The 2013 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and due to the depth that this class provides, fanbases of all 32 teams can feel confident that they will come away with a solid player for the future with their first selections.
However, certain front offices desperately need to hit big on their first-round investments in April. Otherwise, another arduous campaign likely looms.
Here is an updated projection for the first round that focuses on the most critical, make-or-break picks for teams in particular need of strong seasons.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The former Aggies standout will provide new quarterback Alex Smith with improved pass protection. Kansas City already franchised Branden Albert as its left tackle but could move him, seeing as how he was the only player to miss the team's first voluntary workout. Even if the Chiefs hold onto Albert, Joeckel would fill in nicely on the right side.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The pass rush is a concern for Jacksonville, but the cornerback position is something that must be addressed. Going purely by the best player on the board at this point, Milliner is the logical selection.
Cornerback play was a cornerstone for Gus Bradley's defense in Seattle. Although Milliner doesn't tout the size of a Richard Sherman or Brandon Browner, he is an extremely smart player who thrives in complex schemes and zone coverage.
Defensive ends can be found at the beginning of the Round 2, but a corner like Milliner won't be around at that stage. Thus, this high of a selection for a defensive back is justified. The Jags proved that one bad year could be enough to fire a coach with Mike Mularkey last season, so Bradley needs to implement a rather quick turnaround.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd can line up anywhere along the defensive front, and the Raiders can't afford to pass on the former Gator stud at No. 3.
GM Reggie McKenzie was dealt a tough situation over the past two drafts, and this is the first time that he'll have a selection in Round 1. Oakland doesn't pick again until the third round, so it becomes all the more vital that McKenzie hits it big.
The Raiders have made several moves to plug holes on defense, but Floyd has the chance to be a true difference-maker for the long haul.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The most experience that Ansah had for the Cougars was as a 3-4 defensive end, which is precisely the role that he could fill in Philadelphia. Ansah has some of the most intriguing upside in the draft and wouldn't be pressured to make an immediate impact due to the upgrades to the Eagles' defense.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Since offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is uncommonly pass-happy, even in today's NFL, QB Matthew Stafford needs some extra blocking given how many times he drops back. Fisher is a surefire franchise left tackle, and 2012 first-round pick Riley Reiff can slide over to right tackle or even guard.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
The new Browns regime will love to pick up Jordan here. He has the ability to rush the passer, the speed to play the run and the athleticism to play coverage exceptionally well. Jordan provides the Browns with insurance if Jabaal Sheard doesn't convert well to outside linebacker in Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme.
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Now that Carson Palmer has solved the Cardinals' riddle at quarterback, the focus must be on improving the league's worst offensive line. Johnson is a freakish athlete for his position and will put Palmer's mind more at ease on the blind side.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Investing in the quarterback position here would be wise—especially since Kevin Kolb is the best option on the roster. With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson also in the backfield, Smith may be asked to run more than he did in college due to the success of the zone-read option. That could give the Bills the X-Factor that they need to legitimately contend for the playoffs in the foreseeable future.
9. New York Jets (6-10): Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
New GM John Idzik is under the gun and was dealt a nightmarish salary cap situation. Adding a young outside linebacker with the pass-rushing ability and massive potential that Mingo possesses would allow the Jets' defense to continue thriving.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Now that Lotulelei has been cleared to participate in professional athletics without restrictions, any red flags raised about the heart condition that he was diagnosed with at the combine should be put to rest.
Lotulelei is a force of nature against the run and continues to flash promise at collapsing the pocket from the inside. The Titans struggled on defense against both dimensions last season, and Lotulelei is too talented to fall out of the Top 10.
This is vitally important for Tennessee since head coach Mike Munchak is squarely on the hot seat and needs better play on defense to have any chance at the postseason in 2013.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Warmack stood out on a Crimson Tide offensive line stocked with future pros. He should maul interior defensive linemen at the next level, and not only will he fortify protection for Philip Rivers, but he will also help Ryan Mathews run effectively between the tackles.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
There aren't many needs that the Dolphins didn't address in free agency, so adding depth to the defensive line makes the most sense. Werner stays in-state, and his college production and great strength and quickness will allow him to be a pass-rushing specialist at the very least as a rookie.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
GM Mark Dominik had better upgrade the cornerback position since Rhodes' talents won't be utilized in South Beach. Eric Wright has been nothing short of a debacle after signing a lucrative contract last offseason, and the Bucs desperately need an upgrade on the outside.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
There may be other pressing needs for the Panthers, but snagging another playmaker should be one of the top priorities. Patterson has loads of talent, but he did only play one season against top collegiate competition.
That should be enough to warrant this selection, though. Patterson could be utilized on jet sweeps, as a dynamic slot man and also has the size to be effective on the outside.
Cam Newton needs someone other than the aging Steve Smith to count on in his third season, as the pressure mounts for him to deliver a playoff appearance for Carolina. The rest of the draft can focus on the other side of the ball, but supplying Newton with a prospect like Patterson would allow the Panthers to keep up with the other high-octane offenses that inhabit the NFC South.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
An underwhelming pro day and a 4.9 40-yard dash time will likely see Jones fall to the Saints, who will be ecstatic to grab the former Bulldogs star. Jones can do it all and will be a force as an edge pass-rusher in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's exotic 3-4 attack.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
There's risk associated with Austin since he's just 5'8" and 174 pounds. Having said that, he showed no signs of durability issues as a Mountaineer, and caught over 100 passes in his final two years in Morgantown. Austin gives QB Sam Bradford a new go-to option and an invaluable weapon that OC Brian Schottenheimer will enjoy exploiting mismatches with.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
With his speed, range and natural instincts, there aren't many better athletes than Ogletree in his entire class. Ogletree wouldn't fall this far if not for his off-field mishaps, but in going to the Steelers' stable organization, he will have an ideal environment to develop within and should make an instant impact in his maiden NFL campaign.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Pairing someone like Richardson on the inside with the massive Jay Ratliff would give the Cowboys a defensive line to be frightened of. Richardson's quickness off the snap and knack for slipping through gaps at the point of attack would also open up opportunities on the edge for Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware.
19. New York Giants (9-7): D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Fluker is the next-best right tackle prospect on the board, and the Giants might as well get some insurance at the position with David Diehl set to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season. The Giants simply have to get better up front, and Fluker will help them in that regard.
20. Chicago Bears (10-6): Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Jones should be able to play both the run and pass effectively at the next level, thanks to his NFL-ready body and relentless motor. Underrated DT Henry Melton will likely be lined up alongside him on the left side, which should only help the Bears' defense continue to excel.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Whether he would supplant Reggie Nelson or Taylor Mays is unclear, but Vaccaro would be an upgrade in the long term over either. Vaccaro has the versatility to play both safety positions and the ability to cover like a corner, which should make him too valuable to pass up at this juncture.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The Rams are devastated that Vaccaro went just a pick earlier but will find great value in Cooper at this stage of the draft. Cooper's pass-blocking is second to none amongst guards, and he will also help on screen plays and getting the Rams' smaller running backs out on the edge, thanks to his athleticism.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Antoine Winfield is difficult to replace, but the Vikings will take a step in that direction by selecting Trufant. With excellent speed, an uncanny ability to recover and quick hips, Trufant is definitely the best corner available at this stage and should garner consideration as a Week 1 starter in Minnesota.
24. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Hunter may be considered a reach at this point, but he would provide the Colts with a phenomenal weapon. With his 40.5" vertical leap and 6'4" frame, the former Volunteer is a dangerous red-zone target who can also be a nightmare in the open field between the 20s.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Allen possesses the size to line up outside and the deceptive quickness to set up shop in the slot. Either way, QB Christian Ponder needs another viable target in addition to Greg Jennings, and Allen definitely provides that.
26. Green Bay Packers (12-4): Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
The Packers must upgrade on defense, because it's certainly not Aaron Rodgers and Co. that are keeping them from pro football's promised land. Hunt is a risk here, but his physical tools are off the charts, and with good coaching from Dom Capers, he could be an explosive commodity even in his first year.
27. Houston Texans (12-4): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
A lot of mocks have Hopkins here, and it's easy to see why. He can stretch the field with the best of them and has excellent ball skills to win one-on-one matchups. Andre Johnson needs some of the coverage to shift away from him, and Hopkins has the potential to do that.
28. Denver Broncos (13-3): Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Broncos could use a physical presence at corner, and Banks provides that. It's not so much a needs-based pick because the Broncos honestly don't have much to add to this stacked roster. However, Champ Bailey is aging, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is no guaranteed commodity.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
The Patriots simply need to get better on defense in order to ultimately get over the hump for another Super Bowl. Drafting Williams will help them get there because placing him on the interior with Vince Wilfork will give New England's opponents a formidable one-two punch to deal with.
30. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State
If not for his torn ACL, there is little doubt that Carradine would have gone higher than this. Carradine is a relentless pass-rusher, and as long as his knee checks out, the Falcons would add another dynamic defensive end in addition to Osi Umenyiora.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Williams won't woo with his natural tools, but his effort is supreme. He seems like a perfect fit for the hard-nosed Niners under Jim Harbaugh, and the team definitely needs depth behind 34-year-old difference-maker Justin Smith in the trenches.
32. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
Minter took full advantage of showcasing his talents against college football's best competition and should be a tackling machine for the Ravens in the heart of their 3-4 defense. He will help absorb the loss of legendary linebacker Ray Lewis and rising young star Dannell Ellerbe.
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