There are several major differences between this year's draft class and the 2012 version, but perhaps the most striking is the lack of truly elite players or huge names to be found in 2013.
Think of the household names in last year's draft. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were surefire franchise quarterbacks. Trent Richardson was considered the best running back prospect to hit the draft since Adrian Peterson. Justin Blackmon was a marquee receiver. Half of Alabama's defense, it seemed, was selected in the first two rounds.
This year, however, there aren't many big names that the casual fan can latch onto. There are a few, however, and here I'll be discussing where I believe those players will be selected come Thursday (or Friday, in one player's case).
No, these names aren't as sexy as their 2012 counterparts, but they'll still carry plenty of intrigue once Roger Goodell puts the Kansas City Chiefs on the clock.
No. 8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith might go No. 2 to the Jacksonville Jaguars! No way, he's going to fall well down the board and could even drop out of the first round! Holy cow, we really have no idea where Smith will be selected, do we?
No, we don't. Smith could feasibly go No. 2 to the Jags, No. 3 to the Oakland Raiders, No. 4 to the Philadelphia Eagles, No. 6 to the Cleveland Browns, No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals, No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills or Nos. 9 or 13 to the New York Jets.
Or, he could drop right out of the first round. But I continue to think the Bills are the most likely team to select him.
I just don't believe in Kevin Kolb, and I'm not convinced that Ryan Nassib is the top quarterback in this class or a first-round talent. I also don't think the Bills will automatically select him simply based on his Syracuse connection to head coach Doug Marrone.
Smith wouldn't be a top-10 talent in most draft classes, but with a weak crop of quarterbacks and no obvious superstars, he'll be a nice value pick for the Bills at No. 8 and take care of the team's top need.
No. 32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB
One of the biggest questions at this year's draft will be where Manti Te'o winds up. And while some folks believe he could go as high as No. 18 to the New York Giants—and teams like the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings or St. Louis Rams could also target the Notre Dame product—I believe he'll drop to the Ravens at No. 32.
Te'o is not about to replace Ray Lewis—and some might even say he's not about to replace Dannell Ellerbe—but Te'o is a true leader who has plus instincts and excellent ball skills for a linebacker, as his seven interceptions last year proved.
The Ravens desperately need to upgrade at linebacker, and Te'o most certainly won't get past them. While I think players like Alec Ogletree and Arthur Brown will go higher, Te'o should be a starter from day one and prove to be a solid addition for the Ravens.
No. 39. New York Jets: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Smith is the only quarterback I have being drafted in the first round, and in case you are wondering, I'm projecting E.J. Manuel to the Eagles with the No. 35 pick and Ryan Nassib to the Arizona Cardinals with the No. 38 pick.
And no, I'm not trying to make a joke here about the Jets selecting another "overrated" USC quarterback like they already have in Mark Sanchez. I honestly could see the team targeting Barkley.
Barkley had a rough senior season, yes, but there is no doubt that he has talent and has proved so in the past. One scout, via Michael Silver of Yahoo!, believes his slide and the negative evaluations he's gotten before the draft are misleading:
"I think people are overreacting," says the scout, who has a high first-round grade on Barkley. "He's a real good leader. He's accurate and makes good decisions—he's a true West Coast guy. He's not athletic enough to improvise and make plays, and he doesn't have a Matt Stafford-type cannon—but he has a knack for putting deep balls right in there. And he's smart, efficient and good under pressure."
Sanchez, David Garrard and Tim Tebow are obviously not the future of this team. While I think the Jets should focus on landing help at cornerback, outside linebacker or offensive line with the Nos. 9 and 13 picks, adding a quarterback in the second round makes a lot of sense.
And Barkley could very well end up being the top quarterback in this class, even if his senior season at USC would indicate otherwise.