The NFL season is coming to an end. College football's last game will be played January 6. It's draft season, friends.
As the new year looms, many college football players will be making decisions on what to do with their future. Some underclassmen will leave college a year or two early and head for the 2013 NFL draft with their senior teammates. With the Senior Bowl coming up in one month, how is the draft board shaking up?
Here's a look at eight players we're keeping an eye on this week—for one reason or another—and how their NFL draft stock is trending.
Luke Joeckel is entering rare territory as one of my favorite players in the 2013 NFL draft class. NFL scouts and general managers are likely to realize the same very soon.
Joeckel is a tremendous athlete for the position. It's not every day you see a 6'6" man move with quickness and balance. Oftentimes a prospect sacrifices strength for speed—or vice versa—but Joeckel is a combination of both. He's efficient, smooth and graceful in how he takes his pass set off the line of scrimmage.
Speed rushers won't beat Joeckel to the edge, and he has the arm length and strength to keep them at bay once he cuts off the boundary.
The run game isn't Joeckel's strength, but this is a coachable situation. It's easier to teach run-blocking—which is largely angles and brute strength—as opposed to the nuances of the passing game. In Joeckel, teams will find a finished product who can protect the quarterback from the blind side for the next decade.
Big, physical, aggressive.
Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer has starting-quality film from which to give him a high grade. That's exactly what we've done.
Poyer has a chance to sneak into the middle of the first round in a class that doesn't feature a ton of talent at CB. With Poyer's physical style of play and ball-hawking ability, teams can see a player with day one starting potential.
With only Dee Milliner and Johnthan Banks ranked ahead of him currently, watch for Poyer's stock to soar once the bowl games and postseason draft events come.
The West Virginia redshirt junior recently declared his intentions to head to the NFL after the 2012 season, and having re-watched two of Bailey's games (Texas and Oklahoma) this week, it's clear to see why he made that decision.
Stedman Bailey is a quick-twitch athlete with very high skill in making plays after the catch. He does this with a 5'11" frame that allows him to separate more downfield than most yards-after-catch receivers in this year's class. Compare Bailey to his teammate Tavon Austin, and it's easy to see why you'd take Bailey's frame over Austin's 5'9", 170-pound size.
Bailey won individual battles consistently at the college level, and NFL teams will find a player with upside in his route tree but good enough on-field talent to justify spending a late first-round pick on the player.
As the 3-4 defense becomes more and more popular, players to fill out the scheme are becoming a premium. When you watch UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, you see a 3-4 outside linebacker who is ready for NFL action.
Barr is a very active, fluid athlete on the edge of the Bruins defense. He has the speed and agility to make an impact off the ball at the pro level, and for that, we're moving his stock up. The biggest question mark with Barr is his lack of elite size or strength (listed 6'4'', 235). Can he disengage from blockers and make tackles in the NFL?
Watching Barr, I see great upside and a frame that can add more weight to allow for better block shedding and a stronger tackling skill set. That could push him into the top 15 should he enter this year's draft.
Johnathan Hankins is a well-known player in the draft class due to his impact at the college level and the school where he spent the last three seasons. Now that he's prepared to go to the NFL, Hankins is coming under the microscope more, and what you see isn't top end.
Hankins, at least in my eyes, will be categorized as a 1-technique defensive tackle in the NFL if he's asked to play in a 4-3 scheme. This means he'll be lined up between the center and guard, and he'll primarily be asked to stop the run and absorb blockers to keep the middle linebacker behind him free and clear.
Hankins does a good job of this, but being typecast doesn't help his NFL draft stock, nor does his lack of burst off the line of scrimmage. Both are concerns in Hankins' game that could hold him back come April.
Alec Ogletree will be a starter in the NFL, but he might not be ready yet. That's why his stock goes a tick down this week.
I like Ogletree (quite a bit actually), but much like Manti Te'o did after the 2011 season, Alec should head back for one more year. Why?
Another season at Georgia allows Ogletree a chance to win a national championship, a chance to add more production to his resume, and another offseason to work out and add strength that he can showcase in a final college season.
Should Ogletree enter the 2013 draft, he'll likely be a late first-round pick, but in 2014 he could go top 10.
Justin Hunter was a hot name before the 2012 season, but instead of regaining his pre-injury form from early 2011, the Tennessee wide receiver has been a bit disappointing.
Watching film on Hunter, you don't see the same explosion when coming off the line of scrimmage or when getting into his routes. Hunter used to be a wide receiver who could burn up the field, but more and more he's looking like a possession receiver.
Knee injuries can be tricky, and no two players heal the same, so there's a chance that Hunter is just slow to recover his speed. If that's the case, an NFL team could be getting a steal outside the first round.
People close to Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray continue to tell me that he'll enter the 2013 draft, but so far that's not happened yet. It could be because Bray knows that another season of quality film—and a chance to improve his production—would help his draft stock.
The upside to entering now is that the 2013 QB class isn't that strong, and a team could fall in love with Bray's physical ability. And coupled with the pressure to add a franchise passer, he could be over-drafted a bit (or overvalued, at least). That could also be the case in 2014, but by then Bray would have the opportunity to have improved his stock on his own with a strong year at Tennessee.
However, with two of his best receivers—Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson—both headed to the NFL, Bray would be banking on a better season with less established talent at wide receiver. That seems like a bigger risk than throwing his hat into the 2013 draft.