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Big Board: BCS title game a showcase for first-round talent

by | NFLDraftScout.com

Alabama's Trent Richardson is an elite talent at running back. (US Presswire)  
Alabama's Trent Richardson is an elite talent at running back. (US Presswire)  

What the BCS Championship Game may have lacked in drama it more than made up for in star power.

Six players from that game are included in my top 32, with Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne among the top-five prospects, overall. Each player announced Thursday his intention to enter the 2012 draft. 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 all-star games, 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*: Disregard the fact that Luck lost the final game of his collegiate career, as he was his typically brilliant self in the Fiesta Bowl. It isn't just that Luck possesses all of the physical traits to earn the No. 1 overall pick. His intelligence, anticipation and poise are phenomenal. Say what you will about Robert Griffin III's upside, Luck is as close to a sure thing as it gets in the NFL Draft.

2. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: Kalil isn't as fundamentally sound and consistent as scouts would like, but he possesses the great size, athleticism and balance to be a top-five pick and Pro Bowl-caliber player.

3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron was named the offensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game and his strong performance deserved acknowledgement. Any observer knows that Richardson was the best offensive player in the game; his 96 rushing yards and his 34-yard touchdown run to seal the victory proved it. Teams are hesitant to invest first-round picks in running backs but Richardson is an elite talent.

4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: Griffin made his leap into the NFL official Jan. 11 but scouts had been anticipating his decision for weeks. The Heisman winner possesses as extraordinary a combination of speed and touch on the deep ball as the NFL has ever seen but isn't without warts. The adjustment from the same offense that helped Kevin Kolb produce eye-popping collegiate numbers is a significant one and could force his future NFL team to have a plan in place for 2012 before RG3 can reasonably be expected to play well at the professional level.

5. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: Unless you were watching closely you may have missed Claiborne in the BCS title. While he registered five tackles (four solo) only once did Alabama complete a pass to Claiborne's primary responsibility. That pass went to Chris Underwood for eight yards in the first quarter. Avoiding him is perhaps the greatest compliment that Nick Saban and his staff could have given Claiborne, the 2011 Thorpe Award winner.

6. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Dominating the Stanford secondary to the tune of eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns, Blackmon emphatically staked his claim as a top-10 prospect -- though his straight-line speed remains a concern for some.

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. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Reiff was challenged by an athletic Oklahoma defense and, quite frankly, was beaten on occasion. However, he demonstrated the quickness in pass protection and physicality in the running game scouts are looking for in a prototypical blindside tackle.

9. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Just as the Crimson Tide elected not to challenge LSU's Claiborne very often, the Tigers rarely looked in Kirkpatrick's direction in the BCS championship. The angular and athletic Kirkpatrick limited LSU's big play wideout Rueben Randle to just three catches for 13 yards Monday night and showed his trademark toughness in run support, as well.

10. 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. What they don't have to wonder about is Martin's light feet and balance in pass protection. Some scouts grade Martin higher than either Kalil or Reiff as a pass blocker.

11. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: Still's talent has always been obvious, but until this season it has lied under the surface. Just as Phil Taylor rode a dominant senior campaign into 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.

12. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: More decorated than a wedding cake, Kuechly was honored with the Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott Impact Trophy awards after leading the country in tackles for the second consecutive season. Manti Te'o's decision to return for his senior season at Notre Dame only increases Kuechly's stock that much more. Kuechly isn't likely to be drafted this highly, but he's viewed by most scouts among the safest talents in the country -- despite the fact he's just a junior.

13. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: With a team-high seven tackles, including a sack and numerous pressures, Upshaw was recognized as the BCS Championship Game's defensive MVP. Playing well in bowl games is nothing new for the Alabama pass rusher as he earned the same accolades after posting five tackles, including three for loss and two sacks in a 2011 Capital One Bowl thrashing of Michigan State. 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. I like him best attacking the line of scrimmage and think he's a perfect fit as 3-4 outside linebacker. He's strong and tenacious enough, though, to play on the line at defensive end for 4-3 teams, as well.

14. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Wright led the Holiday Bowl with seven receptions but "only" registered 91 yards and a touchdown. His statistics likely would have been much more impressive had Baylor not been able to run the ball left, right and down the middle against Washington (482 yards, eight touchdowns).

15. 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.

16. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: A veteran Georgia offensive line was challenged by some exotic blitzes from Michigan State but Glenn held his own and didn't allow any of the four sacks the Spartans forced in their Outback Bowl victory. The 6-5, 350-pounder moved outside to left tackle as a senior but the majority his starts come inside at guard, where many scouts view his NFL future.

17. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: Instinctive, physical and a significantly more reliable open field tackler than he was earlier in his career, Barron has established himself as the unquestioned top safety of the 2012 draft. Though he only registered two tackles overall against LSU, one of them was for a sack, lending to the theory that the three-year starter has the athleticism and toughness to make plays near the line of scrimmage or in space.

18. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: At 6-3, 224 pounds Floyd has the size, strength, route-running and reliable hands to intrigue any team in search of a split end. Where he'll ultimately wind up being drafted, however, won't be determined until he proves his straight-line speed for scouts and answers teams' questions about his dubious off-field behavior.

19. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Let's be clear. Coples is the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the draft. At 6-6, 285 pounds physically-speaking, he'll earn first-round grades from scouts working for 3-4 and 4-3 clubs, alike. Coples has developed a me-first reputation, however, and doesn't play with enough snap-to-snap consistency to earn the top-10 grade from me that his talent obviously warrants. Coples' uninspiring play has been evident all year long and was just as obvious in UNC's 41-24 trouncing by Missouri in the Independence Bowl.

20. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: As expected, Jenkins has been a man among boys at this level after starring at Florida. Scouts will investigate Jenkins' off-field antics closely, but won't lose sight of the fact that he's the most talented senior cover corner in the country and has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, earning All-American honors.

21. 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.

22. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: Upside is also the key word with Perry. The 6-3, 260 pound pass rusher led the Pac-12 in sacks and seems to be just scratching the surface of his potential. With no bowl game for USC and Perry having already committed to the draft, he's getting a jump start in preparing for workouts. Based on the explosiveness evident on tape, that could lead to some eye-popping numbers.

23. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: The headliner in a dominant Michigan State unit that led the Big 10 in both run and total defense, Worthy proved his ability to take over games with five tackles, including two for loss against Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

24. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin*: The Badgers came up one second (and 25 yards) short of tying Oregon and sending the Rose Bowl into overtime. But you certainly can't blame that on Konz, who toughed it out on a left ankle he dislocated November 12. The 6-5, 315 pound Konz is remarkably light on his feet and could offer immediate dividends for a team at any of the three interior positions.

25. Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina: With another four tackles, including 1.5 sacks against Nebraska in the Gamecocks' Capitol One Bowl victory, Ingram proved that he's capable of making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage regardless of the opponent. His quick feet and versatility intrigue scouts for 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike.

26. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: In terms of physical talent, there is no denying that Tannehill has the tools to warrant a first-round pick. The foot injury that will keep him out of the Senior Bowl and likely affect his availability for Combine workouts will create questions, but none he cannot overcome with a great campus workout. The 6-4, 225-pound quarterback has a strong arm, good touch and obviously rare athleticism for the position considering that he earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors as a receiver in 2009.

27. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami*: Miller only has one season as the Hurricanes' lead back, but in rushing for 1,272 yards -- the third most in school history -- the redshirt sophomore had already etched his name among the elite backs hailing from The U. At 5-11, 212 pounds, Miller has the size to be a feature back in the NFL and may be the fastest back in the country.

28. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers*: At 6-2, 215 pounds, Sanu has the 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.

29. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: While easy-chair scouts are quick to point out that Dennard was beaten by South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery for 148 yards and a touchdown, I'd argue that the Nebraska cornerback actually did a pretty solid job against the much bigger Jeffery for much of the day. The fact that Dennard was beaten over the top for a 78-yard gain midway through the second quarter by Jeffery should be much more disconcerting that the Hail Mary touchdown Jeffery caught over the entire Nebraska secondary to end the half.

30. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: Brockers has established himself as a star in the SEC and with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss and blocked field goal Monday night against Alabama, he's a player who stepped up his game under the brightest of lights. Listed by the Tigers at 6-6, 306 pounds, Brockers has the build, strength and athleticism to fit in any defense.

31. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick missed the final eight games of the Huskers' season, including the Capitol One Bowl with a torn pectoral, but that won't keep scouts from grading the 2010 All-American as a first-round talent based on his potential to line up inside or out depending on the defensive scheme of the team that drafts him come April.

32. 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.


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