Ranking the 2013 NFL Draft's 5 Most Likely Candidates for the Top Pick

Dan HopeContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2013

Ranking the 2013 NFL Draft's 5 Most Likely Candidates for the Top Pick

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    There is no equivalent in the 2013 NFL draft to what Andrew Luck was in the 2012 NFL draft—or, for that matter, what Cam Newton was in 2011 or Sam Bradford in 2010.

    In recent drafts, a quarterback has often been the No. 1 overall pick. That was the result of a quarterback-needy team holding the top pick and one quarterback standing out as the top signal-caller in the draft (Luck had steep competition from Robert Griffin III, but either would be considered the top quarterback in most draft classes).

    This year, the Kansas City Chiefs are certainly quarterback-needy, but there is no quarterback in the draft class close to being an elite prospect. But with the importance and value of the quarterback position, will the Chiefs take a chance on a field general anyway, or will they draft simply for value?

    We usually have a pretty good idea of whom the No. 1 overall pick will be well in advance, but this year’s draft is likely to keep us guessing until close to draft time. With more than three months left in the process, big boards and prospect rankings are still subject to change, but ahead we'll take a look at the most likely choices to emerge as the first player off the board on April 25.

Honorable Mentions

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    With very few sure-fire top-10 picks in this year’s draft class, the door is wide open for other prospects to rise up and challenge to be among the top picks, even at No. 1 overall.

    One quickly rising prospect to watch is Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson. He is the best pass-rushing interior lineman in this draft class and would be a tremendous fit for the Chiefs as a 5-technique defensive end in Andy Reid's 3-4 . The No. 1 overall pick would be a significant stretch, but Richardson has a shot if he can make a big impression on the Chiefs.

    There is unlikely to be much of a trade market for the Chiefs’ pick, but two players who could potentially draw interest in a trade-up scenario are Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner and Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

    Both Werner and Jones could potentially fall to any team between the No. 2 and No. 6 overall picks, and if a team in need of a pass-rusher becomes enthralled with either of them, they could at least inquire about what it would cost them to move up to the top of the board.

5. A Quarterback Other Than Tyler Wilson or Geno Smith

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    Due to the demand for and importance of franchise quarterbacks, top prospects at the position can rise faster than draft prospects at any other position. In this year’s draft scenario, where a team in desperate need of a quarterback sits atop the draft board without an elite quarterback prospect to select, the door remains open for any number of quarterbacks to make a meteoric rise over the next three months and challenge to be the top pick.

    USC’s Matt Barkley would be the most obvious choice outside of Tyler Wilson and Geno Smith, but coming off of a disappointing senior season and dealing with a shoulder injury that will keep him out of the Senior Bowl, there is probably too much working against going No. 1 overall. Nonetheless, he remains among the top quarterback prospects in the draft class and cannot be ruled from being the top pick at this point.

    Tennessee’s Tyler Bray has great physical tools and measurables that give him huge upside, but inconsistent play throughout his collegiate career makes him a reach as a first-round pick, let alone at the top of the board. The same can be said for North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, while Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib is another prospect whose flaws could be overlooked for his upside as a potential starting quarterback.

    If the draft were based simply on value, we wouldn’t be talking about any of these quarterbacks as top-15 picks, let alone having potential to go No. 1 overall. There is still plenty of time, however, for any of these quarterbacks to make a big impression on the Chiefs at the Senior Bowl (Glennon and Nassib only), NFL Scouting Combine and in individual workouts.

4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

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    The Kansas City Chiefs drafted nose tackle Dontari Poe with their first-round pick last year, so drafting another nose tackle in Utah’s Star Lotulelei is not an ideal fit. That said, Lotulelei is among the draft’s top prospects, and with Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton deciding to stay in a 3-4 alignment, defensive line reinforcements are needed in Kansas City.

    Lotulelei is a massive interior lineman with the strength, girth and power of a nose tackle, but he supplements that with very good quickness and interior penetration as well. That makes him a three-down force with the versatility to play any interior defensive line position.

    In the Chiefs' 3-4 alignment, Lotulelei could play a similar role to what Haloti Ngata plays for the Baltimore Ravens, playing on all three downs while lining up at 5-technique defensive end in some packages and nose tackle in others. 

    Lotulelei may not be the best fit for the Chiefs’ needs, but in terms of value, he is among the best choices as a potential No. 1 overall pick.

3. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

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    Given the Chiefs’ current drastic need of a quarterback, it seems most likely that they will draft a signal-caller with the No. 1 overall pick unless they acquire a veteran quarterback via trade or free agency. Despite this, the best value pick at the top of the board for the Chiefs would be Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel.


    Joeckel made a strong case in his junior season for being the best overall prospect in the 2013 draft class, and has the skill set to be among the NFL’s best left tackles for many years to come. While the Chiefs already have a solid left tackle in Branden Albert, he is an unrestricted free agent, and even if he is brought back, the Chiefs could move him inside to left guard, the position he played collegiately at Virginia.

    Regardless of who the Chiefs’ quarterback is long-term, adding Joeckel would give that quarterback an outstanding pass protector on his blind side. And a little more protection from a line that gave up 40 sacks in 2012 is never a bad thing.

    Another factor that increases the likelihood of Joeckel being the first player off the board is that he may be the only player who a team would consider trading up into the top five picks to select this year.

    Fellow top junior offensive tackles Taylor Lewan and Joeckel's former teammate Jake Matthews decided to return to school, leaving Joeckel as the only sure first-round offensive tackle in the draft class.

    With many teams in the first round in need of offensive line help, his talent could entice a team to move up as high as No. 1 overall for a shot to add a standout left tackle.

1B. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

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    Geno Smith may not even be among the two best quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class, but most draft prognosticators disagree with me on that. And while he is not necessarily among the best options to be the No. 1 overall pick, it would be inaccurate to say that Smith is any less likely of being the top pick than Wilson or anyone else, considering Kansas City's need for a quarterback.

    There is a lot to like about Smith: He is a very talented passer who drives the ball downfield well, has very fluid mechanics and is a good athlete who can scramble to evade pressure and keep plays alive. In a draft class with no top dual threats, he is the best athlete and option-ready quarterback among the top quarterback prospects.

    On the other hand, Smith also has some serious flaws in his game: He needs serious work on his footwork, is too sedentary in the pocket and is prone to staring down his initial read. But if Reid is confident that he can build on Smith’s potential and make him a more well-rounded quarterback, chances are good that the Chiefs will invest in him as their quarterback of the future.

1A. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

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    My current projection is that the Kansas City Chiefs will draft Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson with the No. 1 overall pick.

    Among quarterbacks available in this year’s draft class, Wilson is the most fundamentally sound and the most skilled downfield pocket passer. It is undeniable that the Chiefs’ biggest need is for a new quarterback, so if they cannot find an upgrade over Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn through Wilson or another QB, they will likely be picking near the top of the draft again in 2014.

    The Chiefs’ new head coach, Andy Reid, made Donovan McNabb his first-ever draft pick with the Philadelphia Eagles as the No. 2 overall selection in the 1999 NFL draft. That shows that Reid is willing to take a chance on a quarterback with a top draft pick, and Wilson is the safest bet as at least a solid starting quarterback.

    Wilson needs to cut down on mistakes and become better with his drops from under center. He does not have a cannon arm, nor is he much of a running threat. He could be an immediate upgrade over Cassel and Quinn, though, so he would be the best choice for the Chiefs as a long-term option under center.

    In summary, it remains a complete unknown who will end up being this year’s No. 1 overall pick. There are many different directions that the Chiefs could go with the pick, and while that could be an agonizing process for them and their fans, it is going to make for a very fun offseason for those of us who love the intrigue of the draft.

     

    Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist and the New England Patriots game-day correspondent for Bleacher Report.

    Follow @Dan_Hope