NFL Draft: 6 Early Red Flags Already Showing Up for the 2013 Class

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIJanuary 2, 2013

NFL Draft: 6 Early Red Flags Already Showing Up for the 2013 Class

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    The coming months will uncover serious concerns for top prospects entering the 2013 NFL draft.

    In recent years, character concerns such as immaturity and legal troubles caused prospects like Ryan Mallett and Vontaze Burfict to fall well beyond their expected draft spot. Several players will undergo the same scrutiny this offseason.

    NFL teams run prospects through the ringer, and the draft process will also uncover medical red flags and health concerns for many players this offseason. Some of the medical issues relate to injuries suffered during the college season, while others will go mostly unreported until the weeks leading up to the draft.

    The following slideshow features players whose character or medical concerns have already begun raising red flags among NFL circles.

Matt Barkley: QB, USC

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    Barkley had a disappointing senior season, and one has to wonder how much better he would have fared had he entered the draft last year.

    At the time, it seemed like Barkley made the right decision by staying at USC for his senior year. The 2012 quarterback class was loaded with talent, and Barkley projected as the No. 1 pick in 2013 barring any setbacks this season. The setbacks were numerous, though, and Barkley’s draft stock has taken a hit.

    Barkley’s Trojans floundered this season, and hopes of a national title shot and Heisman Trophy quickly evaporated. USC finished the season 7-6 with a 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Barkley didn’t play, and the shoulder issues that kept him on the sidelines should raise major red flags for NFL scouts.

    It was an AC joint sprain in his throwing should that kept Barkley on the shelf—an injury that typically takes a couple months to fully heal. How well Barkley recovers from his sprained throwing shoulder will impact how he performs in pre-draft workouts, but it’s hard to imagine Barkley will do much throwing.

    This year’s quarterback class was expected to be much stronger than it appears to be now, which will still lead to much first-round speculation for Barkley. He’ll likely still find a home in the first round of the 2013 draft, but he’s fallen far from being the consensus No. 1 selection.

Jarvis Jones: LB, Georgia

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    Jones is considered by many to be the top linebacker prospect in the 2013 draft. While he has the talent to warrant that distinction, Jones’ health issues may scare some NFL teams.

    Jones began his playing career at USC, but after a neck injury he suffered during a game his freshman year, Jones was diagnosed with spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the spinal column. USC would not clear Jones to play again after the diagnoses, and he transferred to Georgia.

    Since transferring, Jones has had an impressive career. He recorded 26 sacks in the last two seasons, and has the physical tools to warrant top-five consideration on draft day.

    Still, spinal stenosis is a serious condition that could potentially limit Jones’ longevity in the NFL. Former offensive tackle Marcus McNeill also suffered from spinal stenosis, which forced the San Diego Chargers to release McNeill in March due to his inability to pass a physical for the team.

    Some NFL teams may shy away from Jones, but he’ll only need one to take a chance on him. He’ll likely still be a top-15 selection in the draft, and has the talent to warrant the selection.

Tavon Austin: WR, West Virginia

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    Austin is an electric offensive weapon with an incredible mix of speed and lateral agility. He’s explosive and shifty, and because of the lack of depth at wide receiver in the 2013 draft class, Austin has the chance to be a day one selection.

    Despite his productivity and impressive physical skills, Austin’s size raises some questions. Austin is listed at 5’9”, but he looks even smaller. He moved from running back to the slot receiver position in 2011, presumably to keep him on the field and away from the trainers.

    While Austin offers massive upside for NFL teams in need of an explosive playmaker, he’s going to struggle finding the right fit at the next level. Austin is best suited playing in the slot, though he could potentially be used in a role like that of Percy Harvin in Minnesota.

    As long as his offseason workouts go well, Austin has a chance to be a fringe first-round selection in April. He’ll need to find the right fit to make an immediate impact in the NFL, though.

Marcus Lattimore: RB, South Carolina

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    Lattimore was expected to be the first running back selected in the 2013 draft prior to blowing out his knee in October. It’s unlikely he will still hold that spot, but Lattimore will find a home in the NFL.

    Lattimore is an impressive runner, and he has the frame to hold up in a featured role at the next level. Still, it will take massive effort to rehab his knee from such a devastating injury that has ended many
    football careers.

    Willis McGahee suffered a similar injury in the 2003 national championship game. McGahee tore his ACL, MCL and PCL, but the Buffalo Bills took a chance on him in the first round of the 2003 draft. He was able to rehab with NFL doctors, and has gone on to have an exceptional playing career in the league.

    That’s the best-case scenario for Lattimore. He’ll have the opportunity to work with NFL doctors to recover from his knee injury and have a second chance at a football career. Knee injuries like Lattimore’s are
    potential devastating for any player, but he has the work ethic to battle back and secure a spot in the draft.

    Lattimore could still go in the first round given the lack of depth at running back this year, but it’s more likely he will slide into day two to a team willing to take a risk on his recovery.

Tyler Bray: QB, Tennessee

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    Bray was expected to be a top quarterback prospect should he declare for the 2013 NFL draft, but off-the-field issues and concerns about Bray’s maturity will keep many teams at bay, even in a year with a weak quarterback class.

    In July of 2012, Bray faced charges for throwing beer bottles at parked cars. The charges were dropped after Bray agreed to pay for damages, but the incident—and other concerns about maturity issues and work ethic—will undoubtedly leave NFL teams questioning his value as a future NFL

    Bray has excellent size and arm strength. He has the physical tools and the arm to play quarterback at the next level, but his skittishness against the pass rush and inability to step up in big games are causes for concern.

    Against Georgia and Alabama, Bray combined for just 465 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw five interceptions, and looked rattled and unfocused against two quality SEC defenses.

    As is the case with many prospects facing character concerns, Bray’s draft stock will rest on how well he performs during the interview process, during which NFL teams will have the opportunity to sit down with Bray and determine his mental makeup. If Bray can quell some of the concerns about his maturity, he has a chance at being a day two selection in April. That’s still a big question mark, though.

Tyrann Mathieu: CB, LSU

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    Mathieu’s off-the-field issues have been well documented, and his inability to adhere to rules will have many NFL teams leaving him off their draft board altogether.

    Still, Mathieu has a lot of value if he can get his head on straight. He was an electric returner at LSU, and his instincts in coverage are hard to ignore.

    Several teams have been known to take chances on players with a high ceiling and maturity issues, including the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals. Mathieu will find a home in the NFL if he can make good decisions this offseason, though it won’t be on day one of the draft.

    Mathieu does have several on-field red flags, as well. At 5’9”, Mathieu is shorter than the average NFL cornerback. He excels in zone coverage, but lacks some of the characteristics that make a good man-coverage defender. Mathieu extremely sloppy in his backpedal, and his lack of elite leaping ability will make defending taller receivers on vertical routes a major problem.

    Given Mathieu’s elite athleticism and skill with the ball in his hand, he’ll get a chance at the NFL level, at least as a kick returner and special teams performer. Mathieu’s ceiling is high, but he’s a high-risk, high-reward prospect at this point.