Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2013 NFL Draft Class
Any team looking to find quality linemen, particularly along the interior, won't be disappointed by the 2013 NFL draft class. Teams seeking improvements at linebacker will also have plenty of quality choices.
Those three positions represent the bounty at this year's annual selection meeting. However, those needing a top-notch wide receiver or running back might be wise to concentrate most of their efforts on free agency.
Here are the main strengths and weaknesses of the 2013 NFL draft class, beginning with the strongest position groups.
1. Strength: Defensive Tackle
Defensive tackle is arguably the strongest position group in the 2013 draft. It features a number of blue-chip prospects who can immediately improve a pro defense.
Scheme flexibility is the order of the day, beginning with Utah linchpin, Star Lotulelei. Similar to New England Patriots mainstay Vince Wilfork, Lotulelei plays quick for his massive frame.
That quick-twitch style means he regularly penetrates the line of scrimmage and collapses the pocket. No matter what an offense tries to do, corralling Lotulelei has to be the first priority.
Rivalling Lotulelei in both versatility and dominance is Ohio State behemoth Jonathan Hankins. A natural focal point for a defensive front, Hankins is a prolific playmaker anywhere along the interior.
Even after these two stud prospects, the defensive tackle class boasts some fine talent, including Georgia's John Jenkins and Alabama's Jesse Williams.
Any team rebuilding the defense should be identifying a prospect from this group as its main target on draft day.
2. Strength: Offensive Guard
The offensive guard class offers similar quality depth. A pair of Crimson Tide linemen represent excellent selections.
Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones are certain to become key factors in productive running games at the pro level. Warmack, in particular, has the strength and technique to become a linchpin for any interior offensive line.
Jones is less physically dominant, but plays smart and utilizes excellent technique. He also offers the versatility to slide across and play center.
This duo can't hog all the headlines among rookie guard prospects, though. That's because zone-blocking teams should be tripping over each other for the right to select North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper.
Elite agility and mobility set Cooper apart from many in this excellent position group. The team lucky enough to pick Cooper will have immediately solidified the left side of its offensive line.
3. Strength: Linebacker
The 2013 linebacker class offers something for every defensive scheme. Its long list of dynamic and versatile prospects is headlined by LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.
Mingo is a natural 3-4 outside rush linebacker. He has the frame and speed off the edge to terrorize pro offenses.
If defenses are looking for an active playmaker on the inside, Manti Te'o will likely top their lists. A punishing hitter who attacks aggressively downhill, Te'o matches his physicality with superb natural instincts.
Mingo and Te'o shouldn't last past the first 15 picks. However, there will still be an abundance of linebacker talent left.
Georgia's Jarvis Jones is arguably the best of the rest. He could fit outside in both a 3-4 or 4-3. His athleticism, smarts and knack for the big play define him as a top-notch prospect.
This year's linebacker class defies all those who believe the position is becoming devalued in the pros. It certainly won't look like a dying position when teams begin the scramble to select one of these top prospects.
4. Weakness: Wide Receiver
The wide receiver class lacks an obvious standout prospect. Cal flanker Keenan Allen is perhaps the closest. The position group also doesn't boast the depth of others.
After Allen, the likes of West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Baylor's Terrance Williams lead the way. There are questions regarding each and none is viewed as a must-have selection.
However, in today's expansive passing schemes, pro teams can find a use for any wideout with potential. Last year's receiver crop was weak, and the 2013 version is a far cry from the 2011 class that produced Julio Jones and A.J. Green.
5. Weakness: Running Back
Similar to wide receiver, the running back class boasts no obvious headliner. Marcus Lattimore epitomizes a group that poses too many questions.
The South Carolina star's talent is beyond question. However, significant injury concerns raise major doubts about his pro durability.
The rest of the running back field offers fewer answers than questions. Clemson's Andre Ellington is hampered by similar injury woes.
Alabama's Eddie Lacy might be the most pro-ready runner. However, highly touted Alabama runners like Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson have endured their share of NFL struggles. Lacy might not be ready to reverse that trend right away.
As many doubts as there are with this running back class, it's dangerous to assume none could succeed as rookies. The 2012 draft offered a timely reminder of the importance of the position and the potential of late-round prospects.
Both Alfred Morris and Daryl Richardson quickly became useful pro weapons after being selected in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. Many of this year's position group may have to tread a similar route.