With college football entering conference play and the NFL in full swing (now with real refs!), it's a great time to start identifying which NFL teams need help and which college players can help fit those needs.
As with any mock draft done in September, these aren't predictions. Of course things are going to change. The draft order, the order of players and team needs are all going to change (in many cases, drastically) between now and April. It's the nature of the game and we love it.
However, that doesn't mean these exercises are useless. It's fun to think "what if" the draft happened tomorrow and it's fun to throw opinions out there about what each team needs and see how readers respond. Every once in a while, a few of these might hit or be awfully close.
Most of all, it's important to continue to "take the temperature" of all 32 teams as we go throughout the season and fine-tune the lists of college players. The work put in today informs what we know in April.
So, without further ado: With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft....
1. Oakland Raiders, Geno Smith, QB West Virginia
The trade for Carson Palmer was a huge mistake, and replacing Palmer needs to be one of the first points of order for new general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Geno Smith is a fantastic prospect and quickly rising up draft boards. He's got a strong arm, is ridiculously accurate and can make plays with his feet. Look for Smith to be in Heisman contention after the NCAA season and (if he hasn't already) turn plenty of heads at the scouting combine.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars, Tyler Wilson, QB Arkansas
If the Jaguars are picking this high, it should cost Gene Smith his job, and that means Blaine Gabbert's job is no longer safe. Gabbert hasn't been as terrible in 2012 as he was in 2011, but there's still little on tape that would make anyone think Gabbert is the QB of the future.
Wilson isn't quite the athlete that Gabbert was, but his arm is stronger and he makes much better decisions with the ball. The drama at Arkansas and Wilson's injury will not be kind to Wilson's draft status, but expect a strong pre-draft season for this prototypical passer.
3. Cleveland Browns, Keenan Allen, WR California
The Browns could be looking at a new front office/coaching staff after the season as well, but Brandon Weeden may have another year or two to prove himself, even at his age. Whoever is under center, he'll need another weapon to succeed.
Keenan Allen has all the physical tools and the polish to step right to the top of the Cleveland Browns depth chart. He's big, tough, has decent top end speed and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. Allen and current rookie Josh Gordon would be quite the pair.
4. Tennessee Titans, Johnathan Hankins, DT Ohio State
The Titans have one of the worst rushing defenses in the league, and the fault rests solely on the shoulders of Jurell Casey (who's been terrible this season) and Sen'Derrick Marks (who has been injured.)
Hankins is a freak athlete for his size and can play either nose or undertackle in a 4-3. For the Titans, he will help the run defense immediately, but also free up pass-rushers like Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan with great interior pressure.
5. Indianapolis Colts, Barkevious Mingo, OLB Louisiana State
The Colts would probably love a shot at either of the two guys above this slot, but "settle" for Mingo who can come in and make sure the Colts pass-rush stays stout as they continue their transition to the 3-4 and as Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney continue to get older.
Mingo is a prototypical pass-rusher and may be the best overall player in the entire draft. He's long at 6-4 and has more than enough athleticism and flexibility to excel in space.
6. Miami Dolphins, Jarvis Jones, OLB Georgia
While the Dolphins need to focus on adding talent to their offense in 2013 and beyond, Jones is too good of a prospect to pass up here. The Bulldog could conceivably upgrade either outside linebacker position (as he played at USC) or solidify defensive end across from Cameron Wake in the Dolphins new 4-3.
Jones led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss last season and would bring both intensity and leadership to the Dolphins defense. He's extremely versatile and is almost as good against the run as he is rushing the passer. Coverage is a work in progress, but he has all the tools.
7. Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Barkley, QB Southern California
From one USC quarterback to another, the Chiefs grab the falling Barkley to help get something, anything from under center. Seriously, the Chiefs have put a solid team together and actually have quite a bit of offensive talent. All they've asked is that Cassel be average, and that burden has been too great for him.
Barkley has long been thought of as the top QB in the 2013 draft class, but he's started to wilt under the spotlight, and concerns about both his arm strength and his ceiling will keep teams wary of trusting Barkley at the very top of the draft. Still, he's mobile, accurate and has a good football IQ, so don't expect him to drop too far.
8. St. Louis Rams, Luke Joeckel, OT Texas A&M
Yes, they've had some injuries, but any team rolling with Wayne Hunter at left tackle and Barry Richardson bracketing him needs to admit they need line help. Sam Bradford hasn't overcome his sophomore slump quite yet, but it's hard to blame him when you look at the talent around him and the scrubs blocking for him.
Like other top tackles of recent years, Joeckel is right outside of that "once-in-a-generation"/elite tackle category, but has all the tools to lock down the left side of any line. With a great frame and a solid base, Joeckel can dominate in the run game and keep quarterbacks clean from the pass rush.
9. Minnesota Vikings, Sam Montgomery, DE Louisiana State
It was only a few years ago that the Vikings had an embarrassment of riches along the defensive line, but they are middle-of-the-pack in both rushing defense and sacks after an era of traditionally being among the best in the NFL at both. Jared Allen is 30 and Kevin Williams is 32. The problem is only going to get worse.
Ten years ago, Montgomery would've been a top-five pick, if not top one. He's long, strong and freakishly athletic. Although Mingo is a better fit for a 3-4 defense, Montgomery could conceivably do either. Here, the Vikings ask him to put his hand (and opposing quarterbacks) in the dirt.
10. Buffalo Bills, Dee Milliner, CB Alabama
The Bills added Stephon Gilmore last April, but their pass defense still looks lackluster. If a team is going to beat the Patriots, it needs more bodies to match up with all of those weapons. If the Bills are able to add an impact linebacker, that might fit a bigger need, but this high in the draft with the top CB left on the board, this is a no-brainer.
Milliner has come out of nowhere to look like one of the better CB prospects in a while. He's big, physical, polished and tracks the ball well in the air. He and Gilmore are a perfect tandem to take advantage of that fearsome foursome up front.
11. Carolina Panthers, Star Lotulelei, DT Utah
I banged this drum last season, but it's near-impossible to expect Charles Johnson to play well (regardless of how much you pay him) when teams are free to double team him so often. Until you put better players around him on that defensive line, he will never earn that contract. Same goes with Luke Kuechly, who has dealt with more blockers in three games this season than in three years at Boston College.
Lotulelei looked like a top pick at one point, and he has the ability to get back up there before the season is over. He has all the physical tools and has dominated the competition he has faced in college. The scary part is how little technique he has to use to do so, however, and the biggest question is if he'll learn to be a better tackle in the NFL when his physical ability isn't such an outlier.
12. Arizona Cardinals, Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech
3-0 doesn't change the fact that Kevin Kolb isn't a very good quarterback, and John Skelton isn't the long-term answer either. What 3-0 does mean is that the Cardinals won't have a shot at a "plug-and-play" QB prospect and will have the luxury of taking a guy who may need to sit for a year or two.
Thomas has been tumbling down draft boards this season after some (including this writer) thought he could challenge for the top overall spot. While his play has been poor, he'll have plenty of chances to change the narrative about him the rest of the season and in the pre-draft process, where he will test very well.
13) St. Louis Rams (From WSH), Robert Woods, WR Southern California
After taking Joeckel a few picks earlier, the Rams wouldn't be crazy to take another lineman here, as Bradford's protection has been horrible. With Woods on the board, though, you can understand how the Rams QB might get on the table for a quality target.
Woods isn't in that elite group of receivers we've seen in the past decade. 6'1" is hardly "short," but compared to some of the 6'3" and 6'4" guys that have been dominating, it could keep him from going in the top 10. Still, he's an elite athlete who could dominate as a very good No. 1 or top No. 2 guy in the NFL.
14. New Orleans Saints, Manti Te'o, LB Notre Dame
The Saints added David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton this season, but their linebacking corps has still looked like a weak spot on this team. Add in the age of Scott Shanle and Jonathan Vilma, and Te'o looks like a tremendous pick if he's there.
Last year, Te'o looked like a one-trick pony. He was great in run support, but his pass defense couldn't stop opponents like Michigan or Purdue.
2011-version Te'o would've gotten destroyed in the NFL and may not have been on the field for all three downs, but Te'o has added muscle, dropped overall weight and improved his technique. He looks like an impact player and could rise even higher before draft day.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, David Amerson, CB North Carolina State
Ronde Barber is getting older and Eric Wright is just not that good. Tampa Bay has already given up 1,000 yards of passing this season, and lack of talent in the defensive backfield is a huge reason why (even with the selection of Mark Barron in the 2012 draft.)
Amerson has lost some luster so far this season, but we know he has great size and we know that he has great ball skills. Those are marketable skills for NFL teams, and even with Amerson's struggles, he will command a lot of attention.
16. Chicago Bears, Chance Warmack, OG Alabama
The easy joke here is that the Bears need a lineman Jay Cutler can't push around, but the truth is that they need a guy opposing defensive tackles can't push around. Warmack adds a polished pass protector to the Bears' line and stops teams from collapsing Cutler's pocket, which makes end rushing a lot easier.
Warmack has been Alabama's best lineman in 2012, and that's saying a lot on a team with a bunch of talented linemen. He'll pave the road for Forte and Bush, but most importantly (as mentioned), he's a talented pass blocker as well. He and Carimi might not dominate together right away, but they'll be a solid duo moving onward into the future.
17. Dallas Cowboys, Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan
Tyron Smith and Doug Free have both looked overmatched at times this season, and it should drive the Cowboys to cut bait with Free and add a talented lineman high in the draft. Lewan might not usurp Smith's LT spot, so taking an RT this high probably wouldn't be the best move, but Romo needs better protection moving forward.
Lewan has been the sole bright spot on a Wolverines team that has seen even Denard Robinson look terrible in 2012. He has a giant frame and a perfect mix of polish and determination. His nasty style of play would fit in well bookending Smith.
18. Cincinnati Bengals, Johnthan Banks, CB Mississippi State
Take a look at who the Bengals are playing in the defensive backfield. Nate Clements and Terence Newman would be a great couple of guys if this were 2004. Taylor Mays would be good if...no, there is no scenario in which Taylor Mays would be good. The Bengals need help across from Leon Hall desperately.
Banks isn't a household name, but he's one of the better defenders in the SEC and athletic enough to play a number of positions as well as pitch in on the return game. Teams like to throw away from Hall, but won't be able to if Banks is returning their passes the other way for six.
19. Seattle Seahawks, Justin Hunter, WR Tennessee
If the Seahawks are going to ride Russell Wilson into the future (still not convinced that's the best idea), he'll need more talented targets—guys who can get open and stay open while he's extending plays with his feet.
Hunter is a tall receiver with great ups and the ability to high point the ball over defenders and in traffic. He'll immediately become the most physically talented player on the Seahawks offense and should step into the No. 1 receiver position shortly after arriving in Seattle.
20. San Diego Chargers, Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M
Michael Harris has been easily one of the worst offensive linemen in football this season, and Philip Rivers' up-and-down play has reflected that for a second year in a row. It's time to bring in a quality pass protector for their franchise QB. (Note: It's actually probably time for someone else to be GM'ing the franchise, but A.J. Smith is Teflon.)
Even though he's a right tackle at A&M, Matthews has a prototypical frame and skill set to protect Rivers' blindside and open up holes (wherever he plays) for Ryan Mathews. The son of Hall of Famer, Bruce Matthews, Jake has near-perfect form already and should be able to step in right away to help the Chargers.
21. Detroit Lions, Bjoern Werner, DE Florida State
Looking at the Lions roster, one might think defensive line is the last place on earth they would need help. However, they are middle of the pack in sacks this season and are a defense built around the notion of being at the top. More importantly, Kyle Vanden Bosch is a year closer to retirement and Cliff Avril is on the franchise tag.
However, even if the Lions want a DE, getting Werner is seeming more and more like a stretch. The more he dominates and Florida State returns to college football prominence, the more people will start floating him up their draft boards. Werner is a stud with his best football likely ahead of him. A tad undersized, he's also the perfect fit for the Lions wide-nine scheme.
22. Philadelphia Eagles, Barrett Jones, OG Alabama
The interior blocking for the Eagles has been atrocious this season. While that may not be the worst thing in the world for a guy like Mike Vick who can move outside the pocket, it's terrible for LeSean McCoy and helps contribute toward unbalanced play calling.
Jones isn't the high-ceiling Warmack is, but he's more than capable of stepping immediately into the Eagles' starting lineup and opening running lanes for McCoy and company. His best asset may be his versatility, especially on an Eagles team that has needs at plenty of positions along the line.
23. New York Jets, Eric Reid, FS Louisiana State
The Jets safeties have been an issue this season, as teams have been able to avoid the cornerbacks on the outside and pass right over the top. Now, with Revis out, the Jets have little chance to stop teams from getting any yardage they want through the air. Moving forward, the Jets cannot pretend to be a playoff team if they can't stop the pass.
Reid is the latest in a long line of quality LSU defensive backs and prototypical free safety prospects from the SEC—perhaps the last conference producing them. He's excellent with the ball in the air and great at taking advantage of any quarterback mistakes.
24. Denver Broncos, D.J. Fluker, OT/OG Alabama
Another Alabama lineman, another SEC player and another tackle for a team that is desperate for better offensive line play. This isn't 2006. Peyton Manning is no longer a young pup. The Broncos cannot win without a balanced attack and better protection for their quarterback.
Fluker is a solid right tackle/guard prospect and has gone up against elite pass-rushers nearly every week playing for the Tide. He could be inserted immediately as a replacement for Manny Ramirez and be a long term improvement at right tackle if Orlando Franklin doesn't get his act together from week-to-week.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers, John Jenkins, DT Georgia
Are we done with Ziggy Hood yet? Seriously. Another year, another broken promise of his improved play. With Casey Hampton's age, the Steelers cannot continue to pretend they're a dominant 3-4 defense if they're unable to win battles up front.
Jenkins probably could have been a high pick last year, but returned for his senior season and is the clear-cut top prospect among the classic big-bodied 3-4 nose tackles. He doesn't just take up space either; he's a true pivot who can push the pocket back and create lanes for the defenders around him.
26. Atlanta Falcons, Marcus Lattimore, RB South Carolina
Just as the Falcons figure out the passing game, the running game falls of the map. Michael Turner is no longer a burner, so he's turned into a big back who does run with any power. Those players don't spend very long in the NFL, and Turner, now 30, isn't long for the NFL.
Lattimore just needs to prove he's healthy in the pre-draft process and he's a lock for the end of the first round/top of the second. He's a natural runner that displays a lot of balance. He's also got the ability to pick his way through traffic if the line doesn't give him anything to work with. He'll be an immediate impact player for the Falcons.
27. New York Giants, T.J. McDonald, S Southern California
The Giants want to be the tough defensive team that Coughlin envisions them to be, but too many teams are able to go toe-to-toe with them, even when Eli Manning is at his best. Improving the play of the back seven is a must.
Being the successor to Taylor Mays probably isn't the path to success that McDonald believed it to be two or three years ago. Still, anyone who thinks he'll be the same player that Mays is in the NFL hasn't watched McDonald play. McDonald is much better closer to the line of scrimmage and has the flexibility to turn and run with NFL tight ends.
28. Houston Texans, Terrence Williams, WR Baylor
The Texans are starting to really pack the top of their depth chart with fantastic talent, but their poo-poo platter of receivers after Andre Johnson really stinks. It isn't that players like Kevin Walter and Lestar Jean won't contribute. They do. It's that a true No. 2 receiver would have such a huge impact on this offense that it's silly to keep operating without one.
Williams, at 6'2", 205, has a nice frame to stand up to NFL defensive backs, and while his routes are not exactly polished, has ability to get separation against even the toughest defenders. With him across from Johnson, the Texans will put up even more points than they already do.
29. Baltimore Ravens, Jackson Jeffcoat, OLB Texas
Baltimore's pass defense has not been as advertised this season, and part of that is the lack of consistent rush that hasn't matched teams we've seen in recent years in purple and black. Yes, the return of Terrell Suggs will help, but the Ravens also need to focus on stockpiling more and more young, talented pass-rushers.
Jeffcoat already has talent and experience as a standup rusher in Texas' scheme. He doesn't have the all-around play of his teammate Okafor, but he's got more upside as a pure rusher.
30. Green Bay Packers, Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame
Like clockwork, the top tight end in college football should assume that he'll be mocked in the late-first/early-second from now to time immemorial. As more elite teams look for elite tight end play (sometimes from multiple players), great teams will continue to crave players like Eifert to put their offense over the top.
At a base level, football is essentially all about matchups. Coaches have to figure out how to make their 11 players beat the other guy's 11. That trickles down to valuing players who can consistently win one-on-one. Eifert is one of those guys. He's a walking matchup with elite receiving skills and improving blocking.
31. New England Patriots, Ricky Wagner, OT Wisconsin
A lot of people targeted Wagner for the top of the first prior to the season. Now, with Wisconsin's terrible play, Wagner has fallen off the map for just about anyone. The only problem is, there's a lot of football left and Wagner will have plenty of time to work his way back into good graces.
The Patriots love linemen like Wagner—tall, athletic, potentially dominant out of a two-point stance. They trust that their coaching will polish off a prospect's rough edges (of which Wagner has a few) so they aim for guys with high upside.
32. San Francisco 49ers, Xavier Rhodes, CB Florida State
The Niners have invested in one of the better defensive front sevens in all of football, but still manage to trot out a bunch of defensive backs who have no business on a team of this caliber.
Rhodes is the CB version of Anquan Boldin—a fantastic athlete who is just now learning the position he ended up at. His best football is ahead of him, but he's already talented enough to contribute at a high level. His physical nature will fit right in with Jim Harbaugh's squad.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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