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Draft King Analysis
August 1, 2012
Lou Pickney,

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We're less than 30 days out from the start of the 2012 college football season. With that in mind, here's a look at some of the best 2013 NFL Draft players to walk.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: I scoffed at the early projection of Utah NT Star Lotulelei (6'4" 325) going #1 overall by Todd McShay, but at this point he appears to be the most likely defensive tackle to be taken first in 2013. He has the size to play 3-4 nose tackle or 4-3 defensive tackle, though with his quickness he might actually be a better fit in a 4-3 since there is such a premium in interior defensive linemen who can pressure opposing QBs in the modern NFL. There are plenty of big guys among the top of the elite senior DT talent list, such as Purdue's Kawaan Short (6'3" 310), Georgia's John Jenkins (6'3" 350), and Alabama's Jesse Williams (6'3" 320). Jenkins is the early favorite to be the first player drafted with the 3-4 NT position in mind..

Defensive tackle projections tend to change in any given season, more so than most other positions, and there are plenty of breakout opportunities available for guys in particular with skill at rushing the quarterback. That ability helped Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox end up going from overlooked to being the #12 overall pick in this past April's draft. Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins (6'4" 325) isn't exactly under the radar, but he could shoot up draft boards if he shows consistent ability as an interior pass rush threat this fall -- which is a distinct possibility.

Among underclassmen, LSU DT Bennie Logan (6'3" 290) has a chance to have a breakout season even with Michael Brockers gone to the NFL. Can you imagine how ridiculously stacked LSU's defensive line would have been if Brockers had stuck around for 2012? I'll get to the defensive ends who will take some of the attention off of Logan in a bit, but without the likely double-teaming he would face in a more traditional situation, Logan will have an opportunity to shine against SEC-level talent.

4-3 DEFENSIVE END/3-4 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: For as important as this position is in the NFL, it needs a more succinct name. But it's the mold of Mario Williams or DeMarcus Ware or Jason Pierre-Paul -- guys with size who can bring the heat from the outside.

To be fair, you don't have to have elite size to succeed at this spot (see: Dwight Freeney), and, to point, the top prospect at this point is Georgia's Jarvis Jones (6'2" 240). What what he lacks in height he makes up for with speed, ferocity, and an uncanny ability to pressure the quarterback. If he can replicate his 2011 output, or at least come close to it, he will likely be the top DE/OLB drafted and could be the first defensive player taken in the draft.

Not to be too SEC-centric, but LSU has two of the other top prospects at the position in Barkevious "Kiki" Mingo (6'4" 240) and Sam Montgomery (6'5" 245). Remember what I wrote above about Bennie Logan having a great opportunity to shine this fall? It's in part because most teams will be gameplanning on how to stop this duo from carving up their offensive line while trying to avoid the Honey Badger.

It's not just LSU that has a great DE/OLB combo: Florida State is also two-deep with elite NFL-caliber talent at that spot. Brandon Jenkins (6'3" 250) and Bjourn Werner (6'4" 275) are both skilled players, though I could see Werner getting typecast into the 3-4 DE position and falling since the demand for that spot isn't what it once was in the NFL. I'll see both of them play (assuming they are healthy and eligible) in my first time back in Florida in 4+ years when I go to the Florida State/USF game in Tampa, which should be fun.

One more combo pack to look out for is in Austin, Texas, where the Longhorns have Alex Okafor (6'4" 260) and Jackson Jeffcoat (6'5" 250) as a pair of pass-rushing threats. They posted a combined 14 sacks last fall and could build on that number this fall. Also, Illinois DE Michael Buchanan (6'6" 240) is part of the Ron Zook super-recruiting legacy that remains with the 2012 Illini. Last year it was Whitney Mercilus who had a breakout season at DE, and now Buchanan will gain the bulk of the attention, both from scouts and opposing offenses. And don't forget about South Carolina's Devin Taylor (6'6" 260) who could fill any number of defensive line needs in the NFL with his rare mix of speed and size.

3-4 DEFENSIVE END: Much like Werner, Michigan State's William Gholston (6'7" 275) could end up projecting to be either a 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT in the NFL. SMU's Marges Hunt (6'7" 290) is huge and much, much faster than you would expect someone his size to be, and he could potentially fit a 4-3 DT role as a pass-rushing interior defensive threat as he could a 3-4 DE spot. To point, through three years of play at Southern Methodist, Hunt has blocked 14 kicks, a remarkable stat for someone of his size.

4-3 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Note that this is somewhat interchangeable with outside linebackers who are siphoned off into the 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB category, though some players tend to fit the 4-3 OLB mold most closely. That's the case for Texas A&M's Sean Porter (6'2" 230) who doesn't have the mass that guys playing on the line might have but who is lightning-quick, as his 9 sacks last season would suggest.

Xavier Rhodes
Xavier Rhodes is one of the top college cornerbacks in the country. (US PRESSWIRE)
There are several guys in that size range who might not have the size to play on the line in the NFL but who have the speed and quickness and ability to perform well in a traditional 4-3 OLB set: Penn State's Gerald Hodges (6'2" 235) and Illinois' Jonathan Brown (6'1" 235) and Florida's Jelani Jenkins (6'0" 235) and Arkansas' Alonzo Highsmith, Jr. (6'1" 220) and a dozen other guys will all be battling it out for the top 4-3 OLB slots, and at this point there is a logjam as far as prospects go: the upcoming season will help sort some of that out.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Number one with a bullet is Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (6'2" 255). Beyond that it's a bit hazy, though Stanford's Shayne Skov (6'3" 245) is a likely favorite if he shows that he has fully recovered from a left knee injury in the third game of the 2011 season, though an off-season DUI arrest won't help his cause. Michigan State's Max Bullough (6'2" 245) and LSU's Kevin Minter (6'1" 240) both show promise as draft-eligible underclassmen, while Oklahoma's Tom Wort (6'3" 230) has great speed that could translate well to the next level.

CORNERBACK: NC State's David Amerson (6'3" 195) is the favorite to be the top cornerback drafted in April coming off a season where he had a jaw-dropping 13 interceptions. He has the height to match up with taller receivers and outstanding ball-hawking skills. You can expect opposing teams to do everything in their power to not throw in his direction this fall, so if his interception numbers fall, don't read too much into it.

Florida State's Xavier Rhodes (6'2" 215) played Michael Floyd very well before getting hurt in the Seminoles' bowl game against Notre Dame last December, and he has the chance to firm up a first-round spot with a strong season. Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks (6'2" 185) may be the best corner in the SEC, particularly if you classify Honey Badger as a safety (and I do), though Alabama's DeMarcus "Dee" Millner (6'1" 200) will press him for that designation.

Other top corner prospects include Iowa's Micah Hyde (6'1" 185), Michigan State's Johnny Adams (5'11" 175), Texas' Carrington Byndom (6'0" 180), Rutgers' Logan Ryan (6'1" 190), Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller (6'0" 180), Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst (5'10" 180) and Oregon State's Jordan Poyer (5'11" 190). Also, cornerback is a position where you often see small school guys make major moves up draft boards, and I'm not talking Janoris Jenkins transferring to North Alabama, but guys who for whatever reason end up overlooked by the big schools and develop into bona fide NFL talents on the I-AA/FCS (and even Division II or III) level.

SAFETY: LSU's Tyrann Matthieu (5'9" 175), aka Honey Badger, has below average size for the position, but there is no doubting his lightning speed and fearless gameplay. He might end up playing corner in the NFL depending on the need of the team that drafts him, but wherever he goes he will draw plenty of attention. His moniker of "Honey Badger" is one of the best nicknames to come along in years, particularly in conjunction with the now-famous YouTube video about the honey badger who takes what he wants (NSFW language). He seems to be pegged for the 20-30 pick range of round one, which wouldn't surprise me, particularly with the elite special team skills he brings to the table.

Other top safety prospects (combining free safety and strong safety into one category) include Texas' Kenny Vaccaro (6'1" 215), Georgia's Shawn Williams (6'1" 220), LSU's Eric Reed (6'2" 210), Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson (5'10" 200), Alabama's Robert Lester (6'2" 210) and USC's T.J. McDonald (6'2" 205).


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