2012 NFL Draft Big Board Week 7
Who is moving up and who is moving down on the 2012 NFL draft Big Board?
Can a strong week of play by the North Carolina Tar Heel defense help out struggling defensive ends Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss? Does anyone stand a chance of topping Andrew Luck as the best quarterback in the draft?
Find out who the top 32 players in the country are today, and see who is moving up and down in our latest installment of the 2012 NFL Draft Big Board.
32. Jared Crick
A torn pectoral muscle has Jared Crick falling way down the board this week. A torn pectoral isn’t career threatening, but it will keep Crick out of most, if not all, pre-draft workouts.
The good news for Crick is that he’s shown on film over the last three seasons the work ethic and production to justify a first round pick. It will take just one NFL team falling in love with him for Crick to hear his name called early in round one.
31. Dont’a Hightower
The University of Mississippi isn’t the best school to scout against, as they are one of the weakest teams in the SEC this season. It is good to see Hightower have an all-around game though.
The middle linebacker notched five tackles, one of which was for a loss, and did a great job reading the football. Hightower’s strength is his ability to read and react, and he’s doing an excellent job showing off his vision this season.
30. Devin Taylor
Devin Taylor has been on and off this season. This week, he was back on.
Taylor has exceptional raw ability for the position. Ideally, Taylor would line up at right defensive end in a 4-3 defense, where his length and speed would make him a great match up against left tackles in the NFL. Taylor has the burst to get off the line in a hurry, but with his wingspan he could be valuable at stopping the outside run game and batting down passes.
Taylor has been a bit inconsistent this season. He needs a strong second half to move up and warrant leaving South Carolina early for the NFL.
29. Luke Kuechly
Luke Kuechly was his normal tackling-machine-self this weekend, grabbing 16 tackles (11 of them solo) against a top ranked Clemson offense.
What makes Kuechly so great are his instincts in finding the football and his sure-tackling. What I worry about most, and why Kuechly is moving down, is his ability (or lack thereof) to play without two defensive tackles in front of him collecting blocks. In a 3-4 defense Kuechly would be lost, and half the defenses in the NFL today run the 3-4.
Kuechly could move up the board, I’m not done evaluating him, but so far I’m not sold.
28. Nick Toon
Nick Toon makes his first appearance on the Big Board during a week where he didn’t even play. Toon missed Saturday’s game with a foot injury, but has played well enough this season to move into the top 32 players for the 2012 draft.
Toon has the pedigree, his dad Al played in the NFL for eight seasons, and is a great athlete at wide receiver—much like his old man.
The biggest red flag for Toon are past injuries. He’s had surgery on his foot previously and missed four games last season with injuries to his toe and thigh. Staying healthy has been a chore, but when he’s on the field Toon is a legitimate first rounder.
27. Janoris Jenkins
Dominating lesser competition doesn’t impress me. Those talking up the game of Janoris Jenkins because of what he’s doing at North Alabama are wasting their time. The only play from Jenkins that matters right now is what he does off the field.
The talented cornerback proved during his time at Florida that he has the ability to step in to the NFL as a starter. What’s keeping him from the Top 15 ranking he deserves are the off-field issues, arrests and dismissal from Florida.
I’m not sold on Jenkins as a person, but as a player he’s undoubtedly among the most talented in the country.
26. Alameda Ta’amu
A big move down for Alameda Ta’amu this week. While Ta’amu has been solid at nose tackle for the Huskies, he’s moving down more because of further evaluation of the players above him.
Ta’amu is as talented as any nose tackle I’ve seen over the past two seasons, but players at his position are rarely valued enough to warrant an early pick in the first round. The most realistic expectation for Ta’amu would be a mid to late 20s selection.
25. Donte Paige-Moss
Donte Paige-Moss didn’t have the showing Saturday night that his teammates on the defensive line did, but he still had a solid game. What’s most concerning about Paige-Moss is that he’s not developed since last season. I expected to see a well-rounded pass rusher this season, but DPM is still trying to get by on pure athleticism.
At this point I am ranking Paige-Moss purely on potential and athleticism. He has the tools to become a very good outside linebacker in the NFL, but his statistics and production are not showing how talented he really is.
24. Courtney Upshaw
Courtney Upshaw had a coming out party this week as Alabama torched Mississippi. Upshaw does more than make tackles, and with Mississippi throwing the ball often this week, he made more noise as a pass rusher with two sacks. This is the type of output expected of Upshaw, who has potential as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Upshaw does still look a little slow on film. The burst that I’ve seen in the past isn’t always there, and it’s something I’m keeping a close eye on.
23. Jerel Worthy
This week’s match-up of Jerel Worthy versus Michigan center David Molk was billed as showcase of two early draft choices from the 2012 class. If so, Worthy won the battle.
The big defensive tackle notched one sack and was otherwise a pain in Michigan’s ass the entire game. Worthy has shown these last two weeks why he was ranked so high to begin the season.
I keep saying if Worthy continues playing at this level, he could have a Marcel Dareus-like rise up boards. He’s well on his way to making that happen.
22. Michael Floyd
Notre Dame was off this week, which means more time to review Michael Floyd and the Fighting Irish.
Floyd has had a brilliant season, with three games of 12 catches or more and an average of over 12 yards per reception. The biggest problems for Floyd come mainly in his off-field record. The talented receiver has three alcohol related arrests since 2009.
A key for Floyd is that he did drop weight this offseason and looks much faster than he did in 2010. That’s the type of good news he needs to send to NFL front offices.
21. Dre Kirkpatrick
I expected more this week from Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama jumped out to a huge lead over Mississippi, which meant the Ole Miss offense would be based on the passing game. Kirkpatrick did very little this week on my stat sheet.
This is Kirkpatrick’s first full season as a starter, but for a player with so much hype entering the season, I’ve not seen the production to match it. Kirkpatrick has been weak in coverage and in run support. He needs to have an impressive second half of the season to justify his ranking here.
20. Cliff Harris
Cliff Harris is back.
The second most talented cornerback in college football has had a rough 2011. He was suspended early this season and then had to earn his starting job back. Harris came up big in a match up against Arizona State’s talented quarterback Blake Osweiler, notching his first interception of the season and returning it for 50 yards.
Harris flashed the speed and playmaking ability that made him a preseason favorite of mine. If the rest of the season goes this well, Harris may play himself into the Top 10.
19. Matt Barkley
The Cal secondary isn’t quite the 1994 San Francisco 49ers, and I expected more of Matt Barkley this week from a production standpoint. Barkley was just OK this week, hitting on 54 percent of his passes and throwing for just 195 yards.
Barkley is still a top prospect, even if he has an average game. The good news is that his team won, he didn’t throw an interception and he continues to show the athleticism and intangibles to be a high pick in the 2012 draft.
18. Ronnell Lewis
Second on the team in tackles, Ronnell Lewis continues to impress each week.
With 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for a loss on the year, Lewis has positioned himself as one of the top pass rushers in college football. And at 6’2” and 244 lbs, he’s the ideal size to make a move to outside linebacker once in the NFL.
Teams running the 3-4 defense will be keeping a close eye on Lewis as the season unfolds.
17. Brandon Jenkins
Brandon Jenkins started out the season with a flash, but has since slowed down considerably. The good news is that his two best games came against top competition (Oklahoma and Clemson).
Jenkins has the burst and flexibility to make a seamless move to outside linebacker once in the NFL. He reminds me a lot of Aldon Smith, who was never a statistical god at Missouri but parlayed great athleticism and a need for pass rushers into a top 10 selection.
16. Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore continues to rank as one the best cornerbacks on the board, but he has close competition from Cliff Harris of Oregon.
Gilmore is bigger, better in run support and more versatile as far as which defenses he could play in, but he’s not the flashy cover man that Harris is. Gilmore has the size and strength to play well in the Cover 3 defenses becoming more popular in today’s NFL. He’s also going to be a much better run stopper on the edge than any other cornerback in this class.
15. Quinton Coples
The Quinton Coples I had expected to see all season showed up big against the Miami Hurricanes this weekend. Coples notched one sack, six tackles (2.5 for a loss) and was the main force stopping running back Lamar Miller from torching the Tar Heel defense.
Coples needed a big game like this to remind folks why he’s been ranked so high by most draft scouts. I’m moving Coples way up the board this week after this performance.
14. Lamar Miller
It would be unfair to solely blame Lamar Miller for a bad offensive output against North Carolina this weekend, but some of the blame has to fall on Miller’s back.
The talented running back had just 29 yards on 18 carries Saturday night. That’s good for an average of 1.81 per carry. He was averaging 7.2 per carry previously.
Miller is still a solid Top 15 player, but with a bad offensive line in front of him there could be more unimpressive outings coming as Miami takes on better ACC opponents.
13. Manti Te’o
Without a game this weekend for Notre Dame I was able to go back and look at Te’o this week. I’m still impressed.
Te’o is a great athlete, and that’s something many are overlooking when scouting him. He has the size and speed to make a move to any of the three linebacker positions in a conventional 4-3 defense. I would love to see Notre Dame use him more in blitz packages, but Te’o is so valuable as a tackler that they can’t afford to move him from the middle right now.
Te’o is the type of player who will have a much better NFL career than college. He’s a special athlete.
12. Melvin Ingram
Melvin Ingram’s biggest competition for the top defensive end spot in this draft may come from his own team. Ingram plays opposite junior Devin Taylor, and both are exceptional draft prospects.
Ingram has been the better of the two, notching 5.5 sacks this season and showing the motor to be a disruptive presence off the edge in the NFL. It’s also very possible that Ingram would be moved to outside linebacker once in the NFL. He has the speed and flexibility to make a move to the outside once drafted.
Every year a defensive end makes a rise to the top of the draft. Based on production so far this season, Ingram looks to be that guy.
11. Riley Reiff
The 2012 draft class is blessed with three stud tackles in the top 12 players. Riley Reiff of Iowa may be ranked third, but he’s a serious prospect and a player NFL teams are keeping an eye on.
Reiff was compared this week in talks with former NFL scouts to Nate Solder—picked No. 17 overall by the New England Patriots in the 2011 draft. Like Solder, Reiff could play left or right tackle in the NFL. He’s quick, strong and smart enough to handle an NFL offensive scheme without trouble.
Reiff may never top Matt Kalil or Jonathan Martin on the big board, but he could be the better tackle in the NFL.
10. Jonathan Martin
The Stanford offensive line has been brilliant this season, and Jonathan Martin is a big part of that. The quick left tackle has the look and skill set of an ideal zone blocking tackle at the next level.
Martin is a better pass protector than run blocker at this stage, but most college tackles are. What’s encouraging is his ability to learn and the fact that his lean frame could easily hold 20 lbs of additional muscle.
Those looking for a player comparison can compare Martin to the Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady. The two are very similar in terms of size, agility and skill set.
9. Trent Richardson
It would not be surprising to see Trent Richardson drafted higher than his ranking on the big board. Once NFL teams get a look at this all-around running back, he won’t last long.
Richardson tore apart the Ole Miss defense this week, showing once again why he’s the best running back in college. Averaging over 10 yards per carry, Richardson went for four touchdowns on the ground and added 30 yards receiving.
Scouts and analysts talk about drafting "every down backs", there is not a more well-rounded running back available than Richardson. He's the definition of "every down."
8. Justin Blackmon
The Texas Longhorn defense, especially the secondary, has been horrid this season. Justin Blackmon was expected to have a huge game this weekend against the young cornerbacks in Austin. He did not.
With seven catches and one touchdown, Blackmon had a decent game, but far from his high totals earlier this season. Blackmon is highly regarded by many because of his production and gaudy numbers, but a closer look at his stats (an overrated trait for wide receivers) would show that Blackmon has yet to face an elite cornerback—and he won’t all season.
Blackmon is an exceptional wide receiver, but those calling for him to be ranked higher than Alshon Jeffery are delusional.
7. Morris Claiborne
Each week I find new reasons to love the game of Morris Claiborne. This week was no different.
Against Tennessee, Claiborne had a huge week and continued to solidify this status as the best cornerback in the 2012 class. He’s damn close to being the best defensive player.
Claiborne returned a kick 34 yards, returned an interception 89 yards and broke up two passes in the LSU win over Tennessee this weekend. This is the type of all-around game that will make Claiborne a top 5 pick once the NFL draft rolls around.
6. Landry Jones
Landry Jones and co. were rarely tested this week against Kansas. There’s not much you can take away from a beatdown like the one Oklahoma has put on Texas and Kansas in back-to-back games, but watching Jones thread the ball to all areas of the field has justified his high ranking.
Some will like Matt Barkley above Jones, but not me. Jones’ size, the velocity on his passes and his experience at reading the defense make him the better quarterback on my board.
Of course, there are two passers I have above Jones.
5. Robert Griffin III
In his first big test of the season, Robert Griffin III looked more human against an active Texas A&M defense this week. He threw his second interception of the season, but also put up 430 yards through the air.
Griffin will be criticized for checking down too often, or accumulating yards through run after catch yards, but what college quarterback doesn’t? For that matter, what NFL quarterback doesn’t? The checkdown is a big part of reading a defense and making the right calls. I saw Griffin making the right choices this week in not taking downfield chances when they weren’t there. That’s smart quarterbacking.
4. Matt Kalil
The USC tackle impressed during the Trojans game this week, which is normal. What I found most impressive was Kalil’s ability to play left or right tackle in the USC offensive system. Kalil is asked to switch sides based on which is the strongside or weakside of the line. This week he lined up multiple times on the right side, and showed the tools to excel there.
With so many teams at the top of the draft order already set at left tackle, Kalil’s play on the right side in this offense will entice many teams. Imagine Kalil opposite Branden Albert or Anthony Castonzo. It’s a scary thought for defensive ends in the NFL.
3. Alshon Jeffery
Give Alshon Jeffery a legitimate quarterback and there would be no question as to who the best wide receiver in college football is. Jeffery possesses a rare skill set not found in the other top players in this class. His combination of strength, height and vision will make him a dangerous deep threat in the NFL.
Jeffery won’t wow anyone with blazing speed or route running skills, at least not yet, but he has the raw ability to make an immediate impact while learning the intricacies of the position at the NFL level. With the success of players like Randy Moss, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson, it's easy to see where Jeffery would fit in an NFL system.
2. Vontaze Burfict
The Arizona State defense has struggled this season, leaving Burfict on an island far too often. He showed the speed needed to play either inside or outside linebacker in the NFL in the team’s loss to Oregon Saturday night.
Burfict is the ideal linebacker in today’s NFL. He’s opportunistic, fast and aggressive in getting to the ball. Linebackers like Luke Kuechly may make more tackles, but no linebacker makes more plays than Burfict.
1. Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck continues to dominate as a draft prospect. I spoke with three former NFL executives this week about Luck and all three concluded without hesitation that he’s the best prospect in the entire 2012 class—which is pretty much a given. The comment that rang truest for me was that one talent evaluator I spoke with called Luck the, “best quarterback prospect since John Elway—and I scouted Elway at Stanford.”
High praise for Luck, but it’s deserved. Prepare yourself to see many pissed off fan bases late in the 2011 regular season as NFL teams win meaningless games to take themselves out of the “Suck4Luck” campaign.