Updated Dec. 8
Scouts want to see consistency throughout the regular season, but strong performances during the postseason can push prospects up the board quickly and even spring board into the all-star game and workout circuit to further elevate a player's draft status.
Several prospects punctuated their college careers and showed they were standouts in big-game pressure during the conference championships last weekend. North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins -- a transfer from Florida -- enjoyed a strong performance in the opening week of the Division II playoffs.
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The clutch showings led to plenty of movement in my fluid Top 32 this week with the biggest of games yet to come.
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 now and April.
(*-prospect is an underclassman)
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Luck characterized himself as "absolutely" ready to play at the NFL level. I share his confidence. Forget the questions about Luck's arm strength. While perhaps lacking a Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton rifle for an arm, Luck's anticipation and accuracy are as impressive as any quarterback in my 12 years in scouting. Whether to the Colts or any other team willing to pay the bounty for the right to add him, Luck will be the first pick of the 2012 draft.
2. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal*: I'm not willing to agree with University of Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian that Barkley should be drafted higher than Luck, but the gap has narrowed. Barkley is an elite prospect who would generate No. 1 overall consideration in most drafts.
3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: It is difficult to grade any running back this high as the value of the position simply doesn't warrant it. Richardson, however, may just be the most physically gifted player in the country.
4. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: Kalil is leaning toward returning for his senior season in 2012, and scouts might applaud him. He isn't as fundamentally sound and consistent as an elite tackle is expected to be, but he possesses such great size, athleticism and balance that a top-five pick (and future Pro Bowls) would appear likely in his future.
5. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: I argued that LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson was the top player in the 2011 draft. Shockingly, Claiborne has been even better this season than Peterson, the fifth pick of the draft, was last year. Claiborne was beaten on a few occasions early by Georgia in the SEC Championship game, but had a strong game, including his sixth interception of the year.
6. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Blackmon ultimately won't get 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, as well.
7. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford*: In terms of consistent dominance, there hasn't been an offensive or defensive lineman I've graded higher thus far this season than DeCastro. Only the fact that he plays guard may keep him out of the top half of the first round.
8. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Big, physical and (like Blackmon) faster on the field than he'll ever time off it, Floyd has the makings of a top ten pick -- as long as he can convince teams he has the maturity to handle the pressure on and off the field that comes with such lofty expectations.
9. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: Still's talent has always been obvious, but until this season it has been under the surface. Just as Phil Taylor rode a dominant senior campaign into being a first-round pick, however, don't be surprised if Still is able to do the same -- especially if he can follow Taylor's lead and enjoy a stellar week at the Senior Bowl, as well.
10. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Possessing NFL size (6-6, 300 pounds), sound technique and better athleticism than his former teammate, Bryan Bulaga, Reiff is viewed by scouts as a pro-ready tackle capable of helping immediately at either left or right tackle.
11. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: Considering Griffin's relatively slight (6-2, 220) frame, history of injury (torn ACL in 2009) and collegiate production coming from a spread offense, there are red flags scouts are considering when projecting the Heisman finalist as an NFL quarterback. That said, Griffin is a better athlete than either Luck or Barkley and is a better deep ball passer, too. Those physical attributes, along with the poise he's demonstrated this season, could result in a top 10 pick should Griffin, a redshirt junior, choose to leave school early.
12. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick's size, speed and physicality combination are rare for the cornerback position. He remains a bit raw in his technique, which is why Claiborne has leapt him on many draft boards.
13. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: When playing with passion, the 6-6, 285 pound Coples is arguably the elite defensive prospect in the country. Coples, who is lining up at defensive end this season after starring last year inside, hasn't been playing with the same intensity and thus is slipping. His raw talent, however, is undeniable and should generate top 10 consideration.
14. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Griffin gets all of the hype, but the playmaking Wright is a legitimate first-round talent, himself. At 5-10, 190 pounds Wright is significantly smaller than many of the other top receivers in this draft, but he brings very good speed and open-field running skills. Some scouts compare Wright to Carolina Panthers' star Steve Smith for their similar build and explosiveness.
15. Courtney Upshaw, ILB, Alabama: Among the most versatile defenders in the country, Upshaw's burst and strong, active hands make him a natural pass rusher capable of seeing the field early whether as a 4-3 defensive end or as either an inside or outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Kuechly locates the football as quickly as any defender in the country and he is a reliable open field tackler. He's finished second in the nation with 158 tackles as a true freshman in 2009. He led the country last season (183) and is averaging nearly 2.5 more tackles per game this season.
19. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis*: At 6-5, 350 pounds, Poe certainly has the bulk scouts are looking for. What is most impressive about him, however, is that at this size Poe is also light on his feet and plays with a high-revving motor. Poe is only a junior and is clearly raw, but in a relatively weak defensive tackle class, he could fly up the board.
20. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: LSU outclassed Georgia in the SEC Championship, but don't blame Glenn. Since struggling early in his first season at left tackle, Glenn has become increasingly comfortable and it showed in a strong effort against the top-ranked Tigers and their NFL-caliber defensive line.
21. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: A free safety for the Crimson Tide, I have some reservations about Barron being able to hold up at this position against top-notch NFL passing games. That said, his reliable open-field tackling and instincts make him the clear top safety prospect.
22. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*: Martin's size (6-6, 305) and athleticism is very intriguing - especially in a zone-blocking offense. Scouts wonder, however, if he has the physicality to be successful in every scheme.
23. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins has been a man among boys at this level after starring at Florida. He's the most talented senior cover corner in the country and has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, including one Saturday against Delta State in the opening round of the Division II playoffs. The last time Jenkins faced Delta State he was thrown out of the game for allegedly throwing a punch, so the strong effort certainly won't be lost on scouts.
24. Mohammed Sanu, WR, Rutgers*: At 6-2, 215 pounds Sanu possesses rare size and physicality to play outside in the NFL. He lacks elite speed, however, which limits his draft stock despite the fact that he's been as reliable as any receiver in the country this season.
25. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: Scouts will want to investigate Adams' maturity considering his suspension as part of Tattoo-gate, but since returning to the field for the Buckeyes, the 6-6, 320 pounder has proven himself to be the top senior offensive tackle in the country.
26. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State*: Cox may be relatively unknown outside of the SEC, but in winning the conference defensive lineman of the week four times this season, his opponents certainly know him. Scouts do too, as the 6-4, 295 pounder has the size, strength and athleticism to play in either a three or four man front.
27. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: Upside is also the key word with Perry. He's enjoying a breakout season for the Trojans and appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential. Sources close to the team tell me that Perry could run in the 4.6s at 6-3, 260 pounds, which will intrigue teams needing pass rushers for the 4-3 and 3-4, alike.
28. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: Brown's elite athleticism is going to draw raves at the combine, but moderate instincts and physicality are potential red-flags that shouldn't be ignored.
29. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson*: Allen helped create running lanes against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game and caught two touchdowns. The 6-4, 255 junior's strong all-around performance against quality competition moves him to the top of my tight end rankings.
30. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: Worthy, a junior, continues to struggle with consistency, but defensive tackles with his combination of size, strength and quickness don't last long on draft day.
31. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: At 6-6, 245 pounds and possessing better speed and hands than some of Stanford's wide receivers, Fleener has become Andrew Luck's favorite target.
32. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Branch was only officially credited with three tackles against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game, but his speed and power off the edge resulted in several big plays for the Tigers. At 6-4, 260 pounds Branch has the size and athleticism to rush the passer standing up or with his hand on the ground.