There is so much depth in the 2013 NFL draft class that it would seem hard to mess up a first-round pick. However, some high-upside prospects are not getting the credit they deserve due to risks associated with them.
The quarterback position, for example, may be relatively weak this year, but Geno Smith is the cream of the crop. Smith and a few other talented players highlighted below are worth an early first-round pick.
Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The risk in Smith should have diminished after he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash. That type of mobility makes him a serious threat as a read-option quarterback, and we saw guys like Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick thrive in that role last season.
Although Smith turned to running as a last resort in Morgantown, an innovative NFL play-caller could capitalize on his athleticism.
Smith has the speed to establish himself as a dangerous runner. As Griffin and the others showed in 2012, play-action fakes are especially effective at freezing a defense out of that option look.
The Mountaineers had a high-powered spread offense with Smith at the controls, and he benefited from having Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at his disposal. With that kind of supporting cast, it was hardly necessary for Smith to run.
There aren't many who question Smith's arm strength or accuracy, and throwing for 42 touchdowns to just six interceptions as a senior doesn't happen by accident. Plus, West Virginia's defense was so porous that Smith was forced into obvious passing situations.
NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt believes that the Philadelphia Eagles' reported interest in Smith is a smokescreen to increase trade value in the draft. It's possible, and it may ultimately force other teams' hands.
The Buffalo Bills have other needs, but they only have Tarvaris Jackson and Aaron Corp at QB. New head coach Doug Marrone may bring in Ryan Nassib from Syracuse, but Smith would be tantalizing due to his running ability alongside C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Whoever grabs Smith is going to get a legitimate franchise quarterback who should exceed expectations early.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
It's mostly issues off the field that raise red flags for the former Bulldogs star. Ogletree was arrested for a DUI in February. That only compounded worries about his four-game suspension as a junior for failed drug tests.
When looking at what Ogletree brought to the table as an inside linebacker for Georgia, though, it's easy to justify using a high draft pick on him. His production against such elite competition speaks for itself; he racked up 111 total tackles in his final season in Athens despite the suspension.
The fact that he stood out that much on a defense filled with future NFL players makes his numbers all the more impressive.
Todd McShay @McShay13
When you make as many plays as #9 (UGA LB Ogletree) it's much easier to overlook some baggage. Right or wrong.. just facts of life.3/2/2013, 6:43:22 PM
Todd McShay @McShay13
Pound-for-pound,Ogletree is one of five-best athletes and football players this class has to offer. Shake my head in amazement every tape.3/2/2013, 6:45:21 PM
Todd McShay @McShay13
Spent last few days ripping through LB tape. Ogletree has it all. Not even close!3/10/2013, 7:23:53 PM
That pretty much says it all about Ogletree. He is a rare athlete for the linebacker position who would be able to play inside or outside in the pros.
The sideline-to-sideline range is there. Due to starting his career at Georgia as a safety, Ogletree has exceptional coverage skills for a linebacker. All of those factors should help him see the field immediately at the next level.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Although he might be overshadowed by Cordarrelle Patterson, there are plenty of reasons to like Hunter. Skeptics will point to problems dropping the football in 2012 and to the ACL injury that kept him out for most of the prior year.
If that major setback had any effect on his play, Hunter didn't show it in his overall numbers this past season. He totaled 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. NFL Network's Mike Mayock points out that many of Hunter's gaffes were mental rather than physical.
That's not all too surprising, especially facing the defenses of the Southeastern Conference. Many aspiring pros lined up against him every Saturday, and after a year away from the game, Hunter fared rather well.
At 6'4", 205 pounds, few receivers are better red-zone targets in this draft. At the Volunteers' pro day, Hunter registered an incredible 40.5" vertical leap. Combine that with his long arms, and Hunter has an impressive catch radius that should justify a high draft pick.
Although he's not as highly touted as Julio Jones was, similar concerns about Jones' drops and injury history threatened to dip his draft stock. Jones was ultimately taken after an aggressive trade-up by the Atlanta Falcons.
Hunter's NFL Scouting Combine numbers compare favorably to Jones', as pointed out by Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. Their 40 times are both in the low 4.4 range, and Hunter bested Jones in the vertical leap and broad jump. Hunter also caught the ball well in drills in front of scouts.
Don't sleep on Hunter, because he has all the makings of a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.
Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State
Carradine is another case of a medical misfortune.
He tore his ACL in the Seminoles' annual clash against the archrival Florida Gators. Prior to that, Carradine was making the most of his only year as a full-time starter at the highest level of college football.
At 6'5", 265 pounds, few blockers were able to contain Carradine. He racked up 11 sacks in the 11 games he played. His size should also allow him to be a solid defender facing the run.
Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports notes that Carradine would have been his top pass-rusher had he not gotten hurt. That's pretty high praise considering the number of dynamos this class boasts. Teammate Bjoern Werner is also expected to go in Round 1 of April's draft.
The injury situation and lack of collegiate experience is almost certain to knock Carradine into the latter part of the first round—or possibly even lower than that.
There is no denying his talent, though, as he is an explosive athlete who can simply outmuscle opponents. He also has the finesse to fluidly disengage from blocks and make plays.