It is never too early to begin looking ahead to next year's NFL Draft. Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft won’t be any different.
Today, we rank college football's best defensive tackles prospects:
1. Jonathan Hankins, Ohio State (6-3, 320, Jr.)
The big Buckeye lineman has just a touch more upside than Star Lotulelei but has a similar skillset. He has a massive frame that is excellent at clogging space in order to stop the run. But he is a three-down tackle who can get penetration and disrupt the passer from the interior. In what should be a very deep and talented defensive tackle class, Hankins could be the best. There are potentially five first round defensive tackles in the 2013 class.
2. Star Lotulelei, Utah (6-3, 320, Sr.)
The big fella from Utah was voted as the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12 by his peers last season. If the offensive lineman who try to block him each Saturday say he is the best defensive lineman in the league, I believe them. He, too, is a three-down tackle who can be used against the pass and run equally — which is a rare commodity highly coveted by the NFL. He has great size, has been extremely productive and will likely be a top ten pick. He may be viewed as safer than Hankins but likely has slightly less upside.
3. Kawann Short, Purdue (6-3, 315, Sr.)
Purdue's heart and soul on defense has tons of ability. He is roughly the same size as all the best tackle prospects in this class with the rare of exception of John Jenkins (who is massive and bigger than everyone else). He has proven his abilities to play in opposing backfields with four years of consistent play in the middle of a defense that rarely gave him the help he deserved. He is a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate this fall.
4. John Jenkins, Georgia (6-3, 358, Sr.)
Few players will go to the combine bigger than Jenkins. While he will need to prove his stamina, flexibility and commitment to physical conditioning, he doesn't have to prove much in the form of on-field production. He has experience in a professional 3-4 defense that has been one of the best in the vaunted SEC. He has the skills and size to develop into the best player at his position in this class, but has to refine his fitness, size and consistency.
5. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina (6-3, 320, Sr.)
The big Tar Heel has been a fast riser throughout the fall. He has the needed size and power to play at the next level but needed to prove himself one more season. He was surrounded by elite talent and was a junior college transfer, yet has continued to improve and has held his own without names like Coples, Martin, Powell there to help him this fall. He is more upside than most in the top ten at this point.
6. Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-3, 320, Sr.)
There may not be anything flashy or freakish about this young Australian, but he absolutely gets the job done with tremendous strength and technique. He has been coached by the best, been extremely productive against the best and should be viewed as one of the best. He won't wow scouts with any one talent, but should be a major contributor on the next level for years to come.
7. Sharrif Floyd, Florida (6-3, 303, Jr.)
The Gators active lineman is much lighter than his elite level counterparts and is generously listed at 6-foot-3. But he is extremely active, disruptive and will make plenty of plays on the next level. This nose tackle was an elite recruit back in 2010 and made an immediate impact as a freshman in Gainesville. Look for him to continue to improve and could easily raise his stock into the first round with a great end to his Gators career.
8. Bennie Logan, LSU (6-3, 290, Jr.)
Only one player on the Tigers roster gets to wear No. 18 each season as the unquestioned leader of the program and Logan got that distinguished honor in 2012. Like Floyd, he won't tip the scales with his smaller frame, but he is as tough a leader as there is at the position. He is a dependable performer that will give scouts exactly what they expect. Logan has limited upside but extremely low downside.
9. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (6-3, 295, Jr.)
Despite his wordy taunts, Richardson is one of the most talented tackles in the nation. Every SEC coach to have scouted the Tigers point to the defensive line as the area to focus on, and most of that is due to the play this big guy. He has had some injury issues in the past (shoulder) and will need to prove himself at the combine, but the upside is obvious for the one of the highest-rated recruits to ever sign with Mizzou.
10. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota (6-6, 300, Jr.)
This massive prospect has been a late mover on draft boards. He has a huge frame with plenty of room to add bulk and power. He also hasn't played a ton of football so his better days are well of ahead of him. He has quickly proven to be a productive member of an improving defense. He has extremely intriguing upside and could be a value pick in the early middle rounds.
Other names to watch:
11. Akeem Spence, Illinois (6-1, 305, Jr.)
12. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State (6-3, 300, Sr.)
13. Everett Dawkins, Florida State (6-2, 304, Sr.)
14. Abry Jones, Georgia (6-3, 308, Sr.)
15. Dominique Easley, Florida (6-2, 280, Jr.)
16. Joe Vellano, Maryland (6-2, 285, Sr.)
17. Jordan Hill, Penn State (6-1, 294, Sr.)
18. Cory Grissom, USF (6-2, 316, Sr.)
19. Anthony Rashad White, Michigan State (6-2, 330, Sr.)
20. Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska (6-6, 290, Sr.)
- by Braden Gall
Related NFL Draft Rankings By Position:
2013 NFL Draft: Running Backs
2013 NFL Draft: Tight Ends
2013 NFL Draft: Safeties
2013 NFL Draft: Defensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers
2013 NFL Draft: Offensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft: Inside Linebackers