Top 50 prospects for 2012

Is Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas one to watch?

I’ve decided to take a break from the tape (it’ll be back tomorrow with a heavy schedule of defensive talent) to preview some of the players I’ll be focusing on during the 2011 college season. There’s a strong possibility other names will come forward in the same way Cam Newton, Nick Fairley and JJ Watt managed last year. Twelve months ago I probably would’ve ranked Jeremy Beal (DE, Oklahoma) in the top-30, he went in round seven to Denver last month – so things can change. However, despite the obvious premature nature of this projection, these are the 50 players I’d recommend keeping an eye on. Remember, this is as much about highlighting certain players of interest rather than seriously attempting to project ‘the best 50’ in May.       

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Decorated quarterback who appears destined to be the #1 overall pick in 2012. Would’ve been the top choice this year had he declared.       

#2 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
May remain at Southern Cal for his senior year but close to Luck in terms of franchise potential. Deserves greater attention.       

#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Brother of Carolina Panthers lineman Ryan, elite blindside potential and kept Tyron Smith at RT before he was drafted in the top ten.       

#4 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Part of a group which ranks as probably the best offensive line in college football. Ideal size, equally adept in pass protection or in the run game.       

#5 Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
Playmaking corner who had nine interceptions last season. Lacks ideal size, but reminds me a little of Brandon Flowers. Kick return specialist.       

#6 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Perhaps best described as a more productive Cameron Jordan, Coples had 10 sacks last year and has definite top-ten potential.       

#7 Knile Davis (RB, Arkansas)
Breakaway speed on a 6-0, 225lbs frame, Davis became an explosive part of Arkansas offense last year averaging 6.5 yards per carry.       

#8 Bruce Irvin (DE, West Virginia)
Former JUCO prospect who recorded 14 sacks last year. This is a name you’ll hear a lot in 2011 for a WVU team that could really challenge.       

#9 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
He’ll get more work in 2011 with Mark Ingram now in the NFL. Similar combination of size/speed to Arkansas’ Davis.       

#10 Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Mike Williams clone and even wears the same number for the Gamecocks. Quarterback problems could hurt his stock this year.       

#11 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Despite everything, nobody can deny Jenkins’ elite skills as a cover corner. Talent warrants this rating, even despite off-field concerns.       

#12 Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M)
One of the few to shine despite being shadowed by LSU’s Patrick Peterson. If he becomes more consistent, he can be a top-15 pick.       

#13 Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
Physical potential but needs to work on his consistency and decision making. Has a great opportunity to work his way into the top-ten.       

#14 Juron Criner (WR, Arizona)
Production will be high with Nick Foles returning and Criner has the complete package – size (6-4, 210lbs), speed and hands.       

#15 Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State)
Penetrating three-technique nobody talks about. Had 10.5 sacks in 2010 and if he can maintain quicks with an extra 10lbs, watch out.       

#16 Mohamed Sanu (WR/RB, Rutgers)
The ultimate playmaker who suffers due to a chaotic quarterback situation at Rutgers. Hines Ward as a blocker and a point scorer with the ball in his hands.       

#17 Brandon Jenkins (DE, Florida State)
Spin move needs some work, but showed flashes of a repertoire in a 13.5 sack 2010 season. LEO candidate for Seattle.       

#18 Jonathan Massaquoi (DE, Troy)
Another LEO candidate with pass rushing qualities, like Jenkins he recorded 13.5 sacks last year.       

#19 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Production shouldn’t suffer despite the loss of top offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. Not ideal size/speed, but incredible production.       

#20 Jerell Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
Needs to become more consistent and hasn’t played up to his full potential yet. 2011 is a big year for Worthy.       

#21 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
The true star of Wisconsin’s dominating offensive line last year. Stood out in a big way whenever I watched the Badgers.       

#22 Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech)
Sleeper pick in that he’s 6-6, 245lbs and incredibly gifted. Red-shirt sophomore only, but has the talent to excel for the Hokies.       

#23 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
A third LEO prospect, Curry enjoyed a 12-sack season last year including an eye catching display against Ohio State.       

#24 Mike Brewster (C, Ohio State)
Would enter the league capable of playing three spots on the offensive line. Could’ve been a high pick in 2011.       

#25 Alfonzo Dennard (CB, Nebraska) 
I had this guy ranked higher than Prince Amukamara. He could be the top senior corner.   

#26 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall corner but looks stiff and gambles in coverage too often. If he improves and lives up to top billing, he can move up the board.       

#27 Robert Lester (S, Alabama)
Eight interceptions last year and a sack for a player who can line up at cornerback or safety at 6-2, 206lbs.       

#28 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Junior tackle who was arrested as an incoming freshman after leading police on a 20-minute foot chase. At least we know he’s agile.     

#29 Stephon Gimore (CB, South Carolina)
Didn’t look good in the SEC title game against Auburn, but otherwise had a solid year and is one of a number of talent players at South Carolina.       

#30 Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
Lacks physical tools like a big arm or agility, but if Christian Ponder can go 12th overall, Cousins can easily shoot up draft boards.       

#31 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Ended the year strongly but the rest of the season wasn’t all that. Needs to prove he can be a consistent edge threat.       

#32 Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State)
Owns the big arm but doesn’t always drive passes with great velocity. Can he take the next step to put his team, and his stock, on the map?       

#33 Jared Crick (DT, Nebraska)
A player who makes you think top-15 prospect one play and late round pick the next. Having said that, nobody can argue with 18.5 sacks the last two years.       

#34 Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)
Caught the eye in the bowl game against Louisville. Passes the eye test, even if physical qualities are not elite.       

#35 Vontaze Burflict (LB, Arizona State)
Orthodox linebacker who is solid, but doesn’t make many game-changing plays.       

#36 Cliff Harris (CB, Oregon)
Best value may be as a stunning return specialist, but six interceptions last year warrant attention as a junior in 2011.       

#37 LaMichael James (RB, Oregon)
Hasn’t got the size and Oregon’s offense makes him difficult to judge, but it’s hard to watch James and not imagine someone taking a shot early.       

#38 Ray Ray Armstrong (S, Miami)
The best player in Miami’s secondary last year, including Brandon Harris.       

#39 Chris Polk (RB, Washington)
Under rated running back with 1415 yards last season. Could easily be a high draft pick in 2012.       

#40 Travis Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
Solid linebacker and immediate starter in the NFL. The heartbeat of the Oklahoma defense.       

#41 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
6-4, 220lbs receiver with 946 yards and four touchdowns as a junior. Can he continue to progress?       

#42 Chase Minnifield (CB, Virginia)
Another cornerback who had big production last year (six interceptions).       

#43 Cyrus Gray (RB, Texas A&M)
Ended last season with seven straight 100+ yard games and ten touchdowns. Vital cog in the Texas A&M offense next year alongside receiver Jeff Fuller.   

#44 Robert Griffin (QB, Baylor)
Can he become more than just an athletic quarterback? Natural born leader, good size, faultless character, mechanics aren’t poor but system makes it a tough judgement.   

#45 Evan Harris (LB, Miami, OH)
Game changing linebacker who makes big plays – including six interceptions and two sacks in 2010.       

#46 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
Has to live without two key defensive lineman (Bowers, Jenkins) and may see production take a hit.       

#47 Donte Paige-Moss (DE, North Carolina)
Benefits from playing across from Quinton Coples. An outside linebacker or LEO prospect at the next level who never blew me away in 2010.      

#48 John Brantley (QB, Florida)
Charlie Weis’ arrival in Florida will benefit Brantley and don’t rule out a bounce-back year for Tim Tebow’s successor. Simplified Weis passing game is a huge bonus.   

#49 Devin Taylor (DE, South Carolina)
Lean defensive end who could do with adding weight to increase his strength.       

#50 Brandon Lindsey (DE, Pittsburgh)
Outside linebacker or LEO prospect, had ten sacks last year but must feature without Jabaal Sheard.   

Just missed: Greg Childs (WR, Arkansas), Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas), Marcus Forston (DT, Miami), Manti Te’0 (LB, Notre Dame), Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State), Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)


  1. hawksfan

    Draft looks promising for next year!

  2. Ralphy

    You’re forgetting Brandon Weeden again.

    Rob do you think the Hawks could be in play for Plaxico?

    • ba_edwards24

      Weeden is a one-contract guy. He’d be 29 in the October of his rookie season. No reason to take a one contract guy in the first 100 picks, especially at QB when they need 1-2 years to be effective anyways. Think about if these other QBs had 5+ years to develop, where would they be? That’s basically what you’re comparing Weeden to. He should get zero hype as the process plays out. I was surprised Ta’amu missed as Will pinted out. Others should be the 3/5 techs Kheeston Randall from UT Tydreke Powell from UNC, and CB Coryell Judie from A&M. I could see a few of these guys being first round picks. I can’t see Ryan Broyles slipping out of the 2nd round either. Just too productive to overlook.

      • Rob

        ba_edwards24 has summed it up perfectly. How can you draft a guy early that will be 29 as a rookie?

  3. Kip Earlywine

    Glad to see Chris Polk made it. I do worry a little bit that with Locker’s departure, we could see a dip in Polk’s production next year. If that happens it will be interesting to see where his draft stock ends up.

    • Rob

      Huge Polk fan.

  4. Will

    Question. Speaking of Washington players, do you have Washington DT Alameda Ta’amu not on the list because he would be a NT in the NFL and thus wouldn’t be useful to the Seahawks or because you simply don’t think he’s a good prospect? I’ve seen a lot of rankings with him in the mid-low 30s.

    • Rob

      I could do you a screen print of the big list I had with 70 names on it, Ta’amu was on it but it’s tough to get it down to 50. Add him to the list of ‘just missed’.

  5. Scott

    I really like Knile Davis, when he was healthy last year he was exciting to watch. It wasn’t all because the QB was keeping defenses honest either, he plays low for a 6 foot guy and breaks tackles.

    Jared Crick is only entering his third season as a starter, and he posted more solos and sacks WITHOUT Suh, which is impressive to me. He gets washed out from time to time because he is just a bit light, but I bet he is near 300 by draft time next year.

    • ba_edwards24

      I would love him as a 5 tech here if he can get up to the 305 area. He has that 6-6 frame with vines so he can keep outside leverage and get off blocks. He also would provide a pass rush upgrade compared to Red. Belichick will get him in the late 1st round and he’ll get 6-8 sacks a year for a decade.

  6. Derek

    Do you know who all got playing time at the LEO position last year? Was Brock playing LEO when we recorded most of his sacks?

    What I am getting at is whether or not the LEO position is one that we would ever draft in the first round. Unless some great talent falls to us, I don’t really see it. Also, if we were to draft Bowers, do you think we would have used him in a traditional 4-3 role or tried him at LEO. Do we even play a traditional 4-3 DE?

    • ba_edwards24

      Most of Brock’s sacks were as a traditional end. The only time we used one was the last 2+ games of the year after Balmer proved how much he sucked. If healthy, we wouldn’t use a traditional DE in our base package, but there were a lot of times when Brock, Clemons, and Curry were all on the field with Clemons and Brock as traditional ends (9 tech) and Curry on the nose. Sometimes in the bandit sometimes just long nickels. Carroll said one of his regrets for the season was not switching to using a traditional end in his base package sooner after Red went down because of how effective it was when he finally did use it with Brock racking up so much pressure. That comment shows that Carroll is willing to change the scheme slightly depending on injuries or personnel. Clemons, Brock, and Curry all got time at the leo last year with Dex Davis getting some time as well due to injuries. Don’t know if it would be a 1st round value pick, but Bowers would not be a leo. Not even a pass rusher, he’s better v the run. Rob and I were talking yesterday where a guy like Bowers, Coples, or Cam Jordan would play in our defense, or if they would be drafted by us; didn’t come to a distinct conclusion. However, if a talent like Robert Quinn were available, I’d imagine they’d pick him to play the leo. We’ve been playing a 4-3 over which is similar to the principals of a 5-2 like Wade Philips plays, only 4 guys have their hands in the dirt. Looks different, plays similar. That should sum it up, but Rob will probably add something else I missed.

      • Derek

        Thanks for the great info, it explained a lot about our defense. That is what I was wondering right before our first round pick, how much do we value a traditional 4-3 end? Hopefully we can find depth for Bryant in FA. Does the LEO play the run at all? Or is it a pure rusher that is on the field in our base defense.?

        What do you think about giving Vernon Gholston a shot at LEO? I know he played that in college but then he was asked to change positions in Jersey. Do you think he is an outright bust? I mean NO sacks is pretty scary. I would like to see what he could do though, given a chance to go back to his old role. Did you cover him at all coming out of college, Rob? What were your thoughts?

        • Charlie

          I think giving both Gholsten and Aaron Maybin a shot would be very smart, both very young and athletic simply playing a position that doesn’t suit them. That could allow us to get them for cheap and play them to a position of advantage, similar to what we tried with k balmer for the 5 tech

  7. Misfit74

    I’ll be surprised if either of the top 2 RBs in Richardson and Davis or the top 2 receivers in Blackmon and Jeffery lose ground to other prospects – perhaps Davis could be passed by another back but Richardson is the class of this draft if he plays like he has and runs well for scouts.

    I’m really locked in on those four but you never know. Guys like DeAndre Brown, Toliver, Darren Evans, etc. all fell of the map. I remember Romeus being rated as a top-5 DL after the 2010 draft ended.

    So much can change but the talent appears very good at the top, esp. with regards to QB, WR, and RB.

    And, I can’t wait to start talking about guys like Lattimore and Dyer next off-season, too. 😀

    • Rob

      In fairness, I never graded Romeus that highly. I like Blackmon but I don’t understand the early mocks – even by some pundits I really admire – who have him at #2 in a mock or big board. For me his best asset is control, which isn’t something you often draft guys in the top-10 for. Jeffery, Fuller, Criner and Sanu all have better size-speed combo’s, they just haven’t benefitted from an ultra productive offense. Blackmon’s lost his offensive coordinator, so that may have an impact.

  8. Spencer

    Is there something wrong with Matt Reynolds from BYU? He was in the discussion to have been a possible first round pick in this last draft. And in this current when he is projected to go in the top 15 in some mocks.

    • Rob

      I don’t agree with those projections and he was never likely to be a R1 pick this year in my opinion. I’m surprised at some of the names being listed in these early mocks and big boards – Potter at Boise State is another I’ve seen yet he has no chance of going early. Reynolds’ stock is firmly in the R3 range at best.

  9. Kip Earlywine

    Wow, Knile Davis is pretty high on this list. I hadn’t really heard of him before scouting Ryan Mallett, but in all 4 games I scouted, Davis was completely unstoppable. Very, very good back for a zone blocking scheme.

    • Misfit74

      Knile really did come out of nowhere last season, it seemed to me. He looks a bit thin in the legs but quick cuts and a very good size/speed combo. I’m very interested to watch him again this coming CFB season.

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