There are still several weeks before the 2013 NFL draft gets underway, but with the combine now in the books, it's a little bit clearer as to where this year's top prospects will land.
Some physical specimens were so impressive in Indianapolis that they vaulted themselves into the first-round conversation. There are also several other sleepers who aren't being as prominently discussed after the spectacle at Lucas Oil Stadium despite being worthy of a Round 1 selection.
Here is a mock of the entire first round, with a special emphasis on the studly players this class has to offer (marked in italics) as well as some who may not appear on other top-32 big boards (underlined).
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It will likely be between Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher for the No. 1 overall pick, but considering Joeckel's superior run-blocking skills, he should get the nod. The three-year starter for the Aggies was the anchor of an outstanding unit, and protected the blind side of star QB Johnny Manziel.
In light of the recent agreement to trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, this seems like a no-brainer pick for the new Kansas City regime. Smith was sacked frequently for the Niners, and could use some more security.
Joeckel will allow RB Jamaal Charles to utilize his excellent speed on the outside more frequently, and also make the Chiefs more dangerous offensively when throwing screens.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
After running a 4.92 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the former Gator standout has emerged as the top defensive tackle. With the versatility to line up inside or on the edge, the Jags will happily snag the best player on the board.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Not to belabor the already over-analyzed 40-yard dash this early on, but Smith's time of 4.59 was quicker than expected. Considering the success of athletic and cerebral quarterbacks in the NFL recently, it seems that Smith is destined to shine.
Accuracy and arm strength aren't really concerns for the Mountaineers star. However, the spread scheme, talented supporting cast and wide throwing lanes he had as luxuries in Morgantown do raise some concerns.
As AFC West ESPN blogger Bill Williamson noted, the Raiders are reportedly interested in Smith at No. 3 overall, according to a Chris Mortensen source with knowledge of the situation. The hefty 2013 salary of Carson Palmer and the uncertainty surrounding Terrelle Pryor's ability to lead a franchise make Smith a logical choice here.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The spinal stenosis red flag will continue to be raised, yet it wasn't an issue for Jones throughout his outstanding collegiate career in Athens.
Speculation is rampant that new head coach Chip Kelly will bring Dion Jordan (h/t Philadelphia Inquirer), who played for Kelly previously at the University of Oregon. While Jordan does have a lot of upside, he needs to put on more size and time to develop.
As far as NFL-ready linebackers go, there aren't many as polished as Jones. He is a terrorizing pass-rusher, has the range to defend the run very well and can also drop back into coverage. That skill set has him atop the latest big board (subscription required) provided by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Jones received a lot of good news from doctors at the combine about his condition. As long as he can convince teams he's healthy, selecting Jones this high is easy.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
A strong showing at the combine, despite needing shoulder surgery later this month, should allow Milliner to retain his consensus No. 1 cornerback label. With such outstanding instincts and coming from Nick Saban's Crimson Tide NFL-laden program, the Lions will be thrilled to have Milliner help out their extremely questionable secondary.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will be running an attacking 3-4 scheme, and the Browns need some personnel adjustments to make it work. Jordan projects as a promising outside linebacker in that outfit, and should develop into a formidable pass-rusher off the edge.
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California
B/R's draft expert Matt Miller has the inside scoop on the record-setting Trojans passer:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Text I received from a scout this morning: Matt Barkley will not get past the Arizona #Cardinals at No. 7 overall.2/24/2013, 2:56:31 PM
Barkley's arm strength may not be elite, and he did have somewhat of a down senior season at USC in terms of decision-making. But that was more due to shoddy protection and the need to press with the Trojan defense allowing so many points per game.
An injury to his throwing shoulder prevented Barkley from playing against Notre Dame and in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech. The poor performance by Max Wittek in the finale at least drove some doubts into detractors who feel Barkley's production was more of a result of his loaded supporting cast.
Given the recent history of USC quarterbacks not quite cutting it in the pros—Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Mark Sanchez—the odds don't appear to be in Barkley's favor.
Apparently the Cardinals see something, though. New head coach Bruce Arians has mentored the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. With a slew of playmakers headlined by Larry Fitzgerald at his disposal, a move to the desert would be nice for Barkley.
Well, assuming the Cardinals can enhance the offensive line significantly to combat the tough, physical defenses of the NFC West.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
If Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the QB due to the heavy long-term investment in him, he needs all the help he can get. The Bills need a receiver opposite Stevie Johnson, and Patterson is a 6'2", 216-pound deep threat who will start immediately.
9. New York Jets (6-10): Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Louisiana State
He is definitely a raw prospect, but Mingo has too much upside for the Jets to pass on. Especially with cuts to veterans Calvin Pace and Bart Scott, linebacker has become a position of need. It would be interesting and very exciting to see how Mingo would fit into the Jets' exotic 3-4 look.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
A heart condition may cause Lotulelei to drop a bit, but he was the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect before that development. The Titans desperately need help on defense, and Lotulelei should command a double-team to open up opportunities for others.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The selection of Barkley at No. 7 forces Fisher to tumble to the Chargers. QB Philip Rivers has been the victim of poor pass protection recently, and that has forced an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers. Fisher will give him much-needed security as an instant starter at left tackle.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
For his 6'3" and 315-pound size, Williams is extremely quick and agile just after the snap. That explosiveness should help the Dolphins build depth on the defensive line, and Williams is a solid bet to see significant time in the rotation, despite Miami using its franchise tag on Randy Starks, according to CBS' Jason La Canfora.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Vaccaro is easily the best safety in the 2013 class, and the Bucs had the worst pass defense this past season. Ronde Barber won't last at safety forever, and he may be better suited to move back to corner considering the lack of other dependable DBs in the current platoon.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9): Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
He hasn't gotten as much press as his Volunteer teammate Patterson, but Hunter deserves it after what he did in Indianapolis. As documented by Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. (subscription required), Hunter's numbers were rather comparable to Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones.
Hunter posted a nearly identical 40 time (4.44 to 4.42 for Jones), was an inch better than Jones in the vertical jump (39.4) and had the same result in the broad jump (11-foot-9). All that translates into the ability to open up and run during routes, the explosiveness to high-point the ball in one-on-one matchups, and the flexibility and body control to make contested catches down the field.
Ironically, Hunter's hands are a perceived liability, according to his NFL.com draft profile. Very similar chatter surrounded Jones ahead of the combine, and neither receiver seemed fazed by it in the presence of scouts.
There is still room for Hunter to put on some muscle to better fill out his 6'4", 196-pound frame, too. Not many mocks have the Panthers choosing a receiver even though Steve Smith is nearing the end of his career and the only other legitimate target is Brandon LaFell.
Cam Newton is under a lot of pressure to succeed and make the postseason in Year 3, and that consternation would be alleviated greatly with another weapon such as Hunter at his disposal.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
There are doubts as to whether Ansah can stand up as a 3-4 linebacker at the next level. Regardless, he is one of the best athletes in the draft, and has experience in the scheme as a member of the Cougars. The Saints had such an awful defense in 2012, and Ansah is worth the risk.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1): Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
This is shockingly high to draft a running back, especially in today's NFL with so much volatility at the position.
Lacy is a dream fit into Brian Schottenheimer's offense, though, and with Steven Jackson reportedly expected to opt out of the final year of his contract (according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jim Thomas), the Rams need a powerful back between the tackles.
Head coach Jeff Fisher recently said that either Daryl Richardson or Isaiah Pead could be every-down backs, as reported by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Both weigh under 200 pounds and haven't shouldered a full workload before, so that sounds a bit too optimistic.
Richardson is underrated and shares the last name of Lacy's prolific Alabama predecessor, Trent Richardson. It's doubtful that he can be the every-down back, though. Lacy is a hefty 231 pounds and would allow Richardson and Pead to be valuable change-of-pace options.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
A disappointing absence from the postseason exposed the persistent need for help on the offensive line. Although the Steelers took David DeCastro in the first round in 2012, it wasn't enough. Warmack is the best guard ESPN's Todd McShay has ever evaluated, and Pittsburgh should take him.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Imagine a 6'8", 277-pound athlete going to America's team—and the ramifications if Hunt blows up into a huge star.
The Eastern Block was simply superb at the combine, putting up 38 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, running a 4.6 40-yard dash and becoming the talk of the town, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.
With the type of skills that Hunt has, he could become the talk of the NFL sooner rather than later. Jerry Jones loves to roll the dice, and this would be the biggest possible splash to make in the middle of Round 1.
According to NFL agent Jordan Woy, the Cowboys will use the franchise tag on defensive end Anthony Spencer. But that doesn't mean Hunt isn't a good fit.
Hunt may be among the rawer first-round hopefuls, but his strength alone should allow him to be a force against the run immediately. After Hunt's outstanding performance in SMU's Hawaii Bowl victory over Fresno State, head coach June Jones reflected back on when Hunt first started out for the Mustangs (h/t DallasNews.com):
It's not hard for me to see a world-class athlete who can run like that, has strength like that, has an arm length like that...The first scrimmage we had ... the only thing I didn't know was if he was going to be tough enough. The first play we ran a trap and hit him real hard, and he wanted to fight. I said, "OK, we may have a player here."
It's ironic that such a report was logged by a Dallas news outlet, because the Cowboys may very well find that Hunt is indeed a player.
19. New York Giants (9-7): Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The typically fantastic Giants pass rush struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks in 2012. Werner is one of the most highly regarded prospects, and the G-Men will be thrilled with the value they'll get if Werner falls to them at this juncture.
20. Chicago Bears (10-6): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The chain reaction of the Matt Barkley-to-Arizona scenario continues, with Johnson falling all the way down to No. 20. Jay Cutler has been brutally battered for the Bears, and Johnson will provide much-needed fortification for Chicago's franchise signal-caller.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Once considered a surefire top-five pick, scouts are continuing to shy away from Moore after an underwhelming combine. But Moore should do well as a 4-3 defensive end, and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is one of the best in the business.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
To provide more running room for whoever carries the ball for the Rams in 2013, St. Louis gets great bang for the buck at No. 22 with Cooper. The athletic guard gets to the next level with ease and should be an instant starter in the trenches for what promises to be a physical rushing attack.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Keenan Allen, WR, California
A big, physical target is essential for the Vikings to have more diversity on offense. Percy Harvin will likely remain the with the team, but we've seen much crazier things happen in the NFL. This makes it all the more important for the Vikings to find a suitable long-term replacement, and Allen should be the pick here despite a nagging knee injury that prevented him from participating in the combine.
24. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
GM Ryan Grigson could go a variety of different ways, and can't really make a wrong decision based on the depth of this class. That said, Rhodes lived up to the hype at the combine and has the size and smarts to justify this pick. He and Vontae Davis would form a strong corner tandem for years to come.
25. Seattle Seahawks (11-5): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Seahawks have one of the most intriguing defensive fronts in the league. It's a combination of massive size and incredible athleticism, and that's exactly what Richardson brings to the table. He could even line up on the outside with sack master Chris Clemons recovering from a torn ACL.
26. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Character concerns loom due to a recent DUI and a four-game suspension, but Ogletree is among the most talented players in this draft. The Packers could use a rangy linebacker on the inside, especially with the potential departure of underrated free agent Brad Jones.
27. Houston Texans (12-4): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
If the electric Austin is still on the board at this point, it might be somewhat of a surprise. The Texans desperately need a playmaker outside of Andre Johnson and their stellar tight ends. Austin is incredibly explosive, and gives Gary Kubiak even more room for creativity in his play-calling.
28. Denver Broncos (13-3): Matt Elam, S, Florida
Few safeties pack as much power into a hit as Elam does. After the Rahim Moore debacle in the AFC divisional playoffs, the Broncos need some help on the back end. Elam is a ball hawk who is also capable of stepping up against the run, and prospective teammate Mike Adams has the versatility to fill either safety position.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
It wasn't the combine that Banks was hoping for, particularly with respect to his straight-line speed. But that doesn't matter, because Banks matched up with the best in the SEC in college, and his 6'2" size and aggressive press coverage will translate well to the next level with a bit of added strength.
30. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
In desperate need of a pass-rusher due to the aging of veteran John Abraham and no other truly viable options on the roster, GM Thomas Dimitroff goes with Jones. The former Bruin has a relentless motor and has the capability to play right away on a team that is so close to a Super Bowl trip.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Niners' secondary was surprisingly lackluster down the stretch last season. Especially with the possible departure of Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson, the defensive backfield becomes a priority for San Francisco. Trufant's stock continues to rise, and he should find himself off the board at this point or even earlier.
32. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Kevin Minter, ILB, Louisiana State
Minter thrived in his only year as a starter for the Tigers. His most stunning display came in a 14-6 loss to Florida, where he racked up 17 solo tackles and two sacks. Minter's playmaking ability is indubitable, and the Ravens need a replacement for the retiring legend Ray Lewis.
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