NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Loyko
A draft class that was once considered weak by many is beginning to look like it will provide many more quality players than thought. Here is our very early preview of how the 2012 NFL Draft class may look come April.
After the 2011 Draft was over many people immediately began turning their attention to the next year’s crop of prospects. Many consider the draft class fairly weak after the top names come off the board. Looking just at senior prospects that are eligible it may very well be correct.
However, after taking stock of the prospect landscape and including some of the underclassman who are more than likely to enter, this class is much deeper than people realize.
We’re looking at the offensive prospects this week, with defense being the focus next week.
The 2012 draft is likely to feature it’s most anticipated QB prospect to enter the draft since 1998 when Peyton Manning was taken 1st overall. Stanford QB Andrew Luck was projected to be the #1 pick last year, but spurned the NFL to return to school. Thus far, nothing has changed his stock as Luck is still projected to be the #1 pick in 2012. We could even see teams trying to “position” themselves get the Stanford QB, when they fall out of playoff contention.
If those teams fail to get Luck, they are sure to turn their attention to USC Jr. Matt Barkley. If not for Luck, Barkley would be in the discussion for #1 pick in 2012. Barkley is a player to watch closely the rest of the year to see how high he could possibly climb in the draft.
The 2012 Quarterback class has some very good QB depth in the top 3-4 rounds. After Luck and Barkley the next best QB prospect as of right now is Landry Jones. Jones is likely to put up huge numbers this season in Oklahoma and has attracted a lot of buzz regarding his draft stock.
After the top 3, the names may not be as prolific; however, there is a group of prospects who will get drafted and help NFL teams. That next tier of QB’s will feature Texas AM Ryan Tannehill, San Diego St. Ryan Lindley, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Boise State’s Kellen Moore.
As is always the case with QB’s there will be sleepers who rise throughout the draft process who will make this crop even deeper.
Outlook: One of the most anticipated and talented QB classes in years, while the class is a little top heavy the class features some experienced and smart Quarterbacks who will be drafted in the mid rounds.
If we were just projecting this year’s running back class based on the seniors only, then there wouldn’t be much to get excited about. However, as we know it is usually the underclassmen who generate the most buzz especially at the skill positions. This has the potential to be a special group of RB’s with some even having the potential to go in the top 5-15 range in the draft.
When you talk about running backs and the 2012 draft the discussion starts with Alabama’s Trent Richardson. It’s my belief that Richardson will be picked in the top 10 of whichever draft he enters and will be that rare back that starts in the NFL from day one and challenges for a rushing title every year.
After Richardson, the undersized by ultra explosive LaMichael James figures to enter this year’s draft, as there won’t be much more for him to accomplish as a college running back. The biggest knock on James is his slight build, but I think a team will fall in love with James as a change of pace back who can be utilized in multiple formations. I like James better than CJ Spiller and we saw how his draft stock rose to the point where Buffalo picked him at #9 overall.
The top senior running back prospects would include Texas A&M Cyrus Gray, Boise’s Doug Martin, Ohio State’s Boom Herron and Tennessee’s Tauren Poole. All of these senior backs have the potential to be picked on day 2 and somewhere between rounds 2-4.
What could really make this running back class special is if some of the redshirt sophomores and other underclassman decided to forgo their eligibility. I am particularly interested to see if Miami (Fl) RSo Lamar Miller will decide to enter this year’s draft. If he does decide to enter, he could challenge to be the 2nd back off the board after Richardson.
Other underclassmen to watch are Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, Clemson’s Andre Ellington and UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin.
Outlook: This class will be determined by which underclassmen decide to declare. If all the names which I mentioned decide to enter, then this is the best RB classes since 2008 when we saw 5 running backs selected in round 1 and 2 more in the 2nd round.
Perhaps the most top heavy position in the entire draft. This year’s WR crop is likely to feature 4 WR who are chosen in the first 15-20 picks, and another 1 or 2 who may end up in the first round. After that I expect a lot of different opinions of who the next group of WR’s should include, and where those WR will be drafted.
At the top of the draft two players look like top 10 picks right now; Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery and Blackmon are two very different players. Jeffery is that big physical athletic freak ala Calvin Johnson, while Blackmon is more of an all purpose WR who is able to run all types of routes and can excel in all phases of the passing game.
After the top 2 Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles figure to battle it out to see who the next WR off the board should be. Both Floyd and Broyles figure to be gone by the beginning of round 2, with many speculating that Ryan Broyles is a perfect fit for the Patriots offense.
After the top 4, other WR who are likely to be drafter fairly early are Arkansas WR’s Greg Childs and Joe Adams, Arizona’s Juron Criner, Wisconsin’s Nick Toon, Iowa’s Marvin McNutt, Texas A&M Jeff Fuller and the fast rising UNC WR Dwight Jones.
It’s way too early to tell who will go where, but all those players are seniors who will be in the draft and all are intriguing names come April. Underclassmen that could possibly enter this year are Rutgers Mohammed Sanu and LSU’s Rueben Randle.
The best WR in college football in my opinion is USC Robert Woods, however being only a sophomore we will have to wait until 2013 to see him in the NFL.
Outlook: Very talented top 4-5 however, there is a drop off after that, but will still be able to find talent. Teams should be able to find contributors at WR thru the 5th round or so.
This year’s TE class is not a very exciting one. Entering the season the consensus top senior TE was Missouri’s Michael Egnew. Egnew is off to a very slow start, due largely to the change in QB. It appears that a couple of underclassmen may have passed Egnew.
Georgia’s Orson Charles and Clemson’s Dwayne Allen could both challenge to be the top TE off the board. Beside the top 3 the only other TE prospect I see worthy of being mentioned as a possible day 2 pick is Stanford’s Coby Fleener. It’s safe to say this year’s class doesn’t excite me too much.
Outlook: Weak. If underclassmen Allen and Charles return to school, we likely won’t see a tight end drafted until mid to late day 2.
Offensive Tackle- The first round of the 2012 NFL draft is figured to be loaded with offensive tackles. At the head of the class is a pair of California underclassmen; USC’s Matt Kalil and Stanford’s Jonathan Martin.
I prefer Kalil to Martin right now and ultimately think he will be drafter higher, however it’s far from being determined who will be the #1 OT. Both are considered likely top 10 picks, with one of the possibly sneaking into the top 5.
The #3 tackle prospect right now is Iowa’s Reilly Reiff, who is the next in a long line of Iowa Hawkeye offensive lineman to project favorable to the NFL. A
fter the top underclassmen there is a plethora of seniors who are all bunched together and right now and really haven’t separated themselves from each other. That group includes Nate Potter of Boise State, FSU’s Andrew Datko, currently suspended Ohio State LT Mike Adams, BYU’s Matt Reynolds and Oklahoma State’s Levy Adcock.
If I were projecting these tackles I would say the most talented is Mike Adams, while the others are all very close together.
Outlook- This is a very solid class. Kalil and Martin are both franchise LT’s and Reiff has the potential to join them. The class is deep on solid but unspectacular tackles who all can play and contribute in the NFL.
Not often can you be excited about the offensive guard position when it comes to the NFL draft or football in general. However, the 2012 NFL draft features two of the best guard prospects to come out in the last couple years.
Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele is as dominate as any offensive lineman I have seen this year. He is a massive but athletic lineman who currently is playing tackle for the Cyclones but projects to guard at the next level. As of right now I have Osemele solidly in the first round.
The other top senior guard is Cordy Glenn of Georgia. While I may be more lukewarm on Glenn than others he is still projected to be a second round pick at worst.
The most intriguing guard prospect for 2012 is one who may not even enter the draft; Stanford’s David DeCastro. DeCastro is a fundamentally sound interior lineman who is part of the best offensive line in the country at Stanford. If he decides to enter he will challenge Osemele for first guard off the board in my opinion.
Other seniors to watch are Wisconsin’s Lance Zeitler and Colorado’s Ryan Miller. An underclassman that has the talent to declare himself draft eligible is Alabama’s Barrett Jones, and with a dominate season he could put himself solidly in the second round.
Outlook- This class has 2-3 elite guard prospects, two of whom are pretty safe bets to be first round picks. However, there is not much depth at the position and teams will have to do their homework to find contributors.
In all honesty this is the deepest Center prospect pool I can remember. We could legitimately see 3-5 centers drafted in the first 3 rounds.
I have been able to scout the position closely the first 3 weeks of the college football season and the center who has impressed me most is Ohio State’s Mike Brewster. He is a solid all around center and leader of the Ohio State offensive line. Right now I have Brewster at the end of the first round.
Georgia’s Ben Jones, Michigan’s David Molk, Alabama’s William Vlachos and Mississippi State’s Quinton Saulsberry all figure to be drafted before round 5. Like it is with most positions in this year’s draft it’s an underclassman who could steal the spotlight as Wisconsin’s Peter Konz could leapfrog Mike Brewster if he decides to enter.
Outlook- One of the deepest classes of centers in recent memory. Teams who need a center, like the Patriots, should be able to find one in this year’s draft.
Offensive outlook: Once again depending on which underclassmen ultimately decide to enter this year’s draft, it will determine just how good this year’s draft class will be. As I project it today I expect a significant number of underclassmen to enter, especially with the NFL labor situation cleared up. This is a class I am extremely excited about. I believe we will see stars draft at a number of positions from Luck at QB to Blackmon at WR to Richardson at RB. The 2012 NFL Draft is shaping up to be much better than first suspected.
Tags: 2012 NFL Draft