The suspense embodied around the 2013 NFL draft only continues to increase as we're just over two weeks from going on the clock.
Most interesting of all, however, is that there are plenty of teams with similar needs.
And because of that mirrored set of vulnerabilities, certain prospects will garner more attention than others. On the bright side, the depth of talent along the line of scrimmage will greatly impact pregame and in-game adjustments for next season.
In short, expect more physical approaches from the offenses, whereas the defenses improve at applying quarterback pressure. It may be a pass-happy league, but there is a slight philosophical shift occurring throughout pro football.
Note: Highlighted players in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, Tackle (Texas A&M)
If we learned anything from Minnesota taking Matt Kalil in the previous draft, it's that a strong offensive tackle is capable of making an immediate impact. The same can be said for Luke Joeckel's potential in helping the Chiefs this season. Kansas City already has a strong ground game and Joeckel's entire repertoire enhances that production to complement the passing game.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Star Lotulelei, DT (Utah)
Jacksonville desperately needs a better rush defense and pass rush to compete in 2013. Fortunately, this draft is overloaded with talent along the defensive line and Star Lotulelei is the best option. And as ESPN.com's Joe Schad reported last week, Lotulelei has received a clean bill of health:
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.
Fielding an offense with enough talent to score, the Jaguars upgrading the defense makes them a sneaky contender this fall.
3. Oakland Raiders: Dee Milliner, CB (Alabama)
Oakland's pass defense is given an enormous boost with Dee Milliner. As a cornerback that will get physical with receivers at the line, Milliner's top speed and tackling ability close off half the field. Plus that tough play near the line also helps with perimeter run support.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, Tackle (Central Michigan)
Just like K.C., expect Philadelphia to go offensive line. Here, the Eagles land Eric Fisher, who upgrades the pass protection and rushing attack. Philly needs offensive balance and Fisher's complete talent and athleticism fends off the aggressive rushers in the NFC East.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner, DE (Florida State)
The Lions have to get a 4-3 defensive end to replace Cliff Avril. Given that he signed with the Seahawks, per NFL.com's Albert Breer, Detroit can't afford to lack a pass rush in 2013.
Florida State's Bjoern Werner is the perfect answer because of his knack for controlling the outside.
He has 17 defended passes between 2011 and 2012, which will limit the number of attempted quick-passes versus the Lions. What unfolds thereafter is a bit more time for Werner, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to apply pressure.
Given the lackluster coverage from last season Detroit helps its pass defense with a better rush. In addition, Werner possesses the lateral athleticism to constrict the edges and force a ball-carrier toward the sideline.
Backed by an explosive offense the Lions return to the NFC playoff picture with an improved defense.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dion Jordan, DE (Oregon)
The Browns obviously need improved coverage, but with Milliner to Oakland, Cleveland still assists its secondary with Dion Jordan. Supplying the tenacity to apply quarterback pressure and create turnover opportunities, Jordan's ability to be a menace in the backfield causes fumbles and forces more ill-advised throws.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Chance Warmack, Guard (Alabama)
Chance Warmack is a dynamic lineman with the short-area burst to drive defenders off the line and chip-block to the next level. Given his ability to help Arizona establish a better ground game, that sets up play action for new quarterback Carson Palmer.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB (West Virginia)
Sporting reliable decision-making and solid accuracy, Geno Smith leads Buffalo's offense in a positive direction. Already featuring one of pro football's most complete backs in C.J. Spiller, the Bills provide the ground attack to set up the pass. In turn, Smith's efficiency from college transitions nicely as a rookie.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE (BYU)
The Jets have a chance to quickly rebound in 2013 by drafting Ezekiel Ansah. New York needs an edge run defender and pass-rusher in the front seven to complement the coverage. Ansah's lateral explosiveness and acceleration easily help in making plays outside and collapsing the pocket.
10. Tennessee Titans: Xavier Rhodes, CB (Florida State)
Tennessee allowed a 66.3 completion percentage last year despite a respectable effort from the pass rush. Incorporate Xavier Rhodes to shut down receivers man-to-man and fewer completed passes occur. As a result, the Titans get more quarterback pressure and Rhodes capitalizes by generating turnovers.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, Tackle (Oklahoma)
The Chargers struggled offensively because the pass protection was not reliable.
Philip Rivers was sacked 49 times and that amount of pressure resulted in an abundance of turnovers. Fixing the gaping wound along the outer rims of the pocket is Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.
For starters, the Sooners only watched quarterback Landry Jones gets sacked 23 times the past two seasons. And a key reason for Jones remaining upright is Johnson's ability to seal the edge.
He'll make a quick transition as well, because the Chargers are a pass-oriented offense and the AFC West is only improving. More good news regarding Johnson, though, is his athleticism to establish the ground attack.
His initial impact allows Rivers more time to survey and that sets up the run to build consistent balance.
12. Miami Dolphins: Desmond Trufant, CB (Washington)
The Dolphins have the offense to move the ball and control the tempo. It's providing Ryan Tannehill and Co. with more possessions to also gain the field-position advantage. Desmond Trufant does just that for Miami courtesy of excellent awareness and instincts. With Brent Grimes—who came aboard per Mike Garafolo of the USA Today— on one side, Trufant sees numerous playmaking chances in 2013.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sharrif Floyd, DT (Florida)
A stronger pass rush will propel Tampa Bay into the NFC playoff discussion. Sharrif Floyd's immediate jump at the snap and ability to wreck a backfield will break the interior of the pocket. Although he won't record an immense number of sacks, his impact flushes the quarterback outside and right into the edge rushers.
14. Carolina Panthers: Kenny Vaccaro, Safety (Texas)
The good news for Carolina is its potential pass rush led by Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Next is to field a playmaker in Kenny Vaccaro who will benefit from the rush. As a safety that knows how to consistently find the ball, Vaccaro's suffocating coverage will reduce completions allowed and give the rushers more time to apply pressure.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, LB (LSU)
Defense is the only thing New Orleans needs to truly address. As long as Drew Brees remains under center the offense will be fine. But the dire need to slow opponents down warrants the selection of Barkevious Mingo. His wherewithal and quick feet bode well against the run, not to mention Mingo possesses the initial jump to get pressure when needed.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR (Tennessee)
A high-powered attack only enhances St. Louis' postseason odds for 2013. Cordarrelle Patterson offers this expansion of the playbook, which puts a secondary on its heels. Ultimately, the Rams face fewer blitzes and the established passing game sets up wider lanes to slam the rock between the tackles.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, LB (Georgia)
Pittsburgh's greatest vulnerability in 2012 was failing to generate turnovers. Well, that receives a quick fix with Jarvis Jones bolting around the edge. His dependability at creating fumbles and acting as a nightmare for quarterbacks simply allows the Steelers to have more possessions. In short, winning the field-position battle gives Pittsburgh the chance to make a run at January.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, Guard (North Carolina)
Tony Romo has a lengthened contract as reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. So, the Cowboys must find him consistent pocket protection in Jonathan Cooper. He's an athletic lineman capable of shifting the pocket to correlate with Romo's mobility, which inflates the passing attack's production. Dallas' ground game benefits as a result because fewer opponents elect to blitz at a consistent rate.
19. New York Giants: Sheldon Richardson, DT (Missouri)
In early March NFL.com's Kimberly Jones tweeted New York's acquisition of Cullen Jenkins. Big Blue, though, still needs more talent in the trenches as it gave up 4.6 yards per carry last season. Sheldon Richardson's tenacity to knife through blocks and close running lanes is an advantage, because the Giants have reliable edge defenders in Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, LB (Georgia)
Adding D.J. Williams (via Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com) was good for Chicago. Pairing him with Alec Ogletree is great. The athletic linebacker supplies a knack for shelling in coverage and the speed to hang with quicker targets one-on-one. Include the acceleration to fill lanes and the Bears' defense remains stout in 2013.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Matt Elam, Safety (Florida)
Matt Elam is right up there with the most explosive draft prospects. He's always around the ball and Cincinnati needs a safety with his instincts to benefit from the pass rush. The Bengals have the personnel to apply quarterback pressure, so getting Elam to generate turnovers simply helps the offense with better field position.
22. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Arthur Brown, LB (Kansas State)
The coverage awareness of Arthur Brown provides the Rams dependability at the intermediate level. With the cornerbacks locking down one-on-one, as well as Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis reacting versus the run, St. Louis completes its front seven. It now controls the line better up front and is less susceptible to play action.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Tavon Austin, WR (West Virginia)
Minnesota parted ways with Percy Harvin according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports.
That opens up the door for Tavon Austin and his incredible versatility to quickly have an impact. Combined between 2011 and 2012 he logged 3,300 total yards of offense and also served as a double-duty return specialist.
Therefore, Minnesota exponentially improves at winning the field-position battle and moving the chains. The best aspect of Austin's presence will be occupying the linebackers and nickel/dime backs from the slot.
With the threat of going deep or taking a quick slant the distance, Austin's entire repertoire derives some attention away from Adrian Peterson. Considering his production last season, Peterson faces fewer defenders in the box and finds an unreal level this year.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Damontre Moore, DE (Texas A&M)
The Colts are on the brink of becoming a dominant AFC threat. Needing defense, Damontre Moore will spruce up the quarterback pressure and help monitor the perimeter. With the improved pass defense Indianapolis makes a strong run into January.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via SEA): Kawann Short, DT (Purdue)
Thanks to Seattle, Minnesota also added this pick in the Harvin trade also from Jay Glazer. Kevin Williams isn't getting any younger and the Vikings need to find a prospect capable of dominating the interior. Kawann Short possesses this skill set with the consistency to meet running backs at the line and quickly disrupt the backfield.
26. Green Bay Packers: Sylvester Williams, DT (North Carolina)
We saw the weakness of Green Bay during the postseason and, when facing Adrian Peterson last year, defending the run. Solving this issue doesn't require a major overhaul, however. Opting for Sylvester Williams in Round 1 will reduce the extension of running lanes and close gaps at the line. As a result, the Packers win more on first and second down to complement the secondary on third down.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Clemson)
DeAndre Hopkins averaged 17.1 yards per catch in 2012 and scored 18 times. Line him up opposite Andre Johnson and defenses will have to sit in Cover 3 more than anything else. Combine that impact of forcing the coverage back, well, that only leaves fewer players to zero in on Arian Foster.
28. Denver Broncos: Alex Okafor, DE (Texas)
Denver saw Elvis Dumervil jump ship across the country to Baltimore in free agency. If anything, this just creates an opening for the Broncos to address the front seven and give Von Miller a younger pass-rushing sidekick.
He comes in the form of Texas' Alex Okafor who amassed 29 tackles for loss forced six fumbles between 2011 and 2012. With a quick first step to get the leverage advantage on the stronger offensive tackles, Okafor also brings reliable awareness to track down running backs.
The threat of Miller rushing the opposite side means Okafor never faces double-teams and is able to react more consistently to the run. The resonating impact allows the Broncos to crush the line of scrimmage and create more playmaking opportunities for the secondary.
Big plays will then be scarce and Denver also features the quickness to win short-yardage situations. The end results are defending fewer play-action fakes and putting opponents into longer third downs.
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen, WR (California)
A young, deep threat receiver was a missing piece for the Patriots in 2011 and 2012. Tom Brady still presents the veteran experience to spread a defense, but the option of going long to Keenan Allen will constantly stretch opponents. Already fielding a strong rushing attack, New England's offense shreds more this season as balance is retained.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Jesse Williams, DT (Alabama)
Atlanta is clearly on a mission to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, because addressing its front seven with Osi Umenyiora (via Jay Glazer) was solid. Keeping with the theme of improving the pass rush and run defense leads to Jesse Williams. Although he won't wow the stat sheet, Williams' ferocity at eating blocks and clogging lanes will allow Umenyiora to remain single blocked on the outside.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jonathan Cyprien, Safety (Florida International)
The size and speed of Jonathan Cyprien is an impressive combination for San Francisco's defense. The 49ers now have the luxury to blitz their inside linebackers more often, not to mention let the secondary sit in Cover 1 and 2. If anything, Cyprien's impact prevents the opportunity of big plays and San Francisco forces more turnovers.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, LB (Notre Dame)
Baltimore's ability to suffocate the line of scrimmage remains intact. The defensive line and outside 'backers possess the personnel to get pressure, so putting Manti Te'o in the midst will fill the interior void. Te'o is quicker than at first glance and his instincts will make plays against the run and in coverage.
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