Every year, it amazes me how little fans and media care to learn about a draft class.
Seriously, think about it. Besides the storylines (Manti Te'o), the quarterbacks (Geno Smith, Matt Barkley) and the few guys everyone can agree are going to be top picks (Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Dion Jordan, etc.) no one really likes to talk about anyone else. It seems, rather, that we're treated to the same few arguments and disagreements over and over until draft day.
Even the hardcore fans don't get as much information as they'd like. Sure, watching Jon Gruden's QB school (now featuring linebackers!) and NFL Network's Path to the Draft will help a little bit. But even they don't spend their time studying the finer points of various fourth- and fifth-round picks. They're still interested in ratings and everything they know says that viewers only care about the top guys.
Don't believe me? Watch the third day of the draft when the bulk of the players get picked. Most of the time that day is spent talking about the guys who were picked in the first and second round. Heck, toward the end, they don't even stop talking long enough to even acknowledge a pick is happening—better watch the bottom of that screen!
At Bleacher Report, we want to change that. Our draft coverage looks to be the best on the web both before the draft and even (live!) during it. To that end, here are some secrets you may not have heard about this draft class.
It seems like the same phrases are brought out every single year to describe draft classes. Every single year is "deep," never "top heavy." It seems like there are fewer and fewer elite guys and more and more "late-round steals."
Honestly, I just feel as if that is the result of the "draft community"—fans and amateur/low-experience media—getting better each year at assessing the prospects. Seriously, it's a cottage industry that is not equaled by any other sport or topic, and it is amazing.
So, let me tell you about this draft class so you don't have to believe the same lines you hear every year.
There are more players with first-round grades than there are players in the first round. Depending on scheme and fit, teams understand they can get quality role players or even starters in the fourth or fifth round of this draft—about a round later than they would reasonably expect them in another year. One team scout told me that most of his colleagues were planning on bonuses because of how productive they expect some of their later-round prospects to be.
Sure, there are reasons to be pessimistic about this class—an immature quarterback crop that needs some growth, too many running backs and receivers, not enough impact and well-rounded linebackers—but there are far more reasons to be optimistic that your favorite team will pick up one of its better recent draft classes in 2013.
The latest Mount Union prospect, Collins is at the tail-end of a deep receiver crop and is fighting for the recognition needed to get drafted. He's projected as a late-sixth rounder, but depending on how receivers fall, he could easily have to wait until after the draft for a phone call. Or, he could end up wowing one team enough to go much higher.
After a fantastic East-West Shrine Game, I took a look back at some of Mount Union's games. In the Division III national championship game, Collins put on a show, collecting 120 yards on eight receptions. It was his sixth straight 100-yard performance (a mark that included three playoff games.)
A crisp route-runner who has soft hands, good lateral athleticism and outstanding footwork and burst after the catch, I slapped a potential starter grade on Collins. He may be limited to slot work in the NFL, but he has a shot to be a great steal for some lucky team.
Last spring, after the 2012 NFL draft, many thought Wagner might be the top tackle in the 2013 draft class. However, a disappointing senior season earned Wagner an "RTO" label from myself and others, meaning that he can play "right tackle only" in the NFL. Although he's a former basketball player and tight end and has decent athleticism, his feet are too slow to keep up with NFL pass-rushers.
Could he be taken in the fifth or sixth round and start at right tackle?
People don't question whether they're getting a good lineman out of Wisconsin, teams just wonder exactly how good that lineman will be. Some end up getting over-drafted because of the positive vibes around the program (see: Carimi, Gabe), but it's clear Wisconsin prospects pass the look test and are well-coached.
Wagner will likely be snatched up by a team that likes to run the ball, and he could easily end up surprising his new fans by finding his way into the starting lineup during his rookie season.
Look through the last 20 or so draft classes. When is the last time a running back didn't go in the first round? Still looking? I'll wait. (*taps foot impatiently*)
This year, it may happen as Alabama's Eddie Lacy and North Carolina's Giovani Bernard lack the elite upside of a Trent Richardson and have injury concerns to boot. Don't let that fool you, however, because there are more impact runners in this class than in most years.
The stock of UCLA's Johnathan Franklin is rising enough that he's starting to receive first-round buzz. Oregon's Kenjon Barner (picture above) is polished enough to steal a bunch of carries in his first season. Guys like Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, Florida's Mike Gillislee and Texas A&M's Christine Michael have a chance to be really special in the pros as well.
Then there's South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore. Once considered the best college running back since Adrian Peterson, knee injuries have pushed Lattimore down draft boards. Look for him to get drafted higher than expected, however. His rehab is going well, and teams are still very intrigued by his potential.
Like Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, Armstrong hasn't played football for a while. Also like Mathieu, he was once considered one of the top defensive-back prospects in this class. (Although, if the above picture is any indication, he may need to refine his tackling form in today's health-conscious NFL.)
Armstrong will likely be a later-round pick and will need plenty of time to polish his game at the next level because he spent so much time sidelined at Miami. He has the athleticism to contribute on special teams, though, and will find his niche as he learns the finer points of the game.
The upside here is the biggest selling point. Armstrong may or may not be drafted, but he has the natural talent to have a real shot at being a Pro Bowl-caliber safety.
Speaking of guys that may or may not be drafted...
Meet Dayne Crist—the former Notre Dame-turned-Kansas quarterback. He passes the eyeball test with flying colors and has more than enough arm strength to make every NFL throw.
In talking with football minds that I trust, I got the impression that Crist has the ability to start in the NFL if he lands in a spot with a coach who can fix some of his erratic throws.
Crist doesn't project to be drafted, but you'll probably hear news about his signing about two minutes after the last pick. He could end up as a team's No. 2 QB right away.
Other guys could end up coming in after the draft and playing big roles for their new teams—Jack Doyle (TE, Western Kentucky), Tanner Hawkinson (OT, Kansas), Craig Roh (DE, Michigan), Zeke Motta (S, Notre Dame), Levine Toilolo (TE, Stanford), Mike Catapano (DE, Princeton), Sam McGuffie (RB/WR, Rice) and so many more.
Maysonet was once aiming to be one of those talented undrafted free agents, but the closer it gets to the draft, the more it seems that a team will need to snatch him in the sixth or seventh round if it really wants him.
He ran a 4.45 at his pro day in front of plenty of NFL scouts and has a tough running style that could potentially fit a power-rushing or zone-blocking scheme. In the right situation, he could be the next in the line of great late-round running backs like Arian Foster and Alfred Morris.
Determining where prospects are picked is always a little tricky. It doesn't just matter what sort of grade you put on them, but how the board falls on draft day. A run on cornerbacks in the first or second round could change a lot about this slide, but there should be value in the middle-to-late rounds at the cornerback position.
UConn's Blidi Wreh-Wilson was considered a potential first-rounder at one point and could probably play nickel corner right away. Because of the depth of the class, he could end up going in the late third or early fourth round.
William & Mary's B.W. Webb should make a big impact in Year 2 or 3 with his new club. Small-school corners aren't as en vogue as they used to be, so Webb will last until the middle of the draft.
Other names to watch out for: Will Davis (Utah State), Johnny Adams (Michigan State), Josh Johnson (Purdue), Marcus Cromartie (Wisconsin), D.J. Hayden (Houston) and Rod Sweeting (Georgia Tech).
Rather than think of each team's pick as strictly a position player, it's often better to think of the role new additions will play. Adding an umpteenth cornerback doesn't always make sense until one realizes the new kid is a fantastic sub-package prospect to match up with the Wes Welkers of the world.
Getting a third safety early might seem stupid, but "big nickel" safeties are becoming all the rage as teams look to stop the new breed of tight ends.
On offense, this draft has a ton of players whose listed position may not be the best label for them. Denard Robinson is the poster child for these guys who can create mismatches all over the field, but he's not the only one.
Gavin Escobar (TE, San Diego State) isn't the best tight end in the world, but he's a great receiver and has great body size, hands and athleticism to play either in the H-back position or in the slot. We've already mentioned Sam McGuffie (WR, Rice), who is too small to play running back but has dynamic open-field abilities.
Those are just the later-round guys. Let's not forget about Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia), Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford), Vance McDonald (TE, Rice), Marquise Goodwin (WR, Texas) and Ryan Swope (WR, Texas A&M).
Other late-round guys to watch out for: Ace Sanders (WR, South Carolina), T.J. Moe (WR/H-back, Missouri) and Onterio McCalebb (RB, Auburn).
The best quarterback in this class may end up as someone like E.J. Manuel of Florida State or Tyler Bray of Tennessee. Note: I'm not saying either WILL end up as the best quarterback, just that each has the sky-high potential to do so.
I've already mentioned Johnathan Franklin and Marcus Lattimore—both of whom could end up as the best running back. One of my favorite prospects is Aaron Dobson (WR, Marshall), and a lot of guys love Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee), even though he's been overshadowed.
Terron Armstead (OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff), Larry Warford (OG, Kentucky), Kawann Short (DT, Purdue), Sio Moore (LB, UConn) and Alex Okafor (DE, Texas) are all prospects who could end up making huge impacts or even being the best at their positions while going in the second or third round.
Please note: None of the info in this slide (or elsewhere in the article) is meant to downplay the talent of the first-round prospects. I've spoken glowingly about those guys elsewhere. But it's about time these guys got as much publicity as they have potential.
It's a great draft class that is going to produce a lot of great prospects that we should all know more about before they make huge impacts on the NFL.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.