NFL Draft 2012: Ranking the Top 10 Prospects by Clutch Factor

Jeff Kayer@thereal_kmanCorrespondent IApril 23, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: Ranking the Top 10 Prospects by Clutch Factor

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    We are just days away from the NFL draft. Some people are saying it is lacking some sort of "oomph."

    After all, with the top two draft picks all but assured, and with most top prospects already targeted in the first round, there is a certain amount of drama missing.  However, as we all know, the draft will never go as anyone totally expects.

    For example, who predicted Christian Ponder would be a top-15 pick last year? 

    There are a lot of organizations that base their selections on talent, future potential and the amazing abilities displayed at the scouting combine. However, an attribute that is very important is how clutch they are in the biggest of moments.

    Are players apt to come through in the most important moments? Or do they fold like a lawn chair? 

    Therefore, let's take a look at the 10 prospects most likely to come through in the big moment. 

Dont'a Hightower: Alabama

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    Hightower was a big name his freshman year in 2008 and helped lead Alabama's defense as a true freshman. The bloom came off the rose in 2009, though, when he suffered a torn ACL.

    However, he came back to have productive seasons in 2010 and 2011, culminating in a national title for the Crimson Tide.

    Hightower may have been overshadowed by other players on his team, but he's been an anchor for one of the best defenses in recent memory since coming to Alabama. The guy knows how to win and has been part of teams that have won or competed for championships every year.

    He's a guy who can step onto the field from day one and be ready to become an immediate contributor on the team and be relied upon to make a big tackle. 

Andrew Luck: Stanford

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    Luck will undoubtedly be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Indianapolis Colts have already confirmed it.

    Scouts believe he has all the talent and mindset to be one of the greats in the NFL. However, while his college career was marked by great statistics and a ton of victories for Stanford, he also failed to get his team to a national championship.

    Sure, hardly any college quarterbacks achieve that. But Luck had his team in position to go to a title game in 2010 and 2011, but in the most important games in the regular season, he didn't get his team through.

    Did his team lack the talent? Quite possibly. It should also be noted that quarterbacks like Peyton Manning at Tennessee didn't win a championship.

    But Luck had the chance to put his team in a BCS title game and failed. For that reason, he ends up here on the list. 

Michael Floyd: Notre Dame

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    Despite the fact there was a quarterback merry-go-round in South Bend, Michael Floyd was out there catching balls thrown every which way.

    No top-fight receiver in this draft had to put up with so much turmoil going on in the pocket.  Thanks to Floyd's 100 receptions and nine touchdowns, he helped salvage a good season for the Fighting Irish.

    Floyd isn't the fastest receiver in this draft; in fact, he is far from it. But he appears to be a guy who can help just about any quarterback look better.

Kellen Moore: Boise State

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    This is the one person on this list that will likely fall down the draft charts because of his size and average arm strength, no one can deny just how special Kellen Moore was at Boise State.

    The stats are simply incredible:

    – 50-3 as a starter;

    – 14,467 yards passing in four years;

    – 142 touchdown passes to just 28 interceptions.

    Like Luck, though, his biggest knock will be that he couldn't win the big game in the regular season when it mattered most. He had two chances to lead his team to a national championship game and lost to inferior competition.

    With that said, Moore helped prove to everyone that Boise State was not a one-year flash in the pan. His wins against Oregon and at Georgia in Atlanta prove he can go against some of the nation's best teams and vanquish them.

    The odds are stacked against him in the NFL, but never count Moore out. 

Dre Kirkpatrick: Alabama

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    We can debate endlessly if Kirkpatrick is a high-quality individual. His arrest this past year raises eyebrows about whether he will be a troublemaker off the field.

    However, on the field, Kirkpatrick became one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in college football. On the biggest stage, he outdueled Morris Claiborne in the national championship game. 

    Though he did not make as many highlight reels with his play, it was incredibly solid from start to finish in 2011 and he has ensured his eventual draft selection somewhere in the first round. 

Robert Griffin III: Baylor

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    "RG3," as people like to call him, catapulted onto the scene in 2011 with his stellar play for non-traditional football school Baylor. His play and leadership were so incredible that he won the Heisman Trophy and a very memorable Alamo Bowl against the Washington Huskies, 67-56.

    A reason Griffin is not higher on this list is the unknown factor if he can do this for an entire career. Unlike Luck, Moore and other quarterbacks in this draft class, he only has one truly great year to measure.

    Despite the fact that his team never competed for a championship, Griffin took a school that is more known for being a cellar-dweller in the Big 12 and made them very competitive. Can he do that now with the Redskins? 

    If I had to wager, my money would be that he can.

Morris Claiborne: LSU

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    He may have been outplayed by his Alabama counterpart in the national championship game, but the Claiborne doesn't give a...well, you know.

    The hysteria of Claiborne quieted down a bit after he and his LSU Tigers put forth a pretty putrid performance against Alabama in the national championship last year. It should not take away the great year he had, though—the kind of year that in other seasons may have ended with him holding a Heisman Trophy.

    Did he have one bad game? Yes. Every guy on this list is guilty of that. But he helped carry the LSU defense and took down tough competition all year, especially on the road. They just happened to run into a better team in the BCS title game. 

Trent Richardson: Alabama

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    For the final three selections here, you could easily argue any of them going No. 1.

    Richardson was straight-up awesome in his Alabama career. He nearly came in and stole the Heisman Trophy away from all the quarterbacks with his nearly 1,700-yard performance last year, scoring 24 total touchdowns along the way.

    From his first game to the last, Richardson made an impact with Alabama and it ended up with him winning a national championship. He has the physical tools to be the next great running back in football.

    It tells you something, that in a day and age when franchise running backs are found in later rounds as much as they are in the first days of the draft, that many people believe Richardson could go as high as fourth in the draft. 

    Personally, I think it would be smart for the Vikings to target him, because you never know how badly hurt Adrian Peterson is. Additionally, with Jay Cutler, Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers in your division, the best way to make sure they don't complete passes is keeping them off the field.

    Richardson and Peterson could be the best one-two running back combo the NFL has seen in years.

Matt Kalil: USC

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    How do you define perfection?

    How about not surrendering a single sack for an entire year and helping to anchor an offensive line that only gave up eight total in an entire football season.

    That was how good Kalil was for USC in 2011 and it is why he is likely going to be taken No. 3 overall in this draft.

    You really can't get more clutch than Kalil. He did virtually everything right during the season. Had USC not been on probation, they would have been a national title contender, and part of that is due to Kalil making sure Matt Barkley had a clean jersey almost every week.

    Ultimately, though, I just felt the person at No. 1 was more noticeable in the biggest moments last season. 

Justin Blackmon: Oklahoma State

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    Justin Blackmon put up the kind of stats you'd expect from a guy like Calvin Johnson, who is a physical freak of nature.

    Blackmon is not the biggest at 6'1", nor the strongest at 220 lbs. and isn't even the fastest receiver on the board. Yet there he was week in and week out for two seasons catching virtually anything thrown his way.

    His last two seasons don't get much better. 232 receptions for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns. 

    Again, he may not be the biggest or the fastest, but the guy has an incredible will to win and, in my opinion, he defines clutch.