As the 2013 NFL scouting combine quickly approaches (it’ll kick off this Wednesday and run through the following Tuesday), here are some thoughts and observations on this year’s class.
1. Good luck if you’re a quarterback-desperate team.
It’s a bad year to be a team desperate for a franchise signal caller. Geno Smith is a good athlete but he progressively got worse as the 2012 college season wore on. Matt Barkley is closer to being a third-round prospect than the first overall selection, which is where some pundits had him slated at the start of the college season. Mike Glennon has NFL-caliber arm but was mistake prone at NC State. Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson and Zac Dysert are “sleepers,” although none project as first-year starters. One year after Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson burst onto the NFL scene, we might not see a quarterback drafted in the first round this year.
2. It’s a deep OT class but who’s at the top?
Thanks to his combination of height, weight and agility, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel might be the safest pick in this year’s draft. But is he unquestionably the best offensive tackle prospect in this year’s class? How concerned were defensive ends about losing contain on quarterback Johnny Manziel that they didn’t challenge Joeckel from a pass-rushing standpoint? Considering the Aggies’ offense was predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as quickly as possible, did Joeckel benefit from A&M’s system? Now, it’s not like Central Michigan ran a pro-style offense in the MAC. But Eric Fisher has the size (6’7″, 305 pounds), frame (he might be able to add 20 pounds), and arm length (34 inches) to start at left tackle as a rookie. That’s not to suggest that Joeckel can’t, because the steady prospect does project as a first-year starter. But coming off a dominating season and an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, Fisher at least deserves mention as being the top tackle in this year’s draft.
3. Vaccaro is worth a top 10 selection.
The safety position is deep this year but Texas product Kenny Vaccaro is a stud and it would be a crime if he fell past the first 12 teams. He’s a ball-hawking centerfielder that is athletic enough to defend receivers in the slot and also come up in run support. He hits like a 218-pound MAC truck and is clearly the best all-around safety in this year’s class. Eric Reid, Matt Elam and T.J. McDonald are no less intriguing, but Vaccaro is the best of the bunch.
4. Dion Jordan is maddening.
Watch Oregon’s Dion Jordan for 20 minutes and you’ll spend half the time being mesmerized and the other half feeling unsatisfied. He’s far from being a polished product and someone will need to teach him how to bend the arc when rushing the passer. (Too often he’ll burst upfield only to be forced to work his way back to the quarterback, which creates clear passing windows and running lanes for the opposition.) But his length, burst and athleticism make him attractive to teams with creative defensive coordinators. After spending time as a drop end and as an outside linebacker while at Oregon, he has the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up in a 3-4. He’s raw, but he also might be a perfect fit for the Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Saints or Falcons, teams that run hybrid looks.
5. Have we seen the best that Banks has to offer?
While at Mississippi State, cornerback Jonathan Banks spent a lot of time playing in a cover 3 zone. That allowed him to break on underneath passes and keep plays in front of him. But at 6’1″ and 185 pounds he’s cut from the same mold as players like Antonio Cromartie and Richard Sherman, who excel playing up at the line of scrimmage and using their length to disrupt routes. Behind only Dee Milliner of Alabama, Banks is widely considered one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s draft. But considering he has the ability to play in multiple coverages despite not being asked to in college, we may not have seen the best that he has to offer. He would appear to be a complete corner, one that can play in either a zone or in press man.
6. The best prospect in the draft that won’t go No. 1.
Alabama guard Chance Warmack is arguably the best prospect in this year’s draft but he won’t be selected with the top overall pick. In fact, he might slide out of the top 10 altogether. Guards usually aren’t selected within the first 10 picks because they’re simply not valued that high. Warmack might wind up being the exception, although the odds suggest otherwise. Teams know that they can find starting guards in rounds three through four and despite Warmack being an exceptional prospect, he’s still likely to fall into the teens.
7. How quickly things can change.
Heading into the 2012 college season, Ohio State’s Jonathan Hawkins was hands down the best defensive tackle prospect in the nation. Now he might not even be the third-best prospect at his position. He has the athleticism and power to consistently control the line of scrimmage but he often disappeared during games and his motor ran hot and cold. In September he was chasing down mobile quarterback Zach Maynard (Cal) from the backside, but by November he was merely average on a week-to-week basis. Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson are more intriguing defensive tackle prospects at this point and speaking of Floyd, it wouldn’t be an upset if he were selected in the top 10. He’s the perfect fit as a three-technique in a 4-3, but he also has experience playing outside in a five-technique. He was one of the more disruptive defensive tackles in the nation last year and is built like a tank.
8. As usual, teams will be playing Russian Roulette when it comes to pass rushers.
Due to his combination of length and burst of the edge, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore gave offensive tackles fits last year. But he’ll need to improve his technique and learn how to use his hands more while rushing the passer at the next level. Meanwhile, Bjoern Werner of Florida State isn’t as scheme versatile as Moore, but he’s quick off the line and uses his hands well to create separation. He’s drawn comparisons to Chris Long, although his motor also ran hot and cold at Florida State. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah might be the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft, as some pundits believe he has the potential to be the best player in this year’s class while others think he’s overrated. The former track athlete has only played football for three years but his technique has improved nearly every season. If a team shows patience with him, he might become a key starter in three years. But considering teams now expect a quick return on their investment, it’ll be interesting to see if Ansah can develop under pressure. This is a deep class for pass rushers but as usual, finding the right fit will be a risky proposition.
9. Teams might want to wait on a linebacker.
The linebackers projected to go in the first round have some serious baggage. Jarvis Jones is a hell of a pass rusher but is he destined to be a situational player? (He also has durability issues.) LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is a freak athletically but wasn’t a productive player despite his intriguing skill set. One could make the argument that Alabama exposed Manti Te’o in the national championship game and, well, nobody has forgotten about his relationship “issues.” His speed and athleticism not withstanding, Alec Ogletree was suspended in 2012 for violating Georgia’s substance abuse policy and he recently was arrested for DUI. In terms of risk, teams in need of linebacker help might want to wait until the middle rounds where Khaseem Greene, Zaviar Gooden and Nico Johnson could be had.
10. Cordarrelle Patterson is dynamic.
Tony Softli, my co-host on Pro Football Sunday, is a huge fan of Cordarrelle Patterson and it’s hard not to be. For being 6’3″ and 205 pounds he moves like a 5-10 scatback. Tennessee lined him up as a receiver as well as a kick returner, and also gave him the ball on end-arounds. With all due respect to Cal’s Keenan Allen, Patterson is the best receiving prospect in this year’s draft and it’s not even close. It’s not often that you see a receiver that is as dynamic outside the numbers as he is between the hashes, but Patterson has that sort of talent.