Is USC QB Matt Barkley destined to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft?
Trying to rank college football's top NFL prospects before the regular season even starts can certainly be an awfully tricky task.
If you want proof of that, then just go back and look at many of the preseason prospect rankings from last summer.
At this time last year, many analysts and fans were busy pumping up players such as DE Quinton Coples, LB Vontaze Burfict and DT Jared Crick, while paying relatively no attention to eventual first-round picks such as DT Fletcher Cox, DE Shea McClellin and WR A.J. Jenkins.
It just goes to show that scouting young college football players is certainly anything but an exact science.
Now, with the start of the 2012 season inching closer and closer, it's time to begin figuring out who the top prospects for next year's NFL draft will be.
USC QB Matt Barkley will start off as the face of the 2013 draft class, and he's already being widely projected to be the eventual No. 1 overall pick. While Barkley clearly has the look of an elite pro prospect, he's definitely not the only player that scouts will be paying close attention to this season.
Here's an early preseason look at how college football's top eligible pro prospects stack up at each position for the 2013 NFL draft.
Nowadays, the sports media loves to latch onto one quarterback prospect every offseason and pump him up to be the future No. 1 overall draft pick and the early Heisman favorite.
For the third year in a row, that quarterback is stationed on the west coast. Back in 2010, it was Washington's Jake Locker. Last year, it was Stanford's Andrew Luck. And now, this season, it will be USC's Matt Barkley.
After his fantastic 2011 campaign, in which he threw for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns and led the Trojans to 10 wins, it's hard to say that Barkley isn't deserving of the hype he's been receiving since he announced he would return for his senior year.
We're simply going to have to wait and see whether or not he can handle the enormous pressure and sky high expectations that he's going to face this fall.
As far as being an elite NFL prospect is concerned, the 6'2'', 230-pound senior has all the physical and mental traits as well as the quarterbacking skills that scouts are looking for in a potential franchise signal-caller.
Although he may not have prototypical size and he may not possess a true rocket for an arm, Barkley is the type of steady and dependable leader who can guide an offense to consistent success.
The former top-ranked 5-star recruit out of California's Mater Dei High School is an experienced four-year starter who has displayed top-level accuracy, instincts, coverage recognition, pocket awareness and overall leadership ability during his time as a Trojan. Plus, what's so encouraging is that he's managed to improve his game and get better every single season.
It's true, Barkley may not be the so-called "sure thing" prospect that Andrew Luck was considered to be last year. Still, if he builds off his 2011 success, continues to play at a high level and leads USC to the national title game this season, it's hard to see any other quarterback overtaking him between now and next April.
1. Matt Barkley, USC
2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
3. Geno Smith, West Virginia
4. Landry Jones, Oklahoma
5. E.J. Manuel, Florida State
6. Mike Glennon, N.C. State
7. Collin Klein, Kansas State
8. Denard Robinson, Michigan
9. Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah
10. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota
In each of the past two seasons, an athletic dual-threat quarterback has risen up to become the biggest breakout star in college football. In 2010, it was Auburn's Cam Newton, and last year, it was Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
The dual-threat quarterback that will now be looking to follow in the footsteps of the last two Heisman winners is Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas.
At 6'6'', 262-pounds, Thomas certainly deserved the term "physical freak" for the way he can move at his size.
In his first season as a starter in 2011, the junior signal-caller threw for over 3,000 yards, added 469 yards on the ground and accounted for 30 total touchdowns.
What was really impressive, though, is that he managed to lead the Hokies to an 11-win season, an ACC Coastal division title and a Sugar Bowl berth.
Admittedly, Thomas still has to work on his accuracy and decision-making as a passer, but he's clearly got the physical skills and ability to develop into one of the biggest stars of the 2012 season.
The NFL quarterback that Thomas most resembles is Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, but he's even more athletic and dangerous when he gets outside of the pocket and into the open field.
Thomas still has a lot to prove this season, especially since he'll be without the ACC's 2011 leading rusher David Wilson and his top two receivers from last year. But the big, athletic Hokie definitely possesses the potential to have a breakout season and develop into a top-10 pick in 2013.
1. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
2. Aaron Murray, Georgia
3. Tyler Bray, Tennessee
4. Keith Price, Washington
5. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
6. Casey Pachall, TCU
7. James Franklin, Missouri
8. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
9. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
10. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
At this time last year, Montee Ball wasn't considered to be a legitimate Heisman favorite. That's because most onlookers expected that he and teammate James White would split snaps in the Wisconsin backfield.
It was Ball, however, who emerged as the featured back in 2011, and he stepped up and became one of the biggest breakout stars of the year. The 5'11'', 212-pound senior put together a sensational season, as he rushed for 1,923 yards, caught 24 passes for 306 yards and scored 39 total touchdowns.
After finishing fourth in the Heisman voting, it seemed as if Ball had nothing left to prove, since he had solidified his status as a Day 2 NFL draft pick. But the Badger back surprised everyone by announcing that he would return to Madison for his senior season.
Now Ball will have one more year to show scouts that he's got what it takes to be an impact back in the NFL.
While he may not possess the ability to be a true upper-echelon star at the next level, Ball is the type of strong, sturdy and reliable rusher who should end up being a perfect fit as part of a two-back system in the pros.
Ball is certainly capable of becoming an Ahmad Bradshaw-type of player in the NFL. If he can come close to replicating the success he had last year again this season, he should be a solid second-round pick in 2013.
1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
2. Andre Ellington, Clemson
3. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
4. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
5. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M
7. Dennis Johnson, Arkansas
8. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
9. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
10. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn
2011 was supposed to be the season that Knile Davis transformed from an intriguing young talent into a true national star. Sadly, though, a freak preseason ankle injury ended up shelving the Razorback rusher for the entire year.
After spending months rehabbing and rehabilitating, Davis is now set to return to the Arkansas backfield, and he'll surely be looking to make up for lost time in 2012.
The 6'1'', 226-pound junior has the complete physical package that NFL scouts are looking for.
He possesses a truly rare blend of size, speed, power, balance and vision, the likes of which we simply haven't seen from many other college backs over the last decade.
Davis compares favorably to another former Arkansas star, Darren McFadden, since they're both big, physical backs who can explode once they find a crease in a defense.
Few true sophomores are capable of averaging 6.5 yards per carry and rushing for over for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns against SEC caliber competition, which just goes to show you how special of a back Davis really is.
If his ankle is 100 percent and ready to go, Davis should have a monster comeback campaign in 2012, and he could develop into a top-15 NFL draft pick if he plays up to his potential this year.
1. Knile Davis, Arkansas
2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
3. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
4. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
5. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
6. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
7. Silas Redd, USC
8. Spencer Ware, LSU
9. Waymon James, TCU
10. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
Jeff Fuller was expected to be Texas A&M's go-to receiver last season, but Fuller ended up actually getting overshadowed and outproduced by his talented teammate Ryan Swope.
Last year, Swope proved that his 72-catch performance as a sophomore in 2010 was clearly no fluke, as he hauled in 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'1'', 206-pound senior is one of the best route-runners in all of college football, and he's one of the most sure-handed and reliable receivers that you're going to find.
While Swope may not possess true breakaway deep speed, he's deceptively quick, and he knows how to properly set up defensive backs while also finding openings in coverage.
Since the Aggies will be breaking in a new quarterback this season, Swope's production could take a bit of a hit in 2012. However, after watching him continue to progress and develop into a complete receiving threat over these last two years, scouts already know what he can bring to the table.
Swope may never be a true No. 1 target in an NFL passing game, but he has the skill-set to be a perfect complementary No. 2 receiving option at the next level.
1. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
2. Terrance Williams, Baylor
3. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
4. Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech
5. Aaron Mellette, Elon
6. Keenan Davis, Iowa
7. Tavon Austin, West Virginia
8. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
9. Emory Blake, Auburn
10. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Now that Justin Blackmon has moved on to the NFL, the title of "best wide receiver in college football" is now up for grabs.
There are a number of great receivers around the country who will be competing for that honor in 2012, but Cal's Keenan Allen looks like he'll be the top contender for the title.
Allen is one of the most physically impressive receivers that we've seen in the college game in years, and he has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player at the NFL level.
The 6'3'', 210-pound junior possesses incredible athleticism for his size, and he's got the type of big frame to be a matchup nightmare for anyone who unfortunately has to cover him.
Last year, Allen proved just how dangerous he really was when he caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. His 103 receiving yards per game ranked 10th in the nation.
What makes his performance in 2011 even more incredible is that Allen was able to put up such huge numbers even though he had to rely on an inconsistent quarterback, Zach Maynard, who struggled with his consistency throughout the season and completed just 57 percent of his passes.
The NFL player that Allen most resembles from a purely physical standpoint is Cowboys receiver Miles Austin, but he has an even higher ceiling than Austin.
If the former 5-star rated recruit can put together another dominant campaign in 2012, he should work his way into the top-10 conversation for the 2013 NFL draft, and he might even start to gain buzz as the potential No. 1 overall pick.
We've seen some very special receiving prospects come out of the college ranks in recent years such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson, and Allen might just belong right up there with them as an elite caliber wide receiver prospect.
1. Keenan Allen, California
2. Robert Woods, USC
3. Justin Hunter, Tennessee
4. Josh Boyce, TCU
5. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
6. Marquess Wilson, Washington State
7. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
8. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
9. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
10. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
"Powerful" certainly isn't a word that you would use to describe Auburn's 2011 offensive attack. Last season, the Tigers averaged just 337 yards and 25.7 points per game and they ranked a paltry 70th in the nation in scoring offense and 100th in total offense.
The unit did feature a few bright spots, though, and one of them was tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Lutzenkirchen caught 24 passes for 238 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, and he displayed the type of physical skills that NFL scouts are looking for in a potential starting tight end.
The 6'5'', 255-pound senior possesses the prototypical size, strength, quickness and hands to a complete tight end. During his career at Auburn, he's shown that he can be both a dangerous weapon in the passing game as well as a reliable blocker in the run game as well.
While he may never be an elite game-changer at the next level, Lutzenkirchen is the type of versatile and well-rounded tight end that would be a valuable addition to any NFL offense.
If he can produce just like he's capable of doing in 2012, the former 4-star rated recruit should develop into a solid Day 2 draft pick this season.
1. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
2. Joseph Fauria, UCLA
3. Chris Gragg, Arkansas
4. Michael Williams, Alabama
5. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
6. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
7. Travis Tannahill, Kansas State
8. Luke Wilson, Rice
9. Kyler Reed, Nebraska
10. Ryan Otten, San Jose State
Notre Dame has produced some notable tight end prospects in recent years such as John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Fasano. But it's the school's latest standout, Tyler Eifert, who might just be better than all of them.
Last year, Eifert was the most productive tight end in college football, catching 67 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns.
The 6'6'', 251-pound junior has the size and athleticism to cause plenty of problems in the passing game, as he's simply too big for safeties to handle and too quick for most linebackers to cover.
While no one will ever confuse him for being a great blocker, Eifert is a valuable receiving threat who can really stretch the field and add a dynamic element to an NFL team's passing attack.
There wasn't a tight end taken in the first round of either of the past two NFL drafts. However, if Eifert has the performance that many are expecting from him this season, that trend could definitely change in 2013.
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
2. Levine Toilolo, Stanford
3. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
5. Jordan Reed, Florida
6. Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
7. Zach Ertz, Stanford
8. Dion Sims, Michigan State
9. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
10. Randall Telfer, USC
Since 2006, Virginia has produced two offensive tackles—Eugene Monroe and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who were top-10 NFL draft picks.
Now, the Cavs have another blindside protector—Oday Aboushi, who has evident first-round potential.
Aboushi is a 6'6'', 310-pound senior, who has started every game for the past two seasons. During that time, he's managed to grow into a dominant and fundamentally sound standout blocker.
The former 4-star rated recruit out of Brooklyn's Xaverian High School has the size and the sturdy frame that scouts covet in a young college tackle. He also has the foot speed and upper and lower body strength to excel as both a pass-blocker as well as a run-blocker.
The team captain is an excellent leader who has the potential to develop into a reliable decade-long stalwart starter for an NFL offensive line.
While he may not be a household name just yet, Aboushi has the chance to be one of the biggest risers of the 2013 draft class.
1. Oday Aboushi, Virginia
2. Alex Hurst, LSU
3. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
4. Brennan Williams, North Carolina
5. Xavier Nixon, Florida
6. Mark Jackson, Glenville State
7. Matt Summers-Gavin, California
8. David Quessenberry, San Jose State
9. Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas
10. LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
This season, LSU's offensive line will feature arguably the best pair of offensive tackles in the country comprised of left tackle Chris Faulk and right tackle Alex Hurst.
Both Faulk and Hurst have the chance to be All-Americans in 2012, and they each have to be on the short list of contenders for this year's Outland Trophy. As far as NFL potential is concerned, though, Faulk has the edge.
The 6'6'', 323-pound junior has only been a full-time starter for one season, but his performance in 2011 indicated that he's got the chance to ultimately develop into a top-tier tackle prospect.
Faulk is one of the most athletic and agile offensive lineman in the country.
Last season, he excelled against some of the best defensive competition that college football has to offer.
While he may still be a bit raw and unrefined at this point in his development, Faulk clearly possesses the physical ability to emerge as a potential top-15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
By the time next April rolls around, don't be surprised if everyone's talking about Chris Faulk the same way that they were talking about the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft Matt Kalil this year.
1. Chris Faulk, LSU
2. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
3. D.J. Fluker, Alabama
4. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
5. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
6. Justin Pugh, Syracuse
7. David Bakhtiari, Colorado
8. James Hurst, North Carolina
9. Morgan Moses, Virginia
10. Cameron Fleming, Stanford
Last year's Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones may be the most well-known member of Alabama's offensive line, but Jones actually isn't the best overall NFL prospect that the Tide will have in the trenches this season.
That honor belongs to the man that will be flanking Jones at left guard, Chance Warmack.
Warmack is a big, powerful guard, who is one of the strongest and toughest run-blockers that you're going to find in college football this season.
The 6'3'', 320-pound senior is an experienced veteran who has started all 25 games over the past two seasons.
After opening up monster holes for both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, Warmack will now once again be one of the key cogs up front for an Alabama rushing attack that should be one of the most productive in the country this year.
In the last three NFL drafts, there were six interior offensive linemen that were selected in the first round, and it wouldn't be surprising if Warmack ends up being the next one to join that illustrious group.
1. Chance Warmack, Alabama
2. Barrett Jones, Alabama
3. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
4. Larry Warford, Kentucky
5. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
6. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
7. Chris Barker, Nevada
8. Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
9. Chris McDonald, Michigan State
10. Blaize Foltz, TCU
Not only does Arkansas have an abundance of NFL talent at the skill-positions for the 2012 season, the Razorbacks will also have a future high draft pick along the offensive line as well.
That must-watch lineman will be offensive guard Alvin Bailey.
Bailey is the typical kind of big, bruising blocker who you would expect to find battling and banging around in the trenches of the SEC. The 6'5'', 312-pound junior has started every single game since he entered the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman back in 2010.
While he still has to work on his pass-blocking technique in order to survive against the quicker defensive tackles he'll face at the NFL level, Bailey is already a pro-caliber run-blocker who can simply overwhelm defenders once he latches onto them.
This season, most fans will be paying attention to the Razorbacks explosive quartet of offensive playmakers consisting of QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton and TE Chris Gragg. But NFL scouts will surely be keeping a close eye on Alvin Bailey throughout the 2012 season.
1. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
2. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
3. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
4. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
5. Spencer Long, Nebraska
6. Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
7. Josh Williford, LSU
8. John Martinez, USC
9. Mason Walters, Texas
10. Jon Halapio, Florida
Most of the talk surrounding USC's offense this season seems to have revolved around three players—quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
That's understandable considering those are three of the best players in college football.
Still, you simply can't overlook just how talented the Trojans' offensive line is this season, and it's a unit that deserves a ton of credit as well.
Four out of the five starters from last year's group, which gave up just eight total sacks—the lowest total of the 2011 season—will be returning, but none of them are as vital as center Khaled Holmes.
Holmes is the true leader and linchpin of USC's front-five.
The 6'4'', 305-pound senior converted from guard to center last offseason, and he didn't seem to have any trouble making the transition, as he earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors for his performance in 2011.
The athletic, intelligent and physical two-year starter could play either center or guard in the pros, but wherever he ultimately ends up, he's surely going to be a valuable addition to an NFL offensive line.
1. Khaled Holmes, USC
2. Graham Pocic, Illinois
3. Patrick Lewis, Texas A&M
4. Braxston Cave, Notre Dame
5. T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
6. Dalton Freeman, Clemson
7. Mario Benavides, Louisville
8. James Ferentz, Iowa
9. Alec Johnson, San Diego State
10. Joe Madsen, West Virginia
Year after year Wisconsin has routinely had one of college football's premier offensive lines, and even though the Badgers lost three starters from last season, 2012 should be no different.
That's because this year's line will feature two potential All-Americans—center Travis Frederick and left tackle Ricky Wagner.
Wagner garnered most of the hype and preseason attention this summer, but the real catalyst for success up front this year could actually be Frederick, who will switch over from guard to take over for the departed Peter Konz.
The 6'4'', 338-pound junior is a huge, powerful and tenacious run-blocker, who opened up huge holes for running back Montee Ball to burst through last season.
Frederick has only been a full-time starter for one season, but he's already displayed the type of toughness, intelligence and natural physical ability that is definitely going to intrigue NFL scouts.
1. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
2. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
3. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
4. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
5. Andrew Miller, Virginia Tech
6. Tyler Larsen, Utah State
7. Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
8. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
9. Jay Finch, Georgia Tech
10. Zac Kerin, Toledo
There should be an abundance of talented run-stuffing defensive tackle prospects in the 2013 NFL draft class, but none of them will be able to compare to Utah's Star Lotulelei.
After arriving at Utah as a 3-star rated JUCO recruit out of Snow College before the start of the 2010 season, Lotulelei was pretty much an unknown commodity going into his first year with the Utes. However, over the last two seasons, he's developed into one of the most dominant run-stoppers in the country, and he’s now got the full attention of NFL scouts.
The monstrous 6’4’’, 320-pound senior uses his mammoth size and mighty power to eat up blockers and clog up running lanes snap after snap.
Last year, Lotulelei earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after racking up 44 stops, including nine tackles for loss.
Although he doesn’t make a ton of flash plays, Lotulelei still fills his role perfectly, as he consistently demands double-teams and he frees up space for others around him to make tackles.
We’ve seen plenty of tackles of Tongan descent, such as Haloti Ngata, Sione Pouha, Fili Moala, Stephen Paea and Sione Fua, enter the NFL in recent years, and Lotulelei is now the next in line.
The huge nose tackle has the potential to grow into a valuable interior force at the next level, and he’s one of the best run-stuffing defensive lineman prospects of the last five years.
1. Star Lotulelei, Utah
2. John Jenkins, Georgia
3. Jesse Williams, Alabama
4. Kawann Short, Purdue
5. Jamarkus McFarland, Oklahoma
6. Jordan Hill, Penn State
7. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
8. Scott Vallone, Rutgers
9. Joe Vellano, Maryland
10. Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska
NFL teams are always in search of versatile defensive tackles that are big and strong enough to shut down running games while still possessing the quickness and agility to be a factor as a pass-rusher as well.
One top tackle prospect that fits that mold is Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins.
Last year, Hankins truly looked like a man amongst boys at times, as he proved to be one of the most stout run-stuffers in all of college football.
The huge 6’3’’, 317-pound junior finished the 2011 season with 67 total tackles, including 14 tackles for loss, and three sacks.
Hankins proved that he was more than just a big body that could clog up running lanes and eat up double-teams. He showed that he could consistently break through blockers, penetrate into the backfield and make key momentum-shifting stops behind the line of scrimmage.
At this point in his development, Hankins is a more polished prospect than both Dontari Poe and Michael Brockers, two tackles who were both top-15 picks in this year’s NFL draft.
With the versatility to fill a variety of different roles and fit into either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defensive scheme, Hankins has the chance to rise up and become one of the most coveted defensive lineman available for the 2013 draft if he decides to declare after the season.
1. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
3. Bennie Logan, LSU
4. Dominique Easley, Florida
5. Kwame Geathers, Georgia
6. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
7. Akeem Spence, Illinois
8. Bruce Gaston, Purdue
9. Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
10. Byran Jones, Arkansas
Last year, Alex Okafor made the move back to his more natural position of defensive end after spending the 2010 season mainly at defensive tackle, and it turned out to be a switch that he certainly benefitted from.
Okafor continued to take strides towards becoming an elite edge-rusher in 2011, as he racked up seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss and finished with 14 quarterback hurries.
The scary part is that the 6’4’’, 265-pound senior has only just begun to truly tap into his enormous potential, and he still has room to get stronger and develop an all-around pass-rushing repertoire full of different moves.
The smart, humble and hard-working veteran has the mental makeup and personality that will really win over a lot of NFL scouts. If he continues to develop into a dangerous pass-rushing presence, his name should really begin to climb up draft boards this season.
With Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat both returning to the mix, Texas will have one of the scariest defensive end tandems in the country in 2012, and the two of them should continue to embarrass plenty of Big 12 offensive tackles this fall.
1. Alex Okafor, Texas
2. Devin Taylor, South Carolina
3. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson
4. Dion Jordan, Oregon
5. Margus Hunt, SMU
6. John Simon, Ohio State
7. Wes Horton, USC
8. Damion Square, Alabama
9. Abry Jones, Georgia
10. Craig Roh, Michigan
Bjoern Werner has a calm and relatively friendly personality when he’s off the field, but once he gets in between the white lines, he does his best Hulk impression and transforms into a ferocious beast.
Werner is one of the strongest and scariest defensive ends in college football, and what makes him such a special player is that he’s also one of the smartest and most instinctive defenders that you’ll see this season.
The 6’4’’, 265-pound junior caused plenty of havoc and destruction in the trenches last season when he totaled six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and eight pass knockdowns.
The German native has everything you look for in a standout pass-rushing prospect—size, power, explosiveness, toughness, instincts and a non-stop motor. Plus, what’s so impressive and intriguing about him is that he has yet to come close to reaching his full potential.
If Werner continues to develop as expected, he could eventually turn out to be a Justin Smith-type of impact defensive end in the NFL. He has all of the tools to dominate as both a run-stuffer and a pass-rusher at the next level.
1. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
2. William Gholston, Michigan State
3. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
4. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
5. Stansly Maponga, TCU
6. Kaleb Eulls, Mississippi State
7. Ryne Giddins, South Florida
8. Cassius Marsh, UCLA
9. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
10. Justin Washington, Arizona
In each of the past two seasons, there has been an Illinois defensive lineman who has risen up from relative obscurity to become a first-round NFL draft pick. In 2010, it was defensive tackle Corey Liuget. Then last season, it was defensive end Whitney Mercilus.
This year, the player that could continue that streak is hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker Michael Buchanan.
Even though it was Mercilus who received most of the exposure and publicity for his All-American campaign in 2011, Buchanan actually deserved plenty of praise for his performance as well last year.
The 6'6'', 240-pound senior totaled 7.5 sacks and 64 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss in 2011.
Buchanan has the physical makeup to develop into a coveted 3-4 rush linebacker prospect this season.
The former 4-star rated recruit out of Illinois' Homewood-Flossmoor High School has the size, explosiveness off the edge and the strength at the point of attack that NFL scouts are searching for, and his name could go flying up draft boards over the next few months.
1. Michael Buchanan, Illinois
2. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
3. Sean Porter, Texas A&M
4. Chase Thomas, Stanford
5. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss
6. Meshak Williams, Kansas State
7. Travis Long, Washington State
8. Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
9. Ben Obaseki, Indiana State
10. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati
If you're looking for this year's version of Aldon Smith, then look no further than LSU's Barkevious Mingo.
Mingo has only been playing organized football since his junior year in high school, but you certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell that from watching him last season.
He looked like a naturally gifted pass-rusher, who was at times simply unstoppable and unblockable.
The athletic and explosive 6’5’’, 240-pound junior notched eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss in his first season as a full-time starter in 2011, and he showed some simply awe-inspiring physical traits.
The long, lean and supremely athletic defensive end is cut from the same mold as other top recent pass-rushing prospects such as Smith, Bruce Irvin and Von Miller.
Although he still has to work on refining his overall technique and adding more bulk to his skinny frame, Mingo has the intriguing raw potential that should interest plenty of NFL teams that are looking to groom a young potential future star pass-rusher.
With the type of build and explosive athleticism that he possesses, Mingo could ultimately end up developing into an extremely disruptive 3-4 outside linebacker at the pro level.
While he may not be as polished as fellow LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, Mingo may actually have an even higher ceiling than his Tiger teammate.
There’s no telling just how high his stock could climb this season if he plays up to his potential and realizes how to fully unleash his rare physical gifts.
1. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
3. Sam Montgomery, LSU
4. Corey Lemonier, Auburn
5. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
6. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
7. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
8. Ronald Powell, Florida
9. J.R. Collins, Virginia Tech
10. Kony Ealy, Missouri
It's going to be a long, strange season for Penn State in 2012, but there are at least a few talented veteran players that fans should be excited to see this year.
The Nittany Lions' top NFL prospect is without a doubt outside linebacker Gerald Hodges.
Hodges is a former 4-star rated recruit out of New Jersey's Paulsboro High School, who took a few years to figure out how to put his top-notch physical skills to good use.
Once he finally put it all together, though, Hodges turned out to be one of the most dominant defensive playmakers in the country.
Last year, the 6'2'', 237-pound senior enjoyed a breakout campaign, as he led the team with 106 total tackles, and also notched 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four pass breakups.
The athletic and instinctive weak side linebacker clearly has the tools to become a valuable starter at the NFL level. Plus, you can't help but admire his choice to finish off his career in Happy Valley, even when times are tough.
1. Gerald Hodges, Penn State
2. Jake Knott, Iowa State
3. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
4. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
5. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina
6. Sio Moore, Connecticut
7. Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas
8. Brandon Magee, Arizona State
9. Kenny Tate, Maryland
10. Dwayne Beckford, Purdue
Florida's defense is absolutely loaded with standout playmakers for the 2012 season. One of the top Gator defenders to watch this year will be weak side linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
Jenkins arrived in Gainesville as a highly touted blue-chip recruit out of Maryland, and he initially had some very high expectations to live up to. The pressure hasn't seemed to affected the 6'0'', 237-pound junior at all, though, as he's been one of the SEC's top impact defenders since bursting into the starting lineup as a true freshman back in 2010.
Over the past two years, Jenkins has totaled 153 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, and he's shown that he has an inherent sense for finding the football and making key stops.
Although he may be a bit undersized by NFL standards, Jenkins has the skill set and physical makeup to flourish as a weak side 'backer in a 4-3 defensive system at the pro level.
1. Jelani Jenkins, Florida
2. Denicos Allen, Michigan State
3. Jordan Hicks, Texas
4. Dion Bailey, USC
5. Christian Jones, Florida State
6. Jake Ryan, Michigan
7. Hayes Pullard, USC
8. Andrew Wilson, Missouri
9. Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
10. DeDe Lattimore, South Florida
Notre Dame fans know a thing or two about heralded blue-chip high school recruits not living up to their potential at the college level. However, luckily for the Irish faithful, linebacker Manti Te’o certainly hasn’t disappointed after arriving in South Bend as a 5-star rated prospect from Hawaii.
Te’o became an instant impact playmaker as a freshman back in 2009, and over the last two years he’s developed into one of the best defensive players in school history.
The 6’2’’, 255-pound senior has been a tackling machine throughout his college career, racking up 324 total stops in three seasons.
Although he may still be somewhat of a liability in pass coverage, Te’o is a great run-stuffing inside linebacker who has the size, strength, instincts, tackling ability and toughness to shut down the middle of the field.
Since the importance of inside linebackers has become downgraded in today’s pass-happy NFL, teams may be reluctant to spend a top-10 draft pick on Te’o in 2013. Nevertheless, given his combination of physical talent, intelligence and leadership ability, Te’o should still be one of the most coveted defensive prospects available next year.
1. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
2. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
3. Shayne Skov, Stanford
4. Arthur Brown, Kansas State
5. Nico Johnson, Alabama
6. Jonathan Bostic, Florida
7. Demetrius Hartsfield, Maryland
8. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
9. Kenny Demens, Michigan
10. A.J. Klein, Iowa State
Last season, Alabama's linebacker corps featured two of the best players in the country—Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower.
Now that both of them have moved on to the NFL, though, the Tide will be hoping that C.J. Mosley can step up in 2012 and fill the void that they left.
Mosley has had to work his way up a crowded defensive depth chart over the past two years, but he's now going to have the opportunity this season to prove to the college football world that he's got what it takes to be the next star defender in Tuscaloosa.
The 6'2'', 232-pound junior is a former 4-star rated recruit out of Alabama's Theodore High School, who has all the physical skills and natural talent to develop into one of the top defensive prospects of the 2013 draft class.
The athletic and intelligent inside 'backer has the lateral speed to roam around the field from sideline to sideline and he knows how to read and react and how to find the football.
With Mosley and fellow linebacker Nico Johnson both leading the way, Alabama's defense may not actually miss Upshaw and Hightower all that much in 2012.
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Tom Wort, Oklahoma
3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
4. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
5. Kevin Minter, LSU
6. Alec Ogletree, Georgia
7. Tariq Edwards, Virginia Tech
8. Max Bullough, Michigan State
9. James Morris, Iowa
10. Marquis Spruill, Syracuse
Johnthan Banks could have joined his Mississippi State teammate Fletcher Cox in the 2012 NFL Draft, and if he had declared he likely would have competed with Janoris Jenkins to be the fourth cornerback selected.
Ultimately, though, Banks' decision to return to Starkville for his senior year may prove to be a wise one, as he’s now got the chance to solidify his status as a top-15 pick for next year's draft.
At 6'2'', 185-pounds, Banks not only has the rare size that NFL scouts covet in a cornerback; he also possesses elite athleticism and a complete overall skill-set.
Banks was a hidden gem when he was a lightly recruited 3-star prospect at Mississippi's East Webster High School, but once he got to Mississippi State, he immediately made his presence felt in the SEC. Since breaking his way into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season in 2009, Banks has continued to progress and get better each year, and he is now sitting on the doorstep of greatness.
The big, physical and athletic corner has displayed outstanding coverage awareness and ball skills, which he’s shown by picking off 12 passes and breaking up another 19 throws during his career.
Now that Tyrann Mathieu is out of the picture, Banks has the opportunity in 2012 to prove that he's the best cornerback in the SEC and one of the best NFL prospects in the entire country.
1. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
2. Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech
3. Johnny Adams, Michigan State
4. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
5. Micah Hyde, Iowa
6. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
7. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut
8. Nigel Malone, Kansas State
9. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
10. Desmond Trufant, Washington
Even though he started nine games and racked up 50 tackles as a true freshman back in 2010, David Amerson wasn’t really being talked about as one of college football’s top cornerbacks last offseason.
That all changed, however, after Amerson put together a record-breaking season in 2011, in which he led the country with 13 interceptions, which was the most in ACC history and the second most in FBS history.
That performance helped the breakout star corner earn numerous postseason accolades, including All-American and All-ACC honors.
The 6’3’’, 194-pound junior will now enter the upcoming season as the most talked about NFL cornerback prospect in college football.
Not only has Amerson displayed tremendous ball skills, he also has the type of intriguing size-speed combination that scouts are looking for in a potential top-10 draft pick.
Like all college defensive backs, Amerson still has to continue to work on his overall technique and fundamentals. However, the big, athletic corner clearly has the type of coverage ability, recognition skills and overall physical makeup to develop into a No. 1 corner for an NFL defense in the years to come.
Amerson’s interception total will likely drop considerably in 2012, since most opposing quarterbacks will be afraid to test him this season, but that shouldn’t hurt his stock at all, as he’s already shown enough to warrant being a high pick in next year’s NFL draft.
1. David Amerson, N.C. State
2. Carrington Byndom, Texas
3. Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
4. Dee Milliner, Alabama
5. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
6. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
7. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
8. Ricardo Allen, Purdue
9. Tyrann Mathieu, Right Step Rehab
10. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Texas' secondary could very well be college football's best defensive backfield this season.
Not only do the Longhorns bring back two of the best cornerbacks in the country—Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs; they also have one of the best safeties, Kenny Vaccaro, as well.
Vaccaro was one of the team's key defensive leaders in 2011, as he racked up 82 tackles and two sacks, picked off two passes and broke up another eight throws.
The 6'1'', 218-pound senior is an athletic, instinctive and dependable veteran safety who always seems to find a way to be right where he needs to be to make a crucial play.
While he may not be a truly elite level safety prospect that recent top-10 picks such as Mark Barron, Eric Berry and LaRon Landry were all considered to be, Vaccaro is the type of dependable defensive back who could come in and start from day one as a rookie for a number of NFL teams.
1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
2. T.J. McDonald, USC
3. Robert Lester, Alabama
4. John Boyett, Oregon
5. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
6. Dexter McCoil, Tulsa
7. Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee
8. Daimion Stafford, Nebraska
9. Terence Garvin, West Virginia
10. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
The SEC has produced some of college football’s best safety prospects in recent years such as Alabama’s Mark Barron, Tennessee’s Eric Berry and LSU’s LaRon Landry.
This year, the conference is once again home to the top safety in the country—LSU”s Eric Reid.
Reid, who is the son of former All-American LSU hurdler Eric Reid Sr., is one of the most athletic and instinctive safeties that we’ve seen in college football in the last decade.
Although the 6’2’’, 208-pound junior was overshadowed by his teammate Tyrann Mathieu last season, it was actually Reid who was the true MVP of LSU’s defensive backfield in 2011.
The big, physical and explosive free safety showed off his tremendous range, coverage skills and radar for the football on a consistent basis throughout the season.
Reid finished the year tied for the team lead with 76 tackles and he also picked off two passes, one of which was a crucial and clutch interception late in the “Game of the Century” against Alabama which likely saved the Tigers from defeat.
Now that the Honey Badger's gone, look for Reid to step up in 2012 and show the college football world that he’s truly one of the sport’s best defensive playmakers and one of the top eligible prospects for the 2013 draft.
1. Eric Reid, LSU
2. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
3. Matt Elam, Florida
4. Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
5. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
7. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
8. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
9. Brian Blechen, Utah
10. Craig Loston, LSU
Dustin Hopkins may not follow in the footsteps of former Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski and end up becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. But there's no doubt that Hopkins will be one of the most coveted specialist prospects available in 2013.
Hopkins has spent all three seasons in Tallahassee as the Seminoles' starting place-kicker, and during that time he's shown tremendous leg strength and outstanding accuracy.
The 6'2'', 190-pound senior's most impressive season came in 2011, when he knocked through 22 of his 27 field goal attempts as well as all 44 of his extra point tries.
Now that 2011 Lou Groza Award winner Randy Bullock has moved on to the NFL, Hopkins has to be considered the early front-runner to take home the trophy in 2012, and he should ultimately end up being the first kicker selected in next year's draft.
1. Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
2. Brett Maher, Nebraska
3. Caleb Sturgis, Florida
4. Dan Conroy, Michigan State
5. Maikon Bonani, South Florida
6. Zach Brown, Portland State
7. Jack Griffin, FIU
8. Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia
9. Drew Alleman, LSU
10. Brett Baer, Louisiana-Lafayette
It didn't take long for punter Jeff Locke to show flashes of his enormous potential at UCLA.
Back in 2009, as just a redshirt freshman, Locke ranked 15th nationally with a 43.6 yards per punt average, and he managed to best that number during his sophomore season with a 45.8 yard average, which ranked fourth in the country.
The 6'0'', 207-pound senior clearly has one of the strongest legs in all of college football.
Locke outperformed former conference counterpart Bryan Anger, who was a third-round pick in this year's NFL draft, in each of the past three seasons.
The UCLA punter's clearly got what it takes to be one of the top specialist prospects of the 2013 draft class.
1. Jeff Locke, UCLA
2. Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
3. Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech
4. Jackson Rice, Oregon
5. Dylan Breeding, Arkansas
6. Bobby Cowan, Idaho
7. Ian Campbell, UTEP
8. Tress Way, Oklahoma
9. Richard Kent, Vanderbilt
10. Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss
1. QB Matt Barkley, USC
2. QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
3. NT Star Lotulelei, Utah
4. ILB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
5. DE Alex Okafor, Texas
6. NT John Jenkins, Georgia
7. CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
8. RLB Michael Buchanan, Illinois
9. DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina
10. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
11. RLB Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
12. RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
13. OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
14. FS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
15. ILB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
16. DT Jesse Williams, Alabama
17. FS T.J. McDonald, USC
18. WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
19. OT Oday Aboushi, Virginia
20. WR Terrance Williams, Baylor
21. DE Malliciah Goodman, Clemson
22. OT Alex Hurst, LSU
23. OG Barrett Jones, Alabama
24. DT Kawann Short, Purdue
25. OT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
26. RLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M
27. WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
28. CB Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech
29. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
30. ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford
31. DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
32. RB Andre Ellington, Clemson
33. QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State
34. CB Johnny Adams, Michigan State
35. ILB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
36. RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
37. CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
38. DE Margus Hunt, SMU
39. ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama
40. RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon
41. TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
42. C Khaled Holmes, USC
43. DE John Simon, Ohio State
44. SS Robert Lester, Alabama
45. OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn State
46. RLB Chase Thomas, Stanford
47. QB Mike Glennon, N.C. State
48. TE Joseph Fauria, UCLA
49. WR Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech
50. DE Wes Horton, USC
51. OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
52. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
53. WR Aaron Mellette, Elon
54. FS John Boyett, Oregon
55. CB Micah Hyde, Iowa
56. OLB Jake Knott, Iowa State
57. OG Larry Warford, Kentucky
58. FS Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
59. DT Jamarkus McFarland, Oklahoma
60. RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
61. DE Damion Square, Alabama
62. WR Keenan Davis, Iowa
63. OT Brennan Williams, North Carolina
64. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
65. RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M
66. OG Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
67. OLB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
68. CB Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
69. TE Chris Gragg, Arkansas
70. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan
71. CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut
72. WR Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
73. RLB Jamie Collins, Southern Miss
74. OG Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
75. CB Nigel Malone, Kansas State
1. WR Keenan Allen, Cal
2. RLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
3. RB Knile Davis, Arkansas
4. CB David Amerson, N.C. State
5. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
6. DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
7. WR Robert Woods, USC
8. DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
9. RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
10. FS Eric Reid, LSU
11. RLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
12. CB Carrington Byndom, Texas
13. OT Chris Faulk, LSU
14. DE William Gholston, Michigan State
15. OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
16. RLB Sam Montgomery, LSU
17. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
18. WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
19. OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
20. RB Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
21. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
22. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
23. DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
24. QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee
25. ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
26. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
27. RB Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
28. WR Josh Boye, TCU
29. ILB Jelani Jenkins, Florida
30. FS Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
31. TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
32. OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse
33. RLB Corey Lemonier, Auburn
34. WR Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
35. CB Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
36. DT Bennie Logan, LSU
37. OG Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
38. CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
39. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
40. WR Marquess Wilson, Washington State
41. DT Dominique Easley, Florida
42. QB Keith Price, Washington
43. RLB Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
44. NT Kwame Geathers, Georgia
45. TE Levine Toilolo, Stanford
46. RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
47. CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
48. DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech
49. RLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
50. ILB Tom Wort, Oklahoma
51. OLB Denicos Allen, Michigan State
52. QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama
53. OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
54. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
55. DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
56. RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
57. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
58. C Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
59. DE Stansly Maponga, TCU
60. SS Matt Elam, Florida
61. DT Akeem Spence, Illinois
62. RB Silas Redd, USC
63. CB Ricardo Allen, Purdue
64. OLB Jordan Hicks, Texas
65. RLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
66. DE Kaleb Eulls, Mississippi State
67. OT David Bakhtiari, Colorado
68. OLB Dion Bailey, USC
69. QB Casey Pachall, TCU
70. DE Ryne Giddins, South Florida
71. CB Tyrann Mathieu, Right Step Rehab
72. QB James Franklin, Missouri
73. WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
74. ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
75. OT James Hurst, North Carolina