With all of the recent Miami Dolphins talk revolving around the storylines of Hardknocks and the team's decision to start rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill against the Texans in Week 1, I almost forgot that we're just a week away from the comedy event of the season: the release of Scouts Inc.'s top 25 draft prospects for 2013.
Before I go ahead and throw out my guess as to who will be on the Scouts Inc. list, we should probably cover a few things.
1) This sort of projection is a hell of a lot more fun when thoroughbreds like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III aren't in the mix. It's also exponentially more difficult (and a little depressing).
2) Scouts Inc. is very much predictable when it comes to ranking certain positions (I'll elaborate on this in a moment), so this projection isn't a shot in the dark so much as it is a calculated estimate based on the same stupid mistakes Scouts Inc. makes year after year. Got that? Cool. We're moving along.
3) Certain inclusions on this list will be mind-shatteringly asinine. That's mainly the reason why I like to only project the first 10 picks. It's anyone's guess after that. Just remember that Jeff Fuller was on the list for much of last season, and Blaine Gabbert went from unranked to No. 6 overall in the span of three weeks during January 2011.
4) Mark Schlereth sucks (this fact has nothing to do with the rest of this article, but it bears repeating every so often).
Okay, okay ... I've wasted enough of your time. Let's get to projecting already.
1) Star Lotulelei, DT Utah
Let's just acknowledge the elephant in the room here right off the bat. You're probably thinking, "Matt Barkley isn't No. 1 on this list? WTF!?" Well, this selection is predicated on two things: Lotulelei is a super-rare, once-in-a-decade talent, and he happens to play the position that absolutely turns on every single guy at Scouts Inc.: defensive tackle. If there was a defensive tackle lovers anonymous, these guys would be perched in a semi-circle every third Tuesday of the month. That's fact. Prior to Andrew Luck's 99 rating last fall, the highest-ranked player I'd seen on the Scouts Inc. list was former Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy, who carried a grade of 98 through 2009 and into 2010. For those of you unfamiliar with Scouts Inc.'s draft grades, anything above 90 is considered extremely exceptional. Surpass 95 and you're entering elite territory. McCoy had a freaking 98, and in a class that included Ndamukong Suh! If that's not enough to convince you, Scouts Inc. also thought Marcell Dareus was the best player in the 2011 draft (unrelated fun fact: this group did not want to acknowledge Cam Newton in the top 10 that season. It was like he didn't exist). Simply put, these guys love powerful interior defensive linemen, and it just so happens that Lotulelei possesses a skill set you just don't see in DTs of his size.
This isn't to say Lotulelei doesn't deserve the No. 1 spot on the top 25 board--he totally does. I see him as a prototypical 1-technique with the power and rare speed to routinely shrink double teams and consistently put heat on opposing quarterbacks. But say a team drafts him to be a bullish 3-tech. He can do that. Say a 3-4 team drafts him. Lotulelei is strong enough to stand up his man at the 5-technique, Hell, he might even have the body to work as a premier clogger/pass-rusher nose tackle (sort of like a much bigger Jay Ratliff). If you absolutely need a player comparison, Lotulelei's game is what you would've seen if the Vikings' Kevin and Pat Williams were as good of pass-rushers as they were interior cloggers. He's a considerable force at a position that's typically more "decoy" than "destroy." And that's why he's No. 1 on this list.
(Fine, screw it: he's the best interior defensive lineman to come out of college since Haloti Ngata in 2006. Happy?)
2) Matt Barkley, QB USC
Barkley's decision last December to return to USC for his senior year was a painful, PAINFUL (!) one for Dolphins fans, but it's shaping up to be a phenomenal call on his part. With Luck and Griffin III out of the way, all eyes will be on Barkley this season as he works toward capturing both a Heisman Trophy and BCS Championship. Well played. That also means he'll have to quell questions regarding his arm strength (overblown, in my opinion) and ability to succeed without Matt Kalil protecting his blindside (could be a problem). If Barkley can withstand that kind of microscope and cruise throughout this season, he'll be a no-brainer No.1 pick for whichever team is crappy enough to hold that selection next spring. If he folds and hits a dry spell around November, he'll still probably fall no further than the third or fourth pick. The ceiling for this guy isn't super-high, but at least you'll know what you're getting if you draft him: a savvy, mechanically-sound quarterback prospect with very good accuracy, solid footwork and obnoxiously blond hair.
3) Ricky Wagner, OT Wisconsin
In case any of you are wondering, the No. 3 spot on Scouts Inc.'s top 25 is almost always the hardest to accurately predict. Add in a year where the offensive tackle class is more subdued than usual and the best pass-rushers are all 'tweeners, and you have a serious guessing game on your hands. I know Scouts Inc. digs Ricky Wagner--they said as much through most of last season--and though it feels forced to throw any offensive linemen into the top six or seven spots on this list, I am going to begrudgingly roll with Wagner at No. 3. Once a seldom-heard name on a very stacked Badgers line, Wagner's game has grown to the point where he might be the Wisconsin offensive lineman to come out since Joe Thomas (yes, that means I think Wagner is better than Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz). Big praise for a big man. Still, Wagner at No. 3 is a little too rich for my blood, which brings us to ...
4) Robert Woods, WR USC
I really, really, really wanted to go with Woods at the three spot, but two factors swayed me in the other direction: Woods doesn't have a big collection of Blackmon- or A.J. Green-like "Look at me, I am single-handedly humiliating your secondary" catches on his resume, and I just don't think there's enough of a difference between Woods and the other receiver on this list (patience, please) to justify having them three spots apart. Two spots? That's more like it. And that's not to say Woods isn't the best receiver in this class (pardon the double negative)--he looks and plays like the spawn of Reggie Wayne and Greg Jennings. However, I think Scouts Inc. will end up becoming more enamored with the other big receiver in 2013 (call it a well-guided hunch). Nevertheless, Woods looks to be the total package at wideout, and will have a big hand in whether or not Matt Barkley achieves those two goals we discussed earlier in this article.
5) Jarvis Jones, OLB Georgia
Full disclosure: I do not think Jarvis Jones is the best pass-rusher in this class. I do think Scouts Inc. believes he is, though, and that's why he's sitting at No.5 on this list. Jones was a sensation for the Bulldogs last season, displaying Von Miller-quickness and tenacity, and winning over a whole crapload of draft analysts who thought he'd easily land in the top 20 of 2012 (he probably could've, too). Of course, Jones returned to school, and now he'll be part of a 2013 pass-rush class that, while undersized, is a good bet to rip a quarterback's head off at some point this season. Jones still needs to bulk up a tad, but his sheer speed (again, he's not far off of Von Miller-level agility), closing ability and instincts will be extremely tough to discount for any team in search of a premier pass-rusher next spring.
6) Keenan Allen, WR California
Here's the aforementioned yin to Robert Woods' yang. And unlike Woods, Keenan Allen is a big-bodied receiver who does have a whole cache of "Wow, this guy is mutilating our defensive backs" catches (check out his work against Oregon last season if you need proof). Allen is bullish coming off the line of scrimmage, making him very difficult to jam and re-route. His speed is better than advertised, his hands are like oversized bear claws and he plays mean. All of these traits point to a potential lovefest between Scouts Inc. and Allen throughout this season. So why isn't he higher on this list? Because Robert Woods is really frickin' good. That's why.
7) David Amerson, CB North Carolina State
Last year's cornerback draft class landed a technical wiz (Morris Claiborne) in the top six, and a gangly prospect with mucho upside (Dre Kirkpatrick) in the latter half of round one. Not bad, but this draft class can do better, thanks to David Amerson and his Asomugha-like fluidity at the position. Amerson, listed at 6'3", 205 pounds, will suffer through "No one wants to throw in his direction" syndrome this season, but if he needs motivation, promising corner prospects Johnathan Banks of Mississippi State and Johnny Adams of Michigan State should give him a decent run for his money.
8) Jackson Jeffcoat, DE Texas
Rarely are athletes given a legal name that completely suits their freak blend of strength and athleticism, but I think we've found one in Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Texas, like LSU, will boast a nightmare pass-rush duo this fall, and while I currently have Jeffcoat ranked third behind the Tigers' defensive ends, it's not by much. If Jeffcoat catches fire this season (playing across from Alex Okafor certainly won't hurt in this regard)--and manages to put some weight onto his lean 6'5" frame--you can book him as a top five pick. Write that down.
9) Sam Montgomery, DE LSU
Here's one of the aforementioned LSU terrors, and the pass-rusher whom, if Miami is picking in the top 10, I want to see wearing a damn Dolphins hat on draft night. A lot of draft analysts are higher on Montgomery's teammate Barkevious Mingo (and that's understandable--Mingo is a heat-seeking missile playing defensive end), but I see Montgomery as someone who can be the total package in the NFL--supreme pass-rusher, quality run killer, good teammate. Best part: I think Scouts Inc. likes Montgomery more than Mingo, too (we'll find that out soon enough).
10) Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech
I just referenced Scouts Inc.'s misguided dismissal of Cam Newton during the 2011 pre-draft process, but I am confident that these draftniks spent all summer 2012 warming up to Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas and his "Supersized Cam Newton" physique. Ironically, Thomas displays great poise and touch as a pocket passer, and he's positively devastating as a runner. Under the right tutelage, Thomas could be a quarterback of exceptional proportion at the NFL level, and I think his gargantuan upside and even bigger arm will give him the nod over Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson (note: I absolutely do not agree with putting Thomas ahead of Wilson, but I think they'll do it).
Just missed the cut: