The NFL draft remains an indecipherable science, which enhances the difficulty of connecting on every selection.
And that goes double for the first round because picking the best talent to address an immediate need is done from a smaller pool of prospective talent.
In short, Round 1 takes high-risk high-reward to another level.
There are plenty of safe selections, though.
We got that in Andrew Luck last season, and 2013 has similar potential from a few athletes. But how the first-round slate unfolds will create an intriguing domino effect given this year's varied depth at each position.
This article will speculate some safe first-round picks.
Note: Highlighted players are in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, Tackle (Texas A&M)
The Chiefs will emphasize the ground attack even more with Luke Joeckel. Kansas City then finds more production from Jamaal Charles to set up the play action.
Given Joeckel's pass-blocking ability, K.C. will have the tools to lead a balanced attack next season.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Star Lotulelei, DT (Utah)
There is excellent news on the Star Lotulelei front. Joe Schad of ESPN.com reports that he has been cleared:
The NFL has been told "it is safe" for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei "to participate in professional athletics without restrictions," according to a letter provided to teams that was written by Dr. Josef Stehlik of University of Utah Cardiology.
Jacksonville gets the versatile defensive tackle that possesses the power and agility to plug gaps, apply quarterback pressure and draw double-teams.
3. Oakland Raiders: Dee Milliner, CB (Alabama)
The Raiders gave up a 66 completion percentage in 2012. Fielding Dee Milliner quickly cuts this allowed percentage down and complements the front seven.
At the same time, Milliner is capable of assisting with perimeter run support.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, Tackle (Central Michigan)
Philadelphia's best chance to make a run at January is with Eric Fisher. His stout pass-blocking talent will close off the edge and provide excellent pocket protection.
Additionally, Fisher's athleticism bodes well in establishing a more consistent ground attack.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner, DE (Florida State)
Detroit has the offense to score on anyone, but the Lions need Bjoern Werner to field a stronger defense for a chance at the playoffs. Werner's ability to rush the passer, restrict the edge versus the run and knock down quick passes will help Detroit control more up front.
As a result, the Lions get off the field on third down and fare better in the field-position battle.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dion Jordan, DE (Oregon)
Cleveland can definitely consider trading down here to land a cornerback, but Dion Jordan is a great fit for the front seven.
The Browns then generate sacks and are provided with more turnover opportunities.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Chance Warmack, Guard (Alabama)
Improving pass protection and the run game is a dire need for Arizona.
Chance Warmack easily helps bolster each aspect of the Cardinals' offense. He's a physical blocker who will get upfield to extend lanes, not to mention dominate the interior with balance and power when pass-blocking.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB (West Virginia)
Buffalo's future at quarterback is Geno Smith.
The Bills feature a reliable back in C.J. Spiller, so Smith doesn't need to worry about opponents blitzing at a consistent rate. Smith then works nicely off play action and reading pre-snap, which makes him a perfect fit in this offense.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE (BYU)
Managing only 30 sacks and struggling to stop the run was detrimental to New York in 2012.
Immediately turning things around in the defensive front is Ezekiel Ansah's presence on the outside. He'll get quarterback pressure and squeeze against the run to complement Gang Green's pass defense.
10. Tennessee Titans: Xavier Rhodes, CB (Florida State)
Tennessee allowed a 66.3 completion percentage in 2012, so the pass defense desperately needs to improve.
On the bright side, the front seven offers potential after recording 39 sacks. A shutdown corner like Xavier Rhodes blankets half of the field. After accounting for 31 defended passes and 140 tackles in three seasons at Florida State, Rhodes will make plays on the ball and reduce yards after the catch.
Factor in his size at 6'1", 210 pounds and he becomes a competitive advantage in Cover 1 and Cover 2. He'll be able to jam receivers at the line and immediately help with run support to provide the pass rush more time to apply pressure.
The Titans cut back on the 31 passing touchdowns given up last season and control the line more to minimize an opponent's ground game.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, Tackle (Oklahoma)
Lane Johnson's explosive short-area quickness, lateral balance and acceleration are quite impressive for an offensive lineman. These tangibles also supply Philip Rivers with a comfortable pocket from the blindside to reduce sacks and turnovers.
Include Johnson's ability to reach block downfield and San Diego fields great offensive balance.
12. Miami Dolphins: Desmond Trufant, CB (Washington)
With Grimes locking down half the field, Trufant brings the top speed and field awareness to quickly develop on the opposite side.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sharrif Floyd, DT (Florida)
The NFC South's offensive dominance can get fended off with a strong defensive line.
Tampa Bay counterbalances that with Sharrif Floyd. His impact helps the line of scrimmage with impressive lateral movement, as well as a knack for disrupting the backfield.
14. Carolina Panthers: Kenny Vaccaro, Safety (Texas)
Carolina's inability to defend consistently against the pass cost it dearly last season. Taking Kenny Vaccaro, helps the coverage create a barrier at the second level to complement the pass rush.
Plus, his contributions will generate turnovers and get the offense extra possessions.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, LB (LSU)
New Orleans will return to postseason contention with a better defense.
Barkevious Mingo is capable of controlling the outside of the front line against the run, not to mention pass rush when needed. His quick feet and size simply bolsters the Saints' dire need to slow opponents down.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR (Tennessee)
St. Louis has the overall talent to reach the playoffs. Drafting Cordarrelle Patterson to consistently press secondaries on their heels will keep defenses honest.
His playmaking skill set works well against Cover 1 and 3, but the ultimate impact comes from accumulating yards after the catch.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, LB (Georgia)
Pittsburgh won't sniff the postseason without an upgraded pass rush.
Jarvis Jones offers this aspect to an incredible degree, as well as forcing fumbles and ill-advised throws. If anything, he'll create an influx of turnover opportunities for the Steelers to capitalize offensively.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, Guard (North Carolina)
Much like Detroit, Dallas has the aerial assault to stretch defenses downfield. The next piece of the puzzle for reaching the postseason is Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper obviously helps the Cowboys establish a bruising ground attack, but he's also a reliable pass-blocker to form a safe pocket for Tony Romo.
19. New York Giants: Sheldon Richardson, DT (Missouri)
The Giants have to replenish the defensive line to rebound as a legit NFC threat. Sheldon Richardson's nose for crashing parties in the backfield not only draws attention, but forces single block situations to Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, LB (Georgia)
Alex Ogletree is one of the most athletic and versatile linebackers in the draft.
Although D.J. Williams was added in free agency according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, Ogletree is a great complement.
While suiting up for the Georgia Bulldogs, Ogletree collected 163 tackles, forced three fumbles and defended eight passes between 2011 and 2012. He'll also pass rush when needed as evidenced by his six recorded sacks.
The Bears were suspect at the intermediate level throughout 2012 when turnovers weren't being generated. The athleticism of Ogletree will shield slot receivers and tight ends in zone, as well as hanging with running backs one-on-one.
Chicago also gave up 4.2 yards per carry last year, so reducing this average will minimize the impact of play action from high-powered offenses.
In an NFC that features a plethora of solid offenses, the Bears can't afford to remain vulnerable against the run.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Matt Elam, Safety (Florida)
Sprucing up the secondary with Matt Elam will get Cincinnati winning the time of possession battle. His instincts to find the ball create additional turnovers and get the Bengals offense more opportunities to score.
22. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Arthur Brown, LB (Kansas State)
One weakness of St. Louis was defending the run in 2012.
Giving up 4.3 yards per rush allowed offenses to set up play-action and take advantage of wider zones in coverage at the intermediate level. Arthur Brown possesses the wherewithal to react quickly against the pass.
He'll also assist against the run, because the rest of Jeff Fisher's front seven features the talent to close any open lane.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Tavon Austin, WR (West Virginia)
With Percy Harvin traded to Seattle (via Jay Glazer of FOX Sports), Minnesota replaces him with Tavon Austin. Offering the speed and quickness to stretch defenses and split zones, Austin will stockpile yards after the catch to draw attention.
In turn, Adrian Peterson rolls even more on the ground with fewer defenders constantly stacking the box.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Damontre Moore, DE (Texas A&M)
The Colts reached the postseason despite their defense not dominating on a weekly basis. Damontre Moore's pass-rushing tenacity complements the upgraded secondary.
Indianapolis then gives its offense more possessions by consistently generating turnovers.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via SEA): Kawann Short, DT (Purdue)
Here we see Minnesota getting this selection from Seattle in the Harvin deal, also from Jay Glazer.
The Vikings land Kawann Short to smash backfields and assist Jared Allen up front. Now the Purple People Eaters find some restoration in dominating the trenches to a greater degree.
26. Green Bay Packers: Sylvester Williams, DT (North Carolina)
Green Bay has the defensive talent to make strides next season.
Its potential gets amplified with Sylvester Williams, because his size and power to clogs gaps prevents the extension of running lanes.
The end results are the Packers' linebackers producing more against the run with quarterback pressure.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Clemson)
Houston providing Matt Schaub with another playmaking receiver will get coach Gary Kubiak's offense more explosive and efficient.
Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins caught 82 passes for 1,405 yards and scored 18 times last season. He averaged 17.1 yards per reception and possesses the explosiveness to win against Cover 1 and knife through Cover 2.
Lining up opposite of Andre Johnson, Hopkins won't ever face double coverage and his impact will keep opponents sitting in Cover 2 and 3. The Texans then have an edge here, as this prevents defenses from loading the box to zero in on Arian Foster.
The stud ball-carrier produces more effectively and play action increases its threat. Johnson won't get bracketed in coverage either, and Houston's total balance controls the tempo.
28. Denver Broncos: Alex Okafor, DE (Texas)
Elvis Dumervil bolted from Denver to Baltimore, which leads to the selection of Alex Okafor. As a sound edge defender to control the outside, Okafor will see numerous sack opportunities opposite Von Miller.
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen, WR (California)
The Patriots have two reliable tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but Tom Brady needs that deep-threat target to win versus Cover 1 and make plays over the middle.
Enter Keenan Allen.
His size frame and leaping ability capitalize on pass defenses that choose to isolate Gronk and Hernandez.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Jesse Williams, DT (Alabama)
Atlanta managed only 29 sacks and gave up 4.8 yards per rush last season. The drafting of Jesse Williams addresses these needs, as his impact will dominate against man-to-man to eventually draw double-teams.
The Falcons get more outside quarterback pressure and the opportunistic secondary takes advantage.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jonathan Cyprien, Safety (Florida International)
San Francisco's pass defense was exploited versus big-play receivers last season, and especially in the Super Bowl.
But opting for Jonathan Cyprien fixes this vulnerability with ease. Having awareness for always being around the rock, Cyprien produces impressively well after benefiting from the 49ers' defensive front.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te'o, LB (Notre Dame)
Manti Te'o's draft status got revived a bit after Notre Dame's pro day.
According to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune, Te'o clocked sub-4.7 seconds on his 40-yard dash:
Eric Hansen @EHansenNDI
Manti Te'o official time from #NotreDame's Pro Day: 4.69 seconds in the 40-yard dash.3/26/2013, 7:57:10 PM
The Ravens need to fill a void at inside linebacker and could use Te'o's experience and production. He racked up 437 tackles for the Irish and recorded seven picks last season.
Te'o also displayed underrated quickness at the combine, clocking 4.27 seconds on the 20-yard shuttle and 7.13 seconds on the three-cone drill.
The rest of Baltimore's front seven will assist his development because Te'o will be put in a confined role. By filling running lanes and simply dropping underneath in coverage at the intermediate level, he'll gradually increase reactionary skills to make more plays all over the field.
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