With Kansas City’s emotional victory over Carolina, five teams now have a realistic shot at the #1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Two dates to circle on your calendar: Dec. 16 and Dec. 23. The former has the Chiefs traveling to Oakland in what could be Kansas City’s only remaining winnable contest, while the latter features an Oakland/Carolina tilt that is dripping with draft order implications. The Jaguars are also in the mix, but their remaining sked features three very winnable games (Jets, Dolphins, Titans). The beleaguered Eagles, however, have four remaining contests against quality teams fighting for playoff spots (Buccaneers, Bengals, Redskins, and Giants), so they could easily ride a 12-game losing streak to the top of the draft order. It should be a photo-finish, folks.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-10)- Geno Smith QB West Virginia
There will be no filet mignon (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) on ther menu in this draft, but the Chiefs are starving (Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn), so they’ll happily settle for a deluxe cheeseburger (Geno Smith).
2. Jacksonvile Jaguars (2-10)- Star Lotulelei DT Utah
In the wake of all of those first-round swings and misses that helped doom the James Harris and Gene Smith regimes, the new GM in Jacksonville would be wise to simply make sure that he makes solid contact when it’s the Jaguar’s turn at bat next April. Lotulelei isn’t a sexy prospect, but he’s a relatively safe pick and could satisfy an immediate need for a run-stuffing anchor to replace Terrance Knighton.
3. Oakland Raiders (3-9)- Matt Barkley QB USC
I’ve had Barkley hanging out near the top of the second round for a while now, but I’m beginning to get the feeling that he will slowly work his way back toward the top of the draft. Should Barkley play in the Sun Bowl, he’ll have a golden opportunity to revitalize his declining draft stock against Georgia Tech’s porous defense. He could head into pre-draft workouts with some upward momentum.
I’m aware of the list of failed Trojan QB prospects that goes all the way back to Paul McDonald, but Barkley is not your typical, selfish, prima donna QB that USC has developed a reputation for producing. Barkley is humble, intelligent, and charitable. He couldn’t be any more different than Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer. Barkley should easily impress NFL decision-makers.
Palmer’s performance has been the least of Oakland’s problems this season, but he remains emblematic of the Al Davis Raiders. Reggie McKenzie seems intent on redefining the image of this organization. Drafting Barkley would serve as a bold statement. While Barkley has his obvious limitations, he’s a much better fit in Oakland’s WCO than the robotic Palmer.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-9)- Manti Te’o ILB Notre Dame
If Te’o steps up in the National Championship game the way that he’s been stepping up all season, we may have to start taking Mel Kiper’s talk of the #1 overall selection a bit more seriously.
Philadelphia’s soft defense is in for a major overhaul. DeMeco Ryans is a solid run-stuffer, but his 2010 Achilles injury has rendered him a liability in coverage. His contract escalates to $6.6 million next season. That may be too much to pay a two-down linebacker on a rebuilding team. Te’o could step in immediately at MLB and provide the leadership and physicality that this unit desperately needs.
5. Carolina Panthers (3-9)- Luke Joeckel OT Texas A & M (Jr.)
Stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross has struggled this season, and the injuries are coming more frequently as he approaches 33-years old. He’s due $8.8 million next season. If he doesn’t agree to a pay cut, he could be history.
The Panthers may have more pressing needs at DT and CB, but Carolina will only go as far as Cam Newton can take them. They should jump at the opportunity to secure the only legitimate franchise LT in the ’13 class.
6. San Diego Chargers (4-8)- Jake Matthews OT Texas A & M (Jr.)
Regardless of who’s calling the shots in San Diego’s war room next April, shoring up the offensive line should be their top priority. LT Jared Gaither cannot be counted on to stay in one piece, and RT Jeromey Clary isn’t worth the $5.7 million he’s due in 2013.
It’s not a given that Matthews will declare, but if he does, he should be a hot commodity. He’s a plug ‘n’ play RT with the potential to guard the blindside.
7. Cleveland Browns (4-8)- Dee Milliner CB Alabama (Jr.)
Haden and Milliner…Dixon and Minnifield for a new generation.
8. Tennessee Titans (4-8)- Bjoern Werner DE/OLB Florida State (Jr.)
Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley aren’t as awful as advertised, but they are not elite, and there’s no depth at DE. Werner’s versatility and upside make him too valuable to pass up here.
9. Arizona Cardinals (4-8)- Damontre Moore OLB Texas A & M (Jr.)
Arizona fans desperate for that franchise QB or LT will hate this pick, but I think that Moore would be a perfect fit at ROLB in Ray Horton’s Blitzburgh-inspired scheme.
Jones’ spinal stenosis condition and average measureables threaten to torpedo his draft stock. I’ll keep him hanging around the border of the top ten until the Combine offers more clarity.
11. Buffalo Bills (5-7)- Tyler Wilson QB Arkansas
I’m betting that Wilson uses the Senior Bowl as a launching pad into the top 15, a la Christian Ponder in 2011. Wilson offers the smarts, arm strength, and nifty feet to effectively trigger Chan Gailey’s Pistol attack.
12. New Orleans Saints (5-7)- Johnathan Hankins DT Ohio State (Jr.)
The Saints will be doing some extensive remodeling on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Hankins and Akiem Hicks could step in at DT for underachieving, undersized incumbents Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis to improve New Orleans’ 32nd-ranked run defense.
13. Miami Dolphins (5-7)- Dion Jordan OLB Oregon
A pass-rushing complement to Cameron Wake is an underrated need in Miami. Jordan’s versatility would make him an excellent fit in Kevin Coyle’s flexing scheme.
14. New York Jets (5-7)- Chance Warmack OG Alabama
It appears that Rex Ryan will return to the Big Apple next season, which means more “Ground and Pound”. Warmack would be an instant starter at LG and has the look of a perrenial Pro-Bowler.
15. St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)- Cordarrelle Patterson WR Tennessee (Jr.)
Chris Givens is emerging as a nice deep threat, but the need for a true #1 WR remains. Patterson could be the undisputed #1 WR in this draft class before long.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)- Xavier Rhodes CB/FS Florida State (Jr.)
A physical press corner who could thrive in Bill Sheridan’s aggressive scheme. Rhodes is dripping with potential.
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