For teams that missed the boat on offensive talent last year, the 2013 draft will be treacherous waters to traverse.
Lack of depth at several offensive skill positions will undoubtedly push players like Matt Barkley and Geno Smith into the top half of the first round. The NFL needs quarterbacks, but don’t expect 2013 to be anything like this season, which featured the best class of rookie quarterbacks in recent memory.
This year’s draft will be all about defense.
The top of the big board of 2013 talent is packed with big-time playmakers on the defensive side of the football. After a few mediocre classes at the linebacker positions, this may be the year we see linebackers—and not just pass rushers—dominate the first round.
Jarvis Jones, Manti Te’o and Alec Ogletree highlight an exceptional class of linebackers, and even some of the top defensive end candidates may end up at outside linebacker in a hybrid NFL system.
Nine of our top 15 players play on the defensive side of the ball. Some teams will clamor for offensive talent in the first round, which means some of these guys may be available late in the first round.
If you’re looking for flash, don’t look for it in this draft class. What you will find, though, is one of the most talented defensive draft classes in years.
Read on for a full rundown of top-15 talent.
Jones is far and away the best all-around outside linebacker in this year’s draft class.
While he isn’t elite in any one area, Jones is exceptional in many. He’s a physical, agile and heady football player with tremendous upside.
What Jones lacks in elite athleticism, he makes up for with the ability to stay on the field for all three downs. His pass-rushing abilities are above-average, and Jones is also adept at dropping into coverage and stopping the run.
With a combination of physicality, versatility and football intelligence, Jones should have no problem cracking the top-five for a team in need of a cornerstone in its 3-4 defense.
Not every draft class possesses a dominant prototypical 3-4 nose tackle. This one does, and he’s also one of the best players available this year.
Lotulelei has an ideal frame to play in any defensive front, but his skill set makes Lotulelei the perfect fit for a two-gap system. Lotulelei is big, physical and polished, and while he isn’t best suited for getting penetration in the middle of the line, Lotulelei eats up space and demands a double-team on every snap.
Lotulelei has an exceptional motor and good work ethic, and compares in many ways to New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He’s a high-motor, quality-character prospect with a mile-high ceiling.
Lotulelei should come off the board in the top 10 picks, but has the talent to be a top-three selection.
There’s little to dislike about Joekel’s play at the tackle position.
Joeckel started at left tackle each of the last two seasons and played a big role in protecting Heisman winner Johnny Manziel’s blind side. He doesn’t receive the same recognition as Manziel, but he’s been a big reason for Texas A&M’s success.
Joeckel is a prototypical NFL left tackle. He has excellent size, quick feet and very good athleticism for the position, and rarely loses one-on-one battles with opposing pass rushers.
He is the kind of tackle NFL teams can count on to hold his own on an island, and Joeckel won’t wait very long for his name to be called on draft day. Joeckel has some room to grow, but he’s a polished prospect who can start immediately on a line needing help on the left side.
There’s little to be said for Te’o that hasn’t already been said. The Heisman runner-up is a standout football player and an upstanding person.
While teams like quality-character athletes, there’s a lot more to Te’o. He’s instinctual, aggressive, motivated and as talented as any linebacker in the country.
Te’o lacks some of the athleticism of some elite linebackers, but he makes up for it with more intangibles than any player in the draft. He’s a natural leader who can excel in multiple systems. His floor is extremely high.
While Te’o may slip into the middle of the first round based on need and fit, it’s unlikely he’ll fall beyond picks 15 or 16.
Milliner isn’t as electric as some of the top cornerback prospects in recent years, but he’s every bit as talented.
There are very few areas in which Milliner isn’t proficient. He has excellent size and speed, good instincts and the ability to fit in many coverage schemes. Milliner’s versatility may be his best asset.
Milliner hasn’t put up the flashiest stats at Alabama, but he’s also had limited opportunities. He’s the kind of cornerback opposing quarterbacks throw away from.
While he has the size to play press-man coverage, Milliner is best in zone coverage where he can read and react to opposing quarterbacks. Milliner is also extremely physical in run support, and would be a great fit for a team that utilizes a lot of zone looks.
For teams in need of an ultra-athletic pass rusher, Mingo is their best bet.
Mingo played defensive end in LSU’s rotation-heavy defense, but he’s extremely thin for the position. At just 240 lbs., Mingo will need to bulk up to be effective at defensive end in the NFL, though he came to college as an outside linebacker—a position to which he could convert if selected by a team that employs a 3-4 front.
Mingo is extremely explosive off the snap, but his best skill is rushing the quarterback. He’s very raw and has issues defending the run, especially when lined up on the strong side with extra blockers to his side.
Mingo will test well at the combine, and teams will take notice of his impressive athleticism. Given the right fit and a little coaching, Mingo can be an excellent pass rusher at the next level.
As is the case with many of this year’s top prospects, Moore is versatile and sound in many areas, but isn’t elite in any one particular area.
Moore lines up at defensive end in Texas A&M’s 4-3 front, but he has experience at outside linebacker in a 3-4, which is likely where he will end up in the NFL.
Moore has the frame and explosiveness to line up all over the field, and his initial burst off the snap is exceptional. He also possesses an extremely high motor and always seems to be around the football.
There is always a place for hybrid defensive end/linebackers with athleticism in NFL. How well Moore produces at the next level will depend largely on the fit, but it’s a safe bet he’ll be selected in the top half of the first round in April.
Like Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro a year ago, Warmack has an opportunity to make a big splash on draft day and be selected in the middle of the first round—something few guards can boast.
Warmack is a road grader whose size and power has paved the way for a devastating Crimson Tide offensive attack. He’s the best offensive lineman on a line loaded with talent.
At 320 lbs., Warmack has the frame to punish opposing defenders, and he’s also nimble enough to pull and set the edge or block down on linebackers at the second level. Even at his size, Warmack has light feet in pass protection and uses his hands extremely well.
There are very few negatives to speak of for Warmack. Guard is not a glorified position in the NFL, but Warmack deserves top-15 consideration on draft day.
Werner may be the best 4-3 defensive end in this draft class.
He’s still raw and may have issues adjusting to a new position in the NFL if asked to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but he has the frame and strength to hold his own at 4-3 end at the next level.
Werner is extremely disruptive in the passing game. He notched 13 sacks for Florida State this year, due in large part to his high motor and strong work ethic. With an explosive first step and active hands, Werner finds a way to get penetration on nearly every play.
With so many talented tweener pass rushers garnering first-round consideration, Werner’s draft position will come down to fit. He’s an excellent athlete and a hard worker, and should come off the board in the 15-20 range in April.
Offensive linemen rarely get credit for athleticism, but Lewan definitely deserves some.
Lewan is an exceptional athlete for his position, and his long frame (6’8”) and active hands make him an especially fluid pass blocker. He also has quick feet and good balance to neutralize most speed rushers on the edge.
While Lewan could stand to add some bulk to his frame, he’s one of the most pro-ready linemen in this draft class. He’s also a mature and experienced player having been at Michigan four years (redshirt in 2009).
With last year’s influx of young quarterback talent, teams will want to add a left tackle of Lewan’s caliber to protect their investment. He’ll likely be the second offensive tackle off the board somewhere in the top 15 selections.
Tampa-2 teams should fall in love with Ogletree during the evaluation process.
Ogletree began his career at Georgia as a safety, but was moved to linebacker and has flourished at the position. He has speed, quickness and plenty of physicality to make plays at the line or in coverage in the middle of the field.
Ogletree is also an above-average pass rusher for an inside linebacker, and his quickness allows him to shoot gaps and elude larger blockers with ease. He’s athletic and versatile—a combination defensive coordinators love.
While Ogletree will be a nice fit in many systems, he’s also pretty raw and will need some coaching. He’s a lot like Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, but with better coverage skills.
Even for the defensive tackle position, Hankins isn’t the flashiest of players.
Hankins has a massive frame, but he carries it well and has an extremely high motor for his size. He doesn’t give up on plays, commands a double-team regularly and has never missed a game at Ohio State.
While Hankins possesses terrific raw talent and physical ability, he’s also fairly unpolished for a defensive tackle. Hankins will probably never be a pass-rushing tackle at the next level, and may be relegated to two-down duties early in his career.
Hankins needs some polish, but his floor is very high. He’ll be a plug-and-play defensive tackle, likely in a rotation to start his career. Hankins is versatile, though, and should be a nice fit in either a 4-3 or 3-4 front.
Cooper has the size and versatility similar to that of NFL twin brothers Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, and will likely be selected in the first round like them as well.
Cooper doesn’t have a huge frame (302 lbs.), but he throws his weight around well. He has quick feet, good hand pop and puts it all together with a mean streak and a tough mentality.
He can play guard or center, but Cooper’s fit in the NFL has yet to be determined. He has the football intelligence and recognition skills to develop into a quality center if asked to move to the position.
With Cooper’s nimble feet and smaller frame, he may be best suited for a zone-blocking scheme in the NFL. Most teams employ both zone blocking and angle blocking into their offenses, though, and Cooper is capable of executing both.
Offseason workouts will determine Cooper’s draft position, though I won’t be surprised if he is the first interior lineman selected on draft day.
The biggest knock on Allen is that he doesn’t possess blazing speed or quickness, but top-end speed is an overrated trait for an X receiver.
Allen is an extremely polished route-runner with a prototypical frame and terrific hands. He has all the attributes that many young receivers have yet to hone and is one of the most pro-ready skill-position players in the draft.
Allen does a terrific job creating separation by reading coverage and running good routes. He’s also big and physical enough to get off press coverage and come down with the football in traffic.
Allen may run well at the combine and quell any concerns about his speed, but there’s no reason to really worry about it. He’s ready to make a big impact in the NFL.
Eifert needs work in the blocking game, but his pass-catching abilities make him a perfect fit in a pass-happy NFL system.
With the success of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, the NFL is seeing a revolution in the way teams are utilizing big, athletic tight ends. Eifert has prototypical size (6’6”) for an NFL tight end, and he has the speed and athleticism to stretch the field and be a nightmare for slower safeties and linebackers.
Eifert offers as much upside as any pass-catching weapon in this draft class. He has experience lining up in the slot where he can exploit his matchup with much smaller defenders, just as many NFL teams are currently doing with their athletic tight ends.
Because of Eifert’s skillset and the lack of pro-ready offensive weapons in this year’s draft class, Eifert could easily be selected in the top 25 picks in April.