Beathard made perhaps the biggest mistake in NFL draft history by drafting quarterback Ryan Leaf in 1998 with the second pick. In fairness to Beathard, several NFL general managers would have made the same decision—even with the first overall pick which, of course, was used by the Indianapolis Colts to select Peyton Manning.
Leaf, now often considered the biggest draft bust in NFL history, went on to have an infamously terrible NFL career (career 48.4 completion percentage and 14 touchdowns to go with 36 interceptions) faded from the spotlight until recently when he was arrested on felony drug and burglary charges in June.
What Beathard’s assessment and resulting decision (and the beliefs of several GMs at the time) demonstrates is the unstable nature of the NFL draft. There is never a “sure thing.”
That said, there are some fantastic NFL players who were underrated and overlooked heading into the NFL draft. Even future Hall-of-Famers like Randy Moss and Alan Faneca slipped to the bottom half of the first round in that 1998 draft.
We’ll never have a guarantee that certain picks will pan out and those players will go on to have terrific careers, but we can still speculate. After all, that’s the biggest part of the draft process.
We’ll take a look at how the first round might shake out in the 2013 draft and break down which currently underrated players have the potential to have long and successful NFL careers.
*Note: The names of those players are in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It’s really hard to say what Kansas City is going to do before free agency starts. The Chiefs desperately need a quarterback and, while they may find a way to address the situation in free agency in March, Andy Reid hasn’t given any indication of what his plans are for the position.
Given their positional needs and the importance of the quarterback position, Geno Smith is an obvious option with this pick and Reid may end up facing that decision on draft day without a serviceable signal-caller on the roster. With so many question marks and a weaker quarterback crop, it seems natural to turn to the best player in this draft class in Luke Joeckel. If Branden Albert decides to leave via free agency, he’s easily the best option for the Chiefs, who could look to take a chance on a quarterback on Day 2.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Jacksonville has plenty of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. While a defensive end may not be a flashy pick, taking a small risk on the best player available is the best choice.
Werner was very productive in college and, while he lacks elite athleticism, he’s as good an overall defensive end as there is in this draft. He can play the run and get to the quarterback and does both with a relentless motor.
3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Carson Palmer is nearing the end of his career and, while the Raiders already stated Terrelle Pryor is a candidate as a potential future starter, there has been talk of the Raiders being very interested in Smith.
That doesn’t just come from one source, either. Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller heard the same rumors last month:
Smith isn’t on the same level as some of the top quarterbacks in recent drafts, but he still has the talent to warrant being the first taken this year. The Raiders need a new direction and Smith gives them a lot of options.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t have much success last season and, with a whole new regime taking over in Philadelphia, it may be time to start addressing such a glaring need. Milliner is an all-around talented cover corner who is equally adept at playing zone and man-to-man coverage. He’s not an elite playmaker, but he’s also not very far off and may develop into one.
5. Detroit Lions: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Lions need pass rushers and cornerbacks, but with Milliner already off the board and a quality defensive end as the best available player, Moore is the obvious choice.
Cliff Avril could hit the open market this March and Kyle Vanden Bosch was ineffective last season. Detroit could look to take a linebacker like Jarvis Jones with this pick as well, but Moore is a less risky prospect.
6. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
While some feel Jones’ spinal stenosis may hurt his draft stock, he had a terrific career after he transferred to Georgia.
Jones is the best pure linebacker in this draft class and, with the Browns switching to a 3-4 this year, they’ll need to address the position. Jabaal Sheard will likely move to the strongside linebacker position, but Cleveland would do well to add a terrific all-around linebacker opposite him.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Fisher’s draft stock really began to rise during Senior Bowl week in January. He was impressive the entire week of practice and now has the No. 2 offensive tackle spot locked down.
Arizona’s offense was a mess in 2012, due in large part to an inept offensive line. The Cardinals were unable to keep Kevin Kolb on the field and the circus that followed at the quarterback position was a direct result of their inability to keep Kolb on his feet.
The Cardinals might consider quarterbacks Matt Barkley or Tyler Wilson with this pick, but the wise strategy would be to add a franchise left tackle to protect the quarterbacks already on the roster. Fisher has the potential to be a Pro Bowl tackle for the next 10 years and Arizona would be wise to submit his name with the No. 7 pick.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
This may be the hardest pick to peg in the entire first round. Buffalo has some holes to fill, but it isn’t a bad football team on paper.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the answer at the quarterback position and, with a new regime in place in Buffalo, the Bills would be smart to start fresh at the position. No other quarterback has really stood out at all during the pre-draft process, meaning Barkley has a legitimate shot of being the second signal-caller selected in April.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
Mingo is an intriguing prospect. He’s athletic, fast and explosive off the edge, but he’s still a very raw prospect with some room to grow.
The Jets need a pass rusher in a bad way, and Mingo is the best available at this point. He may not have a huge impact in his rookie season, but he has as high a ceiling as any edge rusher in this year’s class.
Mingo will immediately fit into New York’s defensive front. The Jets employ a lot of different looks and he has the versatility to line up with his hand in the dirt or standing up from the linebacker position.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Lotulelei may not fall out of the top five and Tennessee would be very lucky to snag him with this pick. They need to beef up their porous interior defensive line and Lotutlelei is the best defensive tackle in the class.
Lotulelei offers a ton of versatility to defensive coordinators. He can line up at either tackle position or even as an interior pass rusher in nickel and dime packages. He’s quick, powerful and explosive from anywhere on the defensive line.
The Titans may also consider guard Chance Warmack with this pick, but Lotulelei offers more value at No. 10. He’ll be able to start immediately and shore up a defensive line lacking big-time playmakers.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers need a franchise left tackle and they would be extremely fortunate to land Johnson with this pick.
Johnson is one of the most athletic offensive linemen in this draft class. A former quarterback and tight end, he has quick feet and active hands, and with a little room to bulk up, he’ll be a quality left tackle for years to come.
Johnson isn’t a developmental prospect, but he may struggle a little in the early going. He’s an able run blocker, but he lacks the frame to push around defenders and move the line of scrimmage. Still, he’s the kind of pass blocker San Diego needs protecting Philip Rivers’ blindside.
12. Miami Dolphins: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The No. 1 receiver spot has been a hot topic this draft season. Both Patterson and Keenan Allen deserve consideration, but Patterson has a much higher upside at this point.
Patterson is a big, fast and athletic receiver with good hands and all the play-making ability teams look for in an X-receiver. The Dolphins are certainly in need of one.
Brian Hartline and Davone Bess played well in 2012, but neither is a true No. 1 option. The Dolphins have lacked that big target since Brandon Marshall left town and it’s time they address the need by selecting the best receiver in this year’s class.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Tampa Bay would love for Milliner to be available here, but that probably won’t be the case. The Buccaneers will likely have to trade up to land him.
Rhodes is a good consolation prize, though. At 6’1” and 217 pounds, he has the frame to defend bigger receivers at the next level, and he’s fast enough to fun with most of them, too.
With Aqib Talib gone, Tampa Bay had no luck in defending the pass in 2012. Rhodes can step in immediately and be an impact player for the Bucs in 2013.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Panthers don’t have a ton of holes to fill on either side of the ball, but they definitely need to beef up on the interior defensive line.
Floyd isn’t a pure run-stuffer, but his ability to play one-gap defense and get upfield quickly is extremely disruptive to opposing offenses. He’ll be a good fit in Carolina.
15. New Orleans Saints: Ezekiel Ansah, OLB, BYU
It looks like Rob Ryan is headed to New Orleans (via NBC Sports) and he’ll likely bring his version of the 3-4 with him. The Saints have most of the pieces in place to make it work, but they’ve been lacking a pure edge rusher for quite some time.
Ansah was extremely impressive at the Senior Bowl and his draft stock is on the rise. He’s still raw, but is talented and athletic enough to immediately make a splash as a pass rusher at the next level.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Warmack is easily the best guard in this draft class. He may even be the second-best offensive lineman behind Joeckel.
Still, guards aren’t very highly coveted early in the first round, and he’ll likely fall to the 13-18 range—perfect for the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams have focused a lot on the defensive side of the ball in recent years, but it’s time to start addressing offensive needs. Their run game will be undergoing a transition with the possible departure of Steven Jackson and shoring up the interior offensive line will be a good foundation on which to build a new running game for the future.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Yes, the Steelers still have Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. But, given Kevin Colbert's recent comments about “big changes” in Pittsburgh, one has to wonder how long they will anchor the backend of the defense.
Pittsburgh is in cap trouble and some tough decisions predicated on getting out of the hole are sure to follow. Even if both starting safeties are still on the roster in 2013, Colbert has always done well building for the future and drafting based on value as opposed to immediate need.
Vaccaro can play all over the defensive secondary and he’ll benefit from having a year to develop behind a secondary that could experience some big changes in the next couple years.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
With Dallas transitioning to a Tamp-2 defense under Monte Kiffin, some personnel changes are expected. The Cowboys need to add some interior defensive linemen who can thrive in the one-gap scheme.
Richardson has an extremely high motor and his pass-rushing skills are among the best in this year’s class at the defensive tackle position. He’s big, quick, physical and explosive off the snap, which makes him a terrific at either the three or one-technique defensive tackle positions in Dallas.
19. New York Giants: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Osi Umenyiora will hit the free agent market in March and Justin Tuck has been ineffective in recent years. Jason Pierre-Paul is a terrific young defensive end, but the Giants need to add another pass-rushing end opposite him.
Okafor is a talented pass rusher from multiple positions in the defensive front. New York likes to slide its quicker, smaller ends inside in passing situations and he’ll be a good fit to fill that role.
20. Chicago Bears: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Regardless of what position Chicago addresses on its offensive line this year, the Bears are in desperate need of quality offensive linemen.
Fluker can line up inside at guard or on the right side as an able pass blocker and mauler in the running game. He’ll be an immediate upgrade at any number of positions on the offensive line.
Fluker isn’t a flashy offensive tackle prospect, due in large part to his massive frame. The 6'4" Fluker recently weighed in at 355 pounds. While he probably won’t play the left tackle position at any point in his career, he has the potential to be a Pro-Bowl right tackle and an absolute road grader on the right side of the line.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
The inside linebacker position is a lot deeper than many realize. Between Brown, Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter and Manti Te’o, there is a quality crop of inside linebackers that could go in the first round this year.
The Bengals don’t have a ton of holes to fill, but they could certainly use another thumper at the linebacker position to play next to Vontaze Burfict. Rey Maulaluga may not be back next season, and the Bengals would be wise to add some depth and a potential playmaker.
Brown can play either the weakside or inside linebacker position at the next level, and he has the potential to be a production machine at either position. He can run, and play pretty well in coverage. Brown can be an impact player early in his career for Cincinnati.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Matt Elam, S, Florida
By selecting Warmack with their first pick in the round, St. Louis can address some needs in the secondary. Safety is a priority position for them and, while wide receiver is also a big position of need, the value in taking Elam at this point in the round is too good to pass on.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Keenan Allen, WR, California
With Percy Harvin injured, Minnesota’s offense centered on Adrian Peterson. Even when he was healthy, the Vikings didn’t have another quality receiver to take the pressure off Harvin.
Allen is one of the most polished receivers in this draft class. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he can be the X-receiver Minnesota needs to open up coverage for Harvin.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Indianapolis switched to a 3-4 last year, despite lacking some key pieces for making the transition. The Colts focused heavily on the offensive side of the ball in last year’s draft, and this year should be all about shoring up the defense.
Jordan is an athletic edge rusher who has star potential in the NFL. He could be selected much higher in the first round and Indianapolis would be wise to pull the trigger, should he fall to them at No. 24.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
The Seahawks could really use another penetrating defensive end, especially with Chris Clemons recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the postseason. Montgomery is solid against the run, but he’s also a gift pass-rusher with the ability to get upfield and disrupt opposing offenses. With very few holes to fill, Seattle will likely look to add some depth to its defensive line and bring in another pass-rushing element.
26. Green Bay Packers: Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
Green Bay needs to address its offensive line at nearly every position. With most of the top linemen off the board, Jones stands to be next in line.
Jeff Saturday is retiring and the Packers would do well to draft a future replacement at the center position. The transition from college to the NFL is tricky for centers, who have to make a lot of protection calls and schematic adjustments, but Jones is capable of making that transition a smooth one.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Andre Johnson still has a few good years left, but he’s been the focal point of Houston’s passing attack for too long. Johnson needs an inside receiver who will garner extra attention and open up routes downfield.
Austin is the best slot receiver in this draft class and he’s also the best big-play weapon. He’s absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. Houston needs that element in its passing game, and Austin would be a perfect fit for the Texans.
28. Denver Broncos: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
While cornerback may be a bigger need for the Broncos, the value here is just too good to pass up, as Jenkins has the potential to be selected in the top half of Round 1.
Jenkins is a 6’4”, 359-pound mauler on the defensive line. He isn’t a three-down option, but he’s a perfect fit as a two-down run-stuffer in the NFL.
29. New England Patriots: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Trufant is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in this year’s draft class, but his stock has been soaring since making a big impression in Mobile during Senior Bowl week.
New England’s most glaring need is at the cornerback position. When Aqib Talib went down against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, Joe Flacco opened up the passing offense and led Baltimore to a big win.
The top two cornerbacks are safeties are already off the board, but both Trufant and Johnthan Banks could be in play with this selection. Trufant is the better option and, while he isn’t a big name at this point in the process, he has an extremely high ceiling.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Atlanta’s deficiencies against the run game were exploited all too often in 2012. The Falcons must add some beef at both the defensive tackle and defensive end positions.
Hankins has the potential to go much higher in the first round, but with this year’s class being so deep at the defensive tackle position, someone is going to end up sliding down to the Falcons. If it happens to be Hankins, Atlanta should be very thankful.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
San Francisco’s biggest concern is quite obvious at this point: the coverage skills in their secondary
Carlos Rogers is getting old and Chris Culliver’s deficiencies were exposed by Flacco and the Ravens in the Super Bowl. It’s time to get younger and more athletic at the position.
San Francisco is a hard-hitting team and, while they need to get better in coverage, there’s no need to completely abandon that philosophy, as their secondary included three Pro Bowlers. Banks can do it all and, while he isn’t particularly special in any one area, he’s a good cover corner who plays extremely physical in both press coverage and run support.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Baltimore has a ton of terrific options at the end of the first round, but with Ray Lewis retiring and Dannell Ellerbe set to become a free agent in March, the Ravens must look to add another inside linebacker this offseason.
A former safety, Ogltree is one of the best cover linebackers in this draft class. Baltimore uses its inside linebackers in coverage fairly regularly and Ogletree is a terrific option to fill the need and be an impact player for the Ravens.