The Most Versatile Prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft
Every year NFL teams dig to find the most unique and versatile players the draft has to offer. Long gone are the days of prospects being one-dimensional. Organizations want a player who can help their team in a wide variety of ways.
Things change over the course of a season; injuries happen, and coaches make substitutions for a reason. That is exactly where versatile players come in. They allow the coaching staff to fit them into any plan that may develop during the year.
Let's take a look at nine of the most versatile athletes in the 2013 NFL draft.
Barrett Jones, Alabama, C/G/T
Sure, there are plenty of offensive linemen who can play both tackle and guard, but how many can play tackle, guard and center? Alabama Crimson Tide senior Barrett Jones is probably one of the few.
During his collegiate career, Jones started three BCS National Championship Games at three different positions along the offensive line.
As as a redshirt freshman he started all 14 games at right guard. He continued to play right guard his sophomore season, but prior to his junior year Nick Saban felt the team had a glaring hole at left tackle, so Jones made his second positional switch and started 11 games as the team's blindside protector.
However, left tackle wasn't his only position in 2011. The versatile offensive lineman also made appearances at right guard and center.
After William Vlachos departed at the end of the 2011 season, Saban again wanted to assemble the best five-man offensive line combination possible. That meant Jones was on the move yet again, with the center position calling his name this time. He started 13 games in the middle of the offensive line and earned the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation's top center.
Dion Jordan, Oregon, DE/OLB
Despite playing outside linebacker in Chip Kelly's 3-4 defense at Oregon, Dion Jordan is being heralded as one of the draft's most versatile prospects. Jordan has the ability to rush the passer from a stand up position, can put his hand on the ground and can even cover slot wide receivers in a pinch.
Putting him in coverage against a wide receiver may not be ideal, but he has proven he can do it. Turn on the tape from the Arizona State game, and you will see an athletic freak. That game was arguably his most adaptable performance in terms of game scenarios.
Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti had him stand up at defensive end, play in the box and play in coverage. NFL teams won't ask Jordan to cover wide receivers, but they will use his skill set to exploit matchups along the defensive line.
From a player standpoint, he's very comparable to Von Miller. The only blatant weakness in his game is his lack of control. As pointed out by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, he often overruns the pocket and his intended target.
Regardless, he's seemingly a top-10 lock on draft day.
Tavon Austin, West Virginia, WR/RB/KR/PR
This list would be incomplete and irrelevant if it didn't include Tavon Austin, the winner of the 2012 Paul Hornung Award, which honors collegiate football's most versatile player.
Here's what Austin had to say in a press release after accepting the award: "Whether I am on the field as a receiver, in the backfield or as a returner, I have high expectations for myself, and I have always tried to use my versatility to help my team be successful."
Without question, Austin's expectations were met. During his senior season at West Virginia, he amassed 1,289 yards receiving on 114 catches, rushed for 643 yards on 72 carries and recorded 978 return yards on 48 returns.
In all, the 174-pound multi-threat weapon scored 17 touchdowns.
Aside from the staggering on-field numbers, Austin wooed scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine. He blazed a trail with a 4.34 second 40-yard dash, a 10-foot broad jump and 32-inch vertical.
His impressive four-year career at West Virginia should make him a top-20 pick in this year's draft.
Datone Jones, UCLA, DE/DT
Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, pundits regarded UCLA defensive end Datone Jones as a second-round lock. Now, less than a month away from the NFL draft, they tout Jones as a late first-round pick.
How did the 43-game starter vault into the first round after posting average combine numbers?
It's simple: Jones was an excellent interview, and teams love the fact he can play every spot along the defensive line. It doesn't matter if a team runs a 3-4 defense or a 4-3; chances are the 283-pound pass-rusher has manned the position at some point throughout his collegiate career.
In a 3-4, he has value as an undersized 5-technique. In a 4-3, he could play end if need be, but he's ultimately better suited for defensive tackle. As an end, he doesn't have enough pro speed to turn the corner consistently. Moreover, he often finds himself straight up and down coming out of his stance. That's easily the last thing a team would want from an edge rusher.
At defensive tackle Jones shows a quick burst off the ball and good hand movement. Opposing offensive linemen rarely gain an advantage, and his wide array of pass-rush moves allows him to rip away from blocks.
The Colts, Broncos and 49ers could all use Jones' services.
Ezekiel Ansah, BYU, DE/OLB/DT
The former BYU track star didn't even know what American football was until 2010. Yet it didn't take Ezekiel Ansah long to figure out the foreign sport. Midway through his sophomore season, Ansah saw defensive line and special teams snaps as a situational player.
The following season, his playing time increased, and so did his skill set. He became a mainstay at defensive end and outside linebacker in pass-rushing situations. Even though most of his action came on third down, the Ghana-born athlete slowly started to show up in the box score.
In his junior season, he recorded seven total tackles and one quarterback hurry. Far from first-team All-American numbers, yet the increase in playing time prepared him for his senior season. Despite entering the season as a role player yet again, it only was only a matter of time until Bronco Mendenhall inserted him into the starting lineup.
After Eathyn Manumaleuna hurt his knee, Ansah started to pave his way to the pros. Over the final nine games, the versatile pass-rusher registered 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries from three different positions. He took snaps at nose tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker.
In the NFL, Ansah compares to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee, WR/RB/KR/PR
Much like Austin from West Virginia, Cordarrelle Patterson has NFL general managers buzzing. His versatile playmaking ability as a wide receiver, running back and returner has him shooting up draft boards. However, his success in the SEC didn't happen overnight.
Patterson used his first two years of eligibility at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas. Coming out of high school, the 6'3", 205-pound wideout's grades squashed any hope he had of playing Division I football immediately.
Fortunately enough, Patterson upped his grades while becoming a two-time NJCAA All-American. Strong back-to-back seasons at Hutchinson made him one of the most coveted prospects in 2011. He received offers from Georgia, Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee.
He ultimately chose Tennessee because of the relationship he formed with the coaching staff during the recruiting period. It appears as if he made the right choice. In one year, Patterson piled up 778 yards receiving, 308 yards rushing and 772 yards on returns. He also scored 10 touchdowns total as a punt returner, kick returner, rusher and receiver.
Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern, DT/DE
If Missouri Southern's finest, Brandon Williams, hasn't grabbed your attention yet, it's only a matter of time before he does. The versatile prospect can play every position imaginable along the defensive line.
At Missouri Southern he played everything from 0-technique to 5-technique in both the 3-4 and the 4-3. Additionally, Williams set the school's sack record as a senior. For his career, he finished with 27 sacks and 42.5 tackles for loss.
During the final season of his collegiate career, he registered at least one tackle for loss in all but one contest.
Some believe playing against lesser competition inflated his numbers, but that wasn't the case at all. At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Williams handled many of the top Division I offensive linemen with ease. His raw strength and quickness have scouts yearning for more. Overall, the three-time All-American has very few holes in his game.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports compares Williams to San Diego Chargers nose guard Antonio Garay.
Denard Robinson, Michigan, QB/WR/RB/ATH
Every player on this list has draftable positions except for Denard Robinson.
During his first three seasons at the University of Michigan, Robinson spent the majority of his time playing quarterback. However, an injury knocked him out of the Nebraska game on October 27, 2012, leading to uncertainty over the course of his final two games.
In his last home game against Iowa, the All-American honorable mention split time at quarterback, wide receiver and running back. Months later at the NFL Scouting Combine, he worked out as a wide receiver.
He had a less than impressive showing, and scouts quickly became skeptical of his pro potential as a wideout, which leads me to believe his best chance at making an impact in the league will come as a running back.
Robinson is a dynamic playmaker when given the opportunity to operate in open space. As an NFL player, he reminds me of Joshua Cribbs. Both players were college quarterbacks, and both passed and rushed for over 1,000 yards in multiple seasons.
Even though he is without a position, there will be an NFL team that uses a Day 3 pick on him because of his compelling versatility.
Sharrif Floyd, Florida, DE/DT
Last, but surely not least, is Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
When one takes the time to examine Floyd's numbers, they don't jump off the page at you. As a three-year player, he only tallied 4.5 sacks, 26 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
Yet it seems as if his speed and versatility will make him a top-five pick. Like Jones and Williams, Floyd has the potential to flourish at any spot along the defensive line, regardless of the alignment. Both 4-3 and 3-4 teams have brought in the Sporting News first-team All-American for pre-draft visits.
As a member of the Gators, he played both 1-gap and 2-gap techniques at defensive end and 0-technique at nose tackle. It will take time for him to develop as a 2-gap player, but with patience, he will be a dominant force up front.
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports said Floyd "might be the best player in this draft." High praise for a player who didn't have the greatest numbers in 26 career starts. NFL teams, though, will focus solely on his overall ceiling and scheme adaptability.
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