NFL Draft 2012: Top 25 with NFL Player Comparisons

Brandon BeckerCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2011

NFL Draft 2012: Top 25 with NFL Player Comparisons

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    The 2012 NFL draft is far from here but it's never too early to whip out player rankings. Both the NFL and NCAA football seasons are well under way. There have been players who have risen up to expectations and those that have fell short so far.

    The good news is for those that are off to a poor start is that there still is a long way to go. But, for these rankings, it will reflect the present. A lot can change over the course of a season. Rankings are volatile, subjective and always changing.

    Stats aren't the biggest barometer when determining a player's ranking, but it does factor in. Some don't value on field production as much as others. I take into consideration a players production, how they project at the next level and if they pass the eye test.

    With that being said, here are your top 25 players in college and their NFL comparisons. 

No. 25: Zach Brown, Linebacker, North Carolina

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    NFL comparison: Von Miller

    One of the more physically gifted athletes in the 2012 class has had a disappointing season so far, which has led to a plunge in his draft stock. Zach Brown is extremely fast and has a terrific first step like Miller does, but he needs to become more consistent.

    Miller is an athletic freak that sprung up draft boards after the combine. The same could easily happen for Brown, although if he doesn't step it up soon, a strong combine and pro day may not be enough. 

No. 24: Courtney Upshaw, Linebacker, Alabama

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    NFL comparison: LaMarr Woodley

    The 2012 draft class is loaded at linebacker and there are plenty of good prospects for the taking. 

    Courtney Upshaw is part of a very talented Alabama defense and will have his chance to continue to rise throughout the season, as he plays on a team that will receive a ton of media coverage. He projects to be a 3-4 linebacker at the next level, where his skill set could flourish.

    Woodley is also a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and has wreaked havoc throughout the years for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Upshaw should model his game after Woodley.

No. 23: Cliff Harris, Cornerback, Oregon

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    NFL comparison: Dre' Bly

    Cliff Harris's play this season has him rising up draft boards after coming back from suspension. But I don't believe he has a chance to be an elite corner in the NFL like some others do. He is smaller in stature and against NFL receivers may get bullied around.

    Another concern for Harris is his ability to help stop the run. This is a major weakness for him, as he isn't the most physical defensive back in college football by any means. 

    Bly was never an upper echelon corner in his time in the league, but he was a dependable option in the secondary. 

No. 22: Michael Floyd, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame

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    NFL comparison: Dez Bryant

    Michael Floyd is notable for his off the field issues just as much as he is for his on the field performance. What makes him an interesting prospect is his size. At 6'3", he is a mismatch for most defensive backs and if he ever gets his head on straight he could be a terrific receiver at the next level.

    Bryant is about an inch shorter than Floyd is but is quicker, has better hands and was an overall better prospect coming out of college. Both have been accused of being lazy at times and have had their fair share of off the field issues. 

    Floyd's put up excellent numbers this season, and if he continues to build on it he will find a team that is willing to overlook his off the field problems. 

No. 21: Jerel Worthy, Defensive Tackle, Michigan State

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    NFL comparison: Kevin Williams

    Jerel Worthy has had an up and down season thus far, yet it shouldn't matter too much. He doesn't get pushed around, has good size and is becoming a force in the middle. 

    The defensive tackle position isn't as deep or strong this year as it has been in the past. But Worthy has a high ceiling and could be a better pro than college player.

    Williams doesn't get nearly enough credit for how good he has been over his career. If Worthy reaches his full potential he would wind up making a Williams-type impact in the NFL.

No. 20: Brandon Thompson, Defensive Tackle, Clemson

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    NFL comparison: Tommy Harris

    Brandon Thompson is a beast in the middle and excels at stopping the run. He still has aways to as far as being a pass rusher, but his ability to play the run will make him a first-round pick.

    Harris was a disruptive force in his prime for the Chicago Bears, and was always tough against the run, although he developed into a formidable pass rusher a few seasons into his NFL career.

    Expect to see a similar career arc for Thompson.

No. 19: Jared Crick, Defensive End, Nebraska

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    NFL comparison: J.J. Watt

    Jared Crick does a lot of things very well but isn't exceptional at anything. The same was said about Watt last year during the pre-draft process and it was a knock on him. Crick isn't going to develop into an elite pass rusher by any means, however, he will be a dependable one.

    He is going to have to bulk up a bit to make it at the next level, which will hopefully not take away from his speed. Expect the Crick-Watt comparisons to be prevalent throughout the year.

No. 18: Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback, Alabama

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    NFL comparison: Antonio Cromartie

    Dre Kirkpatrick's 6'3", 190-pound frame will make NFL scouts drool over the prospect of having him line up as their team's No. 1 corner. By no means is he a complete prospect at this stage, but give him a couple of seasons in the NFL and he could morph into an elite corner.

    The size and athleticism he possesses is reminiscent of Cromartie. Cromartie isn't the best technical corner in the NFL, and he relies on his physical tools to make up for it, as does Kirkpatrick.

    Smaller receivers have had success against Kirkpatrick as they have had with Cromartie. The two are better suited for going up against big, physical receivers.

    Keep an eye on Kirkpatrick's progress throughout the season; he definitely has a chance to dramatically improve his stock if he shows improved technique over the course of the year.

No. 17: Alameda Ta'amu, Defensive Tackle, Washington

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    NFL comparison: Pat Williams

    The massive nose tackle out of Washington is going to be a space-eater in the NFL. Alameda Ta'amu moves well for his 6'2", 334-pound frame and projects to be a disruptive force. 

    Williams was an absolute beast in his prime and anchored many defensive lines over the course of his career. Neither Williams or Ta'amu's calling card is rushing the passer, and it's an area that Ta'amu needs to improve in going forward, but his ability to stop the run is something that any NFL team could use.

No. 16: Morris Claiborne, Cornerback, LSU

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    NFL comparison: Chris Gamble

    Now that Morris Claiborne is out of the shadow of Patrick Peterson he can shine. Claiborne isn't the elite cornerback prospect that Peterson was when he came out, but he is a more than capable defender. He does need to beef up a bit as he only weighs 173 pounds.

    Gamble and Claiborne are similar in stature, with Claiborne being a bit leaner, but they both were wide receivers turned defensive backs. Claiborne is a better prospect than Gamble was coming out of the draft, yet it's hard for me not to compare the two with the receiver background that they share.

No. 15: Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College

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    NFL comparison: James Laurinaitis

    Luke Kuechly is a stat stuffing machine but that isn't why he's ranked this high. He may not have as high of a ceiling as linebackers yet to appear on this list however, he has exceptional instincts and will be a solid player in the NFL.

    Laurinaitis is also known for having great instincts, something that is extremely important for linebackers to have. The elite athleticism isn't there for Kuechly or Laurinaitis, but they are dependable players who will be in the league for a long time.

No. 14: Matt Barkley, Quarterback, USC

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    NFL comparison: Jimmy Clausen

    As you can see I'm not as high on Matt Barkley as others are. He reminds me a lot of Clausen, who is also a native Californian but was unable to do much as the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback in his rookie season. 

    Clausen looks like he is on the route of being a career backup while Barkley looks like he could be what Clausen was supposed to be: a strong-armed, accurate quarterback who could lead an NFL team.

    If Barkley continues to amass a nice season at USC he should be able to parlay it into being selected in the Top 10 when the draft rolls around. 

No. 13: Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, North Alabama

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    NFL comparison: Asante Samuel

    Whomever takes the gamble and selects Janoris Jenkins has a young stud on their hands. The troubled defensive back was booted out of Florida and is now playing his senior season at North Alabama against inferior competition. 

    There's no doubt that Jenkins will fall in April's draft. How far is anyone's guess, but had he played at Florida this season, he would have been a lock for a Top 15 pick. 

    Like Samuel, Jenkins is an excellent cover corner and projects to be an impact player in the NFL if he is able to keep his head on straight. 

No. 12: Manti Te'o, Linebacker, Notre Dame

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    NFL comparison: Zach Thomas

    Thomas was an outstanding linebacker in his time for the Miami Dolphins and was always in on the play. The same can be said for Manti Te'o, who is the second-best linebacker available in the 2012 class.

    What makes him so special is his ability to play the run and be able to drop back in coverage. He possesses sideline to sideline speed, which is a must for a linebacker who is projected to be a first-round pick, and is a smart player.

No. 11: Landry Jones, Quarterback, Oklahoma

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    NFL comparison: Phillip Rivers

    Landry Jones could very well increase his stock before the season ends, but as of now it's falling. The game against Florida State was very telling. His performance was far from spectacular and he looked out of sorts at times. 

    Like Rivers, Landry is capable of putting up monster numbers but is subject to erratic play. What will help him come draft day is his size and strong arm.

    If you have a big arm, you have a chance to get drafted. Teams fall in love with players that can sling it down the field, and there will be one that falls in love with Landry during the pre-draft process.

No. 10: Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa

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    NFL comparison: Jeff Otah

    Riley Reiff may be similar in height to Otah, but he definitely doesn't have the overall mass that Otah carries around. Where the two compare is their run blocking ability. Once Reiff beefs up he has a shot to be a dominant run blocker at right tackle for years to come. 

    Offensive lineman aren't exactly what fans want their favorite team to draft, and Reiff isn't exactly a big name by any means, but he is a durable tackle who can be plugged in right from the start. He does need to improve his pass protection, though, adding weight will help with that.

No. 9: Justin Blackmon, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State

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    NFL comparison: Terrell Owens

    There's no denying that Justin Blackmon is going to be a top receiver in the NFL. Putting his college production aside and you still have a wide receiver that projects well at the next level.

    Blackmon doesn't possess breakaway speed and neither did Owens.  Owens made a career off of using his size and strength to over power defensive backs. Over the course of his career he really had to work to get open just like Blackmon has to.

    If Blackmon continues to produce at a high rate, and Alshon Jeffrey has an erratic season, it's possible that he will be the top receiver off the board in April.

No. 8: Vontaze Burfict, Linebacker, Arizona State

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    NFL comparison: Ray Lewis

    Vontaze Burfict has a chance to be a very good linebacker at the next level if he is able to control his emotions. Playing with fire, intensity and a desire to win is great, but sometimes Burfict's emotional outbursts have come at poor times.

    He has had his fair share of personal fouls called against him through this career and his maturity has been questioned by some, although reports have said that he has grown a great deal since his freshman year.

    The obvious comparison is Lewis in this situation. He has made a career off of playing with great intensity and being a defensive leader. If Burfict is able to compose himself in the NFL, he's going to be a star.

No. 7: Trent Richardson, Running Back, Alabama

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    NFL comparison: Emmitt Smith

    What makes Trent Richardson so special is his combination of speed and power. He is elusive, yet has the ability to truck over defenders and keep a pile moving. 

    Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher, so this is a comparison that you shouldn't take lightly. Richardson is the real deal and has a chance to be the next great back in the NFL.

    The era of having one running back carry the load is over, however, the team that selects Richardson will be getting a back that can handle 25 carries a game.

No. 6: Alshon Jeffrey, Wide Receiver, South Carolina

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    NFL comparison: Calvin Johnson

    Alshon Jeffrey doesn't possess exceptional speed that allows him to breakaway from his defender. The same can be said for Johnson, who has made a career off of catching balls with defenders draped over him. 

    What makes Jeffrey special is his leaping ability, hands and size. There are plenty of teams that could use an elite wide receiver and that is what you are going to get with him.

    Jeffrey's production may be a bit erratic this season, but a lot of that will be due to South Carolina's quarterback play. Give him a good quarterback, throw the ball in his vicinity and he will reward his team by making a catch.

No. 5: Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Stanford

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    NFL comparison: Jonathan Ogden

    Jonathan Martin has a good chance to challenge Matt Kalil for the top offensive lineman off the board. It's going to help him that his quarterback is Andrew Luck and he'll be playing in meaningful games late in the season. 

    Ogden was a beast at left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens for over a decade. He went to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was an All-Pro nine of those seasons. 

    Martin may not have the upside that Kalil has but he would be the safer pick of the two. Either way, whichever team gets Martin will be happy with the production that they will receive over the years.

No. 4: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor

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    NFL comparison: Michael Vick

    This will be a controversial ranking to many, but I believe it is an accurate one. Griffin has taken the college football world by storm, rightfully so, and could parlay his on the field success into becoming a top pick in April's draft. 

    Vick was a better runner than Griffin is in college, although Griffin is a much better thrower. He has shown the ability to make all the throws, and has done so consistently. Some will compare him to Cam Newton but the only true similarities are that they both can run and exploded onto the scene out of nowhere.

    Newton is a much bigger quarterback and isn't as quick as Griffin. What will be a concern for Griffin at the next level is his size; he's listed at 6'2" but he's probably closer to 6'1" and he has a similar stature to Vick, who has had a problem staying healthy due to taking a number of hits.

No. 3: Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, USC

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    NFL comparison: Joe Thomas

    The most important position on the offensive line is left tackle. A left tackle is a quarterbacks best friend, seeing how the position calls for protecting most quarterbacks blindside—assuming that the quarterback is right-handed.

    Matt Kalil projects to be a staple of some team's offensive line for years to come. Drafting him won't be a sexy pick by any means, but it will surely wind up being a successful pick, which is all that matters in the end.

    Joe Thomas is the anchor of the Cleveland Browns' offensive line, and has been for years now. Kalil has a very good chance to be on Thomas's level after a couple of seasons in the NFL.

No. 2: Quinton Coples, Defensive End, North Carolina

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    NFL comparison: Julius Peppers

    Coples has been given the athletic gift that his North Carolina brethren Julius Peppers also possesses. At 6'6", he has the size, strength and speed to be a force at the next level. 

    NFL draft scouts have pegged Coples as the top pass-rushing defensive end who will be available come April. What could plague him though, is his poor start to the season. Statistics aren't everything but the fact the he has just two sacks on the year is a concern.

    Coples and Peppers may be similar in stature and athleticism, but there's no questioning that Peppers was a more complete prospect out of college.

No. 1: Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Stanford

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    NFL comparison: John Elway

    Elway is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, depending on whom you are speaking to. What made him special was his cannon arm, mobility and his leadership abilities. 

    There will be tons who will compare Luck to Peyton Manning, but Luck is much more mobile than Manning, making the comparison kind of silly. Luck compares to the former Stanford star Elway, because of the arm and mobility. 

    In today's quarterback-friendly NFL, Luck is going to enjoy the instant success that Elway was unable to attain. NFL general managers salivate when they talk about Luck's ability, as they did with Elway.

    Let's just hope Luck doesn't pull an Elway and threaten to leave football if a team he doesn't want to play for has the No. 1 overall pick.