Need versus value. Value versus need. For good NFL teams, it’s not a hard decision.
No team can rebuild from the bottom up in one draft, and reaching for a position of need is often a very bad decision. Good teams are built on quality players. Selecting the best available player is usually the best choice.
Unfortunately for the armchair general manager, second-guessing draft-day decisions, projecting draft stock and evaluating talent isn’t an exact science. Every scout and general manager has a different way of evaluating talent, making “best available” a relative term.
Still, there are some players in the 2013 draft class that have enormous talent. We’ll break down how the first round may shake out, and highlight some of those players that present tremendous value based on where they are selected.
*High-value selections are presented in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The hottest debate of the NFL draft boils down to need versus value. The Chiefs could easily decide to address their glaring need at the quarterback position by selecting Geno Smith with the No. 1 selection, but that’s not necessarily their best option.
To take nothing away from Branden Albert, he’s been a fairly consistent left tackle in recent years—he’s just never reached his full potential. With his impending free agency situation looming and the best player in the draft (a left tackle) available to the Chiefs with this pick, the smartest move is to select Joeckel and move on from there.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Jaguars are once again in a transitional period. Gus Bradley took the reins in Jacksonville this offseason, and his first order of business on draft day should be to shore up one of the worst pass rushes in the league.
Moore is one of the best pass rushers in this draft class, and his combination of speed and first-step quickness is exactly what Jacksonville needs off the edge of its defensive line. Moore doesn’t stand out in any one particular area, but don’t expect to find a better all-around edge rusher in this draft.
3. Oakland Raiders: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Oakland may be the only team to have fielded a worse pass rush than the Jaguars last season. The Raiders (like the Jaguars) are in desperate need of quality pass-rushers.
Werner has terrific size and pass-rushing abilities, and his best fit will be as an edge rusher in a defense that will move him around in various situations. He has the ability to be a three-down defensive end in the future, but that’s not what teams will be looking for in Werner early in the draft. The Raiders need a pass-rusher, and few in this class are as talented as Werner.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Eagles are undergoing a lot of changes this offseason, and it’s hard to tell in which direction they plan to go. They need help in several areas, and drafting the best available player is usually a good choice in those situations.
Lotulelei is a big, powerful and disruptive defensive lineman, and he has the potential to fit in several schemes, including a one-gap role in the three-technique or as a five-technique defensive end in a two-gap system. Unfortunately for the prognosticators, new defensive coordinator Bill Davis doesn’t even know what system he plans to run yet (via Steve Patton of ReadingEagle.com):
What we're trying to do is get good football players and then align them where it best suits. I know it's a vague answer; I know that. Everybody wants to know: Is it 3-4 or is it 4-3? I wouldn't be a very good coach if I just said it's a 3-4. It's who we have and what we can do with that, and if it's a 3-4, then it will be. If it's not, then it won't be.
If Davis is looking for versatile players who can fit in any system, Lotulelei is one of his best options. Free agency will have a big impact on how every team drafts in April, but as it stands right now, Philadelphia needs some versatility.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Cliff Avril will be a free agent this offseason, Kyle Vanden Bosch was recently released and Detroit doesn’t have a ton of talent at either outside linebacker position. That said, cornerback Dee Milliner is still probably the team's best option here.
The Lions’ secondary has been putrid in recent years, and the team desperately needs a shutdown corner. This draft class is loaded with hybrid edge rushers and 4-3 defensive ends, but Milliner stands alone as the best cornerback in this draft class. Need meets value for the Lions with this selection.
6. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
The Browns will once again transition back to a 3-4 this year, but it shouldn’t be a tough transition. These types of schematic changes usually take multiple years to complete based on various personnel needs, but Cleveland is in pretty good shape. Still, it needs an outside linebacker.
Jabaal Sheard will likely move to the strong-side outside linebacker position, and Jones would be an excellent choice to play on the weak side. He’s a versatile backer who plays the run and pass exceptionally well, and he’s also one of the top pass-rushers in this draft class.
Jones has the potential to be a top-three selection, but concerns about his spinal stenosis may cause him to slip a little further in the first round. The talent is there, though, and the Browns would snag a terrific value pick (and fill a position of need) by drafting him at No. 6.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Kevin Kolb was on the shelf for 10 games in 2012, and the quarterback carousel started spinning out of control. Arizona clearly needs to address the position at some point in the draft.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it doesn’t matter who they put under center in 2013 if they can’t manage to address the offensive line. Arizona fielded one of the worst offensive line units in the league last season, and it needs to add a franchise left tackle (like Fisher) more than it needs another quarterback at this point.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
It’s fairly likely a team will try to trade into the top five to select Smith, who stands to be the clear-cut favorite to be the first quarterback selected this year. It’s impossible to predict future trades at this point in the process, though, and Smith would be a good option for Buffalo at No. 8.
The Bills are desperate for a new quarterback, and with new head coach Doug Marrone at the helm, they’ll likely consider a number of quarterbacks at the top of the first round. If Smith is available, there’s a pretty good chance Buffalo pulls the trigger in hopes of locking down a new franchise quarterback.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
With a quarterback worthy of a top selection on the board, New York will look to address its other glaring need. The Jets’ pass rush was a bottom-10 unit last year, and the team needs to address that this offseason.
Mingo is a very raw prospect, but his ceiling is as high as that of any defensive player in this draft. He’s one of the best pass-rushers available, and while he may struggle to transition away from playing with his hand in the dirt, New York employs enough unconventional defensive looks to find a good fit for Mingo almost immediately.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
It’s unusual for guards to find a home in the top 10, but Warmack deserves it. He’s arguably the second-best offensive lineman in this class, despite playing at a position of lesser first-round value.
The Titans need to beef up their interior offensive line and take advantage of Chris Johnson’s talent. He got off to a terrible start in 2012, due in large part to inconsistent offensive line play. In order to utilize their best weapon, the Titans would be wise to add an interior lineman with Warmack’s ability, even with the No. 10 pick.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
San Diego needs to find a replacement for Marcus McNeill at left tackle, and Johnson is the best available at No. 11.
A former quarterback and tight end, Johnson has athleticism teams rarely find in a left tackle prospect. He has quick feet and strong hands, and with a little time in the weight room, Johnson has the ability to be a franchise left tackle at the next level.
12. Miami Dolphins: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
There’s usually one receiver in every draft class that stands out from the rest, and Patterson is that receiver this year. He’s big, fast, athletic and electric with the football in his hands. He has the potential to go much higher in this draft.
Miami has lacked a true X-receiver since it traded Brandon Marshall. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess played well in 2012, but neither fit the bill.
With Patterson’s high ceiling and pro-ready skill set, value once again meets need with this pick. The Dolphins are in need of a big-play receiver, and Patterson is one of the best players available at No. 12 overall.
13. Tamp Bay Buccaneers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Tampa Bay would love to see Dee Milliner fall to No. 13, but that’s unlikely to happen. Instead, the Bucs select the second-best cornerback in the draft in Xavier Rhodes.
The Buccaneers’ pass defense was one of the worst units in the league in 2012. Aqib Talib went to New England, and Tampa Bay lacked a suitable replacement to fill the void. Tampa Bay needs to address its pass defense this offseason and selecting a terrific cornerback like Rhodes would be a good start.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers don’t have a ton of holes to fill, despite finishing the season at 7-9. They do need to address their interior defensive line, though.
Carolina had trouble stopping the run in 2012, and adding a space-eater and disruptive defensive tackle like Richardson would go a long way in shoring up a run defense that allowed 4.2 yards per carry last year. He’s particularly adept at shooting gaps and getting upfield with a good initial burst. Richardson would be an instant upgrade in the middle of Carolina’s defense.
15. New Orleans Saints: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
The Saints have lacked quality edge rushers in recent years, and Ansah would certainly help the cause. Ansah lacks a lot of experience and is still very raw, but he has an exceptionally high ceiling as an edge rusher in the NFL.
Ansah has the talent to be a top-10 selection in this draft, but his relative inexperience may scare some teams away. If he falls to New Orleans at No. 15, the Saints would be wise to take a chance on him.
16. St. Louis Rams: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Allen doesn’t possess blazing straight-line speed, but he has terrific route-running ability and solid hands. If not for Cordarrelle Patterson, Allen would likely be the first receiver off the board a few picks earlier.
The Rams have addressed the defensive side of the ball in recent years, but they desperately need a true No. 1 receiver. Allen can be that X-receiver who takes pressure off the rest of St. Louis’ receiving corps.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Expect the Steelers to really shake things up this offseason. Kevin Colbert isn’t happy with how Pittsburgh performed last season, and with its salary cap situation looking pretty dicey, the Steelers have some tough decisions to make.
Outside linebacker, cornerback and safety could all be in play here, but the Steelers also need a big, powerful two-gap defensive tackle to anchor the center of their defensive line. Jenkins is one of the best in this draft class, and he fills a big positional need as well.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Monte Kiffin replaces Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator in Dallas, and he’ll be bringing the Tampa-2 with him. The Cowboys will have to make some personnel changes this offseason to adjust for the schematic change, but they have an even bigger need on the offensive side of the ball.
Dallas was one of the worst teams in the league at running the ball last season, due in large part to inconsistent offensive line play. Tony Romo was also hassled far too often from A-Gap pressure, and the Cowboys need to shore up their offensive line.
Fluker is a road grader, and while he played right tackle for Alabama, he has the ability to transition inside and play either guard position in the NFL. Regardless of where Dallas would play him, Fluker would be an instant upgrade.
19. New York Giants: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Jordan is an athletic edge rusher with the size and talent to go much higher in the first round. This draft class is loaded with pass-rushers, though, and he’ll likely slide out of the top 15, presenting terrific value to whichever team drafts him.
Justin Tuck has been ineffective of late and Osi Umenyiora will be a free agent this offseason. The Giants need an end opposite Jason Pierre-Paul to get after the quarterback.
New York might also consider Alex Okafor (Texas) with this pick to play a similar role, but Jordan has a higher ceiling. He and JPP would be a formidable punch for opposing offensive tackles and tight ends.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
If not for Chance Warmack, Cooper would likely be a top-15 selection in April. He still has the potential to be selected that high, but guard simply isn’t a position of high value on draft day.
Cooper is extremely versatile, though, and he could end up playing several interior line positions at the next level. Chicago needs offensive line help in the worst way, and Cooper would be an immediate upgrade at several positions along its offensive line.
With the top four tackles already off the board, the Bears would be wise to select the best available offensive lineman and start shoring up a unit that was one of the worst in the NFL in 2012.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Cincinnati doesn’t have a lot of holes to fill this offseason. It could use a safety and defensive end (in the event Michael Johnson leaves in free agency), and the Bengals could certainly find a place for another linebacker.
Rey Maualuga may not be back next season, so adding another quality linebacker to play next to Vontaze Burfict would be a wise decision. Brown isn’t particularly imposing, but he’s fast, instinctual and powerful in the middle of a defense.
22. St. Louis Rams (From Washington): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Rams already addressed their wide receiver need with their first pick in the round, and while offensive line is at the top of the wish list, St. Louis would also be wise to fill a hole at the back end of its secondary.
Vaccaro is the best safety in this draft class. He has the ability to line up all over the field, and would be an immediate upgrade for a pass defense that was lacking an elite playmaker in the deep-middle of the field.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
With all the depth at defensive tackle this year, selecting the right one will come down to schematic fit. Some are two-gap space-eaters, while others have the ability to play a penetrating one-gap style of defense.
Hankins benefits from being able to do both. He has a huge frame and surprisingly quick feet. He’s also a good fit as either a one-technique or three-technique defensive tackle in the NFL.
Minnesota could look to address the wide receiver position, but Hankins present too much value to pass up. The Vikings need to beef up their interior defensive line.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Colts spent most of their 2012 draft picks on offensive players, but it should be time to turn to the defensive side of the ball this year.
After switching to a 3-4 for the 2012 season, it was clear the Colts didn’t have all the pieces in place to be a top defensive team. The front-seven depth in this draft class is outstanding, though, meaning Indianapolis can afford to shore up its secondary by selecting one of the best cornerbacks available in Round 1.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Chris Clemons went down with an ACL tear in the playoffs, and Seattle would be wise to add an insurance policy in this year’s draft.
Montgomery is a terrific fit at defensive end in a 4-3 front. He’s particularly disruptive off the edge and presents Seattle with an opportunity to fill a position of relative need while also beefing up its pass rush.
26. Green Bay Packers: Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
Both Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert are still on the board here, but Green Bay can wait to take a tight end. Barrett Jones is a much smarter pick.
The Packers’ offensive line continues to be one of the team’s biggest weaknesses, and with Jeff Saturday retiring this offseason, adding a young center to anchor their offensive line would be a smart decision. He has the potential to move around on the line, giving the Packers a rotational interior lineman for 2013 and a strong candidate for the starting center role in the near future.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Andre Johnson’s age is beginning to show. He still has some gas left in the tank, but Houston needs to get him some help.
Austin is one of the most exciting offensive weapons in this draft class. He can do a lot of damage with the ball in his hands, and he offers NFL teams versatility similar to that of Percy Harvin in Minnesota. With Johnson on the outside and Austin in the slot, opposing defenses would have a lot more to worry about from Houston’s passing attack.
28. Denver Broncos: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Denver could go several ways with this pick, but cornerback and defensive tackle will likely be the two biggest priorities.
With no cornerback presenting great value here, the Broncos select a player who can have an immediate impact at the front of their defense. They need to continue getting younger up front, and Floyd presents excellent value at No. 28.
29. New England Patriots: Matt Elam, S, Florida
New England’s secondary really struggled in 2012, especially against the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots really need to address both the cornerback and safety positions this offseason.
Devin McCourty moved to strong safety in 2012, but he’s a better fit at cornerback. Drafting a safety with Elam’s ability would allow McCourty to move back to corner and potentially plug up the hole Aqib Talib will leave should he depart in free agency.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
Tony Gonzalez may or may not be back next season, but adding a replacement now wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Ertz is one of the best all-around tight ends in this draft class. At 6’6” and 255 pounds, he fits the mold of a big, physical vertical weapon who can be a big red-zone target for Matt Ryan in the coming years.
Atlanta could also look to address its interior defensive line with this pick, but Ertz presents more value than any defensive lineman still available at No. 30.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Trufant began rising up the board with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, and he’s come close to solidifying himself as a solid first-round pick.
San Francisco needs to improve its secondary, especially at the cornerback position. Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers were exposed in Super Bowl XLVII, and adding a cornerback like Trufant would go a long way in shoring up the pass unit for the 2013 season.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
With Ray Lewis retiring and Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger set to become free agents this offseason, Baltimore needs to focus on shoring up its linebacking corps. There are several terrific candidates available, including Kevin Minter, Manti Te’o and Alec Ogletree.
Ogletree is Baltimore's best choice, though. He came to college as a safety, but transitioned to the linebacker position with relative ease. With excellent athleticism and the ability to pound opposing runners, Ogletree will find a fit in nearly any defense at the next level.