Predicting the NFL draft, especially eight or nine months out, is about as inexact a science as there is. This college football season will produce some unexpected stars and, as we've seen time and again (hello, Matt Barkley), will knock some high-profile players down a peg or two.
So Audibles' first draft Big Board of the season -- which you read in its entirety here -- is less a definitive guide to the first players selected next May than a reminder of which college football talents enter 2013 high on NFL radars.
And if you're curious how the prospect list was narrowed down to 40 for Big Board purposes, here's a little more insight into the thought process:
1. Sizing up the quarterbacks.
Seven signal-callers made it into the first Big Board -- in order: Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Stephen Morris, Johnny Manziel and David Fales.
Though they didn't crack the top 40, I would round out the top 10 at that position with A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Bryn Renner. The name outside the group listed with the possibility to really rise, in my opinion, is Ohio State's Braxton Miller. He has the size and athleticism to play at the next level, so his potential clearly comes down to how much he develops as a passer. Another former Buckeye, Terrelle Pryor, recently admitted that he was never taught the proper way to pass until getting to Oakland, and Urban Meyer could do only so much with Tim Tebow. Miller needs to be better than either of those guys through the air if he is going to ascend the QB charts.
Two other names to mention: Cornell's Jeff Mathews and LSU's Zach Mettenberger. I wrote a lot more on Mathews back in June, and he is someone you're bound to hear about in the coming months as a small-school prospect. He has a huge, NFL-ready arm. The decision-making needs to be better there, too -- he threw 11 picks last season in just nine games against lesser competition.
After Manziel, Mettenberger might be the polarizing QB prospect in this class. He's a frustrating player to watch on tape, because he can make every throw but limits himself with poor awareness and off-and-on mechanics. This is a hugely important season for the LSU quarterback.
2. Another offensive tackle run?: The top two picks in this year's draft, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, were offensive tackles. Lane Johnson made it three OTs taken in the first four picks. Could history repeat in 2014?
Probably not to that extent -- Jadeveon Clowney and at least one quarterback probably will crack the top five (assuming, knock on wood, Clowney stays healthy). But in Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Cyrus Kouandjio, Antonio Richardson, James Hurst, Seantrel Henderson and others, there are some really intriguing prospects at that position again. Matthews, Lewan and Kouandjio, as things stand now, all have a shot at the top 10.
3. Others to watch ... As I mentioned on the Big Board itself, the top 40 is subject to change pretty frequently throughout the college football season -- especially early as we get a glimpse of how players have improved or regressed over the summer. At this point, everything is based on previous game film, coaches' comments and work in practice.
So, a few guys who just missed the Big Board but easily could climb in over the coming weeks:
• Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: A raw product who got better as 2012 moved along. Hageman's a big body, with quickness and power up front.
• Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Possibly the top RB off the board next May, Seastrunk is extremely dangerous out of the backfield. Does he have the size or the all-around game to be consistently productive in the NFL?
• Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU: I'm probably underselling Johnson, who has great burst off the snap and might be a star this season. He has just three career starts, though, so I'm reserving some judgement until he steps into a larger role.
• Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: Jeffcoat plays DE but looks more like a 3-4 pass-rushing OLB prospect for the pros. The problem here is that he has not been able to stay healthy. • Aaron Colvin, CB/S, Oklahoma: Ohio State's Bradley Roby and TCU's Jason Verrett are the top CB prospects in this class right now, but Colvin has a case to be No. 3. That he has played both corner and safety will help his cause. I might have not-so-subconsciously knocked him because Oklahoma CBs have not had much recent NFL success.