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 middle linebackers prospects:
1. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (6-2, 245, Sr.)
This guy pretty much sells himself as the best player at his position in the 2013 Draft — even in a draft class that is extremely deep at the position. He was likely a first-round pick last year and has put together a Heisman-caliber season as a senior. He also dropped a few pounds for 2012, which has given him elite quickness and burst to go with tremendous strength, tackling skill, physicality, intangibles, leadership and size. He is a sure-fire NFL prospect who will likely start right away.
2. Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-3, 235, Jr.)
Physical. Explosive. Can play in any system. Has faced the nation’s top programs. Ogletree has had some issues off the field but they have been relatively minor and shouldn’t keep him out of the first round. The raw upside on Ogletree makes him one of the most intriguing players in the upcoming draft at any position. If he stays clean off the field, his speed, instincts and overall productivity should make him a first rounder.
3. Kevin Minter, LSU (6-2, 240, Jr.)
On a team with little depth and talent around him at linebacker, Minter has played excellent football in 2012. He has good size, is the leader of the LSU defense, makes plays all over the field and has elite level toughness. He has played behind elite defensive lineman, so scouts will want to see him in traffic more often. The good news for Minter is he has saved his best season for his last and it will help him come Draft Day.
4. Shayne Skov, Stanford (6-3, 242, Sr.)
Off the field issues — injuries and a DUI — have slowed Skov’s career over the last few seasons. Yet, his impact was immediate when he stepped on campus. He leads one of the best front sevens in the game with elite size and physicality. He is an extremely tough player with tremendous instincts and tackling ability. If healthy and focused, he might be one of the most talented players in the nation at his position.
5. CJ Mosley, Alabama (6-2, 235, Jr.)
Mosley could easily end up as an outside linebacker, but for now, he is one of the nation’s elite interior tacklers. He plays well in space and on the inside and continually makes plays against both the run and the pass. He has one national title ring and is the leader of one of the nastiest defenses in the nation this fall. He has speed, power, toughness and fundamentals. Look for Mosley to grade out highly at either outside or inside linebacker.
6. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (6-3, 240, Sr.)
A slow senior season has cost Reddick some money this fall. He still has excellent size, speed and strength for the interior of any defense. He possesses NFL speed and size, but hasn’t made enough big plays to be considered an elite prospect. However, he has the skills needed to be a productive player at the next level.
7. Michael Mauti, Penn State (6-2, 235, Sr.)
The steady veteran has all but locked up Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012 with stellar leadership this fall. Especially considering what Penn State has gone through this season. He isn’t overly talented at any one thing but is extremely consistent and physical. Think Sean Lee, Dan Connor or a slightly less talented version of Paul Posluszny.
8. Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-3, 245, Sr.)
There is a lot to like about this senior’s resume. He has two national championships already and has been a big part of one of the nation’s top defenses. He is excellent against the run and can play inside or out. Yet, he has had long stretches of relatively quiet play. Is that a sign of steady production no matter the situation or a sign of less than elite consistency?
9. Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245, Sr.)
In the midst of a semi-disappointing senior year (from an NFL scouting standpoint), Bostic has become a focal point and leader for one of the nation’s elite defenses. He is a tough hitter and can make big plays from all over the field. He has the size and toughness to start inside on the NFL level, but will need to prove his overall talent before the draft.
10. Chris Borland, Wisconsin (5-11, 245, Jr.)
The original Honey Badger is an elite competitor. He has a motor that never quits and he can be used in a variety of ways. He has played inside, outside and exclusively as a pass rusher on third downs this fall. He consistently makes big plays (blocked kicks, forced fumbles, sacks, tackles for loss) and will remind many scouts of Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson — short but stout.
11. Jonathan Brown, Illinois (6-1, 235, Jr.)
12. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (6-2, 245, Sr.)
13. A.J. Klein, Iowa State (6-2, 245, Sr.)
14. Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 245, Sr.)
15. Tom Wort, Oklahoma (6-0, 235, Jr.)
16. Kenny Demens, Michigan (6-1, 240, Sr.)
17. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers (6-2, 230, Sr.)
18. Uona Kaveinga, BYU (5-11, 235, Sr.)
19. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky (6-1, 260, Jr.)
20. Will Compton, Nebraska (6-2, 230, Sr.)
21. James Morris, Iowa (6-2, 230, Jr.)
22. Christian Robinson, Georgia (6-2, 235, Sr.)
23. Steve Greer, Virginia (6-2, 235, Sr.)
24. Vince Williams, Florida State (6-0, 240, Sr.)
25. Shaq Wilson, South Carolina (5-11, 225, Sr.)
Other names to watch:
Doug Rippy, Colorado (6-3, 245, Sr.)
Jake Johnson, South Alabama (6-1, 240, Sr.)
Dwayne Beckford, Purdue (6-1, 235, Sr.)
Herman Lathers, Tennessee (6-0, 230, Sr.)
Kenny Cain, TCU (6-1, 225, Sr.)
Tenarius Wright, Arkansas (6-1, 250, Sr.)
Tanner Brock, TCU (6-3, 250, 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