The 2013 NFL draft is loaded from top to bottom with some of the best defensive players in recent years.
While many teams are in search of a franchise quarterback or valuable offensive weapons, this year’s class offers the opportunity for every team to beef up on the defensive side of the ball.
Teams like Kansas City, Philadelphia and Arizona have too many glaring needs on offense to pass on some of this year’s best offensive talent, but the top half of the draft will be laden with big-time defensive playmakers of which other teams would be wise to take advantage.
We’ll take a look at how the first round may shake out this year, and highlight some teams desperately in need of defensive playmakers.
*Note: Picks that focus on defensive playmakers are in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Chiefs could go one of two ways with this selection: draft a potential franchise quarterback or opt for the best overall player in Luke Joeckel.
Andy Reid is at the helm in Kansas City, and he loves developing young quarterbacks for his system. Smith may not be the best quarterback to come out of recent drafts, but he’s an essential piece to the building puzzle for the Chiefs.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner is the most pro-ready defensive end in this class, and the Jaguars need an edge rusher who can step in immediately and make a big impact on Sundays. He doesn’t do anything at an elite level, but Werner can do it all, and he certainly possesses enough athleticism to get to the quarterback.
The Jaguars have several needs on both sides of the ball, but with the No. 2 selection in their pocket, the team can focus on taking the best player available. Werner has massive upside, and he’ll be an immediate improvement in Jacksonville’s defensive front. The Jaguars need sacks, and Werner will make a big difference.
3. Oakland Raiders: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Oakland is in much the same spot as Jacksonville. The Raiders have a ton of needs, and pass-rusher is one of them.
Moore is versatile and fairly athletic, and his greatest strength is getting to opposing quarterbacks. Oakland finished No. 31 last year in the pass rush, so addressing that need at the top of the first round is a very good idea.
Oakland could also opt for Jarvis Jones or Barkevious Mingo with this pick. Both are incredibly athletic outside linebackers with pass-rushing ability, but Moore is even more versatile, and he’s the best player on the board.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Philadelphia’s offensive line was atrocious this year, and even with key starters returning from injury in 2013, the Eagles need to focus on shoring up their offensive line for whichever quarterback ends up playing in Chip Kelly’s system. Joeckel may be the best player in the draft this year, and his ability to both pass block and run block makes him the perfect cornerstone for anything Kelly wants to do on offense.
5. Detroit Lions: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
Dee Milliner may be the more logical selection here, but the Lions also have major needs at linebacker. Jones is one of the best in this draft class, and he fills an area of extreme need.
Jones has an incredibly versatile skillset. He can rush the passer, drop into coverage and also make a big impact in run defense. The Lions face a lot of questions this offseason, and how to address the defensive side of the ball is one of the biggest.
6. Cleveland Browns: Barkevious Mingo, LB, LSU
Ray Horton is Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator, and he’ll likely bring with him the 3-4 scheme he implemented in Arizona. A new scheme means new personnel needs, and the Browns will look to address them early in the draft.
Cleveland doesn’t have a ton of holes to fill, despite a poor record a season ago. The Browns are young, and the development of that young talent will accelerate a team in desperate need of some wins.
Jabaal Sheard may move to outside linebacker (from defensive end) if the Browns switch back to a 3-4, but they’ll need to find a player to line up opposite Sheard and create some havoc in the pass rush.
Mingo fits the bill. He’s athletic and shifty, and the Browns need an edge rusher with his ability to shore up its pass rush. He’s still a little raw, but Mingo will be able to make a big impact with a little polish.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
While some believe Arizona’s biggest area of need is at the quarterback position, one of the reasons the Cardinals’ quarterback play was so bad last year was a deficiency on the offensive line. There isn’t really a quarterback worthy of a selection here, and the Cardinals would be wise to add a potential franchise left tackle with this pick.
8. Buffalo Bills: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracus
The Bills hired Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone this offseason, and he’ll be in search of a quarterback to call his own going forward.
Marrone coaches Nassib at Syracus, making Nassib the most logical selection should the Bills draft a quarterback with this pick. They desperately need a new signal-caller at the helm, and Nassib may be their best option.
9. New York Jets: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
The Mark Sanchez project should be finished in New York. His contract runs through the end of the 2013 season, but moving him would mean big salary cap implications. Still, the Jets need someone new under center even if he ends up playing behind Sanchez in 2013.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Lotulelei is a top-five talent who may fall this far due to the need for quality pass-rushers this offseason. He’ll be a steal for the Titans if they manage to land him at No. 10.
Lotulelei is physically imposing, and his ability to plug up gaps makes him one of the best run-stoppers in the draft this year. Tennessee needs to focus on stopping the run, and while they may also consider Dee Milliner with this pick, Lotulelei presents the best value, and he would also fill an area of extreme need.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Johnson’s stock has been rising, especially with Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews deciding to return to school for another year. San Diego needs to find a suitable replacement for Marcus McNeil, and Lane’s athleticism and pass-blocking ability make him a great fit at left tackle.
12. Miami Dolphins: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Davone Bess and Brian Hartline both had good seasons in 2012, but neither are true No. 1 receivers. Miami hasn’t had a true No. 1 since Brandon Marshall’s departure, and they’ll be looking for talented receiving options for Ryan Tannehill this offseason. If they don’t manage to sign a big-time receiver in free agency, they can settle for the best pass-catcher in this year’s draft class.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner may not slip this far in the draft, but if he does, you can bet Tamp Bay will run to the podium to announce their selection.
The Buccaneers traded Aqib Talib to the Patriots during the season, and they never managed to fill the void he left in their secondary. Milliner has the potential to be a shutdown cornerback in the NFL, and he’s the best pick for the Bucs at No. 13.
Milliner has excellent speed, quickness and fluidity, and his ability to make big plays is at a nearly-elite level. He can step in immediately and fill a glaring hole for the Bucs in 2013.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers need to beef up the interior of their defensive line. Richardson is one of the best defensive tackles in this draft class, and he fills an area of need for the Panthers. Stopping the run needs to be a priority in 2013, and Richardson can certainly help the cause.
15. New Orleans Saints: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Despite a subpar 2012 season, New Orleans really doesn’t have too many holes to fill. They could use some help at outside linebacker and cornerback, but adding another quality pass-rusher should be their primary focus.
Ansah has huge upside, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a force off the edge in the NFL. He has good size and terrific athleticism, perfect for defensive end in the Saints’ base 4-3 defense.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
The Rams could very well decide to focus on offense with each of their first two picks this year. St. Louis needs to beef up its offensive line, and Warmack is one of the best in this class. He'll be an immediate plug-and-play option for a Rams team needing some maulers in the middle of their offensive line.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jesse Willians, DT, Alabama
The Steelers are in rebuilding mode after an inexplicable 8-8 season in 2012. Their defense is aging, and finding young talent to replace aging veterans like Casey Hampton and James Harrison will be a priority for Pittsburgh. The Steelers drafted Alameda Ta’amu last year as a potential nose tackle replacement, but he could not avoid legal trouble and was cut from the team.
Williams is a prime candidate for the Steelers' 3-4 nose tackle position. He’s a huge space-eater with a ton of physicality, and can step in almost immediately to shore up a run defense that was uncharacteristically porous in 2012.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Ogletree entered college as a safety. He moved to inside linebacker after that. He may play outside linebacker at the next level.
The Cowboys would likely use Ogletree in multiple roles, but they need some versatility with Monte Kiffin at the helm of their defense. Should he implement the Tampa-2 defense he is known for, the Cowboys will need to find some linebackers who can play one-gap run defense and also be able to drop into deep coverage in the middle of the field.
Ogletree is an extremely athletic linebacker who will have no trouble finding a permanent position in the NFL. His versatility and ability in pass coverage make Ogletree a perfect fit in Dallas.
19. New York Giants: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Osi Umenyiora will be a free agent this offseason, and it’s unlikely he will return to the Giants. Justin Tuck has been ineffective recently, and the Giants must find another defensive end to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks opposite Jason Pierre-Paul.
If not for some durability issues, Jordan could be a potential top 10 pick in this year’s draft. If he is available at No. 19, New York would get one of the biggest steals of the first round.
20. Chicago Bears: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The top left tackle candidates are already off the board, so Chicago would be wise to take the best available lineman with pick No. 20. Fluker has the potential to be an elite right tackle in the NFL. He’s a massive mauler with long arms and a huge frame, and he would shore up the right side of an offensive line badly in need of quality blockers.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Bengals have few areas of extreme need, but they could use another athletic safety to strengthen the backend of their defensive backfield.
Safeties aren’t typically high selections in the first round, but Vaccaro has the talent to go much higher than No. 21. Cincinnati would be lucky to land him this late in the first round.
Vaccaro’s greatest strength is his versatility. He plays both the run and the pass very well, and has experience lining up all over the field. He’s one of the best playmakers in this year’s draft class.
22. St. Louis Rams: Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Rams have focused heavily on defense in recent years, but they have yet to provide Sam Bradford with a quality X-receiver who can make big plays in the middle of the field.
The biggest concern for Allen is his lack of elite speed, but he more than makes up for it with his excellent route-running ability and sure hands. The Rams would be wise to address the receiver position early this year, and lucky to land such a talented receiver at No. 22.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The Vikings' offense suffered with Percy Harvin on the shelf, and they need to address the receiver position in this year’s draft. Harvin is extremely talented, but opposing defense were able to key in on him in the passing game with no other quality receiver on the roster. Hunter is the best receiver available, and he would take a lot of pressure off Harvin in the passing game.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
It was all offense for Indianapolis last year, and that strategy worked well. This year should be all about defense, though.
The Colts were terrible at stopping the run last year, probably due in part to a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4. They still don’t have the personnel to stop the run up front, and Floyd is a versatile defensive lineman who would fit nicely in either a one-gap or two-gap scheme.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
With so few areas of need this offseason, Seattle can use its first selection on a value pick at No. 25. Hankins is one of the most versatile tackles in this year’s draft class, and Seattle will be able to move him around as needed. He has a big body and a high motor, and offers Seattle the chance to beef up its run defense in 2013.
26. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Jermichael Finley failed to meet expectation in Green Bay, and it may be time to move on. With Greg Jennings being a free agent this offseason, the Packers may find themselves without as much depth in the passing game as anticipated. Eifert is a former wide receiver with excellent receiving skills, and he’s be a great fit on a team that loves to air out the football.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR West Virginia
Andre Johnson is on the backend of his career, but he still has at least a couple good years left. If Houston is to bolster its passing game and ensure Johnson’s effectiveness in the coming seasons, it will have to add another explosive offensive weapon to the roster. Austin is perhaps the most electric offensive playmaker in this draft class, and would help take a lot of pressure off Johnson in the passing game.
28. Denver Broncos: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Champ Bailey is well past his prime, as made evident against Baltimore in the divisional round of the playoffs this year. It’s time for the Broncos to start looking at replacements. Rhodes is the second-best cornerback in the draft, but with Dee Milliner already off the board, the Broncos find a nice consolation prize with this pick.
29. New England Patriots: Matt Elam, S, Florida
The Patriots could go several ways with this pick. They need another weapon for Tom Brady in the passing game, but they also need to shore up a defensive secondary that was near the bottom of the league in 2012. Unfortunately, both of the top two corners are off the board, so the Patriots turn their attention to the safety position.
Devin McCourty moved to safety when the Patriots acquired Aqib Talib this season, but his best position is still cornerback. If Talib leaves in free agency, New England will have to consider other options. Moving McCourty back to cornerback would be a good solution if they can land a safety like Elam in the draft.
30. Atlanta Falcons: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
If Jenkins falls this far, the Falcons should rejoice. They badly need a run-stuffing presence in the middle of their defensive line, and Jenkins may be the best run-stuffer in the draft class. He has a huge frame and a mean streak, and is exactly what Atlanta needs to beef up its defensive line.
31. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Whether Te’o is available at the end of the first round depends on how well he performs in pre-draft workouts and nothing else. NFL teams know how talented he is.
Te’o’s weaknesses were on display against Alabama in the championship game, though. He was pushed around by Alabama’s huge offensive line, and simply looked overmatched trying to defend the middle of the line by himself.
This is a great fit for both Te’o and the Ravens. In a 3-4, Te’o will be able to shoot gaps opened up by Baltimore’s big offensive line. He would also fill a position of need with Ray Lewis set to retire at the end of the season.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Johnathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Carlos Rogers declined this year, and San Francisco needs to find another quality cornerback to eventually replace him. Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown are good young cornerbacks that have helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Still, it’s an area of concern for the 49ers, and they should look to address it with this pick.