The 2013 NFL Draft is only about one month away, so we are in the home stretch for scouting and analyzing players. By now, NFL teams have narrowed down their target lists a bit and are taking a closer look at the players they really think could help them.
Similarly, Big Board 4.0 is as close as we've gotten yet to a finalized list of the top 40 available prospects in this draft. And here's a little closer look at some of the thought process behind the latest rankings:
1. Zach Ertz rejoins the Big Board. Thirty-nine of the 40 players from Big Board 3.0 stayed in Big Board 4.0, with the lone exception being Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton dropping out and Stanford TE Zach Ertz coming back. Ertz had been in the top 40 previously, but I shucked him after deciding that Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert was the best tight end in this draft.
I reversed course and swapped him with Patton because I still think Ertz is a legitimate Round 1 candidate. He did not perform all that well at the combine -- you'll hear analysts talk about his short arm length at the draft -- and his blocking is inferior to Eifert's. But Ertz, 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, proved at Stanford that he can be a matchup headache for defenses, especially out of the slot.
2. How high can Tank Carradine climb? There are a few wild-card prospects in this draft that could shake up the Round 1 proceedings by dramatically rising or falling on draft day -- Geno Smith, Dion Jordan and Star Lotulelei, to name three.
Carradine is in the mix, too.
The former Florida State defensive end remains on track in his recovery from a late-season ACL tear, and he has a Pro Day scheduled just prior to the draft in April. Should he show there that he is progressing and will be ready for the start of the 2013 season, Carradine could make him way into the first round ... and maybe even into the top 15 or 20 picks.
While his ex-teammate Bjoern Werner has been one of the draft's hot names thus far, Carradine actually was the better player in stretches last season. He finished 2012 with 11 sacks and a team-best 20 hurries, though the attention paid to Werner no doubt helped him (and vice versa).
Carradine might be the best 4-3 rush end available in this draft; and at 6-foot-4, 278, teams in a 3-4 might also give him a look as a DE or OLB.
3. A few sleepers outside the top 40. I already mentioned Patton -- he dropped from the top 40 this time around, but I'm still bullish on him as a high-upside, play-making wide receiver.
Some other players to watch:
- Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State: Taylor is in the ranks of cornerbacks from this class who could start out of the blocks next season. He's not quite a finished product, but he plays aggressively and is capable of playing a variety of different coverages.
- Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: The production wasn't there in college, which naturally makes scouts wary. At his best, though, Lemonier can be a disruptive force along the defensive line.
- Brian Winters, OL, Kent State: Despite the presences of Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper in this draft, interior linemen generally are not regarded as sexy picks. Winters still should be a boon for whichever team lands him, even as he shifts from tackle to guard. He will play with a needed edge in the trenches.
- Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse: Thomas was a combine star, posting a 4.38 40 (though he face-planted after crossing the finish line). He is a strong safety who will punish ball-carriers or receivers when he gets a clean look at them.
- Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: Looking for the next Devin Hester? Sanders is a candidate. At 5-7 and 173 pounds, Sanders is extremely small for a receiver, and he had a pretty miserable combine -- his 40 time of 4.53 was disappointing, to say the least. So, he may not be in line to score as an offensive weapon. But Sanders is a dangerous return man, who averaged 15.3 yards per attempt last season and took two to the house. Some team will find a way to get the ball in his hands.