College Football 2011: 50 Players Whose NFL Draft Stock Is Soaring

David LutherFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2011

College Football 2011: 50 Players Whose NFL Draft Stock Is Soaring

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    The NFL draft is nearly five months away, and college players have just one or two more opportunities to impress pro scouts on the field.

    Much of the college football attention is focused on conference championship games, bowl berths and BCS rankings, but that doesn't mean we should ignore what is happening to the draft boards of the pro teams around the nation.

    So who is making the grade this season? Which players are we bullish on heading towards bowl season? Here's our pick of 50 players whose draft stock is soaring.

Chris Owusu, Stanford

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    This 6'0", 200-pound receiver is a solid player in college, and his skills should translate to becoming a solid player in the NFL.

    As productive as Chris Owusu has been for the Stanford Cardinal this year, he lacks the pure talent to develop into an NFL star. If you're expecting a high-round selection for Owusu, you're going to be disappointed. While he's a sure-handed receiver, he'll likely spend his career in the pros as the second or third option for a team with a big-name receiver and a solid run option.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin

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    While Russell Wilson has unquestionably had a career season in Madison over the course of 2011, he will find his NFL prospects limited by his 5'11", 200-pound frame.

    It's unfortunate too. Wilson has everything NFL teams are looking for in a quarterback—everything except size, that is. The biggest strikes against Wilson right now are largely due to his size: Passes are batted down, and Wilson can at times miss wide-open receivers, which many attribute to his not being able to see them over the line of scrimmage.

    Small as he is, his exploits on the field this season will still likely garner some interest. Expect a mid-round selection for Wilson from a team needing a solid backup at quarterback.

Kendall Wright, Baylor

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    Every great quarterback needs a go-to wide receiver, and at Baylor, Kendall Wright fills that go-to role for Robert Griffin III.

    While a 5'10", 190-pound wideout might seem undersized, even for the Big 12, Wright has been able to run past, around and even through the opposition this season.

    He's developed right before our eyes from a relative unknown into a player that can now expect to hear his name called in New York next April.

Nick Toon, Wisconsin

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    Once Wisconsin lost to Michigan State and Ohio State, it seemed as if everyone stopped talking about the Badgers and everyone on the roster at Wisconsin.

    But there are still several draft-worthy players in Madison, and Nick Toon is one of them.

    This 6'3", 220-pound wideout has decent speed and is a very physical receiver, making him a huge threat in short-yardage situations.

    He has solid and consistent hands but lacks the explosiveness and agility to develop into a star NFL receiver. He'll be drafted and should develop into a nice everyday wideout.

Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M

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    At the beginning of the season, Ryan Tannehill likely found his name much higher up most draft prospect lists. Unfortunately, as the fortunes of Texas A&M fell this season, so did Tannehill's draft stock.

    Tannehill is still a raw quarterback, and he has tremendous ability that we likely haven't seen tapped to its fullest. Should Tannehill get the opportunity to play next season in the NFL, it will almost certainly be in the backup role, where he will be afforded the time to ease into the pro game and polish his abilities. Expect a middle- to late-round selection.

Mike Adams, Ohio State

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    Surprisingly, there's only one Buckeye on this list, and it's offensive tackle Mike Adams.

    At 6'8" and 320 pounds, Mike Adams is already an NFL-sized lineman who had to throw off some rust after serving a five-game suspension in the aftermath of “Tattoogate.”

    Adams is a pure athlete but is a little unpolished and has shown some inconsistency (along with the rest of the Ohio State offense this season). Still, with his pure athleticism, you can expect an early-round selection for Adams.

Michael Egnew, Missouri

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    Michael Egnew had a more productive 2010 season than 2011, but that may be due to a shift in Missouri's offensive play-calling with a new quarterback this season.

    While being 6'6" at tight end is an asset, his 245-pound frame is on the slight side for an NFL tight end.

    When he transitions to the NFL, he'll likely be earning his paycheck at the receiver position.

Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

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    Most college fans might be surprised to find Ryan Broyles this far down on a draft prospects list. Even pre-torn ACL, though, Broyles was a bit undersized for the NFL at 5'10", 190 pounds.

    Sure, he was a great college athlete, but athleticism alone won't get you the big payday in the NFL, where size counts.

    Now that Broyles has torn his ACL, it's doubtful whether or not he'll be drafted at all. It's not out of the question that he'll play in the NFL, but depending on his recovery, he may wind up selected in the supplemental draft or signed as an undrafted free agent.

    Still, when he is healthy, Broyles is a speedster that is elusive with the football. That might be enough to get a few teams to overlook his lack of NFL size.

Josh Chapman, Alabama

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    This 6'1", 315-pound defensive tackle out of Alabama is moderately sized for a nose tackle, but what he might “lack” in size, he makes up for in strength.

    Chapman's strength is clearly his ability to plug up the line, preventing or at worst slowing any rush attack up the middle. His relative lack of pass-rushing ability hurts his NFL stock, though, dropping him to a likely early- to middle-round selection.

Mark Barron, Alabama

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    The Crimson Tide place more athletes on this list than any other team in college football, and when a player like Mark Barron is this low, it's easy to see why.

    Barron, a 6'2", 218-pound safety, certainly isn't a bad player, and he is actually one of the better safety prospects coming out of the 2011 college football season.

    That being said, he's not one of the best overall players, as he is more reactive to the play unfolding in front of him than proactive to going and pulling down an interception.

    Where Barron really shines is when he's pulled up close to the line for run support. He's physical enough to shed blocks and seek out ball-carriers, and that ability makes him a decent strong safety prospect for the next level.

Chase Minnifield, Virginia

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    The Cavaliers have been a surprise this season in the ACC, and Chase Mannifield is a big reason why.

    While Minnifield may not be the best cornerback prospect for the 2012 draft, he is as good of a corner as we've seen at Virginia in some time.

    His ability to read opposing quarterbacks is almost unmatched, and he is dynamite in zone coverage. While there are certain aspects of his game that aren't stellar, there isn't any one area in which he's terrible, making him a very attractive mid-round pick.

Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M is another team that didn't quite live up to expectations this season, and Jeff Fuller is only part of the reason.

    Had his college career ended after the 2010 season, Fuller would have found himself ranked pretty high on most draft charts. But for some reason, Fuller just doesn't seem like the quick, speedy little receiver he was in 2010.

    He's still a mid- to early-round selection, but his lack of production this season has a few wondering if 2011 was a fluke season, or was 2010?

Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

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    Courtney Upshaw is a linebacker that could play on both the inside or the outside in the NFL provided he finds himself on a team with the proper defensive scheme.

    Upshaw is a decent pass-rusher, and he is agile enough to read run plays and keep up with most running backs. His draft stock is probably hurt some by the fact that he'd fit in with a 3-4 scheme fairly well but would likely be riding the bench on a team running a 4-3.

Donte Paige-Moss, North Carolina

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    With all of the Tar Heels that will appear on this list, you would assume that UNC would be one of the top teams in the nation this season.

    While UNC does have a collection of talented individuals, like Donte Paige-Moss, the team as a whole didn't amount to much more than an also-ran in the ACC in 2011.

    Still, there should be a handful of Tar Heels selected in the 2012 NFL draft, and Paige-Moss will likely be one of them.

    This 6'4", 260-pound defensive end is a solid athlete that could have ended up much higher on this list than his current spot.

    While Paige-Moss is adequately sized, he has had trouble shedding blocks against both the run and pass this season. His technique needs improvement, but his athleticism should be enough to attract a few teams in the late rounds of the draft.

Cliff Harris, Oregon

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    Cliff Harris would be much higher up this list if he were a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier.

    As it stands, this 5'11", 170-pound corner is doing some amazing things, even with his smaller frame. If he can add some weight heading into the spring, you might really see his stock shoot up. Right now, he's probably a early-round selection.

Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

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    At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Xavier Rhodes is a powerful, athletic corner for Florida State who has the speed to stay with any wideout in the league, along with the strength to shed blocks or jam anyone at the line.

    Rhodes is just a sophomore this season, and it's not a certainty he'll make the jump to the NFL. But if he does, he's a solid mid-round pick—possibly even an early-rounder if there's a team needy enough.

Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska

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    Alfonzo Dennard is on the short side, standing only 5'9", but he makes up for his lack of height with a physicality that is matched by few.

    Still, Dennard has never really played to his potential, and it seems as if his peak is still in front of him. While Dennard was highly hyped, his lack of on-field production has hurt his draft stock mightily.

    As it stands now, expect a late-round selection for Dennard.

Devin Taylor, South Carolina

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    This 6'7", 260-pound defensive end from South Carolina is a pure athlete.

    Devin Taylor absolutely explodes off of the line, and his long wingspan makes him an excellent pass-rusher.

    Taylor is still young and unpolished, but if he makes the jump to the NFL, there are plenty of defensive coaches that would love to have this type of athlete at their disposal.

Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina

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    Stephon Gilmore is a corner that you will almost never see getting beat deep. He's quick and agile, and his 6'1", 190-pound frame is ideally suited for a number of defensive schemes in the NFL.

    Expect this mid-round pick to fit in right away and make contributions to whichever team selects him this spring.

Jerel Worthy, Michigan State

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    Jerel Worthy is a 6'2", 310-pound defensive tackle that seems to spend most of his time in the opponent's backfield.

    Worthy is a solid lineman on one of the nation's top defenses, and the only thing lacking on his résumé is game-to-game consistency.

Quinton Coples, North Carolina

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    While North Carolina watchers are fond of labeling Coples as an elite player, he lacks the pure athleticism to be an elite NFL player.

    That being said, Coples is still a quality defensive end for the Tar Heels, and his solid play across the board will get him more than a few looks from pro scouts.

    Once the combines are completed and the rubber hits the road for the 2012 NFL draft, his actual draft position may prove a disappointment, as he'll likely be selected far below where many expect. Still, he'll be a contract player, and he'll be able to contribute to whichever team snatches him up.

Jared Crick, Nebraska

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    Okay, so it turned out Nebraska isn't going to dominate the Big Ten as all of the Cornhuskers fans would have had us believe back in August.

    Still, Nebraska can be counted on to produce some top football talent, and Jared Crick is no exception.

    Following in the footsteps of Ndamukong Suh is no easy task, but Crick has been doing an adequate job for Bo Pelini. While Crick is versatile enough to play in any NFL defensive scheme, teams that sport a 3-4 defense will be giving Crick a good, hard look this spring.

T.J. McDonald, USC

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    T.J. McDonald is an athletic safety for the USC Trojans, but his 6'3" size makes him too big of a target to hit (or is it miss) for opposing quarterbacks.

    But when the opposition does complete a pass, the ball-carrier should always know where McDonald is. He is capable of delivering crushing hits in the secondary—big enough to separate the ball from even the most sure-handed receivers.

Brandon Thompson, Clemson

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    Brandon Thompson is a 6'2", 310-pound defensive tackle from Clemson that possesses almost everything NFL defensive coordinators are looking for.

    While Thompson doesn't have the explosiveness to become an elite D-lineman at the next level, he certainly has performed well enough in Clemson's run towards an ACC title to find an NFL contract waiting for him come April.

Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

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    It's pretty clear that Florida State didn't live up to the hype this season, but that's not because Brandon Jenkins wasn't everything we expected him to be.

    Jenkins is a good pass-rushing end who could easily make the transition to linebacker in the NFL. If plugged into a 3-4 scheme, Jenkins could find himself becoming very useful as an outside linebacker.

Melvin Ingram, South Carolina

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    Melvin Ingram is a defensive end/tackle from South Carolina that doesn't terrorize opposing offenses, but he does make more than his share of stops against the run and has the ability to pressure the quarterback some too.

    At 6'2" and 275 pounds, Ingram is athletically able to compete in the NFL, and his steady if unimposing play will earn him a late-round selection.

David DeCastro, Stanford

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    A quarterback like Andrew Luck can't be successful without quality offensive linemen in front, and David DeCastro is just such a lineman.

    For a player that stands 6'4" and tips the scales at 310 pounds, DeCastro is surprisingly quick with his feet and is one of the nation's premier pass-blockers.

    Any NFL team that needs to shore up its offensive line will be giving DeCastro a serious look for an early-round selection.

Michael Floyd, Notre Dame

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    While Michael Floyd may not have lived up to the immense hype that once surrounded him, he has still proven to be an effective wideout with big playmaking ability.

    Floyd has had to overcome some injuries, and his play during the 2011 season is likely solidifying his status as an early-round selection.

Zach Brown, North Carolina

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    Zach Brown combines the perfect amount of speed and power NFL teams are looking for in a linebacker.

    His play over the course of 2011 has also proven that he's up to the task of taking on some of the nation's best offenses. The only thing that might detract from an early-round selection for Brown is the fact that he's a little undersized.

    Brown is also a little unpolished. He has trouble disengaging from blocks, but his speed allows him to run down any ball-carrier that gets past him and into the secondary.

Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

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    It wasn't all that long ago that Division II football players were those who couldn't cut the mustard on an FBS or FCS squad and had no realistic shot at the NFL.

    Those days are gone.

    With the recent successes of Division II players in the NFL such as Jahri Evans (Bloomsburg), Al Harris (Texas A&M-Kingsville), Brandon Carr (Grand Valley State) and Danny Woodhead (Chadron State), Division II has become a reliable place to find some diamonds in the rough.

    Originally, Janoris Jenkins was an FBS talent but transferred from Florida to Terry Bowden's North Alabama program with some off-field issues. Originally, this ball-hawking corner could have been a first-round selection, but with questions about his immaturity still floating around, Jenkins may find his name called in the middle to late rounds.

Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

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    Justin Blackmon has played very well this season for the Cowboys, but an untimely injury may hurt his draft prospects. The combine will be more important for Blackmon than perhaps any other player, as he'll need to prove that he's able to completely recover.

    If he can regain his prior form, Blackmon can be counted on to be a solid wideout wherever he lands in the pros. While he likely won't be the perennial Pro Bowl selection, he's a player that is physical and almost never suffers from the dropsies.

    A middle- to late-round selection isn't out of the question—again, depending on his combine and provided he doesn't re-injure his shoulder.

Lamar Miller, Miami

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    Any time Lamar Miller carries the ball, he's a threat to score a touchdown.

    Every time you think Miller is running at his fastest, he manages to find an extra gear and explode past defenders.

    While his name isn't mentioned in the same breath as this year's running back standouts, he's still a legit early-round pick, and depending on the needs of some teams and Miller's combine performance, it's possible he could even sneak into the first round.

Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

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    The Crimson Tide defense is chock-full of talent, and Dre Kirkpatrick is no exception.

    Kirkpatrick is taller than many corners at 6'3", which cuts his quickness. He'll likely transition to free safety in the pros, and with the athletic ability he has, Kirkpatrick shouldn't have too much trouble finding an NFL home once this season is complete.

Alameda Ta'amu, Washington

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    It's not often you'll find a defensive tackle that outweighs pretty much every offensive lineman he could ever line up against, but Alameda Ta'amu is one of them.

    This 6'3", 335-pound behemoth would be a great addition to a number of NFL defensive fronts that need a prototypical nose tackle run-stopper.

    Ta'amu may not have the pass-rushing ability many NFL teams look for, but his ability to swallow up O-linemen more than makes up for his lack of agility.

Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

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    Hightower is a massive guy, and you can almost guarantee that any ball-carrier he hits will be down on the turf in short order.

    The only thing keeping Hightower's draft position from climbing is his lack of athleticism. While he's certainly a quality football player, he's not on the “elite” level.

    Still, expect him to be a mid- to late-round pick.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma

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    Coming into the season, Landry Jones was touted as one of the nation's best quarterbacks, and his Sooners were widely expected to compete for a national title.

    After a shocking loss to Texas Tech and a second defeat to Baylor, the Sooners have fallen off the BCS championship radar, and Jones' Heisman hopes are all but gone.

    That doesn't mean Jones lost his great pro potential.

    He has all of the athletic tools he needs, and after spending a few seasons as a backup at the next level, he could become a quality starting quarterback in the NFL.

Morris Claiborne, LSU

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    There may be just one thing Morris Claiborne lacks: size.

    Other than that, Claiborne seems to have the complete cornerback package. It will be interesting to see where he fits into an NFL defensive scheme, but his solid play this year for the No. 1 LSU Tigers has certainly increased his draftability.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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    Montee Ball is a Doak Walker finalist, and there's no question he deserves that honor.

    Ball has 34 rushing touchdowns this season, second all-time in FBS history, trailing Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders' 39. With two games remaining for the Badgers, it's possible Ball could make a run for the elusive 40 mark.

    The Big Ten isn't the easiest conference in which to set rushing records, but Ball is a very special back who combines extraordinary power with eye-popping elusiveness and agility. Ball is easily a first-round pick after the season he has had.

Matt Kalil, USC

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    Just because USC is fighting its way through probation right now doesn't mean the program won't be producing some top-tier pro talent.

    Matt Kalil has been anchoring a USC line that hasn't garnered much attention this season, but you can't discount the contributions of the unsung Trojans to USC's 10-2 season.

Jonathan Martin, Stanford

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    Jonathan Martin has emerged as a pro-caliber lineman this season, and you can bet that his name is popping up on some NFL scout radars heading into the bowl season.

    While Martin may not be as NFL-ready as some other linemen we'll see selected in the draft, there's nothing but upside for this Cardinal O-lineman. He's big, powerful and has been able to keep would-be tacklers away from Andrew Luck for much of the season.

    One of the easiest things to overlook about great quarterbacks is that they require time in the pocket to become great. Martin have given Luck that opportunity, and Martin will be able to give another quarterback that opportunity at the next level.

Andrew Luck, Stanford

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    It might seem odd not to have Luck's name at the top of any draft board, but the plain facts are that Luck entered the season as the consensus top draft pick (meaning it's hard for his stock to rise any further), and Stanford's play this season—especially late when there was any opposition to speak of—has been less than overwhelming.

    Still, Luck is in a position to lead the Cardinal back to a BCS bowl this season, and he's done nothing to destroy his position as the top 2012 draft pick.

    While there may be some others closing the gap on Luck, unless something completely unexpected happens during the bowl season, you can still count on Luck being the top overall draft pick.

Riley Reiff, Iowa

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    Reiff may very well become the top drafted offensive tackle in the 2012 draft.

    NFL scouts seem to like his refined abilities, as Reiff seems to be about as NFL-ready as an O-lineman can be right out of college.

Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State

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    The Sun Devils may not have had the season everyone expected, but that's not due to poor play from players such as Vontaze Burfict.

    Burfict has two speeds: off and kill the ball-carrier. While that has proved problematic at times with untimely penalties, his pure athleticism and ability to defend both the run and pass make him a very attractive pick for any NFL defense.

Luke Kuechly, Boston College

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    Luke Kuechly has been one of the few bright spots for Boston College this season. Kuechly is the Eagles' leading tackler, and his instinctual play at middle linebacker has forced opposing coaches to design offensive plays away from this ball hawk.

    He always seems to be running downhill, and his powerful 6'3", 237-pound frame can stop any ball-carrier in his tracks.

Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    No surprise to see Richardson high on any draft list. This Heisman hopeful is not only leading the Tide towards another BCS title berth, he's also establishing himself as one of the most NFL-ready running backs we've seen coming from the college game in quite a while.

    With Richardson's continued production on the field, you can expect him to be selected in the first round.

Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

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    This junior is easily one of the top inside linebackers in the nation.

    Manti Te'o combines the best of all worlds, with speed, agility, strength and smarts. With some public tiffs with head coach Brian Kelly, it's likely we'll be seeing Te'o take his talents to the pros for 2012.

Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina

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    At 6'4" and 235 pounds, Alshon Jeffery already has NFL size. He may not be the speediest wide receiver, but his precise route-running and pure strength give his draft stock a major boost.

    He is sure-handed, and once the ball is in his grasp, he has the athletic ability to overpower most defensive backs.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

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    While Brandon Weeden is a little older than most of his college counterparts, there's no question that this maturity has been an asset on Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys team these past few seasons.

    Unfortunately, the loss to Iowa State will give some observers wary of his age reason to voice some concerns.

    Still, Weeden is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and any pro team in need of increasing pass-game production would be lucky to get a player like Weeden.

Matt Barkley, USC

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    The USC receiving corps has really matured this season, and that has allowed Matt Barkley to shine as the Trojans quarterback.

    Even the best quarterbacks need quality receivers to catch the ball, and now that Barkley has found a few, we're really beginning to see what this quarterback is capable of doing.

    While not in the top tier of quarterbacks headed into the 2012 draft, Barkley is a smart quarterback with good accuracy and a calm pocket presence.

    Early-season struggles had many thinking he wasn't high-round draft material. Those thoughts may be changing.

    Unfortunately, with USC still under a postseason ban, we don't have another opportunity to watch Barkley this season.

Robert Griffin III, Baylor

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    When the 2011 season began, there wasn't a lot of talk about Baylor's Robert Griffin III. After a season-opening win against a ranked TCU team, people sat up and took notice. Before long, Griffin had established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.

    Don't think NFL scouts didn't notice either.

    Griffin is big, powerful and explosive with the ball in his hands, but he also looks comfortable heaving the ball 60 yards from the pocket.

    Any team in need of a quarterback will have RG3 high on its list.