Big Board: Thin at skill spots, draft loaded with talent in the trenches

by | NFLDraftScout.com
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With the passing of the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft, the prospect pool is finally settled.

The senior all-star games and workouts leading up to the draft will cause some tweaking to the rankings over the next few months, but the defining characteristics of the 2013 draft class are clear. This year's crop is generally lacking at quarterback and the other skill positions.

On the other hand, there is very impressive talent along both offensive and defensive lines. Perhaps the most underrated position group is in the defensive backfield, which may lack in headliners but offers great depth.

The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the draft order. It is simply a ranking of the 64 best draft-eligible prospects in the entire country.

Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*)

1. *Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Having earned all-conference recognition all three years of his career, Joeckel has cemented his stock as the top offensive tackle in college football. In answering the unique challenges presented by SEC defenders this season, he earned the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman and vaulted himself to the top of my draft board. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel may have won the Heisman Trophy, but Joeckel could be the one holding the bigger prize -- the thrill of being the first offensive lineman since Jake Long (2008) to be selected No. 1 overall.

2. *Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: As a first-team All-SEC pick in each of his two eligible seasons at Georgia, Jones has proven himself to be a playmaker against both the pass and run. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Jones led the country in three critical statistics -- sacks (14½), tackles for loss (24½) and forced fumbles (seven) despite missing two games (Kentucky, Florida Atlantic) due to injury. As dynamic as he is, the redshirt junior's medical grade will ultimately determine his draft status. He was diagnosed with a mild case of spinal stenosis in 2009 and some NFL doctors may be unwilling to clear him.

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3. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Blessed with a quick first step, heavy hands and surprising instincts given the fact that the German-born Werner (6-4, 255 pounds) has played just five years of American football, he has established himself as an elite prospect. An immediate standout in Tallahassee, Werner improved in each of his three seasons at Florida State, culminating with winning the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award this season with 18 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.

4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: With the Utes struggling through a disappointing 5-7 campaign, their senior defensive tackle didn't generate as much national attention as his play has warranted. Despite fighting constant double- and triple-teams, Lotulelei registered 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and four recovered fumbles this season, earning first-team All-Pac-12 accolades for the second consecutive season. Remarkably athletic at 6-3, 320 pounds, he's capable of shutting down running lanes and terrorizing quarterbacks.

5. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Offensive linemen rarely get the limelight, but it might be even worse for Warmack than most. Not only do the skill and defensive stars for Bama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is even overshadowed on the Tide's All-American offensive line -- but not by talent evaluators, who see the 6-3, 320-pound mauler as one of the safest prospects in his class.

6. *Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: While some of the top defensive tackles lack eye-popping statistics, Richardson enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Tigers, finishing just four tackles behind linebacker Andrew Wilson as Missouri's leader season with 75, adding 10½ tackles for loss and four sacks.

7. *Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: San Francisco 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith's rapid ascension as one of the NFL's elite playmakers has forced talent evaluators to acknowledge how versatile defenders can impact today's game. Moore, like Smith, is viewed by some as a bit of a 'tweener at 6-4, 255 pounds, and has starred at defensive end and outside linebacker over the past two seasons for the Aggies. Having registered 21 tackles for loss this season, including 12½ sacks, Moore certainly has the production to go with his size, burst and motor.

8. *Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: The 6-1, 198-pound Milliner is a perfect example of how Alabama reloads rather than rebuilds. A highly regarded prep prospect who started 11 games as a true freshman, Milliner was pushed a bit to the background in 2011 as 'Dre Kirkpatrick and De'Quan Menzie took over. With each now in the NFL, Milliner re-asserted himself in 2012, finishing second in the country with 20 passes broken up and providing stellar run defense on the boundary. While just a junior, the 2012 Thorpe Award finalist is NFL-ready and will only have to prove his straight-line speed to earn a top-20 pick in April.

9. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: Allen was a highly regarded prep prospect who originally was going to sign with Nick Saban at Alabama as a safety before joining his brother (QB Zach Maynard) at Cal. He has virtually all of the physical characteristics to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. To earn a top-10 pick Allen will have to prove his health (he suffered a knee injury Oct. 27) and straight-line speed.

10. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: While Smith did not play the second half of the season at the level of top-ranked QBs in recent years, the 6-3, 220-pound senior nonetheless remains a legitimate candidate to wind up as the top pick in the draft. Smith improved his completion percentage and TD-INT ratio in each of his three starting seasons, culminating in a senior campaign in which he completed a sparkling 71.24 percent of his passes and threw 42 touchdowns against just six interceptions. More important, he has all of the traits scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback.

11. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: More decorated than a wedding cake, Te'o has earned an astounding seven national awards since leading the Irish to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS title game. While the NFL couldn't care less about a collegiate prospect's stocked trophy case, it is tough not to acknowledge the relative safety that the 6-2, 255-pound Te'o provides as an instinctive, physical defender capable of making big plays against the run and pass. However, Te'o must have a strong pre-draft process after struggling in the title game and then being embroiled in an admittedly embarrassing "hoax" that hit the national stage Jan. 16.

12. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal: There is plenty of evidence to suggest Barkley will lose on the significant gamble he took in electing to return to USC for his senior season. After only one multi-interception game during his junior year, Barkley had six in 2012, including what proved to be the final four games of his career as the quarterback suffered a shoulder injury in USC's loss to cross-town rival UCLA on Nov. 17. Scouts value Barkley's leadership, poise and accuracy on the move, but there are plenty who scoff at giving him a first-round grade based on the 6-2, 230-pound quarterback's less than ideal measureables. Nonetheless, Barkley remains squarely in the first-round conversation for me.

13. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: Many of the top prospects boast eye-popping stats. Williams is not one of them. The Australia native finished the regular season ninth (and tied at that) on the Alabama roster with 36 tackles, including 2½ tackles for loss and one sack. The 6-3, 320-pounder's wide frame and awesome strength (600-pound bench press) make him a potentially elite nose guard. With most NFL teams either using the 3-4 as their base defense or at least incorporating many of its principles, Williams' value may not truly be proven until draft day.

14. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: While he lacks the name recognition of some of his peers, the 6-8, 305-pound Fisher ranks among the top senior offensive tackles in the country, performing well in showdowns against Iowa, Michigan State and vs. Toledo's surprisingly dangerous pass rush. Physical and athletic, Fisher will compete to be the first senior offensive tackle drafted come April.

15. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: A native of Ghana who tried out for basketball and lettered in track before giving football a try in 2010, Ansah had 10 total tackles to his credit entering the 2012 season and was barely a blip on most scouts' radar. A few months later, and comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul are almost becoming cliché in the scouting community as the 6-5, 270-pounder emerged as a consistent big-play threat, recording 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4½ sacks and notching both a forced fumble and interception in BYU's Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. Ansah is raw as sushi right now, but the team that gambles on him could be rewarded handsomely if he continues to develop.

16. Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia: Like fellow SEC run-stuffer Jesse Williams, Jenkins does not have elite stats (50 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack) that normally are associated with first-round picks. At 6-3 and 358 pounds, however, Jenkins certainly has the beef to clog running lanes. Despite having only played two seasons at the FCS level, he has proven himself against top competition.

17. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: NFL teams are generally loathe to spend first-round picks on guards, but an exception may have to be made with the steady Cooper. He has excellent agility with the ability to quickly get to the second level and block on the move. Cooper's terrific blocking helped Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard -- a legitimate high-round prospect himself -- rush for an average of nearly 123 yards per game this season.

18. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: In terms of pure talent, Hankins should be ranked among this draft's top five prospects. With light feet and shocking overall athleticism for a man listed at 6-3 and 320 pounds, Hankins can be a superstar. Unfortunately, his motor too often appears to in neutral rather than overdrive. After registering an impressive 11 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore campaign, the Buckeyes defender had just five this season, including only one sack. Despite his drop in production, Hankins is entering the 2013 draft. He clearly has talent, but so did other notable Ohio State busts like Vernon Gholston and Dan Wilkinson.

19. *Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones gets much of the hype for the Bulldogs -- for good reason -- but it was the ultra-athletic Ogletree who led Georgia with 111 tackles despite missing the first four games due to a suspension. The junior's lanky frame (6-3, 234) and staggering closing speed make him potentially a more dynamic player at the next level than Te'o, though Jones isn't nearly as far along in the subtleties of the position having only made the switch from safety two years ago.

20. *Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: A junior college transfer who only played 12 games at the FBS level, it would be easy to look past the stellar play Patterson has put forth as a receiver, runner and kick returner for the Vols -- especially given that defenses have often focused on stopping teammate Justin Hunter first. While Patterson is a bit rough around the edges, the 6-3, 205-pounder is undeniably a playmaker. He averaged 154.83 all-purpose yards, easily the most of any player in the SEC.

Nagging injuries and a drop in production this season have scouts questioning Oregon hybrid Dion Jordan. (Getty Images)
Nagging injuries and a drop in production this season have scouts questioning Oregon hybrid Dion Jordan. (Getty Images)
21. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: At a rangy 6-6, 243 pounds, Jordan's length and explosiveness off the edge make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Jordan led the Ducks a year ago with 13 tackles for loss and 7½ sacks, but wasn't as productive in 2012 (10½ tackles for loss, five sacks) and has struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career. He is, however, earning high marks from scouts who believe he could be one of this year's most exciting "hybrid" prospects, as he's so athletic that Oregon asked him to line up as a quasi-cornerback at times.

22. *Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: With so many talented defensive linemen in the SEC, Floyd hasn't generated the buzz his talents warrant. Used predominately at defensive end a season ago, the 6-3, 303-pound junior was moved back inside to his more natural tackle position and stepped up his play, earning first-team all-conference honors with 46 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles for loss. While his Gators lost the Sugar Bowl to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville, Floyd was dynamic, sacking the mobile sophomore quarterback twice.

23. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: In today's NFL, defensive ends are largely graded on their ability to wreak havoc on the quarterback. Okafor does not have the elite explosiveness off the snap that generally warrants top-20 consideration, but his physicality and hand usage are top notch. Despite being the obvious focus of every opponent's blocking scheme after talented teammate Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, Okafor earned first-team All-Big 12 accolades for the second consecutive season. He finished his Longhorns career in style with five tackles for loss (including 4½ sacks) to help beat Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.

24. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: At tackle, guard and center, Jones demonstrated that he's dependable against elite competition. Saban has said on many occasions that Jones is one of the top players he has ever been around and has compared the 2011 Outland Trophy (nation's top interior lineman) to Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. Considering his versatility and dependability (not to mention his coach's impressive recommendation), Jones quietly ranks among the safest prospects in the draft.

25. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: Mingo has the frame (6-5, 240 pounds) and athleticism to warrant top-10 consideration but at this point he remains a largely unpolished product who relies on his natural tools rather than technique to make plays. Given Mingo's upside, it is easy to imagine him terrorizing NFL QBs off the edge as a multidimensional defender. Considering Mingo's relatively pedestrian numbers (38 tackles, 8½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks) this season, however, the junior might have been better served returning to Baton Rouge for his senior season.

26. *Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: Half of the most talented tight-end duo in college football, Ertz only started five games in 2012 but easily led the Rose Bowl-winning Cardinal in catches (69), receiving yards (898) and receiving touchdowns (six). While perhaps not quite as imposing as 6-8, 265 pound teammate Levine Toilolo (himself a potential top-75 prospect), Ertz combines rare size (6-6, 256) with athleticism and soft hands.

27. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Used in much the same fashion as a receiver, runner and returner as the Minnesota Vikings feature Percy Harvin, Austin has emerged as the top senior playmaker in the country. At just 5-9, 172 pounds, Austin may not have been viewed as worthy of first-round consideration a few years ago, but in today's wide-open NFL that rewards mismatches Austin could prove among the more valued commodities on draft day.

28. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: With the athleticism that once saw him line up at QB, TE and DE, Johnson has emerged as arguably the fastest-rising LT prospect in the country. Having only played left tackle one season, Johnson is undeniably raw but his length, lateral agility and surprising physicality helped him shut down Texas A&M's Damontre Moore in the Cotton Bowl loss.

29. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: While perhaps lacking the elite breakaway speed that has helped Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski emerge as instant NFL stars, Eifert's 6-5, 252-pound frame and excellent ball skills make him a legitimate mismatch. In the pass-happy NFL, that could be enough to earn a late first-round selection.

30. *Matt Elam, SS, Florida: Perhaps a bit smaller than scouts would prefer (5-10, 202 pounds), Elam has proven himself to be a playmaker throughout his career, showing not only instincts, athleticism and physicality, but ball-hawking skills (six interceptions) and timing as well. The two-year starter was at his best under the brightest of lights, making game-changing plays against Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee, and pacing the Gators with 11 tackles, including a sack, in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.

31. *Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: With a rare combination of size (6-2, 217), physicality and athleticism, Rhodes proved to be a standout throughout his career with the Seminoles, culminating in first-team All-ACC honors in 2012. He'll need to run well in pre-draft workouts to guarantee being selected in the first round and projects best to a press-heavy scheme.

32. *D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Anyone who watched Alabama dismantle that talented Notre Dame defense in the BCS title game knows the Crimson Tide offensive line was dominant. Much of the credit has gone to the Tide's interior line (and for good reason). At 6-6, 335 pounds, however, Fluker is an absolute road-grader himself. Massive, physical and tenacious, he's the top right tackle prospect in the draft.

The second tier

33. *Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: High-effort pass rusher who looks the part at 6-5, 260 pounds, but doesn't consistently win one-on-one battles.

34. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Penetrating defensive tackle with a knack for making the big play.

35. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: Lanky ball-hawk who must prove his speed to warrant first-round consideration.

36. Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia: Physical, aggressive blocker best suited to the right side in NFL.

37. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: Tough, strong-armed passer, but history of head injuries could scare teams.

38. *Eric Reid, FS, LSU: Terrific in run support but questionable instincts, fluidity could make him a liability in coverage in the NFL.

39. Phillip Thomas, FS, Fresno State: A Thorpe Award candidate with an FBS-leading leading eight interceptions (including three he has returned for touchdowns), Thomas is the best safety most haven't heard of.

40. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Combining a quick first step and great power, Williams could leap into the first-round conversation with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl.

41. *DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson: Athletic with excellent ball skills, Hopkins ranks as one of the better all-around wideouts in the country.

42. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas: Perhaps not the ball-hawk of former Texas DBs but is a steady, physical defender.

43. *Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina: Dazzling runner, but size (5-10, 205) and durability are legitimate concerns.

44. *Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU: Instinctive and physical, Minter was the most dependable player on an LSU defense chock full of prospective NFL talent.

45. *Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech: Character red-flags galore, but undeniably an elite talent.

46. Bacarri Rambo, FS, Georgia: An accomplished ball-hawk (16 career INTs) and an intimidating hitter, Rambo only has to reassure teams he's trustworthy to warrant early round consideration.

47. *Robert Woods, WR, USC: While perhaps not the dominating prospect his hype would indicate, Woods' reliable route-running, soft hands and courage will make him a fine No. 2 target in the NFL.

48. *Bennie Logan, DT, LSU: Overshadowed a bit by LSU's dynamic duo on the outside, Logan was quietly the Tigers' most consistent defensive lineman in 2012.

49. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: While perhaps lacking any one dominant trait, Ball's all-around game brings back memories of another No. 28 -- Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.

50. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor: With both size and speed, Williams could enjoy similar NFL success catching passes in the NFL as former Baylor teammates Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon did as rookies in 2012.

Just missed the cut

51. *Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
52. Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers
53. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
54. *Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
55. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
56. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
57. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
58. *David Bakhtiari, OT, Colorado
59. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
60. *Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
61. Will Davis, CB, Utah State
62. *Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse
63. Dallas Thomas, OL, Tennessee
64. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.

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