NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko)
The NFL Combine starts on Saturday and everyone involved in the NFL Draft hopes that it starts to provide some clarity at the top of the draft. Nobody is exactly sure how the top prospects stack up and with no clear cut QB, the top pick is still very much in doubt.
In this weeks 15 thoughts column, I take stock of where prospects stand coming into the combine, go over all the latest news and provide some players to watch during the combine this weekend .
1. First Pick Still Wide Open – I struggle to remember a year in which there was so much uncertainty surrounding the #1 pick in the draft. Kansas City is in a tough position. They have a desperate need for a QB, but are any of these Quarterbacks really worth the first pick? Their dilemma is compounded, by not having needs at positions that other possible #1 picks could fill. Luke Joeckel is the safest bet to come off the board first, but the Chiefs have a solid LT in Branden Albert who they should resign before he hits free agency. They already have two good outside pass rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, making it unlikely they pick one first overall. It will be interesting to watch this week to see if any of the top prospects separate themselves from the pack and take a firm grip of the top spot. In my opinion the best choice for the Chiefs might be Utah DT Star Lotulelei. He could pair with last year’s number one pick Dontari Poe to form a tough and stout defensive line.
2. Who will “win” the combine? – The most entertaining part of watching the NFL combine is seeing who “wins” the drills. The 40 yard dash is obviously the most heralded event and will be the most watched. Here are some players who could run the fastest times over the weekend. Texas WR Marquise Goodwin is an obvious choice. He has a track background and even though he competes in jumping events, he still has world class speed. Auburn RB Onterio McCalebb will be one of the fastest running backs. He weighed in at the Senior Bowl at less than 170 lbs, but he can absolutely fly. USC CB Nickell Robey is another undersized player who can fly, he might be the fastest defensive back this year. Zaviar Gooden is an OLB from Mizzou and is ultra-athletic. He has been rumored to run a sub 4.4 forty in the past and could run in the 4.4s this week. I will be watching LSU DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo closely. He is a freak athlete who has been rumored to run in the low 4.5s. If he does that this week he will make a lot of money. Other players who are expected to run very well: Tennessee WR Justin Hunter, Clemson RB Andre Ellington, WVU WR Tavon Austin, UConn OLB Sio Moore and Oregon RB Kenjon Barner.
3. Lots of Defensive Tackle Talent – The 2013 NFL Draft is loaded with defensive tackle talent. The first round alone is likely to see six tackles selected and as many as eight depending on who rises. Players like Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson and Sharrif Floyd are locks for the top 12 picks, if not higher. The next tier of tackles is stacked as well. Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins, Alabama’s Jesse Williams, Purdue’s Kawann Short, UNC’s Sylvester Williams and UGA’s John Jenkins could all have their names called in the latter half of the first round. For teams like the Patriots that could use another starting defensive tackle, they will have the chance to fill that need. What’s unique about the group is that there is a player for each type of scheme and many of them offer great versatility. Williams is the best nose tackle in the draft. Floyd and Richardson are the best 3-Techniques. Jenkins, Short and Hankins can all play multiple positions including nose tackle. It’s a good year to need defensive linemen. I’ll be watching this group closely at the combine to see the type of shape these guys have gotten in.
4. Wide Receiver Talent Throughout – While the defensive tackle position is top heavy with talent and then drops off towards the middle of the second round. The wide receiver position is exactly the opposite. There might be only two or three receivers selected in the first round, but there could be as many as 10-11 selected by the end of the second round, including many more in the third. It’s a very deep and talented group, but it lacks some star power. Cordarrelle Patterson looks to be the only lock in the first round, although there is a good chance Keenan Allen and Tavon Austin hear their names called on day one. I am a huge fan of Robert Woods and think he is first round worthy. However, players like Markus Wheaton, Quinton Patton, Stedman Bailey, etc. are all guys who will make an NFL impact, but likely won’t go in the first round. Based on my rankings there is legitimately 30-35 receivers who could be drafted and some of the late round guys could make an instant contribution. With a great combine many of these receivers projected in the 2nd-3rd round, could vault themselves into the late first round mix.
5. Could this be the year a OG goes in the top 10? – With uncertainty at the top of the draft and extremely fluid draft rankings this could be the year that an Offensive Guard goes in the top ten of the draft. Chris Naeole who was selected #10 overall out of Colorado by the New Orleans Saints in 1997, was the last OG to go that high. If it’s to happen this year Chance Warmack will be the guy to end the streak. Warmack is the best OG I have evaluated since I started doing this in early 2000s. Quite simply he is a beast and NFL ready. He’s a dominating run blocker and an extremely powerful pass blocker. Warmack shows the quickness and agility to make all the blocks in the NFL. I currently have him ranked as the #3 prospect in this year’s draft class, but there’s no disputing that he is the most ready. Which ever team picks him can plug him into LG and forget about the need for the next decade. We went through a similar discussion last year with David DeCastro and he slipped all the way to the Steelers at pick #24. Make no mistake about it Warmack is a superior prospect and a special player. There’s also an outside chance that UNC OG Jonathan Cooper could sneak into the top 10, as he is another elite OG prospect. I find that more unlikely to happen. If Warmack ends up sliding outside the top 10, it won’t be because of talent, rather the position he plays. Offensive Guard just isn’t valued highly in the NFL Draft and this year will test that sentiment.