The 2013 NFL draft is bursting with talent, and not just on the football field.
The line between boom and bust in the NFL is a thin one, and if you're on the wrong side of it for long—you're canned. Both as a player and as an evaluator.
As NFL teams converge upon Indianapolis for the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, their staffs are looking for any possible separating factor in prospects.
Teams have plenty of time right now. These are the months that the draft community call "silly season." The NFL's annual pre-draft player evaluation process, ripe with smoke signals and misinformation.
The Senior Bowl. The combine. The pro days mixed through free agency, and finally the 2013 NFL draft.
The most important test at the NFL combine is the interview process. A multi-million dollar job interview cannot be won without sitting face to face with the boss. In this situation, every corporate psychometric model for effective interviewing starts with a simple question—or rather, a command.
"Tell me about yourself."
The slides that follow outline unique skills on the resumes of some of 2013's top NFL draft prospects.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith is a frequent topic of rumors, speculation and analysis as a prospect.
As a child artist, he was a "visionary," according to Tim Rohan of the New York Times:
A visionary, he was called. After taking an intelligence test, he was labeled gifted. If his mother wished, Smith could have skipped a grade. She decided against it, preferring he mature with his peers — a notion that did not go as planned, considering Smith often grew bored after finishing his schoolwork faster than most of his classmates.
The quality of his drawings was more advanced than your average 13-, 14-year-old. It was actually on par with a college freshman in art school.
Smith's draft projections are all over the place, just like the smoke signals that will be coming from clubs regarding prospects from now until the NFL draft in April. Players will be scrutinized, have every aspect of their games dissected ad nauseum, and second-guessed by analysts.
Draft season starts "in earnest" at the Senior Bowl, but the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis symbolizes the first "formal gathering" of the league, and every team wants their best face on—and their story straight—when representing a winning new strategy for 2013 amongst peers and media alike.
It's in the interviews that take place at the combine that Geno Smith will shine. Both with teams and media. Besides being an escape artist in the pocket who takes very few sacks, he is an actual artist, as well.
Well, at least he was.
In speaking with WVU Sports information director Mike Montoro today, he didn't believe Smith had an art teacher contact at the University, because he doesn't take art anymore, and there probably wouldn't be one at his high school, either. Montoro said much of what the linked article above does, that Smith made a conscious decision to focus all of his efforts to football starting in high school.
Once an artist, always an artist, however. According to USA Today, Geno Smith still draws and even writes poetry in his downtime to decompress.
Messages and emails to Smith's middle school art teacher regarding whether any of his work is available for public view remain unreturned.
People love NFL prospect comparisons, but when I first saw Margus Hunt in the lobby at the 2013 Senior Bowl hotel, the first thing that came to my mind was NBA star Kevin Love.
At 6'8", Hunt is a long-armed defensive end, as evidenced by his elite ability to block kicks and generate tremendous velocity throwing a discus—a sport in which he is the former world junior record-holder.
Being a world-class track athlete is a huge talent on its own, but it was another that caught the eyes of many at Hunt's first arriving in Mobile.
Upon entering the main ballroom of the team hotel during Senior Bowl player arrivals, Hunt walked over to the grand piano in the corner of the room, and played an entire song—well.
Hunt, a native of Estonia, has been studying piano since coming to America.
Duke WR Conner Vernon of Duke was one of the nicest surprises of the 2013 Senior Bowl.
His favorite route is the dagger, which is a deep-dig route that a lot of wide receivers hate running. Vernon's routes are crisp, and his understanding of defensive zone responsibility seems to almost be second nature.
On the "in-routes" he loves (where he must cross the middle through three "windows" for the QB outside of hot-read situations), he has the coverage out-smarted almost every time.
Vernon has quick feet, and an athletic inside move that he upper-body-fakes upfield to get the corner's hips opened to the sideline. Only then is when he makes a brutal inside cut to come free.
Vernon is a precise route-runner and a "hands-catcher" who'll be a a difference-making WR at the NFL level out of the slot.
Vernon told RosterWatch at the Senior Bowl that one of his hobbies during college outside of football was film. In fact, Vernon wrote a screenplay during his senior year at Duke:
"There's a lot more to writing a movie than a lot of people think. Being able to create your own story from scratch and developing your own characters, making your own plot..."
When asked if he had written a screenplay, he in fact had.
"Yeah, I did actually. It was an 'American Pie' meets 'Superbad' almost. It's about two kids, and one night in Miami, and just kind of their wild night out."
Scouts drool over Kyle Long, the "raw" Oregon offensive guard who happens to be the son of Howie; and the brother of Chris Long.
He will come off the board much earlier in 2013 than many may expect. NFL scouts love a Hall of Fame bloodline.
Long has shorter arms than you would optimally love out of a tackle prospect, but he's an athletic player who is a clear competitor.
Long has his family's sharp wit and intensity. He'll be an incredible developmental guard prospect that may just end up at offensive tackle when it's all said and done.
He started out as a pitcher at Florida State, though, and a good one.
Long throws a 96-mph fastball, and his experience in a locker room through every sport he has played is impossible not to understand when speaking with him. Long's just "crazy enough" about competition to buy completely into an offensive philosophy, and just smart enough to lead others in doing so.
He's a member of the Long family, and it shows.
UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin has a personality that lights up a room.
Forget Franklin's constant improvement as a runner through the line of scrimmage as a patient, effective offensive weapon. Forget the fact that Franklin is UCLA's rushing record-holder, over players like Gaston Green, Deshaun Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Johnathan Franklin is a leader and a personality. He wants to be the mayor of Los Angeles one day, and he's serious.
Franklin is known by some from Season 2 of the BET reality show Baldwin Hillls, a gig that got him the nickname "Hollywood" in the UCLA locker room, although the nickname he has had longest is "Jet Ski".
Franklin was a team captain at UCLA, and a leader in every way imaginable. Franklin gives some insight on his development in this interview from the Senior Bowl's YouTube page.
When you're an Olympic athlete, you just look like a professional. Marquise Goodwin looks better doing warm-ups than anyone on the field by a mile. He will be the best-looking player during high-knees and warm-up calisthenics drills on the field the minute he joins an NFL team.
He's looking better on the field, too.
Goodwin was underutilized horribly at the University of Texas. He was given kid gloves in what seemed like a transition from track to football that the Texas staff never really turned full tilt onto football.
At least not in the their utilization of Goodwin in offensive game plans. It reminds fans of how Jermichael Finley was underutilized, a player who was interested in basketball. Goodwin comes as an athlete with very little tread on the tires, and legitimate world-class speed and explosion as a long jumper.
Goodwin's seeming to start to show this burst into and out of his routes. When looking back at the Senior Bowl game, and week of practices, Goodwin was obviously a player the Raiders' staff loved coaching.
As if Datone Jones wasn't filthy enough, he's taken up MMA.
Likely the single most impressive player at the Senior Bowl, he told the Senior Bowl YouTube about what he had been working on most his senior year:
Do some yoga, boxing and MMA, just working tremendously with the hands. Just working on how to strike, where to punch guys. If you're a D-lineman you need to have nasty, violent hands... and that is something I've brought into my game this year.
The hand skills showed up against the best competition.
Jones was the only defensive lineman on the North roster at the Senior Bowl with a consistent answer for star LT Eric Fisher during team drills, and is a prospect with a deep love for the game.
Jones will kill his interviews at the combine.
Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams came into the Senior Bowl and made his presence known.
The small-school DT is a penetrating force through the middle of the defense and is a body that can rarely be consumed by one interior lineman alone.
At 325 pounds, Williams has motor, most importantly. He attacks the correct gaps and keeps his feet moving with functional balance when squaring upfield.
Williams helped his draft stock greatly at the 2013 Senior Bowl, and he won't have to be taking part in this talent any time soon. Williams has recently been spending his summers cleaning out porta-potties.
According to Williams, "Sometimes you gotta get a little poop on ya, it's not fun, but..."
LSU DE Barkevious Mingo is best known as a developmental 4-3 rush end with elite upside. Mingo likes to fly, according to Barry Thamel of SI.com. Mingo went skydiving in the summer of 2012, and has ambitions to one day get a pilot's license.
Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer had a strong Senior Bowl week, and his WR teammate, Markus Wheaton told me Poyer was the toughest competition he'd ever lined up against. Poyer not only has a background a baseball star, he's also the star of the Jordan Poyer Show on KEZI 9 News.
BYU DE Ezekiel Ansah is a native of Ghana who first strapped on football pads just over two years ago. Ansah started out as a track athlete.
Alabama DT Jesse Williams is an Australian native and a fire plug with a talent for bench pressing 600 pounds.