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Nation's top prospects beginning to separate from rest of pack

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

Andrew Luck, here lined up at receiver, is Rob Rang's highest-rated player in 12 years. (US Presswire)  
Andrew Luck, here lined up at receiver, is Rob Rang's highest-rated player in 12 years. (US Presswire)  

Halfway through the college football regular season, the elite prospects in country are beginning to separate from the rest of the pack.

There are some -- Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard, for example -- who started the season hot, but have since cooled off.

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Others, such as Texas A&M wide receiver Jeff Fuller, haven't been the consistent force they had been in previous seasons.

The news is all disappointing.

For every player who has surprisingly struggled or succumbed to injury -- such as Florida State offensive tackle Andrew Datko -- others have stepped up their level of play. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Georgia tight end Orson Charles and North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown are examples.

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 a full season, all-star games, individual workouts and interviews each playing critical roles in determining a player's final grade, much will change between now and April.

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

2. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal*: Barkley doesn't have Luck's size, athleticism or arm strength. No one does. Barkley is still a top-notch prospect in his own right. In a typical draft he would be generating No. 1 overall buzz.

3. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: The 6-7, 295-pound Kalil was never beaten by speed and dominant, at times, as a drive blocker against Cal. He did get beat inside occasionally.

4. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Blackmon ultimately won't get drafted this high -- there are too many questions about his straight-line speed -- but he's virtually unstoppable at this level and will prove to be a legit 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 hear his name called.

6. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: As physically imposing as they came, 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. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: At 6-2, 300 pounds, Thompson lacks the size most scouts prefer from a top-10 defensive tackle. His combination of power and quickness, however, has made him virtually unblockable this season.

8. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: He has NFL size (6-6, 300 pounds) and impressive athleticism, giving him the look of a top-10 pick.

9. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Physical, fast and athletic, Kirkpatrick has the athletic traits scouts look for in a top-10 prospect. To ultimately be selected this high, however, he'll need to play with more consistency.

10. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: As anyone who watched Jenkins play for Florida might have expected, Jenkins has been a star at the D-II level for North Alabama. Scouts have plenty of concerns about his maturity, but few about his ability.

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, he must prove to scouts he has 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*: Scouts have reservations about Jeffery's straight-line speed, but his size, physicality and body control have dominated SEC competition -- and that speaks volumes.

15. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Finally back to health, Dennard is showing signs of being the physical shutdown press corner that led some scouts to grade him this season as the country's elite senior prospect at any position.

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. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Glenn struggled in the opener against Boise State, but has rewarded faith in him since with much improved play at left tackle. He may not be able to remain outside in the NFL, but looks like a possible future Pro Bowl candidate on the inside.

19. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame*: Instinctive, physical and athletic enough to beat backs to the edge, as well as remain on the field on third down, Te'o has emerged as the country's best all-around middle linebacker.

20. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin*: Rarely does an underclassman center deserve mention in the top 20 of a Big Board, but Konz is special. His size and strength inside and fluidity 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

23. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina*: Not the caliber of ball-hawk some on the list are, Gilmore is one of the sound tacklers and aggressive run defenders of the group. Some view him as a potential candidate to move to safety.

24. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Kuechly's instincts and open-field tackling skills are impressive, but he's not as stout as scouts would prefer for playing inside in the NFL and may lack the athleticism to make the switch to outside. Some scouts believe Kuechly is one of the country's most overrated pro prospects.

25. 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.

26. Courtney Upshaw, ILB, Alabama: Upshaw only recorded two tackles against Ole Miss -- but those two were sacks. Instinctive and physical, he's a top-notch ILB for the 3-4 scheme and some 4-3 clubs like his potential as a defensive end.

27. 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.

28. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: An extraordinary athlete still learning the nuances of the position, Brown has demonstrated improved instincts and physicality this season, emerging as North Carolina's most consistent defender.

29. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State: After struggling with consistency the first quarter of the season, Worthy has played considerably better, including disrupting Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on multiple occasions last Saturday. Welcome back to the Big Board, Mr. Worthy.

30. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon: Finally earning his way back onto the field and grabbing consistent playing time, Harris recorded his first interception of 2011 against Arizona State Saturday. Last season, he led the Pac-10 in this category. Harris is slight, but his coverage and ball skills are top notch.

31. 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, but he turned that around against Baylor with a career high six touchdown passes. With only 11 career starts to date, it is easy to look past his inconsistencies and instead imagine his bright future.

32. 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.

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.


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