(Editor's Note: NFL draft addict Matthew Elder of Examiner.com offers up an early preview of the 2012 class. Follow Matthew on Twitter: @Matthewcelder.)
This is the time of year that college football begins to heat up. Spring football is over, summer rumors are roaring and All-American lists are coming out. With that in mind, when my friend Allen Kenney asked if I had interest in writing a "Best of" list, I knew just what I wanted to write about.
I'm a draftnik by heart, and with my eyes already set on April 2012. I'm going to list the top seniors whom scouts will be evaluating this season. This list is only seniors, because as of today, they are the only players who are actually in the 2012 draft class. These rankings are developed from watching film and evaluating where a guy is based on his skill level and how well he projects to the NFL.
Here is the very first look at my top prospects for 2012.
1. Quinton Couples, DE – North Carolina
After Robert Quinn was suspended last season, many Tar Heel fans were wondering where the pass rush was going to come from. Enter a 6'6, 282 lbs. monster who had a breakout campaign in 2011. Coples' 10 sacks led the team, and what was even more impressive was his ability stand up at the point of attack and play the run. He fits both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme in the pros and that versatility makes him valuable.
2. Zach Brown, LB – North Carolina
Every year it seems we have a freak athlete that emerges and gets fans all excited. This year, that guy is going to be Zach Brown. His athleticism is off the charts, and it has been reported that he ran 4.28 40 at UNC. We need to see more production from Brown, especially in the backfield, but his range is outstanding and his coverage abiltiy is stellar (3 INTs in 2011). If he can finally give us the production to match his freakish workouts, you could be looking at next year's top pick.
3. Mike Adams, OT – Ohio State
One of the "Buckeye Five," Adams name has stayed out of the headlines dominanted almost exclusively by Terrelle Pryor. When he comes back and plays in 2012, he should be a dominant left tackle who is able to lock down the best pass rushers in the country. Adams has ideal size for a franchise LT in the NFL and should be the first OT off the board come next April.
4. Michael Floyd, WR – Notre Dame
Floyd's off-the-field antics and issues are causing him to drop on many boards. He was busted for yet another alcohol-related incident this offseason, and while he will not likely see a suspension, he still needs to prove that he has finally learned his lesson. On the field, Floyd is a dominant and physical wide receiver who uses his size to battle down field. He is an underrated blocker and has great hands. He needs to clean up his routes, however. If his focus is there in 2012, then there won't be any questions left about who the best WR in the country is.
5. Mark Barron, S – Alabama
Its easy to get lost on a star studded-defense like Alabama's, but Mark Barron is one player who consistently stands out. Barron delivers bone-crushing hits on unsuspecting WRs who dare to challenge the middle of the field. He's also a terrific ball hawk in the secondary, doing a great job of reading the quarterback's eyes while in coverage. A complete defender who is NFL ready now should be a stalwart for the Tide this coming season.
6. Juron Criner, WR – Arizona
Another physically gifted WR, Criner burst onto the scene in the Pac-10 last season to lead the conference in receiving yards with 1,233. He was the most consistent weapon for 'Zona's QBs and will likely face plenty of over-the-top coverage this season as teams try to cut down on his big plays. Criner wll need to show he can handle the extra attention he'll get this season by improving on his routes and getting into an even better relationship with QB Nick Foles.
7. Nick Foles, QB – Arizona
One of the most accomplished passers last season, Foles displays a very accurate arm and would be an ideal fit in a West Coast offense. He excels at hitting his receivers in stride and makes quick decisions off pre-snap reads. A cerebral QB whose has only gotten better with experience, Foles would help his stock if he could stay healthy all year. Also, with his top four receiving targets returning, he should have plenty of weapons should defenses take Criner away.
8. Kelechi Osemele, OT – Iowa State
A monster of an offensive lineman at 6'5, 354 lbs., some question Osemele's position in the NFL. He has exceptionaly quick feet and moves well for a man his size. He is extremely strong at the point of attack and knows how to plow people out of the way in the running game. Osemele excels at using his long arms in pass protection and does a great job sealing off the QB's backside. He could potentially challenge Adams to be the top tackle off the board in 2012.
9. Ryan Broyles, WR – Oklahoma
In a class of tall WRs, Broyles looks small. However, don't let his appearance fool you. A lightning-fast receiver with smooth hips and quick feet, Broyles can beat you in a number of ways and is a danger to score every time he touches the ball. Some were surprised that he returned in 2011, but with Oklahoma being one of the favorites to win it all, who could blame him? I would like to see him become a stronger and more physical WR who fights for the extra yard a little more.
10. Jared Crick, DT – Nebraska
The question entering last season for Crick was what was going to happen to his game now that running mate Ndamukong Suh had gone into the NFL? Well, Crick answered those question emphatically by putting up 70 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. What will he do for an encore in 2012 is anybody's guess, but the questions about his ability to dominate on his own have been answered.
11. Kheeston Randall, DT – Texas
12. Kenny Tate, S – Maryland
13. Jeff Fuller, WR – Texas A&M
14. Vinny Curry, DE – Marshall
15. Nigel Braham, LB – Florida State
16. Nate Potter, OT – Boise State
17. Janoris Jenkins, CB
18. Cyrus Gray, RB – Texas A&M
19. Courtney Upshaw, LB – Alabama
20. Travis Lewis, LB – Oklahoma
21. Alfonso Denard, CB – Nebraska
22. DE Jake Bequette-Arkansas
23. Cordy Glenn, OT – Georgia
24. Ryan Lindley, QB – San Diego State
25. Mike Brewster, C – Ohio State