Experts agree that this draft class looks remarkably different from 2012, and it lacks one elite quarterback prospect, let alone the two everyone was looking forward to in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
However, the draft is Adam Smith-style capitalism at its best. The market controls the value of prospects, and inflated value is still value. It only takes a few minutes of watching tape of guys like Brady Quinn, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert and others to realize there is still plenty of need for good quarterbacks in the draft.
What this draft does offer, in terms of intrinsic value, is plenty of good pass-rushers and good pass protectors—also needed in the NFL.
Before the mock, the usual disclaimers: This is not a prediction of what will happen in April. That would be nonsense. Countless trades, free-agency signings, veteran cuts and front-office upheaval is going to change the landscape of everything here.
On top of that, the order isn't even set yet. That won't happen until the Super Bowl winner slides into the 32nd spot and some coins are flipped at the NFL combine.
So, what is this? It's an exercise in examining what the draft board could look like if it happened today and what the needs of these teams are.
Most of all, it's entertainment. Mock drafts are fun to read and just as fun to put together. So, enjoy. Pick it apart. Leave your comments below with all of the better choices you would make. That's what this exercise is all about.
On to the mock...
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
Yes, it is a down year for quarterback prospects, but the Kansas City Chiefs don't have the luxury of waiting another generation for a class like the 2012 quarterbacks to roll around. Geno Smith has the athleticism, arm power and accuracy to succeed in the NFL. He's not perfectly polished, but he will immediately upgrade every other position on the Chiefs offense.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Glennon (QB, North Carolina State)
The Jaguars, like the Chiefs above them, need a quarterback and need it now. The draft class doesn't warrant a 1-2 QB start, but the teams drafting there have little choice but to reach. Mike Glennon isn't a name that is getting a ton of play right now, but he's got the perfect size and arm strength to wow scouts through the evaluation process, and he's already well-versed in the pro-style offense.
3. Oakland Raiders: Jarvis Jones (DE/OLB, Georgia)
The Raiders would love a quarterback as well. At this point, however, they would be reaching for fringe top-20 prospects in the top three, and those days in Oakland are over with Reggie McKenzie at the helm. The Raiders might be wise to trade back and stockpile picks, but if they stay pat, Jarvis Jones is an elite pass-rushing prospect who would fit right into the "Black Hole" mindset and improve their defense right away.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel (OT, Texas A&M)
The Eagles have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason, but if Luke Joeckel falls to No. 4, it should be a no-brainer. Yes, the Eagles have Jason Peters, but the big fella is owed $20 million over the next two years and is coming off of a substantial injury. Joeckel is the best prospect in the draft and the best pass-blocker we've seen in a while. Whether it's replacing Peters or joining him in a tandem, Joeckel will be a great asset to the Eagles.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
Sure, the Lions have bigger needs than another defensive lineman, but that may not be the case in April. Cliff Avril has already cost the Lions a lot more money than they wanted to spend on him and won't return cheaply. Kyle Vanden Bosch was on the down side of his career when he joined the Lions. So, he's just about done now. The Lions are built around a pass rush that needs an infusion of talent, and Bjoern Werner is going to make NFC North QBs shudder.
6. Buffalo Bills: Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
Who is the top QB in the draft?
Tyler Wilson has the kind of arm strength that Ryan Fitzpatrick could only achieve if he were bitten by a radioactive Dan Marino. He's going to need a lot of polish, but Chan Gailey and Bobby Petrino share a lot of offensive concepts, and Wilson could be the steal of the draft if he lands in a spot like this. Of course, this assumes that Gailey is still in Buffalo, which may not be the case in April, but right now, this looks like a match made in football heaven.
7. Cleveland Browns: Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
When he is motivated, Lotulelei might be the best player in the draft. He's an odd fit on a Browns team that already includes Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, but the Browns shouldn't be too proud to take the best player available. Lotulelei and Taylor would be a tremendous pairing, and Rubin would be one of the best rotational players in the entire league. Biggest need? No. Best player they could use? Absolutely.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M)
The Cardinals' early-season winning streak was a mirage. One-hundred percent healthy, this team can compete with the big boys, but the talent level on this team was never very high and the depth was always atrocious. Now, with a shot at a top-tier blocker, the Cardinals have to pull the trigger on Matthews. He'll help whoever is passing the ball next year and whoever is running it—a strange piece of consistency amidst a sea of confusion.
9. Tennessee Titans: Manti Te'o (LB, Notre Dame)
Is Manti Te'o the top interior linebacker in the 2013 draft? Absolutely. The problem is the position continues its decline in NFL importance and devalues players like Te'o. Ask yourself: Is Te'o better than Luke Kuechly, James Laurinaitis or Patrick Willis? That answer isn't so clear. At No. 9, the Titans have a lot of needs, but Te'o can be a stabilizing force on a defense that has talent but couldn't get a lot of stops in 2012.
10. San Diego Chargers: Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan)
While we're all pointing fingers at Norv Turner, Philip Rivers or Ryan Mathews, the biggest reason the Chargers are drafting in the top 10 is A.J. Smith's inability to keep talent in San Diego, and his utter contempt for offensive linemen. This pick should almost certainly be under a new regime, and Taylor Lewan can start protecting Rivers' backside like he truly needs.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson both have some upside, but they've been a large part of the worst pass defense in the league (ironically also the best run defense). Milliner "grew up" in a pro-style offense under Nick Saban and should immediately raise the Bucs' pass-D ranking all by himself.
12. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo (DE/OLB, LSU)
The Jets are going to have to find a quarterback at some point, but finding a pass rush to pair with that quarterback tandem is a close second on the needs list. Since there's not a QB worth taking here, Mingo heads to the Big Apple to pick up a whole bunch of coverage sacks.
13. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State)
For three years now, I've spent "draft season" trying to convince everyone who will listen that the Panthers need an elite defensive tackle. They've had some modest success finding gems in the rough, but no one capable of maximizing the fantastic efforts of guys like Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Luke Kuechly. Hankins steps in and makes Ron Rivera look like a defensive genius again (assuming he's still around).
14. Pittsburgh Steelers: Keenan Allen (WR, California)
First receiver off the board goes to a team that desperately needs a No. 1 to pair with an already deep and talented receiving corps. Allen has good ball skills and can make the kind of exceptional plays that the Steelers offense needs around their speedsters. Perhaps even more importantly, he makes those plays look routine and could be a big help in moving the chains.
15. Miami Dolphins: Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
Another playmaker and another team that craves one. Austin has some downside in that he still wouldn't provide the Dolphins the No. 1 receiver they need, but he would give them a valuable piece to the overall offensive puzzle and is an athlete who can make special things happen when the ball is in his hands.
16. New Orleans Saints: Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
Schematically, the Saints defense was sound in 2012. The problem was, blitzes and pass rushes weren't connecting on open shots, and running backs who were bottled up were finding ways to spring free. It's a talent issue on that D, and Moore would give the Saints a massive infusion of pass-rushing talent. He's a little undersized, but he should have plenty of room to fill out and continue to be an amazing athlete.
17. St. Louis Rams: Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan)
Think the team that traded for Wayne Hunter needs a pass protector? Fisher is a reach here, but he has elite size and a nice kick slide that should keep Sam Bradford on his feet. He isn't going to be the most dominant run-blocker because of his height, but finally being able to protect the QB should be a bigger priority for Jeff Fisher and his staff.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia)
OK, you've stuck with me through a lot of curveballs in this mock. Hold on while I explain this one. Yes, I realize Matt Barkley is still on the board, but once these two are put in the vacuum of draft prep, people will realize what scouts already know—Murray is the same type of QB that Barkley is, only better. He's got arm strength, commands the offense and makes plays. Romo is aging, and it's time to get serious about his replacement.
19. New York Giants: Chance Warmack (OG, Alabama)
Eli Manning was sacked less than any other full-time quarterback this season, but that doesn't always (necessarily) mean the line was playing as well as it should. In Manning's case, his quick release and decision-making saved his own behind and also turned a lot of would-be sacks into hits and hurries. Warmack is used to dealing with SEC-caliber defensive linemen and should help improve the Giants' run and pass game almost immediately.
20. Chicago Bears: Terrence Williams (WR, Baylor)
Maybe it's just being picky, but even after spending decades looking for a quarterback and legit receiver, the Bears still need some help through the air. Could they use an offensive lineman? Sure, and if Warmack or another lineman they like is here, they'll grab him. Could Tyler Eifert be the pick to upgrade the tight end position? Of course. Williams, however, would be the best player available in this scenario and a nice complement to Brandon Marshall.
21. Minnesota Vikings: Johnthan Banks (CB, Mississippi State)
Antoine Winfield is 35, and the Vikings were 20th against the pass this season. Josh Robinson is a good prospect and Harrison Smith is already a stud, but more help is needed. Banks is super talented and has the size to play either CB or safety in the Vikings' scheme.
22. Cincinnati Bengals: Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU)
Personally, I think Montgomery could go a lot higher, but inconsistency and lack of overall polish could easily push him down draft boards. The Bengals are famous for stopping those slides and will pick up a raw prospect who has good size and can already pick up a bunch of sacks on athleticism alone.
23. St. Louis Rams (From WSH): Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
Earlier this year, most football fans didn't know who Patterson was, but the community college starter hit the ground running at Tennessee and solidified himself as a top playmaker. He (like Montgomery a spot higher) isn't consistent enough to go much higher than this, but some lucky GM is going to fall in love with his big-play ability. Adding Patterson and Fisher would give the Rams offense a huge boost in 2013.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Sheldon Richardson (DT/DE, Missouri)
We all love Andrew Luck, yes, but the Colts defense has been a pleasant surprise in 2012 as well. Chuck Pagano did a great job putting his new scheme in place before his absence, and Ryan Grigson deserves huge kudos for getting a bunch of good players to fit said scheme. Richardson would step in as a 3-4 defensive end, control the line of scrimmage and immediately improve the Colts run defense and create space for the pass-rushers.
25. Baltimore Ravens: Barrett Jones (OL, Alabama)
After Marshal Yanda, the Ravens offensive line has played poorly this season. Luckily for them, Jones could play anywhere from left tackle to right tackle along the Ravens front. Most likely, he ends up at LG until Matt Birk retires, leaving Jones free to step in as a perennial Pro Bowler.
26. San Francisco 49ers: Xavier Rhodes (CB/S, Florida State)
This comment could go one of two ways. This pick could either be about Rhodes stepping in as nickleback and eventual replacement for Carlos Rogers, or—perhaps more enticing for 49ers fans—Rhodes could convert to safety in place of Donte Whitner (at least on pass-heavy downs early on). Either way, this is a missing piece to an otherwise-fantastic defense.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
Zach Miller has been valuable to the Seahawks, but we're talking a legit passing-game weapon here with Eifert. You think Russell Wilson has been impressive this year? A top-flight safety blanket would make him less reliant on the high-risk/high-reward plays and keep teams from stacking the box against Marshawn Lynch.
28. Green Bay Packers: Eric Reid (S, LSU)
Charles Woodson is 36, and the pairing of M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett has been good but not great. Reid is athletic enough to make plays on balls in "center field" for the Packers and tough enough to make plays in the run game. He'd step right in at either safety position and help the Packers stop plays over the top.
29. New England Patriots: Kawann Short (DT, Purdue)
Short is a lesser-known prospect, but he stepped up his game this past year and showed that his "motor" is just fine, and he can dominate at the line of scrimmage as well as he can penetrate. He has the perfect size to play multiple positions in the Patriots' 3-4/4-3 hybrid and would help keep those linebackers free as they flow to the plays they weren't stopping in 2012.
30. Denver Broncos: Jonathan Cooper (OG, North Carolina)
Like his brother, Peyton Manning makes linemen look better than they're actually playing. However, even Manning can't make Manny Ramirez look like a legit pro. If the Broncos want to keep Manning around more than just this season, improving his protection with a polished pass protector like Cooper is a must.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama)
Michael "The Burner" Turner hasn't been a burner for years and will probably stop being a Falcon sooner rather than later. Why not add in Eddie Lacy, who has incredible speed to fit in with the Falcons' high-octane offense and enough strength between the tackles to pick his way through the middle and keep the Falcons moving down the field.
32. Houston Texans: Dion Jordan (DE/OLB, Oregon)
First, a reminder—no, I'm not picking the Texans to win the Super Bowl; that's not what this article is about. Quibbling about the draft order in December misses the point in a big way. Back to the pick...
On the surface, adding another pass-rusher to the Texans seems like a luxury pick, but not if one has watched the players around J.J. Watt closely in 2012. Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed and (especially) Connor Barwin all could have been better this past season and are great prospects. Jordan is the best player available, however, and hedges the bet that all of those pass-rushers will pan out.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.