2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking College Football's Must-Watch Pro Prospects
Now that the 2012 NFL draft is officially in the books, college football fans will have to wave one final bittersweet goodbye to many of the big-name stars like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon, who dazzled us with their breathtaking abilities last season.
As the NFL welcomes in a new wave of young talent, it’s now time for college fans to turn their attention to the players of the future, and it’s not too early to start thinking about the 2013 NFL draft.
At this time last year, right after the conclusion of the 2011 draft, everyone was busy hyping up players like Luck, Richardson, Blackmon and other top prospects as future NFL stars.
While some highly touted prospects such as Quinton Coples, Alshon Jeffery and Vontaze Burfict failed to live up to preseason expectations, they were offset by the many breakout performances from surprise under-the-radar prospects who went flying up draft boards last season.
That’s the one thing that I love about college football so much. Every season, new stars are born and every year, breakout players step out onto the national stage and into the spotlight.
Before the start of last season, who would have thought that we would soon be calling Robert Griffin III a franchise-saving quarterback?
Who would have thought that defensive linemen like Dontari Poe and Melvin Ingram would eventually end up as Top 20 picks?
And who exactly was projecting prospects like Shea McClellin and A.J. Jenkins to be first-round selections?
The answer to those questions is nobody, and that’s the true beauty of the sport.
Like I said, every year, new stars are born.
As we now begin to look at college football’s notable NFL prospects for the 2013 NFL draft, obviously names like USC QB Matt Barkley, Alabama OL Barrett Jones and Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o are going to headline most preseason lists.
But as we’ve seen time and time again, the road to the NFL draft is a long one with plenty of twists and turns, and there are sure to be prospects who rise and those who fall over the course of the next year.
We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s exciting to think that we now get to begin another new journey.
Here’s an in-depth look at the top eligible NFL prospects that you need to keep an eye on during the 2012 season.
Let the countdown to the 2013 NFL draft officially begin!
1. QB Matt Barkley, USC
Now that Andrew Luck has moved on to the NFL, college football is in need of a new cover boy to fawn over, and it looks like USC QB Matt Barkley is ready for the role.
Not only will Barkley enter the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, he'll also be the consensus favorite to be the first overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
Like his former PAC-12 counterpart Luck, Barkley possesses all the tools that NFL teams are looking for in a franchise quarterback, and if he had decided to enter the 2012 draft, he would have been a guaranteed Top-5 pick.
Last year, the 6'2'', 220-pound senior enjoyed the best season of his college career, throwing for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns and leading the Trojans to a 10-2 record.
Barkley may not possess the size of a prototypical pro-style pocket passer, but he has every other trait—arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, confidence, intangibles and leadership ability—to flourish in an NFL offense.
Barkley isn't the true "slam dunk" No. 1 pick that Andrew Luck was, but if he can lead USC to a PAC-12 championship and put up the kind of numbers that he did in 2011, it's hard to see any other quarterback in the country overtaking him for the top spot in the 2013 draft.
2. DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
If you thought that the group of pass rushers for the 2012 draft was strong, then you haven't seen anything yet. If all the top underclassmen end up declaring for next year's draft, we could potentially see one of the deepest and most talented groups of pass rushers ever in 2013.
I expect the leader of that class to be LSU DE Barkevious Mingo.
Mingo is good enough right now to start for at least 10 different NFL teams, and if he had decided to enter the 2012 NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, he could have been this draft's version of Aldon Smith.
The 6'5'', 240-pound junior is a true freak of nature, and he's the type of physical specimen that can make even the most hardened NFL scout drool with envy.
If you want to see the epitome of a pass-rushing prodigy in action, I suggest you go find yourself a copy of last year's LSU vs. Oregon game, because Mingo showed some truly spectacular flashes during that contest.
Last year, the dynamic defensive end finished the season with eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and the scary part is, he may only be starting to tap his true potential.
Mingo is so big and moves with such elegance that it seems at times that he's simply playing at a different speed than everyone else out on the field .
While he still has to get stronger against the run and add some more muscle to his lanky frame before he goes up against NFL-caliber offensive tackles, Mingo is the type of big, strong and explosive edge rusher who could flourish as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL.
Mingo is certainly a rare defensive end prospect, and he definitely has what it takes to be the first defensive player selected in the 2013 NFL draft.
SEC offensive tackles, you have my pity.
3. WR Robert Woods, USC
The scary thing about USC this year is that the Trojans might not have just the top overall NFL prospect in the country in QB Matt Barkley, they may have the top two offensive prospects with Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods.
Last season, Barkley and Woods did plenty of damage to opposing secondaries, and the two proved to be a truly explosive passing combination. Woods hauled in 111 passes for 1,292 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in 2011, which is frightening to think about given the fact that he was just a true sophomore.
The 6'1'', 180-pound former five-star recruit has certainly lived up to his lofty high school hype, and he now looks poised to assume Justin Blackmon's title as college football's most dominant receiver.
With a perfect combination of size, speed, hands and route-running instincts, Woods is a special talent, and with him and fellow star receiver Marqise Lee both returning, Matt Barkley will have the type of dangerous receiving tandem he needs to tear apart the PAC-12 next season.
Physically, you couldn't build an ideal elite receiver from scratch that would look much better than Woods. He's got future Top-Five pick written all over him.
4. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
There has been at least one offensive tackle selected in the Top 10 of every draft since 2005, and that trend is likely to continue in 2013 if Michigan's Taylor Lewan can have the type of season that many are anticipating.
Lewan is the most talented lineman to come through Ann Arbor since Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft.
He literally has everything you look for in a potential "franchise" offensive tackle prospect.
After redshirting during his freshman season in 2009, Lewan stepped into the starting lineup in 2010 and became an instant standout. He continued to mature into one of the most dominant run-blocking left tackles in the country last season, and he now looks poised for an All-American campaign in 2012.
The 6'8'', 302-pound junior obviously has the size and the frame that NFL teams are searching for in a left tackle, but he also has the type of raw power and natural agility to control defenders as either a run blocker or a pass blocker.
Lewan isn't as polished of a product as Matt Kalil was going into his junior season at USC last year, however, he has all the physical tools and traits to develop into an elite prospect in 2012.
If Lewan works on his pass blocking and fixes some minor flaws in his technique over the offseason, he has a great opportunity to become the premier offensive tackle prospect in college football next season.
5. DE Alex Okafor, Texas
With Sam Acho gone, the Texas defensive line needed someone to step up and become a leader last season, and DE Alex Okafor did just that, elevating his play and becoming a pass-rushing force.
Okafor teamed with Jackson Jeffcoat to give the Longhorns one of the most dominant defensive-end duos in the country in 2011, and the bad news for Big 12 offensive tackles is that both will be back next season.
While Texas has had plenty of defensive linemen like Tim Crowder, Frank Okam and Kheeston Randall, who have failed to live up to their offseason hype in recent years, Okafor looks like he's the real deal.
Last season, the 6'4'', 260-pound junior racked up seven sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 14 quarterback hurries, as he was a constant presence in opposing offenses' backfields.
What's really frightening is that Okafor is the type of star pass rusher who hasn't even come close to hitting his ceiling yet.
If he can manage to get a little stronger and add a little more muscle to his already intimidating frame over the offseason, there's no telling what Okafor could be capable of in 2012.
6. OT/OG Barrett Jones, Alabama
Alabama's Barrett Jones isn't just the most talented offensive lineman in the country, he's also the most versatile. Jones has lined up at both guard and tackle during his time in Tuscaloosa, and he's now set to make the move to center as a senior.
After winning the Outland Trophy and playing a key role in Alabama's run to a national championship last season, Jones could have opted to enter the 2012 NFL draft and likely competed with Riley Reiff to be the second offensive lineman taken.
However, Jones decided to return to school for one more year to defend his title as college football's best lineman.
The 6'5'', 302-pound senior is a standout run blocker who has the strength and determination to pancake any unfortunate defender who gets in his way, and he also has the athleticism and sound technique to hold his own as a pass blocker.
Jones is likely destined to be a guard in the NFL, but he's the type of rare interior lineman prospect who is worthy of being a Top 20 pick.
7. DE/OLB Sam Montgomery, LSU
One of the things that irked me last season was when analysts would call CB Tyrann Mathieu the MVP of the LSU defense. If you actually watched any Tigers games last season, you would know that the three best players on the Tigers' tenacious defense were cornerback Morris Claiborne, who was drafted by Dallas with the No 6. pick in this year's draft, and defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
Montgomery and Mingo could have both entered the 2012 NFL draft and been first-round picks. However, now that they've decided to return to Baton Rouge, they will once again form the most dangerous defensive-end duo in college football for next season.
Like Mingo, Montgomery could start for at least 10 different NFL teams right now, and both have the chance to develop into Top 10 picks over the course of next season.
The 6'4'', 245-pound Montgomery may be a bit undersized to be a 4-3 defensive end in the pros, but he has the perfect physical makeup and skill set to flourish as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
Montgomery racked up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2011, and he displayed the kind of speed off the edge, elite pass-rushing moves and nonstop motor that will have NFL scouts enamored with his ability.
With Montgomery and Mingo leading the charge up front, LSU should have the nation's most disruptive defensive line for the second season in a row in 2012.
8. QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Some people around the SEC wondered how Tyler Wilson would fare trying to replace a highly productive and flashy quarterback like Ryan Mallett.
But it didn't take long for those skeptics to realize that Wilson was the real deal. In his first season as a starter, Wilson outperformed his predecessor, leading the Razorbacks to 11 wins and a Top Five national ranking.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior threw for over 3,600 yards and completed 63 percent of his passes in 2011, and he proved to be a perfect fit for Bobby Petrino's offense.
Now that Petrino has been booted from Arkansas, though, Wilson and the rest of the Razorbacks will have their resilience put to the test in 2012.
If Wilson can show that he can handle the pressure and adversity that he's sure to face in the SEC West race, and if he can step up and become a true team leader next season, he's got the type of NFL-caliber arm strength and accuracy to really wow scouts.
While he may not be able to catch Matt Barkley for the No. 1 pick, Wilson does have what it takes to be a Top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and I ultimately envision him developing into a Tony Romo-type of passer in the NFL.
Look for Wilson to have Arkansas right in the thick of the SEC race in 2012, even without Petrino at the helm, and don't be surprised if you start hearing Heisman buzz surrounding his name by the midpoint of the season.
9. WR Marquess Wilson, Washington State
Marquess Wilson is one of the many examples of why scouting high school football recruits is such an inexact science. Only two BCS schools—Washington State and Arizona State—came knocking on Wilson's door with a scholarship offer during his time at California's Tulare Union High School.
However, you can bet that all the PAC-12 schools that overlooked the big, talented receiver are now regretting it.
Wilson has been tearing up the conference during his first two seasons in Pullman, and he's already caught 137 passes for 2,152 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.
The 6'4'', 183-pound junior was Washington State's only real offensive threat last season, yet even though defenses focused most of their attention on him, they still couldn't contain him.
What's so scary to think about is now that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is installing his pass-happy Air Raid system, and now that QB Jeff Tuel is back from injury, Wilson could be primed to have the biggest season of his career in 2012.
Wilson may lack true blazing deep speed, but he makes up for it with his size, hands, leaping ability and ball-tracking vision.
The big, athletic receiver is simply a mismatch waiting to happen, and if there's any receiver in the country who's going to steal Robert Woods' thunder in 2012, it's going to be Marquess Wilson.
10. LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
In today's NFL, inside linebacker is no longer a premium position in terms of draft value, and although Boston College's Luke Kuechly was taken with the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft, it's rare that a primarily inside 'backer will crack the Top 10.
There is one inside linebacker, though, who could be worthy of such a high selection in the 2013 draft, and it's Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.
Te'o has been a true defensive difference-maker during his three years in South Bend, as he's led the team in tackles the past two seasons and combined to rack up 324 total stops in his career.
The 6'2'', 255-pound senior may still be somewhat limited in pass coverage, but he certainly flourishes against the run, as Te'o has always shown the type of fiery passion, toughness and tenacity that you want to see in a run-stuffing inside backer.
Te'o could have entered the 2012 NFL draft and competed with Dont'a Hightower to be the second inside linebacker to come off the board, but instead, he decided he wanted to finish off his college career on a high note after being a part of two recent mediocre campaigns.
The intimidating former five-star recruit will once again be the linchpin of a Notre Dame defensive front seven that should be one of the strongest in the country in 2012. If Te'o can prove that he is no longer a liability in pass coverage, he has a great chance to be a Top 15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
11. DE William Gholston, Michigan State
DT Jerel Worthy, who was just selected by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, was supposed to be the leader of the Michigan State defensive line last season. However, DE William Gholston turned out to be the biggest difference-maker up front for the Spartans, as he notched five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2011.
The 6'7'', 280-pound junior has the type of build and skill set to play end in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme in the NFL, and that type of versatility should only enhance his value.
Gholston is a big, powerful edge-rusher who possesses surprising quickness and agility for his size, and he plays the game with a true mean streak.
The only problem with Gholston is that he crossed the line from playing hard to playing dirty on a few occasions in 2011, including the time he drew negative publicity for twisting Michigan QB Denard Robinson's face mask at the bottom of a pile.
If Gholston can show scouts that he can control his emotions and still play with the same type of energy we saw from him last season, he has a chance to be one of the most highly valued prospects in what is shaping up to be another deep defensive end crop for the 2013 draft.
12. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
I imagine that most people will have North Carolina State's David Amerson ranked as the top cornerback prospect going into the 2012 season due to the fact that Amerson led the country in interceptions last year.
I personally think, however, that the real corner prospect to watch this season will be Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert is still an off-the-radar player at this point, and you probably won't see his name on many preseason honors lists, but I have a feeling that he could be one of the breakout stars of the 2012 season.
Gilbert was overshadowed by his All-American cornerback counterpart Brodrick Brown in 2011, but he still played at a high level throughout the season, finishing the year with 59 tackles, five interceptions and 10 pass break-ups.
The 6'0'', 194-pound junior's defining performance came in the Fiesta Bowl when he earned defensive MVP honors in a 41-38 victory over Stanford.
Gilbert is one of the fastest and most athletic corners in the country, and he has ideal size for the position. Plus, he's also shown that he can be a factor in the return game, averaging 27 yards on kickoff returns in 2011.
While he still needs to fix some minor flaws in his technique and continue to work on his route recognition, Gilbert's size-speed combo will be enough to pique the interest of pro scouts.
Brodrick Brown will be the one who lands on all the preseason lists, but Gilbert will likely be the one who earns the bigger NFL payday when all is said and done.
13. LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
It didn't take long for Georgia LB Jarvis Jones to make the SEC his own personal playground. After sitting out a year following his transfer from USC, Jones finally hit the field in 2011 and made an instant impact for the Bulldogs defense, as he led the conference with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
The 6'3'', 241-pound junior was a true terror coming off the edge of Georgia's 3-4 defense, and he proved to be the type of disruptive defender that opposing offensive linemen just couldn't handle.
Jones is an active and explosive linebacker who always seems to be causing havoc and finding himself near the football.
The speedy rush linebacker would be a perfect fit as an outside edge-rusher in a 3-4 defensive scheme, as he has the type of speed, strength and relentless attitude to burst into the backfield on a regular basis.
If Jones can continue to build on his 2011 All-American campaign, and if his shoulder checks out with NFL doctors, he should flirt with being a Top 15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft if he decides to come out.
14. RB Knile Davis, Arkansas
For all the talk about how NFL teams shy away from running backs in the Top 10 of the NFL draft, remember, there have been eight running backs selected in the Top 10 since the 2005 draft, with Trent Richardson being the latest example. While it remains to be seen if any running back can distinguish himself from the crowd and end up as a Top 10 pick in the 2013 draft, if there's any back capable of making the jump, it's Arkansas' Knile Davis.
Davis was ready to become a celebrated national star in 2011 before a preseason ankle injury put him on the shelf for the entire season.
The 6'1'', 226-pound junior gave us glimpse of his tremendous skills back in 2010 when he took the SEC by storm, rushing for 1,322 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.
Davis possesses a rare blend of size, speed, power, explosiveness and running instincts that you just don't see very often.
It remains to be seen how Arkansas will handle the sudden unexpected loss of coach Bobby Petrino this offseason. However, with Davis returning to the fold, along with QB Tyler Wilson, WR Cobi Hamilton and TE Chris Gragg, the Razorbacks will undoubtedly have enough offensive firepower to compete for an SEC championship in 2012.
If Davis runs like the same back we saw in 2010, he has a chance to crack the Top 10 and be the first running back selected in the 2013 NFL draft.
15. DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
DE John Simon may be the leader of Ohio State's defensive line, but the best NFL prospect that the Buckeyes have up front is DT Johnathan Hankins.
At this point, it's tough to tell exactly which teams will be searching for a big run-stopper early in the 2013 NFL draft, but Hankins is one player who could be available that will definitely fit that specific need.
Hankins has only been a starter in Columbus for one season, but he's already established himself as a true monster in the middle of the Buckeyes defense.
The 6'3'', 335-pound behemoth has the size and the strength to eat up blockers on every snap.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Hankins is just a big body that's taking up space, though. Last season, he proved that he has the surprising quickness and overwhelming power to shed blocks and penetrate into the backfield, as he finished second on the Buckeyes with 10 tackles for a loss.
Hankins shares many of the same physical traits that helped this year's top defensive tackle pick, Dontari Poe, go flying up draft boards in the months leading up to the draft.
Just as long as he can maintain his conditioning and stay in reasonably good shape, Hankins has the chance to climb up draft boards next season and ultimately wind up in the Top 20, given that big, athletic run-stuffers are such a valuable commodity in the NFL.
16. CB David Amerson, N.C. State
Not many people were expecting big things from North Carolina State CB David Amerson before the start of the 2011 season, so when Amerson led the country with 13 interceptions, it really caught everyone's attention.
Amerson showed fans and pro scouts alike that he's got a nose for the football unlike any other corner in college football.
The 6'3'', 195-pound sophomore has the type of size and speed to go toe-to-toe with any receiver in the country, and after his performance last season, Amerson's now managed to establish himself as one of the premier defensive backs in college football.
It will be interesting to see what the big, athletic corner can do for an encore next season.
Amerson won't get a ton of passes thrown in his direction in 2012, but even if his interception total takes a big hit, Amerson showed scouts enough last year to warrant legitimate Top 20 interest if he decides to enter the 2013 NFL draft.
17. DE/OLB Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
As the son of former first-round pick Jim Jeffcoat, everyone knew that Jackson Jeffcoat had the type of bloodlines to be great—they just had to see the talented young defensive end prove it on the field.
That's just what he did in 2011, as Jeffcoat led the Longhorns with eight sacks and 17 tackles for a loss.
The 6'5'', 250-pound junior proved that he was one of the best defensive ends in college football last year, and now he'll team back up with fellow end Alex Okafor in 2012 to give the Longhorns one of the best pass rushes in the country next season.
Jeffcoat is the type of tweener who could either add more muscle and line up as a 4-3 edge-rusher in the pros, or make the shift and stand up as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
No matter what position he ends up at in the NFL, one thing's for sure, Jeffcoat has the type of pass-rushing prowess and explosive burst off the edge to be an impact star defender at the next level.
Okafor may be the showcase player on Texas' defense going into the season, but Jeffcoat is definitely capable of rising up and stealing away the spotlight in 2012.
18. QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee
I got my first real glimpse of Tyler Bray during the crazy 2010 Music City Bowl when Tennessee battled North Carolina in what turned out to be an entertaining, yet disappointing, double-overtime 30-27 loss for the Volunteers. What I saw that night was an extremely gifted young freshman quarterback who had all the tools to become a star but who also had a lot of growing up to do both physically and mentally.
Suffice it to say, I was glad to see the progress that Bray displayed when I got to see Tennessee rock Cincinnati early on last season. The 6'6'', 210-pound junior was nearly flawless against the Bearcats, as he rolled up over 400 yards through the air and threw four touchdown passes in the 45-23 victory.
I was disappointed that a hand injury robbed Bray the chance to prove himself against the defenses of LSU, Alabama and South Carolina last year, but from the two games that I have seen him in, I believe the California native has everything you look for in an upper-echelon quarterback prospect.
Bray has grown into a true offensive captain during his time in Knoxville, and with receivers like Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter both returning, he's got the chance to have a monster junior campaign in 2012.
Don't look now, but the SEC is starting to stock up on star-signal callers, and Bray should be one of the conference's featured flame throwers in 2012.
19. S Eric Reid, LSU
Tyrann Mathieu may be the most famous player in the LSU secondary, but he's not the best NFL prospect. That honor belongs to safety Eric Reid, who has all the makings of a future Top 20 draft pick.
Reid is one of the most athletic safeties we've seen in the college ranks in years (that'll happen when you share the same DNA with a father who was a former All-American hurdler). Not only does he have the type of range and speed to make plays all over the field, he also has the instincts and intelligence that only truly elite safeties possess.
Reid finished tied with Mathieu for the team lead in tackles with 76, and he also picked off two passes, one of which was a crucial goal-line takeaway against Alabama in the "Game of the Century"—a critical pick that might have been the single most important play of LSU's season.
The 6'2'', 205-pound junior definitely proved what type of playmaker he was in 2011, and next season, he'll get the opportunity to step out of the Honey Badger's shadow and show the country that he's one of the top defensive players in all of college football.
20. RB Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State was home to one of college football's most explosive passing attacks in 2011. However, now that the ultra-dangerous passing duo of QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon is gone, the Cowboys will be forced to rely more heavily on the running game for offensive success next season.
It's a good thing that the team will once again have one of the most talented backs in the country, Joseph Randle, to exploit in 2012.
Last year, Randle proved his worth as both a runner and a receiver, as he ran for over 1,200 yards, caught 43 passes and scored 26 total touchdowns.
The 6'1'', 191-pound junior is now set to take on an even bigger role and become the focal point of Oklahoma State's offense, and he'll enter the season as both a legitimate Heisman contender and one of the top eligible pro prospects for the 2013 NFL draft.
Randle is a dynamic runner who possesses the type of elite speed and elusiveness that only truly top-tier backs can offer.
If he can build on his eye-opening 2011 campaign and put up big numbers yet again next season, Randle has the chance to develop into a Top 20 pick, and he could possibly even be the first back taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
21. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
It wasn't that long ago that people were touting Oklahoma as the No. 1 team in the country and predicting that QB Landry Jones would be a 2011 Heisman finalist. However, after an inexcusable and surprising home loss to Texas Tech midway through this past season, that all went out the window.
While Jones may not have lived up to his preseason Heisman hype in 2011, he still had some very impressive performances throughout the season, totaling over 4,400 yards through the air and 29 touchdown passes.
If the 6'4'', 230-pound junior can cut down on the interceptions and play better in big spots, then Oklahoma should be right back in contention to win the Big 12 next season.
Jones may not be the type of player that will win an NFL team a bunch of championships, as he seems to be missing that all-important clutch trait.
However, he does have the chance to be a Matt Schaub-Matt Cassel type of hybrid at the next level, and he has the arm strength and arm endurance to flourish as a pure pocket-passer in a wide open passing system like the one the Houston Texans run (hint, hint).
22. RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore knew that he had a lot of lofty expectations to live up to when he first arrived at South Carolina as a heralded five-star recruit back before the start of the 2010 season. However, if Lattimore was feeling any pressure as a freshman, he certainly didn't show it, as he came out and completely dominated in his first year in a Gamecock uniform, rushing for 1,197 yards and scoring 19 total touchdowns.
After bulking up and adding muscle to his already imposing frame during the offseason, the 6'1'', 232-pound junior was in the process of putting together an even bigger campaign as a sophomore in 2011, as he came out and totaled 932 yards of offense and scored 10 touchdowns in the team's first six games.
Then came that one nightmarish play that every running back dreads and fears the most. While throwing a block against a Mississippi State defender, Lattimore's leg got rolled up on and he ended up tearing a ligament in his knee, effectively sending him to the sideline for the remainder of the year.
South Carolina surprisingly still managed to go 11-2 without its star tailback, but it was obvious that the Gamecocks missed his presence in the backfield.
After feverishly rehabbing his knee for the past few months, Lattimore is now on track to be ready to go by the time fall camp finally rolls around.
While it will certainly take some time for Lattimore to ease back into the flow of the offense, if his knee proves to be up to snuff, it wouldn't be shocking to see him put together a huge comeback season.
Lattimore is certainly a rare physical specimen. He's one of the best running backs to grace the college game in years, and it's a real shame that he went down with such a serious injury.
Still, if he can bounce back and prove that he's the same type of runner we saw in 2010 and early on in 2011, the South Carolina star will once again regain his reputation as one of the sport's top rushers.
As far as natural physical ability is concerned, Lattimore has what it takes to be a high first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, just as long as he can prove that he can stay healthy and show that his knee is fine next season.
23. CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks could have joined his teammate Fletcher Cox and declared early for the 2012 NFL draft, but knowing that his ceiling was being a Day 2 pick, he instead decided to return to Starkville to try to boost his pro stock.
It's a decision that could turn out to be the best of Banks' career.
This past season, the 6'2'', 185-pound junior showed flashes of his prodigious potential on a routine basis, as he picked off five passes and broke up another nine. However, there are still some correctable flaws that he has to work on over the offseason to be truly considered an elite cornerback.
With his type of size, speed, smarts and ball skills, Banks has all the traits you look for in a first-round cornerback prospect.
If he can put it all together next season and work out the little kinks in his game, you're going to see Banks' name come off the board pretty early in the 2013 NFL draft.
24. DT Kwame Geathers, Georgia
The 2012 NFL draft marked the first time that a defensive tackle wasn't selected in the Top 10 since 2006 when Oregon's Haloti Ngata was taken with the 12th pick by the Baltimore Ravens.
The question is, will any tackle be able to crack the Top 10 in 2013?
There is no clear-cut "cream of the crop" prospect at the position, going into the 2012 season, especially after the early departures of Michael Brockers, Fletcher Cox, Jerel Worthy and Dontari Poe.
However, there are plenty of tackles that could rise into the Top 10 mix over the course of the season, and the one to watch is Georgia's Kwame Geathers.
The Bulldogs defense is loaded with future NFL talent, and it starts right in the middle with Geathers and fellow nose tackle John Jenkins. The two monstrous tackles helped Georgia finish 11th in the country against the run last season.
While both will soon be playing on Sundays, Geathers is the player who could really turn some heads this season.
The imposing 6'6'', 350-pound junior eats up blockers and clogs up running lanes with his sheer size and overwhelming power.
If Geathers can do a better job of penetrating into the backfield and making some flash plays behind the line of scrimmage this season, his name should go flying up draft boards in 2012.
25. LB Jelani Jenkins, Florida
Florida will have one of the most talent-stocked defenses in the country this season, and there will be plenty of playmakers to watch at all three levels of the unit.
The one Gator defender to keep an eye on, though, will be LB Jelani Jenkins.
After racking up 75 tackles in 2011, Jenkins now seems to be well on his way to becoming one of the SEC's next big star defenders.
The 6'0'', 230-pound sophomore may not be the biggest 'backer in college football, but he possesses the type of speed, quickness and tenacity to more than make up for his lack of size.
The former five-star recruit is loaded with natural ability, and with his type of recognition skills and athleticism, Jenkins seems perfectly built to be a terrific weakside linebacker for a 4-3 defense at the NFL level.
With Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic both returning, the Gators will have one of college football's top linebacker duos for 2012.
26. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Whoever ends up being the starting quarterback for Texas A&M in 2012 can at least take solace in the fact that they'll have one of the best pairs of bookend offensive tackles in the country, comprised of Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, to protect them.
Matthews and Joeckel will be two Aggies that NFL scouts will be keeping a close eye on next season, but the real player they'll be focused on is Matthews, the son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews and the cousin of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
The 6'5'', 305-pound junior bears a strong physical resemblance to his famous father, and he has the type of size and skills that will certainly garner plenty of attention from scouts next season.
The former four-star recruit is one of the most athletic offensive lineman in the country, and his footwork, technique and blocking ability are at an advanced stage that you just don't see from many junior tackles.
Matthews has the total physical package and he has the potential to be a standout starter in the NFL early in his pro career.
If he continues to assert his dominance against SEC competition next season, Matthews has the chance to become a Top 15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
27. DE/OLB Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins wasn't exactly a coveted commodity before the 2010 season, but that was before he absolutely exploded as a sophomore and had a huge breakout year, racking up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.
That performance set the bar extremely high for Jenkins going into this past season, but the 6'3'', 265-pound senior ultimately failed to meet those sky-high expectations.
While he may not have taken the next step and become a truly elite player like some expected him to, Jenkins did still notch eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss, which are certainly respectable numbers, especially when offensive lines are keying on you and double-teaming you on a regular basis.
Jenkins is without a doubt one of the quickest and most athletic defensive linemen in college football, and there have been times when he's just simply blown right by offensive tackles who were ill-equipped to handle his tremendous speed and burst off the edge.
Jenkins will have to show scouts that he's regained his form from 2010 if he wants to be a Top 20 pick in next year's draft, but his talent and upside are simply undeniable, and he possesses the type of versatile skill to either fit in as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, or as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 system.
28. WR Keenan Allen, California
Before the start of the 2011 season, most people expected to see Marvin Jones leading the way for Cal's receiving corps, but Jones was forced to take a back seat to sophomore sensation Keenan Allen.
Allen built off a great freshman campaign and managed to take his game to new heights last year, catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, the former five-star recruit has the size, speed and route-running ability to pose a major matchup problem for whoever tries to stick with him in coverage.
While he'll likely be overshadowed by USC's Robert Woods this offseason, don't be surprised if Allen gives Woods a real run for his money for the title of PAC-12's top receiving threat next season.
With Allen back in the fold, along with his half-brother, QB Zach Maynard, and RB Isi Sofele, the Cal offense has the chance to turn some heads in 2012.
29. DT Kawann Short, Purdue
College football lost most of its top underclassmen defensive tackles when LSU's Michael Brockers, Memphis' Dontari Poe, Michigan State's Jerel Worthy and Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox all declared early for the 2012 NFL draft.
There are a few potentially dominant defensive tackles who did return to school, though, and one of them is Purdue's Kawann Short.
With Ryan Kerrigan having moved on to the NFL, Short was able to step out of the shadow of his former star defensive line mate and show the Big Ten what he was made of in 2011.
The mighty 6'3'', 310-pound senior racked up 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last year, and he was a constant menace to offensive lines.
Short possesses the type of size, strength, power and quickness to embarrass any offensive lineman who tries to block him one-on-one, and he's the kind of interior presence who demands double-teams when he's playing at his best.
With fellow defensive tackle Bruce Gaston lining up next to Short once again in 2012, the Boilermakers should have one of the strongest defensive interiors in the country next season.
30. OT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has produced three first-round offensive line prospects—Kevin Zeitler, Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas—in the last five years, and the Badgers should continue that trend in 2013 if OT Ricky Wagner plays up to his potential next season.
Wagner is built exactly like you would expect a Wisconsin offensive lineman to look.
The 6'6'', 322-pound senior is a big, strong and physical left tackle who has the size and the power to dominate in the run game and the footwork and technique to hold his own as a pass blocker.
Wagner already has two years of starting experience, and he has managed to improve and refine his game throughout his college career.
While Wagner may not be a truly elite tackle prospect in the mold of recent Top-Five picks such as Matt Kalil, Joe Thomas and Jake Long, he does have the necessary skills that NFL teams covet in an offensive tackle prospect.
If he plays up to his potential and continues to show improvement as a senior in 2012, Wagner should be the next Badger blocker to hear his name called in the first round of the draft.
31. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
It's hard to look at Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov and not see a strong resemblance to former USC standout linebacker Brian Cushing.
Like Cushing, Skov has an intimidating, rocked-up physique, and he plays the game with the same type of mean streak and reckless abandon that made Cushing so much fun to watch during his days as a Trojan.
Sadly, Skov wasn't able to show off his skills much in 2011, as an early-season knee injury kept him out of action for most of the year. However, now that he's had time to rehab, hopefully, the 6'3'', 251-pound senior can come back and play at the same level we saw in 2010.
Skov notched 84 tackles and nine sacks during his sophomore season, and he displayed the type of toughness, instincts and eye for the ball that NFL teams are looking for in a middle linebacker.
If he's fully healthy this season, Skov could turn out to be the Luke Kuechly of the 2013 NFL draft.
32. DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina
Going into the 2011 season, Devin Taylor was expected to be the star of South Carolina's defensive line. However, with the emergence of Melvin Ingram and freshman sensation Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor quickly found himself overshadowed by his two teammates.
That's not to say that Taylor had a disappointing season, as he still finished with 42 tackles and six sacks, but the truth is, he failed to take the big step to stardom that many were expecting.
Now with Ingram gone, the focus of the Gamecocks front four will be Taylor and Clowney, two of the most talented defensive ends in the country.
The 6'8'', 267-pound Taylor obviously passes the eyeball test, and he has the type of big, long frame that any NFL coach would love to work with and develop.
Taylor has all the physical traits and natural ability to be one of the SEC's star pass-rushers in 2012, and if he can put together a big senior campaign, he should solidify his status as a first-round pick in next year's draft.
33. OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Fellow offensive tackle Barrett Jones may have been the one who received most of the attention, and he may have been the one who ultimately ended up with the Outland Trophy by season's end, but when it comes to the NFL, right tackle D.J. Fluker could actually have just as much pro potential as his decorated teammate.
Fluker is the type of powerful road-grading right tackle that NFL franchises are looking for to open up big holes in the running game, which is something he's done plenty of during his time in Tuscaloosa.
The 6'6'', 335-pound junior created huge holes for third-place Heisman finisher Trent Richardson in 2011, and he also showed that he has the footwork and agility to hold his own in pass protection, shutting down some of the SEC's elite edge-rushers last season.
The fact that Fluker is strictly a right tackle could hurt his stock, but with his type of run-blocking skills, he'll still be one of the most coveted offensive-line prospects in the 2013 NFL draft if he decides to come out after this season.
34. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Geno Smith's first year as a starter at West Virginia was my last year as a student in Morgantown, so I've had the chance to see Smith grow and develop over the past few years, and I have to admit, last season, he managed to exceed the high expectations I had for him.
Last year, Smith proved to be a perfect fit for Dana Holgorsen's pass-happy offensive attack, as he racked up 4,385 passing yards, the fourth-highest total in the country, and threw 31 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions.
The 6'3'', 214-pound senior led the Mountaineers to a Big East championship and their first BCS bowl game in four years.
Obviously, his performance in the Orange Bowl against Clemson was what helped him gain the most attention and accolades. Smith helped lead West Virginia to a bowl-record 70-point performance against the Tigers, and he threw for over 400 yards and accounted for seven of his team's 10 touchdowns.
Now that the Mountaineers are moving to the Big 12 this season, Smith will have the chance to prove himself against some of the best competition that college football has to offer.
If he can step up and handle the spotlight and the pressure in 2012, he should be one of the most productive passers in the nation once again this season.
Smith has the superior arm strength, pinpoint accuracy and the overall explosive passing ability to grow into both a Heisman candidate as well as a first-round quarterback prospect during his senior year.
Big 12 defenses, you better be ready.
35. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Before the start of the 2011 season, Montee Ball's name wasn't being mentioned with the top Heisman candidates from around the country. However, after an extremely impressive and shockingly productive campaign, Ball found himself sitting in New York City as a fourth-place finisher in the Heisman voting.
No one could have foreseen the type of outstanding performance that the 5'11'', 210-pound senior put together last year, as he accounted for over 2,200 total yards of offense and scored 39 touchdowns.
After such a huge season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Ball would leave Madison a year early and head off to the NFL, but he surprised everyone when he announced that he would be returning to Wisconsin for one final season.
Ball really has nothing left to prove at the college level, which makes his decision a curious one to say the least.
Still, you certainly won't hear any Badgers fans complaining about getting another opportunity to watch Ball burst through defenses and power his way through would-be tacklers again in 2012.
It still remains to be seen whether Ball has what it takes to be a featured back for an NFL team, and it's more likely that he'll end up as a member of a two-back system in the pros.
The NFL back that Ball most reminds me of is Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants, who has been highly successful as part of a tag-team rushing tandem during his pro career.
Ball will likely find a similar role as Bradshaw in the pros, and if he has another big season for the Badgers in 2012, he'll likely solidify his status as a second-round pick for the 2013 NFL draft.
36. DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
This past season, Oregon DE Dion Jordan proved that he wasn't just an offensive tackle's worst nightmare, but a quarterback's worst nightmare as well, as he routinely blew by tackles and then proceeded to blow up plenty of quarterbacks.
Jordan finished the year with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, which helped earn him first-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The imposing 6'7'', 240-pound junior still has some filling out to do, but if he can add a few good pounds and a little muscle over the offseason and still maintain his remarkable speed off the edge, he should develop into a truly frightening pass-rushing threat.
Jordan has the type of big sturdy frame, outstanding quickness and deceptive power that has probably already caught the attention of plenty of scouts, and if he can keep up the pace he set last season, he's only going to see his name continue to rise up draft boards throughout the 2012 season.
37. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
Alabama's C.J. Mosley was one of my favorite linebackers in college football last season, so obviously I was concerned when Mosley went down with what looked like a severe, and at first glance, possibly career-threatening leg injury in the BCS championship game against LSU. The injury simply turned out to be a dislocated hip, though, and Mosley will be ready to go this season.
After the departures of linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris, Alabama is certainly going to need the 6'2'', 232-pound junior to step up in a big way in 2012, and he should be capable of handling the challenge.
Mosley is one of the most talented inside linebackers in the country, and he has the kind of range, instincts and radar for the football that NFL scouts want to see from an inside 'backer.
If Mosley wants to stay inside in the pros, he's going to have to get a little bigger and stronger, but he has the type of versatile skill set and physical tools to also play on the strong side or even the weak side in a 4-3 defense in the pros.
With Mosley, Nico Johnson and emerging linebackers like Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest in the fold, the Tide should once again have one of the most talented linebacker corps in the country in 2012.
Mosley will be the player to focus on in that group, and if he plays up to his capabilities, he should cause quite a bit of buzz throughout the SEC this season.
38. WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
Since three of Arkansas' top receivers from 2011—Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs—have all left Fayetteville, there is going to be a lot of pressure on returning receiver Cobi Hamilton to step up and handle an expanded role as the team's go-to target in 2012.
It's a good thing then that Hamilton is well equipped for the responsibility.
The 6'3'', 210-pound senior is a big target who has the speed and athleticism to get open on all types of routes, whether they be short, intermediate or of the deep variety.
Because of the fierce competition for catches among Arkansas' receivers last year, Hamilton only hauled in 34 passes in 2011, but that number is sure to rise dramatically next season.
The former high school track star is one of the fastest receivers in the country, and combining his speed and size presents a huge matchup problem for cornerbacks.
39. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
Aaron Murray's sophomore campaign didn't exactly start off in spectacular fashion, as Georgia disappointingly dropped its first two games of the 2011 season.
Sitting at 0-2 and in desperate need of a shot in the arm, the Bulldogs needed Murray to step up and get the team back on track, and he did just that, as he led Georgia on a 10-game winning streak and guided the team to the top of the SEC East.
Sure, the season didn't end the way that Murray had hoped. The Bulldogs ended up getting blown out by LSU in the SEC championship game and then proceeded to lose a heartbreaking triple-overtime game to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. But it was what Murray did in between that was so impressive.
The 6'1'', 211-pound junior threw for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns last year, and he certainly didn't seem to miss star receiver A.J. Green very much.
Murray may not possess the prototypical size and stature that NFL teams are looking for in a starting quarterback, but he makes up for it with his arm, his moxie and his top-notch intangibles.
The two-year starter has continued to improve and mature in each of his first two seasons, and he now sits on the doorstep of greatness, ready to lead a team that will enter the 2012 season as the favorite to repeat as the SEC East Division title winner.
Murray's got what it takes to make a serious run at the Heisman Trophy next season, and if he leads the Bulldogs back to Atlanta and puts up big numbers, he'll have to strongly consider leaving Athens a year early.
40. TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Tyler Eifert could have declared for the 2012 NFL draft and competed with Dwayne Allen to be the second tight end selected. But instead, Eifert opted to return to South Bend and assert his dominance for another year. Eifert will now go into the 2012 season as the clear-cut top tight end in the country, and he'll once again have the chance to show off his receiving skills as one of the main targets in Notre Dame's spread offense.
This past season, the 6'6'', 250-pound junior hauled in 63 passes for 803 yards and scored five touchdowns, and it wouldn't be surprising if he ends up besting those numbers in 2012.
With rare athleticism for his size and the type of big frame that can be easily spotted by a quarterback, Eifert might just be a better overall tight end prospect than his predecessor, Kyle Rudolph.
If he performs as expected this season, Eifert shouldn't have much trouble solidifying his status as the best tight end available for the 2013 NFL draft.
41. CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
I don't want to say that LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu will be overrated going into the 2012 season, as I was supremely impressed with his regular season performance last year. However, I will say that I do expect that the "Honey Badger" fever will cool off in 2012.
Last season, Mathieu became one of the breakout stars of the 2011 season, as the former overlooked recruit rose up to prominence and took the college football world by storm with his tremendous playmaking ability.
The 5'9'', 175-pound junior came up with plenty of highlights last season, as he led the Tigers with 76 tackles and took two punt returns and two fumble recoveries back to the house for touchdowns.
Mathieu's performance earned him numerous All-American honors, the Bednarik Award and a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.
There's no denying that the talented corner had a special season, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's an elite pro prospect in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Mathieu's size will be an obvious hindrance at the next level, and given the shaky performance we saw from him in the BCS championship game against Alabama when QB A.J. McCarron tested him without hesitation, he doesn't exactly possess top-notch man-to-man coverage skills.
You also have to factor in the fact that last year, Mathieu benefited from playing across from the most talented corner in the country, Morris Claiborne, and he had one of the best safety tandems, Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor, behind him.
It also didn't hurt that LSU had a defensive line that racked up 38 sacks and was constantly swarming quarterbacks.
When you take that all away and just focus on Mathieu as an NFL prospect, it's hard to say he's truly an elite talent just yet, especially with the off-the-field red flags that popped up last year.
Mathieu may have established himself as a top-tier college player already, but I think he needs another great season to show scouts that he's a legitimate first-round talent.
42. RB Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
Notre Dame may have questions surrounding both the quarterback and wide receiver positions this offseason, but there's definitely no uncertainties at running back, where Cierre Wood returns to lead the way.
Last year, Wood proved to be an excellent complement to Notre Dame's passing attack, as he racked up over 1,100 yards on the ground and scored nine touchdowns. He also proved to be a valuable receiver out of the backfield, catching 27 passes for 189 yards.
The 6'0'', 215-pound junior is a well-built back who possess terrific talent and natural physical ability.
Wood has the vision to find openings in a defense, and he has the speed and elusiveness to pick up big chunks of yardage once he finds a crease.
Last year, Wood had an impressive 37 total rushes of 10 yards or more, which shows that he has the type of explosiveness to create big runs on a consistent basis.
NFL scouts have surely already taken notice of Wood, and now that he's expected to have an increased role in the offense in 2012, he'll have the opportunity to climb up draft boards with another strong showing this season.
43. LB Sean Porter, Texas A&M
While rare star pass-rushers like Von Miller simply can’t be replaced, Texas A&M’s Sean Porter did everything he could last season to try to replicate Miller’s elite edge-rushing skills.
Porter led the team with 9.5 sacks and he also racked up 17 tackles for loss, as he did an admirable job of helping the Aggies get over the loss of their former star defender.
The athletic and explosive 6’2’’, 230-pound senior will be the most important piece of the Texas A&M defense this season, as the Aggies prepare for a step up in competition in the SEC in 2012.
Porter may not be in the same type of elite class as his former teammate Miller, but he isn’t that much farther down the ladder.
If he can put together another buzz-worthy performance as a senior in 2012, and if he can show that he can play at a high level against some of the top competition that college football has to offer, then Porter should be right in the first-round mix by the time the 2013 NFL draft rolls around.
44. S T.J. McDonald, USC
T.J. McDonald could have entered the 2012 NFL draft and challenged to be the second safety off the board after Alabama's Mark Barron. Instead, McDonald made the decision to return for his senior year and again be one of the key leaders for USC's daunting defense.
Last year, McDonald led the team with three interceptions and finished with 67 tackles, and he proved to be the linchpin player in the secondary. The 6'3'', 205-pound junior has all the physical skills and intangibles you look for in a playmaking safety, and you'll rarely ever see him get caught out of position.
McDonald is a cover safety who can come up and play the run well, and NFL defensive coordinators will surely find plenty of ways to utilize him in different looks and schemes at the next level.
45. RB Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
It only takes one look at Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell to realize that he's the type of back that no defender is going to want to try to wrap up and tackle.
The 6'2'', 237-pound Bell is a huge, powerful runner who possesses surprising speed and agility for his size.
Last year, the junior had to split carries with fellow backfield mate Edwin Baker, but he still managed to run for 948 yards and score 13 touchdowns on just 182 total touches.
With Baker gone, Bell should now see his number of carries increase in 2012, which has to be a scary thought for defenses around the Big Ten.
Bell employs a punishing running style, and he certainly isn't afraid to lower his shoulder and truck a would-be tackler.
With his rare combination of size, speed and strength, Bell will be one of the most dangerous and productive running backs in college football next season.
46. CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
OK, maybe it was a little too early to proclaim Xavier Rhodes to be the next Patrick Peterson, as he didn't exactly have the type of showcase season that I thought he would in 2011.
However, I still feel strongly that Rhodes can be an elite cornerback prospect, and I think he's in store for big bounce-back campaign in 2012.
The 6'2'', 209-pound junior shares many of the same physical traits that Peterson displayed when he was coming up through the ranks at LSU, and if he puts them to good use in 2012, he's going to have a lot of NFL scouts drooling over his pro potential.
Cornerbacks with his size aren't supposed to be able to move the way Rhodes does.
Physically, he can match up against any receiver in the country.
With Rhodes and his partner in crime Greg Reid both returning, Florida State will once again have one of the top cornerback combos in the country this season.
Scouts will likely be more focused on Rhodes, though, as he has the type of size and athleticism to develop into the next Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at the NFL level.
47. LB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
I thought that North Carolina LB Kevin Reddick had a great chance to be a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and I felt that he was a better overall linebacker prospect than his teammate Zach Brown, who was chosen by the Tennessee Titans with the 52nd pick.
However, Reddick had unfinished business in Chapel Hill, so he made the decision to return for his senior season.
With Brown, last year's leading tackler, now gone, Reddick will be asked to be the undisputed leader of North Carolina's defensive front-seven, and it should be a role he thrives in.
The 6'3'', 240-pound senior racked up 71 tackles in 2011, and he managed to show scouts that he possesses the type of speed, instincts and lateral quickness to chase ball carriers from sideline to sideline.
Reddick is the type of player who looks like he was born to play linebacker in the NFL, and he should make a great living as a 4-3 middle linebacker in the pros.
48. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
It may be too early to start calling Logan Tomas the next Josh Freeman, but the junior signal-caller certainly bears a strong physical resemblance to the young Tampa Bay quarterback.
Like Freeman, Thomas is a tall, mobile passer who possesses the arm strength to make every throw in the book. Last year, the sturdy 6'6'', 254-pound Virginia native showed plenty of flashes of his enormous potential by throwing for over 3,000 yards and accounting for 30 total touchdowns for the Hokies.
Admittedly, there were times when Thomas struggled with his consistency, and Virginia Tech won't be able to afford those same mistakes without RB David Wilson in the backfield to bail him out in 2012.
Still, if the big dual-threat signal-caller can improve on his accuracy and become the true focal point of the offense, it wouldn't be surprising to see Thomas guide Virginia Tech into serious contention for a BCS championship next season.
49. OG Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
All the talk about how offensive guards aren't normally valued as first-round prospects has seemed to be fabricated, at least as far as the last two drafts are concerned, as we've seen two guards taken in the first round of both the 2012 and the 2011 drafts.
We know that Barrett Jones will be next year's top interior lineman prospect, but one other guard who could also work his way into the first-round mix is Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard.
Ikard has been a reliable starter since his redshirt freshman season in 2010, and he really matured and evolved into a special type of offensive-line leader last season when he handled both guard and center duties without a hitch.
The 6'4'', 295-pound junior isn't just one of the most talented and fundamentally sound offensive lineman in the country, he's also one of the most intelligent, which he proved last season when he earned Academic All-American honors.
Ikard is a complete offensive guard who has the size, strength, agility, intelligence and toughness to flourish in the NFL trenches.
50. LB Nico Johnson, Alabama
C.J. Mosley may be the best NFL prospect in the Alabama linebacker corps, but the real leader of the unit this season will be Nico Johnson.
Johnson is the team's leading returning tackler after notching 47 stops in 2011, and he'll be counted on to be a featured defender now that key linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower have moved on to the NFL.
The 6'3'', 245-pound senior is a big, instinctive 'backer who makes his living sifting through blockers in the box and shutting down running backs.
While he may not be the type of linebacker that you want roaming around in space and making open-field tackles, Johnson has shown that he can hold his own in the box and he's proven that he's one of the best run-stuffing backers in the country.
It should be very interesting to see how well Johnson can handle being the leader of Alabama's new-look linebacker corps in 2012.
51. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
West Virginia WR Tavon Austin was rarely mentioned in the same breath as college football's top wide receivers last season, but Austin certainly managed to take advantage of the national stage that he was given when the Mountaineers battled Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Austin was one of the biggest stars of the 70-33 beatdown by the beach, as the explosive receiver compiled 173 total yards and scored four touchdowns against the Tigers.
The performance capped off a campaign for which the 5'9'', 175-pound senior earned AP All-American honors after finishing the year with 2,574 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen and quarterback Geno Smith will be looking to get the ball in Austin's hands as much as possible in 2011, which should give the speedy receiver plenty of chances to show scouts that he has the potential to be a dangerous weapon in the passing game as a slot receiver in the NFL.
If you're looking for the next version of Kendall Wright, look no further than Tavon Austin.
52. OT Alex Hurst, LSU
LSU right tackle Alex Hurst may not have exactly had his greatest performance in the 2012 BCS Championship Game when he squared off with Alabama's super pass-rusher Courtney Upshaw.
However, if you actually look back at the regular season campaign he had, it's easy to see that Hurst is one of the most talented tackles in the country.
The 6'6'', 340-pound senior opened up plenty of holes for LSU's deep stable of running backs throughout the 2011 season, and there was rarely a time when an opposing pass-rusher managed to slip by him.
With All-American guard Will Blackwell gone, Hurst will now assume the leadership role of LSU's offensive line.
If he can put his shaky performance against Alabama in the rear-view mirror and play like he did for the better part of last season, Hurst should be right in the hunt for the prestigious Outland Trophy.
He also has a great chance to be one of the first offensive tackles selected in the 2013 NFL draft.
53. TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Stanford may be losing its huge red-zone receiving threat Coby Fleener, but the Cardinal will return two of the top tight ends in the country in Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Ertz battled through injuries in 2011, but even though he missed four games, the 6'6'', 249-pound junior still managed to make an impact for the Stanford offense, hauling in 27 passes and scoring four touchdowns.
With Fleener gone, the athletic tight end will be asked to take on an even bigger role, and don't be surprised if he actually ends up outproducing his former teammate, even without Andrew Luck at the helm.
Ertz has the type of size, speed and body control to make plays down the seam in the passing game, and like Fleener, he should be a valuable red-zone threat for the Cardinal in 2012.
54. CB Johnny Adams, Michigan State
Michigan State's defensive front seven is loaded with playmakers such as defensive end William Gholston and linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough.
There are also a few difference-makers in the defensive backfield as well, and the key player to watch in 2012 will be CB Johnny Adams, the undisputed leader of the secondary.
Adams is coming off a terrific season in 2011, in which he had three interceptions, six pass break-ups and 51 tackles. For his efforts, Adams was rewarded with a First-Team All-Big Ten selection last season.
The 5'11'', 175-pound senior possesses prototypical size for the position, and he has the type of closing speed, coverage instincts, ball skills and route recognition ability to develop into an impact corner for an NFL defense.
Adams is one of the best cover corners that college football has to offer, and he also isn't afraid to come up and make a hit in run support.
The senior cornerback class lost a lot of top-notch talent with the early departures of players like LSU's Morris Claiborne, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore and Central Florida's Josh Robinson.
Adams is one of the few top prospects who decided to stick around and he'll now have the chance to improve his stock and prove to scouts that he's one of the best cornerbacks available for the 2013 NFL draft.
55. LB Hayes Pullard, USC
USC's defense will once again feature two of the best linebackers in the country, Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, in 2012. Pullard and Bailey are redshirt sophomores who shined in their first year out on the field, as they each racked up 81 tackles in 2011.
The two 'backers will both be playing on Sundays someday soon, but the player scouts will really be keeping an eye on next season is Pullard.
Last year, the 6'1'', 230-pound Los Angeles native displayed the type of instincts, recognition skills, tackling ability and lateral quickness that scouts are looking for in a prototypical playmaking 4-3 weakside linebacker.
Pullard has the chance to be one of the PAC-12's biggest defensive stars this season, and if he plays well enough in 2012, he's going to have to consider a possible early jump to the NFL.
56. QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State
Going into last season, I thought Florida State QB E.J. Manuel had the chance to be the 2011 version of Cam Newton based off of the performance I saw from Manuel when I was at the 2010 Gator Bowl.
Manuel began his first season as a starter in strong fashion, as he piled up 581 passing yards and threw six touchdowns in his first two games against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. But then Oklahoma came to town and Manuel failed to rise to the occasion, as he struggled mightily against the Sooners in the prime time battle.
After a poor performance in a loss to Wake Forest, which dropped Florida State to 2-3, the 6'5'', 245-pound senior seemed to get back on track, as he led the Seminoles to seven wins in their final eight games to finish a respectable, yet disappointing 9-4.
Manuel finished the season with an impressive 65 percent completion percentage and he accounted for 22 of his team's touchdowns. However, he failed to put together a full season's worth of consistent play.
Everyone knows that the former five-star recruit is loaded with ability, and that he's got the natural talent to one day be a starting quarterback in the NFL. However, if Manuel ever wants to realize his full potential, he's got to play more consistent game in and game out, and he's got to step up in big spots.
Florida State will likely enter the 2012 season as a Top 15-ranked team and one of the favorites to win the ACC. However, the Seminoles' success will ultimately come down to how well Manuel handles the spotlight and how well he plays under pressure next season.
He's got the skills, there's no doubt about it, but the question is, can Manuel make the most of them?
57. S Robert Lester, Alabama
Alabama has produced some tremendous defensive backs during the Nick Saban era, with the two most recent examples being safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who were both Top 20 picks in the 2012 draft.
With Barron and Kirkpatrick gone, though, it's now time for safety Robert Lester to shine as the leader and centerpiece of Alabama's secondary.
Lester is one of the most naturally gifted players to suit up for the Alabama defense in years, and given the type of great athletes that have come through the program recently, that's certainly saying something.
Although he may not be the most physical safety, the 6'2'', 210-pound senior has the type of speed, range and instincts to make big plays in coverage, and he showed that during his breakout 2010 campaign when he finished second in the country with eight interceptions.
With Barron, Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie all gone, Lester will now be the elder statesmen of Alabama's defensive backfield.
Needless to say, NFL scouts will be very interested to see how the athletically gifted safety handles his new leadership role in 2012.
58. RB Andre Ellington, Clemson
Andre Ellington had to wait his turn to be the starting running back at Clemson, as he sat for two years behind older backs such as C.J. Spiller and Jamie Harper. However, once he was finally handed the job in 2011, he definitely made the most of it.
Last year, Ellington stepped into the starting role and proved why he was such a highly-touted commodity coming out of South Carolina's Berkeley High School, as he ran for over 1,100 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.
The 5'10'', 190-pound senior was a valuable piece of the Tigers' offensive success, as he displayed the type of speed and burst to fly past opposing defenses.
Ellington could have entered the 2012 NFL draft and been a Day 2 pick, but he made the wise move to return to school and boost his stock even higher.
With Ellington, QB Tajh Boyd and WR's Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins all returning, Clemson should have one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country in 2012.
59. C Khaled Holmes, USC
USC has produced plenty of coveted offensive-line prospects in recent years, including two consecutive Top 10 offensive tackles, Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith. Now, it looks like the next big offensive-line export to come out of Los Angeles will be center Khaled Holmes.
After switching over from guard before the start of the 2011 season, it didn't take long for Holmes to become an effective leader for the Trojans' front five.
The 6'4'', 310-pound junior proved to be a strong run blocker, and he showed off his football IQ by making all of the important pass-blocking calls and shifts for a line that finished in a tie for first nationally with just eight sacks allowed last year.
Holmes has the versatile skill set to play either guard or center in the NFL, but wherever he ends up in the pros, it looks like he should develop into a reliable starter and the type of consistent lineman whom teams can count on week in and week out.
60. WR Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee
If you're searching for next year's biggest potential "Boom-or-Bust" prospect, then you might want to look at Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers.
As far as pure talent goes, Rogers belongs right up at the top of the list with the best receivers in college football going into the 2012 season.
The problem is, his off-the-field slate is far from clean, and Volunteers fans were wondering if the former five-star recruit would even be playing football in Knoxville this season.
After rumors of Rogers' transferring proved to be false, it looks like the gifted receiver is indeed ready to defend his SEC receiving title from 2011.
Last year, Rogers stepped up when both QB Tyler Bray and WR Justin Hunter went down and became the focal point of Tennessee's offense, as he ended up leading the conference with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 215-pound junior displayed the type of playmaking ability that you look for in a first-round receiver prospect.
Still, if Rogers truly wants to be a high pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, then he's going to have to keep his focus on the field and show the type of commitment and desire to be great that NFL teams are looking for.
If he can do that, Rogers' name could go shooting up draft boards throughout the 2012 season, and Tennessee should have one of the most potent passing attacks in the country with Rogers, Bray and Hunter all returning.
61. S Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Besides having a ridiculously awesome football name, Bacarri Rambo also has some serious skills, which were fully on display during his All-American campaign in 2011.
After sitting out Georgia's season-opening loss to Boise State for undisclosed reasons, Rambo came back focused and motivated for the rest of the year.
The 6'0'', 218-pound senior turned out to be an absolute ball hawk in the back end of the Bulldogs defense, as he finished second in the country with eight interceptions, and also broke up eight passes.
While he doesn't necessarily possess any standout traits, Rambo is a solid, well-rounded safety who showed that he has a nose for finding the football.
Rambo's stock will likely be hurt by his four-game suspension, but if he's up front and honest with NFL teams about the mistakes he's made during his college career, he should still remain one of the top senior safety prospects for the 2013 NFL draft.
62. WR Terrance Williams, Baylor
Baylor's offense is certainly going to suffer next season without the dynamic passing duo of QB Robert Griffin III and WR Kendall Wright, who were both Top 20 picks in the 2012 NFL draft.
However, all hope is not lost in Waco, as the Bears still have three talented receivers, Terrance Williams, Lanear Sampson and Tevin Elliot, that they can feature in the passing game.
Williams, who was on the receiving end of Griffin's famous 34-yard game-winning pass that beat Oklahoma last year, is the best of the trio and the one who has the brightest NFL future ahead of him.
The 6'3'', 190-pound senior hauled in 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, and he proved to be a perfect complement to the smaller, speedier Wright.
Williams has terrific size, athleticism and body control, and he showed last season that he can come up with a big play when counted on.
63. DT Jesse Williams, Alabama
Jesse Williams arrived at Alabama as one of the most highly touted JUCO prospects of the 2011 recruiting class, and Williams had no trouble living up to the hype in his first season in Tuscaloosa.
Last year, Williams proved to be a valuable and versatile member of Alabama's defensive line, as he lined up at both end and tackle throughout the season.
The 6'4'', 320-pound senior is still relatively raw at this point in his development, but the native Australian's rugby background is definitely evident, as he's the type of strong, tough, physical interior lineman who has no trouble mixing it up and fighting with blockers.
Williams is versatile enough to play either nose guard or defensive end in a 3-4 defense in the NFL, and he's the type of big, powerful run-stuffer that pro scouts covet.
With Josh Chapman gone, Williams will now be asked to be the leader of Alabama's defensive line, and it should be a role that he thrives in this season.
One thing's for sure, SEC offensive linemen are going to have their hands full trying to open up running lanes against Alabama in 2012, as Williams is a massive space-eater, who shows no signs of backing down.
64. DE John Simon, Ohio State
With the increased emphasis on 3-4 defenses in today's NFL, not only are outside rush linebacker prospects becoming increasingly more valuable, we're also seeing a bigger emphasis put on defensive ends who are big and strong enough to line up as 5-technique ends in a three-man front.
One of next year's top defensive end prospects who could fit in perfectly as an end in a 3-4 scheme is Ohio State's John Simon. The 6'2'', 270-pound junior has the type of anchor strength to handle double-teams, and he has the natural athleticism and burst to explode off the ball and cause damage in the backfield.
Last year, Simon was one of the most disruptive defensive ends in the country, as he racked up seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
Simon will once again be the most vital component of Ohio State's defensive front-seven for 2012, and with him and DT Johnathan Hankins leading the way up front, the Ohio State defensive line has a chance to be one of the strongest front-fours in the country this season.
65. DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Another top defensive end prospect that could fit in perfectly as a 5-technique end in a 3-4 system is Florida State's Bjoern Werner.
Werner is one of the strongest and toughest ends that you'll find in college football, and the German native possesses the type of size and power to wear down opposing offensive linemen over the course of four quarters.
Last year, the stout 6'4'', 272-pound junior notched seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss, and he regularly flashed his overwhelming strength and relentless motor, as he frequently conquered weaker blockers all season long.
Fellow end Brandon Jenkins may get most of the preseason publicity this summer, but Werner will play just as big of a role in Florida State's defensive success in 2012, and by the time the season's over, it wouldn't be surprising if he's considered the same caliber of pro prospect as Jenkins is.
66. DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
We've seen plenty of players of Tongan descent such as Haloti Ngata, Chris Kemoeatu and Deuce Lutui make a name for themselves in the NFL in recent years, and it looks like Utah DT Star Lotulelei will be the next Tongan player to make an impact in the NFL.
Lotulelei proved to be a dominant run-stuffer during his junior campaign in 2011, as he racked up 44 tackles and ate up double teams on a consistent basis.
The 6'4'', 345-pound senior is the type of big, powerful force that any NFL team would love to have in the middle of its defense, and Lotulelei seems to have the skill set to play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defensive scheme in the pros.
Star definitely lived up to his name last season, as he showed he could handle PAC-12 competition without a problem. Lotulelei will now be looking to build on his junior performance and continue to show scouts that he's the type of dominant interior run-stopper that NFL teams would love to have.
67. RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Alabama has produced a first-round running back in each of the past two years, and the Tide could make that three straight if new starter Eddie Lacy runs wild in 2012.
Even though Trent Richardson hogged most of the carries last season, Lacy still got to show what he had to offer on a few occasions in 2011, as he averaged 7.1 yards per carry on 95 touches and scored seven touchdowns.
The 6'1'', 220-pound junior proved that he was the type of big, powerful downhill runner that's a perfect fit for Alabama's offense.
Lacy may not possess elite breakaway speed, but he has the kind of strength and toughness it takes to consistently pound the ball inside the tackles and wear down a defense.
Running behind the best offensive line in college football, Lacy will have a great chance to show scouts that he's got what it takes to be Alabama's next great back in 2012.
68. QB Keith Price, Washington
Washington QB Keith Price wasn't exactly a highly touted national star before his performance in the Alamo Bowl against QB Robert Griffin III and Baylor.
It was Price's sensational outing against the Bears, in which he out-dueled Griffin and torched Baylor's secondary for 438 passing yards and accounted for all seven of his team's touchdowns in the wild 67-56 shootout loss, that now has everyone talking.
Last year, Price came out and lit up opponents in the team's first six games, as helped guide Washington to a 5-1 start. However, the 6'1'', 195-pound junior faltered down the stretch when he went up against tougher defenses like Stanford's, USC's and Oregon's, and Washington finished the season on a 2-5 slide.
Price did end the year with impressive stats, though, finishing with over 3,000 passing yards, a 33-11 touchdown-interception ratio and a 67 percent completion percentage.
The only thing that can prevent the budding quarterback from achieving stardom next season is his supporting cast. The Huskies lost highly productive RB Chris Polk, their two top receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, and left tackle Senio Kelemete.
Still, with guys like WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins returning, Price should have enough firepower at the skill positions to produce a dangerous passing attack in 2012.
Washington likely won't be good enough for Price to be in serious contention for the Heisman Trophy. However, he'll still have the opportunity to leave a big impression on NFL scouts, who will surely make a few trips up to the Pacific Northwest to get a good look at him this season.
69. DT Bennie Logan, LSU
DT Bennie Logan seemed to be the forgotten member of LSU's dominant defensive line last year, as DE's Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and DT Michael Brocker soaked up most of the attention and publicity. However, now that Brockers, the No. 14 pick in the 2012 draft, has moved on to the NFL, it will be Logan's time to shine in the middle of the Tigers' defense this season.
While Montgomery and Mingo will be making most of the flashy plays, rushing the passer off the edge, it's Logan who will be asked to shut down the opponents' run game and keep blockers off LSU's linebackers.
The 6'3'', 287-pound junior should be ready for the challenge.
Logan possesses great anchor strength to take on blockers, and he's quick and agile enough to slant and twist and penetrate his way into the opponent's backfield.
While Mingo and Montgomery will be the two LSU defensive linemen that everyone will be raving about this season, don't be shocked if Logan garners plenty of attention of his own in 2012.
70. WR Josh Boyce, TCU
Big 12 fans, you better not simply brush off TCU as a non-factor next season, because the Horned Frogs have some serious offensive firepower. Not only does TCU have a three-headed monster in the backfield with running backs Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James, the team also has one of the top receiver trios in the country.
The leader of that group is Josh Boyce.
Boyce has the type of size, speed and playmaking ability to go toe-to-toe with any cornerback in the country, and I guarantee you he's going to catch a lot of Big 12 secondaries by surprise in 2012.
Last year, the 6'0'', 203-pound junior hauled in 61 passes for 998 yards and nine touchdowns, and he proved that he has the speed to stretch the field and the big-play ability to change a game in an instant.
Boyce is one of the most dangerous receiving weapons in the country, and you can bet that QB Casey Pachall will be looking his way quite often next season.
2013 NFL Draft: The “Super 70” Prospects
1. QB Matt Barkley USC (Sr.)
2. DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU (Jr.)
3. WR Robert Woods, USC (Jr.)
4. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (Jr.)
5. DE Alex Okafor, Texas (Sr.)
6. OT/OG Barrett Jones, Alabama (Sr.)
7. DE/OLB Sam Montgomery, LSU (Jr.)
8. QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (Sr.)
9. WR Marquess Wilson, Washington State (Jr.)
10. LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (Sr.)
11. DE William Gholston, Michigan State (Jr.)
12. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
13. LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia (Jr.)
14. RB Knile Davis, Arkansas (Jr.)
15. DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State (Jr.)
16. CB David Amerson, N.C. State (Jr.)
17. DE/OLB Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (Jr.)
18. QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee (Jr.)
19. S Eric Reid, LSU (Jr.)
20. RB Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
21. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Sr.)
22. RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (Jr.)
23. CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (Sr.)
24. DT Kwame Geathers, Georgia (Jr.)
25. LB Jelani Jenkins, Florida (Jr.)
26. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (Jr.)
27. DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (Sr.)
28. WR Keenan Allen, California (Jr.)
29. DT Kawann Short, Purdue (Sr.)
30. OT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (Sr.)
31. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford (Sr.)
32. DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina (Sr.)
33. OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama (Jr.)
34. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia (Sr.)
35. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin (Sr.)
36. DE Dion Jordan, Oregon (Sr.)
37. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (Jr.)
38. WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (Sr.)
39. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia (Jr.)
40. TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (Jr.)
41. CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (Jr.)
42. RB Cierre Wood, Notre Dame (Jr.)
43. LB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (Sr.)
44. S T.J. McDonald, USC (Sr.)
45. RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (Jr.)
46. CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (Jr.)
47. LB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (Sr.)
48. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
49. OG Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (Jr.)
50. LB Nico Johnson, Alabama (Sr.)
51. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia (Sr.)
52. OT Alex Hurst, LSU (Sr.)
53. TE Zach Ertz, Stanford (Jr.)
54. CB Johnny Adams, Michigan State (Sr.)
55. LB Hayes Pullard, USC (RS.)
56. QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State (Sr.)
57. S Robert Lester, Alabama (Sr.)
58. RB Andre Ellington, Clemson (Sr.)
59. C Khaled Holmes, USC (Sr.)
60. WR Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee (Jr.)
61. S Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (Sr.)
62. WR Terrance Williams, Baylor (Sr.)
63. DT Jesse Williams, Alabama (Sr.)
64. DE John Simon, Ohio State (Sr.)
65. DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State (Jr.)
66. DT Star Lotulelei, Utah (Sr.)
67. RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama (Jr.)
68. QB Keith Price, Washington (Jr.)
69. DT Bennie Logan, LSU (Jr.)
70. WR Josh Boyce, TCU (Jr.)
Quarterbacks: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Matt Barkley, USC (Sr.)
2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (Sr.)
3. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (Jr.)
4. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Sr.)
5. Geno Smith, West Virginia (Sr.)
6. Aaron Murray, Georgia (Jr.)
7. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (Jr.)
8. E.J. Manuel, Florida State (Sr.)
9. Keith Price, Washington (Jr.)
10. A.J. McCarron, Alabama (Jr.)
Quarterbacks: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State
2. Denard Robinson, Michigan
3. Collin Klein, Kansas State
4. James Vandenberg, Iowa
5. Jeff Tuel, Washington State
6. Alex Carder, Western Michigan
7. Sean Renfree, Duke
8. Seth Doege, Texas Tech
9. Dayne Crist, Kansas
10. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt
Quarterbacks: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Casey Pachall, TCU
2. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
3. Derek Carr, Fresno State
4. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
5. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
6. Danny O’Brien, Wisconsin
7. James Franklin, Missouri
8. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
9. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
10. Chase Rettig, Boston College
Running Backs: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Knile Davis, Arkansas (Jr.)
2. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
3. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (Jr.)
4. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (Sr.)
5. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame (Jr.)
6. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (Jr.)
7. Andre Ellington, Clemson (Sr.)
8. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (Jr.)
9. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (Sr.)
10. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (Sr.)
Running Backs: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
2. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
3. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
4. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
5. Ed Wesley, TCU
6. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State
7. Curtis McNeal, USC
8. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
9. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn
10. Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech
Running Backs: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
2. Spencer Ware, LSU
3. Michael Dyer, Arkansas State*
4. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
5. Waymon James, TCU
6. Michael Ford, LSU
7. Henry Josey, Missouri*
8. Marcus Coker, Stony Brook
9. Charles Sims, Houston
10. James White, Wisconsin
*Dyer and Josey may not play in 2012
Wide Receivers: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Robert Woods, USC (Jr.)
2. Marquess Wilson, Washington State (Jr.)
3. Keenan Allen, California (Jr.)
4. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (Sr.)
5. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (Sr.)
6. Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee (Jr.)
7. Terrance Williams, Baylor (Sr.)
8. Josh Boyce, TCU (Jr.)
9. Tavarres King, Georgia (Sr.)
10. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (Jr.)
Wide Receivers: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
2. Keenan Davis, Iowa
3. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
4. Dan Buckner, Arizona
5. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
6. Emory Blake, Auburn
7. Erik Highsmith, North Carolina
8. Roy Roundtree, Michigan
9. Theo Riddick, Notre Dame
10. Russell Shepard, LSU
Wide Receivers: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
2. Justin Hunter, Tennessee
3. Devin Street, Pittsburgh
4. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
5. Cody Hoffman, BYU
6. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
7. Tevin Reese, Baylor
8. Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio)
9. Mike Davis, Texas
10. Andre Debose, Florida
Tight Ends: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (Jr.)
2. Zach Ertz, Stanford (Jr.)
3. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State (Sr.)
4. Chris Gragg, Arkansas (Sr.)
5. Levine Toilolo, Stanford (Jr.)
6. Joseph Fauria, UCLA (Sr.)
7. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn (Sr.)
8. Michael Williams, Alabama (Sr.)
9. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (Jr.)
10. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin (Jr.)
Tight Ends: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
2. Chris Pantale, Boston College
3. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee
4. Ryan Otten, San Jose State
5. Lucas Reed, New Mexico
6. Jack Doyle, Western Kentucky
7. Kyler Reed, Nebraska
8. Matt Furstenburg, Maryland
9. Hubie Graham, Pittsburgh
10. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers
Tight Ends: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
2. Randall Telfer, USC
3. Dion Sims, Michigan State
4. Jordan Najvar, Baylor
5. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
6. Jordan Reed, Florida
7. Ted Bolser, Indiana
8. Evan Wilson, Illinois
9. Nehemiah Hicks, Texas A&M
10. Crockett Gilmore, Colorado State
Offensive Tackles: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Taylor Lewan, Michigan (Jr.)
2. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (Jr.)
3. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (Sr.)
4. D.J. Fluker, Alabama (Jr.)
5. Alex Hurst, LSU (Sr.)
6. Justin Pugh, Syracuse (Sr.)
7. Oday Aboushi, Virginia (Sr.)
8. David Bakhtiari, Colorado (Jr.)
9. Chris Faulk, LSU (Jr.)
10. Morgan Moses, Virginia (Jr.)
Offensive Tackles: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Fou Fonoti, Michigan State
2. LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
3. Xavier Nixon, Florida
4. Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas
5. Nick Becton, Virginia Tech
6. Matt Summers-Gavin, California
7. Emmett Cleary, Boston College
8. Brennan Williams, North Carolina
9. Mark Popek, South Florida
10. R.J. Mattes, N.C. State
Offensive Tackles: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
2. Cameron Fleming, Stanford
3. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
4. James Hurst, North Carolina
5. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
6. Seantrel Henderson, Miami
7. Kevin Graf, USC
8. Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska
9. Chaz Green, Florida
10. John Fullington, Washington State
Interior Linemen: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Barrett Jones, Alabama (Sr.)
2. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (Jr.)
3. Khaled Holmes USC (Sr.)
4. Chance Warmack, Alabama (Sr.)
5. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (Sr.)
6. Larry Warford, Kentucky (Sr.)
7. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas (Jr.)
8. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (Jr.)
9. Chris Barker, Nevada (Sr.)
10. Braxston Cave, Notre Dame (Sr.)
Interior Linemen: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Ben Habern, Oklahoma
2. Braden Hansen, BYU
3. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
4. John Sullen, Auburn
5. Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
6. Dalton Freeman, Clemson
7. Mario Benavides, Louisville
8. Carson York, Oregon
9. Theo Goins, Central Florida
10. Tevita Stevens, Utah
Interior Linemen: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Mason Walters, Texas
2. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
3. Chris Burnette, Georgia
4. Tyler Larsen, Utah State
5. Andrew Rodriguez, Nebraska
6. Jon Halapio, Florida
7. Andrew Miller, Virginia Tech
8. Chris Watt, Notre Dame
9. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
10. Khalil Wilkes, Stanford
Defensive Tackles: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State (Jr.)
2. Kwame Geathers, Georgia (Jr.)
3. Kawann Short, Purdue (Sr.)
4. Jesse Williams, Alabama (Sr.)
5. Star Lotulelei, Utah (Sr.)
6. Bennie Logan, LSU (Jr.)
7. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (Sr.)
8. Everett Dawkins, Florida State (Sr.)
9. Dominique Easley, Florida (Jr.)
10. Jordan Hill, Penn State (Sr.)
Defensive Tackles: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
2. John Jenkins, Georgia
3. Joe Vellano, Maryland
4. Anthony Rashad White, Michigan State
5. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State
6. Aaron Tipoti, California
7. Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska
8. Stacy McGee, Oklahoma
9. Will Hill, Virginia
10. Adam Replogle, Indiana
Defensive Tackles: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Akeem Spence, Illinois
2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
3. Ashton Dorsey, Texas
4. Jeffrey Whitaker, Auburn
5. Bruce Gaston, Purdue
6. Jordan Kohout, Wisconsin
7. Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech
8. Byran Jones, Arkansas
9. Beau Allen, Wisconsin
10. Taylor Hart, Oregon
Defensive Ends: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (Jr.)
2. Alex Okafor, Texas (Sr.)
3. Sam Montgomery, LSU (Jr.)
4. William Gholston, Michigan State (Jr.)
5. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (Jr.)
6. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (Sr.)
7. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (Sr.)
8. Dion Jordan, Oregon (Sr.)
9. John Simon, Ohio State (Sr.)
10. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (Jr.)
Defensive Ends: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Michael Buchanan, Illinois
2. Wes Horton, USC
3. Margus Hunt, SMU
4. Craig Roh, Michigan
5. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson
6. Datone Jones, UCLA
7. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati
8. Brad Madison, Missouri
9. Cameron Meredith, Nebraska
10. Collins Ukwu, Kentucky
Defensive Ends: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Corey Lemonier, Auburn
2. Stansly Maponga, TCU
3. Ronald Powell, Florida*
4. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
5. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
6. Josh Shirley, Washington
7. Ryne Giddins, South Florida
8. Daryl Cato-Bishop, N.C. State
9. DeAndre Coleman, California
10. Ed Stinson, Alabama
*Powell’s status for 2012 is uncertain
Linebackers: The Top 10 Seniors
1. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (Sr.)
2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (Jr.)
3. Jelani Jenkins, Florida (Jr.)
4. Shayne Skov, Stanford (Sr.)
5. C.J. Mosley. Alabama (Jr.)
6. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (Sr.)
7. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (Sr.)
8. Nico Johnson, Alabama (Sr.)
9. Hayes Pullard, USC (RS.)
10. Gerald Hodges, Penn State (Sr.)
Linebackers: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Jake Knott, Iowa State
2. Kenny Demens, Michigan
3. Chase Thomas, Stanford
4. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
5. Arthur Brown, Kansas State
6. Kenny Tate, Maryland
7. Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas
8. A.J. Klein, Iowa State
9. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
10. Patrick Larimore, UCLA
Linebackers: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Kevin Minter, LSU
2. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
3. Dion Bailey, USC
4. Denicos Allen, Michigan State
5. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
6. Alec Ogletree, Georgia
7. Christian Jones, Florida State
8. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
9. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
10. Tom Wort, Oklahoma
Cornerbacks: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
2. David Amerson, N.C. State (Jr.)
3. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (Sr.)
4. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (Jr.)
5. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (Jr.)
6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State (Sr.)
7. Dee Milliner, Alabama (Jr.)
8. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (Sr.)
9. Merrill Noel, Wake Forest (RS.)
10. Desmond Trufant, Washington (Sr.)
Cornerbacks: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. Greg Reid, Florida State
2. Kayvon Webster, South Florida
3. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
4. Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech
5. Micah Hyde, Iowa
6. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
7. Branden Smith, Georgia
8. Nigel Malone, Kansas State
9. Darius Winston, Arkansas
10. Leon McFadden, San Diego State
Cornerbacks: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Nickell Robey, USC
2. Carrington Byndom, Texas
3. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
5. Tharold Simon, LSU
6. Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
7. Shaquille Richardson, Arizona
8. John Fulton, Alabama
9. Ciante Evans, Nebraska
10. Marlon Pollard, Eastern Michigan
Safeties: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Eric Reid, LSU (Jr.)
2. T.J. McDonald, USC (Sr.)
3. Robert Lester, Alabama (Sr.)
4. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (Sr.)
5. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma (Jr.)
6. Kenny Vaccaro,Texas (Sr.)
7. Ray Ray Armstrong, Miami (Sr.)
8. LaMarcus Joyner, Florida State (Jr.)
9. Matt Elam, Florida (Jr.)
10. John Boyett, Oregon (Sr.)
Safeties: 10 Seniors to Watch
1. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina
2. Vaughn Telemaque, Miami
3. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
4. Orhian Johnson, Ohio State
5. Jon Lejiste, South Florida
6. Terence Garvin, West Virginia
7. Rashard Hall, Clemson
8. Jordan Kovacs, Michigan
9. Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee
10. Jarred Holley, Pittsburgh
Safeties: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
1. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
2. Tre Boston, North Carolina
3. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
4. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
5. Tanner Miller, Iowa
6. Craig Loston, LSU
7. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
8. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
9. Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
10. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
The Top 5 Senior Kicker Prospects
1. Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
2. Caleb Sturgis, Florida
3. Brett Maher, Nebraska
4. Drew Alleman, LSU
5. Dan Conroy, Michigan State
The Top 5 Senior Punter Prospects
1. Jeff Locke, UCLA
2. Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
3. Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech
4. Jackson Rice, Oregon
5. Bobby Cowan, Idaho