For NFL teams, no bigger quandary can pull apart an organization at its seams. The NFL draft is a need-versus-value equation.
Some teams opt for the best player available, regardless of relative need. Those teams tend to experience long-term success, aided by a roster of ultra-talented young players. The Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are masters of this draft strategy, along with at least a handful of other successful organizations.
But for many other franchises, value picks are only an option when the most immediate needs are filled. The Kansas City Chiefs are selecting No. 1 for a reason—they don’t have a quarterback in a quarterback-driven league. The Chiefs also have some other areas of serious need, though, and their draft strategy will be based on a lot of factors.
Ultimately, first-round selections are a major gamble, and a lot goes into making smart selections early in the draft. We’ll take a look at some players who may benefit from lack of depth at other positions, especially at areas of need for other teams.
*Picks that emphasize special value are in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
This is where need and value converge. The Chiefs desperately need a quarterback, but Andy Reid is terrific at developing signal-callers, and he may well find one more suitable for the task in later rounds.
Joeckel is the best player in this draft class. He’s big, athletic, strong, agile, and he’s almost as good a run-blocker as he is a pass-protector. With Branden Albert’s uncertain future, the Chiefs could circumvent the issue by selecting a bona fide left tackle with this pick.
Geno Smith is one of the only other possibilities here, and while he is a talented quarterback with a relatively high ceiling, he’s probably not worthy of the No. 1 selection. The Chiefs would do well to take the value here and hope to find a quarterback worth taking in the second round.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner is an exceptionally talented pass-rusher with a ton of potential. Jacksonville has a lot of holes to fill, and it would be wise to select the best player available with the No. 2 selection. Werner doesn’t wow in one particular area, but he’ll be able to fill an immediate need for the Jaguars.
3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
According to Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller, the Raiders are enamored with Smith:
#Raiders: Rumor mill is working through the league that Oakland scouts love Geno Smith. Front office is ready for a new QB.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 27, 2013
Carson Palmer is past his prime and it may be time for Oakland to try its hand at finding a new franchise quarterback in the draft. Smith isn’t Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but he’s a talented player with a lot of upside.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Eagles would be wise to trade down in the draft this year to obtain some extra picks. They really need help on the offensive line and secondary, and there will be plenty of value at several positions of need later in the first round.
It’s hard to project potential trades, though, and the Eagles need more talent at the cornerback position, especially after Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie failed to meet expectations last season. Milliner is the best defensive back in this draft class, and he’ll add a ton of depth to Philadelphia’s secondary.
5. Detroit Lions: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Lions will run to the podium if they can land Moore at No. 5. Detroit badly needs an edge-rushing presence, and Moore is one of the best in this draft class.
Kyle Vanden Bosch was largely ineffective this year, and Cliff Avril is due to become a free agent this offseason. Moore is a nice fit in Detroit’s 4-3 front and would strengthen an already talented defensive line.
With Milliner already off the board and no other cornerbacks worthy of a top-10 selection, the Lions could also consider Jarvis Jones with this pick. Either way, the Lions will be able to land a very talented player that can start immediately on the defensive side of the ball.
6. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
With Cleveland transitioning back to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Browns will likely look to address needs at the linebacker position early in the draft.
Jones is one of the best players in this year’s class, and should he be available at No. 6, the Browns shouldn’t hesitate to snag him. He is a prototypical edge-rushing linebacker with the added bonus of being a good run-stopper and pass-defender.
Jones could easily be selected in the top five, but concerns regarding his spinal stenosis condition may scare some teams away. Still, Cleveland needs an impact player at the linebacker position, and Jones is the best pure outside linebacker in this class.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Fisher was impressive at the Senior Bowl, and if there’s one thing the Cardinals need it’s some impressive linemen. Arizona’s offensive line was atrocious last season, made apparent every time a new quarterback lined up under center. If the Cardinals are to keep Kevin Kolb on the field this year, they’ll need to find a blindside protector for him in the draft. Fisher is the best available.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Barkley’s decision to forgo the Senior Bowl seemed to be the wrong one at the time, but no quarterbacks impressed in Mobile, and Barkley once again seems to be a potential top 10 pick. When healthy, Barkley has a ton of potential, and the Bills need a franchise quarterback in the worst way. With no clear-cut No. 2 emerging from the logjam of quarterback prospects this offseason, Barkley stands to be selected early in the draft.
9. New York Jets: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Mark Sanchez’s time in New York should be over, but he still has a year left on his contract and the cap hit for releasing him would be too much for the Jets to manage right now. If Rex Ryan has his way, Sanchez will likely be under center in 2013, but New York needs to find a signal-caller it can groom for after Sanchez’s potential departure next season.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
This may be the best value pick in the first round. Lotulelei is a top-five talent, but because of need-based selections earlier in the round, Tennessee is able to land him with this pick.
Tennessee needs to get better at the stopping the run, and Lotulelei is one of the best run-stuffing tackles in this draft class. He’s versatile and talented, and he’ll also provide a gap-penetrating element on the defensive line.
The Titans also need help on the interior of their offensive line, but the value is just too good to pass up here. Lotulelei has the talent to be a star in the NFL, and he’ll make an immediate impact with Tennessee on Sundays.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers desperately need an offensive tackle to replace Marcus McNeil on the left side. Johnson can be that franchise left tackle San Diego is searching for.
Johnson is an ultra-athletic tackle with quick feet and great length. He’s a converted tight end and still needs to bulk up some, but his upside is tremendous. He can step in immediately and fill and area of need for the Chargers.
12. Miami Dolphins: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have both played well in Miami, but neither is a No. 1 receiver. Patterson is the best receiver in this draft class and he offers the kind of talent Miami hasn’t had at the position since Brandon Marshall left town.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Trufant was one of the most impressive players at the Senior Bowl, and his draft stock will skyrocket in the coming months. The cornerback class isn’t particular impressive this year, but there are a lot of players with the talent to warrant first-round consideration.
Tampa Bay needs a cornerback in the worst way after trading Aqib Talib to the Patriots this year. With Dee Milliner already off the board, the Bucs will look a little further down their list to fill an area of extreme need.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Richardson isn’t far behind Lotulelei for the best defensive tackle distinction.
Carolina really needs to beef up its run defense, and while Richardson is more of multi-dimensional defensive tackle, he’s still pretty good at stopping the run.
Richardson’s best asset is his ability to penetrate gaps and disrupt the flow of plays in the backfield—perfect for Carolina’s 4-3 front. If inserted into a one-gap system in which he will be asked to get into the backfield, Richardson can be one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the league.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The Saints get more value with this pick than any team in the draft and it isn’t even close. Mingo is an exceptionally athletic player with as much upside as any player in the draft.
While Mingo has a high ceiling, he’s also very raw. He played in a rotation at defensive end at LSU and doesn’t have nearly as much experience lined up at linebacker, as he probably would be in New Orleans’ new 3-4 front.
As an edge rusher Mingo can be completely dominant, but he needs to prove he can also stop the run and drop into coverage effectively. Still, the risk is worth the reward given the value of this selection.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Warmack may be the second-best offensive lineman in this draft class, but the need for interior linemen isn’t as great for that of left tackles so early in the draft. St. Louis gets huge value with this selection.
The Rams have focused on defense in recent years, but that has left a lot of holes on the offensive side of the ball. St. Louis needs help at wide receiver, running back and on its offensive line.
Warmack will be a plug-and-play option for whichever team drafts him this year. The Rams would be wise to do so.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ezekiel Ansah, OLB, BYU
The Steelers are in a bad spot right now. They need to be mindful of the salary cap, and with so many quality veterans on the roster, it may be time for Pittsburgh to start retooling. James Harrison is getting older and has suffered from several injuries the last two seasons. The same is true for Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton.
That being said, Kevin Colbert has never been one to draft based solely on need, and there is exceptional value in selecting Ansah with this pick. He’s very raw, but his pass-rushing ability is spectacular, and he’s starting to develop into a more complete player.
They have needs at other positions, but Ansah is a great fit for the Steelers.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
With Dallas transitioning to a Tamp-2 under Monte Kiffin this year, it may look to find some new defensive pieces early in the draft this year. But with as poorly as Dallas’ offensive line played in 2012, that may be an even bigger need. Fluker is a mauler who projects well to the right tackle position. He could also potentially play inside and alleviate some of the A-Gap pressure Tony Romo felt all year.
19. New York Giants: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Justin Tuck is no longer getting the job done. With Osi Umenyiora likely leaving in free agency and no one to line up opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants will look to address the defensive end position pretty early in the draft. Okafor is versatile, tough, plays the run pretty well and has good pass-rushing ability. He will be a good fit in New York.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Chicago needs offensive line help, but all the tackles worthy of a first-round selection are already off the board. The Bears’ line played so poorly in 2012 that no one should be assured of a starting role next year, which makes Cooper even more alluring.
Cooper can line up at several positions, and he’ll almost certainly find a starting spot on Chicago’s line. He’s one of the most underrated prospects in this year’s draft class, but that will change by the time April rolls around.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Bengals don’t have a ton of holes to fill, which makes this pick especially enticing.
Vaccaro is the best safety in this draft class, and he’ll find an immediate role in Cincinnati. He’s an incredible athlete with a ton of versatility, and even if Vaccaro doesn’t start at safety next season, the Bengals will find a way to use him.
Cincinnati could also look to add one of several solid inside linebacker options here, but Vaccaro offers the most value. In a division with a lot of talented deep-threat receivers, the Bengals would do well to stay ahead of the curve and solidify their secondary this offseason.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Sam Bradford hasn’t had many talented receivers to target in his time in St. Louis. The Rams need to address that need, and with two picks in the first round, this is the year to do just that. Allen isn’t the fastest receiver, but he has sure hands and runs good routes. He would be an excellent complement to Danny Amendola, and would give the Rams a true No. 1 receiver for the future.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
With Percy Harvin on the shelf, Minnesota’s offense became one-dimensional. The Vikings need to add more playmakers in the passing game, and Hunter is one of the best in this class. He has speed, size, big-pay ability and would take a lot of attention away from Harvin.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Colts simply need to get better on defense. After switching to a 3-4 last year and opting to address offensive needs in the 2012 draft, Indianapolis was left with a lot of parts that didn’t fit quite right on defense.
Shoring up their defensive line will be a need for the Colts, but there is plenty of value to do so in the second and third rounds. Rhodes is the best cornerback available, and he’ll be able to step in immediately and shore up a porous pass defense.
25. Seattle Seahawks: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
With so few areas of need to address, Seattle would be wise to make a value selection with this pick. Jenkins offers a ton of value.
Jenkins is one of the best run-stuffers in this class and, with a huge frame to eat up blockers, Seattle’s entire front seven would improve with his presence.
Jenkins also provides an interior pass-rushing presence. Despite his size, he has plenty of quickness and the ability to fire off the ball to push blockers into the backfield.
The Seahawks may also consider adding a receiver like Tavon Austin with this pick, but Jenkins offers the most value.
26. Green Bay Packers: Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
This is another perfect example of where need meets value.
Jeff Saturday has announced his retirement, and Green Bay needs a center to replace him. Rookie centers can sometimes struggle with being the captain of the offensive line, but Jones is both talented and intelligent, and he should have no problem making the jump to the position in the NFL.
Alabama’s offensive line was terrific in 2012, and Jones is one of the biggest reasons. He’s as talented as any interior lineman in this draft class, and he’ll fill an immediate need for the Packers.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Andre Johnson still has a couple quality seasons left in the tank, but he’ll need some help. Houston doesn’t have many good receiving threats, especially with the open-field electricity Austin possesses. He’s one of the best offensive weapons in this draft class, and Houston would be wise to improve its passing offense early in the draft.
28. Denver Broncos: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The Broncos need to address some defensive needs, but they also need a quality tight end for Peyton Manning. Although Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen played well in 2012, neither are the type of tight ends on which Manning has relied in his career. He needs an in-line pass-catching threat, and Eifert is the best available.
29. New England Patriots: Matt Elam, S, Florida
New England needs a cornerback pretty badly, but the Patriots have always done well at finding talent in the middle rounds of the draft. Elam has tons of potential, and he would also allow Devin McCourty to move back to cornerback to replace Aqib Talib should he leave in free agency.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Falcons need to get better at stopping the run. They were No. 21 in the league in 2012, and allowed 4.8 yards per carry to opposing backs.
Floyd has the potential to go much higher in the draft, but his skill set is much better suited to a one-gap 4-3 system. He’s a big, strong and agile penetrating tackle, which is exactly what Atlanta needs up front.
This year’s defensive tackle class is incredibly deep, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see five or six go in the first round. That said, there will likely be a couple quality tackles available when the Falcons pick at No. 30.
31. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o’s draft stock won’t decline for any other reason than his physical limitations.
Te’o looked overmatched against Alabama’s secondary, highlighting a concern for NFL scouts in need of an inside linebacker. He’s still exceptionally talented in several facets of the game, but he’s probably best suited to play inside in a 3-4 front.
Ray Lewis is set to retire after this season, leaving a big hole for the Ravens to fill. Te’o is a leader on the field, and has the potential to be a major impact player early in his career.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The 49ers have fewer holes to fill than any team in the league right now. There are some positions that are weaker than others, but San Francisco can address many of those positional needs throughout the draft.
This is the ultimate value pick, and the 49ers would be wise to use it on one of the quality defensive linemen sure to be available at No. 32. Hankins has the talent to go much higher in the first round, but there are only 32 picks, and some players will end up sliding based on need and value. It’s just the nature of the draft.
Hankins has a big frame and a high motor, and he’s also fairly versatile. He has experience playing inside in Ohio State’s penetrating 4-3 front, but he’s capable of transitioning to a gap-control 3-4 in the NFL.