The weeks leading up to the draft are full of misinformation and surprising news about team preferences and prospect visits. Given the guarded nature of the selection process, it’s important to not put too much stock into those reports.
What we know now is what we’ve known for a long time: good players will get drafted in the first round. It’s really that simple.
The complicated part is figuring out how those players fit in the NFL landscape. Every general manager and coach has his own criteria for potential picks, and we have no way of knowing what it is that makes a prospect a perfect fit for any NFL team.
But with a little evaluation, a little luck and a lot of conjecture, we can project draft picks based on what we know, including team needs and schematic fit.
Let’s take a look at our latest projections for the first round of the 2013 draft, highlighting some players whose upside outweighs their current NFL readiness.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Chiefs have been extremely active on the free-agent market, shoring up several areas of need on both sides of the ball. Given the team’s dwindling positional needs and its apparent willingness to move left tackle Branden Albert for the right price, there’s little chance Kansas City passes on the best player in this draft class in Luke Joeckel.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
There’s a lot of pressure in selecting at the top of the first round. Without an elite quarterback in this draft class, David Caldwell has to have a calculated approach in finding a future star with the No. 2 pick.
Versatility to multiple schemes is often the key to finding a player with low bust potential. Dion Jordan fits the bill, possessing the speed, athleticism, size and intelligence to play all over the defensive front. If Gus Bradley is looking for the perfect player to fill his Leo role, he won’t have to look any further than Jordan.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Like Caldwell, Reggie McKenzie is in dangerous territory. The Raiders haven’t had an impressive track record in recent drafts, and he’ll be under a lot of pressure to find an immediate impact player who won’t be with another team in a year or two.
Sharrif Floyd can be that player, due in large part to his fit in Oakland’s 4-3 front. Arguably the best one-gap defensive tackle in this class, the Florida product has the size, first-step quickness and tremendous explosiveness to be a terrific interior pass-rusher in the NFL.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Eagles could consider an offensive tackle or cornerback with this pick, but the transition to a 3-4 front under Billy Davis will necessitate some changes along the defensive line. Star Lotulelei can play in a one-gap system, but he looks much better suited as a two-gap defensive end (and potential nose tackle) who can eat up blockers and still make big plays in the backfield.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Detroit certainly has needs on the defensive side of the ball, but Martin Mayhew has to focus on protecting his franchise quarterback. With Jeff Backus retiring and Gosder Cherilus signing with the Colts in free agency, the Lions have a glaring need at the left tackle position.
Eric Fisher isn’t far behind Joeckel in talent or potential. If he’s still available at No. 5, the Lions have to pull the trigger.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Browns are in a good position to find a trade partner in the first round. If Joeckel and Fisher are already off the board, plenty of teams will be interested in using their pick on Lane Johnson.
Trades are extremely hard to predict, especially with more than a week remaining before the draft. As it stands, Alabama’s Dee Milliner is their best option. Cleveland shored up its pass rush in free agency, but it still needs a quality cornerback to pair with Joe Haden.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Cardinals desperately need offensive line help. They waited until the fourth round to select an offensive tackle in last year’s draft (Bobby Massie), and the result was one of the league’s worst offensive lines in 2013.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith may not make it to No. 8, but it may require a team trading into the top six picks to keep him from falling to Buffalo. If the West Virginia signal-caller is still available, the Bills have to consider him as a potential franchise quarterback.
Kevin Kolb isn’t the long-term solution, and while Doug Marrone may be holding out hope for his former Syracuse signal-caller (Ryan Nassib) in the second round, Smith may be too good to pass up at No. 8.
9. New York Jets: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Jets’ pass rush simply must get better. With just 30 sacks in 2012, New York finished tied for 25th in the league in that department.
Jarvis Jones isn’t the best pass-rusher in this class, but he’s not far from it. With the size, range and aggressiveness to develop into a quality three-down linebacker, Jones presents New York with an opportunity to acquire an immediate impact player at a position of need.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Tennessee’s offensive line was extremely inconsistent in 2012, and Chris Johnson’s early-season production suffered as a result. For the Titans to get better at running the football, they have to continue adding to an interior line that now features another terrific run-blocker in Andy Levitre.
11. San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Guards aren’t typically coveted in the top half of the first round, but San Diego doesn’t have many options. The Chargers need quality offensive linemen in a bad way, and with Joeckel, Fisher, Johnson and Warmack already off the board, they have to consider the possibility of reaching for a player who can fill a big need.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Miami could be a prime candidate to trade up in this year’s draft. With two picks in the second round and a Cleveland team with none, the Dolphins have the ammunition to move up for Johnson at No. 6.
However, Miami might not be willing to make a big move for the No. 3 offensive tackle in this class. As it stands, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes makes the most sense. The Dolphins improved dramatically this offseason, but cornerback is still an area of need.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Washington’s Desmond Trufant could be a possibility here, but this year’s cornerback class is extremely deep. Tampa Bay may choose to opt for value instead, selecting a player who will likely be near the top of its draft board.
Paired with Gerald McCoy, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson would be a tremendously disruptive force on Tampa Bay’s defensive line. He has the size and explosiveness to be a big producer in the Buccaneers’ 4-3 front.
14. Carolina Panthers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The Panthers finished No. 13 in pass defense last season, but Chris Gamble has since retired and they need to find a suitable option to replace him. With few major needs to address, Carolina can gamble on Trufant’s upside in adding a potential shutdown corner with this pick.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
New Orleans’ transition to a 3-4 under Rob Ryan will necessitate some personnel changes, namely the addition of some quality pass-rushers. While Barkevious Mingo is still very raw, he’s one of the best pass-rushers in this class, and he’ll thrive playing in space in Ryan’s multiple-look 3-4 front.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Sam Bradford has been without an elite receiver since the Rams drafted him in 2010. While Tavon Austin will never be an X-receiver in the NFL, his mix of speed and quickness will give Bradford a weapon who has the potential to score every time he touches the ball. St. Louis can’t afford to pass on him with this pick.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Kevin Colbert has a propensity for drafting players whom Dick LeBeau can develop for a year or two before awarding them a starting role. With Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark still in the fold, Pittsburgh can afford to do the same with Kenny Vaccaro, and the depth is certainly needed after the departure of Ryan Mundy and Will Allen via free agency.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Monte Kiffin will be bringing his Tampa 2 to Dallas, and the Cowboys will need to find some pieces to fill in the gaps. However, they can’t afford to pass on an offensive lineman in the first round this year—Kiffin’s needs will have to wait.
Dallas fielded the No. 31 rushing offense in 2012 and Tony Romo was constantly harassed by A-gap pressure from poor interior line play. Given Fluker’s size and surprisingly quick feet, he may project better as a guard at the NFL level, and he’ll be able to alleviate some of those issues in 2013.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ezekiel Ansah may not fall this far, but he’s an extremely raw prospect with some positional ambiguity. Given his limited football experience (three years) and a lack of time spent playing in space, teams utilizing a 3-4 may be cautious about selecting the former track star.
New York is the perfect fit for Ansah. The Giants need a pass-rusher opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, and lining up at defensive end will allow Ansah to play in the position at which he is most experienced. If he can learn to utilize leverage and hone his recognition skills, the Giants could field one of the most explosive pass-rushing combos in the entire league in the near future.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Chicago has plenty of good options here, but middle linebacker is one of its biggest needs. With Arthur Brown and Alec Ogltree still on the board, the Bears can choose between two of the best in this draft class.
A former safety with good pass-coverage skills, Ogletree would be a good fit dropping into deep-middle coverage in Chicago’s Cover 2 schemes. He still needs to work on getting stronger against the run, but his ceiling is extremely high.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Andre Smith reportedly wants a contract worth $9 million per year and the Bengals don’t seem willing to meet those demands, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. With cheaper options in the draft, Cincinnati can opt to select his replacement with this pick. Predominantly a right tackle at Florida State, Menelik Watson could fill that role, and he offers the potential to also slide to the left side of the line should Cincinnati need him at that spot in the future.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Safety and wide receiver are arguably St. Louis’ biggest needs. With Austin already locked up, the Rams can choose to switch to the defensive side of the ball and select one of the draft’s best safeties in Jonathan Cyprien.
The Florida International product has the speed, range and tremendous power to play either safety position, offering the Rams the chance for an immediate starter at one of their two vacancies.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Greg Jennings replaced the void left by trading Percy Harvin to the Seahawks, but Minnesota still needs another receiving option for Christian Ponder.
Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson is a polarizing prospect given his raw route-running ability, but his upside is tremendous. If Patterson can come close to reaching his NFL potential, he has a chance to be one of the most electric pass-catchers in the league.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Florida State defensive end Bjorn Werner is better suited for a 4-3 front, but he has the athleticism to make the transition to outside linebacker if needed. Given Indianapolis lack of pass-rushers at the outside linebacker position, Werner could prove to be an excellent option as a one- or two-down edge rusher in its 3-4 front.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas
With a quality pass-catcher already in the fold, Minnesota can turn its attention to the defensive side of the ball and a position that needs to be solidified this offseason.
Brown has the mix of size, speed, aggressiveness and recognition skills to be a terrific defender at either the middle or strong-side linebacker position. Cornerback is a major need as well, but the Vikings won’t find better value at No. 25.
26. Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Green Bay’s positional needs lie primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Expect Ted Thompson’s first selection to be either a defensive end, outside linebacker or safety.
Given the position of the Packers’ selection, this pick may come down to value. Matt Elam is one of the best players at a position of need, and he’ll be a good fit at strong safety on the back end of Green Bay’s defense.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Houston can’t afford to pass on a running mate for Andre Johnson early in this draft. Opposing defenses have had the option of tilting coverage in his direction all too often, and DeAndre Hopkins could help to alleviate that problem.
Hopkins isn’t incredibly big or fast, but he runs terrific routes and has the strong hands to fight for the ball in traffic. Paired with Johnson, Houston’s passing offense would be a lot stronger in 2013.
28. Denver Broncos: Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Elvis Dumervil’s departure leaves a glaring hole at the defensive end position. Denver needs to find a way to replace his production in this draft.
Tank Carradine is coming off an ACL tear, but he has the potential to be the best pass-rusher in this entire draft class. If the Florida State product can get healthy in time for the 2013 season, the Broncos’ pass rush shouldn’t look all that different this year.
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Keenan Allen fits the mold of a New England receiver. He doesn’t have incredible straight-line speed, but his route-running ability and strong hands are exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in his receivers.
New England needs a deep-threat receiver who can spread the field, but it hasn’t had much luck in finding one in the draft. Allen gives the Patriots another exceptional receiver to pair with Danny Amendola, and there’s no reason they can’t look to add a speedy deep threat later in the draft.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
A poor showing in offseason workouts may cause Damontre Moore to slide to the bottom of the first round, but not every team will be concerned with his workout numbers.
Moore is a tremendous football player with the innate ability to get to opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta certainly needs another pass-rushing defensive end to pair with Osi Umenyiora, and Moore offers a good fit and a lot of value, especially this late in the first round.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
Alabama’s Jesse Williams played in one of the few 3-4 fronts in college football under Nick Saban. He already has the experience to be an immediate starter in a two-gap scheme, and San Francisco could certainly use some depth on its defensive line.
With a plethora of picks this year, the 49ers have the option of adding both depth and starters throughout the draft. Williams can be both very early in his career.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
Manti Te’o may not be a popular pick here, but he has the talent to be a first-round selection. Given Baltimore’s needs at inside linebacker and the remaining options with Ogletree and Brown already off the board, Te’o has to be considered a strong possibility.
Playing in a 3-4 front will mask some of the Notre Dame product’s shortcomings—namely his weakness in taking on blockers in run defense.
Inside linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Eric Reid could also be possibilities here, as is the potential for a trade into the second round to acquire more picks.