The 2012 NFL Draft was defined by the quarterback. The 2013 NFL Draft will be defined by the pass-rusher.
Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill dominated the discussion leading into last season’s draft and the Cleveland Browns even decided Brandon Weeden was worth a first-round selection. This class does not boast that kind of talent at the quarterback position.
What it does have is strength on the edge. Whether it be 4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers, this is the year to be in the market for a sack master. In all, there are around 10 players that project as defensive ends/outside linebackers that could conceivably drafted in the first round.
Read on to see which ones are likely to be taken in the first round.
Note: Pass-rushers in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: OT, Luke Joekel, Texas A&M
When the Chiefs make the first selection in the draft, they must take the best player available.
Quarterback is definitely a need, but reaching and missing on a quarterback with the first pick will do nothing to turn this franchise around. Joekel is the best player in the draft and someone that will play at an elite level right off the bat. Jamaal Charles may run this pick to the podium himself.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB, Geno Smith, West Virginia
The Jaguars have the pieces in place for a dangerous offense. Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon are promising receivers. Maurice Jones-Drew is still an elite back and left tackle Eugene Monroe is more than capable of protecting the blindside.
What the Jaguars don’t have is an elite signal-caller. Smith is far from a sure thing, but he is the best prospect in this year’s class.
3. Oakland Raiders: DE, Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
The Raiders pass-rush was a major struggle for the Silver and Black last season. They only registered 25 sacks and were a huge reason the team struggled against the pass.
By the time the draft rolls around Damontre Moore will be the top option for the draft’s top position. Moore’s stock continues to rise every day and is the kind of force off the edge that would instantly change the defense.
At Texas A&M he registered 12.5 sacks as a senior and spent the year going against Luke Joekel in practice. There’s no reason that Moore can’t make a Von Miller-type impact right away for the Raiders.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: DT, Star Lotulelei, Utah
Lotulelei doesn’t necessarily fill a need for the Eagles here, but he’s the best player on the board. Defensive tackle should be the second-most popular position in the first round and Lotulelei is the best of the bunch. He has Ndamukong Suh-like disruption potential in the backfield.
5. Detroit Lions: DE, Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Werner should be neck and neck with Moore as the top defensive end available in the draft and it wouldn’t be surprising if teams are split on who the better option is. In this case, the Lions would have their minds made up for them.
Defensive end has been a strength for the Lions in the past with Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch but neither figure into the team’s future plans.
Fortunately Werner has the burst and athleticism on the edge to be successful right away and would be coming into a favorable situation with Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh eating up space in the middle. Werner would be an instant contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
6. Cleveland Browns: OLB, Jarvis Jones, Georgia
With new defensive coordinator Ray Horton comes a switch to more 3-4 defensive fronts for the Browns.
For the transition from a pure 4-3 defense to the type of multiple front defense that Horton will want to bring the Browns are going to need versatile players that rush the passer. That’s Jones.
At Georgia, it didn’t matter if Jones lined up with a hand in the dirt or standing up, he got to the quarterback. He registered 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for a loss. His spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal column) is concerning (h/t ESPN) but he’s too good of a talent to pass up at No. 6.
7. Arizona Cardinals: OT, Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
The Cardinals gave up an incredible 58 sacks last season. It wouldn’t matter if they had Tom E. Brady playing quarterback—no one can be successful when the offensive line is that bad.
Fisher is the second-best offensive tackle in this year’s class and would immediately improve the team’s greatest weakness.
8. Buffalo Bills: QB, Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
A new coaching regime generally means a new man under center. Ryan Fitzpatrick has had plenty of opportunities to prove that he can be the man and been mediocre.
With Doug Marrone in as the Bills head coach Buffalo could snag his quarterback from Syracuse, Nassib. This is a bit of a reach but we’ve seen time and time again that teams won’t hesitate to reach for a quarterback they feel is the guy (Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Jake Locker anyone?).
9. New York Jets: DE/OLB, Dion Jordan, Oregon
Rex Ryan loves to be aggressive and attack on defense. You can’t do that when you don’t have elite pass-rushers that can scare quarterbacks into mistakes.
Dion Jordan would allow the pass rush to pack a much greater punch than last season. At 6’7” and 243 pounds, Jordan is versatile enough to play in coverage and is the kind of freak athlete that will see his stock rise at the combine.
If the Jets want to regain their edge, they’ll need to restructure the front seven. Jordan is a good start to that project.
10. Tennessee Titans: CB, Dee Milliner, Alabama
The Titans are a team that could add to the number of teams that go with a defensive end. But if the top-rated cornerback is still available, they’d have a difficult time passing him up.
Milliner is the most coveted player at his position and it’s highly unlikely he makes it out of the top 10.
11. San Diego Chargers: OG, Chance Warmack, Alabama
If Warmack were a tackle he would easily be a top five pick. He’s one of the best overall players in the draft, but it’s rare for an interior offensive lineman to go this high.
Regardless of position, the Chargers need help along the offensive line. Phillip Rivers appeared to regress last season, but much of that was because he was running for his life. Warmack would remedy some of that and add some toughness to the running game.
12. Miami Dolphins: WR, Keenan Allen, California
The Dolphins desperately need a receiver and should have their pick of this year’s crop at No. 12.
Ryan Tannehill showed some promise in 2012, but will need weapons if he is going to work out for the Dolphins in the long term. Right now, it appears that Allen is the top option at receiver and would immediately be one of the team’s top options in the passing game.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB, Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Aqib Talib is gone and Ronde Barber is 37 (which is like 100 in cornerback years). In Banks the Buccaneers would grab a physical cover corner that will be a huge part of the defense for years to come.
14. Carolina Panthers: DT, Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
The Panthers found the centerpiece of their defense in middle linebacker Luke Kuechly last season. Now they need to make life easier for him.
In front of every great middle linebacker are good wide-bodied defensive linemen eating up space. Hankins fits that mold perfectly and will launch Kuechly into the upper echelon of his position for the next decade.
15. New Orleans Saints: DT, Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
The Saints are in desperate need of help on the defensive line. They boasted one of the league’s most dynamic offenses and still managed to miss the playoffs.
Richardson is a versatile defensive tackle that will add toughness and an explosive burst that will make him a pass-rush threat up the middle.
16. St. Louis Rams: OT, Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
The Rams appear to be committed to Sam Bradford as the quarterback of the future so it is essential that they draft someone to protect him. Johnson is an athletic tackle that played tight end and defensive end at Oklahoma before settling on the offensive line.
Finding an athletic tackle this late in the first round is an incredible value.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Te’o will be the most polarizing prospect in the draft. He was an incredible talent in college and anchored a stellar Notre Dame defense.
However, the talks of him going top 10 appear to be overblown as he struggled against Alabama in the national championship game and has seen his stock slip since then. With age becoming a concern for the Steelers defense, Te’o would be the perfect prospect to come in and inject some youth at the linebacker position.
18. Dallas Cowboys: QB, Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
At 33 years old, Tony Romo isn’t likely to be the quarterback of the future in Dallas.
Romo isn’t Brett Favre but the Cowboys may look to go the Aaron Rodgers route with this pick and take a quarterback with great potential that can wait for a year or two before taking the reins.
19. New York Giants: DE, Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Ansah lacked production in his college career, but we’ve learned from drafts past that athleticism and upside rule the day come draft time. The Giants took a shot on Jason Pierre-Paul and it paid great dividends; it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Giants roll the dice on the uber-athletic Ansah.
20. Chicago Bears: OT, Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
Protecting Jay Cutler has to be priority No. 1 for the Chicago Bears coming into the draft. Injuries to Cutler have cut their season short two seasons in a row now and a faulty offensive line is to blame.
The Bears take the best tackle available in Thomas here and give themselves a better shot at keeping Cutler off the IR next season.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: DE/OLB, Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Defensive end is not the greatest need for the Bengals. However, they’ve put themselves in a position to take the best player available and that would be Barkevious Mingo.
His production was a bit disappointing in his last season at LSU, but paired with Geno Atkins and the rest of the talented Bengals defense he should make an immediate impact.
22. St. Louis Rams: OG, Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Even if the Rams grab a tackle with their first selection in the first round, the job of protecting Bradford isn’t finished. A road-grading guard that can bolster the protection would be the next logical step and Cooper fits the bill.
23. Minnesota Vikings: WR, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
It’s scary to think how bad the Vikings offense would have been without Adrian Peterson’s ridiculously awesome season. Outside of Percy Harvin, the Vikings have no weapons in the passing game and even Harvin is inconsistent because of nagging injuries.
Patterson would be a huge addition to the Vikings offense as he has the size and speed to be a dangerous deep threat for a long time.
24. Indianapolis Colts: S, Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
The Colts already have a promising core on the offensive side of the ball. Chuck Pagano and Co. now have to focus on building a great defense. Adding a safety like Vaccaro would be a great first step in that direction.
His physical style matches the kind of player that Pagano has coached in the past and will strengthen a Colts secondary that struggled at times last season.
25. Seattle Seahawks: DT, Jesse Williams, Alabama
The Seahawks already have a fearsome pass rush, but Michael Turner showed that a big run-stuffer in the middle is just what this team needs to take the next step.
Williams was the big man in the middle for some great Alabama defenses and should be able to play the same role at the next level.
26. Green Bay Packers: OL, Barrett Jones, Alabama
Aaron Rodgers faced too much pressure last season and the run game wasn’t as effective as it needed to be for the Packers reach their potential. Barrett Jones has the versatility to improve the offensive line in both aspects.
27. Houston Texans: WR, Terrance Williams, Baylor
The Texans were one of the best teams when they had a lead last season, but couldn’t come back if they fell behind.
Most of that could be attributed to a lack of weapons in the passing game. Terrance Williams could fix that problem. He was a dynamic playmaker for Baylor and has the physical tools to make an impact right away at the next level.
28. Denver Broncos: S, Eric Reid, LSU
The Broncos found out the hard way that they have a hole to fill at the safety position. Torrey Smith burned the secondary over the top multiple times in the team’s divisional round playoff game and that will need to be addressed.
With Reid in place the league’s most well-rounded team last season would be that much more dangerous.
29. New England Patriots: DE, Datone Jones, UCLA
The Patriots went defensive end in the first round last season with Chandler Jones, but they won’t let that keep them from drafting the best player available.
At 6’4” and 280 pounds, Jones has the size to be shifted all over the defensive line and was a disruptive force against the run at UCLA. Bill Belichick values versatility and there aren’t many defensive linemen more versatile than Jones.
30. Atlanta Falcons: TE, Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez is likely going to ride into the sunset after a legendary career in both Kansas City and Atlanta. Fortunately for the Falcons, they’ll have their choice of tight ends in this scenario. Eifert is an obvious choice as he can block and has the size, speed and hands to be a go-to receiver.
31. San Francisco 49ers: S, Matt Elam, Florida
The 49ers have a stellar front seven, an offense that is set to explode next season with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The only weakness is the secondary. Donte Whitner was exposed in the Super Bowl and Dashon Goldson is set for free agency. Elam could step in and start right away.
32. Baltimore Ravens: DE/OLB, Sam Montgomery, LSU
An argument could be made that the Ravens are the NFL’s best drafting team. They always seem to get the best value regardless of position and that culminated with a Super Bowl championship this year.
Inside linebacker is a concern but Montgomery is the best player on the board. Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger were great edge rushers, but you can never have too much depth and Suggs isn’t getting any younger. Montgomery would offer a situational rusher as a rookie and could be groomed as Suggs eventual long-term replacement.