Rang's Big Board: Need corner? You'll be in luck

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

The dramatic evolution of the NFL from the run-oriented league of the 1960s and 1970s to today's all-aerial attack has changed the way teams evaluate offensive players.

More emphasis than ever is placed on finding quality quarterbacks, receivers and offensive linemen whose strength is pass blocking.

Rarely does media focus on NFL teams shifting their focus on defensive prospects in an effort to slow down opponents' passing attacks. This has led to pass rushers, cornerbacks and even safeties becoming more of a priority on draft day.

The 2012 draft class doesn't appear at this time to offer much to teams in need of pass rushers and safeties. Cornerback, however, might be a different story.

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Some believe cornerback will prove to be the strongest and deepest position in April, at least if some talented underclassmen elect to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.

The 2010 draft had seven defensive backs drafted in the first round, including five cornerbacks.

This matches the top total of each selected in the opening frame of any draft in the past 20 years.

Below, you find seven cornerbacks listed among my top 32 prospects as of early October.

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 a full season, all-star games, workouts and interviews 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*: Besides grading out as the top quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, Luck showed against UCLA that he's also athletic enough to attack defenses as a receiver. Is there anything this guy can't do?

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*: Barkley bounced back from a poor performance against Arizona State to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week accolades in a record-breaking 468-yard performance against Arizona. His status as the No. 2 QB in the country is secure.

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. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Richardson certainly looked like a Heisman finalist and potential top-10 NFL pick against Florida.

7. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: With two more years of eligibility remaining, Reiff, a redshirt junior, has plenty of time to iron out any deficiencies in his game. He doesn't have many, which could push to join Bryan Bulaga and Tyler Sash as recent Hawkeyes willing to leave early for the NFL.

8. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Physical, fast and athletic, Kirkpatrick has the athletic traits scouts look for in a top 10 prospect. To ultimately earn that final grade, however, he'll need to play with greater consistency.

9. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: Overshadowed by teammate Andre Branch (and his six tackles for loss, including four sacks) against Virginia Tech, Thompson nonetheless impressed scouts on hand with his burst and strength in recording five tackles against the Hokies.

10. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: As anyone who watched Jenkins play well for Florida might have expected, Jenkins has been a star at the D-II level for No. 1-ranked North Alabama. He won the Gulf South Conference Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season with another fantastic punt return for a touchdown.

11. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: It was good to see Dennard back on the field for the Huskers, but the rust was obvious as he and the Nebraska defense struggled to slow down an impressive Wisconsin offense.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma*: It was against Ball State, but the numbers don't lie (425 passing yards, including five touchdowns). When Jones is allowed to survey the field and throw comfortably from the pocket, he's very dangerous.

15. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina*: Poor play from quarterback Stephen Garcia has contributed more to Jeffery's surprising lack of production, but scouts are concerned that the big receiver's lack of elite downfield speed could cause problems entering the NFL.

16. Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina*: Paige-Moss showed off some of his big-play ability with two tackles for loss in the win over East Carolina, but scouts want to see more consistency from the defender many peg as the country's most exciting pass rushing talent.

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*: I'll be the first to admit that I chalked up some of Claiborne's big plays last season to playing opposite Patrick Peterson. He's been even better this season and possesses the quick feet and sticky hands usually reserved for wideouts.

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. 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.

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech*: Hosley led the country with nine interceptions last season. He recorded another Saturday against Clemson and was arguably the best player on the field in a losing effort.

26. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: Athletic and instinctive, Barron's steady play stands out in a relatively weak crop of pure safeties.

27. 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.

28. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State*: With only two tackles recorded (as well as two passes broken up) against Oregon State, Burfict isn't the stats-monster of most inside linebackers. He makes a greater impact, however, than his statistics would imply.

29. 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.

30. Orson Charles, TE, Georgia*: Charles lacks the size at 6-3, 242 pounds of the traditional tight end, but his athleticism, reliable hands and surprising physicality as a blocker makes him my top-rated prospect at the position.

31. 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.

32. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Scouts can't help but be disappointed in the lack of big plays turned in by Tannehill and the entire Aggie offense in two colossal second-half letdowns against Oklahoma State and Arkansas. With only ten career starts, thus far, however, it is easy to look past his recent struggles and instead imagine his bright future.

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.


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