The NFL season starts with 32 fan bases believing they have a shot at the playoffs. That will soon be whittled down to 20 teams on the outside looking in, but already there is a clear picture of which teams will be filling out the top five picks of the 2013 NFL draft. But which players will they be looking at?
Unlike the 2012 draft class, this year's crop has no one truly elite player like Andrew Luck standing solidly above the rest. A lot like this year's NFL season, the 2013 NFL draft is made up of many solid players with them all still vying for the chance to be No. 1.
With the April draft nearing, here's a look at 10 top players and their odds on being the No. 1 overall pick.
In most years the odds-on-favorite to go first overall would be a quarterback, and while the 2013 draft is no different, the best player in this year's class is an outside linebacker.
Georgia's Jarvis Jones has flown under the radar a bit this season due to some nagging injuries, but his impact off the edge in the Bulldogs defense has been remarkable over the course of his career. Jones is a versatile defender who can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Similar in that regard to Von Miller, Jones has the athleticism to be an impact defender from Day One in the NFL.
Depending on which team selects first overall—and how their depth chart looks at quarterback—Jones is a definite contender for the No. 1 spot.
An offensive tackle hasn't been drafted No. 1 overall since 2008, but we haven't seen a tackle as good as Luke Joeckel since then either.
The Texas A&M junior has rare quickness, length and balance at the left tackle position. Unlike other tackles drafted high in the first round recently—Tyron Smith, Gabe Carimi, Matt Kalil—Joeckel is a complete package entering the professional ranks.
If a team like Carolina or Kansas City selects first overall, Joeckel's chances of being the pick increase. If a quarterback-needy team (again, Kansas City or even Jacksonville) selects first, Joeckel could be looking at being a top five pick instead of the first guy off the board.
The recent success—or lack thereof—of defensive tackles drafted in the top five doesn't bode well for Johnathan Hankins. The Ohio State defensive lineman is very talented, but history is working against him right now.
The last defensive tackle drafted first overall was Dan Wilkinson way back in the 1994. That's quite a streak of NFL general managers waiting until at least the second overall pick to fill their needs on the defensive side of the ball.
Hankins is talented enough in a weaker draft class to find himself picked first overall, but it would take a team like the Carolina Panthers who have a dramatic need at tackle earning and keeping the first overall pick.
Manti Te'o is a Heisman candidate who has his team sitting atop the BCS rankings, but his chances of being drafted No. 1 overall aren't great.
Te'o is a fantastic linebacker, and a worthy top 10 pick, but history shows that linebackers aren't valued on draft day. At least not at that level. The last pure linebacker drafted No. 1 overall was in 1988, when the Atlanta Falcons drafted Aundray Bruce from Auburn. Te'o is an elite linebacker, but remember, even Patrick Willis fell to the No. 11 overall pick.
Te'o looks like a future All-Pro, but a future No. 1 pick is unlikely.
Geno Smith's hot start to the 2012 season put his name on the map for casual fans of college football and the NFL draft. Those same casual fans are now ready to proclaim Smith a bust after a few rough games in Big 12 play. Not so fast.
In a year where no elite quarterback has established himself, Smith is the most likely to capitalize on a strong offseason to find himself heading to the stage first once the NFL draft begins. A strong arm, great athleticism and an otherwise average crop of quarterbacks will all help Smith's postseason climb.
Smith isn't Andrew Luck or even Robert Griffin III, but he is a better NFL prospect than Ryan Tannehill was. If Tannehill were in the 2013 draft, where would you draft him?
The success of players like Aldon Smith, Von Miller and Bruce Irvin all point to the NFL transitioning to a more athletic blend of pass-rusher. That might seem obvious, but these super-athletes are taking the NFL's need for fast, aggressive pass-rushers to a whole new level.
The 2013 NFL draft class has a few players with that type of eye-popping athleticism, and no one stands out more from the crowd than LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo.
As a long, lanky athlete with great burst and surprising strength, Mingo looks similar to how Aldon Smith was at Missouri. More athlete than football player, but with the raw basics to dominate if coached up. Mingo may be lean, but he's very good at using his hands to disengage blockers and create separation for his pass rush.
He's not a finished product, but Mingo's off-the-charts potential could easily push him into the No. 1 overall spot.
If Geno Smith doesn't shoot up draft boards, Tyler Wilson of Arkansas could be next in line.
Wilson has struggled during the 2012 season, but he's also playing against some pretty serious odds. His head coach and offensive mentor was fired before the season. His top three wide receivers were drafted last April. Wilson entered the year against a stacked deck, and against those obstacles he's still performed very well.
There are negatives to Wilson's game—only two years of starts, and he's only 6'2"—but his arm strength, toughness and leadership are all NFL-level. If a team needing a quarterback is drafting first overall, Wilson will at least be in consideration.