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Ranking the eligible underclassmen for the 2012 NFL Draft

by | NFLDraftScout.com

What separates soon-to-be top pick Andrew Luck from recent elite quarterbacks is his poise. (Getty Images)  
What separates soon-to-be top pick Andrew Luck from recent elite quarterbacks is his poise. (Getty Images)  

NFLDraftScout.com received an early list of underclassmen committed to the 2012 NFL Draft, and as of Sunday, a record-tying 56 eligible juniors and redshirt sophomores had entered the player pool. The number ties last year's total.

The deadline for early entry passes at midnight Sunday, and the list may not be final. Players who have not signed with an agent have until Wednesday to reconsider their decision and regain their amateur eligibility. Also, applications that might have required closer review by the NFL to determine eligibility or those late to arrive -- ahead of Sunday's midnight cutoff -- could add players to the '12 haul.

NFLDraftScout.com has a rundown of the 56 underclassmen eligible to be drafted in 2012. Each player is listed by position and school as well as where he ranked on deadline day -- first on NFLDraftScout.com's board overall and then by position (including seniors).

QB Andrew Luck, Stanford, No. 1 overall/No. 1 at position: He has the size, arm strength, accuracy and mobility to earn a first-round grade strictly on his physical talents, but what sets Luck apart from other recent elite quarterback prospects is poise. Whether in the form of calmly surveying the field in a messy pocket or in playing at high level despite being on the national media pedestal all season, he's proven unflappable. There are too many variables to label a player as truly can't-miss, but in terms of sure things at quarterback, Luck is as close as it comes.

OT Matt Kalil, Southern California, 2/1: Big, strong and athletic, Kalil ably protected Matt Barkley's blind side for the past two seasons, generating comparisons to former Trojan great Tony Boselli. Kalil has been coached well and has excellent bloodlines. His brother, Ryan, was an All-American center at Southern Cal and just earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl invitation working inside for the Carolina Panthers.

QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor, 3/2: Andrew Luck may be the sure thing of the 2012 draft, but with his Heisman Trophy and dazzling blend of speed and accuracy, no player can match the excitement generated by RG3. Concerns about Griffin's size (listed at 6-2, 220) and transition from the same spread offense that may have inflated Kevin Kolb's college numbers are potential red flags. But a year after Cam Newton took the league by storm, Griffin's mobility and remarkable deep accuracy should dizzy offensive coordinators pondering the possibilities.

CB Morris Claiborne, LSU, 4/1: Playmaking cover corner with rare agility, speed and ball skills. Won the 2011 Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back despite being overshadowed for much of the season by more heralded teammate Tyrann Mathieu. Is a more technically sound cornerback than his former teammate, Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick last year and a rookie Pro Bowl player.

OT Riley Reiff, Iowa, 5/2: An athletic and versatile blocker well schooled by coach and noted offensive line guru Kirk Ferentz, Reiff (pronounced Reef) is a legitimate NFL left tackle who has also started at right tackle and left guard for the Hawkeyes. Scouts would like to see him gain some upper body strength but Reiff's upside is immense.

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WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State, 6/1: With 121 receptions for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns, Blackmon won his second consecutive Biletnikof Award as the nation's elite receiver. Possessing a combination of size, strength and speed that has drawn comparisons to Brandon Marshall, Blackmon is an immediate impact target worthy of top 10 consideration. Should Blackmon run well, a top five pick is possible.

RB Trent Richardson, Alabama, 7/1: A long-time scout told me that he hasn't seen a running back with Trent Richardson's size and explosiveness in the SEC since the legendary Herschel Walker was a Georgia Bulldog. That might seem like hyperbole until you see Richardson play. Richardson's talent is so impressive, in fact, it may force a team to ignore the fact that none of the seven running backs drafted in the first round over the past three seasons has played up to his selection.

OG David DeCastro, Stanford, 9/1: Stanford coach David Shaw says DeCastro reminds him of Steve Wisniewski, an eight-time Pro Bowl player with the Oakland Raiders. It's hard to argue with Shaw (who was on the Raiders staff for four of those seasons) as DeCastro shows a similar combination of the athleticism, strength and nastiness that characterized Wisniewski's play. Interior linemen rarely earn top 20 consideration. but DeCastro may prove an exception.

CB 'Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, 10/2: Lanky press corner with rare speed and hip flexibility for a cornerback his size. Instinctive and physical, making him very capable in zone coverage and run support. Helped limit LSU star receiver Rueben Randle to only five catches for 32 yards in Alabama's two games vs. LSU.

OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford, 11/3: Martin isn't as physical in the running game as fellow juniors Matt Kalil and Riley Reiff. But he's every bit their match in terms of athleticism and provided stellar protection of Andrew Luck's blind side his entire career. He may be third in the rankings amongst tackles but could be among the first 15 players selected. There is a steep dropoff in talent at offensive tackle following Martin.

DE Nick Perry, Southern California, 16/1: Perry intrigues scouts with his upside and potential scheme versatility. Possessing an explosive first step and surprising strength, Perry led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks as a junior. He flashes spectacular athleticism on the field and could convince 3-4 teams he's capable of making the switch to outside linebacker with strong workouts.

DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, 17/3: A long-armed, athletic defender still growing into his body, Cox earned the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week four times in 2011. Cox was given a second-round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee but has the blend of size, strength and athleticism to interest teams using the 4-3 and 3-4 alike.

ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College, 18/1: Leaves Boston College the 2011 winner of the Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott Impact awards after again leading the country in both solo and total tackles. Accomplished the same feat as a sophomore after finishing second as a true freshman. Not the biggest or fastest linebacker but he possesses finely tuned instincts and is a terrific open-field tackler.

DT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, 19/4: Massive run-stuffer inside who flashes a terrific burst off the snap to surprise pass blockers. Doesn't play with the consistency scouts would like but was the headliner for a Spartan defense that ranked among the nation's elite, earning Worthy first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press == the first Spartan defensive linemen to do so since the late, great Bubba Smith was recognized in 1966.

Alabama's Donta Hightower projects to be the second linebacker selected. (Getty Images)  
Alabama's Donta Hightower projects to be the second linebacker selected. (Getty Images)  

OC Peter Konz, Wisconsin, 22/1: Arguably the most gifted of a supremely talented Wisconsin offensive line. Possesses a rare combination of size, strength and mobility and though his experience lies at center scouts feel he could make an immediate impact at any of the three interior line positions.

ILB Donta Hightower, Alabama, 26/2: Massive, physical inside linebacker best suited to remaining in the 3-4 alignment where his lack of elite speed can be minimized. Takes on and shed blockers at the line forcefully and is a talented pass rusher, as well.

WR Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers, 28/4: Sanu is a physical, athletic receiver with the route-running, hands and toughness to see immediate playing time in the NFL. He left Rutgers after a junior season in which he set the school and Big East record with 210 career receptions.

TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson, 29/4: Allen's blend of size, strength and refined receiving skills make him the top traditional tight end prospect of the 2012 draft. The Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end, Allen is a functional in-line blocker and broke the Clemson record for catches (50), receiving yards (598) and touchdowns (eight) by a tight end.

DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, 31/2: Mercilus led the nation in both sacks (16) and forced fumbles (nine). Some worry that his gaudy statistics were inflated by an aggressive scheme as Mercilus relies more on strength and tenacity than speed or technique.

RB Lamar Miller, Miami, 32/2: The dropoff from Trent Richardson to the rest of the 2012 running back class is steep, but due to his electric speed and relative slight wear, Miller could give the first round a second running back. Miller left The U as a redshirt sophomore but was dazzling at times this season, rushing for 1,272 yards == the third-highest single-season total in school history.

DT Dontari Poe, Memphis, 33/5: He shows light feet for a man as imposing as there is in the country, Poe registered 33 tackles and eight tackles for loss playing on the nose in the Tigers' 4-3 alignment. His size is certainly intriguing inside but Poe also showed in 2011 that his long arms make him equally effective setting the edge at defensive end. Poe's incredible size and versatility makes him arguably the wild card among all defensive linemen in the 2012 draft.

DT Michael Brockers , LSU, 37/6: Left LSU after only his redshirt sophomore but is an exciting talent with great length, strength and effort. May have been the Tigers' most impressive prospect in the BCS title game against Alabama, posting seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a blocked kick. Brockers is an unfinished product whose best football is still ahead of him.

OG Brandon Washington, Miami, 39/3: Versatile lineman who proved capable of playing at a high level at left tackle and left guard over his career. Possesses a short, stocky build that may be better suited inside against NFL competition. Was one of two Miami underclassmen (Olivier Vernon) to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, an all-star game open to underclassmen.

WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina, 40/5: Big, strong and possessing remarkable body control to win tightly contested battles for the ball, Jeffery dominated the SEC since stepping onto the field as a true freshman. But Jeffery isn't quite as highly regarded as his reputation would imply. Scouts worry his average speed and burst will keep him from separating against NFL-caliber cornerbacks.

RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech, 42/3: An extraordinary athlete who not only broke the school record with 1,709 rushing yards in 2011 but finished sixth in the NCAA in the triple jump as a member of the track and field team. Wilson's production and top-end speed are off the charts, but scouts will have to weigh the past struggles of other highly touted Virginia Tech running backs of the past.

ILB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State, 44/3: Boasts prototypical size and explosive hitting ability but hasn't played with the consistency scouts would like and developed a well-earned reputation as a hot-head prone to foolish penalties. The ultimate boom or bust pick of the 2012 draft.

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech, 45/6: An undersized cover corner with excellent agility, speed and ball skills, Hosley exploded onto the scene in 2010, leading the country with nine interceptions. He dropped to three in 2011 (which led the Hokies), with opponents often choosing to ignore his side of the field.

WR Rueben Randle, LSU, 48/6: A lanky, athletic and surprisingly fast receiver, Randle played a critical role in LSU's march to the BCS title game, leading the team in catches (53), receiving yards (917), average yards per catch (17.3) and receiving touchdowns (eight).

CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, 51/7: An instinctive and physical defender better served in zone coverage or perhaps even being moved back to safety rather than lining up in man to man against NFL-caliber receivers.

OLB Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma, 53/6: A defensive end and special teams standout who best projects as a rush linebacker for a 3-4 club in the NFL, Lewis may present as much upside as any front seven defender in the 2012 draft. But concerns about his ability to make the adjustment to a new position and scheme are compounded with Lewis' relative inexperience (he played eight-man football in high school) and struggles in the classroom.

TE Orson Charles, Georgia, 54/3: Smaller than most teams would prefer at tight end but is a surprisingly physical blocker and a matchup headache in the passing game. Can extend and pluck outside of his frame and is both athletic and hard-running after the catch.

DE Chandler Jones , Syracuse, 56/5: The younger brother of former Syracuse standout (and current Baltimore Raven) Arthur Jones, Chandler may have pounced on his NFL opportunity after watching his brother's stock slip mightily following an injury-plagued senior season. Possessing good burst off the snap for a man of his size and the long arms to keep pass blockers off his chest, Jones is quietly among the better second-tier pass rushers available.

RB Chris Polk, Washington, 57/4: A physical north-south runner who plays with the physicality characteristic of another Pacific Northwest running back == Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch. Though scouts love Polk's toughness and consistency, the fact that he's already twice undergone shoulder surgery is a concern.

OLB Jonathan Massaquoi , Troy, 62/9: Undersized edge rusher who dominated the Sun Belt in his two seasons there, earning first-team all-conference honors each time. Played primarily at left defensive end in Troy's 4-3 alignment but projects best as a rush linebacker in the 3-4. Recorded 31 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in two seasons for the Trojans.

RB LaMichael James, Oregon, 68/5: Undersized scatback perfectly suited to Oregon's frantic pace. Possesses excellent elusiveness and straight-line speed to take advantage of wide rushing lanes. Still developing as a receiver and has minimal experience as a return man. His success at the NFL level might not come as quickly as many predict based on his college resume.

OT Bobby Massie , Mississippi, 76/7: Powerful strong-side tackle who may project inside for many NFL teams, Massie signed with Ole Miss as a highly touted prep and started the final 29 games of his career. Though he never earned all-conference recognition, his size, strength and surprisingly light feet give him tools for an NFL offensive line coach to work with.

WR Chris Givens, Wake Forest, 90/10: Multidimensional weapon who led Wake Forest in all-purpose yardage in each of his three starting seasons as the team's primary receiver and return specialist. Has earned some comparisons to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown for his speed and elusiveness.

RB Bernard Pierce, Temple, 91/7: Record-breaking back who certainly looks the part and may owe the fact that he played for the Owls as a reason why he's relatively unheralded despite 1,481 yards and a jaw-dropping 27 touchdowns in 2011. Struggled with durability over his career, missing time with various ailments each of his three seasons at Temple.

CB Cliff Harris, Oregon, 93/13: An All-American returner and cornerback for the Ducks in 2010, Harris endured a nightmarish 2011 in which his poor decisions off the field diluted everything he's done on it. After multiple run-ins with police and the Oregon coaching staff, Harris was ultimately kicked off the team for good in December. Though slimmer than scouts would like, Harris' elite athleticism will give him a chance in the NFL but some teams have likely already eliminated him from consideration.

WR Stephen Hill , Georgia Tech, 92/11: Paul Johnson's triple-option offense rarely puts the ball in receivers' hands, but Hill demonstrated his big play potential in averaging a gaudy 29.3 yards per catch in 2011, which led the country and broke the school record. Hill is undeniably raw but his size and speed combination is reminiscent of former Tech and 2010 first-rounder Demaryius Thomas.

WR Tommy Streeter, Miami, 97/12: One of several surprising early entries from the Hurricanes, Streeter entered the 2011 season having only caught five passes over his career but emerged as senior quarterback Jacory Harris' favorite target, hauling in 46 balls for 811 yards and eight touchdowns. The lanky, athletic wideout possesses exciting upside but is very much a project.

DT Marcus Forston, Miami, 99/12: Forston leaves Miami having flashed standout ability when healthy throughout his career but has seen two of his four seasons (2009, 2011) with the program end early due to injury. A physical, active interior defender, Forston is a mid-round gamble that could pay off big.

QB Brock Osweiler , Arizona State, 107/7: Osweiler's emergence in his first full season as the starter played a critical role in ASU's return to a bowl game in 2011. Though more athletic than Ryan Mallett, Osweiler has a similar tall, lanky frame that could lead to struggles escaping the pocket in the NFL. Scouts would have liked to have seen him return for his senior season but there is no denying Osweiler's talent and impressive production (4,036 yards, 26 touchdowns/13 interceptions) in a pro-style offense this season.

Miami's Tommy Streeter is a lanky wideout with an exciting upside. (US Presswire)  
Miami's Tommy Streeter is a lanky wideout with an exciting upside. (US Presswire)  

CB Josh Robinson, Central Florida, 108/14: Athletic and instinctive cover corner with good speed and an explosive burst to close on the ball. Earned Conference USA first-team honors after each of his past two seasons and has 10 interceptions and 36 passes broken up over his career.

OLB Terrell Manning, North Carolina State, 109/13: Taking advantage of a relatively weak senior crop of traditional 4-3 outside linebackers, Manning elected to come out early having already established himself as an athletic defender capable of making plays against the run, dropping back into coverage or rushing the passer. In just 11 games this season, Manning registered 76 tackles, led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and tied for the lead in sacks (5.5), passes broken up (five) and forced fumbles (four).

RB Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State, 110/10: A nationally underrated talent whose production is sure to catch the attention of scouts, Hillman averaged over 1,600 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground the past two seasons for the Aztecs. Possessing excellent maneuverability, vision and burst, he is a similar threat as Oregon's LaMichael James.

RB Robert Turbin, Utah State, 125/12: A burly back with better speed than most give him credit for, Turbin led the Aggies to their first bowl game since 1997 and, in rushing for 1,517 yards and 19 touchdowns, won the WAC Offensive Player of the Year. Turbin also will get high marks from scouts with his ability as a receiver (67 receptions for 845 yards and 11 touchdowns over his career) and pass blocker.

WR Eric Page , Toledo, 139/16: Appropriately wore No. 12 for the Rockets as there is some Percy Harvin in Page's game. Relies more on his quickness and vision rather than explosiveness or speed after the catch. Tied the MAC record with 306 career receptions despite leaving as a junior.

DE Olivier Vernon , Miami, 181/14: Flashes an explosive burst off the snap but stunned scouts with the decision to turn pro early after missing the first six games of the 2011 season due to a suspension, registering just 18 tackles. Signed up to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he'll hope to demonstrate the flexibility and instincts to intrigue scouts looking for an undersized pass rusher for the 4-3 or a outside linebacker in the 3-4.

DE Donte Paige-Moss , North Carolina, 226/17: Entered the 2011 season as one of the more intriguing pass rushers in the country but was passed up on the depth chart and saw his big plays drop significantly. Tore the ACL in his right knee in the Tar Heels' Independence Bowl loss but shockingly decided to leave for the draft early any way.

RB Edwin Baker , Michigan State, 231/23: Baker seemed on path to become the next great back at Michigan State when he rushed for 1,201 yards and earned all-conference accolades as a sophomore but was relegated to second string with the emergence of Le'Veon Bell in 2011, seeing his production cut nearly in half. A squatty, physical back, Baker could find a niche if given an opportunity.

RB Darrell Scott, South Florida, 295/26: A powerful interior runner who transferred to South Florida after originally signing with Colorado, led the Bulls with 814 rushing yards and five touchdowns and elected to make the jump to the NFL. Could fit with a team as a power option as part of a committee but may have left due to his age (turns 24 in April) rather than earning a high grade from scouts.

RB Jewel Hampton, Southern Illinois, 367/32: Flashed as a true freshman backup to Shonn Greene at Iowa before losing the 2009-10 seasons due to torn ACLs (first in his right, then left). Earned the Newcomer of the Year in his only season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and jumped ship.

RB Mike Ball, Nevada, 405/36: Kicked off the team in November for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Ball elected to make himself eligible for the draft rather than transfer elsewhere and attempt to improve his stock. While he flashed some ability as a kick returner (1,695 yards), much of his production as a running back (704 yards, three touchdowns) came in large part due to the wide running lanes created by the Wolfpack's unique pistol offense.

RB Alvester Alexander, Wyoming, NR/NR: An upright runner with only average speed and elusiveness, Alexander may have hit the panic button early after seeing his statistics fall in 2011 after a breakout sophomore season in which he set the school record with 14 rushing touchdowns.

QB Darron Thomas, Oregon, NR/NR: Athletic, productive junior quarterback whose statistics and hype are more impressive than his game tape. Has talent but is also an undeniable project.


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