This is ground control to Major Tom.  Can you hear me Major Tom?

 

Commencing Countdown, Engines On

           Here is the list every NFL team now awaits with bated breath. We would remind all NFL brass to remove the Matriculator tag on this list before they pawn it off as their own work. 

         You will note as the list unfolds that we have three quarterbacks in our top 32 players and Ryan Tannehill isn't one of them. Tannehill, who most pundits have as a top 20 player, led the Big 12 in interceptions.  No quarterback who leads his conference in interceptions should be taken in the first round. Period.  We see the talent with Tannehill and have no problem with him as a second rounder that a team tries to develop, the same as we saw Blaine Gabbert last year. As always, our rankings have some major surprises with three players in our top 15 that you won't find as highly rated on any other site. The engines are on, and the countdown has begun.

32.  David Decastro- Guard, Stanford

Decastro is going to be a successful NFL player.  He will probably earn more Pro-Bowls than the players we have listed ahead of him for the same reason he is drafted ahead of them.  Perception.  Everyone perceives him to be great, but if you watch the tape on him he’s good.  Very good.  But not great.

31. Harrison Smith- Safety, Notre Dame

It has been many a moon since we've had a golden domer as a top prospect, but this year we have two.  Smith is good in coverage while still maintaining a physical prescence at 6'2", 215. He finished his career with 309 tackles and 7 interceptions.

30. Cordy Glenn- Guard/Tackle, Georgia

Glenn has all of the physical tools at 6'6", 345 pounds, but he lacks the physicality you look for in a guard or right tackle.  At the Combine he looked awkward sliding side to side but because his arms are so long he can compensate to an extent. His positional versatility (he played both guard spots and as a senior played left tackle) and measureables will make some team want to reach for him and his promise is worthy of a late first round pick.

29. Amini Silatolu- Guard, Midwestern State

Three guards in the top 32 already and more to come.  This is one of the better interior line classes (depending on which position Keleche Osemele and Cordy Glenn wind up playing) in recent memory.  Silatolu reminds us of former first round small schooler Mike Iupati.  He's big (6'3", 320) and very strong and should be a starter immediately.

28. Dont'a Hightower- LB, Alabama

Hightower is one of the biggest linebackers to enter the draft in the last decade and he moves extremely well for a big man.  He had a major knee injury his sophomore year, but the larger issue is his disappearance from games at times. As with Cordy Glenn, if he can keep his intensity and focus he has the potential to be an impact player.

27.  Brandon Brooks- G, Miami (OH)

You won't see him in the top 30 on any draft board but ours.  And there is a valid reason for that.  At times he is a bit sloppy and lazy.  In fact, he wasn't even a First Team All-MAC selection and we think he will be an All-Pro in the NFL?  We generally don't place "potential" guys this high, especially "potential" guys who play guard and are not from a traditional powerhouse.  However, his strength and agility are at the very top of the offensive lineman scale. Ever. At 6'5", 345 pounds he ran a 4.98 forty, had a 32" vertical and did 36 reps of 225 pounds. If he goes to the right team he'll get a bust next to Larry Allen in Canton but we also understand that if he goes to the wrong team he might simply be a bust.

26.  Dre Kirkpatrick- CB, Alabama

News flash.  Kirkpatrick is not an elite corner.  He's not a top 10 talent as many are claiming. He seems a better fit in a Tampa-2 scheme and we think he would be exposed in man coverage.

25.  Keleche Osemele- OT, Iowa State

Another mauling tackle who could wind up at guard.  We love his upside.  He's the physical type that defensive lineman dread playing against and championship teams love drafting.

24.  Doug Martin- RB, Boise State

Most people talk about him being the most complete back in the draft (besides Trent Richardson) and he is, but nobody wants to talk about how explosive and physical he can be. 

23.  Stephon Gilmore- CB, South Carolina

Yes, we have him rated ahead of 'Dre Kirkpatrick.  Gilmore has good size and he's a better change of direction athlete than Kirkpatrick.  He can play in either a zone or man scheme and that versatility will make him a better pro.

22.  Riley Reiff- T, Iowa

We've been harping on his alligator arms and there is a reason.  The overwhelming majority of short armed left tackles fail.  We think he will be a great guard (or possibly right tackle) like another former highly touted Hawkeye Robert Gallery, but he's not worthy of a top 15 pick if he's not playing left tackle.

21.  Stephen Hill- WR, Georgia Tech

Hill didn't have many catches in college and he will clearly have to learn the route tree.  If he can make the adjustment (and it will probably take at least a year) he could be a great one, possessing the same skill set as A.J. Green. He's a risk, but the reward is significant.

20.  Russell Wilson- QB, Wisconsin

Russell Wilson is 5'11" and Andrew Luck is 6'4".  After you get by that small detail, Wilson is the better quarterback. We've told you in the past, we don't see Luck as a leader of men.  He reminds us of Peyton Manning in that regard.  Luck and Manning both lost big games in college.  Manning continued his losing ways in big games as a pro where he has a losing record in the post-season. Russell Wilson is a winner, and a great quarterback to boot.  In fact, he transferred to a new school in 2011 and still had a better passer rating than RG3 and Andrew Luck.  In 2011, playing behind the largest offensive line in the nation, he had no issues with his height as he completed 73% of his passes on his way to the second highest touchdown total in Big Ten history behind none other than mighty mite Drew Brees, who turned out to be decent in spite of his height limitations.  As a freshman at N.C. State he threw 17 touchdowns and 1 interception and was the first freshman quarterback ever named First Team All-ACC.  His sophomore year he broke the NCAA record for consecutive passes (389) without an interception. His junior year he led the ACC in passing yards per game (274) and his senior year he transferred to Wisconsin and finished with a higher passer rating than RG3 and Andrew Luck.  He's a top twenty player and he will be a significantly better pro than Ryan Tannehill, though we must concede that Tannehill is taller.

19.  Dontari Poe- DT, Memphis

Players with Poe's size (6'4", 350) are rare indeed and when you combine that with great movement skills you would expect a superstar.  But he's not.  At least he wasn't at Memphis against mediocre competition.  We don't think his problem is effort as most do. His chest is so big and his arms are so short that he can't wrap up runners. That's what we see as his problem, but at a minimum he can hold up a double team and at times provide penetration to disrupt a play.

18. David Wilson- RB, Virginia Tech

We like Wilson a hair better than Doug Martin because he's so explosive.  He's not quite as refined as a pass blocker, but he's a good receiver with some shiftiness and when he breaks into the open field he's gone.  We assume that whoever drafts him can teach him how to overcome his fumbling problems.

17.  Michael Floyd- WR, Notre Dame

He has been flying up most draft boards, but not ours.  He's got some character concerns with repeat alcohol related offenses and he's not nearly as fast on tape as his timed speed.  He's big with excellent hands and we think he will develop into a high end number two receiver if he stays away from the go-go juice.

16.  Mark Barron- S, Alabama

Barron is going to be a good in the box safety at a minimum.  His 12 interceptions hint that he also has ball skills, but we are more skeptical about those.  He should be a solid safety with a long career and the lack of even average safeties will push him into the top 15.

15.  Melvin Ingram- LB, South Carolina

He's an explosive athlete at 265 pounds who played all over the field at South Carolina.  After extensive review, we think his short arms will prevent him from ever getting major reps at defensive end.  If a team drafts him and makes him a linebacker they will get the most from him.  The problem is that most of his experience is with a hand in the ground so you have to project that he will be able to learn the intricacies of playing linebacker.

14. Chandler Jones- DE, Syracuse

Jones is the reason we reserve the right to change our list before draft day.  He was injured in 2011 and missed half of the season and we thought he looked so slow at the Combine that we didn't do much follow-up.  When he started to catch a buzz (and it wasn't alcohol related) we watched more film on him and we were highly impressed.  He's strong and active and looks more explosive on film than in shorts.

13. Whitney Mercilus- DE, Illinois

Mercilus is clearly one of the most difficult players to analyze.  In 2011 he looked like an instinctive, athletic, and disruptive pass rusher. A top 5 pick. But why did such a talented player not show much before this season?  Nobody's really sure if he is a one year wonder or not, but with his potential at a premium position we'd take a chance on him in the top 20.

12. Justin Blackmon- WR, Oklahoma State

He's everyone else's number one rated receiver and we think he is the safest receiver in the draft.  He measured smaller than he looks and he doesn't have elite speed but can take over games at times. His upside is Anquan Boldin, a physical, hard nosed receiver with run after the catch ability but not a true number one.

11. Kendall Wright- WR, Baylor

We have Wright a little more highly rated than most. He plays with game breaking speed and is an underrated route runner with excellent hands.  He has the upside to be the next Steve Smith. His production at Baylor matched his ability and he left as Baylor's all-time leading receiver by a wide margin after posting 108 catches for 1663 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.

10. Lavonte David- LB, Nebraska

We have three players in our top ten that no other scout has rated as highly, and David is one of them.  He transferred from JUCO to Nebraska two year's ago and promptly set the Cornhusker record for tackles with 152.  He also posted 15 tackles for loss and 10 pass break ups.  In 2011 he added another 150 tackles, 2 interceptions and 5.5 sacks. He's an athletic linebacker with instincts off the chart.  The knock on him is that he's too small at 6'1/2" and 233 pounds.  Let's see, the ideal height/weight for an outside linebacker is 6'2", 240.  We're not at all concerned.  He's as instinctive as Zach Thomas and a better athlete.

9. Vinny Curry- DE, Marshall

Another player that nobody has in their top 20, Curry reminds us of Ryan Kerrigan.  Last year we were the only site that had Kerrigan rated in the top 5 and he was the most dominant rookie defender (besides maybe our number 6 prospect Phil Taylor) in the NFL.  Curry has NFL measurables at 6'3", 265 pounds with a 35 inch vertical and 4.69 forty yard dash. As a junior in 2010 he led the nation in tackles for a defensive lineman with 94 and finished 5th in the nation in sacks with 12.  In 2011 he had 22 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and 7 forced fumbles on his way to winning Conference USA Player of the Year.  In addition to having unquestioned ability, he is a hard worker who doesn't take plays off.  Because he's coming from a mid-level program he may not have quite the impact Kerrigan had as a rookie, but he should develop into a difference maker who stays on the field and makes plays in both the running and passing game.

8. Matt Kalil- T, USC

Before you get all worked up about us having him this "low", take a deep breath.  If we have a player in the top ten we expect them to be great. Some have indicated that they think Kalil is a better run blocker than pass blocker.  That may have been the case at USC, but projecting him forward we think he will be a better pass protector than run blocker.  He's got great feet (so Rex Ryan may trade up to get him) and with some coaching we think he will be effective on the edge.  We don't think he will be a dominant run blocker as he doesn't have the required mean streak.  He's not the prospect Joe Thomas or Jake Long were and that's why we have him slightly (and it's only slightly) lower than most.

7. T.Y. Hilton- WR, Florida International

T.Y. Hilton is the reason you matriculate.  You can't find a mock draft anywhere on the internet that has him as a first round pick.  CBS's scouting consortium has him as the 146th rated prospect and most other services have him rated between the 10th-15th best wide receiver prospect.  That puts him in the 3rd-4th round range.  We'd take him in the top ten picks without hesitation. He's the most explosive player (besides RG3) in this draft and it's not really even a close competition.  His first touch of a football in a college game was a punt return for a touchdown.  He also threw a touchdown and scored five different ways on his way to earning Sunbelt Conference Freshman of the Year honors.  In 2009, as a sophomore, his first touch of the season was a 96 yard punt return. Against Alabama.  The Bama defense looked completely overmatched.  In 2010 he had a game with a 95 yard kick return, 2 receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.  He led Florida International to their first bowl appearance and was selected as MVP of the Little Caeser's Pizza Bowl. He also won Sunbelt Conference Player of the Year.  In 2011 he torched Louisville for 201 yards receiving on his way to breaking the school's single game record.  The only player currently in the NFL with his gamebreaking ability is Desean Jackson.  That's it. The only knock we can find on him (other than some late season nagging injuries) is some general reference to character concerns and a Cam Newton-like overactive father.  Desean Jackson had some of the same concerns but he has become a true difference maker (when he's not whining about his contract) and we expect Hilton to do the same.  If your team takes him in the second round go ahead and jump for joy.

6. Luke Kuechly- LB, Boston College

Kuechly is the most decorated player in this draft.  The two time All-American is the ACC record holder in career tackles. He was named 2011 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and won the Butkus Award, Nagurski Award, Lombardi Award, an Oscar, Grammy and Tony. He's intelligent, athletic and great in pass coverage.  Our only concern with him is how well he can hold up physically making 10-12 tackles per game for 16 games a year.

5. Trent Richardson- RB, Alabama

Richardson is a thumper who excels in every area including pass blocking and receiving.  He's a physical runner with shiftiness and he has good, not great speed.  He will be an every down back wherever he goes.  His physical running style raises some injury concerns but if anyone has the body to withstand the punishment, Richardson does.

4. Morris Claiborne- CB, LSU

Claiborne is a fluid athlete who makes everything look very easy.  He's got better movement skills than Patrick Peterson and has the potential to be a shut-down corner.  He's 5'11", 188 pounds but his arms are as long as some offensive lineman's making him seem like a bigger corner.  He's a willing enough tackler and should be at the top of the league in interceptions on a regular basis.  It has been reported that he isn't the hardest worker and he scored a 4 on the Wonderlic, but cornerbacks with his skill set are rare and valuable enough that he should be taken in the top 5 picks.

3. Fletcher Cox- DT, Mississippi State

Cox left Mississippi State after a junior year that saw him win SEC player of the week honors four times.  He is a tremendous athlete at 6'4", 295 who burned up the Combine with a 4.79 forty and 30 reps of 225.  He ran on the 400 meter relay team in high school and blocked 5 kicks in his three years at Mississippi State. He moves like a linebacker and reminds us in every respect of Warren Sapp. He has a non-stop motor and though he won't be a great run defender, he will be a consistent prescence in the backfield and should have seasons of double digit sacks from the interior.

2.  Andrew Luck- QB, Stanford

Luck has been compared with Peyton Manning, and we think the comparison is valid in both the good and the bad.  Luck was a great passer who didn't always play particularly well in the big games. His career mirrored Manning's at Tennessee. He's a solid citizen who will work hard and he has a good, not great, NFL arm.  Again, Peyton Manning. As we continue to beat the dead horse (because everyone still seems surprised when they hear it) Manning was the greatest regular season quarterback but was tremendously average when it counted. The anti-Ben Roethlisberger.  We'll take Big Ben over Peyton seven days a week because all we care about is winning championships, but others disagree and say they want a guy who sets regular season records and is average in the post-season.  We just have a difference of opinion. Will Luck be a winner when it matters?  That is the only question we have about him and based on college performance, RG3 is the guy.

1. Robert Griffin, III- QB, Baylor

Everyone said we were crazy in January, 2011 when we dubbed Cam Newton the greatest prospect of all time.  We were right.  Keep in mind that when we wrote Newton's Law, no other pundit or scout had Newton as the top quarterback prospect.  It was Blaine Gabbert.  Remeber that guy? In November when we wrote Lay a Turd for Griffin the Third, RG3 wasn't on anybody's list of the top 30 prospects and he wasn't even in ESPN's top five Heisman candidates. We think RG3 is a better prospect than Cam Newton in most regards. Like Newton he's an incredible athlete, but unlike Newton he was a very accomplished passer over an extended period.  He was a bit more of a pocket passer in college than Newton. He was a consistent winner for a historically bad program.  RG3 doesn't have any of the character red flags that Cam had. The thing that seperates Cam is that he is built like a bull (and durable) while RG3 looks more like a cheetah.  Will he hold up to the rigors of NFL hits?  That is the only real concern.  Otherwise we would have dubbed him the new greatest prospect in the history of the NFL.