On The Trail: Pre-Season Watch List

Apr 26, 2012; New York, NY, USA; A general view of the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-US PRESSWIRE

Here we go, on the trail to the 2013 NFL Draft.

We're through Spring practises, there have been some major stories hitting the college football scene. Bobby Petrino being fired from Arkansas, Bill O'Brien trying to rebuild the Penn State program after so much scandal and off-field scrutiny last year. Urban Meyer is now in Ohio, trying to take the Buckeyes back to the promised land. Every news outlet is busy putting together it's pre-season ranking list, and everyone is looking forward to the fall so we can just play some damn football.

So with that all in mind, here is our first article in relation to the 2013 NFL Draft. Here are 20 players we think that you need to pay attention to this college football season. It consists of players we suspect the Jets may look at in 2013 if they declare. So the list mainly consists of pass rushers, safeties and offensive lineman with a few running backs, inside linebackers and maybe even a cheeky tight end.

Join me after the jump guys, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship

1- Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (SEC). My Draft projection: Top 10

2011 Stat Line: 70 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

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One of the most natural pass rush prospects I have ever seen. I watched the Georgia v Florida game last year, and Jarvis was completely unblockable. He recorded 4 sacks and hurried the QB on numerous occasions. It'll be extremely interesting to see how he performs in 2011 now teams are fully aware of his ability and can game plan towards him. He spent his freshman year in 2009 at USC before deciding to transfer to Georgia, this meant that he had to sit out the entire 2010 season and his 2011 production was his first production, and first full year playing NCAA football. It is always hard to project these guys but nothing I saw last year makes me believe he won't be elite this year too. We will need to address the pass rush even with the selection of Coples and Jarvis Jones has the potential to be a tremendous player. I'll be watching with interest this year and you should too.

2- Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU (SEC): My Draft Projection: Top 15

2011 stat line: 47 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, 8 sacks

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In 2011 he was considered a reserve player because he is very much a speed rush specialist on pass rushing downs. However he grew more and more into a complete player as the season progressed and combined well with Sam Montgomery to form quite a force on the LSU front line. He has an excellent first step and is quickly into the backfield. He has the speed to chase down mobile QB's or running backs and does a nice job getting his hands up to bat passes down if he is not going to make it. It's going to be interesting to see how LSU plan to use Mingo this year, and how they use him will effect his draft stock. His pass rush ability and speed make him a very appealing player though. I can't wait to see what he does for the Tigers in 2012.

3- Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina (SEC): My Draft Projection: First Round

2011 stat line: 818 yards rushing, 5.0 average, 10 touchdowns. 19 catches, 182 yards, 1 touchdown

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It's going to be a very big year for Marcus, I was watching against Mississippi State when he tore his knee ligament that ruled him out for the rest of the year. He was well on his way to putting up some incredible numbers. Vision, patience and explosion. Marcus is just an intelligent running back, he makes nice cuts and bounces it to the outside when needed. He always fights for extra yards, and is very much becoming a complete 3 down back. I really hope that he can overcome the injury and get back to his best, he is entertainly to watch and if we are looking for a running back next year and Lattimore declares I think there will be as much interest in him from Jets fans as there was for Trent Richardson.

4- Sam Montgomery, DE/OLB LSU (SEC) My Draft Projection: First Round

2011 stat line: 49 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble

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Boy is it going to be fun watching another year of Mingo and Montgomery tearing up SEC offences. There isn't a great deal not to like about Sam. He has a fantastic motor, a great first step, good length and room to grow into an elite player. He works hard every single snap, and he disrupts everything around him. He has a lot of strength and plays both the run and the pass well already. He has a big frame that I don't think has really filled out yet, spends the majority of his time at right defensive end which is likely where he will be again this year. The LSU defence has the potential to be elite in 2012, be assured there will be at least one other LSU defensive player on this list at some point.

5- Manti Te'o, ILB Notre Dame (Independant), My Draft Projection: Top 15

2011 stat line: 128 tackles, 13.5 for a loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

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You'll have to forgive me and I'll warn you ahead of time that Manti Te'o is my favourite Notre Dame player. From the moment he put that hat on on national signing day to the moment he said he would return to ND for his senior year in 2012. The stats say everything you need to know about Manti, he is a sideline to sideline player who has an excellent nose for the ball, the power to knock you out and the pace to run with receivers. He is very much on par and in my opinion exceeds the talent level of Luke Kuechly this year. We did just draft Demario Davis so inside linebacker probably won't be a priority high in the draft next year. However if a player like Manti falls to you, then you have to seriously consider it. He is a level headed guy with a great passion and love for the game. I can't wait to see what he does for us this year.

6- Ricky Wagner, OT Wisconsin (Big Ten), My Draft Projection: First/Second Round

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Very few people watch football games to see offensive lineman, however as we have a gaping hole on the right side of our line that has not been improved this off-season, these guys may be the ones we really need to watch next year. Ricky could have come out for the 2012 draft but decided to stay in school for another year (a very good decision). He played right tackle until the 2011 season where he switched over to left tackle, is thickly built and has very good footwork. I was watching a documentary on the NFL draft busts last week and they were talking about Tony Mandarich, who was billed as the best offensive line prospect ever and how nobody seemed to notice that he had no footwork. Well footwork is one of the main things we look at with offensive line prospects and Wagner has it. Although I'm not sure how good of a composer he is.

7- D.J Fluker, OT Alabama (SEC), My Draft Projection: First/Second Round

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Another player who could have easily come out for the 2012 draft, D.J Fluker is primed for a massive 2012. He is the best run blocking right tackle in the country in my opinion and will only continue to grow as part of a unit that returns four starters for 2012. Another guy who has his head in the right place, returning to not only improve his game for the eventual jump but to also gain his degree. At 6'6 and 335lb's he is a mauler, he does remind me of Massie to a point, but just a better version and I haven't heard any rumours about his ability to read the game or pick up the Saban offence. Alabama ranked 15th nationally last year running the football, a lot of it had to do with Trent Richardson of course, but this was the guy opening up the holes for Trent.

8- Eric Reid, S LSU (SEC) My Draft Projection: First Round/Second Round

2011 stat line: 65 tackles, 2 interceptions

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The stats don't really do Eric justice and he is a guy who I think makes a massive step up this year in his Junior season. He has just been announced as a Lott Trophy watch list player for the 2012 season. He has excellent size at around 6'2 and 210 lb's. From what I have seen of Reid he is just an all around good prospect as a free safety, he has the combination needed to cover tight ends and is extremely athletic as a centre field prowler. I also like him because he actually wraps up in tackles and is a very safe last line of defence. I think with the quarterback being constantly rushed by Montgomery and Mingo, Reid will pull down a lot more than two interceptions this year. Definitely a guy I could see the Jets showing interest in come 2013.

9- T.J McDonald, S USC (Pac 12), My Draft Projection: First Round

2011 stat line: 67 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, 3 interceptions

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Think Taylor Mays who can actually cover and take good angles to the ball. Probably the best safety prospect that will be available in 2013. This will be his third year starting at free safety, so he will have plenty of experience. He hits like a ton of bricks, but also tackles well and plays intelligent football. Most of the focus out in California will be on quarterback Matt Barkley but the Jets will be far more interested on a tall, fast, athletic safety who will make you regret coming over the middle. I don't often say a lot of nice things about any USC player, but McDonald has the talent and capability to be someone very special.

10- Jackson Jeffcoat, DE Texas (Big12), My Draft Projection: First Round Talent

2011 stat line: 71 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 8 sacks

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Jeffcoat was one of the most highly regarded recruits in the nation, from a good football family (Jim Jeffcoat was a Dallas Cowboys player, and his father). I really like Jackson's strength, he is now just over 250 lb's and constantly moves offensive lineman in the Big12. despite his impressive sack numbers he isn't really regarded as an elite pass rusher. He is more a run defender who does an excellent job shutting lanes and disengaging from blockers to bring down the ball carrier. I actually like him as a versatile guy who can play the weak side end, some have suggested he could stand up in a 3-4, but I think he fits more with his hand in the ground. Mack Brown will get the absolute best out of Jackson this year and it'll be interesting to see where he goes next year.

11- Brandon Jenkins, OLB FSU (ACC), My Draft Projection: First Round Selection

2011 Stats: 41 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 8 sacks

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I have to be honest and say that I was a little disappointed with Brandon Jenkins in 2011 after his impressive 2010 season. In 2010 he had 21.5 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks. However in 2012 FSU have a very nice defence with plenty of talent which should open up more oppurtunities for Brandon. In 2011 he was double teamed a lot more which affected his sack numbers. The one improvement however that was noticable in 2011 was his ability to play the run. He looked a lot more stout and had more upper body definition. If he can continue his improvement against the run and maintain his pass rush ability, he will be high on a lot of teams draft boards come April 2013. Again we need to add more talent at the OLB position.

12- Tony Jefferson, S Oaklahoma (Big 12) My Draft Projection: Second Round

2011 Stats- 74 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 4 interceptions

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One of my personal favourite prospects heading into the 2012 season. Tony has spent much of his early career in Oklahoma as a linebacker and he is making a move to safety to help out a pass defence that was truly terrible in 2011. He has everything you need to excel at the position, he has great instincts, a good nose for the ball. He is athletic with a lot of agility, speed and strength. He can obviously come up and play at the line, but I can definitely see him doing well in coverage. It'll be interesting to see how he develops on an Oklahoma defence which is a little mystery right now.

13- Montee Ball, RB Wisconsin (Big Ten) My Draft Projection: First Round

2011 stats: 1,923 yards 6.3 average, 33 touchdowns. 24 Receptions, 306 yards, 6 touchdowns

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Whenever anyone ties a record held by Barry Sanders, you know you better take notice. The record in question is total touchdowns, 39 all together. The thing about Montee is that he doesn't really have elite speed but he somehow makes the first man miss, runs over the second man and finds himself in the endzone. Personally I prefer Lattimore's skill set but Montee is an elite prospect based on his thick lower body, his college production and his ability to score in a number of ways. He does have good vision and good strength, and he benefits from running behind an impressive Wisconsin offensive line. I can't see how he can surpass his 2011 production, but he can develop into a more complete player in terms of pass protection, receiving and bouncing runs to the outside.

14- Knile Davis, RB Arkansas (SEC) My Draft Projection: Second/Third Round

2011 stats: Missed entire season due to ankle injury

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This is a massive season for Knile Davis, it was so unfortunate that he missed the entire 2011 season as he was on a lot of award watch lists, and many believed he would really break out. In 2010 he rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. I really like Davis's game, I like his speed/strength combo, his short area quickness and his vision and patience to find the whole. There is a lot of upheaval at Arkansas this off-season and it won't help Davis's development on his way back from injury. If we do decide to go in another area early in the draft in 2013, having a running back with excellent talent fall due to program circumstance and injury may be something to look into.

15- Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame (Independant) My Draft Projection: First Round.

2011 stat line: 63 receptions, 803 yards, 5 touchdowns

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I said I would chuck in a tight end and here he is. In 2010 when Kyle Rudolph went down, I feared the worst, but Eifert came in and did a great job and in 2011 he kept progressing to a point where he was one of our most reliable receivers with Michael Floyd. The thing about Tyler is that he is a two way tight end in that he puts as much effort into his run blocking as he does in his pass catching. He has excellent hands, good size and good toughness. He doesn't have elite speed or elite athleticism, but anyone who watched ND on a regular basis knows that he gets open and he catches anything in a two yard radius of him. Excellent length and good spring to go up and get the football. If we have a more stable situation at QB this year, with Michael Floyd gone, Tyler could become our number 1 target meaning he surpasses 1,000 receiving yards.

16- David Amerson, CB North Carolina State (ACC) My Draft Projection: First Round

2011 stat line: 59 tackles, 13 interceptions

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I fully expect NC State to have one of the most impressive secondaries in the nation returning three starters including Amerson who set the ACC and NC State interception record last year with 13. He has that excellent skill set of size, speed and the ability locate and make a play on the football. Will we need a cornerback next year early in the draft? probably not unless something happens unexpectedly. However Amerson has elite upside and if he can continue to improve this year, he could be one of the first cornerbacks taken next year. My thought howeer is that his skill set directly relates to a safety, and if we need a safety with ball skills, drafting a 6'3 200lb CB with record setting interception totals, may not be the worst idea.

17- Bjoern Werner, DE Florida State (ACC) My Draft Projection: Second Round.

2011 stat line: 37 tackles, 11 for a loss, 7 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

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Another guy who is an all around impressive prospect. I didn't see much of Bjoern last year, but what I did see was his strength and ability to get off blocks to stuff the running lanes. When I checked his stats, I was a little surprised to see 7 sacks, as that is not a bad number for a guy who is known for his ability to shut the run down. If he can improve with some pass rushing moves and continue to be dominant in run defence, he could be one to watch in next years draft class.

18- Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan (Big10) My Draft Projection: Second Round

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Taylor Lewan is an intersting prospect who started at left tackle last year. He is big at 6'8 and pushing over 300 lb's. He did have a problem early in his career with penalties, however he became a much more refind, smarter player in 2011. He worked with an impressive line that led the way for the impressive Denard Robinson rushing attack. He is still a little bit of a project, but if he can improve his feet he has the talent and strength to be a starting NFL tackle. It's a big year for Lewan this year, he is a fan favourite over in Michigan and has a Nick Mangold type personality to match his toughness.

19- Alex Okafor, DE Texas (Big12) My Draft Projection: First Round

2011 stats: 58 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

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I really like Alex and think he has elite talent, I thought he had a lot more sacks last year. He spent the majority of 2010 at defensive tackle which was out of need rather than choice, you wouldn't put a guy with the first step of Okafor on the inside. He has excellent speed around the edge and causes Big12 offensive lines all sorts of problems. He made the right decision coming back to Texas for his senior year as with another year playing DE opposite Jackson, he could have numbers off the charts at the end of the year. He is an impressive athlete who could play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 and it's that kind of versatility that may have the Jets interested next season. Definitely another paiting to watch with interest in 2012.

20- Robert Lester, S, Alabama (SEC) My Draft Projection: First/Second Round Selection

2011 stats: 36 tackles,2 interceptions, three pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble

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I think 2012 is a massive year for Robert, not only will he need to improve his numbers, but with all the players leaving Alabama in the 2012 draft, he is now one of the leaders on the team. I like Lester but I like Reid and McDonald more as safety prospects for the Jets. I like his ability as a centre fielder, I like that he is always around the ball. I don't like that sometimes he can take some bad angles and his tackling needs to get a little better, and his play at the line is a little erradic. I think the overall talent on the Alabama defence has gone down, this could mean that it either makes it harder for Lester, or he looks good in a defence that doesn't quite have the elite talent of the 2011 team.

Well I hope you enjoyed that, it is a little longer than I actually wanted it to be. There are a lot more players that you should be keeping an eye on for the 2013 draft, we'll go through these on a week to week basis though. Here are just my pre-season picks for players I'll be keeping a close eye on in relation to the Jets.

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