By Steve Silverman
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The real work has been completed for the NFL draft.
I’ll give you a second to let that digest.
The real work has been done by the college players who will be drafted in late April. The 2012 college football regular season is 99 percent over. There are conference championship games, plenty of bowl games and an all-star games to be played, but players who will be selected in 2013 have finished the majority of their games.
The spin season will start shortly. Scouts will try to convince chief scouts about who they believe are the best players. Chief scouts will try to influence general managers. General managers will try to convince themselves.
But the work that the players have done is on video. That won’t change, no matter what happens at the Combine and private workouts. The interpretations will change, but the first impressions are often the best.
Geno Smith of West Virginia and Matt Barkley of USC are the two highest rated quarterbacks coming into the 2013 draft. Smith is on the border of being a top-10 player while Barkley is not even a top-15 player.
You can be sure that both will rise up the charts by Draft Day based on the position they play and the success of Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson this year.
But based on the way they have played this year and throughout their college career, here’s a look at the top five college players based on their on-field performance.
OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M – If you look at all the teams in the NFL that are having offensive line problems this year – everyone but the 49ers and the Patriots – you can understand why there is such a premium put on offensive linemen in general and athletic tackles in particular. Joeckel is a prototype left tackle at 6-6 and 315 pounds. He’s got explosive quickness, a great hand punch and superior instincts for the position. He’s a can’t-miss type player and should be taken within the top three picks.
OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia – Jones has a chance to be a similar player to DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys. At 6-4 and 242 pounds, Jones moves like a speedy running back and he hits like a freight train. He has averaged better than 2.0 tackles for loss per game. It appears as if he lives in the offensive backfield. More than just being difficult to block, he is at his best whenever Georgia needs a big play to take control of the game.
CB Dee Milliner, Alabama – Milliner has the kind of confidence that allows him to shut down or even dominate the best receivers. Take a look at his build and you will understand why. He’s 6-1 and 198 and he has extremely long arms. He runs a 4.45 40 and has explosive catch-up speed. He’s better than 50 percent of the starting cornerbacks in the NFL right now. Great know how and ability, and he hates to get beaten.
LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame – The best defensive player on Notre Dame, Te’o’s game has grown dramatically this year. He was always a hard hitter with excellent range, but this year he has shown the ability to come up with interceptions at key points in the game. Te’o may not be dominant in pass coverage at the NFL level, but he is going to be an excellent tackler with leadership skills. He may be a tad overrated because of his high-profile team, but he is an honest player who will upgrade the linebacker position for any team that drafts him.
DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State – Werner has dominated many of the scouts’ notebooks with his rapid rise up the charts and consistent improvement. Werner was born in Germany and didn’t start playing football until he was 15. He began to dominate immediately and chose Florida State over several other national powers. He’s got a quick first step at 6-4 and 256 pounds, and he is incredibly powerful even though he could add 15-to-20 pounds to his frame.
Who do you think is the top defensive player in college football? Let us know in the comment section below.