Power Ranking the Top Contenders for the No. 1 Pick in the 2013 NFL Draft
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This is my first treatment of the 2013 NFL draft and as relevant and informative as these names may be, I also assert that it is grossly early to start worrying about where different prospects will project and trying to identify who will be the No. 1 overall pick.
From my perspective as a writer/fanalyst, the late summer and early fall is about continuing to deepen the familiarity with hundreds of the top players entering the college football season and building assessments. There is a peculiar culture in the draftnik community about being the first, or "getting in early", to render a certain opinion on a prospect.
I admit that even I have been swept into it a few times over Twitter.
But I have also stated, as I will here, and firmly believe that proper NFL prospect evaluation has little to do with being first and everything to do with being correct.
I read some draftnik writers that have "finished" their evaluations and grades on certain conferences already, based on last year's tape, or by the middle of the fall. This is not the correct approach at all.
Unlike actual professional football teams, we draftniks cannot actually evaluate every single player and write them up. Some of the most popular and well-funded giants in the industry do get pretty damn close, and their work ethic and productivity is astonishing, but at some point the report is done. The point is that should not be in August or even October.
Now that I have fallen (or was I pushed) off my soapbox, let us take a look at the six guys I currently want to power rank for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
While I am not saying there is no value, or only contrary value, it is distinctly possible that none of this sextet ends up being the guy or that one or two of them even fall out of the first round; just so much football to be played.
No. 1: Barkevious Mingo
Mingo has almost limitless potential at this point in the process.
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Barkevious Mingo, OLB-DE, Louisiana State University, 6'4" 240 lbs. (unofficial)
Mingo was an absolute terror a year ago on the Tigers defense and may have been its most talented player and best prospect in 2011 even though it was not his draft year. On top of one of the best football names in the business, Mingo features tremendous burst off the ball, short-area speed in pursuit and great leverage.
Like a lot of young men with his build, there is still some lankiness to his body that will fill in and allow him to play with greater strength and a better anchor, particularly as it applies to the running game.
A big question on Mingo, and by question I mean curiosity and not doubt, is whether he will best project to 3-4 outside linebacker or if those weight/strength gains will come soon enough for him to comfortably fit at defensive end in a 4-3.
I think it will end up being a non-issue either way come the conclusion of the draft process and that he will be coveted by teams that primarily run both schemes. Keep in mind that a lot of NFL defenses today are employing hybrid looks to maximize their pass-defense ability.
There will be comparison talk to names like Jason Pierre-Paul, Demarcus Ware and Dwight Freeney and it will be fun to watch his final year unfold.
No. 2: Star Lotulelei
Lotulelei is huge and has massive disruption potential.
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Star Lotulelei, DT-NT, University of Utah, 6'3" 325 lbs. (unofficial)
Lotulelei appears to be a lock as one of the top two interior defensive line prospects along with the young man on the next slide. He offers that enticingly rare trifecta of excellent size, explosion and tape/production.
His stock will also be buoyed by the fact that along with being the truest 3-4 nose tackle prospect in the class, 4-3 defenses that employ a mix of zero- and three-technique will be enamored with his skill set.
While I do not believe that he is as physically gifted as Haloti Ngata or Albert Haynesworth when they emerged as NFL prospects, he is a far more polished defender than 2012's interior phenom Dontari Poe.
If Lotulelei can show that he will also make an impact on early downs as a pass-rusher, it will further complete his profile as a No. 1-overall pick candidate.
No. 3: Johnathan Hankins
Hankins' stock is another that could soar to the top in 2013.
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Johnathan Hankins, DT-NT, Ohio State University, 6'3" 335 lbs. (unofficial)
Hankins is even bigger than the previously reviewed Lotulelei and has just about as good of a chance—for whatever a current prediction is worth—of being the No. 1 pick next April based on his own rare physical gifts.
Different from Lotulelei, I think Hankins plays with better pad level, has better leverage and is more active overall. And while he has the space-eating capability to succeed as a clogger, similar to the Utah player, Hankins is a more natural fit as a three-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3.
Talent and prospect ceiling aside, Lotulelei may have the louder 2012 performance playing against the weaker offensive lines of the Pacific-12 Conference, but it will surprise nobody if Hankins shows well enough versus his Big 10 competition and goes No. 1 ahead of everyone.
No. 4: Justin Hunter
Hunter could be the rare WR to score a No. 1 overall selection.
Justin Hunter, WR, University of Tennessee, 6'3.5 205 lbs. (unofficial)
This may be the upset pick of this slideshow because Hunter had a promising, but not especially productive, freshman campaign in 2010 before an injury-shortened sophomore year after an ACL tear.
Obviously scouts will be keenly tuned in this fall to gauge the aftereffects and his recovery but all indications are that he is ready to take off.
With so many potentially high-end wide receivers in the 2013 class, it may appear that Hunter has too far to go to usurp all of them as the top guy at the position and a potential No. 1.
But this is the talent ceiling that Hunter possesses. If you watch only one of the linked videos in this piece, make it Hunter's and start from the beginning with his track highlights. He is a beautiful athlete.
The size, deep speed and leaping skills are what get people out of their seats when it comes to Hunter.
But his natural receiving skills may respectfully put him in the same comparative breath as Randy Moss and A.J. Green. He is not just an athlete out there running by people but catches the ball almost effortlessly and is already a quality route runner to boot.
No. 5: David Amerson
Amerson could be a No. 1-candidate if he is the top CB on the board.
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David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State University, 6'2" 195 lbs. (unofficial)
This is a helluva football player.
It is extremely rare for a cornerback to maintain consideration for the No. 1 overall pick, and Amerson may ultimately fall in line with this historical trend, which is why I have him fifth in this power ranking. But he is pretty close to how you draw up a prospect at this position.
He does not have the same bulk and top-end track speed of Patrick Peterson but he does run well (probably 4.5 game speed that will time in the 4.4s come next February) and features elite tools and traits in the categories of ball skills, length, backpedal and hands.
He also is a quality pure cover corner, physical player when he becomes a tackler and in run support and a determined return man once he takes possession.
His range appeared to surprise a lot of quarterbacks in 2011, which partly led to the opportunity to intercept all the passes he did (13, which is one shy of the all-time Division I/FBS single-season record). His backpedal, height, arm length and leaping prowess translates to range and closing ability that served to create the illusion that receivers were more open than they were.
His ball skills are honestly on par with the best hands-receivers in a given draft class, supported further by excellent balance and body control allowing him to still make the catch (interception) even when reaching or bending his body in difficult ways.
Look for his interception total to be less than half of what it was in 2011 but the scouts will be bearing down in earnest on whether or not Amerson has what it takes to be that big perimeter corner in the NFL to offset some of the size freaks at the wide receiver position.
No. 6: Matt Barkley
Barkley is getting a lot of hype as the No. 1 pick. Is it merited?
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Matt Barkley, QB, University of Southern California, 6'1" 220 lbs. (unofficial)
Let me state right off the bat that I do not think Barkley will be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. I am convinced that he will not even be the first quarterback taken.
But thanks to Mel Kiper's prediction during Barkley's senior year of high school, his fanfare as the Trojans' starting QB, and his deserved regard overall as a high-round NFL prospect, he has been forced-fed to the industry for a year now.
A superficial strike against Barkley as a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, or even a first-rounder really, is that he is a strict pocket passer and stands under 6'2" tall.
Historical height statistics aside, Barkley just is not dynamic enough to be a No. 1 pick in my opinion. I think there are schools of thought that he can be Matt Ryan, a former No. 3 overall pick, as a solid athlete with good arm strength that simply manages the game at an elite level and distributes touches to greater talent around him.
I will not argue that ideal outcome for Barkley but will only question its probability. Not only was Ryan more visibly talented coming out than Barkley is at the same point, Ryan has done a masterful job at his craft and this supposed non-elite game-manager niche.
I did not bear down on Barkley, or the other top quarterback prospects in the 2013 class, when preparing for the 2012 draft but my impressions of their play are there will be some other candidates that rise above him. And he may be best suited to come into a system like New Orleans and tutor under another master of timing, accuracy and distribution rather than be a savior pick for an organization that is at rock bottom and will likely be bereft of quality surrounding talent.