2013 NFL Draft: Highlighting 1st-Round Studs and Sleepers

Alex Brown@@ABXXV25Contributor IOctober 1, 2012

2013 NFL Draft: Highlighting 1st-Round Studs and Sleepers

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    As is the case with each NFL draft, there are certain players you just have to know about as college football or NFL fans. These players will be talked about and analyzed for months leading up to the late-April frenzy of talent acquisition.

    Loads of pass-rushing depth and talent can be found in the upcoming 2013 draft, and as the NFL becomes increasingly pass-oriented, these are the positions of premium for NFL teams.

    How do you impact the game on third downs? Can you rush the passer? Can you protect our quarterback? Can you be a viable No. 1 receiving target? Can you win in man or zone coverage outside at corner or in the back half at safety?

    All of these questions and more will be answered with the prospect write-ups that follow, so read up.  

Studs: LSU's Pass-Rushing Duo

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    The first of LSU's junior defensive ends I'll discuss is strong-side end Sam Montgomery. Montgomery is a powerfully built 6'5", 260-pound prospect who combines excellent size with impressive speed off the line of scrimmage.

    Shooting his hands explosively into the blocker, Montgomery’s precise placement and ability to generate power off the snap make him a dangerous pass-rusher off the edge and a backfield force versus the run.

    Converting his plus first-step speed to power and flashing the ability to bend the edge with flexible hips, Montgomery's skill set will make him a wanted man among teams drafting inside the top 10.

    On the opposite side of the line is an equally impressive prospect and rare physical specimen in Barkevious Mingo. Standing at 6'5" and a lighter 240 pounds, Mingo certainly has the physical traits, quick-twitch explosiveness and rare length to develop into this draft's premier edge-rusher; however, he's still learning the finer points of pass-rushing.

    Firing out of his coiled stance low and hard, Mingo’s first-step burst and ability to dip, bend and turn the corner is truly rare. Having a nonstop, tireless motor and immense speed off the edge, Mingo just needs to put it all together and develop some semblance of a rushing repertoire. Inconsistent in utilizing his length and sudden hands at the point of attack, Mingo can only become the elite prospect he is capable of being by learning the finer points and techniques of the position.

    What is extremely positive with both of these dynamic rushers is how they break down at heel depth, play with leverage at the point of attack and set the edge versus the run. The ability of these two very explosive edge-rushers to stay on the field as every-down players only furthers their respective chances at being selected in the top 10 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Sleeper: Dion "The Freak" Jordan

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    Nicknamed "The Freak" for his freakish athleticism, Oregon's Dion Jordan was reportedly timed in the short shuttle at 4.08 seconds during spring drills of 2011. In comparison, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Von Miller, was timed at 4.06 in the short shuttle.

    Despite his long, lean, 6'7", 240-pound body type, Jordan showcases outstanding redirect ability in the backfield, chasing ball-carriers down from the backside of the defense with his next-level closing burst. Running on a tireless motor and playing with an aggressor mentality, Jordan holds the unique talent and upside that NFL teams ultimately reach for in the draft.

    While he won't dominate his opponent with power, Jordan has natural strength for how long and lean he is, punching and locking out off the snap to set a firm edge against the run. After initial engagement, Jordan counters opposing blockers with his lateral quickness and overall coordination as an athlete.

    As a pass-rusher, this Oregon Duck covers ground quickly with a fast accelerator off the line and requires an automatic double-team due to his length and ability to bend the corner. Maximizing his long arms and athleticism, Jordan has proven to be a very good tackler who swallows up ball-carriers by consistently wrapping up at the point of attack.

    Very unique in his skill set and capable of playing in a variety of defensive roles due to his size, speed, range and athletic ability, Dion Jordan has a good chance of hearing his name called on the first night of the draft.

    Mark Dulgerian, head West Coast scout for Optimum Scouting, helped provide insight to this section.

    Follow Mark via Twitter at @markdulgerianOS, a great source for Pac-12 and West Coast NFL draft expertise.

Studs: Franchise Left Tackle Prospects from College Station

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    The Aggies' starting left tackle from day one as a true freshman, Luke Joeckel has been the staple of consistency for Texas A&M since the 2010 season, starting 30 consecutive games and earning second-team All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore.

    A natural bender and gifted athlete, Joeckel dominates with ideal hand placement and balance to sustain blocks past the whistle. Sitting into a low, athletic pass set and reaching back with the range, quick feet and kick-slide technique to cut off speed-rushers, Joeckel does an excellent job of sustaining initial contact and driving upward through the defender with explosive hips and hands.

    By staying seated in his pass set, resetting his base and locking his arms out, Joeckel is able to control the point of attack, keeping his hands firmly latched onto the chest plate to direct his opponent inside or outside.

    Having prototypical 6'6", 310-pound size, an understanding of how to win with his hands at the point of attack and the foot speed to win one-on-one blocking situations with speed-rushers, Joeckel warrants a top-10 pick as a premier left tackle in this potential draft class.

    His teammate, Jake Matthews, is an equally talented pass-protector who will undoubtedly be viewed by NFL teams as a left-tackle prospect. Son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and cousin to Green Bay Packer All-Pro Clay Matthews III, Jake Matthews has deep NFL bloodlines.

    A tad shorter and lighter than Joeckel, Matthews measures out at 6'5", weighing a lean 300 pounds. Reminiscent of Tyron Smith, former USC right tackle and current starting left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, Matthews is a plus athlete with very quick feet and impressive balance.

    Like Smith, Matthews has body-type upside to pack on an additional 10 to 20 pounds, and he's only playing right tackle due to the extraordinary play of his teammate Luke Joeckel (in Smith's case, that player was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Matt Kalil).

    Considering Tyron Smith still went No. 9 overall in the 2011 draft to the Cowboys, Matthews, at least for now, seems to be an obvious first-round pick for teams needing a left tackle. 

Sleeper: Cobi Hamilton

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    Measuring 6'3", weighing 209 pounds and running a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, Cobi Hamilton is a prototypical height-weight-speed wide receiver. One of the few bright spots during a down season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, Hamilton has shined brightly as the featured go-to wide receiver in 2012.

    In evaluating Hamilton off 2011 tape, what consistently jumped out was his ability to cleanly snare passes high and away from his frame. Even when surrounded by contact, Hamilton showed he had the toughness and catch-point strength to rip passes away from closing defensive backs.

    This fearlessness to attack the ball in air, along with unmentioned excellent body control and leaping ability, made Hamilton our second-highest-rated senior wide receiver at Optimum Scouting. The only factor withholding Hamilton from earning the top spot among our rankings, however, was inconsistent focus and concentration at the point of the catch. While he certainly isn't afraid of going after the football, Hamilton struggled with focus drops in 2011.

    Ditching the drops, Hamilton has shown point-of-catch excellence thus far in 2012, along with elite run-after-catch ability. Separating from defenders after the catch and outrunning pursuit angles, Hamilton has been a nightmare for opposing secondaries and a real treat for scouts to watch on Saturday afternoons.

    While I still need to see him win versus physical, tough press coverage (a must for all outside receivers at the next level), Cobi Hamilton's draft stock is rising and rising fast. This one could sneak into the bottom of the first to turn a playoff team into a legit title contender.

Studs: More Pass-Rushers from the South

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    My top-rated junior prospect in the Big 12 entering the 2012 season, Jackson Jeffcoat is another rare physical specimen with the potential to be a truly special NFL player.

    Though a bit raw and unrefined, Jeffcoat has tremendous upside and the physical tools that NFL teams salivate over. At 6'5", 250 pounds, he looks better in a standup role and could intrigue teams as a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect

    Jeffcoat has more than ideal strength in setting the edge and forcefully shedding off blockers, while also displaying the lateral burst and range to chase down ball-carriers outside of the tackle box. His plus range, combined with speed and bend off the edge as a pass-rusher, makes for a well-rounded, defensive prospect and top-15 pick billing.

    I love Jeffcoat's high upside and athletic skill set but will have to see more production and consistent activity to firmly stamp him with a top-10 grade. A first-round stud but no top-10 lock just yet, Jeffcoat still has work to do in 2012.

    Moving to the SEC, Georgia's Jarvis Jones ranked as my second-best junior prospect for his explosive edge-rushing capabilities. A more complete player than Von Miller during Miller's senior season, Jones has arguably been the most dominant defender in all of college football.

    A well-strung together, physical specimen of an outside backer, Jones possesses plus strength to set the edge versus the run, lateral burst to redirect and make tackles off blocks, and the combination of speed and bend to rush the passer.

    Violent and punishing with his hands, Jones creates a noticeable snap with his initial punch, knocking his blocker off balance and giving himself ample opportunity to work his dip/rip move to the inside or outside.

    With his edge-rushing speed and explosion and his ability to stop the run and even drop into coverage, Jones will be a highly sought-after prospect and a potential top-five overall draft selection.

Sleeper: Kenny Vaccaro

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    A free safety, strong safety and nickel defensive back prospect rolled up into one awesome player, Texas' Kenny Vaccaro won me over as a fan early in 2011 with his hyperactive, game-changing playing style.

    As a 4-star wide receiver and defensive back recruit who entered Texas with elite physical tools, raw ability and a hit-first mentality, Vaccaro will soon enter the NFL ranks as a polished, instinctive and intelligent secondary defender.

    The X-factor of this Texas defense, Vaccaro impresses with pre-snap command, on-field leadership and willingness to support the run. He’s developed into a dynamic weapon, whether as a robber zone defender, manned up in the slot, blitzing off the edge or shooting a gap on a twist.

    Vaccaro’s combination of click-and-close athleticism, rare instincts and physical mentality undoubtedly sets him apart from the rest of the 2013 draft class as a unique and NFL-ready defender.

    Yet, with all noted traits in mind, what makes Vaccaro so special is his nonstop motor, tremendous passion for the game and insanely competitive nature. Playing at peak performance under the brightest lights, Vaccaro thrives in pressure situations and shows no fear in taking center stage.

    Experienced in Manny Diaz's multiple-set defensive system that features a number of pattern-reading coverages utilized at the NFL level, he is well prepared mentally for the next level and capable of starting right out of the box.

Studs: Dancing Bears from Utah, Ohio State and Georgia

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    In a given draft, you may have one or two top-notch defensive tackle prospects weighing over 330 pounds with athletic movement skills, surprising pass-rush ability and run-plugging strength.

    Potentially entering the 2013 draft, however, are three such prospects: Utah's Star Lotulelei, Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins and Georgia's John Jenkins. All three are drawing rave reviews from scouts across the league as first-round defensive tackle prospects.

    Bringing a truly exceptional combo of first-step speed and athleticism to the defensive tackle position, Utah's Star Lotulelei can play anywhere from a 1-tech to a 3-tech position on a four-man front. Controlling the point of attack with his length, size and natural strength, Lotulelei balances very well through initial contact and seemingly sheds with ease. His dominance across the line of scrimmage and positional flexibility will earn him a very high draft slotting come April.

    Hailing from THE Ohio State University (that was for all you Bucknuts out there), Johnathan Hankins also shows surprising burst for a player of his size and strength. More wide-bodied and thick in the midsection than Utah's Lotulelei, Hankins will surprise you with his motor and range in pursuit.

    Consistently resetting the line of scrimmage and opening tackles for his fellow Buckeyes, Hankins has the girth and strength to play a shade nose in a four-man front or a 0-tech nose in a 3-4 defense, while providing an added bonus with burst and unexpected movement skills.

    The final of three defensive tackles is Georgia's John Jenkins, who is hard to overlook. Maintaining elite athleticism for his size, Jenkins carries his 358-pound build like a man 50 pounds lighter, moving and flowing to the football in pursuit. Standing a shade above 6'3", Jenkins also possesses the length needed to punch and lock out at the point of attack.

    He dominates blockers with his heavy hands, wide body and bull-like motor off the snap and has shown the skill set to be productive despite playing as the unheralded nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive system. Powering through double-teams, combo blocks and attempted chip blocks from running backs, Jenkins at times can be unblockable.

    Both Lotulelei and Hankins measure 6'3" and are in the wheelhouse of 330 pounds. Lotulelei and Hankins are more scheme-diverse than the pure nose tackle Jenkins, but both lack the bulk and strength of the Georgia bulldog. Each of these tackles has blue-chip talent, and you can expect them all to be gone before Day 1 of the draft comes to a close.  

Sleeper: Corey Lemonier

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    Corey Lemonier, though unheralded by the draft community at large, is a very developed and gifted edge-rusher capable of climbing into the back half of the first round.

    Lacking plus size but certainly strong and big enough to play in a 4-3 defense, Lemonier stacks up as a 6'3", 242-pound 3-4 outside linebacker projection.

    Showcasing the quick-twitch athleticism and suddenness off the ball to beat bigger offensive tackles inside, as well as the speed and bend to run the arc, Lemonier is a complete pass-rusher who demands extra attention with the offense's protection scheme.

    Winning with initial quickness and plus effort, Lemonier displayed more bend than usual in his game versus LSU, planting his outside foot at the end of his rush and redirecting back inside to the quarterback at a sharp angle.

    In watching Lemonier play, a nonstop motor and outstanding effort characterize his every movement and make him a very likable prospect by scouts who've broken him down. Constantly around the football and in on the action, Lemonier is anything but a one-dimensional player. While his specialty is rushing the passer, don't overlook this Tiger's sideline range and excellent closing gear, both of which enable him to make tackles in space.

    Definitely a back-half-of-the-first-round type of prospect, Lemonier will need continued production to be in a position to declare for the draft as an underclassman.

Stud: Johnthan Banks

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    Without a doubt the top corner prospect in the 2013 draft class, Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks is a long, lean, quarterback-killing machine in the secondary. Having NFL-like reactions and closing speed to the ball in-air, Banks' combination of ranginess and anticipation enables him to get a hand on almost every throw directed his way.

    Having the mental and physical makeup of a longtime starter in the NFL, Banks has a readily transferable style of play that will lead to early success. Beginning his collegiate career at the safety position, Banks has started each of the last two seasons at cornerback, while missing just one start from 2010 to 2011.

    Experienced and more than capable within a multiple-style defense, Banks' skill set fits the mold for a number of team defenses. As such, he'll likely be a hot commodity come April 2013.

    At 6'2", 185 pounds with a 4.4-to-4.5 timed 40-yard dash and likely 36-plus-inch vertical, the talent level is undoubtedly there with Banks. Possessing the elite length and requisite speed needed on the outside, he has plus tools to work with.

    More importantly, however, he understands the game at a high level. Seemingly always under control and fully aware of his surroundings, Banks excels in zone coverages by locating incoming routes with consistency, recognizing route progressions and anticipating throws from the quarterback.

    Experienced in off-man or press-man coverage and Cover 2, 3 or 4 zone, Banks has NFL-ready cover skills on the outside. At his best when lined head over the receiver, in bump-and-run man coverage or Cover 2 press, Banks wins early off the snap by keeping his tight pedal steps underneath his base and maintaining balance while initiating contact.

    Exceptional with his jam technique, Banks sits into a low stance, keeps his feet active and lands his punches with consistent placement on the receiver’s midsection. Locking out on contact and mirroring throughout the contact, Banks sticks to his man’s hip pocket and is quick to locate the football.

    The combination of instinctive and intelligent play, along with sound fundamentals and plus physical tools, forges a great player here in Johnthan Banks, as I expect him to develop into one of the more consistent players in this upcoming 2013 draft.