It’s far too soon to consider who might go in the first round of next years draft — and players will always emerge (or sink) during a season. Nobody called out Eric Fisher as a prospective #1 pick twelve months ago, so a lot can change. Even so, there’s no harm in having a quick look. And hey, it’ll be fun to see how this list adapts during the course of the next year.
#1 Jadaveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Generational talent at defensive end. As long as he avoids injury, he’s virtually a lock to go first overall.
#2 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Unflappable. Willing to play through the pain barrier. Strong arm, accurate, has won big games in his career. The only player likely to challenge Clowney to go first overall.
#3 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Doesn’t have elite size but neither does Alabama’s incredible sophomore Amari Cooper. Within the next few years both should be top-five picks.
#4 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Would’ve been a top-12 pick this year had he declared. Will boost his stock even more if he performs well at left tackle. Might be better than Luke Joeckel.
#5 Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
The next great defensive back off the production line for Nick Saban. Tremendous talent.
#6 Cyrus Kouandijo (T, Alabama)
Kept D.J. Fluker at right tackle and he went #11 overall. Should be a top ten pick.
# 7 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Monster of a receiver. Could be hurt by a lack of good quarterback play. 6-6 with deep speed and YAC ability.
#8 Austin Seferian Jenkings (TE, Washington)
Potentially the next great athletic tight end.
#9 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Had a terrific season in 2012 after transitioning from full back (of all positions). Pure speed off the edge.
#10 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Another player who could’ve easily been a top-15 pick this year. No reason why he won’t maintain that grade.
#11 Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
Explosive playmaker. Size may be an issue for some but you can’t argue with 19 sacks in the last two years.
#12 Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
Looked average against Alabama in the BCS title game but had a very good 2012 overall. Scheme diverse.
#13 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Tall, strong hands and enough speed to be a difference maker. A bit like Brandon Coleman (he’s 6-5, 218lbs) he has limitless potential. If Manziel stays productive, Evans could become a star too.
#14 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Missed time last year and ceded his role as Clemson’s best playmaker to DeAndre Hopkins. Even so, with Hopkins in the NFL now Watkins has a chance to shine.
#15 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Big nose tackle. Another player who didn’t look great against Alabama. But who did on the night for Notre Dame?
#16 De’Anthony Thomas (WR, Oregon)
The way the NFL is going, Thomas has a shot to be an early pick.
#17 Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford)
Playmaking safety, seemed to be doing something every week in the PAC-12.
#18 Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State)
15 sacks in two years so far for the Beevers. He’s shown a lot of promise and I’m looking forward to seeing more in 2013.
#19 Lache Seastrunk (RB, Baylor)
Ended the year on fire and he’s already making statement’s about challenging for the Heisman. It’s not unrealistic.
#20 Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State)
Limitless upside but like a lot of FSU defensive players, hasn’t dominated to this point. Big year in 2013.
#21 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Surprised a few by not declaring this year. Simply put, he makes plays. He has a nose for the ball.
#22 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Great corner who could’ve been a high pick this year (round two at worst?). Plays on a winning team and should continue to prosper.
#23 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
He pretty much wings it. I’ve put him on the list, but I need to see more. Huge question marks here on just how effective he may or may not be at the next level.
#24 Austin Hill (WR, Arizona)
Bailed Matt Scott out a few times last year before a bad ACL injury. Amazing hands. Not a burner but so reliable.
#25 Ra’Shede Hageman (DE, Minnesota)
Caught a little bit of a hype during the off-season before choosing not to declare. He has potential, but I need to see more production in 2013.
Honourable mentions: Chaz Green (T, Florida) — may move to left tackle, has the athletic upside to make the switch. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon) — anticipates the ball, times his hits well. Decent upside. Daniel McCullers (DT, Tennessee) — huge defensive tackle but moves so well for the size. Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon) — I’ve heard great things about Lyerla, I look forward to watching him next year.
If you think I missed anyone out let me know in the comments section.
I also want to touch on the quarterback group briefly. This year I feel like the NFL almost talked itself into disliking the bunch available. While the media waxed lyrical about what a bad class it was, it really wasn’t any worse than previous years where guys like Tim Tebow somehow found a home in round one. Colt McCoy was a third round pick, when he probably should’ve been a sixth rounder. Jimmy Clausen went in round two and Christian Ponder at #12 (!!!) overall. Now either the league is learning to not overvalue the position, or they went a bit over the top this year. If Russell Wilson hadn’t happened in 2012, there are at least 3-4 guys I would’ve thrown my weight behind as possible long term starters in Seattle.
Chip Kelly admitted he had a top-50 grade on Matt Barkley, which is why he traded up in round four to get him. It wouldn’t surprise me if Barkley starts for Philadelphia this year. Stranger things have happened. But why on earth was he (and others) still lurking on day three?
It might be a similar case next year. Teddy Bridgewater looks like a shoe-in to be the top quarterback taken. But after that there’s a cluster of other ‘big names’ who are going to get talked up a lot, but probably don’t match up even to Barkley, Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib and Tyler Wilson.
Johnny Manziel is a big hit after winning the Heisman, but I’m sceptical about his pro-prospects. Very sceptical. Which is why he’s only at #23 here. Some are suggesting he’ll be a top five pick. A lot of his game is playing in chaos, running around to extend plays and improvising. It’s fun to watch, but completely unorthodox. If he has another amazing year at Texas A&M, perhaps a team will believe in the guy enough to take him early? But for me he’s going to be one of those players that really divides opinion.
Logan Thomas had a miserable 2012 season but the appearance of E.J. Manuel in round one will give him hope. If Manuel succeeds, that probably helps Thomas’ case. But he really needs to improve because last year was car crash at times. The play calling didn’t help, and it hasn’t helped at Virginia Tech for years.
Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray will likely go at it again in the SEC, but neither has the necessary physical tools to warrant much interest until later in the process. Tajh Boyd had a great Bowl game against LSU to end last season, but he lacks the consistency and physical tools to get you excited about much more than a mid round grade.
David Fales has almost a hipster style following on the internet and has some nice tape out there for San Jose State. And yet there’s still something so ‘meh’ about him. He’s one to keep an eye on, though. He looked good against Stanford last year. Derek Carr on the other hand has never really done anything for me and I thought he was poor against SMU in Fresno State’s bowl game to end the season.
While this year’s class was pilloried for its lack of quality, we could see a very similar story in 2014. A lot of teams have invested in young quarterbacks during the boom years of the passing football in the NFL. We might see a little lull as some succeed and others fail, while other ageing quarterbacks approach retirement. Then the craze starts all over again.