First round projections: October 2nd

UNC receiver Dwight Jones is a first round talent and may be the #1 receiver for 2012

We’re at week five of the college football season and I wanted to note the players I’ve seen that I feel are deserving of first round grades. It’s not a big list and it’s why I won’t compile a mock draft until closer to the new year. So far there are twelve players on the list. The first four guys (Luck, Barkley, Kalil and Richardson) are the only players I believe are worthy of top-five grades at this point.

*Note* – please remember that it’s still early. I’ll never make definite judgements based on 1-2 games and in some cases I just haven’t had the opportunity to watch certain teams/prospects. I’ll come back to this list in a month to see how things have changed.

The twelve prospects with first round grades as of October 2nd

Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Decorated first round prospect who will be the #1 overall pick next April.

Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
The only other 2012 eligible quarterback who warrants a first round grade.

Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Hugely talented in pass protection and that will secure a top grade, but needs to improve his run blocking.

Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Now a potential top-five pick considering the new rookie pay scale. Richardson is just brilliant.

Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The complete package at wide receiver, Jones is now showing consistency and production.

Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Always involved and jumps off the screen, the defensive MVP at UNC.

Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Excellent interior line prospect who should be able to start quickly. Will he declare? Debatable.

Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Will bring attitude, talent and playmaking qualities to the NFL.

Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
An athletic lineman that teams will covet due to the importance of blind-side blocking.

Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu’s catching, running and blocking are all excellent – a unique physical talent.

Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Big possession receiver who will make a very good #2 at the next level.

Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
At his best comparable to Greg Jennings & Roddy White, but there are too many little mistakes.

There are also several prospects I’ve watched either in 2010 or 2011 that have created some impression. I want to note those players here as having the potential to be among the first round group by next month. Again, these are just a selection of names and are not all-inclusive or definitive. Indeed these players may never reach first round consideration, but they’re some of the players I wanted to highlight.

Players who have created an impression without solidifying first round grades

TJ McDonald (S, USC)
Good against the run but also above average in coverage – the best safety prospect for 2012.

Nick Perry (DE, USC)
Perry is now playing at 100% and he’s getting to the quarterback. Technique matches speed.

Kheeston Randall (DT, Texas)
He moves well and he’s tough to shift. Randall gets into the backfield but needs to learn to finish.

Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Initially a rotational cog, but has worked into a greater role. I started the year thinking he’d be a mid/late rounder, but he just keeps making huge plays.

Greg Reid (CB, Florida State)
Reid is physical despite a lack of ideal size and he has a future at the next level.

Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
Production not good enough so far considering the supporting cast and a year with Da’Quan Bowers, but there is something there.

Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Top-10 elite potential held back by off-field issues. AJ Green, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery had their worst games against Jenkins in 2010.

Marquis Spruill (OLB, Syracuse)
Electric linebacker prospect who will play three downs in the NFL.

Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
Hosley gets burned from time to time for being too aggressive, but he’s also a huge playmaker with 12 picks in the last year.

Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
At times Crick looks like a top-15 pick, but he also looks irrelevant at times too.

Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Wright has enjoyed an explosive start to the season and despite lacking great size he’s becoming hard to ignore.

Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State)
Under rated three-technique prospect who gets to the quarterback. I really like this guy.

Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Pure physical potential but doesn’t make the most of it.

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)
Davis is an under rated quarterback prospect who deserves greater attention.

Stephen Lee (WR, Georgia Tech)
Lee is a big and fast receiver who flashes moments of quality.

Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M)
The only player who gave Patrick Peterson a hard time last year, but Fuller hasn’t exploded in 2011.

Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
Curry is a consistent pass rusher who could lead the nation in sacks this year. LEO potential.

Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
Nose tackle prospect who is not in Phil Taylor’s class but he still has high first round potential.

Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Reiff looked good blocking against Brandon Lindsey and Pittsburgh.

Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
So far it’s hard to ignore the terrific performances of this talented LSU corner in 2011.

Finally I wanted to note the five players who are generally given very high grades but I feel are over rated. That’s not to say that players like Quinton Coples and Landry Jones won’t be first round picks – maybe even early picks – but personally I wouldn’t advocate taking them as high as some have projected.

The top-five over rated prospects

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
A product of the Oklahoma offensive scheme, Jones hasn’t flashed top-end pro-potential in my view.

Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall but should be much more physical than he is. A bit static, lacks fluidity and generally I haven’t been that impressed with Kirkpatrick.

Donte Paige-Moss (DE, North Carolina)
How is this guy graded in the first round by people who should know better? For the record, it’s one sack this year. One.

Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
Not great as a pass rusher or run stuffer and Worthy is often taken out for third downs.

Quinton Coples (North Carolina)
Coples is all about physical potential, but too often he’s annonymous.

Special mention: Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) and Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)– two project quarterbacks at the next level that people appear desperate to promote above their means seemingly to justify premature and inaccurate claims that 2012 presents a rare class of QB’s. Tannehill is much more polished than Griffin III, but he’s still relatively inexperienced and learning the position. He stares down receivers and he’s not used to going through progressions. There’s a high degree of athletic potential and his technique is better than you’d expect, but he’s strictly a project in my mind. Griffin’s numbers are sensational this season, but he’s not a polished passer and his footwork needs a complete re-work. Team’s will show interest earlier than they should based on athleticism and leadership, but he’s a long term developmental project and I struggle to imagine Griffin III playing in the NFL.


  1. Brandon Adams

    Where do you see Davis and Harrell going right now?

    • Rob

      They’ve received no hype so I’m cautious to grade them too highly. Yet this time last year James Carpenter stood out and I wish now I’d had the conviction to say ‘first round’ instead of just ‘watch this guy’. Right now Davis’ stock could be anywhere but I’d have no issue spending an early pick. Harrell I’d put in the round two range because of a lack of ideal size, but I could see him moving into the round one bracket.

      • Brandon Adams

        He’s about 20-30 pounds underweight for a 3-tech, if I read correctly.

        • Rob

          He’s playing at about 285lbs now I think, which is about 10lbs lighter than Gerald McCoy who is light for the position. I think there’s room to add that 10lbs and play at 295lbs.

  2. Mr Fish

    What do you think of Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson? He looked awfully good against Nebraska.

    • Rob

      Can’t see him in the NFL unfortunately Mr. Fish. I think we have to remember that this is a player that NC State moved on from at the end of last season, allowing him the freedom to join Wisconsin without restriction so they could start Glennon instead. A fun player to watch – and athletic – but limited as a pro-prospect.

      • bubba gill

        I read Rob the reason he left NC State is because 1)he is a dual athlete(baseball and football) fourth round pick for Rockies and wants to concentrate on football and 2) he graduated from NC state in 3 years and went to Wisconsin for his masters communications, or something along those lines.

  3. Trenchtown

    I want to challenge your grading of Vontaze Burfict as a first rounder. I admit I only watched him during the second half of the Missouri game and the whole USC game so you might have information beyond what I saw.

    Zone Coverage
    Good Hands
    Very Aggressive

    Creating Pressure (I know he had three sacks against UC-Davis, but the few rushes I saw him make were ineffective)
    Man Coverage (? didn’t see, scheme?)

    I know the whole world is in love with Burfict, but I don’t see it at the next level as an elite first round pick. His interception against USC was blowing through a lineman on a screen which incidentally put him in the path of the ball . I don’t remember his sack against Missouri but the couple times he rushed against USC were easily negated. When finally challenged in the USC game he didn’t get back on Woods in his area twice who you would expect to be priority #1. Also, from what I can tell he just moves with the offensive line making him vulnerable to counters and bootlegs.

    I think Burfict is a great college player who could have success in the NFL, but from what I have seen I have a hard time wanting spend a first round pick on him when his strengths are classic inside linebacker strengths and his weaknesses are classic inside linebacker weaknesses. What do you see differently?

    • Rob

      Very fair points Trenchtown and I’ve wrestled with the assesment myself. One person who’s opinion I really value has him in the R3-4 range, another thinks he’s a sure fire first rounder. I suspect he will almost certainly go in round one and I will admit that I do like to watch the guy play. I like the aggressive attitude and while he’s graded significantly lower than I had Rolando McClain, I do believe he has the opportunity to become a solid first round pick.

      Three downs LB. His hand use is something that really stands out for me, and the way he can get away from blockers without just relying on speed or running through a space. I like everything about the way he tackles, good angles, wraps up well. He’ll give away penalties with the violent nature he too often leads with the helmet, but he’s a linebacker. Closing burst and ability to stick with TE’s a positive. He’s not going to be Patrick Willis, but in the 15-32 range I’m sure he’ll find a home.

    • Kip Earlywine

      Burfict strikes me as an early 2nd round prospect from what little I’ve seen so far. He’s instinctive, but what worries me is the way he labors to make plays. Elite prospects should make the act of making plays look easy. Right now, off the top of my head, I’d dub him “Mason Foster+.” Which isn’t to say they are comparable prospects, but I wanted to make that connection because Foster was another guy who seemed to make plays through effort more than pure athleticism.

  4. Matt

    What do you think about Russell Wilson? He seems to have good feet and accurcy, although he is a runner he looks to pass first. Seems calm and not cocky. Looks like a good QB to me…

    • Matt

      ha, didnt read the early post, my bad.

  5. Darnell

    I sure do like Courtney Upshaw. IMO a definite 1st rounder.

  6. Aaron

    By the sounds of things I don’t think you were too impressed by Jesse Williams.

    Would you know our 2012 draft picks? We seem to be missing a few (from the trade of Lynch, Polumbus).

    • Morgan

      Correct me if I’m wrong, Rob, but Polumbus’ compensation is still undisclosed, and Lynch is either a 5th or 6th round pick depending on performance landmarks…though for some reason that part of the trade is not listed as a pending transaction on the Pro Sports Transactions website.

      • Rob

        Morgan – I think that may be the case. I’ll look into it.

    • Rob

      Apologies Aaron I didn’t concentrate on him during the Florida game as promised – but I have the tape so I’ll go back and take a look tonight.

      • Rob

        OK – Aaron I’ve had a look at Williams. The first thing that stood out to me was he’s not in ideal shape, he has no muscle definition and while you kind of expect that from the big heavy’s, he kind of looks like a ball of fat. That’s fine if he’s just too good – an immovable object or a suprising athlete in terms of quickness. I don’t think he’s either – his best value comes in the run defense in forcing the edge and allowing the LB’s to get around and cut off a run on his side. He doesn’t play third downs, he’s not a pass rush threat. At best he looks like a back-up 5-technique in Seattle’s scheme with very limited draft capital.

        • Aaron

          Thanks Rob. I’ll keep my eye on Williams to see if he improves over time.

  7. Jmpasq

    Coples is overrated in a sense because he isnt a Top 5 pick. I still think he is a good football player. Plays with leverage and uses his hands well not an explosive pass rusher though. DPM is an overrated prospect been saying that since last season. A lot of people love Melvin Ingram but i just dont see it. He makes a flashy play then theres like 40 snaps of him getting pushed around. Fumble Return touchdowns are luck and dont do it for me. He isnt an elite edge rusher ,he doesnt cause pressure with his strength i mean where do U put him. I didnt see this weeks game yet and he apparently played very well but for me I haven seen it.

    • Rob

      Agree with all of that, perfect assesment on both players. The thing with Ingram is – you’re right – but the guy just keeps making plays. He has 5.5 sacks already this year to go along with the touchdowns etc. I’ve seen him look very poor at times, ineffective – and then others he’s looked like a player with unique size/speed.

  8. Hawkspur

    If the Seahawks are drafting 3rd, can’t trade up, can’t trade down, and see Luck and Barkley go 1 and 2, who do we take? My preference would be for Richardson. The lack of top end pass rush talent makes a 4-8 win season the worst possible outcome, IMO. We seem to be pretty well set at receiver and I’d hate to take a linebacker unless they have phenomenal pass rush.

    Any thoughts?

    • Morgan

      That would be a nightmare scenario, though I agree Richardson might be the consolation as I believe both Lynch and Forsett are FA’s next year. I wish a stud pass-rushing DE would emerge, though.

      • Rob

        As things stand today, Richardson would be a shout. I’d do what it takes to move up though.

        • Hawkspur

          What’s the maximum you’d pay for the number 1 pick? I’d say all of this draft, and the at least next year’s number 1. I’m sure it’d be an unpopular move, but if a team really needed a safety maybe they’d be open to trading Thomas. Imagine a safety pairing of Berry & Thomas!

          • Rob

            For Luck and Barkley I’d pay a kings ransom. Hard to project at this stage because it’s too early, but for Luck you’d be looking at multipe 1st’s.

    • Misfit74

      Landry Jones.

      • Rob

        A lot of the issues Mallett had (big game problems, lack of mobility) are prevelant with Jones – yet Mallett was on a different planet in terms of passing technique, far superior. If this team given it’s QB needs won’t consider Mallett in round two, I doubt they consider Landry Jones at #3 overall. If he goes in the top ten, it’ll be a major reach.

        • bubba gill

          Hey Rob what about Russell wilson, could you work your magical analysis on his probabilities of fitting into pete’s offense.

          • Misfit74

            People also considered Ponder, Locker, and Gabbert as ‘reaches’ in a lot of camps. That said, all three of those teams go their QBOTFs – regardless of the perception of their draft-positions and the relative value. Who cares #3 overall or #29 overall as long as you get the QB you can live with and build around?

            I’m not necessarily saying Landry Jones #3 overall, but somewhere in the first two rounds he’s someone to consider. Perhaps I’m being bullish w/ Jones, and part of that is a byproduct of not being sold on Barkley. There is a lot of football and process to go through before next April, though, and the idea of Seattle solving their QB issues long-term will interest me for a long time.

  9. Jacob

    What do you think of Alfonzo Dennard? I know he’s barely played this year because of the pulled muscle, but where wuld he fit into the conversation?

    • Rob

      I need to do more study Jacob, not had much opportunity to see him due to the injury.

  10. Darnell

    Opinions on the late 1st/early 2nd edge rushers?

    I’m not a big fan of Devin Taylor or Brandon Jenkins. I really like Courtney Upshaw and Vince Browne. What about Curry, Irvin, Branch, Perry, Oklahoma has a nice LEO type whos name escapes me.

  11. Matt


    Awesome work per usual. Been awhile since I left a comment, so here goes….

    My fear is that we will not be looking at a first round QB in ’12 because the NFC West is too weak and we will win just enough games to be out of the Luck/Barkley sweepstakes. That said, with the lack of good DE and DT options, I think I would be inclined to go with Trent Richardson. Obviously a poor team shouldn’t be drafting a RB high, but I feel like this is a very weak draft class and in this scenario, you go with an elite talent. I would be completely fine with a Richardson (1) and Austin Davis or Robert Griffin III (2) or even Courtney Upshaw (2). How would this sit with you? I know the bell cow RB is dying, but we KNOW that PC wants to run the ball and I think Richardson has similar talent to Adrian Peterson, slightly less speed but better in the pass game.

    • Rob

      Hi Matt nice to hear from you again,

      I completely understand that line of thinking. I expect Richardson to go earlier than a lot of other RB’s recently because of the changes to the rookie pay scale and now we’ve had a draft to see how things will work out. I like Richardson a lot, if he runs well at the combine you’re looking at a very high pick anyway. The thing is I’m in the mind frame now where anything other than getting a QB will be unacceptable to me. You have to be aggressive, you have to sacrifice something to sovle that problem IMO. It’s a needs must situation. Carroll and Schneider have got by without the big QB pick so far, but they cant keep drifting along with stop gaps. Time to put the cards on the table and get your guy.

      Now obviously that will become more difficult if the team wins the NFC West (I say unlikely, especially in the very real prospect of starting the year 1-4 with a loss against the Giants). But if you’re in the top ten and you need to move up, you move up. Do what it takes.

      If it’s impossible to do so, get the best player available at a position of need. You can always find running backs later in the draft, but Richardson is a great talent. But any draft will be a waste of time IMO without being aggressive to get a quarterback.

      • Matt

        Completely agree with all of that. I was simply thinking in terms of no offer we make is good enough, and we are forced to go elsewhere.

        What are your thoughts on Upshaw? Very intrigued by him as a LEO. Alabama front 7 guys are always physical bangers which makes me think he can be more effective than Clemons against the run and in time develop a better pass rush arsenal due to better playing strength. Also, I find myself really wanting to like Kirkpatrick, but I just don’t see a top 10 on the field. Huge potential though.

        • Rob

          Upshaw’s a bit of a tweener to me and hard to work out. He’s not got great length which isn’t ideal for the LEO position. I’m not sure he’s got the kind of edge speed this team will look for either. At 6-1 and about 270lbs I’m not sure what his role is – OLB? DE? Hard to project.

          His really polished as you expect coming from a Saban team. High end football IQ like all of the guys at Alabama right now. Recognition sills are his greatest asset. Just has a great understanding of his role, how he fits, what he needs to do to produce.

          Unfortunately that also acts as a slight negative for the draft. He’s a polished player on a polished dominating defense. When he’s part of a less polished unit facing pro-talent players can he still succeed? Not convinced.

          I like to see good hand use in pass rushers and Upshaw grades very highly there. Just don’t think he has the top end speed to really warrant that high consideration, especially bursting off the snap. He doesn’t dominate, he isn’t that good to make up for a lack of elite physical skills.

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