Now that the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is over and the focus has shifted to pro days and the draft, the talk about where the top stars in NCAA football will be selected is taking over the NFL world.
All of the following stars will be considered as possible first-round selections, but few have as much upside as the players that already know what it takes to be a star at the NCAA level.
Note: Highlighted players will be italicized.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The trade of veteran Alex Smith from San Francisco (h/t ESPN) has forced the Kansas City Chiefs’ hand this year, opening the door for an easy No. 1 overall pick. Expect Andy Reid and the new coaching staff to snag offensive tackle Luke Joeckel with the first selection.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
There is no clear No. 2 overall pick this season, so with the Jacksonville Jaguars desperate for a pass rush and a face of the defense, who better to take here than Florida State star Bjoern Werner? It’s a risk, but well worth the possible reward.
3. Oakland Raiders: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Despite the discovery of a heart condition at the combine (h/t ESPN), defensive tackle prospect Star Lotulelei still has too much talent. A team like the Oakland Raiders, which lost both Richard Seymour (h/t Tim Kawakami) and Desmond Bryant (h/t NFL.com) to free agency, can't afford to pass on him at No. 3.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Philadelphia Eagles are continuing to undergo the offseason regime change that occurred after the firing of Andy Reid and the hiring of Chip Kelly, and the team’s first huge decision will be taking West Virginia standout QB Geno Smith at No. 4 overall.
Philadelphia reworked veteran QB Michael Vick’s contract (h/t USA Today) to make it more affordable for the team and also has backup Nick Foles on the roster, but Kelly wants to infuse his style of offense. Smith is the kind of player the former college coach needs to make the transition to the NFL work.
Taking Smith may look like a risk on the surface, but in Kelly’s offense, this is a great selection.
Smith isn’t the most dynamic passing quarterback, but his ability to get out of trouble using his legs and still have a fairly accurate arm on the run is what the Eagles’ new offensive scheme calls for.
If Philly takes Smith at No. 4, expect Foles to find a new home elsewhere.
5. Detroit Lions: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Detroit Lions have a very talented team, but fundamental weaknesses have kept them from becoming elite. The addition of an impact player like Damontre Moore at defensive end to make up for the departure of Kyle Vanden Bosch (h/t USAToday) would add serious talent to the pass rush in a division predicated on the pass.
6. Cleveland Browns: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The rebuilding process in Cleveland will be slow and painful, but drafting a long-term project like defensive end Barkevious Mingo—a player that has all the raw skill to be a dominant force in the league—would be a step in the right direction.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Arizona Cardinals are desperate for help at quarterback, but with none matching the team’s criteria for the No. 7 overall pick, the Cardinals will make the smart long-term choice and snag a franchise left tackle in Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
The Buffalo Bills realized that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the quarterback of the future—cutting the veteran before the start of free agency (h/t ESPN)—and should take a risk with serious upside when the team selects Matt Barkley at No. 8 overall.
9. New York Jets: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The New York Jets have so many holes to fill across the depth chart that almost the entire 2013 draft for the franchise will be taking the best player available. In terms of raw talent, Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson would be the top player on the board at No. 9.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
It’s clear from the way the team handled 2012 that the Tennessee Titans are going to continue to move forward with Jake Locker as the starting QB. If they want to truly see what the young quarterback can do under center, the team must protect him with a star offensive lineman like Alabama’s Chance Warmack. Tennessee landed free-agent guard Andy Levitre (h/t USA Today), but adding Warmack is still a smart investment.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
There is serious offensive line depth in the first round of the 2013 draft. Most years, the San Diego Chargers wouldn’t get a great value at No. 11, but the fact that a potential starting left tackle like Lane Johnson from Oklahoma could fall to them would be a dream come true.
12. Miami Dolphins: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
If highly touted Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is available at No. 12, the Miami Dolphins will not pass on him. It's that simple.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
While scouts are mixed on how a potential star like Xavier Rhodes will do at the next level (h/t NFL.com), his versatility and raw skill will force the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to stay in-state and snag the Florida State star at No. 13.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The defensive front seven is coming along swimmingly for the Carolina Panthers—boasting budding stars like Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson and Jon Beason—but the need for a dangerous defensive tackle will have the Panthers ecstatic to take Florida star Sharrif Floyd.
15. New Orleans Saints: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
With head coach Sean Payton back at the job site, the first priority will be rejuvenating the horrible defensive unit. It will be a long process for a defense as bad as New Orleans’, but adding a standout outside linebacker like Oregon’s Dion Jordan would be a good start.
16. St. Louis Rams: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
The St. Louis Rams have a plethora of picks in the 2013 draft, but none will have the impact of star guard Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina at No. 16. Cooper will be a starter in the NFL, from his rookie year to beyond.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Pittsburgh Steelers need all the secondary help they can get, and taking NCAA standout and Texas Longhorns star safety Kenny Vaccaro should be a no-brainer for the team on draft day in Round 1.
It’s clear that the soon-to-be 32-year-old Troy Polamalu is not the long-term answer for Pittsburgh—injuries plagued his last two seasons—and taking a blossoming star like Vaccaro that can learn from the veteran is a smart move.
If Polamalu shares his knowledge for the game with Vaccaro and teaches him the right way to play Steelers football, Pittsburgh selecting the Texas safety at No. 17 could be the steal of the draft.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys must make a conscientious effort to address the offensive-line issues this offseason, and that should all start with drafting a potential stud in Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker to protect Tony Romo.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora had his contract voided (h/t Jenny Vrentas) this offseason, and the gap left at the position will be filled by the talented—but very raw—prospect Ezekiel Ansah of BYU.
20. Chicago Bears: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
No matter where veteran middle linebacker Brian Urlacher plays in 2013 (h/t Chicago Tribune), the Chicago Bears have to draft the heir apparent to the position and allow Urlacher to turn that player into a star if he stays with the team. If Urlacher leaves via free agency, the Bears would have their new starter in LSU standout Kevin Minter.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
The Cincinnati Bengals have key free-agent decisions to make, and with the potential loss of linebacker Rey Maualuga (h/t Pro Football Talk), they would have to take another MLB immediately. Kansas State’s Arthur Brown is the best fit for the team, but not re-signing Maualuga would be a microcosm of what’s wrong with Cincinnati.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Keenan Allen, WR, California
The St. Louis Rams also hold the No. 22 pick in the first round, and if they don’t bundle this pick to trade up, look for the franchise to give quarterback Sam Bradford a new weapon with the highly skilled Keenan Allen from Cal.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The Minnesota Vikings traded Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks (h/t Seahawks.com), and the team will be looking to replace his production by taking standout Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins at No. 23 overall.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The release of veteran DE/OLB Dwight Freeney (h/t Sports Illustrated) has left a void on the defensive side of the ball for the Indianapolis Colts. Only a potential star like Jarvis Jones can be the pass-rushing machine Freeney was from Day 1.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Seattle Seahawks traded their first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Percy Harvin (h/t Seahawks.com), and the Vikings will be able to fill a few more areas of need with this move. The team will use the No. 25 pick to help secure the defensive line with Missouri’s defensive tackles prospect Sheldon Richardson.
26. Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Green Bay will be looking to replace the released Charles Woodson (h/t NFL.com). While Matt Elam of Florida is a raw project at safety, he has all the potential to be a star in the NFL with a team as talented as the Packers.
27. Houston Texans: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
There were serious secondary issues in Houston last season, so adding a safety like Jonathan Cyprien is a smart move. He can play against the pass or step up into the box and assist against the run, making him a versatile defender the Texans desperately need.
28. Denver Broncos: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Denver Broncos will be looking for their next top CB, and a star like Johnthan Banks—coupled with the team’s signing of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (h/t USA Today)—is exactly what they need.
29. New England Patriots: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The New England Patriots already possess a potent offense, but the lack of elite depth at wideout—especially a speedy outside receiver that can take the lid off a defense like Randy Moss did for years—will have the team reaching at No. 29 for the talented Tavon Austin.
Austin was a star at West Virginia, catching 114 passes in 2012 for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, but his talents weren’t just limited to the receiving game.
With 72 carries for 643 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in 2013, and the ability to return both kicks and punts (two touchdowns this year), Austin is the all-around threat the Patriots will love.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
The release of veteran defensive end John Abraham (h/t ESPN) has caused a serious void on the defensive line for the Atlanta Falcons, and with the No. 30 pick in the draft, the team must take a new pass-rush specialist in Texas Longhorns star Alex Okafor.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers know what it takes to make a great defense. If a stud tackle like Johnathan Hankins falls all the way to No. 31, the team should grab the star to replace the departed Isaac Sopoaga, who signed with the Eagles via free agency (h/t San Francisco Chronicle).
32. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The retirement of Ray Lewis not only left a hole at the middle linebacker spot, but it also stripped the team of its defensive leader on the field. If Alec Ogletree of Georgia is there at No. 32, the Baltimore Ravens will fill both needs with one pick.
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