When projecting the selections of an upcoming NFL draft, we look at how players can improve the teams who draft them and fill holes immediately. Often times, we expect that every first-round pick will come in and be a key player on their team from the beginning of their rookie season.
In truth, there is no such thing as a perfect draft pick. While every team sees the positives in adding each player they select in the draft, there are also negatives to each selection. Sometimes, the downside is that the player is simply not as good as they were expected to be, but it can also be a matter of teams drafting players who are not the right fit or do not fill positions of need.
In this mock draft, a potential drawback to each projected selection is examined.
When Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel led a game-tying drive to force overtime on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chiefs were on the verge of moving out of the top spot in the projected draft order.
But when Cassel threw an interception directly to Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons on the second play from scrimmage in overtime, the Chiefs lost another game, and it remained clear that they must move on at the quarterback position.
Matt Cassel has failed to become the Chiefs’ franchise quarterback, and there is little doubt that the Chiefs will search for a new signal-caller in 2013. Assuming they hold the No. 1 overall pick, expect them to draft the top quarterback in the draft class, which at this point is USC’s Matt Barkley.
The problem with this selection is that Barkley hasn’t proven himself to be an elite quarterback prospect this season. While he has the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback, a disappointing senior season has left questions about whether he is a player worth betting the franchise on.
There is no Andrew Luck or Cam Newton in this draft class, however, and in this scenario, the No. 1 overall pick will likely be the No. 1 quarterback. That pick could also be Geno Smith, but either way, the Chiefs are likely to pass up a better prospect to fill their biggest need.
The Chiefs aren’t the only one-win team being held back by a quarterback failing to live up to expectations. Blaine Gabbert has continued to struggle in his second season, and has not made enough progress to leave anyone confident that he will develop into the franchise quarterback he was supposed to be when he was drafted No. 10 overall in the 2011 draft.
If the Jaguars move on from general manager Gene Smith at the end of the season, which seems increasingly likely considering the lack of success the Jaguars have had over the past four years, it’s unlikely the new general manager will be confident in Gabbert’s progress either.
That means the Jaguars are likely in line to follow the Chiefs’ suit and draft a quarterback, and that means drafting whichever quarterback is left on the board between Matt Barkley and Geno Smith. With Barkley getting the edge in this projection, the Jaguars go with Smith, who has a prototypical arm, size, release and athleticism, but could face a challenging transition to an NFL offense from West Virginia’s spread.
The downside with this pick is Smith is not quite an elite quarterback prospect, and that the Jaguars could fill another hole with a more sure-fire top prospect in Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones or Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. The need for a quarterback, however, will make Smith tough to pass up.
The Cleveland Browns need to add an impact defensive player and pass-rusher to their defense. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is the No. 1 overall prospect in the draft class, and is a fantastic all-around outside linebacker who would be a huge upgrade at that position while he also has the potential to be a premier pass-rusher.
Jones may be a better fit for a 3-4 defense, and the Browns may be more in the market for a pass-rushing defensive end such as LSU’s Sam Montgomery. That said, the Browns would be hard-pressed to pass up Jones, a Von Miller-esque prospect with the talent to become an immediate star on Cleveland’s defense.
The Carolina Panthers defense has continued to be one of the league’s worst this year, and one area where they seriously need to improve is at defensive tackle. Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins is a massive and strong yet quick and explosive defensive tackle with the potential to be a star and a real presence on any NFL defensive line.
The Panthers have an even bigger need at cornerback that they would certainly benefit by addressing in the first round, but there is no elite cornerback worth a top-five selection. Hankins is well worth a top-five pick, and would be a second straight top-10 pick, along with linebacker Luke Kuechly in 2012, who can go a long way in improving their run defense.
The Oakland Raiders have arguably the NFL’s weakest pass rush, with only 11 sacks through nine games, they seriously need to upgrade at defensive end. If they have the chance to draft the best defensive end in the draft class, LSU’s Sam Montgomery, they should not pass up the opportunity to draft a player who can give them a premier athletic pass-rusher but who is also strong against the run.
The Raiders have many other needs that would go unfilled in the first round by drafting Montgomery, including the offensive line and cornerback, but defensive end is arguably as big of a need as any that the Raiders have on their roster.
The Buffalo Bills desperately need to improve their run defense, specifically in their linebacker corps. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o may not only be the safest pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but has a chance to be one of the NFL’s elite linebackers for many years to come.
For a team that lacks a standout linebacker, Te’o is a selection that has virtually no downside. It could be argued that the first-round pick should be a quarterback, but Te’o would be a huge upgrade to their struggling defense.
It has been quite some time since the Jets have had a standout pass-rusher; in fact, John Abraham in 2005 was the last Jet to finish a season with double-digit sacks. The Jets need that to change so they can start bringing more pressure against opposing quarterbacks.
The Jets have plenty of options at this slot for a hybrid pass-rusher, including Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo, but Florida State’s Bjoern Werner is the best pass-rusher available. Werner is a terrific athlete who can really get into the backfield, and his ability to move laterally and drop back should make him a great candidate to convert to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
The biggest potential downside to this pick is the fact that Werner would be making the transition from defensive end, which often does not work—one reason the Jets have been unable to find a premier pass-rusher for years. If they are looking for the most talented potential 3-4 outside linebacker on the board at this point, however, Werner is the guy as one of the best overall prospects still available.
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line has been absolutely terrible this season, allowing 41 sacks through their first nine games. The biggest reason for that is a terrible pair of starting offensive tackles, so the Cardinals should be going into the draft targeting the best offensive tackle they can get.
Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is the top offensive tackle prospect in this draft and one of the top overall prospects in the draft class, so this pick would be a no-brainer for the Cardinals. Even when Levi Brown returns from injury in 2013, he is better suited to play right tackle, while Joeckel has the skill set to be a franchise left tackle.
The Cardinals would not be filling their need of a new franchise quarterback by drafting Joeckel, but no quarterback will be able to have a great deal of success in Arizona until their offensive line is fixed.
The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to be a “dream team” last season, but they’ve quickly become a nightmare to watch. The biggest reason for that is a depleted offensive line that is allowing way too much pressure into the backfield, and must be fixed for the Eagles to turn things around.
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is one of the best offensive line prospects in this year’s draft class, and as a potential franchise left tackle, he would be a great building block for the future of the Eagles’ offensive line.
The one downside to selecting Lewan would be that he plays the same position as Jason Peters, who is out this season but is one of the league’s elite left tackles when healthy. There is no certainty, however, that Peters will return healthy after tearing his Achilles multiple times this offseason, and if he does, Lewan could start out on the right side with Todd Herremans moving inside to improve the team’s situation at guard.
The St. Louis Rams rebuilt the cornerback position with the additions of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins this past offseason, but still need to rebuild at safety. The Rams could do that in 2013 by drafting Eric Reid, a tremendous playmaking safety who is the best defensive back for the upcoming draft class should he declare.
Reid is a rangy athlete with great size, and he would be an upgrade in both coverage and run support. The Rams would be passing upon a greater need on the offensive line by drafting Reid here, but safety is a need and they should draft where there is better value with another first-round pick upcoming.
With two first-round picks, the St. Louis Rams would be smart to use one to help rebuild a struggling offensive line. Specifically, the Rams really need to get better at offensive tackle, so drafting the best-available offensive tackle in Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews makes sense.
It is unusual for a collegiate right tackle to be a top draft pick, but the reason for him playing on the right side is the presence of earlier projected selection Luke Joeckel on the left side at Texas A&M. Matthews is an angular tackle with great footwork and strength who has the potential to play left tackle, but even if he is best suited to play right tackle, the Rams desperately need to get better on the right side.
Matthews is a slight reach as a top-15 draft pick, but with two offensive tackles off the draft board in the first nine picks and many teams in need at the position, his value increases and makes him worth an early selection.
The Miami Dolphins traded Vontae Davis prior to the start of the season for a 2013 second-round pick, but they may now be in position to replace him with another first-round pick. The Dolphins need another cornerback to start across from Sean Smith, and Alabama’s Dee Milliner would be an ideal choice.
Milliner is a big, athletic and instinctive cornerback who has displayed the potential to be a shutdown cornerback at the next level, and should be the first cornerback taken should he declare for April’s draft. He would fill the Dolphins’ biggest need.
With a young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins may want to get him help at wide receiver or on the offensive line, but they should not pass upon Milliner if they have the chance to draft him.
Running between the tackles has been a struggle for the Tennessee Titans this season, and a big reason has been poor play by their guards. The Titans really need to revamp their offensive line, and could do so well by drafting the most versatile and accomplished offensive lineman in the draft class, Alabama’s Barrett Jones.
Jones has played every position on the offensive line at Alabama, and has played all of them well. He has a great combination of strength, footwork and football intelligence, but his best fit at the next level is as a guard, where he would most likely play for the Titans.
Interior offensive linemen are not usually top-15 picks, and the Titans have some major needs on the defensive side of the ball as well at defensive end and cornerback, but Jones would be a great fit for a team who needs to get better in the trenches.
The San Diego Chargers desperately need to upgrade at offensive tackle, but there are simply no first-round caliber offensive tackles available at this point. If the Chargers are to look in another direction in Round 1, the best spot would be to upgrade at cornerback, the weakest spot of their defense.
As a big, athletic cornerback who has been a playmaker and consistent shutdown defender in the SEC, Johnthan Banks’ stock is on the rise, and he could be a much-needed upgrade at the position for the Chargers.
As mentioned, the Chargers would miss out on filling their biggest need here, but Banks could really be an asset to a unit that needs another playmaker.
Undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict has been a very pleasant surprise for the Cincinnati Bengals this season, but the rest of their linebackers—specifically, starter Rey Maualuga—have not played well at all. The Bengals need to find another athletic, versatile linebacker to pair with Burfict in their defense, and Alabama’s C.J. Mosley fits the bill.
On a linebacker corps that lost two top-35 draft picks in Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, Mosley has stepped up to become the unit’s new star. Mosley is a terrific all-around linebacker whose stock is rising quickly as his play continues to get better and better.
The Bengals have an even bigger need on their defense at strong safety, but in terms of value, Mosley is a much better choice than the next-best safety on the board.
The Dallas Cowboys desperately need to find a cog for their interior offensive line, and have the chance to do so in 2013 if they are in position to draft Alabama’s Chance Warmack. Warmack is a big, powerful and athletic guard who can be the dominant presence on the inside of their offensive line that they have not had since Larry Allen retired.
The Cowboys could also draft an even better prospect at a position of typically-higher draft value by adding a hybrid pass-rusher in Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore. But with all the issues the Cowboys have had the past couple seasons in the middle of their offensive line, they should not pass Warmack up.
The Lions are going to be in the market for a new defensive end in the 2013 draft, and Michigan State’s William Gholston is a disruptive lineman with huge upside that would be good value in the latter half of the first round.
After a lengthy contract dispute that ended with Cliff Avril signing to a franchise tag this season, it is highly likely that the Detroit Lions will lose their best pass-rusher in 2013. Their other starting defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch, is quickly declining with age.
The Lions may have a more pressing need at cornerback, but there is much better value at defensive end. Gholston is the best value and fit, although Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and Texas’ Alex Okafor would also be great choices here as well.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had visions of an elite defensive tackle pairing when they drafted Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL draft, but while McCoy has become a star, Price never panned out. The Buccaneers still need an upgrade next to McCoy, and in this scenario, Utah’s Star Lotulelei would be too good to pass up.
Lotulelei, a tremendous all-around athlete with massive size but also great athleticism, is a top-5 prospect in the 2013 draft class who would be an absolute steal in the latter half of the first round. A McCoy-Lotulelei pairing would likely become as good as any defensive tackle duo in any in the league.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have bigger needs at cornerback and on the offensive line, but at this point in the draft, Lotulelei is just too good to pass up and would be the best choice of any player available.
The New Orleans Saints need to get better on defense, and with holes on all three levels, their best bet in the first round may be to draft the best available defensive player on the board. They could certainly use another pass-rusher, and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore is the best player available in this scenario.
Moore is having a breakout season for the Aggies, and he is an athletic defensive end with an affinity for getting into the backfield. He could be a much-needed difference-maker who could rotate in with Cameron Jordan and Will Smith, who are much better run-stoppers than pass defenders.
The Saints have a bigger need at cornerback, but they should not pass up on Moore’s value in this scenario.
The Minnesota Vikings have one of the NFL’s most explosive wideouts in Percy Harvin, but they are very thin at the position behind him. They need to find a solid possession receiver who can be a strong No. 2 across from him, and USC’s Robert Woods fits the bill.
Woods is a well-rounded receiver with great route-running ability and strong hands, and would give quarterback Christian Ponder another playmaker to work with.
Woods’ stock has slipped some this season, but in a relatively weak class of wideouts, he is still the best in the class and worth a top-20 draft pick.
The Seattle Seahawks need to add a playmaker at wide receiver, a player who can stretch the field and be a deep threat for their strong-armed young quarterback, Russell Wilson. With terrific size and speed and huge playmaking ability, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter has the most upside of any receiver in the draft class.
Hunter has some issues with inconsistent play and drops, which could cause his draft stock to slide, but he has the potential to be the big-play weapon that the Seahawks currently lack.
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Alameda Ta’amu in the fourth round last season to groom him into their nose tackle of the future, but he was released this week in the aftermath of felony drunk-driving charges. With Casey Hampton now 35, the Steelers could very well seek his replacement early in the 2013 draft.
Alabama’s Jesse Williams is a terrific defensive tackle who combines great size and strength with disruptive quickness, giving him the potential to play any spot on a three-man defensive front. Williams would be able to factor in the rotation on the defensive line immediately, and be the team’s long-term option at nose tackle.
The Steelers have bigger needs at cornerback, inside linebacker and running back, but Williams is good value late in the first round and would be a good fit for the Steelers’ scheme.
Some have projected Barkevious Mingo to be selected much higher, but while he is a tremendously-athletic pass-rusher, he lacks the strength to be a run defender on the defensive line at the next level, making him most attractive only to teams that run a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Colts are one of those teams, and with veteran outside linebacker Dwight Freeney slated for unrestricted free agency, Mingo would be a perfect fit to replace him.
Mingo projects well to play outside linebacker, and could add an impact player to the Colts’ defense. The Colts may have bigger needs on the offensive and defensive lines, but Mingo’s value would be too good to pass up late in the first round.
The Chicago Bears did not use tight ends much when Mike Martz was offensive coordinator, but that has changed entirely under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a former NFL tight end himself. The problem for the Bears, however, is that they lack the complete tight end needed to fit their offense.
Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert could be exactly that. Eifert is a big, athletic tight end with great receiving ability, but is also a more-than-adequate blocker.
The Bears’ biggest need is to improve their offensive line, which they would not meet by making this selection, but with a need for a tight end and better value in Eifert than any offensive lineman, this is the best choice for them.
The New York Giants’ biggest weakness is at the linebacker position, so it is very likely they will pursue an upgrade with their first-round pick. LSU middle linebacker Kevin Minter has had a superb junior season, and has established himself as a player who can be a starter and difference-maker at the next level.
Minter has the potential to play any linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense, with a great combination of athletic ability and sound tackling and technique. Even though many may not yet see Minter as a first-round pick, there is very little downside to this potential selection.
The Broncos’ top draft pick in 2012, Derek Wolfe, is starting at defensive end this season, but he is better suited to play inside at defensive tackle.
Defensive tackle may be viewed as the bigger need for the Broncos currently, but if the Broncos have a chance to select Texas’ Alex Okafor with a late first-round pick, they should take advantage of his great value and find a starter opposite Elvis Dumervil who is truly suited to play the position.
Okafor is a very well-rounded defensive end who could be a top-15 draft selection, but would be great value late in the first round. He would upgrade at defensive end as both a pass-rusher and run defender, while he is the best player available on the board.
A defensive tackle in Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, center in USC’s Khaled Holmes or running back in Alabama’s Eddie Lacy may fill a need more directly, but Okafor could help the Broncos the most.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is a big proponent of drafting on value, so you can count on him drafting one of the top-ranked players on the board when the Ravens are on the clock. North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson’s stock has slipped this season due to inconsistent play, but he is still a very talented playmaker who would be well worth taking a chance on late in the first round.
The Ravens lack depth at cornerback, and Amerson has huge upside as a cover corner with tremendous ball skills and ability to break up passes.
Inside linebacker and free safety may be greater positions of need for the Ravens, given the uncertain futures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but the Ravens will draft on value over need. Amerson is a risky selection, but could end up being a star.
The weakness of the Falcons’ defense is their defensive line, specifically on the inside at defensive tackle. The Falcons need a disruptive force who can be a playmaker at the position, and Florida’s Sharrif Floyd fits the bill.
Having released Ray Edwards this week following one-and-a-half disappointing seasons with the team, the Falcons could be more focused on drafting a defensive end in 2013, but the best value on the defensive line is Floyd. In truth, with Floyd being one of the best players available and addressing the team’s biggest area of need, there would be little downside to that selection.
Jeff Saturday is signed for one more season as the Green Bay Packers’ center in 2013, but as he will be 38 next year, it will likely be his last NFL season. That means 2013 would be a good time to draft and groom his replacement for 2014, and USC’s Khaled Holmes is the best true center in the draft class.
Holmes may not be able to provide any immediate dividends for the Packers, and they may be better off finding a feature running back in Alabama’s Eddie Lacy. The Packers typically develop their own offensive linemen, however, so getting a head start with a well-rounded center in Holmes would make sense.
The Patriots’ secondary continues to be a problem, and the team could move Devin McCourty, who was their No. 1 cornerback, to safety for the long term. If that is the case, the Patriots should certainly be in the market for another potential No. 1 cornerback in the 2013 NFL draft.
Rutgers’ Logan Ryan is a bit under-the-radar as a draft prospect, but he has big upside as a cornerback. He is a very athletic cornerback with great playmaking ability and sound tackling, and he has a connection to the Patriots, having been teammates last season with Steve Belichick, who went from being Rutgers’ long snapper to a special assistant on his father’s coaching staff.
Ryan may be viewed as a slight reach as a first-round pick, but he is as good as any cornerback available at this point.
The Houston Texans have the best defensive end in the entire NFL in J.J. Watt, but the possibility for Watt to be even better could come with a true gap-filling nose tackle in the middle of the Texans’ three-man front. The Texans could certainly get that in massive yet surprisingly quick and explosive Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins.
Nose tackle is not their biggest need—the right side of their offensive line needs to be improved, and they need a No. 2 wide receiver—but by feeding their strength, Jenkins could make one of the league’s best defenses even stronger.
The San Francisco 49ers failed to reach a long-term agreement with standout free safety Dashon Goldson this past offseason, instead signing him to a franchise tag, and are at risk of losing him before the 2013 season. If Goldson does leave as a free agent, the 49ers will need to replace him, and Alabama’s Robert Lester would be an attractive option at the end of the first round.
Lester is a well-rounded free safety, a playmaker who covers well deep but is also a good tackler in run support. He has some issues with inconsistent play, but has the skill set to be a very solid starter at the next level.
The 49ers’ biggest need on their defense is for an upgrade at nose tackle, but there is not ample value on the board in this scenario, which should turn them to Lester.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots game day correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.