No NFL team is in a position to patch up all its holes in the draft, but there is an opportunity for almost every franchise to fill at least one major need in the first round.
Value-based drafting is an essential part of building a team, but needs can’t be ignored. Some teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions will have to use their top pick on a prospect who can be an immediate impact player in the NFL.
Not every general manager chooses to address his biggest need in the first round, but most at least take advantage of the premier talent at a position of need. We’ll take a look at how the first round could shake out relative to that drafting strategy, with notable selections highlighted in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Offensive tackle isn’t Kansas City’s biggest need. When a team has the first pick in the draft, sometimes need just doesn’t play a big role in the selection process.
Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is the best player in this draft, and after tagging Branden Albert and releasing Eric Winston, we have a pretty good idea of the direction in which the Chiefs plan to go on Day 1.
Kansas City has been active in improving its roster. With the additions of Alex Smith (via ESPN) and Dunta Robinson (via Adam Schefter) and the re-signing of Dwayne Bowe, Andy Reid can choose to make a value selection here in the best overall talent in the draft class.
If the Chiefs do decide to draft based on need alone, look for Utah's Star Lotulelei to be a potential option with the first overall pick.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Finding a pass-rusher should be at the top of general manager David Caldwell’s to-do list. The Jaguars ranked last in the league in sacks last season (20), and with so many holes to fill on both sides of the ball, filling one in the first round will be a necessity.
Fortunately for Jacksonville, it can fill its biggest need with a big-time talent.
Jordan will need to add a little more bulk to hold up as a three-down defensive end in the NFL, but he has incredible athleticism and quickness. He would be a great fit in Gus Bradley’s Leo role as a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker.
3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Quarterback may not be Oakland’s biggest need, but it’s certainly near the top of the list. Given the importance of the quarterback position, locking up this year’s best quarterback prospect would be a wise decision.
Carson Palmer’s career is winding down and Terrelle Pryor doesn’t look to be the future of the Raiders’ offense. Smith has the potential to be a terrific signal-caller in the NFL, and he’ll have an immediate impact on Oakland’s offensive attack in 2013.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent and there’s a good chance Nnamdi Asomugha follows suit. If neither is present in Philadelphia next season, cornerback becomes a major need for the Eagles.
Nearly any defensive prospect could be in play here, but there isn’t a better cornerback available in this draft. Milliner has the size, speed, flexibility and awareness to be a top-tier pass-defender in the NFL.
After running the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the NFL combine, Milliner only further boosted his draft stock. He has a strong resume from Alabama, and he'll have an immediate impact as a rookie in Philadelphia.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Defensive end Cliff Avril is a free agent and Kyle Vanden Bosch was released, meaning defensive end is a glaring need for the Lions entering the 2013 season.
If general manager Martin Mayhew doesn’t turn to the free-agent market to address the position, expect him to count on selecting a quality pass-rusher in the first round.
Werner doesn’t excel in any particular area, but his high motor and athleticism make him a good pass-rusher and a complete 4-3 defensive end. Ezekiel Ansah may have more upside, but Werner can be an immediate impact player in his first season.
6. Cleveland Browns: Ezekiel Ansah, OLB, BYU
With the switch to a 3-4 base defense in 2013, finding a pass-rusher at the outside linebacker position becomes an even bigger concern for the Browns.
BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah is a very raw football player, but he’s an exceptional athlete with all the physical tools teams look for in an edge rusher. The Browns could be big players in free agency with a lot of quality pass-rushers available, though for now we have to assume help at the position is going to have to come in the draft.
In today's pass-happy NFL, teams can never have too many pass-rushers. Ansah has a high ceiling and could be a significant building block for Cleveland.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Quarterback may be a bigger need here, but it doesn’t matter who the Cardinals start under center in 2013. If they can’t strengthen one of the league’s worst offensive lines, no quarterback will succeed in Arizona next season.
Fisher is one of the most complete offensive tackles in this year’s class. He’s a very solid pass-protector with the ability to help move the sticks in the running game as well.
Like many other teams in the league, the Cardinals will no doubt look to shore up their weaknesses through free agency, but adding a potential Pro Bowler would still be a wise decision in the first round.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
New head coach Doug Marrone will want to find a new signal-caller this offseason. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown flashes of talent, but he’s far too inconsistent to be a serviceable option going forward.
With Smith already off the board, Barkley stands to be the next quarterback selected—potentially the only other signal-caller to garner first-round attention. He has a lot to prove at his pro day on March 27, but if he can prove his arm is back to playing shape, Barkley could easily come off the board in the top 10 selections.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
RT @alexcosenza13: Who's starting for the jets at qb week 1? ... Jets fans won't like this, but Sanchez.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 5, 2013
With so many other holes to fill this offseason, quarterback probably won’t be a consideration here. Instead, the Jets can look to improve their pass rush with an ultra-athletic edge rusher.
Like Ansah, Mingo is very raw, but he has the physical tools to eventually dominate at the NFL level. He’ll have to transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, but the Jets employ a lot of exotic defensive schemes that will allow Mingo to play in space and use his athleticism to his advantage in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, BYU
An apparent heart condition kept Lotulelei from participating at the combine, raising red flags about his potential NFL career.
Still, there’s a chance the Utah defensive tackle’s condition isn’t serious enough to limit him on the football field. It’s hard to project how the news may affect his draft stock, but if Lotulelei is capable of playing football next season, the Titans will get an absolute steal with the No. 10 selection.
Tennessee’s interior defensive line has been one of its weakest units. The Titans need to get better at stuffing the run, and Lotulelei has the size and strength to be a disruptive force from nearly any defensive line position in any scheme.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Left tackle is San Diego’s biggest need. Marcus McNeill retired prior to the 2012 season and Jared Gaither proved to be a poor replacement. If Johnson is still available here, the Chargers have an easy decision to make.
A former quarterback, tight end and defensive end, Johnson has athleticism rarely seen at the offensive tackle position. He put that athleticism on display at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, recording a 34-inch vertical and impressing in his other drills.
He’ll need to add a little bulk, but he’s by no means an unpolished prospect. Johnson can step in on Day 1 and be an anchor for San Diego’s offensive line.
12. Miami Dolphins: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Look for the Dolphins to be major players on the free-agent market. Even with Brian Hartline under a new contract, Miami has to continue adding weapons for Ryan Tannehill.
With Hartline as its best receiver currently under contract, we have to assume Miami will opt for a wide receiver in this first round should a top-tier talent be available.
Patterson needs to improve his route-running and blocking, but he’s the most athletically gifted receiver in this draft class, With ideal size and speed for the position, it won’t be long before Patterson is turning heads as a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Buccaneers would love for Milliner to still be available, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll make it out of the top 10. Still, cornerback is a major concern, and selecting the best available will certainly be an option here for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs traded Aqib Talib to the Patriots and couldn’t pick up the slack to replace him. Tampa Bay’s pass defense was dead last in the NFL in 2012, giving reason to believe shoring up its secondary will be priority No. 1 in April.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
If Floyd drops to the Panthers in the first round, they have to consider him one of the top possibilities for this pick.
Floyd is an incredible athlete for his size (6'3", 297 pounds), and he projects well as a one-gap defensive tackle. With the quickness, strength and explosive first step to shoot gaps and get into the backfield, there may not be a defensive tackle better suited for a 4-3 in this draft class.
Carolina doesn’t have a lot of glaring positional needs, but its interior defensive line wasn’t a strength in 2012. The Panthers need to get stronger against the run, and adding a player of Floyd’s ability would go a long way toward doing so.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones has the talent to be a top five selection on Day 1 of the draft, but as Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller reported at the combine, concerns about his spinal stenosis condition may scare off some teams:
Was told tonight that at least 10 teams have removed Jarvis Jones from their draft board due to spinal issue.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 24, 2013
If the Georgia prospect makes it to No. 15, the Saints have to seriously consider overlooking the medical red flags. They are in desperate need of a pass-rushing outside linebacker to play in their new 3-4 front, and Jones is that and more.
With the size, speed, athleticism and awareness of an elite linebacker prospect, Jones can be a three-down defender in the NFL. Provided his health issues don’t keep him off the field, he’ll be an impact player on Day 1.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Left tackle and wide receiver may be bigger needs, but the value here doesn’t warrant selecting a player of either position. With another selection in the first round, the Rams can afford to make a good value pick at a position of relative need in Vaccaro.
The Texas safety is one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in this draft class. His numbers at Texas weren’t phenomenal, but he showed on tape that he has the speed, instincts and range to make a lot of plays at the next level.
Vaccaro can be an immediate starter at a number of positions (safety, nickel and dime cornerback), but St. Louis could certainly use him in a starting safety role.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel are nearing the end of their careers and Ziggy Hood hasn’t quite panned out as the Steelers would have hoped. Shoring up its defensive line should be one of Pittsburgh’s top priorities in April.
Richardson projects well as a two-gap defensive end in the NFL. He has the bulk and strength to command a double-team on every play, and the length to tie up blockers and still be able to make plays in the backfield.
With so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, general manager Kevin Colbert can afford to take advantage of value and still select a player who fills a need here.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Dallas will be transitioning to a Tampa-2 this season, and while it still needs to find some pieces to make it all work, holes on the offensive line still need to be filled.
The Cowboys’ running game has been nonexistent recently. To make matters worse, Tony Romo hasn’t been able to elude the constant A-Gap pressure that opponents have been able to generate against a porous interior offensive line.
Solving both issues could come down to one smart pick on draft day. Apart from Joeckel, Warmack is the best offensive lineman in this draft class, and he’ll be able to step in at either guard position and patch up one of Dallas’ biggest holes.
19. New York Giants: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
With Osi Umenyiora on the free-agent market and Justin Tuck’s relative ineffectiveness of late, the Giants have to consider selecting a defensive end early in the draft. They have other needs, but they won’t find a player like Okafor in later rounds.
Okafor is tailor-made for the 4-3 defensive end position. One of the most underrated pass-rushers in this year’s class, he has the strength and quickness to be an immediate impact player opposite Jason Pierre-Paul.
20. Chicago Bears: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Fluker are better all-around offensive line talents, but Watson is a smarter pick for the Bears with the 20th selection. He’s still raw, but he has the potential to be a very good left tackle in the NFL.
Chicago’s pass-protection unit was one of the worst in the league in 2012. If Jay Cutler is to be healthy and productive in 2013, he’ll need a good left tackle protecting his blind side.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Right tackle Andre Smith reportedly wants $9 million per season in a new contract. He’s unlikely to get that in Cincinnati, meaning finding a new right tackle will be a necessity in the early rounds.
Fluker is a mauler at the right tackle position. While he doesn’t have the frame or quick feet to play on the left side of the line, he has the strength and toughness to be a very good right tackle in the NFL.
The Bengals don't have a lot of areas of need, though they could consider a safety or wide receiver here if they opt to pass on an offensive lineman. Both Jonathan Cyprien and DeAndre Hopkins would be excellent selections.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
With the safety position already addressed, the Rams can finally turn to the offensive side of the ball at a point in Round 1 where the value is more appropriate. Wide receiver is easily one of the team’s biggest needs, and they’ll get a good one in Hopkins.
Hopkins has marginal size and speed, but good route-running ability and the innate ability to make big plays set him apart from most other receivers in this draft class.
St. Louis' offense is undergoing a major transition right now. Steven Jackson voided his contract this offseason, Danny Amendola may find a new home in free agency (per St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and Sam Bradford still hasn't gotten the extra offensive weapons he needs to be a successful NFL quarterback.
If the Rams' offense is to land on its feet in the 2013 season, St. Louis will have to look for a new No. 1 receiver in the early rounds of the draft.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Adrian Peterson has been the focal point of Minnesota's offense for most of his career, but he can't be asked to post near record-breaking numbers every season. The Vikings' offense has to find a way to move the ball through the air going forward.
Percy Harvin is a terrific weapon, but according to Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune, the No. 1 receiver doesn't want to be in Minnesota next season.
Whether Harvin stays or goes shouldn't affect what Minnesota does with this pick. The Vikings still need another talented receiving threat and they'll get a good one in Allen.
Allen doesn't have the blazing fast speed of some of the other top receivers in this class, but he has the solid route-running ability and good hands to be a solid NFL No. 1.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Almost every defensive position is an area of need for the Colts this offseason. After transitioning to a 3-4 in 2012, finding the right pieces to make it work will have to be a priority.
Moore isn't the ideal fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he gives the Colts a quality edge-rushing presence they currently don't possess.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Seattle doesn’t have a true big-play receiver on its roster. Russell Wilson has a lot of good young weapons with which to work, but he doesn’t have the kind of electric playmaker who can open up the field.
Austin is the most explosive offensive weapon in this draft class. When given the ball in open space, he simply finds ways to get it into the end zone.
Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate have proved to be quality options in the passing game. Now it's time for Seattle to take its receiving corps over the top with a game-changing talent at the position.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Cooper is one of the best overall offensive linemen in this class, but guards aren’t typically coveted in the first round. He has the potential to be selected in the top half of the draft, but it’s more likely he slides into the bottom third.
Green Bay is one of the most talented teams in the league from top to bottom, but almost every position on the offensive line needs to be solidified. With few top-tier talents still available at this point in the first round, Ted Thompson can take advantage of both value and need here.
Cooper needs to add some bulk, but he has the skills to play both guard and center in the NFL. One-year fill-in Jeff Saturday retired this offseason, and Cooper could be a candidate to fill the position in the future.
27. Houston Texans: Robert Woods, WR, USC
Andre Johnson is on the downside of his career, but he still has some productive seasons left in the tank. In order to continue being effective, he’ll need a little help.
Houston’s affinity for running the football has made wide receiver an area it has failed to address early in the draft. With Woods still on the board, this is a fairly easy decision.
The Texans could also look to shore up the free safety position with Glover Quin now a free agent, but this year’s safety class is extremely deep. Houston can afford to address that need later in the draft.
28. Denver Broncos: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
As good a career as Champ Bailey has had, it’s probably nearing time for him to hang up his spikes. The All-Pro cornerback just didn’t play like a lockdown defender in 2012.
If the Broncos are to make another deep run in the playoffs in 2013, they’ll have to add another quality pass-defender through either free agency or the draft. If Trufant is available here, they would be wise to select him, regardless of free-agent acquisitions.
Trufant has the length, speed and ball skills to be a shutdown corner in the NFL. He’s instinctual and tough, and with Milliner and Rhodes off the board, he’s also Denver’s best option with this pick.
29. New England Patriots: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Banks didn’t run well at the combine, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the football skills to be a terrific pass-defender at the next level.
The Patriots need to re-energize their defensive secondary, especially after a year in which they finished No. 29 in pass defense. New England's inability to defend the pass was a glaring weakness in the AFC title game, and Bill Belichick won't want a repeat performance next season.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
With the release of John Abraham, Atlanta may look to get younger and more athletic at the defensive end position. Carradine would be a terrific choice.
The Florida State defensive end tore his ACL in 2012, but he could be back for the start of the 2013 season. If he can play anywhere close to the level he did before the injury, Atlanta will have a future star on its hands.
Carradine has the prototypical size, quickness and strength to be a dominant edge rushing 4-3 defensive end. If his offseason medical evaluations go well, there’s no question he’ll be a first-round selection in April.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Dashon Goldson is a free agent and the 49ers can’t afford to let their secondary get any weaker. The Ravens exploited San Francisco’s defensive backs in the Super Bowl, and it’s clear what the 49ers must do to improve in 2013.
Cornerback is a more pressing need, but there aren’t any still available worthy of a first-round selection. Instead, San Francisco can select the second-best safety in this year’s class.
Cyprien is a tenacious defender who is equally adept at playing the pass and helping in run support. One of the most complete pass-defenders in this draft class, there’s a chance he doesn’t even make it to the 49ers near the end of the first round.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
With so much uncertainty at multiple linebacker positions, adding depth (and a potential starter) could be one of Ozzie Newsome's main concerns. Defensive tackle and safety may also be in play here, and there's also a possibility the Ravens trade back with the depth at each of those positions in this year's class.
It's hard to project trades this late in the round, though, and we have to assume the Ravens will keep this pick and use ti to fill a need. Luckily for Newsome, he'll be able to both fill a need and take advantage of exceptional value in the form of Ogletree.
The Georgia product is an exceptional athlete who can play inside and out in a 3-4 scheme. Baltimore's linebackers were exploited in the Super Bowl, and finding the type of hard-nosed hitters who can also play effective coverage isn't easy. Ogletree fits the bill, though, and he's a good choice with this pick.