Is December too early for a Mock Draft? Not if your team is already out of the playoff picture and you want something to look forward to this offseason.
The 2013 draft is absolutely loaded defensively as I currently project 19 defensive players to be drafted on Day 1, with as many as 23 to 24 possibly making the first round. What is alarming is the lack of offensive playmakers available as I have just three wide receivers or tight ends making the first round cut, and not a single running back being selected Day 1.
While quarterbacks will always be in demand, like many GMs and scouts, I'm not jazzed about this position group as none of them profile to be a high-impact rookie or potential franchise leader.
The more film I watch on Smith, the more I can't believe I still have him going first. I firmly believe that GM Scott Pioli and Head Coach Romeo Crennel will be out at the end of this horrific season, and with a new regime usually comes a new franchise QB. I don't particularly like any of this year's draft-eligible crop of signal callers, but Smith appears to be the best of them. While the Chiefs' QB play has really sunk their potentially promising season, they still have loads of talent on both sides of the ball.
If they elect to bypass a first round QB, potentially another defensive lineman or potentially LT Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M. In latter rounds, look for this team to replace WR Dwayne Bowe and secondary pieces to complement CB Brandon Flowers and S Eric Berry.
Jones has the most potential of any player in this draft, and he would fill one of many holes on the Jacksonville squad. He has a questionable injury history, but if he medically clears at the combine, expect him to go quickly especially given comparisons to current Bronco linebacker Von Miller in his versatility and San Francisco pass rusher Aldon Smith.
While recent addition DE Jason Babin has helped their pass rush, the Jags have failed to maintain consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. A safer pick may be Utah's defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who profiles closely to perennial all-pro Haloti Ngata of the Ravens. Current quarterback Blaine Gabbert has failed to produce in his time in Florida, so don't rule out another attempt at drafting a franchise QB.
With the talent on both sides of the ball, the Eagles are by far the most disappointing team in the NFL this past season. While QB Michael Vick had a horrendous year before suffering a concussion, Andy Reid needs to address his offensive line problems if he gets another season in the city of Brotherly Love. Injuries could be the primary blame for poor play offensive line play, but they still need to find a young player to become their cornerstone of the unit.
Joeckel, this seasons Outland Trophy winner, is the elite offensive lineman in the 2013 draft. If current rookie QB Nick Foles is given the opportunity next season, the Eagles could play their way into contention in the crowded NFC East.
The Lions were also one of the most disappointing teams of the 2012 NFL season, as many analysts predicted a return to the playoffs for Head Coach Jim Schwartz and Co. While a young, athletic corner seems to be their most pressing need, Schwartz believes the secret to a strong defense is maintaining intense pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With the uncertainty of this upcoming offseason, the Lions could lose both starting defensive ends (Cliff Avril to unrestricted free agency, Kyle Vanden Bosch could be released), drafting the best prospect at a need seems like the right move.
Werner, who's only been playing football for the past five years, established himself as an absolute terror this past season for the Seminoles, recording 13 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss. He would fit nicely next to Detroit's young, dynamic duo of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
The Raiders have tons of holes all over both sides of the ball, but they lack leadership in their locker room. Although they invested a top-10 pick not too long ago in MLB Ronaldo McClain, it appears as his days with the team are numbered due to his behavior. Te'o may not have the upside of other talents still available, but he brings a winning attitude to this Raiders team. He would also be an instant impact player for the Silver and Black upon his arrival.
If not Te'o, I expect the Raiders to target a pass rusher to help their anemic front seven; they've failed to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks and their in-house leader in sacks is DE Matt Shaughnessy with just 3.5. They can go in a lot of different directions, but playing it safe with Te'o would be wise.
Another selection that doesn't feel right, but on paper fills the biggest need for this team. Barkley, a preseason favorite No. 1 selection, struggled through his senior campaign behind poor decision-making in key moments. I'm not blaming the Trojans' struggles on Barkley; offensively this was a very problematic team which failed to stabilize their run offensive. Barkley is still an enigma as he can make most (if not all) the throws and has a high football IQ, but forced a lot of throws and favored WR Marquise Lee despite having All-American Robert Woods in his lineup. Barkley's stock should soar closer to the draft, so he may not be available by the sixth pick.
To me, Barkley isn't an elite prospect, but considering the Cardinals lost nine straight games due to horrific play from under center, this is by far their most pressing need. If the Cardinals chose to wait, I would hope/think they would address their offensive line, which currently starts two rookies as their bookend tackles. If Arizona can improve their offseason, their defensive could carry them to a surprise playoff spot.
This is too far for Lotulelei to fall, considering he's an option for Jacksonville, but he would fill a tremendous need for the Titans. He may not be an elite pass rusher at his position (like Suh three seasons ago), but he would be another great, young addition to this defense.
The Titans' front four have routinely been run over this season, and Lotulelei would be an excellent addition to their unit. Defensive Ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley have increased their production recently, but you can't rule out someone like Texas A&M's Damontre Moore as he would fill a great need.
Lotulelei is the perfect fit for this Panthers squad, so I wouldn't be surprised if they traded up with Arizona to grab him before the Titans have the option of drafting him. The Panthers have attempted to fix their run-stopping problems in the past few drafts, but to little avail.
Hankins is a behemoth and cookie-cutter run-plugger. Don't expect sacks from Hankins, but he can easily take up two blockers, even at the next level. Hankins does carry some character concerns due to his questionable work ethic, so perhaps Alabama's Jesse Williams could be Carolina's answer at the same position.
For such a poor QB class, I still project three to go in the top-10. Wilson, like Smith and Barkley, returned for his senior season hoping to play for a BCS game, and like Smith and Barkley, failed to complete his mission. Wilson can make all the throws and is an accurately-skilled passer, but it may be wise to sit him for 2013 to give him more time to prepare for the next level. He needs to improve his defensive reads, which is more important in the NFL than in college.
A quarterback may not be Buffalo's biggest need, but GM Buddy Nix needs to prepare for the future while also find a better replacement for incumbent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (who is merely an average NFL player). Te'o would be a great fit for this defensive, so if he's still available, I would expect him to be Buffalo's first choice. A trade down may be a wise move so they can address bigger needs, perhaps another wide receiver.
Cleveland is a difficult team to mock for given the unknown state of their front office. President Mike Holmgren is already out, and the new owners may choose to hire a completely new front office. Regardless, Moore is by far the best prospect available. Since taking over for Von Miller, he's come close to replicating his predecessor's production. Moore is great at making plays behind the line of scrimmage, and his versatility would be welcomed at a team with such uncertainty in their defensive scheme.
If Cleveland elects to play a 3-4 scheme, Moore would be a great fit opposite Jabaal Sheard at OLB, or could play with his hand on the ground in a standard 4-3. If the Browns elect to go in a different direction, maybe another corner opposite of Joe Haden.
The Chargers could go in a few directions with this pick, but I believe offensive line is their biggest need (especially considering they started an undrafted rookie at LT for multiple games this season). Lewan, just a junior, profiles similarly to former Wolverine tackle Jake Long and would solidify protection for QB Philip Rivers. This is a scenario where the best prospect available fits their highest need, if not for Lewan, maybe Texas A&M RT Jake Matthews.
Milliner is yet another Crimson Tide cornerback to be among the elite in his position (following in the footsteps of Dre Kirkpatrick and Kareem Jackson), but he's worthy of this selection. Not only is he the elite of the cornerback prospects, but he fills a huge need for the Bucs, who have struggled in their pass defense (especially since the trade of Aqib Talib).
The Bucs' recent blowout loss to the Saints only highlighted their primary problem: their 32nd-ranked pass defense. Their secondary (outside of former first round pick S Mark Barron) should see multiple additions this offseason, so I wouldn't rule out another high pick in the area. The Bucs could also turn their attention to the pass rush, considering the outstanding depth in this year's class and their own injury woes.
Despite multiple high draft picks invested over the years, the Saints still have problems along their defensive line. Williams, perhaps the best run stopper in the draft, would help their unit tremendously. The Saints could also look for a pass rusher to replace the aging DE Will Smith. If not for a defensive lineman, I would expect a selection in the secondary due to their problems covering.
While the Dolphins are well above the league average in sacks, they have failed to establish a force opposite of ROLB Cameron Wake (who has 14.5 sacks). In this day and age in the NFL, generating heat on opposing quarterbacks tends to lead to more turnovers, which results in more wins. Upgrading one of their areas of strength may seem like a rich decision, but it seems to work well for the Giants. There has been no other prospect who has drastically improved his stock with a stellar senior campaign more so than Jordan. The Dolphins could look for a new LT if Jake Long leaves in free agency, so I wouldn't rule out Matthews from Texas A&M.
The Jets will have a very interesting offseason, and while many would hope/expect GM Mike Tannenbaum to draft QB Mark Sanchez' replacement, there isn't one available in the teens. While QB may be their most pressing need, Mingo fills a huge hole on their defense: a pass rusher. Current OLBs Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas have been unproductive in 2012 and are injury liabilities due to their respective ages (32 and 33).
Mingo is an intriguing prospect; potentially the draft's first true boom-or-bust selection. Mingo has elite speed, quickness and burst, but would be a liability against the run. If he was brought along slowly and only played as a third down pass rusher (like Aldon Smith), he could become a terror for opposing AFC East quarterbacks.
Matthews is the first prospect I believe will return to college, due to the potential exposure of replacing Joeckel and playing left tackle. However, for this mock draft, I've included all eligible prospects, including Matthews. Matthews has a strong NFL lineage (his father is Hall of Famer Bruce, his cousin is Packers linebacker Clay). The Rams' offensive line could be described as patchwork, but I believe they're overachieved given the talent they possess.
Matthews would combine with fellow OT Rodger Saffold to give quarterback Sam Bradford the proper protection he hasn't had since college. The Rams have the luxury of two first round picks due to their trade last year with the Redskins, so they have the flexibility of taking a lineman here and waiting to draft a future No. 1 wide receiver or adding another defensive player to their squad.
Over the past few seasons, the Steelers have continued to plan for their long-term future by replacing their aging veterans. Jenkins would be another example of this strategy, as current NT Casey Hampton appears to be on the verge of retirement due to age (37 next season) and declining play. Jenkins might be the premier NT against the run in this draft, and while I wouldn't expect him to generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he does have a solid motor. On tape, Jenkins improved drastically from his South Carolina game (which the Bulldogs lost) to Georgia Tech. If Hampton were to stay on for another season, Jenkins could rotate in and become a force in goal line situations.
Although Texas' Kenny Vaccaro has almost universally been mocked to the Cowboys in most drafts, the Cowboys need to improve their interior offensive line immediately. Despite signing several free agent guards last offseason, they could still use an upgrade at the position. Warmack grades easily as a top-10 pick, so he would not only fit a need, but represent tremendous value.
Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay rates Warmack as the third best player on his board due to toughness, awareness and elite run blocking ability. To quote McShay, "(Warmack) consistently does a good job with his first step to get quality initial positioning. Has a strong lower body and a powerful upper body." If not for an interior lineman, expect Dallas to continue to stack their defense despite drafting several members of their unit last season.
Allen is the only prospect that currently projects as a future No. 1 wide receiver in the league, and would be a great fit in Minnesota given their lack of depth at the position. Allen could pair with slot receiver Percy Harvin (although recent reports are that him and head coach Leslie Frazier are on thin ice) to give QB Christian Ponder an excellent receiver duo along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. If not a receiver, the Vikings should look to address several areas on the defensive side of the ball including major holes as cornerback, middle linebacker and defensive tackle.
Current MLB Chase Blackburn has played decently so far this season, but Ogletree would be a massive upgrade due to his hard hitting and playmaking ability. While Te'o is a safer pick, Ogletree arguably has a higher ceiling and could be an absolute monster in Perry Fewell's defense. I'm not sure if Ogletree's skills were helped or hidden by the strong Georgia defense, but his sideline-to-sideline skills were prominently displayed this past season for the Bulldogs. The Giants could also choose to draft another corner to add more depth in the secondary, and I would never rule out a high draft pick on a defensive lineman.
Austin would be a curveball, but hear me out. The Bengals lack depth at wide receiver behind star AJ Green, and have attempted to fill the slot with Armon Binns (released midseason, now with the Dolphins). Austin is a dynamic playmaker; due to his diminutive size, his agility is among this draft's most tantalizing skills.
Normally, I would believe a running back would be a higher priority for this organization given their average production, but this is a very weak draft class at the position. The Bengals could also look hard at another cornerback to play with Kirkpatrick and Leon Hall, perhaps a more traditional wide receiver could be an option.
It's become apparent that this Bears team needs solid play from their offensive line and a healthy defense in order to compete in the NFC North. Unfortunately for Chicago fans, the Bears offensive line has been abysmal this season as they've been forced to continually shuffle players around to create a more stable line to little avail.
Former first round pick Gabe Carimi was once believed to be their left tackle of the future, but he now starts at right guard. Incumbent LT J'Marcus Webb would be a backup on most teams, and undrafted rookie James Brown has arguably been their best lineman while starting at left guard. Fisher is the highest-rated tackle available and could instantly start at either tackle position. Jay Cutler would praise this selection; Fisher is an elite pass protector and has displayed considerable toughness (has missed just two games in his college career).
A few weeks ago, this Redskins pick looked to potentially be a top-10 selection. However after RGIII and Co. took, the value of this selection has taken a hit as it sits in the lower third of the draft. While the Rams already addressed the offensive line with the selection of Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews, Cooper would be a great fit for their team and also fill a huge need. Wide receiver is arguably a bigger need than guard, but due to a relatively weak draft class, the Rams would be wise to pass until their second round pick to address that need.
Naturally a defensive tackle, Richardson would lineup as a end in the Colts' 3-4 defensive scheme. Out against the run and above average against the pass, Richardson would utilize his motor and quickness to become a force on this young Indy team. While the Colts have been pleased with Cory Redding's production and veteran presence in their locker room, they could use an upgrade over him and fellow starter Lawrence Guy (former Packers' late round pick). Richardson fills a need and represents fair value; he could become an instant starter on this defensive front seven. The Colts could also look to address their offensive line, which has overperformed despite being below average in talent.
Since signing former Raider tight end Zach Miller in 2011, the Seahawks have gotten little production from the position. Eifert (or Zach Ertz) are the headliners of an above-average draft class, which could cause their value to slip. Eifert is a great pass catcher and is an above average blocker; but Seattle could be more interested in a pass-catching tight end. If that's the case, Stanford's Ertz may be their pick here as he profiles similarly to recent Cardinal and current Colts TE Coby Fleener (although better rounded). If they elect to bypass a tight end, expect the team to target a wide receiver or defensive tackle.
The Ravens' defense has uncharacteristically been subpar this season, currently ranking 22nd against the pass and just 26th against the run. While there are still premium pass rushers available such as LSU's Sam Montgomery, I believe their pass rush will be fixed with players returning from injuries.
However, I think Williams (who is a great run defender) is just the medicine that Dr. Ozzie Newsome ordered for Baltimore. He's a great fit opposite of Ngata given his strong run-stopping ability and strong ability to get after the quarterback. If the Ravens elect to go in a different direction, don't be surprised with a offensive lineman like Tennessee's Dallas Thomas or maybe an interior yet versatile player like Alabama's Barrett Jones.
The Packers' offensive line has been decimated by injuries throughout this 2012 season, but they should look to replace current LG TJ Lang who is below average this year. Jones, the 2011 Outland Trophy winner (for best offensive lineman) and 2012 winner of the Rimington (best center) has played all over the Crimson Tide offensive line during his four seasons.
While I wouldn't expect Jones to play many snaps as a NFL tackle, I think his extreme versatility would come in handy given the Packers' consistent injury woes. If, for some reason, he is unable to beat out Lang for the starting position, he could be the first lineman off the bench. The pick could also be viewed as future consideration given current center Jeff Saturday's age (37). If GM Ted Thompson goes in a different direction, I wouldn't be surprised with a defensive lineman or a safety given the remaining depth at those positions.
This is a pure B.P.A. (best player available) selection for Belichick as Montgomery is viewed as a top-10 value by multiple draftniks. Although his linemate Mingo went 13 selections higher, Montgomery is a safer pick albeit with a lower ceiling. While the Patriots drafted defensive end Chandler Jones in 2012 (he's played well in his rookie season) and have Rob Ninkovich (the new "Mr. Patriot"), Montgomery could play as a situation, third down pass rusher and excel in that role.
WR Austin would have been a great fit due to current slot receiver Wes Welker probably leaving in the offseason, but he's already off the board. The Patriots could target another WR, don't rule out a safety or cornerback (especially if they fail to resign Talib).
San Francisco, in my opinion, is the NFL's most complete team. They may not be the league's best, but they have outstanding depth everywhere, except their defensive line. Floyd is a stout defender against the run and has a high motor. For a 300-pound defensive lineman, he has surprising speed given his reported 5.1 forty-yard dash.
Just don't expect him to get after the passer as he's still raw in that department. The 49ers could also look to invest another first round pick in their offensive line, but given the money they've tied up in that unit, it's doubtful.
Cornerback Champ Baily can't play forever, and Banks is the BPA in the late first round. He could contribute immediately in nickel and dime packages. I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos looked towards a defensive tackle, but the only player deemable of a first round selection would be Purdue's Kawann Short (who's a popular player mocked to the Broncos).
Ansah is one of the most popular "risers" in the 2013 draft; this former BYU sprinter has become the potential darling of the Internet community given his absurd speed and comparisons to the Giants Jason Pierre-Paul. Ansah has loads of potential, but would fill a huge need for the Falcons as they have failed to generate pressure opposite of current defensive end John Abraham (who may be close to retirement). Former Minnesota Viking Ray Edwards proved to be a bust (released a 1.5 into his contract), so GM Thomas Dimitroff could pull the trigger on a true boom-or-bust player with pro-bowl potential. The Falcons would obviously look at Ertz if current TE Tony Gonzalez retires at season's end. I wouldn't rule out a running back either given Michael Turner's subpar season.
The Texans have very few holes, but one of them remains at safety where the defensive coordinator has failed to establish a starter opposite of Daniel Manning. Vaccaro, who's competing with LSU star Eric Reid to be the draft's top safety, would be an upgrade over Glover Quin and could make an immediate impact. If the Texans look in a different direction, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to address their right tackle position where former Bronco and Eagle castoff Ryan Harris controls the spot. Cornerback can't be ruled out either as their secondary struggled with the absence of Jonathan Joseph.
The 2013 Draft Class (especially if a large portion of juniors and redshirt sophomores declare) has the chance of being both memorable and loaded. Through this first round, 14 defensive lineman have already been selected and there are a few additions that could go at the tail end of round one or early second round. From a personal standpoint, I can see North Carolina State's quarterback Mike Glennon making a run to be considered a first round pick, comparable to Joe Flacco's rise in 2007. Regardless of what happens between now and the April draft date, the 2013 class appears to be special and memorable.