2013 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Regular Season NFL and College Football Edition
With the NFL season set to kick off, a few things are coming into focus.
Some teams have the look of a hapless franchise in the middle of a multi-year rebuilding plan, while others are still firing on all cylinders. Some are adjusting well to new personnel and coaches; some are still a work in progress, and an early 2013 NFL draft order can be divined from these outward indicators.
Likewise, the first weekend of college football is upon us, and going in we can have a good idea of who sits atop the draft class—at least before the games are played. Put these together, and we can peer into the future and try to guess what kind of help teams will get in the first round of next year's NFL draft.
1. Indianapolis: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
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There is no clear No. 1 offensive tackle right now, so this is a projection of Luke Joeckel playing up to his potential in the ultimate proving ground: the SEC.
The Colts could be better than expected this year with Andrew Luck, but I project that they will still have the first overall pick because so much of the team is a work in progress. The offensive line has gotten very little attention in the early rebuilding process, so a pick like Joeckel makes sense—both in terms of need and in order to protect Luck, their franchise player.
Joeckel's opener this weekend against Louisiana Tech has been postponed because of Hurricane Isaac.
2. Miami: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
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The Dolphins have the worst wide receiving corps in the league, and it's not even close. Recent draft picks like Clyde Gates and B.J. Cunningham didn't make the cut in this mediocre group, which shows you how bad of a job GM Jeff Ireland has been doing at evaluating wide receiver talent over the last few years.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs a real No. 1 receiver to be a success, and Hunter can absolutely be that player—that is, if his torn ACL is healed and he has all of his speed and explosiveness back by the time NFL teams are poking and prodding him during the pre-draft process.
Hunter started this season off very well on Friday night when he had nine catches for 73 yards in the Volunteers' victory over N.C. State.
3. St. Louis: Keenan Allen, WR, California
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Brian Quick has been coming on, but he might not be an instant savior of the passing game in St. Louis. Even if he is, the team is still without an all-around wide receiver that can be a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
Keenan Allen has shown the skill to be the kind of pass-catcher a quarterback leans on in all situations, and he would give the Rams a terrific set of big, young receivers when paired with Quick. The Rams have enough needs that this will be a pick that continuously changes in most mock drafts, but you can be sure the pick will stay within the top five-to-seven picks because of all of those needs. They could even have two top-10 picks if Washington falters, as they do in this mock.
Allen opens against Nevada this weekend.
4. Cleveland: David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
The Cleveland Browns are likely going to have an entirely different regime in place under new owner Jim Haslam.
This pick could be a quarterback if the decision-makers are not sold on Brandon Weeden, but the team will also have a chance to land an elite cornerback to pair with Joe Haden, which would give them possibly the best young tandem in the league. The Browns focused on the offensive side of the ball with their three top-40 picks in this year's draft, so look for them to bolster the defense next year.
David Amerson struggled to contain Tennessee's Justin Hunter in the team's opener on Friday night, but he is still one of the top corners in the nation nonetheless.
5. New York Jets: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
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I know the Jets have some quality players on the defensive side of the ball, but a circus of an offseason has turned into a farce of a preseason. They looked like the worst offense in the league, regardless of who the quarterback was: Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow.
I have trouble seeing the team muster more than a handful of wins with the mystique of their defense worn off and an offense that could create more points for the opponent than they do for themselves. If it's going to be bad, Jets fans should hope that it's really bad so they can clean house and draft early enough to land a franchise quarterback prospect like Matt Barkley.
The No. 1 quarterback heading into the 2013 NFL draft should put on a show this weekend against Hawaii.
6. Oakland: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Oakland was in the mix for the division title heading into the month of December last year, but that was without Peyton Manning, Eric Berry or Jamaal Charles to contend with in the division.
This year is looking bleak for a team that is in rebuilding mode under new head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie. The reality is that Carson Palmer could be a liability with his $28 million price tag over the next two seasons. The Raiders should take advantage of what will likely be a weak draft class overall, but one with a strong quarterback crop.
Wilson might be the best downfield thrower of this class, and he's an underrated athlete. He gets to tune up against Jacksonville State this weekend.
7. Dallas: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
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The fans up in Big D don't want to hear it, but this year's Cowboys are trending in the wrong direction already. The entire middle of the offensive line is in flux, and the No. 6 overall pick from April's draft, Morris Claiborne, doesn't look ready for prime time quite yet.
The interesting twist is that Tony Romo will be a free agent in 2014, and he's already 32 years old. Will Jerry Jones break the bank for a quarterback who has won one career playoff game? Probably not if he can get a big, athletic, strong-armed passer like Logan Thomas in the first round.
Thomas has a prime-time opener on Monday night against Georgia Tech.
8. Arizona: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
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The quarterback run in the top 10 continues, as Bray will land on a team that just named their starter at quarterback on Friday—by far the latest announcement of any team in the league this preseason.
John Skelton could seize the job for good, but we are just as likely to see the team turn to 2012 fifth-round pick Ryan Lindley in desperation by the end of the season. The young, hungry defense and talented wide receiver tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd aren't going anywhere without a quarterback to lead them, and if he settles down in his decision-making, Bray could be that guy.
Bray showed off his terrific skills on Friday night, when he went 27-of-41 with 333 passing yards and two touchdowns in a victory over N.C. State.
9. Minnesota: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
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This is about the farthest I see the monstrous Star Lotulelei falling next April, but with a glut of quarterback prospects and quarterback-needy teams, he could fall to the Vikings.
The Rams and Browns don't need a defensive tackle and should be among the first teams picking in the draft, which also could contribute a slide for the next coming of Haloti Ngata. The Vikings used to have one of the premier defensive tackle pairs in the league, and Lotulelei will get them back on that track instantly.
The Utes open against Northern Colorado this weekend before getting into the Pac-12 portion of their schedule.
10. St. Louis (from Washington): Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
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The Rams have the luxury of addressing two major needs in the first round this year, even though they have many more needs than that.
The No. 2 overall draft pick from 2009, Jason Smith, was traded to the New York Jets for the equally inept Wayne Hunter, completing that regrettable chapter in the franchise's history. Faulk is a big left tackle who can move well and allow the team to have some flexibility at the position if Rodger Saffold fits better at right tackle. The team has to address the offensive line early, and the Redskins pick is likely to be in a good spot for an intersection of value and need at offensive tackle.
Faulk's Tigers get a warm-up game against North Texas this weekend.
11. Jacksonville: Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
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It might be time to stop writing a quarterback's name beside the Jaguars in 2013 NFL draft mock drafts.
Blaine Gabbert is showing signs of life, and the team's defense is already among the better units in the league. Terrance Knighton was set to be Tyson Alualu's partner well into the future, but his eye injury this offseason has put his contract extension in danger, opening up the possibility of the team taking a behemoth of a nose tackle like Hankins in the first round next year.
The Jags have a strong running game, and they could have an adequate passing game. A dominant front seven fits the team blueprint to get them back into playoff contention.
The Buckeyes and Hankins open with Miami (Ohio) this weekend.
12. Tampa Bay: Robert Woods, WR, USC
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This is about as high as I can see the Buccaneers picking next April. That is not because I don't think new head coach Greg Schiano can improve the team, but it's because I'm not sure that he can improve them enough to be better than any of the other top three teams in the division this year.
If 2010 rookie sensation Mike Williams regains his form this year, a choice of Woods might be unnecessary; but so far Williams has been invisible in the preseason. A technician like Robert Woods is a perfect complement to deep threat Vincent Jackson, and he should be on the board for the Buccaneers unless they have a surprise winning season.
Woods and his Trojans get to fatten up on Hawaii this weekend.
13. Tennessee: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
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I expect the Titans to contend for a wild-card spot this year, but Jake Locker might not be ready to get this team that far...yet.
One piece that could help immensely is a versatile and battle-tested offensive lineman like Barrett Jones. He can line up literally anywhere on the offensive line, giving the team some versatility and depth in addition to an instant starter. The Titans can use the help on the interior of the offensive line, especially in the running game.
Jones and his teammates open against the Denard Robinson-led Michigan Wolverines in the marquee matchup of Week 1 of the college football season.
14. Carolina: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
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The Panthers would have to be doing cartwheels if an end of Montgomery's caliber fell to them in next year's draft. I can see the Panthers pushing for a wild-card spot, or even the division, but the margins are razor-thin in the NFC.
Whether or not they are successful this year, they'll need to go back to the well at defensive end unless Greg Hardy gets his head on straight this year. Montgomery is one-half of the most talented pass-rushing duo that is eligible for the 2013 NFL draft (the most talented overall is in South Carolina), and he would join Charles Johnson to make a fearsome duo in Carolina.
He'll get a chance to flex his muscles against North Texas this weekend.
15. San Diego: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
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The Chargers had an extremely talented 3-4 outside linebacker prospect fall into their laps in the mid-first round this year, and history could repeat itself in 2013.
Their top pick in last April's draft, Melvin Ingram, is a great all-around player who is versatile enough to line up at defensive tackle and drop into coverage, but he is not an elite speed-rusher from the edge. That is exactly what Jarvis Jones is best at, and pairing the two together would make the Chargers defense set at OLB for a long time.
Jones is probably ranked higher on a lot of big boards, but if Dallas opts to go elsewhere in this scenario, he would tumble through a long string of 4-3 teams.
The Bulldogs will get the kinks worked out against Buffalo this weekend.
16. Cincinnati: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
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Taylor Mays is going to get his chance this year, but if he doesn't succeed, the Bengals could look back to the Trojans program in order to get his replacement.
Whether they pick in the teens or the 20s, they should be in great position for an excellent safety propsect. It's hard to project such a young team taking a step back, but the Steelers and Ravens are relentless and tend to overachieve, while the Bengals have never had back-to-back playoff appearances. Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton will have to show a lot of growth this season to avoid a mediocre record.
T.J. McDonald opens in sunny Hawaii this weekend.
17. New Orleans: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
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The Saints are going to be in a tooth-and-nail fight in every NFC South game, including games against the Falcons' new high-flying passing game. They'll need to treat their nickel corner as a starter, much in the way every team that faces them has for the last few years.
Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson have the top spots locked down, but general manager Mickey Loomis would be smart to draft another corner next year. It's hard to pick six playoff teams in the NFC and not leave a deserving team—or three—out of the picture, so the Saints draw the short straw in this mock. They are vulnerable without head coach Sean Payton this year.
Xavier Rhodes' Seminoles open at home against Murray State this weekend.
18. Detroit: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
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LSU might have the best pass-rushing duo in the nation, but the Texas Longhorns aren't far behind. Like the Tigers, Texas has a prospect who fits well in a 4-3 scheme as an end, and could also do well as a 3-4 OLB prospect for the pros.
Okafor is the bigger end who can even slide inside to defensive tackle, and he fits the bill for a Lions team that might have trouble getting Cliff Avril back in the fold after he becomes a free agent—assuming they don't pay him an exorbitant franchise tag number again next year.
Like the Saints in the No. 17 slot, it is difficult to put the Lions on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but they still have issues on defense and their running back corps is already deteriorating.
Alex Okafor gets Wyoming at home in Austin this weekend.
19. Seattle: Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M
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With all of the talk about dynamic duos, we have to give some love to the Texas A&M offensive tackles. If Luke Joeckel has a good enough year to get the first overall pick, right tackle Jake Matthews should be able to ride his coattails into the first round.
Matthews also has the bloodlines from his dad, Bruce, and the power game to attract a team like Seattle in the top 20. The Seahawks are definitely good enough to get into the playoffs, if rookie Russell Wilson is up to the task, so they could be moving down this list in the future.
The Aggies are off this weekend after Hurricane Isaac postponed their game with Louisiana Tech.
20. Denver: Eric Reid, S, LSU
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One of the hardest decisions that I'm forced to make every time I put together this mock is whether to put the Broncos or Chiefs atop the AFC West. I'm not totally sold on Peyton Manning being his old self, and I believe that the Chiefs are the more talented team on both sides of the ball. I still believe the Broncos will be good, though, and will have a winning team this season under Manning.
One of their downfalls could be a safety group that has been in shambles since Brian Dawkins left. Reid could fix that with his terrific all-around game punctuated by physicality.
He'll get to knock around the North Texas Mean Green this weekend.
21. Buffalo: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
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This might be a hard pick to swallow because Ryan Fitzpatrick has done a good enough job to guide the Bills to the playoffs in this scenario. I believe the improvements at defensive end and the return of injured cornerstones like Eric Wood and Kyle Williams can give the team enough of a boost to make the playoffs, while Fitzpatrick's limitations are still exposed this season.
Geno Smith has the best combination of mental toughness, accuracy and the ability to make all of the throws in this class. He is going to be a steal for a team in the late-first round if his lack of athleticism and reputation don't help him break into the elite quarterback prospect tier.
The Bills and head coach Chan Gailey can't pass on a quarterback who could really unlock the potential of their spread offense.
The Mountaineers open with the Marshall Thundering Herd this weekend.
22. Philadelphia: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
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The Eagles reloaded the secondary after dealing Asante Samuel away by drafting underrated slot corner Brandon Boykin this year. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hitting free agency next year, they could go back to the SEC to get tenacious cover Johnthan Banks.
In a division with Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, you can never have enough quality cornerbacks. I see the Eagles making the playoffs as long as they don't bizarrely collapse with big leads like they did last year—but Michael Vick still might keep them from advancing past the wild-card round.
Banks knocks off the rust against Jackson State this weekend.
23. Pittsburgh: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
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The Steelers had one of the most hopeful classes of the 2012 draft, but they have already seen their first- and third-round picks suffer catastrophic knee injuries, and their second-round pick can't beat out Max Starks.
Perhaps putting them as a one-and-done team in the playoffs is too optimistic, but I have split the difference by giving them a player who should go at least five-to-10 picks earlier if initial big board rankings hold.
James Harrison is approaching the end of his career due to his myriad of injuries and surgeries, the latest to remove irritation behind his kneecap. Look for the Steelers to target their next great rush linebacker unless Jason Worilds or Chris Carter find their game this year.
Mingo will be eating a North Texas Mean Green salad this weekend.
24. Chicago: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
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The Bears would have likely made the playoffs if Jay Cutler had stayed healthy last year, and hopefully the addition of 2011 first-round pick RT Gabe Carimi will go a long way toward ensuring that this year.
The left-tackle spot is still a big problem, and it will probably keep the Bears from going deep into the playoffs. They would be fortunate to add a hard-nosed left-tackle prospect like Taylor Lewan, but no matter where they pick in the first, the Bears should be looking to upgrade the offensive line. This spot could just as easily be given to the Detroit Lions or New Orleans Saints because the NFC is that tight.
Lewan will try to lead his Wolverines past the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide this weekend.
25. Atlanta: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
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Picking 25th might not seem like that much progress for the Falcons, but at least they'll return to the playoffs in a very difficult NFC side of the bracket where they will either win the division or a playoff game in this scenario.
The defense lacks the teeth for the Falcons to be a major threat to go farther, but a non-stop motor athlete like Werner could get the call in the first round if 2011 free-agent signing Ray Edwards continues to fail to live up to his $30 million contract. The offensive line would also be a target area for the Falcons, as they return to the first round after not having one in 2012 due to the Julio Jones trade.
Werner will be chasing around Murray State Racers offensive players this weekend.
26. Kansas City: William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
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The Chiefs will get back their best offensive and defensive player this year, and that should be enough to get them back to the playoffs as long as Matt Cassel can stay healthy, too.
The Chiefs could look to draft an upgrade over Cassel in the first round, even if they make the playoffs, but trying to make up for the poor picks of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson on the defensive line is the first order of business in this version of the 2013 NFL draft.
Gholston is a massive 6'6", 278-pound defensive end who could play inside or outside, much like Quinton Coples, the Jets' first-round pick this year.
Gholston's Spartans squeezed out a victory over the always tough Boise State Broncos in their opener on Friday night.
27. New York Giants: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
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It's very reasonable to project a letdown season for the Giants in 2012, as they get set to defend last year's Super Bowl championship. After all, the last time they won, they were one-and-done in the playoffs the following year. It's not even outlandish to project them to miss the playoffs altogether with the strength of the NFC from top to bottom this year.
In this scenario, the Giants return to the playoffs as division winners, but still get dismissed in their first game. One of the weaknesses they could look to address in the first round would be inside linebacker, where the Giants have been searching for a keeper for seemingly forever. Te'o is a perfect fit, and the way that inside linebacker is devalued could see him fall into the 20s.
His Fighting Irish face the pesky option attack of Navy this weekend.
28. New England: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
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The rich get richer, as the Patriots decide to go for a feature back after years of tinkering with running back by committee. Stevan Ridley is adequate, and Shane Vereen could make some plays if he is ever able to stay healthy, but as New England inches closer to the end of the Tom Brady era, installing a true workhorse back will help with the eventual transition.
Lattimore looked like he was most of the way back to his old self in the season-opening win over Vanderbilt, making it safe to slot him in the first round in early mock drafts. His 100-plus-yard performance and two touchdowns announced his presence to the rest of the SEC as well as all of the other potential Heisman Trophy contenders.
29. San Francisco: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE/OLB, Texas
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The 49ers came tantalizingly close to reaching the Super Bowl last season, only to barely fall short to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship.
Aldon Smith has one side of the pass rush held down, but Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson aren't striking fear into the hearts of the opposition on the other side. The 49ers could look to land a speed-rusher like Jeffcoat to give their pass rush the other pincher it has been lacking. Jeffcoat should benefit from playing opposite another first-round talent in Alex Okafor this season for the Longhorns.
The Longhorns' pair of aces at defensive end will be chasing around Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith this weekend.
30. Houston: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
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The Texans cut right tackle Eric Winston this offseason in a money-saving move, but they could regret it if the turnover on their offensive line keeps them from getting to the Super Bowl.
Lucky for them, right tackle is not a premium draft position, and they can still get one of the best in the draft even if they go deep into the playoffs. Fluker is used to blocking for outstanding running backs, and he could make Arian Foster even better.
The Crimson Tide offensive line will attempt to steamroll the Michigan Wolverines defense this weekend in the best game of the opening weekend of college football.
31. Green Bay: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
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There's some excitement in Green Bay about what a possibly rejuvenated Cedric Benson could add to the Packers running game. After getting a taste of a power runner this year, the Packers get a back who is just about everything Benson was coming out of Texas when they make their first-round selection.
Eddie Lacy is the next in a line of outstanding Crimson Tide backs, combining power, moves and burst to give the offense a workhorse who can also make big plays.
His coming-out party starts this weekend against Michigan. When the nation sees just how good Lacy is, it will make them realize that Trent Richardson truly was a once-in-a-generation back that kept a talent like Lacy on the bench.
32. Baltimore: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
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Finally, the Ravens get past their bitter AFC rivals and make it to the Super Bowl. Once they're there, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs (who could be healthy enough to suit up in the playoffs) won't let the Lombardi Trophy escape their grasp.
In the most coveted 32nd spot of the first round, Baltimore can take another nightmarish player to put next to Suggs and Haloti Ngata on the defensive line. Margus Hunt is a 6'8", 280-pound defensive end who is still getting the hang of American football. He'll be disruptive at the next level whether his game becomes polished or not.
Hunt will terrorize the Baylor offense in the first game of the post-RG3 era this weekend.