The 2012 NFL draft is not taking place until late April, but it's all that fans of almost half of the franchises in the league have to look forward to.
After Week 15, a handful more will likely join in on looking forward to the draft and building hope for next year, as the playoff picture becomes clearer and more teams are eliminated from contention.
Let’s take a look at our first mock for the 2013 draft, with a focus on players that would be great fits for each club.
*Order based on current records (as of Week 14), highest seeds advancing through playoffs the furthest and tiebreakers settled by strength of schedule.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Chiefs' dismal season is largely a result of the poor play from Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. Neither is worthy of continuing to start under center for Kansas City, and the team direly needs some new blood at the QB position.
Enter Geno Smith, a highly effective passer with solid accuracy and the propensity to make a big play. While he’s nowhere near the level that Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck were at in last year’s class, he’s the cream of the quarterback crop in 2013.
If you don’t have a franchise signal-caller, you need to get one, and the Chiefs will take a stab with Smith.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Jags' pass rush, and defense in general, is absolutely atrocious. Upgrading the middle of their line could go a long ways toward fixing that.
Lotulelei isn’t exactly going to become a sack fiend, but he can clog up the middle and still has the skills to get into the backfield and pressure the QB. He’s a perfect fit for Jacksonville’s pressure-starved D.
3. Oakland Raiders (3-10): Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
With passing becoming a premium in the NFL, the Raiders have to find a better way to reach the QB and stop the opposing teams from airing it out.
Oakland has only 17 sacks through 13 games, and Moore would likely increase that number significantly if he were on the roster next year.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
While the Eagles line isn’t exactly as bad as most fans make it out to be, the team doesn’t have much depth and injuries have turned this once decent group into a ragtag bunch that can’t stop anyone from getting into their backfield.
Joeckel is the top tackle prospect in the class and should slot into the RT spot, while Jason Peter anchors Nick Foles’ blind side, for his entire career.
5. Carolina Panthers (4-9): Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Carolina’s rush defense is absolutely awful, giving up over 121 yards per game on the ground. It can significantly improved with an elite tackle like Hankins clogging up the lanes and stopping RBs before they get into the second level.
6. Tennessee Titans (4-9): Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
This project would be a big step in the right direction for a woefully undermanned Titans line. They have struggled to generate pressure, a must-do to win in today’s NFL, and Mingo is able to create exactly that.
7. Detroit Lions (4-9): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner is by far the best defensive back in the class, and the Lions secondary needs all the help it can get. If Detroit goes this route, don’t be surprised to see the young Crimson Tide defender starting as a rookie on Sundays.
8. Arizona Cardinals (4-9): Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Anyone who has seen the Cardinals play this season knows that quarterback is the biggest area of concern for the franchise. They haven’t had any success at the position since Kurt Warner retired, and last week’s 58-0 shellacking by the Seattle Seahawks further emphasized how badly this unit needs a signal-caller.
While Wilson isn’t a top-tier talent, the Razorback star is the best available QB and would likely be an upgrade over the three-headed Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley monster that the Birds are trotting out in 2012.
9. San Diego Chargers (5-8): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Philip Rivers is never going to lead his Bolts past Peyton Manning’s Broncos in the AFC West if he keeps getting lit up on seemingly every play. The team needs to keep him on his feet, and Lewan is the best available pass protector.
10. Cleveland Browns (5-8): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Warmack earned All-American honors this season, and the massive guard projects to clear massive paths and maul defensive linemen in the NFL. He would get another shot to help out Trent Richardson, his old teammate, if the Browns took a “chance” on the interior guard.
11. Buffalo Bills (5-8): Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
It’s not too often that a full-time defensive player nearly wins the Heisman award, which is why the Bills should pounce on Te’o at No. 11. We are aware that this is easily the most expendable position in the league, but Te’o is a special player with great instincts and tackling ability. He is a menace in the passing game.
12. Miami Dolphins (5-8): Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner is a polished pass-rusher that can help Cameron Wake continue to create chaos in opposing backfields. He will take some of the heat off the veteran, who consistently draws double teams on passing downs due to the lack of skilled defensive ends in South Beach.
13. New Orleans Saints (5-8): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Jordan is renowned for his versatility and power, which will help the Saints get back on track in 2013. This team can still score with the best of them, but they have had no success in stopping the opposition from hanging even more points up against them. Getting a talented pass-rusher will help tremendously.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7): Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Banks is a reach here, but the Buccaneers' league-worst pass defense needs immediate help—especially after trading Aqib Talib at the deadline. The Bulldogs corner is solid in zone defense and isn’t afraid to take risks on the ball, which has resulted in a number of interceptions during his time in Starkville.
15. New York Jets (6-7): Matt Barkley, QB, USC
While the Jets haven’t had much success with one former Trojans signal-caller, they have to take a chance on another, as he’s our best available QB on the board.
16. St. Louis Rams (6-6-1): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Allen’s the best WR in this class and possesses great size and speed for the position. The Rams need to continue Sam Bradford’s development now that he’s taken a step forward in his third season, and adding another weapon to his receiving corps is the perfect way to accomplish this.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Bengals have some great pass-rushers on the team already, and they should follow the Giants'—winners of two of the last five Super Bowls—lead by becoming outstanding in that area.
Jones would immediately be able to excel in passing situations and has the physical abilities and athleticism to develop into a every-down linebacker.
18. Minnesota Vikings (7-6): Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
The Vikings possess a solid LB corps, but Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley are set to become free agents after the 2012 campaign. Ogletree could take over and potentially start as a rookie if Minnesota elects to draft him and let one of the free agents walk away in the offseason.
19. Dallas Cowboys (7-6): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Dallas made the bold move last year to move up and grab Morris Claiborne, but it still needs to shore up the secondary by adding a safety.
Vaccaro is widely regarded as the best safety in the class. He can help in coverage and run support.
20. St. Louis Rams* (From 7-6 Washington Redskins): Dallas Thomas, G, Tennessee
Thomas is a skilled offensive lineman that could play a number of positions for St. Louis. He may not start right away, but his ability to assume multiple roles would make him a valuable backup and possible starter in the near future.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6): C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Pittsburgh’s group of aging, hard-hitting LBs could use some fresh blood, and Mosley would provide that. He’s been trained under Nick Saban and has been a key part of a fearsome Crimson Tide defense that has gone to back-to-back national championship games.
This young man is a winner and prototypical interior linebacker, which is exactly what the Steelers need right now.
22. Seattle Seahawks (8-5): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews will likely continue to climb up the big board of many teams, but we have him sliding into the 20s in this mock. He represents a great value for the Seahawks here at No. 22. He’s a franchise tackle that has a bright future ahead of him.
23. Chicago Bears (8-5): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
With Jay Cutler once again sustaining late-season injuries, the Bears cannot afford to go another year without upgrading the O-line again.
Fisher is great at protecting the passer and has solid footwork, which will help Cutler stay off the turf and remain healthy.
24. Indianapolis Colts (9-4): Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Without a doubt, the Colts need to improve their defense. They’ve managed to do exceedingly well without any semblance of an elite D, and that will be their biggest area of concern entering the offseason.
Montgomery is a great pass-rusher and solid run defender. He is the best DE left on the board.
25. New York Giants (8-5): David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State
Amerson has been dealing with injuries in 2012, but he picked off 13 passes in 2011 and could be an absolute steal this late for the G-Men.
Big Blue can never have enough corners, as we see year after year how banged up their secondary gets, and they somehow still succeed.
26. Baltimore Ravens (9-4): Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ansah is a young player with a lot of room to grow, which makes him a perfect pick for a contender like Baltimore that is looking to get younger on defense.
He wouldn’t be an every-down player, but in a few years the BYU product could develop into a star.
27. Green Bay Packers (9-4): Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
Jones has made the All-American team as a guard in 2011 and a center in 2012. His versatility and leadership are a great fit with Green Bay, who can never have enough character guys in the locker room.
He’s a perfect replacement for Jeff Saturday in Title Town, and we fully expect the Packers to make this pick if he’s available.
28. Denver Broncos (10-3): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Denver is getting a ton of value in Williams this late, and he fills the team’s biggest need. The Broncos are a Super Bowl contender, and adding an elite DT would greatly improve their chances to continue their strong play 2013.
29. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1): Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Jenkins isn’t going to help bring down a QB, but he can simply clog up the interior and allow Aldon Smith and the other elite pass-rushers to create havoc in the backfield.
This young man’s sheer size would be a huge asset for the 49ers.
30. New England Patriots (10-3): Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The Patriots have a few years left of Tom Brady playing as an MVP-quality QB, and they need to continue upgrading his weapons and giving him as many options as possible in the passing game.
While the team has amazing tight ends, the receiving corps needs a boost, especially if Wes Welker leaves in free agency. Hunter has immense size, at 6’4”, and great athleticism. He just needs to find a good NFL coach who can teach him route-running.
31. Atlanta Falcons (11-2): Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
If this is Tony Gonzalez’s last season, the Falcons have to find a suitable replacement in the draft.
Fortunately, TEs aren’t at a premium, and Ertz, the best available, should definitely be available when they pick late in the first round.
32. Houston Texans (11-2): Robert Woods, WR, USC
Andre Johnson isn’t going to play forever, and the aging WR needs a protégé to play opposite or behind him on the depth chart. Woods has the skills to do so and could be a major asset to the Texans’ future.
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