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NFL Draft Rankings: Pre-Combine Skill Player Rankings

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Chip Kelly, James Harrison and David Bowie.

I'll list below my pre-Combine top-five rankings for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends. Look for a follow-up of this article after the Combine.

Each player entry will have a brief breakdown and as well as a grade and a draft projection.


QB

1. Andrew Luck, Stanford (6-4, 235)


Luck is one player I'm not going to write much about in this article, because he has already been closely scrutinized for well over a year. Long story short: he's either adept or very strong in basically all areas -- the arm, the accuracy, the smarts and the athleticism are all there. He's a prospect that's difficult to criticize despite playing the position that most easily attracts criticism. If the Colts stay at the first pick, they will draft him.

Grade: Top 2012 Prospect
Projection: First Overall Pick


2. Robert Griffin, Baylor (6-2, 220)


Some might believe that Griffin has a chance to overtake Andrew Luck for the first overall pick, but it won't happen. Griffin is a great prospect and warrants a huge investment from any team in need of a franchise quarterback, but he's smaller, less refined and less pro-ready than Luck is. Like, Luck, though, Griffin will grade off the charts as far as intelligence and personality go. Griffin even has a big advantage over Luck in a couple areas -- Griffin's athleticism rivals that of receivers and defensive backs, and his deep accuracy is on an all-decade level. His college production was staggering -- he threw for 10,366 yards (8.7 YPA) and 78 touchdowns while running for 2,254 yards and 33 touchdowns in 41 games. That's roughly 253 yards and 1.9 touchdowns passing to go along with 55 yards and 0.8 touchdowns on the ground in each game despite starting as a freshman. Those numbers include 4,293 yards (10.7 YPA), 37 touchdowns and six interceptions passing and 699 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing in Heisman Trophy-winning 2011 season. Griffin led Baylor to a 10-3 record despite the fact that the team allowed 37.2 points per game -- an almost unthinkable feat.

Grade: Top-Five Prospect
Projection: Second Overall Pick


3. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (6-4, 222)


Tannehill was initially a receiver for Texas A&M and has less than two years of quarterback experience at the college level, so he predictably heads into the draft with a few concerning flaws. The most easily identified one is the fact that he was just 7-6 as a starter in 2011, and he was very hit-or-miss in general as a senior. He failed to throw more touchdowns than interceptions in five games and averaged less than seven yards per pass attempt in six games, including five of his last seven. Tannehill definitely still has work to do as far as reading defenses and making good decisions go, but the bottom line is he has all of the physical tools necessary to be a good NFL starter, and it's not crazy to think that playing receiver simply delayed his development.

Grade: First-Round Prospect
Projection: Top-15 Pick


4. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (6-4, 219)


You've probably already heard, but Weeden is a former baseball prospect who will be 29 years old this fall, which makes him an intimidating investment. The thing is, in a league where teams are subjected to the likes of Blaine Gabbert, Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Tim Tebow, Matt Cassel, Tarvaris Jackson, Colt McCoy, Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Rex Grossman and John Beck as starting quarterbacks, someone of Weeden's talent level suddenly seems worth the risk in the second half of the first round. Weeden reportedly is the type who impresses in interviews and gives reason to believe he will work hard and learn quickly, so when you combine that with his standout abilities as a passer, there's reason to believe he won't make it to the second round. Although he still makes some questionable decisions, Weeden gets a pass for his occasional mistakes because he made aggressive throws in a pass-heavy offense, showing the ability to shoulder heavy responsibilities without letting it affect his efficiency much. He effortlessly throws the ball with excellent zip down the field, making him the prototypical prospect in an aggressive offense, age aside. Weeden completed 72.3 percent of his passes in 2011 while throwing for 4,727 yards (8.4 YPA), 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Grade: Top-40 Prospect
Projection: First-Round Pick


5. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (6-3, 209)


Cousins is the quarterback in this draft most likely to get the 'bus driver' label due to his modest production in a ball-control offense, but he still should be a second-round pick by a team looking to groom him as a starter. For whatever lack of high-upside tools Cousins might have, he showed an ability to perform in high-pressure situations, so there's little reason to think he doesn't have the necessary mental traits to succeed in the NFL. With that said, Cousins still checks out proficiently in athletic terms, as he made a variety of pro throws as he threw for 3,316 yards (7.9 YPA), 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year. The main concern with him is that he only conclusively demonstrated the ability to produce against weak defenses, throwing for just 1,085 yards (5.8 YPA), five touchdowns and seven interceptions in games against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Georgia.

Grade: Second-Round Prospect
Projection: Second-Round Pick

Up Next: Nick Foles (Arizona, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Russell Wilson (Wisconsin, Fourth-Round Prospect), Brock Osweiler (Arizona State, Fifth-Round Prospect)


RB

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama (5-11, 224)


Even if he doesn't possess the explosiveness and incredible balance of Adrian Peterson, Richardson is still a running back who grades almost as high as the former Oklahoma star. Peterson has quicker feet, but Richardson shows excellent short-area movement himself, and whatever advantage Peterson has in big-play ability Richardson makes up for in strength. Richardson is a very good pass-catcher who undoubtedly projects to an every-down role in the NFL. With Mark Ingram out of the way in 2011, Richardson torched opponents to the tune of 1,679 yards (5.9 YPC) and 21 touchdowns on the ground while adding 338 yards and three touchdowns on 29 catches.

Grade: Top-5 Prospect
Projection: Top-12 Pick


2. Lamar Miller, Miami (FL) (5-11, 214)


Miller could be the draft's best big-play threat at running back, but his lower-body strength and ability to fall forward give him a well-rounded game, making him a feature-back candidate for the NFL. Miller's ability to glide through the open field and change directions without losing speed is reminiscent of Felix Jones. As a prospect, though, Miller's grade is closer to Ryan Mathews' (the 12th pick in the 2010 draft) than Jones' (the 22nd pick in the 2008 draft). He ran for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Although he lacks production as a pass-catcher (28 catches for just 181 yards and a touchdown in two years), his ability to field kickoffs and take pitches indicates that hands shouldn't be much of an issue.

Grade: Top-15 Prospect
Projection: Top-21 Pick


3. David Wilson, Virginia Tech (5-10, 205)


Wilson is nowhere near as developed as Richardson or Miller in terms of vision or allowing his blocks to develop, but he also might be faster, more explosive and more elusive than either. Despite his lack of size relative to the previously mentioned runners, Wilson is well built and runs with surprising strength that catches attempted tacklers off guard. Also, his underdeveloped vision is at least somewhat offset by his aggressive running mentality -- even if Wilson goes the wrong way and runs into a pile, he'll usually move it forward a bit. He could eventually develop into a feature back in the NFL, but his most useful short-term application in an NFL offense may be as an off-the-bench adrenaline surge. Wilson's aggression and explosiveness are things a winded defense just can't prepare for. Wilson ran for 1,709 yards (5.9 YPC) and nine touchdowns in his first year as Virginia Tech's starting runner.

Grade: Top-25 Prospect
Projection: Top-40 Pick


4. Doug Martin, Boise State (5-9, 219)


Other than Richardson, Martin is the most pro-ready runner in the draft. He has a thick build made for a feature-back role, and his ability to pick up the blitz is a valuable asset. He doesn't look like quite as much of a big-play threat as the likes of Miller and Wilson, but Martin's combination of shiftiness, strength, excellent balance and quick feet make him very efficient in short spaces, so he'll move the chains at the very least. With that said, he can still pull away from a defense. He's also a natural as a pass-catcher, making him a player the defense needs to account for regardless of the play call.

Grade: Top-35 Prospect
Projection: Top-40 Pick


5. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (5-10, 200)


Gray isn't a popular running back in this draft because he lacks size and doesn't have excessive athleticism or explosiveness to make up for it like Wilson does. He is, however, athletic enough to get by, and he has adept explosiveness and shiftiness in particular. What stands out with Gray, though, is his fundamentals as a runner. He has good balance and his instincts are just excellent. He sees the field very well, and he might be better than anyone in the draft when it comes to using his lean and running angles to set up defenders for the cutback. The same may be true regarding his ability to utilize his blockers. Gray is also a skilled pass-catcher -- he caught 65 passes over his last 24 games. The most valid concern with him is his size and durability. After dominating in a workhorse role in the second half of 2010, Gray dealt with hamstring and shoulder issues in 2011. In any case, I expect Gray to be a Brian Westbrook sort of player in the NFL with a little luck.

Grade: Top-40 Prospect
Projection: Third-Round Pick

Up Next: Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati, Second-Round Prospect), Bernard Pierce (Temple, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Chris Polk (Washington, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Robert Turbin (Utah State, Third or Fourth-Round Prospect), LaMichael James (Oregon, Third or Fourth-Round Prospect), Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State, Fourth-Round Prospect), Dan Herron (Ohio State, Fourth or Fifth-Round Prospect), Bobby Rainey (Western Kentucky, Fourth or Fifth-Round Prospect), Michael Smith (Utah State, Fifth-Round Prospect), Adonis Thomas (Toledo, Sixth-Round Prospect)


WR

1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (6-1, 215)


Blackmon is one of the best college football players ever, at any position, but there is a great deal of debate over how well he projects to the NFL. The biggest names in the establishment NFL Draft media think of him as a top-five sort of player, while another school of thought considers him more of a prospect that ranks in the 20-range. I'm in the middle. Blackmon isn't even close to as good of a prospect as A.J. Green, and he isn't on the level of Julio Jones, either. He is, though, better than Dez Bryant and Michael Crabtree and probably about the same as or better than Jeremy Maclin. The main (only?) criticism of Blackmon, in any case, is that he isn't fast enough. Blackmon has been charged with the exhausted cliché that a mid 4.5-second 40 time is a deal-breaker. Don't buy it. Blackmon isn't a burner, but he has quick feet and is explosive in the short area, which grants him sudden movement and the ability to create sufficient separation. He's also strong and a magnet to the football when it's in the air. In the end, the 232 catches for 3,304 yards (14.2 YPC) and 38 touchdowns in 25 games do the talking. The obvious comparison for Blackmon is Anquan Boldin, who was dominant in his prime.

Grade: Top-10 Prospect
Projection: Top-10 Pick


2. Kendall Wright, Baylor (5-10, 190)


Wright might measure in less than 5-foot-10, so for that reason he's mostly written off as far as projecting into a WR1 role in the NFL. Whatever the specifics, though, Wright has the look of a valuable playmaker. Although he has the speed to stretch the field, Wright is also very developed on short routes. He can take off deep for over-the-shoulder grabs, or he can take a quick pass over the middle and burn up yardage after the catch. A four-year producer at Baylor, Wright totaled 4,004 yards and 30 touchdowns on 302 catches for the Bears.

Grade: Top-20 Prospect
Projection: Top-20 Pick


3. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (6-3, 224)


If it weren't for injury issues and alcohol infractions, Floyd would probably be the top-ranked receiver in the class. Unfortunately, he managed to suffer significant injuries in three of his four years at Notre Dame. He missed time with a knee issue in 2008, a broken collarbone in 2009 and a hamstring injury in 2010. He also played through a rib injury in 2011 and may have had his big-play ability suffer for it down the stretch, as he averaged just 10.8 yards per catch in his final seven games. Still, there's no doubt that Floyd is just monstrous when he's at full strength. He probably can't beat Blackmon as far as hands go and tackle-breaking ability may be draw, but Floyd has a clear advantage in terms of size and athleticism.

Grade: Top-20 Prospect
Projection: Top-20 Pick


4. Rueben Randle, LSU (6-3, 208)


Randle is a bit under the radar for now after playing in LSU's weak passing offense, but he was widely considered the nation's top receiver recruit in 2009 and figures to look very good in a workout setting. Randle caught 53 passes for 917 yards (17.3 YPC) and eight touchdowns this year, numbers which respectively accounted for 30.6, 43.0 and 38.0 percent of LSU's production in those fields. This compares surprisingly favorably to the 2011 numbers of Blackmon (28.3/30.2/45.0), Wright (35.2/36.4/35.0) and Floyd (33.1/34.9/42.9) -- it should be noted, though, that Blackmon's totals from 2010 are particularly staggering (31.1/39.6/55.6).

Grade: Top-40 Prospect
Projection: First-Round Pick


5. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (5-10, 188) (Torn ACL 11/5/2011)


Broyles isn't getting much love right now, due in my opinion to an overreaction to the torn ACL he suffered Nov. 5. Broyles was probably college football's second-best receiver behind Blackmon and dominated on an incredibly consistent basis. Despite missing his final four games due to the injury, Broyles somewhat quietly owns the FBS record for most career receptions. He finished his career with 349 catches for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns in 48 games. He won't be able to run in timed drills prior to the draft, but I think his skill set translates particularly well into a slot role in a pass-happy offense, and I think those traits will keep him in from falling to the fourth round.

Grade: Top-40 Prospect
Projection: Second or Third-Round Pick

Up Next: Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers, Second-Round Prospect), Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina, Second-Round Prospect -- can send stock much higher with solid Combine showing), Chris Givens (Wake Forest, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Juron Criner (Arizona, Second or Third-Round Prospect), T.Y. Hilton (Florida International, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Marvin Jones (California, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Brian Quick (Appalachian State, Second or Third-Round Prospect), Gerell Robinson (Arizona State, Third or Fourth-Round Prospect), Tommy Streeter (Miami FL, Third or Fourth-Round Prospect)


TE

1. Dwayne Allen, Clemson (6-4, 255)


Allen is the draft's best bet to turn into an above average starter in the traditional tight end role. He can't match the athleticism of Orson Charles, Coby Fleener or Ladarius Green, but Allen himself is a standout athlete for his size, and he's a more capable blocker than the others. He's more of a Brandon Pettigrew than a Jermichael Finley. Allen closed out his Clemson career by catching 49 passes for 592 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.

Grade: First-Round Prospect
Projection: Top-40 Pick

2. Orson Charles, Georgia (6-3, 241)


Charles is a willing blocker and strong relative to his limited frame, but his lack of size probably limits him to a specialist role similar to that of Aaron Hernandez. As Hernandez and the Patriots have shown, however, this is far from a bad thing. Like Hernandez, Charles is athletic enough to line up as a receiver and still prove a challenge for defensive backs. In a pass-happy, spread-out offense, a player like Charles could be a very valuable addition. At the moment I'm thinking he'll be the first tight end drafted.

Grade: First-Round Prospect
Projection: First-Round Pick


3. Coby Fleener, Stanford (6-6, 244)


Fleener is more like a receiver than a tight end as far as build goes, but the same is true regarding his abilities as a pass-catcher. Fleener should test very well in timed drills and, even if his numbers don't jump out, he still figures to be one of the NFL's best big-play threats at tight end. He averaged 19.6 yards per catch in 2011, taking 34 receptions for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns. It's difficult to see him becoming anything more than adequate as a blocker, though.

Grade: First-Round Prospect
Projection: Top-35 Pick


4. Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6, 237)


Green is a gifted athlete and a big-play threat in the mold of Charles and Fleener, but he has injury concerns and is probably less polished than the other two after playing against lesser competition in the Sun Belt. At the least, though, the potential is definitely there for him to become a dangerous pass-catcher. Although his first three weeks of 2011 were a waste due to injury, he lit up the remainder of his schedule for 607 yards and eight touchdowns on 50 catches in 10 games. One point that's especially encouraging is that Green produced against top defenses, totaling 15 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown in games against Georgia (2010), LSU (2009) and Nebraska (2009).

Grade: Second or Third-Round Prospect
Projection: Second-Round Pick


5. Michael Egnew, Missouri (6-5, 251)


Egnew is a good athlete and was productive for Missouri the last two years, catching 140 passes for 1,285 yards and eight touchdowns in 26 games. The problem is that a great deal of his production came on formations and pass routes that just can't occur in the NFL, and there's reason to believe he'll be a liability as a blocker. Like fellow Missouri tight ends Chase Coffman and Marcus Rucker, Egnew's game is not a strong bet to translate to the NFL.

Grade: Fourth or Fifth-Round Prospect
Projection: Fourth or Fifth-Round Pick


Up Next:
Brian Linthicum (Michigan State), Deangelo Peterson (LSU), Kevin Koger (Michigan)