Sam Montgomery is one early first-round pick with pros and cons.
Nearly six full weeks into the 2012 NFL season, barely any clarity has been brought to what the 2013 NFL draft order will look like, as the league’s top teams have struggled while other teams have traded big upset victories with bad losses.
What has started to become more clear, however, is which players are likely to be first-round picks in April and what positions teams need to upgrade at early in the draft.
But regardless of where a player is selected, which team is selecting them and what needs they have, there are potential pros and cons to every potential selection. This mock draft not only projects which players could go where, but what the potential rewards and drawbacks are to each projected pick.
With some of the tremendous talent the Kansas City Chiefs have on both sides of the ball, they shouldn’t be a team headed for the No. 1 overall pick. But at 1-5 and coming off of an embarrassing 38-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs are headed sharply in the wrong direction, and the root of their problem is poor quarterback play.
Starting quarterback Matt Cassel did not play in the Chiefs’ loss to the Buccaneers, but being cheered off the field one week earlier after suffering a concussion summed up that Cassel just hasn’t been the franchise quarterback that the Chiefs traded for him to be. If the Chiefs are in this position, they will be certainly be making a quarterback change.
Matt Barkley is a tremendous quarterback prospect who can help the Chiefs begin a necessary transformation. Barkley is a pro-ready quarterback prospect who can make any throw on the field, and has both the physical tools and mental makeup to be ready to step in and lead an NFL team.
Barkley has not had a great first half of his senior season, which could lead teams to rethink whether he should be a No. 1 overall pick. There is also the fact that drafting Barkley means selecting a second consecutive USC alum named Matt to be their starting quarterback while effectively giving up on the first with two years remaining on his contract.
This pick has to, however, be a quarterback. West Virginia’s Geno Smith could surpass Barkley as the top quarterback in the draft class, but if the Chiefs are in position to draft either, they should not go in any other direction.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are off to a 1-4 start this season, and a big reason for that is that they rank last in the league in passing yards per game and scoring offense. The biggest reason is a lack of progress for second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert, which could lead them to replace him in 2013 if they have the chance to draft West Virginia’s Geno Smith.
By drafting Geno Smith, the Jaguars would have the opportunity to draft the hottest rising prospect of the 2013 NFL draft, and make an immediate upgrade at the quarterback position. Smith is a strong-armed quarterback with a great release, and while he is not a running quarterback, he adds athleticism, mobility and pocket presence that Gabbert does not have.
The drawback to this pick, of course, is that it would be giving up on Gabbert just two years after making him the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft. The Jaguars would be drafting at the same position with two out of three first-round picks rather than upgrading another area, such as their run defense by adding Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
The Cleveland Browns have one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and a big reason for that is that outside of middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns have a serious lack of playmakers in their defensive front seven. The Browns could add the best defensive playmaker in the 2013 NFL draft by selecting Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Jarvis Jones is a tremendous outside linebacker prospect who can do it all: He is a fantastic athlete, a consistent playmaker and a disruptive force who excels in pass-rushing, making run tackles and dropping into pass coverage.
The concern with this selection is that Jones is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme, and the Browns’ 4-3 defense may not maximize his abilities. Jones, however, is like Von Miller, who faced similar concerns but has emerged as a star in the Broncos’ 4-3 defense. Jones has a similar skill set to thrive and excel in any scheme.
The Oakland Raiders have a lot of areas on their roster that need improvement, and one of their biggest is their pass-rush, which has only managed four sacks through five games this season. Therefore, it makes sense for the Raiders to draft the best defensive end in the draft class.
Bjoern Werner is the best 4-3 defensive end prospect in the 2013 draft class; he has a great combination of edge pass-rushing skill, size and athleticism and ability to track down runners in space. Werner can add a pass-rushing element that the Raiders currently lack while being a three-down force at defensive end.
The Raiders actually have bigger needs on their roster, on the interior offensive line and in the secondary, but drafting an interior offensive lineman in the top five would be a reach, and there are no defensive backs worth selecting as a top-five draft pick. The Raiders cannot get ample value at those positions with a top-five pick, so the logical choice would be to upgrade at defensive end.
The Tennessee Titans have been a weak pass-rushing team early this season with just eight sacks through six games, including just three from their defensive ends. The Titans need an upgrade at that position, and can get one well worth taking in LSU’s Sam Montgomery with the No. 5 overall pick.
With terrific athletic ability, great length and great pass-rushing skill, Montgomery is as good as any 4-3 defensive end prospect in this draft class. The Titans need a premier pass-rusher at the position, and Montgomery can help them there as well as in run defense with his ability to get into the backfield and chase down runners.
The drawback of selecting a defensive end is that it does not address the Titans’ biggest need, which is their abysmally poor running game. Drafting South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore or an interior offensive lineman, however, would be a big stretch as a top-five draft pick.
Dwight Freeney is no longer the player he once was, and as he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2013, the Colts would be smart to let him walk and replace him with a younger player to become their new premier pass-rusher. The perfect fit to be exactly that player is LSU’s Barkevious Mingo.
Size and strength are concerns for Mingo as a 4-3 defensive end, but he projects very well to converting to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense with tremendous athletic ability, elite pass-rushing potential and the ability to make run plays in space and drop in coverage. The Colts’ defensive front seven needs to add a big playmaker, and Mingo can be that player.
By drafting Mingo, the Colts would be passing up the best player on the board, and another player who could really help them is Ohio State nose tackle Johnathan Hankins. Mingo is a better fit, however, for the Colts’ defensive scheme.
The Carolina Panthers need to upgrade at defensive tackle, and Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins would be a huge steal outside of the top five, so he would be a no-brainer selection for the Panthers in this situation.
A 330-pound defensive tackle with tremendous power and strength but also the explosive quickness to be an interior pass-rusher in addition to a massive run-stopper, Hankins has superstar potential. He would be a huge upgrade where the Panthers really need his help in the middle of their defense.
The only drawback to this selection is that they would not be able to upgrade other needs such as at wide receiver and in the secondary, but in addressing one of their biggest needs with the best player on the board, there are no true cons of this potential pick.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses, and it certainly isn’t going to help them that their top cornerback, Aqib Talib, has just started a four-game suspension for Adderall use. The Buccaneers need to upgrade at cornerback, and that need increases with the likelihood that they will not re-sign Talib, who is in the last season of his contract, following his latest of many off-field issues.
The Buccaneers need to have a new No. 1 cornerback to start opposite Eric Wright. Alabama’s Dee Milliner is a big, physical and aggressive cornerback with terrific pass-deflecting skills, and stands out as the best cornerback should he declare for the 2013 draft class.
In selecting Milliner, the Buccaneers would pass up on two players who could help improve another need area, their defensive line, in Michigan State defensive end William Gholston and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The Buccaneers need to upgrade at cornerback most, however, and Milliner could really help them.
After a lengthy contract dispute that ended with Cliff Avril signing to a franchise tag this season, it is highly likely that the Lions will lose their best pass-rusher in 2013 and need to replace him. With many pass-rushers already off the board, it makes sense for the Lions to jump in during Round 1, and take one of the best players available in Michigan State’s William Gholston.
Gholston is a massive defensive end who is also a terrific athlete and pass-rusher, and he could fill right in for Avril and become the team’s next dominant force at the position. With his size and ability to both bring pressure and stop the run, Gholston could help draw double-teams away from star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Lions have other big needs, including making improvements to their running game and at cornerback, but drafting a defensive end makes the most sense with Avril likely to depart.
The New Orleans Saints rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, and a big reason for that is that they have gashed up the middle of their defense. The Saints could improve their interior line in a big way by adding a powerful, disruptive force in the middle with Utah’s Star Lotulelei.
Lotulelei is a massive nose tackle with explosive athleticism for his size, and his forte is run-stopping, what the Saints need most.
The Saints have an even bigger need at cornerback, but with the stock of North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson falling, they would be better off waiting until a later round to draft a cornerback and address the need of a defensive tackle here.
The St. Louis Rams really need to improve their pass protection, having given up 18 sacks in their first six games this season. That improvement all starts at offensive tackle, and if the Rams can upgrade at left tackle, they can move Rodger Saffold over to right tackle and become much better at the position.
Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel stands out as the best offensive tackle in the 2013 draft class if he declares, and would finally give the Rams the premier blindside protector they need for Sam Bradford.
The Rams could be reluctant to use another high draft selection on an offensive tackle, as it would be their third selection of an offensive tackle in the top 33 picks of the draft in the past five years, but otherwise, they would be getting one of the best players in the draft class while addressing a position of need.
The St. Louis Rams really need to upgrade at safety, and could make a big upgrade by selecting the best player in the 2013 draft class at that position should he declare, LSU’s Eric Reid.
Reid has terrific measurables for a safety, is fantastic in coverage and also tackles well. The Rams could really use an upgrade at either safety spot, but Reid can come in and be an immediate starter at free safety.
The Rams could really use another offensive playmaker, and would be passing up the top wideouts in this draft class, including USC’s Robert Woods, but Reid fills a bigger need for them.
The Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line is horrendous from left to right and easily the NFL’s worst, and if they are going to fix the unit, they really need to use numerous early draft picks on offensive linemen. The Cardinals’ best bet in the first round is to select the best available offensive lineman, and that player is Alabama’s Barrett Jones.
Jones would be a great addition for the Cardinals because they need help all across the offensive line, and Jones has experience playing all five offensive line spots. Jones could be an immediate upgrade over Adam Snyder at right guard, but the Cardinals could kick him outside to tackle or inside to center as well if need be.
The Cardinals really need a left tackle most desperately, so being able to draft one here and kick Levi Brown back to right tackle once healthy would be best. Jones is best suited to play interior line at the next level, but there is no left tackle prospect worth drafting early in the first round with Joeckel off the board.
Brian Hartline has had a surprisingly spectacular start to his 2012 season, but after drafting their franchise quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, in the 2012 draft, they need to find him a go-to weapon in the receiving game.
Tennessee’s Justin Hunter is a big, fast wideout with the speed and size to be a true deep threat, and take advantage of Tannehill’s ability to rocket the ball downfield. While Hunter may not be the draft class’ most polished receiver, he has the most upside, and could really add a downfield dynamic that the Dolphins’ offense currently lacks.
The Dolphins’ biggest need may be at cornerback, so passing up North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson would be the biggest drawback of this pick, but it makes sense for the Dolphins to prioritize improving their offense again in the first round in 2013.
The Buffalo Bills have allowed more points per game than any other defense in the National Football League this season, and a big reason for that has been the poor play of their linebackers.
The Bills need to add a playmaker to that unit, and would be getting a stud playmaker at tremendous value in this scenario by selecting Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Te’o is a fantastic middle linebacker with the potential to be the star both in pass coverage and run-stopping that the Bills need to add to the second level of their defense.
The pick does create a problem in that Te’o plays the same position as the best linebacker the team already has, middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. The fact is, however, that the Bills need to get better in that area, and either Te’o or Sheppard could move to strongside linebacker and form a much improved young trio at the position along with Arthur Moats or Nigel Bradham in 2013.
Mark Sanchez hasn’t been very impressive passing the football for the New York Jets this season, but part of the problem is that he has no reliable weapons to pass the ball to. That’s why the Jets would be smart to add a receiver in the first round of the 2013 draft in USC’s Robert Woods.
Woods is the most reliable receiver in the 2013 draft class, and is a player with terrific hands and route-running ability that can make him a go-to target for whoever the quarterback is for the Jets.
The Jets used a second-round draft pick last year on Stephen Hill, so it may seem like overkill to draft another receiver, especially when they have other major needs, including right tackle, linebacker and safety. But with the struggles the Jets have had in the passing game, it makes sense to add another playmaker.
Percy Harvin is a fantastic offensive playmaker who is having a superb season for the Vikings, but what the team lacks is a bigger possession-receiver to complement him.
California’s Keenan Allen is a reliable wideout with great hands, route-running skills and athleticism, and he could be a go-to downfield target for Christian Ponder and a great complement to Harvin.
By selecting Allen, the Vikings would not be upgrading a need area next to Kevin Williams at defensive tackle, but with the top defensive tackles off the board, the better choice is adding another weapon for the offense.
The Dallas Cowboys desperately need to upgrade their interior offensive line, so if they have a chance to draft the best pure guard in the 2013 draft class in Alabama’s Chance Warmack, they should not pass up the chance (pun slightly intended).
Warmack is a massive guard with great feet for his size, and is a big, powerful mauler who can become the best guard in Dallas since Larry Allen. For a team whose offense has really suffered as a consequence of being unable to block inside pressure, Warmack is an obvious choice.
The Cowboys would be passing up the opportunity to draft a great in-state prospect who could replace unrestricted free agent Anthony Spencer at outside linebacker in Texas’ Alex Okafor, but Warmack is too good of a choice to pass up.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense hasn’t performed up to its usual standards this season, and one reason is shaky play at cornerback. The Steelers need to add a playmaker at the position, and North Carolina State’s David Amerson could fit the bill.
Amerson is a ball hawking cornerback who led the NCAA in interceptions as a sophomore, and he has great size, athleticism and ball skills.
The problem with Amerson is that while he makes a lot of big plays by being an aggressive cornerback, he also tends to give up too many big plays, which is precisely what the Steelers’ biggest problem is with their secondary. His aggression and playmaking ability, however, are also what make him an attractive option for Pittsburgh.
The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the NFL’s elite left tackles in Jason Peters, but missing all of this season following two Achilles ruptures, his future is uncertain, and without Peters this season, the Eagles have struggled badly on the offensive line, especially at left tackle.
The Eagles need to make improvements to the area, and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan would make sense if he declares for the 2013 NFL draft. Lewan is a very solid all-around offensive tackle who could be brought in as an heir apparent to Peters at left tackle, and step in if Peters is not ready to go for the start of the 2013 season.
The problem with drafting Lewan is that if Peters is healthy, the Eagles may be using their first-round pick on an insurance policy, as they have two solid starters in Peters and right tackle Todd Herremans. That said, the Eagles need to get better on the offensive line, and if Peters is healthy, Lewan could step in at right tackle and Herremans could kick back inside to play left guard.
The San Diego Chargers need to get better at both offensive tackle spots, so it would make a lot of sense for them to draft the best offensive tackle on the board when they pick in the first round. In this scenario, that player would be Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews.
Matthews plays right tackle for the Aggies, and may be a right tackle only at the next level, but he has the potential to be a very good starter for a long time at that position. Matthews is an angular offensive tackle with great strength in the run game as well as very good feet, and he has great bloodlines as the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews.
The drawback is that the Chargers would rather get a player who can fill the void at left tackle, as they have no stability at that position, but Matthews can be an instant upgrade over Jeromey Clary at right tackle, and that would make him a strong first-round selection.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted a defensive back with the first pick in the 2012 draft with the selection of Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, but given how poorly the Bengals’ secondary has played at times this season, it would make sense for them to go in that direction again in 2013.
Specifically, the Bengals need to upgrade over Taylor Mays at strong safety, and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro would be a great fit. Vaccaro, unlike Mays, is a very good cover safety while he is also a big hitter and sound tackler.
The drawback to this pick is that it would be their second straight first-round defensive back selected, and the Bengals have not even seen what Kirkpatrick can do yet, as he has missed the first six games of the 2012 season due to a foot injury. An upgrade at strong safety, however, is truly necessary, and Vaccaro is a solid late first-round choice.
2013 will be Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s last opportunity to draft from the well of players he brought to USC when he was their head coach, and it would not be a surprise to see him take advantage of that. With the Seahawks needing help on the interior offensive line, Khaled Holmes would be a logical addition.
Holmes’s natural position is at center, but with Max Unger already being the Seahawks’ best lineman at center, the Seahawks could kick him out to guard, the biggest position of weakness on the offensive line. Holmes is a strong, physical interior lineman who could be an upgrade over what the Seahawks currently have at guard.
Of course, drafting a player whose best position is at a position where the Seahawks are already set is not ideal, and the Seahawks have used numerous recent draft picks on guards, including a first-round pick for James Carpenter in 2011. However, those guards have yet to pan out, and with the Seahawks really needing to improve in that area, drafting the best available offensive lineman in Holmes makes sense.
The Chicago Bears could use an upgrade at weakside linebacker over Nick Roach, and would have a chance to draft a very athletic linebacker with high upside in this scenario in Texas A&M’s Sean Porter.
Porter is terrific at making plays in space, and he can also provide a pass-rushing edge from the outside linebacker position. The Bears could use another playmaker in their linebacker corps, as Brian Urlacher’s play is starting to decline at middle linebacker, and Porter would fit the bill.
The Bears’ biggest need is at offensive line, so their first-round pick really should be focused on improving that unit, but there are simply no offensive linemen worth a first-round pick available in this scenario.
The Denver Broncos need to find a starting-quality defensive end who can be a pass-rushing threat and a viable three-down option opposite Elvis Dumervil. Alex Okafor would be of terrific value as a late first-round selection, and has the skill set to be a terrific defensive end.
Okafor is a skilled, athletic pass-rusher who can really get after opposing quarterbacks, and is also very disciplined in run defense. The Broncos are lacking in playmakers aside from Dumervil and Von Miller in their defensive front seven, and Okafor would provide them one.
It could be said that the Broncos need a defensive tackle more than they need a defensive end, or even another linebacker. By drafting Okafor, however, they could move Derek Wolfe back inside to defensive tackle, making their entire defensive front better.
If star cornerback Lardarius Webb is in fact out for the season with a torn ACL, the Ravens’ secondary is about to be exposed. Already among the league’s lowest-ranked defenses in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens are thin at cornerback behind Webb, and should look to add another player at the position in next year’s draft.
Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks has been one of the SEC’s best cornerbacks over the past few seasons, and he has the potential to develop as a viable second starter for the Ravens opposite Webb, something that Jimmy Smith has not done to this point since being a 2011 first-round pick.
Cornerback may not be the biggest area of need on the Ravens’ defense—they could certainly use an inside linebacker to develop as an heir apparent to aging superstar Ray Lewis—but Banks is the best choice among available defensive players in this scenario.
Martellus Bennett has gotten off to a strong start this season as the New York Giants’ starting tight end, but the Giants only signed him to a one-year contract, and may not necessarily view him as the long-term option. With the chance to draft Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, who stands out as the best tight end prospect in the 2013 draft class, the Giants may not be able to pass it up.
Eifert fits the NFL’s new breed of tight end as a great athlete with basketball player size, terrific hands and blocking ability to complement his receiving skill. Having lost Jake Ballard via waivers in the offseason, Eifert could be a perfect long-term replacement.
A bigger need for the Giants than tight end is at linebacker, so they would likely prefer to address that need in the first round, but without any players of value at that position, they would be better to settle on Eifert.
The Atlanta Falcons’ passing trio of Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones has emerged as elite, but age appears to be catching up with Michael Turner, and for the Falcons’ offense to truly remain elite, they need to add a better running back.
South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore is the best running back in the 2013 draft class, and would be a steal on talent late in the first round. Lattimore is a dynamic runner with great size and athletic ability, and can make big plays both between the tackles and on the sidelines.
Lattimore has not been quite as good in his junior season as he continues to recovers from knee surgery, but he is still the best running back in the draft class. While the Falcons could also really use defensive line help with his pick, Lattimore’s value would be too good to pass up.
The New England Patriots’ secondary has continued to plague them this season by giving up big passing plays, so even though they have used many draft picks in recent years on defensive backs, they should be looking in that direction again in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
The Patriots will likely let underperforming safety Patrick Chung walk as an unrestricted free agent, so it would make sense to bring in another safety who can team up with current rookie Tavon Wilson for the future. Alabama’s Robert Lester is a skilled cover safety who can improve the Patriots’ ability to defend the middle of the field in the third level of the defense.
The Patriots have used a first- or second-round pick on a defensive back in each of the past six NFL drafts, so drafting another defensive back in the first round would certainly feel like a broken record, but the position remains their biggest need.
The Green Bay Packers have had a lot of trouble in pass protection this season, giving up 25 sacks in six games, so it would make sense for the Packers to use their first-round pick in an effort to improve their offensive line.
Dallas Thomas is a big offensive line with good run-blocking power and good feet for his size, and has the versatility to play both guard and right tackle at the next level. For a Packers’ offensive line that has been shaky all across, Thomas would provide depth and potentially take over a starting spot.
Thomas is a reach as a first-round pick, and would be their third first-round pick in four years on the offensive line, but he is the best player available in this scenario to help the Packers’ weakest unit.
The Houston Texans certainly have a one-man wrecking crew on their defensive line in superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, making it scary to imagine just how good Watt could be if he had a true anchor at nose tackle to line up next to. The Texans should make that happen by upgrading at nose tackle and selecting Georgia’s John Jenkins.
Jenkins is an absolutely mammoth defensive lineman who can fill up gaps with his 358-pound frame, but he packs surprising athleticism and quickness into his massive body. Jenkins is a terrific candidate to excel in the Texans’ system, where the nose tackle does not have to play as a three-down lineman, but can be a disruptive force when in the game.
Jenkins may be a slight reach as a first-round draft pick, and nose tackle is not necessarily a need for the Texans, but it is certainly an area where they can upgrade. While the right side of the offensive line may be the Texans’ biggest issue, there are no offensive linemen worth selecting at this point in this scenario.
Cornerback depth is always a good thing for any NFL team, and even for a San Francisco defense that ranks as one of the NFL’s best, adding another playmaker to the secondary in Texas’ Carrington Byndom makes sense.
Byndom is an athletic, instinctive and physical cornerback who can add another playmaker into the back end for the 49ers’ secondary, and would be of good value late in the first round.
Byndom’s stock is slipping as his play has dropped off this year from his sophomore season, and cornerback is also not a need for the 49ers. However, there is no value at the biggest positions of need for the 49ers, which are at nose tackle and free safety (with Dashon Goldson unsigned for 2013), so it makes sense for them to draft on value and bring in Byndom.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots gameday correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.