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2015 NFL DRAFT

Big Board: Some safe picks emerge at top but scouts still looking out for No. 1

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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Star Lotulelei doesn't get much exposure but does get lots of double-teams. (US Presswire)  
Star Lotulelei doesn't get much exposure but does get lots of double-teams. (US Presswire)  

A talented quarterback emerged by midseason to cruise to the top of draft boards and become the No. 1 overall pick in recent seasons. That's not the case in 2012.

NFL scouts are still waiting for a prospect to show he is the clear-cut top choice in the 2013 draft class.

Quarterbacks have earned the top pick in each of the past four NFL drafts (and 10 of the past 12) and if the 1-8 Kansas City Chiefs are as hapless over the final half of the regular season as they were the first, it is possible that they too will be selecting a passer No. 1 overall.

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This isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or what order NFL teams might be selecting in April.

It is simply a ranking -- a best-player-available draft board -- of the 40 best prospects who could potentially be available in the 2013 draft. The list includes potentially draft-eligible underclassmen who could make the jump to the NFL early and reflects the fact that this year's top prospects play along both sides of the line of scrimmage, rather than behind it. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*).

1. * Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Having earned all-conference recognition each of his previous two seasons in the Big 12 and likely to be a shoo-in for All-SEC honors this year, Joeckel has cemented his stock as the top offensive tackle in college football. In answering the unique challenges presented by LSU (speed, explosiveness) and Alabama (size, power) in recent weeks, he's emerged as arguably the nation's safest prospect.

2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: With the Utes struggling this season, Lotulelei hasn't received the national exposure that his ranking among NFL scouts would normally warrant. Lotulelei's performance against Washington wasn't noteworthy from a statistician's perspective. The light-footed 320-pounder only registered two tackles. One of them was for a sack, however, on one of the few plays in which the Huskies were foolish enough to dedicate only a single blocker on the reigning Morris Trophy winner. Expect Lotulelei to repeat as the conference's top defensive lineman and to be drafted in the top five.

3. * Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Like Lotulelei, Hankins lacks the eye-popping numbers to spark media and fan excitement. Scouts, however, see a remarkably athletic defender, who at 6-3, 320 pounds can line up at nose guard, defensive tackle and even as a five-technique defensive end and command double teams.

4. * Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Medical concerns will ultimately dictate Jones' final draft grade but there is no questioning his ability to make impactful plays when he's on the field. Just as he did a year ago against Florida (four sacks), Jones was dynamic in an October 27 upset over the Gators, logging a career-high 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He forced and recovered two fumbles, leading to his being named the Walter Camp, Bronko Nagurski and SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

5. * Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Scouts talk all the time about the important of judging players as their level of competition increases. With the Aggies making the jump to the SEC and Moore, specifically, switching from A&M's "Joker" position to full-time defensive end, some expected him to need time to acclimate. Instead, at a relatively lean 6-4, 250 pounds, he's dominated, leading the country in tackles for loss (20) and tied with Western Kentucky's Quanterus Smith as the nation's leading pass rusher with 12.5 sacks.

6. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: It seems that every year there is a high profile defender who earns some buzz as a Heisman contender. A few years back it was Ndamukong Suh. A year ago it was LSU's Tyrann Mathieu. This season, it is Te'o. With all due respect to Notre Dame's "skill-position" players, there is no question that the Irish's playmaking middle linebacker is the team's best player and biggest reason for their impressive start. I don't anticipate that Te'o will ultimately be drafted this high but he ranks among the relatively "sure things" of this year's draft class.

7. 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-position" and defensive stars for Bama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is overshadowed even among the Tide's blockers. Athletic and powerful, he just might be the best pure guard in the country.

8. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Considering that he is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews of Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans fame, greatness has been expected of Jake Matthews his entire life. He's lived up to the lofty expectations, starting since his true freshman season at right tackle for the Aggies. While not as athletic as his teammate, left tackle Luke Joeckel, Matthews is the better and more physical run blocker of the two.

9. * Keenan Allen, WR, California: An exceptionally highly-regarded prep prospect who originally was going to sign with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide as a safety before joining his brother (quarterback Zach Maynard) at Cal, Allen possesses virtually all of the physical characteristics to warrant praise as the top receiver potentially eligible in the 2013 draft. He has to prove his health (he suffered a knee injury Oct. 27) and straight-line speed to warrant consideration in the top 10.

10. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: In breezing through the first half of the regular season to post 24 touchdowns against zero interceptions, Smith appeared to have won the inside track to the Heisman Trophy and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 draft. Shockingly pedestrian performances over the past month, however, have his stock slipping. Even with the struggles, scouts love Smith's combination of size, arm strength, accuracy and mobility. For Smith to recoup his stock he might need to attend and perform well at the Senior Bowl.

11. * Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: I am as fascinated by Mingo's athleticism, flexibility, explosiveness and surprising strength at 6-5, 240 pounds as every other talent evaluator but at some point all of those traits have got to start turning into big plays. Mingo's upside appears to be limitless but he has just three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss thus far this season. Against Alabama, Mingo registered just two tackles (both assists), half a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

12. * Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: At a massive 6-3, 358 pounds Jenkins is the behemoth in the middle that gives a talented Bulldogs' defense its biggest bite. Like most defenders of his size, Jenkins isn't going to post eye-popping statistics but as the high draft selections of Dontari Poe (11), Phil Taylor (21) and Dan Williams (26) suggest, one dominant season on the inside can cause NFL teams to look past inconsistent production over a career.

13. * Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Whereas some of the top defensive tackles in the country lack eye-popping statistics, Richardson is enjoying a breakout campaign for the Tigers, thus far accomplishing the rare feat of leading his team in total tackles (57) from the interior defensive line. Richardson gaudy tackles numbers haven't just been pedestrian stops either, as in the case of his tackle, forced fumble and 60-yard return in Mizzou's Homecoming victory October 27 vs. Kentucky.

14. *Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan: Arguably the most physically imposing player in the country, the 6-7, 302 pound Lewan looks like the second-coming of Jake Long wearing No. 77 in the Michigan maize and blue. Lewan, who only made the switch to offensive line as a senior in high school, is certainly behind the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft in terms of development, but the size, athleticism and mentality are in place to resume the Wolverines' tradition of churning out quality NFL offensive linemen.

15. 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 possess the elite explosiveness off the snap that generally warrants top-20 consideration, but his physicality and hand usage are top notch. He used these skills to register two sacks, two forced fumbles and a blocked field goal in the showdown against Geno Smith and West Virginia. He'll need to be even better now with his counterpart Jackson Jeffcoat being lost for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle.

16. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal: I've maintained for the past two years that Barkley will prove to be a legitimate starting NFL quarterback, but I've been as critical of his performance this season as anyone, especially considering the talent USC boasts at wide receiver. A gutsy performance against the Oregon Ducks November 3, however, proved yet again that Barkley can step up his level of play under the bright lights. That quality will endear him to scouts and virtually guarantee him a spot in the first round, even if it might fall outside of the top five or 10 picks.

17. * Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: Blessed with an unbelievable combination of speed and size (6-5, 260 pounds) Montgomery certainly looks the part of a top 10 pick. He's enjoyed better production thus far this season (26 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, five sacks) than his teammate, Mingo, but isn't as quick changing direction. I'm lower on him than many, including my peers at NFLDraftScout.com.

18. * Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: After starting off the season on fire, the German-born Werner appeared to cool off as the Seminoles began conference play. A strong performance against Miami October 20 (three tackles, including 1.5 sacks), however, eased concerns that the 6-4, 255-pounder had dropped too much weight from a year ago. Blessed with a quick first step, heavy hands and surprising instincts given his relative lack of time in the game, Werner ranks as one of the more intriguing pass rushers in the country.

19. * 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. The junior, who led the Ducks a year ago with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, is earning high marks from scouts who believe he could be one of this year's most exciting "hybrid" prospects and a potential top-20 pick. To earn that distinction, however, he'll need to remain healthy. He missed most of Oregon's win over USC Nov. 3 with a shoulder injury, the second consecutive year he's been sidelined against the Trojans.

20. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: NFL teams are generally loathe to spend first-round picks on guards but with the steady Cooper, an exception may have to be made. Cooper has excellent agility, demonstrating the ability to quickly get to the second level and block on the move. His terrific blocking has helped Tar Heels' running back Giovani Bernard -- a legitimate high-round prospect himself -- rush for an average of nearly 133 yards per game this season.

21. * Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: It has almost become cliché to characterize the Alabama program under Nick Saban as a team that reloads rather than rebuilds. In the case of the true junior Milliner, who entered the 2012 season with 17 career starts and currently leads the SEC with an average of 2.14 pass breakups per game, Alabama appears to have yet another first-round talent.

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

23. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: Whether at tackle, guard or center Jones has demonstrated that he's dependable against the elite competition in college football. His head coach Nick Saban has said on many occasions that Jones is one of the top players he's ever been around and has compared the reigning Outland Trophy (nation's top interior lineman) and Jacobs Blocking Trophy (SEC's best blocker) to Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. Jones slipped this week after a less-than-sterling performance against Texas A&M but remains firmly in first-round contention.

24. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: With only 21 tackles so far this season, this native Australian has hardly provided an all-world performance thus far, statistically speaking. The 6-3, 320-pounder possesses phenomenal strength, even for Alabama (and Australia) standards, however, and as he proved in a breakout performance (seven tackles, one tackle for loss) against LSU November 3, he is a difference-maker against pro-style offenses that feature the run.

25. * Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones gets much of the hype for the Bulldogs and for good reason, but since returning to the field after serving a four-game suspension to start the season, Ogletree has averaged nearly 10 stops a game, demonstrating the combination of size and athleticism to play inside or out at the next level.

26. 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 against a surprisingly dangerous pass-rushing Toledo defense. Physical and athletic, Fisher will compete to be the first senior offensive tackle drafted come April.

27. * Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Considering that he's only played eight games at the FBS level thus far, it would be easy to simply 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 Hunter. Patterson is a bit rough around the edges as a route-runner, but the 6-3, 205-pounder is undeniably a playmaker.

28. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: Eight of the 15 defensive backs drafted in the first round since 2010 have come from the SEC. The 6-1, 185-pound Banks certainly looks poised to continue that trend, especially if he keeps making big plays. Banks has 15 career interceptions, three of which he's returned for touchdowns.

29. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida*: With so many talented defensive linemen playing in the SEC, Floyd hasn't generated the buzz that 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 defensive tackle position this year and has stepped up his play, including earning Co-SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors for a five tackle, three tackle for loss performance in Florida's narrow 14-7 victory over Missouri.

30. Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia: With the Cavaliers only 3-6 on the season, national recognition has been tough to come by for Aboushi, but the powerful left tackle plays with the physicality, toughness and determination that NFL offensive line coaches will fall in love with. I'm not convinced that he has the light feet to remain on the blindside against NFL speed but I do believe he could quickly make the transition to right tackle or even be moved inside guard as an NFL rookie.

31. 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 cliche in the scouting community as the 6-5, 270 pounder blessed with extraordinary athleticism and power seems to be improving week to week.

32. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*: The knock on many of the Alabama linebackers under Nick Saban in past years has been that while strong and tough, they've lacked agility and instincts in coverage. These, however, are precisely the traits that make Mosley unique. He may prove a better fit, in fact, outside in a predominately 4-3 alignment in the NFL rather than the 3-4 scheme in which he's starred for the Tide.

Just missed the cut

33. *Eric Reid, FS, LSU
34. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
35. Dallas Thomas OL, Tennessee
36. *Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
37. Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn*
38. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame*
39. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
40. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

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