The NFL draft is less than six months away and scouts from all 32 teams continue to travel the country searching for the nation's best next level talent. The league's worst teams (including the winless Lions and Bengals) already have an eye on April 25.26 and are targeting players they hope can turn around the fortunes of their losing franchises. Here's a list of the top 45 players eligible for next April's draft. All have a realistic opportunity to be first-round picks.
1. Rey Maualuga/LB/USC: The Trojans top prospect has struggled with injuries this season yet is a dominant defender who plays hard every snap.
2. Andre Smith*/OT/Alabama: Smith is an outstanding blind side pass protector whom scouts think can also flourish at the right tackle position.
3. Malcolm Jenkins/CB/Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a long history of placing quality cornerbacks into the NFL. Jenkins could be the best one to come out of Columbus in two decades.
4. Taylor Mays*/S/USC: Mays is a forceful run defender with great ball skills. He's also a terrific athlete and will strengthen the middle of any defense in the NFL.
5. Michael Crabtree*/WR/Texas Tech: Crabtree, a former quarterback in high school, has proven himself to be a game controlling receiver who is impossible to defend.
6. Chris Wells*/RB/Ohio State: Wells is a big, powerful interior runner who should quickly produce as a feature runner in the NFL. He is a well-rounded ball carrier who takes over games.
7. Brian Orakpo/DE-OLB/Texas: Orakpo is watching his draft stock skyrocket after a number of brilliant performances against top competition. He's a game-impacting pass rusher that can line up at defensive end or outside linebacker.
8. William Moore/S/Missouri: One of the Big Twelve's most consistent players, Moore intimidates opponents who dare cross his path in centerfield. He's a great athlete with tremendous size.
9. Knowshon Moreno*/RB/Georgia: Moreno could be the most complete running back in April's draft if he opts for the NFL. He's an aggressive North/South runner with a lot of upside.
10. James Laurinaitis/LB/Ohio State: "Little Animal" lives up to his name, as the Ohio State linebacker craves contact. Laurinaitis is a solid prospect yet not the top five draft pick many contend.
11. Jeremy Maclin*/WR/Missouri: Maclin is a game changing skill player with home run hitting speed. He is a threat to score from anywhere on the field as a receiver or kick returner.
12. Aaron Curry/OLB/Wake Forest: Curry has been on a tear this season and scouts love his all around game. He's developing into a complete linebacker as a senior and playing a more disciplined brand of football.
13. Terrence Cody*/NT/Alabama: Cody is not yet the finished product but a large, dominant defensive linemen who controls the line of scrimmage.
14. Jermaine Gresham*/TE/Oklahoma: The Sooners play making junior is already drawing comparisons to many of the pass catching greats at the tight end position to come from the college ranks.
15. Eugene Monroe/OT/Virginia: Monroe has been a slight disappointment this season. NFL scouts originally considered him a top ten pick but Monroe's erratic play could push him into the middle of the round.
16. Brandon Pettigrew/TE/Oklahoma State: Pettigrew is a complete tight end and offers immediate starting potential in the NFL.
17. Sen'Derrick Marks*/DT/Auburn: One of the best defensive linemen in the SEC, Marks is an explosive tackle with the athleticism necessary to be used as a 3.4 defensive end.
18. Darrius Heyward-Bey*/WR/Maryland: Heyward-Bey possesses home run hitting speed and is a threat to take it the distance any time he's on the field.
19. Jason Smith/OT/Baylor: The Bears left tackle is one of the best kept secrets heading towards the draft. He's an athletic pass protector with the ability to flourish in a variety of blocking schemes.
20. Michael Johnson/DE/Georgia Tech: NFL scouting services rated Johnson as the nation's number one senior prospect in August. He's a great pass rusher but can be a liability against the run.
22. Percy Harvin*/WR/Florida: The Gators all purpose skill player beats opponents as a pass catcher, ball carrier and offers potential as a return specialist.
23. Brian Cushing/DE-OLB/USC: Cushing is a disruptive force when healthy and a defender constantly making plays in the opponents back field. His ability to line-up in a three point stance or be placed at linebacker enhances his value.
24. Matt Stafford*/QB/Georgia: The Bulldogs gunslinger constantly challenges the vertical game and is an accurate passer with a strong arm. Scouts were expecting a little more from Stafford this season and do not consider him an early first round pick at this point.
25. Darius Butler/CB/Connecticut: Butler is a big, fast athlete who stands out at cornerback while also producing on special teams and receiver. He's not the finished product but NFL decision makers love his upside potential.
26. Michael Oher/OT/Mississippi: The athletic tackle has proven himself to be a terrific pass blocker the past three seasons but Oher's game has limitations.
27. D.J. Moore*/CB/Vanderbilt: Moore is a nice sized cover corner with an improving game a prospect who excites scouts.
28. Javon Ringer/RB/Michigan State: The Spartans Heisman Trophy candidate is in the midst of a wonderful senior campaign. He's a skilled ball carrier but lacks the true size and speed to be a feature runner at the next level.
29. Alphonso Smith/CB/Wake Forest: Smith is a solid cover corner who will likely start his NFL career as a nickel back.
30. Greg Hardy*/DE/Mississippi: Hardy, a tremendous athlete who previously played for the Rebels basketball team, flashes skill as a game changing defensive lineman.
31. Herman Johnson/OG/LSU: Johnson is large enough to play tackle, strong enough to annihilate opponents and has the versatility to be used in a variety of blocking schemes.
32. Geno Atkins*/DT/Georgia: Atkins is a smallish yet explosive interior lineman and has a number of NFL teams that employ a one-gap defense looking at him.
33. George Selvie/DE-OLB/South Florida: The Bulls defensive end has been one of the nation's best pass rushers the past two years. His tall, thin frame makes a move to outside linebacker likely.
34. Louis Murphy/WR/Florida: Murphy is another big play receiver on the Gators roster. He's got the size and speed to produce on the next level yet must polish his game.
35. Marcus Freeman/OLB/Ohio State: The Buckeyes "other" linebacker is a solid NFL prospect in his own right and considered a more complete player than Laurinaitis by some in the scouting community.
36. Mark Sanchez/QB/USC: Sanchez improves almost weekly and has shown scouts terrific command and control of the Trojan offense. He possesses the arm strength and brains to play at the next level.
37. Donald Brown*/RB/Connecticut: The Huskies record setting running back has been a one man show this season. Scouts like Brown's ball carrying skills and feel he's a complete back who creates much of his own yardage.
38. Russell Okung*/OT/Oklahoma State: Okung is another terrific tackle prospect from the Big 12. He's a skilled pass protector who also shows dominance run blocking.
39. Keenan Lewis/CB/Oregon State: Lewis has been a steadying force in Oregon State's talented secondary. He offers the size and skill to start in the NFL.
40. DeMarcus Granger*/DT/Oklahoma: Drawing comparisons to former Sooner and Chicago Bears first round choice Tommie Harris, Granger is a penetrating tackle who has opponents playing on their heals.
41. Tyson Jackson/DE/LSU: The Tigers defender has his game back on track this year and is being considered for number of positions on the line.
42. Brandon Spikes*/ILB/Florida: Spikes is in the mold of other dominant Florida linebackers now producing in the NFL like Channing Crowder, though Spikes is a complete, three down defender.
43. Antoine Caldwell/C/Alabama: Alabama's leader on the offensive line, Caldwell is a zone blocking center and has increased his playing strength the past two years.
44. Trevard Lindley*/CB/Kentucky: Lindley is developing into a complete cornerback and has shut down many of the best receivers in the SEC this year.
45. Auston English*/DE/Oklahoma: The Sooners fierce pass rush is an intelligent defender that will fit a number of defensive schemes.
• Based on the talent available, cornerback will be a position of strength if the top underclassmen enter next April's draft. Besides the prospects listed above another half dozen underclassmen cornerbacks presently carry at least a second round grade.
• Hawaii defensive end David Veikune is building a buzz around himself. The athletic pass rusher is considered a stronger version of Travis LaBoy, another prominent defensive end to come from the Hawaii program.
• Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum fractured his left leg against Illinois on Saturday and is lost for the remainder of the season. The pass catching specialist missed the Badgers first two games this season with a hamstring injury only to return then immediately re-injure himself. Considered a potential top 75 selection in April's draft, the recent rash of leg ailments could push Beckum into the middle rounds.