7 Reasons to Like the 2013 NFL Draft Class
It's the most won-der-ful time of the year!
And to likely no reader's surprise, I'm not talking about the holidays.
Although I trail most draftniks by a pretty hefty margin off the starting line, December and January is usually a good time to dig into college prospects in preparation for the NFL draft. Scouting reports, video breakdown, and bowl games are what really make these next couple months, quite literally, the "most wonderful time of the year" for us football geeks.
Not that every NFL draft class doesn't have plenty of guys to fall in love with and plenty of guys to hate, but it's fun to anticipate the story lines as April draw near. In addition to the mock drafts and analysis, going off gut feeling and stirring the pot of prospects is always entertaining.
Here's a few to get you started on the class of 2013.
Lookin' for a Receiver?
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Looking over a list of seniors and probable prospects, there are at least six receivers with first round talent. And of the six, four of them are guys standing at least 6'3" and likely running sub 4.5 forties.
Tennessee's Justin Hunter leads the pack as top receiver, standing 6'4" and possessing the speed necessary to stretch the field and get behind defenses. Although his explosiveness is impressive, he's still not a hundred percent in that aspect after tearing his ACL in 2011.
Other sizable targets with first round talent are Cal's Keenan Allen (6'2"), Baylor's Terrance Williams (6'2") and Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers (6'3").
Everyone should be excited for a speedster like Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins (6'1", 200 lbs), but the playmaking ability of West Virginia's Tavon Austin could convince a team to take him in the latter part of the first round. Austin is the shifty slot guy with unlimited versatility and the moves to leave defenders planted in turf.
With plenty of depth at the position, this class also presents a reliable Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee, Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton, West Virginia's Stedman Bailey and Robert Woods from Southern Cal—all receivers deserving of second or third round grades.
Need a couple less popular guys to keep an eye on?
Look no further than Marshall's Aaron Dobson (6'3", 200 lbs) and Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis (6'4", 232 lbs).
Despite coming from a smaller school, Dobson is too good to keep off the radar. He's got the speed to work secondaries and he's physical with the ball in his hands. It may take some time for his game to adjust, but Dobson has lots of potential.
Davis, on the other hand, seems to me to be one of the most underrated receivers in the nation. He spent some valuable time backing up his elders at Tech in recent years, but he's got the size, speed, concentration and hands to be an NFL starter.
Where's the Best Value for Quarterbacks?
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Unlike last year's draft class, there's no once-in-a-lifetime quarterback prospect this year.
While there's a handful of guys that have the skills to become NFL starters, certainly none of them wow you like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III did.
In other words, it's not a good time to be in need of a quarterback and equipped with a top-10 pick. I'm looking at you Jacksonville, Oakland, Buffalo and Kansas City.
West Virgnia's Geno Smith is the probable the front runner for passers at this point. He has strung together a very impressive college career, he has prototypical size, killer accuracy, and he's a leader on the field. He may not be as NFL-ready as some teams with the No. 1 pick would like, but he's certainly worthy.
After Smith, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson are the likely remaining quarterbacks with high chances of going in the first round. Although Barkley has watched his stock drop after deciding to return for his senior season, teams will still be enthralled with his experience (started as a freshman) and his improved decision making in his junior season.
As for Wilson, he's a quarterback that I really liked last season. Obviously this year was a bit tougher for him because...Arkansas. However, scouts can't ignore his arm strength and toughness. In the NFL, Wilson could prosper in a vertical threat offense.
Following those three, you have some project quarterbacks with high potential in Tennessee's Tyler Bray and Oklahoma's Landry Jones.
Bray is a raw prospect and he was inconsistent this season, but his 6'6" frame and rocket arm will impress NFL teams. Jones, on the other hand, went from hot, to not, and then finished his senior season hot again. Scouts will look at his size, experience and fit.
Then you get into the good stuff. Besides a guy like Geno Smith that is almost guaranteed a top-five pick, there's no telling where these other guys go. Although I personally wouldn't spend a top-10 pick on any of them, we all know how NFL teams get with quarterbacks in April.
But let's say a team like Jacksonville or Oakland want to use their top pick for pass rushing talent and look to score a quarterback in the second round. Are there any guys worth looking at?
How 'bout five of them? At least in my opinion.
Zac Dysert out of Miami (Ohio), Ryan Nassib from Syracuse, NC State's Mike Glennon, EJ Manuel from Florida State and Fresno State's Derek Carr, if he decides to skip his senior year.
Dysert is another MAC quarterback that's a big time passer. He has the size and skill set to make it at the next level, but he'll need some time to adjust.
Nassib is a guy that seems to go under the radar, maybe because of the program. However, Nassib has shown plenty to improve his stock and possibly find his way into the latter part of the first round.
Manuel's senior season was highly anticipated, but not nearly as pretty as some would have liked. Yet, Manuel has the mobility, mechanics, and improved accuracy to become a starter.
Fellow ACC signal-caller Mike Glennon has watched his stock rise this year, as scouts will appreciate his size (6'6"), mobility, poise and arm strength.
And then there's Lil' Carr. Although his best decision would be to return for his senior season and try to push himself into the first round next year, I think he's deserving of a third round pick if he decides to forego.
Mountains in the Middle
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If you like defensive linemen, then you should enjoy the first round in 2013. I think it's safe to say we'll hear at least five of their names.
Utah's Star Lotulelei leads the way at 6'4" and 325 pounds, demonstrating speed and strength to shed blockers all year. With the need for disrupters in the NFL and his skill set, Lotulelei should expect to hear his name within the first 10 picks.
Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State improved his pass rushing this season, and that's what scouts were looking for. Gifted with size similar to Lotulelei, Hankins is a first round talent that teams will love as an end or nose.
Sheldon Richardson from Mizzou is a guy that will be best as a defensive end in a 3-4 in the NFL. He's 6'4", 295 and he's non-stop until the whistle. He fires off the ball and he's a sure tackler.
With the exposure that Alabama gets, and their constant production of NFL talent on defense, most people know about Jesse Williams. He may not have started off red hot, but he has played well since returning from a concussion earlier in the year. One thing about Williams, however, is that he doesn't offer much as a pass rusher.
If you've watched college football this season, I'd be surprised if you don't know about Jonathan Jenkins—the 6'3", 350-pound Georgia Bulldog. With his immense size, Jenkins is obviously a forceful load off the line of scrimmage and he has all the workings of a top-talent nose tackle in the NFL.
Teams Looking for Their Anchor
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As we await the decisions of Texas A&M tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, it's important to note two additional tackles that have the potential to be first round picks and the talent to anchor an NFL offensive line for the next decade.
Another junior to keep an eye on is Michigan's Tayler Lewan. Despite improvements this season and increasing his draft stock, the 6'8", 305-pound tackle is not a complete product. That, however, won't halt teams from snagging him in the first round and making him their guy.
Central Michigan's Eric Fisher may be the best senior offensive tackle in the country that no one's ever heard of. At 6'8" and 305 pounds, Fisher has great experience, albeit against weaker competition, and he has shown versatility from right tackle, to guard, to the blind side. He should find his home on the left side in the NFL.
Ultimately, the tackle market in 2013 will depend on juniors Joeckel and Matthews to see if they'll return for their senior seasons at TAMU.
Fall in Love with a Guard, Again
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Last year we all fell in love with Stanford guard David DeCastro. He was the best guard prospect in years.
But it didn't take long to land yet another top-flight NFL-ready guard in this year's draft class.
Alabama's Chance Warmack is the complete package and deserving of a top-25 pick. He's 6'3", 325 pounds and he steam rolls rushing gaps for his backs. Some have been mildly critical of Warmack's pass protection, but it's not something that should shy away any team looking to upgrade their offensive trench.
I was probably a bit more excited for DeCastro last year than I am for Warmack this season, but that's not to say I like one more than the other. Expect Warmack to be taken in the first round and start right away.
Battle of the Freaks
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Every year we see some freakish athletes enter the draft, with they're basketball height, football build, and track speed. They're either blowing by to make catches, tossing long bombs, or exploding off the edge. They're leaving us with wide eyes based solely off their rare athletic ability.
This year, in a Battle of the Freaks, we have Oregon pass rusher Dion Jordan versus SMU defensive end Smargus Hunt.
Hunt: 6'8", 280 pounds
Jordan: 6'7", 243 pounds
Jordan is the more developed of the two, but there's definitely potential with Hunt. Jordan is best suited as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. He has the ability to rush the passer, but he'll need to improve his repertoire after spending a lot of this year dropping into coverage. Meanwhile, Hunt uses his length to his advantage and he may fit best as a 4-3 end.
Who Doesn't Like a Little Pass Rush?
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In a league where rushing the quarterback is so crucial, the value of a talented pass rusher in the NFL Draft has skyrocketed.
Leading this year's class is Georgia's Jarvis Jones. Despite concerns regarding his ability to stay healthy, Jones is an elite pass rusher and he's also threatening in coverage. He has great athleticism and he's fiery on the field. Teams will fall in love with Jones' versatility and natural instincts.
The rest of the group really has no particular order. In terms of talent and skill, I believe Jones to be the best when healthy, with the rest of the guys right behind him, all with varying attractive aspects to their game.
Texas A&M totes a pair in Damontre Moore and Sean Porter, LSU has their own threatening duo in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, Florida State's Bjoern Werner improved during his junior season, and Texas has the combo of Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat (although Jeffcoat played just six games due to injury).
We also shouldn't forget about guys like Dion Jordan, Auburn's Corey Lemonier, and Stanford's Chase Thomas.