Where does Landry Jones rank in 2013?
With the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine beginning on February 22, draft season is officially in full swing.
Many are using the time between now and April to study eligible prospects, and there happens to be an enormous pool of talent on deck.
After receiving high grades from several evaluators, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and USC's Matt Barkley disappointed fans of QB-needy teams when they chose to return for their senior seasons.
Likewise, the class lost two intriguing pass rushers when Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Florida State's Brandon Jenkins bypassed this year's NFL Draft.
Add in a few potentially special underclassmen prospects and 2013 looks to be a very strong year.
It is never too early to start thinking about the future. In the following slideshow, I highlight some of the best young prospects of tomorrow.
1. Matt Barkley - QB - Southern California
If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you already know that I am enamored with Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley.
Had he declared for the 2012 draft, he would have more than likely come off the board in the first five picks.
Barkley has a very natural feel for the game, showing a great understanding of anticipation and timing in the passing game.
Unlike most college quarterbacks, he exhibits excellent command—he can make difficult touch throws and drive the ball into tight windows.
I believe his arm strength is more than adequate for the next level, as he has shown the capability to make any throw.
Barkley is a good decision maker; he knows where his receivers are on the field, he reads-and-reacts, and gets rid of the ball quickly.
The trust he has in his receivers (Woods and Lee) is commendable, and he often throws them open downfield, knowing they have the ability to win one-on-one battles.
His footwork and mobility are both solid, but he must learn to use his feet better when escaping pressure.
Occasionally, Barkley will overthrow passes across the middle, but he is rarely guilty of under-throwing his target.
While some choose to knock his size, I have not seen it as an issue during his college career.
Expect him to have another excellent season as he has the chance to return the Trojans to BCS glory.
2. Barkevious Mingo - OLB/DE - LSU (Jr.)
A very intriguing prospect, Barkevious Mingo possesses a nearly unparalleled combination of length and athleticism.
As a sophomore, he led the LSU team in tackles for loss and finished second in sacks.
What stands out first on tape? Rare speed and explosiveness from a 6’5 240 down-lineman.
A terror in pursuit, Mingo bends well and snaps around the edge.
He appears to be a pass-rushing prospect with unlimited potential. For such a long player, his ability to change direction in space is close to astonishing.
While he may be overpowered in the NFL if he sticks at defensive end in a 4-3, Mingo projects well to a stand-up role in a 3-4 scheme.
3. Marcus Lattimore - RB - South Carolina (Jr.)
Before a knee injury ended his sophomore season prematurely, Lattimore was on his way to another huge season for the Gamecocks.
Not a particularly flashy back, he has achieved success due to a very complete game.
His style is first and foremost predicated on excellent vision. He is patient, utilizing elusiveness and impressive wiggle for his size.
Though he lacks breakaway speed and acceleration, his lateral agility and vision allow him to be a very effective cutback runner.
Lattimore is a somewhat rugged back; he finishes runs and always falls forward. He runs with very good balance, anticipating contact and lowering his shoulder as he protects the football.
That pad level, toughness, and agility allow him to break tackles.
It is also worth noting that his receiving ability appears to be yet another strong point in his game.
While he is a bell-cow runner capable of carrying the load at the next level, I worry his upside is limited if he cannot retain the quickness he had before his injury.
4. Tyler Bray - QB - Tennessee (Jr.)
While a thumb injury and the loss of his top receiver hampered Bray in 2011, expect the Volunteers signal-caller to breakout this season.
He stands tall with a strong presence in the pocket at 6’6” and sees the field well.
The tape shows a quarterback capable of making any throw and you can be sure his arm strength will appeal to NFL personnel.
Additionally, he is adept at throwing downfield, moving the ball with touch and accuracy.
Bray’s footwork in the pocket is generally clean, though he possesses only limited experience under center.
While he does possess “plus” size, he is on the skinny side and will need to bulk up for the NFL.
5. Johnathan Hankins - DT - Ohio State (Jr.)
When watching the Buckeyes in 2011, it became a recurring theme to see No. 52 disrupting plays in the backfield.
It was not tough to spot because it was not a linebacker, but rather 6’3” 335 pound sophomore Johnathan Hankins.
He is a simply massive interior lineman, but carries his weight quite well and is light on his feet.
For his size, Hankins is actually quite a remarkable athlete. He is a very active player with a great motor. Whether lining up at tackle or even defensive end at times, he disrupts the pocket and commands a double team.
The name B.J. Raji comes to mind, and with another big season in Columbus, Hankins can solidify a similarly high grade.
6. Jarvis Jones - OLB - Georgia (Jr.)
It was a huge hit to the 2012 draft class when the SEC’s leader in both sacks and tackles for loss opted to stay in Athens for his junior season.
Many, including myself, had Jarvis Jones pegged as the draft’s top pass rusher if he had declared.
In Jones, Georgia has an ideal specimen at outside linebacker—both physically and mentally.
The former USC transfer quickly established himself as a disruptive pass rusher from a stand-up position, utilizing good leverage and showing the ability to bend and fire around the edge.
Jones is very energetic player with a high motor; he is relentless and a punishing hitter.
Because he lacks elite explosiveness, he must learn to differentiate his pass rush and develop new techniques to get into the backfield.
Also potentially concerning is the fact that he did not have a ton of responsibility in coverage, so he may be a little raw.
That all being said, Jones looks primed for a starring role for a team with the potential to do big things this coming season.
7. David Amerson - CB/FS - North Carolina State (Jr.)
While the loss of Russell Wilson at quarterback certainly hurt the Wolfpack, the emergence of David Amerson came as a pleasant surprise to many.
The sophomore corner established himself as an elite playmaker who influenced games in a big way, leading the country in interceptions with a whopping 13.
The first attributes that jump out when looking at Amerson are his size and length for the position.
At 6’3” 194 he is capable of matching up against anyone. What makes him truly dangerous, however, is his athleticism.
Amerson is an impressive athlete with good speed and excellent leaping ability.
Moreover, he possesses tremendous ball skills and plays with anticipation.
Primarily a zone corner at North Carolina State, Amerson was rarely asked to press and is a bit raw playing on an island.
Like several other tall, rangy cornerbacks, expect him to receive looks at free safety from NFL teams.
8. Justin Hunter - WR - Tennessee (Jr.)
Many will be somewhat surprised to see this player in the top 10 of my preliminary board, seeing as he will be coming back from a torn ACL.
Regardless, Justin Hunter has the goods to be an elite college player and highly touted pro prospect.
He is a tall, long-limbed receiver with a huge catching radius and rare athleticism for his size.
Before his promising sophomore season was cut short, Hunter displayed excellent body control and leaping ability.
Additionally, he displayed the ability to make the tough grab in traffic. It is not often a 6’4” 200 pound receiver comes along with his track speed and explosiveness.
If he is able to stay on the field this year for the Vols, expect Hunter to establish himself among the best in the nation.
9. Shayne Skov - ILB - Stanford
Another linebacker I had graded highly before he had made his decision to return to school, Skov looked like a sure-fire first round pick before blowing out his knee in September.
If he is able to come back at full strength, the Cardinal defense should be better than ever and he’ll be on his way to a big paycheck.
What I like most about Skov is his energy, passion and leadership ability.
While blessed physically with excellent size and above average athleticism, he plays with the fire and relentlessness of a guy with his back against the wall.
Skov is among the nation’s most dangerous blitzing linebackers and can be a terror in pursuit.
A tremendously competitive player, he plays best in big situations. While it is hardly a weakness of his, Skov must play with more discipline both in the run game and in coverage.
His recent DUI will turn off many, but he will have the chance to learn from his mistakes and convince NFL personnel of his character. Ultimately, I believe him to be the complete package with the toughness to overcome adversity as a senior.
10. Bjoren Werner - DE - Florida State (Jr.)
Another wild card here, as many would expect to instead see teammate Brandon Jenkins among my top ten prospects for 2013.
Werner, however, is the one I am most interested at this point. The big, powerful left end is still learning the game and realizing his potential.
He possesses a very good motor and is relentless in pursuit. He happens to be fairly athletic for his size, converting speed to power.
His raw strength is worth noting and he is a punishing hitter that can really lay the lumber. Surprisingly, he also has impressive awareness and recognition skills.
As I mentioned though, Werner is still raw.
In the coming season, he must improve his technique and anchoring ability, as he is too easily washed out.
11. Robert Woods - WR - Southern California (Jr.)
Woods is a smooth, athletic receiver with elite body control and a wide catching radius. He has excellent feet and short-area quickness, but must cut down on lapses in concentration.
12. Sean Porter - OLB - Texas A&M
Porter is another Aggies linebacker that flies around the field and wreaks havoc in the backfield. He is an impressive athlete with explosiveness that can’t help but remind you a bit of Von Miller.
13. Logan Thomas - QB - Virginia Tech (Jr.)
The name Cam Newton comes to mind. While he may not be on that level in terms of running ability or competitiveness, Thomas has those rare tools that just cannot be taught.
14. Sam Montgomery - DE/OLB - LSU (Jr.)
Another physically gifted LSU pass rusher with the potential to play right end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
15. D.J. Fluker - OT - Alabama (Jr.)
An enormous road grader, Fluker is not your typical blind-side protector, but could be drafted highly to play right tackle.
16. Manti Te'o - ILB - Notre Dame
Not as special as some think, but the instinctive middle linebacker possesses the physical and mental attributes you have to love in a prospect.
17. Jesse Williams - DT - Alabama
Williams is a huge, high-upside interior lineman who is still learning the nuances of the game. Already among the best run stoppers in the country.
18. Brandon Jenkins - OLB/DE - Florida State
Jenkins is a pass rushing prospect that is tough to place at this point. Dominated the edge in 2010 but too often played soft this past season.
19. Eric Reid - FS - LSU (Jr.)
An underrated piece of the LSU secondary during the 2011 season and the team’s top tackler. Very athletic but with limited production against the pass.
20. Gerald Hodges - OLB - Penn State
The next in line at “Linebacker U.” A future weak-side linebacker, Hodges has shown impressive instincts and range.
21. Jackson Jeffcoat - DE - Texas (Jr.)
A bit of an enigma; former five-star recruit has been strong against the run but pass rushing statistics are a bit inflated.
22. Tyler Eifert - TE - Notre Dame (Jr.)
Eifert is another big Fighting Irish tight end prospect. He lacks deep speed, but is a red-zone threat with enough athleticism to develop into a very solid NFL player.
23. Aaron Murray - QB - Georgia (Jr.)
Murray is the closest thing to Drew Brees since the Purdue gunslinger entered the league in 2011. A gamer with the ability to buck the quarterback height trend.
24. Keenan Allen - WR - California (Jr.)
Big, talented receiver who benefits from having his half brother throw him the ball at Cal.
25. Tyrann Mathieu - CB - LSU (Jr.)
“Honey Badger” lacks NFL size, but is a flat-out playmaker capable of shutting down the slot and returning punts.
26. T.J. McDonald - FS - Southern California
Thumping center fielder is already a better player than former Trojan, Taylor Mays, ever was.
27. Montee Ball - RB - Wisconsin
A Heisman finalist who put up incredible numbers behind an enormous Badgers line. Enough vision and burst to remain very productive despite a depleted offense.
28. Ronald Powell - OLB/DE - Florida (Jr.)
If the light turns on for this extremely athletic pass rusher, we may be discussing Powell as a Top 10 pick next April.
29. Tony Jefferson - FS - Oklahoma (Jr.)
A big-time playmaker since the day he set foot on the field in Norman. Lacks ideal size but makes up for it with very solid awareness and recognition skills.
30. Landry Jones - QB - Oklahoma
Overrated prospect made the right decision returning to school. Scouts will be picking apart his decision-making and mechanics.
31. John Simon - DE - Ohio State
A “tweener” who may be without a true position at the next level. Simon comes with a relentless motor and a knack for making big plays.
32. Tharold Simon - CB - LSU (Jr.)
The third Tigers’ defensive back on this list may have the most upside of all. Tharold Simon has shutdown potential with an elite blend of size and athleticism.
Next In Line
Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson; West Virginia QB Geno Smith; Arkansas State RB Michael Dyer (Jr.); Arkansas WR Cobi Hamilton; Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills (Jr.); Florida WR Andre Debose (Jr.); UCLA TE Joseph Fauria; Miami OT Seantrel Henderson (Jr.); Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews (Jr.); Texas DE Alex Okafor; Texas A&M DE DaMontre Moore (Jr.); Florida DT Sharrif Floyd (Jr.); Purdue DT Kawann Short; Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks; Alabama FS Robert Lester.