The 2012 NFL Draft is now just days away. A full year of game film study, taking meticulous notes and speaking to scouts culminates in the production of my Top 64 Big Board.
For those reading my Big Board for the first time, it 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-grader who has earned comparisons to former All-Pros Steve Wisniewski and Steve Hutchinson certainly ranks among the draft's safest prospects -- and thus a lofty ranking here.
Mock drafts take into account team needs and attempt to get inside the heads of NFL decision-makers. This list is much simpler. These are the best NFL prospects the 2012 draft has to offer.
* Denotes underclassman
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: Due to his prototypical combination of size, arm strength, accuracy and intelligence, Luck's pro-readiness has often been compared to Peyton and Eli Manning. In reality, he's an even more impressive prospect than either of them due to his significantly better mobility and overall athleticism. For Luck to enjoy remotely close to the same success in the NFL as these two future Hall of Famers, he'll need the good fortune of health and talent around him. But Luck is every bit as good as advertised and not only will be the first pick of the 2012 draft, he deserves to be.
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2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: In most years, Griffin would be the unquestioned No. 1 overall pick. He possesses a combination of straight-line speed and accuracy on the deep ball that has drawn comparisons to Eagles' star Michael Vick and frankly, RG3's leadership traits make him an ever safer pick than the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft. Forget what Donovan McNabb says, Griffin is an ideal fit in the Washington Redskins' current offense under Mike Shanahan's offense, and with more talent around him, could enjoy more immediate success than Luck.
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 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 an elite talent blessed with size, burst and incredible power who will make an immediate impact. He's also a reliable receiver out of the backfield and a terrific pass blocker, making him a true three-down threat.
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 that came from the workout was that Claiborne had to undergo surgery on his wrist to repair a torn ligament, which is of more concern than reports of a low score on the Wonderlic test. The injury won't keep him from playing next season and neither should 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 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. 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 his speed but certainly can't knock the two-time defending Biletnikof Award winner's production with the Cowboys.
8. 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. He's my top-rated defense tackle because of his scheme-versatility and the fact that he's the best pass-rusher of this year's top defensive tackles.
9. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Like Luck, it is easy to get caught up in the intangibles that Kuechly brings to the position, but at the combine he proved much faster and more explosive than most scouts had given him credit for. He finished second in the entire country in tackles as a true freshman in 2009 and led the nation in stops (both solo and total tackles) each of the past two seasons. Kuechly isn't flashy but he's a remarkably safe prospect who will operate as the quarterback of a defense for a decade.
10. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: Instinctive, physical and a significantly more reliable open-field tackler than he was early 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 pro day and excelled in positional drills, according to scouts in attendance.
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 Combine workout that, frankly, was disappointing. Brockers will likely be drafted within the top 20 picks of the 2012 draft not because of his current ability but because of the significant upside his frame, strength and versatility indicate he has.
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. 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.
13. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: I will be the first to admit that Upshaw lacks the lateral agility teams are looking for in a coverage linebacker. However, due to his incredible power and refined hand technique, he's arguably the safest pass rusher in this year's draft. Some call him a 'tweener. I believe he can be successful as a 4-3 defensive end or as a 3-4 rush linebacker -- and will prove it as a rookie.
14. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Say what you will about Wright's disappointing combine workout, he proved his speed during his pro day workout and most importantly, was a consistent playmaker throughout his career.
15. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: While Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill has received all of the attention for his perceived jump up draft boards over the past month, in reality the fastest ascending prospect in the draft may be Gilmore. A lanky athlete whose athleticism and physicality make him a fit in either a press or zone scheme, Gilmore has overtaken Alabama's 'Dre Kirkpatrick as the clear-cut No. 2 cornerback in the draft, behind LSU's Morris Claiborne.
|Michael Floyd 's game may project better to the NFL than Blackmon or Wright. (US Presswire)|
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 may 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 just 13 of the 51 games he played with the Gamecocks.
18. 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.
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. 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, as he 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.
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 talent. With just 19 career starts at quarterback, however, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and, as such, may struggle if thrown into the fire as a rookie.
23. 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.
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 workouts since this time argue 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.
|Chandler Jones boasts an impressive array of moves and is a high-effort player, (US Presswire)|
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 there in drills. He was much better at his pro day, however, and was the primary reason why 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 each of the rest of Stanford's "Fantastic Four" prospects met or exceeded expectations at their March 22 pro day, Martin, frankly, 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, some have concerns that he doesn't possess the feet to remain at left tackle in the NFL. Worse, with just 20 repetitions in the bench press, some worry that Martin might struggle at right tackle. I'm moving him down my board but still believe that he'll ultimately hear his name called in the first round.
28. 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"). He led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks in 2011 and may just be scratching the surface of his potential.
29. 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 quietly among the safer prospects in the 2012 draft.
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, alike. Like South Carolina cornerback Stephon 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. 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. Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: Massive and instinctive, Hightower ranks as the top inside linebacker in the draft by some clubs -- ahead of Kuechly due to the greater "pop" he'll provide as a run-plugger. Hightower is making a late charge up draft boards due to the fact that during film review scouts have noticed how much faster Hightower was in the second half of last season than the first -- a sign that he's recovered fully from the torn ACL which ended his 2009 season after just four starts.
33. 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. Those who questioned his downfield speed after showing just ho-hum speed (4.55) 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. 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 blindside, but he's the elite right tackle in his draft and is battle-tested, having started all three years of his career at right tackle against quality SEC competition.
|Vinny Curry had 77 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, seven forced fumbles and three blocked kicks as a senior. (US Presswire)|
36. 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.
37. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Stanford's David DeCastro gets what little attention an offensive guard is going to get in a draft as QB-heavy as this one, 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. 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 there 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.
39. 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 "just" 6-1, 233 pounds, the All-American is likely limited to only one role in the NFL -- the WILL or weakside 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.
40. 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.
41. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: At 6-7 and 323 pounds, Adams certainly 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 poor off-field decisions have marred what should have been a noteworthy career at Ohio State and as such I have reservations that Adams' pro career, like his collegiate one, could leave his team wanting more.
42. 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 fearful pass rusher than 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.
43. 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.
44. Amini Silatolu, OG, Midwestern State: At 6-4, 311 pounds and possessing 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 may 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.
45. 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.
46. 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.
47. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: Boasting arguably the elite all-around workout of the 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.
48. Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia: The NFL is a sucker for proven pass rushers and, frankly, so am I. There are plenty of red-flags with Irvin, not the least of which is his rough upbringing and the fact that at this point he provides little other than his ability to harass quarterbacks. Other than quarterbacks, however, there isn't a position more valued in today's NFL than pass-rushers and Irvin -- due to his explosive burst and lateral agility -- just might be the most gifted of this year's class.
49. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana: Draft enthusiasts know that North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins has first-round talent and may 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 may 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.
50. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers: There are plenty of receivers in the 2012 draft with greater speed and natural playmaking ability than Sanu. But for my money few are safer NFL prospects than the former Rutgers star, who left the Big East as the career record holder with 210 career receptions despite entering the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. The 6-2, 211-pound Sanu has the bulk and physicality to play immediately at split end as well as move inside. That versatility will get him onto the field early in his career. His toughness and dedication will keep him there.
Rounding Out The Top 64:
51. Bobby Wagner, LB, Utah State: Athletic, versatile linebacker best suited to the 4-3 scheme.
52. Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State: Cerebral game-manager well-versed in a pro-style offense.
53. Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida: Has legitimate cover skills to go along with phenomenal athleticism.
54. Tyrone Crawford, DE/OLB, Boise State: Underrated pass rusher just scratching the surface of his potential.
55. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Possesses more arm-talent than Cousins, but will be 29 as an NFL rookie and operated in a relatively easy spread offense at OSU.
56. Kelechi Osemele, OT/OG, Iowa State: Tough and durable, Osemele projects nicely at right tackle.
57. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: Combines excellent hands, body control; arguably top possession receiver in draft.
58. Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma: Talented cover corner who stood out during Senior Bowl week.
59. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California: A safer pro prospect than some of the more athletic offensive tackles drafted much higher.
60. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 season but could be the top nickel corner in draft.
61. Peter Konz, OC/OG, Wisconsin: Combines intriguing size and athleticism but has missed time each of the past three seasons with injury.
62. Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California: Undersized and explosive; a better fit as a 4-3 middle linebacker than in the 3-4 in which he starred at Cal.
63. Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest: An explosive vertical threat who hasn't received the national attention he deserves.
64. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Undeniably a top-15 talent physically but poses too much of a character risk to warrant first-round consideration.