There are two ways of analyzing how to select players in the NFL draft.
One is to value team needs, injury histories and how players will fit schematically on their new teams, and the other is to simply take the best players available—regardless of how or why they are still on the board at that point in the draft.
That being said, we'll make it easy for NFL teams with this mock draft. Based on the best player available and a mixture of team needs, decisions on what players to take can be made easy with this 32-player list of college studs.
Check out the latest projections below to see where your favorite team might go on draft night, and how making the easiest decision will impact the order in which players will come to the stage to shake Roger Goodell's hand in late April.
A few players with some extra analysis are also highlighted in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs — OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
If you go strictly on how Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel performed at the NFL combine and on their game tapes, Fisher's rise to the top of the draft board isn't much of a surprise. While Joeckel grabbed early headlines as the best tackle in the draft, Fisher has cemented himself as a clear choice at No. 1.
Dane Brugler agrees, noting that other teams feel the same way:
Dane Brugler @dpbrugler
Feel free to dismiss the OT Eric Fisher at No. 1 to KC possibility if you wish, but I promise, others around the league aren't #NFLDraft2/27/2013, 6:44:54 PM
With Alex Smith in the fold and protection needed for the new franchise quarterback, there's no question offensive tackle is the biggest team need. Fisher would be a good start for the rebuilding project.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars — DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
Jordan's meteoric rise through the rankings has put him in a position to be the first defensive end taken, but where will that be? More than a few teams would love to have his services as a pass-rusher next season, and that might lead for a bidding war at the top.
Jacksonville can make it easy by taking Jordan at No. 2. The Jaguars have a clear need at DE, and Jordan brings explosive foot speed and an innate ability to get to the QB. That should make him an easy choice here, or at the very worst, somewhere in the Top 10.
3. Oakland Raiders — DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Oakland could be a big seller at No. 3. With needs along the defensive line abundant, there's a good chance the No. 3 pick could be a chance for Oakland to hold an auction for the pick to teams looking to get into the Top 5.
If they choose to go ahead and make the selection, though, Floyd would be the kind of DT that would immediately help the defense, either in 4-3 or 3-4 fronts; he is a great fit in both schemes. After a good combine and more film study, Floyd isn't a stretch as the No. 1 defensive tackle.
4. Philadelphia Eagles — OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Although Joeckel may be supplanted as the No. 1 pick, there's no chance he gets out of the Top 5. Someone will select him, and Chip Kelly is an excellent candidate, especially with Jordan (the former Oregon Duck) off the board.
As Philly transitions to a new offense under Kelly, one thing it will need is offensive linemen. Between Joeckel and Fisher, there's really no wrong choice at No. 4.
5. Detroit Lions — CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
From being one of the fastest cornerbacks at the combine to an extensive highlight film at Alabama, Milliner is far and away the best corner in the draft. Detroit should have no problem taking him at No. 5—if he's still available, that is.
6. Buffalo Bills (Proposed trade with Cleveland Browns) – QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
The easy choice for Cleveland at No. 6 is to trade it away, and an ideal candidate to move up is Buffalo.
Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo or any of the other DE prospects that Cleveland could likely take at No. 6 will still be there after a trade to another team like the Bills. Additionally, it would make perfect sense for Buffalo to trade up and nab its QB of the future—especially with Arizona lurking at No. 7.
It doesn't seem like much of a trade, but Cleveland could pick up another second- or third-rounder or a couple of late-round picks in the process, and Buffalo gets its QB without the wait-and-see game with Arizona.
Many are divided on Smith's ceiling and full potential in the NFL, but the general consensus is that he is the No. 1 quarterback in the draft. He has good mobility and the strong arm that Buffalo weather requires, and he fills a huge need after the team released veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
7. Arizona Cardinals — OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
With both top OTs (Fisher and Joeckel) that were projected high-round draft picks off the board, Johnson sneaks up to the Cardinals at No. 7. Pass protection was a major issue up front last season, and instead of addressing the QB situation the Cardinals might be better off selecting an OT like Johnson who will be around for years to come.
8. Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo Bills) — DE Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
As previously mentioned at No. 6, Cleveland could make a smart move by trading down. It still gets Ansah at No. 8, plugging a major hole along the defensive line and adding pass-rushing ability in the process. The Browns may have added some defensive talent in free agency, but Ansah would be a great (and easy) pick for Cleveland here nonetheless.
9. New York Jets — DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
With Ansah and Jordan off the board, the Jets have a choice between Mingo and some of the other DT prospects available. Mingo makes sense to shore up the pass rush, but he does nothing for the interior-line issues. I think this pick comes down to Mingo and the best DT available. Since we don't know who that will be just yet, Mingo is a better choice at No. 9.
10. Tennessee Titans — DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
All that being said with the Jets, there's no way Lotulelei, who is dealing with some medical conditions (heart) right now, gets past the struggling Tennessee defense.
Running backs ran wild and QBs had very nice days against the Titans last year, but Lotulelei is a monster inside who could play the three-technique in a 4-3 or slide out and be a 3-4 DE. Either way, he's likely going to end up being one of the steals of the draft—if his heart condition isn't serious.
11. San Diego Chargers — OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
Guards don't usually go very high in the draft. However, three offensive tackles are off the board at No. 11, and D.J. Fluker is probably a stretch.
Warmack, however, is not, even if Scott Wright of DraftTek thinks that David DeCastro's drop last season could mean a similar drop for Warmack:
Scott Wright @DraftCountdown
Realize I'm in minority but I still think David DeCastro was a slightly better prospect than Chance Warmack. Had a Top 10 grade on DeCastro.3/4/2013, 5:51:31 PM
Either way, the Chargers are one of about a dozen teams who could take an offensive lineman in the first round. His game tape puts things into perspective.
A mauler on the inside, this guy moves people off the line and is hard to move in pass protection. That's exactly what Philip Rivers and the offense needs, and San Diego will be better off for making this wise pick.
12. Miami Dolphins — WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Miami needs a wideout, and Patterson has all the tools to be a stellar playmaker in the league. Miami needs someone with that kind of potential, even if it takes a couple of years to develop those elite skills.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers —CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
I'll go ahead and say it right now—don't be surprised if Tampa tries to move up and select Dee Milliner. Dallas did the same thing with Morris Claiborne last season, and Tampa has more pressing needs at CB than Dallas did this time last year.
Aqib Talib was sent to New England last year, and Ronde Barber is on the threshold of retirement. Tampa Bay could really use a playmaker, hence taking Rhodes at No. 13, but don't discount them making a late move into the top-five range for Milliner's services.
14. Carolina Panthers — DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Carolina could choose to go wideout here at No. 14, but Richardson is amongst the elite DTs we've seen at the combine and in games in 2012. Underrated because Missouri had a down year during its first SEC campaign, Richardson has elite footspeed and makes plays all over the field (75 total tackles in 2012).
15. New Orleans Saints — DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
The free-fall for Werner stops with the Saints, who could use a true 3-4 DE as they switch to the scheme this offseason. While Werner was a 4-3 DE in college, he has the skills to move down along the line and the strength to take on blocks inside. It might be a risky pick, but with the board the way it is his talent is too great to pass up.
With New Orleans losing its second-rounder (due to Bountygate) don't be surprised if the team elects to trade down to pick up another draft pick or two.
16. St. Louis Rams — OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
The Rams will be virtually picking between Cooper, Warmack, Fluker and Johnson at No. 16. Since two are already off the board, Cooper makes the most sense for interior-line presence in front of Sam Bradford. Offensive line is clearly the biggest need in St. Louis, and barring something crazy, the Rams should have a nice assortment of players to choose from.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers — DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
While draft pundits claim Moore lost a lot of money in Indianapolis (which he did), Steelers pundits are exuberant that he will likely fall out of the Top 10 and into their waiting arms. A 3-4 OLB or nickel pass-rusher, Moore will help infuse the youth movement to a franchise that desperately needs it on defense.
18. Dallas Cowboys — DT Kawann Short, Purdue
Switching back to the 4-3 means sweeping changes for the Dallas defense. One of those changes is the need for more depth at DT—particularly troubling after the events swirling around Josh Brent and Jay Ratliff from last season.
While Short isn't the biggest or fastest DT on the board, he's a sack machine that has the versatility to play in different spots and schemes. He would be a nice fit in Dallas.
19. New York Giants — OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
While defensive end is a concern, the Giants would be remiss if they reached for a guy like Alex Okafor or Margus Hunt too early. By taking Fluker instead, they shore up the offensive line and put themselves in play for one of those guys (maybe Sam Montgomery, too) in the second round.
20. Chicago Bears — TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Jay Cutler has been missing Greg Olsen a lot over the past two seasons. With Eifert in the fold, he won't have to anymore. The former Irish TE made his living at South Bend by stretch the field and taking advantage of smaller defenders—something the Chicago offense has lacked since Olsen's departure.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
We make a lot of jokes about Cincinnati nabbing players who are falling off the board (Vontaze Burfict, among others), but Jones is a great fit for this franchise at OLB. Presumably, the team could be without Rey Maualuga next season, and linebacking help is needed in town.
Although Jones has health concerns, that didn't stop him from producing at Georgia, and he has received positive reports during the offseason. It might be a big risk at this point, but Jones has Top 10 talent and could help form a fearsome LB corp in Cincinnati for years to come.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins) — WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Austin removed any doubt from his first-round status with a stellar combine performance, blazing a trail in the 40-yard dash and showing nice route-running ability in the process.
With Danny Amendola agreeing to terms with the New England Patriots, per ESPN.com, Austin could fill right in and give the Rams a dose of speed and quickness they've never had for a full season under Bradford's tenure.
23. Minnesota Vikings — WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Hopkins has also performed well enough to be a first-round pick, and his speed and nose for the end zone would be a welcome sight for QB Christian Ponder and RB Adrian Peterson. The Vikings desperately lack a vertical passing game to take pressure off the league MVP, but Hopkins could help solve some of that.
With Percy Harvin gone for good, expect the Vikings to use Jarius Wright in the slot and have a patch-work job on the outside. Hopkins is an automatic candidate to fill that role on the outside.
24. Indianapolis Colts — CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
The Colts have a number of directions in which they can go (OL, WR, DE) but can make a splash with one of the highest-rising CBs in the draft. With an NFL bloodline (Marcus Trufant) and tremendous ball-skills, Trufant would fit in as an immediate impact player for this young franchise.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks) — DE Datone Jones, UCLA
Jones isn't getting much press, but he should be—he's a big-time player and could help several teams out on the defensive line. One of those teams could be Minnesota, which would love to add more depth to the line and bookend Jared Allen with another quality talent.
26. Green Bay Packers — RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Running back has been a problem for Green Bay for the past few years. While unknowns like James Starks, Alex Green and Ryan Grant have payed off big-time for the offense, it's clear that sometimes Green Bay is winning in spite of its running game.
That could change with Lacy, who is a bruising back that also has the speed to make defenses miss. Offensive line could be in play, but Lacy would be a great pick near the end of Round 1.
27. Houston Texans — WR Robert Woods, USC
While guys like Keenan Allen would be nice for the Texans, they could really use a speedster to help open up the field. Woods would do just that, even if he is used a decoy on plays that make things happen for Arian Foster and Andre Johnson.
However, the Texans must consider the reality that Johnson is getting older, and a more complete guy like Allen might make more sense with this pick. Either way, expect Houston to go receiver.
28. Denver Broncos — DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
If there's one hole in Denver's defense, it's defensive tackle. The outside linebackers are in place, the secondary (even if frustrating at times) isn't a liability on most days and the defensive ends have been top-notch during Denver's resurgence. That being said, the Broncos have a chance to add a guy like Hankins to the mix, and he's a huge force in the middle of any defensive line.
29. New England Patriots — S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Pending a potential signing of Ed Reed or another free-agent safety, Vaccaro makes a lot of sense for the Patriots. Matt Elam does too, but Vaccaro is a safety that has the ability to make plays in open space and cover receivers and tight ends.
We'll wait until free agency is in full swing to know for sure, but Vaccaro looks like a smart pick right now.
30. Atlanta Falcons — TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
Tony Gonzalez has stated he'll be returning to the Falcons in 2013, but he'll be leaving—one way or another—in the next couple of seasons. Since the time frame is unknown and the Falcons could use depth either way, Ertz could fill right in as a replacement for Gonzalez, or learn from the greatest of all-time. Win-win for Atlanta.
31. San Francisco 49ers — CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State
The 49ers got torched in the secondary by Joe Flacco in the Super Bowl, turning one of the team's biggest strengths last season into a pressing need all in one fell swoop. Safety is a concern, but CB is too, and Taylor is another Boise State product that has a chance to creep up into the first round.
32. Baltimore Ravens — LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
Many questions remain about Manti Te'o.
His pro day will answer most of those questions, but film will do more. Even though his 40-time was rather slow and he didn't look great against Alabama, the entire body of work on this kid is outstanding.
We'll see what happens over the next week or so, but Te'o is an easy choice for this pick—just like the rest of the first-rounders listed above.
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