Curt’s 2013 NFL Draft Big Board-Top 20 Prospects
The meat of the 2012 College Football season is here. Conference schedules are in full swing, and for a draftnik like me, that means hours and hours of college football. So far this season there have been some really amazing individual performances. Whether it's West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith or University of Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, it seems that every week we are treated to many fabulous athletes showing that they are the best of the best.
During the course of the season, and well into the offseason, I will update my NFL draft information. Today, I will post my first Top 20 draft eligible prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft in the country, in my order. I qualify that because in the decade or so that I have done this, I always get comments and emails proclaiming that there is no way Player Y is going to be drafted ahead of Player X. I get that. Once I put out my first mock draft next week, you will see what I predict will happen. This list however, is the 20 best players in the nation that I've seen in order from best to worst.
I plan to update this list every 3 weeks, and of course like any list like this, it's fluid, so there can always be big changes just around the corner, so keep checking back. And if you don't agree, come find me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and let me know who your best players in the country are.
20. Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver Cal
Keenan Allen is a freakish athlete who should remind football fans of another former Cal Bear, DeSean Jackson. One advantage Allen has over Jackson is he's much bigger and stronger and when you consider how poor the Cal QB play was last year, what he did is even more impressive. He has really shined on an average Cal offense.
This season Allen has really impressed me. His body control and athletic ability are really unrivaled in this draft, and while his game skills are a little raw, we have all seen in recent seasons that you can't underestimate the value of having the better athletes on the field.
19. Matt Barkley, Quarterback USC
Matt Barkley has become the anointed one by most as the top player in the 2013 NFL draft, but that's not something I am buying. He's got shortcomings in his game(pun intended) that I want to see him overcome before I am willing to say he's the next great USC quarterback to struggle in the NFL. Barkley benefits greatly from having two first round picks at the wide receiver position, an offensive line destined for the NFL, and even a premier running back. His arm strength is not NFL caliber, and he's often bailed out by his gifted wide outs.
This season, what I have seen are a lot of short passes and long runs by the USC offense. This isn't what the NFL wants to see. While I concede that Barkley is a first round prospect, there's no way I would draft him No.1 overall, especially considering the talent in this draft class.
18.David Amerson, Cornerback North Carolina State
David Amerson was my No.1 cornerback coming into the season. But as the season has worn on, he's slipped quite a bit. I can't fault him for the problems his teammates have had in the secondary, leaving him hanging on multiple long touchdowns, but in many other cases, Amerson has lost track of his man, missed tackles, and even more unusual missed interception opportunities.
Physically, Amerson is still the same gifted athlete he was last year. And his technique for the most part is still rock solid. But where I see a problem is he doesn't appear to be playing with the confidence he did last season. Can't really speak on why, but I don't want my top shutdown cornerback to be anything less than arrogant. If he can't turn things around, he could end up playing safety in the NFL, which he'd be great at, until he can get his swagger back.
17. Manti Te'o, Linebacker Notre Dame
While I don't put Manti Te'o in the same class as Ray Lewis, he's very close. He plays hardcore, smash you in the face football and is gifted enough physically that he wouldn't have to come off the field in passing situations
As much of a fan as I was of Te'o last year, I'm even more of one this season. His coverage and ball skills have improved and while I think he plays a little too heavy for the NFL, the fact that he's so smart and can diagnose a play so quickly really helps him maintain his size and strength even if it's at the cost of some straight line speed and quickness. I expect once the season wraps for Te'o to get with a great training organization and work on getting him a little lighter, a little leaner, and a lot quicker. This would almost lock him into a mid first round pick.
16. Barkevious Mingo, Defensive End/Linebacker LSU
Last season, Barkevious Mingo was used primarily as a pass rush specialist so his ability to engage an offensive lineman on a run play, clear the trash close on a play and finish were untested. This year we've gotten to see much more of Mingo, although it appears he's still part of a defensive end rotation, you can really see that this year he is becoming more of a complete, albeit still raw player.
Mingo is a hybrid player who looks to have a future as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker, but a 4-3 team could pick up Mingo to play him as a rush specialist as well. And even though he hasn't been the most productive player in the country at his position, his athleticism and potential will almost certainly mean he ends up a first round pick.
15. Barrett Jones, Offensive Line Alabama
Barrett Jones is the do it all lineman for the Crimson Tide. The fact that he's been moved around so much might hurt his overall draft stock because teams aren't sure what to do with him, but I think his ability to play multiple positions at an All-American level only enhances his draft stock.
I took Jones' teammate, DJ Fluker out of my Top 20 once I realized just how much better a player Jones and fellow Alabama lineman Chance Warmack is. Jones might not be an elite left tackle prospect, but NFL teams love guys like Jones who can play multiple positions at a high level.
14. Jackson Jeffcoat, Defensive End/Linebacker Texas
The other half of the Longhorn dynamic duo. I have Jackson Jeffcoat higher than fellow Longhorn Alex Okafor mainly due to size, where Jeffcoat is built more like a 3-4 rush OLB, and could appeal to more teams. Now, I admit he does have an injury history which will need to be addressed at some point, but thus far this season Jeffcoat has looked tremendous as an edge rusher. The skills are there, nearly on par with Jarvis Jones and Sam Montgomery, he just has to put it all together for a full season.
Jeffcoat is another player who benefits from so many teams running a 3-4 base defense and allow him the opportunity to play a little smaller, and make better use of his quickness and explosion. I would like to see him more consistent during the game, as he tends to disappear for stretches, especially when teams chose to run the football.
13. Chance Warmack, Offensive Guard Alabama
There's always one pure guard that catches my eye and this year it is clearly Chance Warmack. He's so big and strong, and uses his hands so well it makes up for the fact he's not very quick on his feet. It’s hard to stand out on an offensive line as good as Alabama’s but even with players like Barrett Jones and DJ Fluker on the roster, Warmack has impressed.
There was a time in the NFL where the thought of using a first round pick on an interior offensive lineman was taboo. But in recent years, teams have come to understand how important those players are, and with the rookie salary cap, the financial risk is not so great. There are a lot of teams who could use a massive player like Warmack, especially if they value running the football.
12. Marcus Lattimore, Running Back University of South Carolina
It's hard to find backs with the size and speed combo of Marcus Lattimore in the NFL much less in college football. The only question is will the knee be ready and can he return to his 2010 form? If the answers are yes, then Lattimore will be in high demand come next April as every team wants a guy they can feature on 3 downs, being able to run it and as a very polished receiver out of the backfield.
If there is any feature of Lattimore’s game that impresses me above the others is how hard he runs. I often find myself forgetting that he’s not a 235lb running back, as he works so hard, legs never stop moving, and he is almost never held for no gain. The running back position is so undervalued in the NFL, it’s hard to justify a running back as a first round pick, but I have no doubt a healthy Lattimore should be taken that soon.
11. Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle Texas A&M
The Aggies have a fabulous tandem of tackles with Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, and while the differences aren’t huge, Matthews is probably the worse of the 2. I don't care that Matthews is a RT now, because that's all about the spoils of the Aggies talent. I have no doubt with a big season this year, he can declare early and then show he can make that move to the left side.
I am anxious to see how Matthews navigates a full SEC conference season against some of the top defensive linemen in the nation. I think he’s big and mean enough to hold his own against player in the country. He’s not got the polish of some top tackle prospects in the past drafts, but with so many teams running 3-4 base defenses, it never hurts to have a power player like Matthews on the right side to lock up on those 300lb defensive ends.
10. Eric Reid, Safety LSU
The new safety position in the NFL requires the player to do it all. Be big and physical in run support, play center field in zone, man up on tight ends and backs, and even be a good blitzer. Eric Reid is one of 2 safetys in this draft who do all of this at a high level. Reid's level of play has been exceptional during his career at LSU and his ability to play close to the line in run support, drop into zone coverage, and even take a back or tight end in man makes him a real commodity in the NFL.
9. Luke Joeckel, Offensive Tackle Texas A&M
Coming into the season, I actually had Luke Joeckel rated slightly below his teammate and fellow tackle Jake Matthews. But after re-watching several games from last season, and each of their games this year, I think Joeckel’s quickness, ability to set up on edge rushers, and the use of his hands put him ahead of Matthews, even if it’s not by a huge margin. The difference between them has to do more with technique and polish than anything where Joeckel is better, and a more natural fit at left tackle, which for him is huge when it comes to how high he’ll be drafted and how much he’ll be paid.
8. Sam Montgomery, Defensive End/Linebacker LSU
The Argument that will rage all year is going to be whether Sam Montgomery or Jarvis Jones will be the first hybrid rush LB off the board and can both of them go Top 10. I think Jones will edge him out, but I have no doubt that he along with the long and explosive Montgomery will be in that top 10 mix. His first step is probably better than Jones and he's almost impossible to stop without a double team. He’s not as complete a player as Jones and to play in the NFL he’s going to need work as a coverage player, but no matter what, Montgomery is a frightening player and can make plays all over the field.
7. Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle Michigan
I originally didn’t have Taylor Lewan on my Top 20 to start the season because while I understood he was talented, I didn’t think about him as an early declare and would need 2 more years. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Lewan lands on the list after a great performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide defense. He did it all, and held up to all the pressure that Crimson Tide D can dish out. The Wolverines might have lost big that day, Lewan graded out very well, and has carried that over in the games since where he’s been a stone wall on the left side.
6. Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle Utah
This group of defensive tackles isn't deep, but there are some real stars at the top and Star Lotulelei is the very top. He's got size that allows a team to use him in multiple ways, and the athleticism to pull it off. For a guy who's asked to do a lot he never fails to deliver. He's got a high football IQ and that makes his entire defense better. I would like to see him more consistent, making more good plays every game, instead of a few big ones and so many non-plays, but he’s super disruptive and is almost impossible to block one on one.
5. Robert Woods, Wide Receiver USC
Interesting I put Robert Woods as my first wide out, when I'm not sure he's the best receiver on his own team. But in this draft, Woods is the man. He doesn't dominate in any area, but he can do a little of everything. His greatest strength is his ability to make plays after the catch. A lot of the USC offense is built on short passes that allow their wide outs to get chunks of yards after the catch. Woods has excellent acceleration, good stop/start, and can break tackles. Biggest thing for him to overcome is the stigma attached to recent USC wide outs who've fizzled out in the NFL.
4. Tyler Wilson, Quarterback University of Arkansas
If you are a team in need of a quarterback for 2013, you are potentially going to be well taken care of. I am a huge fan of Tyler Wilson and his ability to elevate the game of everyone around him. My favorite comparison to Wilson is Brett Favre with his brash style of play, strong arm and ability to stand in the pocket and make plays knowing he's going to get hit. He’s fearless and physically imposing and promising to be a great quarterback for a long time. I love that he plays with confidence, and while his injury history could hurt his draft stock, in terms of talent, there is very little I can find wrong with Wilson and his game.
3. Geno Smith, Quarterback West Virginia
If there's a player who is working hard to re-make himself and turn himself into an elite prospect it's Geno Smith. Count me among the converted at this point. He's got all the tools, and just needs to perform week after week in the Big 12, to get the pub he needs to fly up draft boards. Every year there is a quarterback who the media latches onto, and it becomes a mixed blessing for them. They are all over him but it also means his mistakes will be magnified. He’s such a smart player and plays with so much confidence you have to assume he’s going to succeed.
2. DeMarcus Milliner, Cornerback Alabama
I really debated putting DeMarcus Milliner this high, but I have a feeling by the end of the season he's really going to establish himself as a No. 1 corner and with his physical style of play and solid mechanics. Could move to free safety in the NFL and play at a very high level. Sometimes players like Milliner get lost when you see how many high draft picks he plays around, but make no mistake, the NFL is a league that covets the pass now more than ever, so a guy like Milliner who you can leave on an island in man coverage is a huge bonus.
1. Jarvis Jones, Defensive End/Linebacker Georgia
I was a little shocked when Jones didn't declare last year, and this year he's going to get picked apart compared to last season, so he's going to need to do even better just to hold serve on where he was last year. He's a remarkable edge rusher with all the explosion and intensity you have to possess to succeed. And to be quite honest this season he’s made more big plays than he did all of last season and has shown even more versatility and a better understanding of the game. He’s not only my top player in the nation, if I had a vote I’d probably give him the Heisman Trophy as well.