The 2012 NFL Draft class is already gaining buzz as one of the best in recent history. Highlighted by Heisman hopefuls like Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson, this group could change the face of the entire league.
The college football season is about half over, and certain guys are emerging as explosive, must-watch talents. It’s difficult to predict whether or not this success will translate to success at the next level, but these 10 guys seem like the real deal.
Anything could happen, but when the draft goes down in April of 2012, these will be the players to clamor for. These guys have the potential to dominate in the NFL for years to come.
North Carolina’s Quinton Coples is the best pass rusher in the 2012 class. The 6’6” senior has solid speed off the edge and continues to produce, even though he’s starting to see a lot of double teams. In 2010, Coples had 10 sacks and is widely regarded as the best defensive prospect in college football.
Coples can provide a pass rush as a defensive end or as a defensive tackle in a 4-3. He’s an extremely versatile player and has enough athletic ability to even play outside backer in a 3-4. His position at the next level will likely depend on the needs of the team that drafts him. His versatility makes him an even more intriguing prospect.
He was developed as a run stopper, yet he continues to make plays in the backfield as a pass rusher. If he can continue to develop his first move off the edge, he has Pro-Bowl potential.
He’s had a lot of trouble off the field, but Michael Floyd is a truly talented wide receiver. He is averaging more than 100 yards receiving per game for Notre Dame, and continues to use his body to make aggressive plays downfield.
He dominates against zone defenses as his quickness off the ball allows him to find the open field. He isn’t afraid to go after balls over the middle and will actively pursue passes rather than waiting for them to come to him. At 6’3” 224, he has solid size. What separates him from other receivers is his ability to use it.
His problems with alcohol will likely keep a lot of teams away, but he definitely has No. 1 receiver potential. If he continues to develop his route running and discipline in 2011, he’ll contribute to an NFL team right away.
He’ll be eligible for the NFL draft as he’s currently a red shirt sophomore, so he needs to be mentioned. The odds of Miller entering the draft next season aren’t all that high, but with the way he’s been dominating the ACC, he should weigh the option heavily. Miller has over 700 yards rushing in just six games, and is beginning to develop as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
He is one of the fastest offensive players in the nation and has excellent vision out of the backfield. For a small speedy back, he also packs a powerful punch. He breaks a lot of tackles for his size. He is listed at generous 210 lbs.
He needs to improve his blocking and pass-catching ability, but he’d already be an upgrade for a lot of NFL teams at the position. If Miller does indeed declare for the 2012 draft, he should be the second running back off the board.
The face of LSU’s No. 1 defense, Morris Claiborne is the best cornerback prospect in college football. He has three interceptions in 2011 and continues to shut down the SECs best receivers. His 4.4 speed keeps him with the NCAA’s best receivers and also makes him a major threat on special teams. He had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against West Virginia.
The former wide receiver has a knack for turning away from the receiver and finding the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. He always seems to turn at just the right time to make a play on the ball. He plays the receiver from the beginning of their routes and then turns back to a wide out when he knows where the ball is going. This means few pass interference calls and a lot of interceptions.
He’s improving his tackling, which many scouts consider to be his only true flaw. If he declares for the 2012 draft, he’ll be the first corner off of the board and could go as early as the top-10.
The Arizona State linebacker might be the most feared player in all of college football. He has excellent athleticism and speed, and at 6’4” 250 lbs, he’s an absolute monster of a middle linebacker. He is surprisingly well-rounded for his size and can drop back into coverage in addition to stopping the run and making plays at the line of scrimmage.
He plays extremely fast, fierce and aggressive football which has helped garner him the label of a dirty player. He sometimes commits penalties as a result of his aggressiveness, but it is definitely a positive for him more than a negative. As his football IQ continues to improve, he is showing Ray Lewis like potential.
Burfict is the heart and soul of the Arizona State defense and has been referred to as the meanest man in college football. He’ll do whatever it takes to win a football game and as a result, it sometimes costs his team. If he can learn to channel his aggression and anger, he could be the next great NFL linebacker.
Justin Blackmon is everything you look for in an NFL receiver. He has great hands, great in-game speed and perhaps most important of all, he is super competitive. He won’t run the fastest 40, and there are questions about his route running ability, but the guy can bring down jump balls a la Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall.
He has 608 yards and seven touchdowns through just six games for Oklahoma State, as he continuously dominates opposing corners with his physical play. In 2010 as a sophomore, he had more than 100 yards in every single game. He’ll only be a junior following the 2011 season, but he’ll likely enter the draft as he’s likely to go as a top-10 overall pick.
What he lacks in speed and route running ability, he makes up for ten-fold with competitive drive and physicality. He’s the type of receiver you can just throw the ball near and expect a completion. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch at the next level.
Think about the hype surrounding AJ Green entering the 2011 NFL Draft. Now take that hype and add 20 pounds of muscle to it. Alshon Jeffery compares favorably to AJ Green, but at 6’4” 229, he is even bigger and stronger. He is the focal point on a South Carolina offense that is exceeding expectations in 2011. He continues to produce against the elite corners of the SEC and has 451 yards and five TDs so far this season.
Jeffrey’s character is as impressive as his physical ability as he has had no problems off-the-field to date. In a league dominated by prima-donna receivers, Jeffrey will be a breath of fresh air for whichever team is lucky enough to land him.
As the season progresses, the comparisons to Calvin Johnson are growing more and more frequent. He has enough speed to gain separation from even the most elite defenders (4.56 40 yard dash), and has the size and physicality to come down with almost any pass.
The hype surrounding Andrew Luck is not to be ignored. The 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up is Mel Kiper’s highest rated draft prospect coming out of college since John Elway. Luck would have been the 2011 No. 1 overall pick had he decided not to return to Stanford to complete his degree as a red shirt junior. Instead, he’s posting the best numbers of his college career with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions through six games.
Luck gets a lot of credit for his superior accuracy, but that isn’t what makes him explosive. Luck has above average arm strength, excellent mobility and makes brilliant decisions with the football. At 6’4”, 235 lbs, he can take a hit, and won’t shy away from contact if he has an opportunity to make a pass. If his receivers are covered, he can turn it on with his legs as he runs an impressive 4.70 40 yard dash.
He’s elusive, mechanically sound and was already considered the best prospect in the draft last season. He continues to elevate the Stanford football program and will be a huge positive to whichever NFL team is graced with the first overall pick in 2012.
With 912 yards and 15 touchdowns, Trent Richardson is making an excellent case for the 2011 Heisman Trophy. With a combination of strength and speed that draws comparisons to some of the all-time greats. He can run over almost any defender, and is the type of downhill running back that typically finds a lot of success at the next lever.
When you watch Richardson run, you’ll notice that he falls forward every time a defender is lucky enough to wrap him up. To say he has elite strength for his position would be an understatement. A 460-plus pound bench press and 600-plus pound squats are usually numbers associated with offensive lineman. Richardson is a specimen to say the least.
If Richardson can land on a team with a good enough line to create holes for him, he could instantly develop into one of the best running backs in the league. When the holes aren’t there, he’ll remain a terror for opposing defenses in short yardage situations.
He is frequently compared to Cam Newton and Michael Vick due to his mobility at the quarterback position. However, Robert Griffin III is a more accurate a passer than Vick or Newton when they were coming out of college. He has completed 78 percent of his passes so far in 2011.
Griffin is single-handedly returning Baylor to college football relevance, and he’s doing so in dominating fashion. With 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions, he is emerging as the most efficient passer in the nation. He’s also has 295 yards rushing and two TDs on the ground.
He’ll likely be overshadowed by Andrew Luck heading into the 2012 NFL season, but Griffin III has the potential to emerge as the next great dual-threat QB at the NFL level. If he can land on a team with a solid offensive line and decent receivers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him beat out Luck as the rookie of the year.