NFL Draft 2013: Predicting Next Year's Top 5 Picks
With the dust just settled on the 2012 draft, it's never too early to take a look at the 2013 NFL draft and identify the early favorites to be selected in the top five.
Given that these are college athletes and the draft is one of the most unpredictable events in all of sports, it's hard to tell who the hot prospects will be a year from now—at this time in 2011 Robert Griffin III was potentially a wide receiver prospect and Vontaze Burfict was a surefire top 10 pick.
There's a lot of time for prospects to make a name for themselves with a solid final campaign—or lose themselves a fortune by playing poorly and making bad decisions. With the 2012 draft just behind us, here's a look at how the top five picks could shake out in 2013.
No. 1: Oakland Raiders: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
If the Oakland Raiders have the first selection in the 2013 draft, chances are the Carson Palmer era isn't going the way they would have liked.
Fortunately for them, Matt Barkley has already established himself as a front-runner to be the first selection in next year's draft. Many expected Barkley to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft as a junior. Had he come out, he likely would have challenged Robert Griffin III as the second-best quarterback in the draft.
He certainly grades out better than the ninth selection of the 2012 draft—quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Even if the Raiders don't finish with the league's worst record, it's easy to envision them trading up to this spot to ensure that they can get their quarterback of the future. As the team showed when they acquired Carson Palmer from the Bengals, the Raiders aren't afraid to give up picks to get a guy they believe in.
Barkley has all of the tools to be a successful quarterback in the NFL—accuracy, football IQ, leadership and arm strength are some of his greatest strengths. Barring any type of injury or a catastrophic meltdown, Barkley is the odds-on favorite to be the first to have his name called in New York on draft day in 2013.
No. 2: Indianapolis Colts: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Indianapolis Colts did an excellent job of kicking off their rebuilding efforts around No. 1 selection Andrew Luck in this year's draft. Following up the Luck pick with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen gives the Colts a dynamic look on offense for years to come.
However, the Colts shouldn't expect a quick turnaround as their roster from top to bottom is still one of the youngest in the league and Luck will play like a rookie at times this year.
One of the biggest transitions the Colts will make in the first year of the post-Peyton Manning era is the switch to the 3-4 defense. The Colts new look on defense requires an elite pass-rusher coming off the edge from the outside linebacker position.
Georgia product Jarvis Jones would be a great addition early in the draft for the Colts. His 2011 season for the Bulldogs was highly productive. He finished the season with 19.5 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and two forced fumbles—a testament to his ability to disrupt offenses.
At 6'3", 241 pounds, Jones may need to put on a bit more bulk to be successful at the NFL level but he has a great skill set to play the 3-4 outside linebacker—he has a great burst when coming off the edge, has a good inside move and pursues well when the play is run away from him.
Jones is the type of player that will make a great cornerstone for a defense, and with the Colts already addressing offense extensively in the 2012 draft, Jones would be a great selection here.
No. 3: Cleveland Browns: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
The Cleveland Browns came into the 2012 draft with some desperate needs on the offensive side of the ball.
They wasted no time in addressing those needs early on as they traded up to the No. 3 spot to secure Alabama running back Trent Richardson. They subsequently went offense with their next two selections—quarterback Brandon Weeden and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
While the Browns may have found their starting quarterback of the future in Weeden, this draft failed to fill one of the Browns' biggest needs—a playmaking wide receiver. The team didn't select a wide receiver until the third day of the draft when they took Miami wide receiver Travis Benjamin in the fourth round.
While Benjamin may develop into a decent receiver, the Browns need a true deep threat to pair up with promising second-year receiver Greg Little.
Marquess Wilson could be a perfect match.
Wilson has enjoyed two season of major productivity at Washington State—posting 137 catches for 2,394 yards in his career.
Many would say that USC's Robert Woods is the best wide receiver in this class—and with good reason—he has been phenomenal and figures to be a star once again in 2012. However, Wilson's mixture of size and speed makes him the ideal deep threat to pair with the big, physical Little.
With Little working the underneath routes and Wilson stretching defenses vertically, the Browns would have a dynamic duo at wide receiver that will drastically help their offense.
No. 4: St. Louis Rams: Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin
The St. Louis Rams have set themselves up to be one of the best teams in the league for years to come with the way they've approached the draft. Trading down multiple times and still landing a player like Michael Brockers as they did in 2012 is the kind of shrewd strategy that builds contenders.
Holding both their own and the Washington Redskins first-round pick, the Rams' chances of picking in the top five are highly likely. If they have the opportunity to pick this high, they could look to add a franchise left tackle.
Current left tackle Roger Saffold has been less-than-stellar, especially in pass protection and current right tackle Jason Smith has largely been a bust since being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
The Rams could try to redeem themselves by drafting another franchise tackle with the No. 4 pick in the draft—Ricky Wagner of Wisconsin.
Wagner is a mauler in the run game and shows good technique and agility in pass protection. At 6'6" 320 pounds, he has the size you want in a tackle and he comes from the offensive lineman factory known as Wisconsin.
Wagner has experience playing both right and left tackle, so he is the kind of prospect that can be drafted and start right away on the right side if he is not ready to take on the duty of protecting Sam Bradford's blind side in his rookie season.
Wagner has his senior season to show that he can be the next Joe Thomas, and by the looks of his film, he should be up to the task.
No. 5: Jacksonville Jaguars: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars just drafted a quarterback in the 2011 draft, but Blaine Gabbert simply didn't show much in his rookie season.
The Jaguars traded up in the first round to get wide receiver Justin Blackmon, didn't take any quarterbacks in the draft and didn't bring hometown hero Tim Tebow into the fold, so it would appear that they are committed to Gabbert for at least the 2012 season.
However, if the Jaguars find themselves picking in the top five in next year's draft, it will be evident that Gabbert isn't the answer at quarterback anytime soon.
Luckily for them, they should have their choice of three solid quarterback prospects—Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Tyler Bray of Tennessee or Landry Jones of Oklahoma. At this point, Wilson should have the edge. At 6'3", 220 pounds, he has a sturdy build, and his numbers have been solid as the starter for the Razorbacks.
Wilson has a quick release and took over as the Razorbacks' leader after Ryan Mallett's departure almost seamlessly. He had plenty of receivers to work with in Arkansas and showed a knack for spreading the ball around.
Bray and Jones will have a full season to overtake Wilson as the second-best quarterback prospect in this year's class, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on these three throughout the season. How Wilson responds to losing three receivers this season will have a big impact on his draft stock.