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, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The best inside linebacker prospect might be the most covered, most scrutinized prospect in the entire draft. Manti Te'o heads a class that isn't all that deep but has some elite playmakers at the top of the board.
1. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)
Final Stats: 437 tackles, 34.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 7 INT
Where to begin? Te'o was the sure-fire No. 1-best player at his position before the bizarre fake girlfriend scandal broke. There is no doubt it affected his play in the title game and it is that performance against Alabama that might have hurt his stock the most. He dropped a few pounds for 2012, which has given him excellent quickness and burst to go with tremendous strength, tackling skill, physicality, intangibles, leadership and size. His 40-time was underwhelming at the combine, but Brandon Spikes ran a 5.0. Playing middle linebacker is much more about recognition, quickness and football IQ than sprinter speed.
2. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (6-1, 241)
Final Stats (KSU): 201 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 INT
Brown could play both inside and out but he checked in bigger than anticipated and could easily stick inside at 240+ pounds. He has the instincts and pedigree to be successful at the next level. It took him a while to get started after transferring from Miami (Fla.) back home to Kansas State, where he eventually developed into a star on a team that competed for league championships the two seasons Brown he started. He is a tremendous all-around athlete and competitor who could be a lights-out defender on the next level. He could have entered the draft last year, but returned to help the Wildcats win a Big 12 championship.
3. Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-2, 242)
Final Stats: 197 tackles, 20.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 FF
Physical. Explosive. Can play in any system. He faced the nation’s top programs as a Bulldog. Ogletree has had some issues off of 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 of the field, his speed, explosiveness and physicality will be too much to pass up early on draft day.
4. Kevin Minter, LSU (6-0, 246)
Final Stats: 206 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 1 INT
On a team with little depth and talent around him at linebacker, Minter played excellent football in 2012. He has good size, was the leader of the LSU defense, made plays all over the field and has elite-level toughness. He played behind an NFL defensive line, 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 daft day.
5. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (6-1, 243)
Final Stats: 275 tackles, 36.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 INT
A slow senior season likely cost Reddick some money this fall. He still has excellent size, speed and strength for the interior of any defense. He possesses NFL skills, but didn't make enough big plays to be considered an elite prospect. However, he has the talent needed to be a productive player at the next level.
Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
6. Michael Mauti, Penn State (6-2, 243)
Final Stats: 183 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 INT
The steady veteran displayed elite levels of character, leadership and mental toughness throughout the horrific scandal in Happy Valley. 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. His two ACL surgeries likely raise a glaring red flag with NFL personnel, which could result in him dropping lower on team's boards.
7. Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 238)
Final Stats: 144 tackles, 21.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 6 INT
It remains to be seen if Alonso has the dedication and leadership skills to lock down a huddle at middle linebacker. But when it comes to versatility and athletic upside, few can match the former Oregon Duck. He has missed time due to injuries and off the field issues, but is big, fast, powerful and dynamic. Just pop in a tape of the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin to see his potential shine.
8. Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245)
Final Stats: 237 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 5 INT
In the midst of a semi-disappointing senior year (from an NFL scouting standpoint), Bostic became 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 can handle the prestigious NFL air. He is at his best when playing downhill and attacking.
9. Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-2, 248)
Final Stats: 163 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 2 INT
There is a lot to like about this senior’s resume. He won three national championships with the Crimson Tide and was a big part of one of the nation’s top defenses every year. He was excellent against the run and can play inside or out. Yet, he also displayed 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?
10. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (6-1, 237)
Final Stats: 226 tackles, 33.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks
The Hokies defender makes up for a lack of speed and size with excellent overall strength and power. He was extremely well-coached and used his frame to the best of its abilities. He played a lot of productive football for Virginia Tech but also dealt with injuries — which raises questions about his long-term upside.
11. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers (6-1, 240)
12. Tom Wort, Oklahoma (6-0, 235)
13. A.J. Klein, Iowa State (6-1, 250)
14. Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M (6-4, 242)
15. John Lotulelei, UNLV (5-11, 233)
2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Middle Linebackers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers