Given the predictive nature of the NFL draft, projecting the final landing spot for some of college football’s best players is a fluid process with unending possibilities.
Positional needs and perceived value play a large role throughout the draft, but every NFL general manager and scout evaluates talent differently. How the first round shakes out will be largely dependent on each of those factors.
With the combine and several pro day workouts in the books, we have a fairly consistent understanding of where each player ranks in the first round.
Let’s take a look at the latest expectations for the first round of the NFL draft, highlighting a few star-caliber prospects who will be immediate impact players at the next level.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Every day that passes is a clearer indication that the Chiefs will make Texas A&M offensive tackle their selection with the first overall pick.
According to ESPN, Kansas City is open to offers for left tackle Branden Albert. While the team franchised Albert this offseason, he’s certainly an expendable commodity if Andy Reid plans to acquire a top-tier left tackle in the draft.
After an offseason spending spree filled some big holes on the Chiefs’ roster, this pick will come down to value. Joeckel is the best player in this year’s draft, and all signs point to Kansas City at No. 1 overall.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Jacksonville could go a number of directions with this pick and almost all of them should be on the defensive side of the ball.
The Jaguars notched just 20 sacks last season, due in part to a lack of quality pass-rushers at the defensive end positions. With Gus Bradley in town, he’ll be expecting to find a couple in the draft.
Bjoern Werner is the best all-around 4-3 defensive end available this year. He has the athleticism and motor to be a terrific pass-rusher in the NFL as a three-down defender.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
With so many holes to fill, Oakland has to select a player who can have an immediate impact at the next level. Florida’s Sharrif Floyd fits the description.
With excellent size and quickness for an interior pass-rusher, Floyd offers a coveted element for defensive coordinators. He can hold up in a one-gap-and-hold scheme, but he’s best suited as a traditional penetrating one-gap role with enough explosiveness to be a disruptive force in the middle of the line.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Transitional phases typically necessitate an influx of talent, regardless of positional needs. With Chip Kelly at the helm in Philadelphia, expect him to key in on players who have terrific versatility and exceptional talent.
The Eagles will employ a hybrid 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator Billy Davis, and they need a couple outside linebackers who can play multiple roles. Oregon’s Dion Jordan was one of Kelly’s most versatile defenders last season, and he’ll certainly be on Philadelphia’s radar at the top of the draft.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Lions have several needs remaining following the opening weeks of free agency, and unless they make some drastic moves in the coming month, expect Martin Mayhew to fill a big one in the first round.
Cornerback, linebacker and defensive end could be options here, but left tackle is easily Detroit’s most pressing need. Jeff Backus retired this offseason, and the Lions need a quality pass-protector to guard Matthew Stafford’s blindside.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
This would be an ideal situation for Cleveland, which addressed some of its needs at outside linebacker with the additions of Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves in free agency.
Joe Haden has been terrific, but the Browns don’t have another quality corner to lock down the other side of the field. Should Alabama’s Dee Milliner be available at No. 6, he would be the ideal pick for the Browns, who are quickly filling several big holes on the roster.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The foundation of a good passing attack starts at the offensive line. Without a good pass-protection unit, no offense can be effective in the NFL.
Arizona doesn’t have an elite signal-caller, but it also lacks a quality left tackle. One must come before the other, and the Cardinals would be wise to address the tackle position first. No quarterback will be successful if he can’t stay on his feet.
Geno Smith has to be an option here, but there’s a chance a team trades above Arizona to select him should the West Virginia signal-caller still be available at No. 6.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
If the first seven picks play out like they have in this mock draft, the Buffalo Bills will have a tough decision to make. Quarterback has to be a possibility here, but new head coach Doug Marrone may not be thrilled with tying his head coaching career to a first-round signal-caller.
Still, Buffalo is without a starting quarterback at this point, and they won’t find a better option than Smith. He doesn’t have the elite talent of more recent top 10 quarterbacks, but he’s the best available in this draft class.
9. New York Jets: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
New York needs a new quarterback and a couple pass-rushing outside linebackers, but Smith is already off the board and Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t. The value here is terrific, and New York would be wise to add more talent at the receiver position if Mark Sanchez is to remain under center in 2013.
Patterson is the most skilled pass-catcher in this draft class. He’s still raw in several areas, but Patterson’s ceiling is extraordinarily high.
The Tennessee product has excellent speed and good hands, but his best asset is his ability to make big plays after the catch. If Patterson can refine his route-running skills early in his career, he has the potential to be a true home-run threat and elite playmaking receiver.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Titans will likely look to address their interior offensive and defensive lines this offseason. Alabama’s Chance Warmack has to be an option here, but guards aren’t typically coveted in the top 10.
Instead, Tennessee can take advantage of excellent value in Utah’s Star Lotulelei. He’s one of the most versatile defensive tackles in this draft class who can line up as a 1-, 3- or 5-technique tackle. The Titans need to get better at stopping the run and Lotulelei would be a good start.
11. San Diego Chargers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Adding Derek Cox in free agency will alleviate some of the pressure of losing Antoine Cason, but San Diego’s cornerbacks aren’t as formidable as they used to be. Quentin Jammer is 33 and the Chargers have to get younger at the position.
Rhodes is one of the most talented defensive backs in this draft class. With length, speed and toughness to play both man- and zone-coverage schemes, he’ll be a good fit as a nickel corner and potential starter early in his career.
12. Miami Dolphins: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Miami spent a lot of money this offseason and effectively bolstered several positions. While cornerback remains a big need, Alabama’s Chance Warmack would be a terrific choice here with the top two corners already off the board.
Warmack has the talent to be a top-tier player at either guard position in the NFL. He’s a mauler in the run game with enough flexibility to also contribute as a good interior pass-blocker. Paired with center Mike Pouncey, Miami can field one of the best interior offensive lines in the league.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Washington’s Desmond Trufant hasn’t garnered as much early first-round discussion as Milliner and Rhodes, but he has the potential to be an equally impressive NFL cornerback. With a tremendous offseason showing at both the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, Trufant proved he is worthy of an early selection in April.
Tampa Bay finished last in the league in pass defense last season, and while adding Dashon Goldson in free agency will help strengthen the Buccaneers' secondary, they still need a good No. 1 cornerback.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
For a team that went 7-9 and missed the playoffs in 2012, the Carolina Panthers don’t have a ton of positional needs. Wide receiver and cornerback could be options here, but defensive tackle is easily one of Carolina’s biggest weaknesses.
The Panthers need to bolster their run defense if they hope to shut down Steven Jackson (now in Atlanta) and Doug Martin in Tampa Bay. With Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson still on the board, they can do just that.
Richardson is a terrific run-stuffing tackle with plenty of size and quickness to play a 3-technique position. He’s more of a one-gap-and-hold defender who lacks the elite explosiveness to get upfield as a penetrating one-gap tackle, but the former is what Carolina needs to plug gaps and close running lanes.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is reportedly receiving interest from several teams near the top of the draft. While he certainly has the talent to justify a high selection, concerns about his spinal stenosis condition may ultimately necessitate a small slide in the first round.
If Jones does make it this far in the first round, expect both New Orleans and Pittsburgh to be very interested in acquiring him. Jones is a prototypical three-down outside linebacker who is adequate in coverage and excels as a pass-rusher and outside run defender. New Orleans needs to find some pieces to make the transition to a 3-4 go smoothly, and Jones would be an excellent option to do so.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Rams have vacancies at both safety positions, and while wide receiver will also be a consideration here, that need can wait until they select again at No. 22.
Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro is the most versatile safety in this draft class. He has the range to play either position and the toughness and aggressiveness to play in the box or at the nickel corner position. The need and value line up here, and it’s unlikely Vaccaro makes it past Pittsburgh at No. 17 should the Rams pass on the draft’s top safety.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
The Steelers need to get younger and more athletic at the outside linebacker position. James Harrison was released during the first week of free agency and finding his replacement could be at the top of Pittsburgh’s priority list.
General manager Kevin Colbert loves to develop first-round picks with lots of potential. While Ansah is still a very raw football player, he has the athleticism and pure pass-rushing skills to be a tremendous outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Monte Kiffin’s arrival in Dallas will signal a transition to a 4-3 front and Tampa-2 defensive scheme. While Dallas still needs to find some idea fits at middle and weak-side linebacker, those needs can be addressed in later rounds.
The Cowboys failed to establish much of a running game in 2012, and A-gap pressure routinely affected Tony Romo. Adding this year’s second-best guard will serve to alleviate both of those problems.
Cooper has the versatility to play center or either guard position, though he’s best suited for the left guard position in the NFL. Dallas has needs at each spot, and Cooper will be an immediate starter wherever Dallas decides to play him.
19. New York Giants: Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
An ACL tear in 2012 may prevent Florida State’s Tank Carradine from being a top pick in April, but he has the pure talent to be a consideration anywhere in the first half of Round 1.
Carradine is one of the best all-around defensive ends in this draft class. With prototypical size and above-average speed and quickness, he projects well as a 4-3 end in an attacking defensive front.
The Giants need to find a replacement for Osi Umenyiora (who left in free agency) to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul. Given the option here, New York certainly has some terrific options, but Carradine has the most upside as a potential pass-rushing star.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
D.J. Williams will replace Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker, but the veteran isn’t a long-term option for the Bears. With Georgia’s Alec Ogletree still on the board, Chicago can find that long-term replacement and get excellent value in the process.
Ogletree is extremely versatile in both a positional and schematic sense. He can player any of the three linebacker positions in a 4-3, but he’s ideally suited for the middle linebacker position in a Cover-2 scheme.
A former safety, Ogletree excels in coverage and has adequate size and above-average aggressiveness to attack against the run and provide a quality pass-rushing element at the position.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Andre Smith is a free agent, and Cincinnati may choose to move on with a cheaper option in the draft.
Alabama’s D.J. Fluker is a road grader at the right tackle position. He’s a better run-blocker than pass protector, but he has surprisingly quick feet and flexibility to protect the edge on the right side of the line.
Cincinnati doesn’t have a lot of positional needs, and filling one of its most glaring needs will have to be an option in the first round.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
With the safety position already addressed, the Rams can turn to the offensive side of the ball and fill their biggest positional need. St. Louis doesn’t have a quality No. 1 receiver under contract, and finding one in the first round must be a consideration.
West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is the most explosive pass-catcher in this draft class. He isn’t an all-around receiver, but his ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands makes him a tremendous weapon for Sam Bradford and a passing attack in need of a home-run hitter.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
Wide receiver will be an option with this pick, but the Vikings also have a selection at No. 25. With several quality receivers still on the board, they can opt to address another positional need here.
Minnesota is without a quality middle linebacker who can play both the pass and the run effectively. Kansas State’s Arthur Brown does both well, and he’s a natural leader who can start immediately at the heart of the Vikings' defense.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
General manager Ryan Grigson prefers the best-player-available approach to drafting. He had an easy choice in the first round of 2012, but things get a little more interesting with a late first-round selection this year.
After switching to a 3-4 in 2012, the Colts need to find some pieces to make it work. Versatility is key, and Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins certainly fits the bill. With good size and quickness for any position in a three-man front, Hankins would be a good fit in Indianapolis as a rotational lineman and potential starter at either defensive end position.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
With the middle linebacker position now solidified, Minnesota can turn its attention to another position of need. Even after adding Greg Jennings in free agency, the Vikings need a second receiving option to take pressure off Christian Ponder.
Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins is the best available at the position, and he’ll be a good fit as a No. 2 option next to Jennings. With good route-running skills and big-play ability that surpasses his marginal speed, Hopkins is a terrific option for a team in need of another pass-catching weapon.
Should Austin still be available here, Minnesota may opt for the West Virginia speedster over Hopkins, but there’s little chance he falls to either No. 23 or No. 25 in the first round.
26. Green Bay Packers: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
With Charles Woodson’s departure, the Packers need to find a safety in the early rounds of the draft to fill his role. While this year’s class is deep at the position, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien is the best available, and he’s not far behind Vaccaro as this year’s best at the position.
Cyprien has the range, awareness and aggressiveness NFL teams love. He’s versatile enough to play either safety position, and give Green Bay plenty of options at the back end of its secondary.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Houston’s rushing offense has been one of the most effective in the league for years, but the Texans still lack the elite passing offense that can take them over the top. Andre Johnson still has a few good years left, but he needs another receiving weapon to alleviate some of the pressure.
California’s Keenan Allen is a complete receiver who runs terrific routes and has the hands and body control to come down with passes in heavy traffic. He doesn’t possess top-end straight-line speed, but his polished receiving skills will make up for that shortcoming.
28. Denver Broncos: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Elvis Dumervil is a Baltimore Raven, so finding someone to replace him and his 37.5 sacks over the last three years may be a first-round decision.
Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore failed to impress at the combine, but he’s never been an athletic freak and teams shouldn’t expect him to dominate offseason workouts. He’s simply a hard worker and terrific pass-rusher with the motor and awareness teams look for in a 4-3 defensive end. Paired with former teammate Von Miller, Denver can continue to add to its impressive pass rush for the 2013 season.
29. New England Patriots: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
With free-agent safety Adrian Wilson now in the fold and cornerback Aqib Talib under contract for another season, New England won’t be forced to use its first-round selection on a defensive back. Instead, Bill Belichick can add another terrific offensive weapon for Tom Brady.
Allowing Wes Welker to walk in free agency and then signing Danny Amendola from the Rams signal a changing of the guard in New England. The Patriots are still without a true outside receiver, though, and Tennessee’s Justin Hunter would fill that role nicely. He’ll have an extremely high ceiling in the NFL if he can stay healthy.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
John Abraham’s release makes defensive end a major positional need, but according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Osi Umenyiora is expected to sign with the Falcons very soon.
With the defensive end position temporarily patched up, Atlanta can turn to other needs toward the end of the first round. Defensive tackle is still a glaring concern, and using the 30th selection on one wouldn’t be a bad idea.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
The 49ers have a slew of draft picks this year, and there’s a possibility they use some of them to trade up in the first round.
If San Francisco stands pat, expect a defensive lineman to be a strong possibility here. Adding Glenn Dorsey in free agency was a good start, but the 49ers need depth at all three defensive line positions.
Alabama’s Jesse Williams is a natural fit in a 3-4 after playing in Nick Saban’s three-man front in college. He has the frame and strength to play all three roles in San Francisco, and he’ll go a long way toward bolstering the 49ers' defensive line.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Baltimore’s defense was gutted this offseason with the departures of Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. Ozzie Newsome has to find a few starter-caliber replacements on the defensive side of the ball in April.
A benefit to having a lot of positional needs is the opportunity to select the best player available at one of those positions. With the top two inside linebackers already off the board, Florida’s Matt Elam could be at the top of Newsome’s list.
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