6. Uncertainity with the Inside Linebackers – The inside linebacker position has changed quite a bit over the last month due mainly to off-the-field issues. The Manti Te’o situation is well publicized and it remains to be seen how much it will ultimately hurt him. I still have him ranked #1 on my ILB board and I believe he will still be a very productive NFL player. Some team will get a steal late in the first round. The position was further clouded this week when UGA’s Alec Ogletree got a DUI, not his first off the field run in with law enforcement. Ogletree is such an incredible athlete for the position, that I still seem him going somewhere in the first round. The DUI will hurt him, but won’t cause he him free fall. While Ogletree and Te’o are sliding a little bit, one guy who is ascending rapidly is Oregon’s Kiko Alonso. I got to see a lot of Alonso this season and was very impressed with the way he followed up on his MVP performance in the 2012 Rose Bowl. Kiko is an aggressive and versatile ILB, possessing a well built frame. He’s a very good inside blitzer and shows the movement skills to drop into coverage. He has the skill-set to fit into almost any scheme and at worst be a rotational LB. The thing with Alonso is that he too has off the field concerns. Early on at Oregon he was suspended for the entire 2010 season and was arrested for breaking and entering. On top of that he has missed time with a torn ACL. As a whole the ILB position is talented, but lots of questions surround many of the players.
7. Medical Checks at the Combine – Perhaps the most important part of the combine occurs behind the scenes and that is the medical checks. This year has an extraordinary number of players with medical red flags that will be put through the rigors of a combine examination. Marcus Lattimore, Jarvis Jones and Tank Carradine are three high profile players, all of whom are first round talents that have injury concerns. Jarvis Jones has the most to gain by being given a clean bill of health, as he is likely to be a top ten pick. The one player I am anxious to hear about is University of Houston CB DJ Hayden. Hayden is a big time talent and one of the top “sleepers” in this year’s draft. He’s got good size, is extremely fluid in coverage and possesses good ball skills. In November Hayden tore the inferior vena cava, which is a blood vessel in the heart, during a collision in practice. The injury was nearly fatal and ended Hayden’s college career. If Hayden checks out fine at the combine, he is a player we will start to hear about more and more about. Possibly elevating back into day two of the draft.
8. What about the Honey Badger?- After being kicked off the LSU football team and not playing football this season Tyrann Mathieu has been almost forgotten about in terms of NFL Draft chatter. I may be in the vast majority, but I still have a top 50 grade on Mathieu despite all his off the field issues. I am extremely high on Mathieu’s football IQ, the way he can impact a football game in multiple ways and his overall play-making ability. At the very least I think Mathieu can be a slot corner in the NFL and be a dynamic punt returner. He could also make the move to free safety if needed. There aren’t many players that possess the innate play-making ability that the “Honey Badger” does, he has a nose for the ball and can change games. His interviews with teams will be vital as will the workout. Before he was kicked off the team I had a late first round grade on him. I would feel comfortable picking him in the second round if he interviews well, although that is unlikely to happen. Mathieu is likely an early day three selection.
9. The Best Tight End You’ve Never Heard of – The tight end class was greatly bolstered by the inclusion of a talented group of underclassmen. Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz garner most of the headlines, but I believe San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar could be the best in the entire draft. Escobar has a great frame and displays big strong hands. He can stretch the middle of the field vertically and can separate vs. linebackers and safeties. If one TE in this year’s class is going to turn into the next Rob Gronkowski my money is on Escobar. He’s still not a great blocker, but has the frame and playing strength to develop into a better one. Keep an eye on him this weekend in Indianapolis, I think he will turn a lot of heads.
10. Who is Joseph Randle?- There is very little buzz surrounding the RB class this year and it remains possible none are selected in the first round. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is probably the best of the bunch with a powerful frame and physical running style. After Lacy, most analysts like UNC’s Giovani Bernard. My #2 ranked RB as of now is Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, who is flying under the radar big time. Randle is one of the more complete backs in the draft, showcasing very good hands and big play ability in the passing game. He runs with more power than given credit for and has speed to get through the first line of defenders. The knock on Randle is his tall, linear build and his high pad level when running. I believe pad level can be taught to running backs and his overall ability should outweigh his thin build. The combine is going to be important for Randle. He needs to weigh-in over 200 lbs. and he needs to run reasonably well. The forty time isn’t everything for RBs and if he is able to run in the 4.55-4.60 ran and show good hands I am fine with that. No back in this draft is without questions and I’ll take my chances on a complete back like Randle.