Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Kuechly was all over the field against Florida State. He played a tough game and was one of the few Boston College players who could match up with the Seminoles. Kuechly had some clutch tackles on third-and-shorts, and he also showed some nice blitzing ability with a hard hit on quarterback E.J. Manuel. Kuechly was part of a forced fumble as he got a hand in and ripped the ball out from a ball carrier he was tackling, but Kuechly was not credited with a forced fumble by the official scorers. Against Florida State, he totaled 20 tackles.
For the season, Kuechly has 150 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. He has three games remaining this season since Boston College won't be bowl eligible. Kuechly is an excellent read-and-react linebacker. He is not a supreme athlete, but his instincts and intelligence are off the charts. Kuechly is a pure football player who should be able to play immediately.
Kuechly looks like a safe pick and a solid mid first-rounder in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
Sanders had an excellent game as a blind side protector against Boston College. He showed the ability to mirror edge rushers while pushing linemen around on the ground game to open up holes. The 6-foot-6, 307-pounder has been the Seminoles' right tackle the past four seasons, but a season-ending injury to left tackle Andrew Datko forced Sanders to move over to the left side. He has played well there and shown the ability to play both sides.
NFL coaches are really going to like Sanders ability to be a swing tackle on game days. Typically, only one backup offensive tackle suits up for a game, and those players must have the flexibility to play on the right or left side if there is an injury to either tackle. Sanders is showing that ability with how well he is playing at left tackle since Datko went out of the lineup. Sanders could serve as a backup swing tackle for a year or two while he develops into a starter in his second or third season.
Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
Fleming is steadily improving his play as his senior year progresses. Last year, he had a solid debut as a starter with 71 tackles, five interceptions and 14 passes broken up. There were also times where Fleming gave up plays downfield. This year, he is playing tighter coverage in his second year as a starter. After missing the last two games, Fleming made up for lost time with a massive game against Texas A&M. He recorded six tackles with a tackle for a loss, an interception, a forced fumble, two passes broken up and a quarterback hurry. Fleming got away with a pass interference on his interception. The ball was horribly thrown by Ryan Tannehill and went directly to Fleming. His forced fumble came when he ripped the ball out of the hands of running back Christine Michael.
For the season, Fleming has 36 tackles with two forced fumbles, five pass breakups and one interception. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder doesn't look as big as his listed size, so it will be interesting to see if he can match those measurements to help his draft status. Fleming looks like he could be an early pick on the third day of the draft.
Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky
Trevathan led the way for the Wildcats to pull off an upset win over Ole Miss. Against the Rebels, he recorded 17 tackles with 1.5 tackles for a loss and one interception. Trevathan was all over the field, and he led the Kentucky defense to hold Ole Miss to only 13 points in the game. For the season, Trevathan has 111 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and four interceptions.
The 6-foot-1, 231-pounder is a little short, but he plays with physicality and violence. Trevathan is extremely fast and instinctive. That allows him to fly around the football field and get in position to make plays. Trevathan also has the ability to make some big hits. Hr has increased his stock throughout the season and after his performance against Ole Miss, Trevathan looks like he could be on the bubble between the second and third round.
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
After Shane Skov went out for the season with an injury, Thomas took over as the leader of the Stanford defense. He has been extremely productive this season. Last Saturday, Thomas had big game against Oregon State. He recorded two tackles for a loss, a sack and two forced fumbles. His contributions helped lead Stanford to stay undefeated.
For the season, Thomas has totaled 37 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. He has been a consistent player from week-to-week with splash plays that impact the game. Thomas is an excellent blitzer off the edge who also plays well in the tackle box. In the NFL, he would be a perfect fit to stay as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Thomas should add some weight, but the 6-foot-4, 239-pounder has good instincts to go a long with speed, agility and intelligence. The senior is moving up in the second round.
Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama
Prior to sustaining a leg injury in the second half of the game, Jones was one of the more impressive players in the epic grudge match between Alabama and LSU. Early in the night, Jones was doing a phenomenal job of run blocking for Trent Richardson, and Alabama had a lot of success running behind Jones. He also wasn't getting help with the Tigers' speed rushers on the edge, and Jones was solid not allowing a sack or pressure on A.J. McCarron. The leg injury he sustained in the second half seemed to rob Jones of the power to drive block, but he was a warrior who played through the injury and wasn't a liability while playing hurt. Jones wasn't as effective, but he wasn't hurting Alabama by staying in the game.
Jones was a starter at right guard in 2009 and 2010 before moving to left tackle this season. He has been dominant in many contests this season. It was a big test for Jones at left tackle against LSU. The junior was up to the task and he looks like a legitimate left tackle prospect for the NFL. He is extremely intelligent and with exemplary technique. His foot work and knee bend really standout. If Jones can finish out the season healthy, he should be a first-rounder if he declares for the 2012 draft.
Ronnell Lewis, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
Lewis was all over the field against Texas A&M. He showed great awareness when by tracking down a deflected pass and intercepting it for the Sooners. Lewis also played excellently against the Aggies' run game. Plus he made a nice read and tackle on a screen pass. Against the A&M, Lewis totaled nine tackles with two tackles for a loss, an interception, one pass batted down and some pressures on the quarterback. There were a few plays where he came close to sacking quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Making Lewis game even more impressive was he did it against two very good offensive tackles in Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel.
This season, Lewis (6-2, 244) was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. The move has paid off as he has been very disruptive for Oklahoma on the defensive line. Lewis looks like he has bulked up from his listed weight. Lewis is a physical beast who plays with a mean streak. For the season, he has 59 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, five passes batted away, a forced fumble and an interception. WalterFootball.com has heard from sources that he is very likely to enter the 2012 draft, and Lewis could be a good fit as an inside or outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. With his strong game against the Aggies, Lewis is solidifying his stock as a potential late first-rounder.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
The Badgers bell-cow back produces a big game almost every week of the season. Last Saturday against Purdue, Ball set a personal record with 223 yards rushing on 20 carries. He ran for three touchdowns against the Boilermakers. For the season, Ball has run for 1,076 yards with an average of 6.6 yards per carry. He has 13 receptions for 229 yards and three scores. The junior leads the nation in touchdowns with 24 (21 rushing, 3 receiving) while also throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass.
There really isn't anything left for Ball to prove in college football. If he returns for his senior year, he could be a candidate for the Heisman, but he would be taking a huge injury risk. Ball also would subject himself to a lot more wear-and-tear. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder runs with excellent balance and pad level. He has an excellent burst to hit the hole quickly and does well as a pass receiver. Ball has a mix of power, speed and toughness that should make him a three-down back in the NFL. Right now, he looks a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
Taylor entered the season with a lot of hype after recording 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. At the beginning of the season, the junior was a non-factor. Fellow defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney were producing well for South Carolina, and Taylor seemed to be the forgotten man. Around mid-October, something woke him up because he has been playing big-time football the past three weeks. Taylor recorded a sack in his third straight game against Arkansas, but he also contributed three tackles with 1.5 tackles for a loss, a pass broken up, and an interception returned 48 yards for a touchdown.
For the season, Taylor has 24 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder is an excellent athlete. He should add some more strength to become a better run defender at the point of attack. Taylor also needs to work on his pad level, at times he stands up too high and gets pushed around as a result. Still, his recent hot streak with three sacks in three games is helping to revive his draft stock. If Taylor were to declare for the 2012 draft, he could be a second-day pick. Taylor would probably be better off returning for his senior season and trying to put together a big season in order to get first-round consideration in 2013.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
It is a real shame to have Broyles on this segment of the list, and it is not through any fault of his own that his stock is falling. Broyles was having another typical, good game against Texas A&M when he injured his knee on a big catch downfield. While being tackled, Broyles spun around and was up in the air. He landed square on his knee when he hit the ground, sustaining a torn ACL. On the sideline, Broyles was in tears and had to be helped into the locker room. He caught two passes for 87 yards against the Aggies.
In his collegiate career, he was massively productive, catching caught 349 passes for 4,586 yards with 45 touchdowns. This year, Broyles had 83 receptions for 1,157 yards and 10 scores. His biggest season was his junior year with 131 receptions for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns. Broyles' collegiate career is over, and now he will start to rehab and prepare for his rookie season in the NFL. Broyles looked like a high second-round pick entering this past week, and now his draft status is fluid. At this point, he still looks like a second-day pick, but he could be a late second round or third-round pick.
William Vlachos, C, Alabama
Vlachos did not have a completely horrible game against LSU, but he did not fair particularly well. Throughout the game, Vlachos allowed some penetration into the backfield. The Tigers got some pass rush by coming up the middle of the Tide's offensive line, and Alabama had more success running off tackle than behind the middle of their line. If Vlachos had a good game, he could have pushed his stock into the second round. He is still having a quality season blocking for Trent Richardson, but LSU featured the best defensive linemen on his schedule and Vlachos had some struggles. In the 2012 NFL Draft, he looks like a late second-day pick.
Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Randle drew a tough test going against Alabama's secondary, but he didn't show the ability to battle them and produce against future NFL defensive backs. Randle had been putting together a quality senior season, and has been the Tigers' best receiving threat this year. Against the Crimson Tide, he did not play well. The Alabama cornerbacks, especially Dre Kirkpatrick, shut down Randle and did not allow him to get open. Against the Crimson Tide, he caught two passes for 19 yards. The 6-foot-4, 208-pounder confirmed concerns about his ability to get separation from NFL defensive backs.