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Big Board: Top 40 for 2013 starts with a Star; receivers catching on

by | NFLDraftScout.com

Utah defensive captain Star Lotulelei was the top defensive lineman in the Pac-12 last season. (US Presswire)  
Utah defensive captain Star Lotulelei was the top defensive lineman in the Pac-12 last season. (US Presswire)  

To celebrate opening weekend of the 2012 college football, the NFLDraftScout.com Big Board has expanded to the top 40.

This isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or what order NFL teams might be selecting in April.

The Big Board is simply a ranking of the 40 best draft-eligible prospects on Aug. 30 as the first game of the 2012 college football season kicks off, starting the long road to the 2013 NFL Draft.

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*denotes underclassman

1. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: The reigning Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's most dominant defensive lineman, the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Lotulelei is earning comparisons from regional scouts to former Oregon Duck and current Baltimore Ravens star Haloti Ngata. Lotulelei's combination of size, athleticism and power make it a reasonable comparison, which is high praise in itself. Learn the name now -- this is the most appropriately named player in the country.

2. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California: Barkley's lack of ideal size (6-1, 218) and arm strength means that he's no shoo-in as the No. 1 overall prospect for the 2013 draft. His accuracy, mobility and experience in a pro-style offense would have earned Barkley a top-five selection had he entered the 2012 draft.

3. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: An explosive edge rusher with the frame (6-4, 240) to intrigue scouts for NFL teams using 4-3 and 3-4 schemes alike, Mingo's speed, agility and surprising strength could result in a monster 2012 season.

4. *Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State: With a combination of size (6-3, 335), strength and athleticism similar to Dontari Poe, Hankins could see a similar rise up draft boards. Like Poe, however, Hankins' lofty grade is based more on his potential than his play thus far.

5. *David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State: His unique combination of size (6-2, 193), speed and ball skills helped Amerson explode onto the scene a year ago with a jaw-dropping 13 interceptions. To warrant this high of a grade, he'll need to prove that his breakout sophomore campaign was no fluke.

6. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: While Southern Cal's Robert Woods earned most of the hype in the Pac-12 a year ago, Allen is similarly gifted and at 6-3, 205, has even better size than the Trojans star. With all due respect to Woods and Tennessee's Justin Hunter, Allen is in a class by himself at the receiver position.

7. *Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: The baby-faced Joeckel might look young but in earning all-conference accolades at left tackle after each of his first two seasons in the Big 12, he has shown the patience and technique of an NFL veteran. The test could be tougher this season against SEC competition but if Joeckel is up to the challenge he could join his former quarterback Ryan Tannehill as a top-10 pick.

Get ready for another great LSU defensive back -- safety Eric Reid. (US Presswire)  
Get ready for another great LSU defensive back -- safety Eric Reid. (US Presswire)  
8. *Eric Reid, FS, LSU: Overshadowed by some of the other talented defensive backs that LSU has churned out regularly in recent seasons, Reid has quietly established himself as the elite safety in the country.

9. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: As the featured pass rusher in Georgia's 3-4 scheme, Jones led the SEC with 19½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks, demonstrating not only natural rush skills but impressive overall athleticism and a high-revving motor. As productive and passionate as Jones was in 2011, NFL teams will be sure to check out the neck injury that led to his transfer from USC, where he had originally signed as a highly regarded prep in 2008 and played as a reserve in 2009.

10. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: Blessed with a strong arm, good mobility and the toughness to take a shot and still deliver passes, there is a lot to like about Wilson. His success against SEC competition has certainly been impressive. Scouts recognize that Wilson's production may have been a bit inflated by former head coach Bobby Petrino's high-octane offense and the receiving talent Arkansas boasted a season ago. If he can improve his decision-making and ball placement, Wilson has the physical tools to leapfrog Barkley as the top senior quarterback prospect in the country.

11. *Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech: Thomas isn't as polished as the two senior QBs ranked ahead of him but the upside on this 6-5, 254-pound monster is through the roof. With his combination of size, mobility and accuracy on the deep ball, comparisons to Cam Newton are growing.

12. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE/OLB, Texas: More athletic than his more hyped teammate Alex Okafor, Jeffcoat projects nicely as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 rush linebacker due to his burst up the field, lateral agility and natural pass-rush skills. He currently lacks Okafor's strength, but as the son of former NFL standout defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, he knows better than most what it takes to make it at the next level.

13. *Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Listing Hunter this high is certainly a projection, as he missed most of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. When healthy, the 6-4, 205-pound Hunter showed a rare combination of size, straight-line speed and ball skills to compete with Cal's Allen, USC's Woods and Clemson sophomore Sammy Watkins for the right to be considered among the country's truly elite receivers.

14. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Frankly, had this Boilermaker had the type of season he enjoyed in 2011 for an SEC school (54 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks), fans across the country would know the 6-3, 305-pounder's name by now. Short has a thick, wide frame and plays with excellent strength and leverage, making him a potential nose guard candidate.

15. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Though an arrest in May will certainly give scouts something to question, Okafor's game provides plenty of answers. Okafor doesn't have elite speed off the edge but is powerful, well-schooled in his hand technique and has a high-running motor.

16. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: Eight of the 15 defensive backs drafted in the first round since 2010 have come from the SEC. The 6-1, 185-pound Banks looks poised to keep up the tradition. Scouts are always looking for players capable of making game-changing plays. Banks intercepted five passes a season ago and forced three fumbles. He has 12 interceptions over his career, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

17. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Blessed with as talented a roster as there is in the country, you can expect a great deal of buzz this season around the Seminoles. While Werner is overshadowed a bit, the German-born junior might be the most pro-ready prospect on the team due to his size (6-4, 273), strength and tenacity.

Manti Te'o could be the first ND defender in the first round since 1997. (US Presswire)  
Manti Te'o could be the first ND defender in the first round since 1997. (US Presswire)  
18. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: Even without the gaudy tackle numbers that Luke Kuechly produced at Boston College, pro scouts will certainly see first-round characteristics in this middle linebacker. With another stellar campaign, Te'o will wrap up his Notre Dame career as the first Irish defender to earn a first-round draft selection since defensive end Renaldo Wynn was selected by No. 21 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1997.

19. *Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: While not quite as athletic as linemate Mingo, the 6-5, 260-pound Montgomery showed surprising agility and speed last season considering that he missed most of the 2010 campaign with a torn ACL in his right knee. Despite being hampered by the recovery, Montgomery led the Tigers with nine sacks a season ago and looks poised for a monster 2012 campaign after reportedly adding nearly 30 pounds to his frame during the offseason.

20. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: Overshadowed by Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright a season ago, Williams quietly emerged as one of the more consistent playmakers in the country in his own right. He caught 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns a season ago as Baylor's No. 2 option. Sure, catches might be tougher to come by with RGIII now a member of the Washington Redskins, but the 6-1, 205 pound Williams should once again light up Big 12 secondaries this season and could be the first senior receiver to be selected come April.

21. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU: It has been over a quarter century since a Southern Methodist player was selected in the first round (1986). In the Estonian-born Hunt, SMU might have the unique talent needed to warrant such a lofty selection. A two-time gold medal winner in the 2006 World Junior Championships (discuss, shot put), Hunt was deservedly listed as the No. 1 "Freak" of 2012 in Bruce Feldman's annual article listing the elite athletes in college football. His combination of size (6-7, 288), strength (35 reps of 225 pounds), speed (4.70) and explosiveness (36-inch vertical jump) is off the charts. In just three seasons of college football, Hunt has 14 blocked kicks.

22. *Chris Faulk, OT, LSU: With so much praise heaped upon the LSU defense a season ago, Faulk's spectacular first season starting at left tackle for the Tigers didn't get the national attention it warranted. The 6-5, 325-pound Faulk boasts surprising flexibility to go along with the quickness, balance and power necessary to help an NFL team at virtually any spot along the offensive line.

23. *D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: After four first-round picks in back-to-back drafts, the Crimson Tide may have to wait longer than they've grown accustomed to see their first player drafted in 2013. But no coach more consistently develops talent than Nick Saban. Fluker doesn't often get the media attention that linemate Barrett Jones receives but as the more physically gifted player, the powerful run blocker could hear his name called first.

24. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: Considering the talent on Stanford's offense a season ago, it is easy to understand why Thomas was overshadowed. Frankly, he shouldn't have been with the production he enjoyed. The 6-4, 240-pound Thomas had 52 tackles, including 17 for loss, nine sacks and forced five fumbles. He plays with hustle and instincts similar to Shea McClellin, the Chicago Bears' selection at No. 19 overall last April.

25. *Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: Arguably the most physically imposing player in the country, the 6-7, 302-pound Lewan looks like the second coming of Jake Long wearing No. 77 in the Michigan maize and blue. Lewan, who only made the switch to offensive line as a senior in high school, is certainly behind the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft in terms of development but the size, athleticism and mentality are in place to resume the Wolverines' tradition of churning out quality NFL offensive linemen.

26. *Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Like fellow SEC star Justin Hunter, Lattimore will have to prove he's over the torn ACL that ended his 2011 season prematurely to warrant listing this high. Just as Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson were the unquestioned top backs each of the past two seasons, however, there is no doubt that if Lattimore is healthy, he has established himself as a superstar.

27. *William Gholston, DE, Michigan State: Gholston lacks the burst up the field as a pass rusher that makes so many of the nation's other defensive ends so intriguing. His length (an imposing 6-6, 278) and strength make him an intriguing candidate as a five-technique capable of setting the edge for a 3-4 defense.

Barrett Jones took part in 'Bama's 2012 pro day but didn't enter the draft. (US Presswire)  
Barrett Jones took part in 'Bama's 2012 pro day but didn't enter the draft. (US Presswire)  
28. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: At tackle, guard and center, Jones has demonstrated he's dependable against elite competition. I'm not going to go as far as Nick Saban and mention the name of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews when making a case for listing the defending Outland Trophy and Jacobs Blocking Trophy award winner here -- well, I wasn't going to.

29. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas: Vaccaro strongly considered entering the 2012 draft after a sparkling junior season in which he earned first-team all-Big 12 honors with 82 tackles, including two sacks and two interceptions. Instinctive, athletic and physical, he looks poised to join the long line of former standout defensive backs from Austin to earn a top-50 selection in the NFL Draft.

30. *Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods has a nice combination of size, acceleration and the burst out of his breaks to gain separation. He's being a bit overrated by some due to the monster numbers he put up a year ago (111 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 TDs). If he is to prove worthy of his hype and ultimately be selected in the first round, he'll need to catch the ball and make defenders miss much more consistently in 2012.

31. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Unfairly compared to former Sooners Heisman winner and 2009 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. Jones has enjoyed statistical dominance with Oklahoma while struggling, at times, with decision-making and ball-placement when forced to move his feet. He has the combination of size, arm strength and experience, however, to leap right back into high first-round consideration should he improve his poise in a muddied pocket.

32. Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina: Overshadowed by Tar Heels guard Jonathan Cooper (also a top-50 candidate for the 2013 draft), the 6-7, 315-pound Williams caught the attention of scouts with a standout first season at right tackle in 2011. A strong second season on the edge could lead to Williams leaping ahead of other, more publicized players as the first senior offensive tackle off the board in 2013.

Just missed the cut:

33. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
34. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
35. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*
36. T.J. McDonald, FS, USC
37. Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
38. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
39. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
40. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*


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