Most Likely Week 1 Starters in the 2013 NFL Draft Class
The NFL, more than any other professional sports league, peddles "what have you done for me lately." There's no affiliated minor leagues, and practice restrictions make long-term projects and developmental players somewhat a thing of the past.
Find me an NFL coach who has time for one-on-one player development under the current CBA, and I will show you a coach who is shirking a lot of his other duties.
Drafted players who don't start right away are already behind the eight-ball when it comes to meeting the expectations of their new team and fanbase. The pressure is on—for all draft picks, but especially high-rounders—to find a way to start immediately.
Here are the 25 players most likely to do it.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The only quarterback on my list, Geno Smith is almost assuredly going to start. That's because teams aren't in the habit of drafting a guy in the top five and letting him sit on the bench. Smith has all the tools to contribute right away, even if he also needs some polish.
The only way this doesn't happen is if the Philadelphia Eagles take Smith with the No. 4 selection in the first round and surprise everyone by still starting Michael Vick for the first year. It'd be incredibly odd and fracture the heck out of that locker room, but it's feasible.
In the end, Smith is much more likely to be starting in Week 1 of next season for a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills or Cleveland Browns—even though some of those teams already brought in "starters" this offseason.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
In a deep class of wideouts, Cordarrelle Patterson is my only wide receiver on this list. Why?
Well, it's only 25 players and some other names got pushed off by talent on the defensive and offensive lines. Receiver is a tough transitional position for NFL rookies. Many find themselves contributing heavily but still sitting behind starters.
Also, I made the judgment call to not "start" slot receivers on this list. Sorry, Tavon Austin.
However, Patterson got the nod because he's liable to go the highest and has too much game-breaking ability to sit. The rawness of his game isn't going to improve on the bench. The team that drafts him will need to throw him into the fire.
Rest assured, if this list were a few more slots long, Cal's Keenan Allen and Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins would be on it as well.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Starting as a rookie tight end is a tricky business. Not only does a prospect have to learn the passing trees and develop a chemistry with the quarterback like a receiver, but he also has to learn blocking schemes and develop a chemistry with the other linemen.
To make the position even more difficult to master, many teams in today's NFL use their tight ends like Swiss Army knives—placed in the slot, in the backfield or paired on one side in a jumbo package.
Tyler Eifert is NFL-ready and savvy enough to make that leap. He's well-rounded enough to step right in as a starter rather than be used as a one-dimensional weapon like a few of his tight end peers.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Luke Joeckel has enough tools to be the first overall pick, so it's unlikely that the team drafting him (Kansas City or whatever team trips over itself trying to trade up if the Chiefs pass on him) will bench him.
Also working in Joeckel's favor is that he could potentially start on either side of the line. So, if Branden Albert sticks around and plays nice, either one could play left tackle as the Chiefs look to shuffle the deck on the offensive line.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Just mentally copy and paste everything from the Joeckel slide into this one, because he could go as No. 2 behind Joeckel and even has an outside shot of supplanting him in the top spot.
Eric Fisher is a stud athletically and will need to step up against NFL competition right away as he transitions from the MAC. While it might not be the easiest transition, Fisher has more than enough ability to succeed right away as an NFL left tackle.
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Lane Johnson is the last of the top tackle trio and is probably the most athletic of the bunch—which is saying a lot. It's difficult to imagine him landing with a team that wouldn't need him right away.
There will be so many teams clamoring for Johnson's services. Look for Chicago, San Diego, St. Louis or Miami to try to move up.
D.J. Fluker, OT/OG, Alabama
D.J. Fluker is such an interesting prospect, even though I've never had him pegged as a left tackle. What's great about him is that he can start right away at right tackle or guard.
There are two other great guard prospects in this draft who we are about to talk about. But if Fluker had played guard at Alabama, it's possible he might be the top guy in this class. He has all the tools.
His landing spot might surprise some people. Either way, he's not warming the bench.
Kyle Long, OT/OG, Oregon
While he's not D.J. Fluker, Kyle Long is another prospect who could play either right tackle or offensive guard. Look for him to go in the mid-to-late second round and immediately earn a spot in the starting lineup.
Even if his physical tools don't match up in his rookie year, his coaches can be sure that his aggressiveness and motor will make up for it.
Barrett Jones, OC/OG/OT, Alabama
Barrett Jones is probably the player on this list who will be drafted the lowest (thought about including Brad Wing, the punter from LSU, but space precluded it). The reason I wholeheartedly believe he'll start right away is that he can play anywhere on the line.
It's not likely, but if a team suffered a rash of training-camp injuries, Jones could start at left tackle. He's a natural fit for anywhere in the interior and will likely be the first center taken. Though, like Peter Konz with the Atlanta Falcons, he may end up playing guard as he makes the transition.
There's just no chance he lands on a team where he isn't one of their five best linemen.
Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Chance Warmack is my top guard prospect, though he may not be the top guard taken. Jonathan Cooper is a more polished pass-blocker, and a team might value that more than Warmack's well-rounded ability.
Whether he goes first or second, Warmack is likely to be a Top 15 pick and should be an immediate starter in the NFL.
Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
As I said on the last slide, Jonathan Cooper is the best pass-protecting guard in this class and could end up overtaking Warmack as the top guard taken.
A team like Arizona could surprise a lot of people and draft Cooper with its seventh pick in the first round. The Cardinals are desperate for linemen, and Joeckel and Fisher could already be off the board by then.
In that scenario, Cooper would end up being one of the highest-drafted guards in history.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Health concerns are officially behind Star Lotulelei, which means he should start to "move up draft boards" after never really falling in the first place. The only thing that could push Lotulelei and some of the other top defensive tackles out of the Top 10 would be runs on other positions.
We assume offensive tackle is going to be valued highly at the top of this class. So if a second receiver or a couple of guards go high in the order, defensive tackle could be a real value in the middle of Round 1.
But if that does not occur, Lotulelei has enough natural talent to be the No. 2 overall pick in this draft.
Whether he goes second or 12th, he'll start dominating the moment he steps into the league.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Just about everyone in the media is higher on Sharrif Floyd than I am, but even I'm not willing to call him a first-year backup. However, if it happened to Nick Fairley (who was a vastly superior prospect), don't completely dismiss the possibility.
If I were a betting man, however, I would put good money on Floyd starting in right away, even if he gets drafted later or makes less of an impact than others think.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Sheldon Richardson is another player who could easily go the Nick Fairley route and dominate as a rotational tackle early in his career. With Monte Kiffin running the show, a team like Dallas could be interested in him in that role.
Because of his versatility and pass-rushing ability, though, look for Richardson to get a featured spot in one of those rotations.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
It's insane that Bjoern Werner has fallen so out of favor with fans since the combine. It's a perfect example of why people shouldn't get so caught up in workout numbers or late-season board changes.
Werner is a fantastic prospect who can play defensive end or outside linebacker and make an immediate impact with his pass-rushing ability.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young
Ezekiel Ansah is one of those players who has made people push Werner down their boards.
He's a prospect with enough upside to make that decision more than reasonable. Yet, he's pretty raw, so there's a chance that he ends up as a nickel rusher or a "NASCAR" end as he continues to polish his game.
He's on this list, though, because there are two or three teams at the tippy-top of the draft that will likely pull the trigger on Ansah (even as high as the Raiders at No. 3), and no one who goes that high is sitting.
Datone Jones, DT/DE, UCLA
Of all the players on this list, this spot might be one of the most tenuous, but I feel pretty strongly about it.
Datone Jones will most likely be a 3-4 defensive end at the next level, but he will appeal to 4-3 teams as well as a 3-technique. If he ends up being drafted by a 4-3 team that falls in draft-love with him, he could end up having a lot of snaps and a very specific role, but not necessarily as a starter.
On a 3-4 team, he would step right into the starting lineup.
Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Dion Jordan will almost assuredly not be a defensive end at the next level.
So often, people put 3-4 outside linebackers in the category of "tweener" and just assume they would play defensive end in a 4-3 front. With Jordan, that just isn't the case. While he has natural pass-rushing ability, he is too comfortable in space and too good at chasing down ball-carriers to be put on the line.
No matter the scheme, look for Jordan to be an immediate starter at outside linebacker.
Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
Alec Ogletree is another prospect who a lot of people have pegged at a weird position. He played inside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 defense, but there's little chance he is big enough to do so in the NFL.
He noticeably bulked up for the combine (242 pounds), but his natural playing weight looked to be around 230. He's such a good athlete that it would be counterproductive to ask him to play heavier and be less versatile.
As the top 4-3 outside linebacker on my board, look for Ogletree to step right into a team's starting lineup as a strongside linebacker.
Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Arthur Brown can play either inside or outside at the next level, though he has some size concerns. He makes up for that by being completely jacked up and a consistent playmaker.
Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Speaking of Manti Te'o, it bears repeating that his stock hasn't gone anywhere.
The people who dropped him after the "hoax" (or even after the national championship game) and then raised him back up following his pro day just weren't watching him closely enough over his college career.
The idea that he can be a once-in-a-lifetime middle linebacker is mostly devoid of reality. Most likely, he plays weakside linebacker at the next level, where his chase-and-tackle skill is best put to use.
Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
Kevin Minter is probably the best true middle linebacker prospect in this class and could end up going a lot higher than people in the media expect.
If he somehow gets past Baltimore at the end of the first round, I wouldn't anticipate him falling much further. Teams could start working on trades up for him overnight.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Strong, fast, physical and decent ball skills—all traits of the top cornerback in a class. It's also why Dee Milliner should go in the Top 10 and start right away in the NFL.
However, remember that the transition at cornerback from college to the NFL is difficult. He'll certainly start, but don't be surprised if NFL receivers give him fits that SEC receivers didn't.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The top free safety prospect in this class, Kenny Vaccaro's stock almost solely depends on relative positional value—i.e. how much teams value the free safety position compared to other positions.
He has Top 10 talent, but he may fall into the teens if teams don't want to add a safety so high in the draft.
So many teams are using interchangeable two-deep safety sets that it seems extremely unlikely that he would be passed over for a starting nod as a rookie.
Matt Elam, S, Florida
Matt Elam is a strong safety prospect, but he has good enough ball skills to warrant consideration at either safety spot. That's why he's on this list instead of Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien, who could end up as a "big nickel" safety, or LSU's Eric Reid, who could end up as a third safety.
Elam is a big hitter and good enough in the deep-third that he should end up going late in the first round to a contender that needs help in the defensive backfield. That means he'll look to start right away and help a team strive to reach the Super Bowl.
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.
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