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2013 NFL Draft: Identifying the Draft's 10 Biggest Projects

Brandon HolsteinFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2013

2013 NFL Draft: Identifying the Draft's 10 Biggest Projects

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    The terms “upside," “project," "raw" and “potential” are used relatively loosely and often when defining a player's stock in where he deserves to be selected in the NFL Draft.

    Coaches and general managers either cringe, or conversely grin at the idea and meaning of these terms, because of the mixed bag of negative or positive connotations associated with them.

    For instance, some front office personnel see or hear these words and subconsciously assume it defines a player who has yet to accomplish or do something to his full capability.

    On the other hand, these words can also mean a player has unique skills and abilities that have yet to be fully taken advantage of due to a number of different internal or external factors.

    The players designated with these specific tags are intensely debated by both fans and the media every year and for good reason. Players who earn this rap are largely considered boom-or-bust type players if selected high or potential sleepers if available in the mid-late rounds.

    For this reason, getting the pick right can present excellent value and return on investment, whereas getting it wrong can often mean the waste of a valuable draft pick(s) and can even cost a scout his job depending how large of a gaffe it becomes.

    The 10 players on the following slides each possess certain skills or traits at their respective positions that offer intrigue, but they have yet to put it all together and become dominant forces.

    Some of these players will reach their full potential and become solid NFL players or even stars in the league, while others will fail and fall flat on their faces and become an obscene pun or relative afterthought  in the minds of one unlucky franchise and its loyal fanbase.

    Let's take a closer look at which players in this year’s draft fall into this specific class and could be coming to a city near you soon, for better or for worse.

1. LB/DE Barkevious "KeKe" Mingo, LSU

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    Many might be surprised, maybe even perplexed to see a potential top-10 pick on this list, but Mingo is a player who offers both intrigue and question marks following a sub-par year overall, making him one of the more polarizing prospects in this entire draft.

    Coming into his junior season, following a breakthrough sophomore campaign, many believed Mingo was well on his way to a becoming the next great SEC pass-rusher.

    However, Mingo failed to live up to expectations despite his immense raw potential and physical upside, collecting only five total sacks on the season. 

    When watching Mingo, the thing that is absolutely apparent from the get go is his incredible first-step quickness and explosion off the line.

    Along with his speed to turn the corner, Mingo also possesses incredible length for the position, as his impressive wingspan allows him to stay clean and keep defenders off his body.

    Despite his thinner frame, Mingo also possesses surprisingly strong hands at the point of attack to rip through contact and shed off blocks, which will translate very well in the next level.

    This explosiveness, coupled with his impressive length and athleticism, has left evaluators drooling at the amount of untapped potential Mingo has in becoming a truly dominant player.

    While all this is great, concerns regarding Mingo's lack of production and experience to this point are also factors to consider before spending a high first-round pick on this talented athlete.

    Having only played football since his junior year of High School, Mingo is still learning the nuances of the game. In particular, the area of Mingo's game that needs the most work involves his ability to learn and use a greater variety of pass-rush moves as well as display the ability to use a counter when his first move has been neutralized.

    Thankfully for Mingo, this so happens to be a teachable skill, assuming Mingo proves he is also a coachable player who can learn and implement on the field. 

    Budding with untapped talent and loads of upside, Mingo is the type of player who can truly become as good as he wants to be, assuming he is developed correctly, incorporated into the right system and drafted by a team with veteran leadership at the position.

    Only a junior, it has yet to be seen whether Mingo will make the jump to the NFL a year early, however, he should hear his name called quickly based on his pure potential should he choose to forgo his senior season.

    A better athlete than football player at this point, Mingo is your classic boom-or-bust type prospect. Because of this, teams will have to devote plenty of time and effort in deciphering if this unique athlete and physical specimen can also become a unique football player.

2. LB/DE Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, Brigham Young University

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    Much like Mingo, Ansah also has a catchy nickname (Ziggy). Therefore, it's not shocking to find out that both Mingo and Ansah were both very good track athletes before being convinced to strap on a chinstrap, and both have only been playing the game for a few years now.

    A native of Ghana, Ansah was brought to BYU on a track scholarship before catching the eye of the football coaching staff and has went on to become one of the better stories in all of college football this season.

    Standing a stout 6'5" and 270 pounds, Ansah possesses the type of imposing frame and length only seen in superhero cartoon characters. In fact, it was Ansah's combination of athleticism, size and versatility that made him an integral part of what became one of the top three defenses in college football this past season.

    A relative unknown at the start of the year, Ansah has since went on to become one of the most dominating and intriguing defenders in the nation, possessing the raw potential and upside to become a rare first-round pick for the Cougars.

    Blessed with exceptional quickness, burst and acceleration off the line, Ansah breezes past opponents while also displaying the coordination and agility to stop on a dime and change directions, making him a nightmare to defend in space or one-on-one. 

    This, coupled with his exceptional upper body strength, a non-stop motor and power on contact, allow him to jolt defenders and ball-carriers backwards and nearly makes him an unstoppable object and penetrating force.

    However, this is not to say Ansah is a flawless prospect. What Ansah must work on to truly reach his full potential lies largely in his ability to learning the technical aspects of the position.

    Namely, the two most frequently noticed technical flaws seen with Ansah are both his inconsistent hand placement and pad level coming out of his stance.

    While both are correctable, much like Mingo, coaching and development will be needed before his true potential can be maximized and reached.

    It is fully expected that Ansah will blow up the combine and test off the charts in individual drill work and tests, which will only increase his value and potential in the minds of NFL scouts and decision makers.

    Expect Ansah to receive heavy media interest over the next few months leading up to the draft, as he truly is one of the more intriguing players who has only begun to scratch the surface of his immense potential.

    Although not yet a complete prospect, Ansah certainly possesses the freakish ability to become a superstar in the NFL, but he will first need to work on the finer parts of his game and go to a team with the patience to develop and bring him along accordingly.

    If done correctly, the sky is the limit, in which case, watch out Superman!

3. OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma

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    Moving to the offensive side of the ball, we find one of the most-improved players in all of college football this past season.

    Lane Johnson has lined up everywhere, from quarterback, to tight end to defensive lineman during his time in the Sooner program.

    Now a converted offensive tackle, Johnson seems to have found his home where he has excelled and improved immensely over the past two years, even winning the coveted starting left-tackle position earlier this year.

    Standing 6'6", 305 pounds, Johnson is a very athletic and nimble offensive lineman with the arm length and wingspan to neutralize defenders and keep them at bay.

    I have also noticed when watching Johnson that he is not afraid to mix it up and loves finishing blocks, displaying the type of mean streak and tenacity NFL teams love to see.

    In last nights Cotton Bowl game vs. Texas A&M, Johnson more than held his own against talented pass-rusher Damontre Moore when the two went head-to-head.

    This performance is an indication that Johnson has the type of raw ability to become a dependable starter at the next level.

    Although he must work on his upper body strength and technical issues like hand placement, Johnson is well on his way to becoming a day one or two pick, depending on his performances in the All-Star circuit within the coming months.

    Assuming Johnson can perform well at the upcoming Senior Bowl next month and proves he can handle elite competition, the sky truly is the limit.

    Although he is still a work in progress, Johnson is quickly becoming one of the most talked about prospects and has his stock moving in the right direction as we head into NFL Draft season.

4. QB Mike Glennon, NC State

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    A top prospect and highly rated recruit out of high school, Glennon has long displayed the type of ability and tools at the quarterback position to warrant a high draft selection.

    Glennon spent his first two seasons in the shadow of the starting playoff quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and former Wolfpack star, Russell Wilson.

    After getting his first chance in his junior season to be the starter, Glennon proved his worth, passing for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns.

    Blessed with a dynamite arm and very good size at 6'6" and 230 pounds, Glennon possesses an ideal combination of size and arm strength to excel at the next level.

    Glennon spins the ball with favorable RPMs and can stretch the field vertically because of his natural arm talent.

    However, concerns regarding his decision making under pressure and shoddy footwork at times have made him more raw than refined, as he must focus on improving in these areas if he is ever to become a franchise-type quarterback.

    Slow feet and an uneasiness in the pocket make him a sitting duck and a quarterback who struggles to improvise when the play breaks down. 

    While he may possess a very nice set of tools, Glennon is still a very much raw prospect who needs more time and experience under center before he can be considered the face of the franchise.

    The hope is that Glennon will be able to sit and learn for some time before he becomes the starter.

    However, this appears to be unlikely, as there are plenty of teams in desperate need of a franchise quarterback in a class with very little firepower.

    If developed correctly, Glennon certainly boasts the talent and ability to eventually become a potential franchise quarterback, but in no way is he ready to lead a team right out of the gate.

5. QB Tyler Bray, Tennessee

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    Tyler Bray finds also finds himself on this list with Glennon, as both possess many of the same attributes.

    Although some will disagree and believe Bray has all the tools to become a franchise quarterback, there are many holes in his game which leave more questions than answers.

    However, it’s likely, in a weak quarterback class overall, that Bray will be selected higher than he probably should based on pure potential.

    Blessed with a “golden arm," Bray has an absolute cannon, capable of making all the throws at the next level.

    His ability to drive the ball into tight windows is unmatched and should be seen as his biggest asset moving forward, as he possesses elite ability in this category to spray the ball to all levels of the field.

    Standing 6'5" and a lean 215 pounds, Bray has very good height for the position, which affords him the ability to scan the entire field and find the open receiver. Although the ball explodes off his fingers, the biggest problem I have with Bray is his lazy fundamentals and footwork in the pocket.

    Only a marginal athlete with heavy feet in the pocket, Bray lacks the ability to extend and improvise when the play breaks down.

    Against inside pressure, Bray has a tendency to retreat and throw off his back foot rather than slide and maneuver in the pocket, which has led to some poor decisions and easy interceptions. 

    Because of his big arm, Bray has gotten away with this in college far too often.  However, in the professional game, Bray must improve immensely in this department if he ever is to reach his full potential, as instinctive corners in the NFL will anticipate and jump on these routes at the next level.

    While Bray is a developing quarterback with loads of potential, it's imperative he sits early and learns behind a veteran quarterback initially in his career.

    Much like Brock Osweiler and Ryan Mallett, it would be extremely beneficial for Bray to learn from exceptional leaders like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady on how to play the game at this level. 

    Look for a team like the Ravens, Texans, Chargers or Raiders to snap him up in the AFC. Whereas teams like the Cowboys, Bears and Buccaneers could all be potential suitors in the NFC. 

6. DE Margus Hunt, SMU

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    Born in Estonia, Margus Hunt is sculpted like Greek god. He stands 6'7", weighs around 280 pounds and moves extremely well for a man of his stature.

    A former track and field athlete back in Estonia, Hunt may be the biggest physical freak in the entire draft.

    His impressive arm span length gives him a natural advantage against offensive linemen, as he is able to use his thick and long levers to keep opponents off his body and fight through contact due to his exceptional strength.

    Comparisons to All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans have already begun, and Hunt's raw athleticism and potential have scouts and general managers both day dreaming and drooling about what he could become.

    The biggest knock against Hunt to this point has to do with his consistency, as he has a tendency to disappear for long stretches and struggle against better competition. 

    Hunt is perhaps one of the rawest players in the draft, but his upside is undeniable. In SMU's bowl game against Fresno State, Hunt consistently wreaked havoc, accounting for two sacks, a forced fumble and a safety.

    His performance in this game is a microcosm of his true potential and surely caught everyone's attention.

    Look for Hunt to absolutely blow up the NFL Combine and likely find himself drafted in the early part of day two.

    The team who selects Hunt will need to display patience but should have quite the project with loads of potential on its hands.

    Hunt's best fit is at the five-technique position in a 3-4 defense and should appeal to teams in need of a physical presence along the defensive line with the raw ability to develop this absolute gem of a football player.

7. OT Kyle Long, Oregon

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    Most will recognize Kyle's last name and rightfully so. Kyle is the younger brother of All-Pro defensive end Chris Long and son of Hall of Famer Howie Long.

    Bloodlines and heritage in the NFL are always positive characteristics, and this fact alone should warrant high consideration for teams looking for a developmental tackle prospect. 

    Kyle is relatively new to the sport and his position, although he did play in high school. However, Kyle's first and perhaps best sport was baseball where he excelled as a pitcher, earning a scholarship to play for Florida State.

    Kyle's time at Florida State, however, would prove to be a disappointment after struggling with school and sustaining a DUI arrest. After one year at junior college, Kyle enrolled at Oregon where he initially started at defensive end before moving to the offensive side as a tackle. 

    As part of the Ducks' impressive offensive attack, Kyle earned playing time and has shown flashes of his potential and upside this year.

    The Senior Bowl and NFL Combine will be very important for Kyle, as he will not only have to prove himself versus elite competition but also answer tough questions regarding his character and maturity. 

    One thing Kyle does have going for him is both his last name and also the fact that both his dad (Howie) and brother (Chris) have both gone on the record saying they believe Kyle is the best natural athlete out of the three.

    Whether this is true or not is yet to be determined, but if Kyle can jump through the hoops and steer past the obstacles, he could become one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft with loads of upside and potential.

8. WR/RB/KR Denard Robinson, Michigan

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    Everyone should recognize this name, as Robinson consistently produced highlight reel plays and has been one of the most exciting college football players to watch in recent memory.

    A perennial Heisman candidate, Robinson has long been considered a potential project, as his skills as a quarterback simply do not translate well to the next level.

    Robinson, however, does possess undeniable talent and athleticism, as his ability to make people miss and first-step explosiveness is rarely seen.

    A position switch is imminent, but the debate over which position he should play at the next level or even how great an impact he can have is all over the board.

    Some have claimed running back, while others claim wide receiver presents his best opportunity to make an impact and prolong his NFL career.

    While it has yet to be seen which position affords Robinson the ability to highlight his strengths and diminish his weaknesses, recent players like Antwaan Randle-El and Armanti Edwards offer glimpses into what Robinson could become.

    Much like many of the other projects on this slide, offseason workouts and the NFL Combine will be imperative for Robinson to make his claim as a legitimate prospect.

    Working in his favor is both his athletic ability and the fact that do-it-all type players like Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin have recently shown the value a player of Robinson's dynamic ability can bring to an offense.

    Teams and offensive coordinators who can think outside the box and use their imaginations on how to best utilize Robinson will be very important for him to become a player in this league.

    Expect Robinson to hear his name called in the late second or in early part of day three, as teams will want to be careful to leverage risk versus reward. 

9. WR Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech

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    A big play threat in every sense of the word, Davis possesses the type of home run hitting ability that is desperately sought after in every NFL offense.

    The thing about Marcus Davis that immediately catches your attention is his rare combination of size and speed. At 6'4", 230 pounds, Davis has more than ideal size for the position at the next level and boasts impressive 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash.

    With over a 17.0 yards per catch career average and numbers that have improved with each year of experience, there is much upside to a player of his natural ability. However, many questions also loom in the mind of talent evaluators when discussing Davis's potential.

    For instance, despite his size, Davis has a tendency to allow more aggressive defensive backs to win position against him when the ball is in the air.

    Questions regarding his commitment level and determination are also highly warranted, since Davis's route running and inconsistency in effort have all been dually noted.

    To get the absolute most out of his potential, teams will have to determine whether he has the desire to become great and work on his craft instead of coasting by on his immense talent.

    Due to this, a team with a veteran presence at wide receiver in need of a complementary receiver could be his best fit.

    Davis really does boast exceptional upside, as he also shows good ability to adjust to the ball in the air as well as high-point the football in 50-50 situations.

    Another player who can become as good as he wants to be, if he commits, Davis is definitely a player with unique upside due to his impressive physical tools.

10. DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina

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    Moving back to the defensive side of the ball, we find another defensive end prospect who has yet to maximize his full potential.

    For reasons unbeknown to many, Taylor has largely failed to live up to expectations for the Gamecocks and has failed to stand out, as he has been largely overshadowed by Melvin Ingram and now the most dominating defensive player in college football, in Jadeveon Clowney.

    Blessed with a unique combination of size and athleticism, this 6'7", 270 pound physical specimen offers plenty of intrigue for NFL clubs to consider.

    Despite this, however, Taylor has struggled to stand out due to his high-cut and linear type of game. He struggles in tight areas and needs to work on his flexibility when turning the corner, as he struggles to drop his pad level and has tightness in both his ankles and hips.

    Also, teams will need to see Taylor become much more physical and aggressive with his hands and body, as he seems to absorb rather than deliver contact. 

    With all that said, although he has yet to play up to his ability, Taylor will warrant consideration as a developmental defensive end prospect with plenty of upside.

    Once considered a potential first-round pick and breakout player, Taylor needs to prove he is motivated and answer questions on why he has yet to fully develop his all-around game.

    Look for a team with a veteran presence and coaching staff who can motivate and inspire Taylor to take a chance on this buy or sell candidate.

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