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2012 NFL Draft Big Board Week 6

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 10, 2011

2012 NFL Draft Big Board Week 6

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    Before the 2011 college football season began we knew that Andrew Luck was the best of the 2012 NFL draft prospects. Behind him, everything has changed.

    Players like Robert Griffin III and Morris Claiborne have emerged as top underclassmen and sure-fire Top 10 players for this loaded draft class. On the flip side, Matt Barkley and Quinton Coples have fallen from a preseason Top 10 ranking to the mid-20s on my latest big board.

    Find out which players are moving up and down my draft big board following this weekend’s play.

    Players dropping off this week: Devin Taylor (South Carolina), Zach Brown (North Carolina), Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska), David DeCastro (Stanford)

32. Bruce Irvin, DE/LB, West Virginia

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    Bruce Irvin had been quiet for most of the season before coming alive with 1.5 sacks against Connecticut this weekend.

    Irvin is undersized to play defensive end in the NFL, but he’s showing that he has the agility and strength to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Irvin’s future will be playing in space, and based on Saturday, he looks capable.

    One good game hasn’t erased the LSU game, in which Irvin all but disappeared with four tackles and zero impact plays.

31. Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

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    I have a load of respect for Dont’a Hightower’s ability and work ethic, but his play this season hasn’t been great. Hightower is overshadowed by Courtney Upshaw, and even Nico Johnson most weeks. Hightower’s lack of speed and burst make it a certainty that he will be best used as a TED linebacker in a 3-4 defense that asks him to attack downfield instead of side to side.

    Hightower will have a chance to prove himself down the stretch of the season, and again in pre-draft workouts.

30. Donte Paige-Moss, DE/LB, North Carolina

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    The most disappointing player from the 2012 draft class has been, without question, Donte Paige-Moss.

    The North Carolina Tar Heel entered the 2011 season as a Top 10 player on my board, but he’s moved down each week with uninspired play, a lack of burst and otherwise lazy performances. A premier pass rusher at defensive end should have more than one sack in six games.

29. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson

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    Another disappointing player has been Brandon Thompson, the big defensive tackle from Clemson.

    Viewed as a three-technique tackle who would make his money rushing the quarterback, Thompson has just one sack in six games and only three tackles for a loss. More is needed from a player with as much talent as Thompson.

28. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

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    Jerel Worthy finally lived up to expectations with a huge game against Ohio State. Now we need to see more of the same every week.

    Worthy has Top 15 talent, but his production and work ethic have been poor this season. At times, I’ve toyed with the idea of dropping him out of the Top 50 altogether.

    The good news, for Worthy, is that I had the same issues with Marcel Dareus at this time last year.

27. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

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    I have fought against myself in putting Janoris Jenkins on the big board due to his drug arrests and release from the University of Florida. I can’t keep him off any longer.

    In talking with two former NFL personnel executives this week, both told me that Jenkins will receive a “clean recommendation” from Florida coach Will Muschamp. That’s surprising because it was Muschamp who decided Jenkins couldn’t stay at Florida.

    Jenkins has Top 10 talent, but his track record of off-field issues makes him a huge risk.

26. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

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    Luke Kuechly’s production and fire jumps off the film at you, but his lack of size and strength are keeping him from making the move up the big board.

    Kuechly will face the same doubts as many great college middle linebackers before him. Until he can learn to use his speed and agility to fight through traffic to the ball carrier, he’ll be viewed as a coverage linebacker only. And for those wondering, coverage linebackers aren’t a big priority in the NFL draft.

25. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

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    Matt Barkley and USC were off this week, giving me a chance to focus on the other top players in the country. Barkley will face a tough test when USC comes back from their bye week, as they take on a Cal team that always gives them trouble.

    Barkley needs to prove over the next month and a half that he has the arm strength to play in the NFL. He has the intelligence and leadership, but his ability to push the ball up field is still questionable.

24. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama

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    Courtney Upshaw’s inconsistency is maddening.

    Against Florida, in a big game for Alabama, he was the star on defense notching four tackles, one sack and interception that he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. But look at the games before and after the Florida contest and Upshaw did very little—he had just two tackles in those eight quarters.

    Upshaw is undoubtedly talented, but top linebackers cannot afford to disappear every other weekend.

23. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB/FS, Alabama

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    The last two games have been an indicator of the coverage ability of Dre Kirkpatrick, and it hasn’t been pretty.

    Kirkpatrick, the more I watch him, looks like a free safety. The appeal of Kirkpatrick is his size, speed and how much space he can cover with his long arms and leaping ability, but in pure coverage, he’s average.

    Expect to see more NFL teams looking at Kirkpatrick at safety if and when he enters the NFL draft.

22. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

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    Michael Floyd starts out lower on my big board than you may see on others due to three alcohol-related arrests since the 2009 season. That’s strike one.

    You also have the issue that at times Floyd plays lazy football. He rounds his routes, doesn’t hustle off the line of scrimmage and seems uninterested if the ball is away. That’s strike two.

    Floyd’s saving grace is that he’s the second most physically impressive wide receiver in this class. Much like Jonathan Baldwin and Jimmy Smith last year, he will find himself in the first round. Talent trumps character for most NFL front offices.

21. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

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    A former Top Three prospect on my big board, Quinton Coples has been overshadowed by linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackle Kareem Martin this season. That’s why he’s fallen from 3 to 21.

    Coples hasn’t followed up on what was a brilliant 2010 season, but he also moved from tackle to end this year, and that move hasn’t paid off.

    Coples looked good versus James Madison in Week 1, but NFL offensive tackles are a little better than the quality he saw that weekend.

20. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon

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    Cliff Harris had his best game of the season against Cal, notching three passes broken up and a tackle against a California offense that couldn’t get going against the Oregon defense.

    Harris’ biggest plays came away from the ball in coverage. He did an excellent job shutting down his side of the field in man coverage. He even returned two punts, a place where he can be very dangerous.

19. Brandon Jenkins, DE/LB, FSU

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    You can look at Brandon Jenkins’ stats this season and say that he only has two sacks, which is true. But look again and see his 15 solo tackles from defensive end, or his five tackles for a loss.

    Jenkins is more than just a pass rusher from right defensive end, and his ability to make tackles in space and behind the line of scrimmage makes him a very intriguing prospect at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He may not be ready to drop into coverage, but Jenkins could take a similar path to the NFL as Ryan Kerrigan.

18. Ronnell Lewis, DE/LB, Oklahoma

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    Ronnell Lewis left a mark on me during the Florida State game. He knocked me on my ass this weekend.

    Lewis, a defensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners, has been incredibly active all season. He has 19 solo tackles, leads the Sooners with 32 total tackles and has 3.5 sacks in five games.

    In a year when there is no dominant outside linebacker/defensive end prospect for that hybrid edge rusher, Lewis has a chance to make serious noise as the draft process heats up.

17. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

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    Kick returner. Punt returner. Shutdown corner.

    Stephon Gilmore has had a complete season for the South Carolina Gamecocks, and people are taking notice of what this well-rounded cover man can do.

    Gilmore’s ability on special teams, in run support (19 solo tackles) and in coverage makes him an NFL-ready cornerback.

16. Alameda Ta’Amu, NT, Washington

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    You cannot quantify what Alameda Ta’amu does with statistics. In fact, I don’t even look at the stat line for nose tackle prospects. What Ta’amu does so well is occupy space, and that’s what he’ll be asked to do in the NFL.

    Watch an NFL nose tackle on Sunday, and you will see a big man getting penetration by using his size and leverage to push the center and guard backward into the pocket. By doing this, he keeps the inside linebackers free to make plays. And that’s what Ta’amu does so well.

15. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina

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    Melvin Ingram makes his debut on my big board after several weeks of hesitation on my part. Ingram had a quiet game versus Kentucky this weekend, but I had time to break down his play against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Auburn from earlier this season. Needless to say, I’m impressed.

    Ingram isn’t the biggest of defensive ends, but he reminds me of a Trent Cole-like player coming off the right edge in a wide-set NFL defensive front.

    Keep an eye on Ingram. He has a chance to shoot up draft boards as the 2012 class looks for an elite pass rusher.

14. Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska

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    Nebraska’s comeback win over Ohio State Saturday night was propelled by the outstanding play of the Cornhusker defense in the second half, but Jared Crick was a little disappointing in his matchup versus the Buckeyes.

    Crick had just three tackles, and on my sheet, notched zero hurries, pressures or quarterback hits. While Crick isn’t your classic edge rushing defensive end, he should be making more noise in the trenches.

    Crick needs a big rebound game after two straight so-so games versus top Big Ten talent.

13. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame

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    If your team has holes at linebacker, you’ll love the 2012 draft class.

    Manti Te’o is a safe, solid choice at middle linebacker for either the 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Much like Jerod Mayo when he was coming out of Tennessee in the 2008 draft, Te’o does it all.

    He’s comfortable lining up behind two defensive tackles and reading the play, but he’s equally dangerous firing through the A gap and crashing the backfield. He’s pretty damn good in coverage too.

12. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (FL)

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    Seeing Lamar Miller average over nine yards per carry against a pissed off Virginia Tech defense should answer any doubts people had about his ability as an every down back in the NFL.

    Miller has been on a tear this season, and it confuses me as to why more people aren’t talking about his ability and production. Miller, on an offense with no threat of a passing attack, is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He has almost matched his entire 2010 production through five games.

11. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

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    Don’t look now, but Riley Reiff is making a move up the big board and is close to overtaking Jonathan Martin as the second best tackle prospect for the 2012 class.

    Reiff has virtually no issues. You know he is strong enough to handle playing left tackle in the NFL. He’s game-tested and proven after spending time in the tough Big Ten against two first round defensive ends from the 2011 class. Reiff is ready. He’s the definition of a “plug and play” draft pick.

10. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

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    Jonathan Martin has been moving down steadily each week and finally finds himself on the edge of the Top 10 looking down at elite players who have moved ahead of him.

    I do like Martin as a left tackle in the NFL, but I also wonder how much of his success is attributed to a smart quarterback and a very good left guard playing next to him. Martin hasn’t yet been matched up against an elite defensive end, and at times, he’s struggled this year in pass protection.

    I would still consider drafting Martin high and trust him to be my cornerstone left tackle, but I have my concerns at this point.

9. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

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    Even when the Alabama Crimson Tide don’t need a huge game from Trent Richardson, he impresses. The Alabama game plan this weekend was to put the ball in the air, and they did so with great success.

    Richardson is still the best all-around running back in college football, and perhaps the second most NFL-ready player in the 2012 class (behind Andrew Luck). Richardson’s ability as a runner, receiver and blocker are ready for Sunday afternoons.

8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

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    The Oklahoma State offense continues to roll up huge yards and points each week. A lack of production will never be an issue for Blackmon.

    Blackmon will take on a Texas Longhorn defense this coming weekend that can be very good. The major knock on Blackmon has been his inability to separate from speedy cornerbacks that he would see at the NFL level. We’ll know by next Sunday if Blackmon has the goods to get away from the sprinters in the Texas secondary.

7. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

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    Patrick Peterson received the credit for much of Morris Claiborne’s success in 2010. Those days are long gone.

    I will be the first to say that Claiborne is a better cover man that Peterson was at LSU, and it’s not even close. Peterson dominated with exceptional athleticism and game-breaking ability once he had the ball in his hands. Claiborne may not be the same level of athlete, but he locks down opposing receivers and will have NFL quarterbacks ignoring his side of the field early on.

6. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

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    I was down on Landry Jones following the Florida State and Missouri games, but he re-established himself in Saturday’s beatdown of the Texas Longhorns as a true Top 10 player and worthy franchise quarterback prospect.

    Jones stood tall in the pocket and delivered strike after strike against a soft Texas zone coverage. It’s that same zone coverage that many NFL teams will be running, albeit with more talented players. Jones’ experience and ability to thread the needle and pick apart a defense will make him a very hot prospect once the draft rolls around.

5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

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    Robert Griffin III does it every week. He threw three incomplete passes the entire game. He’s thrown 20 all year. Yes, Robert Griffin III has thrown 18 touchdowns to just 20 incomplete passes.

    Griffin has officially arrived as more than just a runner. Those calling him a Michael Vick-like quarterback clearly haven’t been watching, as Griffin has completed 82 percent of his passes this season.

4. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina

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    Ladies and gentleman, Alshon Jeffery is here to stay. Jeffery had a huge game Saturday with a new quarterback under center for the Gamecocks, showing once again why he’s so highly rated even as other wide receivers are more productive.

    Much like Calvin Johnson during his days at Georgia Tech, Jeffery suffers from poor quarterback play that seriously affects his production. It also helps that the Gamecocks have a Top Five running back in Marcus Lattimore. Give Jeffery a legitimate quarterback, and he would shatter records.

3. Matt Kalil, OT, USC

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    The need for a franchise left tackle is prevalent on many NFL rosters right now. Look at the play in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago, and you will see storied franchises with a major need for a premier left tackle in the offense.

    Matt Kalil will be happy to fill one of those needs. Few college left tackles enter the NFL with a better balance of strength, speed and experience.

2. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

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    Vontaze Burfict was surprisingly quiet in a win over Utah this weekend, notching little in the way of impact plays. Players like Burfict won’t receive the fanfare and weekly production like an offensive skill player, but shutting down the Utah offense on the road is an impressive feat for Burfict and his defense.

    I’ve yet to see anything that would make me want to move Burfict down. Next weekend, he’ll have a chance against Oregon to make plenty of impact plays.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

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    Andrew Luck had an off week for him, with just one touchdown and a rare interception, but the Stanford offense didn’t need much from him on a day when they dominated the University of Colorado in a 48-7 victory.

    The most impressive aspects of Luck’s game are obviously his arm and his intelligence, but his consistency is remarkable as well. In a game when he was asked to do very little, Luck still averaged over 12 yards per attempt.

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