Cornerback prospect Xavier Rhodes
General managers can make or break their reputations with the NFL draft. A strong pick will be remembered just as much as that bust who didn't work out.
If a team is picking near the top of the draft, making the wrong selection can set a franchise back years, whereas shrewd scouting can help to unearth undervalued prospects.
The 2013 draft will be no different. If anything, this year is more difficult on GMs than some of the more recent editions. There don't look to be the same volume of franchise cornerstones everybody agrees will have long, productive careers. The players at the top look strong, but the drop-off after those elite prospects is rather steep.
Here's a mock of the first round, with the picks that will help GMs the most italicized.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It's far from a consensus as to whom Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs will take with the No. 1 overall selection. While the trade isn't yet official, it's almost a certainty Alex Smith will be going to Kansas City this offseason (h/t Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk). That means Geno Smith is out as an option.
That would leave Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel as the best choices. Of the two, Joeckel deserves the nod.
He's a solid blocker against both the run and pass. Joeckel's size is also very deceiving. He looks almost thin for an offensive tackle with his 6'6" frame, yet weighs in at 306 pounds. There's no doubt he has the strength to excel in the NFL. Unlike some early picks who have flamed out in the pros, Joeckel's footwork is superb.
If there's anything close to a sure thing in this draft, Joeckel is it.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Dion Jordan has been shooting up draft boards, and it's easy to see why. He's got a fantastic combination of size and athleticism. With his speed, Jordan can be a massive threat rushing the quarterback off the edge. He would really be helping himself by adding some muscle. His strength is the one thing that could hold him back at the next level.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Oakland Raiders must resist whatever desire they have to draft a quarterback in the first round. There isn't one worth taking with the third pick considering the Raiders' needs. Sharrif Floyd is a much better pick. He's got a wealth of talent and can help to improve the middle of Oakland's defensive line.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
There's a variety of different ways the Philadelphia Eagles could go with this pick. They struggled both in the pass rush and secondary. The Eagles finished tied for 25th in sacks and 30th interceptions. Philadelphia's biggest problem area is in pass blocking. The team gave up the fifth-most sacks in the league, 48.0.
With Joeckel off the board, Eric Fisher is the best tackle available. The two are very similar in size, with Fisher listed at 6'7" and 306 pounds.
Unlike Joeckel, Fisher had to silence the critics who said he just looked good against average competition in college. With strong showings at both the combine and Senior Bowl, Fisher has ensured that scouts will be taking him seriously.
He has very good footwork and can equally handle strong interior linemen or quick pass rushers.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Dee Milliner just continues to distance himself from the other corners in this year's draft class. He had a fantastic combine, putting away any doubts as to his physical tools. Milliner illustrated in college that he has an almost innate capability to put himself in a fantastic position to disrupt opposing wide receivers. The Detroit Lions could desperately use his defensive skills in the secondary.
6. Cleveland Browns: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
The Cleveland Browns lack a steady pass rusher. Juqua Parker and Jabaal Sheard were solid last year but only combined for 13 sacks. Barkevious Mingo has the tools to become one of the best players to come out of this draft. His speed is phenomenal for a pass-rusher; however, Mingo needs to develop some other moves in order to not be pushed around by offensive tackles.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith has what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. Taking him at No. 7 is a bit of a reach, though. It's a gamble the Arizona Cardinals can afford to take. They need to upgrade at quarterback at some point this offseason, as their four-headed monster of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer and John Skelton was dreadful last year.
There are definite concerns as to Smith's upside in the NFL. Working with Bruce Arians would be the perfect situation for him.
8. Buffalo Bills: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Few players helped themselves more at the combine than Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson's strong showing propelled him to the top of most experts' boards at wide receiver and possibly earned him a Top 10 selection. The Buffalo Bills could really use his playmaking skills on offense.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Although Mark Sanchez became a running joke for the New York Jets, the team should address its defense in the first round. The Jets really struggled last year when it came to getting pressure on the quarterback. Ezekiel Ansah would help to solve that problem.
His inexperience shows at times because he'll rely on only his speed to get around blockers. That alone won't work in the NFL, but Ansah should continue to grow as he gets more reps.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
One of the biggest stories to come out of the combine had nothing do with 40 times or reps on the bench. It was the fact that Star Lotulelei had to be held out after being flagged for a heart condition (h/t Chris Mortensen of ESPN).
News like this shouldn't be taken lightly, but until more information is known, Lotulelei deserves to be a top 10 pick. He's the best defensive tackle on the board.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The San Diego Chargers would be crazy to go with anything but an offensive tackle here. Fisher could be available at No. 11.
More likely, the Chargers will be targeting Lane Johnson. He doesn't look to be the kind of prospect that Fisher or Joeckel is, but Johnson looks to be in that same kind of mold. Johnson is mobile for his size and can contribute in both run blocking and pass blocking.
12. Miami Dolphins: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
The Miami Dolphins desperately need to bring a different dimension to their passing game. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess only combined for two receiving touchdowns last season. Keenan Allen is not the quickest receiver in the draft, but he has enough to beat corners on the edge to combine with his solid route-running ability.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
It would be far from a shock to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft a corner in the first round. Tampa Bay finished last in the league in pass defense, giving up 297 yards through the air per game. When looking at a division that features Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees, it's going to be vital for the Buccaneers to shore up their secondary.
Xavier Rhodes looks tailor-made to succeed in today's NFL. The league has eliminated virtually any contact after five yards.
Rhodes' physicality at the line of scrimmage will be perfect in knocking receivers off their routes. That trait will likely lead to some pass-interference and illegal-contact penalties, though.
On the whole, Rhodes will be a very good corner in the league when you combine that physicality with his speed and instincts.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Sheldon Richardson is a high-risk, high-reward pick in the middle of the draft. He has all the physical tools you look for in a defensive tackle. However, Richardson doesn't have the kind of college resume you'd look for in a top tackle. Teams will be hoping his junior season is representative of his true talent rather than an outlier.
15. New Orleans Saints: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
After surrendering the most yards in NFL history, the New Orleans Saints need to improve their defense. Bjoern Werner was considered by some to be the best pass rusher in the draft. His star has since fallen, but Werner has more than enough to immediately upgrade a weak Saints defense.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
There's a very real chance that Chance Warmack could go in the top 10, which would be unheard of for a guard. In terms of pure talent, he's one of the best players in the draft. The problem is, an offensive guard won't have the same kind of impact as an offensive tackle, cornerback or defensive tackle.
If no teams are able to see Warmack's true value, the St. Louis Rams would be getting a steal. Before last year, you began to wonder if Sam Bradford could be a franchise quarterback. He put all of those doubts to bed with a very strong 2012.
Now the Rams need to start really building around him. Improving the offensive line would be a great step.
Warmack is very strong in protecting the passer and quick enough to open up some holes downfield for his running back.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, OLB Georgia
Much like Lotulelei, Jarvis Jones has medical issues that could see his stock drop in the draft (h/t Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk). Teams will be a little wary of taking a linebacker with a possible neck injury. The Pittsburgh Steelers can afford to take the risk, and he would help a Steelers defense that has begun to show its age.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Along with Monte Kiffin comes his 4-3 defense. The Dallas Cowboys may be holding on to Anthony Spencer after all (h/t Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com). That just leaves a hole in the interior of the defensive line. Kawann Short is the run-stuffer that Kiffin will need to have his defensive line find balance.
19. New York Giants: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Much like Werner, once regarded as a top pass rusher, Damontre Moore has taken a bit of a tumble down many experts' draft boards. Moore has a bit of a slighter frame, so he'll need to bulk up when he hits the NFL. He still needs some work, but the New York Giants could do much worse than drafting Moore.
20. Chicago Bears: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
In lieu of seeing the best offensive tackles off the board, the Chicago Bears should be looking at a different way to help Jay Cutler. Tyler Eifert might not be an explosive tight end. He's still the best on the board and a very good pass catcher.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Cincinnati Bengals look to be substituting one Alabama Crimson Tide tackle for another. Andre Smith looks to be wanting $9 million a year in free agency (h/t Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk). He probably won't be getting that from the Bengals, so that leaves a hole at right tackle.
D.J. Fluker is a solid run blocker but doesn't look to have the agility needed to handle pass rushers.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas
Kenny Vaccaro is the prototype free safety. He's very instinctive and can contribute both against the pass and in run defense. The Rams would have one of the best showings in the first round of any team should they lock up both Vaccaro and Warmack.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
DeAndre Hopkins would do a lot to ease the offensive burden on Adrian Peterson. Hopkins won't be the quickest receiver in the draft. He's still a very good route runner and would be a welcome addition for Christian Ponder.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Indianapolis Colts could use some help against the pass. They weren't terrible, yet they weren't good, either. Desmond Trufant is a physical corner at the line of scrimmage, so he should be well-suited for the NFL.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Datone Jones has done very well in the buildup to the draft. The worry is that he had only one really strong season with the UCLA Bruins. The Seattle Seahawks need another pass rusher, but Jones might be nothing more than a one-year wonder.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Aaron Rodgers needs some more protection in front of him. The interior of the Green Bay Packers offense in particular was poor in 2012. Jonathan Cooper showed a lot of versatility in college, so the Packers would be able to slot him in at either guard position or possibly even center.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Tavon Austin really put himself on display at the combine. He's got the speed to become an elite slot receiver in the NFL and would be a solid partner for Andre Johnson.
28. Denver Broncos: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The Denver Broncos defense was one of the best in the league last year. That doesn't mean the unit couldn't use some improvement. Johnathan Hankins would address what is probably the biggest weakness—defensive tackle.
29. New England Patriots: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
It's no wonder the New England Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs. Their pass defense was atrocious last year. Johnthan Banks is a solid defender but can be caught taking too many risks, so he's worth a late-round gamble.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
If the Atlanta Falcons want a top-tier defensive end, they'll need to trade up. Alex Okafor can become a reliable pass-rusher, but he doesn't look to have the tools necessary to become elite.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
The San Francisco 49ers secondary was exposed in a big way against the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. The 49ers need to improve at the cornerback position, so Jamar Taylor would be a smart pick.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
No pick would have bigger shoes to fill than the man chosen to replace Ray Lewis in the Baltimore Ravens defense. He was one of the best linebackers in the history of the league. Aside from simply his on-field production, no one will be able to immediately replace the inspiration factor that Lewis brought.
Manti Te'o has been mocked to the Ravens in some experts' drafts. He makes sense here, but his ceiling is nowhere near that of Kevin Minter.
Minter isn't the kind of player who will immediately be a big hitter and he doesn't have elite physical skills. He more than makes up for those deficiencies by being a very smart football player. Minter isn't one to shy away from a hit, either. His instincts will serve him well in the league.