Oct 18, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs defensive end Margus Hunt (92) talks to the referees during a break in the action against the Houston Cougars at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The Mustangs defeated the Cougars 72-42. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2013 NFL Draft: Surprise First-Round Candidates

Since the 2013 NFL Draft is tomorrow and I’ve already taken a look at who is rising and falling among the top picks, I thought I’d share who I think could make a “surprise” appearance in the draft on day one.

Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff – Armstead and Syracuse LT Justin Pugh have nearly identical frames, but that’s about where the similarities end. Pugh ran a 5.12-40 at the combine; Armstead ran a 4.65 (fastest among his position). Pugh had slightly better shuttle and cone times, however, showing that in confined space he’s just as “quick” as Armstead, but more and more teams are looking for those athletic big men on the line to open up the playbook and blocking schemes. Both Pugh and Armstead could sneak into the first round, but I see Armstead as having the perceived higher ceiling…because of that very athleticism. Armstead also has longer arms and benched 31 reps at the combine while Pugh didn’t participate on the bench press. Armstead is a guy who could well go to a very good team late in the first round, and the Green Bay Packers would be a nice fit for him with their offensive approach – and the fact that Aaron Rodgers was sacked more than any NFL QB in 2012. Protect the franchise!

Feb 23, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Arkansas-Pinebluff offensive lineman Terron Armstead takes a rest on the bench after participating in on the field workouts during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston – at 5’11” he would have been physically the “prototypical” cornerback 5 years ago. He has very fluid hips, great ball skills, and has been clocked at sub 4.4-40 times consistently (although he ran a 4.42 at the combine). He has the potential to develop into a Darrelle Revis-type cover corner if everything goes well in his NFL development. He’s also the same player who tore his vena cava (the body’s biggest vein) during practice in November in a contact drill, obviously putting his very life at grave risk. Thankfully, he’s still with us, but that incident alone will chase some teams away from him. Remember, however, it only takes ONE team to fall in love with a player for him to be drafted, and this kid has as much raw talent as any other corner in the draft. He’s a leaper and 5’11” is still pretty good size for a corner, so he has all the tools to become a #1 corner for a possible suitor.

Matt Barkley, QB, USC – Barkley should have come out of school last season, but probably saw all the talent that was there (Andrew Luck, RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden), and decided he’d have a weaker QB class to compete against in the 2013 draft. He got the second part right, but didn’t have a very good senior season at USC, and the chinks in last year’s armor have been splayed open for the NFL world to see. He lacks elite arm strength, but anticipates well and throws to spots, making up for an average arm with above-average intangibles and outstanding accuracy on the move. He could possibly make it into the bottom of the first round with the right team – that is, a west coast offensive team in a warm-weather city or a domed stadium. He has a lower ceiling than others because of his arm, but also a high floor as he played pretty well in big games. However, 3 things could keep him out of the first round and they are Carson Palmer, Matt Leinhart, and Mark Sanchez….the last 3 USC QBs drafted in the first round, none of whom deserved such a high pick although Palmer had a few good years early in his career in Cincy.

Margus Hunt, DE, SMU – “The Eastern Bloc(k)” as he’s nicknamed was quite impressive at the NFL Combine, but isn’t as “sexy” a rookie as some of the others. He’s pretty much locked into being a 3-4 defensive end, limiting the teams that could choose him, but at 6’8″ and 277 lbs., he’s got the frame to add more weight. His measurables were outstanding – 38 reps(!!) on the bench press and a 4.53-40 put him well into the “physical freak of nature” category and he’s already demonstrated his ability to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. He’s a guy with a unique physical skill set that doesn’t come along very often, but his lack of production overall in college leaves him as one of the biggest “boom or bust” candidates in the entire draft. How often does a 6’8″ track gold medal winning guy from Estonia come into the NFL as a defensive end? Not very. Hunt compares with BYU’s Ziggy Ansah as the freak athlete/raw prospect, but even more so. If he can get drafted by a good team with an especially astute D-line coach, Hunt could blossom into one of the game’s scarier defenders in due time to a team with some patience to let him develop. I really do like this kid, myself.

Nov 23, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Brandon Mitchell (17) is upended by Louisiana State Tigers safety Micah Eugene (34) and linebacker Kevin Minter (46) during the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Stadium. LSU defeated Arkansas 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU – Could/should “replace” Georgia’s Alec Ogletree as the top ILB prospect in the draft. Ogletree may project better at OLB than ILB in the NFL, but Minter is a guy you want calling the defensive signals if you’re the defensive coordinator. Minter’s known to be a very cerebral player, exactly what you want with an ILB/MLB prospect, as well as having great instincts. He’s also adept at avoiding blockers to make a tackle while being very aggressive in his style of play. His downside is that he sometimes finds it difficult to disengage from blockers once they do engage, and is not a physically dominating presence in the middle. His brainy play helps mask his lack of top-end speed for an inside linebacker (4.70-40) but he also doesn’t have the baggage a physically-similar Manti T’eo has. It’s quite possible a good team that needs a MLB/ILB could take Minter over T’eo, so keep an eye on the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and other teams drafting in the bottom half of the first round for this guy. He could well sneak into a position on day one.

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