Every year, early favorites for coveted draft positions slip, slide and self-destruct their way into scouts' and GMs' doghouses by the time April rolls around. One need only look to the 2012 NFL Draft for a case study in the various reasons players can find themselves free-falling so drastically. Sometimes it's injury or durability concerns (Lamar Miller), sometimes it's character concerns (James Brown, Bobby Massie), and sometimes it's an elaborate bit of performance art illuminating the myriad ways one can self-sabotage (that is what you were doing, Vontaze?).
2013 will be no exception to the rule. Several have already begun their descent (what's up, Tyrann Mathieu?), but those beyond the obvious are harder to spot. Keep in mind, players most likely to slide are not always those most likely to bust, but rather those who, for reasons both within and outside their control, will present more questions than answers come draft day.
With that said, let's take a look at who is most likely to fall this year.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford: Taylor lacks the snap, crackle, and/or pop to stand out amongst this year's running back class. He's a workhorse back, but one that will likely be passed over for bigger names and flashier players, quite likely to the detriment of those passing on him. While possessing the statistics and measurables of a second-round runner, don't expect him to come off the board before the fourth and more likely land in the fifth.
T.J. McDonald, FS, USC: McDonald has been a chronic underachiever at USC. While his play hasn't been bad, per se, it hasn't ever lived up to his physical attributes either. After not declaring last year, many thought he'd improve his stock to first round consideration. Instead, he's guaranteed to last longer than either Kenny Vaccaro or Eric Reid, and more than likely will find himself surpassed by 2012 standout Phillip Thomas and more physical safety Bacarri Rambo. The fourth round looks to be his landing spot as of now.
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Neither Montgomery nor Barkevious Mingo was outstanding for LSU in 2012, both failing to fully capitalize on their physical freak status. Mingo, however, has the luxury of being able to play linebacker in either 4-3 or 3-4 schemes. Montgomery does not. As such, he runs the risk of being passed over in favor of players with similar skill sets such as Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan and Alex Okafor. Montgomery likely won't slip lower than the second round, but that's a pretty hefty fall for a player once considered a top 10 draft pick.
Joseph Fauria is a bigger name than most of the tight ends in this year's draft. His uncle, Christian Fauria, was an NFL tight end for 13 seasons, while Joseph has been a big name player for the Bruins for the past couple years. Fauria started out his collegiate career at Notre Dame, transferring to UCLA in 2009 before breaking out in 2011 as the team's leading receiver.
However, with questions about his ability to block, especially for such a big-bodied tight end (6'7", 258 lbs.), Fauria's stock has already been falling a bit. Now, Russ Lande is reporting for National Football Post that Fauria was injured during practice for the East-West Shrine Game. While the severity of the injury has not been disclosed, this latest blow to his stock could cause Fauria, a projected second-rounder following 2011, to ultimately fall into the late rounds.
Randle was excellent for the Cowboys in 2011, rushing for 24 touchdowns on his way to a second team All-Big 12 designation. 2012 was a bit of a regression statistically, as he scored only 12 rushing touchdowns and saw his YPC average drop from 5.8 to 5.2. Still, he managed to run for a solid 1417 yards, and had he returned for his senior year, he likely would have been in the first round discussion next year.
Despite a solid collegiate career and impressive measurables, Randle lacks the 'gimmick' many of this draft's other backs have. Teams are increasingly relying on a by-committee approach to the running game, meaning big backs (Eddie Lacy) and change of pace runners (Kenjon Barner) have niches teams may be looking for. Other prospects have styles too similar to current NFL stars to ignore (Juwan Jamison could just be called Ray Rice, Jr.).
Randle is a superior back who may find that his lack of unique abilities could cause him to slip into the mid rounds.
A blue chip recruit coming out of high school, Woods made an immediate impact for USC in 2010 before breaking records in 2011. Prior to the 2012 season, he was a projected Top 5 pick for this year's draft, and the idea of him slipping out of the first was unheard of.
Well, here we are in January, and after being outperformed by teammate Marqise Lee all year, Woods is considered a likely second round pick. The wide receiver position is a crowded one atop the draft this year, however, and with Woods stock on the decline while other second round receivers are rising, don't be surprised if Woods falls all the way to the third.
Then again, Pete Carroll loves both USC players and flipping the middle finger at draft projections (plus he's in serious need of a wideout), so there's always the chance he trades up and takes Woods in the Top 10.
As fun as that would be, smart money says Woods' only direction from now until April is down.
Several on-point draft prognosticators are consistently mocking Logan in the first round, and logically so. He's a big-program player blessed with natural strength, explosiveness and athleticism.
Much like this year's receiving class, though, defensive tackles are a top-heavy bunch this year. As many as nine have the chance to be taken in the first round, but the demand for the position isn't as great as the talent pool. Something's got to give.
Logan looks to be the odd man out of the bunch. He doesn't have the versatility to play as many spots on the line as some of these guys, nor does he have the sheer size to give his stock a boost. Expect that after a rush on defensive tackles has subsided, Logan may find himself still on the board well into the third round.
After a solid sophomore season, expectations were high in 2012 for Chris Faulk. Sadly, after only one game, Faulk suffered a torn ACL which ended his season and required surgery to repair.
Faulk likely would have been a first-round pick next year had he returned for his senior year and remained healthy. Instead, he has declared early, and analysts have tempered their projections by suggesting he is more likely a third round pick, though there has been some talk of him sneaking into the second now that both Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews are returning to school.
However, teams are more cautious than ever when it comes to big O-linemen and their injury risks (Andrew Datko, anyone?), so don't be surprised to see Faulk continue falling, perhaps all the way to the fifth or sixth. After all, his stock is based largely on his continued development, and if he isn't 100 percent for his workouts, teams may not see the point in risking it.
Robey is a phenomenal athlete who should have stayed in school another year. While his diminutive size (5'8", 165 lbs.) pretty much guarantees he will have to play nickle corner in the NFL, an improved senior season could have gotten him back into the second round discussion he was garnering before this season.
Instead, Robey is leaving school following a bowl game loss in which he completely whiffed on an open field tackle that arguably turned the tide of the game for good. Robey will almost assuredly be a third day pick, and could find himself falling as far as the sixth round.
This pick is a bit misleading. It's not as if I expect Glennon to fall to the fifth round. Rather, I expect that leading up to the draft, Glennon is going to continue garnering first round and even top 10 buzz. Draftniks will be mocking Glennon to teams like the Cardinals and Bills all the way up until draft day.
My big prediction, then, is that teams will finally realize quarterbacks like Ponder, Locker, Tannehill and Weeden are not worth the first round picks they have been getting. Guys like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III show what a first-round quarterback can be.
Glennon has a massive arm, but has a relative lack of experience and often looks uncomfortable under pressure. This will remind more than a few GMs of Blaine Gabbert, and considering the success of Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson this year (second- and third-round picks, respectively), my guess is teams may roll the dice and wait.
The difference between someone like Glennon and quarterbacks projected to go later like Ryan Nassib and Tyler Bray is minimal, and if organizations realize this (like they should), Glennon could find himself slip-sliding his way to a late second-day pick.