I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The 2013 NFL draft class is incredibly deep.
This is the deepest draft class in years, and while the quarterback position isn’t stealing the headlines, there is a lot of quality talent to be had in the first round at nearly every other position.
Pass-rushers and interior defensive linemen highlight the strength of this year’s draft, but don’t sleep on the six or seven defensive backs that could end up finding a home in the first—not to mention a handful of electric wide receivers and at least a half-dozen offensive linemen that deserve a first-round selection.
The NFL Scouting Combine takes place from February 23 to February 26 in Indianapolis. As is the case every year, expect to see a big shake-up in the draft rankings following the event. Some players will shine and others will disappoint, but the draft picture will become a whole lot clearer when it’s all said and done.
It’s still early in the pre-draft process, but we have a pretty good indication of what to look for in April’s draft. Here’s a pre-combine look at how the draft could shake out.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It will take a lot to make me believe the Chiefs will pass on Joeckel for Geno Smith. It’s not that Smith isn’t a good quarterback; Joeckel is just that talented.
Andy Reid needs a new quarterback to hitch his wagon to going forward. All of the quarterbacks in this draft class are a reach at No. 1, though, and Joeckel is the best player available.
A lot could hinge on what left tackle Branden Albert decides to do in free agency, but Kansas City would be foolish to overlook a potential All-Pro tackle here, regardless of what Albert does.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Jacksonville has been an enigmatic team on draft day, but new GM David Caldwell is now at the helm. Expect him to take advantage of the value here by selecting the best player available.
The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill, and pass-rusher is one of the biggest. They finished last in the league in sacks in 2012 (20), and adding a premier edge rusher is their best possible choice.
Werner has a knack for getting to opposing quarterbacks. He’s a good fit at defensive end in Jacksonville’s 4-3, and he stands to make an immediate impact on one of the league’s worst pass-rushing units.
3. Oakland Raiders: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Like Jacksonville, Oakland has a lot of areas of need. They could use an edge rusher, but defensive tackle isn’t exactly a strength for the Raiders, either. Richard Seymour will be a free agent, and he wasn’t as productive in 2012 as he has been in the past.
Lotulelei is a dominant defensive tackle who can line up just about anywhere on the defensive front in almost any scheme. He has a rare blend of size, strength and first-step quickness, and the Raiders would be wise to take advantage of the big man being available with the third pick.
A good pass rush doesn’t have to come from the edge. Lotulelei’s dominant interior presence has a domino effect on an entire defensive front.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
A lot of questions about Jones will be answered at the combine. Players are run through the ringer both on and off the field, and Jones will greatly benefit from positive medical evaluations in Indianapolis.
Jones has the talent to be one of the top players selected in April. His spinal stenosis condition may scare some teams away, but he’ll have a chance to prove he is capable of holding up to the rigors of an NFL season with good testing at the combine.
Philadelphia is in a transitional period right now. New defensive coordinator Billy Davis isn’t entirely sure what defensive schemes he wants to employ yet, and Jones is a terrific fit in almost any front. He needs to get a little better at taking on the run, but he’s a terrific speed rusher with good coverage skills, and he’ll be a nice addition to an Eagles team looking for a new defensive identity.
5. Detroit Lions: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
General manager Martin Mayhew will look to make a splash in free agency, and what the Lions do on draft day will be largely dependent on what moves (if any) Mayhew makes in March.
That being said, Detroit is still without a quality pass-rushing element. The Lions cut defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril is set to hit the open market free agency. If the Lions can’t find a suitable replacement at the position in free agency, Moore is an obvious choice here.
Moore is one of the top pass-rushers in this draft class. He isn’t particularly dominant in any one area, but he knows how to get after opposing quarterbacks. He’ll also fit nicely in Detroit’s 4-3 front next to Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
6. Cleveland Browns: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Pass-rusher is the more obvious choice here, but the Browns may address that need in free agency after bringing on defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who will be transitioning the Browns to a 3-4 this season.
However, Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner are entering uncharted territory this offseason. The Browns are a team on the rise, and making good decisions early in this draft could have a big impact on how their stay in Cleveland pans out.
It’s no secret Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner will want to open up a more vertical passing game this year, and Patterson would be an excellent option with which to build.
It should also be noted that the Browns traded out of the sixth pick in 2011—a pick that was used by the Falcons to select receiver Julio Jones. Hindsight is 20/20, but Browns fans haven’t forgotten about that move. Patterson would certainly ease the sting of missing out on such a talented pass-catcher two years ago.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
It’s the worst-kept secret in the NFL—Arizona needs offensive linemen.
The Cardinals couldn’t keep Kevin Kolb on the field in 2012, due in large part to the ineptitude of their offensive line. They have a chance to select a number of highly rated tackles last year, but waited until the fourth round to address the need (OT Bobby Massie).
This year should be a different story. With a little polish, Fisher has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler, and he’ll serve to shore up the left side of a defensive line that failed to protect its quarterbacks in 2012. If Arizona doesn’t patch up its line, it doesn’t matter who starts under center this season.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
There’s a good chance a team moves ahead of the Bills should Smith still be on the board at No. 8, but it’s nearly impossible to project trades, especially at this point in the pre-draft process.
Buffalo desperately needs new blood at the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick was maddeningly inconsistent in 2012, and new head coach Doug Marrone will want to find a new signal-caller to run his offense.
Smith isn’t an elite talent compared to some of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round in recent years, but he’s the best in this draft class.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
It’s no secret the Jets are in disarray right now. Mark Sanchez won’t be around much longer, the wide receiver position is weaker than Rex Ryan would probably like and New York’s pass rush was practically nonexistent in 2012.
With Smith and Patterson already off the board, pass-rusher becomes an obvious choice.
Mingo is still very raw, and he’ll have to transition from defensive end to linebacker in order to succeed as an NFL pass-rusher. Still, the Jets employ a lot of exotic looks on defense, and Mingo will find a fit working in space off the edge.
10. Tennessee Titans: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Chance Warmack could also be in play here for the Titans, but interior offensive linemen don’t usually warrant a top-10 selection.
Tennessee needs to beef up its interior defensive line in an attempt to shore up a run defense that ranked No. 24 in 2012.
Floyd has the talent to go even higher in this draft, and the Titans will find good value with this pick should he fall to them at No. 10. He’s an exceptionally disruptive defender with the ability to both eat up blockers and get into the backfield to disrupt plays. He’ll go a long way toward beefing up Tennessee’s interior defensive line.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers need to find a suitable replacement for Marcus McNeill at left tackle, and Johnson is the best available candidate.
Johnson was impressive at the Senior Bowl this year, cementing his position as the No. 3 left tackle in this class. He still has room to pack on some bulk, but he has the quick feet and solid technique to be a very good blindside protector in the NFL.
12. Miami Dolphins: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
One has to assume the Dolphins will be major players in free agency this offseason. They have plenty of cap room, and there are a lot of quality pass-catchers on the market.
That said, Miami should look to add a quality No. 1 receiver in free agency, making the No. 12 pick a good opportunity to address some other positions in April.
Warmack is as much a value pick here as he is a need-based selection. Despite playing a position that isn’t typically valued all that high in the first round, Warmack is one of the best offensive linemen in this class, and the Dolphins will get a steal if he is still available with the 12th pick.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Milliner will need surgery after the combine to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He’s the best cornerback in this draft class, but that bit of news may force him to slide down some draft boards.
Still, Milliner has the talent to be a top 10 pick, and the Buccaneers would run to the podium if he were still available at No. 13.
Tampa Bay was unable to find a suitable replacement for Aqib Talib in 2012, and its pass defense suffered. The Bucs finished the season dead last in passing defense, and they need to find a way to shore up their defensive backfield this offseason.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Carolina may look to add another top-tier wide receiver in the draft, but Patterson is already off the board, and no other receivers carry the value to be a viable option at No. 14.
The Panthers need to beef up their interior defensive line. Defensive tackle was a glaring weakness in 2012, and the first round would be an excellent spot to strengthen the position.
Richardson is one of the more disruptive defensive tackles in this class. He has good first-step quickness and the ability to shoot gaps to get into the backfield and disrupt the flow of plays. With Lotulelei and Floyd already off the board, Richardson becomes the best option at the position.
15. New Orleans Saints: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
Ansah may be the most intriguing player to watch at the combine this year. He has all the physical tools to put on a show, much like Jason Pierre-Paul and J.J. Watt did at the event.
While Ansah has all the physical tools NFL teams look for, he’s also very raw. He has just three years of football experience under his belt and teams will look at him as more of a project in the early years of his career.
That being said, New Orleans needs an explosive edge-rushing presence. Ansah may not be a complete player right now, but he still has the size, speed and athleticism to make an immediate impact on Sundays.
16. St. Louis Rams: Keenan Allen, WR, California
According to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, Allen won’t be participating at the combine this year due to a knee injury sustained during the 2012 season.
Allen doesn’t exhibit blazing-fast speed on tape, and his absence in the 40-yard dash at the combine will almost certainly affect his draft stock; teams will want to see if he has the speed to be a dominant vertical threat in the NFL.
Regardless of concerns about his straight-line speed, Allen has the tools to be an excellent X receiver at the next level. He has good hands and terrific route-running ability, and he stands to find a home in the first round, despite the other concerns.
St. Louis has addressed the defensive side of the ball often in recent years, and this draft should be all about offense. The Rams need a true No. 1 receiver who can take some pressure off Danny Amendola and open up the passing game for Sam Bradford.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Kevin Colbert expects a lot of changes in Pittsburgh this offseason. An 8-8 record and a missed playoff opportunity aren’t typical of the Steelers, and Colbert wants to make sure the same result won’t derail the team in 2013.
Casey Hampton, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu may be nearing their end in Pittsburgh, especially with a bad salary cap situation facing the team. This year’s draft may signal a changing of the guard.
Pittsburgh will probably look to address the outside linebacker position in April. Harrison couldn’t stay healthy in the last two season, and Jordan would be a terrific replacement for a team that lacked the strong pass rush it has been known for.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Monte Kiffin took the reins of Dallas’ defense this offseason and he’ll be making some changes going forward.
Dallas will transition from a 3-4 to Kiffin’s signature Tampa-2 scheme and it will need to find some pieces to make it work.
Finding a weakside defensive end and three-technique tackle should be major concerns, but the Cowboys also need a play-making safety who can roam center field. Vaccaro has all the tools to be a playmaker at the next level, and he’ll serve to strengthen a pass defense that was No. 19 in the league in 2012.
19. New York Giants: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
The Giants could look to address the left tackle and defensive end positions this offseason, but tight end should also be an option in the first round this year.
Ertz is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in this draft and he’ll be an excellent option for Eli Manning going forward. New York has more pressing positional needs, but Ertz presents a lot of value at No. 19.
20. Chicago Bears: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Bears’ offensive line was one of the worst pass-protection units in the NFL last year. They need to address it early and often in April.
There aren’t any top-tier left tackles still on the board, but Fluker has the tools to play either position on the right side of the line. He isn’t agile enough to be a left-side protector, but Fluker is still a solid pass-blocker from the right side of the line.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Cyprien isn’t a household name right now, but he’s primed to make a rise up the draft boards in the coming months.
Cyprien impressed at the Senior Bowl. His size, speed and playmaking abilities make him a likely candidate for first-round selection in April.
Cincinnati doesn’t have a ton of holes to fill. The Bengals could look to address the defensive end and middle linebacker positions (Michael Johnson and Rey Maualuga may not be with the team in 2013), but safety is certainly a position Cincinnati can look to improve.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Like the Bengals, St. Louis could look to add a top-tier safety with this pick, but value makes Cooper an excellent option at No. 22.
Cooper is an incredibly versatile offensive lineman. He has the potential to play center or either guard position in the NFL, and St. Louis certainly needs to shore up its interior offensive line.
With Keenan Allen already finding a home in St. Louis at No. 16, the Rams can look to continue improving on the offensive side of the ball with this pick. Cooper is their best option.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Hopkins had a productive career at Clemson, and he joins the conversation as one of the handful of wide receivers who could come off the board in the first round.
According to Marc Sessler or NFL.com, general manager Rick Spielman will not shop Percy Harvin this offseason. If Harvin is in fact in Minnesota in 2013, the Vikings will need to find another pass-catching option to take the pressure off him.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Colts could go a number of directions with this pick and they’re almost all on the defensive side of the ball.
Indianapolis addressed its offense early and often in 2012, and this year should be all about shoring up a defense that finished the 2012 regular season No. 26 in the league. Defensive tackle and outside linebacker could certainly be in play here, but the Colts also need help in their defensive secondary.
Rhodes is a physical corner who is also one of the better playmakers at the position this year. Paired with Darius Butler, Indianapolis’ secondary would be substantially better in 2013.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
The Seahawks have an opportunity to make a value pick here, but it wouldn’t hurt to fill a positional need in the process.
Defensive end Chris Clemons tore his ACL against Washington and getting him back into playing shape will take some time. Seattle needs another pass-rushing end to pick up the slack in 2013, and Okafor would be a terrific option.
26. Green Bay Packers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
With the two of the top safeties and a number of quality pass-rushers already off the board, Green Bay will look to address its defensive line at No. 26.
Hankins has the size and quickness to be a versatile NFL defensive lineman. He can line up at either defensive end position in a 3-4 and would be a nice fit next to B.J. Raji. The Packers need to get better on the defensive side of the ball, especially in defense of the run.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Houston’s offense has revolved around Arian Foster and Andre Johnson in recent years. Johnson still has some gas left in the tank, but he needs some help.
Teams have has the luxury of keying in on Johnson in the passing game. With another explosive offensive weapon to take the pressure off him, Houston can field a much more dynamic passing attack in 2013.
Austin is one of the most electric receivers in this year’s class. Lined up in the slot next to Johnson, Austin will have an opportunity to work underneath routes against coverages tilted in Johnson’s direction.
28. Denver Broncos: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Champ Bailey’s age was apparent in Denver’s playoff loss to the Ravens. He’s nearing the end of his career and the Broncos need to start looking for a replacement.
Banks isn’t a big name, but he has the potential to be a lockdown corner in the NFL. With Milliner and Rhodes already off the board, Denver will look to Banks as Bailey’s heir apparent.
29. New England Patriots: Matt Elam, S, Florida
The Ravens didn’t just exploit the Broncos’ secondary in the playoffs—they did it to everyone. New England needs to strengthen the backend of its defense if it hopes to make another deep run in the playoffs in 2013.
Aqib Talib will be a free agent this offseason, and the Patriots don’t have any better options at cornerback. Devin McCourty transitioned to safety this season, but adding Elam would give the Patriots the option of moving McCourty back to his natural position.
Whether this pick is a cornerback or a safety, New England no doubt needs to address its secondary in the first round.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Atlanta struggled to stop the run this year, but its pass rush wasn’t exactly an elite unit either. The Falcons need to find a defensive end who can help with both.
Montgomery hasn’t garnered the same attention as fellow LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, but he has the potential to be a better all-around defender early in his career. Opposite John Abraham, Montgomery would go a long way in shoring up a defensive front that was exploited all too often in 2012.
31. San Francisco 49ers: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Like Denver and New England, San Francisco needs to repair its defensive backfield. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of defensive backs who warrant enough value to be selected here.
The 49ers may also look to address the nose tackle position in this draft. Jenkins certainly fits the bill.
At 6’3” and 358 pounds, Jenkins has the frame to eat up a lot of space and command double teams in the middle of the line. He’s a perfect fit to be the anchor in a 3-4 front like San Francisco’s.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
Don’t be surprised if Te’o goes a whole lot higher in this draft. His stock will be largely dependent on how much he impresses scouts at the combine.
All off-the-field issues aside, Te’o is a terrific defender who projects well as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 two-gap scheme. His weaknesses were exploited against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, and it’s apparent that Te’o needs a system in which he won’t be asked to take on blocks from a lot of offensive linemen on a regular basis.
Ray Lewis is retiring and Dannell Ellerbe will be a free agent this offseason. Baltimore needs to address the inside linebacker position this offseason, and Te’o is one of the best available to fill the need.