1. Kansas City Chiefs – Geno Smith QB West Virginia
A lot of things could happen between now and draft day. The Chiefs might let free agent LT Brandon Albert walk, then go the safe route with Luke Joeckel at #1. Perhaps there will be an Andy Reid/Michael Vick reunion in Kansas City. A stopgap solution at QB like Alex Smith or Matt Flynn could be acquired. Maybe Mike Glennon will send his draft stock into the stratosphere with a phenomenal showing in Mobile. Each scenario is possible, but until one of them comes to pass, I won’t deviate from my Chiefs/Geno Smith prediction.
The runner-up: OT Luke Joeckel…Joeckel is the cleanest prospect in this draft, but even a crocodile-infested moat surrounding the pocket wouldn’t make Brady Quinn or Matt Cassel any better. Finding a franchise QB is the top priority in Kansas City.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Luke Joeckel OT Texas A&M (Jr.)
With Eugene Monroe entrenched at LT, there’s no need for Joeckel in Jacksonville, but a team like the Cardinals, Chargers, Dolphins, or Rams could be intent on moving up for Joeckel’s services. The Jags should be frantically working the phones on draft day.
Here’s the bottom line: There will almost positively be a trade within the top three picks of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Chiefs, Jaguars, and Raiders have no need for a left tackle, yet Joeckel is too valuable to slip to #4.
The runner-up: DT Star Lotulelei…The Jags could use a dominant interior force to anchor the defense, but why not move down the board, draft Sheldon Richardson or Johnathan Hankins, and pick up some extra picks in the process?
3. Oakland Raiders – Damontre Moore DE/OLB Texas A&M (Jr.)
If Joeckel makes it past Jacksonville, then it’s the Raiders, down their 2nd and 5th rounders thanks to the Carson Palmer and Aaron Curry trades, who will be feverishly working the phones in an attempt to trade down. If Joeckel is gone, Oakland should stay put and draft an impact defender.
Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei could be considered here, but Oakland already has some promising interior options in Lamarr Houston and Desmond Bryant. Dee Milliner could be a darkhorse, but drafting a corner for a team with no viable edge-rushers would be putting the cart before the horse.
The Raiders finished with an embarrassing 25 sacks in 2012, so I’m guessing that it will come down to Damontre Moore and Bjoern Werner here. Both are high-motor pass-rushers that should appeal to GM Reggie McKenzie. I’m giving Moore the nod due to his superior versatility and athletic upside. Moore’s SEC experience doesn’t hurt, either.
The runner-up: DE Bjoern Werner
4. Philadelphia Eagles – Star Lotulelei DT Utah
I doubt that Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins will be returning next season. That would leave Fletcher Cox all by his lonesome on Philadelphia’s defensive interior. Cox is a fine interior pass-rusher, but the Eagles could really use a classic space-eater to free up that gaggle of edge-rushers and keep DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks clean. Lotulelei (6-3/320) would be perfect in that capacity.
The runner-up: CB Dee Milliner…If Asomugha is released and DRC makes his expected exit during free agency, Milliner could emerge as the front-runner here. I’m guessing that Asomugha restructures his contract and the promising Brandon Boykin is given first dibs at #2 CB if/when DRC bolts.
5. Detroit Lions – Dee Milliner CB Alabama (Jr.)
I’ve been predicting that the Lions will draft a DE at #5 for a while now, but it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned reevaluation.
It appears that Cliff Avril wants to stay in the Motor City, and the Lions should do whatever it takes to oblige him. Avril isn’t an elite pass-rusher, but he’s far-and-away the best that Detroit has to offer; losing him would be an enormous step backward for the organization. If the Lions restructure or release KVB (due $5 million in ’13) and Corey Williams (due $4.9 million), they may be able to keep Avril in the fold. In that case, DE would no longer be a desperate need, and Martin Mayhew could simply take the best player on his board. Milliner could easily be that player.
Milliner cemented his status as the premier corner in this draft with an excellent performance in the BCS championship. He’s the tall, physical presence that the Lions need to combat the likes of Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson in the NFC North.
The runner-up: OLB Jarvis Jones…If Jones can allay the concerns regarding his spinal stenosis during the predraft process, he could easily jump into the top-five mix.
6. Cleveland Browns – Barkevious Mingo OLB LSU (Jr.)
With Rob Chudzinski now running the show in Cleveland, San Diego DC John Pagano and his 3-4 scheme could be on the way. LDE Jabaal Sheard might be capable of making the transition to LOLB in the 3-4, but Frostee Rucker and F.A. Jaqua Parker would be awkward fits. There’s a good chance that the Browns will sign a 3-4 OLB like Shaun Phillips, Anthony Spencer, Paul Kruger, or Connor Barwin during free agency, but if they don’t, they should be targeting one here.
I don’t like Bjoern Werner as a full-time 3-4 OLB, so this pick comes down to Mingo, Dion Jordan, and Jarvis Jones. Jones’ medical concerns put him out of the running for now. Mingo and Jordan are similar prospects; tall, rangy ‘tweeners with the athletic ability to excel in coverage. I’m sky high on Jordan’s potential, but a little SEC experience could take “Kiki” a long way in a tie-breaker scenario.
The runner-up: OLB Dion Jordan, but don’t sleep on QB Mike Glennon…If Milliner is off the board and the Browns sign a veteran 3-4 OLB during free agency, they would probably be looking to trade down to a better value spot for a target prospect like Johnthan Banks or Manti Te’o. However, if Glennon lights it up at Mobile, the Browns could have interest in the gangly ginger. Chudzinski and Norv Turner like to get vertical in the passing game, which plays to Glennon’s strengths. Incumbent Brandon Weeden is no slouch in the arm-strength department, but the new regime may want their own guy under center.
7. Arizona Cardinals – Sheldon Richardson DT Missouri (Jr.)
I haven’t forgot about the QB situation in Arizona. I thought about Mike Glennon and Tyler Wilson here, but I’m guessing that Kevin Kolb restructures his contract in order to make his ’13 cap hit more palatable. GM Steve Keim should be on the lookout for a developmental QB on the draft’s second day.
Malcontent Darnell Dockett has worn out his welcome in the desert. The lack of a suitable heir apparent on Arizona’s roster may be the only reason that Dockett wasn’t traded in 2012. The Cardinals need to trim a lot of fat from their roster if they want to be players during free agency, and Dockett’s $4.5 million ’13 salary is one inviting slab of fat. If they can trade him this offseason (the Patriots could be interested), the Cards are off the hook for $4 million in ’13.
Richardson offers the quickest first step among this year’s class of DTs. He’d be the ideal replacement for Dockett.
The runner-up: OLB Dion Jordan…Incumbent ROLB O’Brien Schofield is mediocre and injury-prone. Arizona should look for an upgrade.
8. Buffalo Bills – Bjoern Werner DE Florida State (Jr.)
The need for a QB is obviously at the forefront in Buffalo. Mike Glennon or Tyler Wilson could justify a top-ten selection by knocking it out of the park during Senior Bowl week, but in my eyes, they’re second-day prospects until they prove otherwise in Mobile, so I won’t force them into my top ten just yet. For those draftniks who are thinking about connecting the obvious dots and forcing Ryan Nassib to the Bills in the first round of your mock draft – don’t do it. Take it from an Orange backer; Nassib is as gritty and intelligent as they come, but he’s nowhere near a first round talent. Rivals ranked Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, and Matt Barkley as five-star, pro-style QBs coming out of high school; Nassib was a two-star prospect. There’s a reason for that.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett do bang the table for Nassib, but he’ll be available in the second round. This pick ought to be reserved for an impact defender.
New DC Mike Pettine is ordinarily a 3-4 guy, but he’s flexible enough to work with what he’s given, so I anticipate some form of a 4-3/3-4 hybrid. Don’t expect the Bills to limit their draft board to 3-4 defensive prospects only. While I don’t like Werner standing up at 3-4 OLB exclusively, he’s capable of doing it on occasion, and would be a vast upgrade from Buffalo’s mediocre, expensive, and injury-prone platoon of Chris Kelsay and Mark Anderson at RDE.
The runner-up: OLB Jarvis Jones…If doctors give Jones the green light during predraft medical evaluations, this could be his floor.
9. New York Jets – Dion Jordan OLB Oregon
Dead weight like Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas will be thrown overboard into the river Styx as the Jets attempt to paddle their way out of salary cap hell this offseason. That will leave the likes of Garrett McIntyre and Ricky Sapp atop the depth chart at the OLB spots. In a division where Tom Brady sets the standard, that won’t fly. Jordan’s versatility and rare athleticism are exactly what the Jets need at OLB, and would allow Rex Ryan to get more creative with his blitz packages.
The runner-up: DT Johnathan Hankins…The Jets struggled mightily vs. the run in 2012, and fading veteran NT Sione Pouha could be a cap casualty. Hankins could help the Jets regain some of their “run the ball/stop the run” identity.
10. Tennessee Titans – Chance Warmack OG Alabama
For any chance at success in 2013, the Titans need to get Chris Johnson on track and keep Jake Locker healthy; adding Warmack could be huge in both regards.
Normally, I wouldn’t even consider a guard in the top ten, but this draft is muddled at the top, and Warmack is exceptional. If I had to choose one prospect from the ’13 class to ultimately emerge as a Hall-of-Famer, it would be Warmack. Unless Tennessee emphatically addresses their interior O-line during free agency, this pick could be Warmack’s floor.
The runner-up: None…If the Titans aren’t interested in Warmack, I’m guessing that they’d look to trade down to a better value spot for a safety like Kenny Vaccaro.
11. San Diego Chargers – Eric Fisher OT Central Michigan
Jared Gaither is a bum and Mike Harris was pitiful when forced into the lineup at left tackle. The Chargers could have enough cabbage available to address the black hole at LT during free agency, but I doubt that guys like Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert, Will Beatty, and Jermon Bushrod will make it to the open market. Jake Long might be San Diego’s only realistic option. The Chargers should just sit tight and grab Fisher. A natural left tackle dripping with upside, Fisher is capable of sealing off Philip Rivers’ blind side upon arrival.
The runner-up: CB Johnthan Banks…A tall, SEC-hardened corner to replace soon-to-be ex-Charger Quentin Jammer.
12. Miami Dolphins – Johnthan Banks CB Mississippi State
The frustratingly inconsistent Sean Smith is the best that the Dolphins have to offer at CB, and he may not return in 2013. DC Kevin Coyle prefers physical press corners, so Banks may have to show a little more nasty in Mobile to warrant this selection.
The runner-up: CB Xavier Rhodes…Rhodes’ physicality could make him a better fit in Coyle’s scheme than Banks, but the Jim Thorpe-winner’s SEC experience, high character, and consistent production makes him the safer pick…for now.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Xavier Rhodes CB Florida State (Jr.)
Tampa Bay’s current CB depth chart features a bunch of practice squad-types like E.J. Biggers, Leonard Johnson, and Danny Gorrer. Unless the Bucs bag a free agent like Brent Grimes or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, this pick almost has to be a corner. Rhodes is relatively new to the CB position and needs some refinement, but his length, athleticism, and aggressive nature make for shutdown corner potential.
The runner-up: OLB Jarvis Jones…If the Bucs address their need at CB during F.A., they could target Jones to fill the void at SLB. Dominik and company will have to be convinced that Jones’ spinal stenosis won’t compromise his NFL longevity.
14. Carolina Panthers – Johnathan Hankins DT Ohio State (Jr.)
DTs Ron and Dwan Edwards comprise the worst starting duo in the NFL, and the Panthers, currently $12 million over the salary cap, probably won’t have the resources necessary to go shopping for upgrades during free agency. Mocking anyone to Carolina other than Big Hank would be overthinking things at this point.
The runner-up: DT Sharrif Floyd…If Hankins can’t convince teams that his engine won’t get stuck in neutral upon a big payday, Floyd has the potential to leapfrog him in the DT rankings during the predraft process.
15. New Orleans Saints – Jarvis Jones OLB Georgia (Jr.)
Jones’ medical concerns make me too nervous to slot him near the top of the draft, yet he’s just too talented and productive to banish to the bottom of the first round. Smack-dab in the middle of the first round is the perfect “Goldilocks” compromise for now. The Saints need to improve team speed on defense and amp up their pass rush, making Jones a logical pick.
The runner-up: DT Sharrif Floyd…A versatile, interior disruptor to replace 1st-round washout Sedrick Ellis.
16. St. Louis Rams – Cordarrelle Patterson WR Tennessee (Jr.)
Ideally, the Rams would sign a veteran free agent like Dwayne Bowe or Mike Wallace to complement the young trio of Givens, Quick, and Pettis, but I’m not sure if that will be fiscally possible this offseason. Patterson could be Plan B. He’s the most gifted WR in the ’13 class, but may come with a red flag or two. GM Les Snead won’t be afraid. St. Louis’ manic trade action and selection of Janoris Jenkins in the ’12 Draft proved that Snead is far from timid. Snead’s aggressive nature and an extra first-round pick make St. Louis a logical candidate to trade up for Luke Joeckel, or even Eric Fisher.
The runner-up: RB Eddie Lacy…Steven Jackson may or may not return in ’13, and his tires are nearly bald. A strong, downhill rushing attack is essential to Jeff Fisher, who has had some success with workhorse runners named Eddie.
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