This could be the weakest class since this blog began in 2008. It’s the first time I haven’t had a list of at least five or ten guys you can pencil into the first round, and there are more question marks going into the new college season than I’ve ever experienced before.
The skill positions in particular look thin and might be one of the reasons Cleveland used the supplemental draft to grab wide receiver Josh Gordon. The Browns clearly needed to find a receiver with the potential to be a go-to target. For all Gordon’s off-field concerns at Baylor, he might have more physical potential than any 2013 eligible receiver. A second round pick is a high price given the character red flags, but they probably got a player with more impact potential and upside than if they had to pick through the scraps next April.
There are some big names that people are going to talk about, but I’m not convinced any carry that elite potential that we’ve seen recently with Trent Richardson, AJ Green and Julio Jones (to name three). Robert Woods has been a production machine in some USC games, but he’s also had consistency issues. He’s also not a big size/speed guy. He has a chance to become a productive NFL receiver – probably as a #2 or working the slot – but he won’t excite many people going into the draft and isn’t a lock to even declare for next year.
Running backs Marcus Lattimore and Knile Davis have to prove they can return from serious injuries, while receiver Keenan Allen needs to show he can shine without a dominant passing game at California. In fact the best value skill-player may be Wisconsin’s Montee Ball – and he’ll face questions over his decision to return to college this year despite his work-load and production last season.
Defensively there are some guys with nice potential. Nobody can question Jarvis Jones’ talent at Georgia, but we can question exactly what position he’ll play at the next level. Teams will also want to do a thorough medical after a serious neck injury that eventually led to his transfer from USC. Star Lotulelei at Utah gets a good press but I’m still not totally convinced he’s anywhere near the finished article – he made the right decision to return this year.
After that there’s no big name corner that immediately stands out. David Amerson had 13 interceptions last year, but he’s slow and a switch to safety seems likely. In fact the players that excite me the most from this class (after Jones) are the blue-collar, high-motor defensive ends – Bjoern Werner and John Simon. Neither are truly great physical specimen’s, but both have that JJ Watt-style ability to create pressure. In a class that lacks a lot of explosive pass-rushers or defensive backs, they could go higher than most people expect.
The two LSU guys – Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery – helped create one of the best defenses in college football last year. Yet when I look back at tape from 2011, they don’t create enough consistent pressure to make you believe they’ll be high first round picks. They’ll have explosive plays, but they also struggle to disengage a lot. Are they pro-level pass rushers? For now, I’m not sure.
There are a handful of offensive tackles with some promise – Oday Aboushi, Ricky Wagner and Luke Joeckel for example. But the best offensive lineman in the class for me is guard Jonathan Cooper at North Carolina. He should be a high pick in the first two rounds next year. We’re used to seeing at least one highly touted offensive tackle going in the top-10, but there’s no obvious candidate this time.
Then there’s the quarterbacks – the position we appear destined to focus on yet again. Next April it’ll be 20 years since the Seahawks last drafted a quarterback in round one. Perhaps Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson will push us into a different direction? Or maybe not. We have to wait and see how it plays out. But we’ll start the 2012 college season focusing on quarterbacks and merely hope by the end of it we’re talking about another position.
Matt Barkley, despite lacking ideal physical tools, is as good a quarterback prospect as you will ever wish to see in a draft class. Logan Thomas has almost the exact opposite skill-set in that he has all the elite physical tools but doesn’t have the same level of polish and technical quality. His absence from the Manning passing academy this year hints towards a full shift with Virginia Tech and at this point I’d be surprised if he declared as a junior.
Tyler Wilson is technically sound with a good arm and a level of scheme-intelligence that will challenge even Barkley’s. Yet there are some concerns. He’s listed at 6-3 by Arkansas but reports in the last fortnight have argued he’s much shorter. Wilson does have a slingy release and gets into awkward positions with his footwork (happy feet). Barkley isn’t the tallest at around 6-2, but he’s a prototype over-the-top, pocket passer who reads the field superbly. There’s no doubt that if Wilson can lead Arkansas to the SEC title game after all the drama with Bobby Petrino, his stock will be through the roof. But he’s one of the most intriguing prospects to watch next year and could go anywhere from first overall to the middle-rounds.
Aaron Murray will also have to battle with talk about his height but has shown flashes of quality. Like Wilson, he also has a chance to impress in the SEC with Georgia. Geno Smith should continue to produce big numbers under Dana Holgorsen. Tyler Bray at Tennessee needs to prove he can stay healthy and become a productive passer, while we should expect at least one prospect to emerge from nowhere (see: Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III etc). Just don’t expect much from Landry Jones or EJ Manuel. Mike Glennon could be one to keep an eye on.
Chad Reuter at NFL.com has listed his own quarterback rankings, while Tony Pauline is churning through the divisions grading all of the draft-eligible talent. I’d recommend checking out the work of both.
Overall this could be a challenging class. Prospects will emerge and it’s far too early to say exactly what we can expect in the draft next year. But right now, there aren’t too many reasons to get excited.