|Senior Bowl absentee Devon Still must prove his breakout final year at Penn State was no fluke. (Getty Images)|
With Super Bowl XLVI in the rearview mirror, the football-loving world will once again turn its attention to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the scouting combine.
What offers better reality TV than elite athletes competing in tests of strength, athleticism and wit with millions of dollars at stake?
For whatever entertainment value the combine can provide, the results of the workouts will only play a small role in determining the final grade for most prospects. Medical testing and interviews, in fact, are much more likely to have a significant impact on a player's draft-day ranking.
That isn't to say there aren't exceptions -- including a handful of my top 32 prospects with plenty to prove. (*-denotes underclassman)
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Put simply, Luck is worth all of the hype. It isn't just that he has 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 has such great size, athleticism and balance that a top-five pick (and future Pro Bowls) would appear likely in his future.
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3. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: A silky-smooth cover corner with extraordinary ball skills, Claiborne is more technically refined than former teammate Patrick Peterson, who was selected fifth overall last year by the Cardinals and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner. The 2011 Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top cornerback, Claiborne should earn a similar draft-day grade.
4. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: The Heisman winner has an extraordinary combination of speed and touch on the deep ball -- as good as the NFL has ever seen. Whether he participates in the athletic drills at the combine or not, some within the league think he can narrow the gap with Luck just by measuring in at the 6-foot-2, 220 pounds at which he was listed by Baylor.
5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Considering how the running back position has been devalued in today's NFL, it would be easy to rank Richardson lower. The reality is, however, Richardson's elite talent transcends trends. He is blessed with size, burst and incredible power and will make an immediate impact.
6. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: The two-time Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top wide receiver, Blackmon is among the top talents in the draft, but sits outside my top five due primarily to concerns about his top-end speed. Blackmon has the opportunity to ease those concerns at the combine but some suspect he'll wait until OSU's pro day on March 7.
7. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford*: In terms of consistent dominance, there hasn't been an offensive or defensive lineman I've graded higher 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 offensive tackles I rate as potential top-10 picks, Reiff has the athleticism and size to remain at left tackle, but has starting experience at both guard and right tackle.
9. 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 a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's also strong and tenacious enough to play on the line at defensive end for 4-3 teams.
10. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: At an estimated 6-5 and 305 pounds, Brockers is one of the few defensive linemen in this class with the size, strength and athleticism to fit in both 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 in acclimating to the NFL. Still, there's no denying Brockers' spectacular upside.
11. 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. 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 a top-10 grade, despite his obvious talent and the dominant week he enjoyed in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.
12. 'Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick's Jan. 17 arrest for marijuana possession will lead to plenty of questions from scouts at the combine, despite the charges getting dropped. Kirkpatrick lacks the ball skills and fluidity of the other two cornerbacks on my Big Board, but could be a star in a press-man scheme that takes advantage of his size and physicality.
13. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*: Martin's size (6-6, 305) and athleticism are very intriguing -- especially in a zone-blocking offense. Scouts wonder if he has the physicality to be successful in every scheme. What they don't have to wonder about are Martin's light feet and balance in pass protection. Some scouts grade him higher than both Kalil and Reiff as a pass blocker.
14. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: The talent has been obvious throughout Still's 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 raise concerns about his consistency and motivation.
15. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: A dynamic big-play threat lost in the shadows of RG3's Heisman season, Wright has drawn comparisons 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 has been given an NFL contract. 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: Blessed with extraordinarily light feet at 6-2 and 276 pounds, Ingram's impressive agility made him a star at defensive tackle for the Gamecocks in 2011. In fact, his athleticism is good enough to make the transition to DE or even OLB in the 3-4 in the NFL. Ingram's stock is limited by his very short arms (30½ inches), which could limit his ability to break free of blocks at the next level.
19. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: More decorated than a wedding cake, Kuechly was honored with the Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott Impact trophies 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 case would indicate, 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.
20. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis*: Massive, powerful and surprisingly light on his feet, Poe has the makings of a top nose guard prospect but is raw. Scouts are intrigued not only by his physical tools but by the fact that he plays to the whistle.
21. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: At 6-3 and 224 pounds, Floyd has the size, strength, route-running abilities and reliable hands to intrigue any team in search of a split end. Despite his obvious talents, few have more riding on their combine performance than Floyd. Not only are there some reservations about his straight-line speed, teams are going to ask some tough questions about the three alcohol-related offenses Floyd had in college.
22. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: The headliner in a dominant Michigan State unit that led the Big Ten 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.
23. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Measuring in at 6-5 and 346 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Glenn demonstrated surprising agility, 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 might be relatively unknown outside 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. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: Having shown flashes throughout his career, Perry enjoyed a breakout junior season to lead the Pac-12 with 9½ sacks before bolting for the NFL. He has a good burst off the snap and uses his hands very well, but some question his lateral agility. Having not played in a bowl game, Perry has had a lot of time to prepare for the combine. An impressive showing in speed and change-of-direction drills in Indianapolis could send his stock soaring.
26. Peter Konz, OC, Wisconsin*: Some universities consistently produce highly ranked prospects. Wisconsin goes beyond that with offensive linemen -- they aren't just drafted highly, they quickly prove their worth in the NFL with 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.
27. 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. However, with just 19 career starts at quarterback, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and may struggle if thrown into the fire as a rookie.
28. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU: Despite earning All-SEC accolades in 2011, Randle didn't post eye-popping numbers as a junior (53 catches for 973 yards and eight touchdowns). He has been a standout in the conference since signing as an highly touted prep prospect and has made significant gains each year. I have similar grades for Randle, Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, but see greater physical upside with the former LSU star.
29. 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. He saw most of his time at the Senior Bowl (and his career) 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.
30. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: With a combination of size (6-4, 265) and athleticism to intrigue scouts for 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike, Branch is likely to earn a selection in the first round since the only position more valuable in today's NFL than pass rushers are quarterbacks. Branch's inconsistency troubles me, however, as did his last-minute decision to opt out of the Senior Bowl.
31. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick missed the final eight games of the Huskers' season and the Capitol One Bowl and Senior Bowl with a torn pectoral muscle, 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. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut: I thought Reyes was the most impressive defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl. After going back and reviewing his tape since returning from Mobile I believe he is arguably the draft's most underrated defensive lineman. His power, burst and size (6-4, 300) make him a candidate for 4-3 and 3-4 teams alike, and as such a legitimate first-round candidate.