Draft season is officially upon us. With the ending of the Super Bowl, all team's are officially on high alert as the next few months bring with it new excitement and new reasons for both hope and optimism.
A re-cleansing or virtual re-birth, the 2013 NFL draft is a chance to clear a new slate and begin anew. Some team's are closer than others but nearly every team will be looking for those one or two key pieces to finally set them over the hump.
As we see every year, quarterbacks seemingly drive the trade engine. However, in an off year for signal callers it is the blind side protectors that will likely stir up the most draft day trade frenzy.
The 2013 off-season will be one of utmost importance for the Detroit Lions. With 23 unrestricted free agents and a dire salary cap situation, Mr. Mayhew and company have plenty of tough business decisions to make in the upcoming months.
Good, sound locker room guys and an infusion of young talent is key to getting this squad back on track and returning to the playoffs. No longer can the Lions take risks on players with character concerns or injury risks. They must identify value, while also highlighting and hitting on the strengths of not only the draft, but free agency as well.
Trading back gives the Lions flexibility to fill multiple holes, which makes moving down all the more advantageous. The challenge for the Lions will be finding the right dancing partner, which is easier said than done. Here are the three teams most likely to be dialing area code 313 come April 25th.
San Diego Chargers: It's no secret the Chargers desperately need an offensive tackle, as Phillip Rivers has been treated like a rag-doll for far too long. Eric Fischer is flying up draft boards and is not likely to get picked by Arizona at No. 7. The Chargers can either wait and see how it plays out or be aggressive to get their man.
On the flip side, trading down to 11 gives the Lions flexibility to stick with the "best player available" approach and will likely give leave them to choose between players like Kenny Vaccaro, Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah and Chance Warmack—all of whom most Lions fans would be elated to have.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers thought they were getting their answer to cornerback with former Lion Eric Wright last free agency; instead that decision blew up in their face big time. This, along with the departure of Aquib Talib and aging of Ronde Barber makes the secondary a huge cause for concern, especially in the pass-happy NFC South. Dee Milliner is largely considered the best cornerback available with shutdown potential. The Lions will also be looking hard at Milliner at No. 5, however Detroit has more holes to fill than they do down south, making this a perfect trading partner.
St. Louis Rams: The Rams have a ton of flexibility in this draft with two first-round picks in 2013. Sam Bradford needs protection if he is ever to reach his true potential. To move up for Fischer, the Rams likely have the most fire-power. However, the Lions will want to make sure they don't move too far down and miss their targets completely.
Much like Detroit, the Titans have plenty of holes that no one player can fix alone. Dee Milliner is likely to be off the board by the time Tennessee picks at No. 10 , however a talent like Chance Warmack or defensive pass-rusher could also be in the cards at this spot.
Having said all that, a couple of teams who missed out on the Eric Fisher sweepstakes could also be looking to sell the house in order to get in front of the Chargers and select Lane Johnson.
By moving down, the Titans will still have the potential to land Warmack, since guards are not valued highly in the draft—as we saw David DeCastro fall all the way to No. 24 last April. If Warmack's gone, Jonathan Cooper will likely still be on the board, or the Titans could take the best available pass-rusher and smile easy knowing they have more picks to work with on day two.
We won't know until draft day exactly how the board will shake out, but based on what I expect will happen, there are two teams in particular who may not be able to control their anxiousness.
St. Louis Rams: We said before that the Rams have spending money and are in big time need of a pass-protector. Lane Johnson is the player generating some of the most buzz right now and has likely earned himself a spot amongst the top 15. St. Louis has more needs, but the most pressing has to be keeping Bradford upright and giving him more time to adequately go through his progressions.
Chicago Bears: Another team desperate to protect its franchise quarterback, Chicago has been porous protecting Jay Cutler's blind side. A player like Lane Johnson is much needed in the windy city, as teams' have been teeing off on one of the better quarterbacks in the league when he has time to throw. If Chicago decides to stay put however, expect them to be highly interested in Notre Dame stars Manti Te'o or Tyler Eiffert, as each would be valuable assets moving forward.
Last year, his team moved up to take Morris Claiborne. This year, he could have an abundance of teams dialing in long distance to secure the rights to the 18th overall pick.
Dallas's biggest needs lie on the interior, where both the offensive and defensive lines need work. Defensive tackle is insanely deep, and although they may miss out on Warmack by trading back, I believe the benefits outweigh the potential consequences in a draft that favors into their individual needs.
Expect Jerry to be working the phones diligently on draft day as he always keeps himself in constant dialogue to see what's out there. Here are six team's most likely to tempt Jerry into trading back.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian can't do it all and Christian Ponder needs help outside of often-injured Percy Harvin. Cordarrelle Patterson—who I have predicted will blow up at next month’s NFL Combine—is a player sure to be in high demand as we inch closer to draft day. A do-it-all playmaker, Minnesota will not be the only team lining up for Patterson's exceptional talents.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is the guy, so bringing in the necessary weapons is the next thing on Pete Carroll's to-do list. The Seahawks aren't far from being a complete team and adding a weapon like Patterson could send these birds flying come next September.
Houston Texans: I'm sure the Texans know by now that letting Jacoby Jones go last offseason was a huge mistake after his memorable performance in last night's Super Bowl game. Andre Johnson desperately needs help if the Texans are ever going to make a run and Patterson is the ideal candidate to fill one of Houston's biggest needs moving forward.
Indianapolis Colts: Another team with a star rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck has proven to be a special player and then some. With that said, the Colts need to start building around their unique talent by bringing in some more receiving threats. Patterson makes sense here, but the team could just as likely move up to take a player like Ezekiel Ansah or Alec Ogletree, who offer up plenty of upside.
Atlanta Falcons: Yet another team just a couple pieces away from making a Super Bowl run, the Atlanta Falcons have shown that they are not afraid to move up and grab their guy. Julio Jones was their man in 2011. This year, Tyler Eiffert could be their target of choice. With Tony Gonzalez set to retire, Atlanta now has a huge void at the tight end position. While Eiffert may not completely fill Gonzalez's shoes, he is an exceptional talent that presents yet another red-zone threat. If not Eiffert, expect the Falcons to also consider a pass-rusher, where a player like Alex Okafor or Ezekiel Ansah could make sense with the aging John Abraham on his last leg.
Baltimore Ravens: Congratulations, you're Super Bowl champions! Now, moving on, the Ravens are in the unique position of replacing future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. No easy task, it will be hard to repeat without finding a new leader to man the middle of the defense. Alec Ogletree is a player that could makes some sense, as he has shown unique coverage skills and the ability to hold up inside. Ozzie Newsome has consistently made wise business decisions in the past, so expect another shrewd move by one of the more consistent franchises in the NFL.