The 2013 NFL Draft has been lauded for the depth and talent in the second/third-round range. Executives have openly discussed the minimal differences between the 10th-ranked player and those ranked in the 40s. This assessment has not only led many general managers to consider trading back to pick up extra picks on Day 2, but it has prompted teams to target several prospects in that range to see if they can discover the next Colin Kaepernick (the San Francisco 49ers' second-round pick in 2011) or Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens' second-round pick in 2008) to add to their rosters.
With that premise in mind, here are five Day 2 prospects I believe will become difference-makers for their future teams as rookies:
Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech: Polished route runners with outstanding hands and ball skills never go out of style in the NFL. Patton is not only exceptional in both areas, but also is a big-game player with a knack for raising his level of play against elite competition. In key games against Texas A&M, Utah State and San Jose State, Patton totaled 42 receptions for 539 yards with six touchdowns. Now, Patton struggled a bit against Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden's aggressive press tactics, but Pattton's game remains ideally suited for the NFL. If he lands with a team that features a quick-rhythm passing game designed to get the ball to playmakers on the move, Patton could shine as a pro early in his career.
Kyle Long, OL, Oregon: If not for a series of off-field incidents, he would garner serious consideration at the bottom of the first round. Long is a standout athlete with the size and frame to play guard or tackle as a pro. Most teams will attempt to place Long at tackle, likely on the right side, but I believe he could develop into an elite interior blocker. Checking in at 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, Long is strong enough to move defenders off the ball, while displaying the athleticism to block on the move on pulls, traps or zone assignments. Of course, he still needs some footwork and skill refinement, but all of the physical attributes suggest Long should be a long-term starter in the NFL.
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati: The 2013 tight end class is loaded with playmakers, but it is hard to find a more explosive or productive player at the position than Kelce. He snagged 45 balls for 722 yards during his final season at Cincinnati, displaying a versatile game that is suited for offenses intent on featuring the tight end between the hashes. Kelce is a superb route runner with strong hands and sneaky running skills. Additionally, he flashes enough speed and quickness to stretch the field on vertical routes down the middle. Concerns about his durability (Kelce missed the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine with a sports hernia) and immaturity (he was suspended for the entire 2010 season for undisclosed reasons) will knock Kelce down the charts, but his game is spectacular and worthy of a high grade on most boards.
Sio Moore, OLB, Connecticut: The ultra-productive linebacker has become a favorite of scouts and coaches around the league. Moore is a high-motor edge player with exceptional instincts, quickness and rush skills. Additionally, he was one of the best snap-count anticipators in college football, which resulted in several "blow by" sacks off the corner. With 16 career sacks, including eight takedowns in 2012, Moore is the versatile three-down linebacker that defensive coordinators love to build packages around. Most importantly, Moore is the kind of player who can outplay his draft status to become a Pro Bowl-caliber stud in the league.
Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State: The depth of the safety class in this year's draft is unprecedented, with Pro Bowl-caliber playmakers available at every turn. Thomas could emerge as the crown jewel with his superb physical traits, football IQ and ball skills. He generated 20 takeaways (13 interceptions, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery) during his career, while displaying a knack for getting around the ball in key moments. That was evident this year when he snagged eight interceptions, including three pick-sixes that helped the Bulldogs' defense emerge as a credible unit. Scouts voiced concerns about his speed (4.59 at Fresno State's Pro Day) and injury history (Thomas missed 2011 with a broken leg), but guys with an innate knack for getting their hands on the ball typically continue to make plays in the pros, which is why I'm high on Thomas as a potential difference maker.
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