1. Kansas City Chiefs- A.J. McCarron QB Alabama (Jr.)
Just like the Redskins in the ’12 NFL Draft, the Chiefs absolutely cannot leave Radio City Music Hall without a franchise quarterback in tow. The question is no longer whether Geno Smith or Matt Barkley is worth the first overall pick. Smith is potentially a franchise QB, but #1 seems a reach at this point. Barkley is more Jimmy Clausen than Andrew Luck. The new question is whether there’s a college QB who could emerge late and fill the void at the top of the 2013 NFL Draft, ala Sam Bradford in 2010.
The answer is as obvious as a punch in the mouth, yet most of us have overlooked it. It’s not Tyler Bray or Tyler Wilson. It’s definitely not Logan Thomas. It’s McCarron. He isn’t a noodle-armed Alabama game-manager like Jay Barker or Greg McElroy. McCarron is a former blue-chip recruit with ideal size, deadly accuracy, a strong-enough arm, and a Manningesque feel for the game. He has ample experience in a pro-style offense and is carved from wood thanks to brutal SEC competition and weekly practices vs. a defensive unit that might make a few NFL teams envious. Most importantly, he’s a flat-out winner. What’s not to like?
Also considered: QB Geno Smith, DT Star Lotulelei/Johnathan Hankins…In the event that K.C. swings a trade for a young veteran QB with some upside (Ryan Mallett, Kirk Cousins, Matt Flynn), the next order of business for the new Chiefs braintrust would be to let Pioli mistakes Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson hit the bricks. The D-line could be in need of rebuilding.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars- Jarvis Jones OLB Georgia (Jr.)
The Jags are last in the NFL in sacks…again. It seems that I’ve been typing the previous sentence since the days of Jeff Lageman and Tony Brackens.
Gene Smith is a dead man walking in Jacksonville, so it’s unclear who will be calling the shots in the war room come April 25th. One of Smith’s fatal flaws during his tenure in Jacksonville has been his habit of getting too cute with his Draft Day decisions, i.e., reaching to fill needs (Tyson Alualu) and investing too many premium picks on slow-to-develop small school guys (Will Rackley, D’Anthony Smith, etc.). Whoever the new GM may be, he would be wise to distance himself from his predecessor’s mistakes by simply selecting the BPA. Jones is arguably the top prize in the 2013 NFL Draft and the most explosive pass-rushing prospect. Need meets value.
Also considered: QB Geno Smith…Blaine Gabbert has been a disappointment, but in fairness to him, he’s been given very little to work with and is barely 23 years old. Aside from anomalies like Luck and Griffin, it usually takes three years to get a solid read on a young QB. Gabbert has showed some improvement and even a little grit this year. Let’s give the kid a healthy shoulder, more to work with, and one more season before we put him on a cross. DE/OLB Damontre Moore…I still think that Jones is the top pass-rusher available, but Moore is nipping at his heels. DT Star Lotulelei/Johnathan Hankins…Terrance Knighton has one foot out the door and first-rounder Alualu has been a relative disappointment. The Jaguars have no hope of competing with Houston in the AFC South if they can’t stop the run.
3. Cleveland Browns- Geno Smith QB West Virginia
Tom Heckert seems convinced that Brandon Weeden is the long-term answer at QB. Whether Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner agree and whether Heckert is still around in ’13 remain to be seen.
Weeden has flashed some promising glimpses, but, overall, his season has been defined by the typical struggles of a rookie QB. The problem is that Weeden is not your typical rookie QB. Taking into consideration the three-year learning curve for the average QB, Weeden will be 31 years old and in physical decline just as he’s expected to blossom. There just may not be enough light at the end of the tunnel to satisfy Haslam/Banner. In the wake of Holmgren and Heckert’s tragic refusal to simply bite the bullet and move up for RG3 in the ’12 Draft while they had the chance, I have a hard time imagining that Haslam/Banner wouldn’t push for Geno Smith if he’s available.
Also considered: DE/OLB Damontre Moore…The close runner-up. Moore could serve as run-stopper Frostee Rucker’s tag team partner for a little while before taking over the RDE job full-time. DT Star Lotulelei/Johnathan Hankins…There’s no need for a DT in the Browns 4-3 scheme, but who’s to say that Haslam/Banner won’t clean house this offseason? Maybe the new D-coordinator installs the 3-4, in which case a D-line of Lotulelei or Hankins/Rubin/Taylor (with Winn in reserve) would have the potential to dominate the LOS. ILB Manti Te’o…Remaining with the hypothetical 3-4 scenario, how about Te’o as D’Qwell Jackson’s inside partner? Inside linebacker is traditionally a low-value position, but Te’o is truly exceptional.
4. Carolina Panthers- Star Lotulelei DT Utah
Nobody will ever confuse Carolina’s “Edwards Wall” with the Minnesota’s old “Williams Wall”. Ron and Dwan Edwards are journeymen stopgaps on the wrong side of thirty. Lotulelei could be the interior disruptor the Panthers have lacked since parting ways with Kris Jenkins. With Lotulelei the designated bull in a china shop and a healthy Jon Beason teaming up with Luke Kuechly to form a deluxe clean-up crew, the Carolina defense could be cooking with gas in 2013.
Also considered: DE/OLB Damontre Moore…Greg Hardy has really stepped up opposite Charles Johnson, but Moore still has to be a consideration. Never enough pass-rushers. DT Johnathan Hankins…Hankins is every bit the disruptor as Lotulelei, but there seems to be a growing sentiment that Lotulelei is the safer prospect of the two. Expect a photo-finish in the pre-draft race for the #1 DT ranking.
5. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)- Luke Joeckel OT Texas A & M (Jr.)
Barry Richardson…Wayne Hunter…Chris Williams…the Rams have been scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of warm bodies to occupy the OT spots on their depth chart this season. Rodger Saffold is no great shakes when he’s healthy (which is rarely).
Recent whispers have Joeckel potentially emerging as the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. If no QB emerges from the pack, Joeckel could pull a Jake Long 2008. That kind of value and the pressing need for a blindside protector in St. Louis makes a Joeckel/Rams marriage a deluxe no-brainer at #5. Even if the Redskins win a few more games and drop the Rams out of range to grab Joeckel, the Rams could reverse their 2012 Draft strategy and trade up for Joeckel come Draft Day.
Also considered: None
6. Tennessee Titans- Matt Elam S Florida (Jr.)
Tennessee’s safeties are awful. There’s no way on earth that SS Jordan Babineaux will be around to collect the $1.6 million he’s due in 2013, while ’07 first-rounder Michael Griffin is on very thin ice at FS. Robert Johnson is a helluva blues player, but not a starting NFL safety.
An aggressive, do-everything whirlwind cut from the Earl Thomas mold, Elam is a rapid riser. He would make an instant impact in a Tennessee secondary sorely in need of a tone-setter.
Also considered: DE/OLB Damontre Moore…Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley have come on as the season has progressed. Despite lingering criticism, Morgan has been quietly productive (3rd in NFL in TFL). DT Johnathan Hankins…Talented youngsters Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin are an unheralded duo. ILB Manti Te’o… I suppose that you could move Colin McCarthy to the weakside to make room for Te’o, but the Titans didn’t invest a 2nd-rounder in Zach Brown to have him ride the pine.
7. Cincinnati Bengals- Manti Te’o ILB Notre Dame
The high-profile All-American from the Big School…Te’o just strikes me as a Mike Brown first-rounder. It just so happens that Te’o would also help fill one of Cincinnati’s greatest needs. Undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict has been the Bengals best linebacker this season…and it’s not even close. ‘Nuff said.
Also considered: DE Damontre Moore…Michael Johnson, Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap comprise a nice rotation at DE, but Johnson and Geathers are free agents after the season and Dunlap is due to hit the open market in ’14. DT Johnathan Hankins…Domata Peko is overrated, but Cincy just drafted Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
8. Oakland Raiders- Damontre Moore DE/OLB Texas A & M (Jr.)
The Oakland interior D-line is a poop sandwich. My first instinct was to slot Johnathan Hankins here and call it a day. I decided against it for two reasons; firstly, GM Reggie McKenzie seems intent on rebuilding the Raiders with high-motor guys. I love Hankins’ upside, but “high-motor guy” isn’t a phrase that comes to mind when I watch him play. Secondly, Oakland already has a gap-shooting DT-in-waiting in current DE Lamarr Houston (6-3/305).
What the Raiders really need is a dominant pass-rusher. Through eight games, the Oakland defense has amassed a measly 11 sacks (2nd-worst in the NFL). Jarvis Jones may be the most explosive pass-rusher in this draft, but Moore’s motor, consistency, and elite production (#1 in the SEC in sacks & TFL, #1 among FBS D-linemen in tackles) could push him ahead of Jones as the pre-draft process unfolds. Moore has an On/On button, which should appeal to McKenzie. Moore’s versatility should intrigue DC Jason Tarver, who likes to employ a wide variety of alignments.
Also considered: DE/OLB Bjoern Werner…The runner-up. DT Johnathan Hankins, CB Dee Milliner…A lot depends on whether Michael Huff remains at CB.
9. Buffalo Bills- C.J. Mosley ILB/OLB Alabama (Jr.)
Buffalo’s selection will hinge on whether GM Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey are retained after the season. Owner Ralph Wilson has been preaching patience in Buffalo, which is surprising when you consider that he’s at an age (94) where “next year” isn’t guaranteed. Nix is married to Ryan Fitzpatrick (who should really be holding a clipboard), but a new GM could mean a new QB. That makes Matt Barkley a consideration when mocking the Bills pick, but I just don’t think that Barkley is worth a top-ten spot…or even a first-round pick. A more likely scenario is Buffalo trading up from the second round into the late first round if they like Barkley enough.
Buffalo’s defense has been historically awful through half a season. Dave Wannstedt’s predictable scheming…injuries and underachievment from free-agency prizes Mario Williams and Mark Anderson…painful inexperience at cornerback…there’s plenty of fault to go around. The main culprits, however, have been the linebackers. They simply can’t get off blocks and are regularly chewed up and spit out in coverage. Upgrades are needed.
Mosley is the alpha dog of Alabama’s dominant defense and arguably it’s best player. He’s wildly productive, versatile, and perhaps the best coverage LB since Derrick Brooks. I think that Mosley could make a Jerod Mayo-type rise as the draft nears. Buffalo is a logical landing spot.
Also considered: QB Matt Barkley, WR Justin Hunter…Hunter’s upside is tempting, but the Bills already have an injury-prone track guy with a case of butterfingers in T.J. Graham. DE/OLB Bjoern Werner…Chris Kelsay could be a cap-casualty in ’13 and there are no guarantees with Mark Anderson. CB Dee Milliner…Terrence McGee won’t return in ’13 and Aaron Williams has regressed. Consecutive first-round SEC corners is a possibility for Buffalo.
10. Philadelphia Eagles- Johnathan Hankins DT Ohio State (Jr.)
Honestly, I don’t believe that Hankins will slip this far or that the Eagles will be drafting at #10. Philadelphia will actually be drafting higher.
The train has come off the track in Philly. Vick is a lost cause and the only alternative at QB is an untested rookie. The O-line has been a dumpster fire and now the best of the bunch (Herremans) is out for the season. Chronic eyebrow-tweaser Jason Babin has lost his LDE job to Brandon Graham. The Asomugha signing has been a disaster. The best player on the team (McCoy) doesn’t get enough touches because the soon-to-be-fired HC still labors under the delusion that the WCO is undefensable. This is a team with no chemistry, antiquated schemes, overrated talent, and a lame-duck coach. Things will only get worse.
Cullen Jenkins will never see that $1 million bonus he’s due in March. Mike Patterson was recently activated from the PUP, but his future is tenuous following brain surgery. Rookie DT Fletcher Cox is the only DT certain to be salvaged when the inevitable overhaul begins next season. A Hankins/Cox interior duo could be the cornerstone of the defensive rebuilding.
Also considered: QB Matt Barkley…Vick is history. The new GM may want his own guy and not Foles. DE/OLB Bjoern Werner…Babin could be a cap-casualty and Trent Cole isn’t getting any younger. CB Dee Milliner…Asomugha is expensive and in decline. The Eagles don’t seem in a hurry to offer DRC a contract extension. He may bolt after this season.
**Because of the length of the draft, the remainder will be out in separate pages, so not to disturb the load time of one large mock draft.