Trent Richardson is far and away the best running back in the class. But Bryan Lienesch also thinks he's one of the best five prospects at ANY postion. Photo courtesy Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In this pre-NFL draft season, it seems that everyone and their brother has a mock drafts out. And, don’t get me wrong: mock drafts are great. But the problem with them is their goal is to guess simply who will go where. A true mock draft wouldn’t be bothered by the notion of a punter from MIT going first overall as long as there were things indicating that that would happen.

But what about the best? Forget which team likes who for a minute. Who, pound for pound, are the best NFL prospects PERIOD? This is what a “Big Board” is for. It doesn’t care who needs what and what team is on the clock; it only cares about the best. And that is what my big board lists here:

The Big Board

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
What can be said about Luck that hasn’t been said already? He’s strong, accurate, smart, and the fact that he’s played in a pro-style offense in college means he’ll be a game-changer from day one. A lot of people seem him as a once-in-a-generation talent. Even more people see him ending up a Colt. But don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s the next Peyton Manning. Lost in his ball throwing skills is the fact that he is also one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the class.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Most people don’t see it this way, but Griffin should be considered to be in a virtual tie with Luck. Both have plus-plus arm strength and accuracy as well as mobility. Where Luck is a little bit MORE stronger of a passer, Griffin is a little bit MORE stronger of an athlete. Lost in his 40-time was how gifted he was in other respects. When watching him, it appears, at times, that gravity doesn’t seem to affect Griffin as much as other humans. All the more reason he should rise to the top.

3. Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The last time an offensive tackle wasn’t taken as one of the top ten picks overall was in 2005. Almost every year there is an offensive tackle that rises to the top and this year it is Matt Kalil. But Kalil is more than just the best tackle in the class: he’s one of the best future NFL players period. He is one big dude that can move fast forwards, backwards, and sideways. In other words, his agility and footwork don’t just make him a wall, they make him a MOVING wall. He might be the best tackle to come out of the draft since Jake Long in 2007.

4. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Some people see Richardson as the best running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. I, for one, disagree, but you cannot refute the fact that the talent is obviously there. He has the kind of motor that could make him a 30-carries-a-game feature back that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s NFL. I don’t think T.R. is like A.P., but not necessarily in a bad way. Peterson is a fluid runner who really shines by avoiding contact. Richardson is the kind of back that will be able to carry two defenders on his back into the end zone. He has a little bit less “Adrian Peterson” in his game and a little more “John Riggins”.

5. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
At this point, the only thing holding Blackmon back isn’t on the field. A superior athlete, Blackmon has downhill speed packed into an almost tight end-like frame. His speed and strength make him a prototypical receiver on the outside. But a number of off-the-field issues will have NFL teams thinking twice before calling his name. Still, as we’ve seen with Dez Bryant, sometimes there’s nothing really to those red flags. If Blackmon can get his head right, he can be an elite receiver in the styling of Calvin Johnson.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Honey badger shmoneybadger, Claiborne is a BALL HAWK. If you’ve seen him do work in the secondary then you know the stigma about corners and their hands doesn’t apply here. Night Train Lane had 14 interceptions as a rookie in 1952 and Claiborne has a skill set that could give the NFL great a run for his money. Helping him make plays is that instinctive fifth sense of ball awareness that the most elite corners in the game just seem to have. Some will read too far into his crazy low Wonderlic test score, but there’s a reason why no one has a pencil and paper out there on the field. Whoever drafts Claiborne will have an immediate playmaker.

7. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Kuechly’s status in this year’s draft draws several parallels to the plight of some of the league’s most elite interior linebackers. Just as no one really knows the names of powerful run stoppers like James Laurinaitis and Stephen Tulloch, Kuechly isn’t getting as much publicity as some sexier names in the draft like RG3, Claiborne, and Blackmon. But he should. Kuechly’s fundamentals aren’t sound; they’re rock solid. His game is very old school: hunt down the ball carrier, plant your feet, stop him, and bring him to the ground. He should become a fearsome run stopper at linebacker for someone in the very near future.

8. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina
It’s going to be very interesting to see who goes first in the draft: Ingram or defensive end Quinton Coples. Coples, by all means, has the higher ceiling. But there are several red flags in his personality and character. Ingram has none of those issues and is extremely explosive coming off of the snap. More impressive is the fact that that explosiveness isn’t necessarily always forward. Ingram will be able to cover a wide area of turf in any direction and can help in pass coverage as much as he can pass rush.

9. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
There’s too many big names in this year’s draft for Reiff to go in the top five, but maybe he should. He is just as effective at sealing the edge as the more-hyped Kalil and can more easily play right tackle if he is needed there. Again, the real sweet spot in Reiff’s game is to isolate the player he’s defending against. He won’t just keep his quarterback upright, he’ll help the running back to get to the edge and burst into the secondary untouched.

10. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Small, speedy receivers are a dime a dozen. Anyone can find a super-fast athlete that can outrun the coverage and catch a ball in the open. It takes a different brand of athlete to go up INTO coverage, compete for a jump ball, and come down with it on a consistent basis. Enter Floyd, a big, physical receiver that will be an favorite target in the end zone for quarterbacks for years to come. Make no mistake, though: Floyd is fast, too. While he may really thrive as a number 2 guy, Floyd has the skills to be at the top of someone’s depth chart.

11. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
There’s no doubt about it: Coples has the skills to be a perennial pro bowler IF he wants to be. He has the strength, speed and speed to slash through blockers and hit the ball carrier, but his work ethic and motor may limit that ability. His senior year he refused to move to defensive tackle for fear it what hurt his numbers. He was also investigated by the NCAA for allegedly attending draft parties. He was cleared of any violations, but something still doesn’t feel right. He has a Hall of Famer-type game but the question marks surrounding him seem to scream “bust” if taken too high.

12. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Martin may be destined for the middle of the first round, but that doesn’t mean he lacks the tools to be a day-in and day-out left tackle. The size and strength appear to be fine, but the real money to Martin’s game is his speed. Only the fastest of pass rushers will have a chance at beating this kid around the edge and that is why he may be protecting someone’s blindside for years to come.

13. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Fletcher Cox could become a name that quarterbacks loathe. He is an incessant interior pass rusher that seems to have a natural gift for penetrating a line. He rarely takes a snap off and his motor is proof positive of a fierce determination. He can be overwhelmed at times when double-teamed, but his naturally large frame may allow him to get even bigger and address that weakness.

14. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Kirkpatrick is another guy with an NFL-ready game. By all accounts, he’s a polish pass defender that will be able to lock down receivers at the next level. The only real question to his game seems to be his speed. His numbers at the combine will make some wonder if there is that fifth gear necessary to stay with the fastest receivers. However, his game film shows a corner that rarely gets beat and went toe-to-toe with the best receivers in an elite conference. In this case, the numbers may lie.

15. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Guards rarely the same kind of attention tackles do in the draft. But in the case of DeCastro, maybe he should. He has a tenacity to him that may allow him to become a Pro Bowler on someone’s interior line. He has the fundamentals necessary for the next level and truly excels when run blocking; even downfield. He’s not the fastest guard, but, as long as he’s not forced to pull too often, that shouldn’t way too heavily on the minds of scouts.

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When Bryan isn’t watching men in tights, he is on Twitter! Follow him @bclienesch!