Stanford's Luck headlines early look at top 2012 draft prospects
Teams will jockey to draft Andrew Luck, the next true franchise quarterback
Receivers Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery, Juron Criner are top 10 prospects
Underclassmen, offensive tackles and pass rushers will define the 2012 draft
The book is barely closed on the 2011 NFL draft, but it's never too early to start thinking ahead. Information about next April's selection process is already circulating, and it looks as though it will be another draft driven by underclassmen. Offensive tackles and pass rushers will fill draft boards around the NFL, which will bring a smile to many league decision makers. Here's a list of the top 40 draft eligible players who have the potential to impact the draft next year.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.
1. Andrew Luck*/QB/Stanford: Expect the Luck sweepstakes to start sometime in late October as the league's worst teams jockey for positioning to draft the next true franchise quarterback.
2. Justin Blackmon*/WR/Oklahoma State: Blackmon was considered a mid-first round choice this year and improvement during the 2011 season will push the dominant, big-play receiver into the very early selections of the draft.
3. Quinton Coples/DE/North Carolina: Coples picked up the slack last season after the suspension of Robert Quinn and terrorized opponents with his pass rush skills. He's a phenomenal athlete with a large upside.
4. Trent Richardson*/RB/Alabama: Several in the scouting community feel Richardson has more next-level potential than 'Bama teammate and 2011 first-rounder Mark Ingram.
5. Vontaze Burfict*/LB/Arizona State: Burfict boasts a terrific combination of size and athleticism. He is a dominant three-down defender who can play multiple linebacker spots.
6. Alshon Jeffery*/WR/South Carolina: Jeffery is an awesome physical presence on the field and a game-controlling receiver with deceptive speed. He needs to round out his game but offers amazing potential.
7. Devin Taylor*/DL/South Carolina: Taylor is an imposing defensive lineman with a variety of skill. He's a terrific college defensive end with the frame to eventually line up in a 3-4 scheme.
8. Nate Potter/T/Boise State: Potter settled down last season after a shaky start, displaying the dominance scouts expected. He lines up at left tackle for Boise but will get consideration at a variety of offensive-line positions.
9. Juron Criner/WR/Arizona: Criner was another junior receiver who returned to school despite receiving first-round consideration from NFL teams. He's not a game-breaker, but he's a sure-handed wideout who controls contests.
10. Cyrus Gray/RB/Texas A&M: Gray is a game-breaking ballcarrier who creates his own yardage and offers the tools to be a feature runner at the next level.
11. Luke Kuechly/LB/Boston College: Kuechly has been a tackling machine the past two seasons for the Eagles and has the potential to be a big-time NFL player.
12. Jared Crick/DL/Nebraska: Crick is a high-intensity defender who can be used in a variety of schemes. He would benefit greatly from a good senior campaign in '11.
13. Jonathan Martin*/T/Stanford: Martin is a tall, athletic left tackle prospect with unlimited upside. He also happens to protect Luck's blind side.
14. Michael Floyd/WR/Notre Dame: Floyd is a reliable possession receiver with terrific size. Off-the-field incidents coupled with pedestrian speed will red-flag the senior.
15. Nick Foles/QB/Arizona: A mid-season knee injury was the only thing that slowed Foles last year. He offers the physical and mental tools to start in the NFL.
16. Alfonzo Dennard/CB/Nebraska: Teams threw at Dennard last season in an attempt to stay away from Prince Amukamara, but Dennard proved up for the challenge. He offers the skills to be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL.
17. Zach Brown/OLB/North Carolina: Brown is yet another talented linebacker to come from the UNC program and he could be the best one in recent years. He's a three-down defender who can cover the pass as well as stop the run.
18. Dre Kirkpatrick*/CB/Alabama: Kirkpatrick offers awesome physical skills and could be an early pick in 2012 if he rounds out his game.
19. Matt Barkley*/QB/USC: Barkley is a solid quarterback who's being overrated by many. He's more of a game manager who will do well in the right NFL system.
20. Janoris Jenkins/CB/Florida: Jenkins bypassed the 2011 draft due to a shoulder injury, and off-the-field issues since January have led to his dismissal from the UF program. Jenkins is an enormous talent on the field but has several issues to overcome. Expect him to enter the league's supplemental draft held in July.
21. Manti Te'o*/LB/Notre Dame: Te'o is a classic middle linebacker prospect with the size and strength to dominate the opposition in run defense. He offers possibilities in a conventional defense or on the inside of a 3-4 alignment.
22. Chase Minnifield/CB/Virginia: Minnifield made the most of his opportunity last season after stepping into the starting lineup and really impressed NFL scouts. He's an opportunistic cornerback who also doubles as a return specialist.
23. Dont'a Hightower/OLB/Alabama: The defensive talent continues to pour out of the 'Bama program and Hightower is another prospect to watch. He's both athletic and dominant and is a player who could make a big jump up draft boards with a strong campaign in '11.
24. Matt Kalil/T/USC: Kalil possesses the size and the bloodlines for the next level. He's a developing left tackle with good size and growth potential.
25. Landry Jones*/QB/Oklahoma: Jones is the next high-profile signal caller from the OU program and a quarterback who draws a variety of opinions from NFL scouts. He's a solid passer who's not afraid to take chances, but remains a prospect who needs to complete his game.
26. Jerel Worthy*/DT/Michigan State: Worthy is slightly undersized yet very explosive from his defensive tackle position. He'll draw comparisons to first-round choice Corey Liuget.
27. Donte Paige-Moss*/DE/North Carolina: Yet another defensive prospect from the UNC program, Paige-Moss is a developing pass rusher who will also get consideration as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
28. Ryan Broyles/WR/Oklahoma: Broyles gave serious consideration to entering this year's draft before deciding to stay at OU. He heads toward 2012 as one of the best receivers who doubles as a return specialist.
29. Mike Brewster/C/Ohio State: Brewster would have been the first center drafted in this year's draft had he opted to enter. He'll remind people of former Buckeye first-rounder Nick Mangold in style and substance.
30. Riley Reiff*/T/Iowa: Reiff is a terrific left tackle on the college level and comes with a large upside. He possesses the footwork to play on the blind side and will improve as a run blocker as he physically matures.
31. Chris Owusu/WR/Stanford: Owusu, Luck's favorite target, is one of the most underrated receivers in the nation. He's a big-bodied pass catcher who runs outstanding routes and displays terrific hands.
32. Kelechi Osemele/OL/Iowa State: The Cyclones' left tackle is a powerful, nasty blocker who dominates opponents at the point of attack. He's better in a smaller area and will be the top guard prospect heading toward the 2012 draft.
33. LaMichael James*/RB/Oregon: James is a shifty, elusive ballcarrier who has size limitations. He's a better college player than NFL prospect but will do well in a Reggie Bush-type role.
34. Brandon Thompson/DT/Clemson: Thompson will be the center of attention on the Clemson defensive line next season. He's an explosive one-gap penetrator who would do well on a four-man line.
35. Jeff Fuller/WR/Texas A&M: Fuller is a large possession receiver who physically beats down opponents. He's shown steady improvement the past two seasons and offers potential as a No. 2 receiver in the NFL.
36. Courtney Upshaw/LB/Alabama: Upshaw is a developing prospect who offers possibilities at a number of linebacker positions. Defending the run and making plays behind the line of scrimmage is his specialty.
37. Kirk Cousins/QB/Michigan State: Cousins is a high-percentage passer who makes smart decisions in the pocket. He lacks classic size and arm strength but manages the offense well.
38. Cordy Glenn/OL/Georgia: Glenn is a dominant blocker who's been used at both guard and tackle. He offers a large upside and a good year at left tackle in '11 would push him up draft boards.
39. Billy Winn*/DL/Boise State: Winn is an athletic defender whose game is on the upswing. He's a slim defensive tackle with possibilities as a two-gap end at the next level.
40. Matt Reynolds/T/BYU: Reynolds returns to BYU after struggling through a disappointing junior season that included a bad shoulder injury. He's a terrific left tackle prospect when at the top of his game.
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