Last year around this time there were many who had concluded that the St. Louis Rams would trade the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. While trades atop the first round are rare around the league, it made sense for the Rams to partake in conversation with other teams. After all, they already had Sam Bradford on the roster and Robert Griffin III was the clear second-best prospect in the draft behind Andrew Luck.
None of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class are worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. Heck, it could be stated that none are worth as much as a first-round pick, though we know at least one team will reach at that position in April. By indicating that the draft is weak at quarterback, experts are not saying that it is a weak overall class. In fact, it is one of the deepest we have seen in a while at a numerous positions
Overall, there are as many as seven offensive tackle prospects that translate into being blind-side protectors at the next level. In addition, I count as many as 13 defensive linemen that could hear their names called in the initial round. These aren't positions that teams take for granted. Rather, they are important for franchises looking to mold their philosophy around building from the inside out. Despite a strong trend towards the importance of quarterback play in the NFL, games are still won at the line and in the trenches. And on defense.
On that note, some of the best teams in the league, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers included, are going to be drafting defense-heavy in April. Whether it is Baltimore needing to replace the production of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis or San Francisco needing to upgrade a lackluster secondary, both of these Super Bowl teams will be going defense early and often in '13. This doesn't even take into account the possible departure of Ed Reed in free agency for Baltimore and an aging Justin Smith along San Francisco's defensive line.
While San Francisco and Baltimore will get a lot of play leading up to the draft because of their success this past season, other top teams will also be focusing on continued success along the trenches and in all aspects of their defense.
The Denver Broncos need help on defense. It couldn't be a better draft year for them to focus on that side of the ball.
A total of 16 of the top 20 prospects on my most recent big board are not skill-position players. My top running back (Eddie Lacy) is at 50, while I only have two quarterbacks (Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel) with first-round grades.
This doesn't mean that teams are not going to be reaching for skill-position players early in the draft. In fact, I fully expect them to out of necessity.
If that happens—a likelihood in my opinion—good teams with needs on the defensive side of the ball and along the offensive line will find themselves acquiring value as well as need up until the fourth or fifth round. It's the idea that you are able to pick and choose where you go early because there will be solid options at other need positions later in the draft. When a team can combine best player available with need, it is going to ace the annual draft as long as its scouts are doing their job. Common sense seems to indicate that good teams have equally as good scouts.
Among the top three need positions for the defending Super Bowl Champions are offensive tackle, inside linebacker and free safety. Good thing for Baltimore that all three are loaded in the 2013 NFL Draft. They could reasonably find starters at all three positions before the second day of the draft is over.
Of course, the first player that many think about as it relates to the Ravens' first-round pick is the suddenly enigmatic Manti Te'o from Notre Dame. The linebacker came into '12 with top 10 aspirations, but has seen his draft stock tumble a bit due to the "catfish" scandal and poor play in the BCS National Championship Game.
Make no mistake about it, however; Te'o is going to be a damn good starting inside linebacker in the NFL. I had the pleasure of watching every single one of his games over the last three seasons and he is the real deal. If Te'o is unavailable, the likes of Arthur Brown and Kevin Minter might be options at 31. In addition, the recent arrest of Georgia's Alec Ogletree on DUI charges may push his draft stock down to the bottom of the second round (via USA Today).
|1||32||Manti Te'o||Linebacker||Notre Dame||32|
|2||64||Stedman Bailey||Wide Receiver||West Virginia||56|
|3||94||Mike Glennon||Quarterback||North Carolina State||98|
|5||158||Travis Long||Linebacker||Washington State||116|
As it is, Baltimore could even get value at inside linebacker in the middle rounds with Nico Johnson. Jon Bostic and Kevin Reddick as options. All three are starting-caliber linebackers and translate well to Baltimore's 3-4 defensive scheme.
One of the most stacked positions in the draft is safety, where value can be picked up even in the third day. According to my big board, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo should both be available when Baltimore selects in the second round. Lesser prospects such as T.J. McDonald and Robert Lester will be available later. While the latter two prospects will not be immediate starters, they do translate into being solid rotational players early in their careers.
Even before compensatory selections are announced, San Francisco has 12 draft picks after completing multiple trades during the 2012 draft. In addition, it received the Kansas City Chiefs'second-round pick (34th overall) as a package for Alex Smith last week (via ESPN).
This indicates that the 49ers will be able to either trade up for a player they are targeting or go best player available with each pick. It doesn't take an expert to draw the conclusion that a team capable of doing this is already ahead of the curve.
As it is, most of the 49ers' needs are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to find an eventual replacement for Justin Smith along the defensive line, have two 3-4 defensive tackles set to hit free agency and were torched in the secondary during the playoffs. These are the areas that I expect San Francisco to address in April. These are also the deepest positions in the draft.
If you look at my big board, there are about two dozen defensive players that fit San Francisco's defensive scheme slotted between the 30th and 100th pick. The 49ers will have a minimum of five picks during that span.
I wouldn't be surprised if they were able to pick up two immediate starters and two more solid youngsters with those selections.
|1||31||Jesse Williams||Defensive Line||Alabama||20|
|2||34||Eric Reid||Safety||Louisiana State||23|
|2||61||Brandon Williams||Defensive Tackle||MSSU||49|
|3||74||Terrance Williams||Wide Receiver||Baylor||71|
|3||93||T.J. McDonald||Safety||Southern California||97|
|4||125||Travis Kelce||Tight End||Cincinnati||62|
|5||150||David Bass||Linebacker||Missouri Western||112|
As it relates to positions of need, let's take a gander at the secondary for a second. Despite a strong performance at the combine, cornerback Desmond Trufant may be available when San Francisco selects at the end of the first round. If not, it could easily pick up a future starter from a pool of players that include: David Amerson, Jamar Taylor, Logan Ryan and Tyrann Mathieu in the second or third rounds.
Mathieu is the key here. The enigmatic former Heisman Trophy finalist at LSU has all the talent in the world, but also possesses a major risk in terms of character. San Francisco has the locker room atmosphere to be able to take on a project like that. In addition, it can afford to take a chance with all the picks it promises to have next month. This is something I would definitely keep an eye on should Mathieu be available with the first of San Francisco's third-round picks.
The Denver Broncos finished tied for the best record in the NFL this past season and won their final 11 regular season games. Though, it didn't translate over the postseason where Peyton Manning and company were knocked out in their first game.
While winning 11 straight games during a season is mighty impressive, it doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot if you are not bringing home the most important hardware when all is said and done in February.
Denver's defense struggled a great deal against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. Champ Bailey just wasn't getting the job done as it seemed that his age was finally catching up with him. In addition, the Broncos' defensive line seems to lack depth and overall talent, especially in the interior.
It goes without saying that this team isn't without question marks heading into the draft next month. Of course its primary need positions are absolutely stacked when it comes to the draft.
With four defensive linemen set to become free agents next week, the Broncos are between a rock and a hard place. They don't have any viable starters currently on the roster outside of Derek Wolfe and Elvis Dumervil. In addition, they have a cap figure of $114.6 million as of right now (via Spotrac).
Needless to say, Denver will have to look defensive line in the draft. The good news is that there promises to be a ton of solid options in each of the first two rounds. Based on Matt Miller's mock draft, Jesse Williams and Kawann Short would be available for Denver at 28. Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams and John Jenkins would also be ripe for the picking in the second round.
While it is expect that Denver will stick with Rahim Moore at free safety, it will have to upgrade and get younger at cornerback. This is where the Broncos could hit gold early on. Again, based on what Miller projects (all guesstimates at this point), Jordan Poyer, David Amerson and Logan Ryan would be available in the first.
Moving further into the draft, it gets more interesting. Darius Slay, Robert Alford and Jamar Taylor could possible be had at the end of the third round.
See a common theme here? Denver might have some holes to fill on defense, but it will have a wide array of options come draft time. The same cannot be said for team that will have to go out there and reach for other positions of need.
|1||28||Jordan Poyer||Cornerback||Oregon State||30|
|2||58||Johnathan Hankins||Defensive Tackle||Ohio State||21|
|3||90||Ryan Swope||Wide Receiver||Texas A&M||84|
|4||122||Kenjon Barner||Running Back||Oregon||124|
Notice how Denver got pretty darn good value in both the first and second rounds? They then were able to pick up two solid skill-position players in the middle rounds at areas where depth could be a concern. While the running back and wide receiver class aren't top heavy in 2013, they are both pretty deep. Combine workout warrior, Sharmarko Thomas could be a high riser between now and April. His pure strength and athleticism was on full display in Indianapolis. That's another solid pick for Denver.
Again, Denver addresses need and acquires value with its first two picks. Even if the board doesn't play out like Miller views it above, Denver will still have a multitude of options as I mentioned earlier.
Baltimore, San Francisco and Denver are not the only teams that are in great position heading into next month's draft. The Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons should also be able to find value at need positions considering where they are all expected to go early and often in April.
In a draft void of top-tier talent at skill positions, teams that already have a solid core in place are going to make the most noise. It just remains to be seen if other front offices will go the value route when they have glaring needs at positions not considered too strong in the upcoming draft.
It should be interesting.