NFL Mock Draft 2013: Preseason Look at the First Round
The NFL season hasn't started yet, but that won't keep fans from looking ahead to see which players they could potentially be looking at in the 2013 NFL draft.
If you're a fan of the Arizona Cardinals, you may catch yourself peeking in at Logan Thomas or Matt Barkley this fall. Miami Dolphins fans can spend their Saturdays watching Robert Woods and Keenan Allen dominate in the Pac-12.
The season may not be here yet, but it's never too early to look ahead. With the draft order based on my most recent power rankings, here's a look at the first round of the 2013 draft.
Note: Only projected juniors and redshirt sophomores are listed. Not all eligible players are included in this version.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Logan Thomas, Quarterback, Virginia Tech
The Arizona Cardinals are more than one stud quarterback away from winning a division title, but this is at least a great start.
Logan Thomas is almost a combination of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, but with much more upside. Like Kolb, he's mobile (albeit much more so) and able to make plays on the move. Like Skelton, he's big with a strong arm and very good downfield accuracy. Put them together with the upside that Thomas brings and the Cardinals are immediately better.
Thomas will fight all season with Matt Barkley (USC) and Tyler Wilson (Arkansas) for the top quarterback spot, but as of now, he's the No. 1 guy.
2. Cleveland Browns
David Amerson, Cornerback, North Carolina State
The Cleveland Browns are in a position where they are loaded with young players at most positions. They're not in a position to give up on quarterback Brandon Weeden, nor do they need an offensive tackle here, so the most logical pick is to go best available.
David Amerson is the best college football player you've probably never heard of. His 13 interceptions during the 2011 college football season sets a new record in ACC play. But Amerson's not just a ball hawk (although he is very good at that), he's also a willing and able tackler.
Amerson's size, ability to play the ball and his man cover skills will make him the highest drafted cornerback of all time.
3. Miami Dolphins
Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver, Cal
When the Miami Dolphins come on the clock in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, it should be no surprise when they announce the pick is a wide receiver.
The Dolphins are woefully thin at wide receiver, and with a young quarterback (Ryan Tannehill), they need playmakers who can separate from defenders and catch the ball consistently. Right now, that's missing.
Keenan Allen is one of the most exciting offensive players in college football. He has the size to match up against bigger cornerbacks, but the agility to work inside and outside on routes to get open in space. Allen's also a deadly run-after-catch player who has worked some out of the backfield at Cal.
4. St. Louis Rams
D.J. Fluker, Offensive Tackle, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams finally gave up on former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith, shipping him to the New York Jets in a preseason trade. That means the team needs a new right tackle, and maybe a new left tackle too.
In the interim, Harvey Dahl can slide over and play right tackle. He did this some in his last season with the Atlanta Falcons, and he didn't do too bad of a job. That said, Dahl's naturally a right guard, and the team wants to get him back to his natural spot as soon as possible.
Fluker's a bit raw at this point, but betting on him to make a big jump during this season is logical. He's big, athletic and comes from a system that's developed great offensive linemen in the past. With Fluker's athletic ability and upside, the Rams would love to spend one of their first-round picks on the blue-chip tackle prospect.
5. Oakland Raiders
Matt Barkley, Quarterback, USC
Carson Palmer may be good enough for the Oakland Raiders to get by at the position for another year or two after the 2012 season, but Palmer turns 33 years old this December and is on a short-term projection as the team's starting quarterback.
While Palmer is still capable, the team should start looking ahead to the future. Some may think Terrelle Pryor is that guy based on one good preseason outing, but he's not. Matt Barkley, however, could be.
Barkley is a traditional passer with the accuracy, arm strength and intelligence to run a pro-style system and succeed for the long haul. With Oakland's young talent at receiver and along the offensive line, the Raiders are an elite quarterback away from getting back to the playoffs.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Sam Montgomery, Outside Linebacker, LSU
You can never have too many pass-rushers in today's NFL. Especially when you run a 3-4 defense that's built on getting to the quarterback.
The Indianapolis Colts can live with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney as starters for now, but Freeney isn't a great fit for the 3-4 scheme, and he's reaching a point in his career where he's on the decline. Bringing in college football's best pass-rusher to learn behind Freeney before taking over full-time is the type of smart move the Colts have been making all summer.
Montgomery may not get as much attention as teammate Barkevious Mingo, but he's the better all-around player and as such is much more likely to hear his name called in the top 10 picks of the 2013 draft.
7. New York Jets
Tyler Wilson, Quarterback, Arkansas
Like it or not, the New York Jets' quarterback situation isn't good.
Mark Sanchez doesn't have the best talent around him right now, but outside the right tackle position, his offensive line is good enough to allow time for Sanchez to find targets. Sure, the receivers are either malcontent (Santonio Holmes), raw (Stephen Hill) or unproven (Chaz Schilens), but Sanchez's accuracy and placement are all over the place.
What the team can do is start over. Maybe that means Mike Tannenbaum goes too, but a change needs to happen.
Arkansas' Tyler Wilson has the prototypical look of an NFL quarterback. He's big, strong-armed and has the accuracy to fully execute a pro scheme. You won't see Wilson throwing balls into the dirt two yards in front of his receivers, that's for sure.
8. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins)
Robert Woods, Wide Receiver, USC
With their second pick in the first round, the St. Louis Rams need to add a target for Sam Bradford. Badly.
The team drafted Brian Quick and Chris Givens in 2012, but both are raw and far from a sure-thing. Robert Woods may not be a sure thing either, but he's coming to the team with a much more proven record and higher upside.
Woods is an interesting mix of a route-runner and a speed guy. If his ankle is healthy, and it should be, Woods can not only get separation with crisp routes, but he's fast enough to stretch the field and/or make plays after the catch. Few college wide receivers leave school as polished as Woods is.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle, Utah
The top-rated defensive tackle in the nation isn't a huge need for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they also can't let him slip by.
The Bucs are hoping Gerald McCoy really takes off this year and lives up to his draft stock (No. 3 overall in 2010). McCoy hasn't become the up-field penetrator the team needs him to be, but there's still time for him to shake past injuries and step up to the plate. Even if McCoy has a breakout season, Star Lotulelei is needed.
Lotulelei is a massive man with a deadly first step. In Greg Schiano's defense, Lotulelei can play either nose tackle or down in a three-technique as a pass-rusher. His versatility, speed and strength make him an instant upgrade over Roy Miller and Amobi Okoye.
10. Minnesota Vikings
Barkevious Mingo, Defensive End, LSU
The Minnesota Vikings may not need a defensive end on paper, but when you have the chance to draft Barkevious Mingo, you take that chance.
Jared Allen is one of the best defenders in football, and he has his side locked down. The team likes Brian Robison's athletic ability, but we're still waiting for his breakout season. If Robison is average again in 2012, Mingo could be a nice option as a third-down pass-rusher early on and a full-time defensive end once Allen starts to slow down.
11. San Diego Chargers
Ricky Wagner, Offensive Tackle, Wisconsin
Over the last season, Philip Rivers has struggled. It's time to fix the talent around Rivers instead of asking him to play with a rag-tag offensive line. Drafting Ricky Wagner is a major upgrade.
Wagner is a natural left tackle who could easily swing to the right side, where he may be a better fit in the NFL. What's guaranteed is that Wagner would be an upgrade in talent and potential over current right tackle Jeromy Clary.
Rivers ultimately needs more time in the pocket, and adding Wagner to the team goes a long way in beefing up Rivers' protection and opening more holes in the run game.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker, Georgia
Fans in Jacksonville are going to love this one. Jarvis Jones is one of the most terrifying players in college football. Adding him to an already stout defense gives the Jaguars something to be very excited about.
Jones would step into the role Clint Session's injuries have opened up opposite Daryl Smith. With Smith, Paul Posluszny and Jones, the Jaguars would have one of (if not the) best 4-3 linebacker corps in the game.
Jones is much like Von Miller in that he could play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme—it's all dependent upon how the team uses him. As an outside linebacker, Jones will bring a matchup quality that few teams can game-plan for.
13. Seattle Seahawks
Marcus Lattimore, Running Back, South Carolina
If he's healthy, Marcus Lattimore has a chance to do Trent Richardson-like things in the months leading up to the 2013 NFL draft.
That's no hyperbole. Before Lattimore went down with a knee injury during the 2011 season, he was rated as a top-15 prospect on my big board. Had he stayed healthy and been eligible for the 2012 draft, Lattimore would have given Richardson a run for his money.
Like a hybrid between Adrian Peterson and Richardson, Lattimore is big and physical, but quick in and out of cuts and an able receiver. As long as his knee holds up and then checks out healthy at the NFL Scouting Combine, Lattimore will be a very high draft pick.
14. Carolina Panthers
Jackson Jeffcoat, Defensive End, Texas
The Carolina Panthers have done a great job rebuilding this team after a 2-14 season in 2010. Cam Newton and a loaded backfield anchor the offense, while Jon Beason, Charles Johnson and Chris Gamble are stars on defense. There's still room to improve.
The team could look at right tackles, but until we see how Byron Bell or Bruce Campbell look, it's too early to jump the gun on that position. One area where an upgrade is needed is at defensive end. For all his talents, Greg Hardy has never developed into a top-line starter or pass rusher.
Jackson Jeffcoat plays right defensive end for Texas, and his size and speed are unreal. Son of former NFLer Jim Jeffcoat, Jackson has the quickness and flexibility to play in a two-point 3-4 or three-point 4-3 scheme. Carolina will be happy to let him attack the backfield, no matter if his hand is in the dirt or not.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Sean Porter, Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M
The Anthony Spencer days are over.
The Dallas Cowboys weren't planning on making Spencer their long-term solution at outside linebacker, evident by the one-year franchise tender they placed on him. The team will use the 2012 season to evaluate Victor Butler as a potential replacement, but when the 2013 draft rolls around, Jerry Jones may be tempted to swing for the fences.
Sean Porter will be compared to Von Miller a lot in the next year. The two Texas A&M linebackers are similar in their abilities, but Miller was much more explosive than Porter. That's not to say Porter won't be a stud, he has that upside, but folks expecting Von 2.0 should slow down their expectations.
16. Tennessee Titans
Barrett Jones, Guard/Center, Alabama
Know this: The Alabama football team will be heavily represented in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Up first, Barrett Jones.
The Tennessee Titans are in a good spot with two elite tackles and a potential Hall of Famer at left guard. The center and right guard play is a little less optimistic. Leroy Harris and Fernando Velasco aren't exactly striking fear into the hearts of AFC South defensive lines.
Jones has the classic strength and agility to play guard or center. You may think this draft position is too high for him, but consider he's also played tackle at Alabama. Jones' athletic ability and versatility will be an underrated aspect of his scouting report. The Titans would be lucky to have him.
17. Denver Broncos
Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama
Champ Bailey has defied logic in the NFL, but that can't last forever. Bailey remains one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but at 34 years old, there will be a regression coming. The Denver Broncos need to plan for it.
Dee Milliner is the more talented of the Alabama defense's 2011 cornerbacks. He didn't receive the hype of Dre Kirkpatrick—drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals—but he's the better football player. Milliner is the physical, aggressive cornerback the Broncos need to learn from Bailey in his final years.
18. Detroit Lions
Alex Okafor, Defensive End, Texas
The Detroit Lions have Cliff Avril for one more year, and then they have to pay him if they want to keep their premier pass-rusher. With so many young stars on the team, affording to keep Avril may not be possible.
Even if Avril can be kept at a reasonable price, Detroit could use more young pass-rushers. Adding Alex Okafor, a player who could line up at left or right end, would give a fearsome front four an added presence.
Okafor is your prototypical defensive end. He's big enough to play on the strong side, but quick enough to be a blindside rusher off right edge. His stock has the potential to soar this year.
19. Buffalo Bills
Alex Hurst, Offensive Tackle, LSU
The Buffalo Bills are happy with second-rounder Cordy Glenn at left tackle. On the right side, don't be surprised if the team looks to upgrade over Erik Pears when the season ends.
Alex Hurst has the ability to kick over to the left side in a power run scheme, but his best fit will be on the right side once in the NFL. His size and strength are best suited to being a lead blocker in the run game and more of a help blocker when stopping a pass rush.
With Glenn and Hurst anchoring the edges, the Bills' offensive line would be a top unit in 2013.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
Chance Warmack, Guard, Alabama
Here's a player with major room to improve his draft stock over the course of the season. If the Chance Warmack from the two LSU games plays consistently next year, he'll be our top guard prospect for the 2013 class.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted 2012's top guard, David DeCastro, in a move that was widely praised. DeCastro will miss time with a knee injury, but when he returns to form in 2013, the Steelers will have the top two guard prospects in the country lining up next to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.
With Mike Adams, Warmack, Pouncey, DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert on the line, few teams could stop the Pittsburgh Steelers.
21. Atlanta Falcons
Manti Te'o, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame
Losing Curtis Lofton to the New Orleans Saints still hurts. Even if you believe the scheme is more important than the player, the Atlanta Falcons have a major hole at inside linebacker.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff can fix that problem in one quick move: Draft Manti Te'o.
The Notre Dame middle linebacker has unreal speed and lateral agility. For fans who thought Luke Kuechly was an elite prospect last year, wait until you see Te'o running the lanes and making plays for the Fighting Irish.
22. Kansas City Chiefs
Kenny Vaccaro, Safety, Texas
The Kansas City Chiefs are loaded with young talent thanks to Scott Pioli's best offseason as general manager. Now they have to fill holes and improve the overall talent level.
The free safety position is one of the few question marks heading into the season that can be filled realistically here in Round 1. Fans may want defensive ends or a quarterback, but it's too early to pull the trigger on replacing the current starters. Kendrick Lewis at free safety, however, can be replaced.
Kenny Vaccaro has a shot to be drafted at least 10 spots ahead of this. He's college football's best safety—a playmaker who can create turnovers but who also brings a punishing tackling presence to the secondary. Paired up with Eric Berry, Vaccaro would give the Chiefs' secondary a dangerous duo at safety.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Nico Johnson, Outside Linebacker, Alabama
The Philadelphia Eagles addressed their needs well in the offseason, finding a quarterback of the future (Nick Foles) and filling spots on defense that needed to be addressed. With their on-paper needs met, Philadelphia can look ahead to upping the talent level across the board.
One area that stands out is at outside linebacker opposite Mychal Kendricks. Brian Rolle and Akeem Jordan are solid, but neither has the potential to become an elite player at the position. Nico Johnson does.
When scouting Alabama's 2012 draft prospects, one player kept showing up on my notes. It wasn't Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw. It was Nico Johnson. His athletic ability on the edge is quickly the first thing you notice, but his technique is already at an NFL level. He brings play-making ability, strong upside and very good initial understanding for a first-year player.
Johnson's stock could shoot up this year now that he's the main focal point in the Alabama defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
T.J. McDonald, Safety, USC
There aren't a ton of needs for the Cincinnati Bengals, but they could stand to upgrade at strong safety. Taylor Mays may be a hard-hitter, but once the team sees him in coverage, he'll be back on the second team.
T.J. McDonald should receive All-American consideration at USC this year and a first-round draft grade coming out. McDonald is the ideal strong safety: tough, has the range to run alleys and make plays outside the hashes and a good cover man when locked up with a tight end.
McDonald isn't a can't-miss player, but he's very close to it.
25. New York Giants
Tyler Eifert, Tight End, Notre Dame
The New York Giants are hoping that Martellus Bennett can replace Jake Ballard's importance in the offense while picking up catches that Mario Manningham took with him to San Francisco. Bennett is a very good blocker, but an underrated receiver at this point. He's also signed to a one-year deal.
Should Bennett not work out, or even if the Giants want to transition to a two-tight end set, they need more bodies here. Tyler Eifert would be an upgrade over Bennett while providing more depth and athleticism in the base offense.
Eifert isn't a great blocker, but he's a talented route-runner who can line up in-line or in the slot. His versatility makes for matchup problems across the board.
26. New Orleans Saints
William Gholston, Defensive End, Michigan State
The play of William Gholston can be tough to evaluate, as it varies week-to-week. If the 2013 draft has a version of Quinton Coples, Gholston is that guy. He can be dominant, flashing the athletic ability of a top-five pick, but he can also take plays off and play without discipline. Determining which version of Gholston will transition to the NFL will ultimately decide his draft status.
What's known is that, when Gholston is on, he's a terror against the backfield. His range and length make him an ideal candidate to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, and his quickness in the first few yards will make him a treat for NFC South offensive linemen who are already dealing with Cameron Jordan on one side of the Saints' line.
27. Baltimore Ravens
C.J. Mosley, Inside Linebacker, Alabama
Ray Lewis looks as good as ever, but after 17 years in the NFL, everyone has to be wondering how much longer he can last. The Baltimore Ravens' front office needs to be thinking that hard and heavy when the draft rolls around.
The team has a potential stud in Jameel McClain, but a potential replacement (and I use that word loosely) for Lewis isn't on the roster. No one can replace Ray Lewis, but there's not anyone here who can even step in.
C.J. Mosley fits the mold the Baltimore Ravens follow: big school, big-time production and a solid track record of excellence in college. He has the body of work and potential as an athlete to make general manager Ozzie Newsome (an Alabama alum) get excited.
28. Chicago Bears
Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews is an intriguing prospect and is a player who could shoot up draft boards into the top 10 by draft day. It will be telling to see how Matthews looks without Ryan Tannehill and Cyrus Gray in the backfield, as well as how he does against SEC pass-rushers, but the potential is there for Matthews to take the top tackle spot by April.
29. Houston Texans
Kenny Stills, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
The Houston Texans feel good about their young crop of receivers, and they should. But how they feel about Andre Johnson's future could determine what direction they go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
Johnson missed time during the 2011 season with hamstring injuries, and now he's missed time in the 2012 preseason with more nagging injuries. Johnson has been elite for the Texans, but his time may be nearing an end if he can't shake the leg injuries.
With or without Johnson, Houston could look to upgrade at wide receiver. Kenny Stills will give the team a top-level prospect with the size and speed to be a downfield threat opposite Johnson—something the team has never had.
30. Green Bay Packers
Knile Davis, Running Back, Arkansas
If you think Cedric Benson is the long-term answer for the Green Bay Packers at running back, think again. And if you think Alex Green or James Starks is the answer, I'll remind you that they just signed Benson.
The Packers offense is dynamic and productive, but it hasn't had an elite running back since Aaron Rodgers took over the offense. That can all change with one draft pick.
Knile Davis missed time during the 2011 season, but he's back healthy in 2012 and has a very good chance to lead the NCAA in rushing. He's a bruiser between the tackles who has enough speed to run away from the defense.
Put him in Green Bay and watch out.
31. New England Patriots
Luke Joeckel, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
A unit that was loaded with depth in the offseason is now looking for warm bodies. The New England Patriots' offensive line needs help, and Luke Joeckel is their type of player.
Joeckel can play left or right tackle, but ideally he slides in on the right side, keeping Nate Solder at left tackle and allowing Marcus Cannon to play a more natural position at guard. Joeckel would give the team a healthy, promising alternative to Sebastian Vollmer moving forward.
32. San Francisco 49ers
Khaled Holmes, Center, USC
The San Francisco 49ers could go many directions in the first round, but the focus for Jim Harbaugh's team has to be improving the passing game. As great as this defense and run game are, the passing game has held them back.
Colin Kaepernick is an exciting option at quarterback, and it's too early to determine if he will become the franchise's answer for the future. What we do know is that the team can upgrade the guy who gets the quarterback the ball every play.
Center Jonathan Goodwin was solid in 2011, but he will turn 34 this season and cannot be counted on as a projected starter for much longer. Drafting a center with pick No. 32 makes the most sense for San Francisco, at least until we can see how Alex Smith and Kaepernick look at quarterback.