Even with the recent advent of read-option offense, winning in the NFL is mostly a straightforward formula. You need to be able to pass the ball, and you need to be able to stop the pass.
Myopic personnel men often try to build their passing game by overspending on skill-position players, and once in a while it works. But more often than not, keeping the quarterback upright is the best way to enhance an aerial assault, and drafting offensive tackles is the best way to keep the quarterback upright.
This year's tackle class has been marred by the decisions of Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews—both of whom decided to return to school—but there's still plenty of first-round talent on the board.
Let's take a look at the first round, with an emphasis on guys who could be protecting your favorite QB next season.
**Note: Highlighted players have media under their name**
1. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Gil Brandt of NFL.com ranks Joeckel the top prospect of 2013, and slowly but surely, the majority of scouting circles are starting to agree.
Andy Reid is famous for building things from the inside out, often preferring to draft linemen even when he seemingly doesn't need them.
He's never selected quite this high before, but don't look for that to change come April.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Moore excelled as a linebacker in 2011 before further shining as a lineman in 2012. In Jacksonville, he might be asked to do a bit of both. But wherever he lines up, Moore will be a force chasing down passers at the next level.
3. Oakland Raiders: DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
The Raiders need to rebuilt from the inside out, and no player in this year's draft can help more immediately than Lotulelei. He's a hulking presence in the A-gap, and a man whose attitude could rectify Oakland's listless defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Geno isn't a perfect system-fit for new coach Chip Kelly, but he does enough well to warrant this selection. Even without premier rushing ability, Smith is fast enough to beat opponents around the edge. That and his elite accuracy will make him the Eagles' new future.
5. Detroit Lions: OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Like the Eagles, Detroit will think long and hard about taking cornerback Dee Milliner with this pick. But at the end of the day, a strong pass rush is just as important in improving a porous pass defense. And Jarvis Jones might be the strongest pass-rusher in this whole draft.
6. Cleveland Browns: DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah only needed one tape of Werner to make a flattering NFL comparison:
I've only studied one tape on Bjoern Werner but he reminds me a lot of Chris Long coming out of UVA.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 15, 2013
The German import reminds scouts of Long because his motor matches his skill—something that will make him an important piece on Cleveland's ever-improving defense.
7. Arizona Cardinals: QB Matt Barkley, USC
The most divisive prospect in this year's draft, most think Barkley cost himself a top-10 spot with his shoddy senior season. But there's a reason he was so highly regarded entering 2012 to begin with, and all those tools still exist. Arizona, more than any team in the league, needs to take a gamble on his upside.
8. Buffalo Bills: DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Ryan Nassib's tepid showing at Senior Bowl week ruined his chances of reuniting with former coach Doug Marrone—at least in Round 1. Instead, the new Bills boss will take an impact defender with his first ever selection. Mingo has size and athleticism redolent of potential teammate Mario Williams.
9. New York Jets: ILB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
As with Bjoern Werner, NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah saw a lot of a young NFL star in Ogletree:
Georgia LB Alec Ogletree reminds me of a bigger version of FSU/Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons. Very athletic/explosive, struggles to take-on— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 18, 2013
Rex Ryan will be hard-pressed to pass on such an explosive defensive talent. He fits the Jets' (former) personality to a tee.
10. Tennessee Titans: ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Tennessee has surprisingly few glaring holes for a team that was so bad in 2012. Their 29th-ranked rush defense (h/t Football Outsiders) sticks out like a sore thumb, though, and Te'o can come in and help right away. Whether or not he can cover in the league remains to be seen, but for now, that's enough to warrant a top-10 pick.
11. San Diego Chargers: OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Fisher was voted the top overall player at Senior Bowl week, and could now see his stock soar even higher than 11th.
But as the first round presently plays out, there's a good chance he could fall this far—right into the laps of Philip Rivers and the Chargers, a team who couldn't possibly need his services more desperately.
If Fisher shines as he did in Mobile this week, San Diego's offense might come back with a vengeance next season.
12. Miami Dolphins: WR Keenan Allen, California
Is this a bit of a reach? Probably. But need supersede's value for the Dolphins, who desperately need a playmaker to match with QB Ryan Tannehill. Allen, if he reaches his potential, has a chance to be just the right fit.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
This would be a match made in heaven for the Bucs, who weren't expecting to see the draft's premier cornerback fall into their laps. Tampa's pass defense was historically bad in 2012, and Milliner would immediately become the best cover guy on their roster.
14. Carolina Panthers: DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Were it not for such a hot finish, the Panthers might be in position to grab Utah's Star Lotulelei. But Hankins isn't a bad consolation prize. Carolina has a massive hole in the middle of their defense—something this former Buckeye has proven capable of filling repeatedly.
15. New Orleans Saints: DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
At this point, the Saints needn't look at offense at all come April. They shouldn't look at specific "need," either. Just take the highest-ranked defender on their board—they need help at every level. Montgomery certainly fits the bill.
16. St. Louis Rams: OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
Warmack gets knocked down a few pegs because of his position, but make no mistake about it: He's one of the four or five best talents in this draft. St. Louis has major holes along the offensive line, and couldn't get better bang for its buck at No. 16.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Fluker's the third-most talented player on Alabama's offensive line, but he goes ahead of center Barrett Jones because he plays the more in-demand position.
He looked impressive at Senior Bowl weigh-ins (assuaging concerns that he might be a little too flabby), however, and should continue to see his stock rise.
Mike Adams showed soupcons of potential this year, but on the whole, didn't much look like the future of Pittsburgh's offensive line. They've got a few other needs, but none more pressing than pass blocking.
18. Dallas Cowboys: DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
He's a little older, at 24 years of age, but Williams is a prodigious talent with the ability to contribute right out of the gate. Dallas' defense wasn't very good in 2012, but there's enough skill on that side of the ball to envision rapid improvement. Williams would be an awful good start to that process.
19. New York Giants: CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Just like Tampa Bay, the Giants couldn't be happier to see their cornerback available this late. Banks isn't quite the player Dee Milliner is, but he's a lanky ball-hawk who's capable of becoming an Antonio Cromartie-type playmaker. The Giants desperately need someone like that on the outside.
20. Chicago Bears: OT Kyle Long, Oregon
Son of Howie and brother of Chris, Kyle Long's pedigree isn't the only facet endearing him to NFL scouts. Further review of his tape has revealed plenty of physical potential too, as ESPN writer Kevin Weidl tweeted:
Watching more of Oregon's Kyle Long. Raw + needs coaching but wouldn't surprise me if 3 yrs from now he's 1 of top OL from this class.— Kevin Weidl (@KevinW_ESPN) January 9, 2013
The Bears have struck out, time and time again, trying to find a man capable of protecting Jay Cutler's blind side. Long might need some heavy coaching, but he has a chance to finally solve that problem.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
Jordan is trying to gain weight before entering the league, and if he adds the right kind of poundage to his 6'6'' frame, he could become the most physically impressive prospect in this whole draft. Cincinnati doesn't need another impact defender, but at this point of the draft, someone with this much upside is hard to pass up.
22. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
The Rams skew sexy with their first "Robert Griffin" pick, taking a receiver whose potential far outweighs his production. Scouts are all over the board on Patterson, but NFL.com's Albert Breer recently pegged him going as high as sixth overall in a mock draft. St. Louis desperately needs a weapon outside the numbers, and Patterson has a chance to become just that.
23. Minnesota Vikings: S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
National Football Post writer Russ Lande told the St. Louis Dispatch that everybody (in the NFL scouting community) has Vaccaro in their top 10. If he lasts this far, look for Minnesota to grab him with little hesitation. Playoff teams shouldn't be starting guys like Jamarca Sanford in the secondary.
24. Indianapolis Colts: DE/OLB Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Lemonier's play was a lone bright spot in Auburn's terrible season. He'll likely cash in this spring, when NFL teams could come calling for his versatility. The Colts need help across the board defensively, so Lemonier's positional variance would be especially appealing.
25. Seattle Seahawks: TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Not much in the way of "need" for Seattle, whose roster has been meticulously assembled by Pete Carroll and Co. the past few years. Zach Miller had a big playoff game against Atlanta, but on the whole, left a lot to be desired this season. Ertz, at the very least, would be able to come in and push Miller for playing time.
26. Green Bay Packers: DE/OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Ansah recorded two sacks in the Senior Bowl this weekend, capping off a week that saw his stock continue to soar. Physically, he has the same tools of a Jason Pierre-Paul. Whether he ever gets there remains up for debate. But Green Bay has few enough needs that it can roll the dice.
27. Houston Texans: CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
Houston's secondary fell apart toward the end of 2012 (and start of 2013), and with questions surrounding the unit heading into next season, it only makes sense to fortify the back end. Rhodes is a hot name in scouting communities, and at the very least would provide some depth and injury insurance.
28. Denver Broncos: DT Kawann Short, Purdue
He might fit better in a 3-4 scheme, but the Broncos would be able to shoehorn the Purdue standout into their current shape. It's worth the risk for Denver, which, devoid of other glaring holes, is a lock to address its defensive line early in the draft. If he feels like showing up on that given day, Short is capable of being a nasty force on the line.
29. New England Patriots: DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Vince Wilfork won't be around forever, and the Pats don't exactly have great replacement options behind him. Richardson could come in, learn from one of the game's best, then be ready to assume a bigger role in one or two years.
30. Atlanta Falcons: TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez is on the outs, and while Tyler Eifert can hardly replace the soon-to-be Hall of Famer, he's got a chance to be plenty good in his own right. He'll be counted on to contribute as a rookie.
31. San Francisco 49ers: DT Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia
What do you give the team that has everything? More defensive linemen, I guess. Isaac Sopoaga hasn't been quite that good in 2012-13, and Jenkins is a massive—and I mean massive—A-gap specimen.
32. Baltimore Ravens: OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Like Alabama's Chance Warmack, Cooper goes a little lower than he probably should because of his position. But Baltimore's not complaining; even in light of their recent play, guard has long been an area of concern for the Ravens.