Seeding the Top Prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft, NCAA Tournament Style
In the spirit of March Madness and the NCAA Tournament, this slideshow of the top 64 prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft class is broken down by seeds from 1 to 16.
The premises of the two events are very different: in the NCAA Tournament, the goal is to get out of the first round, while in the NFL Draft, the goal is to be done well before the end of the first round. That said, there are some similarities between the process of seeding teams for the tournament as there are for rating where draft prospects should be selected.
64 of the top prospects in this year’s draft are placed into a seeding line, with descriptions of what each seeding line means.
No. 1 Seeds
The No. 1 seeds are the “sure things” of the 2012 NFL Draft. No No. 1 seed has ever lost in the NCAA Tournament, and these are four players for whom it would be absolutely shocking if they are not successful in the National Football League.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Andrew Luck is the No. 1 overall seed for the NFL Draft, and the selection committee would have little debate making this decision.
Luck is one of the best quarterback prospects to be in the draft in quite some time. He had a tremendous career in three seasons playing for Stanford, and has every tool that a team looks for in an NFL quarterback: tremendous accuracy, a strong arm, great decision-maker, very intelligent, played in a pro-style offense in college, has the ability to make a complete array of throws and is a great athlete.
There will no be upset at the top of the 2012 NFL Draft, as the Indianapolis Colts released future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in order to make Luck their franchise quarterback with the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
After Luck, the second “sure thing” in this draft class is USC left tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil is an elite left tackle prospect who can be the lead blocker and protector for an NFL team for many years to come.
Kalil was dominant as USC’s left tackle, so dominant that Tyron Smith, who was the 9th overall pick in last year’s draft, was stuck playing right tackle so that Kalil could start on the left side. Kalil has everything an NFL team should look for in a left tackle: ideal size, terrific footwork, very strong, great at anchoring, terrific with technique as both a pass and run blocker.
Kalil is almost certain to be selected at No. 3 overall by the Minnesota Vikings, but for whichever NFL team brings him in, they will likely end up with a future All-Pro left tackle.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Coming into the 2011 college football season, Andrew Luck ranked way ahead of all other quarterbacks who ended up declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft. (USC’s Matt Barkley was always in competition to be the No. 1 overall prospect in this draft class, but he decided to return to school for his senior season.)
However, another quarterback emerged as an elite prospect and No. 1 overall seed quality, that player being Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. RG3 had a fantastic, Heisman-winning senior season in which he transformed from a quarterback known more for his athleticism to a tremendous pocket passer.
Griffin’s athleticism is outstanding; he is a tremendous threat to run with the football, displayed tremendous athletic ability at the combine, and will continue to be a dual-threat at the next level. That said, Griffin also has fantastic abilities that are more conventional to the quarterback position: a tremendous arm, the ability to make downfield throws with precise accuracy, intelligence and intangibles.
Griffin will not be the No. 1 overall draft pick this year, but he would be in most drafts. The Washington Redskins showed just how valuable he is by trading two future first-round picks and a second-round pick all to move up four spots to the No. 2 overall pick for the opportunity to make him their franchise quarterback.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Morris Claiborne’s former teammate and fellow LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson was the fifth overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, but Claiborne is an even better prospect than he was. While Peterson’s dynamic punt return ability enhanced his value, Claiborne is a more pure cover corner who has the ability to be a true lockdown defensive back in the National Football League.
Claiborne is an athletic, physical and instinctive cornerback who has the skill to match up with any wide receiver. Claiborne is a player who should be ready to start immediately in an NFL secondary, and be a play-maker immediately in the defensive backfield.
In comparison to the other three No. 1 seed prospects, he is not quite the elite prospect that they are, but he is the best defensive player in the draft class, and given the importance of the cornerback position in today’s pass-heavy National Football League, he should make a big impact in an NFL secondary.
No. 2 Seeds
While the No. 2 seeds are not locks to be successful in the National Football League (as displayed this year, No. 15 seeds can pull off the big first-round upset!), they have the talent to be stars, and should at least be very good starters for many years in the league.
Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
No defensive player in all of college football has been a more opportune play-maker in big situations, including in last season’s BCS National Championship Game victory for the Crimson Tide, than Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw over the past couple of seasons.
Upshaw does not have great athleticism for a hybrid linebacker, but he is a tremendous football player who just knows how to make plays happen. He is very instinctive, is always around the football, and has great size at 6’2’’ and 272 pounds.
There may be no defensive player in this draft with more versatility: Upshaw is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme, but has the experience and skill set to play any linebacker position in any defensive scheme. Additionally, he has the size and explosiveness to line up as a defensive end in pass-rush situations in a 4-3 defense.
Upshaw is one of the safest draft picks in this year’s class as a player who has proven at the highest level of college football competition that he can make plays consistently.
Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College
Luke Kuechly’s productivity as Boston College’s middle linebacker was absolutely outstanding. Kuechly finished second in the NCAA in total tackles as a freshman, and has led the nation (by a large margin) in each of the past two seasons.
Kuechly has tremendous instincts, is always around the football and never misses tackles. Additionally, while Kuechly does not stand out on tape as a spectacular athlete, he was the standout among the linebackers at the scouting combine, where he excelled in the on-field drills and put up impressive measurables.
After Andrew Luck, Kuechly may be the safest pick in the 2012 draft. He comes in with a background of consistent collegiate production, and is a smart player who will be prepared to step in right away and be a productive contributor as a middle or inside linebacker in the NFL.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Trent Richardson is a tremendous running back prospect who blends terrific size for the position, power running, speed and lateral quickness. Against the best competition in college football in the Southeastern Conference, Richardson has shown his dynamic ability to break big runs and the ability to pound the ball for positive yardage between the tackles.
Typically, running backs should be not drafted as early draft picks, because it is a position where many contributing backs are found in later rounds, and career spans are the shortest. That said, Richardson is a special talent at the position who ran for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns in the SEC last year, making him worth a top-10 draft pick.
Richardson is a very physical runner who leaves his body susceptible to hits, and runs too upright, which could present problems for him going forward, but he also has the potential to be one of the top running backs in the National Football League.
Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram is the most gifted pass-rushing prospect in the draft class. While Ingram is undersized as a defensive end at 6’2’’, he is a very fluid athlete who is explosive off of the line of scrimmage, and has the skill set which should make up for his lack of height.
Ingram emerged in a tremendous senior season, in which he had 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and also three non-offensive touchdowns, which displayed his athletic and play-making abilities. Ingram’s best skill is his ability is to get into the backfield and pursue the quarterback, but he is also physical against the run.
Ingram’s best fit given his athletic ability in space and lack of size would be as a hybrid outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but as the premier pass rusher in the draft class, he will get major looks from 4-3 teams as a defensive end as well.
No. 3 Seeds
The No. 3 seeds are not the premier prospects of the draft class, but chances are good that these players will end up being among the best players to come out of the draft class.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver who will provide an NFL team with a downfield deep threat. Blackmon is big and strong, and uses those traits well to beat defensive backs with his physicality.
Blackmon does not have elite speed, but still has the speed to get into the open field and make big plays. He has tremendous hands and is a very smart and efficient route runner.
For a team looking for a No. 1 wideout who can become a premier play-maker in the passing game, Blackmon has the talent to be that guy, and the productivity to back it up, with 232 receptions and 3,304 receiving yards over the past two seasons.
David DeCastro, G, Stanford
David DeCastro compares to a team from a mid-major conference that has a tremendous season. Like those teams are typically kept out of the top two seed lines due to the level of competition they played, the only thing that keeps David DeCastro out of the top two seed lines is the position he plays.
The guard position does not have the value to warrant a top-10 draft selection, but DeCastro ranks among the top 10 prospects in the draft class. DeCastro is a dominant run blocker with tremendous strength and very good feet for an offensive lineman. He is terrific paving the way as a lead blocker, and is very effective on the pull block as well.
DeCastro is not a marquee prospect given his position, but he has the talent to be a future All-Pro guard. The team that drafts him will be making an immediate upgrade to their interior line.
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Jonathan Martin was not as dominant against Pac-12 defenses as Matt Kalil was, but he was not far off. Martin is a steady, consistent left tackle who has done a tremendous job protecting Andrew Luck’s blind side over the past three seasons, and has the skill to be a very good offensive tackle in the NFL.
Whether Martin lines up as a left or right tackle will be dependent upon the team he is drafted by, but he is more than capable of playing on either side. Martin is not an outstanding athlete, but he is a great technician who is a very strong run blocker and a consistent pass protector.
For a team seeking an offensive tackle who can be a solid starter for many years to come, Martin is a safe draft choice.
Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Riley Reiff is a talented offensive tackle who was impressive at Iowa and has high upside. Reiff has very good feet for an offensive lineman, which helps him considerably as a pass blocker, while he is also a strong run blocker.
Reiff was not consistently dominant at the collegiate level, but he has the potential to be a terrific left or right tackle in the NFL. A former tight end, he is an athletic and skilled pass protector, and he has adequate strength for blocking in the run game.
For teams in need of an upgrade at offensive tackle, Reiff would be a good choice in the early to middle first round.
No. 4 Seeds
The No. 4 seeds have deficiencies that keep them out of the top three seed lines of the draft, but if they overcome those concerns, they can be terrific NFL players.
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples is coming off of an underwhelming senior season and is a raw prospect, but he has the potential to be a terrific defensive lineman at the next level.
Coples does not have the same burst off of the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher that Melvin Ingram has, but he has great size to play defensive end in a 4-3 defensive system. Coples has shown his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield, which he backed up with 15 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, and he is strong against the run.
Coples is tough to block when he is on his game, and has high upside and star potential. Inconsistency has plagued him at UNC, but he has the potential to be a great NFL defensive end.
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
At times at Michigan State, Jerel Worthy has shown the potential to be a dominant NFL defensive tackle. Unfortunately, Worthy can also be very quiet in games; his inconsistency and questionable motor are concerns in projecting him as an NFL defensive tackle.
Worthy is very strong and powerful at the line of scrimmage, and is the best run-stopping 1-technique defensive tackle in the draft class. Worthy is not a great interior pass rusher, but is an explosive penetrator who can make plays happen inside and pursue into the backfield.
Worthy is not the explosive defensive tackle prospect that recent high draft picks Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have been, but he has shown flashes of the same abilities that they did, and the potential to be a dominant defensive tackle.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
For teams who covet big, physical cornerbacks, Dre Kirkpatrick should catch their attention. Kirkpatrick is 6’2’’, a very good tackler, and plays his best coverage in man-to-man in short-yardage situations with bigger than fast receivers.
Kirkpatrick is not an elite athlete for the cornerback position, but has the speed and quickness to stay with outside receivers. Kirkpatrick does have red flags surrounding his character; he was arrested on marijuana possession, although the charges were dropped.
Kirkpatrick’s concerns could cause him to slide to the latter end of the first round, but he could end up being a bargain if he plays up to his ability.
Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
Although Cordy Glenn was one of the biggest surprises of the scouting combine by running one of the fastest 40-yard dash times among offensive linemen, he lacks the footwork to play left tackle in the National Football League. Aside from that, he has the traits of a very good left tackle, and should excel at the next level as a right tackle or guard.
At 6’6’’ and 346 pounds, Glenn is absolutely massive, and he is very strong. He is a very powerful run blocker, and as a very good left tackle at Georgia, he showed his ability as a pass blocker as well.
In a pinch, Glenn may be capable of playing left tackle in NFL games, but should be starting-caliber as either a right tackle or guard. He is not among the best offensive line prospects in the draft class, but is well worth a mid-first round draft pick.
No. 5 Seeds
The No. 5 seeds are less proven that their more highly ranked counterparts, but have the potential to be better than many of the players rated above them.
Dontari Poe, NT, Maryland
No position is more important than a nose tackle to the success of a 3-4 defense, which nearly half of NFL teams currently run as their base defensive scheme. That makes a great nose tackle very valuable. Dontari Poe has the potential to be a great nose tackle, and is easily the top nose tackle prospect in the 2012 draft class.
Poe moved his way well up the charts with a tremendous performance at the scouting combine, at which he led all participants with 44 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, and broke 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a tremendous time for a 346-pound defensive lineman.
Poe is a raw prospect who did not have great productivity at Memphis, but his size, strength, and explosive athleticism relative to his size give him the potential to be a terrific NFL nose tackle. He is also drawing interest as a 1-technique tackle from 4-3 defensive teams, but is best suited for the three-man front.
Fletcher Cox, DT/DE, Mississippi State
While Poe is the best 0-technique nose tackle in the draft class, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox looks like the best 5-technique prospect to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme.
Possessing tremendous athletic ability at 298 pounds, Cox is a terrific interior penetrator who projects well to playing in the three-man front. Cox truly had a breakout junior season with 14.5 tackles for loss, a season in which he showed he can be a difference-maker at the line of scrimmage.
Cox remains raw as a prospect, and his transition to defensive end may not initially be smooth, but he has the potential to be a real standout in the National Football League.
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Mike Adams’s senior season got off to a very bad start, as he was among the five Ohio State players suspended for five games in the well-profiled memorabilia for tattoos scandal that rocked the Buckeyes football program. That said, Adams was a very good left tackle when he was on the field, and after a very good Senior Bowl week, he proved himself as a player who should be a starting-caliber offensive tackle at the next level.
Adams has the talent to be a starting-caliber left tackle, making him worthy of a first-round selection. At 6’7’’ and 323 pounds, Adams has tremendous size for the position, and he is a good athlete for his size.
Adams had a rough scouting combine, where he only put up 19 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press, and did not show up great athletically. That said, he does have good footwork, is a very good technician, and has displayed his ability as both a skilled pass protector and a powerful run blocker.
Adams has legitimate concerns, but should at least be able to start as a right tackle in the NFL, and has the upside to be a very good left tackle, so he is worth a first-round draft pick.
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Nick Perry’s productivity never quite lived up to his potential at USC, but the talent has always been there with moments of brilliance. Perry is a very talented pass rusher who displayed a tremendous combination of size and athleticism at the scouting combine, and has the potential to be a terrific NFL defensive end.
Perry is very explosive at the line of scrimmage, both with his strength and pass rush moves as well as with his quick burst off the line. Perry is not great against the run, and has problems with inconsistency, but he has the skill set and potential to be a three-down 4-3 defensive end.
Perry is not one of the safer picks of the first round, but his upside warrants a high draft selection for him.
No. 6 Seeds
The No. 6 seeds are players who should be safely among the first-round picture of the 2012 draft, but may not be considerably better than many of the players who will be drafted in the second round.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery had a disappointing junior season, in which his productivity dropped off considerably from his sophomore season. That said, a big factor in this drop-off was poor quarterback play, and Jeffery still displayed that he may be the most talented downfield receiver in this draft class.
Jeffery faces concerns over his long speed, but he has great size, strength and hands. When he is out in the open field, he is a very dangerous playmaker who is tough to defend. Even at the next level, opposing cornerbacks will have a tough time contending with his size, physicality and ability to make difficult catches.
Question marks surrounding Jeffery definitely raise bust potential with him, but his talent makes him the second-best wide receiver prospect in the class.
Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama
Courtney Upshaw was not the only star among the Alabama linebackers. Dont’a Hightower is a very talented inside linebacker who has the ability to be a difference-maker with his combination of tremendous size, athletic ability, quickness and ability to move in space.
Hightower is not the big-impact play-maker that Upshaw is, and he has had a tough time dealing with injuries over the course of his collegiate career. That said, he is a productive and instinctive inside linebacker.
Hightower is a very good run stopper who would fit best as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but has the talent and capability of playing in a 4-3 defense as well, and is one of the top linebackers in the draft class.
Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois
Whitney Mercilus was one of the breakout performers of last college football season. After two combined sacks in his first two seasons, Mercilus led the NCAA with 16 sacks. This burst onto the scene was no fluke: Mercilus is a terrific athlete who has a very explosive burst off the line of scrimmage, and is very skilled at finding his way into the backfield.
Mercilus’s stock is definitely put into question by the fact that he only had one productive year in college football, but with his ability to pursue the quarterback, he is a good fit as either a 4-3 defensive end or a hybrid outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, making him worth a first-round draft pick.
Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
In a loaded class of defensive tackles, Clemson’s Brandon Thompson could fall into the second round, but his talent would warrant a first-round selection. Thompson is a big, strong and explosive defensive lineman with potential as both a 3-technique defensive tackle and 5-technique defensive end.
Thompson is a very good penetrator at the line of scrimmage who can really make plays happen up front. Thompson has never been and is unlikely to be a consistently dominant force, but he can really make his presence felt on the field.
As a late first- or early second- round draft pick, a team should get a lesser-hyped but high-quality player in Thompson.
No. 7 Seeds
At the No. 7 seed line, these draft prospects are fringe first-round draft values who have the talent to be very good players at the next level, but are more risky, had less productivity, or are not expected to emerge as league-wide stars.
Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
In a very weak draft class of safeties, Mark Barron stands as the clear-cut best at the position group. Barron has very good size for the safety position, is a rangy athlete and is a very good tackler and strong run stopper.
Barron’s best traits are his ability to make tackles in the run game, hit hard and play with physicality. He is not a terrific coverage safety, but he has good ball skills and hip fluidity, so he should him defending the passing game in the middle of the field.
For a team in need of a strong safety, Barron is their best option in this draft class.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Of the four players at this seed line, Gilmore could be the most likely to emerge among the top players of the draft class. Gilmore is a very athletic cornerback who was very effective in coverage against the top wide receivers in the Southeastern Conference.
In addition to his ability at defending the pass, Gilmore has tremendous ball skills and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands, including his abilities as a punt returner. Gilmore also has very good size for the cornerback position, giving the ability to play man-to-man against the big, tall receivers he will faces if he plays on the outside at the next level.
Gilmore is not the lockdown cornerback that Claiborne and Kirkpatrick were, and is an inconsistent tackler, but as his game continues to develop, his overall skill set could make him a very good NFL defensive back.
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
At Wisconsin, which has become college football’s top offensive lineman factory, Peter Konz was the best center in the nation, and was a major reason behind the success of Wisconsin’s offense this year.
Konz has the size of a guard combined with the athleticism, technique and quickness off the snap typical of a center. While Konz was not as dominant as the top offensive line prospects in this class, he had a very consistent career at Wisconsin, and will be well-prepared to take over as a starting center immediately at the next level.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Michael Floyd has drawn many rave reviews for his ability as a wide receiver, and they come with good reason. As Floyd displayed at this year’s scouting combine combine, he is not only a big, physical wideout but he also possesses great sleep and athletic ability, as well as very good hands.
Floyd had a productive collegiate career, but his time at Notre Dame was marred by his barrage of off-field troubles, including three alcohol-related arrests. Additionally, while Floyd put up impressive statistics and had his share of very good moments, his performance was inconsistent.
Floyd has the skill set and potential to be a true No. 1 wideout at the next level, but is also one of the likeliest busts out of this draft class, which keeps him from being rated higher.
No. 8 Seeds
The No. 8 seeds do not stand out from the next few seed lines below them, but round out the top 32 prospects in the draft class.
Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Among the top wideouts in this year’s draft class, Baylor’s Kendall Wright is the most dangerous speed threat. Wright is a dangerous athlete with speed and quickness, and can really be an impact player with the plays he is capable of making in open field.
Wright really stepped up his level of play as a senior, which certainly helped out Robert Griffin III in his terrific progression last season. While Wright does not have great size, his ability to get deep, run very good routes and very good hands should turn Wright into a productive No. 2 or slot receiver at the next level.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
There is no running back in this draft class more dangerous in the open field than Miami’s Lamar Miller. Miller has a very dangerous combination of size and speed, which gives him the ability to run both outside and between the tackles to make plays.
Miller has struggled with inconsistency, but if it were not for the lack of first-round value for running backs, he would be among the top 32 players drafted, and still could be. Miller has the potential to make a big impact as a NFL rusher.
David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
As a junior, David Wilson was finally called upon to be the feature back for Virginia Tech, and he excelled in the increased role. Wilson, who had previously been a big-hitter as a situational back with his explosive speed and agility, actually had an increased yards per carry last season, all the while taking 290 rushing attempts to gain 1,709 yards, the fourth-highest total in the nation.
At the next level, Wilson will most likely return to being a situational speed back, but he has the size and strength to run with power as well. That said, his top trait is his ability to elude defenders with his agility, a trait that gives him the potential to be a game-changer in an NFL offense.
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
At only 5’9’’ and 195 pounds, LaMichael James is small for an NFL running back, which will severely limit his ability to run between the tackles at the next level. That said, James is an explosive back with elite speed, which gives him the ability to be a game-breaking rusher at the next level.
James was tremendously productive at Oregon, rushing for a career-high 1,805 yards last season, although he ranked among the top seven in rushing yards in each of his three seasons for the Ducks. While James’s size will prevent him from continuing to be an every-down back at the next level, and knock him out of the first round, he is a game-changing runner who should make an impact on an NFL offense.
No. 9 Seeds
While the No. 9 seeds fall outside of the top 32 prospects, these players could end up in the first round as easily as they could end up in the second round.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
If draft value was based simply upon on-field ability, Janoris Jenkins could have pushed Morris Claiborne to be the top cornerback in this year’s draft class. During Jenkins’s three years at Florida, he was one of the nation’s elite cornerbacks, and displayed his ability to be a terrific NFL defensive back.
Unfortunately, Jenkins’s off-field troubles have derailed his draft stock, and he is lucky to be ranked this highly. Prior to his senior season, Jenkins was dismissed from the Florida football program following drug-related arrests.
After playing his senior season at North Alabama, Jenkins appears to be headed in the right direction, as he displayed with a very honest and open press conference at the scouting combine. That said, his problems in the past cannot and will not be ignored by NFL teams, and those concerns could drop him into the second round.
Jenkins has the skill set to be a very good NFL cornerback, but the fact that he was unable to display it at the FBS level in his senior season, as well as his serious character red flags, hurt his draft stock significantly.
Zach Brown, OLB, South Carolina
Zach Brown will be one of the most athletic linebackers in the National Football League; he is a tremendous all-around athlete with true track speed and explosive quickness. However, his ability to truly play the linebacker position is very questionable for a potential first-round draft pick.
Brown is a talented individual with very high upside, and he had more than his fair share of impressive moments as an outside linebacker for North Carolina. As a senior, Brown was very productive, leading the Tar Heels with 105 tackles, including 13.5 for loss.
Brown’s athleticism is also very intriguing because of his potential to play in coverage. With his terrific athleticism in space, Brown has the ability to cover tight ends downfield, which is becoming increasingly important with the emergence of tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham who create positional mismatches.
In an NFL where hybrid offensive players are becoming more common, a linebacker who can run like a defensive back is certainly valuable. That said, Brown is an inconsistent tackler, and will need to become a more physical and tough linebacker to succeed at the next level.
Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska
Lavonte David is undersized for a linebacker at only 6’1’’ and 233 pounds, but if it were not for his lack of size, David would be a first-round draft pick.
A junior college transfer, David only played two seasons for Nebraska, but was terrific in both of them, with 285 total tackles. David has tremendous instincts that get him always around the play, and he is a sound tackler who hits hard and rarely whiffs.
David is also a very good athlete who does well at tracking down runners in space, and he is very effective at dropping back into pass coverage.
Some may look at David as a ‘tweener who lacks the size to play linebacker and the speed to play safety, but his instincts and tackling ability have made him very successful at the linebacker position, and should continue to translate to success at the next level. David has the skills to be a very good weakside linebacker at the next level.
Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Penn State’s Devon Still was one of the nation’s most disruptive defensive tackles last season. Still is a big, powerful defensive tackle who ranked among the nation’s top defensive linemen in college football last season, and is one of the best defensive line prospects in the draft.
Still is not a great athlete, but he is a strong, explosive penetrator who can control the line of scrimmage. Last season, Still had 17 tackles for loss for the Nittany Lions.
Still is not a great interior pass rusher, but his ability to get into the backfield and make tackles is key. He does not have anything that stands out about him enough to be a first-round pick, but is very capable of either being a starting defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, or as a 5-technique defensive end in a three-man front.
No. 10 Seeds
When it comes to being first-round picks, the No. 10 seeds are underdogs, but all are quality players who are not far out of being among the top 32 prospects in the draft.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
Dwayne Allen is the best tight end in the 2012 draft class, but in comparison to this year’s NCAA tournament, the strength of this year’s tight end class is not much better than being the basketball team of the Pac-12 Conference. While being the best at his position could sneak Allen into the late first round, the tight end class is very weak.
Allen is a well-rounded tight end who could end up being a very good NFL player, but his stock was very much hurt by a poor combine performance, where he did look very athletic. Allen is a reliable receiver with great hands, but he will not be a great downfield threat at the next level.
Unlike many modern tight ends, however, Allen is more than simply a receiving threat. He is a good in-line blocker, so his combined abilities of strong pass and run blocking as well as his talents as an intermediate receiver make him a tight end who will be able to stay on the field for all three downs.
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Chase Minnifield is one of the most solid all-around cornerbacks in the draft class. Minnifield has good size and length, and is smooth and disciplined.
Minnifield had 11 passes defended last season, and only did not have more because teams tended not to throw his way. Minnifield has great instincts, good ball skills, and is a solid tackler against the run.
Minnifield is not an elite athlete, and is not a dangerous playmaker who would be a first-round pick. That said, he is a very solid cornerback who can play both man and zone, and should be a solid second-round draft pick.
Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
Brandon Boykin is the most intriguing prospect in the entire draft. Boykin is a great athlete who is very smooth and fluid in coverage, and has the ability to be a game-changing playmaker at the next level.
Boykin is small and will most likely play the nickel cornerback position at the next level, but he is an instinctive cornerback with good hips and the ability to stay deep with opposing wideouts.
Boykin has added value as a punt return specialist. Boykin, who was the Bulldogs’ kick and punt return specialist and also moonlighted on offense in addition to being the team’s top cornerback, led Georgia in all-purpose yardage last season.
Boykin may not be a shutdown outside cornerback, but as a nickel back and return specialist, he could be very valuable, and is worth a second-round draft choice.
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Of the four No. 10 seeds, Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill is definitely the most likely to end up as a first-round draft selection. That is almost completely due to a terrific performance at the scouting combine, where he displayed a tremendous combination of size, athleticism and ability to catch the football.
Hill did not have the ball thrown his way often at Georgia Tech, but when he did he was a big play-making threat. As a result of the Yellow Jackets’ run-heavy triple-option offense, Hill only had 28 receptions last season, but had an incredible yards per catch average of 29.29.
Hill is 6’4’’ and 216 pounds, runs his 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range and showed his natural ability to catch the football at the combine. Hill’s biggest concern is his ability to run routes, as he ran mostly vertical straight-line routes at Georgia Tech, but he has the ability to be a real deep threat in the NFL.
Hill’s potential is very high as a result of his traits for big-play ability, and a coaching staff who can harness his potential could make him a star, a field-stretching deep threat in the mold of Randy Moss.
No. 11 Seeds
The No. 11 seeds should be outside of the first-round picture of the draft, but typically at least one No. 11 seed wins a game in the NCAA Tournament each year. These players are not currently first-round caliber prospects, but have the skill set to play up to that level in the NFL.
Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
Nick Toon’s productivity at Wisconsin was unspectacular, and his career was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. That said, Toon has a very impressive skill set, and has at times looked like a first-round draft pick.
Toon does not have elite speed, but he is a tall and strong receiver with the ability to run routes, get vertical, and make plays downfield. Toon has very reliable hands and often makes challenging catches.
Toon is unlikely to be an NFL star, but has the skill set to be a very solid and productive No. 2 outside receiver at the next level. He should be a solid second-round draft choice.
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
LSU’s Michael Brockers will most likely be drafted within the first round of the NFL draft, but of any potential high draft pick, Brockers may be the biggest potential bust.
There is plenty to like about Brockers. Brockers is a very big defensive tackle who showed in his time at LSU that he is a very explosive penetrator and dangerous interior pass rusher, giving him big upside as a 3-technique defensive tackle or 5-technique defensive end.
That said, Brockers was only a rotational player for the Tigers, and after playing minimally as a freshman, his redshirt sophomore season was the only year that he made a big impact for LSU, as he declared early.
Additionally, while Brockers is supposed to be one of the most explosive athletes among the defensive tackles in the draft class, he did not test very well at the scouting combine, especially compared to first-round defensive tackle prospects Fletcher Cox and Dontari Poe.
Brockers has the upside to be an impact player on an NFL defensive line, and his potential is worth taking a chance on in the second round. However, a team who takes Brockers in the first round could be making a crucial mistake.
Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
After leading the nation with nine interceptions in his sophomore season, he only had three as a junior, but this came mostly as a result of opposing teams deciding not to pass in his direction. Hosley is a very solid cornerback prospect who could be a good second or third cornerback in an NFL secondary.
Hosley does not great size or strength, and can be too prone to being overaggressive and biting on plays when he should not. On the positive side of things, Hosley is a very good athlete with deep speed and fluid hips, and he does a terrific job of making plays on the football.
Hosley’s tackling is not great, but he should be able to help a team in pass coverage immediately, and is a solid second-round draft choice.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard is not nearly the prospect that Prince Amukamara was as a cornerback coming out of Nebraska last season, but he is a very solid cornerback who should have a solid NFL future.
Dennard does not have great speed for a cornerback, but he is a well-built, physical defensive back. He is an instinctive player who is good at making plays on the football in the air, and he is a very effective tackler in run support.
Dennard is somewhat stiff-hipped and not a top athlete at the position, but his overall skill set should enable him to overcome his deficiencies and be a productive player at the next level.
No. 12 Seeds
The No. 12 seed line is typically around where the “bubble” for at-large teams lies in the NCAA Tournament, and is also where the bubble begins for second-round value, as the players listed here rate between second- and third- round grades.
Kelechi Osemele, G, Iowa State
Kelechi Osemele was a terrific left tackle at Iowa State, but he lacks the feet to play the position at the next level. Fortunately, Osemele is a massive and very strong lineman who should be able to make a natural transition by moving inside and playing guard.
Osemele’s lack of athleticism could present an issue against explosive interior pass rushers, and he is somewhat of a projection. That said, he is very strong and powerful, giving him the ability to drive back defenders and the potential to be dominant.
A team in need of help at guard will most likely take a chance on Osemele in the second round, and should end up with a quality starting NFL guard.
Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
Vinny Curry was one of the best defensive ends in college football during his time at Marshall, finishing his career strong with 22 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles in his senior season. Curry is a skilled edge rusher who is very good at getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc.
Curry does not have great speed, but he has an explosive get-off and is good in change-of-direction. He is not quite the natural athlete that scouts covet in a pass rusher, but he has a terrific motor, uses good technique and has a knack for making plays.
Curry may not be the dominant player he was in Conference USA against NFL competition, but he is a talented hybrid 4-3 defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker who should be a solid starter at the next level.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
Unlike most NFL draft prospects who range between the ages of 21 and 23 years old, Brandon Weeden is already 28 years old. Weeden’s age hurts his draft stock due to the limited longevity it places upon his career and his limited upside, but he is a skilled quarterback who has the potential to start at the next level.
With Weeden’s age comes maturity, and he is an intelligent quarterback. Unlike the typical spread-offense quarterback, Weeden has a strong arm, as well as the ability to throw accurate downfield passes, good footwork and pocket presence.
Weeden will most likely spend most of his career as a second-string quarterback, but would be a very good fit in that role, and has the ability to start when needed, although he is not quite a franchise quarterback. Even so, with the number of teams with needs at the quarterback position, Weeden could easily end up being a first-round draft pick, possibly to the Cleveland Browns.
Weeden should be drafted no higher than the second round, but he is the best quarterback in the draft not named Luck or Griffin, which helps his stock even though his age hurts his stock.
Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson
Clemson has been a factory for defensive line prospects in recent years, and they have another hybrid pass rusher coming out of their school this season in Andre Branch.
Branch is a very explosive athlete with the ability to rush off the edge and be a dynamic defensive player. Branch’s pass rushing ability will be attractive to any team who needs to bring more pressure on opposing quarterback, but his best fit would be in moving back to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
While Branch did have 16 tackles for loss as a senior, his hype has always outweighed his productivity. He is a good athlete who uses his abilities well to beat defenders and get into the backfield to make plays, but he struggling with run defense at the point of attack, and does not have great strength.
Branch would be a good choice in the second round given his potential, but he will most likely end up as a situational pass rusher at the next level.
No. 13 Seeds
The No. 13 seed line usually starts to become comprised of teams in the NCAA Tournament who are in the tournaments with automatic bids, and would not have gotten in otherwise. When it comes to these draft prospects, they end up in the second-round draft picture based on their overall standing, but their value really stands in the third round.
Ben Jones, C, Georgia
Ben Jones has been a four-year starter in the Southeastern Conference, and has consistently been among the best interior linemen in the nation’s strongest college football conference. Jones is not a dominant center, but he has a well-rounded game that will translate well to the next level.
There is nothing spectacular about Jones’s game, but there are no significant weaknesses in it either, which is as important as anything for an offensive line. He will lose some battles against the big, explosive defensive tackles that he will face at the next level, but is a consistent blocker in both the passing and rushing offense who is resilient and has a high motor.
For a team in need of a starting center, Jones would be a good option to draft late in the second round or early in the third round.
Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
Of all the talented draft prospects coming out of Boise State, the one who really intrigues me is Shea McClellin. McClellin is a skilled pass rusher and terrific athlete who is very reminiscent as a draft prospect to Brooks Reed, a 2011 second-round draft pick of the Houston Texans.
Like Reed, McClellin did not put up big statistics in college, but he often makes his presence felt upon games. He is an explosive pass rusher with very good get-off and the ability to track down runners in space.
At only 260 pounds, McClellin is undersized for an NFL defensive end, so his fit is almost exclusive to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He could be a situational pass rusher at defensive end, but he has high upside as an outside linebacker.
McClellin is a high-motor player, and his combination of pass rush skill and athletic ability could really translate well to being a dynamic hybrid pass rusher in the National Football League. He would be a solid choice in the second round, and could end up being a steal.
Ladarius Green, TE, Louisiana-Lafayette
Ladarius Green is the top receiving threat among tight ends in the 2012 draft class. At only 237 pounds and with minimal experience as an in-line blocker, Green’s strength and ability to block are major concerns, but at 6’6’’ and with terrific athletic ability, Green can be a very dangerous receiving threat in the middle of the field.
Having played in the Sun Belt, Green is no household name, but in a league where the tight end is frequently becoming dominated by tall, athletic players who are dynamic downfield receivers, he has the ability to become one. Green has great speed, an impressive vertical leap and very good hands.
Green may never be much of a blocker in the NFL, which should knock him down to the third round of the draft, but as a receiver, he could have a similar impact to Jimmy Graham, a player whose blend of size and athleticism creates a serious mismatch for defenders.
Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Over the past two seasons, Boise State’s Doug Martin has emerged as one of the top running backs in college football, and also as a very legitimate NFL prospect.
Martin has good size for the running back position and is a good athlete. Martin has a very good burst, runs with a low center of gravity and strong power and he has terrific ball-carrier vision. Martin also has good hands out of the backfield.
At the running back position where talent is always more deep than spectacular, Martin lacks the qualities that should make a running back worth drafting in the top two rounds, but as a late second-round or early third-round draft choice, Martin could be a very good addition to an NFL backfield.
No. 14 Seeds
At the No. 14 seed line, these are good prospects who have earned their way among the group of the top prospects in the draft class, but are not expected to be among the top 32 players to come out of the 2012 draft. But just as a No. 14 seed sometimes pulls off the surprising upset over a No. 3 seed, these players have the ability to end up doing that in the end.
Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Kendall Reyes is a very intriguing prospect. He was not a dominant force at Connecticut, but he had a tremendous week at the Senior Bowl, and kept his momentum on the upward swing with a great performance at the scouting combine.
Reyes has a long frame, terrific strength (which he displayed with 36 repetitions of 225 pounds in the combine bench press) and great athleticism for a defensive lineman. Reyes has explosive athleticism which he has displayed that he can utilize as a penetrating 3-technique defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl.
Reyes will also be attractive as a 5-technique defensive end to 3-4 defenses, as his athletic ability and ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage are very useful skills in that position. Reyes did not exactly stand out at Connecticut, but the abilities he has displayed could make him a second-round draft choice.
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
There is plenty to like about Chris Polk. He is a strong power back with great vision and good athleticism for a power back, and he is coming off of a senior season in which he ran for 1,488 yards.
That said, the thoughts of him being a potential first-round draft pick are a real stretch of Polk’s abilities. While Polk is a solid and productive back, he has never been a standout. The third round is much more reasonable value for him.
Polk should be a very solid back in a two or three running back rotation at the next level, but not worth investing a high draft selection on.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The premise that Ryan Tannehill could be a top-10 overall, or even a first-round draft pick is appalling to me. While Tannehill showed some very impressive aspects of his game in his two seasons as a quarterback at Texas A&M, he is by no means a first-round talent.
Tannehill has a good arm, but not great by NFL standards. He played in a pro-style offense where he made NFL-quality throws, but only did so with a subpar completion percentage of 61.7 percent.
Tannehill’s top trait may be his athleticism, as he also played wide receiver early in his Aggies career, and that translates well to his ability to run with the football. However, he will be primarily a pocket passer at the next level; he has good footwork and pocket presence, but his accuracy and decision-making are a definite work in progress.
Tannehill has talent, and would be a great third-round choice for a team looking to develop a quarterback, but he would be a reach above the middle of the second round.
Bobby Wagner, OLB, Utah State
Bobby Wagner had terrific productivity at Utah State, including 147 total tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss in his senior season. He has the skills for that productivity to translate well to the next level; he has great instincts, a knack for finding the football and making plays, and is a consistent tackler.
Wagner is not an elite athlete, but is more than adequate all-around athletically to play outside linebacker. Wagner has the speed to track down runners in space and make tackles and he is also good in pass coverage.
Wagner should be a solid third-round draft pick, and could end up in the latter portion of the second round.
No. 15 Seeds
Rarely do No. 15 seeds prevail in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but as this year’s tournament has proven, it can happen. Ranking players in the No. 15 seed line is not to say that they are unexpected to succeed, but that these players are end up as good but not spectacular talents.
Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
Shaun Prater’s numbers dipped across the board this season, but this was mainly due to the decrease of one very important number to a cornerback: the amount of times he was targeted. Prater, a very consistent cover corner who rarely gets beat, did not have the ball thrown his way nearly as often in his senior year.
Prater is not a big-play cornerback, so his contributions can easily be overlooked, but he is a very solid defensive back. He is athletic, is skilled in both man and zone coverage, and plays with physicality.
Prater has the skills to be a solid No. 2 or nickel cornerback in the NFL, and should be a solid third-round draft choice.
Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State
Nigel Bradham is a play-making linebacker. He is a very good athlete and sound tackler who has the ability to make plays all over the field.
Bradham never emerged as the star he was expected to be at Florida State, but he was a productive player who came up with his fair share of big plays for the Seminoles. Bradham is a well-rounded linebacker; he is very solid against the run and tracking down rushers, has the skills to break through the line of scrimmage and make stops in the backfield and he is also good at dropping back into pass coverage.
Bradham’s projection to the next level is not easy to make, but he definitely has the potential to be a starting 4-3 outside linebacker. He should be a solid third-round draft choice.
Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
Casey Hayward is not a household name as a draft prospect, but he has really come along as a solid Day Two draft choice and one of the better defensive backs of the 2012 class.
Hayward had a very productive career at Vanderbilt, accumulating 17 pass defenses in each of the past two seasons. Hayward does not have great speed, but makes up for what he lacks with very good ball skills and instincts, and he is a strong tackler who is not afraid to play with physicality.
Hayward could be a sleeper among cornerbacks in this draft class to become a very solid No. 2 cornerback at the next level. He is a solid late second-round or early third-round draft choice.
Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
Juron Criner has some serious concerns as a draft prospect. He was injury-plagued during his career at Arizona, and he has very poor speed for an NFL wide receiver, running his 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds at the scouting combine.
That said, Criner would be a legitimate choice as a late second-round draft pick. Criner makes up for his lack of speed with great size, strength, very reliable hands, impressive leaping ability. He is also a terrific route runner.
Criner showed his ability to make the tough catches throughout his collegiate career, and he was a productive play-maker in the Arizona offense. Criner’s lack of long speed limits his NFL potential, but he has the skills to make up for his lack of speed and still be a very solid third or fourth wideout at the next level, and is well worth a third-round draft selection.
No. 16 Seeds
The No. 16 seeds are the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament. For the last prospects to break into the seedings for the 2012 NFL Draft, I change things up. Rather than going straight down my overall ratings board, as I did for the first 15 seed lines, the No. 16 seeds are made up of the top four remaining small-school prospects who could go from draft sleepers to future standouts.
In the NCAA Tournament, No. 16 seeds are never expected to win, but just as they challenge to overcome the odds and lack of recognition they receive, these small-schoolers will try to make a name for themselves and end up being better than many of the players drafted above them.
Trumaine Johnson, FS/CB, Montana
As a cornerback at Montana, Trumaine Johnson was absolutely dominant, and showed the skills with which he could have flourished in the SEC, let alone in the FCS.
Johnson has great size, tackles well and showed his ability to be a lockdown corner collegiately. However, Johnson only ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, a slow time for a cornerback, and he will likely be moved to free safety at the next level.
With Johnson’s size and strength, ability to tackle and coverage skills, Johnson projects well to the free safety. However, given that he would be a projection to a new position and he played against a lower level of collegiate competition, Johnson should be selected no higher than the third round.
Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State
Brian Quick was very productive at Appalachian State, and has an intriguing combination of size and speed. At 6’4’’ and 220 pounds, Quick is a big receiver, and he combines with strength, great route-running and quickness in and out of breaks.
Having player at a lower level of competition and not having played many years of competitive football, Quick is raw and unproven but has high upside. A team that takes a chance on Quick could end up a very productive No. 2 wideout in the National Football League.
Quick has a very good chance to be a third-round draft choice.
James Brown, G, Troy
James Brown is an intriguing product of the Sun Belt Conference. Brown was a terrific left tackle at Troy, but seems to be a very natural fit to kick inside at play guard at the next level.
At 306 pounds, Brown has good size to play guard, and he is a good athlete for his size. He is a solid pass-protector, and is a strong run blocker.
Brown’s versatility as both a guard and offensive tackle prospect really helps his draft stock, as he will likely start out as a backup, but has the skill set to develop into a quality starter. He would be a great choice as a fourth-round draft pick.
Brandon Brooks, G, Miami (OH)
Miami University’s Brandon Brooks was one of the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine’s biggest snubs. How did he respond? He had a tremendous performance at Miami’s pro day, running his 40-yard dash in under five seconds and putting up 36 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, all the while measuring in at a well-built 346 pounds.
Brooks is a massive and very strong guard who had a tremendous showing at the East-West Shrine Game, and has the potential to be a terrific guard at the next level. Because most of his competition came against MAC schools, Brooks’s ability to guard top defensive linemen at the next level will be put into question, but he has big upside.
Brooks would be a great choice as a potential sleeper and likely starting right guard in the fourth round of the draft.