November 25, 2011; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (7) returns a punt for a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

2013 NFL Draft: An Early Look At The Top 15 Prospects

Sep 24, 2011; Tempe, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) and receiver Robert Woods (2) react during the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

While the 2012 NFL Draft has just come to a close, it is never too early to look ahead to the top prospects in next year’s 2013 draft class. An early look at the top prospects is never an indication of who will end up in the first-round of the following draft — just look at Vontaze Burfict and Alfonzo Dennard.

You can never predict an unfortunate injury or colossal collapse, but we can pinpoint fifteen of the most talented players heading into the upcoming season. Who ranks among the top prospects in next year’s draft class? Here is an early look:

Matt Barkley, QB, USC

Matt Barkley could have entered this year’s draft and been a top ten pick, so another year running the USC pro-style offense will only give him the experience he needs to fine tune his technique and solidify himself as the top quarterback and player in the upcoming draft.

David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

It may come as a surprise that a cornerback comes in at number two, when this year will be loaded at quarterback in a quarterback’s league. However, since the NFL is becoming a passing league there has been a stronger emphasis on landing top defensive backs. If Amerson declares for the draft, he should be a sure-fire top five pick. Amerson is a big, athletic cornerback that will come in and be a defensive game-changer from day one.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Star Lotulelei is going to a name that you hear an awful lot of throughout next year. Lotulelei is a dominant nose tackle that always plays through the whistle. Don’t let the fact that he looks like a nose tackle prospect fool you into thinking that the man can’t move. Lotulelei is an absolute stud and he is without question a name to watch out for.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

The second quarterback shows up and it is Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson. It could be tough for Wilson this season, since the Arkansas program is in turmoil after losing coach Bobby Petrino. Wilson has the physical tools, but will be challenged. Every year there is a quarterback that enters the year a a top prospect but eventually falls. If Wilson can’t grasp the new offense and improve on his accuracy, he could be that guy, but for now, he remains near the top of the rankings.

Robert Woods, WR, USC*

Robert Woods benefits from playing with a quarterback like Matt Barkley, but there is no denying that he is absolute stud regardless of who is throwing him the ball. Woods dominates his competition and should only continue to improve at Southern Cal. If he declares, he is the early favorite to be the nation’s top receiver.

Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame

Te’o has gone from being a top high school recruit to being the top linebacker prospect in the nation. Te’o is very experienced and has incredible range. He is every bit the prospect that Boston College’s Luke Kuechly was this season and may even be better. Kuechly went in the top ten and it would be no surprise if Te’o found himself going in the same range.

Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

Okafor could benefit from bulking up a bit, but he already has the rare athletic ability that can make him a top 15 pick. Okafor is a rangy defensive end and uses his raw skill to get to the passer. You will never see Okafor give up on a play and that tenacity will only cause NFL scouts to fall in love with this prospect.

Sam Montgomery, DE/OLB, LSU*

Year after year the LSU Tigers have been cranking out top notch defensive talent and this season is no different. Sam Montgomery will be one of the top “tweener” prospects who has an exceptional ability to rush the passer. Montgomery is still a bit raw, but there is no denying his explosion and natural pass rushing ability. Montgomery has a skill-set that will be highly coveted at the next level.

Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

“The Honey Badger” is yet another LSU defensive back who will be a top NFL Draft prospect. Mathieu may be a bit undersized, but you cannot measure his heart and incredible work ethic. Many will knock Mathieu’s size, but that hasn’t stopped cornerbacks in the past from succeeding. In my opinion, he compares very favorably with Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. “The Honey Badger” is definitely the kind of hard-working kid you will want to have on your team.

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia*

Jones is one of those underclassmen who could shoot up draft boards, but could benefit from returning to school. He still has a lot of room to develop but he definitely has the ability to blossom into a star pass rusher. Jones has the type of talent that scouts would be willing to take a chance on in the first-round, even if he is very raw.

Kawann Short, Purdue, DT

Short is another large space eater that can do more than just hold up blockers. Short has the strength and attacks very well with his hands. Defensive lineman are becoming highly sought after in the recent years and a guy with as strong of a base as Short will just be another highly touted defensive line prospect.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

We finally have a running back show up on the list. Lattimore certainly looks the part and has all of the talent, but it remains to be seen how well he can recover from his torn ACL at the end of last season. If Lattimore is healthy, he is easily the best running back in the nation. Lattimore may not be in the same class as a guy like Trent Richardson skill wise, but he is a very talented rusher.

Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State

Johnny Adams could very well have the most impressive ball skills out of the defensive back prospects in this year’s draft. He always seems to be able to locate the ball and adjust in time to make a play. He excels in press coverage, which will get him noticed by NFL personnel.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

While he may not have the ability that Lattimore has on paper, Ball is the most productive back in the nation and is healthy coming into the year. Unlike Lattimore, he will not have to overcome a torn ACL. Ball runs at a perfect level and breaks tackles with frequency. There is only one knock on Monte Ball — does he have too much wear and tear to see long term success in the NFL?

Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama

Barrett Jones has experience at both left tackle and center, so you know he has the athleticism and intelligence to succeed at the next level. Jones has very solid footwork and excels in hand fighting, but he does get beat against quicker defenders inside. If he can come more consistent in that respect, he will be one of the draft’s top offensive line prospects.

Who do you believe are players to watch that may have missed the initial top 15 list? As always, sound off in the comments section and let your voice be heard.

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