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Big Board: Senior Bowl begins intense scouting process

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

North Carolina's Quinton Coples is maybe the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the draft. (AP)  
North Carolina's Quinton Coples is maybe the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the draft. (AP)  

Following the Senior Bowl, most NFL personnel convene back at team headquarters to begin draft meetings.

The meetings typically involve scouting staff eager to begin the cross-check work on players that stood out during the all-star game circuit. Depending on the club, the coaching staff might also participate in meetings as teams prepare for the annual scouting combine to be held in Indianapolis the final week of February.

Much will be made of the 40 times, vertical jumps and spectacular strength shown by prospects at the combine. The most significant elements of the combine, however, aren't athletic drills but the medical testing and interviews teams conduct with players. These factors can play a critical role in determining a prospect's final grade.

Ultimately, the most important factor in ranking players for the NFL comes down to the simplest thing -- production on the field. With that focus, a current ranking of the top 32 prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft:

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Put simply, Luck is worth all of the hype he's been given. It isn't just that he 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 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.

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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 Biletnikoff 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 could 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-ten 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 January 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 and 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, regardless of position. Physically speaking, at a shade under 6-6 and 281 pounds, 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-ten grade from me that his talent obviously warrants, despite the fact that he enjoyed a dominating week in Mobile, Alabama 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: Measuring in at 6-5 and 346 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Glenn nonetheless demonstrated surprising agility in Mobile, boosting his chances of 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 highly, 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 that 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). He also 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. Mohamed 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. 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 defensive scheme of the team that drafts him come April.

32. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Has a combination of size (6-4, 265) and athleticism to intrigue 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Branch is likely to earn a selection in the first round, as in today's NFL the only players more valuable than pass rushers are quarterbacks. However, Branch's inconsistency is troubling, as was his last-minute decision to opt out of the Senior Bowl.


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