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Midseason Top 50 draft board


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 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.

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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.

26. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame*: A fierce, run-defending linebacker with a great head for the game, Te'o has the ability to line up at middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or on the inside of a 3-4.

27. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: The Michigan State junior beats opponents off the snap with a great first step while also possessing the strength to overpower blockers. He needs to improve his techniques and play hard on every down, but Worthy comes with great upside.

28. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Scouts spoke well of the former Florida Gator, but a shoulder injury curtailed his plans to enter last April's draft before off-field issues forced him to transfer to North Alabama. Jenkins is a shutdown corner when healthy and at the top of his game, but teams have a lot of issues to sift through.

29. Alameda Ta'amu, DL, Washington: The 335-pound Ta'amu is a load in the middle of the line and impossible to move from the action. He could shoot up draft boards if he starts to make more plays on the field.

30. Nick Perry, DE-OLB, USC*: In the midst of a career season, Perry is among the Pac-12 leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. He's a tremendous athlete who, at 250 pounds, can run the 50 in 4.6 seconds. Perry is still developing his game, but has shown improvement on a weekly basis.

31. Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina*: Ranked as one of the best zone blocking prospects in the nation, Cooper is a terrific athlete with a good amount of upside to his game.

32. Robert Lester, S, Alabama*: Lester is the third member of the Alabama secondary to make this list. His game is complete, and many scouts think his coverage skills exceed those of teammate Mark Barron.

33. Courtney Upshaw, DE-OLB, Alabama: The Tide's top pass rusher is a playmaking machine, with a combined 14 sacks/tackles for loss this season. Upshaw lines up at defensive end for Alabama, but projects to outside linebacker in the NFL. Solid pre-draft workouts will only enhance his stock.

34. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers*: Sanu has been the go-to receiver at Rutgers since his freshman season. He's a big target who defeats opponents to come away with the reception, and will serve as a terrific red-zone target in the NFL.

35. Jared Crick, DL, Nebraska: Crick is an intense competitor who plays hard until the whistle blows. He's getting looks as both a three-technique lineman and two-gap end for the next level. A torn pectoral muscle abruptly cut short his 2011 campaign and will aversely impact his draft stock.

36. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin*: Konz is the next great lineman from the Wisconsin program and the best center from the Big Ten since Nick Mangold. He's a dominant run blocker who also stands out in pass protection, besides possessing the skills needed to block in motion.

37. Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple*: The record-setting ball carrier is a well built back with great instincts and skill. He has the power to run over opponents and the vision to squeeze through open lanes.

38. Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama*: Hightower is a dominant middle linebacker with a style reminiscent of former Tide star Rolando McClain. He lacks the pure instincts of his former teammate and does not play with the same motor, but all the pieces are available to Hightower if he wants to put them together.

39. Melvin Ingram, DE-OLB, South Carolina: Ingram is in the midst of an All America campaign and ready to claim numerous postseason awards. His play on the field is eye-catching, but his measurables (6-2, 270 lbs., 4.8 40) leave scouts wondering where he'll line up at the next level.

40. Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis*: The 350-pound junior is an imposing defender in the middle of the Memphis line. He has the power to drive opponents off the ball but also moves well in the box. Poe is expected to enter the draft and could end up the highest-rated nose tackle.

41. Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia: Glenn's move to left tackle this year has been unsuccessful, but he still has a future at guard in the NFL. He's been a dominant small-area blocker, offering both size and power.

42. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Branch is in the midst of a tremendous senior season, and his draft stock is soaring. He's been a disruptive force all year long. He'll be a good fit on a four-man line.

43. Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri: Egnew is a classic Missouri tight end; a pass-catching deep threat who creates mismatches in the secondary. He's more athletic than many of his predecessors and has a good deal of upside.

44. Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana: Johnson ranks as the top small school prospect available in the 2011 draft. He offers outstanding measurables and is rarely challenged by opponents. A postseason invitation to the Senior Bowl looks in the offing for Johnson, and his performance at the event will be critical.

45. Josh Chapman, NT, Alabama: Chapman is yet another prospect from the talented Alabama defense to make this list. He's a tough, slug-it-out defensive lineman who plays with a competitive style.

46. Billy Winn, DL, Boise State: Winn can line up at a variety of positions at the next level. He has the movement skills to be used as a three-technique tackle and the size to play defensive end in a 3-4.

47. Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: The big-bodied possession receiver has had a developing game the past two years. He has the size and strength to beat down opponents and has improved the consistency of his hands.

48. Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin: Toon is having a terrific senior campaign and, like his dad, former All-Pro Al Toon, he's a dependable wideout with reliable hands.

49. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: The versatile Martin is well thought-of in scouting circles. He's a talented ball carrier who also produces as a pass catcher out of the backfield.

50. Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia: Minnifield has been slightly disappointing this season, but the senior remains a quality cornerback who can produce as a return specialist if called upon.

Notes: Even though it's only October, word is starting to leak out about invitations for January's Senior Bowl. So which quarterbacks will be traveling to Mobile for this important pre-draft event? Word is that invitations are on their way to Russell Wilson of Wisconsin, Nick Foles of Arizona and Kellen Moore of Boise State. A pair of Big 12 quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, will also be invitees. John Brantley of Florida will be this year's representative from the SEC.

Speculation has Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Ryan Lindley of San Diego State receiving invitations to the Shrine Game, which takes place the week prior to the Senior Bowl. Expected to join them are Jordan Jefferson of LSU, Houston's Case Keenum, Chandler Harnish from Northern Illinois and Bryon Coleman of Tennessee-Chattanooga.