Scouting for the 2012 NFL Draft starts in earnest this weekend with the kick off of the college season. Underclassmen will drive a number of positions on offense and defense next April, as has been the norm for almost two decades. The quarterback position offers a lot of potential while the running back and wide receiver class are also strong. Here's a look at the top NFL prospects from the scoring side of the ball -- the players who could impact next April's draft.
Andrew Luck, Stanford* -- Before the 2010 draft we rated Luck as our top quarterback prospect and nothing has changed. The Stanford junior will be graded as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. He is the odds-on-favorite to be the top pick in the 2012 draft.
Matt Barkley, USC* -- Barkley is another Pac-12 underclassman who projects well to the next level. He possesses an NFL arm and has the ability to make all the throws. Barkley is very accurate with both the long and short passes. He does not possess classic pocket passer size, yet his combination of physical tools and signal-caller intangibles screams first round.
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State -- The top senior quarterback on our board is one of the most physically gifted signal callers from his class. He drives the deep pass and gets the ball through the tight spots. His defensive reads and propensity to stare down targets are a concern, yet Cousins offers a large degree of upside potential.
Kyle Padron, SMU* -- Offensive genius June Jones may finally have a complete quarterback prospect to work with. Padron offers a major league arm with the ability to accurately place passes anywhere on the field. He needs to improve his defensive reads, yet could make a big move up draft boards if he continues to improve.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M* -- After Andrew Luck, there aren't many passers who offer the intangibles or game day intelligence as does Tannehill. He's always in control of the situation and constantly makes proper decisions. Tannehill lacks the rocket arm. He's more of a timing passer who would excel in a West Coast offense.
Ryan Lindley, San Diego State -- He could be the most underrated senior prospect in the nation. He has a terrific combination of physical skills and football smarts, and displays outstanding accuracy and decision-making in the pocket. He's a much better prospect than former Aztec Kevin O'Connell, taken in the third round of the 2008 draft.
Sleeper: Cody Endres, Slippery Rock -- Endres was expected to grab hold of the starting position at UConn this season but several off-field incidents led to his dismissal from the program. In the times he stepped underneath center for the Huskies in the previous two seasons, Endres displayed enough talent to develop into an NFL passer.
Overrated: Landry Jones, Oklahoma* -- Let the outrage begin! Jones is a terrific college quarterback with the moxie and intellect to lead one of the nation's better programs. His physical skills -- including average arm strength and poor skills throwing in motion -- just don't translate into the first-round prospect many have pegged him to be.
Trent Richardson, Alabama* -- The Alabama running game won't miss a beat despite the departure of Mark Ingram to the NFL. Richardson is just as skilled handling the ball and projects better to the NFL. He can pound the ball on the inside but is also elusive. Richardson grades as a true feature runner for the next level.
Bernard Pierce, Temple* -- Another all-purpose running back, Pierce is the best NFL prospect most fans are unfamiliar with. He offers a great combination of instincts, creativeness and skill. Pierce weaves through traffic on the inside and beats opponents around tackle. His style is similar to that of former All-Pro Curtis Martin.
Andre Ellington, Clemson* -- The next in the long line of explosive ball carriers from the Clemson program, Ellington offers skills similar to former Tigers first-round pick C.J. Spiller, but adds a lot more toughness to his game. He's a game-breaking threat who will excite offensive coordinators in the NFL.
Doug Martin, Boise State -- This versatile skill player produces whether carrying the ball or catching it out of the backfield. He projects as a terrific third-down back at the next level.
LaMichael James, Oregon* -- The slippery James is a home run hitter who can score from any spot on the field. His footwork leaves defenders grasping at air, while his speed has them gasping for it as they try to run him down. His small frame is a limiting factor and will prevent him from being anything other than a situational back in the NFL.
Sleeper: Ryan Houston, North Carolina -- Houston was one of the many causalities from the ongoing NCAA investigation at North Carolina and missed the 2010 campaign due to a violation of rules. He's big-bodied, with the strength and size to be a feature runner in the NFL for a power offense.
Overrated: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- NFL scouts love Gray and many grade him as the top senior running back prospect. Our disagreement is based on the fact Gray is nothing more than a situational ball carrier at the next level. He possesses only average size/speed numbers and really has no single outstanding aspect to his game.
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State* -- Blackmon toyed with the idea of entering the 2011 Draft but decided to return for his junior season. It could pay off big the dynamic, game-controlling receiver who has an appetite for the big play. Another blockbuster campaign will solidify Blackmon as a top eight pick in the 2012 draft, almost 10 slots better than his projected position in last April's event.
Michael Floyd, Notre Dame* -- Floyd also made a last-minute decision to return for another season on the college field. He's a large, possession receiver who does the little things well. Off-field issues will red flag Floyd, as he's experienced three run-ins with the law over alcohol since 2009, most recently receiving a citation for a DUI last March. At the top of his game, Floyd is a reliable pass catcher and offers first-round skills.
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina* -- Jeffery has a flare for the dramatic on the field and is consistently making receptions featured on highlight tapes. He has the skills to be a number one wideout in the NFL if he continues to improve and focus on football.
Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas* -- He mixes elements of the initial three receivers on this list and adds a game-breaking quality. He's reliable running underneath routes and can out-race defenders and take it the distance down the flanks. This big-time talent should only improve with experience.
Michael Egnew, Missouri -- He's the only tight end to grace this list and stands head and shoulders above all else at the position. A natural pass catcher, he consistently creates mismatches in the secondary. He has all the abilities needed to start in the NFL.
Chris Owusu, Stanford: -- Owusu has been one of Andrew Luck's favorite targets the past two seasons. He runs good routes and consistently finds ways to get open. He's not afraid to go over the middle of the field to make the difficult catch. He possesses enough ability to develop into a second receiver at the NFL level.
Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M -- A big-bodied possession receiver, he has improved his game significantly the past two years. He's tall enough to win out for the jump ball, strong enough to defeat opponents in battles and should be an awesome red-zone threat in the NFL.
Sleeper: Russell Shepard, LSU -- Shepard is a home-run-hitting receiver who's developing an all-around game. He displays solid hands on the shorter routes and easily beats defenders in a foot race down the flanks. Shepard comes with a high upside and could be ready for a breakout season.
Overrated: DeVier Posey, Ohio State --Until he learns to do the little things well, such as run precise routes and consistently catch the pass with his hands, Posey will never meet the potential NFL scouts believe he possesses.
Matt Kalil, USC* -- Kalil is the next great offensive line prospect that USC will send to the NFL. He's big, strong and plays smart football. Kalil's pass protections skills were good enough to keep Tyron Smith, the 10th pick in last April's draft, on the right side of the Trojans line. Kalil will remind many of former USC great Tony Boselli. The underclassman projects as a top 10 pick.
Jonathan Martin, Stanford* -- Martin is another top underclassman tackle prospect from the Pac-12. He does a solid job protecting Andrew Luck's blind side. Martin is a terrific athlete, yet to this point not as good a football player when compared to Kalil.
Cordy Glenn, Georgia -- Glenn came close to entering last April's draft, yet made the proper decision by returning to Georgia for another season. He's a large, powerful offensive guard who will get a chance to try his hand at tackle this season. A successful campaign in 2011 will almost assure Glenn of being a top 40 selection next April.
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina* -- Cooper ranks as the best zone-blocking prospect on this list. He's athletic, moves well and stands out as a run blocker and pass protector.
Ryan Miller, Colorado -- The Colorado senior is a throwback lineman who plays an aggressive style of football and rarely, if ever, gives up an inch to opponents. He's as mean as they come and has the strength to back up his style of play.
Riley Reiff, Iowa* -- He's a terrific left tackle and, though not in the class of former Hawkeye Bryan Bulaga, Reiff offers legitimate starting potential at the next level.
Matt Reynolds, BYU -- Reynolds backtracked on his plans to enter last April's draft after struggling with a shoulder injury throughout his junior season. At the top of his game he's a dominant pass protector on the left side. He also also gets results run blocking.
Sleeper: Marcel Jones, Nebraska -- Jones struggled with injuries in 2010 and only occasionally saw action on the talent-laden Cornhusker line. Yet he looked like a star in the making during his sophomore season of 2009. Jones can line up at tackle or guard.
Overrated: David Molk, Michigan -- Molk is considered the top center in the country by a number of scouts, yet in our opinion there are better senior centers in his conference. .
* Denotes underclassmen
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