There never seems to be enough time to prepare for the NFL draft. Despite months of anticipation and prognostication, there’s still very little certainty as the first round closes in.
The biggest challenge in projecting first-round selections is cutting through the clutter of the rumor mill. Smokescreens fill the air in the weeks leading up to the draft, shrouding each team’s game plan for attacking their first-round pick.
Even without all the misinformation, predicting the first round wouldn’t be an easy task. It’s important to recognize the variables that make accuracy problematic.
Every NFL general manager has his own big board with wildly unpredictable player rankings. We too have our own ranking system, and no two big boards look exactly alike.
To add to the equation, each general manager has a different strategy for selecting players in each round. Need, value and affinity for particular players all play a part in the selection process.
Mock drafts represent all of those variables and attempt to give fans an idea of what to expect on April 25. The following mock draft is an overview of the latest projections for the first round. We’ll also highlight several players whose draft stock varies greatly based on NFL readiness and positional need.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It’s hard to imagine Kansas City going another direction with this pick. Unless the Chiefs have something spectacular planned, Luke Joeckel is the most likely selection.
Joeckel is the best player in this draft class and has the skill set to be an immediate starter on the left side of the line. After shoring up nearly every position through free agency, the Chiefs can now afford to take the player who presents the most value at the top of the draft.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
Dion Jordan’s versatility makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in this entire draft. A fast, heady and polished defender, Jordan can fit in almost any scheme at the NFL level. He’ll be an excellent fit in Jacksonville as an outside linebacker or defensive end—or a mix of both, as would be the case should he assume Gus Bradley’s Leo role as an edge defender and primary pass-rusher.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Oakland could go any number of directions with this pick, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise for Reggie McKenzie to do something unpredictable here.
As it stands, Sharrif Floyd is the best pick for the Raiders. His strength, explosiveness and surprising athleticism make him a terrific fit for a one-gap system as an interior pass-rusher and general disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Eagles underwent a major transition this offseason, and new defensive coordinator Billy Davis made a lot of his own changes that still need to be addressed. Philadelphia needs to find some pieces to solidify its new 3-4 schemes.
Offensive tackle could certainly be a possibility (with Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson still on the board), but the value and fit in selecting Star Lotulelei may be too good to pass up. His big frame, solid anchor and impressive motor make him a tremendous fit at defensive end in a 3-4 front.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Sometimes need trumps all other factors. The retirement of Jeff Backus left a huge hole at the left tackle position, and Matthew Stafford needs a new blind-side protector who can keep him on his feet.
Fisher has tremendous potential as an NFL left tackle, and there’s a chance he doesn’t even make it to No. 5 and the Detroit Lions. Should he already be off the board, look for Johnson to be option No. 2.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Browns are in prime position to move back in the round and acquire extra picks. If a team like Miami is in search of an elite offensive tackle and wants to surrender the picks, Cleveland’s No. 6 selection is the best possible spot.
Trades are extremely difficult to predict, though, and we have to assume (at least for now) that the Browns will hold onto this pick and fill a positional need. With pass-rushers added through free agency, Cleveland can turn its attention to cornerback and take a player who can solidify the secondary opposite Joe Haden.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Cardinals need offensive line help in a big, big way. Carson Palmer was a low-risk acquisition, but Arizona still needs to find a way to protect him. Johnson has tremendous potential at the position, and he’ll go a long way toward rebuilding one of the league’s worst offensive lines.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The addition of Kevin Kolb gives Buffalo the flexibility to not reach for a quarterback at No. 8. If Geno Smith is off the board, don’t expect another signal-caller to fill this selection.
If Smith is still available, however, Buffalo has to consider drafting him here. Kolb isn’t the future at the position, and finding a new franchise quarterback will likely be at the top of new head coach Doug Marrone’s list.
9. New York Jets: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Concerns about Jarvis Jones’ spinal stenosis condition have subsided, but questions still remain about his speed and range. The latter may be a little overblown, though.
Jones doesn’t have tremendous straight-line speed, but he’s still the best outside linebacker in this draft class. An excellent edge-rusher and quality defender against both the pass and the run, Jones has the all-around talent to fit well as a 3-4 outside linebacker in New York’s schemes.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Adding Andy Levitre in free agency was a big step for the Titans in shoring up their interior offensive line, but getting Chris Johnson going early in the season has to be a top priority. Doing so will require the addition of more talent on the offensive line.
Chance Warmack is the best run-blocking guard to advance from the college ranks since Mike Iupati in 2010. Paired with Levitre, Tennessee can field one of the best guard combos in the entire NFL.
11. San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
The Chargers would love to secure a top-tier offensive tackle here (and moving up for one is a possibility), but quality offensive linemen in any form would still solidify their poor offensive line.
Jonathan Cooper could fall into the 20s if he gets past San Diego and Miami here, but he has the talent to justify this selection. The biggest question will be the value teams place on guards this early in the first round.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Miami’s offseason spending spree limits the holes it has to fill through the draft, making value a big focus in the first round.
Offensive line has to still be a priority, but the five best offensive linemen are already off the board. Instead, the Dolphins can turn to the defensive side of the ball and solidify a position that is arguably their most glaring weakness heading into the 2013 season.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
If Rhodes falls past No. 12, expect the Buccaneers to run their card to the podium. Things get a little more hazy with the Florida State cornerback already off the board, however.
Tampa Bay could still consider Washington’s Desmond Trufant here, but the value doesn’t quite line up. Instead, they can select a top-tier defensive tackle with the size, strength and quickness to be a tremendous fit next to Gerald McCoy in their one-gap scheme.
14. Carolina Panthers: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Wide receiver isn’t Carolina’s biggest offseason need, but it certainly has to consider Tavon Austin at No. 14.
Steve Smith is on the wrong side of 30 and Cam Newton would benefit from having another quality receiver to open up the offense.
Given Austin’s tremendous playmaking ability and elite mix of quickness and speed, opposing defenses would no longer have the option of paying special attention to Smith in the passing game.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
Barkevious Mingo’s raw football skills may necessitate a short slide down the board on April 25. Should he make it to No. 15, there’s little doubt the Saints would take advantage.
With a new 3-4 front in the works, New Orleans needs to load up on pass-rushers at the outside linebacker position. The LSU product is one of the best in this draft class.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Rams drafted Missouri receiver Danario Alexander in 2010, but his unpolished skill set didn’t translate to much success in St. Louis. Cordarrelle Patterson has some of the same shortcomings.
Still, the draft’s most physically gifted receiver is going to garner a lot of attention from teams in need of a quality pass-catcher, especially if Austin is already off the board.
Patterson can do special things with the ball in his hands, and Sam Bradford needs a target like that to keep the offensive moving in the right direction.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Kevin Colbert doesn’t have a history of trading back in the draft, and despite Pittsburgh’s glaring needs at several positions, Colbert will likely stand pat and select a player he feels can be a key contributor in the coming years.
With little depth behind Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, adding a top-tier safety has to be a focus for the Steelers in the early rounds. Kenny Vaccaro can play either safety position and has the potential to be a tremendous defender at the NFL level.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Expect Dallas to take the best available offensive lineman with this pick. With one of the league’s worst running games in 2012 and the inability to protect Tony Romo in recent years, finding quality linemen has to be a primary focus in this draft.
D.J. Fluker doesn’t have the quickness or lateral mobility to play on the left side in the NFL, but his massive frame and powerful lower body make him a mauler in the running game.
He has the potential to slide inside at either guard position and solidify a Dallas offensive line that simply must get better in 2013.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ezekiel Ansah’s raw football abilities make him a difficult prospect to project. While he has tremendous athleticism and raw pass-rushing ability, he also needs a lot of development.
Still, there’s little chance he drops past New Orleans, Pittsburgh and New York. The Giants need a quality pass-rusher to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ansah would give them one of the most athleticially gifted pass-rushing duos in the league.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Gerogia
With Brian Urlacher out the door, the Bears need to consider adding his replacement in the early rounds of this draft. Georgia’s Alec Ogletree is the best potential fit.
A former safety, Ogletree has the speed, athleticism and range to be a terrific drop-zone pass defender and sideline-to-sideline run defender in the middle of Chicago’s defense.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Fluker would be a logical fit here if he makes it this far, but there’s little chance the draft’s top right tackle falls past Dallas and Chicago. Instead, the Bengals can replace Andre Smith with a player who has the potential to play either tackle position in the near future.
Florida State’s Menelik Watson played predominantly on the right side in college, and Cincinnati could use him to fill Smith’s vacancy at a much cheaper rate. With a little polish at the NFL level, Watson could also play a swing tackle role as a makeshift left tackle fill-in.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
St. Louis already addressed its biggest positional need. It can now turn its attention to the defensive side of the ball and fill another glaring hole.
With vacancies at both safety positions, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien makes tons of sense here. He’s a tremendous hitter with the speed and range to play either safety position, and there may not be a player in this draft better suited for Jeff Fisher’s defense.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The addition of Greg Jennings fills the hole left by trading Percy Harvin, but Minnesota still needs to get another quality pass-catcher for Christian Ponder.
DeAndre Hopkins is likely to be the third receiver taken on Day 1. While he isn’t especially big or fast, he does have excellent route-running abilities and the strong hands to come down with the ball in traffic. The Clemson product is an ideal fit at the Z-receiver position in the NFL.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Ryan Grigson prefers the best-player-available approach to drafting. He had an easy choice last year, but he won’t have the same luxury at No. 24.
Still, plenty of talented players will be available at this point in the draft, and Grigson will look for one who can be an immediate impact player.
Bjoern Werner has enough athleticism to make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker in Indianapolis’ defense, and he’ll provide a pass-rushing element the Colts were missing last season.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
Like St. Louis, Minnesota has the luxury of adding to both offense and defense in the first round. With Hopkins already locked up, the Vikings can solidify their linebacking corps with a tremendous talent in Arthur Brown.
Brown has the size, athleticism, instincts and toughness to play either the middle or strong-side linebacker positions in Minnesota’s 4-3 front. Given his rising draft stock, he Brown probably won’t fall much further should he make it past Minnesota at No. 25.
26. Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Green Bay’s positional needs are primarily on the defensive side of the ball. With Vaccaro and Cyprien already off the board, Matt Elam becomes the best available safety to fill one of those needs.
Elam projects well as a strong safety in the NFL. With plenty of power and enough range to play either in the box or in a deep-half role, Elam can add an element the Packers’ secondary has been missing since Atari Bigby’s best years at strong safety in Green Bay.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
There’s no guarantee Houston chooses to address the receiver position in the first round, but that certainly seems like the most logical scenario.
Andre Johnson needs another quality receiver to put some added pressure on opposing defenses, and Keenan Allen would be a terrific option. The California product doesn’t have great straight-line speed, but he has the route-running ability and ball skills to play almost anywhere in Houston’s offense.
28. Denver Broncos: Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Elvis Dumervil’s departure leaves a big hole at defensive end. The Broncos need to find his replacement in this draft, and Tank Carradine is the best available player.
An ACL tear has limited Carradine’s draft stock. When healthy, he’s arguably the best pass-rusher in this entire draft class.
29. New England Patriots: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
New England appears focused on bolstering its offense this offseason. While needs remain at both safety and cornerback, signing Adrian Wilson and re-upping Aqib Talib make both positions less likely here.
Tennessee’s Justin Hunter is an absolutely explosive receiver with the speed and size to fill the role left vacant by Randy Moss’ departure. Without that dangerous outside receiving threat, the Patriots’ offense became too focused on its tight ends and slot receivers stretching the middle of the field.
Hunter would provide another pass-catching option who can open the field horizontally and give Tom Brady another quality option in the passing game.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Atlanta did some house cleaning this offseason, releasing a number of veterans in the process. John Abraham will be replaced by Osi Umenyiora at defensive end, but the Falcons need to continue getting younger on the defensive line.
Damontre Moore wasn’t impressive in offseason workouts, but talent evaluators already know what he can do on the football field. The Texas A&M product has an innate ability to get to opposing quarterbacks, and he’s a terrific fit as a primary pass-rusher in a 4-3 front.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
With a bevy of picks in this draft, San Francisco may be a player to trade up in the first round. Should the 49ers stand pat, expect them to take advantage of value at a position of need.
With a glaring lack of depth on the defensive line, the 49ers have to consider adding a versatile defender who can fill in at both nose tackle and defensive end.
Jesse Williams played in a 3-4 front at Alabama at both positions, making him a coveted pick for teams in need of versatility and depth on the defensive line.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
There’s a chance Desmond Trufant doesn’t make it to the bottom of the round. If he does, expect a brilliant general manager like Ozzie Newsome to pull the trigger without hesitation.
The Ravens have other needs on the defensive side of the ball (linebacker, safety), but they could stand to get stronger on the outside and the value here is terrific.
Lardarius Webb should be back on the field in 2013, and the addition of Trufant would make Baltimore’s cornerback duo one of the best in the AFC.