NFL scouts may have taken off Super Bowl Sunday to watch the Baltimore Ravens hold on to beat the San Francisco 49ers, but the final game of the 2012 NFL season served as the unofficial kickoff to their time to shine.
With the official underclassmen list settled, the senior all-star games wrapped up and the annual scouting combine on deck, some teams have already begun building the boards that will serve as their draft-day master lists. The rankings below serve this same purpose.
The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the draft order. It is simply a ranking of the 64 best draft-eligible prospects in the entire country.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*).
1. *Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Having earned all-conference recognition all three years of his career, Joeckel has cemented his stock as the top offensive tackle in college football. In answering the unique challenges presented by SEC defenders this season, he earned the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman and vaulted himself to the top of this draft board. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel may have won the Heisman Trophy, but Joeckel could be the one holding the bigger prize -- the thrill of being the first offensive lineman since Jake Long (2008) to be selected No. 1 overall.
2. *Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: A first-team All-SEC pick in each of his two eligible seasons at Georgia, Jones has proven himself to be a playmaker against both the pass and run. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Jones led the country in three critical statistics -- sacks (14½), tackles for loss (24½) and forced fumbles (seven) despite missing two games (Kentucky, Florida Atlantic) due to injury. As dynamic as he is, the redshirt junior's medical grade will ultimately determine his draft status. He was diagnosed with a mild case of spinal stenosis in 2009 and some NFL doctors may be unwilling to clear him.
3. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Blessed with a quick first step, heavy hands and surprising instincts given the fact that the German-born Werner has played just five years of American football, the 6-4, 255-pounder has established himself as one of the country's elite prospects. An immediate standout in Tallahassee, Werner improved in each of his three seasons at Florida State, culminating with winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year this season with 18 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.
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4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: With the Utes struggling through a disappointing 5-7 campaign, their senior defensive tackle didn't generate as much national attention as his play warranted. Despite fighting constant double and triple teams, Lotulelei registered 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and four recovered fumbles this season, earning first-team All-Pac-12 accolades for the second consecutive season. Remarkably athletic at 6-3, 320 pounds, he's capable of shutting down running lanes and terrorizing quarterbacks.
5. *Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith's rapid ascension as one of the NFL's elite playmakers has forced talent evaluators to acknowledge how versatile defenders can impact today's game. Moore, like Smith, is viewed by some as a 'tweener at 6-4, 255 pounds, and has starred at defensive end and outside linebacker over the past two seasons for the Aggies. Having registered 21 tackles for loss this season, including 12½ sacks, Moore certainly has the production to go with his size, burst and motor.
6. 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 Alabama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is overshadowed even on the Tide's All-American offensive line -- but not by talent evaluators, who see the 6-3, 320-pound mauler as one of the safest prospects in his class.
7. *Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: The 6-1, 198-pound Milliner is a perfect example of how Alabama reloads rather than rebuilds. A highly regarded prep prospect who started 11 games as a true freshman, Milliner was pushed a bit to the background in 2011 as 'Dre Kirkpatrick and De'Quan Menzie took over. With each now in the NFL, Milliner reasserted himself in 2012, finishing second in the country with 20 passes broken up and providing stellar run defense on the boundary. While just a junior, the 2012 Thorpe Award finalist is NFL-ready and will only have to prove his straight-line speed to earn a top-20 pick in April.
8. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: Impressive vs. Michigan State and Iowa this year, scouts had some reservations until a dominating performance against top competition at the Senior Bowl. With the foot quickness, balance and length to be a "blindside" pass protector, the 6-7, 305-pound Fisher is functionally stronger and more aggressive than former Chippewa Joe Staley, the starting left tackle for the San Francisco 49ers.
9. *Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: While some of the top defensive tackles in the country lack eye-popping statistics, Richardson enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Tigers, finishing just four tackles behind linebacker Andrew Wilson as Missouri's leading tackler this season with 75 tackles, 10½ tackles for loss and four sacks.
10. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: An exceptionally highly regarded prep prospect who originally was going to sign with Nick Saban's Crimson Tide as a safety before joining his brother (QB Zach Maynard) at Cal, Allen has virtually all of the physical characteristics to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. To earn a top-10 pick, he'll have to prove his health (he suffered a knee injury Oct. 27) and straight-line speed.
11. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: While Smith did not play the second half of the season at the level of top-ranked passers in recent years, the 6-3, 220-pound senior nonetheless remains a legitimate candidate to wind up as the top pick in the 2013 draft. Smith improved his completion percentage and touchdown/interception ratio in each of his three starting seasons, culminating in a senior campaign in which he completed a sparkling 71.24 percent of his passes and threw 42 touchdowns against just six interceptions. More important, he has all of the traits scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback.
12. Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia: Like his fellow SEC run-stuffer, Jesse Williams, Jenkins does not have the elite statistics (50 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack) that normally are associated with first-round picks. At 6-3, 358 pounds, however, Jenkins certainly has the beef to clog running lanes. Despite having only played two seasons at the FBS level, he has proven himself against top competition.
13. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: NFL teams are generally loathe to spend first-round picks on guards, but with the steady Cooper an exception may have to be made. Cooper has excellent agility, demonstrating the ability to quickly get to the second level and block on the move. His terrific blocking helped Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard -- a legitimate high-round prospect himself -- rush for an average of nearly 123 yards per game in 2012.
14. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: With the athleticism that once saw him line up at QB, TE and DE, Johnson has emerged as arguably the fastest-rising left tackle prospect in the country. Having only played left tackle one season, Johnson is undeniably raw but his length, lateral agility and surprising physicality helped him shut down Texas A&M's Moore in the Alamo Bowl loss and helped him turn heads in Mobile.
15. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: A native of Ghana who tried out for basketball and lettered in track before giving football a try in 2010, Ansah had 10 total tackles to his credit entering the 2012 season and was barely a blip on most scouts' radar. A few months later, comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul are almost becoming cliché in the scouting community as the 6-5, 270-pounder emerged as a consistent big-play threat, recording 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4½ sacks and notching both a forced fumble and interception in BYU's Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. Ansah is raw as sushi right now, but the team that gambles on him could be rewarded handsomely if he continues to develop.
16. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: In terms of pure talent, Hankins deserves to be ranked among the top five prospects in the country. With light feet and shocking athleticism for a man listed at 6-3, 320 pounds, Hankins can be a superstar. Unfortunately, his motor too often appears to be in neutral rather than overdrive. After registering an impressive 11 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore campaign, the Buckeye defender had just five this season, including only one sack. Despite his drop in production, Hankins is entering the 2013 draft. He clearly has talent, but so too did other notable Ohio State busts like Vernon Gholston and Dan Wilkinson.
17. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California: There is plenty of evidence to suggest Barkley is going to lose on the significant gamble he took in electing to return for his senior season. After only one multi-interception game in his junior year, Barkley had six in 2012 and finished his Trojans career with four straight two-pick games. His college playing days ended after he suffered a shoulder injury in USC's loss to crosstown rival UCLA on Nov. 17. Scouts value Barkley's leadership, poise and accuracy on the move, but there are plenty who scoff at giving him a first-round grade based on the 6-2, 230-pound quarterback's less-than-ideal measureables. Nonetheless, Barkley remains squarely in the first-round conversation for me.
18. *Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: A junior college transfer who only played 12 games at the FBS level, it would be easy to look past the stellar play Patterson has put forth as a receiver, runner and kick returner for the Vols -- especially given that defenses have often focused on stopping teammate Justin Hunter. While Patterson is a bit rough around the edges, the 6-3, 205-pounder is undeniably a playmaker. He averaged 154.83 yards all-purpose yards per game, easily the most of any player in the SEC.
19. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: At a rangy 6-6 and 243 pounds, Jordan's length and explosiveness off the edge make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Jordan led the Ducks a year ago with 13 tackles for loss and 7½ sacks, but wasn't as productive in 2012 (10½ tackles for loss, five sacks) and has struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career. He is earning high marks from scouts who believe he could be one of this year's most exciting "hybrid" prospects, as he's so athletic that Oregon asked him to line up as a quasi-cornerback at times.
20. *Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: With so many talented defensive linemen in the SEC, Floyd hasn't generated the buzz that his talents warrant. Used predominately at defensive end a season ago, the 6-3, 303-pound junior was moved back inside to his more natural defensive tackle position this year and stepped up his play, earning first-team all-conference honors with 46 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles for loss. While his Gators lost the Sugar Bowl to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville, Floyd was dynamic, sacking the mobile sophomore quarterback twice.
21. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Despite being the obvious focus of every opponent's blocking scheme since talented teammate Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle Oct. 13, Okafor earned first-team All-Big 12 accolades for the second straight season, posting a career high 12½ sacks, including 4½ against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. Okafor showed off a better-than-expected burst off the snap and his trademark active, heavy hands to wreak havoc during Senior Bowl practices.
22. *Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones gets much of the Bulldogs hype and for good reason, but it was the ultra-athletic Ogletree who led Georgia with 111 tackles despite missing the first four games due to a suspension. The junior's lanky frame (6-3, 234) and staggering closing speed make him a potentially more dynamic player at the next level than Manti Te'o, though Ogletree isn't nearly as far along in the subtleties of the position having only made the switch from safety two years ago.
23. *Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: With a rare combination of size (6-2, 217), physicality and athleticism, Rhodes proved to be a standout throughout his career with the Seminoles, culminating in first-team All-ACC honors in 2012. He'll need to run well in pre-draft workouts to guarantee being selected in the first round and projects best to a press-heavy scheme.
24. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: Mingo has the frame (6-5, 240 pounds) and athleticism to warrant top-10 consideration, but at this point he remains a largely unpolished product who relies on natural tools rather than technique to make plays. Given Mingo's upside, it is easy to imagine him terrorizing NFL QBs off the edge as a multidimensional defender. Considering Mingo's relatively pedestrian numbers (38 tackles, 8½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks) this season, however, the junior might have been better served returning to Baton Rouge for his senior season.25. *Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: Half of the most talented tight-end duo in college football, Ertz only started five games in 2012 but easily led the Rose Bowl-winning Cardinal in catches (69), receiving yards (898) and receiving touchdowns (six). While perhaps not quite as imposing as 6-8, 265 pound teammate Levine Toilolo (himself a potential top-75 prospect), Ertz combines rare size (6-6, 256) with athleticism and soft hands.
26. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: While lacking the size and physicality of Millner or Rhodes, the 5-11, 190-pound Trufant showcased a blend of speed and fluidity in Mobile to arguably rank as this year's top cover corner. If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Both of his older brothers -- Marcus and Isaiah -- are already cashing NFL paychecks as cornerbacks with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets, respectively.
27. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Used in much the same fashion (receiver, runner, returner) as the Vikings feature Percy Harvin, Austin has emerged as the top senior playmaker in the country. At just 5-9, 172 pounds, Austin may not have been viewed as worthy of first-round consideration a few years ago, but in today's wide-open NFL that rewards mismatches Austin could prove among the more valued commodities on draft day.
28. *Matt Elam, SS, Florida: While perhaps a bit smaller than scouts would prefer (5-10, 202 pounds), Elam has proven himself to be a playmaker throughout his career, demonstrating not only instincts, athleticism and physicality, but ball-hawking skills (six interceptions) and timing as well. The two-year starter was at his best under the brightest of lights, making game-changing plays against Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee, and pacing the Gators with 11 tackles, including a sack, in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.
29. *D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Anyone who watched Alabama dismantle Notre Dame's talented defense in the BCS title game knows that the Tide offensive line was dominant. Much of the credit has gone to the interior (and for good reason). At 6-5, 355 pounds, however, Fluker is an absolute road-grader himself. Massive, physical and tenacious, he's the top right tackle prospect in the draft.
30. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: More decorated than a wedding cake, Te'o has earned an astounding seven national awards since leading the Irish to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS title game. While the NFL couldn't care less about a collegiate prospect's stocked trophy case, it is tough not to acknowledge the relative safety that the 6-2, 255-pound Te'o provides as an instinctive, physical defender capable of making big plays against the run and pass. However, Te'o must have a strong pre-draft process after struggling in the title game and then admitting to lying as part of an admittedly embarrassing "hoax" that hit the national stage Jan. 16.
31. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: Many top prospects boast eye-popping statistics. Williams is not one of them. The Australia native finished the regular season just ninth (and tied for that) on the Alabama roster with 36 tackles, including 2½ tackles for loss and one sack. The 6-3, 320-pounder's wide frame and awesome strength (600-pound bench press) make him a potentially elite nose guard. With most NFL teams either using the 3-4 as their base defense or at least incorporating many of its principles, Williams' value may not truly be proven until draft day.
32. *Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: High-effort pass rusher who looks the part at 6-5, 260 pounds, but doesn't consistently win one-on-one battles due to stiffness in his upper body. Plays with top effort, however, and has the strength and determination to be equally effective vs. the run as well as the pass.
The second tier
33. *Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: While perhaps lacking the elite breakaway speed that has helped Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski emerge as instant NFL stars, Eifert's 6-5, 252-pound frame and excellent ball skills make him a legitimate mismatch.
34. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Has rare traits and a knack for making the big play but scouts dazzled by him in Mobile remain concerned about his snap-to-snap consistency.
35. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: Lanky ball hawk who must prove his speed to warrant first-round consideration.
36. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: The most consistent of the quarterbacks throughout the critical first three practices of the Senior Bowl, likely pushing him back into the first-round mix.
37. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: A consistent standout during Senior Bowl practices, Jones racked up an impressive 19 tackles for loss in 2012, seeing action up and down the UCLA defensive line.
38. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas: Perhaps not the ball hawk of former Texas DBs but a steady, physical defender.
39. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Combining a quick first step and great power, Williams could leap into the first-round conversation following an impressive week at the Senior Bowl.
40. *Eric Reid, FS, LSU: Terrific in run support but questionable instincts, fluidity could make him a liability in coverage in the NFL.
41. *Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU: Instinctive and physical, Minter was the most dependable player on an LSU defense chock-full of prospective NFL talent.
42. Phillip Thomas, FS, Fresno State: A Thorpe Award candidate with an FBS-leading leading eight interceptions (including three returned for touchdowns), Thomas is the best safety most haven't heard of.
43. *Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina: Dazzling runner, but size (5-10, 205) and durability are legitimate concerns.
44. *Robert Woods, WR, USC: While perhaps not the dominating prospect his hype would indicate, Woods' reliable route-running, soft hands and courage will make him a fine No. 2 target in the NFL.
45. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech: Patton may lack the name recognition of the rest of this strong, if not elite, receiver class but he was clearly the most polished wideout in Mobile.
46. *Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech: Character red flags galore, but undeniably an elite talent.
47. *Bennie Logan, DT, LSU: Overshadowed a bit by LSU's dynamic duo on the outside, Logan was quietly the Tigers' most consistent defensive lineman in 2012.
48. Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers: Safety-turned-linebacker, Greene is a turnover machine (played a role in 24 turnovers over his career), and a future NFL star as a 4-3 weakside linebacker.
49. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: While perhaps not possessing any one dominant trait, Ball's all-around game brings back memories of another No. 28 -- Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.
50. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: Too slim of a build to earn first-round consideration but has elusiveness and straight-line speed.
Just missed the cut
51. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
52. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
53. *Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
54. *Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
55. *Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
56. *DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
57. *Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
58. Bacarri Rambo, FS, Georgia
59. *Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon
60. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
61. Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
62. *Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
63. Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
64. *Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.