2012 NFL Draft Big Board: Top 50 Players
Big changes are coming to the Bleacher Report Big Board this week.
A newcomer enters the top quarterback discussion, making a move from the Top 5 and contending with the formerly untouchable Andrew Luck. A change up at offensive tackle has players moving up and down the board. And finally, extensive film study this week has two former 20-something players threatening the Top 10.
Ready to find out if Robert Griffin III and his comeback win over Oklahoma has him moving up our board or if the red-hot USC Trojan offense will propel Matt Barkley and Matt Kalil up the list? And if you love defense, you'll be excited to see new names in the Top 15.
We're also extending the Big Board to 50 players this week. That's 18 more than you'll find at ESPN.
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50. Josh Chapman, DT, Alabama
Strength: Big, zero-technique tackle is a great fit for two-gap defense at nose tackle. Weakness: Chapman hasn't been as productive as hoped, and he looks out of shape at times.
49. Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
Strength: Curry has the ideal size and burst for a pass rusher once in the NFL. Weakness: Curry may be a man without a position. Is he a 40-system end or 30-scheme linebacker?
48. Robert Lester, FS, Alabama
Strength: On paper, Lester has it all—his size, strength and vision are top notch. Weakness: Lester is very stiff in coverage and may not be fast enough to cover deep thirds.
47. Chase Minnfield, CB, Virginia
Strength: Minnifield has ideal height and length and looks fluid on film. Weakness: He is a thin, lanky cornerback who struggles to come up in run support. Cannot press in zero coverage.
46. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
Strength: Barron is a hard-hitting safety with great vision and aggression. Weakness: Barron lacks the burst and flexibility to flip in coverage or make a break on the ball.
45. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Strength: Fluker looks like an elite tackle. Big, strong, very agile. Weakness: Somewhat inexperienced as a pass protector. Can be beaten with speed rush outside.
44. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
Strength: Worthy passes the eye-ball test. Has the numbers of a Top 15 player. Weakness: Worthy has not shown the production to match his talent. He lacks effort.
43. Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
Strength: A pure pass catcher, but an improving blocker, Allen is a plug-and-play tight end. Weakness: Isn't an explosive player and will drop due to that lack of burst.
42. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Strength: Among the best defensive ends in college, Mercilus is a good athlete and productive player. Weakness: Good production, but gets by with pure speed rushes. Must develop second and third move.
41. Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State
Strength: Martin has quickness and agility to drop into coverage and even lock up with tight ends. Weakness: Lacks the ball-hawking ability of a first-round safety. Martin is also undersized and would need to add bulk.
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40. Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
Strength: A huge body in the defensive line, Ta'amu has quickness to split double teams and make plays. Weakness: He may look like a nose tackle but hasn't shown the strength to take down blockers.
39. Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, West Virginia
Strength: He's an exceptional athlete who could make the move to 3-4 outside linebacker. Weakness: All but forgotten this season, Irvin's production has taken a huge hit.
38. Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Strength: A stocky, squat tackle with good lateral quickness. Adams could be a late first-round surprise. Weakness: Missed five games due to suspension; doesn't always give all-out effort.
37. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Strength: A very live arm and upper-level mobility; able to make plays outside the pocket. Weakness: Only in his second year as a starter, Tannehill lacks experience and pocket presence to help early in his career.
36. Brandon Jenkins, DE/OLB, Florida State
Strength: An impressive athlete who jumped off 2010 film. Great upside as pass rusher. Weakness: Production has not matched hype or athleticism. Struggling with double teams.
35. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Strength: Ideal size and strength to play nose tackle. Gets great leverage at snap. Weakness: Doesn't bring much to the table in pursuit or penetration. Purely a two-gap plug at nose tackle.
34. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
Strength: Seemingly always around the ball, Wright is a yards after catch machine. Great slot potential. Weakness: Undersized and coming from gimmicky offense. Could get beat up at line of scrimmage.
33. Nick Toon, WR Wisconsin
Strength: First-round talent, pedigree and measurables. Does everything you want. Weakness: Injury-filled history will cause many teams to pass on Toon.
32. Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Devon Still isn't a player that jumps off the film at you, but he does have great potential as a five-technique defensive end once in a 3-4 defense. With half the NFL running a 30 scheme on defense, Still's value will continue to go up.
One great attribute of Still's is his ability to anchor against blockers. We call this a "two-gap" player for his ability to control either gap against the run. When placed on the end of a three-man line, Still has the quickness and strength to be a difference maker.
31. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard makes an appearance on the Big Board after several weeks of hanging in the mid-30s in my rankings.
While there are some things I don't like about Dennard's game, he's too good in press coverage to ignore. Placed in the right system, Dennard could become a very good man cover cornerback once in the NFL. While I'm not making a comparison to Nnamdi Asomugha, Dennard will need to play in a system similar to the one that Nnamdi succeeded in while in Oakland.
30. Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
There will always be a place in the NFL for big, strong linebackers who excel at shutting down the run inside the tackle box.
Dont'a Hightower may not fly off the film, and he won't test particularly well at the NFL Scouting Combine, but this is a player who lives around the ball. Hightower has top-notch instincts, and he's also big enough and strong enough to take on blockers and get to the edge.
You won't want to see Hightower in the middle of the defense your favorite team is facing each week, that's guaranteed.
29. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
I've tried to overlook Janoris Jenkins' character issues, but I cannot do it completely.
There's no doubting that Jenkins is an elite-level cornerback, but just like Colorado's Jimmy Smith in the 2011 NFL draft, Jenkins will find his stock falling due to those issues off the field. It will take a veteran locker room with a strong coach to accept Jenkins into their plans.
Based on play alone, I would have Jenkins in the Top 15.
28. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
There are some who seem Luke Kuechly's tackle numbers and automatically think he's an elite linebacker at the next level. I'll beg to differ.
Kuechly is a great college linebacker, but as a pro I see limitations. While I would still value Kuechly as a late first-rounder, his inability to get off blocks and his stiff hips don't excite me about his NFL potential. Kuechly is undersized and lacks bulk, which limits his ability to get off blocks to make plays. We're talking about a linebacker who will be limited to a 4-3 defense.
27. Peter Konz, OC, Wisconsin
The best center in college football, Peter Konz has elite ability as a center or guard once in the NFL. Konz is currently nursing an ankle injury, but this is a center with very little flaws in his game.
Oddly enough, the biggest knock on Konz may be that he's too tall at 6'5" to play center in the NFL. This won't be a concern for all teams, but those with shorter quarterbacks will have to take it into consideration.
Konz is a Mike Pouncey type player who could step in as a rookie and make a big impact.
26. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Much like Dont'a Hightower, there will always be a place in the NFL for a big, versatile linebacker who can make plays from inside or outside linebacker.
Upshaw is much like Terrell Suggs or Mike Vrabel in that you can move him around to get the best matchup and then unleash him on the offense. A good defensive coordinator will find a place for Upshaw on his depth chart on all three downs.
I've been down on Upshaw at points this year, but he's making a case for a first-round selection come April.
25. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson
Now is a fitting time to remind readers that this is not a prediction of where players will be drafted, but a ranking of who is best right now. Players will be both over- and under-drafted by April.
One player with a high potential to be over-drafted is Brandon Thompson. Due to needs at defensive tackle, especially the three-technique position, Thompson has been mentioned as a Top 12 choice by some mock drafts I've come across this season.
I would say anything lower than pick No. 20 would be a massive reach for a good athlete who has never matched his potential with production.
24. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
With half of the NFL now running some form of a 3-4 defense, finding players who can control two gaps and play on the end of the line of scrimmage is more important than ever before. That's where players like Jared Crick come in to play.
Crick, who is a Top 12 talent if not for injury, may see a drop in stock depending on how well he's recovered from a torn pectoral muscle by the NFL Scouting Combine. A healthy Crick could see a similar stock as 2011 draftee J.J. Watt.
23. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
It's well known that I am not as high on Dre Kirkpatrick's stock as others, but I have good reason for seeing Kirkpatrick as a mid-to-late first-rounder at cornerback.
Kirkpatrick could do well in a zone coverage system where he's not asked to lock up in man coverage on quicker, faster receivers. Where Kirkpatrick struggles is when he's asked to play one-on-one situations. Drafted into a system like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run, Kirkpatrick could dominate.
I also like the idea of moving Kirkpatrick to free safety, where I see an All-Pro level potential.
22. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Quinton Coples opened the season Top 5 on almost all 2012 NFL draft boards. Now, he's barely hanging on to a Top 32 ranking. If you see a Big Board with Coples still in the Top 10, chances are they need to do an update.
Coples has massive potential, but since moving from defensive tackle to defensive end, Coples hasn't been the same player. He's struggling to break off from double teams, but even when in single blocking situations he isn't showing the burst or agility to become an elite pass rusher at defensive end.
21. Ronnell Lewis, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
Ronnell Lewis makes a move down this week after missing most of Oklahoma's loss to Baylor with injury. Too often in his young career, Lewis has been sidelined due to injury. Those trips to the trainer's table will add up when looking at Lewis' career.
I'm excited about Lewis' potential as a pass rusher when converting to a 3-4 defense, but before he can make that transition he has to stay healthy. All the talent in the world won't help Lewis if he's constantly injured.
20. Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina
The massive potential of Melvin Ingram as a player anywhere from defensive tackle to outside linebacker is stunning. Much like Cameron Jordan in 2011, Ingram's athleticism and size are hard to place into one position.
Ingram has played in space and in-line for the South Carolina defense, excelling in any position the team has placed him in. He's simply a football player, and I have a soft spot for guys like Ingram who combine all-star measurables with raw football instincts.
19. Cordy Glenn, OG/OT, Georgia
Those who have followed the draft for several years will remember University of Virginia lineman Branden Albert, now of the Kansas City Chiefs.
While at Virginia, Albert played left guard next to future NFLer Eugene Monroe. Albert was a great guard, but most saw an elite left tackle waiting to be carved out of his potential. That's the same talent I see in Cordy Glenn.
Glenn is bigger than Albert and not quite as mobile, but the potential to be a rock-solid tackle is there.
18. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
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 and in coverage makes him an NFL-ready cornerback. As the season progresses, Gilmore does more to cement his stock as the No. 2 cornerback in the 2012 class.
17. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
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.
16. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
I was down on Landry Jones following the Missouri and Texas Tech games this year, and I'm even further down the list on Jones now that he's shown his true colors outside the Oklahoma scheme.
I've worried about Jones' ability to stand tall against pressure and make throws, something he struggled with mightily against the Baylor defense Saturday. And we're talking Baylor, this isn't an SEC defense full of future NFL talent.
Jones' arm strength is good, as is his accuracy, but he's sub-par as a decision maker and even worse under pressure.
15. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Don’t look now, but Riley Reiff and the other offensive tackles in this class are seeing a re-adjusted ranking this week. Reiff is very solid, but a Top 10 pick he is not.
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 at tackle and carries a grade comparable to Nate Solder in the 2011 draft.
14. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Michael Floyd might be 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 disappears and runs poor routes. 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. Placed in the right locker room (i.e. New England), Floyd could be a star.
13. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
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.
12. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
David DeCastro makes a huge move up the Big Board this week, and it's been a long time coming.
Watching DeCastro over the past few weeks has been impressive, more so than any other guard I can remember seeing in the last decade. I'm not quite ready to call DeCastro the best guard I have ever scouted, but he's close to winning that award.
Few blockers understand angles as well as the bright DeCastro, but he backs up that Football IQ with hard-nosed, mean streaks as a blocker.
11. Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
I'll apologize now for not having Zach Brown higher in previous weeks. Having spent time watching North Carolina this week, no player showed up bigger than Zach Brown.
The outside linebacker has crazy speed, is built for the 4-3 defense and could have an immediate impact as a run stuffer in pursuit and in pass coverage. Put Brown on the weak side for the next decade and forget about the position.
Brown isn't the same player as 2011 draftee Von Miller, but their athletic abilities are similar.
10. Lamar Miller, RB, Miami (FL)
Lamar Miller and the entire Miami Hurricane offense has struggled as of late, but don't let poor production at running back get you down about Miller's ability as a running back in the NFL.
Some will tell you that running backs shouldn't be drafted in the first round, and I largely agree with that, but when looking at Miller I see elite status in the NFL. He's a great runner, receiver and return man who's increasingly talented as a blocker.
Add that all up, and you have a player ready to attack the NFL from Day One.
9. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
One of my favorite players in the 2012 NFL draft class, Vontaze Burfict is loved by some and hated by others. The others are mostly NCAA coaches.
Burfict comes with some red flags, all due to his hard-nosed, to-the-whistle style of play. When I think of how I want a middle linebacker to act, I want Burfict's aggressive style of play anchoring my defense. When faced with the alternative, I'd rather have a linebacker that's a little too tough.
Burfict brings athleticism, size and a violent side to the position.
8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon's assault on Big 12 defenses has been impressive this year, but there are still concerns about his ability to separate from defenders, and also some quiet concerns about character.
I will say this—no other wide receiver in this class is a better fit from Day One in a West Coast system than Blackmon. Put him in St. Louis, Cleveland or Jacksonville and he will make immediate changes to their offenses.
While not quite on a Julio Jones or A.J. Green level, Blackmon is a very solid prospect at wide receiver.
7. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
As the top-rated defensive player on the Big Board, Morris Claiborne will be a hot name as the NFL draft rolls around.
While not quite the athlete that former teammate Patrick Peterson is, Claiborne is a better cover man. He's smoother in his transitions, better in run support and shows more potential in man coverage. Peterson impressed with size, speed and an amazing play-making ability. Claiborne is more cover man than athlete, which should make NFL teams very happy.
Peterson was drafted No. 5 overall last year, which is right around where Claiborne should go.
6. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
When watching Alshon Jeffery's 2010 and 2011 film, it's hard to not envision him in a better offense with a much better quarterback. Given someone like Matt Barkley or Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, Jeffery has the talent to have shattered NCAA touchdown records for receivers.
Jeffery is an exciting prospect due to his size and deep ball ability. He's not great off the line and, like Justin Blackmon, his speed isn't great. However, he runs solid routes and is a bear to cover down field.
Jeffery could have a similar impact as A.J. Green has had in Cincinnati, where he's developed into a dynamic deep threat for Andy Dalton.
5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Those of you who follow the Big Board each week have seen a gradual rise up the board for Matt Barkley. When the season began, I wasn't as sold on Barkley as other quarterbacks, but he's played his way up the rankings and is deservedly a Top 5 pick.
Barkley simply does everything well. He's improved his accuracy and is showing this year with better receivers that he's able to stretch the field and make plays. I also like that Barkley is a good overall athlete who can make plays on the run with his feet and/or arm.
With so many teams in need of quarterbacks at the top of the draft, Barkley will hear his name called early, should he choose to enter the 2012 NFL draft.
4. Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Matt Kalil offers the most hope for teams looking to shore up problems on the offensive line in this year's draft, and he's a good one.
Had Kalil entered the 2011 draft, there's a very good chance he would have been the first tackle off the board, ahead of his teammate Tyron Smith. Kalil is the type of athlete you can plug in at left tackle and forget about the position for many years to come.
Drafting an offensive tackle Top 5 is rarely safe. For every Jake Long there is a Robert Gallery, but Kalil is as safe as they come.
3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Some may find it crazy to draft a running back in the Top 3. Given the chance to nail down Trent Richardson, however, I would make that pick.
A solid running game can change everything for a franchise. The play of Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson this year alone proves that you must have a great running back to compete in the NFL today. While you can pick one up in the later rounds, it's more of a gamble.
Richardson is the most talented back I've scouted since Adrian Peterson, and he'll be ready to step in on three downs for his new team next year.
2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
If this is your first time reading the Big Board, know that ranking Robert Griffin III this high isn't a gut-check reaction to his big game Saturday night. Sure, Griffin rises based on great play against a top defense, but he has been hovering in the Top 5 all season.
Those who have read before know that I'm enamored with Griffin's run/pass ability—which he displayed well in the final drive over Oklahoma. Like so many great quarterbacks before him, Griffin has a coolness in the pocket and a patience that's benefited by the fact he can escape with his feet when needed.
I'm not ready to place RGIII over Andrew Luck any time soon, but any quarterback-needy team that doesn't land Luck and passes on No. 10 will regret it for years.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Andrew Luck hasn't lacked in hype all season; in fact, he's playing too often under the microscope of fans and media ready to proclaim every incomplete pass is proof that he's not the No. 1 prospect.
Sorry to disappoint—he is the No. 1 prospect, and no amount of incomplete passes will change that anytime soon.
Look at the talent, or lack thereof, on the Stanford offense. Outside of the offensive line, no player is making Luck look better. He doesn't have a Kendall Wright or Robert Woods helping him at wide receiver. There is no Ryan Broyles or Kenny Stills here. Luck is doing it all alone, and even with a less impressive season statistically, he's still making throws and decisions that few college quarterbacks have ever shown the ability to make.