While there’s a lot of inherent value in mock drafts, nothing is even close to concrete at this point in the pre-draft process. Instead, we project where NFL prospects could land given the circumstances with which each team is faced.
Every scout, coach and general manager evaluates players very differently, meaning what happens in April probably won’t be anything close to what we expect to happen in right now. Simply put, there is no right answer this far from the draft.
Still, mock drafts allow us to better understand the relationship between need and value in the drafting process. They also help us evaluate teams’ biggest needs and which players could fill those holes.
The following mock draft is an exercise in both.
We’ll make projections for each team’s first-round selection in respect to the safest possibilities for each of those picks.
Taking into account player potential, positional needs and value, let’s examine the safest picks for each team in the first round of the 2013 draft.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
With “safe” being the theme, Kansas City selects the best player in this year’s draft.
Eric Winston’s release now gives the Chiefs the option of moving Branden Albert to the right side of the line with the potential addition of Joeckel. Offensive tackle isn’t a flashy pick, but this selection is easily the least volatile move they could make at the top of the draft.
This move makes even more sense if the Chiefs are in fact shopping Albert, as reports suggest.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
General manager David Caldwell took over the Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter account for a short time on March 12, answering various questions about the team and the pre-draft process. His stance on drafting wasn’t a big surprise:
There’s a little conjecture involved here, but that response make selecting Werner a good bet. Jacksonville has a lot of needs, so there’s still the possibility for need and value to meet.
Werner is the best 4-3 defensive end in this class, and he would fill a major need for the Jaguars.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Like the Jaguars, Oakland has a lot of positional needs. The Raiders fielded one of the worst pass-rush units in the NFL last season, and bolstering their defensive front with a dominant interior pass-rusher would be an excellent decision.
Floyd has an extremely high ceiling. He has the size and athleticism to be a monster in a one-gap 4-3 front, and he’s easily the best pass-rushing defensive tackle available this year.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
With Philadelphia in a transitional state, a lot of starting roles will be up for grabs this year.
The Eagles will be transitioning to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis, and they’ll need a couple good pass-rushing outside linebackers to make it work.
Jordan is extremely athletic, explosive and versatile. He had experience lining up in multiple positions at Oregon, and he’ll give Davis the kind of versatility defensive coordinators love in their linebackers.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Lions have a lot of needs, but many of the prospects that could fill those holes are very raw. For Detroit to make the safest pick possible, they would have to go with a top-tier offensive tackle.
Fisher is just a notch below elite, but he has an extremely high ceiling. The Lions need to protect their franchise quarterback, and the Central Michigan product is their safest option here.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Finding a pass-rusher may still be an option here, but the top players available all have some question marks. Instead, the Browns can turn their focus to the cornerback position and address the outside linebacker position in later rounds.
Milliner is the most talented corner in this class, and he’ll be an excellent complement to Joe Haden in the secondary. He doesn’t have elite ball skills, but the talent is there. With Milliner in the fold, Cleveland could field one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Cardinals would probably love for Fisher to be available here, but with the second-best offensive tackle in this class of the board, Johnson is the next-best option.
Quarterback could be in play here, but every signal-caller in this draft presents a lot of risk. It’s unlikely they will pass on Geno Smith if he is available, but he’s not the safest choice.
Johnson is the most athletic offensive lineman available this year, and while he doesn’t have as much experience at the position as some of the more experience left tackles in this class, he’s not raw by any means. He’ll be able to step in and make an immediate impact in shoring up the NFL’s worst offensive line.
8. Buffalo Bills: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
This pick is more about value than need. The Bills could certainly use another receiver to play opposite Stevie Johnson, but it’s not a glaring positional need in relation to other positions.
Patterson is simply too good to pass on with the No. 8 selection. He has a tremendously high ceiling with all the physical tools to be an elite NFL receiver. He’ll have to polish up his route-running skills, but Patterson will be a fantastic pass-catcher at the next level.
9. New York Jets: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Mark Sanchez won’t be going anywhere this offseason, but he’s entering the final year of his contract. In order for the Jets to fix their biggest weakness, they’ll have to consider selecting a future franchise quarterback this offseason.
Pass-rusher is a big need as well, but Ezekiel Ansah and Barkevious Mingo are extremely raw and Jarvis Jones’ health issues may scare off some teams in need of a true outside linebacker.
With question marks attached to many of this year’s top pass-rushers, the safest choice is to lock up a potential star at the quarterback position in anticipation of Sanchez's potential departure following the 2013 season.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson announced his retirement, and the Tennessee Titans were already in need of interior offensive line help prior to that.
If the Titans hope to maximize the talent of running back Chris Johnson, they will have to shore up their offensive line. Warmack is the most talented guard in this class, and with a skillset perfect tailored to run-blocking in the NFL, he’ll go a long way toward helping Johnson consistently play like one of the best running backs in the league.
11. San Diego Chargers: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Chargers’ biggest need is at the left tackle position. With the top three left tackles already off the board, reaching to fill the position wouldn’t be a safe option.
Lotulelei’s heart condition may necessitate a slide down some draft boards this April, but he won’t make it far. With a rare blend of size, strength and quickness, Lotulelei can be a star in the NFL, and he’ll be a good fit in San Diego.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Left tackle, wide receiver and cornerback were all big needs for the Dolphins entering free agency, but cornerback is now their most likely option on draft day.
Rhodes isn’t as talented as Milliner, but he has the length, speed and ball skills to be just as effective against NFL receivers. If Patterson were still available, Miami would have a hard time passing on him, but it’s unlikely he falls out of the top 10.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Selecting one of the best players still on the board is rarely a risky option. With the top two corners in the draft already off the board, Tampa Bay can opt to strengthen its interior defensive line.
Paired with Gerald McCoy, the Buccaneers could field one of the best defensive tackle combos in the league. Richardson is an able interior pass-rushers with the size and strength to also be a good run stuffer in a one-gap front.
14. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The Panthers don’t have a ton of holes to fill this offseason, though shoring up their interior defensive line should be near the top of their priority list. Hankins' frame and skillset are perfectly suited for a run-stuffing role in the NFL, and he’ll be an immediate upgrade at the defensive tackle position in Carolina.
Wide receiver and cornerback could also be options here, but the value does warrant a selection at either position. Instead, the Panthers can fill a big need with a terrific interior lineman.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
There may be a safer option for the Saints here, but there aren’t many. New Orleans needs a pass-rusher for their new 3-4 front, and Mingo is one of the best available.
Mingo is still very raw, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be able to find a fit for him. The value is too good to pass on here. If Mingo makes it this far in the first round, it’s a good bet New Orleans takes a chance on him.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
However, the Rams also have needs at both safety positions, and with the draft's best safety still on the board, they can afford to wait on addressing the receiver position until pick No. 22.
Vaccaro is a versatile safety prospect with the speed, awareness and toughness to play either safety position. DeAndre Hopkins and Tavon Austin may be possibilities with this selection, but Vaccaro is the smarter move.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
It’s hard to envision Jones falling past the Steelers in the first round. They released James Harrison prior to free agency, and it appears Jones’ health concerns may not be as big a problem as previously expected.
Pittsburgh has a lot of holes to fill this offseason. An aging roster necessitates the infusion of good young talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Despite Jones’ medical issues, he’s still the best overall linebacker in this draft class. He’s also a perfect fit in a 3-4 front, and general manager Kevin Colbert will have a hard time passing on Jones should he still be available here.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
After fielding one of the league’s most porous offensive lines in 2012, the Cowboys’ safest option is an offensive lineman with this pick.
Having several needs on the defensive side of the ball would suggest Dallas will add some quality defenders in April, but some of those needs can wait until later rounds.
Cooper is one of the best offensive linemen in this draft class. He's versatile enough to play multiple interior line positions, and the Cowboys could certainly use an upgrade in the middle of their line.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
From a purely speculative standpoint, there’s little chance the Giants are able to land Ansah this late in the first round. He had a mile-high ceiling as a pass-rusher in the NFL.
Still, his raw football skills will be a concern for some teams, and for the sake of the theme, his slide down the draft board was inevitable.
New York needs a replacement for Osi Umenyiora at defensive end. Pairing Ansah with Jason Pierre-Paul would give the Giants one of the most athletic and dangerous bookend combos in the NFL.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
With Brian Urlacher now on the free agent market, finding a suitable middle linebacker to replace him with likely be a top priority for Chicago in April.
A former safety, Ogletree has the athleticism and cover skills to be a terrific deep-middle defender in Chicago's Cover-2 schemes. He's also aggressive enough to hold up in run defense and offers the Bears an opportunity to get younger and more athletic at the heart of their defense.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Cincinnati's offensive line has been one of its strengths in recent years, but right tackle Andre Smith is now on the free agent market. If the Bengals don't work out a new deal with Smith, finding his replacement would be a good choice in Round 1.
Right tackles aren't ordinarily coveted in the first round, but Alabama's D.J. Fluker will certainly garner some consideration in the latter third of the first round. He has the size and strength NFL teams love in run-blocking right tackles, and Fluker is easily one of the fiercest maulers in this class.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
With a quality safety already locked up, the Rams have the option of addressing a big need on the offensive side of the ball.
Danny Amendola departed in free agency, leaving an even bigger hole at the receiver position. There's little doubt the Rams will avoid filling his vacancy in the early rounds of the draft.
West Virgini'a Tavon Austin is an electric big-play receiver with the speed and incredible quickness to be a true home run hitter in the NFL. Sam Bradford needs a new offensive weapon, and Austin is one of the best available this year.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
With Percy Harvin headed to Seattle, wide receiver is easily Minnesota’s biggest need. Possessing two picks in the first round will allow the Vikings to address that need early in the draft.
Austin would have been a better fit with Greg Jennings now on the roster, but Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins would be a nice consolation prize. With strong hands and sound route-running ability, Hopkins projects as a very good Z-receiver at the next level.
If Austin is still available at No. 21, the Vikings may consider moving ahead of St. Louis to select him, but it's nearly impossible to project those kinds of moves. As it stands, Hopkins is both a safe and logical selection here.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
After focusing almost exclusively on the offensive side of the ball in the 2012 draft, the Indianapolis Colts will likely look to bolster their defense this April.
The Colts switched to a 3-4 front last season, but they didn’t have all the pieces in place necessary to make it all work. With Moore still on the board, Indianapolis can add a crucial piece to the defensive puzzle.
Moore isn’t an exceptional athlete, but he excels at getting to opposing quarterbacks. He may need some time to transition to the outside linebacker position, but there’s little doubt Moore can be a productive edge rusher at the NFL level.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
With a wide receiver already locked up, the Vikings can afford to address some needs on the defensive side of the ball.
Williams is an intriguing prospect. He plays much bigger than his size, and with a run defense that needs to get better, Minnesota would find excellent value here in filling a big need.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Charles Woodson was released prior to free agency, and finding a quality safety to replace him will be something Ted Thompson will have to consider in the early rounds of the draft.
Vaccaro is already off the board, meaning Cyprien is the most likely candidate to fill in for Woodson. Green Bay has other needs, but Cyprien presents the most value and safest selection with the 26th pick.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Without another receiving threat opposite Andre Johnson, the Texans can't expect their passing attack to thrive in 2013. Finding another quality pass-catcher needs to be a serious consideration in the first round.
The wide receiver class is loaded with talent, and someone is going to fall to the bottom of the first round. With some questions about Allen's speed and durability, he's the most likely candidate.
Still, Allen has the size, route-running ability and sure hands to be an excellent NFL receiver. He'll go a long way toward shoring up Houston's passing attack, and could be an eventual replacement for Johnson as the team's No. 1 receiver.
28. Denver Broncos: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Sometimes a safe pick is one that fills one of a team’s biggest needs. After being exploited by Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, Denver’s biggest need is very apparent.
Champ Bailey’s career is winding down, meaning adding a quality cornerback in the first round is a likely possibility. Trufant has been impressive in the pre-draft process, and he’ll likely garner a lot of consideration from NFL general managers in the first round.
29. New England Patriots: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Like Denver, New England’s vulnerability in pass defense was its undoing in the playoffs. Bill Belichick has an opportunity to address that weakness this year, and he’ll find a good option in the first round.
Banks isn’t all that fast for an NFL cornerback, but he’s long and flexible in coverage and physical against the run. With the top receivers already off the board, Banks is New England’s best choice at No. 29.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
With John Abraham no longer in Atlanta, defensive end becomes an even more pressing need this offseason.
Okafor is one of the most underrated defensive prospects in this year’s draft. He has the frame, high motor and surprising quickness to hold up against the run as a 4-3 defensive end and still make a major impact as a pass-rusher off the edge.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
The top seven defensive backs are all off the board, and with an additional second-round pick available to the 49ers, they can make a safe selection in the first round by selecting a terrific defensive line prospect.
Williams is tailor-made to play in a 3-4 defense. He thrive in Nick Saban’s 3-4 front at Alabama, and projects well to either the nose tackle or defensive end position in the NFL.
San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of depth on its defensive line. Safety is still a position of need on defense, but the 49ers signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on Tuesday to boost the secondary. Plus, they can use one of their second-round selections to shore up defensive backfield if necessary. The value here for Williams is too good to pass on and his presence will further assist the secondary unit.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
The salary cap hasn’t been kind to the Ravens. With some key positions vacated by departing free agents, the Ravens can’t afford to pass on a prospect who can fill one of those needs.
Baltimore is suddenly extremely thin at the linebacker positions. Luckily for the Ravens, they have plenty of options at the end of the first round.
Manti Te’o, Kevin Minter and Arthur Brown are all still available, but Brown stands to be the most productive of the trio, and he’ll fit well in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense as both a run-stuffer and pass defender. He’s arguably the most complete inside linebacker in this class.