Top 25 2013 NFL Draft Big Board
The NFL regular season is in the books, and we now know almost two thirds of the 2013 NFL draft order. We also have a good idea of the representation of the top underclassmen in the draft.
Possible player-team combinations are already coming into focus, but before we get to that step, it is helpful to create a big board that ranks the top players independent from where we think those players will land in the draft.
What this class lacks in star power at quarterback and running back is more than made up by a terrific class of elite offensive and defensive linemen.
So, who makes up the top 25 potential members of the 2013 NFL draft class?
25. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Tyler Wilson—and the whole Arkansas program, for that matter—had a terrible 2012, but that shouldn't keep him out of the first round. He lost his offensive-minded head coach and top three receivers this year, but we shouldn't make excuses for him.
Wilson has displayed the arm strength and mental toughness over the course of his collegiate career to project a possible successful leap to NFL starting quarterback, and we know there are never enough of those around.
In a particularly weak class of quarterbacks, Wilson belongs on a list of the top prospects in the draft because he's one of the few QBs who could be a long-term answer for the team that drafts him.
24. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
In years past, a prospect like Austin would have fallen through the cracks to the second or even third round. In the 21st-century NFL passing game, quick slot receivers like Austin who can create mismatches and slash through defenses after the catch are very tactically valuable.
Austin will also provide punch as a return man on special teams, and he'll generally make plays that electrify his team. All the teams that passed on T.Y. Hilton multiple times last year won't make the same mistake if Austin is on the board in the late first round.
23. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
Barrett Jones is not the type of prospect that will blow up the combine or otherwise get a team drunk with visions of domination at his position when they are on the clock in the first round.
His value is much more subtle and will especially come into play when his team suffers injuries on the offensive line. He has the legitimate ability to play all five offensive line positions—and play them well.
Jones has also been part of one of the best running games in college football for his entire career. His excellent feet, smarts and fundamentals will make him one of the safest picks in the draft.
22. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
One of many top prospects who was a latecomer to the game of football, Jesse Williams' background as a rugby player in Australia still got him in the right mindset to eventually play American-style football. Williams is scheme-diverse, with the ability to play anywhere from 0-technique nose tackle to a 5-tech defensive end.
He's not going to be a great pass-rusher, but Williams is exactly the kind of interior defensive lineman that will free up his teammates to make big plays. He's an unbelievably strong player in the trenches who plays with good awareness.
Williams' name won't be called often on Sundays, but he'll be very valuable nonetheless.
21. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
The NFL is all about passing and stopping the pass right now, but the top four rushing offenses made the playoffs this year, so perhaps that calls for an immovable object like Georgia's John Jenkins to move up draft boards.
Jenkins tips the scales at over 350 pounds, but he is surprisingly athletic for a man mountain, and he has the valuable ability to anchor the middle in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. The linebackers playing behind Jenkins on his eventual NFL team will benefit greatly from his presence.
20. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
The Baylor Bears have recently produced a 2012 first-round draft pick and 2013 second-round pick at wide receiver, but Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon (supplemental draft) could still be looking up at Terrance Williams when the players sort themselves out in the NFL.
Williams is bigger than Wright and stronger as a runner after the catch and as an overall player than Gordon, although he might be just as fast.
This year's class of wide receivers is deep, even though it lacks a marquee player on the A.J. Green/Calvin Johnson level. That could help Williams move into the top 20 of the first round if the right team falls for him.
19. Keenan Allen, WR, California
Keenan Allen might not be a No. 1 receiver in the pros, but he is going to be one heck of a No. 2. He is a big, rangy pass-catcher who is very aggressive after the catch.
Allen is a very good all-around athlete for a big receiver, but he lacks the straight-line speed to take the top off defenses, though he's still plenty fast once he gets up to speed.
Allen is a good route-runner, and his game has a lot of subtlety for a receiver who could have just dominated in college based on the superior size, strength and athleticism he possesses.
18. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Oregon is known for its breakneck offensive pace, but Jordan brings up the words "break" and "neck" in a different context when the Ducks defense is on the field.
He is part of an outstanding class of pass-rushers who should profit from an NFL that is seeing how much of an impact players like Aldon Smith, Von Miller and J.J. Watt are having on their teams so early in their careers.
Jordan needs to add more bulk and grit to his game, but his length/athleticism combination is rare enough that he could creep into the top 15 or even top 10 as the draft approaches.
17. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
As of late, North Carolina has been better known for sending freakish defensive athletes to the pros, but this year they are sending the best guard prospect in recent memory into the NFL.
Like last year's marquee guard David DeCastro, Cooper is big, athletic, nimble, smart and dependable. He's not a mauler, but he could become an all-pro-level blocker in a zone-blocking running game.
Guards are generally underrated come draft time, so Cooper might fall out of the top 20 in the draft even though he is one of the top 20 players in terms of absolute quality.
16. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
It's hard to imagine a team breaking a tie against an offensive tackle whose last name is Matthews (yes, he's from THAT Matthews family). Johnny Manziel is the household name, but Matthews was one half of one of the best offensive tackle combinations in recent memory, and he certainly deserves an assist for helping deliver the Heisman to College Station.
Matthews projects as a power-blocking right tackle, and there are plenty of teams that need immediate help at that position. The value of the position is on the rise as Mitchell Schwartz ended up being one of the best picks on the entire 2012 draft to the Cleveland Browns in the early second round.
15. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
If the Miami Dolphins don't sign Jake Long to a long-term contract or franchise him before he hits free agency, NFL teams will line up to add him. If they fail to lock him up, at least there's a good chance that another Michigan left tackle that wore No. 77 will be available in the draft.
Lewan has the classic left tackle frame and movement skills, but he has a deep mean streak that is rooted in his past as a defensive lineman. Lewan has the upside to be an elite NFL left tackle with more polish and consistency.
14. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
Mingo is going to be an excellent case study in weighing limitless potential at a very important position after a lackluster last season threw cold water on his draft stock.
There is no doubt that Mingo has the quick-twitch abilities to become an elite NFL pass-rusher when having someone who can collapse the pocket before the quarterback can get comfortable is a must in today's league.
He is underrated against the run and does not simply rely on his physical gifts. Mingo also makes a lot of sense as a top 16 pick in a league that is trending more towards hybrid defenses and defenders.
13. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Banks plays in an unheralded program at Mississippi State, but the level of competition he hung with in the SEC is known far and wide.
He's got the long frame and ball-hawking skills that NFL defensive coordinators covet, but Banks is also a fluid athlete and natural cover corner.
His lack of blinding straight-line speed keeps him from being an elite prospect, but Banks should still level off as a quality corner who matches up with the opponent's No. 1 receiver and holds him in check every week.
12. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The consensus No. 1 prospect going into the season, Barkley's warts look a lot more prominent than they did a year ago. The USC program had a down year, and Barkley's lack of ideal size, arm strength or athleticism was exposed, even though he was throwing to two of the best wide receivers in the college game.
Barkley still possesses great leadership, play execution and an advanced intellect for the game on and off the field. He would be an immediate improvement at quarterback for more than one team picking in the top 10.
11. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Moore isn't near the level of fellow Aggie Von Miller, but that's because few defensive end/outside linebackers in the NFL are near Miller's level. Moore is still a strong two-way defensive end who has a terrific first step as a pass-rusher, but he also flashes refined technique and advanced play recognition.
Moore will live on the opponent's side of the line of scrimmage, and he'll be a consistent force for the team that drafts him. He also possesses a diverse set of strategies to get to the passer and can make an impact when his first move/step is thwarted.
In a draft without a clear No. 1 overall pick, Moore could make a run at the top five with a good combine.
10. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Another year, another first round full of Crimson Tide standouts. If Chance Warmack was a little taller, he would be the prototypical NFL offensive guard in the current era.
He can grade roads as a run-blocker and also get to the second level and spring backs for long gains. As a pass-blocker, he can mirror the new breed of dancing bears at defensive tackle in the NFL and handle their bull rush when they come straight at him.
He should be one of three Alabama offensive linemen to go in the top 50 picks this year.
9. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Don't be surprised if Milliner gets into the top-five discussion soon. He has a long frame and is physically imposing against most wide receivers. Milliner also has tremendous natural athleticism and ball skills, which gives you the basic recipe for a shutdown corner.
He will be very active in run support and generally frustrate offenses with his aggressive, yet mostly disciplined play. Milliner isn't going to be able to turn and run with the fastest receivers in the NFL, but neither can Joe Haden, and that pick worked out pretty well for Cleveland.
8. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
If the big board was ranked in order of lowest risk, Te'o could have the top spot. He's still not quite as fast or athletic as, say, Patrick Willis, but Te'o's inspirational elevation of his game this year after suffering personal tragedy more than makes up for whatever his combine numbers will lack.
A glaring lack of big plays in his resume coming into his senior year was erased by a campaign full of interceptions and other game-changing plays, as Te'o has led the Fighting Irish to their best season in a quarter of a decade.
The success of Luke Kuechly after Carolina took him in the top 10 last year will make Te'o an even easier call in the single-digit picks this year.
7. Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The NFL is putting more stress on versatility in both players and schemes, so a player like Hankins will be a hot commodity. Imagine 2012 No. 11 pick Dontari Poe with good film against good competition and you get Hankins.
He's a 6'3", 320 lb. defensive lineman who can hold up at the point of attack against double-teams on run plays, rush the passer with a good first step and rare quickness for his size and even drop into coverage.
Hankins can actually play in space and also plays with great awareness. He fits in any defensive scheme imaginable and will be a trump card for defensive coordinators at the next level.
6. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Coaches are going to fall in love with Werner if he declares because of his non-stop motor and combination of tools and heady play to disrupt offenses in every way imaginable.
Werner is a strong, combative player who reads plays very well and pursues with a desire that few defensive players bring to the table. He also gets off of the line and handfights very well as a pass-rusher.
He might not be the gaudiest physical specimen at defensive end in the draft, but Werner comes with a high floor and the ability to be a quality all-around player from Day One, with room to become elite because he only started playing football at the age of 15.
5. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
No defender in this draft class can take over a game like Jarvis Jones. He looks like he is shot out of a gun when the ball is snapped, but he can also drop into coverage and make a big impact against the run.
Jones is the kind of pass-rusher that can make an offensive tackle look like a turnstile, which in turn will get inside a quarterback's head even when Jones is blocked. He plays the game with great intensity and hustle, wreaking havoc and creating externalities that his teammates can capitalize on with regularity.
If his spinal stenosis checks out at the combine, Jones could be the No. 1 overall pick.
4. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
From a physical standpoint, no defensive lineman in this draft class can match Richardson, and that's saying a lot. At 6'3", 295 lbs, Richardson is still very quick off of the snap and can knife into the backfield in the blink of an eye.
He'll hold his ground and then some against the run, and Richardson is also aware, agile and relentless enough to fight off blocks and blow up plays that are run away from his part of the field.
There's a bit of worry that he is a one-year wonder, but at his best, Richardson is a nightmare that stops an offense cold in every conceivable fashion, a la J.J. Watt.
3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Lotulelei will give teams at the top of the draft a chance to get their very own version of Haloti Ngata. Like the Baltimore Ravens nose tackle, Lotulelei is massive, amazingly athletic for his size and scarily persistent.
He rarely yields any ground to offensive linemen, but Lotulelei is also almost always the first lineman out of his stance when the ball is snapped. That puts blockers at a distinct disadvantage when trying to slow down this one-man gang.
Lotulelei isn't very polished as a pass-rusher, but with the right coaching, he will the kind of player that keeps quarterbacks, interior offensive linemen and offensive coordinators up at night.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Three rookie quarterbacks led their teams to the NFL playoffs this season, and three more second-year quarterbacks will start playoff games next year. The push for quarterbacks to deliver results immediately has never been stronger, and Geno Smith should be able to do just that for one of the many quarterback-deficient teams picking at the top of the first round.
His arm strength, athleticism and ability to run a wide range of offenses effectively are all underrated, and Smith is also mentally tough with great pocket presence and improvisational ability.
While he's not on the level of an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III—or maybe even Ryan Tannehill in terms of raw tools—Smith will be a life preserver for a team like Jacksonville, Kansas City or Oakland that has no real future plan at quarterback.
1. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
What's better, going No. 1 overall or winning the Heisman? Joeckel didn't win the Heisman, but he had a large hand in Johnny Manziel's revelatory freshman season.
He has a prototype left tackle frame and athleticism. Joeckel can dance with speed-rushers and bang heads with power-rushers. He's smart and aware and plays great balance and footwork.
Joeckel also possesses rare recovery ability when he is initially beat and has started every game of his collegiate career. He's definitely on a par with former top-five picks like Matt Kalil, Joe Thomas and Jake Long, and that's where you'll find Joeckel in this year's draft.