In most years, we enjoy talking about the playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Last year, we had a slew of franchise quarterbacks, Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon to gush over. Traditionally, it's the offensive studs that everyone gets excited for.
But not this year. This year, the quarterback class is weak, the wide receiver selection is far from elite and we could see the entire first round go by without a single running back selected.
This year, it's all about the defense.
So that's why this mock draft will focus on the biggest playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. From devastating pass rushers to do-it-all middle linebackers—and one special player that might force a team to change its entire defensive scheme—these are the athletes that will turn heads as rookies.
Hey, a little change is good once in a while, right?
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
There is a lot of time to further analyze Smith, determine if he's the top quarterback on the board and if the Chiefs will be dramatically sacrificing value to select him first overall. But for now, he's the top-ranked quarterback by most and the Chiefs must upgrade the position.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
This is a tough spot for the Jaguars. The team could use a defensive end badly, but there isn't a 4-3 end worth taking this high. Instead, the team will gladly select Lotulelei, who may never be a playmaker but will suck up blockers and dramatically help improve the team's run defense.
3. Oakland Raiders: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Raiders might not run a 3-4 base—the scheme most folks feel will best benefit the pass-rushing prowess of Jones—but the Raiders will draft Jones nonetheless, desperately needing playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Trust me, they'll find a way to get the most out of his talents.
Jones did it all for Georgia this year, finishing with 85 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles and an interception. Honestly, I wouldn't be shocked if the Raiders switched to a 3-4 scheme just to keep this kid on the field for every play.
Yup, he's that good.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Give the Eagles a better offensive line, and who knows what this team will achieve? Honestly, it remains to be seen whether or not Nick Foles is the quarterback of the future, and a lot will be learned once this team hires a new head coach, but drafting Joeckel if he is available is about as obvious a selection as you'll see.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner is more the solid, shutdown type than a player who will change the game with turnovers. And while this might be a slight reach, the Lions desperately need to upgrade the position. Milliner is the right pick for Detroit.
6. Cleveland Browns: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, DE
When you're the Browns and Jabaal Sheard leads your team in sacks with seven, it's time to upgrade the position. Enter Moore.
Perhaps lost in the midst of the nation's love affair with Johnny Manziel was the excellent season posted by Moore, who finished 2012 with 80 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Moore played behind the line of scrimmage for the Aggies, something the Browns could desperately use.
He may not have the name recognition of some of the other defenders on this list, but learn the name—Moore is a player to watch for this April.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Is there any doubt the Cardinals need to upgrade at quarterback? Do you think they'll hesitate to reach at the position with Kevin Kolb as the top option?
Wilson may be a risk, but really, without a solid quarterback, what do the Cardinals have to lose (other than every game)?
8. Buffalo Bills: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, LB
Few players will have more of an immediate impact in the NFL than Te'o.
The man who won nearly every postseason award save the Heisman, Te'o will provide the anchor in the middle of the linebacking corps that Buffalo desperately needs. He currently has 103 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven interceptions and 1.5 sacks for Notre Dame.
And when the Fighting Irish have needed a play this year, who do you think came up with it? Te'o, of course. Buffalo not only gets a defensive playmaker, it also gets its defensive captain for the next decade. Not a bad pick at No. 8, if you ask me.
9. New York Jets: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Jets have a ton of needs, so they could go in a totally different direction here. Or, they could hilariously reach for another USC quarterback, causing Jets' fans to pull out their hair. The humorist in me chooses to believe the latter will occur.
10. Tennessee Titans: Bjoern Werner, Florida State, DE
Tennessee could go in a lot of directions with this pick. They could reach for a cornerback like Johnthan Banks. They could break the hearts of Chargers' fans everywhere and select Taylor Lewan. But, needing a pass-rushing specialist badly, the Titans will go with Florida State's Werner instead.
11. San Diego Chargers: Taylor Lewan, Michigan, OT
Again, San Diego could go the cornerback route. But, needing an upgrade at both tackle positions, Philip Rivers will storm the draft room and demand the team select Lewan.
12. Miami Dolphins: Keenan Allen, WR, California
When Brian Hartline is your top receiver, it's time to upgrade, no questions asked.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
It's such a beautiful thing when value meets need in the draft. The Bucs will be more than happy to nab the top right tackle in this year's draft, a major position of need.
14. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, DT
Honestly, if Lotulelei drops past the first three picks for any reason, you could see the Panthers trade up to take him. That's how badly the team needs an upgrade at defensive tackle. But in a year with so many talented defensive lineman, the Panthers can stay put and land a solid player in Hankins. It's a win-win situation.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB LSU
The Saints could use upgrades at just about every defensive position. Methinks they'll go after a versatile, pass-rushing playmaker like Mingo, the sort of athlete Steve Spagnuolo will find unique ways to use.
16. St. Louis Rams: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Sam Bradford doesn't know me, but if he did, he would truly be pleased that I drafted him a left tackle. We might become best friends. He would possibly submit my name for general manager of the team. It's amazing what a little blind-side protection can do to a quarterback's spirits.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Troy Polamalu can't seem to stay healthy, and neither he nor Ryan Clark are getting any younger. Why not bring on a young, talented safety to learn study under two veterans and inevitably fill in when one of them gets hurt?
18. Dallas Cowboys: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
The Cowboys desperately need an upgrade at guard. Luckily for them, one of the best guard prospects in years will fall in their laps. The fans might not love it, but this is an excellent pick for Dallas.
19. New York Giants: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Have you seen the Giants pass defense recently? Banks will be a breath of fresh air for a team that really, really needs to cover wide receivers better.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Yes, the Bears could really use an upgrade at pretty much every offensive line position. But with a chance to select a linebacker this talented to upgrade the position and eventually replace Brian Urlacher, the team will look to solidify the line in later rounds.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Matt Elam, S, Florida
If there was a running back worth selecting this high, you can bet the Bengals would nab him. But in my opinion, there isn't, so the team will turn to the strong safety position, hoping to upgrade the secondary.
22. St. Louis Rams (From WSH): Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
When your top wide receiver is Danny Amendola, well, you need to upgrade. Not that Amendola can't play—I love him as a slot guy, a la Wes Welker—but Sam Bradford could use a true No. 1 option. Hunter gives him that.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Jordan is a tough call, as he doesn't have the draft's biggest frame as a pass rusher. But his athleticism is off the charts, his versatility is unparralled for a man his size and he'll perfectly fit a 3-4 scheme, in my opinion. This is a steal for the Ravens.
24. Minnesota Vikings: Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
In previous mocks, I had the Vikings selecting North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, if only to keep the Williams Wall nickname alive. But in all seriousness, this team needs an upgrade at defensive tackle, and Jenkins is the best one available at this slot.
25. Indianapolis Colts: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Having trouble stopping the run, Indianapolis? Have you considered drafting half-man, half-mountain Jesse Williams?
26. Seattle Seahawks: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Despite playing excellent defense and being quite solid against the run, upgrading the defensive tackle position would be a smart move for the Seahawks, especially in a draft chock full of talented players at the position. Williams might be a surprise selection to some, but then again, we all learned how doubting the team's picks last year like Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson worked out.
27. Green Bay Packers: Johnathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
When in doubt, improve the line. Needing upgrades at both guard and center, the Packers will add the sturdy Cooper to improve the run game and protect Rodgers from interior pass rushes.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Richardson is listed as a defensive tackle, but he's versatile enough to slot in as a 3-4 defensive end and pair with Justin Smith to give opposing offensive lines headaches.
29. Houston Texans: Eric Reid, S, LSU
Few needs are bigger on the Texans than free safety. Landing Eric Reid at the end of the first round is a bargain.
30. New England Patriots: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Crazy as it sounds, Wes Welker could be gone after the season. Austin would have big shoes to fill as his replacement, but he is an excellent athlete and ideally will fill the slot role in the NFL. He's the type of wide receiver that New England seems to crave.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez will eventually have to retire. Naturally, the Falcons would love nothing more than to draft the top tight end on the board as his successor.
32. Denver Broncos: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Sure, the Broncos could go into next year with Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman as the top options at running back. Or, they could look to upgrade at the draft. Bernard is a talented athlete, and he would look good in a Denver uniform.