Looking beyond the Big Board


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) or the coaches made it clear the rookie was going to get a shot to split reps in camp and win the job (which happened in Seattle). Will that happen in 2013 anywhere? Hard to say.

Which is the deepest position group?

McShay: Defensive line is the deepest group in 2013. You could split hairs over defensive ends or defensive tackles, but if you're a team looking for a defensive lineman, you should be fired up over this group right now. As I count now, nine of the top 15 and 17 of the top 40 players in this draft are on the defensive line.

If you talk to front office personnel, they would agree that the defensive linemen in this draft are really an impressive group. You have the elite guys, but you have guys late in the first round, early in the second who can become a centerpiece on your defensive line for many years.

Also, there's a whole lot of variety here, too. You have your prototypical defensive tackles such as Lotulelei, Sylvester Williams and Sheldon Richardson. You have your space-eating interior defensive linemen such as Johnathan Hankins and Johnathan Jenkins. You have your speed-rushing ends such as Moore and Barkevious Mingo. And then, you have your more complete defensive ends such as Bjoern Werner and Sam Montgomery.

Basically, it's take your pick.

Which team is in line to make the biggest splash?

Kiper: Even before we know the draft order, two teams come to mind. Congrats, Missouri! Rams and Chiefs fans should plan to get to Radio City.

For the Rams, it's a matter of volume. Right now, they're the only team in line to have two first-round picks thanks to getting two future first-rounders in the deal that allowed the Redskins to grab RG3. Those picks would be at Nos. 13 and 15 overall if the draft were held tomorrow. That's major impact potential, and this for a team that already has a glut of young talent, particularly on defense.

Kansas City is also in line to deliver a huge splash. The Chiefs could draft No. 1 overall, and quarterback is a huge need. Right now, I don't have a QB rated among my top 20 overall players, but when that position is a major need, sometimes the value equation changes. That said, what if the Chiefs were to take Te'o with their first pick, and then target value at quarterback early in Round 2, landing them Smith, Barkley, Tyler Wilson, a talent like Mike Glennon or a high-ceiling project like Logan Thomas? It's so early that the QB evaluations will change a great deal (think of where RG3 was last year before the combine and workout process) and K.C. will have time to figure out the value at that early pick. But for splash, they're an early candidate.

As the Packers and Patriots did in 2012, will there be any teams drafting entirely on one side of the ball?

McShay: It's rare, but teams go into drafts with a strategy of having an emphasis on one side of the ball or the other. I think a lot of things have to come together to do an entire draft on one side of the ball, such as trading picks. The Patriots and Packers are examples of teams that have great personnel on one side of the ball and have needs on the other.

It's difficult right now to say a team could draft on one side of the ball, but there are a couple of trends. The Saints could be one of those teams on defense. It's not that they would pass on a great value pick on offense, but when you're eighth in total offense and 32nd in total defense, I would think the emphasis would be on drafting defense early and often. The same could be said for the Redskins. They don't have a lot of picks moving forward after trading several for RG3, but they would be another team focused on defense.

On the flip side, the Bears have one of the NFL's better defenses but they've been weak on the offensive side. There are still areas where they need to improve, especially the offensive line. Arizona is seventh in total defense but 31st in total offense. The last three or four years, they've had close to a 50-50 split when it comes to drafting offense and defense, but the big question there, of course, is at quarterback.

There are flaws on the Arizona offensive line and you can pick other places that need help, but if you add a top-10 quarterback, I would have to think the Cardinals would be in the top 10 in offense. There are enough parts on that offense, but I don't think you're going to find that quarterback in this draft.

Which team can't whiff on this draft?

Kiper: I'll give you two.

Dallas needs to have a good draft. I loved the Cowboys' first pick in 2012 with Morris Claiborne, but this is a team that's had mixed results over the years, particularly lower on the board, and Jerry Jones' role as an evaluator is constantly a cause for debate. I don't think the Cowboys are in a bad situation overall in terms of personnel, but the spotlight seems like it'll be brighter than ever this season.

I think the Jets are also a team in need of a home run. Again, I haven't hated their picks over the last few years, but there's pressure on that front office and coaching staff to deliver the kind of impact fans can see in Week 1. Will they help their quarterback? Will the replace him? Will they find a pass-rusher, finally? The pressure seems like it's turned up as we look ahead.

Which juniors could shake up the draft by coming out or staying

McShay: Considering that 16 of our top 32, half of them, are underclassmen, yes, any one of them not coming out for the draft can shake it up.

It will be interesting to see if some of those quarterbacks, who I don't think are ready, come out for the draft. If they do, where would they go? Where do teams take a guy like Tyler Bray at Tennessee, who has phenomenal arm strength but doesn't have ideal intangibles? Then there's Thomas from Virginia Tech, who is big, strong, throws a good deep ball and has Ben Roethlisberger-type mobility, but isn't where he needs to be when it comes to reading coverages and displaying consistent accuracy.

Also, a number of the top skills players at tight end, wide receiver and running back are underclassmen. If they decide to go back to school, the players at the skill positions will be even more scarce.