With the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2013 NFL draft rapidly approaching, the field of collegiate stars taking their talents to Sundays has started to cement.
That means we'll no longer need to wildly speculate about which players will have their name called in April, but instead can start to make assessments about stars' first-round worthiness.
For certain players, that may not be such a good thing. Whether it's as a result of a disappointing bowl performance or frustrating season as a whole, there are a few players out there who will have a ton of work to do in order to be taken with one of the first 32 picks.
Luckily, they have a little over three months to get that done. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few potential first-round picks most in need of a boost in the pre-draft process.
Manti Te'o (LB, Notre Dame)
Golden domers across the world were nothing short of embarrassed after the Irish's 42-14 loss against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. However, it may be their star linebacker who faces the most damage from the loss in the interim.
After coming into the bowl game garnering top-five consideration from some pundits, Te'o put forth a performance that sent his draft stock plummeting. He looked completely lost against the Tide's mauling blockers, as Alabama tore up Notre Dame's front seven in the run game.
Though Te'o ultimately wound up recording 10 tackles, it was the ones he missed that were even more concerning. Twelve regular-season games went by with Te'o only missing two tackles, but on the grandest stage of all, he was seen struggling to grasp Tide running back Eddie Lacy.
For a guy whose main calling card is his wrap-up tackling and leadership, scouts had to cringe at that performance.
Now, granted, NFL teams aren't going to put stock in just one game and Te'o's resume speaks for itself. It's inarguable that Te'o is one of the most decorated defensive players in NCAA history.
He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, becoming the first solely defensive player to ever receive such a distinction—and with good reason.
Despite the struggles against Alabama, Te'o is one of the nation's best at finishing tackles and has a football IQ that's through the roof. Also an underrated athlete, Te'o intercepted seven passes in 2012 and is a good coverage man for the middle linebacker position.
Te'o will need to remind NFL teams of those facts during interviews and individual workouts to help resuscitate his cratering stock. He may never reach the lofty heights of the top-five, but could wind up going as high as No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills if he plays his cards right.
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Unlike Te'o, Barkley didn't hurt his draft stock by having a poor bowl performance—because he decided to sit the game out. Citing a shoulder injury, the senior signal-caller sat out USC's Sun Bowl matchup against Georgia Tech and watched on as the Trojans offense flailed in his absence.
Just don't expect Barkley's absence to make NFL scouts' hearts grow fonder.
Expected to compete for the 2012 Heisman Trophy, Barkley (like many of his teammates) turned in a frustratingly inconsistent campaign. The four-year starter threw for 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns against 15 interceptions as USC descended from the preseason's top-ranked team to completely out of the Top 25 by the year's end.
Considering he missed two games, Barkley's former statistics being down from a year ago isn't all that disconcerting. The interception numbers, however, don't speak well for Barkley's NFL future.
His top targets, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, were arguably the best receiving duo in the nation, and running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal provided a more than adequate balance to the offense.
To put it simply, Barkley just made bad decisions—especially against elite competition. Barkley threw multiple interceptions in each of the three games he played against ranked opponents, accounting for six of his 15 picks.
Unsurprisingly, the Trojans lost each of those contests. As for how Barkley can improve his draft positioning, it's rather similar to Te'o: Look at the career arc, not the minor blips on the radar.
If he's able to do that, the first-round dream certainly still could come true. Teams have shown an increasing willingness to take risks on quarterbacks in the first round under the new collective bargaining agreement, and Barkley could be the next to benefit.
Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
For a team that went 5-7 during the regular season, the Volunteers sure have garnered a ton of NFL intrigue. But of the four Tennessee underclassmen that entered the 2013 NFL draft early, Patterson is undoubtedly the most polarizing.
His counterpart at receiver, Justin Hunter, is also getting a ton of first-round buzz, but actually has the production to back it up. Hunter finished the 2012 season with 73 receptions for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns, while easily emerging as Tyler Bray's top target.
Patterson was far more inconsistent. He recorded only 46 receptions for 778 yards and five touchdowns, with his production coming far more sporadically than Hunter's.
Even more curiously, this was Patterson's only season in Knoxville. The junior receiver spent his first two seasons at Hutchinson Community College, where he excelled, but against very questionable competition.
Unlike the two stars previously mentioned, there won't be much game tape for NFL scouts to break down. That makes him a mostly unknown commodity, which tends to shy away some teams in the first round.
To lock himself in the first round, Patterson is going to have to impress with his otherworldly potential. He's one of the more versatile and explosive talents in the draft, having even taken some carries while at Tennessee.
Patterson also has an NFL-ready body and could make huge plays down the field as a rookie even if his route-running doesn't measure up.
In that way, he's a lot like Demaryius Thomas was when he came out of Georgia Tech. Thomas was able to convince the Denver Broncos to take him in the first round, and they certainly aren't regretting their decision.
Will Patterson be able to do the same? The answer to that question will be answered at the combine and at closed-door interviews.
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