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Big Board: Alabama again tops LSU, this time with prospects

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Alabama's Mark Barron is rated as the top safety in the draft and No. 17 on this board. (Getty Images)  
Alabama's Mark Barron is rated as the top safety in the draft and No. 17 on this board. (Getty Images)  

With the possible exception of the Scouting Combine, no single event impacts NFL draft ratings more than the week of practice at the Senior Bowl.

While scouts have had all year to formulate opinions about the top prospects in their respective regions, the Senior Bowl provides them with an opportunity to see many of the elite players on the same field at the same time. Whereas there might be a few dozen players drafted from the East-West Shrine Game or NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, few -- if any -- will be among the first 32 players drafted. The Senior Bowl, on the other hand, produced 12 first-round picks last April, including No. 2 overall pick Von Miller.

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As important a role as the Senior Bowl has traditionally played in identifying the elite prospects, the 2012 draft could be more influenced by underclassmen than any in league history. Nearly two-thirds of the players ranked among my top 32 prospects left college football with eligibility remaining.

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

* Denotes player with college eligibility remaining

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Put simply, Luck is worth the hype. It isn't just that he possesses all of the physical traits to be 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 such great size, athleticism and balance that a top-five pick (and future Pro Bowls) would appear likely in his future.

3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Considering how the running back position has been de-valued in today's NFL it would be easy to rank Richardson lower. The reality is, however, Richardson's elite talent transcends trends. He is an elite talent blessed with size, burst and incredible power who will make an immediate impact.

4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: 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*: A silky smooth cover corner with extraordinary ball skills, Claiborne is more technically refined that his former teammate Patrick Peterson, who was selected fifth overall last year by the Cardinals and was voted to the Pro Bowl. The 2011 Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top cornerback, Claiborne should earn a similar draft day grade.

6. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: The reigning two-time Biletnikof winner as the nation's top wide receiver, Blackmon is unquestionably the top talent at this position in the 2012 draft. His size and strength made him virtually unstoppable at the collegiate level but if he is to earn a similar grade to former top five picks Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson, he'll have to answer questions about his straight-line speed.

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*: The most versatile of a trio of three offensive tackles I rate as potential top-10 picks, Reiff has the athleticism and size to remain outside at left tackle but has starting experience at guard and right tackle, as well.

9. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: NFL teams will certainly have some tough questions for Kirkpatrick following a Jan. 17 arrest for marijuana possession but there is no denying his talent on the football field. Ideally a press corner due to his length and speed, Kirkpatrick is viewed by some teams as the top cornerback in the 2012 draft.

10. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, 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. 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.

11. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: At an estimated 6-5, 305 pounds, Brockers is one of the few defensive linemen in this class with the size, strength and athleticism to fit in both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. Leaving after just his redshirt sophomore season, Brockers is a bit raw. Teams would be wise to remember the struggles former Tigers Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson had acclimating to the NFL, but there is no denying Brocker's spectacular upside.

12. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Let's be clear. Coples is not only the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the 2012 draft, he's also the most talented senior prospect at any position. At a shade under 6-6 and 281 pounds physically-speaking, he'll earn first-round grades and fits in any defense. Coples has developed a "me first" reputation, however, and doesn't play with enough snap-to-snap consistency to earn the top-10 grade that his talent obviously warrants. That despite enjoying a dominating week of practice at the Senior Bowl.

13. 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.

14. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: Still's talent has been obvious throughout his career but until a breakout senior season in which he earned recognition as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year it simmered below the surface. Still's inability to play in the Senior Bowl (due to a sprained toe) was disappointing and for some will re-energize concerns about his consistency and intrinsic motivation.

15. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: A dynamic big play threat lost in the shadows behind Robert Griffin III's Heisman season, Wright has drawn comparisons from scouts to Steve Smith (Panthers) and DeSean Jackson for his speed and elusiveness.

16. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Scouts will have to determine whether they can trust Jenkins to stay out of trouble once he's been given an NFL contract, but the former Florida Gator ended any debate about his ranking as the elite senior cover corner in the 2012 draft with a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl.

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.

18. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina: The 6-2, 276 pound Ingram might be the most versatile front-seven defender in the draft. He's lined up inside and out in the Gamecocks' 4-3 defense but may project better at outside (or even inside) linebacker in the 3-4 due to his athleticism and power.

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. 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. Kuechly isn't likely to be drafted as highly as his gaudy production and full trophy closet would indicate, however, as inside linebackers historically slip on draft day. Still, he's among the safest prospects in the draft due to his instincts and reliable open field tackling.

21. 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.

22. 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. He passed up on an opportunity to head off scouts' questions about three alcohol-related incidents over his career by electing not to participate in the Senior Bowl.

23. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: He measured 6-5, 346 pounds at the Senior Bowl and then demonstrated surprising agility, boosting his chances at remaining at left tackle. While good outside, he was even better at left guard as a junior and may be best served moving back inside in the NFL. If he played with greater intensity Glenn could rank among the elite offensive line prospects in the 2012 draft.

24. 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.

25. Peter Konz, OC, Wisconsin*: Some universities produce highly ranked prospects. Wisconsin goes beyond that with offensive linemen. They're highly rated offensive linemen aren't just drafted high, they quickly prove their worth in the NFL due to the size, strength and impressive technique. Konz is the unquestioned top center in the draft and is athletic enough that some teams believe he could step in immediately at guard, if needed, as well.

26. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: In terms of physical talent, there is no denying Tannehill has the tools to warrant a first-round pick. 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. 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 has the build of a run-stuffer (estimated at 6-3, 320) but has remarkable burst off the snap, making him an intriguing pass rusher, as well. Only bouts with inconsistency push him outside of the top 20.

28. 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.

29. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Quite frankly, Dennard struggled a bit at the Senior Bowl but it is important to note that he, like all of the other cornerbacks in the game, were asked to play primarily off-man coverage. Dennard excels in press man. In the right system he's still a first-round prospect despite others' overreactions.

30. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: At 6-7 and 323 pounds Adams is a virtual mountain of a man best suited to playing right tackle in the NFL. He saw most of his time at the Senior Bowl (and his career) operating on the blindside so there will be an adjustment period for him as a rookie, but in a weak senior class of tackles he's the player with the best combination of size, strength, mobility and experience against top competition.

31. Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: Brown's speed and athleticism were apparent throughout his career, and even more obviously unique when comparing him to other linebackers this week at the Senior Bowl. I have some reservations about Brown's instincts and physicality but his physical upside is tremendous.

32. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick missed the final eight games of the Huskers' season, including the Capitol One Bowl and Senior 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 scheme of the team that drafts him come April


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