Even though fans are excited for the NFL draft every year, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm compared to what we have seen in the past just because of the players that comprise the top of this year's class.
Because quarterbacks move the needle in the NFL, something like we had last year, with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at the top, not to mention what Russell Wilson turned out to be, spoiled us for years to come.
Now we have to get excited about offensive and defensive linemen. As important as those players are, it is hard to sell fans on what happens in the trenches. But don't sleep on this class, as it is loaded with talent that will have an impact right away.
Here is the latest mock draft projections, with notes on the players we expect to have the most immediate impact in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs—OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Regardless of what the scuttlebutt might be due to the Chiefs placing the franchise tag on left tackle Branden Albert, this team knows that its best course of action in the draft is taking the best player available.
You need a great, not good, offensive line to win championships in the NFL today. Quarterbacks need protection, especially soon-to-be Kansas City acquisition Alex Smith (h/t Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News).
An NFL source says that the framework of the deal is that the 49ers will get a No. 2 pick this year and a similar pick in the 2014 draft.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 27, 2013
Joeckel excels in every facet of the game, has ideal size and strength, and will provide an immediate return on investment. He is the best player in the draft, and the Chiefs need to rebuild up front for their new quarterback.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars—DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Of all the needs the Jaguars have, the pass-rush is the most pressing. It helps that this draft is ripe with so many stud edge-rushers worthy of being taken at this spot.
Ultimately, Mingo's versatility and speed off the line gives him the most upside. He will need work, but the ceiling is incredible.
3. Oakland Raiders—DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
The Raiders are always a wild card in the draft. That said, at some point this franchise has to stop going for the surprise pick and do what is in its best interest.
Floyd is best suited as a run-stuffing body in the middle who can open holes for pass-rushers, but he does have so much power and gets off the line so well that he can get after the quarterback as well as any defensive tackle in the draft.
4. Philadelphia Eagles—CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
Even though the offensive line was the biggest issue for the Eagles last year, that was due more to injuries than not having the talent in house.
The secondary needs a big upgrade, and Milliner has proven himself to be an elite cover cornerback. His size, hands and instincts will allow him to hold his own early while learning the speed of the game, then in a year or two he should be battling to be on the All-Pro teams.
5. Detroit Lions—OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com loves Fisher so much he has him as the top player in this year's draft. While I wouldn't go quite that far, he is certainly the No. 2 offensive lineman in this class.
The Lions don't necessarily have a glaring need at offensive line, though Fisher would represent an upgrade for them and getting Matthew Stafford more protection couldn't hurt.
6. Cleveland Browns—OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
The Browns need speed-rushers if they want to make the 3-4 defense work. Jordan is an incredible athlete and could do for this team what Aldon Smith has done for the San Francisco 49ers.
7. Arizona Cardinals—OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
The Cardinals' issues on offense could easily be traced to their problems on the offensive line. Johnson is raw but has great upside. With Carson Palmer under center now courtesy of a trade from the Oakland Raiders, they don't need to fret over the position for at least a season.
8. Buffalo Bills—DE/OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Eventually the Bills have to hit on a star pass-rusher, right? Ansah has gotten better and better as the evaluation process has gone along, showing improved technique at BYU and turning heads with his combine workout.
9. New York Jets—QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
A surprise pick, certainly. But when you look at where the Jets are right now, does anyone really think they are invested in Mark Sanchez beyond this season?
Smith is a gamble, yet he could turn out to be exactly what the Jets need. He has a strong arm and accuracy down the field. He needs to work on throwing the ball with more touch, especially on short and intermediate routes.
Despite the earlier insistence that he isn't a top-10 pick, desperate teams tend to make desperate moves.
10. Tennessee Titans—OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
Warmack lacks the high ceiling of fellow guard Jonathan Cooper, but he is more advanced as a prospect and ready to step in the second he gets drafted. The Titans need immediate help if they want Jake Locker to develop the way they hope he will.
Given the success that Nick Saban has had developing offensive linemen over the last few years, Warmack should be the first guard taken. He is an underrated athlete and will give that line an edge it hasn't had in a long time.
11. San Diego Chargers—OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Philip Rivers continues to regress playing behind a bad offensive line. He deserves some blame, because his decision making appears to have gone downhill lately, but we know what he can be when he has time to throw.
Cooper is a pass-protection specialist, using his hands as well as any lineman in the draft and showing explosive power.
12. Miami Dolphins—WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
The Dolphins still need more help at wide receiver, even after re-signing Brian Hartline and landing Mike Wallace. Patterson is the most explosive playmaker on the outside in this draft, though he is also as raw as anyone.
Betting on Patterson's size and leaping ability are rare in a wide receiver. He also has great downfield speed. Ryan Tannehill has the arm to make Patterson into a star sooner rather than later, and he's the kind of talent who will keep defenses honest and prevent them from focusing on Hartline or Wallace.
13. New York Jets (via Tampa Bay Buccaneers)—CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
Rhodes' size is going to benefit him in this draft, especially after teams have seen what big cornerbacks like Richard Sherman can do for a defense. That's not to say Rhodes, listed at 6'1", will be Sherman, but the upside is there thanks to incredible instincts. The Jets are in need of a corner with Revis gone to Tampa Bay, so they'll use the first pick they got from them to replace him. Rhodes isn't the kind of talent Revis is, but he'll be a solid replacement.
14. Carolina Panthers—DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
Lotulelei is the single-biggest wild card in this draft. If teams feel comfortable with the information about his heart condition, he will be one of the first three players off the board. If not, who knows where he goes?
Given his considerable upside and value in the middle of the line, Lotulelei makes all the sense in the world for the Panthers, who need an impact defensive tackle to plug their many holes up front.
15. New Orleans Saints—DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Richardson will give the Saints exactly what they need: A do-it-all up-the-middle defensive player who can get after the quarterback, stuff the run and step in right away. As bad as this defense was in 2012, something drastic has to be done.
16. St. Louis Rams—WR Keenan Allen, California
With the Rams letting Danny Amendola test the free-agent waters, wide receiver becomes an even bigger priority for this team.
Allen does everything that Amendola did--runs routes well and catches the ball cleanly--but has a bigger body to move down field against more physical defensive backs. The NFC West is turning into the "Defensive Division," so anything that can be done to put a few more points on the board has to be.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers—OLB/DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Moore's horrible combine showing, which included just 12 bench-press reps and a 4.95 40-yard dash, could drop him out of the first round. I still want to believe in the physical tools we saw at Texas A&M, so I will keep him here for now.
Plus, the Steelers need pass-rushers and Moore fits well into the 3-4 system because he is big enough to play on the line and, at least in games, fast enough to be an outside linebacker.
18. Dallas Cowboys—DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
With the Cowboys moving back to a 4-3 defense under Monte Kiffin, they will need to adjust some things. Werner has the build and style to be a star in that kind of system. This feels like the right spot for him.
19. New York Giants—OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
The Giants are so inconsistent up front that it would make sense for them to grab the best offensive lineman on the board and not think twice.
Fluker is better at blocking against the run thanks to his long limbs, so the coaching staff will have to get him to play closer to his body, but he was the No. 2 lineman on the best college line in the country. That is high praise.
20. Chicago Bears—TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Offensive line could be an option for the Bears here, but finding a true No. 2 playmaker to complement Brandon Marshall is next on the team's hit list.
Eifert has size and power, runs precise routes and has some of the best hands in the draft. He will be Jay Cutler's safety net.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
The Bengals desperately need to find help at strong safety. Vaccaro is not an elite athlete, but he reads quarterbacks incredibly well and has a strong presence against the run.
When you are a two-dimensional safety in a league filled with players at the position who usually specialize in one area, you are going to have tremendous value.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)—OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Yet another player seeing his stock drop because of health concerns, Jones is trying to convince teams his spinal stenosis is not a big deal. However, anytime you have a situation like that even whispered, teams are going to be very careful.
Jones is a sack machine, able to beat multiple defenders, and holds his own against the run. The Rams addressed their offense with their first pick, now is the time to show the defense some attention.
23. Minnesota Vikings—ILB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
If teams are convinced that Ogletree will move past the DUI he got in February, he could be the steal of the first round. He is an insane athlete, with the ideal size and length of an NFL linebacker, elite speed and explosive tackling ability.
Even though the Vikings' bigger need is at outside linebacker, or even wide receiver, they could be tempted to take the best player available.
Ogletree has the raw talent to be a top-5 pick, though his baggage is going to give teams some pause. Put him on the field, though, and you realize how special he will be. Teams need to shore up the middle of the defense to succeed.
24. Indianapolis Colts—NT John Jenkins, Georgia
The Colts' biggest issue remains up front on the defensive line. Moving to a 3-4 defense last year only compounded the problem, because they had no one to take over the nose tackle position.
Jenkins is massive at over 350 pounds, allowing him to eat up two blockers at a time. He runs well for a player his size and will fit right in with Chuck Pagano's defensive philosophy.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks)—DE Datone Jones, UCLA
Jones gives an aging defensive line youth, more depth and an upgraded pass-rush. The Vikings do need a body to help stop the run more than the pass, but they are also in a spot where they can afford take the best player available.
26. Green Bay Packers—OG/C Barrett Jones, Alabama
Aaron Rodgers was sacked more than any other quarterback in 2012, yet still managed to put together an MVP-caliber season. It makes you wonder how great he can be if the team gets a good offensive line.
27. Houston Texans—WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
After another playoff disappointment in which their lack of explosiveness on offense was exploited again, it is time for the Texans to put someone alongside Andre Johnson who can be a difference maker.
Austin is undersized at 5'9", but he has great burst and can move down the field as well as any receiver in this draft. He will be the perfect complement for the burly Johnson on the opposite side of the field.
28. Denver Broncos—DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
The Broncos still need to get an impact defensive tackle. They could also explore some other options at defensive end, because Elvis Dumervil is starting to get expensive based on his level of all-around production.
Hankins is the perfect player for the Broncos, who really just need someone who can take on multiple defenders and allow everyone around him to get into the backfield. He doesn't have off-the-charts tools, but he should serve his purpose well.
29. New England Patriots—WR Robert Woods, USC
Trying to find a big wide receiver who can stretch the field has proven to be problematic for the Patriots since Randy Moss left town. Woods is not a burner who will run past many defenders, but he is so good at finding the ball in traffic that his speed isn't a huge concern.
30. Atlanta Falcons—TE Zach Ertz, Stanford
At some point the Falcons have to plan as if Tony Gonzalez won't be around, if not this year then next. Ertz certainly has more quickness than Gonzalez at this stage of his career, and he gets away from defenders better than any other tight end in this class.
31. San Francisco 49ers—CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
The 49ers' defense got exploited in the postseason when their pass-rushers couldn't get to the quarterback.
Trufant does not have elite speed, but he has a great football mind. He reads the quarterback and receiver so well that he can find the ball in situations where it looks like he has been beaten.
32. Baltimore Ravens—ILB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
The most-talked about pick of the draft will be Manti Te'o. Despite all the chaos surrounding him this offseason, he still has enough talent to be a late first-round pick. His instincts on the field were outstanding. He moves to the ball extremely well for a player his size.
The Ravens have an obvious hole to fill in the middle of the defense with Ray Lewis retiring. Te'o won't be the next Ray Lewis, but he certainly has the skills to warrant being taken by the Super Bowl champions.