While free agency isn't necessarily over around the National Football League, it has crawled to a standstill. As we have seen in the past, most teams wait until after the draft has concluded to enter the third phase of free agency. That means looking at value and veterans on the cheap.
As it is, most front offices have turned their attention to the draft at this point in the offseason. We have a much better understanding of where teams currently stand and can give a better guesstimate as to where they are going to go in the draft, which is set to begin exactly a month from now.
Today's article is going to focus on the top draft target for each team in the NFL.
Note: This is not a mock draft, nor does it include players who all have first-round grades.
After the loss of Elvis Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens this week, I nearly went with a defensive end here. After all, Denver will need to find an eventual replacement for the elite pass-rusher.
It, however, must also go out there and look to replace the against Champ Bailey in the secondary. While Desmond Trufant likely won't be there at 28, Denver has the ability to either move up or wait there and see if the Washington product falls.
Even if Bailey somehow returns to form, John Elway and Co. only seem to have stopgaps behind him. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie struggled the last two seasons with Philadelphia and there just isn't a whole heck of a lot after that at corner in Denver.
Adding someone of Trufant's quality would be a minor coup for this Super Bowl contender.
If history holds, the San Diego Chargers will be in mighty fine position to get one of the three top offensive tackles in April's draft.
Only twice since 1989 have three offensive tackles been selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft. This means that Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson should be available at 11 (via Draft History).
That being said, my most recent mock draft has all three going within the top five picks of the draft. There are a couple different reasons for this. First, team needs are pretty high when it comes to finding blind-side protectors. Second, skill positions will not be on high demand early come next month.
If that is true, San Diego may have to either settle on going cornerback or trade up for a tackle.
All things equal, the Chargers would love to see Lane Johnson fall to them here. He is a pro-ready left tackle that can come in and create some resemblance of protection for Philip Rivers in the passing game. As you already know, San Diego struggled a great deal with protection on the outside. It can slot Johnson in as a starter for the next decade.
When you end up starting the likes of Ron Bartell and Michael Huff at cornerback for multiple games throughout the season, you have to wonder whether you are actually fielding an NFL-caliber defense. When Shawntae Spencer becomes one of your primary backups in the secondary, you really have to worry.
Fast forward a couple months. Now that general manager Reggie McKenzie has made the wise decision to cut the fat off his roster with the Oakland Raiders, they're about to embark on a new era of football in Northern California.
They will have to do so with Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker giving them the stink eye from the southeast.
How do you remedy this?
By getting the consensus No. 1 cornerback in the draft; someone that fits your scheme to a T.
Dee Milliner is going to be a stud cornerback in the NFL. He possesses top-flight technique and has the ability to punch receivers smack dab in the face at the line. He is, by every possible definition, a difference-maker in the defensive secondary.
If I am McKenzie, I make this pick and don't even look back.
Insert Luke Joeckel in here and I will not argue. Both Eric Fisher and Joeckel are among the best offensive tackle prospects to enter the league in a decade.
This Central Michigan product will eventually join fellow Chippewa alum Joe Staley in Hawaii one day.
Fisher showed us exactly what he has to offer against top-tier talent both at the Senior Bowl and then the combine. He possesses elite technique and footwork at the point of contact, while being able to push speedier rushers to the outside and away from the quarterback in the pocket.
Those concerns over playing against lesser competition at Central Michigan should be no more.
Of course this is all dependent on Kansas City actually going offensive line with the first pick and trading Branden Albert—two things that are not guaranteed at this point.
By no stretch of the imagination or under any theory in the real world is Taylor Mays a starting safety in the NFL. He struggles with nearly every single possible aspect of coverage at this level and is among the worst second-round picks in the recent history of the National Football League.
OK, now that I am done with kicking a dude while he is already down, let's take a look at someone I am extremely high on.
Jonathan Cyprien has all the skills to play strong safety in the NFL. He has a solid technique in terms of in-the-box coverage and runs really well to the play in midstream. Equally as important, the Florida International product has a nose for the ball-carrier and is athletic as they come.
While Cyprien might struggle in coverage early, the presence of Reggie Nelson at free safety will help mask that one minor issue early on.
Cyprien may end up translating better at free safety, but for now he works best as a strong safety.
A perfect fit for Cincinnati.
How do you replace Ray Lewis? You don't. Instead, you either attempt clone him or bring in the best inside linebacker in a solid draft class at that position.
While Baltimore could settle for an Alec Ogletree, Manti Te'o or Arthur Brown, it has the draft picks to move up past the New York Giants and Chicago Bears to nab Kevin Minter in the late 20's.
Minter will be able to come in and immediately start for a Super Bowl contender. While his upside might not be akin to Arthur Brown or Alec Ogletree, he is already an established inside linebacker.
Equally important, Minter seems to do what Baltimore likes the most from its inside linebackers. He is capable of quarterbacking the defense and is nearly flawless when it comes to tackling.
The other day on my radio show, I was talking about how Justin Smith is Aldon Smith's best friend with the San Francisco 49ers. This was a prelude to bringing up exactly what Sheldon Richardson could do as a defensive lineman in the Pittsburgh Steelers system.
Besides the fact that I mentioned all former Missouri Tigers here, the point still stands.
Richardson is a perfect fit in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defensive scheme as a gap filler, both on the inside and on the outside. He will allow LaMarr Woodley, as well as a stable of young outside linebackers, more room to work with on the outside.
While Pittsburgh hasn't been terribly successful selecting along the defensive line in recent seasons, Richardson is pretty much as sure of a bet as you can get. He fits better at defensive end in the Steelers scheme and could be an immediate replacement/upgrade over Ziggy Hood, while eventually supplanting Brett Keisel at right defensive end.
While some would conclude this to be a reach, I have a top-10 grade on Kenny Vaccaro. The Texas product is easily one of the most well-rounded safety prospects to come across in a good two decades. He has a bit of both Earl Thomas and Eric Berry in him.
Vaccaro is someone with special ball hawk and coverage skills. He takes great angles in coverage over the top and can actually play cornerback in a pinch.
Imagine a Cleveland Browns secondary that includes one of the most underrated safeties in the NFL in the form of T.J. Ward as well as Joe Haden and Vaccaro. With Cleveland's new-found talent in its front seven, the addition of Vaccaro could make its defense one of the best in the entire NFL.
High upside meets tremendous need here. To say that the Houston Texans must find a running partner for Andre Johnson would be an understatement. Johnson tallied 58 percent of wide receiver targets from Matt Schaub last season (via ESPN).
Even more impressive, Johnson was able to catch nearly 70 percent of the passes thrown in his direction this past season (via ESPN).
Imagine him getting some type of help on the outside.
Houston also needs to take into account that Johnson is 31 years old and will likely start slowing down within the next couple seasons.
Cordarrelle Patterson has the highest upside of any mainstream first-round wide receiver prospect in the draft. While the Tennessee product might not be able to make a huge impact immediately, he is going to be stud moving forward. He possesses stellar hands, gains separation at the line and can outfight any defensive back for the ball in midair.
The Texans will likely have to trade up in order to acquire Patterson. Do they think highly enough of him? Can they find better value at wide receiver by staying put? Those are two big questions here.
I may be in the minority here, but it is my belief that Ezekiel Ansah can be a strong outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Most experts have the high-upside pass-rusher solely as a down lineman in a base 4-3, but I just don't see it that way.
In fact, "Ziggy" doesn't appear to be scheme specific.
He has the size, athleticism and pure speed to be a dominating force for the Indianapolis Colts, who are going to be dependent on actually getting to the quarterback more often in 2013.
With Dwight Freeney gone and Robert Mathis getting up there in age, Indianapolis will have to find another generation of pass-rushers from a pool of players who seem to really have what it takes.
No, I am not talking about Erik Walden here.
If the Colts can line up Ansah next to Mathis in 2013, their entire talent level on the defensive side of the ball changes a great deal. They will not have to rely on what is a weak secondary to stick with receivers for longer than they're capable of. Instead, the likes of Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler should perform at a much higher level with a more consistent pass rush.
Of course the issue here, much like with most prospects I have teams targeting, is the fact that Ziggy is ranked higher on most boards then where the Colts are going to be selecting. If that's the case, general manager Ryan Grigson might have to get creative.
The Tennessee Titans tallied a total of 25.5 sacks from their defensive line this past season (via Pro Football Reference). That is fine and dandy for a team running a 3-4 scheme that relies heavily on the linebackers getting to the quarterback. It isn't too great for a defense running a base scheme.
In addition, most of the Titans 39 sacks came via the blitz in 2012. This means that their pass defense was left in single coverage, which led to a No. 26 ranking in that category (via NFL.com).
Bjoern Werner could fix that issue immediately in 2013. He already possesses pro-ready pass-rush moves and can come in and contribute immediately in that area of the game. Equally as important, the Florida State product was darn good maintaining against the run. While he was no Cornellius Carradine (another option) in that category, Werner can easily be a three-down player in the NFL.
The original need area for Tennessee entering the offseason was guard, but that was more than addressed with the acquisition of Andy Levitre in free agency from the Buffalo Bills.
I fully expect Tennessee to go defensive end early, and Werner would be the perfect fit.
I initially pegged Dion Jordan as a true 3-4 outside linebacker. After talking with others around the draft community and watching more tape, I have come to the conclusion that he can play multiple roles in different schemes.
This is really good for the Jacksonville Jaguars considering that they have the second overall pick in the draft and just hired former Seattle Seahawks defensive guru Gus Bradley to be their head coach.
As most of you in the Pacific Northwest already know, Bradley ran multiple fronts with Seattle over the last few years. He relied on linebackers to play at the line and defensive ends, to an extent, to drop back.
Enter into the equation Jordan, who has the highest upside of any defensive player in the draft. The Oregon prospect possesses a rare first step off the line, something that I have only seen from the likes of Aldon Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul coming out of college.
In addition, Jordan is able to use a variation of pass-rush moves to beat the blocker off the point and get into the offensive backfield. This was evident in the hours of game tape that I watched on him.
Jacksonville tallied a total of 20 sacks this past season, which was a lower number than J.J. Watt put up for the Houston Texans (via Pro Football Reference).
It goes without saying that the Jaguars are in need of that elite pass-rush threat. If they go defense with the second pick, which is likely, I fully expect Jordan to be the pick.
It's crazy how much just one season changes the perception of a team and its needs. The New England Patriots made it a point to go defense with their first two selections in the 2012 NFL draft. In fact, they ended up trading up for both Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, moves that will definitely pay dividends going forward.
With the departure of Wes Welker to Denver (I know it sounds weird) and the likely "loss" of Brandon Lloyd, New England is suddenly pretty short on talent and depth at wide receiver.
There have been rumors floating around that New England might sign Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, but I am not entirely too sure that's not just to drive up the asking price of the restricted free agent upon his likely return to Pittsburgh.
New England will have numerous options at 29. A myriad of wide receivers I have slated with first-round grades should be available.
Instead of going with one of those, I thought it made sense on a more practical level to think outside the box; maybe the way Bill Belichick and Co. think during draft day.
Da'Rick Rogers would have easily been the No. 1 wide receiver in the draft this season if he wasn't kicked off Tennessee's football team. His versatility, athleticism and hands set him apart from the rest of the wide receiver group.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Rogers has the size to beat defenders in the red zone. While speed isn't a strength, he more than makes up for it with that size and an ability to beat defenders to the ball down the field. He would immediately become a great No. 2 for New England with an upside that no other receiver in this class possesses.
I go back to the well with one of my favorite defensive backs in the entire draft. Desmond Trufant is an absolute beast up at the line in press coverage, does a ridiculous job against the run and possesses stellar footwork in his back pedal.
He is the complete cornerback for a team like the Miami Dolphins, who just lost Sean Smith to Kansas City in free agency. Even if the Dolphins are able to sign Brent Grimes, which could be a likely scenario, I don't envision Jeff Ireland passing up on a stellar defensive back should one be available at 12.
As it stands right now, Nolan Carroll and Richard Marshall are the Dolphins two starting cornerbacks with the newly acquired Dimitri Patterson playing nickel. I don't care how much this team has improved in free agency, it cannot like the looks of that cornerback trio right now.
Are you shocked? No, I didn't go out there and upload the wrong picture. E.J. Manuel is my second-ranked quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft and I have a first-round grade on the former Florida State standout.
I am not indicating that the New York Jets should use the ninth pick on Manuel. Instead, they should seriously consider trading down from the top 10 and picking him up later in the initial round or hope that he falls to them in the second.
Most of the criticism that I have heard thrown Manuel's way this draft season were the very same critiques directed at Colin Kaepernick just a couple years back. "He doesn't have the accuracy" and "his pocket presence is lacking" are two of the most common concerns about Manuel.
Those are also two things that can be fixed with some seasoning and refinement. Manuel will not be able to come in and be a starter immediately. Instead, Rex Ryan will have to hold off and let the coaching staff get a piece of Manuel's raw skills. If that happens, the Jets could easily have their quarterback of the future.
If you don't want to take my word for it, just read what Bleacher Report's own Sigmund Bloom had to say about Manuel.
Timing can be everything, and EJ Manuel certainly picked a good draft to enter as a supremely athletic quarterback who is a work in progress as a passer. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a similar scouting report entering the 2011 draft, and he was a few yards from winning a Super Bowl in his season as the team's starter.
Getting Manuel either in the late first or early second would calm a lot of nerves around the stands at the Meadowlands. Take that to the bank.
This might not make a whole lot of sense on the surface. After all, the Buffalo Bills did draft Stephon Gilmore in the top 10 of the 2012 NFL draft and retained veteran cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
That's just on the surface.
Dee Milliner would represent ridiculous value for the Bills at eight and help change the balance of power in the AFC East under the New England Patriots.
If Buffalo was able to go out there and get two elite young cornerbacks to matchup against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, it would be in a great situation to contend for a playoff spot in the next couple seasons.
Even more important, Milliner would be the best player available here and has a shot at being a true shutdown cornerback in the mold of Darrelle Revis. This also narrows the gap between Buffalo and a vastly superior Patriots' team.
If any elite team has the ability to move up in the first round to select a target player it has to be the San Francisco 49ers, who still have 14 picks after sending a sixth-rounder to the Baltimore Ravens for Anquan Boldin.
It just so happens that one of the only needs that Jim Harbaugh and company currently have is at free safety after they refused to get into a bidding war for Dashon Goldson. Even if San Francisco signs Charles Woodson, it will have to look for an eventual replacement.
I took part in Twitter's Mock Three, which is a social media mock draft. In the process, I represented the San Francisco 49ers. Long story short, I traded up all the way to the No. 13 slot and nabbed Kenny Vaccaro.
Interestingly enough, Bleacher Report lead dog Matt Miller represented San Francisco in Mock Four. He also traded up to acquire Vaccaro. Here is what Miller had to say about his decision...
With the most picks in the 2013 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers were comfortable moving up in the order to select a true day one star in our defense. Kenny Vaccaro fills the void left by Dashon Goldson's signing in Tampa and gives us a younger, faster, more dynamic free safety to anchor the secondary.
I couldn't agree more, Mr. Miller.
This is the one player San Francisco really should target early in the draft next month. Vaccaro possesses exceptional coverage skills, can play nickel corner and is a downright beast in coverage over the top. This doesn't even take into account his ability in the box against the run.
Without a first-round pick after sending it to the Minnesota Vikings for Percy Harvin, Seattle's general manager John Schneider will have to get creative come April.
Fret note, 'Hawks fans. Schneider is one of the best talent observers in the entire National Football League and continues to produce mid-round steals like no other GM in the business.
This is what I am expecting here.
If you are just a novice follower of college football, I am pretty sure you haven't heard too much about linebacker Khaseem Greene from Rutgers. That's fine, I plan on jockeying him pretty good here.
Greene is one of the most underrated defensive players in the entire draft. His natural instincts and blinding sideline-to-sideline speed are what zeroed out the Seahawks as a potential fit.
The Rutgers product is also solid in blitz packages and possesses darn good technique in coverage—two things that Seattle looks for from its personnel in the front seven.
Its current linebacker duo of K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner is among the best young tandems in the entire NFL. With LeRoy Hill destined to move on, Schneider can find an upgrade and replacement here in the second round.
The first round will not pass without St. Louis spending one of its two picks on a wide receiver. I fully understand that it did use two rather early selections on Brian Quick and Chris Givens last season, but St. Louis really needs to build more depth and talent at wide receiver.
While the addition of Jared Cook in free agency will be big for Sam Bradford, he isn't going to be that outside threat that the now veteran quarterback needs.
In short, the Rams are definitely going receiver early in the draft.
I looked at a bunch of quality wide receiver prospects here, but DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins stood out to me as the best fit for the Rams.
The Clemson product already possesses pro-ready route-running skills and has great hands. While he will not blow past defenders, he is surprisingly strong off the line and gets into his second gear relatively quickly.
Hopkins would be a great complement to Quick and Givens.
If Day 1 of the NFL draft passes without the Arizona Cardinals selecting an offensive tackle, fans in the desert should boycott the Bidwells.
Arizona quarterbacks have been sacked a total of 112 times over the last two seasons. (via Pro Football Reference). That's bordering on David Carr with the Houston Texans territory right there. I don't care who a team has playing under center; he stands no chance behind that offensive line.
While Bobby Massie did come on strong towards the end of his rookie campaign, Arizona needs to find a true blind-side protector before it even thinks about looking for a franchise quarterback.
Luke Joeckel is the No. 1 overall player on most draft boards. I have him right up there with Eric Fisher, who I touched on earlier. If by some magical reason the Texas A&M product falls to Arizona at seven, it has to pull the trigger.
As it is, if any of the top three offensive tackles are on the board for Arizona I see absolutely no reason why it would take more than five minutes to make the selection.
It has to be a better decision than reaching for a Matt Barkley, who would struggle behind the worst offensive line in the NFL.
For a team that has won 26 regular-season games over the last two seasons, there seems to be a lot of questions surrounding the Green Bay Packers nowadays. Some of this has to do with the lack of free-agent moves from Ted Thompson and company, but that really has been their M.O.
With that in mind, Green Bay has several target areas in the upcoming draft.
It needs to find a true zero-tech nose tackle, solid cover free safety, running back and center. All of these positions must be addressed in relatively short order.
I decided to go with Barrett Jones at center because he is the most logical target area for the Packers. The Alabama product will likely be available in the second round, which enables Green Bay to look best player available at those other positions on the first day of the draft.
It seems that I am a bit higher on Jones than some mainstream scouts. I see someone that has anchored a pro-style offensive line at Alabama over the last few seasons that can come in as an immediate starter.
He will upgrade the center position from what we saw last season with the recently retired Jeff Saturday and Evan Dietrich-Smith, who is playing out of position at center.
Pretty much the obvious pick.
Despite the fact that Minnesota went out there and signed Greg Jennings to a long-term contract after trading Percy Harvin, it still needs to find an elite wide receiver on the outside for Christian Ponder.
Tavon Austin shot up draft boards after a ridiculous performance at the combine. While I am not huge on the generic drills in Indianapolis, this West Virginia alum really did surprise me a great deal in the position specific drills. He showed great hands, a solid route-running ability and is as physically imposing as any wide receiver in the draft.
Minnesota appears willing to give Ponder a couple more shots at proving he is an above-average starting quarterback in the NFL. If this is the case, it must find the former first-round pick a few decent targets to throw to.
As I mentioned in the Baltimore Ravens slide with Ray Lewis, no team can expect to replace the production of a future Hall of Fame linebacker with a rookie.
The point here is Chicago wouldn't be asking Kevin Minter to replace the production we saw from the Brian Urlacher of eight years ago. Instead, it is looking to find someone that can act as an upgrade over the 2012 version of Urlacher, which wasn't too impressive in the grand scheme of things.
Minter, a Louisiana State product, can come in and start immediately. He has the size, speed and awareness to make a Luke Kuechly-type difference as a rookie.
As it stands right now, Chicago would be relying on a washed up D.J. Williams to play middle linebacker. A position that has been a strength for the Bears for the better part of the last 30 years has now become a weakness.
Adding Minter would change that in a heartbeat.
Let me preface this by saying that I fully understand that Detroit has to look at offensive tackles early in the draft. After all, it lost Gosder Cherilus to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency and Jeff Backus retired. Right now, Detroit seems to have only one starter-caliber offensive tackle on its roster in the form of former first-round pick Riley Reiff.
This brings me to my ultimate point.
Can you honestly see the Lions going offensive tackle in the first round two consecutive seasons? Equally as important in the grand scheme of things, they need to go out there and find a real difference-maker in the secondary.
While retaining Chris Houston, especially on a team-friendly contract, was important, he isn't a true shutdown cornerback.
Just imagine how much better Detroit's defense as a whole would be if it could get someone in there who could eventually shut down damn near half the football field with elite coverage skills.
I for one, am intrigued.
As I have mentioned before, Dee Milliner is the consensus No. 1 cornerback in the draft. He reminds me a great deal of Darrelle Revis when it comes to technique and fluidity on the outside. It really is hard to pass up on that type of player anywhere in the draft.
The return of Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta is going to be huge for Matt Ryan and Co. in 2013. As a future Hall of Fame tight end with a lot left in the tank, Gonzalez keeps one of the most dynamic offenses together for at least one more season.
Add Steven Jackson to the mix as a major upgrade over Michael Turner at running back and you have the makings for something special here.
By talking Gonzalez out of retirement for one more season, most experts seem to believe that the Falcons will go in another direction instead of tight end in the first round.
This makes sense.
The Falcons have needs at defensive end, linebacker and cornerback. Heck, you could say they need to upgrade all tiers of a pedestrian, but improved defense under coordinator Mike Nolan.
While this may be true, Tyler Eifert is going to be incredibly hard to pass up on at 30. He reminds me a great deal of Rob Gronkowski in that the Notre Dame product creates mismatches by his mere presence on the field.
At 6'6" and 261 pounds, there really is no linebacker, cornerback or safety that can match up against Eifert between the hashes and in the end zone. He immediately adds another dimension to an offense that could be dominating in 2013.
Moving forward, Eifert is the best possible replacement for Gonzalez.
Take the elite playmaker here and fill holes later in the draft.
Even after signing Dashon Goldson in free agency, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary is an utter mess. Mark Barron and Goldson leave a whole heck of a lot to be desired in coverage, while the Buccaneers have zero capable No. 1 cornerbacks on the roster.
How does it attempt to remedy this situation?
It goes without saying that Darrelle Revis could be a solid option in a trade with the New York Jets, but adding him alone wouldn't necessarily indicate that the Buccaneers would be out of the market for a cornerback in April's draft.
This leads me to Xavier Rhodes, who many have as the second-best cornerback in the draft behind Dee Milliner. While I have Desmond Trufant slotted there (barely), Rhodes seems to fit what Greg Schiano and company are building on defense.
The Florida State product is a physically imposing defensive back that can come in and make his impact known early. He is solid in bump and run coverage, but also possesses the ability to play off man. In a flexible system like what we see with the Buccaneers, he seems to be the best possible fit.
It's fine and dandy if a team wants to switch to a 3-4 defense. It's even better when new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who has tons of experience running this scheme, is your new head man on that side of the ball.
However, a defense must have the personnel to fit that scheme. Right now the New Orleans Saints don't.
By my estimation, and I could be off the mark, the Saints only have one player in their front seven that fits better in a 3-4 than a 4-3. Of course I am talking about former first-round pick Cameron Jordan. The likes of Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith playing the pass-rushing outside linebacker position has to worry fans in New Orleans, especially without a true zero-tech nose tackle.
Enter into the equation Barkevious Mingo, who is best suited in an Aldon Smith role for the Saints. He is one of the best pure pass-rushers in the entire draft and could make an immediate impact as a double-digit sack artist as a rookie.
The bad news here is that this LSU product will not be available where New Orleans is slotted to pick in the first round. It will have to make a move to trade up for him. Making it more difficult is the fact that the Saints were stripped of a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft due to a scandal I will refrain from mentioning by name in this slide.
Is Mingo worth giving up valuable picks for? That's the question the Saints will be asking themselves come draft day.
I could not find a better possible fit for the Carolina Panthers here than Star Lotulelei, who has to be considered the best interior defensive lineman in the entire draft.
The Utah product can play in pretty much any defensive scheme, but seems to fit best as a 4-3 defensive tackle—something Carolina needs desperately.
While injuries seemed to plague this area of the team last season, I just don't envision Dwan Edwards and Sione Fua as difference-makers inside.
Imagine what the likes of Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Frank Alexander would be able to do with a gap filler like Star inside. That's a scary proposition for offenses in the NFC South.
By virtue of them trading up for Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL draft, the Washington Redskins will not be picking on the first day of the draft again this April.
I am pretty sure fans in D.C. will not be complaining about this anytime in the near future.
It does, however, leave a lot of other holes needing to be filled later in the draft. The most obvious area of need for Washington sits in the defensive secondary at safety.
Do you honestly believe that Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty are long-term solutions in the back end of Washington's defense? If so, I have a bridge to sell you in Africa.
Phillip Thomas is one of the most intriguing secondary prospects in the entire draft. While he played against less-than-stellar competition at Fresno State, the stud free safety is probably the most natural at this position in the draft outside of Kenny Vaccaro.
In reality, Washington could pick Thomas up in the second round and expect him to be an immediate upgrade over Doughty at free safety. He will also be able to mask the coverage issues that Meriweather has brought with him to every team he has played for.
Moving forward, Thomas projects to be a top-10 free safety in the NFL.
I am definitely going to get some flack for this. Before you go on a tantrum in the comments section, please read my scouting report on Manti Te'o.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist has obviously been making the news for all the wrong reasons. First it was the "catfish scandal," then it was a poor performance at the combine in Indianapolis.
Finally, Te'o seemed to stop the downward spiral with a solid performance at Notre Dame's pro day earlier this week. In my opinion, this instantly made the enigmatic linebacker a first-round lock.
As you saw in my scouting report, if you took time to read it, what Te'o brings to the table cannot be gauged by generic drills at the combine or a 40 time at pro day. His natural instincts, smarts, leadership and tackling ability make him a sure-fire starting linebacker in the NFL for at least a decade.
In a perfect world, the New York Giants trade down from 19 and pick Te'o up later in the draft. I am just not sure if that is possible with the Chicago Bears selecting a pick later.
As it is, Te'o is an immediate upgrade over the recently signed Dan Connor at middle linebacker. His addition would also enable the Giants to move Mark Herzlich, who I am high on, to the weak side.
It isn't out of the realm of possibility that Chance Warmack falls to the Dallas Cowboys at 18. Even as one of the best guard prospects to enter the draft in 20 years, the Alabama product plays a position that doesn't seem to be highly valued among NFL teams on draft day.
This could end up working out well for Jerry Jones and Co.
Warmack is as strong against the pass rush as he is in run blocking. He is a man among boys along the interior of the offensive line and dominated some pro-style defenses in the SEC for the better part of the last two seasons.
While everyone in Dallas wants to blame Tony Romo for the Cowboys' lack of success over the last few seasons, the embattled quarterback really didn't have a lot of help up front.
Even if Dallas is able to add a veteran like Brandon Moore, bringing Warmack in would make this unit 10 times better.
If you don't believe Warmack lasts to 18, let me point one thing out. David DeCastro, who many had pegged as a top-10 prospect at the guard position last season, fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mid-20's.
It is possible.
Again, this is all contingent on how the board plays out. I am not conducting a mock draft here. Rather, this is an indication of players each team should target next month.
As I mentioned in a previous slide, Dion Jordan seems to fit better in either a 3-4 scheme or a defense that runs multiple sets up front.
New Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly will be bringing a 3-4 with him to the NFL. In this, Kelly is going to be attempting to find the personnel that fits best.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they already seem to have some solid pieces in place to be successful on this side of the ball.
Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks all seem pretty well suited to play in the front seven of a 3-4. All they need is a true pass-rush threat from the outside linebacker position.
Dion Jordan reminds me a great deal of a combination between Jevon Kearse and Aldon Smith. He has the speed to get around the corner, but isn't afraid to stick his head in there and bull rush. The Oregon product could easily be one of the better pass-rush specialists to enter the NFL in quite some time—even as a rookie.
Vincent Frank is a NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. He was hired prior to the 2011 season and couldn't be happier working with a great group of individuals here. In addition, Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft and co-host of eDraft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.