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Intrigue surrounds top NFL draft prospects

04/23/2013 2:54 PM ET
By Matt Hughes

Matt Barkley's draft ranking took a hit after a disappointing senior season at USC.(AP)
The 2013 NFL draft is shaping up as one of the most unpredictable in league history. 

The talent pool is deep, but lacking in elite prospects at the very top, particularly at the quarterback position. Leading up to the 2012 draft it was a foregone conclusion that quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were can't-miss talents and would be selected No. 1 and 2 respectively. Teams in need of a QB picking at the top of this year's draft will not have that luxury. 

Still, the intrigue of the NFL draft never disappoints. Make no mistake, future players that will help teams win Super Bowl championships will be in the mix when the draft kicks off on Thursday. Between the personal storylines, and teams trading up and down maneuvering to build a contender, the draft is always great theater. 

Despite all the uncertainty, these 10 players should help set the tone for the 2013 draft class:

1) Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M 
Widely considered the best player in the draft, several mock drafts have the Kansas City Chiefs selecting the offensive tackle with the No. 1 overall pick. Joeckel combines great strength and excellent technique and projects as an immediate starter in the NFL. 

2) Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Barkley likely would have been a top-five pick in 2012 if he had declared for the draft after his junior season at USC. But after struggling through a disappointing senior campaign, Barkley has a lot to prove. It's doubtful he'll sneak into the first round, but still look for Barkley to go high, possibly in the second or third round.

3) Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU 
Ansah has been a revelation leading up to the draft. The supremely talented defensive end showed flashes of brilliance late in his senior season and wowed scouts at the Scouting Combine. Ansah, a native of Accra, Ghana, only began playing football as a sophomore at BYU. After toiling on the practice squad for the better part of two seasons Ansah had a breakout season as a senior and rocketed to the center of the NFL Draft universe as a likely top-10 pick.

4) Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Arguably the best running back prospect in this year's draft class, Lacy was an impact player in Alabama's blowout victory over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game. Lacy is strong, shows great quickness and has been coached the fundamentals by the best staff in the country at Alabama. 

5) Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Few players in recent memory have come into the NFL Draft with as much intrigue as Manti Te'o. After a stellar senior season at Notre Dame the wheels came off for the talented linebacker in the high profile off-the-field identity scandal that brought his character into question. On the field, Te'o was exceptionally good as a senior -- when Notre Dame beat Oklahoma late in the season and virtually locked up their spot in the BCS Championship Game, it looked as if Te'o could do no wrong. But after playing poorly and looking over-matched against Alabama in the BCS title game, many NFL scouts have questioned whether or not Te'o has the speed and size to be an impact starting linebacker in the NFL. 

6) Geno Smith, QB, West Virgina
Smith's stock has risen steadily since the 2012 college season ended and he is considered among the best quarterback prospects in this year's draft. He is accurate, has good speed and fits the mold of the trendy read-option style offense that took the league by storm last year. 

7) Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
A converted tight-end, Jordan has made a name for himself on defense and is one of the draft's top rated defensive players. NFL scouts like his speed and the ability to line up at different positions. Jordan is projected to be one of the first defensive players to come off the board.

8) Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina 
The gifted running back suffered two knee injuries during his time at South Carolina, including the brutal injury that ended his college career during his junior season. Because of the uncertainty around his injury it's doubtful he will be taken very high, but a team is likely to pick Lattimore in the middle rounds and hope for a full recovery.

9) Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah 
A heart problem kept him from participating in the Scouting Combine, but Lotulelei has since been cleared medically for football. The stout defensive tackle is physical and can dominate at the line of scrimmage. Some have questioned his motor on the field, but Lotulelei is still projected as a first round selection and one of the top defensive players in the draft.

10) Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama 
Another fundamentally sound player from Alabama, Milliner has all the tools of an impact NFL cornerback. He has great ball skills, shows good instincts and is a physical player on the line. Milliner could be the first defensive back taken. 

Honorable mention: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney might have been the No. 1 pick in this year's draft if not for NFL eligibility rules that require players to be at least three years out of high school before entering the draft. Clowney, a physical specimen, is NFL ready now and will no doubt go quickly in next year's draft. 

The 2013 NFL Draft starts at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday.  

Follow Matt Hughes on Twitter: @hughesmatt

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