Rang's Big Board: Left tackles emerging as season matures

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Luck and ex-Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh came to prominence with help from LT Jonathan Martin. (US Presswire)  
Luck and ex-Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh came to prominence with help from LT Jonathan Martin. (US Presswire)  

With one third of the college football season in the books, it's becoming easier to separate the prospects from the projects.

Thanks in large part to Andrew Luck, the 2012 draft should be strong at the game's most important position. The talent at left tackle is also a relative strength, though the three blindside pass protectors listed among my Top 32 are all underclassmen, and therefore no guarantee to leave school early for the NFL.

Even with the likelihood of underclassmen filling gaps, 2012 appears to be a rather weak year in terms of pass rushers. This shouldn't come as a surprise considering that seven defensive linemen and rush linebackers with eligibility remaining were drafted in the first round in April. As such, the talent in the cupboard for these positions is bare.

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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. With much of the college football season, all-star games, workouts and interviews each playing a critical role in determining a player's final grade, much will change between now and April.

(* denotes underclassman)

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford *: In 12 years of scouting, Luck is my highest-graded player. Second on the list? Ndamukong Suh. Third? Calvin Johnson. Getting the idea how good I think this guy will be?

2. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: Matt, the younger brother of Panthers' center Ryan Kalil, is still prone to the occasional lapse in technique, but the game comes so easy to him it is plausible to envision him joining his brother as a Pro Bowler soon into his pro career.

3. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal*: Barkley doesn't have Luck's size, athleticism or arm strength. No one does. Barkley is, however, a top notch prospect in his own right who in a normal draft would be generating No. 1 overall buzz.

4. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Blackmon won't be drafted this high due to concerns about his straight-line speed, but he's virtually unstoppable at this level and will prove to be No. 1 option in the NFL.

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Bigger, stronger and faster than his former teammate and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Richardson won't have to wait until the end of the first round to get his name called.

6. 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 (6-6, 285) could make him a matchup nightmare.

7. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Possessing NFL size (6-6, 300 pounds) and impressive athleticism, Reiff has the look of a top ten pick.

8. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Physical, fast and athletic, Kirkpatrick has the athletic traits scouts look for in a top ten prospect. To be selected this high he'll need to play with greater consistency.

9. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: Overshadowed in his career by exterior pass rushers DaQuan Bowers and Andre Branch, Thompson is quietly viewed by some scouts as the top senior prospect in the country.

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. 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.

12. 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.

13. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma*: Demonstrating greater poise and accuracy against Texas than he had in previous big games, Jones may be on the verge of legitimizing his hype as a top-10 prospect.

14. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina*: With two touchdowns against Vanderbilt, Jeffery moved into a tie for second place in USC history with 19 career touchdowns. Seattle Seahawk Sidney Rice's record of 24 is well within reach.

15. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Ohio State wisely stayed away from Dennard throughout much of Saturday's game, but that respect, in itself, confirms the sense that the senior is finally playing with confidence after missing the first three games with a leg injury.

16. 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, however, and possesses the quick feet and sticky hands usually reserved for wideouts.

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. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

23. Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech*: At 5-10, 170 pounds, Hosley certainly lacks the frame scouts prefer, but his instincts, quick feet and ball skills make him arguably the top cover corner in the country.

24. 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.

25. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon*: Harris' coverage and return skills are obvious. So too is the fact that Harris still hasn't earned Chip Kelly's complete trust, as the talented junior continues to ride the bench.

26. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State*: Burfict is an enigma. His intensity, penchant for the big play and timing as a pass rusher make him a legitimate first round prospect, but he's not the stats-monster his hype would lead you to believe. The junior could leave early, but scouts warn he's a classic boom or bust prospect.

27. 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.

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

29. Donta Hightower, ILB, Alabama: Among the more physical and versatile front seven defenders in the country, Hightower is earning high grades from 4-3 teams as a potential convert to defensive end, as well as sticking at inside linebacker for teams running a 30 front.

30. 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.

31. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: An extraordinary athlete still learning the nuances of the position, Brown demonstrated improved instincts and physicality Saturday alternating between inside and outside linebacker in a surprisingly tough win over Louisville.

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 10 career starts, 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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