2013 NFL Mock Draft: Projecting the Draft's Immediate Impact Players
I was asked on Twitter this week how my mock draft could change so much from one week to the next. My answer: How could it not?
The NFL has changed. I've changed, and you've changed.
No draft analyst can look you straight in the eye and say they have it all figured out. Not in January. Mike Mayock doesn't even start watching film on juniors until after the NFL Combine is over.
This is a long-haul, all-encompassing process that reveals new and exciting spectacles at every turn. Opinions change with further film study, and they do so even more drastically in conjunction with events like the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, private workouts and pro days.
Not just for NFL draft analysts, but for NFL teams as well.
This is why the NFL is my favorite product in the world—and probably yours too. Long after the whistle blows to end the Super Bowl, the mania continues.
Here is my projected first round as we wrap up 2012's college football season and turn our eyes to Mobile, Ala., and the Senior Bowl.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Luke Joeckel, LT Texas A&M
Reid, who is known as a master developer of quarterbacks, obviously means it. The QB cupboard is beyond bare in Kansas City, and it is highly unlikely that any incarnation of Dawson exists on KC's current roster.
One thing is for sure. At this juncture, I don't think there's any way an Andy Reid team takes a QB here. Not at the top of this draft. Whether a surefire "No. 1" guy emerges outside of Geno Smith, that is yet to be seen—but this is hardly RG3 or Andrew Luck-level talent we are evaluating in 2013.
Reid will handle the QB position in whatever ways begin to untangle themselves as we enter free agency, and he gets a better grasp on the surrounding talent that he has to work with. When he does, I think he'll do what he needs to later in the draft, and/or by making a key free-agent signing.
An Andrew Luck-level talent does exist in this draft—in fact, two do—just not at the QB position.
One of these prospects just happens to play the second-most important position in football, and that is Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel.
Slap the franchise tag on Branden Albert, pay him his $10 million and tell him he's playing guard now. Make the decision about whether to play Joeckel at LT to start things out. Then cut Albert loose in 2014 knowing you have the best LT many have seen in decades on a cheap contract for three more years opposite Eric Winston before having to restructure.
A great sales pitch to free agent QBs.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Bjoern Werner, DE Florida State
I'm not ready to close the book on Andre Branch just yet, and no one in their right mind should be.
Still, the pass rush remains a glaring need in Jacksonville. The AFC South is a division that forces the Jags to face terrible QB play that can be exploited via pass rush twice a year in Tennessee. They face Matt Schaub twice a year who can be rattled by pressure and turtle up.
They also face Andrew Luck, a force to be reckoned with despite his offensive line.
And then there are the running backs. The Jags also face Chris Johnson and Arian Foster twice each. In addressing the defensive line, and thinking about my needs and my division, I'm still taking Bjoern Werner here.
It makes too much sense given the regional appeal—and Werner's edge-setting ability against the run. All this coupled with his clear pass rush instincts and motor. He's a smart player that very obviously loves football.
The Jags can't draft a bust and I feel Bjoern Werner is about as safe a pick as they can make here.
3. Oakland Raiders
Damontre Moore, DE Texas A&M
This is too early to draft a cornerback, and the Raiders need a dynamic young CB badly.
I would love to see Oakland trade down here, but if they can't, then, well—here they are. Geno Smith is still on the board, and it's hard to believe that anyone in that building really thinks of Tyrelle Pryor as the eventual successor Carson Palmer as Raiders QB.
We clearly know that player is not Matt Leinart.
After much thought, I can't see GM Reggie McKenzie taking the bait on the West Virginia signal-caller, though.
The Raiders now face Peyton Manning twice a year, and will be forced to defend against whatever Andy Reid rolls out in Kansas City, which is sure to be an upgrade over anything they've faced in recent history.
The more film I watch on Moore, and the more I watch on some of these other guys, the more I'm starting to like Moore.
I take Damontre Moore here because I believe he is a safer pick than Barkevious Mingo currently. Moore has a natural, seemingly unharnessed pass-rush ability, and has shown he has a knack for "getting into the zone" and taking over games. Moore is not just quick off the tackle's outside shoulder, either.
He has a lateral burst down the line of scrimmage and an ability to maintain balance while crossing the face of a tackle on slants that is disruptive to running lanes and frees things up outside to bring heat. The Raiders need to stop guys like Doug Martin from doing what he did to them this year, too—not just quarterbacks.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M
The Eagles take a six-pound Philly cheesesteak to the gut upon realizing their ex-coach's first move in his new role was to snake their first target in Joeckel right out from under them.
I took this ten-second clip on my iPhone to illustrate a point. This is a regular Luke Joeckel play—a play the announcers will not say anything about, or that the casual fan will even realize. I had to point my phone at the action, as it is rarely ever captured in the main viewing area of television broadcasts.
That is Luke Joeckel absolutely wrecking somebody in pass protection. Wrecking them.
And scouts have seen it over and over. We know that much for sure. When you look at game tape on these A&M tackles, one thing is evident, and that is they are both clearly transcendent players.
National Football Post currently has Matthews ranked higher than Joeckel.
This Philadelphia team has undergone a massive change in ridding itself of Andy Reid. He was there 14 years, the longest tenure of any current coach. You rebuild through strength in your offensive line.
We've seen this team is one, sometimes two Jason Peters ruptured Achilles' tendons away from being a nightmare for QBs as an offensive line unit. A turnover machine. Spin Herremans down to guard (where he started his career), hope to god Peters stays healthy, set up Matthews on the other side.
This is assuming he comes out, which he may not. Matthews certainly can't inflate his stock much higher by returning for his senior year.
UPDATE: Matthews announced his intentions to stay in college for his Senior season around 1:30PM Eastern on Thursday after publish. Here is the press release sent to me by the Texas A&M University media relations department. Matthews will not be in Philly next season after all, and Eagles fans hope they don't have a high enough pick to draft him in 2014 when he does come out.
5. Detroit Lions
Jarvis Jones, OLB Georgia
Lions GM Martin Mayhew doesn't talk too much, and generally stays out of the media's eye more than many GMs. When he does talk, he packs a punch, though. And his offseason sentiment for 2013 is clear: He wants playmakers.
The Detroit Free Press quoted Mayhew as saying:
"We need guys that can impact the game. We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."
Jarvis Jones can impact a game if nothing else. His spinal stenosis evaluations will be important for teams, but from everything I can tell, that is a long-range deal—Michael Irvin had a pretty good career although it was cut a little short—and the Lions are on record saying they need a few "playmakers" of their own coming into 2013. Justin Durant sure hasn't been one, and they're on thin ice.
6. Cleveland Browns
Barkevius Mingo, DE/OLB LSU
I heard a sound byte this morning on Sirius XM NFL Radio that got me thinking.
During a coaching carousel-themed montage on the Blitz with Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, former Browns HC Pat Shurmur was recorded saying he was proud to "leave the organization in a better place" than it was two years prior when he took over.
He has. I have been saying it since last offseason, but the Browns are not too many steps away. Vic Carrucci broke most of it down for my radio show at the Senior Bowl last year, but the Browns had a legitimately promising unit in many ways coming into the 2012 draft—a draft they came out of with not only Trent Richardson but Mitchell Schwartz and of course Josh Gordon as a supplemental pick.
The pass rush needs improvement. Outside of Jabaal Sheard, no Brown had more than four sacks in 2012, and the team's third leader is an inside linebacker. A complementary edge presence to counter Sheard could make all the difference.
Two of these guys together is a nightmare, and you don't always want the wealth spread out when it comes to sack numbers. You want specific players teams have to game plan for that help your scheme to win the numbers game when they are predictably taken out of plays.
Mingo and Sheard, I already love the sound of it.
A developmental 4-3 end who I currently believe has the most upside of any edge threat in this draft due to his length and athleticism.
7. Arizona Cardinals
Geno Smith, QB West Virginia
New Cardinals GM Steve Keim is going to be jumping out of his seat to address the position that was the undoing of his former boss Rod Graves. The most important position in football, the quarterback.
I am selfishly very unhappy that Geno Smith will not take part in the Senior Bowl. With no clear-cut number one QB in 2012, I feel he had the best chance of any at separating himself.
Regardless of all that, this is Arizona and the Cardinals have not had one shred of QB play since Kurt Warner left town. Two words: Max Hall. He looked like Bill Gramatica under center.
Geno Smith changes the franchise the minute he walks in the building.
A young, swarming defense featuring the best blitzing inside linebacker in football and a coordinator who knows how to dial them up. An offensive line that began showing marked improvement in the second half of 2012. A full stable of running backs featuring both Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells. Geno Smith slinging the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler.
That's football I want to watch. Graves was too worried about the business side of things. Under Keim, the organization will rely on the football things to drive the business.
8. Buffalo Bills
Ryan Nassib, QB Syracuse
Welcome to the Doug Marrone era, and its first big reach. We know one thing about the new Bills head coach—he's a go-getter that doesn't waste much time.
Marrone got his coordinators hired in a jiffy, and the Bills are ready to roll once again with a new coach, philosophy and staff. A once-every-three-years breath of fresh air in the greater Buffalo-Niagara region recently.
This time, they are basically taking the staff of another New York state team in Syracuse, and bringing it west about two hours on I-90.
Much to the chagrin of the Syracuse University fans and supporters, Marrone brought his offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett with him to Buffalo. I think their athletic director, Daryl Gross, may describe the two's synergy perfectly:
“We just had the most prolific offense we’ve ever had here...And you just look at the West Virginia game to see how tough our defense is. Coach Marrone did a great job of installing the concepts and philosophy that have taken us to where we are – the hybrid spread/West Coast offense that no one else runs and a tough, physical, disciplined, run-through-the-wall defense.”
Hackett has never called an NFL play in an NFL game. He will call his first in 2013's preseason. He does know this system, however. This prolific and conceptually-unique system.
So does Ryan Nassib.
Bills GM Buddy Nix has already stated the club's interest in taking a QB early in 2013, and it just makes too much sense with neither Tyler Wilson or Mike Glennon (at this point), separating themselves. If I'm Marrone, I'm telling Nix I want the kid that I know can run my system.
All three of the players mentioned above will be at the Senior Bowl, and this projection is, in some ways, based in the theory that Nassib performs well enough in Mobile—and then Indy—to garner first-round consideration from other teams. Just enough to make Buddy Nix think he won't be able to reunite this group in the second.
I think Nassib does just that, and we get a not-so-surprising "surprise reach" here. It would be a horrible pick, but horrible is what Buddy Nix does best. Plus, if you fast forward to about 4:00 in this video, you'll see the new Bills OC talking about his love for Nassib, and the fact that he would want him on his NFL team.
9. New York Jets
Star Lotulelei, DT Utah
Star Lotulelei has fallen this far and Rex Ryan is foaming at the mouth.
Lotulelei is a low-center-of-gravity force through the middle of the defense's interior that has the all the makings of an elite NFL space-hog and inside penetrator all rolled into one. He has disengage arm checking moves that remind me more of what a 3-4 DE is taught to ideally execute. It's power through the arms that comes from an explosive base as thick as a tree trunk.
He's a bottle rocket.
The issue is, he takes plays—and sometimes entire series—off. With these big defensive linemen, NFL teams think one thing. They think, "OK, we know how important this position is and we know that (player) is a potential difference maker. Does he have on/off switch disease?"
On/off switch disease, fat boy syndrome, the West Texas softness—whatever you call it, it exists in many NFL defensive linemen. All 340-pound men starting on NFL defensive lines get gassed. Geno Atkins gets gassed. Some just flip the switch off, though, and these are the players you do not want to waste high picks on.
It's the Shaun Rodgers/Tommy Kelley on/off switch you look out for. You don't want it and people wondered if Jets rookie DE Quinton Coples had it coming out of UNC. He doesn't, at least not yet—he's been great. Thankfully for sufferers of this condition, the onset of the worst symptoms does not occur until after a big second contract is negotiated.
Star at nose. Coples at 3-4 DE (his best natural fit in my evaluation), Wilkerson on the other side. Easy. In 4-3, you can mix and match like crazy to suit matchups. We've already seen in the 2012 preseason that Coples can line up literally anywhere from a nose shade to an open seven.
10. Tennessee Titans
Chance Warmack, OG Alabama
The increasing amount of importance being placed on interior line disruption from the defensive side of the ball will certainly cause a cyclical reaction. As players like Geno Atkins, Ray McDonald and Calais Campbell evolve, and continue to disrupt from the interior portion of offensive lines, teams will defend themselves.
So, that obviously means that the offensive guard position will see increased value. Especially in a division where J.J. Watt stunts inside to the A gap on you twice a year. Even if none of that were true, we have the best in a long time on our hands in Chance Warmack. He is to the guard position what Jockel is to the tackle position. Just a brilliant, off-the-charts thrill to watch and scout.
He sits into a pass rush like Larry Allen and has the downfield motor of David DeCastro in the run game. I know two people who will appreciate a player like this: Titans head coach Mike Munchack and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews (Left and Center).
11. San Diego Chargers
Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan
Jared Gaithers can't stay healthy and the Chargers must address the tackle position if they want to squeeze anything more out of the lemon that is Phillip Rivers.
Ryan Mathews is a whole different kind of "lemon," but that's for another column.
The Chargers need to rebuild as they have missed their window as a championship contender. Both the quick, and the long-term answers lie in the foundation, especially when the foundation is in need of stability.
They have to take Taylor Lewan here. He's 6'8", but only plays at that height through his reach. He has good, if somewhat unsettled feet and is clearly a mountain of a man. You need guys like this against Tamba Hali and Von Miller twice a season.
UPDATE: Mere hours after the publication of this mock draft, Taylor Lewan declared his intentions to return for his senior season at Michigan. I will never understand why a player with a sure first-round grade would do this, but best of luck to Lewan and the Wolverines next season.
12. Miami Dolphins
Dee Milliner, CB Alabama
The Dolphins traded off Vontae Davis in what may have actually turned out to be a slick move, but they lack depth and consistency at the cornerback position.
You don't want that when you face Tom Brady twice a year and have the opportunity to pick on whatever junk the Jets and Bills are rolling out at QB two times each as well. Milliner provides, above all, consistency.
You don't hear from Milliner all game until he makes a big play. He holds his side down in man and has shown he has sneaky hawk skills in zone. He does tend to shadow the receiver more than he looks for the ball, but that isn't necessarily a huge problem. He understands the advanced concepts of a Saban defense and has played alongside the likes of Mark Barron and Dont'a Hightower.
You have to get sacks, and sometimes coverage causes them. Milliner is a prospect with the upside to be great at holding down the fort for you on his side of the secondary.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kenny Vaccaro, S Texas
Vaccaro can play the deep safety and he can play up on the line. He's relentless in coverage, so much so that it oftentimes seems reckless which leads to obvious frustration. Kenny Vaccaro is a bit of a hothead from everything I have witnessed during his his time here in Austin at the University of Texas.
Greg Schiano is also a hothead, and he doesn't like getting picked on by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan twice a year. Johnthan Banks would be another excellent choice here, but I feel like the Bucs' playmaking ballhawk of a corner already exists in Leonard Johnson.
Vacarro can give high help to players like Johnson, crowd the line, rush the passer, line up in man in the slot and handle physical tight end releases. His skill set is versatile enough to cover a college player like Tavon Austin effectively in certain assignments, and would translate extremely well to keeping TEs like Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen under wraps in division. He doesn't hit like Harrison Smith but he dive-bombs in much the same manner.
14. Carolina Panthers
Johnthan Banks, CB Mississippi State
This is where Johnthan Banks comes off the board. A true ballhawk with pick-six written all over him, Banks is a snake in the grass that any QB must be wary of when utilizing their 2.5 seconds to break down a zone coverage post-snap. He disguises his alignments pre-snap, and although Mississippi State often utilizes him out of a soft cushion, he has shown he can use his size in press-man as well.
He can knife in for run support and pass rush purposes, and is a tall, versatile chess piece in the mold of Richard Sherman at almost 6'3". He returns punts, and clearly the Panthers do not trust Joe Adams to do this. Banks could either be an absolutely elite corner or a very good safety eventually. Carolina will take either.
15. New Orleans Saints
Dion Jordan, DE Oregon
We'll have to follow Dion Jordan's labrum surgery/recovery closely—but thankfully, he doesn't ever have to worry about throwing the ball like Drew Brees did.
He can do just about everything else in the book, though. Versatility. It's the word you'll hear regarding Jordan for the rest of this draft process. Oregon's number 96 can line up at the 5-technique and set the edge, convert a bull-rush inside from the 4-technique, or come flying in from a two-point stance out wide. He picks up running backs in assignments to the flats and has even lined up split out on a slot wide receiver.
A Steve Spagnuolo defense demands versatility out of defensive linemen, that has always been a real doctrine of his. The organization will love this sort of weapon, even though I am not sold on his pure pass-rush ability just yet.
16. St. Louis Rams
Keenan Allen, WR Cal
Sam Bradford needs playmakers on offense and the Rams have assembled a cast of wide receiving talent that resembles a lost and found.
A project here, a possession receiver there. Danny Amendola is scheduled to hit free agency and who knows what kind of market he'll create. I personally think Brian Quick still has room to grow and will be a good NFL receiver. Chris Givens was arguably the Rams' biggest surprise of 2012.
Still, they need to stack onto it. Give me Keenan Allen here if Kenny Vaccaro is off the board. The more I've thought about it, the more I think it will work. He has the hands, the change-of-direction ability and the attention to detail in routes that Bradford can operate in accordance with.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Eddie Lacy, RB Alabama
I said Eddie Lacy was going here before the National Championship, and I still think so. The Steelers seem to hate Rashard Mendenhall, and it is clear that their offense does not operate effectively with the only running threats being guys like Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
It doesn't take a genius; it's the AFC North and you need to pound the ball. Eddie Lacy is a brilliant athlete, and I have thought since laying eyes on him that he has a great chance to be better at the NFL level than Mark Ingram.
He's a more elusive power back through the first level which I love. I'm looking forward to asking some of these Alabama defenders about the differences in tackling Trent Richardson versus Eddie Lacy at the NFL Combine the same way I inquired about the differences in Ingram and Richardson to Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw last year.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Barrett Jones, OG/C Alabama
The interior of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is a liability and it is killing Tony Romo.
Tony Romo was sacked five times this season due to the responsibility of his right guard according to Pro Football Focus. That was good for second place in the league—only losing out to Romo's left guard who allowed their QB to get rocked seven times on his own.
Interior pressure kills quarterbacks. An edge rush can be manipulated in the pocket by passers gifted with that sort of short-scale mobility, but a pass rush into your face—a breach in the center of the hull—it's everyone's worst nightmare. Jones can line up anywhere through the three interior spots and provide an instant (and much needed) upgrade in Dallas.
19. New York Giants
Eric Fisher, OT Central Michigan
The Giants will use this pick for one of the following: Accumulating depth to cultivate along the defensive line, addressing the secondary or addressing the offensive line.
Given the way this mock has fallen, I take Eric Fisher here if I'm New York. He's a long, nasty player that has really quick feet and gives opposing rushers trouble with the way he can drop his hips, engage and mirror on passing downs. You love the height at 6'7", and like a lot of these other guys, he seems to be from a different crop than the 2012 vintage of tackle prospects.
What a year at the offensive tackle position. For a lot of these teams, it couldn't come soon enough.
20. Chicago Bears
D.J. Fluker, OT Alabama
No one is happier than Bears fans about the absurd amount of offensive tackle depth in this draft. The way this mock has fallen, there are already four off the board in the first 19 picks, and they are still going to be able to get a great one in D.J. Fluker.
It's hard to believe that a 335-pound man could "look bigger than that," but Fluker does.
There is only one way to describe Fluker's power in the run game: dominating. He's a relentless attacker that uses every bit of his 6'6" frame to smother the opposition, even when they know it's coming. Fluker can get his feet in cement against skilled rushers, and struggles with handling speed-to-power conversions, but represents a tremendous upgrade to J'Marcus Webb the day he steps on the field.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Manti Te'o, LB Notre Dame
The Bengals might have gotten a bit of a raw deal on Rey Maualuga, but they made up for it by stealing Vontaze Burfict right out from under everyone's noses.
Te'o didn't exactly put on a show in the national championship game, and he took a hit on my draft board because of it. That's what happens when you turtle up, even against an offensive line full of future NFL stars.
You cannot overlook Te'o's recognition abilities, his instincts and his motor however. As I've said all along, he will join an NFL team and play immediately. Te'o is the epitome of a character player that can fit in as a key cog in the burgeoning giant that is the Cincinnati defense. A player like Burfict who is immature and impressionable would benefit greatly from the presence of a player like Te'o.
22. St. Louis Rams
Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame
Lance Kendricks came on towards the end of last season, but what a gift to Sam Bradford the start of this first round would be with Keenan Allen and Tyler Eiffert.
St. Louis has issues to address along their offensive line because they are old and hurt in that department, but with the way this draft has fallen, it seems like they can address interior line depth later on. Eventually they'll need to get some Isaiah Pead insurance at RB in case he cannot step into the void that is likely to be created with the possibility of letting Steven Jackson move on.
That can be done later. Get the best tight end in the draft here and let's see what Sam Bradford can do in the NFC West with a full stable of offensive weapons coming into what should be the beginning of his prime.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Alec Ogletree, LB Georgia
I simply love the idea of Alec Ogletree and Harrison Smith being on patrol together in Minnesota. That is a lot of flying to the ball, and a heck of a lot of speed.
A safety like Smith coupled with an LB like Ogeltree creates a filthy backbone to your defense that cannot be realized with a player like Jasper Brinkley. Ogletree is quick as a hiccup to the sidelines and in downhill pursuit to the flats. He's a rangy missile that can fight through downfield blocks to put himself in the path of the runner and create collisions.
24. Indianapolis Colts
Sam Montgomery, DE LSU
Someone always falls, and in this mock draft, it has been Sam Montgomery. I don't see much of a way this will occur in the actual draft, but the Colts and Chuck Pagano would not mind it one bit.
Outside of offensive line, the pass rush remains the Colts' greatest need coming into 2013. I think they will address the offensive line in free agency with a player like Andy Levitre, but an edge presence like Montgomery does not come around every day, and they certainly don't come cheaply via free agency.
He has played in a 3-4 previously, and some think he is more suited for an NFL career at OLB. I personally don't think it matters. The Colts, like virtually every team in the NFL, are switching to more hybrid fronts. Montgomery has a quick, long first step, and might end up being the most well-rounded edge rusher in this draft when it is all said and done.
25. Baltimore Ravens
Ezekiel Ansah, DE BYU
I just can't imagine a better place for Ezekiel Ansah to end up. Ansah is like a puppy with paws so big you worry about what kind of damage he might do when he grows into them.
Ansah is a raw talent that would flourish in the culture of the Baltimore defense. A native of Ghana, Ansah is a track star-turned-pass-rusher who didn't strap on a football pad in his life until just over two years ago. Baltimore needs to re-develop a swarming pass rush as they usher in the post-Ray Lewis era that appears to be coming down the pipe sooner than later. Ansah is a terrific piece to have in place for these purposes.
26. Seattle Seahawks
Sheldon Richardson, DT Missouri
Pete Carroll is grinning like the cat that ate the canary if the draft falls like this and he can get his hands on a pure pass-rushing DT in Sheldon Richardson.
There is nothing better than building on strength with more strength, and when you can build on strength with speed as well, that's deadly. Pete Carroll loves this type of player. Richardson is a monster at nearly 295 pounds, but may pull a Dontari Poe at the combine when he tests. Richardson may just blow the roof off the place. His athleticism is beyond obvious, as is his natural bend and twist that follow a lightning fast first step.
Richardson is more than a defensive tackle; he is a disruptor of the interior. A perfect fit in Seattle.
27. Houston Texans
Tavon Austin, WR West Virginia
The lack of any legitimate receiving threats outside of an aging Andre Johnson and an injury-prone TE in Owen Daniels is a glaring hole in the Texans offense.
They tried to address this in 2012 by drafting DeVier Posey in the third round and taking a late flier on Keshawn Martin, neither of whom have produced much as rookies. All Tavon Austin does is produce. Out of the backfield on handoffs, in the slot, split out wide and on reverses.
Whether it's in the kick return game or on offense, Austin is a player that commands the attention of the defense, and a weapon whose hands you want the ball in in open space. An exciting new dimension to a Houston offense that has become increasingly one-dimensional as the 2012 season has worn on.
28. San Francisco 49ers
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Tennessee
Randy Moss is now very old and Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both very hurt. Michael Crabtree is continuing to come into his prime, and the ultimate possession WR needs a true counterbalance on the opposite sideline.
The 49ers are a team that runs to set up the pass, and Colin Kaepernick is not afraid to take big shots.
It's clear that A.J. Jenkins was a terrible pick, and taking Cordarrelle Patterson in this spot gives true hope for a well-rounded and dynamic receiving corps with such a big, athletic body operating out of the X.
29. Green Bay Packers
Montee Ball, RB Wisconsin
No way they let this kid out of Wisconsin.
Montee Ball will be a poor man's Curtis Martin in the NFL, and the Green Bay Packers are in desperate need of any sort of running game.
DuJuan Harris is not the future, Ryan Grant is quite obviously the past and Alex Green and James Starks are operating in a plane of existence that I'm not even sure about—all I know is they don't play good football there.
When Green Bay can establish a run and stay balanced, they are simply a better team. The one word with Ball is production. I can't say it enough—the guy produces and produces and produces. A hard-nosed power back that fits perfectly into the scheme Green Bay has in place, plus jersey sales would be through the roof.
30. New England Patriots
Jesse Williams, DT Alabama
Line this dude up next to Vince Wilfork and see what happens.
Jesse Williams is one of the most powerful players in this draft from a pure, natural strength perspective.
Williams is an Australian native that looks like a warrior and plays like a bull in a china cabinet. The duo of Williams and Wilfork would represent huge issues for opposing offensive lines when trying to win the numbers battle in the box.
The Patriots made it clear in 2012 that they are a team that is trending towards being dominant against the run. This attribute gets multiplied greatly with every bit of speed you can add through the middle of the defense and every bit of raw power and space-eating ability you can add through the core of your defensive line.
As usual, the rich get richer in New England.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Gio Bernard, RB UNC
The Falcons cannot believe their luck as the player who many believe to be the best RB in the draft falls right into their laps in the form of Gio Bernard.
There are issues to be addressed on the offensive line, but those can be addressed later. If the Falcons don't take Gio Bernard here, they lose him forever. Michael Turner is the oldest living running back in recorded history and runs like a roly-poly going uphill.
Bernard is the exact, perfect fit in a Dirk Koetter offense while Jacquizz Rodgers has shown this year that he is not likely to produce in much more than a complementary role.
32. Denver Broncos
Xavier Rhodes, CB Florida State
Champ Bailey can still shut down Vincent Jackson, but he may not be the player he always has been for much longer. Xavier Rhodes is the perfect chess piece to groom into the role of Denver's next shutdown corner.
Rhodes is 6'2" and plays with a fluid agility through his hips that leads to immaculate cover skills and very little wasted motion. I first noticed Rhodes in 2011 watching some game film of Michael Floyd, and Rhodes basically shut Floyd down before getting banged up and leaving the game.
Rhodes is a physical corner with a mean streak who loves to press. A perfect pick for a team not wanting to lose a step when one of the best ever decides to step down.