In scouting hundreds of players in preparation for the NFL Draft, it's impossible not to develop some favorites.
Rang's Gang is the collective answer to the question I'm most often asked: "If you were running a team and you needed a (insert position), who would you take?" Before the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns were shelling out millions for guard Andy Levitre or outside linebacker Paul Kruger, for example, I was arguing they were underrated college prospects.
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There's only one rule -- no consensus first-round prospects. Anyone can compile a list of the top players per position and call them "can't-miss" prospects. A few prospects from my 2012 squad wound up as some of the surprises of last year's first round.
The players that make Rang's Gang are a collection of prospects who are underrated, come from smaller programs or will make their impact in the NFL through hustle, determination and doing all the little things.
Others make the team because ... well, I've developed an affinity for the way they play the game.
QB: Matt Barkley, Southern Cal, 6-3, 227, 4.93
I have long argued that the two most overrated elements to quarterback play in the NFL are height and arm strength. Barkley does not possess ideal grades in either of these traits. He does, however, possess the best combination of any quarterback in the 2013 class in the Three A's - accuracy, anticipation and awareness - which I believe to be more important indicators of future success in the NFL.
RB: Stepfan Taylor, Stanford, 5-9, 214, 4.70
A year ago, it was quarterback Russell Wilson, who possessed everything scouts were looking for except height. This year, Taylor has shown all of the traits necessary to be a bell-cow back in the NFL except straight-line speed. While the stopwatch says Stanford's all-time leading rusher can't play at the next level, one can't measure the "little things" Taylor does so well - such as his vision, balance, forward lean, soft hands as a receiver and toughness, including in pass protection.
TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati, 6-5, 250, 4.64
Kelce signed (and played, at times) with the Bearcats as a quarterback and served as the backup to Adrien Robinson (now a member of the New York Giants) so his only season as Cincinnati's starting tight end was in 2012. As such, he's raw and comes with some baggage as he was suspended for the entire 2010 season. Other than top-rated tight end Tyler Eifert, however, Kelce possesses the most intriguing upside of this year's class, boasting size, athleticism, ball skills and physicality.
Wide Receiver: Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech, 6-3, 217, 4.50
In terms of physical talent, Rogers might just be the best wide receiver in this draft class. The number of mishaps he had at Tennessee which led to his abrupt dismissal by then-head coach Derek Dooley and Rogers' transfer to Tennessee Tech is the reason he'll slide on draft day. Boasting a superb combination of size, athleticism and toughness, Rogers can be a Pro Bowler if he is committed to the game.
Wide Receiver: Chris Harper, Kansas State, 6-1, 229, 4.50
Playing in an offense based on Collin Klein's ability to run, Harper didn't post eye-popping numbers (58 catches for 857 yards and three touchdowns) but he was nonetheless given Second Team All-Big 12 honors from league coaches. He has enough speed to threaten the big play and the strength to shield defenders from the ball, often coming through with tough grabs with corners draped over him.
Slot WR: Denard Robinson, Michigan, 5-11, 199, 4.34
With the proliferation of three and four receiver sets in today's NFL, scouts are looking for unique athletes to play the slot. Robinson's speed and elusiveness were put on display at quarterback for the Wolverines but it is his toughness and dedication which impress me most.
OT: David Bakhtiari, Colorado, 6-4, 299, 5.02
With a 4-21 record since moving to the Pac-12, the Buffaloes didn't get much air-time which may factor in why Bakhtiari has slid under the radar a bit. Possessing long arms (34"), adequate athleticism and toughness, he ranks as one of the more underrated offensive linemen in the 2013 draft and a likely Day Two selection.
OG: Brian Winters, Kent State, 6-4, 320, 5.25
Scouts love linemen with wrestling backgrounds and it is easy to see Winter's experience in this sport with the leverage, hand-play and aggression with which he plays. All 49 of Winters' games came outside at tackle but his tenacity and lack of ideal arm-length (32 3/4) might make him a better fit inside.
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama, 6-5, 306, 5.40 (est.)
Forget the fact that Jones is still recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Forget the greater raw athleticism other linemen have demonstrated in workouts. Instead, remember that Jones has been a dominant performer at center, right guard and center against SEC competition. In football, the most important thing a player can bring is dependability. No player in this draft proved more reliable than Jones.
OG: Matt Summers-Gavin, California, 6-4, 310, 5.49
Summers-Gavin entered the 2012 season viewed as a possible top 100 prospect but fell off the radar after a nagging knee injury limited him to just seven starts in his senior campaign. Gritty, versatile and a competitor, he's going to make some team look brilliant by finding a future starter on Day Three.
OT: Oday Aboushi, Virginia, 6-6, 308, 5.45
A standout left tackle at Virginia, Aboushi's lack of elite foot quickness and balance was exposed a bit at the Senior Bowl and confirmed with less than stellar numbers at the combine. He plays with the aggression and power I'm looking for at right tackle, however.
DE: Alex Okafor, Texas, 6-5, 264, 4.92
A buddy of mine who coaches basketball complains often about the lack of fundamentals in today's players. Everyone wants to dunk but few can shoot free throws with any regularity. Perhaps due to the fact that Okafor played defensive tackle as a sophomore, he's developed impressive hand technique, a trait I don't often see in collegiate pass rushers. His lack of top-notch athleticism could push him into the second round, but he's more pro-ready than many of the defensive ends who'll be selected ahead of him.
DT: John Jenkins, Georgia, 6-4, 346, 5.23
Jenkins has been known to let his weight get out of control, but that is the only reason I can see as to why he won't prove to be a quality defender in the NFL. He is remarkably light on his feet for a man of his size and has excellent power. He's too wide to offer much as a pass-rusher but hustles. Perhaps most intriguing, he stood out in Georgia's biggest games, especially against Alabama, Florida and South Carolina.
NG: Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern, 6-1, 335, 5.32
In a draft filled with wide-bodied run-stuffers, Williams is perhaps the stoutest. He's built like a chest freezer; nearly as broad as he is tall and erased any concerns about his ability to make the leap from Division II Mid-American Conference to the NFL with an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl. Williams was every bit as dominant at the lower level as you'd expect for a player who might sneak into the second round, earning All-American honors the past three years.
DE: Joe Kruger, Utah, 6-6, 269, 4.81
Considering that he played alongside Star Lotulelei, it is easy to understand why Kruger hasn't received more attention. Furthermore, he's often been cast off as the younger brother of former Baltimore Raven and new Cleveland Browns' outside linebacker Paul Kruger. A passionate player who possesses a very intriguing skill-set of powerful long arms (34 3/8), surprising get-off and good overall athleticism, Joe, like his older brother, could surprise at the next level.
OLB: Sio Moore, Connecticut, 6-1, 245, 4.62
Teams love all-purpose outside linebackers and they don't come much more versatile than Moore, who proved to be a playmaker for the Huskies whether slicing through gaps to collect an eye-popping 43 tackles for loss over his career, rushing the quarterback (16 sacks) or dropping into coverage (four interceptions). Some thought Moore was simply feasting off an aggressive UCONN scheme until he starred at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, as well.
ILB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State, 6-1, 250, 4.66
Proving bigger and faster than virtually any of the inside linebackers tested this year at the combine, Klein shattered the misconception that his eye-popping production reflected good instincts which masked less-than-ideal athleticism. Of course, scouts should have known this already based on the FBS record he set for linebackers with four touchdowns scored off of interceptions over his career.
OLB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, 6-1, 241, 4.67
Green rarely is mentioned in the same breath as Manti Te'o, Kevin Minter, Arthur Brown or Alec Ogletree as one of the elite linebackers of the 2013 class but I'm not sure why. He's the two-time defending Big East Defensive Player of the Year since making the transition to linebacker after starting all 12 games at free safety in 2010. Whereas most of the "elite" linebackers in this draft class talk about making big plays, Greene actually made them, playing a role in a staggering 19 turnovers (12 forced fumbles, six interceptions, one fumble recovery) over a remarkable career.
CB: Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut, 5-11, 201, 4.44
Every attentive fantasy football enthusiast will tell you that the ability to pass protect is every bit as important as speed or elusiveness when it comes to projecting which rookie running backs might earn carries each year. In much this same way, tenacity and tackling in run support are often every bit as valued by teams as pure coverage skills at the cornerback position. Gratz, a 41-game starter at UCONN, possesses the all-around game scouts are looking for, showing not only toughness against the run but experience in man and zone coverages and good ball-skills (eight career interceptions), as well.
CB: Micah Hyde, Iowa, 6-0, 197, 4.52
Perhaps because Iowa finished just 4-8 last season, Hyde hasn't received the NFL draft buzz he deserves. Awarded the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year in the Big Ten and honored as a co-MVP for the Hawkeyes, one can't characterize Hyde as underrated, but in proving more than respectable speed at his size at the combine, he silenced critics who questioned whether he had the athleticism to remain outside in the NFL. In reality, if a team moves him to safety at the next level, it will only be to take better advantage of his instincts and reliable tackling.
Nickel CB: Steve Williams, California, 5-09, 181, 4.34
With many teams playing their third cornerback more often than they do their middle linebacker, I thought it appropriate to list my favorite at this specific position. It would be easy to peg Tyrann Mathieu here as I believe it is where he projects best and few play the game with the ferocity of the aptly-nicknamed Honey Badger. Williams, however, is every bit the LSU star's match in terms of pure coverage ability and yet few outside of the Pac-12 know his name. He's shorter than ideal but surprisingly stout, a spectacular athlete and possesses the physicality needed to play inside. He ranks among the most under-appreciated players in the entire draft, regardless of position.
SS: Shawn Williams, Georgia, 6-0, 213, 4.42
Considering the number of talented players on the Georgia defense this season, it is easy to understand why Williams didn't receive more attention. Nevertheless, he proved to be a vocal and demonstrative leader, setting the tone for this unit. Ignore the fact that he didn't intercept a single pass in 2012. He snared four a year earlier and might just be the most underrated player in a rich safety class.
FS: Phillip Thomas, Fresno State, 6-1, 208, 4.57
The NFL loves playmakers and so do I. Thomas led the country with eight interceptions in 2012, demonstrating instincts, range and terrific ball-skills. While it took Thomas "breakout" senior campaign to earn him attention as a Thorpe Award finalist and All-American, scouts have been buzzing about this Bulldog for years.