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Draft King Analysis

November 26, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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The 2011 regular season came to an end for most I-A/FBS college football teams today. And, for players on non-bowl eligible teams who are either seniors or don't plan to return for 2012, this marks the end of them having to wear the student-athlete tag. In particular, for players on those non-bowl teams with NFL aspirations, they no longer have to worry about NCAA regulations and can go full-tilt toward preparing for a potential future in the NFL.

Humorously, NFL staff can't talk about non-seniors and their possible interest in them, lest they possible agitate someone in the free developmental system known as the NCAA. It's a minor quibble compared with the horribly broken post-season system for I-A/FBS college football and its lack of a playoff to determine a national champion, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

This is especially true for Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the presumptive #1 overall pick for 2012. So guys like Colts GM Bill Polian or Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland who have gone to see Luck play in person, they have to play word games and work in riddles to avoid being sanctioned by the NFL. As for Ireland and Luck, something tells me that Ireland won't ask Luck the same question about his mother that he posed to Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant in advance of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Here's a look at the quintet of top quarterback prospects who are in the running to be first-round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, which I hope to do for other positions here in the next few weeks. These overviews will be performed under the presumption that everyone who can go pro early will do so.

1. Andrew Luck, rJr, Stanford (6'4", 235): Luck will almost for sure be the first player selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. He has played tremendously well under the scrutiny of the college football world. For example, Luck had a so-so first half against Washington State, and my Twitter follow list had several people taking him to task about it. Those criticisms quieted when Stanford had a huge second-half, but there have been people waiting for him to stumble to pounce. It hasn't happened.

2. Matt Barkley, rJr, USC (6'2", 220): Here's where it gets interesting, as you could reasonably project Barkley, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, or even OU's Landry Jones as the second QB to go in the 2012 NFL Draft. That depends on many factors, not the least of which is the evaluation and perceived need by whichever team ends up being the second to draft a quarterback. But, in my estimation, Barkley is in the lead at this point. He has improved his completion percentage, from 59.9% in 2009 to 62.6% in 2010 to 67.6% for 2011 going into tonight's game against UCLA, plus his 33 TDs against seven interceptions for 2011 is impressive.

Barkley's listed height of 6'2" is slightly shorter than prototype (6'3" to 6'5") for the position, and it will be interesting to see what his official measured height ends up being. I can't speak for USC, but there are a number of schools that inflate the height/weight stats of some of their players. The further you get from 6'3", the more you deviate from the prototype height for the position, which is a concern.

3. Robert Griffin III, rJr, Baylor (6'2", 220): 2011 has been a breakout season for Griffin, who had an off-the-charts performances against TCU to start the season and then, even more impressively, lit up Oklahoma last weekend. Look at his stat-line from that game: 21-34 for 479 yards and four TDs against zero interceptions against a very good Sooners defense.

Like Barkley, we'll find out for sure soon enough how tall Griffin actually is. But he threw with remarkable accuracy (72.9% coming into this weekend's action) and 33 TDs against only five interceptions, and there is no question that between his accuracy and his mobility that Griffin has the skills to find success in the NFL as a starting quarterback.

4. Landry Jones, rJr, Oklahoma (6'4", 230): Unlike Barkley and Griffin, Jones didn't experience the same bump in stats that they did in 2011. Instead he stayed relatively flat on things like completion percentage (65.6% in 2010 and 65.3% as of this point in 2011) and actually regressed on TD/INT ratio (38/12 in 2010 and 28/10 in 2011 coming into this weekend). There are some scouts who say that Jones would be wise to opt to return to Oklahoma for the 2012 season.

I disagree with that line of thought and believe that Jones will be a first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft if he opts to head to the pro level. Throwing for 65% is not a bad thing, and while Jones has thrown fewer touchdowns this year, he also hasn't been asked to throw as many passes. With demand for prototype QBs with accurate aim at perhaps an all-time high thanks to safety rules that have protected wide receivers going over the middle, there should be plenty of interested would-be suitors glad to add him to their roster.

5. Case Keenum, rSr, Houston (6'2", 210): Keenum may not end up as a first-round pick, but he has performed about as well as you could hope for coming off of the right knee injury (torn ACL) that derailed his 2010 season. Playing in a rarely-seen sixth season thanks to a medical redshirt, Keenum has had a season for the ages for Houston, which ended its regular season at 12-0 today with a win over a strong Tulsa team.

Keenum has thrown 43 TDs so far this year, though he actually threw more in both 2008 and 2009. But unlike those seasons where he had double-digit interception numbers, Keenum has thrown only three interceptions in 2011. 43 TDs, three interceptions. Combine that with his 73.2% completion rate, and he seems as viable as anyone on this list not named Andrew Luck, provided that he shows at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL combine that he is fully recovered from the ACL tear that derailed his 2010 season. And, like Barkley and Griffin, how close Keenum really is to his billed height of 6'2" may end up being a factor in his draft status.


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