A sound draft strategy is the most important element in building and maintaining a successful NFL franchise. Teams can obviously bring in exceptional talent through free agency as well, but sustained success comes from drafting properly.
The New England Patriots have made a habit of stock-piling picks in order to garner more opportunities to grab impact players. Other teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, understand the most important aspect of their team is the defense and offensive line, and they have made addressing these areas their top priority. Over the last four seasons, the Steelers have taken either an offensive lineman or a defensive player in the first round.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, teams will be changing, maintaining or creating new strategies in hopes of improving. This mock draft will identify the smartest strategy for each team, and tab the most likely player that will be selected in each slot.
Some players are considered rock-solid selections based on a predominant team need, the player's skill set, and/or the player's value at that point in the draft.
Those players will be featured with an image.
1. Kansas City Chiefs - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Smartest Strategy: Draft the best player available
With Alex Smith in the fold as the team's quarterback, the Chiefs are in position to take the best overall prospect in the draft. I still believe that is Joeckel.
Now that the Chiefs have addressed the most important position in the sport, they can look to protect him with a stud tackle.
The team already franchised left tackle Brandon Albert this offseason, so drafting Joeckel would allow the Chiefs and Smith to benefit from two quality tackles in the first year under new coach Andy Reid.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Smart Strategy: Find an impact player on defense
The 6'6", 250-pound defensive end has great potential as a disruptive force on the D-Line. Injuries prevented him from accumulating eye-popping production, but the Jags could take him here in hopes of finding a impact player.
While many experts differ in their opinions about his overall projection as an NFL player, no one can deny his athleticism, and that is part of what makes him such an intriguing prospect.
3. Oakland Raiders - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Smart Strategy: Draft a pass-rusher
Werner has a great motor and his proven pass-rushing skills are precisely what the Raiders need.
He had 20 sacks in his last two years at Florida State, and that speaks volumes considering the level of competition he faced.
There have been rumors suggesting the Raiders are considering taking Geno Smith (h/t San Jose Mercury News) from West Virginia with this pick , but with Carson Palmer already in place, and with Terrelle Pryor on the roster, the Raiders don't need to draft a quarterback.
The Raiders had just 25 sacks in 2012, and acquiring another pass-rusher is the team's most-pressing need.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Smart Strategy: Improve pass protection
Eagles' quarterbacks were sacked 48 times in 2012, and left tackle Jason Peters is coming off a serious leg injury. The team needs to ensure that they give Chip Kelly the players required to get the most out of his system.
If they can't protect the quarterback, Kelly will fail.
Fisher has seemingly solidified himself as the second-best tackle in the draft. In fact, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com actually has him going No. 1 overall to the Chiefs.
I obviously don't have him that high, but he would be a great pick for the Eagles here.
5. Detroit Lions - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Smart Strategy: Improve pass coverage
The Lions lost Cliff Avril to the Seattle Seahawks, but they do not need to use their first-round pick on a defensive end.
The defensive line still has capable players like Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The team also has Willie Young signed for the 2013 season. I've always liked his ability to rush the passer, and in a contract year, he should be especially motivated to perform.
This frees the Lions up to address the secondary. Milliner is an impact player and a much-needed playmaker on defense. His presence could help take pressure off the defensive line.
6. Cleveland Browns - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Smart Strategy: Continue building strong, young defense
The Browns added three major pieces to the offense in 2012 by drafting Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon. This year, they should focus on defense, and Jones has great potential to be a standout pass-rusher.
He led the nation in sacks in 2012, and if he stays healthy—which is a concern, but the outlook seems to be getting better everyday (h/t NFL.com)—he'll be amazing.
7. Arizona Cardinals - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Smart Strategy: Find Larry Fitzgerald a quarterback
One of the biggest travesties in sports is the fact that Fitzgerald's brilliance has been wasted in Arizona since Kurt Warner retired in 2009.
The Cardinals cannot allow another year of one of this era's best receivers to pass without an acceptable quarterback.
Smith is the best player available at the position, and even if the Cards have to trade up to get him, they should. He shined brightly at his pro day, and that may make trading up a necessity if the Cards hope to grab him.
8. Buffalo Bills - Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Smart Strategy: Find a quarterback for Doug Marrone's offense
The Bills would likely love to take Smith, but unless they choose to move up in the draft, they probably won't get the chance.
I still like Barkley as a pro prospect, and I believe he would have a solid career under Marrone in Buffalo.
9. New York Jets - Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
Smart Strategy: Find a pass-rusher
The Jets pass-rush has steadily declined over the last three seasons. They have gone from 40 sacks as a team in 2010, to 35 in 2011, to only 30 in 2012.
As a result, it is no coincidence that the team's win total has gone from 11, to eight and then to six in those last three seasons as well. The Jets' success under Rex Ryan is directly tied to their ability to pressure the quarterback.
They need a talent like Mingo, who is built to excel in Ryan's system as a pass-rushing OLB.
10. Tennessee Titans - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Smart Strategy: Improve run defense
The Titans defense was ranked 27th in the NFL in 2012, and the weak defensive line play was a major part of that. Floyd is a sensible first step towards strengthening the Titans' defense up front.
He is raw, but his combination of size and talent is rare. The Titans need a game-changer on defense, and Floyd best fits the description here.
11. San Diego Chargers - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Smart Strategy: Get Philip Rivers some protection
Rivers was sacked 49 times in 2012, and that can't happen again if the Chargers hope to make the playoffs.
Johnson showed that he is a freakish athlete at the NFL Combine, and that workout has improved his stock. In a tackle-starved draft, Johnson makes sense for the Chargers here.
12. Miami Dolphins - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Smart Strategy: Strengthen the secondary
Improving the secondary would be the best approach for the Dolphins to take after losing Sean Smith to the Chiefs .
Rhodes is a good cover-corner prospect and he could start immediately for the Fins. His stock is on the rise and the Fins almost have to take a cornerback here.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Smart Strategy: Improve pass defense
The team's pass defense was last in the NFL in 2012, and there is no way they can neglect to take a player that helps them in this area.
Milliner and Rhodes will presumably be off the board at this point, so getting a pass-rusher is the best way to improve the unit.
Moore is an explosive pass-rusher, and he could take pressure off the Bucs' young secondary by limiting the time the quarterback has to throw the ball.
14. Carolina Panthers - Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Smart Strategy: Find a run-stuffing defensive tackle
I love the Panthers' linebackers, but the unit would have been even better last year with a run-stuffing defensive tackle in front of them.
Hankins is perhaps the best fit for that role. When the Panthers start stuffing the run, nothing will prevent them from reaching the postseason.
15. New Orleans Saints - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Smart Strategy: Find a pass-rusher
The Saints had 30 sacks as a team in 2012, and the defense's overall struggles put too much pressure on Drew Brees and the offense to out-gun opponents.
The team needs difference makers on defense and Ansah has the skill-set to make an impact as a pass-rusher.
The Ghanaian-born prospect has been receiving a ton of buzz lately and was great at the NFL Combine, so it is possible that he may not be available here.
But if he is, the Saints must pounce on him.
16. St. Louis Rams - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Smart Strategy: Continue to add Jeff Fisher-type players
Jeff Fisher is building a team in St. Louis that not only fits his physical and disciplined style on the field, but he's also adding leaders for the locker room.
That tradition should continue with a player like Warmack. He is clearly the best guard prospect in the draft, and he will help ensure the Rams' rushing attack will be formidable in the near future.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers - John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Smart Strategy: Strengthen the trenches
The Steelers' 3-4 scheme needs a new DT. Jenkins is massive and he looks like a good fit for the position, but I wonder about the type of impact that he will make in the NFL.
He played on an extremely talented defense, but the Georgia Bulldogs weren't anywhere close to dominant.
Good defense should start up front. and you could make the case that a player as large (6'4", 346 pounds) and talented as Jenkins should have been more dominant.
Taking him still makes sense for the Steelers, though, because DT is a big area of need. Perhaps the scheme and talent around him in Pittsburgh would allow him to reach his potential
18. Dallas Cowboys - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Smart Strategy: Another pass-rusher to pair with DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware is aging and his production is falling off a bit. His sack total dipped from 19.5 in 2011 to 11.5 in 2012.
While he can still be effective, he needs an impact player on the defensive line to take pressure off of him.
Richardson is one of the most talented pass-rushers in the draft, and he can play on the inside and outside. He'd be a great pick for the Cowboys at No. 18.
19. New York Giants - Star Lotulelei DT, Utah
Smart Strategy: Get younger on the defensive line
Lotulelei's health concerns could impact his draft status, and that could make him available for the Giants here. Aside from the possible health issues, Lotulelei would probably be the first DT taken in this year's draft.
If the team's doctors believe that it is safe for him to compete, then he would inject a disruptive force on the interior of the Giants' defensive line.
The G-Men are aging at defensive end and tackle Rocky Bernard turns 34 in April. Lotulelei would add talent, depth and youth to the Giants' defensive line.
20. Chicago Bears - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Smart Strategy: Continue to improve the offensive line
The Bears already signed Jermon Bushrod this offseason to finally solidify the left tackle position, but the team still has some holes on the offensive line.
Roberto Garza is playing out of position and Lance Louis is still unsigned, and according to ESPN, he has visited the Miami Dolphins.
Whether the Bears can retain his services or not, the team still needs help at guard. Cooper isn't quite Warmack, but he's a player with the potential to start from Day 1.
He'd represent an upgrade that would move the Bears another step closer to respectability on the O-Line.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
Smart Strategy: Add athleticism to the linebacker corps
The Bengals have Vontaze Burfict and they are close to re-signing Rey Maualuga, per CBS Sports.
Adding in a freakish athlete like Ogletree would make the Bengals linebackers among the fiercest in the NFL.
22. St. Louis Rams - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Smart Strategy: Keep building the Fisher way
Of all the up-and-coming teams in the NFL, I'm most impressed with the direction of the Rams.
Assuming they select Warmack with their first pick in the first round, shoring up the safety position with a physical and athletic player like Vaccaro is a smart move to make with their second pick.
(Highlight reel video features song with explicit lyrics.)
This team could become a force within the next five years.
23. Minnesota Vikings - Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Smart Strategy: Add a big receiver to complement Greg Jennings
Percy Harvin has been traded, but the Vikings then signed Greg Jennings to somewhat fill the void. It'll take more than Jennings to make the Vikings' passing offense truly formidable, though.
A big and athletic target like Patterson would be a real asset to the Vikes' aerial game. If this team gets a dependable vertical threat to complement Adrian Peterson, they will be very scary.
24. Indianapolis Colts - Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Smart Strategy: Draft players that fit the 3-4 scheme
Last season's success came with holdovers from the previous Cover 2 scheme that the team ran, but more players need to be drafted that fit their current 3-4 scheme. It will be exciting to see what the Colts can do with players that are more natural fits for the system.
Williams would be a great fit as a tackle in the Colts' defense. His performance at his pro day should have solidified his status as a first-round selection.
25. Minnesota Vikings - Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Smart Strategy: Address the secondary
With Jennings signed, and with the team presumably drafting a receiver with their first pick, they can then address their other major weakness: the secondary.
The Vikes are void of standout performers in the secondary and Banks could help improve the unit. He's not blazing fast, but he has the size (6'1") and instincts to be a solid cornerback.
26. Green Bay Packers - D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Smart Strategy: Protect Aaron Rodgers
The most important Packer is obviously Aaron Rodgers, and keeping him healthy has to be the team's top priority. He was sacked 48 times in 2012, and the organization must make the offensive line their main focus this offseason.
Fluker is a proven winner and was one of the leaders of the most dominant offensive line in college football last seasonl. It also doesn't hurt that he is one massive human being at 6'6" and 345 pounds.
27. Houston Texans - Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
Smart Strategy: Add depth at inside linebacker
The Texans weren't the same team in 2012 after Brian Cushing went down, and they must be better prepared to handle an injury to their linebackers this season.
Even if Cushing and others stay healthy, a player of Minter's caliber could push his way into the starting lineup alongside Cushing.
He was extremely productive at LSU and tallied 130 tackles for the Tigers in 2012.
28. Denver Broncos - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Smart Strategy: Draft best player available
With the signing of Wes Welker, the Broncos have added a new weapon in the passing game, but they still don't have a formidable pass-catching tight end.
In Indianapolis, Manning had Dallas Clark as one of his most dependable options, but in Denver, that option was lacking last season.
Eifert is the premier receiving tight end in this draft, and he would make the Broncos even more dangerous in 2013.
29. New England Patriots - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Smart Strategy: Add playmaker and insurance if Danny Amendola goes down
Welker is now a Bronco, and the team signed Danny Amendola to replace him. But Amendola has had durability issues, and he's missed 20 games in the last two seasons.
The Patriots also released Brandon Lloyd, so the team needs insurance for Amendola—in case he goes down—and another playmaker.
No player in the draft is more of a playmaker than Tavon Austin.
He is blazing fast, as evidenced by his 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but he's not just some speed merchant with no college production. At West Virginia, Austin had 2,910 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns.
He's only 5'8" and that could cause him to slip, despite getting looks from teams as high as the Rams at No. 16, per Todd McShay of ESPN. If the Pats land him, he could have an amazing rookie season with Tom Brady.
30. Atlanta Falcons - Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Smart Strategy: Improve the pass rush
The Falcons did a lot of things well in 2012, but rushing the passer wasn't one of them. They recorded just 29 sacks last season.
Atlanta needs to get better and younger at defensive end and Okafor can offer them those elements. Some are down on Okafor as a first-rounder, though, per Kevin Weidl of ESPN (Insider).
I'm keeping him here, but don't be surprised if the Falcons take another defensive end.
31. San Francisco 49ers - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Smart Strategy: Draft best player available
I'm not totally thrilled with the Niners' safety situation, but Trufant is such a solid prospect that they would be insane to pass on him should he fall here.
He shined at his pro day and, ultimately, he could be as good as Milliner, Rhodes and Banks. He has come on late as a top-notch cornerback prospect, but some teams may already be in love with the aforementioned prospects.
When you're already as talented as the Niners are, you can afford to take the best player available, and that would be Trufant in this scenario.
32. Baltimore Ravens - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Smart Strategy: Rebuild aging, free agent and release ravaged defense
The Ravens have lost a lot from their defense with Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Bernard Pollard and Paul Kruger all exiting this offseason. They must get younger and add depth if they hope to defend their title.
Datone Jones may not be a Day 1 impact player, but over the course of the season, he can become a quality pass-rusher.