Preseason Top 25 Big Board for 2013 NFL Draft Candidates
While their college teams are jockeying for position in their conferences and the BCS standings, the top 2013 NFL draft eligible prospects will be causing their stock to rise and fall each week. The final big board in late April will look very different from this one. There will be new names, and names on this list will fall out of the draft's top 50-100, or perhaps not even declare for the draft. Who are the top 25 overall 2013 NFL draft-eligible prospects heading into the 2013 college football season?
25. Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
PHOTO BY STEVE FRANZ, LSU ATHLETICS STAFF
Faulk is big and athletic, and he has the arm length to stay at left tackle in the pros. That alone could easily get him into the draft's top 15 picks next year.
He can fit in both zone blocking and man schemes and Faulk also has sound technique. His hand usage and ability to bend at the knees instead of the waist are great indicators of pro success.
He'll also be a major asset in the pass-heavy NFL because he is a much stronger pass blocker than run blocker. With some improvement blocking downfield in the running game and continued quality work as a pass blocker, Faulk will move up this list.
24. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
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Lewan is following the footsteps of famous Michigan No. 77s Jake Long and Jon Jansen. He's got the 6'8" frame and long arms to play left tackle in the pros, but he'll need to add weight to his 309-pound frame.
His first step and footwork are very good, and Lewan also appears to know how to detect and adjusts to stunts from the defensive line. The mean streak that NFL scouts love is there, although Lewan sometimes gets overextended trying to land a blow in the run blocking game.
He can be a better overall offensive tackle prospect if he cleans up a few lingering footwork issues mirroring speed rushers and moving in the open field as a run blocker.
23. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
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Jones can fit at left tackle in the pros, but the most tantalizing part of his draft stock is his versatility. The savvy lineman can also play guard, and this year, he is going to start at center. He is not ultra-athletic, and Jones is probably the opposite of 2012 second-round pick Cordy Glenn, who could fit at guard, but was most valuable to the Buffalo Bills at left tackle.
Jones has top-notch leadership and character, and he is a "can't miss" type of prospect, even though he is not a physical freak or mauler.
Head coach Nick Saban said, "If we were still trying to get to the moon, (Jones would) be my first nomination to be the astronaut to get us there" according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. A team that values a high floor over a high ceiling could put Jones' draft stock on the moon next April.
22. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
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McDonald's place on the big board could change without any great improvement to his play in 2012. Future safety prospects could owe a lot to 2012's seventh overall pick Mark Barron if he makes Tampa look smart for taking him there. Barron is not the elite athlete type that has traditionally been the only kind of safety that cracks the top 10 of the draft.
With the NFL's slant towards passing these days, athletic, physical, and smart safeties like McDonald (and Barron), are commanding a premium. A ranking in the 20s could be conservative when we look back next year.
21. Eric Reid, FS, LSU
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Along with McDonald, LSU safety Eric Reid could also ride Mark Barron's coattails into a better draft outcome in 2013. He is big, strong and tough enough to hang in run defense, but Reid is also instinctive and fast covering the deep ball in pass defense.
Old school safeties also served as intimidators of wide receivers who wandered into their zone, and Reid is not afraid to lay a lick on a defenseless receiver. He will miss teammate Tyrann Mathieu on the outside, but if Reid can hold the secondary together in the Honey Badger's absence, he'll be in the 2013 first round.
20. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
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Hunt is the kind of player who could get into the draft's top 10 without elite production in his senior season. He is relatively new to the game of football as a former world junior champ in discus and shot put for Estonia.
Hunt's 6'8" frame and ridiculous movement for such a giant young man will remind some of J.J. Watt. He should put on a show at the combine next year, and like Dontari Poe last year, rise up many boards as he possesses raw gifts and the potential that those skills promise alone. With the right defensive line coach, Hunt could end up being the best defensive player out of the 2013 class.
19. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
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Running backs on the whole are being devalued by the NFL, and Lattimore has the extra obstacle of a 2011 ACL tear to overcome. What sets him apart is that Lattimore has the size and power to be a workhorse back, but he also has the speed and elusiveness to be a big-play back.
Lattimore will get battle-tested in the SEC, and if he can get back to his previous level of production, he'll be the first back off of the board in 2013. The harder question to answer is just how high he'll go. If the worries about his knee injury are behind him, Lattimore should hear his name called in the top 20.
18. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
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The NFL loves cornerbacks who have to contend with the incredible wide receiver prospects of the SEC. Banks has shown the raw speed, ball skills and ups to hang with the freak of the week in the premier BCS conference. That should keep him in the draft's top 25-50 in any scenario.
Banks will also contribute on corner blitzes and in run support. If Banks can become stronger and more disciplined, he may give teams in the top 10 something to think about, just as former South Carolina corner Stephon Gilmore did when the Bills took him 10th overall after a meteoric postseason rise up the board.
17. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
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The NFL values sudden edge rushers the highest out of defensive end prospects, but heady, high motor guys like Werner are gaining more fans in NFL draft war rooms.
Werner is not an elite athlete, but he has a good burst off the snap. He plays angry and holds well at the point of attack against the run. Werner is German and is still raw as a prospect, so 2012 could see him take a big step forward. He has to learn more technique and a variety of pass-rush moves and strategies, but if he does, Werner could be a top 10 prospect. He already possesses a lot of the skills you can't teach.
16. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
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Te'o has the disadvantage of playing at a position that is often overlooked in the first round, but his natural size, speed and fire in his belly could have him on the same path as Luke Kuechly, who went ninth overall this year.
Te'o has great range; he is a big hitter, and he can mix it up with blockers in run defense. His innate skills and tools give him the ability to play just about anywhere in any scheme. He needs to tighten up his ability to read and react to plays correctly and on time, but just about everything else in Te'o's game is elite.
15. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
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Teams that run a 3-4 defense need that outside linebacker who plays with strength, speed and a fierce edge to set the tone. DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison, and Clay Matthews have lit the way, and Jarvis Jones could be the next to follow.
His first step as a pass-rusher is lethal, and Jones will stop a ball-carrier dead in his tracks. He has flashed the ability to drop into coverage and should be able to be a day one starter in the NFL. If he can reproduce his 2011 production, Jones could get into the top five to a rebuilding 3-4 defensive team like Indianapolis.
14. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
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Quarterbacks have the most mercurial draft stock of any position, so Bray's spot in the early teens hedges between a standout season that puts him in the top 5-10, and a disappointing year that puts him on the Erik Ainge/Jonathan Crompton track.
Bray displays the arm talent, patience through progressions and playmaking ability to put him in franchise quarterback consideration, but he is inconsistent in his mechanics and decision-making, and Bray also is not a great athlete or mobile outside of the pocket. He'll probably either be near the top of the list or out of it altogether by November.
13. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
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We're starting to split hairs here, as Montgomery has the frame, athleticism and positional value to be in consideration for the 2013 first overall pick. His partner at defensive end for LSU, Barkevious Mingo, is also on this list, and the two could be driving each other to new heights as the 2012 season unfolds.
Montgomery is not an advanced pass-rusher, and displaying a diversity of pass-rush moves will be important to determining whether he is an elite prospect, or just a blue chip first-rounder next year. His non-stop effort, stout run defense and ability to diagnose the play are all top notch and should make NFL teams that run a 4-3 defense salivate to get him in the 2013 draft.
12. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
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Comparing the draft stock of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo should just get folks either excited about LSU this year or envious that they aren't a fan of the team. Mingo is a more talented and speedy pass-rusher, and that seems to be the quality NFL teams put a premium on at draft time. That speed translates to great range, which will serve him well as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Mingo is not going to hold up well at the point of attack in run defense, and he's not nearly as play aware as Montgomery. Both are elite prospects, but they offer very different packages to their future pro team.
11. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE/OLB, Texas
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Jeffcoat will follow his father and Dallas Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat into the NFL, but he will be a different kind of player. The Longhorn is a tenacious competitor and leader on the field, but he is also blessed with great size and athleticism. Jeffcoat can play a 4-3 end with his 6'4", 250-lb. frame, but his quickness, speed and range all look like an NFL linebacker in action.
His pass-rush repertoire is not advanced, and he'll need to develop more complex strategies and the ability to make a difference when a tackle gets their hands on him. He is lucky to have another top prospect at the other defensive end position—Alex Okafor—which could allow Jeffcoat to have the standout season to move to the head of this pack of terrific defensive end prospects.
10. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
If Justin Hunter was completely healthy, I would be tempted to put him No. 1 on this list. He has the long frame to present a mismatch for just about any cornerback when the ball is in the air. Hunter has outstanding leaping ability and leap timing, which only maximizes his height advantage and emboldens his quarterback to throw him open.
Hunter also has world-class speed and an aggressive mentality after the catch, which all adds up to a very Randy Moss-esque game when he is on. Hunter suffered a torn ACL last year, so displaying all of those gifts again this year to rehabilitate his draft stock is not a given.
9. Robert Woods, WR, USC
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Woods might not run a sub-4.4 40, and he's not going to win any slam dunk contests. He'll still draw a ton of attention from the NFL and perhaps even be the first wide receiver off of the board next year because of his complete package that helps him get open in a myriad of ways. His ability to change speed in his precise routes create separation in a way that will translate to the pros.
He has reliable hands and a good game in the air. Woods' frame is on the small side, although he is not short at 6'1". Whether he goes at the top of the wide receiver class or instead in the 3-5 range for receivers may just depend on what the teams in the top half of the first round are looking for at wide receiver. Woods will also need to show that he has regained the speed he lost while an ankle injury hampered him last season.
8. Keenan Allen, WR, California
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Allen combines some of the better aspect of Woods and Hunter, but there is no clear gap between the three. He is a big receiver like Hunter, but he plays even stronger. He lacks Hunter and Woods' first-step speed, but he is almost as sudden in the open field and certainly as aggressive after the catch.
Allen doesn't have Woods' sticky hands and advanced route running, but he doesn't have Matt Barkley throwing to him, either. As the only one of the top wide receiver prospects to not being coming off of a leg injury that hangs over his stock, Allen probably holds the top pass-catcher spot in the 2013 class... for now.
7. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
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Sometimes draft stock comes down to supply and demand, and as the late George Young instructed us, there are only so many giant elite athletes on the planet. Hankins is one of them. He can provide scheme versatility with the ability to penetrate upfield and tie up double teams.
The 6'4", 317-lb. nose tackle will clog up and disrupt run plays, and he'll draw the attention necessary to free up more talented pass-rushers on passing downs. He has a lot to learn about defeating blockers when he's trying to get pressure on the quarterback and recognizing plays, but the rare package of size and athleticism will get him drafted early no matter how productive he is or isn't. Just ask Dontari Poe.
6. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
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Joeckel will have the toughest tests of his career in the SEC this year, but if he can pass them, he'll be a top five pick in 2013. He has a perfect left tackle frame at 6'6", 310 lbs., and he is extremely athletic for a left tackle prospect.
Joeckel is the most fundamentally sound offensive tackle in the 2013 class from the moment the ball is snapped until he finishes off his opponent. Joeckel is a very advanced pass-blocker in terms of his footwork and recovery ability, but he is also a terrific run-blocker who can locate and blot out targets at the second level of the defense. Don't be surprised if he is the St. Louis Rams' first first-round pick next season.
5. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
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Thomas isn't as accomplished as his non-quarterback peers much lower on this list. He has a long way to go before he can be called "pro ready." Thomas's offense doesn't ask him to make pro-style reads, and he hasn't demonstrated great pocket presence or decision making.
None of this will matter during draft season when teams get a load of his combination of size, athleticism and arm strength. They will see him as a block of marble that they can turn into the Michelangelo's David of quarterbacks. If Thomas does actually come out of the shell the Hokies' run-first offense has created for him, he might be the first overall pick in 2013.
4. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
I won't vigorously argue if you think Wilson should be the top quarterback on this list. He has better natural arm talent than Matt Barkley, and he's more athletic. His accuracy is excellent to all parts of the field. Wilson's pocket presence and mental toughness allows him to make plays when the bullets are flying around him.
Wilson needs to step up in big games and show that he was not just a product of Bobby Petrino's system and having three 2012 NFL draft picks to throw to last year. He should be a first-round pick even if some of those questions linger going into next year.
3. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
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If the pro quarterback prospect beauty contest was based on accuracy and mastery of an offense, Barkley would win hands down. He is by far the best suited in this class to take over a pro franchise from day one and get their offense on the right track.
The hesitation to put Barkley as the No. 1 overall prospect in this class comes from his lack of ideal height and athleticism. Barkley is not going to be a formidable quarterback in the pocket, and he's not going to escape and make things happen outside of the pocket very often. He'll still be a sight for sore eyes in one of the many franchises in need of a quarterback to lead them into the future.
2. David Amerson, CB, NC State
David Amerson might be the best ball-hawking cornerback we have seen in years, although after he picked off 13 passes last year, opposing quarterbacks might not give him the chance to show that to NFL scouts this year. That's okay, because that outcome will also give the pros a picture of what he can do for them: shut down one side of the field.
Amerson is a dream at about 6'2", 190 lbs. with strength and speed to spare. He is incredibly instinctive and rarely misses a chance at an interception, striking fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks. Even teams that have two quality cornerbacks will have to give Amerson a long look if he is there for them in the top five.
1. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
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In a game of Xs and Os, Star Lotulelei is one X that will do what he wants on most plays no matter what the O on the opposite side tries to make him do. He never loses any battle of strength, and he is almost always the first defender out of his stance off the snap, which is just unfair for a 6'4", 325 pounder.
He is a very good tackler for a giant, and when he doesn't make the tackle, he disrupts the play, or at least pushes his blocker into the backfield. Lotulelei's pass rush is not subtle; he just penetrates and makes a beeline for the quarterback. Because of this, he can be easily defeated by a mobile quarterback.
In the pros, where he'll be surrounded by at least adequate pass-rushers, flushing the quarterback from the pocket will be plenty good on passing downs, and that assumes that Lotulelei won't get better. He will. Right now, no prospect in the 2013 class can offer more.