2013 NFL Draft: 10 Skill Players Who Will Make Immediate Impacts
While the transition from college ball to the NFL is often a daunting one for most rookies, skill position players can often make an instant impact due to their supreme athleticism.
Beyond the obvious pro-ready candidates like Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, there's a lengthy list of skill players—both on offense and defense—who should be big-time first-year contributors.
On offense, Barkley's No. 1 target—junior Robert Woods—looks primed to be a first-year starter while Clemson running back Andre Ellington displays the skills as a runner and returner to earn early playing time.
Defensively, the SEC shines as both Alabama and LSU feature a pair of pro-ready defensive backs who should be immediate starters.
Let's take a look at the 10 skill position players who will make instant impacts in 2013.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
On the surface, Logan Thomas isn't a polished product, but by Week 1 of the 2013 season, I'd be shocked if the Virginia Tech product isn't starting.
Checking in at an imposing 6'6", 262 pounds, the redshirt junior flashed dynamic ability in his first season as a starter in 2011.
The Cam Newton clone threw for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns while rushing for 469 yards and 11 scores.
Like Newton, Thomas possesses a rocket arm, excellent mobility and rare size for the position.
With another year of starting experience under his belt, Thomas could have a similar rookie season as Newton did when the former Heisman Trophy winner took the league by storm in 2011.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
There's no quicker way for rookies to see the field than on special teams.
Luckily for West Virginia's Tavon Austin, he is both a skilled slot receiver and a dynamic returner.
While Austin doesn't boast NFL size at just 5'9", 174 pounds, he possesses cat-like quickness and a knack for making big plays.
Playing in one of college football's most explosive offenses, the former 5-star running back led the Mountaineers with 101 catches for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns.
Dana Holgorsen's top playmaker also averaged 14.1 yards per punt return and took back two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Austin's incredible versatility should catch a coach's eye, making him an ideal candidate to be an instant impact player.
Robert Woods, WR, USC
Robert Woods is no stranger to making an instant impact.
As a freshman, the Trojans' top receiver caught 65 passes for 792 yards and six scores while averaging nearly 26 yards as a kick returner.
Last season, the 6'1", 190-pounder nearly doubled those numbers, posting an impressive 111/1,292/15 stat line.
Woods doesn't possess elite height-weight-speed numbers, but comes from a pro-style offense, has great hands and runs refined routes.
According to Matt Miller, Bleacher Report's Lead NFL Draft Writer, Woods ranks fourth behind A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Dez Bryant as an NFL prospect.
In their debut seasons, Green went off for 65/1,057/7, Jones posted 54/959/8 and Bryant finished with 45/561/6 in 12 games.
If Woods is truly in their company, he should be able to post similar numbers as a rookie.
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
The Clemson Tigers have a knack for producing NFL running backs, and junior Andre Ellington will be next in line to make the jump to the pros.
Following in the footsteps of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Ellington has developed into one of the better backs in the nation.
In his first year as a full-time starter, the 5'10", 190-pounder carried the ball 223 times for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Although he doesn't have great size, Ellington displays an elite burst, excellent acceleration and unique one-cut ability.
Clemson's top back could also carve out a role as a returner as a rookie and should continue the Tigers' tradition of churning out speedy NFL backs.
Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
With Kendall Hunter carving out a nice role with the San Francisco 49ers, Joseph Randle managed to be an upgrade for Oklahoma State in 2011.
After displaying promise as Hunter's backup in 2010, Randle proved to be one of the better all-around backs in the country last season.
The 6'1", 190-pounder ran for 1,216 yards and an astounding 24 touchdowns while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and a pair of scores.
According to Matthew Fairburn of Mockingthedraft.com, Randle has outstanding vision, excellent burst and is an asset on third down.
Although he may not have the bulk to be an every-down back early on, the Cowboys' No. 1 back could be a nice passing-down option.
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Despite being undersized at 5'9", 176 pounds, LSU's best defensive weapon hits like a missile and simply makes plays.
The former lightly sought after 3-star recruit has been an absolute beast for the Tigers, lining up as a slot corner, outside corner, safety and linebacker.
In just two seasons, the ball-hawking Heisman Trophy finalist has recorded 133 tackles, six sacks, four picks, 11 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.
In other words, the kid makes plays.
Whether he's blitzing from the slot or returning kicks and punts, Mathieu has the makings of a terrific first-year player.
Eric Reid, S, LSU
Often overshadowed by more heralded teammates Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, LSU safety Eric Reid quietly sits atop the safety rankings on many draft sites.
The hard-hitting leader of the Tigers defense boasts a stout 6'2", 208-pound frame to go along with above-average athleticism.
In his first season as a starter, the Louisiana native recorded 76 tackles, two picks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
With running mate Brandon Taylor now gone to the NFL, Reid should emerge as the next great LSU secondary member to succeed in the pros.
Because of his intelligence, size and ability to stop the run, Reid will be a day-one starter.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
If there's one thing Nick Saban knows how to do besides win national championships, it's producing NFL defenders.
During his six-year tenure with the Crimson Tide, Saban's list of pupils includes defensive backs Dre Kirkpatrick, Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas.
By the time the 2013 NFL Draft begins, Dee Milliner will be the next first-rounder to come from Alabama's elite program.
Blessed with a 6'1", 199-pound frame and a tough attitude, Milliner has slowly developed into one of the better defensive backs in the SEC after coming to Tuscaloosa as a premier 5-star recruit.
With Kirkpatrick now in the NFL, the Alabama native should continue to hone his skills and prove to be just another pro-ready defensive back to emerge out Saban's system.
Robert Lester, S, Alabama
Mark Barron may have been the household name, but the other half of Alabama's safety tandem—Robert Lester—is a talented player in his own right.
Not to be confused as the intimidating run defender that Barron was, Lester is in fact a fantastic ball-hawking free safety prospect.
In his sophomore campaign, the 6'2", 210-pounder led the SEC with eight interceptions while chipping in 52 tackles.
Last season, Lester's numbers took a precipitous dip; he finished with just two picks and 39 tackles.
If he's able to make more plays on the ball in 2012, Lester will help his cause as an early-round pick.
With Nick Saban's solid track record of producing quality NFL defensive backs, Lester's first-year future in the NFL looks bright.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Rounding out the list is yet another talented defensive back in Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Tipping the scales at 6'1", 218 pounds, the senior safety uses his size to punish receivers and running backs who cross his path.
The aggressive, hard-hitting defender isn't just a one-trick pony, as evidenced by his three career picks and 16 passes defended.
While the past few safety classes have been largely underwhelming, Vaccaro is part of a potentially elite group in 2013.
With his versatile skill set and NFL-ready body, there's no doubt Vaccaro will find a way to be an instant impact player.
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