Between Colin Kaepernick's sudden emergence and Chip Kelly's surprising promotion, the NFL is threatening, in part, to start widely embracing the read-option offense. In spite of these occurrences, however, the NFL is still undeniably a passing league.
It's tough to win without throwing the football, and in turn, it's hard to win without being able to stop people from throwing the football. In a draft class deemed weak at quarterback and receiver, that could make cornerbacks one of the hottest commodities come April 25th.
Let's examine how the first round might play out, with emphasis on top cornerback prospects, and where they might fit in.
Note: Highlighted players are pictured
1. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Joeckel is slowly overtaking Star Lotulelei as 2013's most fawned over commodity. The more scouts study his tape, the more they begin to salivate. Andy Reid has never selected this high in the draft, obviously, but he does have a penchant for taking offensive linemen.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Aggies at Nos. 1 and 2? Could very well happen. Moore has admirably succeeded Von Miller the past two years, proving he could get to the passer in both the Big 12 and SEC. He could soon follow Miller's footsteps to the draft's second overall spot.
3. Oakland Raiders: DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
A steal for the Raiders who—provided they don't screw up the pick—would immediately step into a pivotal role on their defense. Lotulelei is one of the most well-rounded tackle prospects in years and could help fortify a VERY bad run defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
What does the Chip Kelly signing mean for Nick Foles and Michael Vick? A lot, actually. Kelly wants to start his own, fresh regime in Philly, and Smith is the perfect piece to build around. He isn't QUITE as fast as people think, but his accuracy fits the system.
5. Detroit Lions: OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Detroit has needs at other spots, most notably cornerback, but Jones is too much value to pass up. He gets to the passer with reckless abandon and has the potential to make a Von Miller-type impact in the league. Much like a new cornerback, Jones's ability to get in the backfield will massively improve Detroit's pass defense.
6. Cleveland Browns: DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The German import turned Florida State standout would be a heady addition to Cleveland's defensive line. The Browns defense regressed in 2012, but they're still a slightly underrated unit. Werner's size and athleticism makes him an ideal fit.
7. Arizona Cardinals: QB Matt Barkley, USC
Per Rotoworld.com, Adam Schefter had the following to say of Barkley on Sunday Countdown:
Mike Glennon and Geno Smith are in contention, but when you speak to people around the league, they believe that Matt Barkley from USC -- despite being underwhelming in his stature -- will overwhelm them with his presence during the interview process. They believe that will be enough to propel him to be the top quarterback drafted this April.
If he makes that kind of impression on NFL people, expect him to be re-regarded as a top-10 pick. And no team more desperately needs his services than Arizona.
8. Buffalo Bills: DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Buffalo needs help all over the board, but the defense was particularly underwhelming this season. Mingo needs to polish his game, but the upside here might be too good to pass up. He has physical tools apropos Aldon Smith, but can he learn to wield them?
9. New York Jets: ILB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
Te'o was the more productive college player, but Ogletree might project as a better pro. He definitely has higher upside. Ogletree looked like the best player on the field against Alabama, and the Jets want to restore an edge to their defense. That makes him an exceedingly ideal fit.
10. Tennessee Titans: ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Te'o might not be the first ILB taken, but he won't wait long to hear his name called. Tennessee had high hopes in 2012, but couldn't stop the run to save its life. We don't know if he's fast enough to thrive in coverage, but Te'o makes the TItans' run defense immediately better.
11. San Diego Chargers: OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
The returns of Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan slightly mar what could have been a very, very good class of tackles. But it also makes Fisher a richer man. The athletic, high-upside tackle from Central Michigan is exactly what the Chargers need next year.
12. Miami Dolphins: WR Keenan Allen, California
A little bit of a reach? Maybe. But Miami is in desperate need of a wide receiver, and Allen is the best bet on the board. If he develops the way some think he can, Allen will closely resemble former-Dolphin Brandon Marshall.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
If not for their woeful secondary, Tampa Bay is a playoff team this season—and a dangerous one at that. They were good-to-elite in every other facet of the game.
How lucky would they be to see Milliner available at 13?
The Alabama product is the next in a long line of blue-chip, surefire SEC cornerbacks to enter the NFL. His physicality is no joke, grading him out as one of the best physical cornerbacks in the recent memory.
He'll help Tampa get, somehow, even better against the run, while also improving their ghastly pass defense.
14. Carolina Panthers: DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
A late-season surge from Cam Newton and the boys may have cost the Panthers a shot at Star Lotulelei, but Hankins is a decent consolation. Carolina has a massive hole in the middle of their defense, and Hankins has an equally massive frame capable of occupying it.
15. New Orleans Saints: DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
The Saints' undersized, woefully porous defense could use help all over the board. Montgomery makes sense because he's not just the highest player left in the draft—he's one of the safest. The LSU product has a proven track record, huge pass-rushing potential, and the ability to make any defense better.
16. St. Louis Rams: OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
Speaking of the safest commodities in the draft, how about Alabama's Chance Warmack? Even outside of his Crimson Tide pedigree, Warmack has every tool in the book, and would fill a glaring need on the Rams' offensive line.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Barrett Jones was the best college player on Alabma's offensive line, but his position limits his draft stock. Fluker plays at the much-more-in-demand tackle spot, and does so with increasing proficiency. Can he finally solve the revolving doors on Pittsburgh's offensive line?
18. Dallas Cowboys: DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Dallas' defense let them down time and time again this year. They're especially soft in the middle, where they could really use another big body to plug up space. Williams isn't the sexiest name in the draft, but he's exactly what the 'Boys need.
19. New York Giants: CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Johnthan Banks has been a hot name as of late, and it's not too hard to figure out why. He's SEC-tested after four years at Mississippi State, he's proven himself durably consistent, and he's one of the most aggressive defenders in the draft.
He doesn't have ideal length, but he does have ideal savvy. New York could use it too, especially after a listless secondary helped undo them down the stretch this past season. Banks is an instant-impact prospect who could help restore the G-Men as soon as 2013.
20. Chicago Bears: OT Kyle Long, Oregon
Again, need over value. Chicago, much like Pittsburgh, never seems able to solve its problems on the offensive line. Long hasn't quite risen to first-round value yet, but he's a hot prospect who could get there very soon.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
The Bengals generated pressure from the front four all season, but the linebackers were markedly less productive. Jordan is a bit of a hybrid, and could help Cincinnati by lining up in different spots all over the field.
22. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Patterson wasn't even the most productive receiver on his team last season, but he's the one who has scouts licking their chops. His physical tools are undeniable, and the Rams need someone capable of developing into a bona fide No. 1 receiver. Match made in heaven
23. Minnesota Vikings: S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
It's a passing league, and eventually, the Vikings are gonna have to join it. Adrian Peterson can carry the offense for a few more years, but at some point, they'll need to get better defending the pass. Vaccaro would join Harrison Smith to form one of the league's better young safety tandems.
24. Indianapolis Colts: DE/OLB Corey Lemonier, Auburn
The Colts defense really held them back this year, needing help at basically every single position. With that, they draft Lemonier, one of the draft's more versatile players. Chuck Pagano could do wonders with this shiny new toy, who's capable of playing multiple positions.
25. Seattle Seahawks: TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Zach Miller played his best game of the year against Atlanta, but if today was any indication, that had a lot to do with the Falcons' defensive ineptitude. Lacking a true, glaring need at any other position, the Seahawks take 2013's most impressive tight end prospect. Ertz could be a nice weapon for an ever-improving offense.
26. Green Bay Packers: DE/OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Green Bay's defensive deficiencies were made explicit against Colin Kaepernick, and something needs to be done drastically. They might like a safer prospect than Ansah, who may not be NFL-ready right off the bat. But his upside is too good to pass up; working with Clay Matthews, he could become an impact defender in this league.
27. Houston Texans: CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
Xavier Rhodes won himself some fans with a strong senior season at Florida State, and could become a very rich man because of it. He's tall at 6'2'' and very physical at the line. He also has great closing speed and the ability to play right away.
Houston outed itself for lacking true secondary depth this season, which ultimately led to their demise. After Johnathan Joseph's injury, the defense—and team as a whole—never looked the same.
At the very least, Rhodes provides insurance that would prevent this from happening again next season. With upside capable of providing so much more, Houston would be crazy to let him slip past 28.
28. Denver Broncos: DT Kawann Short, Purdue
Of all the eliminated teams, Denver has perhaps the least glaring needs. They can't draft a way to make Peyton Manning younger, so instead they'll opt with defensive line depth. Short was inconsistent at Purdue, but in the right environment, has a chance to really excel.
29. New England Patriots: DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
With one of the deepest defensive line fields of recent memory, New England lucks out with Richardson falling this far. Vince Wilfork could use a prodigy to groom for the future, when he inevitably starts losing a step or two. Richardson could become a big part of their future.
30. Atlanta Falcons: TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez is tentatively expected to announce his retirement soon, but even if he doesn't, Atlanta needs to locate his successor pronto. Eifert was one of the only redeeming players on Notre Dame's offense this year, and he projects nicely to the NFL too. He's got size that Matt Ryan can easily work with.
31. San Francisco 49ers: DT Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia
The Niners don't so much NEED help at any particular spot. But that could USE some more depth along their dominant defensive line. Jenkins is a space-eater (to say the least) who fits in nicely to their 3-4 defensive scheme.
32. Baltimore Ravens: OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
The Ravens could probably use some more depth on an aging defense, but this late in the draft, an NFL-ready guard is too good to pass up. Baltimore made a hard run at Evan Mathis last offseason, and still have one guard spot that's not quite settled. Cooper could fill that void very quickly.