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2013 Pre-Draft Rookie Report

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Published, 3/27/13

 

Note: FantasyGuru.com's John Hansen led the way on this article, and Senior Writer Tom Brolley contributed to this report, along with Joe Dolan, Matt Camp, and Adam Caplan.

 

I don’t watch a ton of college football during the NFL season, so once the Super Bowl champion is crowned, I spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the upcoming draft class. I have plenty of experience of my own when it comes to handicapping players for fantasy football purposes, but when it comes to rookies, I need some help. My process usually begins by discussing the upcoming draft class with those whose business it is to study them. Our friend Tony Pauline of Draftinsider.net is always a prime resource, and we certainly pay special attention to the film study of our friend Greg Cosell. I also attend the NFL Scouting Combine each year, where I do everything I can to talk to NFL reporters, beat writers, and insiders about this year’s class. In addition, I try to interact with as many rookies as possible, and it does really help just being around these guys and seeing how they carry themselves. For example, in 2012 I sat down with a young running back, and I came away very, very impressed with him. After doing all the research on this player, we ranked him as the #2 skill player overall for 2012 heading into the draft. That was Doug Martin, and I do think meeting him helped me formulate an opinion on him for fantasy.

 

After almost 20 years running this site, I’ve also become pretty good at amassing a ton of information and opinions and combining them with my general fantasy wherewithal to formulate solid conclusions about the upcoming draft class, and that’s what this pre-draft article is all about.

 

This year’s rookie class is a little tricky because it could go down as a great class, one loaded with productive players at each skill position. But since there are no more than a few “sure things” it could also go down as a disappointing and underwhelming draft group. That said where these players end up could be more important than ever. The QB position, for example, is actually pretty deep in terms of viable NFL prospects, but there isn’t close to one slam-dunk player like Andrew Luckor Robert Griffin III. The RB position is similarly deep, and we could see up to five or six very solid players emerge from it. But other than possibly Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, this group could be loaded with complementary players and backs who share significant backfield touches with others. The WR position is very similar to RB and QB. There is ample depth, for sure, but this year’s crop doesn’t have a prospect like A.J. Green who totally jumps off the page. Other than the top handful of players, it could wind up being full of second and third receiver types, so the landing spots for these wideouts should be critical in terms of their fantasy potential. The good news about this class is that it’s pretty loaded at TE. We could see four or so players emerge as serious forces in the fantasy world. So overall, if you’re in a keeper or dynasty league or just looking for some young blood to get behind for the upcoming 2013 season, this year’s class is intriguing enough. It could be better (like last year), but there definitely is good depth at all skill positions, and overall it seems like a more exciting draft than 2011, for example.

 

In years past, we would rank the players for the upcoming season pre-draft to help readers get familiar with how the players stack up in terms of skill sets, durability, intangibles, etc. I’m still going to rank the players, but this year I’ve decided it would be more beneficial to broaden the scope and stack the players up by their long-term potential. After all, it’s nearly impossible to get a firm handle on a rookie’s fantasy value for his initial campaign until we know what uniform he’ll be donning. Once the draft takes place, then it will be a lot easier to rank the players for the 2013 season – and we will. Of course, we’ll also reset our long-term outlooks and re-rank the players for keeper and dynasty leagues.

 

Quarterbacks

 

Note: These players are ranked more so for their long-term value and potential, so these rankings aren’t for just 2013. Once the draft takes place, we’ll rank all rookies for both this year and the long-term.

 

1. Geno Smith

School: West Virginia Ht: 6-2 Wt: 218 40: 4.59 Year: 4Sr 

 

I can’t say that I’m sold on Smith, but I’m not totally sold on any of the other QBs in this draft class, so Smith gets the nod for our top spot. I did seriously consider the steadier Ryan Nassib, but Smith has more potential as a runner, and we know that’s an advantage for fantasy. But Smith also has the tools to be a very good passer. He has solid size at 6’ 2” 218 pounds, an “NFL arm,” and mobility. He’s shown in college that he can make good decisions with a quick delivery and accuracy, which led to a 71.2% completion percentage and a 42/6 TD-to-INT ratio in 2012. He’s not afraid to throw into tight windows and lead his receivers into open spots on the field, and Smith is usually good with short-to-intermediate throws. Perhaps most important for fantasy, Smith has plenty of speed (a QB-best 4.59-second 40-time at the Combine) to move the chains and break off big runs with his feet. But while he’s shown plenty of the positive attributes listed above, he’s also shown some negatives that are particularly concerning as he transitions to a much higher level of competition. He did play under center in high school and about 25% of the time in college, so he does have a little bit of experience, but he mostly put up huge numbers in the West Virginia offense from the shotgun, and there are real concerns about his footwork under center. Smith has also shown to be inconsistent with his mechanics, bouncing too much with his drops and backing away from pressure and throwing off his back foot at times, which was compounded by his struggles to notice blitzers. While he completed a high number of his passes, he can actually be erratic and late with his throws, which leads to him leaving some easy throws on the field. Also keep in mind about a third of his completions were behind the line of scrimmage, which skews the stats (remember that he had the Percy Harvin-like Tavon Austin at his disposal). He’s also shown average touch and accuracy throwing downfield. But despite his flaws, Smith is a good bet to get drafted in the top-10, since Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Arizona, and Buffalo all need a potential franchise QB. He’s reportedly visited with the Eagles, Bills, and Jets, and the Jags seem interested, so expect him to be a top-10 pick.  

 

2. Ryan Nassib

School: Syracuse | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 227 40: 5.06 Year: 5SR  

 

If you’re looking for a relatively safe and steady prospect at the QB position in this year’s draft class, it’s Nassib. Watching Nassib play, it’s easy to see his arm strength and accuracy right away. He throws a beautiful ball, with well-above average velocity, and Nassib has a quick release for short routes. However, he can easily come off his first option and work through a progression. While Nassib isn’t going to produce much with his legs, he’s athletic enough and has some movement ability. He doesn’t have great “escapability,” but he’s certainly not a statue in the pocket. Nassib can make some good throws on the run, and he’s also excellent at selling play-action. He has done a good job at putting air under his passes on deep balls and fade patterns in the endzone, giving his receivers better chances to make catches, but overall his touch isn’t considered great. For example, a lot of his passes in the short-to-intermediate area are fastballs, when he should be taking something off of them and relying more on touch. Nassib comes in with plenty of playing experience as a three-year starter at Syracuse, and he’s mechanically sound. He’s shown a competitive fire and he’s a tough guy with good intangibles, so players rally around him. But like Geno Smith and each of this year’s draftable QBs, Nassib has some flaws. He’s 6’2” so he has decent height, but it’s hardly ideal. He’s got a bit of a gunslinger mentality to his game, trusting his abilities and receivers a little too much. Nassib also struggles a bit with poise in the pocket, and he tends to make poor reads when he’s feeling pressure, leading to some bad decisions and forced throws. He showed some athletic ability at Syracuse, but he ran a 5.06-second 40-time at the Combine, which was a bit of a surprise, so Nassib won’t run away from NFL defenders. He does have enough athleticism to work under center, but Nassib worked primarily out of the shotgun at Syracuse, and he could need a very clean pocket (rare in the NFL) to maintain his arm strength, plus he has a few too many passes sail on him. He had a poor performance at Senior Bowl, but he improved at the Combine and threw intermediate passes and deep balls well. Overall, while he needs to polish his game, he does stand out in this weaker draft class, but in a very good class he could be considered only a 3rd-round pick. As it stands now, he’ll likely go early in the 2nd round, unless a team that loves him reaches a bit and takes him on Day One (remember, it’s never too early to draft a “franchise QB” if a team believes it found one). Nassib can function in most systems, but would be best in a west coast system, or possibly a run-option. The Houston Texans at #26 can’t be ruled out, but he’s a better bet to go off the board early in the 2nd round to Jacksonville, Arizona, NY Jets, or Buffalo. The obvious pick is the Bills, whose new coach Doug Marrone was Nassib’s coach at Syracuse last year.

 

3. EJ Manuel

School: Florida State | Ht: 6-5 Wt: 237 40: 4.65 Year: 5SR  

 

Of all the players I personally interacted with at the Combine, Manuel was easily the most impressive. Manuel was a former Parade All-American out of high school, so he’s obviously one of the more talented quarterbacks in this year’s draft. He also passes every key eyeball test, with incredible arm strength, height (6’5”), frame (237 pounds), and speed (4.65-second 40-time). He has an easy delivery and has routinely displayed more than enough arm strength throughout his career, and he has shown he can throw with timing, anticipation, and accuracy at times. His quick feet and athleticism makes him dangerous because he can avoid a pass rush and break off long runs, and Manuel isn’t afraid to use his athleticism to his advantage. That’s a key with him because of all of this year’s QBs he’s probably the best candidate to run the read-option in the NFL. Manuel started his last two seasons at Florida State, but he saw extended time in all four of his non-redshirt seasons with the Seminoles. Physically, Manuel looks and sounds like he should be the first pick of the draft, but similar to Jake Locker, he’s far from perfect. He’s been plagued by poor decision-making, and he also struggles to see the whole field when looking deep. He routinely held onto the ball too long at times and can be consumed by pressure, which is a big concern that he can’t process defenses quick enough and will be over-reactive to pressure in the NFL. His accuracy isn’t as poor as Locker’s, but it can leave him on some passes, and he’s shown a propensity to fall away from some throws. During his college career, Manuel started seven games against top-25 opponents, and the results weren’t very good: 6 TDs, 9 INTs, and a 3-4 record. Manuel needs to prove that he has the mental capacity to succeed in the NFL, and it’s very clear that he will need some time to develop, at least one full season. It’s also abundantly clear that he needs to be coached up very well in the NFL. He’s not a lock because he’s never totally put it together in college, but he has the size, arm, and athleticism to surprise and go down as the jewel of this year’s QB class. Manuel is moving up draft boards leading up to the draft, so it would not be a surprise to see him go early in the 2nd round. The 1st round would be a reach, but that’s not out of the question if a team is convinced they can develop his natural skills through coaching. New Eagle head coach Chip Kelly recruited him in college and Manuel’s mobility could be a perfect fit in their new offense, so Philly could grab him with the 35th pick of the draft (3rd pick of Round Two). If the Bills don’t draft Geno Smith, Buffalo could be a landing spot as well.

4. Matt Scott

School: Arizona | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 213 40: 4.69 Year: 4Sr 

 

The intriguing Scott seems to be the guy climbing the most rungs on the draft ladder this early spring. When a rookie seems to be moving up draft boards from January-March, it can be a good sign, as it was two years ago for 49er Colin Kaepernick. In fact, there are several similarities between Scott and Kaepernick, and Scott conveniently comes into the 2013 draft at a time when dual-threat quarterbacks have become more valuable in the NFL. Scott, for example, can run the read-option, as he did at Arizona under Rich Rodriguez. Scott has a quick and compact delivery, a strong and accurate arm, and the ability to throw with velocity and into tight windows. He also can stretch the field vertically with his arm, while also showing enough touch to throw over the top of defenders. Scott is elusive in the pocket, and he’s proven that he can throw accurately on the run. While he’s not afraid to tuck it and run, Scott has also demonstrated an ability to stand tough in the pocket and keep looking downfield for the open receiver. He doesn’t have a great frame to take a ton of hits and definitely needs to put on weight, but Scott is a tough kid who will take a big hit and still deliver an accurate pass. He’s also an agile runner with straight-line speed to pick up some big gains from time to time. Believe it or not, Scott may go off the board as early as the 2nd, round, but that doesn’t exactly mean he’s a sure thing. He started only one season at Arizona, and in 2012 he proved to be a bit of an injury risk. He stands at an average 6’2”, but he weighs only 213 pounds (he weighed in at only 198 pounds at the East-West Shrine game in mid-January), so his skinny build and propensity to run leave him vulnerable to injury. Scott missed one game his senior season because of a concussion, but he also took a number of big hits in 2012. His lack of ideal height hinders him at times because of his three-quarters throwing motion, and Scott oftentimes has just one-read throws called, so he needs to prove he can go through a progression. Scott generally throws with accuracy, but he had the tendency to sail his passes, leaving his receivers vulnerable. He played in Rodriguez’s spread system his senior year, and to be successful in the NFL he probably needs to be in a similar type of offense going forward. We have to believe the team that drafts him will look to use him like the Niners have used Kaepernick and the Redskins have used Robert Griffin III, so Scott lands high on this list due to his upside and running potential.  But both Kaepernick and Griffin had much more college experience than Scott, and in Kaepernick’s case, he still had to sit and learn for a full season, so those who are looking at Scott in a keeper league will have to be patient. If the Eagles don’t get EJ Manuel, they could look at Scott, who coincidentally replaced Nick Foles at Arizona. It’s also worth noting that Jaguar QB coach Frank Scelfo coached him at Arizona for four years, and the Jags need a QB.

 

5. Mike Glennon

School: North Carolina State | Ht: 6-7 Wt: 225 40: 4.94 Year: 5Sr  

 

Glennon has great size at 6’7”, but as is the case with many very tall QBs, he might actually be too tall. The good news is that he has a live arm, possibly the best arm in this class, and he’s very adept at reading and recognizing coverages. Glennon can make every throw in the book, and he can fit the ball in any window, especially downfield. He uses his height to his advantage, spotting open receivers on short-to-intermediate routes. Glennon has plenty of experience running a pro-style offense, and he can work exclusively under center. Glennon has also proven to be durable during his two seasons as a starter, and he’s willing to work on his trade. Glennon also started to show some progress at the end of his senior season, connecting on 61% of his passes for an average 374 yards per game. But while his great height can be used to his advantage, it can also be a hindrance. His footwork and his mechanics can be awkward and shaky, so he had some consistency issues in college.  Glennon has little to no mobility, so he can’t throw on the run and is essentially anchored in the pocket. When he does run, he struggles to get his feet reset, which hurts his accuracy. It doesn’t help that he has poor pocket presence and will hold onto the ball too long. And Glennon, who is very skinny (he weighs only 225 pounds despite his height), crumbles under constant pressure and will resort to careless decisions (17 INTs in 13 games in 2012). Glennon’s strong arm will also get him in trouble at times because he’ll take unnecessary chances. He probably needed more playing experience, since he spent only two years as a starter at North Carolina State, which essentially ran QB Russell Wilson out of town in 2011 in order to start the talented Glennon. He never really won over the team in a tough situation, and the decision to switch to Glennon eventually cost NC State HC Tom O’Brien his job. And finally, he failed to step up at the Senior Bowl or the Combine, so his stock isn’t exactly on the rise. Overall, Glennon has the talent and upside potential to garner interest from fantasy owners, but he’s someone with whom most owners should take a wait-and-see approach. If a team with a major need at his position selects him, like the Cardinals, his chances to be relevant for fantasy would increase.

 

6. Matt Barkley

School: Southern California | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 227 40: N/A Year: 4Sr 

 

I’ve been struggling with Barkley, and I don’t think I’m alone on that. Although I didn’t get a chance to meet him at the Combine, I have interviewed him on the radio. He seems like a great kid, but his lack of high-end arm strength and athleticism does give me pause. On the other hand, while his 2012 season was ugly and derailed by a shoulder injury, his body of work in college before that was very impressive. Had he come out in 2012, for example, he probably would have been drafted over Ryan Tannehill, to put it into perspective. Barkley ran a pro-style offense at Southern California, and he demonstrated a great feel and knowledge for that offense, especially with line of scrimmage reads. Barkley has shown plenty of touch and accuracy, and he has a quick and compact delivery. He has some refined passing skills and footwork, and he has the ability to roll out and throw the ball accurately. Barkley has plenty of playing experience against top-flight competition as a four-year starter, and he was a team leader as a three-time Trojan captain. He’s the type of player who can step right into the huddle and demand the respect and attention of his teammates. However, he may not strike much fear into the hearts of his NFL opponents. Barkley has decent size at 6’2”, but the bigger concern is his average arm strength and his ability to drive the ball downfield. He’s shown enough zip on the ball on short passes, but he does struggle at times throwing intermediate and especially vertical routes. He has an average arm, yet his timing, anticipation, and touch need improvement, which is not a good sign as he transitions to the ultimate level of play. Barkley is not a threat to run the ball due to his slow feet and average athleticism. He played with some of the best talent at the college level, so his weaknesses may not have been truly exposed, but he did have an ugly 2012 campaign. He did play extremely well in the second half of 2011, but overall his successes could be tied to his top-flight receivers. Barkley has some durability issues after a few minor injuries, including a sprained right shoulder that kept him out USC’s bowl game and the Senior Bowl. There is a chance he can develop into an above-average starter down the road, but he clearly needs a lot of help around him, starting with a strong running game and a quality receiving corps, and probably also a great defense that can help his NFL team limit his attempts and exposure. The same could have been said about recent USC QBs like Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Matt Cassel, so that’s probably not a good sign. If we had to bet on one QB going a little later in the draft than many expect, it would be Barkley.

 

7. Tyler Bray

School: Tennessee | Ht: 6-6 Wt: 232 40: 5.05 Year: 3Jr 

 

Bray has received a lot of comparisons to another former SEC quarterback in Jay Cutler. With great size and a big arm, he also has a little Joe Flacco to him. Bray added 24 pounds during training before the Combine to measure in at 6’6”, 232 pounds. Bray is extremely confident in his abilities, and he’s one of the best arm talents in this year’s draft class – if not the best. Bray isn’t afraid to throw it into tight windows, and he possesses the kind of velocity to make the most difficult throws look routine. Bray is at his best when he’s driving the ball into slants, posts, and deep out patterns. He also uses his excellent height to his advantage when scanning the field, and Bray throws a pretty ball with plenty of velocity to lead his receivers to the right spots. But Bray may have been best served to spend another season at Tennessee instead of declaring for the draft as a junior. Bray didn’t want to deal with a new offensive system after Volunteer HC Derek Dooley was fired, and this year’s class isn’t impressive, so he has a chance to move up. Bray has the physical talent to be a good NFL QB, but he’ll likely need some time to develop at the next level. He throws from a low, three-quarter slot, and he sometimes fails to step into his throws, relying too much on his arm strength. Bray also needs to develop touch on his passes. Bray’s poor mechanics lead to inaccuracy with his throws, which at times hurt his receivers’ chances for yards after the catch. Speaking of those receivers, he played with and was helped by two high-end talents last year in Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, who will likely be 1st- and 2nd round picks, respectively. Bray plays a little too loose, and he doesn’t have a good presence in the pocket, and he’s showed a propensity to struggle with bodies around him. He will step up in the pocket, but he has limited mobility, and not only will he rarely escape from the pocket much in the NFL, but he might also have trouble simply avoiding defenders and quickly resetting.  Bray also failed to show any progression as a junior at Tennessee, and he needs time and good coaching to become a more refined QB. But that leads us to perhaps the biggest question with Bray: his leadership and work ethic have come under question. There are a ton of flaws in Bray’s game, so this somewhat high ranking has almost everything to do with his great size and high-end arm talent. At least with Bray, it’s not inconceivable that he winds up being the cream of this year’s QB crop in a few years, but a lot has to go right.

 

8. Tyler Wilson

School: Arkansas | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 40: 4.95 Year: 4Sr 

 

Wilson has earned a reputation as one of the toughest, most competitive QBs in the 2013 draft. He has average size (6’2” 215 pounds), but he’ll hang tough in the pocket to throw the ball, even if he’s going to take a big hit, which will endear him to his teammates. Wilson doesn’t have the biggest arm in the draft, but he has shown the ability to make any throw. He has shown good accuracy and a willingness to go through a progression before checking down to his secondary passing options, which shows some football intelligence. Wilson didn’t play a ton under center at Arkansas, but he didn’t have any problems dropping back at the Senior Bowl. The biggest knock against Wilson is his elongated throwing motion that got progressively worse in college and can get him into trouble throwing against an alert secondary. He’s also quite confident in his abilities, so he’ll make questionable decisions when he tries to fit balls into tight spots. As a result, Wilson’s interceptions rose from 6 in 2011 to 13 in 2012, despite playing two more games in 2011. The Razorbacks really struggled in 2012, and his OL did him no favors, but Wilson gained a reputation for trying to do too much to compensate. Wilson isn’t very athletic, and he’s shown little ability to get outside the pocket and run the ball. He also holds the ball low in the pocket, so he’s vulnerable to fumbles. Wilson was also knocked out of two games over the last two seasons because of head injuries, so there are some durability concerns here as well as some mechanical issues he needs to clear up. He’s one of the many QBs in this draft class who has a chance to make an impact in the NFL but is far from a lock, so it’s tough to put his fantasy value into perspective until we know where he’ll be playing.

 

9. Landry Jones

School: Oklahoma | Ht: 6-4 Wt: 225 40: 5.11 Year: 5Sr 

 

Jones proved to be an extremely productive passer as a four-year starter at Oklahoma. He demonstrated above-average accuracy in the pocket and on designed rollouts, and a quick release that makes him effective in the short to intermediate range. Jones doesn’t have a rocket, but he does have a strong arm, especially on throws to the outside. He won’t wow you with his mobility, and he didn’t run as well at the Combine as expected, but he’s a better athlete than he gets credit for and has good enough footwork to transition from the shotgun to under center. Jones showed intelligence to make calls and pre-snap reads on his own, despite getting sideline calls in college. On the downside, Jones really struggles when he faces a lot of pressure. He can start to backpedal early and his set-up breaks down when facing a consistent rush. It’s not surprising that he easily loses his accuracy when his feet aren’t set and he’s under pressure. If the defense gets to him early, Jones starts to feel the rush, even when it isn’t there. That’s a very bad sign in college, because it’s almost certainly going to show up in the NFL. Jones runs upright and isn’t elusive in the open field, and he doesn’t have great accuracy throwing downfield, as he has the tendency to aim the ball instead of throwing it. Most disconcerting as he enters the NFL is the fact that he was simply better as junior than as a senior and he’s been very inconsistent. He has questionable decision-making skills, looks different from game to game, and wasn’t very good in the red zone (Oklahoma often replaced him in goal-line situations). There isn’t a lot of buzz around him, but he could certainly get a chance to compete for a starting job in a year or two if he lands on a team without a franchise QB.

 

10. Zac Dysert

School: Miami (Oh) | Ht: 6-3 Wt: 231 40: N/A Year: 5Sr

 

When it comes to passing the eyeball test, Dysert gets the job done. He stands at 6’3” and weighs in at 231 pounds, and he has a big, strong frame. He has an efficient over-the-top throwing motion that is easy to replicate every time he throws. Dysert has great feet for a big man and keeps a good base in the pocket, and he steps into his throws. Overall, he’s a mechanically sound passer with plenty of college playing experience as a four-year starter. Like another former Miami of Ohio QB, Ben Roethlisberger, he isn’t afraid to improvise and pick up first downs with his feet. In fact, he said at the Combine that he ran quite a bit in high school and that he has done some read-option, although NFL coaches may not view him as a read-option guy. He looks up to Roethlisberger, and like Big Ben, he can throw the ball with defenders draped all over him. But clearly, he’s not as gifted as the Steeler veteran. Dysert has a strong enough arm to throw the ball downfield, but he wasn’t asked to do it much while in college. Dysert put up massive numbers in college, but he played in a very simple offense. The RedHawk offense was shotgun-heavy, and Dysert had to make simple reads with a ton of underneath tosses that he won’t make in the NFL. It’s not surprising then that he struggled to drive the ball downfield with accuracy and didn’t always show great velocity throwing into tight windows. Dysert doesn’t have the best accuracy throwing on the run, and he’s not the most elusive athlete. Dysert also needs to improve his pocket presence, as he tends to flee if his primary receiver isn’t open or throw the ball into traffic over the middle. Accuracy is probably the biggest red flag, but Dysert did say at the Combine that he steadily improved in that department in college. He recently had a shaky pro day, for what it’s worth. The weather was pretty bad, and he’s recovering from a slight hamstring tear (Dysert said he was about 85%) that kept him from working out at the Combine. Dysert said he wasn’t happy with his performance. Unless he lands in the perfect spot, he looks like an NFL backup, so he’s probably not truly on the fantasy radar, but the Jets reportedly have interest and the Bills attended his pro day. Dysert also said he had interviewed with the Bengals, Bears, Cardinals, and Jags.

 

Running Backs

 

Note: These players are ranked mores so for their long-term value and potential, so these rankings aren’t for just 2013. Once the draft takes place, we’ll rank all rookies for both this year and the long-term.

 

1. Eddie Lacy

School: Alabama | Ht: 5-11 Wt: 231 40: N/A Year: 4Jr  

 

Lacy isn’t as gifted as former college teammate Trent Richardson, but that’s not an indictment on Lacy because Richardson is pretty darn special. Lacy can’t be considered “special,” but he’s very good. I was around him at the Combine, and he exudes a tough, old-school RB mentality, much like Richardson does. Lacy is ideally built (5’11”, 231 pounds) to become a workhorse back in the NFL for years to come. In fact, he’s probably the only true “foundation” back in this draft class. He runs like workhorse back, with a strong lower body to powerfully run through tacklers and push the pile for additional yardage, and he runs with an attitude. He also proved to be a patient runner at Alabama, allowing his holes to develop, and he runs downhill decisively. Lacy is a big guy, but he’s shown sufficient lateral agility to make defenders miss and enough burst to accelerate through holes and plow by defenders. He also showed good balance with his use of spin moves. Lacy also showed decent hands and potential catching passes out of the backfield and put up 22/189/2 last year in the passing game (he also caught a nice 11-yard TD pass in the National Championship Game that showcased his receiving potential). Lacy is a darn good back, but there are some concerns with him. He had a fumbling problem early in his career at Alabama, but he worked hard to improve his ball security issues, and it showed later in his college career. Much like Richardson, his physical running style has led to some injuries, as foot issues hampered him at times, with ankle and turf toe injuries also slowing him down. Lacy also played behind the best offensive line in college football while at Alabama, so he always had plenty of running room and didn’t face a lot of adversity. He didn’t always make the best decisions with his cuts, and Lacy missed some openings in college and left some yards on the field. He is an interior back all the way, so he’s not going to do much on the perimeter, and he’s not going to wow you with too many eye-popping runs. He also needs to improve as a blocker by attacking defenders instead of waiting for them, so he can become a three-down back in the NFL. Finally, he started only one year at Alabama, playing behind Richardson and Mark Ingram, but he did see plenty of time as a backup before 2012. But if a team is looking for a foundation back to be a move-the-chains sustainer, and is willing to look past his somewhat concerning durability issues, Lacy is this year’s best option and he will likely be the first back off the board. If he’s drafted by a team with a clear need that will hand him an expansive role, he could easily be a top-20 guy this year for fantasy. But if he goes to a team like the Packers (he said at the Combine he’d love to play for Green Bay), handicapping his value will be a little tricky, since they are still more of a passing team and they have other backs who should be well in the mix for touches (especially DuJuan Harris). 

 

2. Johnathan Franklin

School: UCLA | Ht: 5-10 Wt: 205 40: 4.49 Year: 5Sr  

 

After doing a lot of research, which includes seeing some advanced statistical analysis on Franklin from Stats, LLC on things like broken tackles, and seeing how this kid carries himself, Franklin is one of my favorite prospects in this draft class. In terms of players who could be deemed as “sleepers,” he might be my favorite. Franklin comes into the 2013 draft as one of the more dynamic runners on the board. He’s not a true burner, but he has impressive speed (4.49-second 40-time) and incredibly quick feet to stop-and-start and leave defenders behind quickly. Franklin was UCLA’s big-play threat during his four years and was a threat to score anywhere on the field. He averaged 5.7 YPC during his career, including 6.1 YPC as a senior (282/1819/13). Franklin attacks the line of scrimmage and can fit through tight holes in a flash. He also shows good vision, especially down the field, to find additional open space to operate. He isn’t a big back, but he’s highly competitive and very tough inside, and he’s not afraid to take on contact and runs hard. In fact, a comparison to Frank Gore has been gaining momentum this year, which just goes to show how tough and physical Franklin is, despite the fact that he’s not a big back. Still, he’s not as bulky and he’s not nearly as strong as Gore, and Franklin doesn’t necessarily have the size (5’10”, 205 pounds) to be an every-down back in the NFL. Unlike Gore, he’s not a guy who will get better as the game wears on, and his stats show that. That means Franklin could initially need to see more 3rd-down snaps, which could be a problem because Franklin’s pass protection skills are considered below average. He catches the ball with ease for the most part, but Franklin was inconsistent hauling in passes during his four years at UCLA. The good news is that he vastly improved as a senior. Franklin caught just 26 passes in his first three seasons, before he hauled in 33 balls as a senior in 2012. Franklin’s most glaring weakness coming into the NFL is his lack of ball security. He fumbled six times as a junior, including three fumbles in a five-game stretch and he totaled 18 fumbles his first three seasons in college. To his credit, Franklin – who earns high grades for character, work ethic, and intangibles – carried the football around with him everywhere he went from December of 2011 through the 2012 season, and it worked, as he fumbled just once in 2012. As he moves to the pros, Franklin needs to keep the ball tight to his body, and he needs to improve his upper body strength to keep the fumbles to a minimum. He’ll probably play a minimal role off the bench in 2013, but he could get a solid number of opportunities similar to Bernard Peirce (108 carries) in Baltimore last year, and he could surprise if pressed into action due to an injury, like Philly’s Bryce Brown. Down the road, if he can get a little stronger and improve his receiving game, he could be a really good producer in the right situation. The Jets could have interest in him in the 2nd round, and he would also make sense for the Cowboys, Bengals, Dolphins, Rams, and Chargers. For what it’s worth, his UCLA head coach Jim Mora believes Franklin will have a 10-year career, and that he’s better than Warrick Dunn, whom Mora coached in Atlanta. Franklin had an excellent pro day on March 15th.

 

3. Giovani Bernard

School: North Carolina | Ht: 5-8 Wt: 202 40: 4.53 Year: 3So 

 

If you’re in a PPR league, you’ll want to keep this guy on the radar. Although he might not be a guy a team can make a foundation of their offense, he does draw some comparisons to LeSean McCoy. Some also feel he has a little Ray Rice in him. I sat down with him along with several reporters at the Combine, and I was impressed. He’s a humble and grounded guy who places a high priority on family. When I asked him about his biggest strength, he said it was his versatility, and that certainly makes sense, since he caught 92 passes out of the backfield the last two years in college. Bernard runs with a low center of gravity, and he’s a difficult player for defenders to square up. His running style also helps him pick up extra yardage by twisting and falling forward, all with two hands on the ball for security. He’s a guy who got as many yards as possible on every touch he received in college. Bernard is only 5’ 8” and 202 pounds, but his legs are strong enough to carry defenders. But although Bernard talked at the Combine about his power and his desire to utilize a physical running style, his game is really about versatility and dynamism. Bernard has really quick feet and a short stride, so he can surprise defenders with quick, explosive, lateral cuts. He has great vision and patience, allowing lanes and holes to develop, which make him very effective on screen and draw plays. He can get to the corner, but he’s not a serious threat to bust off a lot of big plays, since he was caught from behind fairly often in college. Bernard also has durability issues. He tore his ACL as a freshman in 2010, and he obviously missed the entire season. Knee issues popped back up at the start of 2012 along with a shoulder problem, which forced him to miss two games. He’s not a big back, so it’s fair to question his ability to stay on the field in the pros. While he was very productive in the passing game in college, he did have some issues catching the ball, both out of the backfield and as a returner, and he needs to use his hands more to catch the rock rather than his body. One area that could be a big key to his fantasy value is pass protection. He gives plenty of effort, but he did struggle at times, which could be a concern, considering he’s about to see a major upgrade in competition in the NFL. But with dual backfields all the rage in the NFL lately, Bernard could be a great fit for a team looking for a versatile and dynamic back to team with a bigger power guy. The question is whether or not he can be a #1A or #1B in a backfield, but he could wind up being able to handle about 225 carries per year. If so, and if his pass-catching ability is utilized, he could be a really nice fantasy producer if healthy.  

 

4. Montee Ball

School: Wisconsin | Ht: 5-10 Wt: 214 40: 4.66 Year: 4Sr 

 

You don’t become one of the NCAA’s most prolific RBs without doing some things right during your college career. Ball tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA record for TDs in a season with 39 (33 rushing and 6 receiving) in 2011, and Ball set the record for career TDs with 83 (77 rushing and 6 receiving). Ball clearly has a great nose for the endzone, which is helped by the way he attacks the line of scrimmage and his willingness to get through tight spots. He’s shown patience to allow his holes develop, but Ball also runs with plenty of purpose. Although he doesn’t have breakaway speed, he was quick enough in college to get the corner or get extra yardage if he’s given space. Ball is very reliable and doesn’t leave the field because he’s an excellent pass-protector and pass-catcher. Ball shocked some by coming back for a senior season at Wisconsin last year, and he now has plenty of wear and tear before he even takes a snap in the NFL. He went down as one of college football’s best runners of all-time, but he ran the ball 924 times in four years, including 356 carries in 2012 and 663 carries the last two years. He also has average size (5’10”, 214 pounds) and average speed, without another gear to run away from defenders. Ball has some fluidity to him, but he’s best categorized as a volume runner with a lack of burst out of cuts, and he isn’t terribly powerful, failing to move many piles or break tackles. He doesn’t really have the size you look for in a back with his skill set. Ball perennially got to run behind one of college football’s best offensive lines at Wisconsin. He had a bizarre off-season between his junior and senior year, as he was arrested in May 2012 for trespassing after not leaving a party when asked. Ball also suffered a concussion in July when he was assaulted by a group of assailants. He was unimpressive at the Combine, but he did have a much better showing after that at his pro day, where he surprisingly ran a 4.46 40. He was incredibly productive in college, but since he doesn’t have any truly special traits, he’ll need to land in the right situation to have fantasy value this year and beyond. There is a natural connection with the Packers, given the Wisconsin college address, and the Packers do need a back. 

 

5. Christine Michael

School: Texas A&M | Ht: 5-10 Wt: 220 40: 4.54 Year: 4Sr 

 

For what it’s worth, his first name is pronounced “Christian.” There usually seems to be a 1st-round talent in the draft who will slip due to some character or off-the-field concerns, and Michael looks like the guy this year. Michael is one of the more intriguing backs heading into the 2013 draft. He had arguably the best Combine of any RB prospect, including running a 4.54-second 40-time while measuring in at 5-10, 220 pounds. He also impressed at the East-West Shrine game. He’s sizable and powerfully built, but he’s also light on his feet and is able to use his speed to quickly get through holes and pick up yardage. He’s pretty quick and fairly explosive for a bigger back. Michael uses his size to his advantage, with a low center of gravity to run through tackles, and he plays with a good pad level and keeps his legs churning. He’s a good finisher who loves to dish out punishment and lives in the weight room. Michael is also pretty elusive for a bigger guy and shows off quick cuts and a variety of moves, like the stiff arm and spin move. He’s also a willing pass protector and is eager to take out oncoming blitzers, but he can sometimes whiff on his attempts. While RBs have been devalued in the draft in recent years, it’s possible that Michael is a 1st-round talent, but he won’t likely get drafted until the 3rd round at the earliest because he does have some major issues. He never saw exclusive snaps at Texas A&M, and he was constantly dealing with injuries. He missed the end of his sophomore and junior seasons because of injuries, including a torn ACL in 2011. Michael carried just 529 times for 2791 and 34 TDs in four seasons. He saw the most carries in a season during his freshman campaign (166) and his fewest carries as a senior (88), despite playing in 11 games. Michael also dealt with ball security issues during his days as an Aggie, including three fumbles as a junior and 14 in his college career. He was never really a threat in the passing game either, with just 44 career catches. Michael has an immaturity red flag and is seen as a player with attitude and work ethic issues. He isn’t the easiest player to coach up, and he missed two interviews at the Combine because he slept in, which is a sign that he’s not exactly turned the page on a disappointing college career. If he can somehow learn what it takes to be a pro and strives to be great, Michael definitely projects as a lead runner in the NFL, so there is tangible upside. But also as outlined above, there is tangible downside. The Jaguars and Steelers are two teams that could possibly be interested in Michael.

 

6. Le'Veon Bell

School: Michigan State | Ht: 6-1 Wt: 230 40: 4.60 Year: 3Jr 

 

Bell is one of the bigger backs (6’ 1”, 230 pounds) available in this year’s draft, but he’s proportionally built with quicker feet than one would expect. With that said, he still makes the most of his yardage by running through defenders and pushing piles downhill with his powerful running style. Bell is a tall back who runs tall at times, but he does often play low to the ground, which makes him tough to bring down. He also shows surprising athleticism by hurdling defenders who go low on him instead of hitting him in the numbers. Bell is surprisingly effective in 3rd-down situations, with 67 catches the last two seasons, but he might not see a lot of time in passing situations in the NFL because he isn’t dynamic and has some improving to do when it comes to pass protection.  While Bell uses his big frame to his advantage to run over defenders, he’s also vulnerable to taking some big hits because he’s such a big target. Despite his size, Bell is not overwhelmingly powerful, and he’s not going to run away from too many defenders nor is he particularly shifty. Although he’s lost 20-25 pounds this off-season working out with former Oiler Lorenzo White and he ran a solid 4.60 40-yard dash at the Combine, he’ll likely have trouble getting to the outside in the NFL, so he will have to make his living as strictly a north-south runner, like Shonn Greene. Bell also lacks great vision, so he misses some open holes. He got contained by some of his better opponents, and he showed a tendency to run out of gas late in games if he’s handling a lot of work, so he could need to improve his conditioning. There is some potential here if he improves and finds himself in a good situation, since he could be a 1st- and 2nd-down back with potential as a receiver. He could go off the board as early as the 2nd round, and Bell said after the Combine that the Cardinals, Falcons, Broncos, Packers, Colts, Dolphins, and Chargers seemed “really interested” in him.

 

7. Knile Davis

School: Arkansas| Ht: 5-10 Wt: 227 40: 4.37 Year: 4Jr

 

Davis is a RB who is on the rise a bit heading toward the 2013 draft because of his unique blend of size and speed. Davis measured in at 5’10”, 227 pounds at the Combine, and he ran a 4.37-second 40-time and got 31 reps in the bench press, so while he doesn’t really show that kind of speed on the field, his stock has been climbing. Davis was a captain for the Razorbacks in 2011 and 2012, so he was a respected teammate at Arkansas. At his best, Davis’ combination of size, straight-line speed, and hands might actually be unequaled by any other RB in this year’s draft. But has also has some major red flags, so he is a bit of an enigma. Davis has soft hands out of the backfield, and his big body makes him a pretty reliable pass protector, but he was rarely utilized in the passing game in college, and his pass pro when he was asked to do it was a little inconsistent. Davis has a strong lower body to break tackles, but while he’s agile enough to make defenders miss in the open field, he is a little stiff. But his biggest problem is durability, as Davis couldn’t stay on the field on a consistent basis while at Arkansas and even had injury problems in high school. He had only one season (2010) when he saw consistent touches and stayed on the field. He was great that year, but after missing all of 2011 with a broken ankle, he wasn’t nearly as good in 2012. Davis played in 10 games last year, but he had just 112 touches for 377 yards and 2 catches for 11 yards. He also had fumbling problems in college with 13 fumbles total. Davis definitely passes the eyeball test, though, and he should be drafted by a team looking for a one-cut, downhill prospect. For example, with Ben Tate set to be a free agent in 2014 and backup Justin Forsett signing with the Jaguars, Davis could interest the Texans. 

 

8. Marcus Lattimore

School: South Carolina | Ht: 5-11 Wt: 221 40: N/A Year: 3Jr  

 

Lattimore is difficult to evaluate because he could be the best back in this draft class, but after suffering devastating knee injuries in each of his last two seasons, he may never be truly healthy again. But at least his comeback from the latest injury suffered this past fall is going well, and it’s worth noting that he could have been a 1st-round pick this year if he was 100%. Lattimore certainly isn’t small at 5’11” and 221 pounds but he runs like a small back, with good pad level, strong legs, sharp cutting ability, and a nice burst. Lattimore plows through defenders to pick up extra yards with power, but he can also stay on his feet after first contact because of his excellent balance. He’s a tough back to tackle, and he never goes down without a fight. With good vision and patience to let his holes develop, he has the speed to burst through his lanes and get up field, although he’s not a perimeter guy and does all of his damage inside. Lattimore is also a pretty reliable pass-catcher and route-runner, with 74 catches for 767 yards and 3 TDs in 29 games. He’s also willing and able in pass protection, so he’s capable of staying on the field for all three downs. But again, we’re talking about him at his best, and it’s questionable if he will ever again be at his best. Lattimore has been the most snake-bitten college player in recent history. One of the most talented players in the NCAA since he stepped on the field in 2010, his last two seasons have come to an end after traumatic knee injuries. The latest knee injury on his right knee came in October 2012, and he’s currently rehabbing and making good progress. Lattimore also injured his left knee in 2011, and he looked a bit sluggish in 2012 before his latest injury. Lattimore proved he was resilient to come back from his 2011 injury, but there are now major red flags about his health after his latest injury. Lattimore can’t be counted on to contribute much during his rookie season, but if he can somehow return to form he could be a starter down the road. The fear is that we’ve already seen the best of Lattimore, and the team that drafts him is really doing so for 2014, since he has little chance of playing this year. He only started running in late February, and Dr. James Andrews called his most recent surgery one of the toughest he’s ever done.

 

9. Stepfan Taylor

School: Stanford | Ht: 5-9 Wt: 214 40: 4.76 Year: 4Sr  

 

Although he’s hardly special, we’re still intrigued by Taylor because he’s a power guy who can be very productive in the passing game, so there is a chance he can develop into a three-down and do-it-all back in the NFL. Taylor’s size doesn’t blow you away (5’9”, 214 pounds), but he generally looks and plays like a big back. Taylor isn’t all that fast, and his quickness and lateral agility are average. But he’s a very tough inside runner with great instincts, vision, and downhill production. Taylor runs with a forward lean and isn’t afraid of contact, almost to a bit of a fault (although he’s been durable). While he takes on defenders, Taylor is smart about protecting the ball, and he has a mean stiff arm, which he isn’t afraid to throw. Taylor was a three-down back at Stanford, and he’s tough as a pass-protector and productive as a receiver. Taylor has smaller hands, but he catches anything that is thrown in his direction (97 career catches, including 41 in 2012) and quickly transitions up field. Taylor’s ideal fit is probably in a one-cut zone scheme, but he does have experience in a man blocking system. He’s a bit of a tough call as he transitions to the pros because, again, he really has no special qualities and is really just a one-speed guy who lacks explosiveness. Taylor lacks the speed to get the edge, and he also lacks another gear to break off long runs. At times in college, he could have been more decisive, and he did dance a bit here and there. He is definitely physical, but he doesn’t always play like a power runner. Taylor gets tough yards, but he may not be a good pile-mover in the NFL, and at times in college he was taken down too easy by defenders. He comes into the league with a little bit of wear and tear, having carried the ball 843 times in four years and he touched the ball 363 times last year (322 carries and 41 catches). While we’re usually more about high-end talents, there is something to Taylor’s combination of workhorse potential and versatility, along with his college production and durability that has caught our attention. Like most backs with some flaws or limitations, he’ll probably have to land in the right situation to have a good chance to produce for fantasy, and we’re not ruling out him slipping majorly in the draft because he simply doesn’t run that well. If he does, we’ll lower him in our rankings.

 

10. Joseph Randle

School: Oklahoma State | Ht: 6-0 Wt: 204 40: 4.63 Year: 3Jr 

 

Randle has proven to be an effective back as both a runner (564/3085/40 career rushing) and as a receiver (108/917/3 career receiving). He possesses good hands and a good catch radius, and Randle is solid on screens and over the middle. Randle has a tall, lean body shape (6’0”, 204 pounds), but all indications are that he is a competitor and is working hard at getting stronger and adding weight. Randle has shown good balance to stay on his feet after first contact and a little shake-and-bake to also make defenders miss, although he might not be elusive enough to make many defenders miss in the NFL. He runs bigger than his size, but he doesn’t have an ideal build for carrying the load in the pros, and he doesn’t have particularly good speed or a second gear to run away from defenders, so he might always been a complementary back in the NFL. However, he improved his disappointing 40-yard dash time at the Combine of 4.63 at his pro day, running a solid 4.51. He does have a good nose for the endzone, and he can produce in the passing game, so he has a chance. Randle needs to improve in pass protection, but he’s willing to attack oncoming defenders. Randle comes into the NFL with some ball security issues, so he needs to cut down on his fumbles, but he did work through his issues in that area after a shaky start in 2012 and a bad year in 2011. Randle’s tall, lean frame leaves him open to taking some big hits from time to time. Although he was a solid tackle-breaker in college, Randle’s size may also make it difficult for him to move a pile and pick up extra yards, and he tends to run too upright when he goes through the line of scrimmage and into traffic. Randle has solid run instincts, but he also misses some running lanes, so his vision needs work, although he improved in that area in 2012. Randle is hardly a stud, but he could be a viable downhill runner in the pros, and his ability to score TDs could make him more than relevant for fantasy. His receiving skills could be a big key for him to have fantasy value, and he needs to improve in pass protection against bigger defenders.

 

11. Kerwynn Williams

School: Utah State | Ht: 5-8 Wt: 195 40: 4.48 Year: 4Sr 

 

We’ve seen smaller role players like Williams flash major potential heading into the NFL only to do very little, but it’s hard to discount this potential diamond in the rough. For a team looking for speed and receiving ability – à la Darren Sproles – Williams could be the ticket. Williams has a small frame (5’8”, 195 pounds) and has average power, but he is capable of running downhill between the tackles and he does so with purpose. But his game is quickness, speed, and versatility. He has great lateral agility, accelerates quickly, and he’s fast and explosive. The athletic Williams is an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield and when lined up as a receiver in the slot and on the outside. He can run a variety of routes, which adds to his versatility. Williams is also an experienced punt and kick returner, and he’ll likely play in those roles at the NFL level. Williams never missed a game during his four-year college career, but he still has questions about his durability heading into the NFL. Williams never saw more than 81 touches before his senior season, but he did carry a heavy load in 2012, with 218 carries for 1512 yards and 15 TDs. Williams doesn’t have ideal size to play every-down in the NFL, and he goes down too often on first contact and lacks power to break many tackles. He faced some inferior competition in college and has had some ball-security issues, so he’s not without concerns other than his lack of size. But for a team looking for a fast, explosive, and versatile role player and returner, he should be appealing. His Combine results were actually pretty complete and showed a well-rounded skillset.

 

12. Andre Ellington

School: Clemson | Ht: 5-9 Wt: 199 40: 4.61 Year: 5Sr  

 

Ellington is an exciting player to watch, and he can make something out of nothing at times. Ellington operates well in traffic because of his cutting ability, which seemingly teleports him to open space, where he is very elusive. He has great feet to absorb an initial hit and still keep his balance, and he’s able to string moves together pretty well. He’s not considered a true burner, but Ellington has deceptive speed and can be a home run hitter. He’s certainly not a power runner, and he has a slight frame at 5’9” 199 pounds, but Ellington is strong for his size and tougher than he looks, and can break some tackles. Clemson underused Ellington in the passing game, with just 14 catches in 2012, but he could be dangerous catching passes out of the backfield, as he’s shown potential on screen passes and the like. Ellington also needs to work on his patience, as he had the tendency to outrun his blockers and bounce too many runs outside. He split backfield duties for much of his four seasons at Clemson, with just four games of 20+ carries in 2012. Ellington does hold the football high and tight, but he isn’t particularly strong, so fumbling could be an issue in the pros. He didn’t miss a game in 2012, but he dealt with a lingering hamstring issue, one that flared up during the Combine, and he does seem to get nicked a lot. He clearly needs to be a complementary player, but for a team looking for a dynamic space player and return man, he should be appealing. Before the Lions got Reggie Bush on their squad, Ellington was viewed as a good replacement for Jahvid Best, for example.

 

13. Kenjon Barner

School: Oregon | Ht: 5-9 Wt: 196 40: 4.52 Year: 5Sr 

 

This draft is full of speedy but undersized playmakers, and Barner is clearly one of the better ones available this year. Barner has some of the best straight-line speed of any back in the 2013 draft, and he’s a threat to break a long run every time he touches the ball. Barner has great short-area burst and can go from 0-to-60 in a flash, as he accelerates well out of his cuts and changes direction well. For someone as fast Barner, he’s patient and allows his blocks to set up before he explodes through the hole. Barner is also adept at fooling defenders by changing his running pace in the open field before kicking it back into high gear and blowing past defenders. Barner is absolutely dangerous catching passes out of the backfield, with 7 TD catches in his last three years at Oregon, and he’d be tough for any linebacker to run down in man-to-man coverage if he’s hit in stride. He could contribute right away as a 3rd-down back in the NFL. Barner also brings plenty of experience as both a kick and punt return man. Because of his thin build and lack of natural power, it’s tough to envision Barner as a three-down running back in the NFL. He’s a space player who benefited from Chip Kelly’s wide-open attack at Oregon, which often got him into the open field untouched. Barner isn’t a big guy (5’ 9”, 196 pounds), and he runs too high, making him susceptible to big hits and some problems with ball security. Barner also often relies too much on his incredible speed, as he tries to bounce his runs to the outside too often. Barner is great out of the backfield, but he doesn’t always catch the ball smoothly, plus he struggles to take on defenders in pass protection, and, in fact, he wasn’t asked to block much in a spread offense. Still, Barner could very well by a dynamic change-of-pace back in the right situation, and he could be particularly interesting in an option/zone running he ran in college under Kelly.

 

14. Jawan Jamison

School: Rutgers | Ht: 5-7 Wt: 203 40: 4.68 Year: 3So

 

It’s not surprising that Jamison has already drawn some comparisons to Raven RB Ray Rice. Jamison is built much like Rice (5’ 7”, 203 pounds), and both running backs played college ball at Rutgers. Jamison has also been working out with the Raven superstar this off-season. You don’t see many redshirt sophomores come out for the draft, but backs like Jamison can be the exception. He carried the ball 486 times for 1972 yards and 13 TDs in just two seasons, so he has experience but he doesn’t have a ton of tread on his tires as far as college backs entering the league go. Jamison also drew Rice comparisons because he plays a lot like the Raven, with a low center of gravity, good balance, patience, and vision along with some wiggle. Jamison is also an above-average receiver out of the backfield. Jamison doesn’t have a ton of experience, though, and while he broke out in 2012, an ankle injury did slow him a bit as the season came to an end. His small frame has raised many questions about whether he can be an every-down back at the next level, as he lacks high-end strength and power. He also lacks breakaway speed, so he doesn’t stand out as a potential fantasy stud, although he did slightly improve his Combine 40 time at his pro day in March. He’ll need to put on more muscle and bulk if he is to become a 20-touch running back at the next level.

 

15. Mike Gillislee

School: Florida | Ht: 5-11 Wt: 208 40: 4.55 Year: 4Sr 

 

Gillislee doesn’t truly stand out in any one area, but he has an adequate blend of size and quickness to excel at the next level. He’s an elusive runner with good acceleration and agility to break off big runs, although he lacks breakaway speed (he ran a pair of 4.5s at Combine, 4.55 at his pro day). Gillislee measures in at 5’ 11”, 208 pounds, and runs with decent power and he isn’t shy about taking on contact. He improved as a receiver out of the backfield, but Gillislee still caught only 16 passes as a senior and is, at best, just decent as a pass protector, so he will have to improve in that area. He did make plays every day at the Senior Bowl, and did a nice job in pass protection. He saw time in all four of his seasons at Florida before taking over as the lead back in 2012, carrying 244 times for 1152 yards and 10 TDs, so he’s a guy who has really done it only one year on the college level. On the flipside, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on him. While his size is decent, he is on the thin side, and he doesn’t play big enough for his frame. He looks for the big run too often instead of putting his shoulder down and getting whatever he can pick up, plus he tends to move too much laterally instead of getting downhill north-south, and his balance and agility aren’t particularly great. He runs too upright at times and can be brought down too easily on first contact. Ultimately, he looks like a backup or complementary back, but he projects well in zone-based ground attack, so he could merit some consideration from teams like Houston, Denver, Washington, Green Bay, Jacksonville, or Miami.

 

Wide Receivers

 

Note: These players are ranked mores so for their long-term value and potential, so these rankings aren’t for just 2013. Once the draft takes place, we’ll rank all rookies for both this year and the long-term.

 

1. Tavon Austin

School: West Virginia | Ht: 5-8 Wt: 174 40: 4.34 Year: 4SR

 

The NFL is evolving into more of a space game, and we’re seeing more and more versatile slot-type receivers like Austin making big impacts, and Austin may be the most explosive and dynamic player in the draft, so he gets our vote as the top wideout prospect for now. Although he can be lined up anywhere and can be more than a slot receiver – he’ll also take some handoffs out of the backfield – it’s fair to say Austin’s primary role will be in the slot. He’s a matchup nightmare wherever he lines up, due to his excellent speed/burst and elusiveness in the open field, and he has great vision in all facets of the game (receiver, runner, and returner). His hands aren’t exceptional and are rather small, but they are considered good. He lacks ideal size and strength, and that is a concern because there are questions about how large a role he can handle in the pros. But since his stock is soaring on the heels of an impressive Combine showing in which he ran the 40-yard dash at a blistering 4.34, he could actually be a top-10 pick. If he goes that high, we find it hard to believe he’ll be limited to only 20-30 snaps a game. Most likely, it will be 50+ snaps. While he is a smaller receiver, he’s not a frail receiver and he has some upper body bulk and strength, and he impressed at the bench press at the Combine. He caught a whopping 215 passes the last two years and his numbers in 2012, such as his yards from scrimmage (1932), receiving (112/1289/12), and rushing (72/643/3) clearly shows that he’s capable of handling the ball a ton. Yet, he didn’t miss a single game in four years at West Virginia, so he’s been very durable. Although he ran a simple route tree in college, he seemingly has no downside as a player who will get the ball near the line of scrimmage, and if he can handle a lot of action, his upside is through the roof. He’s certainly not as big and physical as Percy Harvin, but he’s bigger and more versatile than Wes Welker, so he can be viewed as a combination of both NFL stars, which is intriguing to say the least. He could go in the top-10 his stock is rising so much, but our guess is he won’t get past Minnesota at #23, and the Vikings would be extremely fortunate to see him slide a bit to that spot. Austin's value will be tied into which team drafts him. If he goes to a team that has a bad QB or doesn't know what to do with him, then he could be largely disappointing. But remember, even Harvin had success with a struggling Christian Ponder last year. Austin is the type of player who could be a PPR owner’s dream.

 

2. Cordarrelle Patterson

School: Tennessee | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 216 40: 4.42 Year: 3Jr

 

A terrific athlete and a top-10 talent in the draft at any position, Patterson emerged as one of the most exciting receivers in the country in 2012, and his combination of great size, outstanding speed, and overall playmaking potential is mighty appealing. Patterson is very smooth and fluid, and he projects as a complete receiver who can get vertical but is also very good on shorter passes and slants. He’s very good at making contested catches due in large part to his size and leaping ability, and he has good hands and is a natural catcher, but he does catch the ball with his body too often and he does tend to drop some catchable balls. He’s also someone who tries to do too much with the ball in his hands at times. He’s a willing blocker, and he has the size for it. With good coaching at the next level, he should develop into a dominant receiver, but he’s certainly not NFL-ready right now, so he will need some time and there is a speck of downside. For one, he played only one season at Tennessee after transferring from a Junior College, so he’s still raw. He was rarely challenged at the line of scrimmage in college, so he needs to prove he can handle press coverage and larger NFL DBs being physical with him. Most important, he’s far from a refined route-runner, and he’s a lot more explosive with the ball in his hands than he is while running routes, so he needs work in that key area. Patterson set an SEC single-season record with a combined kickoff/punt return average of 27.6 yards and a school record of 1,858 all-purpose yards, and he might be more valuable as a return man his rookie season than as a receiver. Still, for a team looking for a young, sizable, and extremely talented #1 WR for the next five to seven years at least, he’ll be hard to pass up on in the 1st round. Those who draft him in a keeper or dynasty league will have to be patient, since he could need a couple years to develop.

 

3. Terrance Williams

School: Baylor | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 208 40: 4.52 Year: 5Sr

 

All of a sudden, Baylor has been producing solid NFL receivers left and right, as Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon enjoyed success in the league in 2012. Williams is next in line, and he could be the best prospect of the trio if everything breaks correctly. I definitely got a good vibe being around him at the Combine, as he showed an appealing combination of humility and confidence. Williams has very solid size at 6’2” 208 pounds, and he can go up and get the ball with good body control, so he’s good in the red zone. But his real potential lies in his ability to get vertical from the outside. He’s not a speed demon, but he plays faster than his timed 4.52-second, 40-yard dash at the Combine and separates well with the ball in the air, which seems to be a trait all Baylor wideouts have. He led the nation in 2012 with 1,832 receiving yards and caught 97 balls with 12 TDs, en route to being named a unanimous All-American. He made a lot of big plays in college and had 24 catches of 25 yards or more. He’s a big guy, and he’s considered a very willing and effective blocker. Williams moves fluidly and had quick feet to avoid being jammed at the line, but his rout running is a little limited. He didn’t run a lot of different routes in college, and right now is more of a straight-line route-runner, so he needs to expand his game in that area. His hands aren’t considered bad, and he does make tough catches look routine, but he does tend to catch too many balls with his body, and he has had some issues with concentration drops. Williams may not be a true #1 in the NFL, but he’s very talented and would make a great outside receiver for a team looking for some size and speed on the perimeter. If he can become a more complete route-runner and polish up his game, he could possibly be a team’s go-to guy in a couple of years. He’s been connected to the Texans, which would be a great fit. Not only would he stay close to home, but Houston needs a receiver to play alongside Andre Johnson badly. And eventually, the Texans will have to replace their star.

 

4. Keenan Allen

School: California | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 206 40: N/A Year: 3Jr

 

Allen may not be a stud or a physical freak, but he’s a sizable and versatile wideout who seems destined to have at least a good NFL career. Although his burst off the line, vertical speed, and elusiveness are merely above average, there is still a lot to like about the reliable Allen. He has good size at 6’2”, is sneaky athletic with good agility, and he has good ball skills and a wide catching radius. He’s good at making contested catches and pulling in grabs in traffic, but he does tend to catch a few too many passes with his body, which is something he needs to work on. He’s good after the catch, running aggressively and with good instincts. Because he saw a lot of time in the slot and is a physical receiver who finishes well, he draws comparisons to veteran Anquan Boldin. Allen’s route-running is considered to be very refined and is a great asset, but he will need to expand his routes a little in the pros. Allen can play inside and is not afraid to catch the ball over the middle, but he could also be a team’s #1 on the outside, since he’s able to eat up ground quickly, despite his lack of blazing speed, so his versatility is appealing. He may be best cast as a team’s #2, yet he would be one of the best #2s in the league. Cal’s all-time leader in receptions, Allen hauled in 205 passes for 2,570 yards and 17 TDs in three seasons. Those numbers may not seem overly impressive, but he was limited in college by poor QB play. He was also limited by some injuries, and he missed time late in 2012 due to a PCL injury, one that was still slowing him down in the spring and prevented him from working out at the Combine and at Cal’s pro day in mid-March, so durability is a concern. But overall, he’s a rock solid prospect who compares favorably to Reggie Wayne, who never had elite physical tools but will make the Hall of Fame because he’s a savvy receiver. He could be a fit for the Vikings with their second #1 pick (25th overall).

 

5. DeAndre Hopkins

School: Clemson | Ht: 6-1 Wt: 214 40: 4.57 Year: 3Jr

 

Hopkins is hardly flashy and is more of a possession receiver than anything else, but he did time very well at his pro day in March, logging a 40-yard dash at an impressive 4.41. That’s nice and all, but he could have landed this high on this list anyway because he’s very competitive and in college showed an ability to take games over with a ton of catches. For what it’s worth, the Bears were the only team not at his pro day, so he’s commanding a lot of attention. Hopkins put up 82/1405/18 in 2012, so he’s very productive. His 18 TDs this past season set a new ACC mark. He’s not particularly athletic or fast, but his hands are excellent and he does a good job catching the ball away from his body. He has decent size at 6’0” 200 pounds and some lower body strength and good body control. His route running is considered good, especially in the short-to-intermediate area. Even though he doesn’t move extremely well, he can create separation by fooling DBs with head fakes and overall savvy, and he’s not afraid of contact or catching the ball in traffic. He runs hard after the catch and is tough to bring down because he doesn’t go down without a fight. You worry about a guy void of elite qualities as he moves to the next level, but Hopkins looks like a very QB-friendly #2 possession WR at the next level. If he lands in the right spot, he should settle in as a player who can routinely catch 70+ passes.  

 

6. Robert Woods

School: USC | Ht: 6-0 Wt: 201 40: 4.51 Year: 3Jr

 

Woods isn’t a player NFL teams will be jumping all over come the draft, but he’s a versatile player who can help a team in a number of ways. Although he was overshadowed at times by talented sophomore Marquise Lee this past year at USC, it’s hard to argue against Woods’ big numbers in 2011. He put up huge numbers that year (111/1292/15), and while he fell off to 74/849 in 2012, he did still score 11 TDs, so Woods was extremely productive. Woods has pretty good size at 6’0” 190 pounds, but he’s not exactly physical. However, he can play in the slot, and he’s very dangerous with the ball in his hands and can rack up big yardage after the catch. He’s quick and fluid and he can run a variety of routes, so again, his versatility should help him in the NFL. Although he had some concentration drops in college, he has soft hands, and he can catch passes away from his frame with his hands and make catches in traffic, and he’s willing to go over the middle. He’s also very adept at giving his QB a target when a play breaks down, and his blocking is considered solid. There could be some durability issues in the pros, since he has a slight frame and did have an ankle problem in 2012. There could also be a maturity issue here, although it’s not like that’s a major red flag. Woods is a viable top-10 prospect at WR in this draft class, but do keep in mind it’s not a class with overwhelming talent. Still, if placed in the right spot, Woods could be PPR gold from the slot.

 

7. Justin Hunter

School: Tennessee | Ht: 6-4 Wt: 196 40: 4.44 Year: 3Jr

 

Hunter is a very interesting prospect who has great height at 6’4” and also great leaping ability and a wide catching radius to go along with great build-up speed and vertical potential. He ran a nice 4.4 40 at the Combine. He could be a great red zone threat on jump ball and the like due to his size and great leaping ability. With inside slot receivers making a lot of noise in the NFL lately, Hunter kind of stands out because he’s an outside guy all the way (although he did actually play some in the slot in college). Hunter said at the Combine he looks up to Randy Moss, but I found him to be a very bubbly and charismatic guy, for what it’s worth. He may be a 1st-round talent, and he will be intriguing to a team looking for a blazer to take the top off a defense, but he does have some concerns. For one, he really only excelled for one season at Tennessee, so he should need some time to develop as a more complete route-runner and receiver. He could also bulk up a bit and get stronger to handle the physicality of the NFL game. He’s not much of a blocker. But his biggest red flag is his hands. He has soft hands, but he simply drops too many passes, so he will need to be coached up well and improve in that area. Hunter also tore his ACL in 2011, but he did return to put up nice numbers (73/1083/9) in the same offense that Cordarrelle Patterson played in this past season, although some of his best production did come against lesser opponents. Hunter likely won’t get drafted in the 1st round this year, but he’s in play any time after that. His upside is pretty big if his inconsistent hands go away.

 

8. Quinton Patton

School: Louisiana Tech | Ht: 6-0 Wt: 204 40: 4.53 Year: 5Sr

 

Patton is a player whose stock seems to be rising as we lead up to the draft, thanks mainly to a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. He was ultra-productive in 2012, putting up 104/1392/13 for Louisiana Tech. He’s not a burner and needs some time to get to maximum speed, so there are questions as to whether or not he can consistently separate in the NFL, but he has quick feet, some acceleration off the line, good balance and body control, and he generally catches the ball well, with his hands away from his body. He has solid size, and he projects mainly as an outside receiver in the NFL because he’s a little bit of a long-strider. He played “Z” in college, and he usually lined up only on that right side, so he did run a limited route tree. There is an “economy of movement” with him that could offset his lack of top-end speed. Despite a lack of great speed, he excels on the outside with an ability to adjust to the ball well and make acrobatic catches, thanks to his good concentration. After the catch, he runs with toughness and is not easy to bring down. At his pro day in late-March, Patton reportedly met with the Broncos, Panthers, and 49ers, and the Titans brought him in for a workout. There is a chance he could go off the board in the 1st round, but he’s more likely a 2nd-round pick.

 

9. Markus Wheaton

School: Oregon State | Ht: 5-11 Wt: 189 40: 4.45 Year: 4Sr

 

Although he’s undersized and lacks strength, Wheaton will garner interest from NFL clubs looking for speed. In fact, while he didn’t match Tavon Austin’s near record-breaking 40 time of 4.25, Wheaton’s unofficial time in the 40 of 4.34 at the Combine was excellent. While he actually averaged only 13.7 YPC in 2012, Wheaton’s tape shows he can run, and with an explosive second gear. A continually improving player who impressed at the Senior Bowl, his hands are considered good, and he played in a pro-style offense in college, so he should be able to contribute rather quickly in the NFL. His route-running is considered good, but he doesn’t always play to his high-end speed, which suggests he could improve and get more out of talents while running routes. But he knows how to get open, and he operates well in traffic and excels at gaining yardage after the catch. Although speed is his game, he tends to struggle to track the deep ball, so he could improve there. The bottom line is that he was very productive as a senior in 2012, putting up 91/1244/11 for Oregon State. Although he seems best suited for the outside, like a DeSean Jackson, he could end up playing in the slot in the pros, which would likely add to his PPR potential. He’s not quite as fast as Jackson or Mike Wallace, and he’s been compared to Brandon Lloyd, who is also an undersized deep threat. Wheaton can also be used as a runner and was quite active in 2012 carrying the football (25/190 on the ground).

 

10. Stedman Bailey

School: West Virginia | Ht: 5-10 Wt: 193 40: 4.52 Year: 4Jr

 

Bailey has average size and average speed, but he’s extremely smart and productive. Simply put, he can play. He’s not explosive, but he’s smooth and has some good short-area quickness, some elusiveness after the catch, and great body control. Bailey has very good and soft hands, and he’s a reliable volume receiver, as evidenced by his 114 catches for West Virginia in 2012. While Tavon Austin was a dynamic weapon for QB Geno Smith, Bailey was really Smith’s go-to guy. Although he was rarely pressed at the line in college, which is something to watch out for as he transitions to the pros, he’s considered to be a quick in and out of his breaks but also physical as a route-runner, and he uses his hands and body wisely to create some separation. That’s a trait he’ll likely need in the pros, since he won’t run past many NFL defensive backs. He’s also good at finding holes in coverage and picking up first downs, so he could be an active possession guy and PPR gold if he lands in a good spot. In fact, since he could potentially play inside in the slot, he has some versatility that should help him. Some scouts believe he will have to move to the slot to enjoy success in the NFL. He’s not a big guy, and if a team is looking for size and speed, they might not have much interest in Bailey. But with a whopping 25 TDs on the board in 2012, tops in the NCAA, he’ll have several suitors, like the Panthers, in around the 3rd round.

 

11. Ryan Swope

School: Texas A&M | Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205 40: 4.34 Year: 4Sr

 

Swope is on the radar, for sure, if for no other reason than his shocking 40 time at the Combine of 4.34, which was one of the best times of all wideouts this year. But he’s also been a productive three-year starter in college. In addition to that good speed, he also has some lateral quickness, and he plays with intelligence and seems to understand coverages well, so he’s crafty. Swope seems to be pigeonholed as a slot receiver, but he could be more than that. He has good size and that great speed makes him very dangerous after the catch. A productive three-year starter, he was Ryan Tannehill’s go-to guy in 2011 and put up big numbers (89/1207/11). His production fell in 2012, but after a slow start with a new QB (Freshman and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel) he came on nicely and put up 72/913/8 in 2012. He does have a history of concussions, which is certainly a concern. He could go off the board anywhere from the 2nd to the 4th round, and it probably depends on if the team that drafts him wants to use him outside or in the slot. He’ll probably be a slot guy, but that’s okay and could be great for his PPR potential if he lands in the right spot. Swope worked out for the Jaguars recently.

 

12. Da’Rick Rogers

School: Tennessee Tech | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 217 40: 4.52 Year: 3Jr

 

Were it not for serious questions about his character and maturity – three failed drug tests got him booted from the Tennessee football program last summer – Rogers could be in the conversation as a top-5 wideout in this year’s (average) WR draft class. As it stands, Rogers could still be drafted in around the 3rd round. That’s because he’s one of the most gifted receivers in this year’s draft. Compared to Julio Jones, Rogers is big, physical, and very talented. A versatile receiver, he can play inside or outside, and he works very well over the middle and is tough to tackle after the catch. He’s considered a decent route-runner, and his hands are strong. But in addition to the failed drug tests, Rogers shows some disconcerting signs on the field. He tends to pack it in when he’s not getting the ball, for example, and sometimes he doesn’t fight for the ball. He also lacks an extra gear (4.5 40 at the Combine was solid, at least), and his receiving instincts aren’t great. He needs to be coached up in the NFL, but first he must mature enough to actually respond to coaching. To his credit, he repeatedly took full responsibility for his transgressions at the Combine when asked over and over about them. We’ll see how far he falls or if a team takes a chance on him, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on based solely on talent.  

 

13. Cobi Hamilton

School: Arkansas | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 212 40: 4.56 Year: 4Sr

 

Hamilton played behind three NFL receivers in 2011, but hopefully he can do better than former Razorbacks Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs have done, although Wright did flash for the Vikings in 2012. Hamilton wasn’t able to catch more than 34 balls before ’12, but he stepped up this past season and hauled in 90 passes for 1335 yards (but only 5 TDs). He’s a bigger target at almost 6’2” and 200 pounds, and he has a nice frame that should allow him to play with some physicality in the NFL. He’s not particularly fast, but he’s agile and is a long strider who can eat up a lot of ground quickly running up the field, plus he’s competitive and physical after the catch. The biggest concern with him is his hands, which are small and might be to blame for some bad drops in college, although he suffers from lapses in concentration as well. That’s a concern, but he’s a player who is still developing and has the potential to be a solid #2, and his work ethic and intangibles are considered good.

 

14. Kenny Stills

School: Oklahoma | Ht: 6-0 Wt: 194 40: 4.38 Year: 3Jr

 

Although he might have been best served playing another year in college, Stills was a three-year starter at Oklahoma, and he put up 204/2594/24 over those three seasons. He’s more of a finesse player who wasn’t extremely consistent in college. But he moves well, with short-area quickness and burst, and he excels underneath, so he could be a productive slot receiver. Yet he can also play outside, so he reminds people of Arizona’s Andre Robertsa bit. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he does understand route running and he finds a way to get open. He lacks size and great speed, and he will drop some passes due to lapses in concentration, plus he’s had some off-the-field incidents that are disconcerting. But for a team looking for a productive player to work the underneath area who can also playing outside, he could merit consideration around the 4th round of this year’s draft. 

 

15. Aaron Mellette

School: Elon | Ht: 6-2 Wt: 217 40: 4.54 Year: 5Sr

 

Mellette has very good size and is over 6’2” and 217 pounds, and he uses his size to his advantage quite well. His next best attribute is his hands, although he has struggled a little bit with drops here and there. While he doesn’t have great speed and isn’t much of a yards-after-the-catch guy, he does move pretty well for a bigger receiver. Despite going to a little-known football program, he was invited to the Senior Bowl, and he had a solid showing, plus he ran a little better than expected at the Combine. His stats are inflated due to the inferior competition he faced (he put up 210/3247/30 in just his last two years in college), and also because he was in a pass-oriented offense. Ultimately, he’s considered raw, like another small school receiver in Brian Quick from last year. But he will get drafted by a team looking for a solid possession target.

 

Tight Ends


Note: These players are ranked mores so for their long-term value and potential, so these rankings aren’t for just 2013. Once the draft takes place, we’ll rank all rookies for both this year and the long-term.

1. Tyler Eifert

School: Notre Dame | Ht: 6-5 Wt: 250 40: 4.68 Year: 4Jr

 

Heading into the Combine there was a perception that Eifert, the 2012 Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top TE, and Stanford’s Zach Ertz were neck-and-neck and equal prospects. However, after Eifert killed it in Indianapolis, he is clearly the top TE in this draft. Eifert did well in every area, but his 4.68 40-time was particularly impressive (Ertz ran a 4.76). While Eifert’s production actually went down in 2012, he was doubled-teamed a ton, so he commanded a lot of attention. Eifert plays a lot like a wideout, which says a lot about his athleticism and movement. In fact, he played out wide quite a bit in college and even ran vertical routes while split out wide. He’s an exceptional receiver with good hands and hand/eye coordination, and he’s a great athlete, but he’s also tough and makes contested catches. He should be able to line up in a number of places in the pros, and while his blocking improved late in his college career, he’s a receiving TE all the way. He elevates well and catches a lot of passes while in the air. Eifert is a little thin and could stand to fill out his frame a bit. While he’s very athletic, he doesn’t exactly have top-end speed and explosiveness, but he’s a bigger offensive threat than the man he replaced at Notre Dame, Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph. Eifert is much more versatile than Rudolph, given his ability to line up on the outside. Assuming he’s drafted in at least a decent situation, Eifert should immediately rank as a top-12 TE for keeper and dynasty leagues, since the position is currently a little thin for fantasy purposes. There are some questions about how much he actually likes football, but he will go high in the draft. For fantasy purposes, he would be a great pick for the Bucs at #13, and they really need an athletic TE who can seriously challenge defenses.

 

2. Zach Ertz

School: Stanford | Ht: 6-5 Wt: 249 40: 4.76 Year: 4Jr

 

In what is a very good TE draft class, there’s nothing wrong with being the #2 prospect, which Ertz clearly is. And that’s especially true with Eifert being a pretty unique prospect. Compared by many to DallasJason Witten, Ertz may not be truly explosive, but he’s a smooth athlete with sneaky speed who is quick in his routes and gains separation. Like Eifert, he has very good size, but he’s not exactly a player who has ideal bulk, so he has average physicality as a blocker. Ertz gives good effort as a blocker, but many view him as nothing more than a receiver.  He’s not quite the athlete Eifert is, but Ertz has very good hands, and he does a good job selling his routes and finding soft spots in coverage. Ertz was only the go-to guy at Stanford for one season in 2012, as he played second-fiddle Coby Fleener in 2011. Still, Ertz gained valuable experience in a pro-style offense, and like Fleener he lined up all over the formation, particularly in the slot. In fact, while Ertz could be a little more consistent, he might end up being a better NFL player than Fleener, who had a disappointing rookie season. Ertz did miss three games in ’11 due to a knee injury, but his durability isn’t considered to be a huge concern. He’ll be the second TE off the board, most likely in the 2nd round, and if he goes to a team with a clear need for a #1 TE, he could crack the top-15 as a rookie. Long-term, he’s probably a top-15 guy, for sure, since the TE position is a little thin in terms of impact fantasy starters. The 49ers are reportedly interested, and they did just lose #2 TE Delanie Walker to free agency, plus head coach Jim Harbaugh is familiar with him from his Stanford connection. 

 

3. Vance McDonald
School: Rice | Ht: 6-4| Wt: 267| 40: 4.69| Year: 4Sr
 
McDonald was a real nice sleeper heading into the Combine, but that’s no longer the case. After an impressive overall performance in Indy this past February, he’s no longer a diamond in the rough. He also had a really good pro day after starting it off with a couple drops. McDonald is a bit of an overachiever, but that’s probably because he’s a very hard worker who will do whatever it takes to excel, and now he’s poised to be a 2nd-round pick in a very deep draft class. That’s impressive, considering he was viewed as a 5th or 6th round pick at the end of the 2012 season. He has very good size with long arms, is a lot more athletic than given credit for, and he has very good receiving ability. He’s not blessed with high-end speed, but he’s really good at working the seam and the intermediate area and gaining yards after the catch. McDonald can line up in a variety of places, as he played a ton in the slot in college, which is a testament to his athletic ability. It also means that his route running is a little limited, and his in-line blocking is in question. He’s a solid hands catcher, but he does drop a few more passes than you’d like to see, and that’s obviously an area he needs to improve upon. Perhaps more than the other top prospects at his position, McDonald’s value may be a little up in the air depending on where he’s drafted. But based on how he’s soared up draft boards recently, it’s probably best not to doubt him. He’s worked out for the Eagles, and the Packers have been mentioned as a possible fit.


4. Gavin Escobar

 

School: San Diego State | Ht: 6-6 Wt: 254 40: 4.84 Year: 4Jr

 

For someone who is clearly on the radar as one of the best TE prospects in this class, Escobar is bit of a wildcard because we’re not going to be sure exactly how he’ll be used until he lands in an NFL city. He can play in line, at H-back, in the slot, or out wide, and that could ultimately be his role: as a joker type player who is used in a variety of ways. He has very, very strong hands, and he catches the ball well and without using his body. He’s very tall and pretty thin, and at times he runs like a wideout with long strides who eats up a lot of ground, which make him a vertical threat, despite the fact that he’s not incredibly fast. At 6’6”, he could obviously be a major force in the red zone, especially because his hands are so good. He’s been very durable as a three-year starter at San Diego State, as he hasn’t missed a game. Another former high school basketball player turned TE, Escobar is obviously a good athlete, but he isn’t great in terms of initial quickness, and as mentioned above is more of a build-up-speed guy. He’s yet another prospect at this position who doesn’t stand out as a blocker, which is something to follow because if he’s not utilized well or in the right situation, he may not get on the field as much as fantasy owners expect. There are several teams that could be interested in him, like the Dolphins and Packers, where he could replace Jermichael Finley in 2014.

 

 

5. Travis Kelce

School: CincinnatiHt: 6-5 Wt: 255 | 40: N/A Year: 5Sr

 

This year’s draft class is littered with athletic “move” TEs who aren’t exactly adept at blocking, but that’s how Kelce stands out in a deep TE group. He’s a nasty and very physical blocker who can get the job done in-line, which is a distinction he has over most of this year’s prospects at the TE position. He has a good frame to be a complete TE, and he has an NFL pedigree, as his brother Jason is an offensive lineman for the Eagles. Kelce isn’t a tremendous athlete, but he is athletic (he even did some Wildcat in college) with good feet, and he runs pretty well. His hands are considered solid, and he has a wide-catching radius and can make difficult catches. Since he’s so strong, Kelce can be tough to bring down once he gets going. Kelce had some maturity and character issues when he was a sophomore and was suspended for an entire season, but he definitely seems to have turned the page and put his previous transgressions behind him. While he doesn’t really stack up with the top prospects in this draft class in terms of quickness, explosiveness, and flexibility, Kelce could be drafted as high as the 2nd round by a team that is looking for more of a complete TE, so he’s someone to watch. He didn't work out at the combine or participate in the Senior Bowl with an abdomen issue (seems like a sports hernia), but he will have a personal workout on April 4th.

 

6. Jordan Reed

School: FloridaHt: 6-2 Wt: 236 40: 4.72 Year: 4Jr

 

Reed was a former QB recruit to Florida before being moved to WR. Then he was essentially a RB during the last three games of 2010 season before he eventually moved to TE in 2011. It’s not surprising then that Reed is seen as one of the more versatile TE prospects this season. Reed is drawing a lot of comparisons to Patriot and former Gator Aaron Hernandez for his ability to play the “joker” role, where he can line up all over the field. Reed is the type of mismatch player who can give LBs and CBs fits trying to cover him. He saw playing time as an in-line tight end, as a receiver, as an H-back, and even as a running back. Reed plays (and looks) like a wideout in the passing game, with speed and quickness to make defenders miss. He’s at his best with the ball in his hands, and he can even get pick up tough yardage when he needs to plow ahead. He does lack true TE size at 6’2”, 236 pounds, so he can struggle blocking at times. Reed hasn’t had enough time at TE to develop blocking skills, so he gets called for an awful lot of holding calls in the run game. He’s also called for way too many false starts. Reed is also raw in his route running and receiving skills, and he’s lost some costly fumbles. Reed battled injuries during college and there are serious doubts if he can hold up over a 16-game season. He’s a very interesting prospect with upside, but there are a lot of legitimate questions about him, so he’s not someone we’re going to go “all in” on just yet. We first need to see where he fits in on his new team and what his role will be.

 

7. Dion Sims

School: Michigan StateHt: 6-5 Wt: 262 40: 4.75 Year: 4Jr

 

Sims has the ideal frame (6’5”, 262 pounds) for a TE out of college, and NFL QBs will like throwing to this big target. He also has soft hands and can catch the ball away from his body. Not surprisingly, he’s tough to bring down with just one defender, so he can pile up the YAC. Sims uses his body well as a blocker, as he’s quick enough to be effective in both run and pass blocking. He doesn’t move exceptionally well, but he’s surprisingly athletic for such a large player. Sims looked to be physically in better shape at his Pro Day than at the Combine, but he was pretty impressive at both. A high school basketball star, Sims doesn’t have a ton of experience (only 59 career catches), and he might have been better off spending another season in college. He missed a ton of time during his career because of injuries, dating all the way back to his high school career. Sims has dealt with broken wrists, ankle sprains, and knee injuries all in the last five years, so he’s got major durability issues. Sims also missed the 2010 season because of a felony arrest for receiving and concealing stolen property, although he’s reportedly matured since his arrest. Sims’ blocking technique can be sloppy at times, as he gets off balance and puts his hands too far outside on defenders. Down the road, if his blocking improves, he could be a complete and three-down TE, so he’s someone to keep an eye on.

 

8. Chris Gragg

School: ArkansasHt: 6-3 Wt: 244 40: 4.50 Year: 5Sr

 

A converted wideout, Gragg is very athletic but undersized, so he’s more of an H-back type, and those guys rarely make a big fantasy splash. Gragg had an exceptional Combine. He ran by far the fastest 40-time for TEs with a 4.50, including a 1.53 10-yard split. He also led all tight ends with a 37.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump. Gragg can run away from LBs with his straight-line speed, and he moves like a big wide receiver, which he used to be. Gragg has soft hands and tracks the ball well in the air to make tough catches. He excels at running after the catch and can bounce off tacklers in the middle of the field. Gragg has worked on getting bigger and stronger in the weight room, and he’s improved as an in-line and downfield blocker. But despite his work in the gym, Gragg still doesn’t have a great frame for the position and still struggles blocking at times. He can take too long to build up speed and to break out of cuts. Gragg isn’t always a smooth athlete. He is too streaky with his hands, as Gragg will drop the occasional pass and lose confidence. He could develop ball security issues because he carries the ball too far away from his body. Gragg had major durability issues after he missed most of his senior season with a leg injury, and he has had other injury issues in the past.

 

9. Nick Kasa

School: ColoradoHt: 6-6 Wt: 269 40: 4.71 Year: 4Sr

 

Kasa looks like an NFL tight end at 6’6” and 269 pounds, and he uses his size to be a physical run blocker. Kasa worked on his catching skills while at Colorado, and he has some clear upside potential because of his unique size and speed. He’ll need to contribute on special teams to make an NFL roster as a backup next season. While Kasa is working on his catching, he doesn’t have much natural ability with his hands, which is a huge negative. Kasa has ideal size for an NFL tight end, but he’s raw and a project at this point. Kasa is fast, but he lacks the quickness and agility to gain much separation from defenders. He’s never missed extended time during his college career, but he has dealt with some minor nagging injuries. Kasa is probably best known for telling a Denver radio station that team representatives were asking about his sexual orientation during the Combine interviews. It started a small firestorm, as it came out that some team representatives were asking other players, including Manti Te’o, about their sexual orientation.

 

10 Mychal Rivera

School: TennesseeHt: 6-3 Wt: 242 40: 4.81 Year: 4Sr

 

Rivera has sneaky speed and athleticism to stretch the field as a receiver down the seam. He can also pick up the tough yardage underneath, as he runs hard and can avoid linebackers on crossing routes. He played in a variety of spots at Tennessee, including the backfield, the slot, and in line. Rivera works hard as an in-line blocker and can get to the second level to block. He can also contribute on special teams. He’s undersized (6’3”, 242 pounds) and looks more like a big WR than a TE. Rivera can get beat at the point of attack, and he also doesn’t appear to have the frame for additional growth. Rivera also might not have enough quickness to handle the speed of blitzing linebackers in pass protection. He may not be able to outrun linebackers on the next level. At the Senior Bowl, he struggled early in the week but improved in later practices, and he did flash to us, which is why he’s made this list. But he’s considered a project and most likely a third-day flier pick.

 

 

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