The 2013 NFL draft is just weeks away, and the needs for every team in the first round are becoming clearer. A flurry of free-agent activity has changed the landscape of pro football, and another dynamic shift is sure to occur with this loaded, deeply talented class of prospects.
Whatever transpires in New York City will certainly go a long way in shaping how well every team will perform in the impending season, but it's never too early to project how each franchise will fare.
Below is a mock of Round 1, with record predictions in parentheses and a focus on those who are likely to impact their respective squads the most.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The new regime in Kansas City has made several stellar moves in the offseason, and Joeckel is a very safe pick. No matter what happens with incumbent starting left tackle Branden Albert, the Chiefs can't do enough to protect new QB Alex Smith.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Jags need impact players on the defensive front, and new head coach Gus Bradley should covet a versatile linemen such as Lotulelei as he did in Seattle.
3. Oakland Raiders (5-11): Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd has uncommon speed and quickness for his size, which will allow him to make an impact anywhere on the defensive line as a rookie. GM Reggie McKenzie is limited to this pick until the third round, so he has to nail down a surefire franchise cornerstone with this selection.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9): Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Most of the freakishly athletic Ansah's experience in college was at defensive end in BYU's 3-4 alignment.
That makes him a wonderful fit for the Eagles defense, which should be improved thanks to a revamped secondary and the addition of Ansah, who has as much upside as anyone in the draft.
5. Detroit Lions (8-8): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
It may not seem logical on the surface for the Lions to use another first-rounder on an offensive tackle, but Fisher is an instant answer at left tackle. That will allow 2012 top pick Riley Reiff to move to the right side or even play guard.
6. Cleveland Browns (7-9): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton's pressure-based 3-4 attack depends on stellar coverage on the back end, which isn't one of the Browns' current strengths.
Adding Milliner would give Cleveland an instant starter opposite budding star Joe Haden. The promising prospect even implied that he and Haden could be the best corner duo in the entire league, per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer:
I really think we can. Not to be cocky or anything, but I think we'd be two really dynamic players who could go out and do great things for this defense.
...Oh man, that would be awesome. I think we'd make a great combo and we'd accomplish some great things together.
The benefit of playing at a sensational collegiate program in Tuscaloosa should prepare Milliner adequately for a significant starting role in his maiden NFL campaign.
7. Arizona Cardinals (3-13): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Now that Carson Palmer is in the fold as the starting quarterback, he needs an upgrade up front to what was the worst offensive line in the NFL last season.
Johnson is a former quarterback himself and should make a quick transition to the pros with his understanding of protections and athleticism.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Throwing Kevin Kolb into the mix with Tarvaris Jackson and Aaron Corp doesn't exactly solve the Bills' issues at the game's most important position. Drafting Smith may be just the remedy Buffalo needs to be a factor in the AFC East.
The former Mountaineer star displayed wonderful decision-making in Morgantown. He would benefit from a coaching staff predominantly from Syracuse University that has an understanding of the college game—and how to play to Smith's strengths.
Tightened throwing lanes in the pros should be effectively combated by Smith's strong arm, and the Bills should make more use of his ability as a runner. The read-option is a hot trend in the NFL, and utilizing Smith's speed with the likes of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could make Buffalo dangerous.
9. New York Jets (4-12): Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
GM John Idzik is under the gun already in his first year on the job. The Jets have many holes, and one of them is a pass-rusher off the edge. Given Mingo's versatility, he should fill in as an outside linebacker and become at least a third-down specialist as a rookie under the tutelage of Rex Ryan.
10. Tennessee Titans (4-12): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Andy Levitre's arrival bolsters the pass protection, and adding Warmack at the other guard spot should help open lanes for speedy RB Chris Johnson between the tackles.
Warmack is as polished of a prospect as anyone on the board and will also buy more time for developing quarterback Jake Locker.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The selection of two guards back to back would be unconventional, but Philip Rivers has suffered from poor offensive line play and has become a turnover machine as a result. Cooper is a wonderful blocker in the passing game and has the burst to push to the second level when the Chargers run it.
12. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
So many leaks were plugged by a highly aggressive GM Jeff Ireland in the open market, so depth should be the main focus.
Richardson would crack the rotation immediately and be a nice piece to add, with Randy Starks and Paul Soliai set to be unrestricted free agents in 2014.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10): Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Eric Wright mercifully restructured his contract, but the Bucs still need help desperately at the cornerback position.
Rhodes is a physical corner who would benefit greatly from the focus in fundamentals preached by defensive-minded head coach Greg Schiano.
14. Carolina Panthers (10-6): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The above tape pretty much explains it all for Patterson. Even though he played just one full season at the top level of college football, the film speaks for itself regarding Patterson's uniqueness.
With seamless change of direction, outstanding vision in the open field and strong hands, he would give Cam Newton an exciting new toy to utilize. The high-octane offenses in the NFC South dictate that Carolina must add more pieces to its attack.
This is a make-or-break year for head coach Ron Rivera, and Patterson can be the X-factor to push the Panthers to the postseason.
15. New Orleans Saints (8-8): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Rob Ryan's attacking 3-4 scheme needs a playmaker that can also cover. Ogletree fits the bill and should convert to outside linebacker in the pros.
He has sideline-to-sideline range, and his experience as a safety to begin his college career proves how well he can match up in coverage situations.
16. St. Louis Rams (8-8): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Now that Danny Amendola isn't around as Sam Bradford's security blanket, the Rams are in need of a dependable slot option. Austin is precisely that—and so much more.
An extremely productive collegiate career saw Austin show surprising durability and catch over 100 passes in each of his final two seasons. Austin also proved himself as a frightening runner and returner, which gives offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer even more flexibility.
In an NFC West division featuring tough defenses, St. Louis must make sure its offense is up to snuff in order to compete with the likes of San Francisco and Seattle.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones is a wonderful fit for the Steelers and could easily fill in as a starter in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 alignment opposite Lamarr Woodley. The former Bulldog standout can do it all and was a sack machine in Athens as an edge rusher.
18. Dallas Cowboys (9-7): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
This is the biggest positional need for the Cowboys despite the addition of ex-Steeler Will Allen. The hard-hitting Vaccaro is at the top of this class at his position, and he can even play in the slot in nickel and dime packages as an extra corner.
19. New York Giants (7-9): Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Offensive tackle may be a priority here, but the Giants have relied on a strong defensive line in recent history and definitely need help in that area. Werner can provide that with his relentless motor and sizable frame, which should make him a force against the pass and run at the next level.
20. Chicago Bears (8-8): D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
To fortify the other tackle position, Fluker presents strong value at this stage and will help seal the edge for dynamic running back Matt Forte.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9): Matt Elam, S, Florida
Elam really knows how to lay down the lumber, as was on display when he played in the physical SEC.
The good news is that he's also stellar on the back end in coverage, which allows him to play either safety position.
He would be an upgrade over either Reggie Nelson or Taylor Mays.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins—12-4): Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
He may hail from a small school, but there is nothing miniscule about Cyprien's skill set.
At 6'0" and 217 pounds, Cyprien plays to the whistle on every down, and he will be an instant starter with veteran All-Pro Quintin Mikell's release.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Antoine Winfield is gone, ironically set to join the same Seattle team that gifted the Vikings with their second first-round pick in this draft.
That makes cornerback a top priority, and Trufant has the potential to emerge as a lockdown No. 1 option.
24. Indianapolis Colts (10-6): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Reigning executive of the year Ryan Grigson picked up Darrius Heyward-Bey, but that doesn't mean the Colts are set at the receiver position. Andrew Luck needs another weapon, and Hopkins has the speed, ball skills and explosiveness to be a viable weapon receiver opposite Reggie Wayne.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks—12-4): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Christian Ponder quarterbacked the league's worst passing offense in 2012 and clearly needs some help if he's to continue being the long-term answer in Minnesota.
Allen provides that as a big-bodied target that has the physicality to play on the outside and the ability to line up in the slot.
26. Green Bay Packers (12-4): Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Aaron Rodgers desperately needs a running game, and the Packers don't have a true No. 1 workhorse on the roster.
The 230-pound Lacy didn't endure much wear and tear sharing carries with T.J. Yeldon in his only starting season with the Crimson Tide, and he should be ready to shoulder the load in 2013.
27. Houston Texans (10-6): Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
This may be a bit of a reach for the former Volunteer, but the Texans need another dependable target. Hunter had drop issues this past year, yet his outstanding leaping ability, added strength and high ceiling should allow him to sneak into the first round.
28. Denver Broncos (14-2): Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
Taylor is capable of playing both zone and man coverage, and the Broncos will eventually need a replacement starter for future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey.
It's funny that Taylor won't be changing mascots in the pros, and he will provide instant help in substitution packages.
29. New England Patriots (13-3): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Pairing Williams with Vince Wilfork on the inside will give the Patriots defensive line some serious teeth. That side of the ball continues to ultimately prevent New England from winning another Super Bowl, and with all the additions to the receiving corps, this should be the primary focus.
30. Atlanta Falcons (12-4): Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez will retire following the 2013 season.
With that in mind, the Falcons need another pass-catching tight end to absorb his eventual loss, and Eifert is clearly the best choice available to play that role.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-5): Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Perhaps the 'Niners will wait until the beginning of Round 2 to take a chance on a player like Hunt. However, considering Hunt's upside and ideal fit on a deep defense, GM Trent Baalke can't wait too long to snatch a player with the rare physical gifts that Hunt possesses.
32. Baltimore Ravens (9-7): Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe are both gone, so the Ravens definitely need some help at the linebacker position.
Minter should sneak his way into the first round after careful deliberation by GM Ozzie Newsome over the former Tiger star and Notre Dame All-American Manti Te'o.