by David Syvertsen
#5 Manti Te’o – LB – 6’2/255
1st Team All American. Widely considered to be the top inside linebacker in the draft, and I think it will stay that way through April. At this time last year, I was not a huge Te’o supporter. I thought he was a good player that would help a defense, but not a special difference maker. Te’o however has made enormous strides with his agility, speed, and quickness. He has looked like a different player in 2012. His greatest traits, on the field, are his pure instincts and power between the tackles. He is a big time presence against the inside run. Very stout, very powerful. He can get off blocks better than most NFL linebackers. He is consistently moving in the right direction. Putting that together with his upgrade in athletic ability makes him a very reliable selection. Te’o may not be a superstar at the next level because his speed and range will be average. But he is a leader, he makes other players better. 1st rounder that will likely be taken in the top 10.
*#80 Tyler Eifert – TE – 6’6/250
Fourth year junior that has not declared for the draft, but many expect him to. 2nd Team All American. He will be by number one guy at the position. I think Eifert would have been a first rounder last year. He was not featured as much in 2012, but he is a big time talent that does everything well. He is a dominant weapon on third down. Can catch anything near his body, has a big catch radius. Tough as nauls over the middle as he constantly takes big hits, but never shows hesitation in going after the football. Eifert is also a very good blocker. He works hard in the trenches, very good hands, good leverage, powerful base. While Eifert is not a speed demon, he can get behind a defense and pose as a deep threat. Similar prospect to Jeremy Shockey when coming out out of Miami. 1st rounder.
*#20 Cierre Wood – RB – 6’0/215
Might actually be the most talented player on the entire team. Had a couple issues with head coach Brian Kelly, was suspended a couple games, and never quite shouldered the load out of the backfield for the Irish. Wood might be a high pick. Wasn’t used as much in college as some of these guys are, which is an additional plus. Physical, upright runner that can run away from defensive backs once he gets going. Good patience and vision. At his best between the tackles. I want to see Wood be a more complete back before I throw him in to top 45 consideration. There is no shortage of talent though. 2nd/3rd rounder.
#89 Kapron Lewis-Moore – 6’4/306
For teams that run the 3-4 scheme, Lewis-Moore will be one of the more sought after defensive linemen in this draft. He carries a very comfortable 300+ pounds with good short area athleticism. Controls the point of attack. Goes where he wants, does not get pushed around. Can take a blind side hit and remain strong and balanced. This is a huge game for Lewis-Moore. He is moved around a lot, and will be up against multiple NFL caliber linemen. 3rd-5th rounder that will have immediate impact.
#17 Zeke Motta – S – 6’2/217
One of my favorite overlooked safety prospects. One of those guys that will have a better NFL career than he did in college. Similar to Harrison Smith from last year, who is now a solid starting safety for the Vikings. Great frame. Big body that carries a lot of weight but can still move well. Has tremendous physical presence, can really bring it. Smart and instinctive. Reads the offense well. I think Motta is a starting caliber prospect. 3rd-5th rounder.
#6 Theo Riddick – RB – 5’11/200
Really made the most out of his senior year. Riddick proved to be a solid NFL prospect. Brings a lot of versatility to the table. A guy that should touch the ball 10 times per game. Not the kind of guy that will carry the load but a nice change of pace back that can create on his own. Very elusive. Tougher than you’d think. Will lower the shoulder and deliver a pop. A good coach in the right scheme can get a lot out of Riddick. 4th-6th rounder.
#52 Braxston Cave – C – 6’3/305
One of the better prospects at the center position in the country. Good athlete that plays with a lot of balance. Nice footwork and hand placement. Mechanically sound. Cave doesn’t stand out to me. I think he will struggle with the size and strength of guys at the next level, something he has rarely seen at Notre Dame. There are good, reliable blockers and there are guys that shows flashes of dominance in college. Cave is consistent but hasn’t shown any flashes of being a starting lineman. 5th/7th rounder.
*#28 Dee Milliner – CB – 6’1/199
1st Team All American. The top cornerback in the nation on my board. Classic Nick Saban-scheme cornerback that has the size, length, physicality, and speed to man NFL-caliber press coverage. Milliner has the goods to be a starter in the NFL. One of the better run defenders you will find on the outside. Can do a lot with him. Does well in man and zone coverage, good timing and anticipation. Has the length to get his hands on a lot of balls. The speed is my only question mark with him. He is so aggressive that I’ve seen him bite on a lot of double moves and pump fakes and fail to catch up to a receiver that gets behind him. Top 10 pick in all likelihood, but may not be as good as some of the past top 10 corners.
#65 Chance Warmack – G – 6’3/320
1st Team All American. Considered the best interior lineman in this draft. Still up in the air on my board but he is a definite first round pick. A guy that does everything well. Very thick, powerful base. Can explode out of his stance low and fast. Consistently gets that pop at the point of attack. Warmack is very aware, very smart. Knows his assignments and combines the technique and sheer power to dominate down after down. He is a starter from day one at the next level. Top 15 pick.
#54 Jesse Williams – DT – 6’4/320
I discussed Williams prior to the season as a guy that could work his way in to first round consideration. He transferred to Alabama from junior college prior to the 2011 season, and started every game at defensive end in the 3-4. He was moved to nose tackle this year, and performed at a high level. Every dominant defense has this kind of player controlling the point of attack. Williams is a huge, thick, powerful presence with surprising athleticism. He can hold his place against double teams, but can also pursue and make plays in the backfield. He shows his rawness at times though. Will turn his back to the action. Will play high and get his legs taken out too often. Will struggle to make reads. Williams is not a superstar, do it all prospect in the middle but he is a reliable run defender that makes other guys better. His value is not found on the stat sheet. 1st rounder, could be top 20.
*#42 Eddie Lacy – RB – 6’0/220
1st Team All SEC. Reports are that he will leave school early, a good decision. I think Lacy grades out between Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram, both first round picks. I really like his game. Lacy is a big boy, very strong. But he has the ability to make himself small and slippery. He is surprisingly nimble and agile in traffic. Lacy can deliver blows to the defender, but he is economic with it. He knows how to avoid the brunt of a blow. Lacy has had a couple of durability issues with nagging injuries, but nothing too serious. 2nd-3rd rounder.
#75 Barrett Jones – C – 6’5/302
One of the most rewarded offensive linemen to ever enter an NFL draft. Two time 1st Team All American. Rimington Award Winner. One would think a guy like this from a school like Alabama is a sure thing top 10 pick. However I don’t think Jones will match those expectations at the next level. Its one thing to be a great college lineman but its simply a different game at the next level. What I like most here is the versatility. Jones has a lot of experience, in the SEC, at center, guard, and left tackle. He is a smart, high on-field IQ guy that can play well at any position. That adds tremendous value to his grade because of the roster turnovers we see year after year. Jones is a natural athlete that bends well and can move in space. Long reach, makes a lot of engagements look simple. I question his overall power though. He has had a lot of help next to him over the years. Can he handle the Vince Wilfork type guys inside? I think he is a reliable bet to be a solid player, but nothing that hus accolades would indicate. 2nd-3rd rounder.
*#76 DJ Fluker – OT – 6’6/335
2nd Team All American. 1st Team All SEC. Junior that has not yet declared, but many expect him to. Emotional leader of the offense. I like Fluker as a right tackle prospect, but he will be limited to that spot. He does not have the feet to play on the left side. There have been times where he doesn’t look athletic enough to play on the right side even. However I think that is more of a technique issue that overally ability. Fluker is a powerful kid with long arms. Will lunge too often, balance is not always there. A smart NFL defensive end could toy with him. I think he needs a year to learn his body awareness and shore up footwork before he can be trusted to start on the right side. He’ll make his money with top tier run blocking. 3rd-4th rounder with limited upside.
#37 Robert Lesrter – S – 6’2/210
A lot of starting experience in the SEC for quality defenses. I feel Lester has been starting on that unit by default more than anything. He never really jumps out at you. With Mark Barron off to the NFL, Lester had the opportunity to shine this year, and he didn’t. He is very quick, very agile. Fluid hips, turns well, efficient mover. But Lester does not tackle well in the open field, way too many missed and you can’t have that at the back of a defense. Takes poor angles in coverage and run defense. Simply not a difference maker at any point. Backup type at the next level. 5th/6th rounder.
#35 Nico Johnson – LB – 6’3/245
Never really took his game to the level that many thought he would a few years ago. Johnson doesn’t have the speed to play in the NFL. He is not a physical go-getter within the tackle box. Does not have a lot of physical presence when attacking the ball carrier or taking on blocks. Limited in coverage. Johnson will be a guy that can backup multiple linebacker positions, but I don’t see a starting caliber player here. 6th-7th rounder.
#89 Michael Williams – TE – 6’6/269
Blocking tight end, one of the better ones in the country. Limited athlete that can catch the short passes, but does not pose as a seam or downfield threat. Basically used as an extra offensive lineman. Will need to work on mobility and flexibility at the next level. Its possible the days of a blocking tight end will disappear too. Might be a late rounder.