2013 NFL Mock Draft: Where Will Defensive Playmakers End Up?
The NFL draft presents teams with the best opportunity to acquire game-changers on the defensive side of the ball.
Go ahead, take a look at the most elite defensive units in the league, and you're guaranteed to see transcendent talents that were taken in the first round. From sackmasters like Von Miller, Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt to ball-hawking corners like Patrick Peterson, the first round of the draft is the place for teams to turn around their struggling defenses.
The trend of dominant defenders going early and often certainly won't end this year—there are plenty of prospects that are sure to become household names once in the league.
Here's the latest look at what the first round should look like.
Note: Defensive playmakers are in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: QB, Geno Smith, West Virginia
New head coach Andy Reid has a penchant for developing quarterbacks, and Smith gives him someone to build the offense around.
He's not on the same level as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but his build and accuracy are strengths that should have Kansas City fans excited after watching Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn play this year.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT, Luke Joekel, Texas A&M
The temptation to select a quarterback will be there—neither Blaine Gabbert nor Chad Henne is the answer. However, the Jaguars would be doing themselves a great disservice by reaching for a quarterback here.
Instead they should go with Luke Joekel. Joekel is the surest thing in this year's class and should be the anchor of the Jags offensive line for the next decade.
Considering Jacksonville's line gave up 50 sacks last season, Joekel is the perfect match for the Jaguars' needs.
3. Oakland Raiders: DT, Star Lotulelei, Utah
The first two teams are in dire need of offense, so the Raiders will likely have their pick of the top defensive talent in this year's class.
Considering the Raiders needs, Star Lotulelei should be the pick here.
The Raiders were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to rushing the quarterback, with only 25 sacks on the season, and they also gave up 118 yards per game on the ground. The 6'3", 320-pound lineman is the type of behemoth that can hold the point of attack against the run but has the athleticism to provide a serious push up the middle.
Lotulelei would anchor the line and be a staple of the Oakland defense for years to come. His size and explosiveness make him reminiscent of the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh, and he could have a similar impact as a rookie.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: DE, Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The Eagles can't be happy that Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan decided to return to school—they really need help along the offensive line.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, none of the offensive lineman that will be available when they are on the clock at No. 4 will be worthy of the selection. However, they will get a future star if they select Werner to anchor the defensive line.
Werner is the total package as a defensive player and has the versatility to play in whatever scheme the new head coach decides to employ. Whether he has his hand in the dirt or is used as a pure 4-3 defensive end, Werner will be an explosive pass-rusher—he registered 13 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss his senior season.
The German-born Werner will be a disruptive source for years to come and would provide the Eagles with an elite pass-rusher to build the defense around.
5. Detroit Lions: DE, Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
This is a draft heavy on pass-rushing specialists, and Damontre Moore stands out as one of the more explosive options of the bunch.
He may have been overshadowed by the Johnny Football phenomenon at Texas A&M, but there's little doubt that he'll be an NFL star. He has superior athleticism and a tremendous closing burst, which led to 12.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss in 2012.
Considering the Lions already have Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh drawing double-teams on the interior, Detroit would have one of the scariest defensive lines in the NFL with Moore coming off the edge.
Former Texas A&M product Von Miller has taken the league by storm with his ability to get to the quarterback, and Moore comes from the same program and could bring similar results to the Lions.
Definitely worth a top-five pick.
6. Cleveland Browns: DE/OLB, Jarvis Jones, Georgia
It's unclear whether the Browns will continue to run the 4-3 defense or switch to the 3-4 with new coach Rob Chudzinski at the helm.
What we do know is that they could use an elite pass-rusher either way.
Jones may be the biggest boom-or-bust pick in the top 10. He has tremendous potential and could be the best pure pass-rusher in the draft but has serious health concerns—he transferred from USC to Georgia after USC team doctors advised that he quit football due to spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column (h/t ESPN).
Jones could very well be the biggest playmaker in the entire draft, or he could be out of the league in five years. It's a huge gamble, but with Moore and Werner already off the board, the Browns could be forced to roll the dice on Jones.
7. Arizona Cardinals: OT, Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Many will call for the Cardinals to draft a quarterback here. Considering the poor play of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, that's completely understandable.
However, the Cardinals started off the season 4-0 with Kevin Kolb, and he played better than public perception would indicate when healthy.
What really hampered the Cardinals offense was an offensive line that allowed 58 sacks.
Eric Fisher is the type of nimble tackle prospect that can protect the quarterback's blindside and provide extra punch in the run game. That should be a welcome addition for Larry Fitzgerald and Co.
8. Buffalo Bills: QB, Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Every year there's a quarterback that is taken just a little too high. The perfect candidate to take that distinction in the 2013 NFL draft is Ryan Nassib.
Last season, the Miami Dolphins brought in Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman as the offensive coordinator. Their next move? Bringing in Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Many felt that it was a reach, but Sherman was very familiar with the signal-caller, and the Dolphins made the move anyway.
The Bills could be in a very similar situation, as new head coach Doug Marrone and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett both coached Nassib last year as Syracuse.
Nassib may be a stretch here, but his comfort level with the coaching staff can't be overstated.
9. New York Jets: DE/OLB, Dion Jordan, Oregon
There's a bit of a drop off after Werner, Moore and Jones in the pass-rushing department, but Dion Jordan is a player that has been criminally underrated and should shoot up draft boards once he participates in the combine.
At 6'7" and 240 pounds, Jordan is a bit slender to make for a good run defender, but with the Jets he'd be asked to rush the quarterback. Rex Ryan's defense is at its best when he has a player that can consistently get heat on the quarterback—Jordan should be able to do that right away.
10. Tennessee Titans: CB, Dee Milliner, Alabama
The Titans are in desperate need of a pass-rusher, but the secondary was also an issue. In this scenario they'd be better off taking the top-rated cornerback in the draft than rolling the dice on any of the pass-rushers available.
Nick Saban-coached cornerbacks have tended to drop on draft day, but Milliner is a great athlete that appears ready to start from day one and would be an upgrade for a secondary that gave up far too many big plays last season.
11. San Diego Chargers: OG, Chance Warmack, Alabama
This is a team that is desperate for help along the offensive line.
Phillip Rivers spent much of 2012 dodging defenders and throwing off his back foot because his line was among the worst in the NFL.
With a lack of elite tackles available, the Chargers go with Warmack, who could start at either guard spot and instantly upgrade the rushing attack and pass protection.
12. Miami Dolphins: WR, Keenan Allen, California
The Dolphins went out and got their franchise quarterback in the 2012 draft. Now it's time to give him a go-to receiver.
Davone Bess and Brian Hartline have performed admirably, but neither is a true No. 1 guy in the long term. Allen is a big (6'3" 210), physical receiver that has the ability to develop into a steady option in the passing game.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB, Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Ronde Barber isn't getting any younger, and Aqib Talib was traded to the New England Patriots. This is a team that is desperate for new blood in the secondary.
Banks could very well be the best cornerback in the draft if Milliner takes longer than expected to acclimate to the league. He possesses the lanky build to compete with taller receivers for jump balls and has the athleticism to stick with smaller, faster wide receivers.
Banks has experience going against fellow NFL prospects playing in the SEC and has plenty of game tape to back up his first-round grade.
He should be a day-one starter in Tampa Bay.
14. Carolina Panthers: DT, Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
If Hankins falls all the way to the Panthers at 14, fans should be jumping for joy.
Carolina finished the season strong last year, and the offensive issues from early in the season seemed to work themselves out. That should allow the Panthers to invest in the front seven by taking Hankins.
At 6'3" 320 pounds, Hankins is the perfect space eater to occupy the middle of the Panthers defense and allow rising linebacker Luke Kuechly to rack up tackles for the foreseeable future.
15. New Orleans Saints: DT, Jesse Williams, Alabama
The Saints had one of the most prolific offenses in the league last year and still fell short of the playoffs.
That's an indication that this pick must be used on the defensive side of the ball.
Using the pick on Williams would provide a stout run-stuffer in the middle. Considering that the Saints had the worst defense in the league against the run last season, that's a piece that is desperately needed.
16. St. Louis Rams: OT, Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
The St. Louis Rams' No. 1 priority this season has to be upgrading Bradford's protection.
Thomas is an athletic tackle that spent time at tight end and defensive end before becoming a two-year starter on the offensive line for the Sooners.
He had impressive performances against the better pass-rushers in the Big 12 and would make for a consistent starter at right tackle for the Rams.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
If Manti Te'o drops this far, members of the Steelers front office will be tripping over themselves to get this pick in as fast as possible.
Te'o's stock took a hit after a disappointing national championship game that exposed some of the weaknesses in his game.
However, he's still a viable first-round talent with a bright NFL future ahead of him. At Notre Dame he displayed a knack for making big plays, whether on blitzes or in coverage. He should work as a great inside linebacker in a 3-4 with athletic playmakers that can cover for any lack of speed he may have.
Inside linebacker may not be the biggest need for the Steelers come April, but Te'o would be a highly productive player on their defense and a must-draft player at 17.
18. Dallas Cowboys: QB, Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
After a disappointing season that saw Dallas miss the playoffs, owner Jerry Jones will look to do whatever he feels it takes for the franchise to turn things around.
With Tony Romo turning 33 by the time the 2013 season rolls around, it's not a stretch to see the Cowboys going after the quarterback of the future in the draft.
Jones will no doubt be familiar with Wilson—he's an Arkansas alumni and booster for the program. If Wilson is available when the Cowboys go on the clock, he could be deemed the future of the franchise.
19. New York Giants: DE, Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
The rich get richer here. Ansah could turn out to be the next great pass-rusher for a team that has had its fair share of great pass-rushers in recent history.
Ansah is a raw, athletic freak that still has plenty of room for growth in his game.
His lack of polish and long-term production may be cause for concern, but those issues didn't stop the team from taking Jason Pierre-Paul. How'd that work out for them?
20. Chicago Bears: OT, Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
The Bears are another team that has major issues along the offensive line.
Two season in a row now, the shoddy protection for quarterback Jay Cutler has cost the team, and it's something the Bears will need to address in the draft.
Thomas is the best available tackle prospect on the board and should be a great first step in solidifying Chicago's protection issues.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: DE/OLB, Barkevious Mingo, LSU
The Bengals have put together a budding roster full of promising young players, so they are in a position to take the best player available. In this scenario that is Mingo.
Mingo is a bit of tweener with his size. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, he's too small to play the 4-3-defensive-end role full time, but his pass-rushing abilities are too good for him not to be a factor in the team's pass rush.
In Mingo, the Bengals would have a replacement for outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who has the same build but is entering his ninth season in the league. There are bigger needs, but you can never have too much depth in the front seven, and this would make a good defense even better.
22. St. Louis Rams: OG, Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
This is the Rams' second first-round selection, and they should look to go offensive line once again.
Cooper is one of the most physical offensive lineman available in the draft and would provide as much an upgrade to the interior of the line as Johnson will the outside.
With Cooper and Johnson in tow, the Rams could transform a weakness into a strength in the first round.
23. Minnesota Vikings: WR, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
As amazing as Adrian Peterson has proved to be, the Vikings can't put everything on him again next season.
Christian Ponder needs weapons, and he needs them to step up right away. Patterson will provide a big target that can stretch the field and is a perfect complement to Percy Harvin.
24. Indianapolis Colts: CB, Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
The Colts offense took big leaps in year one of the Andrew Luck era, but defensive-minded coach Chuck Pagano will look to improve the Colts defense.
Rhodes is a big, physical corner that can cover well and step up against the run on the edge.
25. Seattle Seahawks: WR, Terrance Williams, Baylor
Russell Wilson has proven that he's going to be a great quarterback for the Seahawks for years to come. The next step is surrounding him with the weapons that he will need to find success in the passing game.
Williams was one of the most explosive receivers in college football and should make an impact right away.
26. Green Bay Packers: OL, Barrett Jones, Alabama
The Packers need to improve in the trenches on both ends of the ball if they want to take the next step as a team.
Jones has been an extremely valuable asset for the Tide and played multiple positions along the line during his collegiate career. His versatility should serve him well at the next level, as he could play anywhere the Packers need him to play on the interior.
27. Houston Texans: WR, DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
The Texans are another great team with a clearly defined need in the draft.
Matt Schaub needs more weapons in the passing game, and Hopkins should provide the great complement to Andre Johnson that the offense has been missing.
28. Denver Broncos: S, Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
After getting lit up by the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Broncos' weakness was made abundantly clear—they need some help in the secondary.
Fortunately for the Broncos, Vaccaro is a playmaker at safety that seems to be flying under the radar and should be able to make an instant impact at the next level.
If Vaccaro falls this far, he would be an upgrade over Rahim Moore from day one and should shore up one of the few issues this Broncos defense has.
29. Baltimore Ravens: LB, Alec Ogletree, Gergia
The reign of Ray Lewis at middle linebacker is coming to an end in Baltimore.
The Ravens should have the opportunity to find a suitable replacement in Ogletree. Outside of Te'o he's the best inside linebacker prospect and will fit right into the Ravens' 3-4 scheme.
30. Atlanta Falcons: TE, Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
The Falcons already have one of the best passing attacks in the league with Julio Jones and Roddy White catching passes from Matt Ryan.
However, Tony Gonzalez is reaching the end of his career, and the Falcons will need to replace him to keep things humming along. Eifert has the size (6'5", 252 lbs) and athleticism to become a game-changing target in the middle of the field.
31. San Francisco 49ers: DT, Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
The front seven is definitely not the biggest need for the 49ers, but if Richardson drops this far, there's no way the 'Niners will pass him up.
Justin Smith is 33 years old and won't be around forever. Richardson would enter a rotation along the San Francisco front before ultimately replacing Smith and becoming the latest blue-chipper on the 49ers defensive line.
32. New England Patriots: DE, Alex Okafor, Texas
The Patriots went heavy on defense in the draft last year, and it has paid dividends.
They should look for more of the same when they go on the clock in the 2013 draft, and Okafor would add depth to the Patriots pass rush.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have put together solid seasons as the team's primary pass-rushers, but too many of those kinds of guys is a problem Bill Belichick would love to have.
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