Every year, the entire NFL world gets sucked into a swirling vortex of rumors and lies called the NFL draft.
For two weeks, every fan, draftnik, writer and blogger scours the Internet for any sliver of information to pass along, all while teams leak stories to anyone who'll listen. Like a high-stakes, 32-seat poker game with millions of fans hanging off the rails, the run-up to the NFL draft is a circus of whispers and misinformation.
Reporters with well-trusted sources will be told bald-faced lies. Players will be given assurances their positions won't be drafted highly, just to be shocked on draft day. Nonsensical trades will be bandied about, just for even-less-sensible trades to actually happen.
By listening carefully, and by keeping teams' needs in the back of your mind, it's possible to get some real information out of the rumors, reports, pre-draft visits and fancy dinners.
I've collected the latest draft and trade talk for all 32 NFL teams, with spin meter carefully calibrated. Trust no one and question everything, but give the following rumors a little more credence than most.
By the time you read this, the Arizona Cardinals might have entertained their left tackle and quarterback of the future.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic tweeted that tackle Lane Johnson has dinner scheduled with Cardinals brass for Monday evening. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that quarterback Ryan Nassib will also dine with Cardinals brass Monday evening; ESPN's Adam Schefter confirms they'll all dine together.
The Cardinals have had massive instability at quarterback since Kurt Warner left (and counting the Matt Leinart affair, even during Warner's time there). After adding Drew Stanton and trading for Carson Palmer, drafting Nassib in the second (or late first) would complete a well-stocked depth chart.
The Cardinals failed to improve what was arguably the league's worst offensive line last season; a left tackle with Johnson's potential would be a great get with the No. 7 overall pick.
The Atlanta Falcons have one of the deepest, most balanced rosters in football.
Nearly all their pass-rushing in 2012 came from former DE John Abraham, though; even if new signee Osi Umenyiora replaces Abraham's production, the Falcons still need to bolster their defensive line.
A perfect fit might be defensive end prospect Margus Hunt, the Estonian track and field prodigy who lit up the NFL combine. Hunt is very raw technically but has almost unlimited upside with his size, frame, speed and athleticism.
Hunt told Justin Pawlowski of 98.7 The Fan in Tampa that the Falcons are among the four teams showing the most interest in his services.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons could draft power back Le'Veon Bell to groom behind new signee Steven Jackson. Per Bleacher Report's Knox Bardeen, the Falcons met privately with Bell at the NFL combine and did a private film session with him at Michigan State's pro day.
Bell would be a perfect understudy to Jackson. They're very similar runners; Bell could both effectively spell Jackson and serve as an insurance policy in case Jackson breaks down. Atlanta will gun for a Super Bowl championship and wants to make sure no one injury can stop it.
The most important draft news coming out of Baltimore is free-agency news. With the signings of middle linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Michael Huff, the Ravens are under much less pressure to reach for either position in the early rounds of the draft.
That's good, because potential Ravens first-round target Manti Te'o has gotten lots of attention from the Minnesota Vikings. If the Ravens don't want to move up for Te'o, they can afford to wait on inside linebacker and take the best player available; that might include any of the top safeties.
For a closer look at how safeties like Kenny Vaccaro, Matt Elam and Jonathan Cyprien might fit with Baltimore, Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz shared his scouting notes on each of the top safeties on the team's official site.
As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweeted, the Buffalo Bills confound all mock drafters who don't have quarterback Geno Smith falling to the Bills' No. 8 overall pick.
The Bills have enough needs on both sides of the ball that they could take the best player available—which could mean Alabama guard Chance Warmack. Warmack is one of the best guard prospects to come along in ages; it just so happens the Bills lost the best young guard in the NFL, Andy Levitre, in free agency.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported he hears the Bills are indeed thinking guard with their first-round pick and will address their needs at quarterback after that.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded the Carolina Panthers as the second-worst run-defending unit and 11th-worst pass-defending unit. The fastest way to improve run defense and pass defense is to add a dynamic two-way safety.
It's no wonder, then, that the Panthers hosted top safety prospect Kenny Vaccaro (per Vaccaro's Twitter feed) and speedy Nevada safety Duke Williams (per Scout.com). Williams is more likely a third-day prospect than a first, but the Panthers appear serious about adding athleticism at the position.
Despite signing veteran linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson, the Chicago Bears are far from set at the linebacker position. Even if Williams and Anderson work out spectacularly, the Bears need to get younger on defense.
The Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei recently tabbed linebacker Alec Ogletree for the Bears' first-round pick. Since then, he's also noted that the Bears could reinforce their top free-agent signings by drafting an offensive tackle or tight end, but that seems unlikely.
Look for Ogletree to be the pick if he's there for the Bears.
With free-agent right tackle Andre Smith unwilling to lower his unrealistic asking price, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, offensive tackle has suddenly reappeared on the Cincinnati Bengals' needs list.
They're also in need of at least one linebacker after losing Manny Lawson to the Buffalo Bills, and likely a safety as well. Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison has been allegedly close to signing with the Bengals for quite a while, but per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Harrison hasn't signed yet.
If Harrison signs, the Bengals could draft Smith's replacement—say, massive tackle D.J. Fluker—or any of the top safeties with their No. 21 overall pick.
It's common for NFL owners to put their businesses on information lockdown prior to the draft. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam may have taken that a little too literally.
As described by Robert L. Smith of The Plain Dealer, the FBI seized the headquarters of Haslam's Pilot Flying J business Monday.
While the Haslam family deals with that distraction, the Browns are in the middle of an impressive rebuilding effort. Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer made a list of 10 players on the Browns' radar for the No. 6 overall pick, or later if the Browns move down.
Surprisingly, quarterback Geno Smith tops the list; that would make two consecutive drafts the Browns draft a quarterback in the first round.
Hamstrung by the NFL's cap penalties, the Dallas Cowboys weren't able to hang on to defensive ends Kenyon Coleman or Marcus Spears. They also had losses at linebacker, but the addition of Justin Durant helped offset those.
With no way to fortify the line via free agency, it's no surprise the Cowboys not only had a visit with SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, but worked him out privately as well.
The Denver Broncos had a well-stocked roster to begin with and then had one of the best free-agency periods in the NFL. With few pressing needs and plenty of flexibility, it makes perfect sense for the Broncos to line up a successor to Peyton Manning.
Mike Klis of the Denver Post reported the Broncos hosted quarterback Matt Scott, and they could easily make a run at Scott or fellow prospect Zac Dysert if they swing a trade for a mid-round pick.
With stalwart left tackle Jeff Backus retired, guard Stephen Peterman cut, right tackle Gosder Cherilus gone via free agency and center Dominic Raiola forced to take a pay cut to stay, the Lions could do to add talent anywhere on the offensive line.
If either of the top two, or maybe three, offensive tackles fall to the Lions, it should be a slam dunk.
The Lions' need at defensive end might be greater, though, with all of the Lions' top three ends from 2012 not under contract for 2013. If the Lions do land a top tackle, Monday's visit by Michigan State defensive end William Gholston might be very significant.
Ever since Ryan Grant stopped being Ryan Grant, the Green Bay Packers have struggled to find an identity for their running game. In 2012, the Packers had five running backs start at least one game, according to Pro Football Reference. None of those backs cracked 500 yards, and none of them scored more than two rushing touchdowns.
In order for the Packers' subpar running game to effectively balance their high-flying passing attack, they need a talented back who can keep defenses honest. As Rick Klauer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote, Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy could be a perfect first-round fit for the Packers.
The Houston Texans have looked for a Robin to complement Andre Johnson's Batman for as long as Johnson's been in the league.
With the departures of Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter over the last two offseasons, the need has never been greater. Per Chris Steuber of Ourlads.com, the Texans have lined up a visit with receiver prospect Keenan Allen.
Allen has encountered plenty of adversity in the pre-draft process, from his poor 40-yard dash times (to be fair, he is recovering from a knee injury) to reports of a failed drug test (via ESPN's Adam Schefter). Despite these concerns, his skill set would make him just the kind of threat that would help draw coverage off Johnson and keep the Texans offense rolling.
The Indianapolis Colts made league observers everywhere scratch their heads when they signed former Packers linebacker Erik Walden to a four-year, $16 million contract.
The Colts, though, clearly don't consider their need at linebacker filled. Jarvis Jones said from his Instagram account that he visited the Colts, and Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net reports the Colts have scheduled a visit with Jon Bostic.
Walden, likely to replace Dwight Freeney on the outside, has never been a gifted pass-rusher; Jones would certainly provide that threat off the edge.
Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reports the Jacksonville Jaguars have narrowed their first-round pick down to two possible prospects. Since the Jaguars have the No. 2 overall pick, they're guaranteed to land one of them.
By connecting the dots with the Jaguars' needs, it's presumable that the two are quarterback Geno Smith and outside linebacker Dion Jordan; fortunately for the Jaguars, the Kansas City Chiefs are unlikely to take either.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, this means they won't have their minds made up for them; they'll have to make the choice themselves. Given the relative impact of the two positions, they'd have to be be pretty low on Smith—or extremely high on Jordan—to make Jordan the pick.
If the Kansas City Chiefs stand pat with the No. 1 overall pick, there's really only one prospect that makes sense for them to draft: left tackle Luke Joeckel. As I've written before, Joeckel is a smart, polished player with the athleticism, technique and instincts to play very well from day one.
Trouble is, the Chiefs don't want to stand pat at No. 1. Per Mike Freeman of CBS Sports, the Chiefs are practically "begging" for a trade partner.
As Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel paraphrased Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, "I've got 11 picks, if any team wants to make a deal you know where to find me. I make trades every year. Holla at your boy."
Whether the Dolphins have enough "ammunition" (Ireland's actual words) to replace departed left tackle Jake Long with Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher remains to be seen. However, they should have enough to meet the Kansas City Chiefs' asking price for veteran Branden Albert, reported by Sports Illustrated's Peter King to be a high second-round pick.
Albert would be a smart pickup for a team that needs both a left tackle and versatility (Albert can also play guard).
Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported that Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wined and dined Notre Dame linebacker prospect Manti Te'o.
King also noted Spielman has already secured the services of four other Fighting Irish alums and has two picks (No. 23 and No. 25) right at the opening of the window Te'o is supposed to be drafted in.
Given their need at middle linebacker, Te'o could be a solid pickup for the Vikings, who hope to perpetuate their surprising 2012 NFC North success.
The New England Patriots surprised many when they signed Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet. Not that the Patriots didn't need a receiver with Sanders' skills, but that a team actually signed a restricted free agent to an offer sheet.
The Patriots have always done things differently under Bill Belichick. When it comes to the draft, though, they've often filled their most obvious need in the first round—typically after their top choice falls to them or they aggressively trade up.
With Sanders' offer sheet matched by Pittsburgh, James Christensen of NEPatriotsDraft.com mocked the Patriots taking wide receivers with each of their first two picks.
If the New Orleans Saints are to get back to their pre-Bountygate form, they need to give new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the players he needs to succeed.
Yet they also need to replace left tackle Jermon Bushrod and add more talented targets for quarterback Drew Brees.
Mike Triplett of The Times-Picayune reports that the Saints are truly in "best player available" mode, and he includes flashy receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and downfield speedster Tavon Austin as players the Saints might draft.
After months and months of hearing about how the exposure of the Lennay Kekua hoax would affect Manti Te'o's draft stock, it appears the linebacker is still a hot commodity.
Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News reports the New York Giants hosted Te'o; since Te'o almost certainly won't fall to their second-round pick at No. 49 overall, the Giants must eye him with their first-round pick at No. 19.
That would be awfully high for a pure run-stuffer such as Te'o; linebackers without the ability to rush the passer rarely go that high. Do the Giants aim to trade back? Keep an eye on this situation.
It's no secret that the New York Jets need a quarterback. With the failures of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, the Jets need to find a signal-caller who can execute new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's flavor of the West Coast offense.
Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com reports the Jets have interest in Ryan Nassib and that Mornhinweg actually dined with the young quarterback. He likely won't last until the Jets' second-round pick, though, so the Jets may look to move up to get their man—just as they did with Sanchez.
The Raiders have the No. 3 overall draft pick, no second-rounder and a host of needs that could be adequately addressed with a second-round pick. The math here is obvious: The Raiders would be a perfect candidate for a trade back.
Unfortunately, they likely won't get any takers.
That means they'll need a real impact with that first pick, preferably a defender who can add teeth to the pass rush. Dion Jordan's flexibility would be a perfect fit with the Raiders' new hybrid 3-4/4-3, but Bleacher Report's Chris Hansen notes that Florida State's Tank Carradine could be a surprise selection.
The Eagles have spent all kinds of free-agency money on the defensive secondary over the past few seasons, yet Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes the Eagles could still use a safety.
Analysts expected new head coach Chip Kelly to come in and dramatically make over the offense, but more personnel retooling has been done on the defensive side of the ball. Philadelphia brought in a whole starting secondary via free agency, including safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips, but there are reasons both were available.
McLane writes that the Eagles, who hold the No. 4 overall pick, won't be a player for top prospect Kenny Vaccaro unless they drop a long way in the first round. Players like Matt Elam, though, become a possibility in the second round, and the draft is deep enough at safety for quality prospects to be available even later.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost speedy receiver Mike Wallace in free agency and nearly lost restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders too. After matching Sanders' offer with the Patriots, though, the Steelers could still use another playmaker.
FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez talked with receiver prospect Justin Brown, who says the Steelers have scheduled him for a visit. Brown would be an excellent fit at the Steelers' second-round slot.
The San Diego Chargers suffered the first painful loss of free agency when young veteran guard Louis Vasquez signed with the division rival Denver Broncos.
Lucky for the Chargers, then, that they're in the perfect position (No. 11) to draft one of the best guard prospects in ages, Chance Warmack. Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego reports that Warmack visited San Diego this month.
The draft world is the San Francisco 49ers' oyster. Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, they held serve in free agency (some might even say improved) and have a bevy of picks in this and next year's drafts.
One of their few losses, though, came with safety Dashon Goldson's departure for Tampa Bay. It only makes sense, then, that safety Jonathan Cyprien tweeted he had a "great" visit with San Francisco on April 13.
Cyprien would fit in perfectly with the 49ers' fast, physical approach to playing defense.
The Seattle Seahawks have had a massive offseason so far, trading for explosive receiver Percy Harvin and signing a bevy of quality pass-rushers in free agency. They also added cornerback Antoine Winfield, who perfectly fits with the Seahawks' approach.
The Seahawks, though, have no picks in the first round and a glut of late-rounders.
With Seattle possibly looking to address the interior of the defense, Scout.com reports East Carolina defensive tackle Michael Brooks will be in for a visit. A smaller-school prospect with good size and a big motor, Brooks is exactly the kind of late-round pickup the Seahawks will look to make.
Nobody rises up draft boards quite like speedy receivers. Much like past surprise top picks Troy Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey, Tavon Austin has been mentioned higher and higher in the days leading up to the draft.
St. Louis, in desperate need of speed after losing Danny Amendola in free agency, brought Austin in for a visit, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Florio, a West Virginia graduate, names the Rams as Austin's "floor," meaning he won't get past St. Louis (if he gets that far).
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered one of the more underrated losses of free agency when they lost inside/outside pass-rusher Michael Bennett to Seattle.
Bennett, who had a previously unreported rotator cuff injury, was one of Pro Football Focus' top-rated defensive linemen in 2012.
It's little wonder that the Buccaneers brought in Michigan State defensive end William Gholston for a visit, per FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez. Quick at 6'7" and 281 pounds, Gholston should have similar positional flexibility as the 6'4", 274-pound Bennett.
The Tennessee Titans made one of the biggest splashes of free agency when they signed young standout guard Andy Levitre.
Still, head coach (and Hall of Fame offensive guard) Mike Munchak told the National Football Post's Dan Pompei that he values guard play highly, so the Titans could easily take one of the draft's top guard prospects, such as Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper.
The pairing of Warmack or Cooper with Levitre could create not only one of the best guard combos in the NFL, but one of the best guard combos of all time.
The Washington Redskins passed the ball extraordinarily well last season; unfortunately, they covered the pass extraordinarily poorly, ranking 29th of 32 teams in passing yards allowed.
With Washington undoubtedly in the market for secondary help, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas visited the Redskins on April 9.
In another tidbit of Redskins news, former Baylor receiver (and, thus, former teammate of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III) Terrance Williams had an interesting Twitter exchange with Griffin, prompting Redskins blog Hogs Haven to speculate the Redskins could have a plan in place to add Williams, not Thomas, in the second round.