The 2013 NFL draft is loaded with talent at positions like left tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker. We all at least have a good idea of the top players by now, but who are the most exciting players in this year’s class?
Here’s a look at some of the players I’m most excited about scouting over the next three months. This isn’t a look at the 12 best players in the 2013 class, but a look at the guys who are the most fun to break down on the coaches' film.
Despite an injury that slowed Jones down and caused him to miss two games, the junior from Georgia still led the NCAA with his 14.5 sacks.
Jones’ draft stock is taking a bit of a beating due to his spinal stenosis condition, but each NFL team could view this differently. Jones has the potential to be the best defensive player in the entire 2013 draft class, and he could be a steal depending on where he’s drafted.
Jones’ ability to crash the edge of the offensive line and make plays on the backfield will make him a fan favorite. Some see a lighter version of Von Miller, and based on his last two seasons at Georgia, that’s not a big stretch.
Jones can be viewed a ‘tweener by some—at 6’3”, 241 pounds, he’s not a great fit as a defensive end or outside linebacker to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills. Jones could be the rare pass-rusher who doesn’t need ideal size to win against left tackles, but there are enough question marks that could cause him to fall on draft day.
With quickness, athleticism and great instincts off the edge, Jones will make an impact wherever he’s drafted.
Prior to injury, Quanterus Smith was one of the most exciting pass-rushers in all of college football. His draft stock will take a dip due to his rehab from an ACL tear in his left knee, but teams should still keep an eye on him as a potential steal in the middle rounds.
Smith burst onto the scene in Week 2 against Alabama when he posted three sacks. Not bad for a kid few people had heard of.
Watching Smith’s performance, you saw the burst off the edge and a true ability to play in space. He’s comfortable enough taking on blockers one-on-one, and while he needs some work in his technique, the raw ability he possesses is enough to make me want to spend a pick on him.
We’ll see how Smith looks coming off of his season-ending ACL surgery. The bottom line is that he’s an incredible talent with room to grow. Teams should see that and be willing to wait for him.
The 2013 class of wide receivers is pretty darn impressive, and perhaps the most exciting vertical player at the position is Quinton Patton.
The 6’2”, 195-pound wide receiver doesn’t have elite speed, but he plays faster than he’ll time. Patton is at his best when he’s streaking up the field to make plays over the top of the defense. That’s his ballgame—get deep and make the defense pay.
Patton has a chance to be one of the first wide receivers off the board come April, and it’s very likely that his stock is just starting to rise. Teams in the late first round who are looking to replace free-agent wide receivers could easily fall in love with the Louisiana Tech prospect and push him up into the top 32 picks.
If you love watching players make plays with the ball in their hands, you have to check out Tavon Austin.
Austin doesn’t have a true position, as he’s played both wide receiver and running back, but you can bet that an NFL offensive coordinator will find a way to use the most exciting run-after-catch receiver in this year’s class.
There’s a chance some teams will knock Austin because of his lack of size, but at 5’9”, 174 pounds, he has rare quickness and vision to make plays in the open field. He was a touchdown machine for the Mountaineers in 2012, putting the ball in the end zone 16 times on the season.
His quickness in the open field—plus his versatility as a runner, receiver and return man—will make him a top-50 pick.
Damontre Moore seems to be criticized more as time elapses, but when I turn on the tape, all I see is a pass-rushing nightmare off the edge.
Moore needs to develop a secondary pass-rush move—as do most college defensive ends—but what he brings in power and good flexibility off the edge makes up for his lack of elite burst.
Moore does the little things well, like scraping down the offensive line when the ball is run away from him. Effort allows for things like technique to be coached, and he brings plenty of effort.
He isn’t a freakish athlete, but he’s an exciting player because of the skills he shows now as a pass-rusher and the potential he brings for a team to mold him into a stud.
We as evaluators sometimes get caught up in things like burst and speed, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to find football players. Damontre Moore is a football player.
It’s not often that an offensive guard is one of the most exciting players in the NFL draft, but true football fans will love what they see from this hard-charging beast.
Warmack single-handedly set the tone for the national championship game by smacking Manti Te’o in the mouth over and over again in the first quarter. Warmack took out the Heisman candidate and wore him down to a point where he stopped trying to fill gaps and stop the run.
Warmack is as finished as any prospect you’ll find in this year’s class. While guards are rarely drafted high in the first round, Warmack just might be the exception to that silly rule.
It’s easy to get caught overlooking Kevin Minter for Manti Te’o, Arthur Brown or Alec Ogletree, but don’t sleep on this LSU middle linebacker. He has the all-around game to be the best pro of the bunch.
Minter, unlike Brown and Ogletree, is a true middle linebacker. While the other two are likely to move to outside linebacker in the NFL, Minter will be a Day 1 starter at the "Mike" position. Compared to Manti Te’o, you get a better, more fluid athlete who doesn’t have the instincts of the Notre Dame prospect.
Minter is a missile on the field, though. If you want motion from your middle linebackers—and there are few things more important to me—then Minter is your guy. He’s like a shark on the field, never stopping until he finds the ball-carrier. That fierce mentality will make Minter a ton of money in the NFL.
The road to the NFL has been long for Cordarrelle Patterson, but he's definitely earned it.
A former JUCO player, Patterson dominated in his one season at Tennessee before heading to the NFL draft after head coach Derek Dooley was fired and quarterback Tyler Bray left school early. Now, Patterson has a chance to show just how electric he can be.
One of the true playmakers in the 2013 draft class, Patterson can alter the game from the wide receiver position or as a return man. He showed rare speed for a 6'3", 205-pound player this season as the Volunteers' return man, something that will tip NFL teams to his favor thanks to the dual threat he brings.
Patterson is raw, but he's electric too. As a deep threat or return man, he'll make big impacts in the NFL early on.
There may not be a more athletically gifted player in the 2013 NFL draft class, and teams are taking notice.
Barkevious Mingo is the biggest "boom or bust" player in this year's class. He has the potential to hit the NFL like a tornado and become immediately productive, but he may also never turn his athletic ability into production. He could be Aldon Smith, but he could also be Vernon Gholston.
Watching Mingo on film, you see a long, lanky player with exceptional quickness that could easily transition to an outside pass-rushing position. He lacks the bulk to play defensive end on every down, but in a 3-4 defense, his quickness is a huge plus on the edge.
For Mingo to realize his payoff, he'll need to add some bulk and be utilized correctly. The LSU defense loved to put him on the left side of the line, matched up against bigger and stronger right tackles. That shouldn't be the case in the NFL, where Mingo will be unleashed off the right edge.
If you're looking for an impact defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei is your man.
The Utah defensive lineman has played nose tackle and three-technique and otherwise destroyed offensive linemen who dared line up across from him. A combination of size, speed and strength that is rarely seen has NFL teams excited.
Lotulelei made big strides in 2012 after losing weight before the season began, and it showed in his increased quickness and better conditioning. He won't wow you with stats, but his impact from the middle of the defensive line was huge.
It's easy to make the comparison to Haloti Ngata, but the two are truly similar in their ability to impact the game by crashing gaps, attracting blockers and stuffing the run. Ngata has become one of the best players in the NFL with these skills, and if Lotulelei reaches his potential, he will be too.
Bjoern Werner was lost in the shadow of Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine before the 2012 season began, but as the FSU defenders suffered injuries, Werner continued to shine.
As one of the better all-around defensive end prospects in this year's class, Werner has a chance to hear his name called as early as No. 2 overall. What teams will find on film is an active player who excels at timing his rush and has shown a rare skill at knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage.
Every team is looking for the next J.J. Watt, and while Werner doesn't have that type of size or crazy combination of skills, he's as close as you'll get to a Watt-like impact in this year's class.
My top-rated player in the 2013 class—and the best left tackle I've scouted since I started way back in 2002—Luke Joeckel is flat out exciting to watch on film.
The Texas A&M offense changed from a West Coast offense in 2011 to a spread option attack in 2012, giving teams and scouts the chance to see Joeckel playing in two very different schemes—both of which have value in today's NFL. Joeckel dominated in both sets.
Watching him on film, you see a fluid athlete with rare quickness and NFL-ready technique. You won't have to teach this Aggie how to punch at defenders who are rushing off the edge; he already does that at a high level.
Joeckel's quickness when sliding out to meet defenders is a thing of beauty, but he can finish blocks too, with good ability to drop his weight and anchor out on the edge. That's key for his ability to stonewall bull-rushers in the NFL.
There's no better player in this year's class than Luke Joeckel, and if you love watching football, you should cue up Texas A&M's last two seasons.