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Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 NFL Draft Review

As I said after my first round review on Friday, if you've come here expecting draft grades, you might as well go back to what you were doing before. I used to do them because people asked, but it's completely fruitless and more often that not, entirely inaccurate.

Instead, I want to review some of the best values, biggest reaches, and other notes that made this draft stick out.

The 2013 draft lacked a lot of the names that we've become accustomed to, especially after last year. There were no Andrew Lucks or RGIIIs that can peak the interest of even the most casual fan. However, what this draft provided was depth at a lot of positions, and while probably not a lot of Hall of Fame candidiates, some guys who are going to be the cornerstones of of successful franchises.

Because of the depth, we saw a lot of quality players fall into lower rounds, so the list of all of the best value picks would be a really lengthy one. But, I've narrowed it down as much as I could. The list below is in the order in which they were drafted, not in importance or decreasin value in the pick:

1. Arthrur Brown - Baltimore, round 2, pick 56
I know it's hard to call a second-rounder a value pick, but Brown was one of my favorite, and safest, players in this draft. Getting him in the second for a linebacker-needy team like the Ravens was a steal for Ozzie Newsome.

2. Eddy Lacy and Johnathan Franklin - Green Bay, rounds 2 and 4, picks 61 and 125.
Of course, Lacy's freefall was understandable considering his medical reports, but most thought he would go in the first. Franklin was an absolute surprise, and these two selections secured Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson as set at the table of the league's top personnel men.

3. Marcus Lattimore - San Francisco, round 4, pick 131
This may surprise some, but this was one of the best picks in the draft. Sure, his full recovery is questionable and if he were selected by most teams, I wouldn't be as positive. But with a stacked backfield that will eventually need a replacement for Frank Gore, the 49ers got a great value on a player that would have been a first round back before the injury.

4. Denard Robinson - Jacksonville, round 5, pick 135
He may not have a position yet, but few can argue the talent of Robinson and the different ways a creative offensive coordinator can use him to create mismatches. I view him as a poor man's Percy Harvin. Once someone figures out how to take advantage of his speed and lateral ability, he could become one of the more dangerous weapons in football.

5. Jordan Poyer - Philadelphia, round 7, pick 218
I didn't have Poyer listed in my top 10 cornerbacks, but he was close. For Philadelphia to nab a defensive back with his ball skills in the last round of the draft, though, is the epitome of value.

Honorable mention with an asterisk: Sam Montgomery - Houston, round 3, pick 95
Montgomery's primary stigma coming into the draft was his apparent lack of a motor and consistency. He openly talked about taking plays off, and I'm sure that didn't sit well with most teams. However, when you turn on the tape, you see a talent that is equal to or better than Barkevious Mingo, his LSU teammate that went 6th overall to Cleveland. If hard working Texans' teammates JJ Watt, Brian Cushing, and Ed Reed can rub off on him, Houston may have snagged one of the top 25 players in this year's class with a compensatory pick.

Conversely, it's hard to come up with a "list" of reaches because of the depth in this draft. Most of the players taken were pushed down because there was gluttony of guys that would fit in the pick 25 to 40 range of most draft. However, there were a couple that caught my eye:

1. Travis Frederick - Dallas, round 1, pick 31
Don't get me wrong, I like Frederick and think he's going to be a good player. In addition, the Cowboys' biggest need was help along the offensive line. But, and this is a big but, it's hard to justify taking a player with the 31st overall slot that you certainly could have taken with the 47th and possibly even 74th pick. I think the Cowboys panicked after losing their true first-round target Kenny Vacarro.

2. Knile Davis - Kansas City, round 3, pick 96
Davis is a perfect example of a workout wonder. His straight line speed was apparent when he ran a 4.37 40 at the combine. When you watch him play, though, you see a runner with very little wiggle, puts the ball on the ground too often, and rarely gets yards after the contact. In addition, he was the 6th running back off the board, and more accomplished backs like Franklin, Stepfan Taylor, Mike Gillislee, and Andre Ellington were still there.

Other notes:

1. It's hard to argue that Minnesota didn't have one of the best drafts this year. When you're able to position your picks to get three probable starters and impact players like Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarelle Patterson, you've had a really good draft. Many people said they gave up too much to get back into the first round to select Patterson. For those people, I simply ask what is the primary purpose of the draft? It's to get good players that can contribute as quickly as possible. And for a team like the Vikings, a borderline playoff team, to get three of them in the first round, they're moves that put you over the top.

2. The NFC West is the best division in football, and from what I saw this weekend, they will be for a long time. San Francisco had a ton of picks and used them wisely. In addition to a shrewd pick like Lattimore, who they can stash like a minor-leaguer in baseball, they filled a need at safety (replacing Dashon Goldson with Eric Reid), and bolster an already strong front seven with the underrated Tank Carradine (DE) and Corey Lemonier (OLB).

Next, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe the best draft in the league from top to bottom was had by the Arizona Cardinals. They got value in almost every round, highlighted by Jonathan Cooper in the first, Kevin Minter in the second, Alex Okafor in the fourth, and Ryan Swope in the sixth. WHat I was most impressed with, though, is that they didn't reach for need like the organization had done in the past. Kudos to general manager Steve Keim in what looks to be a promising start to building this franchise.

Lastly, while I wasn't overly impressed with Seattle and St. Louis, they both made significant improvements. Seattle used the draft for depth after adding key pieces in free agency, namely Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield. As John Schneider said when asked what they will do on the first day of the draft, they'll just watch Percy Harvin highlights. As for the Rams, getting the most explosive player in the draft, Tavon Austin, and adding value picks like Barrett Jones and Zac Stacy, made for a draft that was better than most.

3. I have to admit that I was kind of confused by the moves of two teams: Cleveland and Indianapolis. In my opinion, the Browns reached on Barkevious Mingo in the first, and then traded away picks that were in the meat of this draft (two in the fourth and one in the fifth). The rest of their picks were pretty much JAGs (Just A Guy).

As for Indianapolis, their needs were along the offensive line, and still getting players that fit in their two-year-old 3-4 scheme. Sure, they took two offensive linemen in the second and third rounds (Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes), but both of them could have been considered reaches. It got off to bad start, though, when they took Bjoern Werner in the first, who's an ill-fit at outside linebacker. Sure, he'll be strong against the run, but I don't see a natural edge-rusher or the ability to drop into coverage when needed.

4. I'm a little surprised at the love given to the draft of the San Diego Chargers, specifically their first three picks. First, the selection of DJ Fluker was a panicked one, in my opinion. They saw a run on tackles and decided to take the only one left that could start. The problem is that he'll only be able to adequately play on the right side at the next level. Second, getting Manti Te'o in the second was a glamour pick, pure and simple. Te'o has been overrated for some time, and I think we'll see a lot more tape like the one against Alabama than those against Michigan and USC in the future. Lastly, while you can't argue with his college production, Keenan Allen is a medical concern (he's only "85%" recovered from a knee injury suffered in October - that's not a good sign), and I'm not sure he'll be able to get consistent separation.





Friday, April 26, 2013

2013 NFL Draft First Round Notes

If you're expecting draft grades for the first round, you might as well go back to ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Facebook, or whatever you were looking at before. I used to do it because people asked for my opinion, but it's just fruitless. There's no way to understand the discussions and draft boards for all of the teams. So, I'm just going to give you some of my observations from last night.

1. The Chiefs made the right decision.
I said it many times leading up to the draft that I liked Eric Fisher more than Luke Joeckel. Don't get me wrong, I like the Texas A&M left tackle. As a matter of fact, I think he'll be better at first. However, Fisher's athleticism gives him a much bigger upside, and I think he'll be better in the long run.

2. Minnesota owned the first round.
I admire teams that know what their needs are and do everything possible to fill them. That's no to say I agree with what the Falcons did a few years ago when they basically traded away their entire draft to get Julio Jones, because I didn't. Personally, I think that's one of the big reasons their defense is in shambles now.

Last year, they got Matt Kalil, one of the best players in the draft, and then traded back into the first round to pick Harrison Smith, who started and played very well at safety. This year, they may have scored the steal of the draft with getting Sharrif Floyd (who was a top-10 talent) at 23 and then followed it up with Xavier Rhodes, solving another need. If that wasn't enough, and even though they signed Greg Jennings in free agency, they came back up again to select Cordarelle Patterson. Jennings will be a great mentor for an amazing talent whose only knock is that he might be immature. Did they give up too much for him? Possibly, but they picked three players who I had ranked in the top-3 at their position. Kudos to Rick Spielman.

3. Jerry Jones really needs to give up the GM title
The Cowboys were pretty upset when Kenny Vacarro went at 15 to New Orleans, because he was the player they had their heart set on. And I give them credit for trading back when he was no longer there. But, and this is a pretty big but, selecting a guy they could have easily picked in the 2nd or possibly 3rd round is just inexcusable. I know that each team holds draft parties, and I can't even imagine the reaction when thatpick came through. Hopefully, Jerry didn't park his carat the stadium.

4. Doug Marrone and the Bills staff are magicians
They had everyone fooled from the get go. From everything I heard, EJ Manuel was very far down their board. They made sure to leak their "preferences" for Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley, and Geno Smith. But, all the while they were planning on stealing the Florida State quarterback from all of the teams that planned on trying to get back into the late first to snag him (cough, Philadelphia, cough).

5. I'm not sure there's a better first round pick than DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans. First, he's a perfect fit for their system, which asks for wide receivers to be involved in the running game and to get open quick on slants. Second, he gets to learn from one of the best wide receivers of all time in Andre Johnson. Lastly, of all the talented wideouts in this draft, he's by far the most ready for primetime, which is what he'll need to be since he'll be starting from day one.

6. The Rams were good and bad in the span of about three hours.
As I said abut the Vikings, I liked seeing St. Louis trade up to get Tavon Austin. For a team that needed a dynamic playmaker on offense, they scored one of the best in this draft and because they chose a partner who was strategically placed (in front of the Jets) and wanted to trade back, they didn't have to give up much to get him. On the other hand, the selection of known-knucklehead Alec Ogletree at 30 when Kevin Minter was still available was surprising. Remember, Jeff Fisher also selected Adam "Pacman" Jones and we all know how poorly that worked out.

7. Geno Smith being left out of the first round wasn't that shocking.
I think the networks overplayed the Geno-Smith-is-still-in-the-green-room angle. If you paid attention going into the draft, you knew that all of the quarterbacks had significant warts and there was a chance that none of them would go in the first. However, I don't think he'll have to wait to long tonight in that at worst, he'll go at pick 35 to the Eagles.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

2013 NFL Mock Draft

Since the last CBA went into effect, which included the change in the rookie wage scale, trades at the top of the draft have become commonplace. For those of us who do mock drafts, this makes it much more difficult. As a matter of fact, it makes it damn near impossible to get 10-12 right, which is usually regarded as a good showing.

In the past, I haven't take trades into account, but there's one in particular that I think benefits both teams, and still gives them the player they really want. You'll see what I'm talking about below.

Furthermore, with the quarterbacks being pushed down in this draft, I think there's a strong possibility that at least three or four trades will take place from picks 25 to 32, with teams trading back into the first to select one of them.

1. Kansas City - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
I kept hearing that Joeckel was a lock, but that all changed tonight. Personally, this is the pick I would have made. Fisher has a higher ceiling.

2. Jacksonville - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The difference between Joeckel and Fisher is minimal. I think Joeckel's better prepared right now, because of the competition he's faced.

3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd has the tools and motor to be a dominating player at the next level. I think Lane Johnson could be another possibility here, as well.

4. Philadelphia - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Chip Kelly needs athletic offensive linemen to run the up-tempo scheme he's know runs. Johnson is perfect in that he's a physical freak.

5. Detroit Lions - Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU
With the premiere tackles off the board, Cliff Avril leaving, and Kyle Vanden Bosch being released, it's down to Ansah or Dion Jordan here. I think they go Ansah, because he's better suited for the wide-9 defensive alignment.

6. Cleveland Browns - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Teaming Milliner with Joe Haden gives the Browns one of the best young cornerback tandems in the league. Geno Smith could be the surprise pick here.

7. Arizona Cardinals - Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
The Cardinals are upset the tackles are gone until they see that the most versatile player in the draft falls right into their lap.

8. St. Louis Rams (trade with Buffalo) - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Rams definitely need to get in front of the Jets for Austin. Like New York, they absolutely need playmakers and they love Austin.

9. New York Jets - Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The buzz on Mingo has been deafening over the last few days, and he could go earlier than this, but I think Rex Ryan finally gets the dynamic defensive player he's needed in the Big Apple.

10. Tennessee - Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The Titans need help all over the place on the defensive side of the ball, but I think Cooper is too enticing for Mike Munchak to pass up.

11. San Diego - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Another team that's upset about all of the premiere offensive tackles being off the board, the Chargers take the next best thing with the Crimson Tide's road grader.

12. Miami - DJ Fluker, OT, Alabama
Last year, the Dolphins found out how horrible life can be with Jonathan Martin at left tackle. I think they're desparate enough to take Fluker a little earlier than he should go.

13. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Smith is a real wild card, because I can see him going to a couple of teams ahead ofthis pick. However, I'm still not sure that teams are sold on him. Owner Woody Johnson loves to make splashes, and taking Mark Sanchez's replacement would do just that.

14. Carolina - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Panthers need help in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Once again, with most of the elite lineman gone, they go with a guy that only dropped this far because of medical concerns discovered at the Combine.

15. New Orleans - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Sean Payton realizes that in order to get back to a Super Bowl-calibur team, the defense absolutely has to be upgraded. I wouldn't be surprised is they only take one player on the offensive side of the ball.

16. Buffalo (trade with St. Louis) - Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
The Bills would love to trade back again, because they really want Nassib and they know that they could still get him in the early twenties. Forget the Barkley rumors, his arm would never stand up in the Buffalo weather.

17. Pittsburgh - Jarvis Jones, OLB, GeorgiaAnother player who only fell this far because of medical issues (spinal stenosis). However, with the loss of James Harrison and an aging Lamarr Woodley, Dick Lebeau needs the next outside pass rusher and Jones fits the bill.

18. Dallas - Kenny Vacarro, S, Texas
And the Cowboys' war room rejoices! One of the worst-kept secrets in this draft is Jerry Jones' love for Vacarro. His only concern is that someone might trade up in front of him to get him.

19. New York Giants - Menelik Watkins, OT, Florida State
With David Diehl and Chris Snee not getting any younger, help is needed on the offensive line. Watkins is most people's highest-rated lineman left (not mine), and I think he's a pretty good fit here.

20. Chicago - Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
I originally had Tyler Eifert going here, but I hear that the Bears' brass is very impressed with Te'o. Like being a quarterback in New York, there's no bigger position in Chicago than middle linebacker - hopefully, the Golden Domer is ready for that pressure.

21. Cincinnati - Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
OK, OK, Ogletree's an absolute knucklehead, but he's still a great player. In addition, we all know that Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis have no aversion to taking on headcases.

22. St. Louis - Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Another of the Rams' big needs is at safety, and outside of Vacarro, they have their pick of the litter. I think it's Cyprien, but Eric Reid and Matt Elam are options, too.

23. Minnesota - Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Leslie Frazier would love for Te'o to fall here, and they might consider trading up in front of Chicago to get him. But, even after the signing of Greg Jennings, wide receiver is still a big need. Patterson this late in the first is a steal.

24. Indianapolis - DJ Hayden, CB, HoustonChuck Pagano was a great story last year, and he'll feel a kinship with Hayden and the rare heart disease that almost killed him. Cornerback isn't the biggest need on defense, but he's the highest-rated defensive player at this point.

25. Minnesota - Sylvester Williams, DT, Tennessee
Kevin Williams won't be around much longer, and another Williams could step in immediately to take his place.

26. Green Bay - Eric Reid, S, LSU
After allowing Charles Woodson to walk, the Packers are in desparate need of getting a safety that can step in from day one. Depending on their board, Matt Elam could be the pick here, too.

27. Houston - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
I almost dread making this pick, because the Texans rarely do what people expect or think they should do. However, Andre Johnson is literally begging Rick Smith to get him a complement, and Hunter is the most physically impressive receiver in this draft.

28. Denver - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
After losing Elvis Dumervil in that bizarre fax machine debacle, the Broncos can use some depth at the defensive end position. They might be leaning towards Bjoern Werner, but I like Jones.

29. New England - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Bill Belichick has to go with a wide receiver or cornerback here, because he's very, very thin at both positions. It's hard to argue against defense being the priority, and Rhodes is a better value than any of the receivers left on the board.

30. Atlanta - Desmond Trufont, CB, Washington
For a 13-3 team last year, the Falcons have a lot of needs on defense. Replacing John Abraham's pass rushing ability is also a possibility, but they're really thin on the back end.

31. San Francisco - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
I feel really bad about this pick. Sure, the 49ers would love to replace Delanie Walker, but I can't see Eifert still being here. However, I just couldn't see tight end being the bigger need for the teams in front of them.

32. Baltimore - Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
Let's face it, the biggest need for the Ravens is replacing Ray Lewis. Not because he was still a great player, but because they need a leader after losing Lewis and Ed Reed as well.


 
 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 NFL Draft Defensive Position Rankings

Unlike the offensive side of the ball (see below), the defensive propects coming out this year are much more consistent at all positions. I see a lot of starters throughout the class, and many of them have been left off the lists below because of the depth. Because of that, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of teams go offense early, and then use their later round picks to select defensive players.

Here are the rankings:


Defensive Tackles
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Sharrif Floyd Florida 6025 297
2 Star Lotulelei Utah 6030 311
3 Sheldon Richardson Missouri 6024 294
4 Sylvester Williams North Carolina 6025 313
5 Kawann Short Purdue 6030 299

For the record, Lotulelei did not fall in the rankings because of the reported heart issues they found at the Combine. I like Floyd's athleticism and his consistency. In addition, I think he's much more of a pass rusher than Lotulelei. If there's a surprise in this group, it will be Williams. It's common for defensive linemen to be questioned about their motor, but he's not one of them. From what I saw, his speed is always set to full blast.


Defensive Ends
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Dion Jordan Oregon 6062 248
2 Datone Jones UCLA 6037 283
3 Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah BYU 6052 271
4 Cornelius "Tank" Carradine Florida St. 6040 276
5 Bjoern Werner Florida St. 6032 266

As you can see, I don't value Ansah as much as most. While I think he has a lot of natural ability, he's got a lot of work to do when it comes to technique and football intelligence. On the other hand, I think Jordan and Jones can step in immediately and help their teams. The player I'm most interested in come draft night is Carradine. He's an absolute beast who ran a 4.7 40 yard dash at his pro day just five months after tearing his ACL. The question is going to be how much flexibility, mobility, and power he's lost from the injury (if any).


Inside Linebackers
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Kevin Minter LSU 5116 246
2 Alec Ogletree Georgia 6024 242
3 Manti Te'o Notre Dame 6012 241
4 Jonathan Bostic Florida 6007 245
5 Kiko Alonso Oregon 6030 238

The only reason Ogletree isn't ranked first in this group is because he's an absolute knucklehead. The only question most teams have about him is his off-field troubles, and then he goes and gets busted for DUI just days before the Combine. On the other hand, Minter is more than solid. While he didn't impress in shorts, all you have to do is watch him play - he's a tackling machine. As for Te'o, I wonder if his girlfriend will be at his draft party. I know, I know, low blow.


Outside Linebacker
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Dion Jordan Oregon 6062 248
2 Barkevious Mingo LSU 6040 241
3 Jarvis Jones Georgia 6020 245
4 Arthur Brown Kansas St. 6000 241
5 Sio Moore Connecticut 6006 245

While Jones has been slipping in the postseason, mostly because of injury concerns, Mingo has been gaining steam. There's now talk he'll be a top-10 pick. I like him, and think he can fit in any scheme - he just makes plays. To me, the interesting guy in this group is Moore. His speed and recognition skills are well above average and he was a star at the Senior Bowl. In today's NFL, he'll be able to run with the athletic tight ends and running backs in coverage.


3-4 Conversions
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Barkevious Mingo LSU 6040 241
2 Dion Jordan Oregon 6062 248
3 Jarvis Jones Georgia 6020 245
4 Jamie Collins Southern Mississippi 6035 250
5 Corey Lemonier Auburn 6033 255

I'm sure you've noticed by now that the most versatile player in this draft is Dion Jordan. Not only do I think he's a Pro Bowl calibur player in a 3-4 or 4-3 at outside linebacker, but I think he could put weight on his frame and be a great defensive end in a 4-3 as well. He very well might be the most athletically gifted player in this draft.


Cornerbacks
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Dee Milliner Alabama 5117 201
2 D J Hayden Houston 5110 191
3 Xavier Rhodes Florida St. 6014 210
4 Desmond Trufant Washington 5115 190
5 Darius Slay Mississippi St. 5117 192

This is the deepest position in the draft. I could list 20 players at cornerback and I still wouldn't reach all of the guys that could be quality starters from this group. Milliner is still the best, but you have to admire Hayden with everything he's been through. If surviving the rare heart disease that almost killed him isn't enough, his comeback to becoming one of the best players at his position is truly amazing. Personally, I think at least four or five cornerbacks get selected in the first round, and the position will dominate the draft throughout.


Free Safeties
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 John Cyprien Florida International 6000 217
2 Eric Reid LSU 6014 210
3 Josh Evans Florida 6011 207
4 Duke Williams Nevada 5110 203
5 J J Wilcox Georgia Southern 6000 213

Cyprien is the most well-rounded safety at his position. While it's very close between him and Reid, I think he's slightly better against the run and pass. The real wild card here is Wilcox. He converted from corner to safety because of need and made the change seemlessly. In addition, according to his coaches, he had a great attitude and never once complained about moving to a lower profile position. My only concern is the level of competition he faced versus what he'll be seeing in a few months.


Strong Safeties
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Kenny Vaccaro Texas 6000 214
2 D J Swearinger South Carolina 5104 208
3 Shawn Williams Georgia 5117 213
4 Shamarko Thomas Syracuse 5087 213
5 Earl Wolff NC State 5112 209

Simply put, Vaccaro is one of the "safest" players in this draft. In addition to his willingness to mix it up against the run, he is great in coverage. Against West Virginia earlier this year, he was matched up against Tavon Austin on a regular basis and did more than hold his own. Swearinger might also go in the first round because of his ability to cover, as well as the attitude he brings when someone with the ball comes into his area.

2013 NFL Draft Offensive Position Rankings

Well folks, it's that time of year again, and although I've taken some time off from the blog, there's no way I'd miss one of my favorite times of the NFL calendar year. In addition to the excuse to watch more football, draft time puts a smile on my face because the draft represents hope. No matter if your team is drafting in the top five or a perennial playoff contender, the promise of improving the roster, filling holes from free agency, or simply giving you a reason to buy a new jersey gets the blood pumping.

OK, enough of the sappy, "we're all 0-0" crap. Here are the offensive positional rankings for this year's crop of draft prospects:


Quarterbacks
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Geno Smith West Virginia 6023 218
2 E J Manuel Florida St 6045 237
3 Ryan Nassib Syracuse 6021 227
4 Mike Glennon NC State 6071 225
5 Landry Jones Oklahoma 6041 225

While this quarterback class isn't of the quality of last year (then again, I think we'll find out soon enough that the 2012 group might be the strongest class ever), and it's been hammered by the media, I think there's some potentially good to very good talent at the NFL level. While Smith is the best overall signal caller entering the draft, I'm particularly high on E J Manuel. I think he has all the tools and leadership qualities to be an upper-echelon talent. He has some issues with his technique, but if placed with the right quarterback coach, I think he'll be the best one over the long haul.



Running Backs
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Eddie Lacy Alabama 5110 231
2 Jonathan Franklin UCLA 5100 205
3 Montee Ball Wisconsin 5104 214
4 Christine Michael Texas A&M 5100 220
5 Le'Veon Bell Michigan St. 6013 230

Contrary to popular belief, this is the weakest position in this year's draft. I feel sorry for any team whose primary need is at running back. Lacy might be the only one that can be a three-down back at the next level, and I'm not really convinced of that. I wouldn't be surprised if every one in this draft ended up as a change of pace back or second team guy. That being said, the one that really intrigues me is Michael. He runs with power, speed, and a nasty attitude. I have him fourth because of possible off the field issues - he was in Kevin Sumlin's doghouse at A&M and he missed some interviews at the Combine because he overslept. Not the best way to make a first impression.


Wide Receivers
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Justin Hunter Tennessee 6040 196
2 Corderelle Patterson Tennessee 6017 216
3 Tavon Austin West Virginia 5084 174
4 DeAndre Hopkins Clemson 6010 214
5 Keenan Allen California 6020 206

While there isn't a Calvin Johnson or A J Green in this year's crop, there are some Anquan Boldins and Michael Crabtrees. Many of you will be surprised at my number one selection. Hunter is the one out of this group that could be the next great wideout. His measureables are off the chart, but he didn't have the production of some of the other receivers in this class and mental lapses have been known to plague him. And no, I'm not down on Austin, but as explosive a playmaker as he can be at the next level, I'm worried about his size. Lastly, Hopkins hands are special, and while his 40 time won't "wow you", he plays much faster in pads.



Tight Ends
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Tyler Eifert Notre Dame 6054 250
2 Zach Ertz Stanford 6050 249
3 Vance McDonald Rice 6041 267
4 Travis Kelce Cincinnati 6047 255
5 Dion Sims Michigan St. 6047 262

In my opinion, the tight ends can be summed up as Tyler Eifert and everyone else. He's truly better in just about every aspect of the game than his counterparts. Even though he was double-teamed in every game he played last year, he still caught 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns in an offense designed to run and hide the deficiencies of a freshman quarterback. I think he'll go somewhere in the middle of the first round, and I would be surprised if the next tight end doesn't go until the third.



Offensive Tackles
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Eric Fisher Central Michigan 6072 306
2 Luke Joeckel Texas A&M 6060 306
3 Lane Johnson Oklahoma 6060 303
4 DJ Fluker Alabama 6045 339
5 Terron Armstead Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6046 306

Arguably the best position group in this draft. More than likely, three of them will be taken in the first five picks, and I wouldn't be surprised to see five or six go in the first round. Even though Joeckel might be the better player right now, I graded Fisher over him because I think he'll be the better player in the long run. I like his athleticism and think he can be a perennial Pro Bowl tackle. I know most pundits have Menelik Watson ranked in their top five, but I just don't see it. He looks sloppy in his technique and there doesn't look like there's much overall ability there, either.



Offensive Guards
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Jonathan Cooper North Carolina 6021 311
2 Chance Warmack Alabama 6020 317
3 Kyle Long Oregon 6061 313
4 David Quessenberry San Jose St. 6047 302
5 Larry Warford Kentucky 6030 332

Another good group, especially at the top, where Cooper and Warmack could go in the top half of the first round. Quessenberry snuck into the top five after I watched him at the Senior Bowl. I went back and watched some of the San Jose State games, and was impressed by his ability to get the upper hand quickly on defenders off the snap. If someone did get the jump on him, he does a solid job re-anchoring and regaining control of the matchup.



Centers
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Brian Schwenke California 6030 314
2 Travis Frederick Wisconsin 6035 312
3 Barrett Jones Alabama 6040 306
4 Khaled Holmes USC 6030 302
5 Braxston Cave Notre Dame 6032 303

Schwenke also won me over at the Senior Bowl. The drills in Mobile naturally favor the defensive lineman, and it's very easy for the offensive guys to look bad. However, like Quessenberry and Fisher, the Cal center came pretty close to pitching a shutout. He's so quick to set and out of his stance, it didn't matter if he was going up against a power or speed defensive tackle, they simply couldn't get around him.