|Could Joeckel join Jake Long as a non-QB selected No. 1 overall? The Texas A&M standout is NFLDraftScout.com's top-ranked prospect and leads a record-breaking list of underclassmen eligible in 2013. (US Presswire)|
While the NFL has yet to officially announce this year's crop of underclassmen, the deadline for early entrants to renounce their collegiate eligibility and petition the NFL to join the 2013 Draft was Tuesday, Jan. 15.
In recent years, this date has become something of a "soft" deadline. The league has allowed underclassmen a few days after the list has become public for any to backpedal and return to school if they have not signed with an agent. This year, the "official" list isn't expected to be released from the NFL until Saturday, Jan. 19.
Regardless of what the final tally is, the 2013 NFL Draft will feature a record number of underclassmen, continuing a three-year trend in which the number has steadily grown. The 2011 draft boasted a then-record high 56 underclassmen. The 2012 draft shattered that mark with 65 early entrants. At this point, NFLDraftScout.com's Underclassmen Tracker lists 74 prospects as having publicly announced their intentions to enter the 2013 draft.
Just because a record number of underclassmen are entering the draft doesn't necessarily mean they will create a huge impact. According to league historian Gil Brandt, more than a third of the underclassmen eligible last year went undrafted.
As it turns out, this year's record crop of underclassmen, however, will indeed play a critical role in the 2013 draft. Half of NFLDraftScout.com's current top 50 prospects are early entrants, including our top two rated prospects, Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. Underclassmen, in fact, make up six of NFLDraftScout.com's top seven prospects with the only senior to break up the monopoly being Alabama guard Chance Warmack (No. 3 overall).
Rookies played an extraordinary role in the 2012 NFL season. Therefore, the league and public perception might be slightly flawed about this year's incoming class. It can't be overstated -- the 2013 draft does not possess the talent at quarterback to rival last year's group. NFLDraftScout.com lists just two quarterbacks -- Tennessee's Tyler Bray and Eastern Washington's Kyle Padron -- among this year's early entrants. Bray, a 6-5, 215-pound gunslinger who ranks No. 7 at the position, has the arm talent to leap into the first round mix but lacks mobility and hasn't consistently demonstrated the leadership that teams are hoping for from the position. Padron, a transfer from SMU who played just one season at Eastern Washington, is NFLDraftScout.com's No. 526 rated prospect. To put that into perspective, since the NFL shortened the draft to seven rounds in 1993, the most players ever selected was the 262 picked in 2003.
While underclassmen won't make much of an impact at the game's most important position, early entrants will play a critical role at virtually every other spot.
The top prospects at running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, defensive end, outside linebacker, cornerback, strong safety and even punter are underclassmen.
Only once since 1993 has there been just one running back drafted in the first round (2011) but that could occur again this year. Alabama's Eddie Lacy and North Carolina's Giovani Bernard, underclassmen, are among those hoping the trend to take running backs high continues. Like at the other so-called "skill positions" of wide receiver and tight end, the depth at running back through the second-fourth rounds is more impressive than the talent topping each position.
This isn't true at offensive tackle, however. Joeckel is so gifted he could warrant No. 1 overall consideration. Alabama's D.J. Fluker, a 6-6, 335-pound monster, is the draft's top right tackle prospect and a first-round candidate. Syracuse's Justin Pugh, LSU's Chris Faulk, Florida State's Menelik Watson and Colorado's David Bakhtiari might not have received much hype yet, but they have helped establish offensive tackle as one of the stronger position groups in the 2013 draft.
The most significant impact that underclassmen will have on the 2013 draft, however, will be on defense.
While quarterbacks are undeniably the game's most important position, pass rushers have become the second-most valued group in today's NFL. Fortunately, this year's underclassmen will supply a major boost to a senior class otherwise lacking at the position.
Werner and Texas A&M's Damontre Moore are each top-10 candidates as traditional defensive ends with enough athleticism to play a stand-up role, if required. Georgia's Jarvis Jones and LSU's Barkevious Mingo could join them in the top 10 as quick pass rushers off the edge.
This year's crop of senior defensive tackles is a strong one, led by Utah's Star Lotulelei, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior defender all season long. That fact didn't stop
Like at the offensive "skill positions," the 2013 class of defensive backs does not boast elite talent but instead offers impressive depth. Alabama's Dee Milliner and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes possess the size, physicality and coverage skills to play well as rookies, especially in press schemes. Former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu and USC's Nickell Robey, while much shorter, boast the fluidity and ball skills to bottle up the pesky slot receivers so en vogue in today's passer-friendly NFL.
While perhaps lacking the superstar quarterback, the 2013 NFL draft otherwise offers strong talent, especially on the offensive and defensive lines and underrated groups of pass-catchers and defensive backs. The depth is owed, in large part at least, to the record-breaking haul of underclassmen.