NFL Draft 2013: Analyzing Most Underrated 1st-Round Prospects

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIFebruary 16, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04:  Tavon Austin #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers celebrates after he scored an 8-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL Draft will once again be filled with intrigue, and should only continue to increase the league-wide parity with less lucrative rookie contracts.

Even though missing on a high choice isn't as devastating as it once was, it is still important for teams to get great value out of the first round. Some prospects are under the radar and have outside shots at going in Round 1, but should be more highly touted.

Here are two players on each side of the ball that will thrill at the next level and should be selected within the first 32 picks in April.



Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

The perception surrounding this class is that there is a lack of elite skills players. If Austin's college production is any indicator of how he'll do in the pros, that will prove to be wrong.

In his last two years with the Mountaineers, Austin racked up 101 and 114 catches respectively and caught 20 touchdowns. He also gained 643 yards on just 75 carries as a senior, tacking on three more scores on the ground.

Oh, and he took a punt and a kickoff to the house in his final collegiate season. There is no questioning Austin's explosiveness and ability to find pay dirt from anywhere on the field.

But the big concern, of course, is Austin's size. Standing at just 5'9" and 174 pounds, it is feasible that the speedy receiver could suffer injuries rather easily at the next level.

However, he managed to stay healthy enough to have an extremely successful career in Morgantown, and simply brings too much to the table to be passed on early in the draft.

Austin could easily contribute immediately as a dangerous slot receiver and be especially effective in offenses that implement spread concepts. Look for a team to take a chance on him late in Round 1 and be heavily rewarded.



Matt Elam, SS, Florida

Few players pack as much punch as Elam does, whether it's in defending the run or smashing receivers who dare venture over the middle.

Playing in the Southeastern Conference with the Gators, Elam has faced plenty of NFL-caliber competition and was a standout in the complex schemes overseen by head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has Elam going at No. 29 to the New England Patriots in his mock 2.0 (subscription required), and it's possible that he could go higher than that.

Safety is a need for several teams, and Elam isn't likely to stick around past the beginning of Round 2 for teams to snatch him up. His coverage skills are solid, and he can line up at both safety positions and have success at the next level due to his natural instincts and high football IQ.

That kind of safety is hard to come by, and if there's anyone who is going to wind up as a first-round safety outside of Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, it's going to be Elam.



Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

There's some debate as to who the better tight end prospect is between Ertz and Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame. Both are rather similar, but Ertz seems like a better bet to succeed right away at the NFL level.

Coming from David Shaw's Cardinal offense, which was initially implemented by current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, Ertz has a deep understanding of the pro-style offense. He can thrive in the West Coast system, especially as a pass-catcher.

At 6'6" and 252 pounds, Ertz will provide his quarterback with a massive red-zone target. For his size, he flashes great athleticism and has deceptive speed to get vertical in a hurry. His route-running, though, is perhaps his greatest asset.

Although he is a bit raw as a blocker in the running game, there aren't many other holes in Ertz's game to justify passing on him in Round 1.

Considering the increased use of tight ends in the league's pass-happy offenses, it would be shocking if Ertz tumbled out of the top 32.

ESPN's Todd McShay currently has Ertz as the successor to Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons (subscription required). GM Thomas Dimitroff would gladly welcome Ertz if he fell into the franchise's lap.



Datone Jones, DE, UCLA

It's a stacked class of defensive ends, featuring the likes of Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore, Barkevious Mingo and others. Jones is somewhat under the radar, and doesn't receive a first-round grade from a lot of evaluators.

After putting on a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and flashing brilliance against even the most elite tackle prospects, Jones is garnering wider praise and recognition.

There is always the danger of overreacting to the happenings in Mobile, but Jones showed that he could bull-rush Central Michigan's Eric Fisher in one-on-one drills even as Fisher was shutting everyone else down.

That's a very small sample size to draw on, so it's worth looking at what Jones did for the Bruins. At 6'4" and 280 pounds, he has good speed for his size, a nice burst off the line of scrimmage and is consistently in position to make plays.

Jones registered 57 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss in his final year. He only had 6.5 sacks, which may not make him an elite pass-rusher, but his size makes him versatile enough to play anywhere on the defensive line.

Dane Bugler of CBS Sports has Jones at No. 21 in his latest mock, and don't be surprised if the former Bruins standout is selected then, or maybe even a little bit before.