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Big Board: Get ready for 'Underwear Olympics' data overload

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

NFL scouts will tell that by the time the annual scouting combine rolls around in late February, 90 percent of their prospect evaluations are finished.

While media and fans will fawn over the raw athleticism demonstrated by prospects working out, scouts are paid to keep the "Underwear Olympics" in perspective. There will be buzzing to trumpet the athleticism likely to be shown this week by the likes of Oregon's Dion Jordan or LSU's Barkevious Mingo, but it's worth cautioning that for all of their speed and explosiveness, neither was consistently productive.

Meanwhile, more productive talents annually wind up characterized as combine "fallers" when they run the 40-yard dash a tenth of a second slower than expected.

The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the selection order. It is simply a ranking of the 64 best draft-eligible prospects for the 2013 NFL draft before we get consumed by the annual data overload from player workouts. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*).

1. * Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Having earned all-conference recognition all three years of his career, including first-team All-SEC honors and winning the Outland Trophy in 2012, Joeckel is a proven star. Remarkably light on his feet, he is a comparable athlete and more technically refined prospect than 2012 fourth overall pick, Matt Kalil. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, but Joeckel could be the one holding the bigger prize -- the thrill of being the first non-quarterback selected No. 1 overall since offensive tackle Jake Long went to the Dolphins with the first pick in 2008.

2. * Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: 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.

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 has played just five years of American football, the 6-4, 255-pounder has established himself as one of the country's elite prospects. An immediate standout in Tallahassee, Werner improved in each of his three seasons at Florida State, culminating with winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year this season with 18 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.

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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 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. * Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: The rapid ascension by San Francisco 49er pass rusher Aldon Smith as one of the NFL's elite playmakers has forced talent evaluators to acknowledge how much 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 over the past two seasons for the Aggies. Athletic and passionate, Moore registered 21 tackles for loss, including 12.5 sacks, in his first season at defensive end and should only improve as he gains more experience.

6. 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 Alabama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is overshadowed even 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.

7. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: Impressive vs. Michigan State and Iowa this year, scouts had some reservations until a dominating performance against top competition at the Senior Bowl. With the foot quickness, balance and length to be a "blindside" pass protector, the 6-7, 305-pound Fisher is functionally stronger and more aggressive than former Chippewa Joe Staley, the starting left tackle for the San Francisco 49ers.

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

9. * 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. He's the top-rated cornerback in 2013, but Milliner does not possess the elite fluidity of No. 1 corners in recent years.

10. * Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: With so many talented defensive linemen playing in the SEC, Floyd didn't generate the buzz that his talents warranted until recently. 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 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 and showing scouts flashes of untapped potential.

11. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: A perfect example of the potential/production quandary scouts see as a theme of the 2013 draft class. At 6-5, 210, "Ziggy" tried out for basketball and lettered in track at BYU before giving football a try in 2010. Over his first two seasons he'd registered 10 total tackles but steadily added muscle to his frame. A breakout performance for the ages came about in 2012. Ansah, 60 pounds heavier, recorded 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, earning comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul along the way. While not as explosive off the snap as the Giants' star, Ansah plays with surprising power and closes in the blink of an eye. Following a dominant performance in the Senior Bowl, Ansah could emerge as a top-10 pick if he can convince teams that he'll have the same incredible work ethic once he starts drawing NFL paychecks.

12. * 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 be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He is not the same caliber of athlete as Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson but is a more polished player who has drawn comparisons to Green Bay's Jordy Nelson and Baltimore's Anquan Boldin for his sneaky speed, reliable hands and toughness.

13. 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 helped Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard -- a legitimate high-round prospect himself -- rush for an average of nearly 123 yards per game in 2012.

14. 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 left tackle 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 Moore in the Alamo Bowl loss and helped him turn heads in Mobile.

15. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas: Instinctive, athletic and tough, Vaccaro has endeared himself to scouts despite the fact that he hasn't proven the ball-hawk of some of Texas' highly regarded defensive backs in recent years. He's starred as an in-the-box run-stuffer, single-high cover safety and even demonstrated the fluidity to handle nickel responsibilities. He carries some character red-flags, however, which teams will want to investigate.

16. * Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Of the skill-position players in this draft, Patterson shows the greatest "wow" factor. In his first season at the FBS level, Patterson, 6-3, 205, dominated the SEC to the tune of 154.83 all-purpose yards a game, easily the most of any player in the power conference. If there is a superstar receiver in this draft class, Patterson likely is the one. He brings considerable red flags on and off the field, enough that any team considering investing a top 15 pick will want to explore his NFL readiness from every angle.

17. * Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: One 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 his 6-8, 265 pound teammate Levine Toilolo (himself a potential top 75 prospect), Ertz combines soft hands with a rare combination of size (6-6, 256) and athleticism. There isn't a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski clone in this draft class, but Ertz's unique traits have drawn comparisons to Cincinnati Bengals' standout Jermaine Gresham from multiple scouts.

18. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith did not play the second half of the season at the level of top-ranked quarterbacks in recent years. He remains a legitimate candidate to be the top pick in the 2013 draft. Optimists will point out that Smith improved his completion percentage and touchdown/interception 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 possesses all of the physical traits scouts are looking for, as well as the work ethic to build upon them. Of concern, however, is the fact that Smith struggled late in the year with anticipation as defenses got more physical with his receivers. Smith hesitated to release passes before his receivers were open. They rarely are for long in the NFL.

19. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California: Considered the clear-cut No. 1 pick when he spurned the NFL to return to the Trojans for his senior season, there is no denying that Barkley struggled in 2012. After only one multi-interception game during his junior campaign, Barkley had six in 2012, including what proved to be the final four games of his career before a shoulder injury sidelined him for USC's final two games. While critics are quick to point to Barkley's lack of ideal size and arm strength, they often ignore the impact from the loss of left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL. For all of the spectacular plays Marqise Lee made during his glorious Biletnikoff Award-winning season, his freelancing also resulted in a number of the interceptions for which Barkley was assigned blame. There are a number of productive NFL passers with lesser physical traits than Barkley and scouts love his intangibles.

20. * 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.

21. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: Many top prospects boast eye-popping statistics. Williams is not one of them. The Australia native finished the regular season just ninth (and tied for 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.

22. * D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Anyone who watched Alabama dismantle Notre Dame's talented defense in the BCS title game knows that the Tide offensive line was dominant. Much of the credit has gone to the interior (and for good reason). At 6-5, 355 pounds, however, Fluker is an absolute road-grader himself. Massive, physical and tenacious, he's the top right tackle prospect in the draft.

23. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: While lacking the size and physicality of Millner or Rhodes, the 5-11, 190-pound Trufant showcased a blend of speed and fluidity in Mobile to arguably rank as this year's top cover corner. If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Both of his older brothers -- Marcus and Isaiah -- are already cashing NFL paychecks as cornerbacks with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.

24. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Despite being the obvious focus of every opponent's blocking scheme since talented teammate Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle Oct. 13, Okafor earned first-team All-Big 12 accolades for the second straight season, posting a career high 12½ sacks, including 4½ against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. Okafor showed off a better-than-expected burst off the snap and his trademark active, heavy hands to wreak havoc during Senior Bowl practices.

25. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: A consistent standout during the Senior Bowl practices, Jones racked up an impressive 19 tackles for loss in 2012, seeing action up and down the UCLA defensive line. A few years ago Jones, at 6-4, 280 pounds might have been considered a 'tweener. With defensive coordinators forced to adjust to the rapidly expanding offenses of today's NFL, however, Jones ranks as an intriguing hybrid defender who can hold up against the run as a base defensive end, while beating interior lineman with his quickness if moved inside on passing downs.

26. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Used in much the same fashion (receiver, runner, returner) as the 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.

27. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Snap to snap consistency has been an issue with Short throughout much of his career but he's also proven to be a natural playmaker, averaging 16 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and three blocked kicks over the past three years. He then backed that up with a stellar week of practice at the Senior Bowl, legitimizing his first-round grade.

28. 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 and a must-see athlete at the combine. Unfortunately, while this Jordan might be able to "fly" in shorts like Mike, he hasn't been as productive as his athleticism might lead you to believe once the chin-straps are buckled. Jordan led the Ducks as a junior with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, but wasn't as productive in 2012 (10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) and has struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career.

29. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: In terms of pure talent, Hankins deserves to be ranked among the top five prospects in the country. With light feet and shocking athleticism for a man listed at 6-3, 320 pounds, Hankins can be a superstar. Unfortunately, his motor too often appears to be in neutral rather than overdrive. After registering an impressive 11 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore campaign, the Buckeye 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 too did other notable Ohio State busts like Vernon Gholston and Dan Wilkinson.

30. * Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: Mingo possesses 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 quarterbacks off the edge as a multi-dimensional defender. Considering Mingo's relatively pedestrian numbers (38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) this season, as well as the struggles of other former highly regarded LSU defensive linemen in the NFL, the general manager who selects him that high is rolling the dice.

31. Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia: Like his fellow SEC run-stuffer, Jesse Williams, Jenkins does not possess the elite statistics (50 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack) that normally are associated with first-round picks. At 6-3, 358 pounds, however, Jenkins certainly possesses the beef to clog running lanes and is experienced at both nose guard and defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. Despite having only played two seasons at the FCS level, he's proven himself against top competition in the SEC and at the Senior Bowl.

32. 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 admitting to lying as part of an admittedly embarrassing "hoax" that hit the national stage Jan. 16.

The second tier

33. * Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Ogletree could drop due to character concerns but he is a spectacular athlete with undeniable upside; normally might warrant top-15 consideration.

34. * Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Possessing soft hands and excellent body control, Eifert is the prototypical security blanket, though to earn a first round grade he'll need to answer questions about his straight-line speed.

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

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

37. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: The most consistent of the quarterbacks throughout the critical first three practices of the Senior Bowl, likely pushing him back into the first-round mix.

38. * Matt Elam, SS, Florida: An instinctive defender with a knack for making the big play in big games, everything about Elam's game is big ... except his 5-10, 205-pound frame.

39. * 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 due to stiffness in his upper body. Plays with top effort, however, and has the strength and determination to be equally effective vs. the run as well as the pass.

40. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech: Patton may lack the name recognition of the rest of this strong, if not elite, receiver class but he was clearly the most polished wideout in Mobile.

41. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin: While perhaps not possessing any one dominant trait, Ball's all-around game brings back memories of another No. 28 -- Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.

42. Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International: The ultra-physical Cyprien was dynamic in Mobile, erasing my previous concerns about his level of competition. If he runs well in Indianapolis, Cyprien could push for a spot in the first round.

43. * DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson: A polished route-runner who plays with speed and physicality, Hopkins is earning first round grades from some teams.

44. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky: Overshadowed in this class by Warmack and Cooper, the powerful Warford is a legitimate top 50 prospect in his own right.

45. * Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama: Nursing a slightly torn hamstring, Lacy won't workout at the combine. If he can prove his speed at his March 13 Pro Day, however, he could join former teammates Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson as the top backs of their respective draft classes.

46. Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers: Safety-turned-linebacker, Greene is a turnover machine (played a role in 24 turnovers over his career), and a future NFL star as a 4-3 weakside linebacker.

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

48. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: Too slim of a build to earn first-round consideration but has elusiveness and straight-line speed.

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

50. * Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Scouts worry about the fact that Randle's success came out of a spread offense but his agility and speed make him arguably the draft's most elusive back... at 6-0, 200-pounds.

Just missed the cut

51. * Robert Woods, WR, USC
52. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
53. * Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
54. Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State
55. Cornelius Carradine, DE, Florida State
56. * Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
57. * Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
58. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
59. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon
60. E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
61. Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
62. Terron Armstread, OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
63. Da'Rick Rodgers, WR, Tennessee Tech
64. * Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State

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


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