NFL Mock Draft 2013: Analyzing How Free Agency Has Changed First-Round Landscape
Though the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days get much of the recognition for the rising or dropping of a player's stock, invariably the biggest factor remains free agency.
Anyone can take a look at a roster following the season and see where the team-specific needs are. All it takes is a trip to each individual team's website, click depth chart and boom—you know the Cardinals need a quarterback because John Skelton is awful at everything.
Once free agency begins, though, things change.
The Skeltons of the world depart to a far-off land named Cincinnati, and a former No. 1 pick named Carson Palmer comes riding in on a Hoveround to save the day.
By the time early April hits, you can take the "Geno Smith" or "Matt Barkley" you had written in permanent marker and kindly discard it in the waste basket.
Free agency changes everything—especially mock drafts. The player shuffling has finally slowed down to a minimum with just a few notable names remaining on the market, which means we can finally get a good idea of what positions teams could be targeting come April 25.
With that in mind, here is a look at our latest breakdown of the 2013 NFL draft.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Chiefs don't have a pre-draft visit planned with Joeckel, but don't take this as a sign they're wavering on what has felt like a mortal lock for months. They're not. Joeckel will be occupying a tackle spot in Kansas City next season, as he should be.
The former Texas A&M star was a stud protecting for Heisman winner Johnny Manziel last season and should do the same for Alex Smith in 2013. Kansas City has had an a very strong offseason and landing Joeckel should serve as the team's cherry on an impressive sundae.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
For all the talk that the Jaguars could be one of the teams to save Geno Smith from a precipitous fall, taking anything other than a pass rusher here would be a massive misstep. There are few lower on Blaine Gabbert's development than I, but Smith isn't worthy of a top-two pick and Jacksonville has too many other needs to make quarterback a viable option.
Jordan, though he's still raw, is the best pass-rushing prospect in this draft. He should instantly be able to step in at outside linebacker or defensive end and buoy Jaguars team that finished dead last in sacks last season.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Smith was also an option for Oakland until the team landed Matt Flynn from the Seahawks at the beginning of April. Flynn should finally get his first real opportunity as a starting quarterback, and Oakland was finally able to get rid or the sunk cost of Carson Palmer. Everybody wins there.
The quarterback shuffling also makes Floyd an obvious choice here at No. 3.
Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly have departed this offseason, leaving the Raiders with a complete dearth of talent in the middle. Floyd's versatility here makes him a more attractive option than Star Lotulelei, as the former Florida product can play either inside or outside on the defensive line.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
One of the quietest-rising prospects of the entire process, Fisher has essentially become a mortal top-10 lock. There are some who even project Fisher as a better prospect down the line than Luke Joeckel, though the Central Michigan product is less polished now.
Cornerback is also an option here, and Dee Milliner is worthy of the selection. But if the Eagles and Chip Kelly are truly committed to this one-more-year mumbo jumbo with Michael Vick—and they seem to be on the surface—then Fisher is a no-brainer here.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
There's a good reason just about every pundit has had Milliner going to Detroit at one time or another: The Lions desperately need help in the secondary. Their pass defense was dreadful for the most part last season, and though part of that certainly has to do with a downtick on the defensive line, most of it remains at the two cornerback spots.
Ezekiel Ansah is an option here if Milliner goes to the Eagles. If not, look for Detroit to need very little time before making its selection official.
6. Cleveland Browns: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
Adding Desmond Bryant is a start to rebuilding Cleveland's defensive line, but this is a team still very much in need of talent we're talking about. Jabaal Sheard had a fine season in 2012; he's just better as part of a defensive line rotation than as an integral piece.
Ansah has the potential to be the type of fierce pass-rusher the Browns have needed ever since returning to the NFL. They haven't had a 10-sack season from an individual since Kamerion Wimbley's rookie year in 2006, something that's held a burgeoning defense down.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton should be installing a 3-4 set, or some hybrid variations. Ansah is a prototypical fit for that system. He has the ability to play standing up on the outside—Ansah's jaw-dropping athleticism at the combine was proof of that—and the former BYU star's off-ball explosion is well-documented.
Ansah is a bit raw and still needs work in the film room and at practice. But he's the type of talent the Browns cannot pass on here at No. 6.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
While the detection of a heart condition put Lotulelei's stock on hold for a short time, he's back on teams' top-10 radar after being given a clean bill of health. Arizona could go a number of places with this pick, and the Cardinals' biggest need is at left tackle.
Lane Johnson, the best remaining player at tackle, just isn't a fit at No. 7. Lotulelei has all the makings of a star and should be an excellent fit on the Cardinals defensive line.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Although the Bills hopped aboard the quarterback musical chairs this offseason—with the release of Ryan Fitzpatrick coming as a shock to no one in particular—they still lack a long-term solution.
Tavaris Jackson was born to be an NFL backup. And while Kevin Kolb gets more flack than he actually deserves, his ceiling remains as the 25th-best starter in the league.
Buffalo needs more. The jury is still very hung on whether Smith is that type of player, but the potential and fit makes sense here.
The winner of the Kolb-Jackson battle can take over the reins for the beginning of the season, with Smith becoming a late-season replacement once things go off the rails or simply waiting as a rookie. New head coach Doug Marrone will be installing an offensive system predicated on short, intermediate routes—a system not totally dissimilar from the one Smith ran at West Virginia.
Even with all the talk about Smith sliding, he won't make it out of the first 10 picks. Buffalo just seems to be the best possible destination for all involved.
9. New York Jets: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Jets' list of needs is arguably longer than any other team in the NFL. Their once-robust linebacking corps is ancient; their quarterback is Mark Sanchez; their running backs are the definition of "meh"; Santonio Holmes, coming back from Lisfranc injury in his foot, is their best skill-position player; their best cornerback is on the trade block; and did I mention their quarterback was Mark Sanchez?
Oh, okay. Other than that, though, the Jets are Super Bowl contenders.
As for their pick, most are eager to hop aboard the Barkevious Mingo train. I'm not. The Jets have surrounded Sanchez with a revolving door of Arena League-level talent for the past couple years now. Patterson isn't a perfect prospect—he played just one year of Division I ball—but his potential is enormous.
He would instantly be New York's most explosive offensive player, which isn't saying all that much, but still.
10. Tennessee Titans: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Kamerion Wimbley had less than one more sack (6.5) than millions of dollars (5.8) that he'll cost Tennessee on the cap in 2013. Wimbley will be around next season due to his dead money, but the Titans need an elite pass-rusher to go alongside Derrick Morgan and Mingo could be that guy.
He's still developing and will be mostly a rotational player for whatever team winds up drafting him. But Mingo is a talent that's worth taking a risk on here at No. 10.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Johnson is a bit of a stretch even at No. 11, but the Chargers' desperation to land a tackle is palpable. Philip Rivers hasn't been upright for the better part of two seasons, and his play has fallen off Niagara Falls as a result.
Not too much over-thinking necessary in this spot.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Adding Brent Grimes on a one-year deal during free-agency was a shrewd move, but the Dolphins still need help in the secondary. Rhodes is a stretch at pick No. 12. He's got some major instinct problems and will need some heavy coaching to work on his ball-hawking technique.
However, Miami's other biggest positional need (offensive tackle) has nothing even remotely worth considering here. D.J. Fluker is a possibility, but he's not going to replace the departed Jake Long and may even wind up being a guard at the next level.
Rhodes is a risk, but he's the lesser of two evils. Don't be surprised if the Dolphins try really hard to trade out of this pick.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Losing Michael Bennett was a critical blow for Tampa—especially the way it happened. Bennett eschewed coming back to the Bucs and being their best pass rusher to be a part of a deep defensive line rotation in Seattle. That's Bennett raising one finger proudly to the franchise that drafted him—and it's not his index one.
As such, the board here falls in a way that leaves the Bucs in a tough spot. Their biggest need remains at cornerback, especially with the signing of Dashon Goldson ending all talks of a Kenny Vaccaro move. But Werner has slowly been on the downturn stock-wise, dropping from a potential top-five pick all the way to the late first round in most projections.
He's an unspectacular prospect overall, but one the Bucs should take a long look at considering positional needs.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers desperately need help in run defense. Luke Kuechly was fantastic as a rookie and helped prop up an otherwise fangless front seven, but he cannot continue to do all the work. Richardson comes with a bevy of maturity questions after his suspension last season, but the talent here is undeniable.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
In a draft where the Saints edge rushing, they should see plenty of it go off the board prior to their pick. Jones has seen his stock dip after less-than-impressive pro day. The former Georgia star ran just a 4.9-second time in the 40-yard dash and left many scouts wondering whether he's quick enough to make it on Sundays.
New Orleans is in a position where it has to find out.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Though the Rams would probably love to wait in this situation to take someone like Chance Warmack, the departure of Danny Amendola almost guarantees they'll be taking a wide receiver here. Austin makes the most sense on just about every level.
A shifty speedster who was born to be an elite slot receiver, Austin has wowed in the lead up to the draft. He was one of the combine's biggest stars after running a 4.34-second 40-yard dash time, and Austin's pro day was impressive by just about all accounts.
On a purely superficial level, Austin should immediately take over the Amendola role. He's a more polished route-runner than he's given credit for and is an instant-impact star on special teams. With 2013 being the year of reckoning for Sam Bradford's viability as a "franchise" quarterback, it's only fair that they surround him with the best possible talent.
By drafting Austin at No. 16, St. Louis is doing just that.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Safety hasn't been mentioned much among the Steelers' "need" positions mostly because pass rushing will be such a priority. But with this scenario leaving literally no worthy edge rushers on the board, perhaps its time Pittsburgh prematurely faces the mortality of its safety tandem.
Ryan Clark will turn 34 in October. Troy Polamalu turns 32 in less than two weeks. Polamalu has played in 16 games exactly once in the past four seasons, and he trudged through a miserable 2012 where he wasn't very good even when on the field.
Vaccaro ran a 4.63-second 40 at the combine, but was an elite ball-hawk at Texas and give the Steelers options in the secondary. They've always been a team that's moved on a year too soon rather than a year too late; this is their opportunity at safety.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Warmack has gotten plenty of attention as a potential top-10 selection. He's arguably the best tackle prospect to come out in the better part of a decade, and teams like Tennessee and Buffalo could certainly fill a need.
Him slipping to Dallas has nothing to do with talent—just his position. NFL teams historically do not draft guards high in the first round, not even great ones. The Cowboys should be thrilled that they can fill one of their needs here and just move on with their day.
19. New York Giants: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
By just about every measure one can imagine, the Giants were a wretched pass coverage club last season. They finished 28th in the league in pass defense, 30th in Pro Football Focus' pass-coverage metric and 16th in Football Outsiders' DVOA measurement, the lone outlier that even suggests New York was mediocre in 2012.
Trufant isn't a guy that will turn into Darrelle Revis overnight, but he can play on the outside and nickel without losing much a beat. He's overtaken Johnthan Banks in this spot due to that versatility and the Giants should be more than happy to land him at No. 20.
20. Chicago Bears: LB Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The Bears have made major headway this offseason finally getting some help around Jay Cutler. Jermon Bushrod should give Cutler his first reliable tackle since arriving in Chicago, and Martellus Bennett will help shore up the tight end spot. With Brandon Marshall still taking up approximately 98.7 percent of pass targets, those two additions should help Cutler fill in the 1.3 percent.
Now, it's on to the defense, where there is a pretty massive hole in the middle that needs filling. Brian Urlacher's departure has helped usher in the D.J. Williams and James Anderson eras, but neither guy brings anything that even resembles a worthy replacement.
Ogletree isn't without his faults, but those are mainly off the field. Inside the lines, Ogletree is easily the best inside linebacker prospect in this draft, a guy who wraps up every tackle and covers ground at an outside-level speed.
Williams and Anderson are stopgaps. Ogletree is a worthy successor.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Rey Maualuga re-signed with the Bengals this offseason, but it's become readily apparent he's not a long-term fit. He's a human atrocity in coverage, and his need against the run was mostly mitigated by the emergence Vontaze Burfict last season.
Te'o could instantly replace Maualuga on the depth chart. Despite his well-covered deficiencies speed-wise, Te'o remains a brilliant coverage linebacker and has one of the better football minds in this draft. His off-the-field craziness is now behind him, leaving his skills as a player as his overarching calling card.
This both a need pick and one that Te'o deserves based on his body of work.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Johnathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Harvey Dahl returning next season and Chris Williams' ability to play either offensive line spot will help St. Louis' weakness at guard, but Cooper's value is too good here. Like Warmack, Cooper only falls here because of his position. The former North Carolina guard is a fantastic prospect all-around and should be a Pro Bowler within his first few seasons.
With Cooper and Austin in tow, the excuses are running awfully low for Bradford in 2013.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Williams Wall 2.0? That's what the Vikings would be hoping for if they were able to land Williams with their first pick in April. Williams has gone under-appreciated throughout the draft process due to the abundance of top-flight talent on the defensive line, but he's an all-around player who is almost completely without glaring weaknesses.
Minnesota won't have to worry about effort, drive or consistency with Williams whatsoever. They would jump with glee and click their heels together if either Patterson or Austin were available here, but since they're not, Williams will be a suitable enough secondary option.
24. Indianapolis Colts: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Jenkins' effort to lose weight has only boosted the draft stock of a player I already adored in this spot. The Colts team that went 11-5 thanks to a lot of pixie dust and late-game fairies last season needs to fix its abysmal run defense if it even remotely hopes for a repeat performance.
And remember, the NFL still includes the New Orleans Saints—also known as the worst defense in league history. Being worse than that Saints squad in anything defensive is(obviously) a massive concern.
Jenkins is one of the first pieces in fixing those run deficiencies long-term. He's a player who is surprisingly quick for his size, blowing off the ball and getting to the backfield more often than one would think for a guy who was 350-plus pounds in 2012.
And at the very least, Jenkins can occupy multiple blockers and free space for the linebackers to roam.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks): Keenan Allen, WR, California
This is a run-to-the-podium selection. Allen is still considered the most complete receiver in this class by many, and the tape gives credence to that notion. He's not bad at anything and his oft-criticized top-end speed won't be much of a problem with Greg Jennings lining up on the other side of the field.
While Minnesota will still need a slot option and underneath route-runner to fill the departed Percy Harvin's spot, Allen's value is high enough to make him a solid choice here.
26. Green Bay Packers: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Fluker is one of the more interesting prospects among first rounders. He's certainly going to be taken somewhere inside the first round, and ESPN's Mel Kiper has him at a jaw-dropping No. 12. There are questions about Fluker's ability to handle speed rushes as a left tackle on Sundays and even whether he'll be a tackle at all.
The potential for stardom here makes him too much to pass up for Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers was pummeled last season, and the Packers' whole offensive game plan changed as a result. It's possible that Green Bay takes its biggest "need" and pulls the trigger on Eddie Lacy.
This just isn't a franchise that's shown a propensity for drafting a running back early, and it's hard to see the Packers changing now. Value and need make Fluker a strong pick, even if he's a bit of a risk.
27. Houston Texans: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
While he doesn't have the superstar potential of former teammate Cordarrelle Patterson, Hunter would be a near-steal at this juncture in the draft. Hunter outperformed Patterson consistently last season at Tennessee, becoming known as an elite red zone threat that will be sorely welcomed in Houston.
Andre Johnson isn't getting any younger; we all know that. But until his legs fall off or there is some precipitous decline in his stats, Hunter will serve as a great complement to the future Hall of Famer.
28. Denver Broncos: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Elvis Dumervil fiasco leaves the Broncos with an unexpected hole at defensive end, one that can only be filled in the short-term by the John Abrahams of the world left on the market. Moore was once getting real consideration for the top pick in the draft, only for his stock to fall off a cliff after wretched workout performances.
While he's hanging on by a thread to his first-round grade, Moore's tape shows someone who may fill Dumervil's shoes quite well. He has an insatiable motor, plays the run hard and was one of the best sacks artists in college football a year ago.
It won't be make anyone in Denver too pleased with fax machines or anything, but Moore should be an NFL starter for years to come.
29. New England Patriots: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
Other than a few massive hits (see: Gronkowski, Rob and Hernandez, Aaron), the draft has been a cruel mistress to the Patriots in recent years. They've essentially become a boom-or-bust draft squad, with little predictability on where Bill Belichick's whims will actually take him.
Hayden fills one of New England's two biggest need spots (the other being receiver) and could have been an even higher pick if it weren't for life-threatening inferior vena cava tear. Fully recovered as one of the draft's best stories, Hayden is the best corner left on the board and could make a much-needed impact for the Patriots' frustrating secondary.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse
This, my friends, is what we like to call a late-first need pick. The Falcons need a guard. Pugh is the best guard available. There isn't much to it other than that, and he should be a Week 1 starter if all things go as planned.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Though he's gotten lost a bit in the shuffle, Hankins would be a strong steal candidate if the draft fell this way. There isn't much of an overarching reason Hankins' stock is cratering at the moment other than the depth of defensive line talent in this draft and there being higher upside guys still on the board.
If Jim Harbaugh wants to hit a home run here, perhaps he goes with Margus Hunt. The SMU product has wowed scouts and pundits alike with his superhero strength and jaw-dropping quickness.
Hunt is also nearing 26 years old. Age isn't everything, but it's enough to push the safer bet in Hankins into this spot.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
No one is ever going to replace Ray Lewis. He was a once-in-a-lifetime superstar, a guy who is easily the greatest player in Ravens franchise history—a perch that he'll probably hold for a very, very long time.
Baltimore still needs to replace him from a positional sense. Minter isn't perfect and may get outrun by Lewis in a head-to-head 40-yard dash. But he's a very good young talent who should be a Week 1 starter if things go according to plan.
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