The 2013 NFL draft is still nearly three months away, but already a plethora of prospects have begun to distinguish themselves as first-round talents.
But becoming a first-round draft pick requires more than headline and big-board domination. It takes a combination of on-field production and potential.
Here we'll break down some under-the-radar NFL prospects destined for the first round.
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina, G
Offensive lineman rarely get a whole lot of attention. But when they do, it's usually the offensive tackles who are being praised and touted as the next best thing.
That's why NFL fans should give North Carolina offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper a solid look this winter. The 6'3", 320-pound guard is an elite pass-protector and nearly every bit as stout as a run-blocker.
While Cooper isn't going to wow with his size or athleticism, his awareness sets him apart from the average NFL-bound offensive lineman. Cooper isn't going to be fooled by opposing rushers too often, and when he is, he'll recover better than most.
Keep an eye out for the Tar Heels star this coming spring. He's got first-round potential.
Kawann Short, Purdue, DT
Another under-the-radar senior headed to the NFL in 2013 is Purdue's Kawann Short, one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the country.
Short measures in at 6'3", 325 pounds, serving as an immovable object on the defensive line. In addition to being a productive, durable force for the Boilermakers over the years, Short has provided the program with tremendous leadership. He was a co-captain for Purdue in each of his past two seasons.
While Short isn't nearly as talented as some of the other prospects at his position, his versatility certainly sets him apart. Not only is he a human wall in run defense, but he can pressure the passer as well.
Short led the Boilermakers with 15.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2012.
Kevin Minter, LSU, LB
No LSU defender recorded more tackles than linebacker Kevin Minter in 2012. The 6'2", 245-pound junior racked up 130 tackles this past season (including 20 in a loss to Florida) and will now take his talents to the NFL.
Minter is one of the top inside linebackers coming out of college this year, and although he may not be the most physically gifted one, his impressive production speaks for itself. He led the Tigers last season with 15 tackles for a loss, including four sacks.
The Georgia native also broke up five passes, recorded an interception and forced a fumble.
Minter may not boast the star power of a Manti Te'o or Jarvis Jones, but his game has first round written all over it.
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