At the conclusion of Super Bowl XLVII, coaches and scouts across the NFL immediately turned their attention to the 2013 NFL Draft. Team officials are busy at work this week putting together their initial draft boards heading into the NFL Scouting Combine. While much attention within each organization goes to the vertical board, which features the top 150 to 200 prospects in the draft, the scouts spend the majority of their time working through rankings on the position-specific or horizontal board.
With coaches and scouts starting to project which players are the best fits for their respective squads, I thought I'd take a look at the top five prospects at each offensive position to give you a peek at some of the conversations that are taking place in draft rooms across the league.
The 2013 class of quarterbacks is short on star power, but features several intriguing prospects with tremendous potential. Smith currently ranks as the top choice at the position, largely due to his impressive combination of arm talent, leadership and poise. While some suggest Smith lacks the pizzazz to emerge as a franchise quarterback, the film from his early-season play reveals a polished passer with the capacity to fit into any offensive system. Bray could join the top-five list based on his exceptional physical tools, but scouts are leery about his immaturity and off-field decisions. However, a strong performance in meeting rooms at the NFL Scouting Combine could alleviate those concerns and put him back in play as a potential franchise quarterback.
The running back class took a major blow when Lattimore suffered a catastrophic injury in late October. The Gamecocks star will remain on the radar of teams looking for a value pick in the middle rounds, but his injury opens the door for Lacy or Bernard to emerge as the top pick at the position. Lacy created quite a buzz in league circles with his dominant performance in the BCS National Championship Game. He displayed impressive quickness and burst, while maintaining the rugged running style that scouts covet in a big back. Bernard, on the other hand, is a scat back with explosive speed and quickness. Factor in his ability to contribute as a receiver and returner, and Bernard is a legitimate difference maker at the position.
Teams in need of explosive playmakers on the perimeter will have plenty of options to choose from in the 2013 class. The group is loaded with big, physical pass catchers with the ability to thrive as No. 1 receivers. Allen missed the last part of the season with a knee injury, but he is the most complete receiver in the draft, boasting a rock-solid all-around game with impressive physical tools. Patterson was arguably the most explosive receiver in college football in his only season at the major college level. He scored touchdowns in four different ways (receiving, rushing, punt and kick returns), while displaying enticing skills with the ball in his hands.
The tight end position has become the spot where NFL teams seek to create mismatches in the passing game. With offensive coordinators seeking versatile athletes to man the position, the 2013 class offers plenty of options for teams looking to find difference makers over the middle of the field. Ertz is at the top of the list with his big body and soft hands. He has the capacity to stretch the field on vertical routes, but is also adept at working the underneath areas of the field. Escobar is underrated at this point, but scouts have been buzzing about his immense talent and potential. Expect him to rise up the charts after coaches and scouts get a closer look at him at the combine.
Franchise-caliber offensive tackles are still valued at a premium. Joeckel is a Pro Bowler waiting to happen with his exceptional footwork and athleticism. He is not only the best tackle prospect in the draft, but there are some scouts who believe he's the best overall player in the 2013 class. Fisher earned rave reviews for his performance in the Senior Bowl. In fact, he was so dominant in Mobile, Ala., that some view him as a potential top-10 pick.
2013 Senior BowlCheck out all the action as NFL hopefuls prepare for the 2013 Senior Bowl.
Offensive guards aren't typically coveted in the early rounds, but the 2013 class features a few special players in this area. Warmack and Cooper are game changers on the interior; scouts can't stop raving about their ability to dominate the middle of the line. Warmack, in particular, is a sturdy blocker with the size, strength and power to move defenders off the ball. Cooper is surprisingly athletic for his size, but also displays the strength and power to excel as a drive blocker.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.