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 interior lineman prospects:
1. Chance Warmack, Alabama (6-3, 320, Sr.)
War-Daddy is the phrase most used when dealing with Warmack. He isn’t the biggest blocker in the nation, but he might be the most physical and most consistent in all of the nation. Like teammate Barrett Jones (see below), he plays for the best coach in the land and has multiple National Championships. He has paved the way for a host of elite running offenses and will likely be a top ten NFL pick come next spring. There are no weaknesses in his game.
2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (6-3, 310, Sr.)
The big Tar Heel blocker has long been considered one of the top players in the nation at his position. He is an extraordinary run blocker and has the size and make up to contribute at an early stage of his NFL career. He is the only other guard prospect with a shot at landing in the first round along with Warmack and his “luxury” of facing elite NFL prospects every day in practice has to have helped his stock. He is a complete player who is developing nicely as a pass blocker.
3. Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 330, Sr.)
Kentucky has not been good in 2012 but it hasn’t been Warford’s fault. He has elite size and has long been considered one of the top blockers in the SEC. He faces elite defenses each and every weekend, including a few potential first rounders like Sheldon Richardson and Sharrif Floyd, and more than holds his own. His teams are generally overmatched, making his efforts even more impressive due to work ethic and toughness.
4. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (6-4, 320, Jr.)
One thing scouts will love about Jackson is his competition. LSU, Alabama and the rest of the SEC, along with his own elite defensive line in practice, have given Jackson plenty of barometer tests throughout his career. He is a mauler in the running game, consistently gets to the second level and has the size and toughness to play right away.
5. Cyril Richardson, Baylor (6-5, 330, Jr.)
He was listed as the No. 13 offensive tackle prospect in Athlon Sports’ rankings, but should see his stock rise if he lands as a guard. He is a massive prospect with a huge NFL frame that will be most effective in the ground game. He may not be athletic or quick enough to stick at tackle, but his shift to guard has proven to be a productive one for Baylor. He has shown improvement all season long with his new position and could be only scratching the surface on his upside at guard.
6. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee (6-5, 305, Sr.)
7. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech (6-3, 300, Sr.)
8. Blaize Foltz, TCU (6-4, 310, Sr.)
9. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas (6-5, 319, Jr.)
10. Trey Hopkins, Texas (6-4, 300, Jr.)
11. Braden Hansen, BYU (6-5, 310, Sr.)
12. Travis Bond, North Carolina (6-6, 340, Sr.)
13. Jeff Baca, UCLA (6-3, 300, Sr.)
14. Marcus Hall, Ohio State (6-5, 317, Jr.)
15. Hugh Thornton, Illinois (6-4, 310, Sr.)
1. Khaled Holmes, USC (6-3, 305, Sr.)
If nothing else, scouts should realize how important and talented Holmes is when he didn’t play against Stanford. The Cardinal abused the interior of the USC line while Holmes sat on the sideline and watched. He returned and battled with early NFL pick Star Lotulelei with a bum ankle — winning some and losing some against the Utes' powerhouse. Overall, Holmes has tremendous athletic ability, is a natural fit at center and has a large frame that could carry additional weight. He is a complete player who has started since he was a sophomore and his absence was noticeable along the line in 2012.
2. Barrett Jones, Alabama (6-5, 310, Sr.)
Jones' resume is remarkable. He entered his final season as a two-time National Champion as well as the reigning Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s top offensive lineman. And he is playing his third position, earning All-SEC honors as both a guard and tackle. He still could end up at either guard or center, but his skills will play on the next level regardless. He is extremely intelligent, hard working, versatile and physical. He will need to prove he can handle the massive nose guards to stick at center, but no matter where he ends up, Jones should make an early impact on Sundays.
3. Mario Benavides, Louisville (6-4, 290, Sr.)
Other than a short three-game absence at the start of 2011, Benavides has been a stalwart at the center position for the Cardinals. He is a four-year starter and has watched the team develop from Big East also-ran to a potential BCS bowl team. He has adequate size, tremendous experience and has proven his mettle against NFL-laden defensive lines like North Carolina's. He isn’t a first-round selection, but at a position that normally falls to the middle rounds, he is as safe a bet as there is in 2013.
4. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6-4, 330, Jr.)
The burly Badger blocker may also end up at guard like Jones, but has shifted to center for the 2012 season. He has a huge frame, great power and strength and has been productive against top-notch competition. He may not have the overt quickness and athleticism the NFL demands at center. He is an excellent run-blocker who has upside at the position because he is still learning how to play at the pivot.
5. Braxton Cave, Notre Dame (6-3, 305, Sr.)
When it comes to experience against elite level competition, few have the resume that Cave boasts. He was a big-time recruit and has proven himself against the likes of Kawann Short, Mike Martin, Jerel Worthy, Stanford’s front seven, USC and many more. Notre Dame’s schedule is one of the toughest each season and has given scouts loads of film on the slightly undersized center.
6. Graham Pocic, Illinois (6-5, 310, Sr.)
7. Travis Swanson, Arkansas (6-5, 305, Jr.)
8. Dalton Freeman, Clemson (6-4, 290, Sr.)
9. Weston Richburg, Colorado State (6-4, 300, Jr.)
10. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (6-3, 290, Jr.)
11. T.J. Johnson, South Carolina (6-5, 318, Sr.)
12. Dillon Ferrell, New Mexico (6-5, 290, Jr.)
13. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida (6-3, 300, Jr.)
14. Joe Madsen, West Virginia (6-4, 305, Sr.)
15. Ryan Turnley, Pitt (6-5, 320, Sr.)
- by Braden Gall
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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
2013 NFL Draft: Cornerbacks
2013 NFL Draft: Guards and Centers