Is Luke Joeckel worthy of the No.1 pick?
With free agency set to begin this week, now is the final opportunity to throw out a mock draft before team needs get completely altered by the massive signing frenzy. By releasing this before the chaos, I can then compare my post-free agency mock with this version and see how dramatically things have changed.
Trying to predict the opinions, strategies and preferences of each NFL organization is always a daunting task. I navigated this exercise by pairing a team's need with the player who is the best fit.
This mock draft is sure to have some unexpected wrinkles in it.
Does Manti Te'o fall out of the first round? Was a quarterback taken? Did a running back happen to sneak into the first round, and if so, who took him?
All of these questions and more will be answered in the following slides.
All combine results came via NFL.com.
The first pick of the 2013 NFL draft is not necessarily the ideal No. 1 pick.
Luke Joeckel becomes a big winner on draft day with no runaway candidate emerging as the "must-have" prospect of the year. Joeckel is an extremely talented left tackle that is expected to perform at a high level in the NFL from Day 1.
The Chiefs recently released right tackle Eric Winston after a disappointing season, which clears the way for Joeckel to push Branden Albert over to the right side despite his apparent resistance. Still, it would be unlikely for new head coach Andy Reid to draft a guy to play right tackle with the first overall pick.
The Jaguars could go in several directions here, but Eric Fisher has been flying up draft boards faster than Jacksonville sends out its punt team.
Fisher is actually a better athlete than Joeckel, but his small-school status and inability to anchor well should keep him in the runner-up category.
The Jaguars will likely entertain several trade options to move out of this spot for additional picks, but they will ultimately be stuck here after no team pushes hard enough for the right to select in the No. 2 spot.
Milliner solidified his top-five status after running a blazing sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. When you pair this with his high production level, ideal size and sound technique, it becomes easy to understand why this kid is going to be a star.
The Raiders need help in just about every area on the team. Cornerback is one of the team's greatest weaknesses, and Milliner makes too much sense here for Oakland to pass him up. It's hard to tell who the best defensive tackle from this class will eventually be, but that question becomes less tricky when looking at the cornerback position. Milliner is hands-down the best in his class.
Will Chip Kelly stay with what he knows or will he elect to go a different route?
Passing on Jordan here would be a tough call. Jordan is probably the most versatile athlete in the draft this year, as he could play nearly every position on defense if you needed him to.
Philadelphia should be looking to bring in the proper personnel needed to adjust to its new scheme under defensive coordinator Billy Davis, and Dion Jordan would be a perfect fit.
Damontre Moore might have slipped a bit due to his poor showing at the combine, but he probably recovered some of that lost ground with a decent pro day. Moore was one of the most productive edge rushers in the nation last season, and he is best suited as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense.
The Lions may lose Cliff Avril to free agency, which will only amplify their need for pass-rushers on the perimeter. Bjoern Werner of Florida State and Ezekiel Ansah of BYU get passed up here in favor of "Da Monstre Moore."
With Jarvis Jones' neck issue now apparently being considered a "non-issue" (h/t CBS Sports), he would be a great fit at a need position for the Cleveland Browns.
Jones is the type of difference-maker on defense that the Browns could really build around. His true value is almost exclusively as a pass-rusher, though, as he's surprisingly inconsistent as an open-field tackler and has been known to blow his primary responsibility while freelancing.
Cleveland needs more sacks in 2013, and Jones is the best option available at this point in the draft.
Lane Johnson becomes the third tackle taken in the top 10 so far, and he will be tasked with the job of trying to improve the worst offensive line in the NFL.
Johnson is the most athletic tackle among a very athletic crop this year. This means that his potential upside is through the roof, and in five years, we could be saying that Johnson was the best tackle in this year's class.
Arizona must pay significant attention to its offensive line this offseason—by using both the draft and free agency—because having another abysmal year up front would be a disaster for Bruce Arians in his first year as head coach.
Ideally, Arians would love to add a franchise quarterback with this pick, but no signal-caller in this year's class is really worthy of being taken this high. Besides, you probably wouldn't want to bring a first-round quarterback into a pass-protection nightmare without patching up a few holes first.
Bjoern Werner has the quickest first step in the draft this year, and he is a sound technician with his hands. He also demonstrates elite awareness and a unique ability to anticipate the quarterback's moves, but Werner slips a bit in this mock due to some concerns around his motor and stiffness.
The Bills would fill a major need here by adding an instant starter to the defensive line. Werner should benefit from having Mario Williams lined up opposite him due to the fact that the latter will constantly eat up double-teams. This paring should also force the ball in Werner's direction nearly all game long.
The New York Jets land one of my favorite prospects in the draft by snagging up Barkevious Mingo with the No. 9 overall pick.
Mingo is freakishly athletic and has the frame and quickness to become one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the league. He's a bit raw and has underachieved in terms of production, but if you're looking for a pure athlete with fluid motion and unlimited potential, Mingo is your guy.
New York can begin a fresh new era of Jets football with Mingo as the cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise.
Tennessee turns to Kenny Vaccaro here in hopes that he can fulfill a dire need at the safety position. Vaccaro has great size and few weaknesses, and he is easily the best safety in this class. He won't fall out of the top 10.
Vaccaro is a tremendous athlete who has the versatility to play in the box or be locked up man-to-man on a receiver. The need for safeties who can cover has increased with the onslaught of athletic tight ends entering the NFL over the last few years, so don't be surprised to see more safeties going earlier in the first round as this trend continues.
Chance Warmack slips out of the top 10 in this mock after a relatively disappointing display at the NFL Scouting Combine. But he doesn't fall too far, and San Diego will race to the podium to take a guy that many consider to be the best player in the draft.
The Chargers need to completely overhaul their offensive line, and they may need Warmack even more if they fail to re-sign Louis Vasquez.
Miami will enter the draft hoping to add some weapons for Ryan Tannehill to throw to. It would succeed in doing so by selecting Cordarrelle Patterson, who is widely considered one of the most dangerous players in the nation.
The Dolphins are expected to target a big-name receiver on the free-agent market, but they might also be willing to add a receiver via the draft this year. If they sign a guy like Mike Wallace when free agency beings, the 'Fins could could elect to draft a cornerback instead.
Sharrif Floyd might begin to get antsy in the green room at this point due to the fact that many projections have him as a near lock for the top five overall, but his fall may be the result of concerns about his passion for the game.
Passion aside, Floyd is indeed one of the most productive penetrating defensive tackles in the draft. He's a natural playmaker and has impressive quickness for a man of his size.
Tampa Bay receives a gift with Floyd falling into its laps here.
The perfect storm arrives in Carolina when a big-time need meets a world-class talent with the 14th pick in the first round.
Sheldon Richardson is the type of defender who thrives on making plays in the backfield, as his elite penetration and quickness were the keys to his success while at Missouri. He is a unique player with rare abilities for an interior lineman.
The impact that a guy of his caliber can have in Carolina is huge because if teams elect to single-block Richardson, they'll also be signing their own death warrants when he makes a home in their backfield. Once the double teams become necessary, guys like Luke Kuechly will benefit by not having to contend with blockers climbing up to the second level.
One of the more polarizing prospects in this year's class will not fall past the New Orleans Saints, who need a pass-rusher that can play in Rob Ryan's new 3-4 defense. Ansah has all the athletic measurables to be a star in the NFL, but his inexperience and raw ability should result in a large learning curve for this intriguing talent.
New Orleans had the worst defense in the league last year and needs some fresh faces to help turn things around. There is no telling what type of player Ansah will become, but more often than not, a player equipped with his physical gifts will find a way to impact the game on some level.
The St. Louis Rams are fortunate enough to have two chances at acquiring elite talent in the first round this year.
With their first of two picks, a major hole can be filled with the selection of Jonathan Cooper. Cooper is the second-best guard in this class and should provide an immediate upgrade to the offensive line.
Quarterback Sam Bradford has not proven himself in regards to his durability, and protecting him must be a top priority. Cooper is a great step in the right direction for this young Rams team.
It's not often that Pittsburgh gets a pick this early in the first round, but it'll use it wisely by adding a player with the type of speed and ability it covets. Tavon Austin can replace the production of the soon-to-be-lost Mike Wallace, who is expected to leave via free agency.
Pittsburgh has several areas of need on an aging defense, but Austin makes the most sense here. He can make plays in several different ways and should provide this offense with one of the deadliest weapons in the NFL.
D.J. Fluker is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. His toughness and physicality helped set the tone for Alabama's style of offense, and he would bring back an element of nastiness to the Cowboys offensive line that has been missing in recent years.
Fluker has the potential to play both the tackle or the guard position and might have the longest arms in this draft, proving that he is also quite versatile.
Dallas would be smart to add a guy like Fluker to its offense if it can resist the temptation to leap on a guy like Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who'll likely be available and be a great fit in their new Tampa-2 defense. But Ogletree comes with more baggage and weaknesses than a first-rounder should warrant, and Fluker is the much smarter choice here.
The Giants need linebackers in the worst way, but the value just isn't right for them in the first round. For instance, Olgetree is a great athlete but struggles against blockers and isn't very physical, and he also has a few off-field issues. Linebacker should be addressed in the later rounds, where guys that they are high on should still be available.
Xavier Rhodes is the big, physical cornerback that teams are beginning to collect in response to the ever-enlarging receivers in the NFL. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Rhodes ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine and played fantastic football while at Florida State.
If he manages to slip this far in the draft, the Giants would have to be crazy not to jump on him at No. 19.
Chicago scores big here by landing one of the best football players in the draft in Tyler Eifert. This guy is not only a terrific athlete, but he is a tough, physical competitor who can do it all.
Eifert is not only one of the top blocking tight ends available, he's also a reliable target who can split out wide and beat linebackers with his speed or corners with his size.
The Bears can definitely use another weapon for Jay Cutler to pair with Brandon Marshall, but if they decide to pass on Eifert or if he's gone before they are on the clock, offensive line or linebacker is likely their next play.
One thing we know about the Cincinnati Bengals is that they really don't concern themselves much with character issues. Alec Ogletree may not be a chronic character concern, but his lack of physicality is troubling.
However, there is still clear and obvious value in a linebacker who can cover ground and make plays in the way that Ogletree does.
Cincy's linebacking corps was sub-par last season and needs improvement. Ogletree can indeed become an impact player under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who has demonstrated some ability to maximize player potential while keeping troublesome athletes out of trouble.
With their second pick in the first round, the St. Louis Rams get tremendous value with wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen's stock has dropped a bit, as his recovering knee continues to keep him out of workouts, but there is no doubt that he is a top-three receiver in this class.
Allen has great size (6'2") and is fun to watch after the catch. His production was not what it should have been because his half-brother and quarterback, Zach Maynard, struggled to get the ball to him consistently downfield.
If the Rams can add a guy like Allen this late in the first round, they're in for a very good Day 1.
A heart condition has left this one-time No.1 overall pick prospect in a bit of a free-fall, but if everything checks out for him medically, he could see his stock back on the rise again.
Before the news broke about Lotulelei's medical concerns, I had him rated as the top prospect in this draft, and if he is still around this late in the draft, then the Vikings have to select him. He would fill a big-time need.
Jamie Collins is another one of those guys who catapulted into the first round following a stellar combine report. He should fit in immediately as a starter in Indianapolis, playing outside linebacker opposite of Robert Mathis.
This spot was occupied by Dwight Freeney last year, a former star who has since been relieved of his duties. The Colts could go in several directions here as they continue to build a team up from the ashes, but replacing Freeney should be priority No. 1.
It's no secret that Pete Carroll loves his big, fast receivers, and Justin Hunter could be the best one in this class. Plus, Russell Wilson needs some weapons on the outside if he's going to continue to develop his skill set beyond his rookie year.
Hunter has struggled with consistency in his college career, but he did have an incredibly productive 2012 season.
With Wilson throwing the ball to a guy like Hunter in 2013, the NFC West will need to watch out. This move would be like arming Superman with a pair of brass knuckles.
Green Bay has made the running back position a low priority for quite some time now, but it's time to address the running game before Aaron Rodgers gets killed.
Balance is the key to building a Super Bowl franchise, and Green Bay needs to be more effective and physical running the ball. Eddie Lacy does just that.
The Packers could potentially draft a safety here or address the offensive line, but Lacy is the impact running back that they should really consider at No. 26.
Few nose tackles have the ability to penetrate like Sylvester Williams can. He's a highly disruptive force up the middle, and he may be the missing piece to Houston's defense.
Williams should fit in nicely in their 3-4 defensive front, considering that their defensive linemen are granted the freedom to snap off blocks and make plays like J.J Watt.
Houston could also look towards a receiver here, or even a tight end. Stanford's Zach Ertz is still available and might be a valuable option.
Jonathan Cyprien is a highly productive athlete who is moving up draft boards fast. Teams who may have planned to grab him in Round 2 might be very disappointed.
Denver needs help at safety, and Cyprien is actually a better choice here than Matt Elam. Defensive tackle may be an option too, though, as there will surely be several good tackles available here in such a deep class.
We all know Bill Belichick and the Patriots love to stray from the beaten path from time to time, and taking Margus Hunt seems exactly like the type of splash that New England likes to make.
Hunt should be able to provide the defense with a freakishly rare athlete who should become a solid edge-rusher. In addition to his role on the defense, Hunt also has a rare talent for blocking kicks, racking up 17 blocked kicks in college.
Expect Belichick to use his rare abilities in a variety of ways.
Whether or not Tony Gonzalez returns to play one more year, the Falcons still need to start thinking about his replacement. Zach Ertz is a pretty terrible blocker, but his quick feet and giant frame will help him become a top-flight passing option
Ertz might not even be the third-best tight end in the draft at this point, but he seems to carry the biggest endorsements from analysts and experts alike. Atlanta may be able to soften the sting of losing No. 88 to retirement with this pick, but it'll never fully replace him.
The 49ers have lacked a solid nose tackle for years now. In the meantime, they've relied upon Isaac Sopoaga to clog up the middle and eat up blockers, but his days in San Francisco are over. A new era at nose tackle is needed, and it can start with the massive-bodied John Jenkins.
Jenkins needs to improve his conditioning, but his strength and ability to anchor are going to be a major asset for an already deadly defense in San Francisco.
The 49ers may also address cornerback or wide receiver here, but it really will come down to who is at play when it comes time to pick.
Kevin Minter may not have the big name status like Manti Te'o does, but he may be the more superior linebacker. Minter is my personal choice for top linebacker in this draft class.
This kid is tough, physical, and he is a downhill player. He rarely gets hung up by a blocker and when he tackles you, you feel it.
The Ravens have some huge shoes to fill at inside linebacker, and Minter is a great option to begin the transition process into a new era at defense.
Te'o seems to be eroding under public scrutiny exposing alarming concerns about his overall mental toughness and resolve. Baltimore is the type of franchise that doesn't seem to mesh well with a Te'o-like personality, and Minter makes more sense here.