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Big Board: Some prospects make big points at Senior Bowl
By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com
Jan. 24, 2013 5:52 PM ET
NFL scouts estimate that player evaluations are 90 percent complete by the time the BCS Championship game ends. The apples-to-apples comparison made possible during the all-important practice sessions at the Senior Bowl and other all-star games does force even the most disciplined talent evaluators to make adjustments to their rankings. Take Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher as an example. Having dominated the MAC, he emerged as the top senior offensive tackle prospect in the country. It wasn't until an equally impressive performance against much better competition in Senior Bowl practices that it became clear what a truly gifted prospect Fisher appears to be in a solid offensive line class.
For others -- like Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant or fellow All Pac-12 defender Datone Jones of UCLA -- it wasn't the level of competition questions they answered in Mobile but their ability to perform under the scrutiny of hundreds of NFL talent evaluators watching from the stands that has their stock on the rise.
The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the draft order. It is simply a ranking of the 64 best draft-eligible prospects in the entire country.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*)
1. *Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Having earned all-conference recognition all three years of his career, Joeckel has cemented his stock as the top offensive tackle in college football. In answering the unique challenges presented by SEC defenders this season, he earned the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman and vaulted himself to the top of my draft board. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel may have won the Heisman Trophy, but Joeckel could be the one holding the bigger prize -- the thrill of being the first offensive lineman since Jake Long (2008) to be selected No. 1 overall.
2. *Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: As a first-team All-SEC pick in each of his two eligible seasons at Georgia, Jones has proven himself to be a playmaker against both the pass and run. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Jones led the country in three critical statistics -- sacks (14½), tackles for loss (24½) and forced fumbles (seven) despite missing two games (Kentucky, Florida Atlantic) due to injury. As dynamic as he is, the redshirt junior's medical grade will ultimately determine his draft status. He was diagnosed with a mild case of spinal stenosis in 2009 and some NFL doctors may be unwilling to clear him.
3. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Blessed with a quick first step, heavy hands and surprising instincts given the fact that the German-born Werner has played just five years of American football, the 6-4, 255-pound Werner has established himself as one of the country's elite prospects. An immediate standout in Tallahassee, Werner has improved each of his three seasons at Florida State, culminating with winning the conference's Defensive Player of the Year this season with 18 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.
4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: With the Utes struggling through a disappointing 5-7 campaign, their senior defensive tackle didn't generate as much national attention as his play has warranted. Despite fighting constant double- and triple-teams, Lotulelei registered 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and four recovered fumbles this season, earning First Team All-Pac-12 accolades for the second consecutive season. Remarkably athletic at 6-3, 320 pounds, he's capable of shutting down running lanes and terrorizing quarterbacks, as well.
5. *Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: San Francisco ***** pass rusher Aldon Smith's rapid ascension as one of the NFL's elite playmakers has forced talent evaluators to acknowledge how versatile defenders can impact today's game. Moore, like Smith, is viewed by some as a bit of a 'tweener at 6-4, 255 pounds, and has starred at defensive end and outside linebacker over the past two seasons for the Aggies. Having registered 21 tackles for loss this season, including 12½ sacks, Moore certainly has the production to go with his size, burst and motor.
6. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Offensive linemen rarely get the limelight, but it might be even worse for Warmack than most. Not only do the skill and defensive stars for Bama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is even overshadowed on the Tide's All-American offensive line -- but not by talent evaluators, who see the 6-3, 320-pound mauler as one of the safest prospects in his class.
7. *Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: The 6-1, 198-pound Milliner is a perfect example of how Alabama reloads rather than rebuilds. A highly regarded prep prospect who started 11 games as a true freshman, Milliner was pushed a bit to the background in 2011 as 'Dre Kirkpatrick and De'Quan Menzie took over. With each now in the NFL, Milliner re-asserted himself in 2012, finishing second in the country with 20 passes broken up and providing stellar run defense on the boundary. While just a junior, the 2012 Thorpe Award finalist is NFL-ready and will only have to prove his straight-line speed to earn a top-20 pick in April.
8. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: While impressive against Michigan State and Iowa this year, scouts had some reservations about Staley until a dominating performance against top competition at the Senior Bowl. Possessing the foot quickness, balance and length to be a "blindside" pass protector, the 6-7, 305-pound Fisher is functionally stronger and more aggressive than former Chippewa Joe Staley, the starting left tackle for the San Francisco *****.
9. *Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Whereas some of the top defensive tackles in the country lack eye-popping statistics, Richardson enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Tigers. He finished just four tackles behind linebacker Andrew Wilson as Missouri's leading tackler this season with 75 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
10. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: Allen was a highly regarded prep prospect who originally was going to sign with Nick Saban at Alabama as a safety before joining his brother (QB Zach Maynard) at Cal. He has virtually all of the physical characteristics to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. To earn a top-10 pick Allen will have to prove his health (he suffered a knee injury Oct. 27) and straight-line speed.
11. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: While Smith did not play the second half of the season at the level of top-ranked QBs in recent years, the 6-3, 220-pound senior nonetheless remains a legitimate candidate to wind up as the top pick in the draft. Smith improved his completion percentage and TD-INT ratio in each of his three starting seasons, culminating in a senior campaign in which he completed a sparkling 71.24 percent of his passes and threw 42 touchdowns against just six interceptions. More important, he has all of the traits scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback.
12. Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia: Like fellow SEC run-stuffer Jesse Williams, Jenkins does not have elite stats (50 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack) that normally are associated with first-round picks. At 6-3 and 358 pounds, however, Jenkins certainly has the beef to clog running lanes. Despite having only played two seasons at the FCS level, he has proven himself against top competition.
13. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: NFL teams are generally loathe to spend first-round picks on guards, but an exception may have to be made with the steady Cooper. He has excellent agility with the ability to quickly get to the second level and block on the move. Cooper's terrific blocking helped Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard -- a legitimate high-round prospect himself -- rush for an average of nearly 123 yards per game this season.
14. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Possessing the athleticism that once saw him line up at QB, TE and DE, Johnson has emerged as arguably the fastest-rising left tackle prospect in the country. Having only played left tackle one season, Johnson is undeniably raw but his length, lateral agility and surprising physicality helped him shut down Texas A&M's Damontre Moore in the Alamo Bowl loss and helped him turn heads in Mobile.
15. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: A native of Ghana who tried out for basketball and lettered in track before giving football a try in 2010, Ansah had 10 total tackles to his credit entering the 2012 season and was barely a blip on most scouts' radar. A few months later, and comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul are almost becoming cliché in the scouting community as the 6-5, 270-pounder emerged as a consistent big-play threat, recording 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4½ sacks and notching both a forced fumble and interception in BYU's Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. Ansah is raw as sushi right now, but the team that gambles on him could be rewarded handsomely if he continues to develop.
16. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: In terms of pure talent, Hankins should be ranked among this draft's top five prospects. With light feet and shocking overall athleticism for a man listed at 6-3 and 320 pounds, Hankins can be a superstar. Unfortunately, his motor too often appears to in neutral rather than overdrive. After registering an impressive 11 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore campaign, the Buckeyes defender had just five this season, including only one sack. Despite his drop in production, Hankins is entering the 2013 draft. He clearly has talent, but so did other notable Ohio State busts like Vernon Gholston and Dan Wilkinson.
17. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal: There is plenty of evidence to suggest Barkley will lose on the significant gamble he took in electing to return to USC for his senior season. After only one multi-interception game during his junior year, Barkley had six in 2012, including what proved to be the final four games of his career as the quarterback suffered a shoulder injury in USC's loss to cross-town rival UCLA on Nov. 17. Scouts value Barkley's leadership, poise and accuracy on the move, but there are plenty who scoff at giving him a first-round grade based on the 6-2, 230-pound quarterback's less than ideal measureables. Nonetheless, Barkley remains squarely in the first-round conversation for me.
18. *Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: A junior college transfer who only played 12 games at the FBS level, it would be easy to look past the stellar play Patterson has put forth as a receiver, runner and kick returner for the Vols -- especially given that defenses have often focused on stopping teammate Justin Hunter first. While Patterson is a bit rough around the edges, the 6-3, 205-pounder is undeniably a playmaker. He averaged 154.83 all-purpose yards, easily the most of any player in the SEC.
19. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: At a rangy 6-6, 243 pounds, Jordan's length and explosiveness off the edge make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Jordan led the Ducks a year ago with 13 tackles for loss and 7½ sacks, but wasn't as productive in 2012 (10½ tackles for loss, five sacks) and has struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career. He is, however, earning high marks from scouts who believe he could be one of this year's most exciting "hybrid" prospects, as he's so athletic that Oregon asked him to line up as a quasi-cornerback at times.
20. *Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: With so many talented defensive linemen in the SEC, Floyd hasn't generated the buzz his talents warrant. Used predominately at defensive end a season ago, the 6-3, 303-pound junior was moved back inside to his more natural tackle position and stepped up his play, earning first-team all-conference honors with 46 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles for loss. While his Gators lost the Sugar Bowl to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville, Floyd was dynamic, sacking the mobile sophomore quarterback twice.
21. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Despite being the obvious focus of every opponent's blocking scheme since talented teammate Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle October 13, Okafor earned first team All-Big 12 accolades for the second consecutive season, posting a career high 12.5 sacks, including 4.5 against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. Okafor showed better than expected burst off the snap and his trademark active, heavy hands to wreak havoc during Senior Bowl practices.
22. *Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones gets much of the hype for the Bulldogs -- for good reason -- but it was the ultra-athletic Ogletree who led Georgia with 111 tackles despite missing the first four games due to a suspension. The junior's lanky frame (6-3, 234) and staggering closing speed make him potentially a more dynamic player at the next level than Te'o, though Jones isn't nearly as far along in the subtleties of the position having only made the switch from safety two years ago.
23. *Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: With a rare combination of size (6-2, 217), physicality and athleticism, Rhodes proved to be a standout throughout his career with the Seminoles, culminating in first-team All-ACC honors in 2012. He'll need to run well in pre-draft workouts to guarantee being selected in the first round and projects best to a press-heavy scheme.
24. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: Mingo has the frame (6-5, 240 pounds) and athleticism to warrant top-10 consideration but at this point he remains a largely unpolished product who relies on his natural tools rather than technique to make plays. Given Mingo's upside, it is easy to imagine him terrorizing NFL QBs off the edge as a multidimensional defender. Considering Mingo's relatively pedestrian numbers (38 tackles, 8½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks) this season, however, the junior might have been better served returning to Baton Rouge for his senior season.
25. *Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: Half of the most talented tight-end duo in college football, Ertz only started five games in 2012 but easily led the Rose Bowl-winning Cardinal in catches (69), receiving yards (898) and receiving touchdowns (six). While perhaps not quite as imposing as 6-8, 265 pound teammate Levine Toilolo (himself a potential top-75 prospect), Ertz combines rare size (6-6, 256) with athleticism and soft hands.
26. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: While lacking the size and physicality of Millner or Rhodes, the 5-11, 190-pound Trufant showcased a blend of speed and fluidity in Mobile to arguably rank as this year's top cover corner. If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Both of his older brothers -- Marcus and Isaiah -- are already cashing NFL paychecks as cornerbacks with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.
27. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Used in much the same fashion as a receiver, runner and returner as the Minnesota Vikings feature Percy Harvin, Austin has emerged as the top senior playmaker in the country. At just 5-9, 172 pounds, Austin may not have been viewed as worthy of first-round consideration a few years ago, but in today's wide-open NFL that rewards mismatches Austin could prove among the more valued commodities on draft day.
28. *Matt Elam, SS, Florida: Perhaps a bit smaller than scouts would prefer (5-10, 202 pounds), Elam has proven himself to be a playmaker throughout his career, showing not only instincts, athleticism and physicality, but ball-hawking skills (six interceptions) and timing as well. The two-year starter was at his best under the brightest of lights, making game-changing plays against Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee, and pacing the Gators with 11 tackles, including a sack, in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.
29. *D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Anyone who watched Alabama dismantle that talented Notre Dame defense in the BCS title game knows the Crimson Tide offensive line was dominant. Much of the credit has gone to the Tide's interior line (and for good reason). At 6-6, 335 pounds, however, Fluker is an absolute road-grader himself. Massive, physical and tenacious, he's the top right tackle prospect in the draft.
30. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: More decorated than a wedding cake, Te'o has earned an astounding seven national awards since leading the Irish to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS title game. While the NFL couldn't care less about a collegiate prospect's stocked trophy case, it is tough not to acknowledge the relative safety that the 6-2, 255-pound Te'o provides as an instinctive, physical defender capable of making big plays against the run and pass. However, Te'o must have a strong pre-draft process after struggling in the title game and then being embroiled in an admittedly embarrassing "hoax" that hit the national stage Jan. 16.
31. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: Many of the top prospects boast eye-popping stats. Williams is not one of them. The Australia native finished the regular season ninth (and tied at that) on the Alabama roster with 36 tackles, including 2½ tackles for loss and one sack. The 6-3, 320-pounder's wide frame and awesome strength (600-pound bench press) make him a potentially elite nose guard. With most NFL teams either using the 3-4 as their base defense or at least incorporating many of its principles, Williams' value may not truly be proven until draft day.
32. *Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: High-effort pass rusher who looks the part of 6-5, 260, but doesn't consistently win one-on-one battles due to stiffness in his upper body. Plays with top effort, however, and has the strength and determination to be equally effective versus the run as well as the pass.
The second tier
33. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: While perhaps lacking the elite breakaway speed that has helped Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski emerge as instant NFL stars, Eifert's 6-5, 252-pound frame and excellent ball skills make him a legitimate mismatch.
34. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Possesses rare traits and a knack for making the big play but scouts dazzled by him in Mobile remain concerned about his snap-to-snap consistency.
35. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: Lanky ball-hawk who must prove his speed to warrant first-round consideration.
36. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: The most consistent of the quarterbacks throughout the critical first three practices of the Senior Bowl, likely pushing him back into the first round mix.
37. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: A consistent standout during the Senior Bowl practices, Jones racked up an impressive 19 tackles for loss in 2012, seeing action up and down the UCLA defensive line.
38. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas: Perhaps not the ball-hawk of former Texas DBs but is a steady, physical defender.
39. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Combining a quick first step and great power, Williams could leap into the first-round conversation with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl.
40. *Eric Reid, FS, LSU: Terrific in run support but questionable instincts, fluidity could make him a liability in coverage in the NFL.
41. *Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU: Instinctive and physical, Minter was the most dependable player on an LSU defense chock full of prospective NFL talent.
42. Phillip Thomas, FS, Fresno State: A Thorpe Award candidate with an FBS-leading leading eight interceptions (including three he has returned for touchdowns), Thomas is the best safety most haven't heard of.
43. *Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina: Dazzling runner, but size (5-10, 205) and durability are legitimate concerns.
44. *Robert Woods, WR, USC: While perhaps not the dominating prospect his hype would indicate, Woods' reliable route-running, soft hands and courage will make him a fine No. 2 target in the NFL.
45. Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia: Physical, aggressive blocker best suited to the right side in NFL.
46. *Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech: Character red-flags galore, but undeniably an elite talent.
47. *Bennie Logan, DT, LSU: Overshadowed a bit by LSU's dynamic duo on the outside, Logan was quietly the Tigers' most consistent defensive lineman in 2012
48. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: Lacks top athleticism but is versatile, durable and technically sound, making him one of the safest prospects in the draft.
49. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: While perhaps lacking any one dominant trait, Ball's all-around game brings back memories of another No. 28 -- Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.
50. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: Too slim of a build to earn first-round consideration but possesses elusiveness and straight-line speed.
Just missed the cut
51. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
52. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
53 *Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
54. *Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
55. Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State
56. *DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
57. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
58. *Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
59. *Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
60. Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers
61. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
62. Bacarri Rambo, FS, Georgia
63. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
64. *David Bakhtiari, OT, Colorado