The time before the NFL draft is certainly a very special one for fans everywhere as every team is 0-0 and every team technically has a chance to win it all. Some of those dreams are dashed on draft weekend, but with some solid picks they can easily be buoyed as well.
This year's draft is interesting as there is no consensus No. 1 pick and there is a perceived lack of top-end talent. With that said, there is plenty of talent to be had throughout the first round, so each team has a chance to improve significantly. There is no guarantee that every team will seize that opportunity, but it's there for the taking.
Here are the latest projections for all 32 first-round selections in the upcoming NFL draft. Some will pan out and others will fail, but all of them will bring plenty of excitement to NFL fanbases across the country and across the entire world.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Countless prospects have been linked to the Kansas City Chiefs over the past several weeks and it is still extremely uncertain whom they will ultimately take. Based on the moves they have made this offseason, however, there is little doubt that Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel would be the best fit. It may not be the most exciting pick available to the Chiefs, but it is definitely the smartest and should pay dividends moving forward.
The Chiefs acquired who they hope to be their quarterback of the present and future in the form of Alex Smith this offseason. Smith seemed to come into his own the past couple seasons, but it remains to be seen if he can get the job done with a team that may not have as much talent as the San Francisco 49ers. One way to increase the chances of success is to get Smith a reliable blindside protector such as Joeckel.
Joeckel is particularly valuable because he proved that he can do it all at Texas A&M. Johnny Manziel is a very unpredictable quarterback, but Joeckel was able to roll with the punches and block effectively whether Manziel was passing from the pocket or running around. Smith won't be taking off as often as Manziel, but he is an athletic quarterback who can extend plays. Therefore, Joeckel is the ideal left tackle for him.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Jaguars need help in a lot of different areas, but they simply can't go on any longer with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, so they should roll the dice and take Smith.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Oakland certainly has some holes in the middle of its defense, and Floyd is a guy who can step in and play immediately as a quick, penetrating defensive tackle.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Most of the talk surrounding the Eagles is about the offense due to new head coach Chip Kelly, but he'll bring in a familiar face to improve the defense in the form of Jordan.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is banged up far too often, so it's time for the Lions to ensure that he remains upright, which makes Fisher the obvious choice.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
In a division with quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton, stopping the pass is important. Cleveland ought to take Milliner and team him with Joe Haden.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
It looks like the Cardinals are moving forward with the statue-esque Carson Palmer at quarterback, but he won't last half the season if Arizona doesn't address its offensive line issues with Johnson.
8. Buffalo Bills: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Bills have absolutely nothing to speak of in the passing game aside from Stevie Johnson. While Patterson is a risk, he is one of the most dynamic players in the draft.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
What Ansah lacks in football experience, he more than makes up for in raw athleticism, so the Jets will be intrigued enough to take him at this juncture.
10. Tennessee Titans: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Titans have had a lot of movement in the their secondary over the past couple years, so they would be wise to nab Rhodes in an effort to lock down one half of the field.
11. San Diego Chargers: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
San Diego definitely has talent at the skill positions, but it has struggled in the trenches for quite some time, which is something that Warmack will absolutely help combat.
12. Miami Dolphins: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Although Lotulelei's stock has fallen a bit in recent months due to concerns regarding his heart, doctors have cleared him and he would be an ideal fit as a space eater along Miami's defensive line.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Buccaneers have admittedly sifted through a lot of different pass-rushers over the past few years, but Werner has such a good mix of effort and ability that he isn't likely to fail.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
It seems like the Panthers enter every draft needing one or two defensive tackles. That remains true in 2013, so it's time to address that need this time around.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
It's no secret that the Saints' Achilles heel resides on the defensive side of the ball, but a dominant pass-rusher such as Mingo could very well make them Super Bowl contenders once again.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Although the St. Louis Rams missed they playoffs in 2012, they surprised a lot of people by going 7-8-1 and playing spoiler throughout the year. The Rams even managed to go 1-0-1 against the vaunted San Francisco 49ers, so there is definitely some potential for growth in 2013. The Rams' biggest strength was on the defensive side of the ball last season, so their main focus in this draft should be to get quarterback Sam Bradford some support.
The Rams' wide receiver corps was sub-par to begin with and it hasn't gotten any better this offseason. Brandon Gibson jumped ship for the Miami Dolphins and Danny Amendola signed with the New England Patriots. Therefore, the only receiver on the St. Louis roster who really made an impact last year is Chris Givens. The Rams did sign tight end Jared Cook, who should be helpful, but they need some help on the outside.
With that in mind, West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin would be a perfect selection. Although Austin stands just 5'8", he is one of the most athletic players in the draft and he has shot up draft boards over the past several weeks. He also boasts three years of elite production at the collegiate level, so he knows how to get the job done. Perhaps Bradford isn't the answer at quarterback, but the Rams will never know until they get him some weapons.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Steelers are undergoing some changes on the defensive side of the ball, so there is need for a pass-rusher. Jones is a guy who should be able to fit in immediately.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
There is no reason for a talented team like the Cowboys to miss the playoffs on a yearly basis. Strengthening the offensive line with Fluker could finally reverse their fortunes.
19. New York Giants: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The Giants have a host of impressive pass-rushers, but with Osi Umenyiora jumping ship to Atlanta, they would be wise to replace him with a great talent such as Jones.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper, OG, UNC
Chicago's offensive line is constantly in a state of flux, but bringing in a guy like Cooper should help stabilize things and hopefully keep quarterback Jay Cutler healthy.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Bengals have one of the most underrated defenses in the entire NFL, but they could definitely use a big-time playmaker in the secondary such as Vaccaro.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Matt Elam, S, Florida
St. Louis impressed a lot of people defensively last season and adding a hard-hitting safety like Elam to the mix will make opposing receivers think twice before going up the middle of the field.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The Vikings were well ahead of schedule last season as they managed to make the playoffs. The addition of Ogletree will definitely give them more athleticism at linebacker.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Chuck Pagano's defense relies on plenty of girth and agility along the defensive line. Hunt is conveniently a guy who brings both of those things to the table.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle): Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC
With Adrian Peterson and Greg Jennings carrying the load on offense, Minnesota needs to continue adding defensive talent. Williams could be a game-changer at defensive tackle.
26. Green Bay Packers: Damontre Moore, OLB, Texas A&M
As good of a pass-rusher as Clay Matthews is, the Packers have proven that one guy can't do it all by himself, so Moore is an obvious pick at this juncture.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Texans have needed to find a complement to Andre Johnson for years and have neglected to do so every time, but now is their chance to make it happen.
28. Denver Broncos: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine , DE, Florida State
After losing Elvis Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens, the Broncos need to add some pass-rushing depth across from Von Miller. Carradine certainly fits the bill.
29. New England Patriots: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
With Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd no longer in the fold, the Patriots desperately need to add some talent to their receiving corps. Hunter is a guy who can stretch the field in a major way.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The Atlanta Falcons came painfully close to reaching the Super Bowl last year as they fell just short against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. With that in mind, they may only need one or two more pieces to get over the hump. Although Atlanta is set at tight end this season thanks to the return of Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons need to look to the future as well as the present with their first-round pick. Because of that, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert would make a lot of sense at No. 30.
It can be argued that the Falcons would be better off adding to what some consider to be a suspect defense, but they have already made an impact move by signing defensive end Osi Umenyiora. In an effort to prepare for life after Gonzo, the Falcons should take Eifert as he is the consensus No. 1 tight end in this class. Even if he doesn't play a ton in 2013, he can gain a lot by learning from Gonzalez. Then when the time comes for him to play regularly, he'll be ready.
At the same time, Eifert can still contribute to some degree during the upcoming season. The New England Patriots are noted for running an effective two-tight end system and it is something that plenty of teams are adopting. Quarterback Matt Ryan already has a wealth of targets to throw to in Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, but adding one more to the mix will make Atlanta even more potent on the offensive side of the ball.
31. San Francisco 49ers: John Cyprien, S, Florida International
The 49ers honestly don't need much of anything, but with Dashon Goldson out and Donte Whitner back to his old tricks, a safety such as Cyprien could pay major dividends.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
Although the Ravens have decided to roll the dice by signing Rolando McClain, they still need help at linebacker and would be wise to take another chance on a guy like Te'o.
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