Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Upshaw recorded three tackles with 1.5 tackles for a loss and a sack against Mississippi State. This was the fourth straight game in which he registered a sack. Over the second half of the season, Upshaw has been a pass-rushing force for Alabama. He played exceptionally against LSU, Florida and Tennessee. Each week, the 6-foot-2 265-pounder is showing the skill set to be an edge rusher at the NFL level while also being a quality run defender.
For the season, Upshaw has 35 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles. During this season, he has proven to be the top 3-4 outside linebacker prospect. Upshaw looks like he could get consideration in the top half of the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
It seems like every week of the college football season, Griffin could be on this list. He has been one of the best players in college football this year at any position. Against Kansas this week, Griffin carried Baylor to a one-point win. He completed 22-of-29 passes for 312 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 103 yards and a touchdown in the game.
Thus far in 2011, Griffin has completed 74 percent of his passes for 3,093 yards with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has 478 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. His playmaking ability is undeniable. Griffin has a strong, accurate arm that is capable of making all the throws. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is extremely intelligent and makes good decisions. The early hints are that Griffin will return for his senior season, but right now he is pushing for top-10 consideration.
Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
On a weekly basis, McNutt is producing for Iowa. He has been a reliable chain-mover for the offense along with producing points. If McNutt played on passing team like Oklahoma, he could be one of the most productive receivers in the nation. This week, McNutt caught eight passes for 130 yards and a touchdown with two carries for 27 yards against Michigan State.
For the season, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has 65 receptions for 1,089 yards with 10 touchdowns. McNutt has underrated speed that catches defensive backs by surprise. He also is a good athlete that can make difficult catches. The sure-handed McNutt is moving up towards the top of the second-day of the draft.
Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
After starting running back Christine Michael went down with a season-ending injury for the second year in a row, Gray figured to get the opportunity to show what he could do as the lead back. Last year, after Gray took over he went for over 100 yards in seven straight games and finished with 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his first game without sharing carries with Michael this season, Gray ran all over Kansas State. Against the Wildcats, he racked up 218 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns.
For the season, Gray has 951 yards rushing while averaging five yards per carry with nine touchdowns. He also has caught 31 passes for 239 yards and three scores. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder has a nice combination of quickness, cutting ability and vision. His stock has been hurt this season after Michael established himself, but Gray took a big step to showing he is worthy of consideration in the late second or early third round.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Even though Illinois has lost their fourth straight game, junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus continues to put together a banner season. In the Big House (Ann Arbor, MI), the speed-rushing defensive end recorded three tackles with a sack, forced fumble and multiple quarterback hurries. That has been a common stat line for him this season.
For the season, Mercilus has 47 tackles with 17.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. He leads the nation in sacks and forced fumbles. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder is lightning fast off the edge. Mercilus has a nice repertoire of moves and isn't just a speed rusher who looks to turn the edge on every play. He probably has the athleticism to stand up and play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. With his consistent production of splash plays, Mercilus is making the case to be a first-round pick, if he decides to enter the draft.
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
David didn't produce a massive stat line against Penn State, but in one series late in the fourth quarter he addressed one of the concerns that is a knock on his draft status. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound outside linebacker is a speedy linebacker who can run sideline-to-sideline but has size concerns for the next level. In crunch time, David helped preserve Nebraska's road win by making three tackles with a yard-to go to stop Penn State. After a tackle on second down for no gain, he took out the legs of the ball carrier after jetting into the hole on third down. On fourth down, David went high and put his shoulder to chest of the back to stonewall him short of the first down. Three plays and three tackles for no gain. It was very impressive and showed that He is more than just a speed linebacker.
David recorded nine tackles in the game. For the season, he has 97 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. David is very good in pass coverage, playing zone or going man-to-man with tight ends. He looks like an ideal Will (weakside) linebacker in a Cover 2 defense. David is pushing his stock higher in the second round.
Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Minnifield was all over the field for Virginia in their 10-point win over Duke. He recorded five tackles with two passes broken up and an interception he returned 54 yards for a touchdown. It was a critical play and had to be a gratifying one for Minnifield. After recording six interceptions last year, teams have been avoiding him this year.
In 2011, Minnifield has recorded 42 tackles with eight passes broken up and three interceptions. He is a tough corner who has the speed and athleticism to be a man corner at the next level. The senior has NFL blood lines as the son of Frank Minnifield, an All-Pro corner for the Browns in the 1980s. Chase Minnifield has played his way into consideration late in the first round.
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Perry seems to be improving by the game and has really played well of late. Against Washington last Saturday, he played his best game of the season with five tackles and 2.5 sacks. Perry was giving the Huskies' left tackle fits with an array of pass-rushing moves. He was part of a line that banged up and knocked out Washington quarterback Keith Price from the game.
For the season, Perry has 47 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He is thriving in Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme and showing the ability to be the dependable pass rusher to help make their zone coverage effective. Perry had four sacks last season after eight sacks as a redshirt freshman. The junior could enter the 2012 draft, and if he does, would probably be a second-day pick. If Perry (6-3, 250) returns to school and adds some weight while continuing to get better, he could easily move into first-round consideration in 2013.
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Despite a rough game against Wisconsin, Short has been steadily putting together a quality season. It hasn't been easy for him since he benefited from playing next to Ryan Kerrigan last year, as Short recorded six sacks. Entering the game against Ohio State, Short had 3.5 sacks on the season. The Buckeyes were destroyed by him as he exploded for three sacks with six tackles.
For the season, Short has 48 tackles with 15.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. He also has two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder offers quickness and strength. He has some natural pass rushing ability and could be a potential three-technique pass rusher at the next level. If Short enters the 2012 draft, he could go as high as the second round with the way he is finishing the 2011 season. Short might be better off returning to school. If he improves as a senior, he could push for first-round consideration.
Griff Whalen, WR, Stanford
Whalen entered the 2011 season with very little production. The senior had only 17 receptions for 249 yard and one touchdown last year as he was behind other receivers on the depth chart. This year, he has had to step for the Cardinal as Chris Owusu has been banged up and Doug Baldwin is in the NFL. Whalen came up big time against Oregon with nine receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns. He showed the ability to get open against a speedy secondary, and make some tough catches in tight windows.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder looks like a potential slot receiver in the NFL that could be developed into being a contributing wide receiver. Whalen has 45 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns this season. His first 100-yard receiving game came against USC when he caught six passes for 102 yards. Whalen looks like a gamer, and after starting out the season off the draft radar, is making the case to be a late-round pick. Baldwin was underestimated and is making contributions as a rookie for Seattle, so perhaps Whalen could follow suit.
2012 NFL Draft Stock Down
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Jeffery is generating some concerns about if he has enough speed to get separation. That didn't seem to be an issue last season. Last Saturday against Florida, Jeffery had two catches for 17 yards. The Gators have a young, talented secondary with some speedy defensive backs, and they kept him from getting wide open. His height and strength (6-4, 230) can allow him to make receptions when covered, but he did not get the opportunities to make those catches.
For the season, Jeffery has 38 receptions for 504 yards and five touchdowns. Many wide receivers have still produced quality numbers with bad quarterbacks and limited opportunities; former Georgia Tech receivers Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas come to mind. Jeffery's lack of production is a red flag. It could be hard for him to answer the concerns this season, but he could at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.
Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
Foles second-half collapse got worse on Saturday as he threw three interceptions in a loss to Colorado. He started out the season with 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the first four games. Since then, Foles has been throwing the ball to the other team more than he has been throwing for scores. In the last six games, Foles has 13 interceptions with 10 touchdowns. Against Colorado, he completed 35-of-53 passes for 352 yards with one touchdown to go along with those three interceptions. Foles supporting cast isn't great, but his lack of ball security and decision making is really hurting his draft stock. At one time he was pushing towards the top of the second round. Now in the 2012 NFL Draft, Foles looks like a late second-day pick.