|Blackmon again raises his draft stock into the top 10 with a solid pro-day showing. (US Presswire)|
With the 2012 NFL Draft two months away and pro-day workouts in full swing, the pre-draft hype machine has kicked into overdrive. Any athlete that works out well at his pro day will be hailed, with reports that his stock is rising.
In reality, these workouts constitute 10 percent -- sometimes less -- of a player's final grade and, frankly, players tested weeks after the Combine should perform better as they've had more time to train.
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At this point, scouts have had time to get a handle on the strengths and weaknesses of the 2012 draft class. What they're discovering is that overall this group is average, with high-end talent at quarterback and defensive tackle, but relatively weak at defensive end and tight end. Most believe there are only 20-25 prospects deserving of first-round grades, though obviously 32 players are drafted in the opening stanza. As such, the prospects that make up the final few on my Big Board won't be universally viewed as first-round talents, but their consistency and versatility lead me to believe they are some of the safer prospects of the draft.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Luck's intelligence and poise are extraordinary but lost in the shuffle of his intangibles is the fact that he's a terrific athlete. Folks keep looking for reasons to call Luck overrated and he keeps proving them wrong. He'll do the same when he throws for scouts at his March 22 pro day.
2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: By proving his size, speed and magnetic personality are every bit as unique as we'd all seen on his run to the Heisman Trophy, RG3 leapt into the top two on virtually every draft board in the league. And why not? Griffin's combination of straight-line speed and touch on the deep ball may make him the prototypical quarterback for today's NFL.
3. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: Any doubts as to which of the top three junior offensive tackles would rise above the rest ended with an impressive all-around combine effort from Kalil. He isn't an elite OT prospect in the mold of Joe Thomas or Jake Long but isn't far off.
4. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: The 2011 Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top cornerback, Claiborne was more impressive in position drills than he was running the 40-yard dash (4.50) but don't think scouts are worried about his athleticism or speed. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: As has happened with Luck, it is easy to get caught up in the intangibles Kuechly brings to the position, but at the Combine he proved much faster and more explosive than most scouts anticipated. He may have locked up a spot in the top 20.
8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Blackmon answered questions about his straight-line speed by running in the low 4.4s as part of an impressive showing at his March 9 pro day. Scouts had some reservations about him, but certainly can't knock the two-time defending Biletnikoff Award winner's production with the Cowboys.
9. 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 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 five grade from me that his talent obviously warrants despite the fact that he enjoyed a dominating week in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl.
10. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State*: Cox didn't earn nearly the media attention for his spectacular combine workout as Memphis' Dontari Poe, but unlike the Tigers star, the strength (30 repetitions of 225 pounds) and athleticism (4.79 seconds in the 40-yard dash) Cox showed in Indianapolis consistently shows up on tape. Cox isn't viewed by all scouts as a top-15 prospect but considering his scheme versatility, it may only be a matter of time before that changes.
11. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: In registering a 4.47 second 40-yard dash at 6-3, 220 pounds Floyd provided an emphatic answer to concerns about his size/speed combination. Floyd wasn't the consistent big play threat that Blackmon or Wright were in college but his game may project best to the NFL.
12. 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.
13. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: After creating a buzz with his size (6-5, 322) and imposing wingspan (83 inches), Brockers actually turned in a less than impressive combine workout and as such slipped out of the top spot on some team's defensive tackle rankings. The redshirt sophomore's upside is undeniable but to keep his spot inside the top ten, Brockers might need a better effort at LSU's March 19 Pro Day.
14. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina: Blessed with extraordinarily light feet for a 6-2, 276 pound man, Ingram's impressive agility made him a star at defensive tackle for the Gamecocks in 2011. As he proved at the combine, his athleticism is good enough, in fact, to make the transition to defensive end or even outside linebacker in the 3-4 in the NFL.
15. 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 (sprained toe) was disappointing and for some will re-energize concerns about his consistency and intrinsic motivation.
16. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis*: Producing a workout that has earned comparisons to that of Baltimore Ravens' star Haloti Ngata's when he left the University of Oregon, Poe's scheme versatility and unbelievable upside have scouts excited. Poe isn't as explosive on tape as his eye-popping athleticism might lead you to believe, however.
17. 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 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.
18. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: Other than linebacker drills, Upshaw only participated in one athletic event at the combine and posted a solid 22 reps on the bench press. He looked stiff and slow dropping back during pass coverage drills at the combine but that isn't what the team that drafts Upshaw will ask him to do. He's arguably the most physically aggressive prospect in the draft and made himself into an All-American at Alabama by beating SEC talent as a power rusher. Whether at defensive end or outside linebacker, I believe he's actually the safest of this year's pass rushers.
19. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Scouts had compared Wright to Pro Bowlers DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith but the Baylor playmaker's stock is slipping after he looked sluggish in drills and was clocked at a pedestrian 4.61 second 40-yard dash. Scouts say they aren't worried about Wright's poor workout due to his impressive tape but unless Wright proves much faster at his March 21 Pro Day, they may be forced to alter that thinking.
20. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick answered concerns about his speed at the combine (4.51) but the greater test came in the interview rooms with scouts. Some NFL decision-makers were less than impressed with Kirkpatrick's answers, which could cause the lanky cornerback to slip a bit on draft day.
21. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Reiff was a standout left tackle for Iowa but after appearing at the combine to be a bit less athletic (5.23 seconds in the 40) and weaker (22 reps at 225 pounds) with relatively short arms (33 1/4") some believe his NFL future lies inside at guard.
22. 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.
23. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: As had been anticipated, Perry enjoyed one of the Combine's most impressive all-around performances showing speed (4.64), strength (35 reps) and explosiveness (38.5-inch vertical jump). He led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks in 2011 and may only be scratching the surface of his potential.
24. 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. With only 19 career starts at quarterback, however, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and may struggle if thrown into the fire as a rookie.
25. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut: I thought Kendall Reyes was the most impressive defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl and after going back and reviewing his tape since returning from Mobile I believe the Reyes is arguably the draft's most underrated defensive lineman. His power, burst and size (6-4, 300) makes him a candidate for 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike, and is a legitimate first-round candidate.
26. 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.
27. 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's been a standout in the conference since signing as an extremely 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.
28. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: At 6-2, 314 pounds, Thompson lacks the length and versatility of some of the other top defensive linemen, but his squatty build and excellent power (35 reps) make him a quality run defender.
29. 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 and a solid Combine workout.
30. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick missed the final eight games of the season and the Capitol One Bowl and Senior Bowl because of a torn pectoral muscle, but that won't keep scouts from grading the 2010 All-American as a possible first round prospect, especially after the 2010 All-American proved his strength has returned by posting 26 reps at his Pro Day. Big and physical, Crick can play inside in the 4-3 but I like him best as a 3-4 defensive end.
31. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Due to their greater straight-line speed, some will point to Miami's Lamar Miller or Virginia Tech's David Wilson as the back likely to follow Richardson. Martin, however, is a more natural runner, demonstrating the vision, lateral agility, balance and burst to be a feature back in the NFL.
32. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Overshadowed for much of his career by others on a talented Badgers' offensive line, Zeitler is gaining traction as a late first-round prospect due to his strength, aggression and reliability in the running game. Some, in fact, believe he's the best run blocker in the draft.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.