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Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Who Could Be Top Picks in the 2014 NFL Draft

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2013

Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Who Could Be Top Picks in the 2014 NFL Draft

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    At least three Texas Longhorns will have their names called in this April's NFL Draft. Nevertheless, it is never too early to check up on some current Texas players who will get that same opportunity come 2014.

    Of the four former Longhorns currently vying for an NFL contract this spring, three of them have a great shot to have their names called in the first two days of the draft. Kenny Vaccaro is a surefire first-round pick, with Alex Okafor looking at a second-round selection. Marquise Goodwin, courtesy of his near record-breaking 40-yard dash, has firmly ensconced himself in the third round. 

    Not bad for a 9-4 program that has not exactly been on the upswing.

    However, this coming season gives the Longhorns a great shot to win the Big 12. They also will have 20 seniors on the roster, 11 of whom could start, which means that the number of potential draft picks among Texas players should greatly increase in 2014.

    While it would be unsurprising to see as many as eight 'Horns get picked in next year's draft, only a select few have a shot to be a first- or second-round pick.

    Here are those players and what they have to do to elevate their stock over the next year.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat

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    Had he stayed healthy in 2013, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat could have found himself among the top 10 picks in this year's draft. Despite the setback, he remains Texas' top draft prospect and among the top overall prospects in the country.

    One look at Jeffcoat, and it is easy to see why scouts have drooled over him for the past three years. At 6'5" and 245 pounds, he has ideal size for the defensive end position, and his 4.6 speed makes him a fit for either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.

    On tape he has shown the ability to flat out dominate, recording double-digit tackles twice in his career along with 38 tackles for loss in just 26 games. 

    Yet herein lies the singular issue with Jeffcoat: He has played only 26 games, or roughly two-thirds of the games in which he has been at Texas. He missed four games his freshman year with an ankle injury, then an additional seven this past season—and most of the Oklahoma game—due to a torn pectoral muscle.

    Another injury of a similar nature, and he could find himself tumbling down draft boards a la Marcus Lattimore.

    If Jeffcoat can stay healthy next season, his track record says that he will dominate from the end position en route to a top-10 selection.

DB Quandre Diggs

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    No matter what position he plays in 2013, junior Quandre Diggs is another Texas defensive player that could go in the first round of the 2014 draft.

    As a cornerback, Diggs has been one of the Longhorns' most consistent defensive players and was one of the few members of Texas' secondary in 2012 who could tackle.

    At 5'10" he is slightly undersized for the position, but he plays with an edge and has elite ball skills for a defensive back. 

    What will draw teams to Diggs is his versatility. His instincts allow him to play either defensive back position, which he will likely do in 2013, and he has demonstrated a knack for the big play, intercepting eight passes in two years as a Longhorn. He also has ideal speed for the position, which he has put to use as a returner throughout his career.

    He needs to improve his one-on-one coverage skills to play corner in the pros, but Diggs is a favorite to be selected in the first round as a junior.

    His stock could rise even further if he excels at safety.

CB Carrington Byndom

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    Like Jackson Jeffcoat, cornerback Carrington Byndom could have gone to the draft early after the 2012 season. Unfortunately, he took a major step back in his junior year and needs to prove himself in a big way in his final season.

    To borrow from Forrest Gump, Byndom is like a box of chocolates. Some games he locks onto a receiver and doesn't let him breathe for 60 minutes like he did against A&M's Jeff Fuller in 2011 or Oregon State's Brandin Cooks in 2012.

    Other games he gets burned as he did to start last season by giving up two 75-yard scores in two of Texas' first three games.

    At 6'0" and 180 pounds with 4.4 speed, Byndom has great measurables for a cornerback. He just has to find some consistency in his game and work on finishing tackles, which was a major issue this past season.

    Once he does that, he will get picked up in a hurry because NFL teams are always looking for a shutdown corner. 

OL Mason Walters

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    The title of Texas' most-eligible offensive line prospect could change by the end of the season, but right now it belongs to guard Mason Walters.

    Walters stands 6'6" and weighs 320 pounds, giving him great NFL size. He also has started every single game he has played for the 'Horns at right guard, though he has also shown the ability to play center and tackle. 

    One thing that should stand out to NFL coaches is that Walters is now operating in his third system in four years with Major Applewhite stepping in as the offensive coordinator. If he turns in another great season, that speaks volumes to his adaptability as a player and will prevent him from being labeled as a system player.

    Texas will have to greatly improve in the run game this season for Walters to get first-round consideration, but he is a certainty to be selected next April.

WR Jaxon Shipley

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    By far the biggest long-shot of this list is junior wideout Jaxon Shipley, who has a shot to ride a monster season to an NFL payday in 2014.

    While many consider Mike Davis to be Texas' premier receiver, it is Jaxon Shipley that has the chance to shine brightest in 2013. The younger Shipley is the team's best route-runner with the hands and leaping ability to make the most spectacular of catches.

    Now that Texas is moving back to the spread offense, Shipley should feast on one-on-one coverage to the tune of a 1,000-yard season.

    Shipley is the right size to be an NFL receiver, but he has not had the exposure and does not have the speed of guys like Marqise Lee. That said, if he proves to be as unstoppable as he can be and runs a faster-than-expected 40-yard dash, Shipley is a guy with the polish to vault up draft boards as a slot receiver.

    Realistically, Shipley will probably not leave Texas early nor jump past some of the more popular draft-eligible wideouts. But he will turn some heads in this system, and all bets are off when a 21-year-old starts seeing those dollar signs.

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