2012 NFL Draft: Very Early Projection of the Top 20 Overall Prospects

Casey Hewitt@@cjh37Contributor IIIMay 30, 2011

2012 NFL Draft: Very Early Projection of the Top 20 Overall Prospects

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  A general view of the Draft stage during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    It may be 10 months away, but it is never too early to start scouting for the 2012 NFL draft. 2012's draft class looks to be a bit better than 2011, but until the college football season gets underway, there is no way to tell.

    Also, this is not a mock draft. There is no way to tell the draft order yet and if the 2011 NFL season is cancelled, it may come down to a random draw; and if the owners and players cannot agree on a new collective bargaining agreement by next April, the draft will be cancelled altogether.

20. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 18:  Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers returns an interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Washington Huskies on September 18, 2010 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Cor
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Starting off my list is Alfonzo Dennard at No. 20.

    Dennard will really have a chance to move up into the upper echelon of this cornerback class of 2012 if he can have a solid season. This will be his first season without Prince Amukamara covering each team's best receiver.

    Playing in the Big Ten (or whatever they will end up calling it) is hard enough, but succeeding without Prince Amukamara at the other cornerback position will either show he is a truly talented player or somebody who just rode on another man's coattails.

19. Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State

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    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 23:  Michael Brewster #50 of the Ohio State Buckeyes blocks against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ohio Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Center always tends to be an under-drafted position in the NFL (examples include Carolina's Ryan Kalil). But when there is a guy like Michael Brewster out there, teams will pounce on him early.

    This guy really has a chance to be something special. That may be because he could end up as the only Ohio State football player who is not suspended, but Brewster also possesses three years of experience starting in one of the best conferences in college football.

    Brewster will probably not go in the top 10 when next April rolls around, but there is a very good chance that he could end up in the top 20.

18. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 04: Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish awaits the start of play against the Purdue Boilermakers at Notre Dame Stadium on September 4, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Purdue 23-12. (Photo by Jonathan
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Three years ago, when Manti Te'o was a senior in high school, I said that he would be a pretty good college player, but would not live up to expectations. Boy was I wrong.

    Manti Te'o is one of the best in a very deep class of inside linebackers in the 2012 draft. He has not yet stated whether he will declare for the 2012 draft, but if he plays well enough in 2011, he could sneak into the top half of Round 1.

    He may be smart to wait until 2013 though, as he could be the clear standout in that class of inside linebackers.

17. Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03:  Jayron Hosley #20 of the Virginai Tech Hokies intercepts a pass in the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal during the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2011 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The heir apparent to Rashad Carmichael, Jayron Hosley can be a sure-fire top-20 pick if he can have success in the mediocre ACC.

    Jayron Hosley is a double threat: at cornerback and punt returner. Hosley recorded nine interceptions last season, while also returning a punt for a touchdown. At only 170 pounds, Hosley is a bit undersized at the moment, but if he can bulk up to 185 or 190 pounds, he will become a feared player to face off with.

16. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

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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

    I may get a little bit of criticism with this one, but Justin Blackmon is vastly overrated in my opinion. The production is there, but Blackmon is not an NFL-type athlete, and at only 6'1" and 208 pounds, will not be able to dominate NFL cornerbacks like he did with college defenders last season.

    However, anybody with 111 catches and 20 touchdowns has serious potential. He may not be a top-five pick like some people on this site have him ranked as, but landing him in the middle of the first round would be a nice catch for any team.

15. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State

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    MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 18: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers is tackled by the fask mask by Vontaze Burfict #7 of the Arizona State Sun Devils at Camp Randall Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    When it comes down to it, talent is the most important thing for a football player. Vontaze Burfict may be the most talented defensive player in this entire draft. His problem lies between the whistles, or maybe during the whistles.

    Burfict has been told multiple times by coaches to control his intensity and his aggression, but none of it seems to work. Burfict has been benched by Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson because of personal fouls in the past, and this issue could haunt him in the future. He is being compared to Ray Lewis because of his intensity, but unlike Lewis, Burfict has yet to control it.

    The numbers are there, though. Burfict recorded 90 tackles last season, as well as two forced fumbles. He also is very versatile, being able to play inside linebacker in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense. Teams may have to look past the personal fouls if he can continue to show his unbelievable talent.

14. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is tackled by Nick Fairly #90 of the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Another big-name player lands here in Trent Richardson, the speedy running back from Alabama. Richardson took over for an injured Mark Ingram last season and never looked back.

    He is easily the top running back in the 2012 NFL draft if he declares because of his unique combination of size, speed and vision. Richardson is considered at the moment to be a better NFL prospect than his former teammate Ingram.

    However, Richardson's big task this season will be staying healthy. If he gets injured for a substantial length of time, he may need to stay at Alabama another year and save his draft stock.

13. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Jerel Worthy #99 of the Michigan State Spartans moves past a block attempt by Brian Mulroe #72 of the Northwestern Wildcats with his sights set on Dan Persa #7 at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan St
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Unlike the 2011 NFL draft, the 2012 draft is a bit weak when it comes to defensive tackles. Jerel Worthy is an interesting prospect because he comes out of Michigan State—not typically considered a defensive powerhouse.

    However, Worthy is the embodiment of a powerhouse. He recorded four sacks last season along with 8.5 tackles for loss. Worthy is ranked as my second defensive tackle at the moment, but he could easily move up the board with a good season. Worthy is not an incredible athlete, but his talent can overshadow his weaknesses.

12. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

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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

    The first of the two South Carolina Gamecocks, Stephon Gilmore, ranks right outside of the top 10. Gilmore is as good of an athlete as Jayron Hosley, and is much more physically intimidating at 6'1" and 190 pounds.

    His problem lies within consistency. Gilmore played terribly at times last season, but played amazingly at times. If he can stay consistently solid throughout the 2011 season, he may be in line for a high draft pick come next April.

11. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Landry Jones #12 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws the ball against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peters
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The first of the big three quarterbacks in 2012 is Landry Jones, and had he been in the 2011 draft, there could have been a pretty good chance of him going No. 1 overall to Carolina. Jones' stock drops because of the other two quarterbacks in this draft.

    However, if Oklahoma can live up to expectations this season, Jones may overtake one or both of the other quarterbacks in this draft, and may go No. 1 overall.

    Landry Jones' strength is not his athleticism, but his experience and throwing ability. He has started nearly two complete seasons at one of the most storied programs in the history of college football. His junior season will be his third, and it may be enough to vault him into the top five of the 2012 NFL draft.

10. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

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    IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20:  Quarterback Ricky Stanzi #12 of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes throws under pressure from defensive lineman Solomon Thomas #98 of the Ohio State Buckeyes as offensive lineman Riley Reiff #77 defends during the first half of
    David Purdy/Getty Images

    There is a clear divide between draft experts regarding the top three offensive tackles in the 2012 NFL draft. With three—or four, depending on D.J. Fluker of Alabama's decision regarding the draft—clear top prospects at the position, the third lands here. Riley Reiff is a very athletic prospect and similar to Nate Solder in that regard.

    However, Reiff is not 6'8" like Solder was, which may limit his ceiling in this draft, but he is much more refined than Solder was. Reiff could go in the top 10, or he could possibly drop to the bottom half of the first round. This all depends on which teams are drafting where, but this guy can help almost any team.

9. Marcus Forston, DT, Miami

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    DURHAM, NC - OCTOBER 18:  Marcus Forston #99 of the Miami Hurricanes jogs off the field during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Wallace Wade Stadium on October 18, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    For now, I stand in the minority of people who have Marcus Forston rated higher than Jerel Worthy, but that could change with a solid season. Forston is the more athletic of the two prospects and comes out of a much more storied program, but that should not matter.

    As I mentioned earlier, the defensive tackle class is pretty weak in 2012, which means that like the quarterbacks of 2011, players may rise much higher than they should because of positional needs of certain teams. Forston, right now, could land in the top 10, but could end up in the top five depending on the circumstances.

8. Donte Paige-Moss, DE/OLB, North Carolina

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    CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 13:  Donte Paige-Moss #98 of the North Carolina Tar Heels against the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    First, let me say that Butch Davis has done an absolutely incredible job as the head coach at North Carolina. He has recruited some outstanding players and will hopefully be able to limit the NCAA sanction in the future and win some trophies.

    Now back to the issue at hand...

    Donte Paige-Moss is the top 3-4 rush linebacker prospect in the 2012 NFL draft. He was able to record 13.5 tackles for loss, as well as seven sacks last season. He is drawing some comparisons to Von Miller, now with the Denver Broncos, because of his pass-rushing ability and versatility.

    With his size (6'4" 242 lbs) Paige-Moss could actually end up playing 3-4 rush linebacker, 4-3 defensive end and possibly even 4-3 outside linebacker. His athleticism is not as good as Miller's, but he should be able to stick in the top 10 with a decent season.

7. Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina

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    COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 9: Wide receiver Alshon Jefrey #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks grabs a touchdown pass against the Alabama Crimson Tide October 9, 2010 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Image
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    With his size, speed and catching ability, Alshon Jeffrey should be the first wide receiver off the board in 2012 barring any unforeseen circumstances. He may not be as good of a prospect as A.J. Green was in 2011, but he leads this class by a large margin.

    At 6'4", Alshon Jeffrey is a big target, and with his speed, he may be un-guardable. He also has a very good set of hands. Sometimes, it seems Jeffrey catches everything thrown to him. His comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald are not misconceptions; he may be the real deal.

6. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

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    PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Jonathan Martin #55 and Richard Sherman #9 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate after they beat the Oregon State Beavers at Stanford Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Right outside of my top 10 lies the second of the three monster offensive tackles in the 2012 NFL draft. Jonathan Martin had the task of protecting the blind side of Andrew Luck. To say the least, he did his job. Luckily for Jonathan Martin, even though Stanford has a new coach, the job is still the same: Keep defenders away from the quarterback.

    It may not be that simple, though. Offensive tackles sometimes lack consistency after a phenomenal season. Martin's task is to make sure that Andrew Luck can survive through the season. If that happens, he should be a lock for a top-10 pick.

5. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

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    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 16:  Dre Kirkpatrick #21 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Ole Miss Rebels at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Cracking the top five is the top cornerback in the 2012 NFL draft, Dre Kirkpatrick. Although it may not look like it by the picture on this slide, Dre Kirkpatrick is huge for a cornerback. At 6'3", Kirkpatrick is tall enough to guard any receiver in college or the NFL.

    His athleticism can save him when he falls out of coverage, but his real problem will be with injuries. Kirkpatrick had his first healthy season last year after missing the majority of his freshman year with an ankle injury. If he can stay healthy and have a fairly good season, he will be a top-tier pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

4. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans rolls out of the pocket against the Oregon Ducks at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 30, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    The next quarterback out of USC, by way of Mater Dei High School, to be drafted very high in the NFL draft will be Matt Barkley. How high he will be drafted has yet to be seen, but his potential is unlimited. I remember watching his high school tape and being blown away by his accuracy and decision-making. To think, that has gotten even better.

    Some draft experts are going as far as to say Barkley will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft. However, he has not ascended to that throne just yet. If he can have a phenomenal season, while the other quarterback in the top five has a terrible season, Barkley may end up as the top pick in the draft.

3. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

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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

    Ranking in at No. 3 is the top defensive player in the 2012 NFL draft. Last season, Quinton Coples was given the task of replacing Robert Quinn, thought at the time to be an impossible task. Coples did not only replace Quinn, but he opened some eyes doing it. He recorded an impressive 10 sacks, as well as 15.5 tackles for loss.

    Unless he has a terrible season or runs into some unexpected circumstance like injury or NCAA suspension, he'll be a first-round lock and will probably be the first defensive player off the board in the 2012 NFL draft.

2. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

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    PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Hebron Fangupo #92 and Matt Kalil #75 of the USC Trojans walk by a spray fan during their game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Sorry for the terrible picture, but all the photos labeled as Matt Kalil on this site were actually of Fili Moala, who wore the same number as Kalil, but played on defense.

    Nevertheless, Matt Kalil is my top-rated offensive tackle in the 2012 NFL draft and should be the second player off the board come next April. In my opinion, the gap between Matt Kalil and the third-rated player, Quinton Coples, is fairly wide. If he is anywhere as good as his brother Ryan, Matt Kalil will be able to have immense success in the NFL.

    His job at USC will not be any easier without Tyron Smith holding down the right side of the line, but he should still have a successful year. If he can keep Matt Barkley off the turf in 2011, he should be hearing his name called early at Radio City Music Hall in 2012.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

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    MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 03: Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal throws a 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

    Finally, comes the top-rated player in the 2012 NFL draft—and it was a complete no-brainer.

    Andrew Luck may be the most complete quarterback prospect coming out of college in the history of the NFL draft. He is so good, that teams who do not even need a quarterback will consider taking him if they land the No. 1 overall pick.

    His concern is the "Jake Locker Effect." As we all know, people were saying the same things about Jake Locker that we are all now saying about Luck. However, there is one important difference: Andrew Luck has compiled two impressive seasons; Locker only had one good season—that was his junior season.

    The other major concern for him is whether he can be effective without Jim Harbaugh. I don't think it will that much of a problem, but if he regresses a bit, he may be dropped down to the No. 2 quarterback prospect. However, if he can have an average or better season, he will be the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.


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    WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 28:  National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith testify before the House Judiciary Committee about football brain injuries on Captiol Hill October 28, 2009 in
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Hopefully, the 2012 NFL draft will go on without a hitch, because there is so much talent that can help any team in the league. But until these two guys can work out their differences, fans like myself will continue to wait for the game that we love so much. Thanks for reading.