Now that Super Bowl XLVII is in the rearview mirror, fans are eagerly looking towards the draft and all the excitement and intrigue that the event brings.
There are plenty of solid players in this year’s class, and a number of them have immense promise based on their collegiate production.
Let’s take a look at some of the top prospects that should come off the board in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Geno Smith, QB, WVU
There are two realistic options here for the Chiefs at No. 1: Geno Smith or Luke Joeckel.
With franchise quarterbacks more valuable, rare and necessary to win compared to elite left tackles, we believe the organization is going to gamble and hope Smith pans out with the top pick.
This guy has a great pocket presence, a cannon arm, above average mechanics and deadeye accuracy. With new coach Andy Reid now running the show, we expect he’ll have a hand in making Smith the Chiefs' selection.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Jags direly need a pass-rusher and should look to address that situation here at No. 2. Moore is a physical force that can get into the backfield to drop the QB, but also has the strength and size to help against the run.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
It seems the Raiders could be without Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly next season, so adding the best defensive tackle on the board would be the logical thing to do.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Joeckel is widely regarded as a franchise left tackle and someone that could immediately come in, man the position and hold the starting job for the next decade or so.
The Eagles direly need to bring in a top-tier offensive lineman to protect whomever they decide to go with under center in 2013. (It seems to be a two horse race between Michael Vick and Nick Foles as of now.)
Chip Kelly is going to have to think long and hard about what he wants to do here, but going with the best available option and getting a player that could shortly develop into an All-Pro wouldn’t be a bad call at all.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12): Bjoern Werner, DE, FSU
The Lions will get arguably the best pass-rusher left on the board if they can nab Werner here, and he’ll instantly upgrade a defense that had trouble stopping opposing teams from airing it out in 2012.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones is an elite OLB prospect that is simply a playmaker. He’s going to change games when he’s out on the field, and that is exactly what a young Cleveland defense needs.
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Cardinals should try to find a solution for the revolving door of quarterbacks that have been starting in the desert since Kurt Warner retired. The Trojans signal-caller certainly seems like an answer, although the Birds' last foray with a USC QB didn’t turn out so well (Matt Leinart).
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Wilson has the arm strength to compete in the frigid lands of New York State, which is exactly why the Bills should take a shot on his upside and potential at No. 8.
9. New York Jets (6-10): Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Mingo is the high-upside pass-rusher that the Jets need to develop if they are going to compete against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Warmack is the best guard prospect in years and there is a reason why he could easily go inside the top 10. He’s simply unstoppable and will instantly upgrade a floundering Titans rushing attack, plus help keep inexperienced QB Jake Locker upright.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Chargers' biggest problem is protecting Philip Rivers, which is why their once powerful passing attack has significantly waned in recent seasons. Fisher is a mauler who will keep his QB protected and clear some lanes for the rushers.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Patterson has tremendous upside, but his body of work with the Volunteers leaves something to be desired. Regardless, the ‘Phins need to find a big, talented target for Ryan Tannehill to throw to and this is the best available.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
After trading away Aqib Talib at the trade deadline, the Bucs were left with little depth and experience at the CB position. Ronde Barber is going into his 17th season (if he doesn’t decide to retire) and recently moved to the safety position.
Pair that information with the fact that Tampa gave up a league-worst 297.4 yards per game via the air, and it’s clear as day that the franchise direly needs to use its first-round pick on a defensive back.
Milliner is the best on the board and would instantly have a chance to start for the team, as he has the speed, size (6’1”, 199 lbs), strength and wherewithal to play at the next level. Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs nab this ‘Bama star and possibly trade up to do so.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers were atrocious at stopping the run, so adding a huge body that can clog lanes and command double teams will go a long way to getting this team to the playoffs in 2013.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Here’s another NFC South team that was absolutely atrocious at hindering the opposing running game, so the Saints should look at this nasty DT that can get into the backfield, make plays and stop rushers from hitting the second level.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Johnson crushed it at the Senior Bowl, boosting his stock through the roof. He’s the best available here, even if the Rams don’t particularly need to nab a lineman. Perhaps a trade will be explored.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Ezekiel Ansah, LB, BYU
Speaking of guys that dominated the Senior Bowl, Ansah looked absolutely beastly. There’s not better place for him to fall than the Steelers, as he will get a chance to develop under Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau.
Pittsburgh has a long history of churning out exciting linebackers, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Ansah join that fraternity.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Jordan is an extremely versatile pass-rusher, which could greatly help the Cowboys as they change their defensive alignment with new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in place.
19. New York Giants (9-7): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The G-Men released veteran Michael Boley earlier this week, leaving a gaping hole at linebacker. Ogletree is the best on the board and, although this may be too early to select an inside LB, he promises to make an impact quickly.
20. Chicago Bears (9-7): Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Jay Cutler direly needs someone else besides Brandon Marshall to throw at. The tight end position was practically useless in 2012, making Eifert a great pick here at No. 20. The Fighting Irish TE is a great pass-catcher and will provide a big target for the Bears QB to hit.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Bengals continually get burned by big plays, so grabbing the best safety on the board seems like a logical thing to do. Vaccaro will contribute right off the bat due to his size, athleticism and playmaking skills.
22. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1, via Washington Redskins): Eric Reid, S, LSU
The Rams got an O-lineman earlier in this mock, so now they bolster a mediocre defense by adding the most talented safety with Vaccaro off the board. Reid would compete for a starting gig in 2013 if he were selected.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Percy Harvin is the only receiver of note on the Vikings roster, which is a large reason why QB Christian Ponder is struggling to develop.
If Minnesota is going to go all in on developing the signal-caller, it needs to bring in a weapon like Allen. He may not have the upside of some other receivers, but has the speed and route-running abilities to make an impact.
24. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Andrew Luck had an incredible rookie season, but he was hit a ton. Should the Colts desire to keep their franchise quarterback healthy so he can have a long, fruitful career, they will need to grab a lineman here.
Fluker is a giant that will have no problem sliding in, protecting the edge against pass-rushers and even clearing lanes for the backs.
25. Seattle Seahawks (11-5): Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio St.
The D-line was Seattle’s biggest concern in 2012, and the organization would be wise to nab a versatile lineman like Hankins to address the issue in this draft.
26. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Aaron Rodgers had virtually no support from his running game, but still managed to turn out another elite season in 2012. However, if the Packers want to get serious about making the Super Bowl again, they will make the establishment of a ground attack a priority this spring.
27. Houston Texans (12-4): Robert Woods, WR, USC
Andre Johnson isn’t going to be around forever, so it would be wise of the team brass to select a receiver in the latter portion of the first round.
Woods may not project as a top-tier wideout just yet, but he could become a long-term No. 2 that steadily contributes, year in and year out.
28. Denver Broncos (13-3): Xavier Rhodes, CB, FSU
Eventually, superstar CB Champ Bailey is going to hit a wall and start to decline. The Broncos have to be ready, and taking a high upside corner like Rhodes would be the way to prepare.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Pats could be moving on without Wes Welker next season, making a receiver a no-brainer pick here.
Tom Brady has a few years left of his prime, and the franchise must surround its signal-caller with weapons to make it back to the Super Bowl.
30. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
If Tony Gonzalez retires, there is a huge void to fill at TE for the Falcons. Ertz is the best on the board and would likely start from Day 1 if selected.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Niners were burned repeatedly by the deep pass in the Super Bowl, making a cornerback with a lot of potential a decent option to take with the second-to-last pick of the first round. Trufant isn’t ready to contribute just yet, but down the line he may be a standout CB.
32. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Ray Lewis finished his career as a champion, leaving the door open for a young linebacker to come in and take his place. Te’o is the best on the board and fills a huge need.