Notre Dame Inside Linebacker Manti Te'o.
The 2013 NFL draft is not devoid of intriguing storylines. The Manti Te'o fake girlfriend scandal obviously comes to mind, but with the likes of Tyrann Mathieu, Ezekiel Ansah and Jarvis Jones all waiting to find out where they will continue their football careers, this draft has played out on TMZ almost as much as it has within the sports world.
However, on draft day, all those storylines go out the window. All that general managers, scouts and coaches will take into consideration is who can help their team win football games. If Manti Te'o presents good value to a team with a need at linebacker, his fake girlfriend drama will quickly be put aside, and his on-field talents will become the topic of conversation.
As with any sport, a player's ability to produce at a high level will ultimately determine how he is reminisced upon at the conclusion of his career. The NFL draft is just the beginning of a journey that for some will prove to be a wildly successful and lucrative career path, while for others it will forever label them as a bust or a disappointment.
With 18 days remaining until this year's draft, teams are still in the process of determining who this season's Alfred Morris will be, as well as who will turn into the next Vernon Ghloston and wash out of the league just a few seasons after being tabbed as a can't-miss prospect.
There's no exact science to projecting the future production level of a draft prospect, but we're going to give it a shot anyway. In the following slides, you'll find studs and duds at every position in the 2013 NFL draft.
Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes is perhaps the most well rounded defensive back in this draft class.
His 6'1", 217-pound frame allows him to play a physical brand of football, while his top-end speed enables him to play solid man coverage against smaller speed receivers. Rhodes' raw athleticism is undeniable, but he still needs to learn how to play effectively in a zone coverage scheme.
If Rhodes is coached well enough to play in both man and zone coverage, he may turn out to be the best cornerback in this draft. His ability to blitz off the edges, fill run gaps and lock down the opponent's best receiver are talents that cannot be taught. With his physicality, Rhodes is a can't-miss prospect that has a bright future in the NFL.
Currently, Rhodes is projected as a late first-round draft pick, but he's been rising up the board for many teams lately. Don't be surprised to see him surpass Desmond Trufant as the second-best cornerback behind Dee Milliner.
At LSU, Tyrann Mathieu was undoubtedly one of the most dynamic playmakers in all of college football. His ability to find the football down the field made him a legitimate candidate to win the Heisman Trophy in 2011, an honor that has not been bestowed upon a defensive player since Charles Woodson in 1997. Mathieu came up short of winning the trophy, was kicked off the team before his junior season and sat out for all of 2012.
Mathieu's absence from football is obviously alarming. His marijuana abuse is another red flag for teams that are considering investing a highly coveted draft pick in him. However, even if Mathieu had never touched illicit drugs and had played football last season, he would still be a prime candidate to flop in the NFL.
Mathieu is only 5'9" and 186 pounds, which all but precludes him from being a No. 1 cornerback playing on the outside for any team. He does possess elite speed and athleticism, but he does not have the physical stature to matchup with the average NFL receiver.
As a slot corner or a safety, Mathieu could carve out a productive career for himself. However, given his the limitations presented by his body type, Mathieu is not likely to translate his domination of the college game to the professional ranks.
Kenny Vaccaro has all the athleticism to develop into a top-flight NFL safety. He did not present off-the-charts measureables at the combine, as his 4.5 40-yard dash time will likely preclude him from going in the first top-15 picks. However, Vaccaro has elite cover skills and discipline, both of which will help him translate his skills quickly to the NFL.
Vaccaro, for good reason, is far and away the top-rated safety in the draft. He can lock down a receiver over the middle of the field, play over the top in zone coverage and line up in the box to stop the run as well. At times, Vaccaro does get washed out by bigger offensive linemen and full backs at the line of scrimmage. However, he is still a physical player that will sacrifice his body every chance he gets.
Any team who drafts Vaccaro will get an NFL-ready prospect with the ability to further develop into one of the best all-around safeties in the league. For a player projected to be taken in the middle of the first round, he presents good value.
With a 4.6 40-yard dash and a 6'0" frame, John Cyprien has average athleticism and stature. He clearly possesses the capability to keep up with NFL-caliber athletes, but he is a project who will not come into the league with an ability to make an immediate impact outside of playing special teams.
Cyprien, on film, often finds himself out of position and bits hard on play action. His fundamentals need work as well, as he has trouble turning his head in time to properly locate the football and defend the pass. His average speed makes him a liability in covering slot receivers, and he is too small to consistently matchup with tight ends as well.
Cyprien has been relatively injury free throughout his career. With proper coaching, he has the ability to develop into a productive safety. As a player who is projected to be selected at the bottom of the second round, he does not present any standout characteristics that warrant a team investing such a high draft pick in him.
LSU linebacker Kevin Minter has the ability to develop into one of the most productive middle linebackers in the NFL if he is placed in the right situation. His ability to shed blocks in the run game and get to the football will prove lethal to an opponent's rushing attack, as Minter rarely gets washed out at the line of scrimmage.
Furthermore, Minter possesses above-average speed and a non-stop motor and shows good range against the run. NFL opponents will be able to use Minter's lack of height to their advantage, as he will have trouble matching up with tight ends who may be six inches taller than him.
But Minter plays a reliable zone coverage and can at least run down the field with tight ends. He stands no chance of keeping up with backs out of the backfield, which is an area he must improve upon early in his career.
As a projected second-round pick, Minter is a player who has the ability to start from day one. He has no significant history of injuries and emerged as a leader on LSU's defense last season. Look for him to make an early impact for whoever drafts him.
During his time at Notre Dame, Manti Te'o established himself as one of the best linebackers to ever suit up for the Irish. As a senior, he improved by leaps and bounds in his coverage abilities, which allowed him an opportunity to head to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
However, when the lights were at their brightest, against the best team the Irish were to play all season, Te'o shriveled under the pressure of the BCS National Championship Game. He portrayed poor instincts, lack of mental fortitude and an inability to keep up with the most NFL-ready talent he had ever seen.
It's impossible, even unfair, to judge Manti Te'o's entire career over just one game. Te'o played in 49 games at Notre Dame, the vast majority of which helped establish him as one of the premier linebackers in college football. However, there is a huge difference between college and the NFL, and Te'o is likely going to learn that the hard way.
Te'o ran a 4.8 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. That's not fast enough to play in a pass-happy NFL. He improved upon that time at his pro day, but Te'o projects to be a run-stuffing middle linebacker. When the ball is in the air, he has the hands to defend the pass. However, he lacks the speed to avoid being a liability in coverage.
With a first-round draft grade, it's likely Te'o never lives up to the bill. He's a two-down linebacker who presents a constant liability in pass coverage. When Te'o steps onto the field and has to adjust his playing style to the speed of the NFL game, we will see him take some lumps for the first few seasons of his career.
Perhaps the most devastating, disruptive force on an NFL defense is a defensive tackle with the ability to bring pressure from up with middle. As a quarterback, it's incredibly difficult to keep eyes down the field with a 6'3", 300-pound monster in your face.
Sharrif Floyd is the most versatile defensive tackle in the NFL draft, as his elite athleticism allows him to wreak havoc on both passing and rushing attempts.
Floyd has an explosive first step off the snap and incredible strength at the point of attack. His non-stop motor always places him around the football, and his size allows him to make plays with consistency. Floyd has no history of serious injury, which is significant for a player who spends all his time in the trenches.
Look for Floyd to be taken in the top-15 selections in the first round, and perhaps even as early as the top 10.
Make no mistake about it: Star Lotulelei is going to be a solid NFL-caliber defensive tackle. He possesses incredible strength on the interior as a run defender and creates pressure up the middle. However, as a player who is projected to come off the board within the first five picks, Lotulelei's skill set presents poor value.
Essentially, Lotuleilei is a run-stuffing nose tackle. He is as strong as any player out there, but he has average athleticism and does not tackle well in space. As a pass-rusher, Lotulelei portrays poor pad height and fails to get off the line of scrimmage and shed blockers like he does against the run.
Overall, he can be described as a player with a high floor, in that, barring injury, it's highly unlikely that he turns out to be a bust. He can also be described as a player with a low ceiling, in that his lack of ability to rush the passer, especially against mobile quarterbacks, will limit his effectiveness for the duration of his career.
In an NFL that is geared toward passing, it's hard to justify a top draft pick on a player who is fundamentally flawed and has physical impairments when it comes to defending the pass. That, coupled with his concerning health issues, make Lotulelei a risky pick for any team.
Before coming to SMU, Margus Hunt had never even played football. It took a full season for the coaching staff to convince him to try out, but after displaying his incredibly rare combination of size and athleticism, Hunt thrived to the point where he has positioned himself to be a potential first- or second-round draft selection come April 25th.
Hunt is 6'8" and 277 pounds. He can line up as a left defensive end, or he can use his massive wingspan as a defensive tackle in the middle of the field, which can prove disruptive to quarterbacks attempting to keep their eyes on target.
Hunt benched 225 pounds 38 times at the combine, which was the highest total of any defensive linemen. He ran a 4.77 40-yard dash, which puts him in an elite class in terms of athleticism.
The concerns about Hunt are that he has had previous knee injuries and that he is 26 years old. He's a raw talent with all the potential in the world, but it still remains to be seen how he develops in an NFL scheme.
Damontre Moore has the talent to develop into a sensational pass-rusher. He has the ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, or as a down linemen in a 4-3. He needs to add considerable bulk to his frame before moving to the professional ranks, but the potential is there for him to be a productive player.
However, Moore's biggest enemy has always been, and will continue to be, himself. Last summer, Moore was arrested for possession or marijuana. Furthermore, he's never been a player known to be dedicated to the weight room, which is an absolute must for him if he wants to be successful in the NFL.
For his entire life, Moore has been athletic enough to skate by with his elite athleticism. That's not going to work in the NFL, as the level of play is elevated above and beyond that of the college game. Moore's maturity issues have already caused him to fall down draft boards, and if they are not rectified, he may make teams decide he's more trouble than he's worth.
When you are the anchor of a dominant offensive line for two national championship teams, it's hardly surprising to be considered among the very elite players at your position.
Chance Warmack may have a bigger gut than most other NFL stars, but his run-blocking skills are outstanding, as he creates a fantastic push at the point of attack. He has some room to improve as a pass protector, but he's still reliable in that facet as well.
Warmack will be the first guard off the board in the upcoming draft. He has no history of serious injury, nor does he have any notable character concerns. Look for Warmack to emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber guard from the inception of his career.
Brian Winters is a versatile lineman, as he has experience at both tackle and guard positions. He presents value to a team looking for depth, but Winters' athletic limitations along with shaky fundamentals will make him a tough project for any offensive line coach.
Winters often has issues playing with correct pad height and leverage in both the running and passing game, while also having trouble locating the correct defender to block while in space. He has awareness issues that will only be magnified in the NFL, so do not expect him to have an immediate impact.
Winters has the frame to develop into a serviceable guard. He just needs to find a team that is patient enough to bring him along.
Eric Fisher is the total package at a premium position. He has a 6'7", 306-pound frame, along with elite athleticism and awareness. Fisher possesses impeccable foot work, a quick first step and a non-stop motor.
It may be fair to say that if Fisher had attended a BCS college, he would be touted as the top left tackle in this draft. He was never able to consistently perform on a national stage, which severely limited his exposure. However, he is undoubtedly an NFL-ready prospect with the ability to develop into a cornerstone of any successful offensive line.
Even with the immensely deep class of tackles in this draft, Menelik Watson could possibly sneak his way into the first round. However, any team that pulls the trigger on Watson that early is assuming a huge amount of risk.
Watson is of English decent and originally went to Marist to play basketball. He transferred to Saddleback Junior College for the 2011 season, before moving on to Florida State to start 12 games at right tackle last year.
Needless to say, Watson is a painfully raw prospect. He has the athleticism to play on the left side, which boosts his value significantly. He has trouble identifying blitzes, locating his assignments and needs to use his hands more effectively.
With some tutoring, he has the ability to become productive, but any team who picks him before the third round is reaching significantly. Watson is far from an NFL-ready prospect.
Travis Frederick is not a complete center, and he only fits within a traditional offensive scheme. He does not possess elite athleticism, which likely precludes him from ending up as a member of the Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks or Philadelphia Eagles, as those teams require speedy offensive linemen capable of getting out in front of the option.
Regardless, Frederick's frame and awareness make him the best center in this draft and a player who can start from day one.
Frederick is 6'3" and 312 pounds. At Wisconsin, he was an anchor on the offensive line and was able to make blocks down field, as well as assist guard positions with their assignments. He's a reliable pass-blocker and a dominant run-blocker with the ability to improve significantly down the road. Any team who drafts him is getting a quality player.
Barrett Jones is a fantastic football player who has the frame to be a successful center in the NFL. However, his history of suffering significant injuries may preclude him from playing out a lengthy, productive career.
Jones missed all of the 2008 season with a shoulder injury. He stayed injury-free on his way to a national championship in 2009 but missed his the first two games of 2010 with a high ankle sprain.
Jones missed two more games with an ankle injury in 2011, and a Lisfranc injury caused him to play the final stretch of the 2012 season with torn ligaments in his foot. He is still rehabbing from surgery, which has taken away his ability to work out for teams and limited his draft stock.
As a player who has trouble staying on the field, Jones is a risky pickup for any team. None of his injuries should carry long-term effects, but injury-prone offensive linemen tend to wash out of the league quickly. Given his history, Jones is going to have a hard time defying that stereotype.
Tavon Austin is perhaps the most electrifying offensive skill position player to enter the draft since DeSean Jackson.
Austin has 4.3 speed and elite separation skills to go along with incredible awareness in the open field. He lacks the size to be consistently productive on the outside, but Austin is a home-run threat every time he touches the football. Any team who drafts him will see their passing attack diversify and their big-play ability increase.
Despite his size, Austin is an intense competitor who is unafraid of making plays over the middle of the field. He has experience lining up in the backfield, which could make him an attractive option within a read-option offense.
Austin will be able to contribute immediately as a lethal threat on special teams. He may need time to develop into a complete receiver, but his skill set will translate very well into the NFL.
Quinton Patton was a tremendously productive player at Louisiana Tech in 2012, as he caught 104 passes for 1,392 yards. He was a prolific pass-catcher with an ability to create separation between himself and his defender.
Regardless of his past production, Patton is going to have a tough transition into the NFL. He does not posses top-flight speed to create separation at the line of scrimmage, and his 6'0", 204-pound frame will make it difficult for him to excel against press coverage.
Without a large frame or blazing speed, Patton is going to have issues producing at a high level. He is a solid route runner with great instincts, but he will be smaller and slower than the average NFL cornerback. It's going to be tough for Patton to consistently overcome his physical limitations.
Ed Lacy is a hard-nosed, physical running back who will never be taken down by an arm tackler. There are few defenders in the NFL capable of bringing him down by himself, as Lacy's powerful lower body makes him a nightmare for any defender to meet in the gap. Lacy falls forward on nearly all of his runs, which helped him average 6.5 yards per carry in the SEC in 2012.
Lacy does not have top-end speed, but his quickness and signature spin move make him extremely difficult to bring down in the open field. He's a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield as well, catching 35 balls in 2012.
As a player who will be selected in the mid-to-late first round, Lacy, if healthy, has the potential to emerge as a dominant running back over the coming seasons.
After watching the video above, it's obvious that Marcus Lattimore has a long road to recovery before he can even think about putting on the pads again. Within the last two seasons, he has torn both of his ACLs and done serious damage to his knee ligaments. As a player who did not have elite speed to begin with, it's hard to imagine Lattimore returning to play consistently at an NFL level.
Although his rehabilitation is reportedly ahead of schedule, it's hard to believe there will be no lingering effects from two major knee operations in such a short period of time. The odds are clearly against Lattimore, but with modern medicine and a little determination, there's no telling what an athlete of his caliber is capable of. Here's to hoping his recovery continues to progress well.
In the right offensive scheme, Geno Smith fits perfectly into an evolving NFL. His ability to run the read-option offense will allow whichever team that drafts him to diversify the playbook and get creative with their system.
Smith does come with some minor character concerns, as he does portray poor body language when games are not going his way. If he wants to be the leader of an NFL offense and earn the respect of veterans in the locker room, Smith needs to clean that up quickly.
Body language aside, Smith can make every throw required of an NFL quarterback. He has the arm strength to throw the deep ball, the accuracy and touch for short to intermediate routes and the mobility to improvise within the pocket.
Smith needs to develop the consistency with which to execute his throws, while also learning how to make better decision under pressure. If he can improve in both those areas, there is no reason why he cannot be a franchise quarterback in the near future.
Labeling Matt Barkley as a "dud" has nothing to do with the recent failures of USC quarterbacks in the NFL. Barkley was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and established himself as the starting quarterback at USC as a freshman. However, he does not have the talent to lead a successful NFL offense, at least not one powered by his throwing arm.
In today's NFL, stretching the field with the deep ball is an essential aspect of creating scoring opportunities. Even if the pass isn't completed, throwing the ball down the field keeps a defense honest and prevents them from stacking the box against the run.
Matt Barkley can throw short and intermediate routes at an NFL level, but his inability to throw accurate deep balls will forever inhibit his chances of carving out a successful NFL career as a starting quarterback.
With that, Barkley has extremely limited mobility within the pocket, as well as an unimpressive 6'2" and 227-pound frame. Unfortunately for Barkley, he compares similarly to New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is likely to lost his starting job this offseason.