Midseason Top 50 draft board
Offensive players and underclassmen rule the top of early draft projections
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As the college football season reaches the midway point, it's time to look at the players expected to impact the first two rounds of April's NFL Draft. It'll be an offense-heavy class at the top of the first round, with a majority of the players selected coming from the junior class. (* denotes underclassman)
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: In an SI.com piece in August 2010 I referred to Luck as the most NFL-ready quarterback on the college level. More than 12 months later Luck has improved his game and exceeded all expectations. He is expected to enter the draft, will be the first pick of the event and is legitimately the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning.
2. Matt Kalil, T, USC*: The Trojans have a storied history of sending premier offensive tackles to the NFL, and Kalil is the next in line. He's a dominant blocker with the skills necessary to be an elite left tackle.
3. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: His game offers an outstanding combination of quickness, power and speed. He's a better NFL prospect than former Alabama running back and 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Richardson will be one of the few feature backs available in the draft.
4. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: The junior receiver has been dominant in every aspect the past two seasons. The game-controlling wideout shows the speed necessary to break plays deep and has the physical and mental make-up to be a No. 1 receiver at the NFL level.
5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC*: He has steadily progressed the past three seasons and is developing into a terrific signal caller. He beats defenders with deadly accurate passes on underneath routes, but also throws a solid deep pass. The junior offers starting potential and would be a good fit for a west coast offense.
6. Quinton Coples, DL, North Carolina: After entering the season with some of the highest grades of any senior prospect, Coples no longer ranks as a top-five selection in the draft due to a down tick in production this season and the continued emergence of the underclassmen ahead of him.
7. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick offers outstanding size and ball skills. The shutdown corner can quickly become an NFL starter. His 40 times before the draft will ultimately dictate where he lands in the first round.
8. Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina: The most complete senior linebacker and a true three-down defender, Brown is a terrific prospect. He projects as a starting weakside linebacker.
9. Mark Barron, S, Alabama: Barron has rebounded from a junior campaign in which he struggled with questionable play. He possesses outstanding size and speed and has developed a complete game this season.
10. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina*: Built in the mold of Calvin Johnson despite not having Megatron's speed, Jeffery has all the tools to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
11. Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford*: A terrific athlete, Martin has the skills to be a starting left tackle. His game is still rough around the edges, but Martin comes with great potential.
12. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor*: Since breaking into the starting lineup as a freshman, Griffin has displayed consistent improvement. He possesses elite physical skills and has developed the mental and leadership abilities to eventually be a franchise quarterback.
13. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: Claiborne answered many of the questions scouts had about his game this year after playing alongside Patrick Peterson in 2010. Though not the athlete his former teammate is, Claiborne possesses better ball skills and offers a more polished game.
14. Riley Reiff, T, Iowa*: An outstanding pass protector, Reiff grades as high as former Hawkeye Bryan Bulaga, the first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2010. He has starting potential as a left tackle.
15. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: Thompson has been a force on the Clemson defense for three years running. He's an explosive one-gap lineman who projects well on a four-man line.
16. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: Floyd made the wise choice of not entering last April's draft after scouts projected him as a second-round choice. He's been a dominant, game-controlling receiver every Saturday, and has improved his draft stock a full round this season.
17. David DeCastro, G, Stanford*: DeCastro looks like a man amongst boys most days and is dominant in every aspect of the game. He's been compared to Olin Kreutz, but will be selected much earlier in the draft than the former All Pro.
18. T.J. McDonald, S, USC*: The next top safety from USC, McDonald is a complete player who defends the run and covers the pass. He lacks classic safety size, but his top-notch ball skills intrigue NFL decision-makers.
19. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: The big defensive lineman can play in a variety of systems and is well thought-of in the scouting community.
20. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State*: When on his game, Burfict is a dominant linebacker who outclasses the opposition in all areas. Unfortunately, the junior is also known as a loose cannon on and off the field, which has raised red flags.
21. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma*: Cool, calm and collected, Landry is a terrific college passer who almost always makes the right decisions on the field. But though the junior is a solid NFL prospect, he's not the can't-miss franchise QB some make him out to be.
22. Devin Taylor, DE-OLB, South Carolina*: Taylor is a gifted prospect who can be a game-changer in the defensive front seven. He's mired in a very mediocre campaign, but can make a big move up boards should he turn it around.
23. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College*: Kuechly is tough, instinctive and football smart. He's a terrific run defender, but possesses ordinary size and speed, which will undoubtedly hurt his draft stock.
24. Vinny Curry, DE-OLB, Marshall*: Curry thought long and hard about entering the 2010 draft, but ultimately made the proper call and returned for his senior season. He's a dynamic pass rusher who can line up at defensive end in a conventional scheme or play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.
25. Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: Dennard is one of the better bump-and-run corners in the nation and a defender opponents purposely avoid. He lacks elite defensive back speed, but in the right system he will be a starter in the NFL.
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