For some of the top college talent, a first-round selection is less than two months away. With the college all-star games and NFL Scouting Combine already in the books, the NFL draft picture is quickly taking shape.
The combine was a strong indicator of the rising and falling draft stock of some big names. While numbers and drills don’t necessarily indicate a lack of projected talent, it’s hard to ignore some of the combine’s worst performances.
Damontre Moore, Manti Te’o and Zach Ertz were but a few big names who failed to impress at the event, and their draft positioning will likely suffer as a result.
On the other hand, players like Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah and Dee Milliner turned in superb workouts, and it’s hard to imagine any of the three failing to fly up the draft board in April.
Let’s take a look at how the first round might shake out, highlighting some of college football’s brightest stars along the way. We’ll also give you detailed analysis, including a spotlight on the top 10 players available in this year’s draft class.
*Ten players in italics are writer’s 10 best overall prospects. Each of the 10 is ranked in parentheses following his college.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (1)
Joeckel’s position as the No. 1 player on my draft board gets stronger each time I go back and watch him play. He has the talent to make a lot of Pro Bowls.
Quick feet, strong hands and a solid anchor are the marks of a good left tackle, and Joeckel has all of that and more. The opportunity to lock down a Joe Thomas- or Matt Kalil-type tackle doesn’t come around often, and the Chiefs need to take advantage.
With Alex Smith reportedly going to Kansas City via trade, there’s no reason for the Chiefs to reach for a quarterback with this pick. Andy Reid can afford to draft the best player on his board, and there’s a very good chance that is Joeckel.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (9)
While general manager Dave Caldwell is in a position to draft best available player, he still has to ensure the Jaguars get a player who fills a need and can start immediately.
Werner is one of the best all-around defensive ends in this class. He doesn’t impress in any one particular area, but he has the size, quickness and awareness to thrive at the defensive end position in a 4-3.
Jacksonville’s pass rush was atrocious in 2012, tallying just 20 sacks the entire season. Adding a pass-rusher should be the team’s top priority with the second pick.
3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
With Alex Smith going to Kansas City, there’s virtually no chance the Chiefs select a quarterback with the first pick. The only thing the Raiders have to worry about is another team trading ahead of them to select Geno Smith.
Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller reported during the Senior Bowl that Oakland was showing strong interest in Smith, as both he and Aaron Nagler point out here:
Miller was the first to report it, and the idea seems to be gaining steam. While I don’t think it’s the right option for the Raiders here, it does make sense that they would consider moving forward with a new quarterback.
Carson Palmer is nearing the end of his career and Terrelle Pryor wasn’t given much of a chance to shine last season. If the quarterback carousel is about to start spinning, it will be Smith who starts moving it.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon (10)
Jordan’s impressive showing at the combine strengthened what we already knew about him: He’s a terrific athlete with massive upside.
At 6’6” and 248 pounds, Jordan has the length to play either outside linebacker or defensive end. He has experience playing both positions, as well as lining up in the slot over tight ends and wide receivers.
Jordan's athleticism is his greatest asset, and there should be a huge percentage of teams considering him at the top of the first round. Ezekiel Ansah and Barkevious Mingo may have a higher ceiling, but Jordan is the more pro-ready prospect, and the Eagles need an immediate game-changer on the defensive side of the ball.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Detroit (5)
The Lions could go any number of ways with this pick. They need an offensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker (or two), but cornerback is a huge concern as well.
Milliner’s biggest weakness is his marginal ball skills, but he proved his speed at the combine. He’s already one of the top players in the draft class, and there’s little chance he falls out of the top 10 at this point.
While Milliner needs to work on high-pointing the ball and actually coming down with it, a cornerback’s job isn’t just racking up a lot of interceptions. He is a playmaker, regardless of his interception numbers. The Lions certainly need that at the cornerback position.
6. Cleveland Browns: Ezekiel Ansah, OLB, BYU
I’m torn with this pick, but it makes some sense. Ansah is such a raw player, but his upside is tremendous.
Ansah was outstanding in Indianapolis, and his workout numbers proved how terrific an athlete he is. Teams looking for a pass-rusher with a high ceiling will be fawning over him in the coming weeks.
At his size (6’5”, 271 lbs) and with very little experience playing football, I have a hard time envisioning him being an immediate starter at weak-side outside linebacker, which is where the Browns would likely have to play him with Jabaal Sheard transitioning to linebacker in Cleveland’s new 3-4 front.
Still, Ray Horton will employ a lot of hybrid looks (as most teams do), and Ansah will garner some immediate playing time as an edge-rusher and situational linebacker. He isn’t the type of immediate three-down starter the Browns would probably like here, but he has the potential to be an Aldon Smith-type pass-rusher in the near future.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Arizona’s pass-protection unit was one of the worst in the league in 2012, and it needs to get better in a hurry. Fisher will be an immediate upgrade at the left tackle position.
With a strong showing at the combine, Fisher has cemented his place as this year’s No. 2 offensive tackle. He has all the physical tools to be a terrific blindside protector in the NFL.
Arizona may also consider a quarterback with this pick, but the value doesn’t really line up. It doesn’t matter whom the Cardinals put under center in 2013 if they can’t patch up one of the league’s worst offensive lines this offseason.
8. Buffalo Bills: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (4)
I haven’t considered a wide receiver to the Bills for very long, but Patterson just makes too much sense here.
New head coach Doug Marrone will be looking for a quarterback this offseason, but the value doesn’t match the selection. There isn’t a signal-caller worthy of a high selection with Geno Smith already off the board.
Patterson has the potential to be a game-changer at the next level. He still needs work on his route-running abilities, but that’s often the case with college receivers. He has all the physical tools to be a premier receiver in the NFL.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The Jets need a pass-rusher as badly as they need a new quarterback, but like the Bills, New York can’t afford to reach for a signal-caller here.
Mingo is the best pass-rusher still on the board, and while he is still raw in a lot of areas, his upside as a pass-rusher is terrific.
With the various looks the Jets employ on defense, there will certainly be a position for Mingo in his rookie year. He may not put up huge numbers in 2013, but there’s reason to believe he can be an elite edge-rusher and quality outside linebacker when it’s all said and done.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (7)
Chance Warmack may be an option here for the Titans, who need to shore up an interior offensive line that has been far too inconsistent in its pass-blocking in recent years.
However, Lotulelei is one of the best defenders in this class, and provided his health concerns don’t prove to be a major issue, he still has a chance to be selected in the top 10.
Lotulelei was unable to perform at the combine due to issues with his heart. Bleacher Report’s Dave Siebert did an extensive report on the condition, and the next few weeks should tell us a lot more about the cause and potential effects of it on his playing career.
As it stands, it’s hard to project Lotulelei’s landing spot. If his health checks out, the Titans get a huge steal at No. 10.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers are still looking for a replacement for Marcus McNeill at left tackle. Jared Gaithers didn’t work out, and they need to consider selecting a quality left tackle in this year’s draft.
A former quarterback, tight end and defensive end, Johnson has the athleticism and quick feet to be an excellent pass-protector in the NFL. He’ll need to bulk up and work on his technique, but San Diego needs to take advantage of the potential he offers.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
With Dee Milliner and Cordarrelle Patterson already off the board, the Dolphins will have to go in another direction.
Miami needs to address the receiver and cornerback positions, and Rhodes offers the best value here. He isn’t an elite prospect, but Rhodes has the length, speed and physicality to be a terrific pass-defender at the NFL level. Miami can wait to address the receiver position in later rounds.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (6)
The Buccaneers may look for a way to trade above Miami to select Rhodes, but it’s nearly impossible to project those kinds of moves this far from draft day. As it stands, Vaccaro is the best option here.
Vaccaro has all the tools to be a versatile and effective defender in the NFL. He can play both safety positions and in a nickel cornerback role as well. With Mark Barron already holding down the back end of the defense, Vaccaro could make Tampa Bay’s safety duo one of the best in the league.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (8)
Floyd has the size, strength and quickness to be an exceptional NFL defensive tackle, especially in a 4-3 front.
Carolina really needs to address its interior defensive line. While Floyd isn’t the kind of space-eater who will plug up gaps on a regular basis, he is the kind of one-gap tackle who can shoot gaps and be a disruptive force in the backfield.
Pass-rushing defensive tackles are rare, especially at Floyd’s size. The Panthers can’t afford to pass on him if he falls to No. 14.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (3)
It’s unfortunate that Jones’s medical issues may stand in the way of being a top pick. He has immense talent, and several teams are in need of his pass-rushing abilities—New Orleans included.
If Jones falls to No. 15, it’s hard to envision to Saints passing on him, regardless of his health issues. Jones isn’t just a pass-rusher; he’s one of the best all-around linebackers in this draft class.
New Orleans is thin at the outside linebacker position, especially after deciding to transition to a 3-4 this season. If Jones isn’t the pick here, expect it to still be a linebacker.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (2)
The Rams have more pressing needs than at the guard position, but Warmack is too good to pass on in the middle of the first round.
Warmack is a mauler, and with his size, quickness and good footwork, it’s hard to imagine him falling much further in the draft, even at a position that isn’t highly valued in the first round.
St. Louis has addressed the defensive side of the ball regularly in recent years, and this year should be more about protecting Sam Bradford and adding weapons in the passing game. With Patterson and the top left tackles already off the board, Warmack is the best option.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Steelers will be undergoing an overhaul this offseason. After an 8-8 record last season, big changes are sure to take place in Pittsburgh.
Richardson has the size to play almost anywhere on the defensive line, but his biggest asset is his quickness. I don’t see Richardson playing nose tackle in the Steelers’ 3-4 front, but he could be an excellent option at either defensive end position as a five-technique defender.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Moore’s combine performance will likely necessitate a slide down some draft boards. If he can’t do better at his pro day, this is the range he’ll likely be selected.
If Moore does fall to the Cowboys, they shouldn’t have to think too hard about their decision. While Moore didn’t impress anyone in workouts, the film doesn’t lie. He’s still a very good football player.
Dallas needs to start looking for pieces to make the transition to a Tampa-2 (4-3) a little easier. Weak-side defensive end will be a big hole to fill with Anthony Spencer set to hit the open market in free agency, and Moore would be a good option to fill the void.
19. New York Giants: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
With Osi Umenyiora likely departing in free agency, the Giants need to find a replacement at defensive end opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. Justin Tuck has been largely ineffective, meaning defensive end should be a priority in the first couple rounds.
Okafor isn’t a big name, but he’s easily one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in this class. New York loves to slide their ends inside in passing situations, and Okafor did a lot of that at Texas.
20. Chicago Bears: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
This pick should come down to three players: Fluker, Jonathan Cooper and Menelik Watson. While left tackle is the most valuable of the positions Chicago needs to address, Fluker is the best option.
The Bears did a terrible job protecting Jay Cutler from all over the offensive line. While a little stiff and lumbering, Fluker has the footwork to be a good pass-protector from the right side of the line. He’s also one of the best run-blockers in this draft class.
Chicago could go any number of ways with this pick, but they should all include an offensive lineman. Fluker looks like the best candidate.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Ogletree’s recent DUI arrest will likely cause him to slide down the draft board in April. He has the talent to be a top-10 selection, but teams are often wary of investing in a player who has a history of off-field transgressions.
Still, Rey Maualuga may not be with the team in 2013, and the Bengals need to find a player who can replace him. Ogletree is the best available.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Safety could also be an option here, but don’t be surprised if the Rams take Hopkins if he is still on the board.
Sam Bradford hasn’t had a true No. 1 option since the Rams selected him to take the reins. Danny Amendola is a good slot receiver, but the Rams need another quality pass-catcher who can take some of the pressure off him.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Allen’s inability to run at the combine didn’t help his draft stock. For a player who already carries concerns about his straight-line speed, running a good time would have surely helped his stock.
Still, Allen has the route-running ability and sure hands to be a terrific receiver in the NFL. Minnesota needs another receiver who can keep defenses honest. Percy Harvin can’t be the Vikings’ only dangerous receiving threat going forward.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Indianapolis transitioned to a 3-4 last season, but it didn’t quite have the pieces in place to be a strong unit. After focusing on offense last April, most of the Colts’ picks should be on the defensive side of the ball this year.
Hankins is an intriguing prospect. He has the size to play just about anywhere in a 3-4 front, and his quickness is much better than his 320-pound frame would indicate. If the Colts want to start building in the trenches, Hankins would be a good start.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Carradine was considered one of the top prospects in this draft class until he tore his ACL last season. He could be back on the field in time for the 2013 season, though, and there’s a good chance a team takes a chance on him in the first round.
Chris Clemons tore his ACL in the playoffs, and he getting him back in playing shape will take some time. Seattle may be wary of adding another defensive end with the same ailment, but Carradine has the talent to justify the decision.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
For a terrific team with plenty of talent, Green Bay has some holes to fill. Safety, linebacker and offensive line could all be in play with this pick.
General manager Ted Thompson has always done a fantastic job of drafting for both need and value. Both line up here in the form of Jonathan Cooper.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
I’m not entirely sure Austin will still be available toward the end of the first round. If he’s still on the board this late in the round, expect several teams to look to jump Houston and New England for his services.
Austin is the most electric playmaker in this draft class. In open space with the ball in his hands, he has the ability to do some special things.
Andre Johnson is still getting it done, but he needs some help. Defenses have had the luxury of paying him extra attention, and the Texans need another wideout to open up the field and take some of the pressure off its veteran receiver.
28. Denver Broncos: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Champ Bailey looks to be almost out of gas, and Denver needs to consider drafting a replacement.
Trufant isn’t a big name, but he’s been rising up the draft board this offseason. With a strong Senior Bowl showing a good combine performance, there’s a good chance Trufant finds a home in the first round.
29. New England Patriots: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Banks only ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and there’s a chance that hurts his draft stock enough to facilitate a fall to the bottom of the first round.
Still, Banks is one of the best defensive backs in this class, and the Patriots need to address the cornerback position. With Aqib Talib potentially leaving in free agency, that will likely be the first position New England looks to shore up in April.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Atlanta recently released John Abraham, meaning defensive end should be a position the Falcons intend to address in April. Jones isn’t a flashy player, but he’s one of the best pure defensive ends available.
If Atlanta intends to switch to a 3-4 in 2013 (as Abraham's release could indicate), Jones is still one of the best options here, but don’t be surprised to see Jesse Williams or John Jenkins fill the need at nose tackle instead.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
With an extra pick at the top of the second round, San Francisco can afford to take the best player on its board. We don’t know what that board looks like, but there’s a good chance Cyprien is near the top at the safety position.
While the 49ers have some needs to fill in their defensive secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them package a couple picks and move ahead of Denver and New England to select one of the top cornerbacks in this class.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Baltimore is in one of the best positions in this draft. One of the deepest in years, this class offers a ton of option for the Ravens with the No. 32 selection.
John Jenkins, Jesse Williams, Kevin Minter, Arthur Brown, Matt Elam and Manti Te’o are all still on the board, and deciphering which of those players (among others) could interest Baltimore is nearly impossible.
That said, Ed Reed may not be with the team in 2013, and finding a quality safety to fill the void wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially with a couple very good ones still available. This draft class is extremely deep, and the Ravens can afford to wait until later rounds to address the defensive tackle and linebacker positions.