The 2013 NFL draft is far more convoluted than its immediate predecessor. With no obvious transcendent talent to fill the top in the form of an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, you could easily argue five or six different players for the top spot without sounding too crazy. One thing we do know: the downgrade at quarterback is serious, as evidenced by the presence of just one signal-caller in our first Big Board. The line is where NFL teams will find value in this upcoming draft, and that's true on both sides of the ball.
Right now, the Big Board is based more on pure positional talent than team need, and where I think players will actually go. If this was a mock draft, you could see two or three quarterbacks in spots that are one or two rounds above where I think they actually are in the process, but that speaks to the complications of the position in this year's draft. There isn't an overall sure-fire winner this time around, and the 2012 class may be the ultimate outlier, but teams will always reach for arms. That's just the way it is.
So, here's our pre-combine 16 best; you can find 17-32 right here.
1. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: The most technically sound lineman of any position in this draft class. Great edge protector, but plays with a right-tackle power. Will only get better with NFL reps.
2. Star Lotuleiei, DT, Utah: If you took game tape of Warren Sapp circa 1999 and sped it up about 20 percent, you'd have what Lotuleiei looks like at his best. A relentless force as an inside penetrator against the run and pass.
3. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Classic straight-up mauler with impressive kick speed and lateral agility. The best in this class at sealing the inside edge. When he gets his hands on a defensive tackle or end, that guy is done. Can handle edge speed impressively well for his size and strength.
4. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: Plays the run well and can stand up to the bull rush, but pass protection is his specialty. Brings the young Joe Thomas and current Matt Kalil to mind with his kick-slide. Technical marvel with great leverage awareness.
5. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: An ideal pattern-read defender with outstanding spatial awareness and trail speed. Not afraid to get his nose busted. He blitzes and sheds blocks well; looks for a fight in a good way.
6. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Moore could be the next Aldon Smith, but we're rating him this highly on potential to a degree. Very strong for his size (6-foot-4, 250) and can use impressive speed to get to the quarterback, but needs a bigger palette of hand and foot moves before he'll be a top-level pass-rusher in the NFL. However, the trend toward looping inside rushers (Clay Matthews, Smith, Bruce Irvin) favors Moore more than most.
7. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Another Senior Bowl stud. Like Joeckel and Fisher, Johnson hits the NFL with impressive technique. Keeps his head on a swivel and has a really nice kick-slide. Could stand to put on a bit more weight and played primarily out of a two-point stance, but the team that puts in the finishing work could be rewarded with a multi-year Pro-Bowler.
8. Datone Jones, DT, UCLA: Starred at the Senior Bowl. Jones is a great leverage player who knows how to use his hands, and will often be seen knifing through blockers with impressive speed. Has the footwork and upper-body strength to move through and beat slide protection, and does it all from different positions. An underrated asset right now -- the scouting combine might change that. 'Tweener size (6-foot-4, 280) will have some teams wondering where he best fits.
9. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Very aware defender, especially when diagnosing run plays in space, and has a real knack for batting passes at the line. Questions abound, however, when watching Werner transfer power to speed from the line. As J.J. Watt did coming out of Wisconsin, Werner will need coaches and coordinators who understand both his skills and liabilities. Total game-changer in the right scheme; could disappear otherwise.
10. Jarvis Jones, DE, Georgia: There are a few obvious Von Miller/Bruce Irvin comps in this draft, but Jones is probably the closest from a pure football speed perspective. Comes off the ball with ridiculous explosiveness and can sometimes get past blockers before they get a chance to set their feet. Will, however, need more overall moves to accentuate a smaller frame that may not stand much additional weight.
11. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: A scud missile without a GPS at times. Mingo often played wide end, which can be a feast-or-famine position. Tremendous speed in space and off the snap, but can easily be blocked out at the line and may have to switch from end to outside linebacker at the next level. Another pass-rusher who would benefit from looping and stunting inside through free gaps.
12. Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas: More and more in the NFL, pass defenders must be able to take on many roles. The best safeties are required to play front-half and back-half coverage, and star in the slot in nickel and dime situations. While Vaccaro doesn't have center-field speed, he can play back in a pinch, and he's a very aware defender in the box and in the slot.
13. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: The best quarterback in this draft class, and the only one in the first round of the first big board. Inconsistent at times, but his combination of mobility and accuracy has to intrigue quarterback-starved pro teams. Concerns about his having played in a primary shotgun offense are oversold; more than one NFL team takes more than 70 percent of all snaps from the 'gun these days.
14. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal: Allen is an ideal receiver for any team looking to put its pass-catchers in multiple roles, as more NFL teams are doing these days -- watch how often guys like Calvin Johnson are in the slot now. Burns up turf on quick slants and screens; lateral agility in space makes him a nightmare for safeties and slot corners; comes to the NFL with a full array of skills.
15: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Had a dominant Senior Bowl week, which erased some concerns I had about his edge speed. Okafor played a lot with his hands off the ground at Texas, and I think he's better suited to be a traditional edge defender who can occasionally shift inside on nickel downs. Great upper-body strength and hand moves; must use leverage to mask lack of pure burst.
16. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: Patterson is known for his straight-line speed, but don't ignore his ability to make gains in tight spaces on underneath routes -- and his ability to adjust to some fairly "interesting" passes from Tyler Bray. Still finding his feet at the FBS level, but could become a truly dynamic every-level NFL receiver in the right system.
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