With just four full weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, draft season is approaching ever closer as playoff dreams begin being shattered for an increasing number of teams league-wide.
Especially for those teams whose postseason chances now seem unrealistic, the speculation of which draft prospects the team will target becomes of greater interest. And as the projected draft order becomes more clear, college football teams’ seasons finish up and underclassmen make their declarations to leave early, the picture of which players could go where starts to gain some clarity.
Now less than five months away from the 2013 NFL draft, these are my latest projections of how the draft’s first round will play out.
Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o has made a big jump up the board in this 2013 NFL mock draft.
With just four full weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, draft season is approaching ever closer as playoff dreams begin being shattered for an increasing number of teams league-wide.
In the wake of a horrific situation that affected the Chiefs organization on Saturday, quarterback Brady Quinn led his team to a win with a very strong performance on Sunday. Quinn isn’t, however, the long-term answer at quarterback, and neither is Matt Cassel.
If the Chiefs hold the No. 1 overall pick, they have little choice but to draft the best quarterback on the board, even though there is no elite signal-caller prospect in this class. At this point, the top quarterback prospect is West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who combines prototypical size and athleticism for a pocket passer with a strong arm, quick release and the accuracy to make even the toughest of throws.
The Jacksonville Jaguars already added one pass-rusher to their defense last week when they claimed veteran Jason Babin from the waiver wire. The Jaguars could still use more playmakers in their defensive front seven, however, so instead of looking for a defensive end, an outside linebacker with pass-rushing ability in Georgia’s Jarvis Jones now makes a lot of sense.
Jones can do it all as an outside linebacker, from making run tackles in space to dropping back in pass coverage. While Jones is not a down lineman, he has the pass-rushing ability to line up as an end/edge rusher situationally, in order to best utilize his speed and ability to get after the quarterback.
Jones gives the Jaguars many options on how to use him, but what he absolutely can be is another much-needed playmaker on their defensive front, and is well worth a top-two pick.
Rolando McClain may still be an Oakland Raider for now, but after his falling out with the organization last week, it seems very unlikely that he will be a member of the organization much longer. Even if they don’t formally move on from him, they could certainly use an upgrade at middle linebacker anyways, as he has failed to live up to expectations since he was selected No. 8 overall in the 2010 NFL draft.
Character has been McClain’s biggest issue, but the Raiders could replace him with a natural leader with no character issues in Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Character is one of many strong qualities Te’o has, in addition to being a tremendous run-stopping middle linebacker with prototypical size and athleticism, while also being very solid in pass coverage.
Te’o may very well be the best overall prospect in the draft. For a team that has no second-round pick and cannot afford to miss with their first selection, while also desperately needing help on all three levels of their defense, Te’o is a safe selection who can lead their defense for many years to come.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ biggest problem in their eight-game losing streak has been the play of their defensive back seven, but the value at that position is not on the board in a top-five pick. The Eagles, nonetheless, need to rebuild all over their roster, and a great place to start in the 2013 draft would be selecting a franchise left tackle prospect in Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel.
The Eagles have sorely missed Jason Peters’ presence at left tackle this season, and coming off of multiple injuries to the same Achilles tendon, his future is uncertain. Even if Peters returns and plays well next year, Joeckel can be an immediate upgrade at right tackle and the heir apparent on the blind side.
The Carolina Panthers have a major need to improve their power run defense by upgrading at defensive tackle. They can get that upgrade by drafting a true difference-maker in Utah’s Star Lotulelei.
Lotulelei is a massive, powerful lineman with the size of a pure run-stopping nose tackle, but with the quickness and athleticism that makes him a three-down force and a great fit for any scheme. He is a true difference-maker who fills gaps consistently and is an explosive interior pass-rusher.
The Arizona Cardinals are desperately in need of a new quarterback, but before they can fix the rest of their offense, they must rebuild what is currently the NFL’s worst offensive line. The Cardinals should be focused on selecting an offensive lineman with their first-round pick, and the best choice in this scenario would be Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan.
The Cardinals’ current starting offensive tackle duo of D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie have been beaten consistently this season, but the addition of Lewan, with the return of a healthy Levi Brown next season, would give the Cardinals more stability.
A great technician blocker with very good feet, Lewan could succeed on either side of the line, but Brown is a player best suited to play right tackle who has been stuck at left tackle for years. He can be a franchise player for the offensive line, something the Cardinals certainly do not currently have.
The Cleveland Browns lack a premier pass-rusher at the defensive end position, and there is value on the board at that position. The Browns could immediately fill that need by drafting the best pure pass-rushing defensive end in the class, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner.
Werner is a long, explosive pass-rusher, and is also very good at getting out in space to play the run. He is a true three-down lineman, and is a great fit to be a leading playmaker on the Browns’ four-man defensive front.
Opposing quarterbacks have a combined 70.4 completion percentage, the highest of any pass defense in the NFL, against the Tennessee Titans. One big reason for that is a lack of playmakers at the safety position, which leaves too many open targets on the field.
The Titans need to add another playmaker to their secondary, and LSU’s Eric Reid is the best defensive back in the 2013 draft class. He is a rangy athlete and also a big hitter, and he can be a much-needed upgrade and difference-maker at safety.
The best fit for the Titans of any player may be Alabama guard Chance Warmack, but it is rare for an interior lineman to be a top-10 draft pick, and Reid’s talent and difference he could make is tough for the Titans to pass up in this scenario.
The San Diego Chargers could seriously use upgrades at either offensive tackle position. Jake Matthews is a terrific right tackle at Texas A&M who could be an immediate starter at that spot for the Chargers, but also has the upside to make the jump to left tackle at the next level.
It is rare for a collegiate right tackle to be a top-10 draft pick, and Matthews may be a slight reach this high in the first round. He really isn’t too far off, however, from his teammate, Luke Joeckel; like Joeckel, Matthews has great length, feet and leverage for an offensive tackle.
Cliff Avril, the Detroit Lions’ best defensive end, is likely to leave as an unrestricted free agent after being franchise tagged in 2012. If so, the Detroit Lions need to find another starter at the position to replace him, and the best available pass-rusher on the board is Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore.
Moore has had an outstanding junior season, and has a true knack for making plays and getting into the backfield. He is a difference-maker who is great value at the end of the top 10, and would be an immediate replacement for Avril to give the Lions a premier pass-rusher.
The best pick for the Buffalo Bills here would be Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, who would add a big-time playmaker at their biggest position of need. For the Bills, however, it will be awfully difficult to pass up a potential franchise quarterback in USC’s Matt Barkley.
NFL Draft Countdown’s Scott Wright tweeted on Thursday that he has heard “rumblings” that the Bills will look to draft a quarterback early in 2013, and that certainly makes sense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is inconsistent, and not a franchise quarterback. Barkley’s stock has slipped to the point where he may not be a top-10 draft pick, but he is a very gifted pro-style passer with the tools to be a very good NFL starting quarterback.
The New York Jets are probably going to need a new quarterback before they can come close to being a contender again, but there simply is not a quarterback worthy of being selected at this point. Rather than reaching on Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, the Jets should address another major need, which is for a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is a tremendous athlete and explosive pass-rusher who is a great fit to drop from defensive end and play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He needs to get stronger and improve as a run defender, but he has huge upside and could make an immediate impact situationally on passing downs.
The Miami Dolphins need to find another starting cornerback to line up across from Sean Smith. If they have the opportunity to draft the best cornerback in the 2013 draft class, that being Alabama’s Dee Milliner, he will be tough to pass up, especially outside of the top 10 draft picks.
Milliner is a big, athletic cornerback who has the skills to be a big upgrade over what Davis was, and fortify the back end of the Dolphins’ defense as a shutdown cover corner and solid run defender as well. The Dolphins may be looking for offensive reinforcements at wide receiver or at offensive tackle, but they should go with the value of Milliner here.
Few draft prospects have risen faster this season than Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, and as he has emerged as the star of the Crimson Tide’s loaded defense this year, he now looks like he could be a steal as a mid-first-round selection. For the St. Louis Rams, who are very thin at linebacker outside of James Laurinaitis, they should not pass up Mosley’s value here.
Mosley is a versatile linebacker who can play any linebacker position in a 4-3 scheme, but would be a very good fit as a weakside linebacker in the base defense and to play next to James Laurinaitis in the nickel package. Mosley is a complete all-around linebacker who is a difference-maker in both run defense and pass coverage, and would be an asset to the Rams’ defense at a position of need.
The Dallas Cowboys seriously need to get better on the interior offensive line. Alabama’s Barrett Jones, a very good offensive lineman who has the polish and skill to start right away at any interior line spot, would be a perfect fit.
After being an All-American left tackle at Alabama as a junior, Jones should earn the same recognition as the nation’s best center in his senior season. Jones could be an immediate and much-needed upgrade at center, but could also be a quick fix at just about any spot on the offensive line.
The St. Louis Rams could certainly still use another weapon in their passing offense, and upgrading with a tight end who can be both a big playmaker as well as an asset as a run blocker. Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert can be both of those things; a tight end who fits the modern prototype and may very well be the best skill-position prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Eifert is a big, athletic tight end who has the potential to be a Rob Gronkowski-like weapon in an NFL passing offense, while he is also a solid blocker. The Rams’ offense is still one that lacks a go-to playmaker, but they have to draft one in Eifert.
Johnathan Hankins made it all the way up to the No. 1 spot on my draft board earlier in the season, so he would be an absolute steal as the No. 17 overall pick. He is a disruptive, difference-making defensive tackle who could pair with Kevin Williams to give the Vikings a dominant interior defensive line that they have not had since Pat Williams’ departure broke up the “Williams Wall.”
Hankins is a massive, powerful defensive tackle, who also has great quickness and athletic ability for his size. He has the potential to be a true game-changer at the next level, and the Vikings should not pass him up if they have the chance to select him.
The New Orleans Saints have bigger needs on their defense than at defensive end, but that does not hide the fact that their pass-rush is subpar, and they could certainly use a premier rusher at the position. The Saints are in a position where drafting the best available defensive player makes sense, and drafting a very gifted pass rusher with in-state ties in LSU’s Sam Montgomery makes a lot of sense.
Montgomery is a terrific athlete and talented all-around defensive end who can be a three-down difference-maker at the next level. He would be great value in the latter half of the first round, and be a much-needed impact player if added to the Saints’ defensive line.
Signs point to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being in the market for another cornerback in 2013. The Buccaneers traded one starting cornerback, Aqib Talib, to the New England Patriots this season, and their other starting cornerback, Eric Wright, is no longer guaranteed money next season following a drug suspension, meaning that they could move on from him, as well, after a disappointing season.
Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is a well-rounded cornerback who has shut his opponents down in the SEC, and would be a great choice in the latter half of the first round. The Buccaneers have one promising young cornerback in Leonard Johnson, but they lack a true No. 1 corner, which Banks has the all-around skill set to be.
The Cincinnati Bengals have bigger needs than at defensive end, but it makes for them to draft where the value is at rather than at free safety, linebacker or right tackle. Michael Johnson is an unrestricted free agent, which means the Bengals could certainly target a defensive end in the first round, and Michigan State’s William Gholston is one of the best players on the board in this scenario.
Gholston is a big defensive end who also is a very good all-around athlete, making him disruptive both at rushing the passer and shutting down the run. He has been an inconsistent performer at Michigan State, but has the upside to be a difference-maker.
Although Pete Carroll never coached Robert Woods at USC, he was responsible for recruiting him to the Trojans program. Now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Carroll needs to find a top wide receiver to be a go-to target for young quarterback Russell Wilson, and could try to bring Woods to his program again.
Woods does not have the prototypical size and speed of an NFL No. 1 wideout, but he has the skills to be very productive at the next level. He is an exceptional route-runner with great hands, making him a reliable target who is a weapon with his ability to make plays by finding seams in the defense and getting open.
Jesse Williams would be a steal as a late first-round pick, and would be a perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers could really use some reinforcement at the nose tackle position. At 35, Casey Hampton’s best years are behind him, and his heir apparent, Alameda Ta’amu, was cut earlier this season after being arrested on felony charges.
Jesse Williams is a strong and powerful nose tackle who is a perfect fit to be the new anchor of the Steelers defensive front. Williams has great size, but he is also quick off the snap and truly a disruptive player who frees up the defenders around him to make plays.
If the Indianapolis Colts have a shot to draft Alabama guard Chance Warmack, he is a no-brainer of a selection. The Colts really need to upgrade their interior offensive line, and Warmack is a tremendously talented guard with the potential to be a star at the position.
It is rare to find a guard prospect with the combination of mauling power and strength with nimble feet that Warmack has. The Colts could immediately make a weak area better with this selection, and he fills a need while he is also the best value on the draft board.
The Chicago Bears’ offensive line has been terrible this season. They have been especially weak at right tackle, where 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi has not panned out. The Bears should really be looking to address that position early in the 2013 draft, if possible, and have the chance to draft a very solid right tackle prospect in D.J. Fluker.
Fluker is a powerful run blocker and a long, decently athletic tackle who leverages defensive opponents well. He may be somewhat of a reach as a first-round pick, but would fill a very important need.
The Green Bay Packers drafted two 5-technique defensive ends in the 2012 NFL draft, but the Packers have had some issues in the defensive front seven when injuries have hit this year. Specifically, they need to do a better job stopping the run, and with some very good value still available on defensive linemen, it would make sense to draft another and strengthen the position.
Floyd is a defensive tackle at Florida, but he projects well to playing 5-technique defensive end in a three-man front, while he also has the functional strength to spell B.J. Raji at nose tackle if needed. Floyd can add a level of athleticism, explosiveness and quickness that current starters Jerel Worthy and Ryan Pickett do not have.
The Baltimore Ravens are known for drafting value and, if he declares for the 2013 draft, redshirt sophomore Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby would be the best available player in this scenario. The Ravens could certainly use another playmaker to start across from Lardarius Webb at cornerback, and adding Roby could give them an outstanding duo of starters.
Roby emerged a shutdown cornerback in a breakout year for the Buckeyes. He has tremendous speed and ball skills, and that, combined with his aggressive style of play, make him a very dangerous playmaker. He is also very solid as a tackler in run support.
Defensive tackle has been a point of weakness for the Denver Broncos defense for a few years now, but they can certainly become stronger at the position by drafting Georgia’s John Jenkins. With enormous size but also the quickness to shoot gaps, Jenkins is a true difference-making interior lineman.
Jenkins can beat blockers both by simply overpowering them and by exploding off the line, making him both a dominant run stopper and a dynamic interior pass-rusher. Jenkins certainly fits a 3-4 defensive scheme as an anchoring nose tackle best, but has the athleticism and overall skill set to excel in a four-man front as well.
The Ray Edwards experiment officially became a failure earlier this season when the Atlanta Falcons released him less than two years after signing the high-profile defensive end as a free agent. The Falcons still have a strong pair of starters in John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, but will likely be looking for a third defensive end to be the key player in the rotation they expected Edwards to be.
Okafor is great value late in the first round. He is an athletic pass-rusher who is also very solid against the run, and has the skills to make an immediate impact in the Falcons’ defensive line rotation.
The linebacker corps is the weak point of the New York Giants’ defense, and they lack a true leading run-stopper at middle linebacker.
LSU’s Kevin Minter may be the best player available in this scenario. He is an athletic linebacker with great playmaking range as a run-stopper in the middle of a defense, and has the ability to get out in space and make tackles and drop into coverage.
Upgrading the pass defense may seem like an obvious direction for the New England Patriots to go in the first round, but never count on Bill Belichick to go the obvious route in the draft. If the Patriots lose Wes Welker as an unrestricted free agent, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin would be a perfect fit to replace him as the Patriots’ slot receiver.
The Patriots are already thin at wide receiver as it is, and if they lose Welker, they will need to find a playmaker with quickness and route-running to take over his role in the offense. Austin is the most dynamic receiver in the 2013 draft class, with exceptional cutting ability and quickness, along with route-running skill and rushing ability that would make him a perfect fit in an offense featuring Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen already.
The Houston Texans already have one of the league’s elite wide receivers in Andre Johnson, but they lack a consistent No. 2 weapon at the position to draw coverages away from Johnson. A big-play threat and playmaker like Tennessee’s Justin Hunter could be exactly what the Texans’ passing offense needs.
Hunter has a tremendous combination of size and speed, and has the ability to be a big playmaker at the next level. He is raw as a route-runner and drops can be an issue, but has the most upside of any wide receiver eligible for the 2013 draft.
North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson had an up-and-down junior season, but he remains a dynamic playmaker worth a late first-round selection. The 49ers can afford to take a chance on Amerson, and could certainly use another playmaker in their secondary.
Amerson has a tremendous combination of size and athleticism and tremendous ball skills, but his shortcomings come from being over-aggressive and giving up too many big plays. He compares favorably, however, to New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, and the 49ers could use McCourty as a model and try converting Amerson to free safety if Dashon Goldson leaves as an unrestricted free agent following the season.