Things move fast in the NFL. It seems like just yesterday the season was kicking off, and now only eight teams are left standing. In the blink of an eye, it'll be the Super Bowl, and in another blink, it'll be the NFL combine.
So it's hardly too early to start looking at the 2013 NFL draft, which will take place April 25-27th at Radio City Music Hall.
The 2013 draft is deeper than it is top heavy. There isn't a superabundance of name-recognized, immediate-impact skill-position players—the kind that usually keeps the football-watching public abuzz.
But there are a number of high-ceiling offensive prospects that, with a good showing over the next few months, could easily slip into the first round. And should they be drafted by the right team, there's no reason they come in and make a first-year difference.
Here's a look at how the draft might play out, with an emphasis on those very players.
Note: Highlighted players are pictured.
*Draft order is based on standings as of Jan. 9th*
1. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
No defensive tackle has gone No. 1 overall since Dan Wilkinson in 1994; no defensive lineman since Mario Williams in 2006. And with good reason: The past five defensive lineman selected with the top overall draft pick have played 46 combined years, with only three Pro Bowls between them.
Star Lotulelei could change all that in a heartbeat.
The 6'4'', 320-pound tackle is equally adept against the run and pass—though his ceiling projects higher on the ground—and has the potential to be a game-changer from his first day in the NFL. Think Ndamukung Suh without the baggage.
For a team selecting No. 1 overall, the Chiefs actually have a paucity of glaring needs. Quarterback sticks out, but because Kansas City is so close to actually being able to compete, it's likely the Chiefs pursue one of the veteran free agents on that market—Michael Vick or Alex Smith, perhaps?
The Chiefs selected Dontari Poe in the first round last season, mostly on the strength of his upside, and he hasn't appeared to be a fruitful selection.
Lotulelei represents a far safer bet who could fortify the middle of Kansas City's defense for years to come.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
With a league-low 14 sacks, the Jaguars are desperate for playmaking on the edge. Fortunately, they have the right draft pick in the right draft class to acquire such a talent.
Moore has been one of the nation's fastest risers, assuming the dominant role once populated by Von Miller at Texas A&M.
Now he'll follow Miller's footsteps by being selected second overall.
3. Oakland Raiders: DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
The defensive-lineman trend continues. Oakland, in desperate need of sacks as well, will choose between high-upside Mingo and safer-bet Bjoern Werner out of Florida State.
And in true Raider fashion, the athletic ceiling on Mingo will be too good to pass up.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Am I the only one who thinks the Eagles are going quarterback?
Michael Vick is on the way out, leaving the position up for grabs in Philadelphia. Nick Foles has been given a shot to claim the position but has largely been unimpressive since assuming the starting job. And with Andy Reid—the man who drafted and played him—also on the outs, the new regime in Philly will want its own starting quarterback.
Geno Smith is the kind of player whose stock will soar during pre-draft workouts. He's got decent size, good speed and polished mechanics. He also demonstrates the confidence and leadership skills NFL teams are looking for in a future face of the franchise.
Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is a possibility, too. And based on how the Eagles line has played in 2012, many think he'll be the pick. But Philadelphia already has enough offensive line talent to subsist, if not thrive—they just need their guys to stay healthy.
What they don't have is a quarterback to build around.
5. Carolina Panthers: DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
The Panthers will cross their fingers and hope Lotulelei falls to them. But if and when he doesn't, they'll happily accept Hankins as a consolation prize.
The hulking presence from Ohio State fits the Panthers' desperate need for defensive-line help, and should be a stalwart in Carolina for a long time.
6. Tennessee Titans: DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The German import has impressed with his consistency, maturity and motor during his time with the Seminoles. The Titans are in desperate need of a playmaker on the edge, and Werner has all the makings on a 12-year pro.
7. Detroit Lions: CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
No team, perhaps, is in more desperate need of cornerback help than the Lions. Fortunately, they should be in a position to draft the only bona fide talent that position has to offer in 2013.
Milliner is the latest Alabama defensive back to earn a first-round draft grade, one year after Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick did the same.
He's yet to develop elite man-coverage skills, but he's already terrific in zone and a great tackler in run support. He doesn't have elite speed, but he has elite size, instincts and physicality.
The Lions are the best 4-9 team in football, with a few bad breaks—and an admittedly weak defense—separating them from a top-10 pick and a potential playoff run. Milliner, along with their later picks, will help shore that up, which could lead to a return to form in 2013.
8. Arizona Cardinals: QB Matt Barkley, USC
It's no secret how badly the Cardinals need a quarterback. One needn't look further than last week's 58-0 drubbing against Seattle to comprehend that. Coming off a lackluster senior season, Barkley could be seen as a reach this early. But his considerable upside, and the team's glaring need at the position, make it a risk worth taking in Arizona.
9. San Diego Chargers: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
The Chargers have been ravaged in pass protection this year. Phillip Rivers has been a glorified tackling dummy, as the once-proud franchise has bungled its way to 5-8.
Joeckel, an athletic tackle who has protected Johnny Manziel in 2012, is the best tackle in the draft.
He's a perfect fit in San Diego.
10. Cleveland Browns: OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
The Browns could entertain trade possibilities with this one; they need help at skill positions, but there's no one worth drafting this high.
If they stick at 10, however, Warmack is a safe prospect who fills a need. He's paved holes for Trent Richardson before and could have a future doing the same thing in Cleveland.
11. Buffalo Bills: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Even with the emergence of Cordy Glenn, the Bills still need help at the tackle position. Selecting a bona fide prospect like Lewan would allow them to kick Glenn over to the right side and actually give them one of the strongest pass-protecting units in the league.
That is, until the Eagles inevitably come along and poach their tackles.
12. Miami Dolphins: OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
A steal at this point of the draft, Jones would team up with Cameron Wake to give the Dolphins one of the best pass-rushing combos in the entire NFL.
Like Cleveland, they too could use some help at the skill positions. But this value (Jones is the top-rated player on Mel Kiper's Big Board) will be too good for the Dolphins to pass up.
13. New Orleans Saints: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Speaking of value that's too good to pass up. Te'o nearly became the first pure defender to win the Heisman this year, re-establishing the once-proud Irish as a legitimate force in college football. In New Orleans, he'll be part of yet another rebuilding effort—this one with a unit that's struggled in the wake of Bountygate.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Another A&M tackle comes off the board early, this one equally as capable as Joeckel—no wonder Johnny Football looked so good this year!
The Bucs would love to snag a corner here, but after Milliner, no prospect warrants this high of a selection.
Matthews is athletic and projects as a future stalwart in front of Josh Freeman and Doug Martin.
15. New York Jets: ILB Alex Ogletree, Georgia
Like Kansas City, the Jets will likely fill their glaring need at quarterback through free agency rather than the draft. Their run defense has fallen off the grid this year, looking soft and...well, un-Jet-like.
Ogletree is a freak athlete with massive upside who could fortify the inside of the Jets defense.
16. St. Louis Rams: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
If he chooses to come out, Patterson's considerable upside could make him the first wideout off the board in 2013. He ranks 11th overall on Mel Kiper's Big Board, in large part due to his athleticism and his ceiling.
With the Rams in desperate need of playmakers surrounding Sam Bradford, Patterson could be a great fit in St. Louis.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
A relative unknown in December, Fisher will be a sought-after commodity come April. At 6'8'' he's extremely long and knows how to use his weight efficiently.
He's looked good when given the opportunity to play elite competition and could make a quick impact for the Bengals.
18. Minnesota Vikings: S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
The Vikings secondary is a mess, but teaming Vaccaro up with last year's first-rounder, Harrison Smith, would be a good start to build around.
Current starter Jamarca Samford is probably best served as a backup, anyway.
19. Dallas Cowboys: DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
The Cowboys need to solidify their defensive interior, and Williams is probably the best player left on the board—it's a match made in heaven. A complete prospect, Williams has the speed, power and low point of attack required to make an immediate difference in Dallas.
20. St. Louis Rams (from WAS): OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
The pick yielded from the Robert Griffin trade lands St. Louis...an offensive guard.
Alright, it's not the sexiest pick on the planet. But Cooper is a great value for a Rams team that always seems to have problems in the trenches.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
Mike Tomlin has bemoaned the Steelers' inability to get to the pass this year, and Montgomery could be an immediate fix for that un-Steeler-like weakness.
22. Seattle Seahawks: WR Keenan Allen, California
Not a lot of glaring needs in Seattle, where the Seahawks have quietly become one of the most balanced teams in the league.
But if one deficiency jumps off the paper, it's the dearth of playmakers on the outside.
Allen has the size, athleticism and elite ball skills needed to become an immediate red-zone threat for Russell Wilson.
23. Chicago Bears: DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
There's a steep drop-off after the four previously selected offensive tackles, leaving Chicago (fittingly) in the cold at their biggest positional need.
That allows them to draft for value, and the best player on the board is Richardson—a prospect with the quintessential skills and makeup to play for the Chicago Bears defense.
24. Indianapolis Colts: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
For a 9-4 team, the Colts have a glaring number of needs—especially in the front seven of their defense.
Barr has been shooting up draft boards this season, climbing as high as 10th in Mel Kiper's rankings. He's got the profile of an elite pass-rusher, and would be a great high-upside pick in Indianapolis.
25. New York Giants: CB Johnathan Banks, Mississippi State
A match made in heaven for the Giants, who get one of the best remaining players, who just so happens to fill their biggest need. Banks is a ball hawk with elite press-coverage skills who could step in and make an immediate impact for Big Blue.
26. Baltimore Ravens: DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
The Ravens defense has aged itself this season, with most of its established stars succumbing to injury at one point or another. Defense is Baltimore's identity, so it will load up on depth in the 2013 draft.
Jordan, equal parts explosive and versatile, fits the profile of a Ravens defender.
27. Green Bay Packers: DE/OLB Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Plagued by injuries, the Packers pass rush has, at times, been invisible in 2012.
Last year the Packers drafted Jerel Worthy and Nick Perry to play DE and OLB, respectively. InLemonier, they get quality depth at both positions and more insurance for the injury-prone Clay Matthews.
28. Denver Broncos: DT Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia
Jenkins is one of the highest-rated players remaining on the board and also fills one of the biggest need areas in Denver.
At 6'4'' and 363 pounds, he has the ability to overwhelm interior blockers and occupy heaps of space up the middle of the trenches.
29. San Francisco 49ers: DE Enzekiel Ansah, BYU
Without any glaring needs—on either side of the ball—San Francisco takes Ansah, a player gravid with potential but low on experience.
He has a rare combination of size and speed and couldn't be going to a better place: The tutelage of Aldon Smith and the ability to be brought along slowly could make Ansah a future Pro Bowler.
30. New England Patriots: DT Kawann Short, Purdue
The Pats have a need behind Vince Wilfork on the defensive interior, and Short—who, at 6'3'' and 325 pounds, is far from what his name suggests—could be the perfect option. He's been inconsistent at times for the Boilermakers, but he's shown a rare ability to rush the passer.
Wilfork could help mentor him into a future playmaker.
31. Atlanta Falcons: TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Contrary to what his productivity would suggest, Tony Gonzalez isn't getting any younger. Atlanta's passing attack has always made great use of the tight end, and Ertz would benefit from the tutelage of the Hall of Famer he'd eventually replace.
32. Houston Texans: WR Robert Woods, USC
Woods' stock has fallen after an underwhelming campaign—especially after being upstaged by his own teammate Marquise Lee.
But the upside is still there and still hard to pass up.
The Texans are in desperate need of a playmaker opposite Andre Johnson, and Woods—who has similar physical skills—could be just the guy.
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