General managers have an incredibly difficult job, far more difficult than any diehard fan would like to admit.
Despite months of preparation leading into the draft, some general managers simply can never get it right on draft day, while others absolutely blow the competition out of the water.
At this point in the season, we already know what to think about each team and can see where they will likely draft in April. With bowl season coming up in college football, more talent than we are currently looking at will shine through the cracks, while perceived gems will shatter under pressure and hinder their draft stock.
It's time to make early April projections and give each general manager a recommendation on who to draft in the first round.
Here's my latest first round mock draft.
*Note: Order is based on standings following Week 14.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: QB, Geno Smith, West Virginia
The Chiefs could very well fire Romeo Crennel and his staff. Assuming they do that—and in light of the fact that they don't have a franchise QB on their roster—this is the best time to bring in a young QB.
He had tremendous success in the 2012 season for West Virginia. Smith has all the tools to be a great pocket passer. He completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 4006 yards, 40 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
At 6'3" 220 pounds, he is a little shorter than the ideal height for a QB, but it shouldn't hinder his draft stock.
For a team that needs to start over offensively, this is the most sensible selection.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: LB, Jarvis Jones, Georgia
A QB would be nice here, but with so many questions surrounding the health (Pro Football Talk) and height (6'2") of Matt Barkley, they will go safe here.
Were it not for this play, Barkley would likely be headed to Jacksonville or Kansas City.
Jones is a potentially dynamic force on defense, so the Jags can't go wrong here.
3. Oakland Raiders: DT, Star Lotulelei, Utah
The Raiders' run defense is ranked 26th in the NFL. Lotulelei looks like the rare DT that can excel at both pass-rushing and run-stuffing.
I've been impressed with him since 2011, and I believe he'll be one of the most dominant defensive players in this draft.
4. Arizona Cardinals: QB, Matt Barkley, USC
Even though the Jags may pass on Barkley, the Cardinals can't let him slip by.
Their offense is putrid. They are last in the NFL in yards and points scored. With Larry Fitzgerald aging and Michael Floyd developing, the Cardinals desperately need someone to get them the ball.
5. Carolina Panthers: WR, Keenan Allen, California
Steve Smith is 33 years old, and Cam Newton needs a younger, bigger target for the present and future. Allen is 6'3" and has the talent to become a productive receiver in the NFL.
Bleacher Report's draft expert Matt Miller said:
"Compared to someone like Justin Blackmon last year—who also projected as an underneath receiver—Allen has much better hands and concentration.
He doesn't put the ball on the ground when the quarterback delivers it. Allen is a much better all-around pass-catcher than Blackmon at every level."
6. Philadelphia Eagles: LT, Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Pass-protection has to be the top priority for the Eagles. Their QBs have been sacked 41 times through 13 games this season. Whether it's for Michael Vick or Nick Foles, this is imperative if they plan to keep the signal-callers healthy.
Joeckel is clearly the stud O-lineman of the draft, and the Eagles will be lucky to grab him at No. 6.
7. Detroit Lions: MLB, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
I love Stephen Tulloch, but at 5'11", he's undersized. Despite a solid defensive line, the Lions are still allowing 121 yards per game on the ground. Te'o would give them a bigger, more physical presence in the middle.
The Lions are also in need of positive character. Te'o's presence could help boost the morale and integrity of a somewhat wayward group.
Despite not winning the Heisman, Te'o has had an awesome 2012 season and career at Notre Dame.
8. Tennessee Titans: DE, Bjoern Woerner, Florida State
The Titans' defensive line could use an upgrade on the edge and on the interior. This comes down to taking the best player available at a position of need.
Woerner's 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss this season is proof that he can be a difference-maker.
9. Cleveland Browns: DE, Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Grabbing a pass-rusher would be a smart move for the Browns. Their defense and overall core is on the rise, Moore could be the draft's best pure pass-rusher.
10. Buffalo Bills: DT, John Jenkins, Georgia
Despite having Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams at DT, the Bills are still just 28th in the NFL against the run. Jenkins is a mountain of a man at 6'4" 350 pounds.
His presence could change the way teams attack Buffalo and make other players on the defense better.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports said: "At 6-3, 358 pounds Jenkins is a load and his ability to play on the nose or as a defensive tackle has his stock ascending as the draft nears."
11. Miami Dolphins: OT, Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Ushering out one former Michigan Wolverines standout tackle to make room for another is the right move for the Fins.
They probably won't bring Jake Long back next season, per Pro Football Talk. They could take Lewan to fill the void—or at least add depth at left tackle.
12. San Diego Chargers: WR, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Philip Rivers misses Vincent Jackson desperately. The offense needs a big receiver that can use his body and win jump balls down the field.
It is the one element the Chargers' offense is missing this season. Jackson's absence has a lot to do with why the team's yards-per-pass play is down to 5.8 from 7.2 last season.
Patterson is 6'3" 210 pounds, and he possesses the size and hands combination to become Rivers' downfield favorite.
13. New Orleans Saints: OT, Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
For the first time in a while, Drew Brees hasn't had great protection. He generally gets rid of the ball quickly, so he's been able to limit the sacks to 23 this year, but it will be hard not to take Matthews with this pick.
Manziel wouldn't have come anywhere close to winning the Heisman w/o two top 15 picks in Luke Joeckel at LT & Jake Matthews at RT— Austin Nale (@UNCarolinaNuggs) December 9, 2012
The run defense could use help, but the Saints are nothing without a healthy Brees. They must make protecting him a top priority.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE, Alex Okafor, Texas
The Bucs are dead last in passing yards allowed, but they have picked off 17 passes this season. The defense doesn't get to the quarterback regularly, though. They have just 24 sacks as a team this season.
Because of that, it makes sense to take the best pass-rusher available.
15. New York Jets: OLB/DE, Barkevious Mingo, LSU
There couldn't be a more obvious pick for a team. Mingo's explosive pass-rushing skills seem perfectly suited for Rex Ryan's system.
He could be an impact player from day one.
"Mingo does possess some versatility, some see him as a 4-3 DE while others as a 3-4 OLB. Bruce Irvin was the 15th pick in the draft and Mingo if he develops properly has a much much higher ceiling in terms of overall ability."
16. St. Louis Rams: DT, Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Defensively, the Rams aren't a bad group. At this point, they have to take the best players available, though. That is augmented considering they also hold the 17th pick as well.
Richardson could give them another defensive playmaker up front, and his style blends in well with Jeff Fisher's defensive approach.
17. St. Louis Rams: OG, Chance Warmack, Alabama
Shoring up the interior protection is essential, if the Rams plan to emulate the type of running attack Chris Johnson and the Titans had during Fisher's tenure there.
Daryl Richardson is a similar type of back. Warmack is a potential Pro Bowl interior lineman, and dominant run games need players like him.
18. Minnesota Vikings: QB, Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Christian Ponder isn't the answer, and while the Vikings may not be ready to move up to take Smith or Barkley, it would be smart to draft Wilson here.
He had a rough senior season with injury and disappointing team results, but he is still a talent.
The Vikings have to find a quarterback that can make teams pay for loading up to stop Adrian Peterson.
Tyler Wilson reminds me of Matthew Stafford somewhat. Changes delivery on occasion. Big arm. Gun-slinger mentality. Both 6'3'' out of SEC— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) December 11, 2012
19. Dallas Cowboys: DT, Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
As if the Cowboys' 17th ranked run defense didn't need help, the reported fall-out between Jay Ratliff and owner Jerry Jones (per CBS Sports) makes this pick seem even more sensible.
Hankins is a great athlete at 6'3" 325 pounds, and the type of player that can be a force in the Cowboys' 3-4 scheme.
20. Cincinnati Bengals: RB, Giovanni Bernard, North Carolina
Adding a threat out of the backfield would make the Bengals' offense one of the better attacks in the NFL.
They have their franchise QB in Andy Dalton, and the all-world receiver in A.J. Green, Bernard would give them a RB that can more than keep defenses honest.
Despite being a sophomore, he is eligible for the NFL draft. He had a great 2012 season, rushing for 1228 yards, and 12 touchdowns on only 184 carries.
Sean Bielawski of CBS Sports said:
"Bernard now has a tough decision to make. As a redshirt sophomore, he is eligible to enter the upcoming NFL Draft. He is rated the No. 45 overall prospect and the top-rated running back in CBSSports.com's latest player rankings."
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB, Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
Neither Keenan Lewis nor Cortez Allen is irreplaceable at corner.
The Steelers genuinely concentrate on their front seven early in the draft, but Rhodes gives the team a chance to grab a potential starter in the secondary.
This is a selection the Steelers should make.
22. Chicago Bears: TE, Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Chicago Bears fans should have confidence in general manager Phil Emery.
After all, he engineered a trade to bring in Brandon Marshall, selected promising defensive lineman Shea McClellin and underrated tight end/fullback Evan Rodriguez in the 2012 NFL draft.
With an offense ranked 28th in total yards, it's clear what the team's biggest weakness is.
It seems obvious Emery has to make that his focus this offseason. While the offensive line is in desperate need, the Bears may be better off targeting a potential free agent like Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer or Ryan Clady to bolster that group.
This core doesn't have time to wait for a young tackle to develop. Aside from Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M, the other top tackle prospects will likely take some time to hit their stride.
Jay Cutler's body may not hold up that long. The Bears have already surrendered 37 sacks this season. Cutler needs help pronto, and that should come from a veteran.
In the draft, the Bears would be smart to make the necessary concessions to tab Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame. Brandon Marshall has been all-world this season for the Bears, but the team needs another weapon in the passing game.
Marshall's 101 receptions is more than the rest of the Bears' WR/TEs combined.
Eifert would represent a huge upgrade for the Bears at tight end, and a matchup problem for teams with his size and athleticism.
At 6'6", 251 pounds, he is a limber receiving option, but he has also shown his ability to hold up as an edge blocker. He would have the biggest immediate impact for a team that is only a player or two away from serious contention.
He'll take a ton of pressure off Brandon Marshall. Take a look at Eifert in action.
23. Seattle Seahawks: WR, Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Russell Wilson still needs more weapons if Seattle's offense is ever going to be balanced and dangerous.
Austin is only 5'9, but he's incredibly explosive. He could also give the Seahawks a presence in the return game as well. With Wilson at QB, the Seahawks need run-after-the-catch guys, and Austin fits the bill.
24. New York Giants: DE, Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
The Giants are known for their depth at defensive line, but Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora will be 30 and 32 respectively next season.
Bringing in a prospect like Ansah makes sense.
Perhaps the best thing about the Giants' defense is their ability to keep a steady stream of effective pass-rushers in the game. Ansah can keep that tradition going.
25. Indianapolis Colts: DT, Jesse Williams, Alabama
Williams ability to stuff the run is perfect for the Colts' new 3-4 defense. The Colts have started building things on offense, they need to start bringing in players that are made for their defensive system.
This pick is the first step towards shaping the Colts' defense for the new era.
"Jesse Williams hails from Australia but has quickly found a comfort level in the front lines of the Alabama defense ...
the junior college transfer, who didn't begin playing football until he was 15 years old found his footing after just one spring on campus and earned the starting job at the 5-technique defensive end while moving inside to tackle in passing downs in a four-man front"
26. Green Bay Packers: OT, Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Aaron Rodgers deserves MVP votes because he has been generating stellar numbers—despite running for his life much of this season.
He's been sacked 42 times this year, and that is not what you want for any QB—let alone arguably the best player in the NFL.
The Packers have to get him better protection.
Fisher will surprise some folks who aren't aware of him. He hails from Central Michigan, and though he didn't play in a major conference, he is undoubtedly an NFL talent.
27. Baltimore Ravens: OLB, C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The Ravens defense is not what it used to be. They are ranked just 23rd in the NFL against the pass and 25th in the NFL against the run.
Mosley has Ravens' LB written all over him. He could play on the left side, and don't discount his ability to move inside as an understudy to Ray Lewis.
This pick makes perfect sense for the Ravens.
28. San Francisco 49ers: WR, Terrance Williams, Baylor
Randy Moss hasn't turned into the field-stretching player the Niners hoped he would be. Williams would provide another big, athletic receiver on the other side of the emerging Michael Crabtree.
A Niners offense that features Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Vernon Davis, Crabtree and Williams sounds dangerous.
Williams had 95 receptions for 1764 yards and 12 touchdowns for Baylor this season. Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright's success as rookies will only help his stock.
29. New England Patriots: OG, Barrett Jones, Alabama
Running the ball effectively has become even more important to the Pats this season. They have already run the ball 434 times through 13 games. They ran it a total of 438 times in 2011.
As Tom Brady gets older, I expect that trend will continue.
Drafting a big ugly like Jones will ensure the Patriots' offense has the appropriate balance.
30. Denver Broncos: RB, Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Denver can't trust Knowshon Moreno's durability and Willis McGahee is 31 years old. Taylor is one of my favorite backs in this draft because of his tough inside running.
He also excels at pass-blocking and receiving—something of a prerequisite for playing with Peyton Manning. Taylor had 38 receptions for 270 yards and two scores in the 2012 season at Stanford.
Couple that with his 1442 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, and he is going to be one of the steals of the draft.
Charlie Campbell of Walter Football said:
"Taylor may be a back who is a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. He does everything well, but is not overly fast or physical. As a well-rounded back, his stock could rise.
Taylor has shown the ability to be a three-down back and serve as a receiver or blocker."
31. Atlanta Falcons: DT, Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Despite the Falcons' 11-2 record, their defense hasn't been stellar. They are ranked just 16th against the pass and 24th against the run.
Floyd is a potential game-changer on the defensive line. The Falcons could get lucky and have him fall to them here because of scheme mismatches.
He would be an instant boost for the Dirty Birds.
32. Houston Texans, WR, DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Andre Johnson has been healthy this season, but he has battled injuries in the past. He missed 12 games combined in 2010 and 2011, and he's 31 years old.
The Texans have to think about bringing in another potential No. 1 receiver. Hopkins can learn from Johnson as a secondary option in the immediate, but ultimately take over as the team's top target.
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