Reviewing the Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2013 NFL Draft Class

Ty SchalterNFL National Lead WriterApril 4, 2013

Reviewing the Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2013 NFL Draft Class

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    Every draft class has its strengths and weaknesses.

    Some drafts are loaded with potential superstars at the top, while others (like this 2013 class) have no dominant prospects. Some drafts are thick with potential contributors in the second and third rounds, while others seem to run dry of starters in the middle of the first. Some have "fallers," early-round talents whose drop to the lower rounds makes for must-see TV.

    Each class also has position groups of strength, whether it's surefire studs at the top, lots of short-term projects in the middle rounds or intriguing small-school prospects.

    Some teams, though, have desperate needs at positions where there just isn't much to be had. No matter how high a team drafts a middling prospect, it won't change how likely that player is to fill their positional need.

    Which positions are strengths of the 2013 class, and which are weaknesses?

STRENGTH: Cornerback

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    There isn't a Champ Bailey in this draft class, but the cornerback position is definitely a strength.

    There are a few mid- to high-first round picks up top, like Dee Milliner and Desmond Trufant, available for teams who still need a potential No. 1 corner.

    The real strength of this class, though, is in the second and third rounds, where there's a grip of excellent, athletic prospects like Mississippi State's Darius Slay. There could be a dozen or more cornerbacks taken from the bottom of the first round through the top of the third.

WEAKNESS: Center

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    The best center prospect this season, Alabama's Barrett Jones, may well be drafted to play guard or tackle. The next-best, Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, isn't particularly fluid and will likely struggle in pass protection.

    After those two, there's only a handful of draftable prospects; a team needing a center in this draft doesn't have many choices.

STRENGTH: Defensive End

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    The draft might not have a mind-blowing, can't-miss all-around stud at defensive end, a la Mario Williams, but the first and second rounds are stocked with intriguing athletes who'll get after the quarterback at the next level.

    The most intriguing is BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, whose rare combination of size (6'5", 271 pounds), burst and pursuit speed give him the potential to develop into a monster pass-rusher.

WEAKNESS: Quarterback

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    No matter your assessment of West Virginia's Geno Smith, there isn't a Manning-esque, surefire No. 1 overall pick in this draft class. Smith might go as high as No. 2, but he's not a polished pro with miles of bulletproof game film to his credit.

    Opinions vary wildly on USC's Matt Barkley and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, which itself speaks volumes, and that completes the list of quarterbacks who might play NFL football this season. Some of the rest have high ceilings, but most of those also have low floors.

STRENGTH: Offensive Guard

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    Once-in-every-quite-a-while guard prospect Chance Warmack heads up what might be the strongest position group in the class. If his linemate, Alabama's Barrett Jones, gets drafted to play guard, that's two outstanding prospects.

    North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper is a surefire first-round pick and possesses the technique and athleticism to excel at the next level.

    All told, there could be five or six guards taken in the first two rounds—a huge number, considering the low positional value and easy long-term development of guards.

WEAKNESS: Defensive Tackle

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    Many will disagree with calling the defensive tackle spot a weakness, but the top prospects have question marks, and the "sleepers" are a little too sleepy.

    The top prospect available, Florida's Sharrif Floyd, has all the physical tools. As B/R's Michael Schottey points out, though, Floyd doesn't show the instincts or consistency demanded of a top-five pick.

    Utah's Star Lotulelei would fit the bill, but a combine echocardiogram showed his heart did not function healthily. Lotulelei has since been re-examined and given a clean bill of health, but some teams may still be a little gun-shy. Others might also see Lotulelei as a 3-4 defensive end, rather than a tackle.

    The mid-first though mid-second round tackles are hard to pin down; evaluators strongly disagree on prospects like North Caroina's Sylvester Williams. Generally speaking, there are more big-bodied run-stuffers available than interior pass-rushers, but it's the latter position teams prize these days.

STRENGTH: Punter

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    Between LSU's Brad Wing, Louisiana Tech's Ryan Allen, Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp and UCLA's Jeff Locke, there are four draftable punters in this class.

    If all four are taken, it will be the first time this many punters are picked since 1999's four-punter class.

WEAKNESS: Inside Linebacker

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    For all the controversy, intrigue, question marks and deflated hype about Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, he still might be the "safest" inside linebacker available in this draft class.

    Depending on what you think about LSU's Kevin Minter, Te'o might be the only inside linebacker drafted in the first round—and even then might cap it off at the 32nd pick.

STRENGTH: Outside Linebacker

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    This is double-dipping, in a sense, because some of the same outside pass-rushers that made defensive end a "strength" also belong to this group. The fact remains, teams looking for explosive, dynamic 245- to 265-pound edge rushers will have plenty to choose from, like LSU's Barkevious Mingo.

    Whether teams intend to play these players with a hand down or standing up almost doesn't matter. Most teams are beginning to hybridize and incorporate elements of multiple fronts anyway. There could be as many as 10 of these DEs/OLBs taken in the first 100 picks.

WEAKNESS: Running Back

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    At least one running back has been taken in the first round of every draft for as far back as I cared to check (25 years). In fact, 2011's draft class was the only year in the last quarter-century there weren't at least two running backs taken.

    That first-round streak for tailbacks is in danger, as Alabama's Eddie Lacy is a borderline first-rounder, and there's no better NFL prospect in the draft.

    Many of the top college running backs, like Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, are big power runners without a home-run gear—the opposite of what most NFL offenses look for.

    There are pro-caliber backs in this draft, but none with the game-breaking ability NFL teams covet.