expect NFL head coaches to start purposely losing ball games. Even the perception that teams are already looking ahead to next year would alienate the fans who put down their hard-earned cash to support the team this season.
This week, Luck proved just how great the distance is between himself and the second-tier of top quarterback prospects. With Stanford idle, Luck didn't play. Perhaps he was fortunate. A week after Oklahoma's Landry Jones struggled in a primetime showdown against Florida State, it was Southern Cal's Matt Barkley (21 of 33 for 227 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions) and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill (28 of 47 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions) suffering through tough games.
In terms of numbers, Barkley (No. 3 on the Big Board) appears close behind Luck. The Trojans' quarterback deserves this lofty ranking -- but the gulf between he and Luck in the eyes of scouts is more significant than a few spots.
Creating a "Big Board" at this point in the year isn't necessarily designed to predict who will be the first 32 picks of the 2012 NFL draft.
Obviously, with more than half of the 2011 season, bowl games, postseason all-star games, workouts and interviews yet to play out with each playing critical roles in determining a player's final grade, much will change between now and April.
(* denotes underclassman)
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Luck's Cardinal were idle last week. Some will argue he is again this week -- Stanford faces a UCLA defense that currently ranks 98th in the country in total defense. Luck's combination of intelligence, poise and accuracy will make him an immediate standout in the NFL.
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2. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: The younger brother of Panthers' star center Ryan is still prone to the occasional lapse in technique, but the game comes so easy to him it is possible to envision him joining his brother as a Pro Bowler soon into his pro career.
3. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal*: After calling out ASU's Vontaze Burfict in the days preceding this game, Barkley was taught a lesson when the inside linebacker sniffed out a screen and intercepted a late second-quarter pass, killing a potential scoring drive for the Trojans. The play served as a microcosm of USC's night.
4. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Only a gaffe in which he lost a fumble out of the back of the end zone kept Blackmon from earning national Player of the Week honors for tearing up Texas A&M for 121 yards and a couple of scores. Instead, credited with only the one touchdown against the Aggies, Blackmon has four scores in four games. 5. Quenton Coples, DE, North Carolina: As physically imposing as they get, Coples' lack of burst off the edge might mean he'll never be a star pass rusher in the NFL, but his strength and size (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) could make him a matchup nightmare.
6. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Miscommunication with his linemates resulted in giving up a sack against a talented Pittsburgh front seven, but otherwise Reiff continued to demonstrate the combination of size, athleticism and technique that likely will result in a first round selection.
7. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: With nine touchdowns already, including two against Arkansas to earn SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Richardson may be emerging as the true Heisman front-runner.
8. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick's physical play against arguably the elite wide receiver corps in the country helped the Tide beat Arkansas, but scouts won't like that the junior cornerback was beaten on both of the Razorbacks' scores.
9. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: Thompson may have been statistically quiet (two tackles, half a tackle for loss) against Florida State, but his quickness helped he and the Tigers' defensive line disrupt the Seminoles' offense.
10. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Dennard, recovered from a muscle strain, saw his first action of 2011 against Wyoming, posting four solo tackles in about a half of play. Hopefully the warm-up game has prepared him for this week's critical matchup against Nick Toon and the Wisconsin Badgers.
11. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins will have to reassure scouts of his maturity, but his talents are obvious -- especially at this level. After being named the Gulf South Conference Special Teams Player of the Week against Glenville State, Jenkins returned a fumble 49 yards for what turned out to be the winning score against Abilene Christian in a D-II powerhouse showdown.
12. Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina*: A more explosive edge rusher than teammate Coples, Paige-Moss is bigger and stronger this season and though not dominant statistically so far, looks poised to enjoy a breakout campaign.
13. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*: An athletic left tackle who has capably protected Andrew Luck's blindside. Looks smaller than his listed 6-6, 304 pounds and may lack the physicality for some schemes.
14. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Floyd's talent has never been the question. At times, he's been unstoppable. To earn a first round selection, however, he'll need to prove to scouts he's matured, especially off the field.
15. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma*: For awhile there Jones looked like he might struggle against Missouri the way he did a week earlier at Florida State. In regaining his potential Heisman-form (448 passing yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions), Jones steadies his stock.
16. 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.
17. Billy Winn, DT, Boise State: Kellen Moore gets all of the hype, but Winn is clearly Boise State's best pro prospect. Winn has been impressive against top competition and only needs to play with more consistency to warrant a first round selection.
18. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Averaging nearly four more tackles a game this season than any other defender in the country, it is hard not to envision Kuechly continuing his success manning the middle for an NFL team soon.
19. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Glenn struggled in the opener against Boise State, but has rewarded my faith in him since with much improved play at left tackle. He may not be able to remain here in the NFL, but looks like a possible future Pro Bowl candidate on the inside.
20. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: Claiborne wasn't as consistent against West Virginia as I'd like him to be defensively, but his 99-yard kickoff return was an example of a big time player making a big time play.
21. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame*: Another strong performance from Te'o has him overtaking Vontaze Burfict and nearing Kuechly as the top linebacker in the country.
22. Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: Fuller's two touchdown catches against Oklahoma State were important, but a lack of elite straight-line speed limits his pro stock.
23. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick has been disappointing the first month of the season and missed the Wyoming game due to injury. To maintain his lofty grade with scouts, he needs to jump-start his season.
24. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin*: Rarely does an underclassmen center deserve mentioning this early on a Big Board, but Konz is special. His size and strength inside and fluidity when blocking at the second level could allow him to join the Pouncey twins, Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns) and Eric Wood (Buffalo Bills) as the fifth center drafted in the first round over the past four drafts.
25. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: Athletic and instinctive, Barron's steady play stands out in a relatively weak crop of pure safeties.
26. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina*: Not the caliber of ball-hawk that some of the other top corners on this list are, Gilmore is one of the more sound tacklers and aggressive run defenders of the group. Some view him as a potential candidate to move to safety.
27. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford*: One veteran scout traveling from Stanford characterized DeCastro as "the best guard I've seen in a long time." Like everyone else on that offense, he's aided by Andrew Luck, but there is no doubt DeCastro has top NFL talent.
28. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Much of Texas A&M's inexcusable collapse at home against Oklahoma State will be laid at the feet of Tannehill, due to his three second half interceptions. How he responds to the challenging situation could ultimately determine his pro stock.
29. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State*: Burfict is far from the consistent difference-maker his reputation would lead one to believe, but there was no denying the importance of his interception right before halftime against Matt Barkley. The play was a game-changer in what turned out to be ASU's first victory over the Trojans since 1999.
30. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon*: Finally back on the field against Arizona and their pass-heavy offense, Harris responded with three tackles and two passes broken up. He led the country with 17 a year ago.
31. Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: Hightower flashed the speed and explosiveness Saturday against Arkansas that we haven't seen from him since he tore his ACL against the Hogs in 2009.
32. Alameda Ta'Amu, DT/NG, Washington: Despite limited skills as a pass rusher, this 6-3, 330 pounder's ability to disrupt interior rushing lanes could make him a first round pick.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.