Let's not fool ourselves, the 2013 NFL draft is wide open. There is just very little separating the talent in the pool of players projected to go in, or very near, the first round.
Still, with free agency running its course, it is getting far easier to project which direction teams will go in the draft, and I'm certainly growing in confidence in my mock selections.
My latest first-round mock is below. I'll discuss each pick and pay extra attention to a few of the more intriguing picks by marking them in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Luke Joeckel will be an elite pass-protector from Day 1. He moves well and can block on the second level.
The pass-happy Andy Reid will not be able to pass on these skills.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is going to want to upgrade the Jaguars defense. Dion Jordan is not the safest pick, but his ceiling is through the roof. His versatility will also come in handy as Bradley likes to mix up his looks on defense.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Raiders almost have to go defense here. Their defense was absolutely horrid last year, and they've lost more talent this offseason than they've brought in. Granted, they did get out form some bad contracts in the process, but the fact remains that this teams needs upgrades on every level of the defense.
While I haven't seen this mocked anywhere, I wouldn't be totally shocked to see Oakland go with cornerback Dee Milliner.
Ultimately, I don't see it going with a corner at No. 3 overall, though.
That leads us to Sharrif Floyd. He has the size and strength to handle the interior and the explosiveness to get into the backfield.
There is also a definite need because, as it is now, Oakland will be relying on the injury-prone Pat Sims and the lightly-heralded Vance Walker to handle the bulk of the snaps at tackle.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Geno Smith going to the Eagles is picking up steam. That pick makes sound sense on the surface. Michael Vick doesn't have much left in the tank, and the pocket-passing Nick Foles is not the type of quarterback one would associate with Chip Kelly's offense.
As for Smith, he is the top quarterback in this draft and he has solid mobility. He would appear to be a good fit for Kelly's offense.
However, Smith is not an elite runner, and he'd actually function better in a more traditional offense. For the Eagles to spend the No. 4 pick on a quarterback, they'd be wise to make sure that quarterback is an ideal fit. Smith is not.
Kelly had plenty of success at Oregon without having a dominant quarterback. So, instead of using this valuable selection on Smith, he will turn to the offensive line. Fisher is a great talent and a solid value here.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12): Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ezekiel Ansah brings a high motor, consistency and a complete game. All of these attributes will be a nice addition to the inconsistent Lions defense.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
At No. 6, Dee Milliner is a solid value. He has all the tools needed to a be a successful cornerback and he can excel in man or zone coverage.
Teamed with Joe Haden, the Browns will have an intimidating tandem at corner.
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith has great potential, but he needs to work on his consistency and decision making. With Carson Palmer on board, the Cardinals can bring Smith along slowly.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Matt Barkley, QB, USC
I don't think anyone expects the Bills to think newly-signed quarterback Kevin Kolb is the long-term answer. The only question is when the Bills will try to get their long-term answer.
I don't think they'll wait long.
9. New York Jets (6-10): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
The Jets have completely lost their way. This team used to be physically dominant in the trenches. Chance Warmack will help New York get back to that.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Titans defensive line has shown flashes, but it has also shown prolonged stretches of inconsistency.
Bjoern Werner does not have the highest ceiling, but he plays with intensity on every play.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Philip Rivers has been getting pummeled, and his play has been steadily declining. Lane Johnson is a solid pass-protector, and he will help bring some consistency to the offensive line.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Xavier Rhodes reminds me a bit of Richard Sherman. He can be physically dominant. He is a good value here, and he will help complete the Dolphins secondary.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Buccaneers defense dwindled to almost nonexistence by the end of last season. There is some risk with Star Lotulelei due to his unfortunate heart condition; however, he is physically dominant and will solidify this line.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Cam Newton had a hard time following up his spectacular rookie season. His numbers dropped in most categories.
Opposing defenses adjusted to the Panthers' attack, and Carolina would go through long stretches of offensive ineptness.
The Panthers must find someone to help occupy safeties and open up the middle of the field. Cordarrelle Patterson has the tools to do just that.
He is a physically gifted receiver who will be a deep threat on every play.
He is inconsistent and needs to work on his route running, but he is a natural pass-catcher.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
The Saints have to go defense here, right? That side of the ball has been in a state of decline for several seasons.
Barkevious Mingo is a great athlete, and he will bolster an anemic pass rush.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Rams need to add some explosion on offense, and Tavon Austin is one of the most explosive players in this draft.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
However, he is an excellent fit in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers could use the increased pass rush.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Sheldon Richardson is a one-man wrecking crew and with the Cowboys moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, defensive line is a need.
19. New York Giants (9-7): Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Johnthan Banks is not on the same level as Milliner or Rhodes, but he is still a legitimate first-round selection, and the Giants need a corner.
20. Chicago Bears (10-6): D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
D.J. Fluker has some work to do to be an elite tackle, but he would function well in the confined space at guard. This would fill a need for the Bears, and they would have the hope he could one day be a franchise tackle.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Damontre Moore made steady gains throughout his career. He has a nice ceiling and he is just starting to come into his own.
22. St. Louis Rams* (From 10-6 Washington Redskins): Kenny Vaccaro, FS, Texas
Kenny Vaccaro is not an elite athlete, but he is a smart and instinctive player who knows how to make an impact in a game.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The thing I really like about Datone Jones is he has the size to play inside and the burst to play on the edge. This will be a nice addition to an aging defensive line.
24. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Jesse Williams has the size and experience to be a legitimate nose tackle. He may not ever be dominant, but this fills a need for the Colts and nose tackles are hard to come by.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from 11-5 Seattle Seahawks): Keenan Allen, WR, California
I really like Keenan Allen. He is a smooth and natural receiver with good football speed, and there is no doubt the Vikings need a boost at receiver.
26. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
The Packers must do a better job of protecting Aaron Rodgers. Watson is not getting the hype of other tackles, but he has all the tools to be an outstanding tackle.
27. Houston Texans (12-4): Robert Woods, WR, USC
The Texans offense needs another player who can occupy safeties, and Woods has the ball skills to be a deep threat.
28. Denver Broncos (13-3): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
The Broncos need some strength in the middle to help occupy blockers and free up their edge-rushers.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
New England's pass defense made some nice strides last season, but this group still needs more talent. Desmond Trufant is a bit inconsistent, but he has all the tools.
30. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The Falcons must get more physically dominant at the point of attack on defense. Johnathan Hankins will definitely help them do that.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Jonathan Cooper is an elite talent for the interior of the offensive line, and he does have some experience at center, which is one of the 49ers' few needs.
32. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
Kevin Minter isn't going to make anyone forget about Ray Lewis, but he is a consistent player with a nose for the ball.
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