People talk a lot about the great benefit of playing early. They talk about the experience gained in getting those reps as an 18- or 19-year-old, the perspective gained from being forced to learn on a big stage. It can be overstated. From a scouting standpoint, there's also the problem of too much exposure. Think about USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley. He's made 35 college starts and is really starting to take off as a prospect. Yet you wonder how many people saw him early -- which could have been at least a dozen times before he'd turned 21 -- and formed a strong opinion. Barkley is still making plenty of mistakes and errant throws, and he's really just starting to take that next step in his growth. But the video piles up.
Earlier this year I dropped Barkley some on the Big Board, but he's since battled through some hiccups and has again shown that he didn't plateau. His growth goes beyond his numbers, where the improvement is clear. Barkley could return to USC next year, but his draft stock is rising. Read on and let me know who you think should be higher or who's been passed over. As always, juniors and draft-eligible sophomores are noted with an asterisk.
Andrew Luck *
He's battling through this year with limited help. I think he's unable to show off all he can do given the talent around him. Luck is the total package. Arm strength, size, smarts, demeanor. Still a safe bet to be No. 1 overall.
LAST WEEK: 1 | PLAYER CARD
Matt Kalil *
There aren't a lot of new things to say because Kalil just remains steady. He'll remind you of former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, an athletic left tackle who has the full set of skills as a pass-blocker and as a strong, capable run-blocker.
LAST WEEK: 2 | PLAYER CARD
Trent Richardson *
I maintain that Richardson's splitting carries in his first two seasons will benefit him. Powerful, fast, with improved vision, he runs with good pad level and breaks tackles with ease. Solid year in a so-so offense.
LAST WEEK: 3 | PLAYER CARD
Justin Blackmon *
He should surpass last year's 111 catches, which is remarkable. A better prospect than recent OSU star Dez Bryant. Versatile and explosive and really works to get open. Great ball skills; breaks tackles. Exceptional work ethic.
LAST WEEK: 5 | PLAYER CARD
Morris Claiborne *
Just keeps showing up week after week. Big rise so far in 2011; now the top corner here. Exceptional pure cover corner with impeccable instincts at the position. Has solid ball skills for the position. Not a total burner but plenty quick.
LAST WEEK: 6 | PLAYER CARD