The 2013 NFL draft is full of players projected to become NFL starters. Of those, there are a handful who seem destined for stardom, assuming they are placed in the right locker room with the right coach playing the right system.
Here are the defensive players, who assuming those things come true promise to become stars in the NFL.
Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Barkevious Mingo is one of the few players in this draft who will be a star regardless of the style of the defense. He is ideally suited to make the shift to outside linebacker in a 3-4. But he showed at LSU he can hold his own against the run.
More importantly, Mingo is the most explosive player in the 2013 class of pass-rushers. As a 4-3 end, think Jason Pierre-Paul with less ideal size. No matter though, as young pass-rushers tend to dominate the NFL anyway.
Another comparison to try on for size would be Dwight Freeney. If Mingo becomes Freeney 2.0, it'd be safe to say he had a nice career.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Though Star Lotulelei (can we just call him Star please?) has weaknesses (namely, he’s not an elite pass-rusher and his football IQ doesn’t always show on the field) he is the top defensive tackle in this year’s draft.
The reason being that his primary weaknesses are easily overlooked given his amazing college production. His ability to clog a hole in the running game is unmatched. He succeeds against the outside run due to his great motor.
In short, he will make some defensive coordinator very happy come draft day and for the next few years to follow.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
All one needs to know about Sheldon Richardson is that he’s a freak. He is the tackle version of Mingo. He is quick and remarkably agile. He shoots gaps by getting skinny as well as any three-technique defensive tackle alive.
He will tear up the combine. For once, that fact should not scare teams away but only reinforce the proper belief that Richardson is worthy of a top-five pick.
The only caution to throw regarding Richardson is that he is exclusively a 4-3 guy. He would surely fall flat on his face in a 3-4.
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Johnathan Hankins was a dominant player at Ohio State. He is another player who seemingly could excel in either a 4-3 or 3-4. At Ohio State he was used in both.
After Richardson, he shows the most potential as a pass-rusher among the defensive tackle prospects. His play against the run is nothing to sneeze at either.
Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Please, I beg you, do not make the mistake of assuming that one mediocre game in the BCS National Championship means Manti Te’o will be an NFL bust. Simply take the fact that Nick Saban had 44 days to prepare for that game as evidence of the disadvantage Te’o and Notre Dame faced in that contest. NFL teams never have more than 14 days to prepare, save for the opening game of the season.
Still, Te’o will prove to be a better NFL than college player for the simple reason that he will be surrounded by amazing talent. Imagine how amazing Te’o would be in Chicago or Dallas—under brand new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Te’o has unreal fluidity to move in space and cover every position. Dropping 20 yards from the snap in a Tampa-Two would make the most of his unique skill set. If given the opportunity, expect multiple Pro Bowls from Te’o, who is a natural leader and charismatic fan-favorite.
Of course one of these players will suffer a major injury at some point in their rookie season, or shortly thereafter and make their inclusion on this list moot. And some kid from Podunkville State will come out of nowhere and become a great NFL player.
Nonetheless, these are the best bets for kids who will become great defenders at the NFL level.