The 2013 NFL Draft is setting up as one of the most unpredictable in years. It's the byproduct of a class minus a megastar or franchise-caliber quarterback.
But it won't be a draft without drama.
NFLDraftScout.com goes beyond the regular mock draft with 10 bold predictions from Analyst Dane Brugler and Managing Editor Jeff Reynolds.
10. For the first time since 2007, at least three safeties will be drafted in the first round.
The NFL has become a pass-happy league and with tight ends becoming more popular with the emergence of players like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, tough-cover safeties are growing in popularity for teams. Historically, it's not a position that is highly sought after in the first round, but that's starting to change. This draft doesn't have a Sean Taylor or Eric Berry type of safety prospect who will be considered in the top five overall picks, but Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), John Cyprien (Florida International), Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU) will all be considered in the 15-32 range. All four of those prospects have flaws, but they play a position that is growing in popularity and teams aren't shy about taking one early.
9. Wide receiver Tavon Austin is the first West Virginia prospect drafted.
Austin is the top playmaker in the draft. His height isn't the detriment it could have been in a bygone era. Austin is similar, though not as tall or strong in the upper body, to Percy Harvin. It stands to reason the line for Austin's services will be a healthy queue, and including the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots, among others. The 2012 draft was an education in how general managers and coaches value playmakers over prototypes, a slight sea change evident in picks such as Bruce Irvin to the Seahawks, Shea McClellin to the Bears and Chandler Jones to the Patriots. Austin can return kicks, punts, line up anywhere in the offensive formation as a receiver or runner and is one part Harvin another Devin Hester. If he's not a top-10 pick, it'd be a surprise. It wouldn't be stunning to see teammate Geno Smith, the top-ranked quarterback in the draft, to slide right out of the top 10.
8. Florida State's EJ Manuel is the top QB drafted.
Speaking of quarterbacks. Manuel has all the tools -- mental and physical, leadership and competitiveness -- Chip Kelly wants and the first-year Eagles' coach is just one of the possible best-suited matches for Manuel. His release isn't pure; neither was Dan Marino's. He's a warm-weather product of a so-called college offense; so was Jim Kelly. Manuel can be the face of a franchise tomorrow, and in a draft class where every prospect brings a briefcase of drawbacks, this is a much of a "choose your flavor" scenario as there ever has been in a draft.
7. One linebacker becomes an All-Pro
Arthur Brown of Kansas State got little press in Manhattan and isn't yet a headliner, but he'll make like NaVorro Bowman and go from overlooked rookie to most wanted in short order. Brown can play inside or outside linebacker and his experience stopping the run and in coverage showed scouts he'll play all three downs with the kind of verve coaches want from their defensive captain. This isn't a knock on Manti Te'o or Alec Ogletree as much as a nudge to the limelight for Brown.
6. Cordarrelle Patterson will not be the top Tennessee wide receiver drafted.
The top JUCO prospect a year ago, Cordarrelle Patterson burst onto the college landscape with a bang and showed off his explosive athleticism and intrigued NFL scouts with his natural ability and upside. However, while most view him as a top-20 prospect, he won't be the first wide receiver out of Knoxville drafted on April 25; that distinction will go to his former teammate, Justin Hunter. Although he was very highly-rated entering the year, Hunter slipped down boards due to his inconsistency catching the ball, but nonetheless, he has that fluid athleticism that will cause teams to take a chance on him. Patterson struggled through team interviews and several front offices have already taken him off their first-round draft board, but Hunter has done the opposite, rising into the top 32 picks.
5. Five Alabama prospects in first two rounds.
Eight Crimson Tide players were drafted in 2012, including five of the top 35 overall picks -- Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. It's possible Alabama could produce four first-round picks again next week. The locks are cornerback Dee Milliner, guard Chance Warmack and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker. Running back Eddie Lacy is a fringe round one guy and defensive tackle Jesse Williams might fit into the top 50 because of his 3-4 experience. He's one of the few true 3-4 nose tackles in the pool. The trend will continue next season, when quarterback A.J. McCarron and wide receiver Kevin Norwood lead the '14 Tide draft parade.
4. Boise State gets another first-round pick
Jamar Taylor isn't the top cornerback on the draft board, but he's not far away from it based on his game tape. If Taylor had more prove-it type games, as Kyle Wilson did as a first-round choice of the Jets, he'd be a top-20 target. There are teams that value Taylor over Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, a taller cornerback who lacks scheme versatility and might wind up at safety. Teams in the low-to-mid 20s won't hesitate to add Taylor. The Vikings, if he's available at No. 25, would be better for adding Taylor.
3. This year's draft will mark the first time since 1953 that a Big Ten player isn't taken in the first round.
The Big Ten conference has taken a hit in recent years for its struggles against the SEC on the field and for the first time, we're starting to see the same impact on draft day. While the SEC could have a dozen players drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Big Ten might be shut out of the opening round, something that hasn't happened since 1953. A pair of defensive tackles, Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State) and Kawann Short (Purdue), are the best hope for the conference to be represented in the first round, but both are more likely to come off the board in the second round. The Big Ten will be well-represented on the second and third days of the draft, but the first round will be quiet for one of college football's most traditional conferences.
2. Double-digit cornerbacks will come off the board in the first two rounds.
Alabama's Dee Milliner and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes won't last long on draft day, but they aren't the only cornerbacks who will be highly sought after early in the draft. In fact, we will see double-digit cornerbacks drafted in the top 64 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft. Milliner and Rhodes are top-20 picks, but then between picks 20-64, we could see at least eight cornerbacks come off the board, including prospects like Taylor, Desmond Trufant (Washington), D.J. Hayden (Houston), Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Darius Slay (Mississippi State), Robert Alford (SE Louisiana), Logan Ryan (Rutgers), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut) and Tyrann Mathieu (LSU).
1. Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan is a top-six lock and the top defensive player in this draft.
Whether he goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, Jordan will be selected in the draft's top six selections. Not maybe or possibly. He will be taken somewhere in the top six picks. Jordan wasn't the most productive college player, but watching his college tape from Oregon, he was used as a versatile chess piece all over that defense. He lined up at pass rusher, dropped in space against the run and even in the slot to cover, acting as a nickel cornerback. At 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds, his athleticism has scouts really excited for his potential at the next level and that's why he won't last long on draft day. The Jaguars at two, Eagles at four and Browns at six are the most likely landing spots; he won't fall any further.
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