With the college all-star games, NFL Scouting Combine and more than a week of free agency in the books, the draft picture should be getting a little clearer.
Unfortunately, this year’s draft presents a lot of unusual scenarios.
With only one quarterback garnering serious top five consideration, a number of top prospects with medical red flags and a class that is incredibly deep on defense, projecting this year’s first round is more difficult than in recent years.
While projections and needs will shift before the last weekend in April, one constant will remain: offensive playmakers are coveted in the early rounds.
In a quarterback-driven league, signal-callers and pass-catchers are extremely valuable. Teams without both components struggle to win. Teams with neither simply cannot.
We’ll take a look at how the first round may shake out, highlighting picks that feature offensive playmakers, including West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins.
*Teams that select offensive playmakers are presented in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is the best player in this year’s draft class. With Kansas City’s positional needs slowly diminishing in free agency, Andy Reid can afford to select his No. 1 player with this pick.
Joeckel has all the tools to be an All-Pro blindside protector in the NFL. While the Chiefs may have more pressing areas of need, Joeckel presents the best value at the top of the draft.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Jacksonville could go a number of directions with this pick, but the landscape of this draft class suggests a pass-rusher will be David Caldwell’s No. 1 priority.
This draft is loaded with excellent pass-rushers, and Florida State’s Bjoern Werner is one of the best. He doesn’t excel in any particular area, but he has the athleticism and high motor to be a terrific pass-rusher in the NFL. He’ll be a perfect fit in Gus Bradley’s LEO role.
3. Oakland Raiders: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
The Raiders have tons of needs to address on both sides of the ball, and finding a pass-rusher will be on Reggie McKenzie’s list.
Oregon’s Dion Jordan is a lengthy, athletic pass-rusher with the ability to play multiple positions in several defensive fronts. As with almost every team in the league, Oakland uses multiple fronts that require versatility from its edge defenders, and versatility is Jordan’s greatest asset.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Eagles will be transitioning to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis, and they need to find some pieces to make it work.
Utah's Star Lotulelei is the premier defensive tackle in this draft class. With size, strength and considerable quickness, Lotulelei will be a good fit at either defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 front.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Lions need to add some pieces to protect Matthew Stafford. While Detroit has some big holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, left tackle is easily its most pressing need.
Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is a polished, versatile offensive tackle who can be an immediate starter on the left side for the Lions. Dee Milliner and Jarvis Jones could also be options here, but the Lions can’t afford to overlook the left tackle position early in the first round.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Cleveland addressed its needs at outside linebacker in free agency, making this pick a little more difficult to project. With Alabama’s Dee Milliner still on the board, though, the Browns can get an impact player to start opposite Joe Haden.
Milliner doesn’t have elite ball skills, but he has the speed and aggressiveness to be a quality defender in both man-to-man and zone coverage. With some quality quarterbacks in the AFC North, shoring up its pass defense should be a priority for Cleveland on Day 1 of the draft.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Quarterback may be an option here, but Arizona doesn’t have the offensive line to protect anyone under center. The Cardinals can’t field a successful offense without first addressing the left tackle position.
Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson is the most athletic offensive lineman in this draft, and he projects well as a blindside protector in the NFL. He’ll need to add a little bulk, but he has an extremely high ceiling as a left tackle at the next level.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Smith may not fall to No. 8 in April, but there’s a good chance Buffalo attempts to move up to acquire the West Virginia quarterback should he still be available outside the top five picks.
New head coach Doug Marrone needs a new quarterback to run his offense. He may choose to wait until the second round to address the need, but there’s little doubt Buffalo fails to select a quarterback in the early rounds.
Smith is the most talented passer in this class, and while he may not have the elite talent of last year’s top quarterbacks, he does have the potential to be a good quarterback in the NFL. With a strong showing at the combine and his pro day—and the lack of a truly elite quarterback in this class—Smith stands to be a top 10 selection on draft day.
9. New York Jets: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The New York Jets have plenty of position needs, and outside linebacker is certainly one of them. The Jets failed to generate much pressure on opposing passers last season, and adding a top-tier pass-rusher in the draft will go a long way toward fixing that problem.
Jones is an exceptional edge rusher with the awareness and athleticism to develop into an excellent three-down linebacker at the next level. He projects well to the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 front.
10. Tennessee Titans: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Titans need to get better at stopping the run, and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd gives them the opportunity to do that in 2013.
With impressive size, strength and first-step quickness, Floyd is a great fit as a one-gap run-stuffer and interior pass-rusher. He has the talent to be selected much earlier in the first round, and Tennessee would be lucky to land him with the No. 10 selection.
11. San Diego Chargers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
With the top three offensive tackles off the board, the Chargers have to consider other positional needs with this pick.
Antoine Cason left in free agency and San Diego needs to find a suitable replacement who can lighten the load for Quentin Jammer and new arrival Derek Cox. Rhodes would certainly fill that role, and he has the talent to play his way into a starting role very early in his career.
12. Miami Dolphins: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Miami went on a free-agent spending spree this offseason, shoring up several positions of need. Cornerback and offensive tackle are still concerns, but the top players at each position have already been selected.
Short of moving up for Milliner or Johnson, there isn’t a better option here for the Dolphins. Warmack is one of the top offensive linemen in this draft class, and while guards aren’t typically coveted this early in the first round, he warrants the attention.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Tampa Bay finished last in the league in pass defense last season, and after adding safety Dashon Goldson in free agency, the Buccaneers can now turn their attention to the cornerback position.
Trufant isn’t a big name, but he has the talent to be just as successful at the NFL level as any of the top defensive backs in this class. He looked terrific at the Senior Bowl and combine, and there’s a good chance he doesn’t make it out of the top half of the first round.
14. Carolina Panthers: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Projecting Patterson’s final landing spot will be difficult. He has the physical tools to warrant a top 10 selection, but teams picking ahead of Carolina have a lot of other holes to fill.
While the Panthers aren’t exactly thin at the receiver position, Steve Smith is on the wrong side of 30 and he needs a dynamic playmaker to take some of the pressure off him in the passing game. Adding a talent like Patterson would go a long way toward bolstering Carolina’s passing attack and giving Cam Newton another weapon to work with.
Patterson still needs to hone his route-running skills, but he has the speed, quickness and good hands to be an immediate impact player in Carolina.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
New Orleans will be switching to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and need pieces need to be added to make it work. If Mingo falls to the Saints at No. 15, they won’t have to think very hard about selecting him.
Mingo played defensive end at LSU, but he’ll transition to outside linebacker in the NFL due to his slight frame and excellent athleticism. He shows the ability to play in space and has the potential to develop into a three-down linebacker in time. For now, Mingo can still be a terrific pass-rushing specialist in the NFL.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
With vacancies at both safety positions, the Rams will be forced to address the position early in the draft. With two picks in the first round, they can add their safety here and look for a wide receiver at No. 22.
Receiver could be an option here as well, but Patterson is already off the board and this class is loaded at the position. Vaccaro is this class’ best safety, and he’ll be a good fit at either safety position in St. Louis.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
Pittsburgh released James Harrison this offseason, leaving a big hole at the outside linebacker position. Kevin Colbert has a lot of positions to address in the draft, but outside linebacker should be near the top of the list.
Ansah isn’t a true linebacker, but he has the size and athleticism to make the transition from defensive end. Given the pass-rushing demands of outside linebackers in Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 zone-blitzing schemes, adding an athletic pass-rusher early in the draft will be a necessity.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
While several needs on the defensive side of the ball may tempt the Cowboys to shy away from offensive linemen in the early rounds, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper is too good to pass on at No. 18.
Cooper has the talent and versatility to play center or either guard position in the NFL. With a stagnant running game and the inability to protect Tony Romo from A-gap pressure in recent years, Dallas has to consider offensive linemen at any position a top priority in the early rounds.
19. New York Giants: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Osi Umenyiora is a free agent and Justin Tuck’s production has diminished in recent years. If the Giants are to become more effective in pass-rushing situations, they need to find a quality bookend to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul.
Texas’ Alex Okafor is one of the most underrated defensive players in this class. He isn’t an elite pass-rushing talent, but he has the versatility New York loves in its ends.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Brian Urlacher hit the free-agent market this offseason, leaving a huge hole at the inside linebacker position. With Georgia’s Alec Ogletree still on the board, Chicago won’t have to wait very long to replace him.
Ogletree is a great fit for Chicago’s Cover-2 defensive schemes. A former safety, he has the athleticism and cover skills to be a terrific 4-3 middle linebacker and deep-middle defender.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Right tackle Andre Smith was terrific for the Bengals in 2012, but he’s a free agent and there’s no guarantee Cincinnati will be able to work out a new deal with him.
Instead, the Bengals can find a cheaper option in the first round in Alabama’s D.J. Fluker. With a massive frame, solid base and good anchor, Fluker has a bright future on the right side of an NFL offensive line.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Danny Amendola left for New England in free agency, and the Rams now have an even more pressing need at the wide receiver position. With Patterson off the board, Austin becomes the next-best option.
Austin is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands, and he’ll go a long way toward replacing Amendola’s production. Sam Bradford has never had much to work with in St. Louis, and now is the time to start stocking up the roster with weapons.
Of all the teams picking in the first round, St. Louis has arguably the worst situation at wide receiver. Austin won’t completely fix the problem, but he has the potential to be a truly explosive offensive weapon for a team severely lacking at the receiver position.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Adding Greg Jennings in free agency softened the blow of trading Percy Harvin, but the Vikings still need to make good use of their extra first-round selection.
Austin would have been a great fit in the slot for the Vikings, but Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins wouldn’t be a bad option, either. He has an extremely productive career at Clemson, and he has the physical tools to be a terrific receiver in the NFL.
Hopkins isn’t overwhelmingly big or fast, but he runs good routes and has strong hands to pick the ball out of the air and come down with it in traffic. Paired with Jennings, he could be a very productive No. 2 receiver in Minnesota.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Colts transitioned to a 3-4 last season, but they didn’t have all the pieces in place to make it work. This offseason presents a terrific opportunity for Indianapolis to strengthen its front seven and get better against both the run and the pass.
Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson would be a great fit at either defensive end position in Indianapolis’ defensive front. With the ideal frame for a 5-techinique position in a one-gap scheme, Richardson would certainly be an intriguing option here for the Colts.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
With the wide receiver position now solidified, Minnesota can turn its attention to the defensive side of the ball.
The Vikings have a glaring hole at the middle linebacker position, and Kansas State’s Arthur Brown would be a good option to fill that need. He’s quick, instinctual and good against both the run and the pass.
Defensive tackle could also be an option here, but Brown offers both the upside and value to be a smart selection.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
One of the more pro-ready defenders in this draft class, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien stands to be the second safety drafted in the first round. After a good Senior Bowl showing and exceptional combine workout, he may not even be available when the Packers make their selection.
Cyprien has the range and aggressiveness to play either safety position in the NFL, either as a deep-half defender or in-the-box run defender. With Charles Woodson on the free-agent market, Green Bay has to make the safety position a priority in the draft.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Houston’s offense has been largely one-dimensional in recent years, due in large part to the lack of a productive No. 2 receiver to pair with Andre Johnson. If the Texans hope to get better in the passing game, adding a playmaking receiver like Keenan Allen would go a long way toward doing so.
Allen doesn’t have impressive straight-line speed, but his size, route-running ability and solid hands make him a likely first-round candidate and potential No. 1 NFL receiver.
With another pass-catching option like Allen on Houston’s roster, opposing defenses will no longer have the luxury of rolling coverage in Johnson’s direction.
28. Denver Broncos: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
A poor combine performance will likely facilitate Moore’s slide down the board in April, but unimpressive workout numbers don’t mean all that much given his skillset.
Moore isn’t an athletic freak; he simply finds ways to get to opposing quarterbacks. With Elvis Dumervil now a free agent, the Broncos have to consider finding a good pass-rushing end to replace him.
29. New England Patriots: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Allowing Wes Welker to leave in free agency opened the door for New England to revamp its passing attack. Danny Amendola will be a good replacement, but the Patriots don’t have to stop adding offensive weapons for Tom Brady.
Tennessee’s Justin Hunter is one of the most electric playmakers in this draft class, and he would give Brady the outside receiving threat he hasn’t had since Randy Moss departed.
An ACL tear slowed Hunter’s career at Tennessee, but he looked terrific in 2012. Provided he can stay healthy going forward, the Patriots will get a steal with this selection.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Atlanta needs to find a replacement for John Abraham. If Florida State’s Tank Carradine is still available here, the Falcons won’t need to look for another option.
Carradine is one of the best pass-rushers in this class, but he tore his ACL in 2012 and is still recovering, which may force him to slide down the board in the first round.
A prototypical 4-3 defensive end, Carradine would be an excellent replacement for Abraham.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
With an extra pick in the early second round, the 49ers can afford to shore up multiple positions early in the draft. Cornerback, safety and defensive tackle will all be possibilities here.
Having an extra pick also gives San Francisco the option of drafting the best player available at one of those positions. In this case, that player is Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins, who has the size, surprising quickness and versatility to play multiple positions along San Francisco’s three-man front.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Elam, S, Florida
The Ravens’ defense was gutted this offseason and this pick will likely come down to selecting the top defensive player on Ozzie Newsome’s board. While we don’t know who that player would be at this point, Florida’s Matt Elam is a likely candidate.
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