The 2013 NFL Draft is months away, but each week we get a clearer picture of which prospects will hear their names called early on draft day. The potential draft order is also starting to take shape, so it’s easier to put together a mock draft.
Depending on how the final order looks, it could be a two-horse battle for the No.1 overall spot. If a quarterback-needy team lands the top pick, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley will get heavy consideration.
Outside of the two quarterbacks, edger rushers like Georgia’s Jarvis Jones and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo are also in the running for the top pick. Don’t rule out Utah’s Star Lotulelei either.
Pick: Matt Barkley, Quarterback, USC
This year has been a major disappointment for the Kansas City Chiefs. Most of the problems surround the poor play at the quarterback position. Matt Cassel continues to show that he’s nothing more than an average quarterback, so the Chiefs much target someone like USC’s Matt Barkley in the upcoming draft.
Adding Barkley immediately gives Kansas City a much more accurate quarterback and someone that does a good job making decisions. Barkley might not have as much upside as other players in this draft, but he’s a very safe pick.
Just because Barkley won’t blow people away during workouts doesn’t mean he won’t be an excellent quarterback. He brings experience, leadership and a good feel for the game to the table. Barkley is more than ready to step in and contribute from day one.
Pick: Geno Smith, Quarterback, West Virginia
In today’s NFL, young quarterbacks aren’t given a ton of time to develop. This is why Blaine Gabbert is running out of time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He just hasn’t shown enough to make anyone believe he’ll develop into a top-notch quarterback.
Gabbert’s lack of accuracy and inability to handle pressure are the two biggest problems hindering his development. West Virginia’s Geno Smith excels in both of these areas. He does a great job with ball placement and standing in against the pass rush.
Sometimes it’s just unexplainable, but there are quarterbacks out there that have that "it factor." Smith possesses that attribute, as he just knows how to play the quarterback position.
Pick: Jarvis Jones, Linebacker, Georgia
The Cleveland Browns' ownership change will bring many changes throughout the organization. New owner Jimmy Haslam has ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. Because of the great success of that franchise, it’s safe to assume Haslam will model the Browns after the Steelers.
One of the signatures of the Steelers is an attacking 3-4 defense. It’s possible that the Browns could shift to that type of system. If this is the case, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones would be the most logical pick. Jones’ ability to rush the passer gives him the potential to quickly improve an entire defense.
This pick wouldn't only be a good fit; it would also represent good value. Jones is easily one of the top five players in this draft class.
Pick: Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle, Utah
Utah’s Star Lotulelei is an absolute beast who dominates the line of scrimmage. His combination of quickness and power allows him to both stuff the run and rush the passer. Lotulelei uses an explosive first step to gain position on the offensive line and work his way into the backfield.
The Carolina Panthers need a playmaker like Lotulelei along their defensive line. This group struggles both stopping the run and generating a pass rush. Adding Lotulelei will both make a difference in the trenches and also help the linebacking corps.
Lotulelei’s strong anchor allows him to eat up blockers and help linebackers like Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason cleanly flow to the football.
Pick: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
The Oakland Raiders have a wide range of needs, but they could really benefit from addressing the offensive line. Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is an athletic and powerful left-tackle prospect. He does a great job both protecting the quarterback and opening running lanes.
Lewan might be the nastiest offensive lineman in all of college football, as he routinely finishes blocks and drives defenders off the ball. His attitude and work ethic would also help the Raiders' rebuilding process.
Despite a strong season by Carson Palmer, the Raiders will take a close look at the quarterback prospects. They’ll have a hard time passing up on either Matt Barkley or Geno Smith if they happen to fall to this spot.
Pick: Barkevious Mingo, Defensive End, LSU
Barkevious Mingo’s ability to rush the passer is something the Tampa Bay Buccaneers desperately need. He uses an explosive first step, a high motor and good leverage to get after the quarterback. Mingo is a little undersized for the defensive end spot, but he shows he has the potential to develop as a run stuffer.
In Tampa Bay, he’d be a great fit because its other defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, plays the run much better than he rushes the quarterback. This will allow the Buccaneers to game plan around helping Mingo in running situations.
Greg Schiano is a defensive-minded head coach, so it makes sense that this is the direction the Buccaneers head.
Pick: Manti Te'o, Linebacker, Notre Dame
The Buffalo Bills defense has talent but appears to lack leadership. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is the type of player that can step in and help in that area. Te’o is an aggressive, smart and tough middle linebacker prospect. His play is one of the main reasons Notre Dame is in contention for the National Title.
Buffalo isn’t going to take the next step in its development if it doesn’t improve the defense. They the pieces along the defensive line to succeed, but the linebacking corps and secondary need work.
Te’o is a slightly better prospect than Alabama’s Dee Milliner. However, if the Bills want to address the secondary, Milliner would be a fit at this spot. He’s one of the faster-rising prospects in the draft.
The Bills also have to consider the quarterback prospects in this draft. Ryan Fitzpatrick is solid but hasn’t played well enough to lock down the starting job moving forward.
Pick: Johnathan Hankins, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State
The Tennessee Titans need to get stronger in the trenches, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins possesses the skill set needed to dominate the line of scrimmage. He boasts a rare combination of size, quickness and strength.
Those skills make him a very versatile defender, as he can either penetrate the pocket or anchor at the point of contact. The most impressive part of his game is his ability to disengage and make plays away from his frame.
Hankins just doesn’t eat up space, as he makes plays on the ball. He's the type of impact player that can significantly improve the overall production of an entire defense.
Pick: Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama
The Detroit Lions have taken a step back this season, in large part because of the issues in the secondary. This group really struggles to hold up against the pass, and it’s made worse by the fact the Lions have to face the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler within their division.
Alabama’s Dee Milliner is a physical and athletic cornerback. He possesses the size to match up with the NFL’s bigger targets, but also has the quickness to stick with the smaller receivers. Milliner likes to play a physical brand of football, which is something that will fit in with the Lions' defensive approach.
Milliner is one of the faster rising prospects, as each week he goes out and handles the SEC’s top wide receivers.
Pick: Sam Montgomery, Defensive End, LSU
LSU's Sam Montgomery is one of the few prospects that’s a good fit for the defensive end spot in a 4-3 defense. His good lower body strength, use of leverage and inside hand placement give him the ability to set the edge against the run.
However, it’s his ability to generate pressure on the quarterback that makes him a valuable prospect. The Cincinnati Bengals have a solid player in Michael Johnson, but the other defensive end position is unsettled.
Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap have shown some potential, but Montgomery possesses a lot more upside. It’s also important to note that Johnson will be a free agent after the season.
Pick: Sylvester Williams, Defensive Tackle, North Carolina
The Indianapolis Colts used the majority of their 2012 draft to upgrade the talent on the offensive side of the ball. This upcoming draft needs to be focused on fixing the issues on defense. Indianapolis has needs at every level of the defense, but addressing the defensive line is important.
North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams possesses an explosive first step that allows him to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He combines that explosiveness with excellent size and strength. Williams has the versatility to play both the nose tackle and 5-technique spots for the Colts.
Adding Williams to the mix would be the first step in improving the play of the Colts defense. Andrew Luck boasts the talent needed to lead a team to a Super Bowl, but he’ll need help from his defense to reach that goal.
Pick: Justin Hunter, Wide Receiver, Tennessee
Ryan Tannehill has looked good so far this season despite having to deal below-average talent at the wide receiver position. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are solid targets, but neither is capable of consistently winning one-on-one matchups.
Tennessee’s Justin Hunter possesses the size and quickness needed to develop into a true No. 1 receiver. Adding Hunter to the mix could have a major impact on the development of Tannehill.
Young quarterbacks need playmakers at the wide receiver position to help them in tough situations.
While Hunter is extremely talented, he does have a tendency to lose focus. At times, he takes his eyes off the ball, resulting in a drop. These types of issues make Hunter a risky pick.
Pick: Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver, California
The St. Louis Rams can’t go another year without a top-notch playmaker at the wide receiver position. Sam Bradford needs someone better than Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens to reach his full potential. California’s Keenan Allen is just the type of target that would help Bradford succeed.
Allen is a physical target who also possesses the quickness to attack the deep part of the field. However, it’s his ability to work the underneath routes and pick up yards after the catch that make him so dangerous. With Allen in the lineup, Bradford could feel comfortable that he has someone that can win one-on-one matchups.
Pick: Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Aside from the issues at wide receiver, the St. Louis Rams have problems at the offensive tackle position. Rodger Saffold’s play continues to decline since his rookie season. A lot of this has to do with injuries, but also because he’s out of position at left tackle.
Adding Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews would allow the Rams to shift Saffold to right tackle. This move improves two spots along the offensive line, as right tackle Barry Richardson is average at best.
Matthews currently plays right tackle at Texas A&M, but he is more than capable of lining up on the left side. His use of angles and solid technique allows him to play a balanced game. He won’t only protect the passer, as Matthews also does a good job opening running lanes.
Pick: Marcus Lattimore, Running Back, South Carolina
The New York Jets continue to focus their offense on running the football. However, they lack the talent at the running back position to execute this game plan. Shonn Greene lacks the quickness and vision needed to be an effective every-down back.
South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore possesses the potential to develop into an elite player. His ability to make seamless cuts and quickly accelerate makes him dangerous. That change-of-direction ability is even more effective because of how fast Lattimore locates the hole.
Lattimore is absolutely the type of running back a team can lean on. Because of his vision and quickness, he doesn’t need a ton of running room to be successful.
Pick: Alex Okafor, Defensive End, Texas
Despite the terrible play by the New Orleans Saints defense, Steve Spagnuolo is the right man to get things turned around. He has proven that he’s capable of putting together a very successful defense. The one major issue facing him in New Orleans is the lack of a top-notch edge rusher.
At this point, starting defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Will Smith have a combined total of four sacks. This lack of pressure is why the Saints must target someone like Texas’ Alex Okafor in the upcoming draft.
Okafor uses an explosive first step, good hand placement, leverage and balance to rush the quarterback. He’s a little undersized for the defensive end position, but he possesses the length to add some bulk. Despite the lack of ideal size, Okafor does a good job against both the run and pass.
It’s that use of leverage and hand placement that allows him to set the edge against the run.
Some have Okafor ranked higher as an outside linebacker. However, he doesn’t have the same effectiveness out of a two-point stance. Playing with his hand in the dirt gives Okafor a better view of the ball and a more explosive first step.
Pick: Chance Warmack, Guard, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line is one of the main reasons they continue to struggle this season. This group is allowing too much pressure in the face of Tony Romo. Alabama’s Chance Warmack possesses the ability to immediately solidify the interior of the Cowboys offensive line.
Warmack is the best offensive line prospect in this draft class. However, playing guard drops his value a little bit. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a major impact for the Cowboys.
The running game will be much more effective with Warmack in the lineup. His explosive first step and lower body strength allow him to get an excellent push of the line. It also helps him reach the second level and neutralize the linebackers.
His presence will be a key factor in helping Romo deal with less pressure up the middle. His quick feet and good balance allow him to hold up in pass protection.
Pick: Luke Joeckel, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line has surrendered a league-high 35 sacks this season, nine more than the next highest total. The poor play of the offensive line is directly responsible for the injury suffered by Kevin Kolb. No quarterback will succeed in this offense unless the offensive line is fixed.
Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel possesses the athleticism and quick feet needed to protect the quarterback. Because of his balance, Joeckel is able to mirror the pass-rusher and react to counter moves. He would immediately be the Cardinals' top pass protector.
While Joeckel has a ton of upside, he needs to get stronger in order to better handle the bull rush and open running lanes. He’s a work in progress but will still serve as an immediate upgrade for the Cardinals.
Pick: Tony Jefferson, Safety, Oklahoma
The Philadelphia Eagles are dealing with another season of inconsistent play from the safety position. Kurt Coleman does a good job against the run but struggles in pass coverage, while Nate Allen continues to deal with nagging injuries. Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson boasts the skill set needed to step in and help the Eagles secondary.
Jefferson is a terrific athlete who has a nose for the football. He does a good job coming up in run support, but he also has the range to hold up in coverage. Jefferson possesses the versatility to play with either Coleman or Allen.
Because of the injury to Jason Peters, the Eagles could also target a left tackle prospect in the first round.
Pick: Bjoern Werner, Defensive End, Florida State
The Minnesota Vikings need to start finding young talent to replace some of the aging stars on defense. Players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are over the age of 30, and Minnesota lacks obvious long-term replacements.
Florida State’s Bjoern Werner is in a similar mold as Allen. He’s undersized for the position but possesses the athleticism and technique to succeed. Werner’s use of inside hand placement and leverage is why he does such a good job rushing the quarterback.
His ability to remain balanced as he dips his shoulder around the edge is tough to stop. While Werner will be the long-term replacement for Allen, he can still make an immediate impact as an upgrade from Brian Robison.
Another option for the Vikings is USC’s wide receiver Robert Woods. He’d be a great complement to Percy Harvin’s game-breaking ability.
Pick: Brennan Williams, Offensive Tackle, North Carolina
The San Diego Chargers are quickly learning that Jared Gaither is very unreliable. While extremely talented, Gaither has trouble remaining healthy and staying in the lineup. The left tackle position is too important to move forward with an injury-prone player as a starter.
North Carolina’s Brennan Williams possess the prototypical size and athleticism for the position. He currently lines up at right tackle but is more than capable of holding up on the left side. His quick feet and length give Williams high upside.
Solidifying the left tackle spot could be a major key to helping Philip Rivers turn things around.
Pick: Robert Woods, Wide Receiver, USC
Russell Wilson has been able to find success with the Seattle Seahawks despite dealing with inconsistent players at the wide receiver position. Seattle can’t expect Wilson to take the next step in his development with Braylon Edwards and Golden Tate as two of the team’s top targets.
USC’s Robert Woods would be the perfect target for a young quarterback. Woods’ good hands, excellent route running and feel for the game make him a reliable receiver. Wilson can head into each game knowing that Woods will help the team.
While Woods doesn’t possess elite quickness, he uses deception and quick cuts to create separation. Getting him this late in the first round should be considered a steal.
Pick: John Jenkins, Nose Tackle, Georgia
Casey Hampton has been one of the unsung heroes of the Pittsburgh Steelers' dominating defense. However, injuries and age are starting to limit his effectiveness. Pittsburgh needs a physical presence at the nose tackle in order to run its 3-4 attack.
Georgia’s John Jenkins possesses the size and strength needed to fill this role. He excels at holding at the point of attack and occupying blockers. The Steelers' linebackers would enjoy clear lanes to the football with Jenkins in the lineup.
Addressing the middle linebacker spot is another option for the Steelers. Alabama’s C.J. Mosley or Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene would make sense.
Pick: Tyler Eifert, Tight End, Notre Dame
The Green Bay Packers continue to deal with the inconsistent and vocal JerMichael Finley. At this point, he could be considered more of a problem than an asset. Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert possesses the same type of playmaking ability as Finley but with less baggage.
With Eifert, the Packers will get someone who's less vocal, more consistent and doesn’t have a lengthy injury history.
The Packers are another team that could look to address the inside linebacker spot. Again, C.J. Mosley and Khaseem Greene would be good fits.
Pick: C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama
It’s likely that Ray Lewis returns for another season with the Baltimore Ravens, as he won’t want to end his career with an injury. However, that doesn’t mean the Ravens can afford to overlook the linebacker position this offseason. They need to find someone Lewis can mentor as his long-term replacement.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley possesses the size, quickness and experience to make a quick transition to the NFL. He’d be the perfect understudy to Lewis, and because of his versatility, he can rotate in at the other linebacker spots.
The past two offseasons, Ed Reed talked about ending his career. Baltimore must also consider adding someone to replace Reed. North Carolina State’s David Amerson boasts the ball-hawking skills that could ease the loss of Reed.
Amerson currently plays cornerback but has the size to make the transition to safety.
Pick: Khaseem Green, Linebacker, Rutgers
The Chicago Bears are facing a tough decision with linebacker Brian Urlacher. His knee and age are starting to limit his effectiveness, but he plays such an important role in Lovie Smith’s defense that Chicago can’t afford to replace Urlacher with subpar talent.
Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene is one of the fastest rising prospects in the country. His athleticism and tenacity would make him a great fit with the Bears. Greene not only registers a high number of tackles, he also does a good job creating turnovers.
As we all know, Lovie Smith places a high importance on generating takeaways.
Pick: Johnthan Banks, Cornerback, Mississippi State
Champ Bailey is 34 years old and approaching the end of his career. Because of the importance of defending the pass, the Denver Broncos must have a replacement lined up. Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks would be a nice addition.
Banks doesn’t have elite size or speed, but he’s just a good football player. He possesses a great feel for the game and knows how to read a quarterback. This combined with his aggressive approach helps him make plays on the ball.
Because of his instincts and ball skills, Banks is always a threat to pull down an interception.
Pick: Dion Jordan, Linebacker/Defensive End, Oregon
The San Francisco 49ers hit a home run in the 2011 draft with Aldon Smith. His ability to generate pressure on the quarterback helped take the defense to the next level. However, it also forced the opposing team to pay extra attention to Smith. This is why it’s important that San Francisco adds another pass-rushing option.
Oregon’s Dion Jordan has comparable size and quickness to Smith. He uses that length and explosiveness to get after the quarterback. Jordan’s suddenness and long arms make it tough for offensive linemen to get into his frame.
The combination of Jordan and Smith would be absolutely deadly.
While Jordan’s strength is rushing the passer, he also does a good job using leverage to hold up against the run. He’s thin through the hips, so he needs proper positioning to be a solid all-around player.
Pick: Sharrif Floyd, Defensive Tackle, Florida
The New England Patriots need to continue adding talent on the defensive side of the ball. Florida’s Sharrif Floyd would be a great complement to Vince Wilfork’s size and run-stuffing ability. Floyd’s strengths are his ability to fire off the line and penetrate the pocket.
Adding Floyd would help the Patriots generate pressure from the middle of the field. This will help edge rushers like Chandler Jones get more one-on-one opportunities.
Bill Belichick likes to mix things up on defense, which is why he values versatility. Floyd’s wide range of skills allows him to line up at either defensive tackle or end. He’d be a good fit for New England if they decide to move back to a 3-4 attack.
Pick: David Amerson, Cornerback, North Carolina State
Because of the injury problems of Terrell Thomas, the New York Giants are thin at the cornerback position. It also doesn’t help that Prince Amukamara has been in and out of the lineup. This is why selecting North Carolina State’s David Amerson makes sense.
Amerson’s stock has dropped a little this season, but he’s still a ball-hawking defender with a lot of potential. His ability to read the quarterback and jump the route makes him a consistent threat to pull down the interception.
The problem facing Amerson is that at times he’s too aggressive. However, this is something that can be corrected with coaching.
Pick: Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver, West Virginia
Outside of Andre Johnson, the Houston Texans' most reliable targets are tight ends Owen Daniels and James Casey. Someone like West Virginia’s Tavon Austin could add an explosive element to the offense.
Houston is set on the defensive side of the ball, so it makes sense to target an offensive playmaker in the upcoming draft.
Austin is undersized but possesses elite quickness and game-breaking ability. He’s the type of player that can take a five-yard slant and turn it into a touchdown. Austin isn’t just a speedster, as he has grown as a pass-catcher and route-runner. Each week, he becomes a more complete player.
Pick: Ezekiel Ansah, Defensive End, BYU
Other than John Abraham, Kroy Bierman is the only other defensive end to record a sack this season for the Atlanta Falcons. This is one of the reasons why Atlanta uses linebacker Sean Weatherspoon so much on blitzes. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah possesses the pass-rushing ability to come in and make an immediate impact.
Ansah is still developing, but he is already a force off the edge. He uses an explosive first step and inside hands to employ a wide range of pass-rush moves. It’s also important to note that he knows how to mix up his rushes to keep the offensive line off balance.
He isn’t just a pass-rusher, as he has a good anchor against the run. Ansah does a good job keeping his pads low, disengaging from the block and making plays away from this frame. He is a well-rounded football player with a ton of upside.