Too Soon? Top 15 Prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft

Scott SerlesCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2011

Too Soon? Top 15 Prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to hand the ball of to Dan Herron #1 against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    With the 2011 NFL Draft coming quickly upon us, I thought I would take a look ahead at the 2012 Draft.  I consider the 2011 Draft weak in terms of elite talent, particularly near the top. 

    So if your team needs help beyond what the 2011 Draft may provide, I thought I would spotlight the Top 15 draft eligible players for 2012.

    The 2012 Draft is short (no pun intended) on dominating big men. There are no elite offensive tackles or space eating defensive lineman.  But 2012 looks long on receivers, DB's, and of course quarterback.  In the pass happy NFL, this should come as no surprise.

    I'm sure there are a few players I will overlook and you will let me hear about it, but these are the 15 I think should be near the top.

1 Matt Barkley, QB, USC 6'2" 220 (JR)

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    PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans drops back to pass against the UCLA Bruins during the first half at the Rose Bowl on December 4, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    This may come as surprise right now, but after the 2011 season is over, I look for Barkley to move past Luck as the No. 1 overall prospect in the NFL Draft.

    Why?  Poise and leadership come to mind, not that Luck does not have that in spades, but Barkley has been a starter since he walked onto campus and has led the Trojans in what will end up being two seasons on probation.

    Barkley is a classic drop-back passer who can make all the NFL throws.  I think he would be an ideal fit in a West Coast system. 

    I wouldn't be surprised if the Cincinnati Bengals are picking here in 2012 and take Barkley No. 1.  Of course if it is the Bengals, Barkley could go back to school as did Andrew Luck and avoid going to the frugal Bengals organization.

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford 6'4" 235 (JR)

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03: Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal drops back to pass against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Andrew Luck's decision to come back for another year before declaring doesn't burn him as it did Jake Locker and Matt Leinart. But, Luck does fall to No. 2.

    I think Luck will miss head coach Jim Harbaugh's tutelage more than one might think right now.  Stanford will not play in a BCS game next season and some of the shine comes off Luck just a bit.

    However, if he came back to school to avoid playing for the Carolina Panthers, I have a feeling the Panthers will be picking right here in 2012. I guess he could always go back for his senior year.  But if he does that he is a damn fool.

    He should enter the league and quickly be regarded, along with Sam Bradford and Cam Newton as one of the young guns in the NFL.

3. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St. 6'1" 207 (JR)

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    STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Justin Blackmon #81 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys warms up before the college football game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Boone Pickens Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  The Cowboys defe
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With apologies to A.J. Green, I thought Justin Blackmon was the best receiver I saw play last season.  He reminded me of a smaller version of TO. 

    If he can remain clean off the field, and stay injury free next year, he should be the first receiver off the board in 2012.  Blackmon has a good size/speed combo and should be a legit No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

    I could see the Minnesota Vikings picking third and looking for a receiver after the possible departure of Sidney Rice this season. 

4. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina 6'1" 190 (JR)

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    COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 28:  Stephon Gilmore #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs off the field during the game against the Clemson Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Image
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Gilmore is a special athlete and has been an impact player since his freshman year.  I thought he was the best corner in the SEC last season (Jeff Fuller burned Patrick Peterson a few times in that bowl game).

    He can also return punts, but I doubt he will do so in the NFL.  Gilmore is just a freak athlete having played quarterback in high school and has operated from the Wildcat a few times for South Carolina.

    Another year at Carolina to work on his technique to add to his raw athletic ability and Gilmore should be a Top 5 NFL Draft pick.

    Depending on his 40 time, I think the Oakland Raiders look to draft Gilmore to be a replacement for the departed Nnamdi Asomugah.

5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama 5'11" 220 (JR)

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    DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide breaks away from Ross Cockrell #6 of the Duke Blue Devils for a 45-yard touchdown run at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Durham, North Carolina.  The Crimson Tide def
    Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images

    Running backs don't generally go this high in the draft anymore.   The NFL is a passing league now and running backs can be found anywhere and run for 1000 yards or fill in and make a difference. (James Starks?)

    But Richardson is special.  Explosive, powerful, quick feet.  I don't really have a good NFL comparison for him that I can think of.

    He is better than former teammate and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, and I think in 2011 Richardson gets his own Heisman.

    Look for the Washington Redskins to draft Richardson No. 5 overall, to replace an aging Clinton Portis. 

6. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina 6'4" 232 (JR)

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    COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Alshon Jeffery #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Tennessee Volunteers during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Playmaker.  That is what Alshon Jeffery was last season for South Carolina.

    Jeffery is a big receiver with speed and good hands.  He dominated the SEC last season and was a big reason South Carolina was actually relevant last season.

    He is not much different than Georgia's AJ Green, who will be the top receiver taken in the 2011 Draft.  If he could of declared this year he would have been a Top 15 pick.

    The Seattle Seahawks should take Jeffery with pick No. 6. Team him up with the late-developing Mike Williams, and the 'Hawks field one of the bigger receiving tandems in NFL history.

7. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan St. 6'3" 305 (SR)

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Jerel Worthy #99 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates a defensive play against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27. (Photo by Jonatha
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The first senior and the first lineman to come off the board.  Worthy is not Nick Fairley, but he is the best interior lineman going into the 2011 college football season.

    Worthy is quick off the ball and uses his strength to fight off double teams.  He probably needs to get a bit heavier before he enters the NFL.  He is also prone to dumb penalties, but that shouldn't hinder him from being one of top prospects in the 2012 Draft.

    Worthy is perhaps the first prospect so far that could possibly make me eat crow and turn out to be a third round pick after all is said and done in 2011.  It is hard to get a read on linemen sometimes.

    If Nick Fairley does not fall into the Denver Broncos lap in 2011, then Worthy could be a worthy pick in 2012. Sorry.

8. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina 6'6" 272 (SR)

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 18:  Quinton Coples #90 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The North Carolina Tar Heels are turning out stars on the defensive side of the ball recently. Quietly, Quinton Coples has flown under the radar in 2010 and ended up finishing with 10 sacks.

    In 2011 Coples should break out and going into the 2012 NFL Draft, he will be the most sought after defensive end in the land.

    He should be effective in the 4-3 defense and a true down lineman, but could rush from the outside as a linebacker in the 3-4.

    The Arizona Cardinals put very little heat on the quarterback in 2010, and I could see them picking at No. 8 in 2012 and grabbing the best defensive end in the Draft.

9. Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida 5'11" 186 (SR)

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    GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 22:  Janoris Jenkins #29 of the Florida Gators runs for yardage during the game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 22, 2008 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Janoris Jenkins went back to school for his senior year to improve his draft stock and honestly this is probably where he would of ended up had he declared.

    Jenkins is not as athletic as Stephon Gilmore, but is an overall better cover corner at this point in their careers.  He could be selected higher than ninth, but I feel as though this is where he will land.

    Jenkins has good speed, and is an experienced starter in the tough SEC.  He has good hands, and the ability to finish plays and take them the distance.  Jenkins needs to get stronger before entering the NFL to take on the bigger receivers in press coverage.

    The Cleveland Browns could pair up Jenkins with former Gator teammate Joe Haden and form a dynamic cornerback duo for the next five years.

10. Michael Adams, OT, Ohio St. 6'8" 300 (SR)

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    CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 02: Mike Adams #75 of the Ohio State Buckeyes prepares to block against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 24-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    I don't see very many elite offensive line prospects for 2012 Draft, but it is early and usually 3 or 4 guys emerge and crash the top 15.

    Michael Adams is no Orlando Pace, but who is? Right now I feel he the best O-lineman to make the transition into the NFL.  He has to serve a five-game suspension at the beginning of the 2011 season, and that might turn some teams off that are discouraged by character issues.  He is not Lawrence Phillips, but NFL teams seemed to be scared off by anything negative these days since Sheriff Goodell took over the league.

    This might be too high for some of you to see Adams go. But after another year at Ohio St. he can refine his technique and combined with his raw athletic ability, it should push Adams into the Top 10 in 2012.

    The Buffalo Bills have a need at tackle and Adams should be a nice fit to protect Cam Newton's (that's right) blind side for years to come.

11. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame 6'3" 227 (SR)

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    NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20: Michael Floyd #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes against the Army Black Knights at Yankee Stadium on November 20, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Floyd is the third receiver to go in the Top 15 in 2012.

    He didn't have a great year in 2010, but shaky quarterback play and the fact he was coming back from knee surgery contributed. He came on late and showed flashes that made him a top prospect after his sophomore season.

    His senior year should push Floyd back into the conversation of best receiver in the nation.  Floyd has great hands and body control with the ability to make plays down the field.  His 40 time may knock him out of the first 15, but if he runs it in the 4.5 area he should be a solid pick in the top half of the Draft.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars who have missed on a number of picks in the first round on knucklehead receivers, (Reggie Williams, R. Jay Soward, and Matt "Coke" Jones) take Floyd in the first round and finally have a play making receiver that they have lacked since Jimmy Smith.

12. Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami (Fla) 6'4" 220 (JR)

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    MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 9: Jermaine Thomas #38 of the Florida State Seminoles breaks the tackle of Ray-Ray Armstrong #26 of the Miami Hurricanes to score a touchdown in the second quarter on October 9, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    They gave Ray Ray Armstrong Sean Taylor's No. 26 at 'THE U.' In 2011 he begins to play like the Hurricanes legend.  I actually believe this maybe too low for Armstrong after all is said and done in 2011. 

    Tall and lanky, Armstrong needs to add more bulk, without losing speed.  A quarterback in high school, Armstrong is an exceptional athlete that settled into the secondary for the Hurricanes.

    This might be the biggest surprise on the list so far, but I think after his junior year, everyone will know about Armstrong.  He is not Sean Taylor or Ed Reed as of yet, but we are seeing the progression of another great Miami safety.

    The St. Louis Rams who just lost OJ Atogwe, take Armstrong to help solidify a weak Rams secondary.

13. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama 6'2" 210 (SR)

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 02:  Mark Barron #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Another strong safety, Barron would have probably been a late first round pick had he declared for the 2011 Draft.

    Barron is a big hitter, who led Alabama in tackles despite missing their Bowl game with an injury.  Has good size/speed combo that allows him to match up with both tight ends and slot receivers. Barron is also a student of the game and has a tremendous work ethic.

    Barron has also been coached up by Nick Saban who takes pride in turning out competent NFL defensive backs.  I could see Barron being an All-Pro by his third season.

    The Dallas Cowboys evoke the ghost of George Teague and take another Alabama safety to roam Cowboys Stadium or whatever it is called for years to come.  We all know that Dallas needs help in the secondary and Barron is a natural fit for the Cowboys.

14. Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama 6'4" 254 (JR)

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 02:  Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Hightower is probably one of the top three players going into the 2011 football season.  But linebackers, particularly inside linebackers rarely get drafted within the Top 5 picks in the Draft.  Hightower could be the exception, but I think this is just about the right spot that he should go.

    Hightower has a great combination of size and speed and has the ability to rush the passer.  He has had injury problem in college (torn ACL) which could lower his draft stock, but it shouldn't push him out of the first round.

    I wouldn't be shocked if he went higher and I wouldn't be surprised if teams got scared off by his injuries and he went a bit lower, but Hightower is no doubt a first round prospect.

    The Detroit Lions need a inside 'backer to play behind Ndamakong Suh, Hightower could make a career out of cleaning up what Suh is going to slow down through the middle.

15. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio St. 6'6" 233 (SR)

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks to pass against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Here is where everyone comments about how stupid I am. 

    But I think after Pryor sits out his five- game suspension, he is going to come back with something to prove.  Everyone always talks about how competitive a kid he is.  2011 will be the litmus test for Pryor.  Either he is going to be the top prospect that everyone thought he was going to be coming out of high school or he is going to be an over-hyped minor disappointment that falls into the third round. Or perhaps gets turned into a tight end in the NFL.

    I tend to agree with the former.  Pryor is going to put it all together in 2011 and emerge as on of the top prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft.

    We all know his weakness: accuracy.  He has sensational athleticism and a big enough arm to make all the throws, but can he harness all of his talent over nine games in 2011 to prove to everyone that he was the elite talent everyone thought he was coming out of Jeannette, PA.

    The Miami Dolphins think so and take Pryor to try and make South Florida finally forget about Dan Marino.