NFL Draft Preview: Big 12 Locks, Steals
This year, the Big 12 does not have a great crop of top-tier talent in the Draft, but there are several guys who could make a big impact early on in the NFL. I will break down which players I think will go high in the first round of the draft. I will also look at a few sleeper players who will be drafted in the later rounds or may be signed as free agents, but could end up having a very good careers.
Lane Johnson - Oklahoma
Johnson has definitely had an interesting career to this point. He was recruited by Oklahoma as a quarterback and has played numerous positions over his career. That is one of the reasons why he is so athletic and widely thought to be one of the top three offensive tackles in this class. One of the questions surrounding Johnson is his experience at the tackle position. He has really only played that position at a high level for two seasons. Johnson, though, like Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, could have a long and very successful NFL career protecting quarterbacks. Expect Johnson to be drafted by the seventh pick.
Geno Smith - West Virginia
Smith, the long-time quarterback at West Virginia, is an intriguing prospect in this class. While this year's QB class is widely thought to be somewhat bad, Smith is a bright spot. Due to West Virginia head coach Dana Holgerson's offense, Smith was somewhat of a gun-slinger the past two seasons. That caused him to throw some ill-advised interceptions and some errant passes. He has very good size at 6'2 and he also has the speed to take off and run when a play breaks down. I believe Smith will be drafted in the mid-1st round even though some are projecting him to fall out of the first round. If a team really likes him however I could see a team potentially reaching for him and taking a chance on him by the 10th pick of the draft.
Kenny Vaccaro - Texas
Vacarro is considered to be one of the top Safeties in the 2013 draft class. Vaccaro is a physical Safety who enjoys coming up and getting involved in shutting down the running game. One of the slight knocks on Vaccaro is his somewhat low number of interceptions over his three year career (3). Most experts have Vaccaro going in the mid to late part of the first round. It may take him a year to get a little bigger, but expect Vaccaro to be a solid contributor in the NFL.
Tavon Austin - West Virginia
Austin could be one of the most electrifying players drafted in the last few seasons. Austin is listed as a running back/return specialist and he is very good at both. While Austin is small for a running back (only 5'8" and 175 pounds) he makes up for it in pure speed. At February's Combine, Austin clocked a blazing fast 4.34 forty-yard dash. In my opinion, Austin could be a smaller version of Percy Harvin in the NFL. If used primarily as a 3rd-down running back or a slot receiver, Austin could excel. He also could flourish as a return man. Austin could be drafted in the mid to late 1st round.
While I believe these four players will be drafted in the first round, there are still several guys who could make a solid impact early on in their NFL careers. Here are a few players who I believe could be big-time steals in the later rounds of the draft:
Arthur Brown - Kansas State
While he doesn't do many flashy things, Brown is a VERY solid linebacker. He is a little small, standing at only six feet, but Brown makes up with that with his ability to make plays all over the field. Brown was a highly-recruited high school player who made his way to Manhattan, Kansas by way of the University of Miami. I feel that Brown will be an early second round pick, but don't be shocked if he is picked at the end of the first round.
Stedman Bailey - West Virginia
Bailey, a slot wide receiver, could be a great 2nd or 3rd round pick. While he doesn't have quite the explosiveness as his fellow Mountaineer, Austin, Bailey is a sure-handed wide receiver prospect. He is listed at 5'10". Behind Austin, Bailey was West Virginia's biggest play-maker last season. Bailey could also make a good punt returner at the next level. I believe that Bailey would be a very good pick for a team who is looking for a third or fourth wideout. He could have a long career in the slot position, especially if there is a marquee wide receiver on the outside.
Tony Jefferson - Oklahoma
Jefferson is a hard-hitting safety known for an intimidating presence on the field. Standing at 5'11" and 213 pounds, Jefferson packs quite a punch in the secondary. Last season, Jefferson tallied 3 interceptions in one game for the Sooners, so he is also not afraid to go after the football. There are a few durability questions with Jefferson. He has missed several halves of football during the past two seasons due to injuries. He also has had some problems in the past covering wideouts in one-on-one situations. Jefferson should be a third round draft pick and could see minutes in the Nickel defense while playing pass-heavy offenses.
Marquise Goodwin - Texas
Goodwin is one of the most interesting prospects in this class. While he only stands at 5'9", Goodwin has blazing speed. The slot wide receiver ran a 4.27 forty-yard dash at the Combine. Goodwin also competed in the 2012 London Olympics as a long-jumper, so he isn't quite polished as a football player. He could also help a team as a kick-off or punt returner. I believe that Goodwin could be a faster version of Devin Hester. I have him being selected in the 4th or 5th round.
This is my overall look at how the Big 12 players stand in this years Draft class. Not a lot of elite talent, but a lot of quality talent that could end up being solid players in the NFL for a long time. The Big 12 has had a long tradition of sending great players to the NFL and that doesn't look to be stopping this year.
Ben Woods is a 26-year-old conservative college football contributor who lives in Iowa.