With the passing of the January 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, the prospect pool is finally settled.
The senior all-star games and workouts leading up to the draft will cause some tweaking to the rankings over the next few months, but the defining characteristics of the 2013 draft class are clear. This year's crop is generally lacking at quarterback and at the so-called "skill" positions.
On the other hand, there is very impressive talent along both offensive and defensive lines. Perhaps the most underrated position group is in the defensive backfield, which may lack in headliners but offers great depth.
The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the draft order. It is simply a ranking of the 64 best draft-eligible prospects in the entire country.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk (*).
1. *Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Having earned all-conference recognition all three years of his career, Joeckel has cemented his stock as the top offensive tackle in college football. In answering the unique challenges presented by SEC defenders this season, he earned the Outland Trophy as the nation's best lineman and vaulted himself to the top of my draft board. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel may have won the Heisman Trophy, but Joeckel could be the one holding the bigger prize - the thrill of being the first offensive lineman since Jake Long (2008) to be selected No. 1 overall.
2. *Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Having earned First-Team All-SEC honors in each of his two eligible seasons at Georgia, Jones has proven himself to be a playmaker against both the pass and run. The 6-3, 241-pound Jones led the country in three critical statistics -- sacks (14.5), tackles for loss (24.5) and forced fumbles (seven) despite missing two games (Kentucky, Florida Atlantic) due to injury. As dynamic as he is, the redshirt junior's medical grade will ultimately determine his draft status. He was diagnosed with a mild case of spinal stenosis in 2009 and some NFL doctors may be unwilling to clear him.
3. *Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State: Blessed with a quick first step, heavy hands and surprising instincts given the fact that the German-born Werner has played just five years of American football, the 6-4, 255-pound Werner has established himself as one of the country's elite prospects. An immediate standout in Tallahassee, Werner has improved each of his three seasons at Florida State, culminating with winning the conference's Defensive Player of the Year this season with 18 tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.
4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: With the Utes struggling through a disappointing 5-7 campaign, their senior defensive tackle didn't generate as much national attention as his play has warranted. Despite fighting constant double- and triple-teams, Lotulelei registered 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and four recovered fumbles this season, earning First Team All-Pac-12 accolades for the second consecutive season. Remarkably athletic at 6-3, 320 pounds, he's capable of shutting down running lanes and terrorizing quarterbacks, as well.
5. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Offensive linemen rarely get the limelight, but it might be even worse for Warmack than most. Not only do the "skill-position" and defensive stars for 'Bama generate virtually all of the attention, Warmack is overshadowed even among the Tide's All-American offensive line - but not by talent evaluators, who see the 6-3, 320-pound mauler as one of the safest prospects in his class.
6. *Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Whereas some of the top defensive tackles in the country lack eye-popping statistics, Richardson enjoyed a breakout campaign for the Tigers, finishing just four tackles behind linebacker Andrew Wilson as Missouri's leading tackler this season with 75 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
7. *Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: The rapid ascension by San Francisco 49er pass rusher Aldon Smith as one of the NFL's elite playmakers has forced talent evaluators to acknowledge how much versatile defenders can impact today's game. Moore, like Smith, is viewed by some as a bit of a 'tweener at 6-4, 255 pounds, and has starred at defensive end and outside over the past two seasons for the Aggies. Having registered 21 tackles for loss this season, including 12.5 sacks, Moore certainly has the production to go with his size, burst and motor.
8. *Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: The 6-1, 198-pound Milliner is a perfect example of how Alabama reloads rather than rebuilds. A highly regarded prep prospect who started 11 games as a true freshman, Milliner was pushed a bit to the background in 2011 as 'Dre Kirkpatrick and De'Quan Menzie took over. With each now in the NFL, Milliner re-asserted himself in 2012, finishing second in the country with 20 passes broken up and providing stellar run defense on the boundary. While just a junior, the 2012 Thorpe Award finalist is NFL-ready and will only have to prove his straight-line speed to earn a top 20 pick in April.
9. *Keenan Allen, WR, California: An exceptionally highly regarded prep prospect who originally was going to sign with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide as a safety before joining his brother (quarterback Zach Maynard) at Cal, Allen possesses virtually all of the physical characteristics to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. To earn a top 10 pick, however, he'll have to prove his health (he suffered a knee injury Oct. 27) and straight-line speed.
10. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: While Smith did not play the second-half of the season at the level of top-ranked quarterbacks in recent years, the 6-3, 220-pound senior nonetheless remains a legitimate candidate to wind up as the top pick in the 2013 draft. Smith improved his completion percentage and touchdown/interception ratio in each of his three starting seasons, culminating in a senior campaign in which he completed a sparkling 71.24 percent of his passes and threw 42 touchdowns against just six interceptions. More important, he possesses all of the traits scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback.
11. Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame: More decorated than a wedding cake, Te'o has earned an astounding seven national awards since leading the Irish to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS Championship. While the NFL could care less about a collegiate prospect's stocked trophy case, it is tough not to acknowledge the relative safety that the 6-2, 255-pound Te'o provides as an instinctive, physical defender capable of making big plays against the run and pass. However, Te'o must enjoy a strong pre-draft process after struggling in the title game and then being embroiled in an admittedly embarrassing "hoax" that hit the national stage Jan. 16.
12. Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal: There is plenty of evidence to suggest Barkley is going to lose on the significant gamble he took in electing to return to USC for his senior season. After only one multi-interception game during his junior campaign, Barkley has had six in 2012, including what proved to be the final four games of his career as the quarterback suffered a shoulder injury in USC's loss to cross-town rival UCLA Nov. 17. Scouts value Barkley's leadership, poise and accuracy on the move, but there are plenty who scoff at giving him a first-round grade based on the 6-2, 230-pound quarterback's less than ideal measureables. Nonetheless, Barkley remains squarely in the first-round conversation for me.
13. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama: Many of the top prospects boast eye-popping statistics. Williams is not one of them. The Australia-native finished the regular season just ninth (and tied for that) on the Alabama roster with 36 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. The 6-3, 320-pounder's wide frame and awesome strength (600-pound bench press) make him a potentially elite nose guard. With most NFL teams either using the 3-4 as their base defense or at least incorporating many of its principles, Williams' value may not truly be proven until draft day.
14. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: While he lacks the name recognition of some of his peers, the 6-8, 305-pound Fisher ranks among the top senior offensive tackles in the country, performing well in showdowns against Iowa, Michigan State and against a surprisingly dangerous pass-rushing Toledo defense. Physical and athletic, Fisher will compete to be the first senior offensive tackle drafted come April.
15. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: A native of Ghana who tried out for basketball and lettered in track before giving football a try in 2010, Ansah had 10 total tackles to his credit entering the 2012 season and was barely a blip on most scouts' radar. A few months later, and comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul are almost becoming cliche in the scouting community as the 6-5, 270-pounder emerged as a consistent big-play threat, recording 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and notching both a forced fumble and interception in BYU's Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State. Ansah is raw as sushi right now, but the team that gambles on him could be rewarded handsomely if he continues to develop.
16. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia: Like his fellow SEC run-stuffer, Jesse Williams, Jenkins does not possess the elite statistics (50 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack) that normally are associated with first-round picks. At 6-3, 358 pounds, however, Jenkins certainly possesses the beef to clog running lanes. Despite having only played two seasons at the FCS level, he's proven himself against top competition.
17. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: NFL teams are generally loathe to spend first-round picks on guards, but with the steady Cooper an exception may have to be made. Cooper has excellent agility, demonstrating the ability to quickly get to the second level and block on the move. His terrific blocking helped Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard -- a legitimate high-round prospect himself - rush for an average of nearly 123 yards per game this season.
18. *Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: In terms of pure talent, Hankins deserves to be ranked among the top five prospects in the country. Possessing light feet and shocking overall athleticism for a man listed at 6-3, 320 pounds, Hankins can be a superstar. Unfortunately, his motor too often appears to in neutral rather than overdrive. After registering an impressive 11 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore campaign, the Buckeye defender had just five this season, including only one sack. Despite his drop in production, Hankins is entering the 2013 draft. He clearly has talent, but so too did other notable Ohio State busts, Vernon Gholston and Dan Wilkinson.
19. *Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Jarvis Jones gets much of the hype for the Bulldogs and for good reason, but it was the ultra-athletic Ogletree who led Georgia with 111 tackles despite missing the first four games due to a suspension. The junior's lanky frame (6-3, 234) and staggering closing speed make him a potentially more dynamic player at the next level than Te'o, though Jones isn't nearly as far along in the subtleties of the position having only made the switch from safety two years ago.
20. *Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: A junior college transfer who has only played 12 games at the FBS level, it would be easy to look past the stellar play Patterson has put forth as a receiver, runner and kick returner for the Vols - especially given that defenses have often focused on stopping teammate Justin Hunter first. While Patterson is a bit rough around the edges, the 6-3, 205-pounder is undeniably a playmaker. He averaged 154.83 yards all-purpose yards per game, easily the most of any player in the SEC.
21. Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: At a rangy 6-6, 243 pounds, Jordan's length and explosiveness off the edge make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Jordan led the Ducks a year ago with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, but wasn't as productive in 2012 (10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) and has struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career. He is, however, earning high marks from scouts who believe he could be one of this year's most exciting "hybrid" prospects, as he's so athletic Oregon that asked him to line up as a quasi-cornerback at times.
22. *Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida: With so many talented defensive linemen playing in the SEC, Floyd hasn't generated the buzz that his talents warrant. Used predominately at defensive end a season ago, the 6-3, 303-pound junior was moved back inside to his more natural defensive tackle position this year and stepped up his play, earning First Team all-conference honors with 46 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles for loss. While his Gators lost the Sugar Bowl to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville, Floyd was dynamic, sacking the mobile sophomore quarterback twice.
23. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: In today's NFL, defensive ends are largely graded on their ability to wreak havoc on the quarterback. Okafor does not possess the elite explosiveness off the snap that generally warrants top 20 consideration, but his physicality and hand usage are top notch. Despite being the obvious focus of every opponent's blocking scheme since talented teammate Jackson Jeffcoat was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, Okafor earned First Team All-Big 12 accolades for the second consecutive season. He finished his Longhorn career in style with an five tackles for loss (including 4.5 sacks) to help beat Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
24. Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama: Whether at tackle, guard or center, Jones has demonstrated that he's dependable against the elite competition in college football. Head coach Nick Saban has said on many occasions that Jones is one of the top players he's ever been around and has compared the 2011 Outland Trophy (nation's top interior lineman) to Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. Considering his versatility and dependability (not to mention his coach's impressive recommendation), Jones quietly ranks among the safest prospects in the draft.
25. *Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: Mingo possesses the frame (6-5, 240 pounds) and athleticism to warrant top 10 consideration, but at this point he remains a largely unpolished product who relies on his natural tools rather than technique to make plays. Given Mingo's upside, it is easy to imagine him terrorizing NFL quarterbacks off the edge as a multi-dimensional defender. Considering Mingo's relatively pedestrian numbers (38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) this season, however, the junior might have been better served returning to Baton Rouge for his senior season.
26. *Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: One half of the most talented tight end duo in college football, Ertz only started five games in 2012 but easily led the Rose Bowl-winning Cardinal in catches (69), receiving yards (898) and receiving touchdowns (six). While perhaps not quite as imposing as his 6-8, 265 pound teammate Levine Toilolo (himself a potential top 75 prospect), Ertz combines rare size (6-6, 256) with athleticism and soft hands.
27. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: Used in much the same fashion as a receiver, runner and returner as the Minnesota Vikings feature Percy Harvin, Austin has emerged as the top senior playmaker in the country. At just 5-9, 172 pounds, Austin may not have been viewed as worthy of first-round consideration a few years ago, but in today's wide-open NFL that rewards mismatches Austin could prove among the more valued commodities on draft day.
28. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Possessing the athleticism that once saw him line up at QB, TE and DE, Johnson has emerged as arguably the fastest-rising left tackle prospect in the country. Having only played left tackle one season, Johnson is undeniably raw but his length, lateral agility and surprising physicality helped him shut down Texas A&M's Damontre Moore in the Alamo Bowl loss.
29. *Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: While perhaps lacking the elite breakaway speed that has helped Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski emerge as instant NFL stars, Eifert's 6-5, 252-pound frame and excellent ball skills make him a legitimate mismatch. In today's pass-happy NFL, that could be enough to earn a late first-round selection.
30. *Matt Elam, SS, Florida: While perhaps a bit smaller than scouts would prefer (5-10, 202 pounds), Elam has proven himself to be a playmaker throughout his career, demonstrating not only instincts, athleticism and physicality, but ball-hawking skills (six interceptions) and timing as well. The two-year starter was at his best under the brightest of lights, making game-changing plays against Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee, and pacing the Gators with 11 tackles, including a sack, in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.
31. *Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Possessing a rare combination of size (6-2, 217), physicality and athleticism, Rhodes proved to be a standout throughout his career with the Seminoles, culminating in his earning First Team All-ACC honors in 2012. He'll need to run well in pre-draft workouts to guarantee being selected in the first round and projects best to a press-heavy scheme.
32. *D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Anyone who watched Alabama dismantle a talented Notre Dame defense in the BCS title game knows that the Crimson Tide offensive line was dominant. Much of the credit has gone to the Tide's interior line (and for good reason). At 6-6, 335 pounds, however, Fluker is an absolute road-grader, himself. Massive, physical and tenacious, he's the top right tackle prospect in the draft.
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.