NFL Draft 2013: Identifying the Top Prospect at Each Position
Fans of top-notch NFL teams laugh at the idea of draft talk in November, but some teams are already out of the playoff picture, and those fans are already conducting research on college football's most intriguing prospects.
Acquiring a top prospect can immediately put an NFL team on the right path—see Andrew Luck with the Colts, or Robert Griffin III in Washington.
But the draft is also the primary tool in establishing long-term success, which is much more important than immediate gratification.
With that in mind, who are some of the franchise-caliber players entering the draft this year?
Here is the top prospect at each position for the 2013 draft:
Quarterback: Geno Smith, West Virginia
Projected Pick: No. 1 Overall
Matt Barkley was unanimously considered the official franchise quarterback of the 2013 draft, but the arrival of Geno Smith has put the undersized Barkley at risk of losing No. 1 overall money.
Smith threw a combined 55 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions in his first two years as a starter, but he didn't start receiving love from the draft nerds until this season.
With at least three games still remaining, Smith has already produced Heisman-worthy numbers with 3,041 yards and 31 touchdowns with a mere three interceptions.
His 6'3" height and uncanny efficiency has put him on every NFL scout's radar, and it could very well result in him being the first name called during the draft.
Running Back: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
Projected Pick: No. 33 Overall
Marcus Lattimore has been seriously injured and had knee surgery, putting him out of football until further notice.
With the unquestioned top prospect out of the picture, it leaves the position wide open for the taking. In fact, there's a solid chance that not a single running back will go in the first round.
But that doesn't mean there's a lack of appealing options.
Eddie Lacy out of Alabama is an alluring option as a workhorse capable of carrying the load, but in an age where speed and finesse are more desired than brute force, Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle has the advantage.
Randle has already exceeded the 1,000-yard mark this season (1,008) and has found the end zone nine times. And with six 100-yard performances this season, he has displayed remarkable consistency.
Randle has impressive speed and agility, making him a hard option to ignore for any NFL team.
Wide Receiver: Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Projected Pick: No. 10 Overall
Justin Hunter and Keenan Allen are neck-and-neck in the battle to become the top wide receiver of the 2013 draft.
As of now, Hunter is making a compelling argument for himself.
Tennessee suspended Da'Rick Rogers—the top receiver on their roster—which put a lot of pressure on Hunter, but he has managed to stay consistent against tough defensive opponents of the SEC.
With 65 catches for 979 yards and eight touchdowns, Hunter is exceeding Allen in every statistical category. On top of that, he has at least five catches in seven of Tennessee's 10 games this season.
The 6'4" Hunter will provide some lucky team with a sizable downfield threat and reliable red-zone option.
Offensive Line: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Projected Pick: No. 5 Overall
Just as it's safe to predict a quarterback going No. 1 overall during most drafts, you can bet on a left tackle being selected in the top five.
Left tackle is a premiere commodity in the NFL, making it a difficult position for general managers to ignore.
Luke Joeckel has held his ground during Texas A&M's debut season in the SEC, and he'll immediately upgrade the offensive line for the team that drafts him.
Tight End: Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Projected Pick: No. 28 Overall
Tight end is typically an unpopular position in the first round of the draft, but New England's current obsession with playmaking tight ends will have copycats tripping over each other in an attempt to secure the next elite one.
Tyler Eifert may not possess Rob Gronkowski's dominate touchdown production, but his consistency will have him high on team's draft boards.
Eifert turned in a 803-yard season in 2011. And during Notre Dame's current undefeated run, he has produced 470 yards and three touchdowns with plenty of football still remaining.
Pass-Rusher: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Projected Pick: No. 2 Overall
In the current pass-happy state of the NFL, there is always a demand for dominant pass-rushers capable of scaring an opposing quarterback.
In 2013, the most coveted pass-rusher will certainly be Georgia's Jarvis Jones.
Jones has 10.5 sacks already this season and has been a constant inconvenience for opposing offensive lines.
His relentless blitzing will earn him a major contract on draft day.
Defensive Tackle: Star Lotulelei, Utah
Projected Pick: No. 3 Overall
Defensive tackle is far from a glorious position, but it's the keystone of any top-notch defense.
Star Lotulelei has not produced eye-popping stats in comparison to a Ndamukong Suh-caliber prospect, but his presence in the middle has generated plenty of buzz among scouts.
Inside Linebacker: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Projected Pick: No. 8 Overall
In the current NFL, it's all about pass rush and shutdown corners, which has made the once vital middle linebacker position somewhat outdated.
However, with a prospect like Manti Te'o, it's appropriate to ignore common perceptions in exchange for a phenomenal football player.
Te'o has been the heart and soul of the undefeated Irish and will bring the same leadership and production to the NFL.
Cornerback: Dee Milliner, Alabama
Projected Pick: No. 9 Overall
Shutdown corners are nearly impossible to acquire, so even when there's merely a good corner available, every NFL team takes notice.
The SEC has produced a number of capable cornerback prospects in recent years—Joe Haden, Morris Claiborne, Janoris Jenkins, Patrick Peterson—and it looks as though the conference will once again deliver a premier prospect in Dee Milliner.
Alabama has been comfortable sticking Milliner on the opponent's top receiver, and he'll provide an immediate boost to any NFL secondary.
Safety: Eric Reid, LSU
Projected Pick: No. 15 Overall
T.J. McDonald is an appealing option at safety, but Eric Reid and his SEC experience will result in him being the top safety selected on draft day.
The SEC has produced Eric Berry and Mark Barron in the last three drafts, and they will once again provide the NFL with a franchise-caliber safety.
Reid's solid tackling and coverage skills will earn him an immediate starting job in 2013.
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