The Biggest Questions Still Remaining Around the NFL Draft
Although just nine days are left until the 2013 NFL draft, there are far more questions than answers when it comes to projecting when and where players will be selected.
Even the No. 1 overall pick remains uncertain, although Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan have emerged as the favorites. The answer to that question, however, will only begin to shape the answers to many other questions that can be asked about what should be one of the most unpredictable drafts in years.
While questions could still be asked about the draft stock of just about any prospect and the projected selections for any team, the following 10 slides pinpoint some of the remaining uncertainties and points of debate that will have the biggest effect on how the draft plays out as it begins on April 25.
Who Will The Chiefs Draft No. 1 Overall?
Who the No. 1 overall draft selection will be is often fairly evident in the weeks leading up to the draft, especially in years where there is a star quarterback prospect, like Andrew Luck in the 2012 draft. The 2013 NFL draft is not one of those drafts.
There is no clear-cut No. 1 overall prospect, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, are not in the market for a quarterback at the top of the draft after trading their second-round pick for Alex Smith.
Nonetheless, Luke Joeckel and Dion Jordan have emerged as the favorites to go No. 1 overall, as mentioned in the introduction.
If the Chiefs are in fact debating between those two prospects, they will be making a decision between two starkly different players: a left tackle in Joeckel who may be the safest and most NFL-ready player in the draft class, and an outside linebacker in Jordan who is a raw, boom-or-bust talent but has as much upside as any prospect in the draft class.
That decision could come down to the answer to two other questions leading up to the 2013 NFL draft: what the Chiefs' future plans are for current left tackle Branden Albert and outside linebacker Tamba Hali.
There is a strong likelihood of either player going No. 1: Joeckel would be the smarter choice, and franchise-tagged Albert should actually have good trade value. However, Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle and Detroit Lions Draft's Jeff Risdon have both reported that the Chiefs are leaning toward Jordan.
The Chiefs' decision, of course, will have a major impact on how the rest of the early picks play out. Other strong potential landing spots for Jordan are at No. 2 (Jacksonville Jaguars), No. 7 (Arizona Cardinals) and No. 8 (Buffalo Bills), while Joeckel would likely fall at either No. 4 (Philadelphia Eagles) or No. 5 (Detroit Lions).
Where Will The Quarterback Dominoes Fall in Round 1?
More than any other position in the NFL draft, where quarterbacks end up being selected is largely need-driven. Typically, this drives quarterbacks up the draft board and into the early picks, but this year, the quarterback waterfall is tough to predict.
The only quarterback who appears to be a sure bet to be a first-round pick is West Virginia's Geno Smith, who could go as high as the No. 2 overall selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The other quarterbacks widely projected to be the next three selected—USC's Matt Barkley, Florida State's E.J. Manuel and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib—look as though they could go anywhere from the No. 8 overall pick to Round 2.
The Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills, who hold the No. 8 overall pick, appear to be the two most likely teams to set the quarterback wave in motion. If the Jaguars select Smith, there is a good chance that the Bills will draft one of those three quarterbacks at No. 8.
If the Jaguars pass up Smith, there is a definite possibility that he lands at No. 3 with the Oakland Raiders, No. 4 with the Philadelphia Eagles or even at No. 6 with the Cleveland Browns or No. 7 with the Arizona Cardinals, but it is unlikely he will fall past the Bills' selection.
If Smith is off the board, however, there is just as good of a chance that the Bills will trade down or decide not to draft a first-round quarterback. In that case, it is very possible that Barkley, Manuel and Nassib could all fall to Round 2, as there are no other obvious landing spots for quarterbacks in Round 1.
Outside of the top eight, the most likely scenario for another quarterback to go in the first round would be for a team to trade up into the late first round. Teams who could make a surprise quarterback pick earlier in the first round, however, include the New York Jets (No. 9 overall pick), San Diego Chargers (No. 11) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 13).
Will There Be A First-Round Running Back?
This year's draft marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 NFL draft, the last draft in which no running back was drafted in Round 1. Fifty years later, there is a strong chance that rare occurrence will happen again.
Due to their usually short career spans and their relative replaceability, the value of running backs is on a gradual decline in the NFL. Combining that decline with a draft class that includes no star running backs, chances are good that the first running back in the 2013 NFL draft will be selected in Round 2.
The most likely candidate to be a first-round selection at running back would be Alabama's Eddie Lacy, but following a disappointing pro day workout in which he was "unable to finish" and "out of shape," per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, even he looks like a reach in Round 1.
That said, few people projected Doug Martin and David Wilson to be first-round picks prior to the 2012 NFL draft, when they ended up being the final two choices of that round. There is a definite possibility that a running back such as Lacy, North Carolina's Giovani Bernard or UCLA's Johnathan Franklin could sneak into the late stages of Round 1.
The most likely landing spot among teams already picking late in Round 1 for a running back may be the Green Bay Packers at the No. 26 overall selection. None of the running backs in the 2013 NFL draft is worth trading up into Round 1 to secure the chance to select, but a team could still make a surprising move to do so.
Are Teams Willing To Risk Early Choices on Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson?
The two most dynamic playmakers among wide receivers in the 2013 NFL draft are West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson. Both players are outstanding athletes who are constant big-play threats with the ball in their hands, and both have been projected as high as the No. 8 overall pick, but both players come with risk factors as well.
While Austin is a true game-changer with his speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, per NFL.com) and quickness, he is very small for an NFL player (5'8", 174 pounds), which could limit him at the next level and have teams concerned about how he will hold up.
Patterson has the measurables that teams love (6'2", 216 pounds, 4.42 40) and terrific open-field playmaking ability, but he has limited route-running ability, only one year of major college football experience and work-ethic concerns.
Both players could end up being selected early in the 2013 NFL draft: potential landing spots include the Buffalo Bills (No. 8), New York Jets (No. 9), St. Louis Rams (No. 16/22) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17). Given their risk factors, however, it should not be a major surprise if either player ends up falling further than expected.
The NFL teams that draft each of these players appear to be ending up with a truly electrifying playmaker and a player who could be a superstar, but there is also significant bust potential for both players.
How High Will The Top Offensive Tackles Go?
While the top quarterbacks could be in for big slides in the 2013 NFL draft, one position where the top talent appears set to go off the board quickly is offensive tackle.
With teams possibly in the market for a first-round offensive tackle including the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4 overall), Detroit Lions (No. 5), Arizona Cardinals (No. 7), San Diego Chargers (No. 11) and Miami Dolphins (No. 12), the top three offensive tackles—Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson—are going to be in high demand.
Considering that, it could spark a team such as the Chargers or the Dolphins to make a move up with the Oakland Raiders (No. 3) or Cleveland Browns (No. 6), two teams likely to consider trading down as they do not own another pick in the top 50, to secure Fisher or Johnson.
If the Chiefs select Joeckel or Fisher at No. 1, the top three offensive tackles will almost certainly be off the board between the No. 5 to No. 7 overall pick. But even if the Chiefs draft Jordan, a trade up to No. 3 or No. 6 remains likely, as a team could jump ahead of the Eagles to secure either Joeckel or Fisher, or jump ahead of the Cardinals for the third offensive tackle if both the Eagles and Lions draft offensive tackles.
All said, it will be a mild surprise if any of the top three offensive tackles are still on the board by the time the Buffalo Bills are on the clock with the No. 8 overall selection. There is a big gap between the top trio of offensive tackles and the others at the position, although TFY Draft Insider's Tony Pauline has rumored that Alabama's D.J. Fluker could go as high as No. 12 if the Miami Dolphins do not trade up.
Jonathan Cooper vs. Chance Warmack: Who Will Be The First Guard Drafted?
Guards are rarely the talk of the first round of an NFL draft, but the talent of this year's top two guards is also rare. North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper and Alabama's Chance Warmack both rank among the 2013 NFL draft class' best all-around prospects and are in close competition to be the top player selected at their position.
Each player is an experienced interior offensive lineman with a very well-rounded game and All-Pro potential, so an NFL team would not be going wrong in drafting either, even with a very early draft pick. Although Warmack received more hype during his senior season than Cooper, it is likely that Cooper, who has truly rare foot skills and athleticism for a guard, will end up being the first guard taken off the board.
The bigger question, however, comes down to which team will be the first to pounce on one of these two guard prospects.
From a talent standpoint, both Cooper and Warmack would be worthy top-10 draft selections. The same, however, was said about Stanford guard David DeCastro last year, and he fell to the No. 24 overall pick. Meanwhile, no true guard has been selected in the top 10 since Chris Naeole in 1997.
With that in mind, it is likely that Cooper and/or Warmack could fall further in the draft than expected. Teams that could draft one of them early, however, include the Cleveland Browns (No. 6), Arizona Cardinals (No. 7), Buffalo Bills (No. 8), San Diego Chargers (No. 11) and St. Louis Rams (No. 16/22).
Are Florida State Defensive Ends Top-10 Picks or Second-Rounders?
The two best all-around defensive ends in the 2013 NFL draft may both come from the same school. Florida State's Bjoern Werner and Cornellius "Tank" Carradine are both explosive edge-rushers who are also strong run-stoppers with great size, and both have the potential to be tremendous NFL defensive ends.
However, as workout warriors Dion Jordan, BYU's Ezekiel Ansah and LSU's Barkevious Mingo have stolen away all the recent hype among pass-rushers, the stock of both Seminoles prospects looks less certain.
Werner could go as high as the No. 3 overall pick to the Oakland Raiders, as I projected in my most recent mock draft, yet his stock has slid in many other projections, including the most recent mock draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper (insider access required). Carradine, on the other hand, has the talent to be worth a top-10 draft pick in his own right, but his stock is uncertain as he comes off of a torn ACL suffered in November.
The teams that draft Werner and Carradine have a great chance of ending up with the best defensive end of the 2013 NFL draft class. Whether each FSU product ends up being selected early on Day 1 or as late as Day 2, however, is very much up in the air.
How Far Will Jarvis Jones Fall?
With 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles last season at Georgia (per CFBStats), Jarvis Jones was the most dominant defensive player in college football, and a well-rounded game as both a pass-rusher and run defender allowed him to have that level of success.
There are some concerns about how well Jones' game will translate to the NFL, however, and those concerns are amplified by a very disappointing pro day and medical concerns. This could cause some teams to drop Jones down their draft boards, and if that is the case, he could be in line for a significant slide on draft day.
Although Jones has been cleared by doctors, his previous diagnosis of spinal stenosis could still draw red flags from some NFL teams. Injuries also seemed to be an issue for Jones at Georgia's pro day, where he looked out of shape and put up very disappointing numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.92 seconds), broad jump (9'3") and vertical jump (30 1/2"), all of which would have ranked in the bottom two among linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine (pro day numbers via The Telegraph).
If teams can look past Jones' concerns, however, they will find a player who does a good job finding his way into the backfield, is a natural playmaker and sets the edge well. His concerns will likely cause him to fall out of the top 10 picks, but ending up with the New Orleans Saints (No. 15 overall) or Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 17) is a likely conclusion.
When Will a Team Take a Chance on Tyrann Mathieu?
There may not be any greater wild-card prospect in the 2013 NFL draft than the "Honey Badger," whose real name is Tyrann Mathieu. Two years ago, the LSU cornerback was the most electrifying player in college football, but last season, he was kicked off of LSU's team and did not play football at all.
As if things weren't already bad enough, Mathieu was arrested for marijuana possession in October. He has a serious history of drug-related issues that should concern every NFL team, in addition to the fact that he is an undersized cornerback (5'9", 186 pounds) who missed out on a full year of college football and still has many flaws in his game.
While all of this may make Mathieu seem like an undrafted free agent, chances are good that someone will take him much earlier in the draft. At his best, Mathieu, a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, is a real playmaker with a nose for the ball, great athleticism and if not an outside cornerback, has the potential to be a terrific nickel cornerback and punt returner.
That chance, in my opinion, could come anywhere between the third and seventh rounds of the draft. Given his history of off-field trouble plus on-field deficiencies, drafting him in the first two rounds is a risk not worth taking.
It would not come as a big surprise if a team pulls the trigger on Mathieu late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, but considering many teams may have him completely off their draft boards, he may not be selected until the draft's late rounds.
Which Trades Will Shake Up The Draft Order?
Nothing creates more unpredictability in a draft than the trades that take place through the three days of the draft. Nonetheless, those of us who create mock drafts often project which teams could make moves up and down the board on draft day.
As aforementioned, the most likely movement within the top seven picks would come from a team moving up to draft an offensive tackle, with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns standing out as teams that would probably like to trade down and pick up additional selections.
Assuming Geno Smith and Dion Jordan are off the board, the No. 8 overall pick could become another spot for a potential trade. If the Buffalo Bills are targeting a first-round quarterback, trading down to get better value would make sense if there is a team looking to move up in Round 1 for a player still available on the board.
After that, any subsequent trades will rely upon which players fall down the draft board to a point where a team decides it should move up and secure its chance to draft that player.
Likely candidates to trade up include the Miami Dolphins, who have five picks in the first three rounds and could trade up into the top six for a top-three offensive tackle, or if not, possibly trade up later into Round 1 to select a second-tier offensive tackle in Alabama's D.J. Fluker or Florida State's Menelik Watson.
The San Francisco 49ers are another team that has five picks in the first three rounds and could move up if they have any specific targets such as Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Teams that could be looking to move down and/or out of the first round to pick up additional selections include the New England Patriots, who have just three picks in the first six rounds, and the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, which may not have an obvious first-round selection and notoriously trade down for better value.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.