The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine has generated plenty of excitement, but the work only continues for the teams and players looking to create waves in the first round.
For the players, they already had their first opportunity to make a real impression. The combine, though vastly overrated in its predictive skills, still has the ability to create more pre-draft buzz than every other event combined. Tavon Austin was a borderline first-rounder before heading to Indianapolis and walked away as the guy who considers himself the best player in the entire draft.
The pre-draft phase may not ultimately alter our perception of these prospects, but it does provide an opportunity to see where teams' heads are prior to April's festivities. And as the draft continues to draw nearer, projection features like mock drafts become far less a shaking of the human snow globe and more educated guesses based on what we know.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the entire first round, highlighting a few players of note along the way. These players are shown in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Recent history screams quarterback at this spot, but it's becoming abundantly clear that none of this year's top prospects is worthy of the No. 1 pick. Geno Smith is a first-round prospect, but with so many potential Pro Bowlers on the offensive and defensive lines in this class, it's impossible to justify taking the West Virginia quarterback.
I have Luke Joeckel as the top player on the board, and he plays a need position (left tackle) with Branden Albert likely leaving via free agency. Joeckel is an all-around menace, equally top-shelf against the run and pass, which puts him in the rarefied air of being worthy of the top pick as an offensive lineman.
It's no guarantee or anything, but perhaps it should be. Joeckel is a star in the making and should be able to start Week 1 for Kansas City.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Whoever the Jaguars have as their top defensive lineman on the board—whether it's Moore, Star Lotulelei or Bjoern Werner—will go off the board in this spot.
Moore sticks here because he's the best pass-rusher of the three. Jacksonville was dead last in the NFL last season with 20 total sacks as a team, which was five less than any other team. The pass rush has been a problem for what feels like a decade, and Jason Babin isn't going to solve that problem long-term.
Moore has a few hitches in his game, but he's explosive off the ball and has one of the best motors in this class.
3. Oakland Raiders: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
With Richard Seymour likely departing, the Raiders will desperately be looking to replace his versatility on the defensive line. Though Werner isn't a perfect prospect, he can essentially be plugged in anywhere across the defensive line and excel. He's arguably the strongest player at his position, breaks off the ball quickly and essentially does just about everything Oakland needs on the line.
Lotulelei is an option here and could theoretically play anywhere as well. But Werner is a better schematic fit here.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Eagles will face a classic "needs versus value" situation if Joeckel is taken before No. 4. They have a gaping hole at the left tackle spot, but Eric Fisher would be a pretty big reach anywhere inside the top 10.
Lotulelei could help in the Eagles' shift to a 3-4 defense, but adding a defensive tackle is far less of a priority in the early rounds.
But barring a trade back, the value is too much to pass on here. Lotulelei is considered by some to be the best player in the draft, a mammoth tackle who combines elite strength with top-end quickness for his position, and may wind up proving that forecast correct.
However, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Lotulelei has a heart condition, and this is certainly something the Eagles and other teams will monitor.
There are other pressing needs in Philadelphia, but reaching to fill one of those would be a fool's errand.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Lions are far too talented to be picking this high, but they'll get to reap the rewards of their putrid 2012 season by filling their biggest need position. Milliner is easily the best cornerback in his class, a polished man-to-man maverick who can stay stride-for-stride with most top receivers, and he's been coached by (arguably) the best college head man in the land.
There is a reason many have had Milliner penciled in here for months. It's the very definition of a no-brainer.
6. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
The Browns have needed an elite pass-rusher for the better part of a decade, and Jones has all the makings of a future Pro Bowler. He will fit in perfectly as the Browns shift more toward a 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Ray Horton and could win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award simply as a pass-rushing specialist.
Run defending may never be his forte, but it won't have to be early in his career for him to be effective.
The main concern surrounding Jones is his health, specifically his stenosis. But as Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reported, he received a "good medical report" at the combine, which is great news for both Jones and Cleveland.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
If Smith somehow sticks on the board until the Cardinals' selection, the West Virginia signal-caller will be making history—and not in a good way. The last time a quarterback was not taken inside the top five picks was 2000, where Chad Pennington went No. 18 and another player wasn't taken at the position until the third round.
As the consensus top quarterback in this year's draft, that could give Smith some hope. Perhaps a team will fall in love with him enough to move up a few spots to land him before No. 7 after his strong combine.
But if Arizona somehow sits back and winds up with Smith, the organization will be giddy. He and Bruce Arians aren't the best fit in the world schematically, but the new Cardinals head coach would likely sooner throw himself off the team bus than see John Skelton or Ryan Lindley take a snap in 2013.
The jury is still out on Smith as a first-round prospect. It's just times like these where the Cardinals have to throw caution to the wind and hope Smith pans out.
8. Buffalo Bills: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Let's subtract the off-the-field stuff for a second and actually evaluate Te'o as a player. He became the first solely defensive player to ever finish in second place in the Heisman trophy balloting, was the leader on an undefeated Notre Dame team and was one of the surest tacklers in recent college football history.
So he had an off game and some weird off-the-field stuff happened. Are we really ready to allow his stock to devolve to the point some have, where they're even questioning his first-round viability?
NFL teams may. I just cannot allow him to fall past No. 8 here, especially with the Bills having arguably the worst linebacking corps in the entire league.
Who is the top WR in this year's draft?
9. New York Jets: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Let's not mince words here. The Jets have by far the worst collection of offensive talent in the league. It isn't even close. Patterson is a question mark after spending just one year at Tennessee, but he would walk into the huddle Week 1 as New York's most talented skill-position player.
If the Jets go anywhere else with this pick if Patterson is still on the board, someone needs to be fired.
10. Tennessee Titans: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Based on pure potential, Mingo could wind up being a top-five pick by the time April rolls around. He's possibly the most athletically gifted defensive end in this class, has the ability to play some outside linebacker and was the best player on a top-shelf LSU defense last season.
In other words, Mingo is exactly the type of player the Titans need. Though the Saints get loads of grief for their porous defense, Tennessee was not that much better. Mike Munchak's squad was a bottom-10 unit against both the run and pass and finished 27th in total defense.
Some will push for a safer pick here, but Mingo is too talented to drop out of the top 10.
11. San Diego Chargers: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Ever since the draft process started, Fisher has been on a slow rise up the ranks. It started with Michigan tackle and expected top-10 pick Taylor Lewan deciding to stick around Ann Arbor for another season and has continued with Fisher's own impressive workouts.
He told reporters at the combine his goal was to be the top tackle taken in April. That likely won't happen, but his ascent has been great enough to make him arguably the biggest riser since the college football season ended.
Now Philip Rivers will have to hope that Fisher becomes worth the hype.
12. Miami Dolphins: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Last offseason, the Dolphins traded their best receiver (Brandon Marshall) for pittance and then proceeded to draft their new franchise quarterback. Here is where you insert any "you're doing it wrong" meme you see fit. It didn't make sense then, and the move looked even more inexplicable when Marshall became an All-Pro last season.
Justin Hunter won't make up for giving Marshall away, but he's a good start. He was more productive in college than his teammate Patterson and was a touchdown-grabbing machine in Knoxville.
After Miami struggled so heavily down in the red zone last season, it would be inexplicable for the team to pass on Hunter.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Greg Schiano could go one of about a billion ways here, but Montgomery is the best choice for hitting as many needs as possible. The Bucs need a right defensive end to pair with Michael Bennett, and Montgomery's all-around prowess could be of huge benefit. Cornerback is a more pressing need, but it's also one that may be better off being fixed through free agency or later rounds than anyone left on the board here.
14. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Receiver would be a distinct possibility here if someone like Patterson was still on the board, but in this scenario Hankins becomes Carolina's only viable option. The Panthers need help for linebacker Luke Kuechly to better defend the running game, and Hankins occupies blockers as well as anyone in this class.
He won't help out much in the pass rush, but Carolina doesn't need him to. There are a couple other more versatile defensive tackles who could get a look here, including Florida's Sharrif Floyd and North Carolina's Sylvester Williams. Nonetheless, Hankins does what Carolina needs the most better than anyone else available.
15. New Orleans Saints: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
The Saints defense was so bad toward the end of last season they may as well have been holding open auditions for starting spots. Jordan won't fix those cavernous woes overnight, but he's a versatile playmaker who can shift positions depending on the set and excel off the edges.
Assuming he bulks up a bit before the season, there is little reason to think Jordan wouldn't be an opening-week starter for New Orleans. He showed off his athleticism at the combine, making him a name to monitor leading up to the draft.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
If there was a player as complete as Warmack at just about any other position (save for center and the kicking spots), he would go first and there wouldn't really be a question about it. Warmack has been at or near the top player of my board since midseason and there aren't many scenarios in which he won't become an instant starter in the NFL.
He just happens to play a non-premium position that almost always goes overlooked in Round 1 on draft day. That he's even getting looks early in the first round is impressive, especially considering David DeCastro, an equally impressive guard, lasted all the way to pick No. 24 last season.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ezekiel Ansah DE/OLB, BYU
Once the most vaunted pass-rushing unit in the league, the Steelers' linebacking corps has slowly been on a downslope for the past couple seasons. Pittsburgh produced just 37 sacks last season, tied for 15th in the league, and looked noticeably slow in a few spots.
Though he's one of the rawest prospects in this class, Ansah certainly isn't slow, plodding or any other non-athletic adjective in the dictionary. He's an athletic marvel, a guy who would instantly help the Steelers' edge-rushing skills and would be yet another project for defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau.
Pittsburgh could go with a more complete player to guarantee an instant impact, but Ansah's potential is just too great to pass up.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
The Cowboys are always one of the most interesting teams to watch on draft day. They almost never draft specifically to need, and when they are targeting a particular position, Jerry Jones won't hesitate to make a move.
In this scenario, Williams fits a need and is one of the best players remaining on the board. He's an all-around solid defensive tackle who doesn't especially leap out in any particular facet, yet doesn't have any gaping deficiencies either.
19. New York Giants: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Best player available has always been the motto in New York. It's the strategy that got the team Jason Pierre-Paul when defensive end was the last thing on the Giants' needs list, and there weren't many clamoring for Ahmad Bradshaw's departure when they drafted David Wilson last season.
The problem is that BPA drafting can oftentimes leave some holes on the roster, as it did with New York's secondary last season. Banks isn't a perfect prospect and grades out as a late first-rounder. But cornerback is a premium position and the Giants were so deficient at that spot last season they really have no choice here.
20. Chicago Bears: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Just mark the Bears down for "best offensive tackle available" at this spot. Anything else would be a borderline hate crime on Jay Cutler.
At the combine, Johnson ran the 40-yard dash in a blistering time of 4.72 seconds. He also displayed impressive athleticism in other workouts. Considering his ideal frame for the tackle spot, Chicago will be happy with this pick.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Ogletree has enough red flags to set off a stampede of angry bulls, but he's also an abundantly talented and versatile linebacker. He can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 set, shifting from the inside to the outside without missing a beat.
More importantly for the Bengals, Ogletree could help them shift away from Rey Maualuga, whose play took a noticeable dip in 2012.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Armed with two first-round picks, don't be surprised if the Rams are mentioned as a team that could trade ahead of the Jets for Patterson. The passing attack struggled whenever Danny Amendola left the lineup last season, and Sam Bradford has been gifted a weak group of receivers during his career.
If St. Louis decides to keep both picks, then Allen is probably the team's best option at No. 22. He's not the potential superstar that Patterson is, but doesn't have nearly the bust potential either. With an elite blocker in Warmack already in place with their first pick, the Rams could address both of their biggest needs in Round 1.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
If the Vikings are definitely bringing Percy Harvin back next season, then they would probably pass on Austin in this scenario. They need receiving help desperately, but the overlap between Harvin and Austin's skill set would create redundancy problems.
But until we know for sure the malcontent star is coming back, Austin stays here. After posting an official 40-time of 4.34 seconds at the combine, he would be an ideal replacement for Harvin, and Minnesota can ill-afford to see a full season of Christian Ponder playing like he did once the former Florida product left the lineup.
24. Indianapolis Colts: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
The Colts' decision in this spot would probably come down to Jenkins and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. While Floyd is certainly the more versatile of the two tackles, Jenkins wins out here because of his elite strength and ability to plug the run gaps.
Indianapolis' run defense had more holes than an unkempt city street last season, and the sheer size of Jenkins alone could help shield weaknesses at other positions.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Seahawks are a team that loves pounding on value, and Floyd is the best player left on the board. They would likely rather add a run-stopping defensive end, but Floyd may be able to play there in a pinch to keep Bruce Irvin off the field in those situations.
Floyd's official time of 4.92 seconds int he 40-yard dash will be enticing, especially considering his size at 6'3" and 303 pounds.
26. Green Bay Packers: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
It was readily apparent all season long that the Packers did not do enough to improve their offensive line prior to the 2012 season. Aaron Rodgers was hit way too often for someone with his quick release in the pocket, and Green Bay's offense checked down more as a result.
That being said, the value just isn't here. Dallas Thomas or D.J. Fluker are both fringe first-round prospects, but neither projects as a left tackle or excels in pass-blocking. Taking either one would essentially be the Packers telling Rodgers, "Hey, we tried" without actually doing anything.
On the other hand, Lacy could finally represent a shift away from the revolving faces Green Bay has used at the running back spot. DuJuan Harris was fine down the stretch last season and deserves to be on an NFL roster, but if he's starting for your team, you're up a creek without a paddle.
Lacy is the best pure running back in this class. He's powerful enough to drive through NFL-level talent and showed at the combine he has underrated speed and ability.
27. Houston Texans: Robert Woods, WR, USC
A year ago, the Texans would have felt lucky to land Woods at this juncture in the draft. One frustrating junior season later, where Woods became a secondary target to Marqise Lee, and the former Trojan is barely hanging on to a first-round grade.
The ceiling for Woods is a question. He only incrementally improved as a route-runner and still drops too many passes. Houston makes this pick out of necessity more than any belief Woods will become a Pro Bowler someday.
28. Denver Broncos: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
While many have anointed Lacy as this draft's top overall running back, my board still has Bernard as the No. 1 guy. He's easily the best pass-catching runner in this entire class, having caught 92 passes over the past two seasons, and averaged a pretty healthy 6.7 yards per carry in 2012.
The Broncos also have a pretty glaring need at the running back spot. They relied far too heavily on the human embodiment of replacement-level, Knowshon Moreno, down the stretch and looked lost when he went down against Baltimore.
Peyton Manning won't have that problem come the 2014 postseason if Bernard is still on the board here.
29. New England Patriots: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Patriots would love for one of the top receivers, particularly Austin, to fall to this spot. Both Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are both questionable to return next season, and Bill Belichick has always been hesitant to make big splashes in free agency.
With all the top guys off the board here, though, the Patriots will have to "settle" for Vaccaro in this spot. It just so happens the former Texas product is the best player at a glaring need position for New England as well.
Funny how that works.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
With Tony Gonzalez almost certainly coming back for at least one more season, the need to draft his heir apparent dies significantly. The Falcons have other needs they could address and they would love it if Vaccaro somehow dropped down to their selection.
He's off the board in this scenario, which leaves Atlanta the decision between reaching for a guy at a need position or drafting a luxury (Ertz). The Falcons' jaw-dropping trade for Julio Jones should tell you all you need to know about which way they would lean.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
There aren't many deficiencies to be found for the NFC champions. Colin Kaepernick has turned Michael Crabtree into one of the NFL's best receivers, and while the 49ers could use another downfield threat, they aren't about to waste another first-rounder on A.J. Jenkins 2.0.
Richardson isn't a shoo-in to become an NFL starter. But he fits one of San Francisco's few needs and will have time to develop as Justin Smith continues to show up as a regular fixture in offensive linemen's nightmares.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
The saying goes you can never replace a Ray Lewis...until you draft a player talented enough to step into his spot Week 1. If he's available at this spot, Minter should be that guy.