Though all of the pageantry and hype of the NFL draft process makes it have a deified reputation, each NFL team travels to New York City in April with one express purpose: to make themselves a better football team.
Whether that's by wheeling and dealing picks away like the early Dan Snyder era Washington Redskins or hoarding them in a little cubby hole like this year's San Francisco 49ers, all 32 teams will do whatever it takes to ascend to the next level.
By now, most educated fans know the difference between "meh" and Super Bowl favorite is a very fine line. All it took from the Ravens was an uptick in play from Joe Flacco and a smart decision by John Harbaugh to start Bryant McKinnie at left tackle to spur the Ravens' run. Minuscule improvements are just as vital as landscape-altering moves.
The road to improvement starts on draft day.
As the time continues to dwindle before the Kansas Chiefs are on the clock, we're starting to get a solid view of where teams stand. Everything is fluid as it always is with the NFL draft, but prognosticating the picks slowly morphs its way from totally wild guesses to educated guesses at this point. Anyone who touts their picks as anything greater than an educated guess probably shouldn't be mock drafting in the first place.
But I digress. Here is a complete breakdown of our latest projections for the 2013 NFL draft.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Chiefs have been good about keeping coy publicly about where they are leaning atop the draft, but word has reportedly leaked that Fisher could the choice. Charean Williams of Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported earlier on Thursday that Luke Joeckel, originally expected to be the No. 1 pick, had been informed Fisher is the guy.
Many had floated the idea of the Chiefs drafting Fisher, who has a higher upside than Joeckel, in the months prior to the draft. Branden Albert's situation is still in flux, leaving open the possibility of Kansas City stashing Fisher on the right side for his rookie season. Albert in turn would stay on the left side while the two sides tried to work out a long-term contract or trade.
Even if Albert departs this offseason, it seems Fisher's upside was too much to pass up for Andy Reid.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
We've reached the point in this process where saying the Jaguars need pass-rushing help is a broken record. Even with Jason Babin likely returning to Jacksonville this fall, the Jaguars have the worst rotation of defensive linemen in the NFL and have been a bottom-of-the-barrel pass-rushing squad for the past half-decade.
There are some questions about what position Jordan is best suited for on Sundays, but his potential is undeniable. A versatile talent who wowed at the combine, the former Oregon standout has the highest ceiling of any pass-rushing prospect in this draft and should be an immediate contributor on passing downs in 2013.
Ezekiel Ansah may also get some consideration here if the Jaguars want a traditional defensive end, but Jordan's ability to play multiple positions is perfect in the hybrid-front world of today's NFL.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Though major names like Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly adorned Oakland's line last season, the Raiders remained one of the weakest-performing lines in football. Kelly and Seymour are both highly unlikely to return to the Raiders this season, which leaves two massive holes on the defensive line for Oakland to fill.
Floyd should be that player. In a draft filled to the brim with defensive line prospects, Floyd is arguably the 2013 class' most versatile. He can play either inside or on the edges of a 3-4 system and could be a menace as a pass-rusher in 4-3 sets.
Though Floyd wasn't always the most consistent player at Florida, the Raiders would jump at the chance to take someone with his package at No. 3.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Much of the Eagles' offensive problems in 2012 came from injuries on their line. Jason Peters missed all of last season after rupturing his Achilles tendon and fellow tackle Todd Herremans sat out nearly the entire second half of 2012 after injuring his foot in Week 9.
Both are expected back healthy this upcoming season, but having Joeckel on the board here may be too tempting for Philadelphia. Herremans has the ability to play guard and could shift inside as Fisher would likely play the right tackle spot while getting acclimated to the NFL level.
There are some who view Fisher as a superior prospect to Joeckel due to his athletic advantages, but I'm not one of them. Joeckel is as close to a sure-fire Pro Bowler as you can get, a player who dominated elite competition and has no glaring weaknesses in his game.
Players like Joeckel don't come around often, and the Eagles would be remiss to even think for a second about going in a different direction.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
There are few possible scenarios where it would make sense for the Lions to pass on Milliner if he's available. Fisher is a strong possibility if he lasts til No. 5, as the retirement of Jeff Backus and departure of Gosder Cherilus leave some questions about who will be protecting Matthew Stafford in 2013.
But, in this case, Fisher is gone and Lane Johnson isn't remotely worthy of a top-five pick. Milliner fits another huge need for the Lions in pass coverage, and he should be able to step into the starting lineup his first year. Nick Saban's defense is comparable in scheme and execution to plenty of pro outfits, meaning Milliner's learning curve is going to be lower than most rookies.
While it's questionable whether Milliner will be a star at the next level, he'll certainly be better than the bumbling rotation of mediocrity Detroit put out in 2012.
6. Cleveland Browns: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU
Cleveland has been making great strides to build a defense worthy of its AFC North counterparts. Defensive end Desmond Bryant was a strong pickup this offseason who should fit perfectly into the Browns' switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
What the Browns continue to miss is a pass-rushing beast on the edges. Six seasons have come and gone since a Cleveland pass-rusher has recorded 10 or more sacks (Kamerion Wimbley in 2006), which leaves a burgeoning core of players without a true centerpiece.
Ansah, though a bit raw, could be that piece. He can play either as a down lineman or as a linebacker, giving Cleveland a versatility that could wreak havoc in opposing teams' backfields.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
ESPN's Todd McShay (subscription required) has stated it's "common knowledge" that the Cardinals want to land Johnson with this pick, and the board falls perfectly in their favor here.
Johnson, who ascended from a second-round grade all the way to top-10 contender at the combine, still needs a ton of work to develop into a franchise left tackle, but Arizona sort of forced its own hand here. Many had the Cardinals pegged to draft their next franchise quarterback in this spot. Geno Smith and Matt Barkley both got plenty of consideration here early in the process, but the addition of Carson Palmer essentially ended all first-round-quarterback talks.
In case you haven't been watching many Raiders games over the past two seasons—and kudos to you for staying away—Palmer has cinderblocks attached to his feet. He has only slightly more mobility than a vending machine superglued to an office floor.
If the Cardinals are committed to the Palmer era for at least 2013, Johnson is the pick.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Plenty of people have Buffalo Sharpied into taking Syracuse product Ryan Nassib at some point in the first two rounds. Nassib spent his college career under new Bills coach Doug Marrone, and his familiarity with the system makes the signal-caller understandably attractive to a team currently boasting Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb atop its depth chart.
That being said, one has a hard time seeing Buffalo pass on Smith if he makes it to No. 8. Smith isn't a perfect prospect by any means, but he's far superior to Nassib and played in a relatively similar system at West Virginia.
Replacing the departed Andy Levitre with Jonathan Cooper or Chance Warmack is also a possibility, but the temptation at landing a franchise quarterback would likely be too much to pass up.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
It's become readily apparent that Mingo would probably be the Jets' best choice in this scenario. Mingo, like many of his counterparts, is a bit raw. His collegiate production was suspect to say the least for a top-10 pick, and there is always something to be said for, you know, actually producing on the football field.
That being said, he's also a major threat to become a yearly fixture among sacks leaders. And with New York having two picks in the first round, nabbing Mingo here allows the Jets to target a more explosive offensive weapon with their second selection.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Count the Titans as a team that would sprint up to the podium with their selection if this scenario plays out. They desperately need help on the defensive line, specifically on the inside, where Tennessee simply has not been the same since Albert Haynesworth's heyday.
Lotulelei is a top-three talent whose draft stock has only fluctuated due to the presence of a scary heart condition. He's been cleared to play by doctors, and barring any unforeseen future complications, he should be a Pro Bowl-caliber player for years to come.
It's hard to have a steal inside the first 10 picks, but Lotulelei is pretty close.
11. San Diego Chargers: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
If McShay's report winds up being true and the Cardinals covet Johnson, expect San Diego to be sending plenty of sad-face Emojis Arizona's way. The Chargers are wishing upon every falling star they see that Johnson will fall to them at No. 11, as quarterback Philip Rivers has seen his career damaged perhaps beyond repair by an awful rotation of guys at the left tackle spot.
With Johnson gone in this scenario, San Diego will have to settle for taking Warmack—although "settle" may be the wrong word. Warmack is a stud, a player who would almost unequivocally be the top pick in this draft if he played a premium position. Instead, Warmack falls to No. 11 because he plays guard and may descend even lower down the board if the Chargers refuse to pull the trigger.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Dolphins are the most likely team to make a trade during the first round, whether that be to inside the first 10 picks or to somewhere in the mid-20s. They have two glaring need positions (cornerback and offensive tackle), but No. 12 looks to be right about the time the well at both positions will dry up.
If Miami stays in this spot, it will likely be choosing between Rhodes and D.J. Fluker. While there are questions about whether Fluker can even play either tackle spot as a pro, Rhodes should at least be a solid starter at his chosen position.
The Florida State product is by no means perfect—he needs plenty of work in technique to stay with top NFL receivers—but Rhodes is probably the best option at No. 12.
13. New York Jets (via Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Plenty of folks (understandably) want the Jets to look for secondary help to replace Revis. Their once-vaunted core of linebackers are filing for their AARP cards as we speak, and that will leave Antonio Cromartie out on an island plenty in 2013, even with Mingo in the fold.
Still, New York cannot continue sending out a glorified Arena League team offensively and expect things to change. Mark Sanchez will never even be a replacement-level NFL starting quarterback; we know that now. But he cannot be anything short of wretched with the supporting cast the Jets are currently looking at in 2013.
Patterson has plenty of questions about his ability to translate. He's also the most potentially dynamic offensive force in this draft.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
If Lotulelei somehow fell to No. 14 due to his health concerns, the Panthers war room may start openly drinking in celebration on national television. Lotulelei fits every need Carolina has almost perfectly, and it's a wonder the team hasn't been mentioned in more trade rumors looking to move up.
In this scenario, though, the Panthers land the second-best thing for their needs. Richardson has an explosive burst into the backfield and disrupts plays consistently against the run—Carolina's biggest weakness in 2012.
New general manager Dave Gettleman will have plenty of eyes on him for his first pick, and Richardson is a safe, smart bet to be an instant contributor. With the franchise having hit home runs in each of the past two seasons on Thursday, Richardson has the potential to give the Panthers a trifecta.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Make no mistake: Jones has done absolutely nothing to improve his stock in workouts. He eschewed the combine in hopes of making a huge impression at Georgia's pro day, only Jones did the exact opposite. Running a 4.9-second 40-yard dash and looking awful in the individual drills, some have even wondered aloud whether Jones is still a first-round pick.
His body of work says a resounding yes. While there is some merit to individual workouts, Jones was one of the most effective pass-rushing linebackers in all of college football last season and has a bevy of moves off the edges that others don't have.
With the Saints looking for help—any possible help whatsoever—on the edges, Jones sticks here out of circumstance more than anything else.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Sam Bradford will walk into the 2013 season with all eyeballs in St. Louis squarely pointed in his direction. The former No. 1 pick has shown signs of becoming the franchise guy the Rams drafted in 2010, but has been oft-injured and only intermittently effective overall. What the ghosts of "what if" lingering about the Rams' chance to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012, Bradford could be on the outs after next season if he fails to perform.
Drafting Austin in this spot would be a great start to giving Bradford that chance. An explosive playmaker at West Virginia, the diminutive receiver has been making waves with top-shelf workout performances.
Austin ran a blazing 4.34-second time in his 40-yard dash at the combine and impressed scouts at his pro day catching passes. With Danny Amendola's departure still hanging over the roster, Austin is a perfect fit for the Rams with their first pick of Round 1.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Steelers could go any number of ways with their selection. Their linebacking corps is started to show major signs of age in 2012, and the team parted ways with lineup stalwart James Harrison this offseason. Heath Miller also isn't getting any younger, and Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert has emerged as a possible first-round option.
However, if Pittsburgh is looking at its highest ceiling opportunity, Vaccaro is the pick at No. 17. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aren't exactly brimming with youth, and the former's injury history just continues to pile up.
Vaccaro is a ball-hawking safety who could bring youth and pro-ready smarts to a defense that's starting to show real signs of wear under Dick LeBeau.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Having two guards taken within the first 20 picks is nearly unprecedented and should tell you how good Cooper and Warmack have the potential to be. Warmack has the trophy case full of accolades and back-to-back national championships to solidify his resume, but Cooper's athleticism has many wondering whether he could be the better long-term prospect.
Jerry Jones would be best to get out of his own way here and be happy to take a player of Cooper's caliber at a need position. Whether Jones does that, though, remains to be seen.
19. New York Giants: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Thanks to combination of injuries and overall ineffectiveness, the Giants secondary was one of the worst in the NFL last season. They finished 28th in opposing passing yards against and were especially bad on passes thrown 10 or more yards down the field.
New York has other needs, most notably on the offensive line, but Trufant being available here makes him a worthwhile selection. The former Washington standout is great in coverage, isn't prone to getting burned down the field and has an understanding of the game that will be welcomed on a team looking to return to Super Bowl contention.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Finding the heir apparent to the still-on-the-market Brian Urlacher won't be easy. Replacing a legend remains an exceedingly difficult proposition, even in the NFL where rosters are oftentimes more fluid than the Nile.
Ogletree is not without his fair share of off-the-field problems, but his brilliance between the hashmarks makes him an intriguing prospect—especially at No. 20. An athletic marvel who can make tackles just about anywhere on the field, it was Ogletree who was often the leader of Georgia's defense last season. He averaged 11 tackles per game and showed a versatility that could help him translate even to the outside in 3-4 sets as a pro.
While the Bears have already made a couple moves this offseason, most notably signing D.J. Williams, Ogletree's value is too great here.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
As they tend to be on draft day, the Bengals are a massive wild card. There is a number of areas they could look to improve—anywhere from running back to wide receiver to offensive line—but Te'o is arguably their best bet in this scenario.
Vontaze Burfict was a revelation last season and Rey Maualuga signed a new deal this offseason, but the latter's major deficiencies in pass coverage continue to limit the ceiling of the Bengals defense. As of the best pass-defending linebackers in all of college football—seven interceptions don't lie—and his awareness is off the charts.
Perhaps the only thing that would scare Cincinnati off in this scenario is that it could be repeating the Maualuga mistake—only this time in the first round. Te'o's slow 40-yard-dash time became the talk of Indianapolis at the combine, and his draft stock has been in a precipitous free fall ever since.
That said, actual football acumen has to mean something. Te'o would be a great fit with Cincinnati and his performances in college makes him well worth the No. 21 pick.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The departure of Steven Jackson this offseason leaves the Rams looking for a running back for the first time in a decade. Jackson was one of the most underrated and consistent workhorses in the NFL for St. Louis, and now the team is looking at a scenario where Daryl Richardson would start if the season began tomorrow.
While the Rams probably want to avoid taking skill-position players with their first two picks, they don't have many other options at need areas. Lacy is far and away the best runner in this draft, a slick combination of power and speed that made the man taken a pick before him look like a pancake in the BCS National Championship Game.
Letting an older player go and drafting his heir apparent is nothing new at the running back spot. If the board falls this way, the spotlight simply continues to grow on Bradford.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Jared Allen and Co. were still a very fine defensive unit in 2012, but the signs of age are starting to show. Allen is 31, Kevin Williams will turn 33 in August and even Brian Robinson is approaching the dreaded three-zero.
Letroy Guion is the only Vikings defensive lineman with youth on his side; he's also mediocre at best, a net minus at worst.
Adding Sylvester Williams to the mix could alleviate those concerns about Guion. The former Tar Heel is a consistent, all-around talent who should step in and contribute right away. Plus, who doesn't want to see a second iteration of the Williams Wall? The NFC North, that's who.
24. Indianapolis Colts: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
The Colts have taken steps to improve their ghastly run defense from last season, most notably the addition of Ricky Jean Francois. While adding Francois mitigates the need for a defensive tackle a big, the former 49er remains a wild card. He's a boom-or-bust-type signing, a lineman who will either make a Pro Bowl in Indianapolis or flame out within 12 months.
Though not the most versatile player at his position, Jenkins won't flame out in the NFL. A mammoth body who takes up multiple blockers by the sheer nature of his presence, Jenkins is a run-stopping wizard waiting to happen. He'll never wrack up double-digit sacks and may even go a season or two in his career without recording one whatsoever.
But Jenkins is also the perfect type of one-dimensional for the Colts' needs.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Adding Greg Jennings will help somewhat mitigate the effect of trading Percy Harvin, but Jennings isn't a long-term franchise solution at receiver. He's a 29-year-old likely stopgap who has missed 11 games over the past two seasons—not exactly encouraging considering how fantastic Harvin was last season.
Allen wouldn't be able to replicate Harvin's ability in the slot or his special teams effectiveness, but he would give Christian Ponder a second option. Minnesota saw how lost Ponder looked when Harvin went down in 2012, and surrounding him with another injury-prone player as his top target could beget disaster.
Allen is an insurance policy, and a very good one at that.
26. Green Bay Packers: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Assuming things go as expected (they never do), Fluker will probably be getting consideration as early as No. 12 from Miami. He slides in this scenario based on team need of other squads and that there are very real concerns about his ability to play tackle on Sundays.
Most scouts will tell you the probability of him playing left tackle in the NFL are slim and none. He's too slow-footed, almost to the point that some view him as a future guard rather than tackle.
Either way, the Packers would jump for a chance to find out at No. 26. Even if Fluker is never a cornerstone left tackle, he has potential to develop into an Andre Smith-like mauler on the right side and is already an elite run-blocker.
After seeing how poorly Green Bay's tackles played last season, Fluker is a risk it needs to take.
27. Houston Texans: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Hunter is among a trio of players that includes USC's Robert Woods and Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins who are hanging onto their first-round grade by a thread. Each brings a specific skill set that is intriguing, but the full package isn't quite there.
Houston is the likeliest team to make one of their first-round dreams come true. Andre Johnson, though still one of the NFL's 10 best receivers, turns 32 in July. His surrounding cast is a motley crew of mediocrity that has limited Matt Schaub's options down the field to Johnson and Johnson only.
Hunter has a bit of a case of the dropsies, but he's the best complementary fit for the Texans. A long, athletic receiver with a gift for scoring touchdowns, Hunter could be an answer for the Texans' always-precarious red-zone passing game.
28. Denver Broncos: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
There is only one thing certain about Denver's first-round pick: The Broncos won't be using a fax machine to send it in. The Elvis Dumervil fiasco was one of the more laughably embarrassing sagas any team or player has gone through over the past few years, and the defensive end's departure to Baltimore leaves Denver in need of a long-term replacement.
Werner received plenty of top-10 buzz when initially declaring for the draft, but he has slid back a bit as workout-warrior types stole all the headlines. While Werner won't instantly replace Dumervil's pass-rushing ability, he has an insatiable motor that makes him have very few weaknesses overall. He's very Chris Long-esque in that sense.
The Broncos would rather be taking a luxury pick like a running back here, but they cannot be disappointed by landing Werner this late, either.
29. New England Patriots: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
Here is right about the spot the Patriots are calling every quarterback-needy team looking to move back into the second round. Barkley, Nassib and every other non-Smith quarterback is available and New England loves trading back more than any other team.
But if teams are tired of getting fleeced by Bill Belichick for first-round picks and the Patriots stay at No. 29, Hayden is great value. He's one of the more talented cornerbacks in this class and would likely be a first-round lock if it weren't for an injury last season.
Bringing Aqib Talib back was huge, but the Patriots only locked him up on a one-year deal. That's typical for New England, but could cost the team a top-shelf cornerback in the 2014 offseason if Talib finally reaches his potential. That makes Hayden not only a pick for the present, but also allows him to serve as long-term insurance.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse
With three guards coming off the board in this first round, we've reached interior lineman pandemonium. Alabama's Barrett Jones, the draft's top center, has to be wondering why his name hasn't been called considering all the interior names already off the board.
Pugh is a smart pick for Atlanta because he fills a need at guard and is a versatile player. He played tackle for Syracuse and would give the Falcons any number of options should they suffer an injury during the season.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
With almost zero needs on their entire roster, the 49ers can afford to take a risk late in the first round—and Hunt is the biggest in this class. The former discus-throwing star will be 26 years old before he sets foot on an NFL field, meaning he's already peaked as a physical specimen. Hunt is who he is now, and will only regress physically.
Luckily, Hunt is one of the strongest and fastest linemen in this class. His combine workout was that of legend, and Hunt's versatility would be a huge key for San Francisco if Justin Smith goes down again this season.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
Any number of players is a possibility here, considering the Ravens' post-Super Bowl strategy was seemingly to allow every contributor to gallivant their way elsewhere. Ray Lewis' retirement was the biggest news story of the playoffs, but Baltimore also lost Anquan Boldin, Dannell Ellerbe and Ed Reed this offseason.
There are holes and plenty of them for Baltimore. Minter fixes one (Lewis), but this pick could go any number of ways depending on how the board falls.