Year after year, hundreds of prospects get drafted into the NFL and they share many traits with those already in the league. It’s common to compare a college football player to an NFL player; it helps those who don’t follow the college game to connect with a player during the draft process.
So, with that in mind, I decided to position 10 draft-eligible prospects for the 2012 NFL draft, who reflect a top-10 pick (in sequential order) from the 2011 draft. By no means is this an abbreviated mock draft and a predicted order of where I foresee the draft-eligible prospects for ’12 to be selected. That article will come at a later time.
For now, these are the prospects that mirror those who were drafted in the top 10 in April.
Chris Steuber is the NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to his role with Bleacher Report, Steuber serves as Director of Player Personnel for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League. He’s previously served as NFL Draft Analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports, as well as NFLDraftScout.com in conjunction with CBS Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSteuber.
Comparing Luck and Newton is hard to do, because they’re different types of quarterbacks. It would be like comparing a more mobile Peyton Manning, who’s been trained in a pro-style offense (Luck) to a taller, more physically imposing, but not as explosive Michael Vick (Newton), who’s been groomed in a spread offense to use his God-given talent to win football games.
But, while they come from varied backgrounds and offenses and have a different approach to the game, Luck and Newton are similar in size; both are tremendously athletic and exceptional leaders. And, ironically, their production was relatively similar during the 2010 season.
As a junior at Auburn, Newton attempted 92 fewer passes than Luck and completed 66.1 percent of them for 2,854 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while Luck completed a ridiculous 70.7 percent of his passes for 3,338 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The rushing statistics favored Newton, who rushed for an incredible 1,473 yards on 264 carries and 20 touchdowns, but Luck, in his limited carries (55), was quite effective rushing for 453 yards and three touchdowns.
As prospects, Luck grades out much higher, but the upside of Newton is off the charts. Yes, they’re different, but elite in their own way. And, eventually they will share a unique bond as No. 1 overall draft picks.
The comparison between Coples and Miller from a physical standpoint doesn’t match up, as Coples has a three-inch and 40-pound edge over Miller, but their versatility and dominance as pass-rushers propelled them to being top-rated sack artists in the nation.
Miller, who generated 10.5 sacks as a senior at Texas A&M, was the No. 2 overall selection by the Denver Broncos this year because of his explosiveness and ability to alter a game much like the player he was widely compared to leading up to the draft—the late, great Derrick Thomas.
Coples can also alter a game with his unique athleticism and size. He’s coming off of a breakout sophomore campaign where he recorded 10 sacks and started the ‘11 season off strong with an impressive performance last weekend, as he recorded two sacks in the Tar Heels' 42-10 win over James Madison.
If Coples continues at this pace and surpasses his sack total from a year ago, he will be a top-three draft pick next year, if he declares. One team that could be a strong contender for Coples’ services are Miller’s Broncos, who could use a force at defensive end as they transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense.
It’s hard to ignore the production of Crick over the last two seasons. He’s been one of the most consistent and productive interior forces in college football during that span, collecting 143 tackles, 32 for a loss and 19 sacks. He’s considered to be a first-round prospect by many pundits, but he’s deserving of a higher ranking and by season's end should be recognized as a possible top-10 draft pick, just as Dareus was this year.
Dareus was a solid player on a tremendous Alabama defense and posted good numbers during his three-year collegiate career, two of which were as a starter. He was touted as the most complete defensive lineman in the ‘10 draft and his versatility made him attractive to both 3-4 and 4-3 teams. With the Bills desperately looking to upgrade their pass rush, Dareus was their best option and ended up being the third overall pick.
At 6'6", 285 pounds, Crick has handled the defensive tackle position well in a tough Big 12 conference (Nebraska is now in the Big Ten) and has already been a more productive player than Dareus. Crick lacks the bulk that the 6'3", 319-pound Dareus possesses, but he has the frame to add size and is an ideal fit as a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense—similar to how Dareus is now being used in Buffalo.
Jeffery (6'4", 229) is a more intimidating receiver than Green (6'4", 211), and uses his overall size to muscle up defenders on the outside, but in many ways they’re similar and have dominated the competition in the toughest conference in the country, the SEC.
Green is regarded as a better route-runner and is more cerebral and smooth in his approach, but Jeffery has improved his route-running and has developed into a complete package. As good as Green was at Georgia, he never accomplished a feat that Jeffery managed to eclipse last season, reaching 1,000 yards receiving; in total, Jeffery caught 88 passes for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns in ‘10.
Jeffery is off to a fast start this year; he hauled in five receptions for 92 yards in South Carolina’s 56-37 victory over East Carolina. Like Green did with Julio Jones this year, Jeffery will compete with Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon throughout the season for the right to be the first wide receiver drafted next April.
In just his first year as a starter last season, Kirkpatrick recorded 53 tackles and three interceptions, and made quite the impression on talent evaluators. In some circles he’s considered to be the top cornerback in the country, and when you compare his talents with the top-rated cornerback in April’s draft (Peterson), he’s not as explosive of an athlete (not many are), but has the upside to be a more complete defender.
Peterson was viewed as being one of the safest players available in the ‘11 draft and was touted as a can’t-miss prospect; Kirkpatrick has similar potential. At 6'2", 192, Kirkpatrick is a rangy defender and has the size and playmaking ability that rivals Peterson. One area that Kirkpatrick has an advantage over Peterson in is cover skills, while Peterson offers impact as a return specialist.
If Kirkpatrick declares for the draft, he will likely be a top-10 pick.
Despite coming from vastly different offenses, Blackmon and Jones grade out closely as prospects. They bring a lot of the same elements to the field and have the potential to be No. 1 receivers at the next level.
Jones had a solid three-year career at Alabama and finished it off strong as he caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns. But, his stock exploded during the offseason with his performance at the scouting combine, and he ultimately was selected with the seventh pick in the draft. Blackmon, however, could have declared for the ’11 draft, and likely would’ve been a top-20 selection after he broke out for a 111-catch, 1,782-yard, 20-touchdown sophomore campaign, but he decided to remain at Oklahoma State for his junior season.
Blackmon is expected to generate virtual reality like numbers again this season and started off strong in OSU’s 61-34 win over Louisiana-Lafayette by hauling in eight receptions for 144 yards.
There are always going to be raw, undersized hybrid players that get selected high in the draft because of the production they assembled with the athletic ability they possess. Jenkins falls into that category, as Smith did this past April.
As a first-year starter for Florida State last year, Jenkins exploded onto the scene and recorded 63 tackles, 21.5 for a loss and 13.5 sacks. When you compare Jenkins’ statistics to Smith’s first season as a starter where he had 64 tackles, 19 for a loss and 11.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman—they’re almost identical.
Jenkins added some weight to his 6'3" frame this offseason, and with added strength, expect him to be even better this season. Last Saturday, Jenkins played well in FSU’s 34-0 dominance over visiting Louisiana-Monroe and contributed five tackles, two of which were for a loss.
Barkley and Locker are not mirror images as signal-callers, as they have distinct qualities of how they operate behind center, but they come from the same conference (Pac-12, formerly the Pac-10) and carry a certain prestige that draws immediate interest.
A starter from the moment he landed at USC, Barkley made huge strides from his freshman to sophomore years and went from an unsure, erratic quarterback to a poised superstar. Barkley completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. Athletically, Barkley is not in the same class as Locker, who possesses all of the tools scouts covet when observing quarterbacks, but he’s mobile enough to make plays out of the pocket.
Barkley got off to a strong start in USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota on Saturday, where he completed 75.6 percent of his passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Comparing former teammates is always an easy exercise, and in the case of Kalil and Smith it’s an easy parallel because they present nearly identical attributes, measurables and have experience playing on both sides of the line. However, Smith ended up primarily playing on the right side at USC, while Kalil found a home on the left side of the line.
Smith was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the ninth overall selection and was named the team's starting right tackle. Kalil, who enters his junior year as the nation’s top offensive line prospect, could be a top-five draft pick, if he decides to declare for the draft.
Speculation surrounding Kalil’s future has already started and draft analyst Tony Pauline of TFY Draft and SI.com reported last month that sources are telling him Kalil will forego his senior season. If he receives a high grade from the NFL advisory committee, as expected, Kalil should opt for the NFL, just as Smith did after his junior season.
Out of the same conference (Big 12) and with similar attributes, the Jones/Gabbert comparisons will likely heat up during the draft process—that’s if Jones decides to forego his senior season.
Jones made his mark with the Sooners when he was forced into action after Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending shoulder injury during the ‘09 season. He played extremely well and completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. That same season, Gabbert became the starter at Missouri and had similar success completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 3,593 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Jones came into his own last year with Bradford out of the picture and continued his progression as he completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Gabbert remained consistent and improved in certain areas during his junior year and ended up being the 10th pick in the draft.
It’s very possible Jones will be a top-10 pick next year as well. This past weekend, that possibility became even stronger as he helped lead Oklahoma to a 47-14 route over Tulsa. Jones finished the game completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 375 yards and a touchdown.