The 2013 NFL Draft has been about one thing when the top prospects are looked at. Usually, there are a couple sure things, a couple big-time quarterbacks, to go along with a few hot names.
This year, there are no sure things, and there may not be any quarterbacks taken in the top 10 this year, something that just does not happen.
Instead, the big names are the players who are raw, and may not have played football all that long. Their numbers and their athleticism are off the charts, and when they have played, they have looked great.
This draft class will be known, when all is said and done 10 or more years from now, as the upside class.
Looking at the top prospects, it's shocking just how many are rather new to the game of football. How did this start? After all, bringing in raw talent with first-round picks is a rather recent development.
Three years ago, the New York Giants selected Jason Pierre-Paul with the 15th overall pick, which was a shock given his career. He joined the football team at Deerfield Beach High School his junior year, and played a grand total of one season for the University of South Florida after transferring from community college.
Despite his lack of experience, Giants scouting director Marc Ross stated that Pierre-Paul "was jumping off the film," which led to the selection.
Was it a risk? Certainly, given that Pierre-Paul could have just as easily been out of the league by now. Instead, he's a two-time Pro Bowler and leader of the Giants' defense.
Fast forward three years and a multitude of those types of players have popped up.
Barkevious Mingo barely started any games for LSU, yet due to his raw athleticism, he is garnering top 10 consideration even as a possible outside linebacker despite having never played the position.
Bjoern Werner emigrated from Germany and played high school football for two years. He doesn't quite have the athleticism of others on the list, but his awareness and strength are what makes him a likely top 10 selection despite his rawness.
The player drawing the most comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul, however, has to be Ezekiel Ansah. A native of Ghana, Ansah never saw football growing up, and unlike the others on this list, did not play high school football at all.
While a sophomore at Brigham Young University, he learned how to play the game, and for two years played sparingly. He was only a starter partway into his senior year, but his performance at BYU and at the Senior Bowl shot his draft stock up.
Now, Ansah is a surefire top 15 pick despite having less collegiate experience than anyone the draft has seen in recent memory. His place in the first round despite his inexperience is generally accepted for the talent and upside he brings, as it is for Mingo and Werner.
It's not just that these players have a lot of untapped talent. The reason they are being placed so high in mock drafts is because this year, players with high ceilings are all that teams have to rely on.
In previous years, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and A.J. Green, just to name a few, have been touted as sure things. It was a matter of when, not if, they would be great.
No one stands out this year? Luke Joeckel is the best tackle the draft has seen in years, and I consider him easily the best overall talent in the draft, but if the only arguable sure thing is an offensive tackle, then there's not much for the top few teams to look for.
Star Lotulelei and Jarvis Jones have major medical issues, so despite the talent they bring, they could easily be out of the league before their time. There are no skill players that an NFL franchise can build around either, let alone any true franchise quarterbacks.
When there is no one that has a high floor that a poor team can count on, a pass rusher with a very high ceiling is the next-best option. Even if they fail, there's no guarantee the other high-level pass rushers will last either.
The 2013 draft will be the Year of the Upside, and while it does not have the same sing the Year of the Quarterback does, it's not a bad connotation. The draft may end up bad in hindsight, but if everyone's potential pans out, then this could be a draft for the ages, at least where linemen are concerned.
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