Week One of the college season is in the books, which means it's time to run out the Top 25 Big Board of NFL prospects. A lot can change from now until next April, but the days of being an amateur draft pick for just a couple of months of the year are over.
Now, it's a full year's obsession for a lot of football fans.
I received my certification as an independent football scout with a course with Sports Management Worldwide this summer and in the weeks ahead, I am committed to providing you with thorough scouting reports on the very best football players in college football.
These reports will be in depth, but for now let's just take an initial, cursory look at the 25 best NFL draft prospects in the country.
How good is Luck? Sporting News football columnist and former NFL personnel man Russ Lande put it this way. "He's the best quarterback prospect I've evaluated in over 10 years." Lande also pointed out that Luck has had almost ideal pocket presence ever since his freshman year.
Indeed, it's hard to poke holes in Luck's game. He has performed in a pro-style offense, he has an NFL arm that can make any throw, ideal size at 6'4", 235 pounds and has the same seemingly unflappable personality on the field as a Manning or Brady.
Barring injury or unforeseen circumstance, Luck is the consensus number one pick in next April's NFL Draft.
I have no affiliation with Stanford University. The reality is that Luck and his primary protector are just that good.
Martin uses his hands well to keep the defender away, bends at the knees not at the waist and understands leverage at the point of attack.
Ryan Kalil is just 6'2", 295 pounds but he is arguably the best center in the NFL and now the highest paid one, as he signed a six-year, $49 million deal this August.
His brother, Matt, is four inches taller and might just have a better NFL career. He has been more consistent than Tyron Smith, who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The NFL needs tall athletic corners to cover the bigger receivers currently in vogue. This, along with immense talent, helped cement Patrick Peterson's status as the top cornerback in the 2010 draft.
Kirkpatrick isn't as athletic as Peterson, but at legitimately 6'2", 190 pounds with the hips to be a shutdown corner at the next level.
This is a bit of projection pick because Kirkpatrick hasn't put it all together yet, but again this big board is not ranking college production as much as NFL stock.
Here is how good Coples can be in 2011.
In 2010, he put up 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss while playing defensive tackle.
The 6'6", 272-pounder now gets to move outside to end and has Donte Paige-Moss on the other side. More on Paige Moss in moment.
Put it this way, you don't want to be an opposing ACC quarterback facing the Tar Heels this season.
Barkley doesn't have ideal size at a shade over 6'2", 220 pounds, but he has outstanding field vision and has improved reading coverages as his career has progressed.
Until proven otherwise, Barkley is the second-best quarterback on this list and possibly a franchise cornerstone.
One has to think highly of Jeffrey, when one of the most frequent comparisons you hear is to the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.
He is just a shade smaller than Johnson and not quite the deep threat, but he might have more initial quickness off the line of scrimmage.
Let's hope he gets the consistency play needed from a South Carolina quarterback that will allow him to showcase his superstar ability.
Back-to-back Gamecocks, who knew? Seriously though, Gilmore is another big-corner (6'1", 190 pounds) and led his team with 79 tackles a year ago.
One trend I think you will continue to see in the NFL is the move to bigger corners who can also play safety in a pinch.
Let's be clear. Running backs are becoming less and less valuable in the draft. I wouldn't select one early in the first round unless he was the complete package of size, speed and power, along the lines of say Adrian Peterson. The shelf-life of a running back is too short and I believe there a number of talented runners almost every year.
That being said, Richardson is at worst the eighth best prospect right now. He is much faster than former backfield mate Mark Ingram and arguably better. His success at the next level will be determined by whether he consistently hits the hole when he needs to instead of dancing from side-to-side, which he does on occasion.
If you didn't notice, this is the third offensive tackle I have in the top 10. Conversely, I also wouldn't have selected one of the offensive lineman in this pats April's draft in the top 20 picks, which tells you how much better next April's draft will be for the grunts.
Reiff is not the most athletic player, but he has long arms that lock out defenders and a nasty demeanor that fits in the NFL trenches.
Crick may not have been quite as menacing without Ndamukong Suh beside him in 2010, but he still had the same number of sacks, 9.5, and as relevant to NFL scouts, the Cornhusker is a 6'6", 285 pound end who can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
Another quarterback with prototypical size, Jones is not Luck, but that shouldn't discourage a team for valuing him as a possible franchise quarterback.
Jones is 6'4" 220 pound quarterback with a powerful arm. He is a little lower on my list than some because I haven't seen Jones produce against elite competition yet, but with this 2011 Oklahoma team, we should get that opportunity, as the Sooners seem primed for a national title run.
Jones plays in the spread offense, but that hasn't stopped ex-Oklahoma star Sam Bradford from making an impact in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams.
It will be nice to be Butch Davis, at least when he gets to watch his defense play in 2011. Paige-Moss is only 6'4", 242 pounds so he won't be a defensive end at the next level, but has an ideal frame to be a pass-rushing 3-4 linebacker at the next level.
True defensive ends go higher than hybrids or outside linebackers which is why Coples ranks higher than Paige-Moss on my board.
Some will complain about Blackmon being put below Jeffrey on this list, but it's not a knock on this Cowboy, rather a compliment to both players who could go in the top 10-15 picks of the 2012 draft.
There is speculation that Blackmon may not put up the fastest 40 time in a workout, but he is plenty fast in football pads and his ridiculous average of 16.1 yards per catch on 110 receptions tells you he is a big play wide out.
Blackmon is 6'1", 207 pounds and plays even bigger than that with upper body strength, good leaping ability and a knack for pulling in the ball at its highest point.
The obvious comparison, but also a poignant one, has Blackmon being likened to current Dallas and former OSU wide receiver Dez Bryant.
NFL teams don't value the inside linebacker position like they used to.
The Oakland Raiders Rolando McClain is one of the few middle linebackers who have gone high in the draft (eighth pick overall in 2010). Why? In part, it's due to a emphasis on sacks, turnovers and other big plays rather than the "measly" tackle.
Unfortunately, people and players forget that someone does actually need to make the tackle to stop most plays. Kuechly made 183 tackles in 2010 or 14.1 a game (tops in the nation) and he has the motor and instincts to be a 10-year fixture at the position. He is a little small or he would be higher on the list.
Upshaw has prototypical size (6'2", 263 pounds) for the middle linebacker position and is a true "thumper."
Upshaw is more of a big-play linebacker than Kuechly (although the BC linebacker did have three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2010) with four forced fumbles and seven sacks in 2010.
The question is how much is Upshaw helped by playing on a defense with no less than five possible future first round picks.
Some scouts like Dennard better than New York Giants first round draft pick Prince Amukamara.
Dennard had four interceptions and seven pass break-ups a season ago. He is a little on the short side at 5'10", but at a muscular 205 pounds, he is a tough as nails press corner who can also come up in run support.
Worthy is already used to seeing the double-teams that come with being an accomplished plugger in the middle. He may not put up incredible statistics, and has sloppy technique at times, but that won't necessarily lessen his value with NFL talent evaluators that are desperate for above-average defensive tackles.
Did I mention it's a real good year for receivers and you could make a real solid argument that Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller, Arkansas' Greg Childs and Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles deserve first round consideration.
Floyd's off the field troubles must be monitored as he received a DUI citation early in 2011 and was reinstated to the Irish football team in August. At the end of the day though, Floyd is 6'3", nearly 230 pounds and very productive. He had 79 catches a year ago, the second highest single season total in Notre Dame history despite a lack of reliable play from the quarterback position.
The Tiger should begin to receive more attention now that Da'Quan Bowers left for the NFL. He is a quick, disruptive interior penetrator who fits best in a 4-3 scheme.
NFL scouts have reason to be a little leery of Florida State defenders in the last decade or so. For example, Everette Brown, a highly touted pass-rusher coming out of Tallahassee in 2009 was selected in the second round by the Carolina Panthers in 2009. He was released this past weekend.
Now, the school did produce Lawrence Timmons and Kamerion Wimbley (who the jury is still out on in some respects), but it has also seen Ernie Sims, Buster Davis, Pat Watkins, Jamal Reynolds, Corey Simon, Brodrick Bunkley, Bryant McFadden and Derrick Gibson not live up to their press clippings and potential.
Jenkins has a chance to improve the school's recent NFL success rate. He had 13.5 sacks last season and shows great initial burst at the snap of the ball. If he can make the conversion to being an outside linebacker in the NFL because he will probably have to at 6'3", 258 pounds, a team might have a star on its hands.
Minnifield will be one of my favorite players to watch in 2011. His father Frank, was one of the best cornerbacks I saw play the game, despite being listed at 5'9." Chase is 6'0," a press corner and a ball-hawk who pulled down six interceptions last season.
This is a bit of a projection pick, but if Glenn, a dominating guard for the Bulldogs in 2010, can move to left tackle and show decent enough movement skills for a 6'5", 338 pound behemoth, then he easily goes this high in the next draft even if his best position in the professional ranks might eventually be at right tackle.
Foles is the biggest of the possible elite quarterbacks eligible for next April's draft.
Literally. Foles tips the scales at 6'5", 245 pounds. Still, Foles is more of a dink and dunk type-thrower than athletic marvel with the cannon for an arm. That's not necessarily the worst thing since he figures to be a good fit for a West-Coast offensive scheme. Questions about his mobility might be more problematic for this Wildcat.
This is my "off the radar" selection, although plenty of NFL scouts know about Still. He had 3.5 tackles for a loss in last season's Outback Bowl against Florida, but what caught my eye was his upfield penetration this past Saturday against Indiana State.
This 6'5", 305 pounder often looked like a man against boys with his powerful frame.
It should be a real treat to see Still, Alabama's Richardson, Upshaw and Kirkpatrick and many other players who will eventually play in the NFL this Saturday when Penn State hosts Alabama.
You probably want to tune in!