Looking beyond the Big Board
Todd McShay and Mel Kiper [ARCHIVE]
ESPN Insider
November 28, 2012
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he 2012 NFL draft already has had a major impact on the league. Consider:

- Each of the first 11 picks have started in every possible game so far.

- Thirty of 32 first-rounders have seen significant time, and it would be 31 if Pittsburgh's David DeCastro hadn't gotten hurt during preseason.

- Five of the first six quarterbacks drafted have started in every game, seven rookie quarterbacks started this week and three of them -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson -- could be considered for the Pro Bowl.

- Rookies might lead the NFL or come in second in tackles (Luke Kuechly), rushing (Doug Martin) and interceptions (Casey Hayward).

And that's just the starting point. We've seen a major impact from well down the draft board. Round 2 has already minted a number of impact starters, with more on the way.

So, as we get to the point in the NFL season when all fans can identify voids to be filled and players to be replaced on the roster of their favorite teams, it's a good time to give the 5-mile view of the 2013 NFL draft, and the big storylines, players, positions of strength, and even some sleepers to be mindful of.

So, to the questions!

If the draft were tomorrow, how many guys would be in play as a No. 1 pick?

Kiper: On my current Big Board, I see five that make sense, with the possibility of seven if we include a quarterback craze factoring in. The five guys I see with value in that range are:

- Jarvis Jones, a brilliant, relentless pass-rusher out of Georgia;

- Manti Te'o, the prototype middle linebacker out of Notre Dame (a very high standing for an interior linebacker, I admit);

- Star Lotulelei, the best defensive tackle in the class, who plays at Utah;

- Luke Joeckel, the best left tackle in the class, of Texas A&M; and

- Damontre Moore, also of Texas A&M, and a rival to Jones as the best current pass-rusher on my board.

The curveballs are the quarterbacks. If a team falls in love with a QB, we know the history. They go at No. 1 an awful lot.

Why is there so much uncertainty in this draft?

McShay: The biggest issue is that there's just not a lot of offensive skill players in this draft. It's not a good "TV draft." NFL teams want great talent at every single position, but a vast majority of teams are not in dire straits and looking for a quarterback and would rather see the depth where it is in this class: on the offensive and defensive lines.

When you start to look at it, the biggest question is: Where are the elite quarterbacks? That's where the uncertainty starts. Then you go to the next two positions everyone is intrigued by, but are way down the totem pole in terms of NFL importance: running back and wide receiver.

Right now, you're looking at a running back class that's unlikely to have a first-round pick. The last couple of years, that position has been declining in the NFL and there's been a trickle-down effect in the draft. This year, though, it's more because there's a lack of talent at the position.

Last year at this point, Luck had been the No. 1 pick for a long time and Griffin was screaming up draft boards. RG3 was a truly intriguing second choice and some people were arguing that he was a better choice than Luck.

That drama is missing this year.

Who is the biggest sleeper on your board right now?

Kiper: For just "pure sleeper" in the sense of a guy nobody has seen, I'll go with Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, who could be starting for someone at tackle next season. I wanted to highlight him on a "SportsCenter" segment the other day and we had trouble finding enough tape. He's a guy that many haven't seen, but the MAC always has talent. Currently, he's No. 21 on my Big Board.

The other kind of sleeper for me is a player who nobody had rated high at the outset of the year but has totally exploded as a prospect. On defense, start with Anthony Barr, a pass-rusher from UCLA. This is a kid who was a fullback last year who wasn't really going anywhere. The coaches, to their credit, flipped him to the defensive side of the ball and he's been an absolute terror as a pass-rusher. After one year on defense, he could be drafted in the top 15 to play more of it come April. Right now, Barr is No. 13 on my Big Board.

On offense, go with Cordarelle Patterson of Tennessee. A wide receiver, he was highly regarded in junior college. In his first game of D-I college football, he went crazy against NC State. He has averaged 17 yards a catch and has star potential if he can develop technically. He's currently No. 10 on my Big Board and the No. 1 wide receiver prospect.

How does the 2013 QB class stack up to the 2012 class?

McShay: It's early in the process and there's still a lot of tape that needs to be watched. A year ago at this time, I didn't think much of Ryan Tannehill. Come April 1, I really liked him as a top-10 pick.

There's no one right now who I'd sit at a table and fight for, but I still haven't done all the tape. Last year at this time, I mentioned that I liked Tannehill's potential more than I liked Matt Barkley's. And I still believe that's the truth. That's not to say Barkley's a horrible quarterback, and I think it's highly likely he's a first-round draft pick. I think the same of Geno Smith, and there are obvious weaknesses in their games right now.

For both of them, it comes down to finding the right fit and making a decision based on how high the potential is for what that team does. I think Barkley will only be successful in a West Coast offense where you can limit the amount of down-the-field throws, and his vertical accuracy isn't that good.

With Smith, I think he's still developing as a quarterback. He's a smart kid, he works unbelievably hard and he has all the intangibles you're looking for, but a little bit like Christian Ponder, he didn't always transfer that information on the field. Ponder would often lock in on his initial read, and I think there's a lot of the same questions about Smith.

This class better resembles the 2011 class than the 2012 class.

After five rookie QBs started in Week 1 in 2012, how many will start in Week 1 of 2013?

Kiper: One -- two tops.

If you're drafting Barkley, unless there's a very good starter in place, I think you assume he can come in and compete for the starting job. He has a ton of reps as a four-year starter, and while he needs to really shine during the evaluation process to put some polish on his draft profile, I think he's capable because of his experience and tools.

Smith could also be in that picture, but again, this is more about where a quarterback lands and less about his talent. In every case with the 2012 group, there was either a clear void at QB (think Indy)...
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