|Tyler Wilson's stock is falling due to his struggles at Arkansas this season. (US Presswire)|
NFL scouts touring the country this fall are discovering that this senior class of prospects is failing to live up to the hype.
Southern California's Matt Barkley and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson entered the year almost universally regarded as the top two senior quarterbacks. Each has struggled and as a result, their draft stock has dipped.
The issue is hardly limited to just the quarterbacks. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been good -- but not dominant. Alabama offensive linemen Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones have played extremely well, but lack the dominant physical traits normally associated with first-round prospects.
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The effect is, at the quarter point of the college football season, it is the underclassmen moving up 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 entire country.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*).
1. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Throughout the first month of the 2012 college football season, the most consistently dominant prospect I've seen has been the 6-3, 320-pound Hankins. He's been moved inside and out, exploded through one-on-one blocks and shown the ability to handle double teams. He's been more impressive despite playing tougher competition than Utah's Star Lotulelei.
2. *Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: With all due respect to Hankins, Jones has been even more impressive against better competition. What he hasn't been is consistent. Jones is a natural pass rusher and much better versus the run and in coverage than he's often given credit for. However, he was largely shut down in a highly anticipated matchup against Tennessee and has already missed a game this season due to injury (Florida Atlantic). He transferred to Georgia in the first place (from Southern California) after suffering a neck injury.
3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Lotulelei entered 2012 as my highest-rated prospect overall and while he remains my top senior, he hasn't demonstrated the consistency I'd like, especially given the underrated talent that surrounds him. How he performs against USC and NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated center, Khaled Holmes will play a big role in determining his final draft grade.
4. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith's ascent to the top of the quarterback rankings is eerily reminiscent of the dramatic rise we've seen the past two years from Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, respectively. Sure, Smith's eye-popping statistics (including an 83.4 completion percentage and 20-0 TD to INT ratio) are influenced by WVU's quick-strike offense and playmaking receivers, but Smith is earning high marks from NFL scouts in terms of his ball placement, arm strength and mobility.
5. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: I am stubbornly keeping Mingo among my top five prospects because the long-armed 6-4, 240-pounder possesses the speed and agility NFL scouts crave in a developmental pass rusher. To put it bluntly, Mingo could be special. His play has been anything but thus far, however. He has just one sack over LSU's first five games and that went for two yards... against Towson.
6. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal: He'll likely be drafted high due to the value of the quarterback position and all of his intangibles. Yet, the simple fact is that the 6-2, 220-pound Barkley does not possess elite physical traits. I believe he'll wind up being a successful starting quarterback in the NFL, but Barkley is far from the guaranteed top-five prospect he's been labeled. Some scouts are struggling to even give him a first-round grade.
7. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: For all of the hype surrounding FSU's offense given the team's 5-0 start, not enough credit nationally is going to the defense. The German-born Werner ranks among the nation's leading producers of both tackles for loss and sacks and plays with greater power and instincts than his 6-4, 256-pound frame and relative lack of experience might lead you to believe.
8. *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's 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-ten pick.
9. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: An exceptionally highly regarded prep prospect who originally was going to sign with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide as a safety before joining his brother (quarterback Zach Maynard) at Cal, Allen possesses all of the physical characteristics to warrant a top-10 selection. Scouts would like to see more production, however. Despite catching 33 passes, he's largely been held in check (11.8 yard average, two touchdowns) as defenses have focused on him over the first five games of the season.
10. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: Te'o was thought to be strongly considering making the jump to the NFL a year ago. With scouts questioning his ability to impact the game as a pass defender, however, he elected to return, dedicating himself to improving his speed and playmaking ability. Through the first four games this season, Te'o has intercepted three passes (the first of his career) and also recovered two fumbles for the undefeated Irish.
11. *Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Considering that he is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews of Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans fame, greatness has been expected of Jake Matthews his entire life. He's lived up to the lofty expectations, 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 of the two.
12. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Offensive linemen rarely get the limelight but it might be even worse for Warmack than most. Not only do the "skill-position" and defensive stars for 'Bama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is overshadowed even among the Tide's blockers. Athletic and powerful, he just might be the best pure guard in the country.
13. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Considering all of the talented front-seven defenders Purdue has churned out over the years it is a mystery to me why Short doesn't get more attention nationwide attention. After registering 54 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks a season ago, Short has already posted seven tackles for loss, four sacks (including two September 15 versus Notre Dame) and three blocked kicks this season. Scouts would like to see him gain strength but he has excellent vision and lateral agility to make the play when opportunities are near.
14. *Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Few of Montgomery's LSU Tiger teammates bared their teeth against Auburn on Sept. 22 and Les Miles' bunch was fortunate to escape their SEC opener with a 12-10 victory. The 6-5, 260-pound Montgomery, however, was a star recording 3.5 tackles for loss and earning the conference's Defensive Player of the Week honor in the victory. Scouts love Montgomery's combination of size, athleticism and production, but want to see more flexibility and awareness in his game.
15. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: Whether at tackle, guard or center Jones has demonstrated that he's dependable against the elite competition in college football. 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, but ... oops, I guess I just did.
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 certainly looks poised to continue that trend, especially if he keeps making big plays. Banks has 15 career interceptions, three of which he's returned for touchdowns.
17. *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. In the case of the true junior Milliner, who entered the 2012 season with 17 career starts and currently ranks among SEC leaders with six pass breakups, Alabama appears to have yet another first round talent.
18. *Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: At 6-4, 200 pounds, Hunter has the physical traits to warrant top 20 consideration. He is starting to show the same explosiveness he'd possessed prior to tearing his ACL a year ago against Florida. Thus far, however, he's been much better against weaker opponents (averaging 117 yards receiving yards and two touchdowns) than he has versus SEC competition (61 yards, zero scores).
19. *Eric Reid, FS, LSU: Like the aforementioned Hunter, Reid entered the 2012 season with plenty of fanfare but hasn't yet produced the game-changing plays that characterized a 2011 campaign in which some felt he was actually the most consistent member of a secondary that featured Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Brandon Taylor, a third round pick by the San Diego Chargers (No. 73 overall).
20. *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.
21. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas: Vaccaro strongly considered entering the 2012 NFL Draft after a sparkling junior campaign in which he earned first team all-conference 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.
22. *Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal: Having established himself as a dominant collegiate player since his true freshman season, it is hard to quibble about Woods. He's a reliable route-runner who makes a lot of plays as a featured component of this pro-style offense. However, he has an NFL-caliber quarterback throwing him the ball and isn't even the most talented receiver on his own team (Marqise Lee).
23. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Longhorns' quarterback David Ash gets a lot of credit for Texas' 4-0 start this season but the real reason for Texas' turnaround thus far has been the play of the defense, led by Okafor, a returning All-American. Scouts are anxious to see if Okafor, who has registered a team-leading three sacks thus far, is able to keep up the pressure with high-octane passing attacks (West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor) facing the Longhorns over the next month.
24. *Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones gets much of the credit for Georgia's defense and rightfully so. The Bulldogs feature another playmaking linebacker in Ogletree, however, who jumped off the film this summer when I was reviewing last year's action. The 6-3, 234-pound junior was suspended for the first four games of this season but returned Sept. 29 versus Tennessee with a vengeance, recording a career- and game-high 14 tackles, including three passes broken up, one of which led to an interception in a 51-44 victory over the Vols.
25. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: Overshadowed by Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright throughout much of his career, Williams has stepped to the forefront this season emerging as the country's elite senior receiver. At 6-2, 205, Williams certainly looks the part and he had a monstrous performance against West Virginia (17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns) that if not for Geno Smith likely would have landed him more national acclaim.
26. *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 upfield, lateral agility and natural pass rush skills. He lacks Okafor's strength at this time, 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.
27. Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia: At a massive 6-3, 358 pounds, Jenkins is the behemoth in the middle that gives a talented Bulldogs' defense its biggest bite. Like most defenders of his size, Jenkins isn't going to post eye-popping statistics but as the high draft selections of Dontari Poe (11), Phil Taylor (21) and Dan Williams (26) suggest, one dominant season on the inside can cause NFL teams to look past inconsistent production over a career.
28. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: Offensive guards rarely earn first-round grades but considering the fact that a couple have been selected in each of the past two years, perhaps NFL teams are starting to realize the immediate impact they can have on an offense. At 6-3, 310 poundsm, Cooper possesses a prototypical combination of size and athleticism for the position.
29. *Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: NFL teams love SEC defensive linemen and Lemonier has proven over his career to be a standout in precisely this role. He led the Tigers in both tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (9.5) a season ago and is well on his way towards accomplishing that goal yet again, with five sacks in four games to start the season.
30. Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia: The Cavaliers were blown out by Georgia Tech on Sept. 15 but don't place the blame on their talented left tackle. Fresh off a performance that earned him the ACC's Offensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts against Penn State, Aboushi dominated the Yellow Jackets, impressing with both his athleticism and toughness. Frankly, I haven't seen a more impressive performance from any senior left tackle this season.
31. *Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: At a rangy 6-6, 243 pounds Jordan's length and explosiveness off the edge makes him a matchup nightmare for opponents. The junior, who led the Ducks a year ago with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, is earning high marks from scouts who believe he could be one of this year's most exciting "hybrid" prospects.
32. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: After missing much of Arkansas' humbling loss to Louisiana-Monroe and all of their SEC opener against Alabama, Wilson returned amid great fanfare to start against Rutgers. While his numbers were strong against the Scarlet Knights, a closer look indicated that he was still holding the ball too long and taking some hellacious hits. These problems once again surfaced Sept. 29 against Texas A&M, Arkansas' fourth consecutive loss. Since returning from injury, Wilson is completing just 50 percent of his passes and has four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Just Missed the Cut:
33. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
34. T.J. McDonald, FS, Southern Cal
35. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
36. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
37. *Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech
38. Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina
39. *Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*