It's NFL draft time in many cities across the league this morning. If you're a fan in Indianapolis, Miami, St. Louis, Seattle and Minnesota, chances are you're already looking ahead to the 2012 NFL draft class. I'm here to help.
There is roughly one month left in the college football regular season, and over those four weeks we'll be taking an intense look at the best of the best among eligible college players. You have heard all about Andrew Luck, but how about the rest of the class? If you're a fan of the Rams or Vikings, you don't need a quarterback, and Luck is of little consequence to your team.
Let's dig deeper and take a look at the 32 best players in the country, as well as whom I project their ceiling to mirror in the NFL.
Last Week: 27
NFL Comparison: Phil Taylor
Much like Phil Taylor coming out of Baylor last season, Alameda Ta'amu is being seen by many as a potential 3-4 nose tackle. I'm not so sure.
Ta'amu has the size to play the zero-technique position, but he's not shown the strength to hold up at the point of attack. This is a player who is better penetrating than clogging holes. Taylor was similar in that he had the size to play nose, but was underrated at rushing the passer and had impressive quickness for a big man.
Ta'amu will likely be a late first-rounder and would be a great fit as a 3-4 defensive end in Green Bay, where the defensive ends are asked to penetrate more.
Last Week: Not Ranked
NFL Comparison: Brandon Spikes
The New England Patriots have a stud at middle linebacker in Brandon Spikes. He may not be the fastest MIKE linebacker in the game, but his bulk and vision make him a damn fine two-down middle 'backer. I see a similar career path for Dont'a Hightower.
Hightower has lost some burst over the last three seasons at Alabama, but he's still great at reading the play and reacting to the ball. He's a no-nonsense tackler with the tools to be an early starter in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, especially on first and second down.
Last Week: Not Ranked
NFL Comparison: Greg Jennings
Lofty expectations are in place for Nick Toon on my big board. Toon has all the talent in the world, he's just struggled to stay healthy throughout his career at Wisconsin.
When you look at Toon's agility, hands and route-running ability you see an All-Pro-caliber player if placed in a system with a solid quarterback. Toon will work great in systems like New England and Chicago run, where he could be an immediate threat at wide receiver for a top team.
Last Week: 26
NFL Comparison: Tramon Williams
As more NFL teams move to a press cover system on defense, players with the talent of Janoris Jenkins will always be in demand—no matter their off-field transgressions.
Jenkins' past is checkered, and much space has been spent here discussing his multiple arrests and removal from the University of Florida team. If NFL teams can overlook his past—and draft history would indicate they can and will—Jenkins will find himself drafted in the first round and expected to step in as a rookie contributor.
Like Tramon Williams, Jenkins does an excellent job in jamming receivers off the line and forcing them off their route. He would be a great fit in a system like the Packers, Buccaneers and 49ers run.
Last Week: 31
NFL Comparison: Ahmad Brooks
Courtney Upshaw is a bit of an enigma. He has played both inside and outside linebacker at Alabama in the 3-4 defense. I like him best on the inside long term, but I do think he provides value as a pass-rusher both off the edge and in the "A" gaps.
Like Ahmad Brooks for the San Francisco 49ers, Upshaw has the ability to move around pre-snap to find the best matchup. His versatility and skill set will make him a favorite of coaches who move around their linebackers before the snap.
Last Week: 28
NFL Comparison: Stephen Tulloch
Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine with a big following among college football fans. While Kuechly is a great tackler at the college level, he may become a two-down player once in the NFL.
Kuechly will also have to prove he can handle tracking the ball through traffic at the next level. He will be a best fit in the 4-3 defense, where two big defensive tackles can help keep blockers to a minimum as he reads and reacts to the play.
Last Week: Not Ranked
NFL Comparison: Josh Sitton
David DeCastro makes an appearance on the big board every other week it seems. After watching his play against USC this weekend, DeCastro will be a fixture on the board the rest of the way.
DeCastro is a great run-blocker, able to quickly seal off his hole and get to the next level to make downfield blocks. Spend any amount of time watching Stanford play and it's easy to see No. 52 clearing holes through the middle of the field.
Last Week: 21
NFL Comparison: J.J. Watt
Jared Crick would be a top 15 player if not for a torn pectoral muscle earlier this season. That injury, and the unknown length of time he'll be sure to miss in pre-draft work, is why Crick is moving down.
I've talked to two different NFL scouts about Crick, a senior at Nebraska. One tells me a torn pectoral shouldn't keep Crick out of the combine (held in late February), while the other told me they don't expect Crick to be healthy until after the late April draft. Crick's availability for the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine will go a long way in determining his stock.
Last Week: 30
NFL Comparison: Branden Albert
The more I get to see Cordy Glenn playing tackle for the University of Georgia, the more I think he can easily make the move to tackle permanently.
Glenn is a massive man, which would make casual observers pencil him in at guard or right tackle, but he has the agility and quickness to last at left tackle. If you are the Detroit Lions, drafting late in Round 1, Glenn has to be a player you're targeting to replace Jeff Backus.
Last Week: 19
NFL Comparison: Antonio Cromartie
A tall cornerback with great range and game-changing ability, Dre Kirkpatrick's consistency and skill set remind me of Antonio Cromartie.
This is a good and bad thing. I really liked Cromartie when he left Florida State—in fact, I had interviewed him multiple times for New Era Scouting. Cromartie has the confidence and speed to make plays few cornerbacks can, but he also lacks the concentration and consistency to make the jump to a top-tier cornerback. I see the same inconsistency from Kirkpatrick. He can be great one week, but the next he's barely visible.
Last Week: 22
NFL Comparison: Kevin Williams
Sometimes great defensive tackles make an impact without sacking the quarterback. You can look at things like hurries, hits, pressures and stops in the run game. Much like Kevin Williams, who has just one sack in the last 24 games, Brandon Thompson makes his impact without getting great sack numbers.
You can't put a number on penetration, and that's what Thompson does so well. His hustle in the middle of the line opens up lanes for defensive ends and linebackers crashing the backfield. Thompson's ability to man the three-technique position and get penetration makes him the best defensive tackle in this class.
Last Week: 23
NFL Comparison: Brandon Flowers
I have a soft spot for physical cornerbacks who are just as good in coming up to stop the run on the edge as they are in pass coverage. That's why Stephon Gilmore is probably higher on my board than anyone else's.
Gilmore does it all for South Carolina. He's great against the run, physical in coverage and capable of making plays on the ball. He also doubles as a return man. Talk about value.
Gilmore will be a threat on all four downs in the NFL.
Last Week: 22
NFL Comparison: Lance Briggs
Too many want to make the comparison between Zach Brown and the Denver Broncos first-rounder from 2011, Von Miller. The comparison should never be made. Ever.
Miller was a sack leader at Texas A&M, playing the JACK position in its hybrid defense. Zach Brown is not a pass-rusher, but a traditional outside linebacker for a 4-3 set. He's good at setting the edge, athletic enough to drop into coverage and smart enough to make plays on the ball.
Brown, in my mind, is a younger version of All-Pro Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears: excellent in every aspect of the game, but nowhere near the pass-rusher Miller is for Denver.
Last Week: 18
NFL Comparison: Blaine Gabbert
You may wonder why I'm making the comparison between Matt Barkley and Blaine Gabbert. Allow me to explain.
Both Gabbert and Barkley come from high-octane offenses. Both are very good at moving in the pocket and can even make plays outside with their feet. Both benefit, at least somewhat, from the system they run.
I liked Gabbert coming out of Missouri—he was my No. 3 quarterback last year (behind Andy Dalton and Cam Newton). Barkley ranks No. 4 but has the potential to really shoot up boards. His intangibles and talent are all upper level, I just worry about his consistency and downfield arm strength. If he answers tough questions in the postseason run up to the draft, the top five isn't out of the question.
Last Week: 16
NFL Comparison: Tamba Hali
A college defensive end with great quickness, hips and balance, Ronnell Lewis has the same DNA as Kansas City Chief outside linebacker Tamba Hali.
Like Hali, Lewis make a take a few seasons to fully develop in the NFL, but in the meantime he has the skills to be a terrifying edge-rusher from the 3-4 outside linebacker position. I would plug Lewis in at left outside linebacker and let his speed and motor overpower right tackles in the NFL. His experience at defensive end, and his ability to stop the run, makes him an ideal candidate to shutdown the right side.
Last Week: 20
NFL Comparison: Kenny Britt
Big, fast and great after the catch. That's Michael Floyd. Sounds a lot like Kenny Britt too. Before injury this season, Britt was one of the best in the NFL at making plays after the catch. A slimmed down Floyd is showing the same quickness and vision this season for Notre Dame.
I'm not sold on Floyd's route-running ability, or character, but there's no doubting what he can do with the ball in his hands. He's a big target and will be a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver option. Teams like the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers have to be targeting Floyd.
Last Week: 17
NFL Comparison: Aldon Smith
As a fan of the 3-4 defense, Brandon Jenkins is my top outside linebacker prospect from the 2012 draft class. Jenkins, a defensive end at Florida State, has all the tools to make an easy transition to the NFL.
The 2011 NFL draft gave us an athletic defensive end from Missouri that few had penciled in as a top-10 draft prospect named Aldon Smith. The 2012 draft has an almost identical player, this time in Brandon Jenkins of Florida State. Keep an eye on Jenkins as the season ends, his stock is soaring.
Last Week: 12
NFL Comparison: Shaun Phillips
Melvin Ingram may be the most difficult player to scout of any in the top 32. He is playing great this year, but the South Carolina defensive line features at least three players with first-round potential. Is Ingram's season the product of the talent around him, or his own individual skill set?
I'm anxious to see Ingram in workouts to get a better look at his skills without the influence of the players around him. There's no doubting Ingram is a talented individual. He has experience playing in-line and in space and has a rare size and speed ability that could make him a great candidate to drop to outside linebacker for a 3-4 defense.
Last Week: 15
NFL Comparison: Justin Smith
When you have a college player with experience at both defensive tackle and defensive end, I naturally want to see that player in a five- or six-technique playing in a three-man front. Quinton Coples has the natural size and speed to make a big impact on the edge in an active 3-4 defense that asks the ends to get upfield and make plays.
Look at the schemes being ran in San Francisco and Green Bay for a great example of where Coples could excel. Much like Justin Smith, who played right end in a four-man front previously, Coples could be an impact player at defensive end.
Last Week: 14
NFL Comparison: LeSean McCoy
Lamar Miller has had two bad weeks in a row, but the blame shouldn't be pointed at Miller alone, if at all. The Miami offensive line has been terrible this year, and without much of a passing attack to rely on, defenses are stacking the box against Miller.
Look past the stat line and focus on Miller's ability and you will see a running back with amazing burst, great open-field quickness and receiving skills that make him an immediate three-down threat in the NFL.
Miller, who is only a redshirt sophomore, is a complete back.
Last Week: 12
NFL Comparison: Jerod Mayo
The comparison between Manti Te'o and Jerod Mayo is too easy to make. When watching the linebackers play, you would think they were related.
Both Te'o and Mayo are able to play inside or outside in any defensive scheme. Their athleticism, speed and agility make them a threat from any spot on the field. Te'o is already a great coverage linebacker, something few college players can say. He's NFL ready right now, even if it seems unlikely he'll leave Notre Dame for the NFL.
Last Week: 11
NFL Comparison: Eric Winston
I have said all season that I love the idea of moving Riley Reiff and his long arms and quick feet to the right side in the NFL, especially in a zone scheme. Put Reiff on the offensive line in Kansas City and its weakness goes to a strength, immediately.
Reiff could easily play at left tackle and be a very good pro tackle, but on the right side I see a dominant player with rare speed and quickness off the line. His ability to drop his weight and wall off pass-rushers, combined with the quick feet to stop pass-rushers, would make Reiff one of the best right tackles in the NFL by 2014.
Last Week: 10
NFL Comparison: Ryan Clady
There was a point just a few seasons ago when Ryan Clady could have won the argument for best left tackle in the NFL. Injuries and horrible play by the Denver Broncos as a team have resulted in a changed perception of Clady, but he is still one of the best in the game.
Clady excels because of rare agility. Jonathan Martin has the same look.
Martin is an accomplished pass-blocker who has the quick feet to keep up with speed rushers, but the power and long arms to hold off a power rush. He's also improving quickly as a run blocker. Martin would be a franchise left tackle for any NFL team and should be getting long looks from teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings.
Last Week: 9
NFL Comparison: Anquan Boldin
When you look around the NFL for a powerful possession receiver who does a good job separating from defenders by using his frame and sudden bursts of quickness, there is no better comparison than Anquan Boldin.
Justin Blackmon may be a little quicker in space, but the physical makeup of these two players is uncannily similar.
Blackmon is assaulting the Big 12 with jaw-dropping statistics, but I still worry about his speed at the next level. Those same concerns kept Boldin out of the first round. Blackmon won't fall past pick 15.
Last Week: 7
NFL Comparison: Joe Haden
LSU is loaded with talented young players, but surprisingly few draft prospects for the 2012 class. Morris Claiborne more than makes up for that.
Claiborne is in the mold of Joe Haden and Patrick Peterson, two top 10 draft picks from the 2010 and 2011 classes. I'll be surprised if Claiborne doesn't join that fraternity this year.
A junior at LSU, Claiborne is the best pure cover man in college football. His quickness when changing direction and vision are top-notch. He'll be an immediate impact starter, like Haden and Peterson, in the NFL.
Last Week: 6
NFL Comparison: Patrick Willis
I continue to move Vontaze Burfict down bit by bit, but he is still one of my favorite draft prospects from the 2012 class.
As I explained last week, Burfict's game is amazing, but he has to learn to play controlled football. Until he does, he's as much a liability as he is a benefit to his team. Few players have the natural ability to impact a game in the way Burfict can, but he has to play within himself for that impact to be positive.
I would chose to build my defense around Burfict because I love his aggressive style of play, but there will be NFL scouts who take him off their board because of the same aggressiveness that I find attractive.
Last Week: 8
NFL Comparison: Matt Schaub
Landry Jones got lost a bit this week in the hype leading up to USC/Stanford and Baylor/Oklahoma State. NFL scouts flocked to those contests to see four of the top quarterbacks in the country, leaving Jones' game at Kansas State an afterthought for those not stuck in the Midwest with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Lucky for Jones, that's what I was doing.
I do like what Landry Jones has shown. His accuracy, especially 20 yards and under, is impressive. He's smart, comfortable in his offense and plays well under pressure. Here's a franchise quarterback that I would rank above every passer in the 2011 draft—other than Andy Dalton and Cam Newton (my top two pre-draft last year).
Last Week: 5
NFL Comparison: LaDainian Tomlinson
Running backs are not my favorite position to see drafted in the top 10, unless that player has special ability.
Look around the NFL at how the best offenses are using their running backs. More so than ever, a great running back must also be a good blocker and an even better receiver. McFadden, Matt Forte, Fred Jackson and Frank Gore all excel because of their dual use.
Richardson will leave Alabama as a productive runner, but also as a finished product. He's as NFL-ready as any runner since Peterson left Oklahoma.
Last Week: 4
NFL Comparison: Cam Newton
I was asked this week what I thought of Robert Griffin's bad game against Oklahoma State. I reminded the questioner that I really don't care about stats. I couldn't tell you how many yards Griffin has thrown for or rushed for, and I won't bother looking.
Production on the field is great to have, but it's too easily contorted by the system and/or the defense you are playing against. Baylor got its ass handed to it by Oklahoma State, a great team with a number of future NFL stars. That doesn't reflect on Griffin.
What I saw, and have seen all season, is next-level accuracy and an ability to create plays both in space and under pressure that is rare. I compare Griffin to Cam Newton, but he's a much better quarterback than Newton was leaving Auburn. He's more accurate in the short- to mid-passing game and probably faster, too. That's the closest comparison there is for Griffin's ability.
Last Week: 3
NFL Comparison: Andrew Whitworth
Matt Kalil is college football's top tackle, and each week he separates himself more from the pack. Kalil's long arms make him an ideal NFL tackle, and his quick feet lead me to believe he'll stick on the left side once in the pros. However, he has experience on the right side in USC's swing-tackle offensive philosophy and could make the switch if needed.
Like Andrew Whitworth, Kalil is an underrated run blocker who is quick enough to get to the second level and lead-block. He's also quick, smart and flexible in pass protection. Kalil has all the tools to be a 12-year starter along the offensive line.
Last Week: 2
NFL Comparison: Andre Johnson
As part of my job here at Bleacher Report I read a decent amount of NFL draft material put out by other scouts and analysts. I'm seeing more and more with Alshon Jeffery in the top five. Welcome to the party, boys.
Jeffery gets criticized by fans because of his perceived lack of speed or chiseled frame. The speed issue would bother me, but Jeffery has run just as fast in timed 40-yard dashes as Justin Blackmon. He's also three inches taller.
Jeffery will excel because of his size and his rare ability to use his length to box out defenders at any point of the field. Put Jeffery opposite Steve Smith in Carolina and he's an All-Pro with Cam Newton at quarterback.
Last Week: 1
NFL Comparison: Aaron Rodgers
Andrew Luck did it again this week in a thrilling comeback, triple-overtime win over USC. In the game Luck looked as great as ever, even if he did throw a late interception that nearly cost the Cardinal the game.
Luck proved Saturday night that he's calm under pressure and able to handle adversity. It's that ability to stay accurate under pressure that had me in love with Matt Ryan coming out of Boston College. Luck's poise under pressure, when added to his already amazing skill set, just adds more icing to the cake.
Don't confuse Luck's poise with a player like Tim Tebow. It's important to read that this poise is only great when added on top of the required quarterback skills. Luck has those and then some.
Enjoy it, folks: this is the best quarterback prospect many of us will ever see.