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NFL Draft Offensive Preview: First Look

Posted Jan 17, 2013

UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin is considered one of the top back in this year's class. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com

A preliminary look at top 5s by position, keeping in mind fluctuation is inevitable this time of year stemming from all-star games, Combine/workout performances, medical information, interviews, etc.:

—Quarterback

NFL teams seeking a franchise passer will be disappointed with the 2013 class of quarterback prospects which might not contain a single passer worthy of a first-round selection.

1) Mike Glennon, North Carolina State (6-6, 232) — Tall, strong-armed pocket passer from a pro-style offense in the Drew Bledsoe/Joe Flacco mold. Has first-round physical tools, but his potential exceeds his performance at this stage of his career. Needs to improve decision making — posted a 3:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio in losses to Tennessee, Virginia and Vanderbilt.
2) Matt Barkley, USC (6-2, 230) — Bloom is off the rose after senior season only fueled concerns, including size, arm strength, athleticism and durability. Comes from a pro-style offense and his ceiling likely isn’t as low as past USC quarterback flops, but his ceiling is a question mark. Could succeed in right situation, but has to find a beneficial landing spot.
3) Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (6-2, 229) — In a weak year for quarterbacks, Nassib is one of the most appealing options. Doesn’t have first-round polish, but there’s a lot to like, including his arm strength, athleticism, smarts and competitiveness. Has starter potential.
4) Zac Dysert, Miami (OH) (6-4, 228) — Big, experienced, rhythm passer with a high release and good arm strength and touch — shows the ability to make NFL throws from the pocket or on the move, though he has slow feet and limited escapability. Also needs to learn to use his eyes better (tends to stare down receivers). Production was affected by poor supporting cast — victimized by drops and spent most of season running for his life behind an offensive line that didn’t place a single blocker on the MAC’s first, second or third time (sacked 159 times in his career). Three-time captain with starter-caliber ability.
5) Tyler Bray*, Tennessee — Joined the exodus from Knoxville despite an uneven junior season in which the Vols went 1-7 in the SEC. Bray was even benched against Vanderbilt. There’s no question he could’ve improved his draft stock with a better season in 2013, but he opted to take his chances in the NFL instead of a senior season with new receivers and a new coaching staff. Our preseason assessment is still very much applicable: “has clear first-round potential — he’s tall with a quick, compact release for his size and NFL arm strength. He exhibits advanced field vision and makes the opposition defend horizontally and vertically. However, he forces too many throws and tends to ignore the deep safety. Bray’s confidence borders on cockiness and following a pair of childish incidents over the summer (vandalism, reckless boating), he will have to show improved on-field decision making and assuage personality/makeup concerns.”

—Running back

This year’s group of running backs, thanks to several underclassmen departing college early, contains at least 10 players with potential to at least produce in a complementary role.

1) Le’Veon Bell*, Michigan State (6-2, 237) — Competitive, fullback-sized, 20-year-old junior who profiles as an NFL bellcow with a well-rounded skill set, including third-down ability. Could be a draft bargain at a time when running back value is lessened. Able to pound inside or embarrass tacklers in space thanks to excellent combination of run strength and agility.
2) Eddie Lacy*, Alabama (6-0, 220) — Downhill, between-the-tackles back who is more productive than pretty and benefits from a lather. Had breakout season after waiting in the wings behind Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and created momentum for himself by piling up yards and running with attitude in the SEC Championship and BCS Championship. Has terrific size, good initial quickness, competitive speed and surprising lateral agility. Doesn't go down easy — has strong legs/torso, lowers his shoulder and spins off contact.
3) Montee Ball, Wisconsin (5-11, 215) — Compactly built, competitive, instinctive touchdown machine with very good balance, vision and patience. Doesn’t have elite traits in terms of speed, elusiveness or short-yardage power, but has desirable size, quickness and second-level burst to be effective. Enters the NFL with nearly 1,000 touches worth of wear and tear. 
4) Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (5-11, 195)  — Compactly built, instinctive back with good balance and quick feet who displays keen vision and patience — reads his blocks, anticipates holes and sees the cutback to cut decisively. Runs hard, runs with pad level and has short-area burst. Nearly 20 percent of Franklin’s 282 carries went for 10 yards or more, as he piled up 2062 all-purpose yards on the season. Will be a 24-year-old rookie and ball security has been an issue.
5) Andre Ellington, Clemson (5-9, 195) — Undersized, competitive, instinctive, zone runner with excellent balance, quick feet and explosive one-cut ability. Is not built to make a living between the tackles (durability is a concern) and needs to improve as a blocker, but has good hands, should contribute right away as a change-of-pace back and offers kick return ability. Yards per carry average decreased over four years and he managed just nine rushes of 20 yards or more as a senior.

Note: Also worth mentioning is South Carolina underclassman Marcus Lattimore, who, when healthy, is a top back, but faces a long recovery after a gruesome season-ending knee injury. Ultimately, his draft position will be determined by his health, but the Willis McGahee precedent helps Lattimore’s cause and he could be viewed as a steal two or three years from now.


—Receiver

There’s no A.J. Green or Julio Jones available this year, but there are a handful of playmakers.

1) Cordarrelle Patterson*, Tennessee (6-3, 205) — Only one season of Division I experience on his resume, but burst onto the scene and established himself as a playmaker. Could’ve used more seasoning as a receiver, but he’s an instinctive, explosive athlete with big-time speed and electric run-after-catch ability. Doubles as a dangerous return man.
2) Kennan Allen*, California (6-3, 210) — Production is less than some others’ because of injuries and poor quarterback play, but Allen has terrific size and is equipped to thrive in a West Coast offense. Physically strong receiver who chews up ground with long, fluid strides and has a big catch radius. Runs solid routes, display body control and has dependable hands to make spectacular and/or contested grabs.
3) Robert Woods*, USC (6-1, 190) — Instant accelerator with intriguing fluidity, quickness, playmaking and run-after-catch ability. Offers versatility to align in multiple spots and return kicks. Stock has cooled in the wake of a less productive junior season, and timed speed could dictate ultimate draft position.
4) Tavon Austin, West Virginia (5-9, 171) — Dynamite in a diminutive package. Outstanding three-year production — over his WVU career, finished as the nation’s most prolific all-purpose gainer (7,284 yards). Sudden, speedy, elusive playmaker whose versatile skill set allows him to be used in a variety of roles, including slot receiver, running back and return man. With library of Austin’s impressive game tape and several “undersized” players succeeding in the NFL, his size should be overlooked come Draft time.
5) Justin Hunter*, Tennessee — Like Bray, Hunter isn’t deserving based on his disappointing junior season performance, but he possesses first round-caliber measurables and his upside is undeniable. He’s long, has vertical speed and can sky — he figures to become a Combine all-star. When, or if, his raw ability translates to consistent playmaking is the question. Risky, high-ceiling prospect.


—Tight end

Truly balanced tight ends — those who can block and catch — are becoming increasingly rare, but there’s no shortage of pass catchers emerging from the spread offense-driven college game.

1) Tyler Eifert*, Notre Dame (6-6, 251) — Won’t blaze the 40-yard dash and production was affected by freshman quarterback, but Eifert is the class of this year’s tight ends thanks to his outstanding ball skills. Comes from a tight end factory and is the type of oversized receiver in demand in today’s NFL — should instantly upgrade a passing attack. Also made strides as a blocker this fall.
2) Zach Ertz*, Stanford (6-6, 252) — Paced tight ends nationally in receptions (69) and yards (898). Has a relatively narrow frame and isn’t equipped to lock horns with NFL defensive ends, nor is he an elite athlete. However, Ertz has excellent size, clean movement and terrific route running skills. Also has soft hands and good body control to adjust to throws and box out smaller defensive backs. Ready for the pro game.
3) Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (6-6, 260) — Younger brother of Eagles center Jason Kelce, who also went to Cincinnati. Old-school tight end with well-rounded skill set who plays with vinegar. Has prototypical size combined with good foot speed, athleticism and balance. Dependable receiver with agility and run-after-catch ability belying his size. Also can execute a variety of blocks from multiple alignments, and profiles as a No. 1 tight end at the next level.
4) Jordan Reed*, Florida (6-3, 243) — Undersized, athletic, loose-hipped, H-back/move tight end who catches naturally and creates after the catch. Poor inline blocker — lacks base strength and fundamentals to handle NFL defensive ends — but shows good burst off the line and can stretch the field and run a variety of routes.
5) Dion Sims*, Michigan State (6-5, 285) — Inline physicality and power leave something to be desired, but he has potential in this area, and you simply can't teach his rare size and surprising athletic ability — standout high school basketball player with good hands who presents a big target over the middle. Also is a load to bring down after the catch. Upside is worth investing in.

—Offensive tackle

Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews decided to stay in school, but his bookend, Luke Joeckel is the No. 1 blind-side prospect with a bullet.

1) OLT Luke Joeckel*, Texas A&M (6-6, 310) — Has been showcased in this blog repeatedly since the summer. Top pass blocker available and will be a lottery selection come April. As steady as they come.
2) OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (6-7, 305) — Big-framed, long-armed tackle with good base strength who is solid in pass protection and effective as a lean-and-seal run blocker. Isn’t an elite athlete and could stand to hone technique, but has starter-caliber ability to play either side. When the competition rose, so did his game, allaying any concerns regarding a “mid-major” prospect stepping into the spotlight. Should be first first-round tackle from the Mid-American Conference since CMU’s Joe Staley in 2007.
3) OLT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (6-7, 303) — Few players raised their stock higher than Johnson, who entered fall camp battling for the Sooners' left tackle job. He's now viewed as a legitimate NFL left tackle prospect. For starters, Johnson has a big, projectable frame with a long torso and desirable arm length. After the snap, he shows blind side-caliber athleticism, balance and coordination to kick slide efficiently, pop and recoil and neutralize pass rushers. Is still relatively inexperienced — needs to get stronger and perfect his technique — but is an ascending prospect with upside who figures to help himself between now and April.
4) ORT D.J. Fluker*, Alabama (6-6, 335) — Could’ve benefitted by becoming a more dominant all-around player as a senior at Alabama, but has been touted for the NFL since high school and decided to forgo final year of eligibility. Massive right tackle who profiles as a physical, short-area mauler — pass blocking needs to catch up with road grading ability, but has sheer mass, heavy hands and good feet for a big man. Entered BCS Championship having graded out at 98.6 percent on the season with 33 pancakes and four sacks allowed. Three-year starter whose arrow is point up.
5) OL Oday Aboushi, Virginia (6-6, 310) — Captain and three-year starter with excellent size and functional strength. Can extend, lock out and keep rushers at bay in pass protection, and has sheer mass to wall off zones in the run game. Lacks ideal foot quickness and athletic ability for the blind side (could be stressed by speed), shows average hip snap and could stand to play with more of an edge, but has starter-caliber ability and swing value. As a fallback, could also be tried inside.

*Note: Florida State junior ORT Menelik Watson (6-6, 320) was a semi-surprise early entry given his relative inexperience, but he’s taken a truly unique path to the NFL and has big-time upside. Watson was born and raised in England, where he played basketball before landing a scholarship at Marist College (N.Y.). Frustrated with losing and facing a ceiling as a 6-6 power forward, he picked up football on the other side of the country at Saddleback College (Calif.), where it took him just a handful of games to draw major BCS offers. Watson has made remarkable progress as a football in a short period of time and has done it at the highest level of competition. He’s raw and will be a 24-year-old rookie, but is a physical specimen with a rare combination of size, strength, athleticism and explosion. His inexperience and inconsistency prevents him from cracking the top five at this time, but when all is said and done, he could wind up being an outstanding pro. He’s one to watch in the coming months and could shoot up draft boards if he tests as well as expected.

—Offensive guard/center

Interior blocking positions have become more and more valuable in recent years and 2013 could be a bumper crop thanks to a pair of first-round guard talents.

1) OG Chance Warmack, Alabama (6-3, 320) —Elite prospect and one of safest picks in the draft. One of the best guards to emerge from college game in recent memory and draft position will reflect that. Day One starter who will instantly upgrade an NFL offensive line.
2) OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (6-3, 295) — Another low-risk prospect, Cooper would be the top guard in most draft years. Isn’t a brute inside, but is athletic, fundamentally sound and consistently effective. Sterling intangibles provide comfort that the team that drafts him— likely in the first round — knows exactly what they’re getting. Will be highly sought after by zone-blocking teams.
3) OG Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 343) — Experienced road grader with NFL girth and a thick trunk — has a stout base to anchor. Isn’t flashy and struggles outside the phone booth, but stymies pass rushers and generates movement in the run game. Should fit nicely on an offensive line which values size and power.
4) OG-C Travis Frederick*, Wisconsin (6-4, 338) — Former UW head coach Bret Bielema called Frederick a “freak of nature” physically and mentally — has outstanding size, rare strength and exceptional intelligence. Drops anchor, plays with a load in his hands and controls rushers. Wins in short area — has sheer mass to lean/wall off and is able to torque and pancake defenders. Played center for the Badgers, but has experience at guard and might project better there in the pros.
5) OL Kyle Long, Oregon (6-7, 311) — Back story will be highly publicized in coming months — son of Hall of Famer Howie and Rams DE Chris; began college career as a pitcher at Florida State; arrested for DUI; returned to football in junior college; emerged as a prospect during his senior season at Oregon. Was denied extra year of eligibility by NCAA, but only needed a handful of starts at left guard to showcase physical gifts. Athletic natural bender who gets off the ball quickly, works his ships and is light on his feet for a big man (explosive puller). Has strong hands and shows ability to punch and recoil. Is still a work in progress, but raw ability and upside rates amongst the best in this year’s class. Assuming he checks out off the field, is sure to rise given his bloodlines, size, athleticism and upside. Is scheme and position versatile and might bring most value as a zone-blocking right tackle.

*Rankings are the opinion of college analyst Matt Feminis and in no way reflect the views of the St. Louis Rams.

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