|Reigning Orange Bowl MVP Geno Smith starts his rise up the rankings at No. 30. (Getty Images)|
The first week of the college football season is in the books and several players began their season with a bang, forcing some early shuffling of my Big Board.
This isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or what order NFL teams might be selecting in April.
It is simply a ranking of the 40 best potentially NFL Draft-eligible prospects in the country.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*).
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 West Coast scouts to former Oregon Duck and current Baltimore Ravens star Haloti Ngata due to his combination of size, athleticism and power. Learn the name now; this kid is the most appropriately named player in the country.
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2. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California: Barkley's lack of ideal size (6-1, 218) and arm strength mean that he's no shoo-in as the No. 1 overall prospect for the 2013 draft, but his accuracy, mobility and experience in a pro-style offense would have earned him a top-five selection this past April.
3. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: An explosive edge rusher with the frame (6-4, 240) to intrigue scouts operating 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. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Blessed 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.
5. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: While USC's Robert Woods earned most of the hype in the Pac-12 a year ago, Allen is similarly gifted, and at 6-3 and 205 pounds 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.
6. *Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: The baby-faced Joeckel may 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 QB Ryan Tannehill as a top-10 pick.
7. *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.
8. 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 pass-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 Southern Cal, where he originally signed as a highly regarded prep in 2008 and played as a reserve in 2009.
9. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: With a strong arm, good mobility and the toughness to take a shot and still deliver passes, there is a lot to like about the Arkansas quarterback. 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 in his decision-making and ball placement, Wilson has the physical tools to leapfrog Barkley as the top senior QB prospect in the country.
10. *David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State: Boasting a unique combination of size (6-2, 193), speed and ball skills, Amerson exploded onto the scene a year ago with 13 interceptions. He was targeted early and beaten for two long touchdowns by Tennessee in the opener, however, and will need to play better to warrant this lofty grade.
11. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: The Seminoles took a major hit in losing two-time All-ACC defensive end Brandon Jenkins to a Lisfranc injury but saw Werner more than pick up the slack against Murray State, recording an eye-popping five tackles for loss and four sacks in limited duty. At 6-4, 272 pounds, this German native could be well on his way to becoming an All-American himself.
12. *Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech: Thomas isn't as polished as either of the two senior quarterbacks ahead of him but the upside for this 6-5, 254-pound monster is through the roof. With his size, mobility and accuracy on the deep ball, comparisons to Cam Newton are growing.
13. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE/OLB, Texas: More athletic than more-hyped teammate Alex Okafor, Jeffcoat projects nicely as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 rush linebacker due to his burst upfield, lateral agility and natural rush skills. He 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.
14. *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, however, the 6-4, 205-pound Hunter showed rare 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.
15. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Frankly, had this Boilermaker had the type of season he enjoyed in 2012 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.
16. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Though an arrest in May will certainly give scouts something to question, Okafor's game provides plenty of answers. He doesn't have elite speed off the edge but is powerful, well-schooled in his hand technique and has a high-running motor.
17. Jonathan 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 transition. 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.
18. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: Even without the gaudy tackle numbers 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 front-seven 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 perhaps 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 2010 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 in 2011 as Bayor's No. 2 option. Sure, catches might be tougher to come by with RG3 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 selected come April.
21. *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.
22. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: At tackle, guard or 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 winner here, but... Oops, I guess I just did.
23. 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, 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.
24. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: Considering the talent on Stanford's offense last season, 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 registered 52 tackles, including 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks and also forced five fumbles. He plays with hustle and instincts similar to Shea McClellin, the Chicago Bears' selection at No. 19 overall last April.
25. *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 as the featured target for USC (111 catches, 1,292 yards, 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.
26. *Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: It has almost become cliché to characterize the Alabama program under Nick Saban as a team that reloads rather than rebuilds. It seems to apply in the secondary, at least in Milliner's case. The junior entered the 2012 season with 17 career starts and recorded five tackles, an interception and four pass breakups in the nationally televised showdown against Michigan. Alabama appears to have yet another first-round talent.
27. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: It may have been against weak competition (Elon) but too many of running back Giovanni Bernard's impressive runs came behind terrific blocks by Cooper to keep him off this list. In a strong year for guards, Cooper may be the best of them.
28. *William Gholston, DE, Michigan State: At an imposing 6-6, 278 pounds, Gholston lacks the burst upfield as a pass rusher that makes so many of the nation's other defensive ends so intriguing but his length and strength make him an intriguing candidate as a five-technique capable of setting the edge for a 3-4 defense.
29. *Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: While Lattimore's stat line against Vanderbilt was impressive (110 rushing yards, two touchdowns), it was clear that he hasn't yet regained the explosiveness that helped him take the SEC by storm for much of the past two seasons. He remains the toughest back in the country and a true workhorse who will one day prove the centerpiece to an NFL rushing attack.
30. Geno Smith , QB, West Virginia: Smith makes his Big Board debut this week after a deadly efficient opener against Marshall, completing 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-3, 220-pound Smith has good mobility and the accuracy to attack defenses at all levels -- a combination that could continue to push him up the board.
31. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M: Despite measuring in at just 6-2, 230 pounds, Porter was asked to rush the passer off the edge in the 3-4 scheme under head coach Mike Sherman. With new head coach Kevin Sumlin bringing in a 4-3 scheme, Porter's speed and agility could prove even more effective against the run and in coverage.
32. Jake Matthews , OT, Texas A&M: The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews of Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans fame, Matthews has faced expectations of greatness his entire life. He's lived up to the lofty family standards, starting since his true freshman season at right tackle for the Aggies. While not as athletic as his teammate, left tackle Luke Joeckel, Matthews is the better and more physical run blocker.
Just missed the cut:
33. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
34. *Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
35. T.J. McDonald, FS, Southern Cal
36. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
37. Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina
38. *Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
39. *Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
40. * Tyler Eifert , TE, Notre Dame