Players Worth Reaching For in the 2013 NFL Draft
The 2013 NFL draft gets a lot of negative commentary as being weaker, less exciting and containing fewer potential stars than its 2012 counterpart. However, behind all of the projections and predictions are numerous players who deserve another look.
There are players who teams should be willing to reach for in the draft because they have a realistic chance of excelling at the next level. Some are expected to go in the seventh round but belong in the fifth or maybe sixth. Others have fallen down to the bottom of the first round for no apparent reason.
The draft is a process that takes twists and turns at basically every juncture, but the following players have showcased enough positive aspects to their game that they should be able to rise above their current draft forecasts.
Let's start with a player who very well may have been the top QB in the 2014 class but elected to join the NFL ranks a year early.
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
When thinking of the 2013 quarterback class, Tennessee's Tyler Bray does not immediately come to mind. That is scary when you consider that the QB class is particularly weak, but Bray has all the measurables required to succeed at the next level.
Of course, measurables don't always translate to success, but Bray is 6'6", 215 pounds and has the kind of strong arm that teams love to see. He possesses a quick release that is best evidenced on quick slants and out routes. Bray is not afraid to fit the ball into tight windows and trust his arm.
That can also be his downfall, as the Volunteers QB will make poor decisions with the ball and hang his receivers out to dry on occasion. These are correctable issues, but they are issues nonetheless. His 28 interceptions are alarming, but that worry is subsided somewhat by the 69 touchdowns that Bray threw.
What this breaks down to is that Bray is a player who could truly excel at the next level if he falls into the right system with the right coaching staff. Bray is not NFL-ready as he stands now, but a year or two on the bench, learning and evolving within an offense could do him wonders.
The NFL has gone away from letting QBs develop as they learn from the bench, but taking a late second-round pick on Bray and allowing him to improve the old-fashioned way could pay huge dividends for a prospective team.
Trevardo Williams, OLB, Connecticut
Here is a little-known prospect who won't be that way for long. Trevardo Williams' tape is some of the most impressive you will see for a guy who is not getting much buzz or publicity.
Williams can absolutely fly off the edge of the line of scrimmage and gets to the quarterback quickly. He is a quick-twitch player who uses swim moves and straight-line speed to make offensive linemen look like pylons in his pursuit of the signal-caller.
Williams does need plenty of work against the run and in coverage, which is why his projections are not all that impressive. However, one-trick ponies can do very well for themselves in the NFL. Just last season, Bruce Irvin went in the first round of the draft with virtually the same skill set.
Williams' skill level is below Irvin's, but there is talent and room to develop.
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
Jospeh Fauria is starting to get some buzz as a late-round sleeper, and rightfully so. He has everything NFL teams should be looking for in a pass-catching tight end. Granted, the "tight end" term should be used loosely with Fauria because his blocking skills are almost nonexistent.
His 6'7" frame is not very filled out, and he can be bowled over in blocking situations. However, he is not going to be asked to block much at the NFL level, at least not until he fills out that frame.
In the meantime, he can be a great weapon for teams in the intermediate passing game and especially near the goal line. He caught 12 touchdowns in his final season with the UCLA Bruins and had 637 yards receiving. In fact, Fauria's numbers drastically improved in each of his three years at UCLA.
That aforementioned red-zone ability ensures that he can have an immediate impact at the next level. The fact that he is projected as a borderline draft pick means he is worth reaching for in any of the later rounds.
William Campbell, DT, Michigan
For one reason or another, some players never live up to their potential at the collegiate level. Michigan defensive tackle William Campbell is one of those players.
This is not to make excuses for Campbell, who had weight issues during his time in Ann Arbor and often disappeared when he did actually make it on the field. Still, there is so much raw talent.
Campbell and his 6'5", 318-pound frame never really fit in with the 3-3-5 defensive scheme employed by Rich Rodriguez. He did at least flash moments of brilliance under Brady Hoke, especially in his senior season.
He has the ability to swallow up a double-team and free up lanes for his fellow defensive linemen, but he also has surprisingly quick feet that will allow him to get pressure and spring himself free at the next level.
He underperformed and is a giant question mark heading into the draft, but the raw skill is there.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Tavon Austin has been flying up draft boards for good reason. Every time Austin showcases his abilities for scouts, he looks more and more impressive. The West Virginia wide receiver is now a late first-round guy.
His skill set is so unique in this draft class that he actually belongs just outside of the top 10.
Austin is one of very few elite receivers in this class, and his 5'8", 174-pound frame is reminiscent of Percy Harvin. That is a fair comparison to make, as both players are lightning-fast slot weapons who can also contribute in the return game.
If there is a knock on Austin, it is that he is too small to be useful on the outside. But the production he can generate out of the slot should make this a non-issue.
Besides, the other potential top-25 receiver in this draft, Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee, is a less-proven commodity, having played in just one season at the Division I level.
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Bjoern Werner has been sliding down draft boards. He was exceptional during his career at Florida State, but his combine and pro-day performances weren't particularly noteworthy.
Still, he is one of the most athletic defensive ends in this draft and has an impressive 6'4", 255-pound frame. Werner is a balanced player who can excel both as a pass-rusher and as a run-defender. He has the instincts needed to make a name for himself at the position and always seems to be in the right spot to make a play.
The tape of Werner shows a player who uses proper technique at the line of scrimmage and knows how to bend around offensive tackles when the situation calls for it. He could use improvement in the consistency department, as he can get lost on occasion, but there is too much great tape and talent here to overlook.
Other players may be generating more buzz heading into the draft, but Werner has clear first-round talent.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Some of the talking heads think Xavier Rhodes is overrated, while others think his skill set is close to Alabama's Dee Milliner.
Rhodes is certainly a player worth looking at in the middle part of the first round, especially in a relatively shallow cornerback class.
He is one of those corners who you love to watch work in press coverage because he is not afraid to get physical at the line of scrimmage. Even better, Rhodes then stays with the defender for the entire play and has impressive ball skills. He has great leaping ability and makes plays on the ball at its highest point.
The knock here is that Rhodes is not the right guy for teams looking to add a zone-coverage corner. He can sometimes get lost in the open field.
The lack of elite cornerbacks in this class and Rhodes' imposing style of play should mean that someone takes him off the board just outside of the top 10.
Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse
Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh is likely going to go in the first 50 picks of the NFL draft, but he is a player worth reaching a little higher for. This is an extremely deep class along the offensive line, but Pugh has one of the highest ceilings in the class.
He has a strong, agile 6'5", 307-pound frame and is a natural athlete at the position. Pugh has quick footwork and knows how to properly use his hands at the point of attack.
He can stay with defensive ends and mirror their movements, rarely allowing swim and spin moves to fool him. Pugh also has the ability to get to the second level in a hurry and be a force on rushing plays. He could afford to add to his frame to conform to NFL left tackle standards, but the tape on him is still extremely impressive.
He is perfectly capable of sliding over to guard or finding a new home at right tackle. There is no reason he cannot go at the top of the second round.
Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
In five years, we could be saying that Shamarko Thomas is the second coming of Bob Sanders. That comparison has its pros and cons, but Thomas plays with the kind of "anything goes" nature that cannot be taught.
He has a small 5'9", 213-pound frame, but Thomas throws that weight around and delivers punishing hits. Thomas is at his absolute best when near the line of scrimmage, where he can rush off the edge or fill in for a blitzing linebacker.
He is also solid in coverage, where he reacts quickly to the pass and knows how to move laterally to put himself in the best possible position to make a play on the ball.
His size is going to be a concern, as fellow hard-hitting safeties like Sanders and Louis Delmas have battled injury after injury, but that is a risk that teams should be willing to take at the top of the third round.
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Arkansas running back Knile Davis' projected landing spots for the upcoming draft are all over the place. He could go anywhere from the third to the seventh round, but the reality is that his talent dictates he should be chosen sooner rather than later.
Davis is a solid 6'0", 220 pounds and has a similar running style to former Razorback Darren McFadden. He runs high but with power. Davis was considered to be the next SEC superstar running back after a stellar 2010 season that saw him gain 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The problem is that injuries crippled the rest of his collegiate career, and he needs to prove that he can once again be an every-down back. Davis has the tools and the ability, but that ankle injury is a lingering issue.
Davis has far too much potential to be relegated to the sixth or seventh round.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jarvis Jones has been slowly but steadily sliding down most draft boards since the Georgia Bulldogs season ended, and that is truly unfair.
He flies around on film, making seemingly every play and being a legitimate headache that offensive coordinators have to game plan around. Yes, he did not really impress in any of the postseason workouts he took part in, but this is a player who recorded 28 sacks over the last two seasons in the SEC.
He also had 44 tackles for loss in that time and 155 overall tackles. What more really needs to be seen from Jones? The spinal stenosis diagnosis was originally a giant red flag, but he has been medically cleared, so that should not be an issue at this point.
Jones is one of the most athletic linebackers to come out of the college ranks in recent years, and his motor is always running on all cylinders. His draft stock may seem to be falling, but he deserves to be a top-10 selection.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida
There is always a place for speed and versatility at the NFL level. Those are two traits that can easily be applied to Florida running back Mike Gillislee.
He is not quite as fast as former Gators running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, but he has a more well-rounded games than his predecessors. Gillislee is an adept blocker, both in the pass and run game, and he can also be a weapon catching passes out of the backfield.
Gillislee hits the hole with authority and makes the most of his 5'11", 209-pound frame. The knock here is that he has not had many reps because of those aforementioned backs being ahead of him on the depth chart.
The different dynamics he gives you out of the backfield, as well as his potential to be a No. 1 guy, means that Gillislee deserves to be a second-day prospect.