|Georgia's Cordy Glenn is surprisingly nimble for his size (6-4, 346 pounds). (Getty Images)|
With the 2012 NFL draft now less than three weeks away, the time has come to extend the Big Board to the top 50.
For those reading my Big Board for the first time, to explain what it is, let's first point out what it is not. The Big Board is not another mock draft.
It is a compilation of the 50 prospects in the 2012 draft class who have earned my highest grades. I don't anticipate Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro getting picked within the top six selections April 26, for example, but the road-grading blocker has earned comparisons to former All-Pros Steve Wisniewski and Steve Hutchinson and warrants a lofty ranking.
Mock drafts take into account team needs and attempt get inside the heads of NFL decision-makers. This list is much simpler. The Big Board list is a top-to-bottom rundown of the best NFL prospects the 2012 draft has to offer.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: With the composure and accuracy that he demonstrated during games throughout his illustrious career, Luck silenced any remaining doubters with a strong throwing session despite gusty winds at his March 22 pro day. The workout only confirmed what many of us have been saying for two years now -- Luck is the safest quarterback prospect the NFL has seen since Peyton Manning and is a virtual lock to be selected No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts.
2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: Working out for scouts one day before Luck, Griffin made a strong argument that he is the top prospect in the 2012 draft with a dazzling workout that left even veteran talent evaluators grasping at ways to describe it. RG3 is unquestionably more athletic and possesses a greater arm than Luck, which gives him an even higher upside. He does carry some risk, however, due to his average size and the transition he'll have to make from a spread offense. The reality is, he'd be the No. 1 pick in most drafts -- just not this one.
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. 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: Richardson's elite talent transcends trends. He is blessed with size, burst and incredible power and will make an immediate impact. Any questions about his speed were put to rest when he was clocked between 4.46-4.52 at 227 pounds during his pro day workout, March 29.
5. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: As if a dominating 2011 season in which he was recognized as the nation's top defensive back with the Jim Thorpe Award didn't demonstrate his athleticism clearly enough, Claiborne erased any concerns about his straight-line speed by clocking in at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his March 22 pro day. The bigger news was that Claiborne that came from the workout was that Claiborne had to undergo surgery on his wrist to repair a torn ligament. The injury won't keep him from playing next season and shouldn't impact his draft stock.
6. 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.
|North Carolina' Quinton Coples is the most physically gifted DE in this year's draft. (AP)|
8. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Like 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 believed. He could have locked up a spot in the top 20 with that performance in Indianapolis, combined with his elite-level production in three years with the Eagles.
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, he'll earn first-round grades from scouts working for 3-4 and 4-3 clubs. 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 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 demonstrated in Indianapolis also consistently shows up on tape. Cox isn't viewed by all scouts as a top-15 prospect but considering his scheme versatility, it could only be a matter of time before he is so ...
11. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: Like his LSU teammates Claiborne and wide receiver Rueben Randle, Brockers significantly improved his workout results at his March 22 Pro day after a disappointing combine workout. Brockers likely will be drafted within the top 20 picks not because of his current ability but because of the significant upside his frame, strength and versatility indicate.
12. 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 could project best to the NFL.
13. 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. He was clocked at an impressive 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his March 29 campus workout and excelled in positional drills, according to scouts in attendance.
14. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis*: Comparisons to Baltimore Ravens star Haloti Ngata's workout when he left the University of Oregon were founded -- Poe was a star at the combine. Poe's scheme-versatility and unbelievable upside have scouts excited. Poe isn't as explosive on game tape and too often raises his pads on contact, negating his own strength. Someone will gamble on him early based on his upside, but Poe remains precisely that -- a gamble.
15. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Scouts had compared Wright to Pro Bowlers DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith but the Baylor playmaker's stock slipped a bit he was clocked at a pedestrian 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the combine. But he recovered to run in the 4.4s at his March 21 Pro day, helping to cement his already solid rating among scouts.
|Dontari Poe has drawn comparisons to Baltimore Ravens big man Haloti Ngata. (Getty Images)|
17. 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 could be good enough, in fact, to make the transition to defensive end or even outside linebacker in the 3-4 in the NFL. That said, his short arms (31 inches) will make him much easier to block at the NFL level and Ingram has struggled a bit with durability. Also, scouts would be wise to remember that Ingram started only 13 of the 51 games he played with the Gamecocks.
18. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Measuring 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 this draft.
19. 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. That said, some were concerned about Joe Thomas' relatively short arms (32 1/2") but that hasn't stopped the former No. 3 overall pick from emerging as arguably the game's elite left tackle for the Cleveland Browns.
20. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: Despite the fact that he was still limited by the high right ankle sprain that kept him from participating in the Senior Bowl and the combine, Fleener distanced himself from the other tight ends in the 2012 draft in approximately 4.45-4.50 seconds. Those are the times scouts had for the 6-6, 247-pound All-American at his March 22 pro day. Better yet, Fleener demonstrated quick feet, impressive body control and soft hands in pass catching drills. For NFL teams searching for the next Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, Fleener's the guy from this draft class.
21. 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.
22. 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 and was clocked at 4.61 during his March 29 pro day. More importantly, he again dazzled scouts with his arm. With only 19 career starts at quarterback, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and, as such, could struggle if thrown into the fire as a rookie.
23. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Gilmore has been able to rely on his size (6-0, 190) and athleticism throughout his college career and was protected by arguably the most talented defensive line in the country. He remains a work in progress in terms of technique but having proven his straight-line speed at the combine (4.4) and possessing the physicality to intrigue teams as even a possible safety convert, it is hard not to fall in love with his upside.
24. Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois: Mercilus' staggering production (16 sacks, nine forced fumbles) at Illinois in 2011 was a function not only of his own talents but also an aggressive scheme that often gave him favorable matchups. While his statistics were inflated, the athleticism Mercilus demonstrated in ensuing workouts shows that he has more upside than I've previously given him credit for. As one of several pass rushers capable of lining up at defensive end in the 4-3 or outside linebacker in the 3-4, I fully expect him to be drafted higher than my ranking indicates.
25. Chandler Jones , DE, Syracuse: Were it not for a knee injury that robbed him of five games in 2011, Jones might compete for the top spot among defensive ends in this draft class. The 6-5, 266-pound Jones lacks the elite burst and flexibility to ever be a double-digit sacks type in the NFL, but he boasts an impressive array of moves and is a high-effort player who shows up against the pass and run, alike.
26. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: Worthy measured in a bit smaller (6-2, 308) than expected at the combine and wasn't particularly impressive in drills in Indy. He was much better at his pro day and was the primary reason the Spartans led the Big Ten in both run and total defense. I have some reservations about his snap-to-snap consistency, but Worthy is a tough run-stuffing presence on the inside with uncommon burst to penetrate gaps and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
27. Jonathan Martin , OT, Stanford*: While the rest of Stanford's "Fantastic Four" prospects met or exceeded expectations at their March 22 pro day, Martin was a disappointment. It is hard to argue with the success he's had protecting Luck's blindside over the past three seasons but demonstrating less athleticism than expected during drills left some concerned that he doesn't possess the feet to remain at left tackle in the NFL. Worse, with only 20 repetitions in the bench press, some worry that Martin might struggle at right tackle. I'm moving him down my board but do still believe that he'll ultimately hear his name called in the first round.
28. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: As 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 leap). He led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks in 2011 and may just be scratching the surface of his potential.
29. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Some will point to Miami's Lamar Miller or Virginia Tech's David Wilson as the back likely to follow Richardson due to their greater straight-line speed. Martin, however, is a more natural runner, demonstrating the vision, lateral agility, balance and burst to be a feature back in the NFL.
30. Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson: At 6-4, 270 pounds Branch has the size and athleticism to intrigue 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Like the aforementioned Gilmore, Branch's tape is a bit inconsistent, but there is no denying the burst and flexibility he possesses and that these traits project very well as an NFL pass rusher.
31. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut: Reyes has been a standout throughout his career with the Huskies but really boosted his stock with an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. Demonstrating the quickness and power to translate well as a defensive tackle in the 4-3 or as a defensive end in the 3-4 alignment, Reyes' versatility and intangibles (two-time team captain) stand out at a position considered one of the 2012 draft's most talented.
32. Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State: McClellin made a name for himself as a terror off the edge for the Broncos (20.5 career sacks) but it wasn't until he made the move to outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl that his true versatility was shown. Possessing the athleticism, technique and work ethic necessary to be successful in any scheme, McClellin is one of the safer prospects in the 2012 draft.
33. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU: Despite earning All-SEC accolades in 2011, Randle didn't post great 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. Those who questioned his downfield speed were silenced when Randle was clocked in the low 4.4s on two attempts at the 40-yard dash at his March 22 pro day.
34. 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.
35. Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall: Curry was every bit as productive against Conference USA talent as one might expect from a possible first-round talent, recording an eye-popping 77 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, seven forced fumbles and three blocked kicks as a senior. There are questions whether the 6-3, 266-pound Curry has the agility and recognition to handle converting to outside linebacker in the 3-4 but if 4-3 teams are willing to overlook his size, he could surprise with his natural pass-rush skills and high-revving motor.
36. Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi: The vast majority of the pre-draft hype regarding the 2012 offensive tackle class has focused on the talented trio of junior left tackles Matt Kalil (Southern California), Riley Reiff (Iowa) and Jonathan Martin (Stanford). Massie lacks the light feet to operate on the blind side, but he's the elite right tackle in his draft and is battle-tested, having started three years against quality SEC competition.
37. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Stanford's David DeCastro gets what little attention an offensive guard is going to get, but Zeitler is a legitimate first-round candidate in his own right. Durable, physical and technically-refined, he's an immediate NFL starter from a program well known for producing quality blockers.
38. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: At 6-2, 314 pounds, Thompson lacks the length and versatility of some of the other top-rated defensive linemen, but his squatty build and excellent power (35 reps) make him a quality run defender.
39. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: At 6-7, 323 pounds, Adams looks the part of an NFL offensive tackle. He's flashed the ability to dominate while playing left tackle for the Buckeyes and has the light feet and long arms to remain at this all-important position in the NFL. Inconsistency, injuries and suspensions marred what should have been a noteworthy career at Ohio State and I have reservations that Adams' pro career, like his collegiate one, could leave his team wanting more.
40. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins is one of the true boom-or-bust prospects of the 2012 draft. Despite obvious first-round cover skills, myriad off-field concerns could push him out of the draft's initial frame.
41. Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska: Athletic, instinctive and incredibly productive, David is one of the relatively sure things of the 2012 draft. The problem is, at 6-1, 233 pounds, the All-American is likely limited to only one role in the NFL -- the WILL or weak-side linebacker position for a 4-3 team. That fact will likely push David into the second round, though I'm confident he'll quickly prove to be a standout.
42. Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: Just as David is limited to playing the weak-side position for a 4-3 defense, Hightower is best suited to remaining inside as a run-stuffer and occasional pass rusher for a 3-4 defense -- just like the one in which he starred in at Alabama. Put in the middle or strong-side of a 4-3 defense and Hightower's average straight-line speed (4.68) could be exposed against NFL skill position talent.
43. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: A sprained knee and torn pectoral muscle limited Crick to just five games in 2011 but the 6-4, 279-pounder entered the season with first-round grades from some scouts after having proven during an All-American campaign a year earlier (70 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks) that he wasn't just riding Ndamukong Suh's coattails. Crick isn't the fear-striking pass rusher that his statistics would indicate but does have the size, strength and tenacity that teams operating out of the 3-4 scheme are looking for at the five-technique defensive end position.
44. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson: The 2011 Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end, Allen is actually a better all-around player than Stanford's Coby Fleener but at just 6-3, 255 pounds and possessing below average straight-line speed (4.89), he's more of a traditional tight end than the receiving specialists so en vogue in today's NFL. Allen won't out-run many NFL defensive backs to the end zone, but like former NFL standout Alge Crumpler, Allen should enjoy a long, productive career as a do-everything type.
45. Peter Konz, C/OG, Wisconsin: Big (6-5, 314), nimble and hailing from a program well known for producing quality offensive lineman, Konz is universally regarded as the top center in the 2012 draft. However, Konz proved weaker (18 reps at the combine) than any interior offensive lineman tested in Indianapolis since 2004 and has missed multiple games in each of his three seasons as a starter.
46. David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech: Having rushed for a school-record 1,709 yards in his only season as Virginia Tech's starter, there is lot to like about Wilson. He's a tough runner who keeps his legs churning through contact and has true breakaway speed. He has only average vision, however, which leads to his dancing at the line of scrimmage too often and may need to be substituted early in his career on third down due to below average pass blocking skills, at this time.
47. Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State: At 6-4, 311 pounds with the quick feet and nasty demeanor that every offensive line coach is looking for, Silatolu ranks as one of the most intriguing blockers of the 2012 draft class. Nonetheless, he's a significant projection who could need a year before he can be expected to contribute, as Silatolu's level of competition at the Division II level did him no favors. Silatolu also will be faced with the challenge of switching from left tackle to guard.
48. Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame: Smith joins Alabama's Mark Barron as the only two traditional safeties I see as worthy of top 50 consideration. While not as smooth as the Alabama star in coverage, Smith is a reliable open-field tackler with excellent size (6-2, 213) and the instincts to make plays against both the run and pass.
49. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: Boasting arguably the elite all-around workout of the 2012 scouting combine, Hill possesses an almost unheard combination of size (6-4, 215), straight-line speed (4.36) and explosiveness (11'01" broad jump). He's very much a work in progress as a route-runner and hands-catcher having come from a run-oriented offense while at Georgia Tech but deserves top-50 consideration on upside, alone.
50. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana: Draft enthusiasts know that North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins has first-round talent and could only slip out of the draft's initial frame due to off-field concerns. Montana's Johnson finds himself in a similar predicament. The 6-2, 204 pounder might lack elite speed (4.61) but he possesses enough of it, as well as the physicality and ball skills to prove a star in a press cover scheme. Johnson may not wind up hearing his name called in the top 50 on draft day, but if he can stay out of the trouble in the NFL, I believe he could quickly develop into a standout.