The 2013 NFL draft is less than a week away, providing a sparkling glimmer of promise in months for those fanbases who suffered through tumultuous seasons of losing.
This deep class should produce several players that will take the league by storm right away. Several teams in particular need to nail their picks, whether it be the divisional competition, lack of other draft picks or the heightened sense of urgency that the impending season will bring.
Below is a mock of the entire first round, with an emphasis on the most critical selections and the players that best fit those teams in the direst need of a quick turnaround.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Branden Albert has been franchised, but his future is still very much up in the air, as he may be shipped off to Miami. Whether Joeckel slides in on the right side as a rookie or winds up being the long-term answer at left tackle, the Chiefs' new regime will be making a savvy pick here.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Now that concerns about Lotulelei's heart condition have died down, there's no reason he shouldn't be considered the premier defensive lineman of the 2013 class—which was the case prior to that combine scare. Lotulelei is a disruptive force that will command an immediate double team at the next level, and new defensive-minded head coach Gus Bradley will love to have him in the fold.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Absent a second-round choice and having one of the worst-looking rosters in the league, trading down is a real possibility.
If Reggie McKenzie decides to stay put, though, he has to nail it. A lot of flux on the Raiders' roster and coaching staff has him under a lot of pressure, especially after a rough first season under head coach Dennis Allen.
Floyd played in the hotly competitive SEC, and has rare speed and athleticism for his size to make an instant impact on Oakland's struggling defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The upside that Ansah has will be too significant to drop him out of the top four. New head coach Chip Kelly has the offense under control, and Ansah will bring an electric, versatile athlete to the Eagles' new 3-4 defense, where he won't have to convert from what he primarily played in as a Cougar.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Riley Reiff was a first-round pick at offensive tackle in 2012, but the Lions can't do enough to protect Matthew Stafford. Fisher will hold down the blindside, while Reiff can move either opposite him or over to guard.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Snagging a pass-rusher would be ideal as well, and that will make it difficult to pass on Dion Jordan at this spot.
Having said that, the combination of Milliner and Joe Haden would give the Browns the most exciting young duo of corners in the league. This is a golden opportunity for Cleveland, who has been too insistent on trading back in the draft in recent years.
Milliner is clearly the best defensive back in this class, and Ray Horton has an exotic enough scheme to generate pressure without adding another pass-rusher here. New GM Mike Lombardi doesn't have a pick in Round 2, and Milliner is a safe, smart pick here.
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Newly acquired QB Carson Palmer desperately needs help up front to keep him safe. Johnson is a cerebral, athletic tackle who shouldn't have any trouble picking up protection schemes thanks to his background as a former quarterback.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
That whole talk of a Super Bowl by Kevin Kolb—it's nice, but the Bills won't win a ring as long as he's under center.
Smith is a game-changing type of prospect, albeit a polarizing one. His athleticism and explosive arm combined with the running game spearheaded by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson would give Buffalo a much needed lift in an attempt to stay relevant in the AFC East.
Although he didn't run much with the Mountaineers, Smith's 4.59 speed in the 40-yard dash proves he's capable of running the zone-read option. The Bills should take advantage of that league-wide trend to inject life back into the franchise.
9. New York Jets (6-10): Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
This might be wishful thinking, and Rex Ryan will be shocked and thrilled if Jordan falls to him here. In the Jets' attacking 3-4 defense, Jordan would be a nightmare coming off the edge as a pass-rusher. He also has the ability to cover tight ends and slot receivers adequately.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
To give Chris Johnson more space between the tackles, the Titans decide to pull the trigger on Warmack. Free-agent acquisition Andy Levitre is second nearly to no one in pass-blocking, while Warmack will be a nice complement as a mauler when Tennessee pounds the rock.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Cooper's pass protection is outstanding, and that is the top area of need for San Diego with three franchise left tackles off the board. Philip Rivers has been a turnover machine the past two seasons, and Cooper will help put his mind at ease by giving him a cleaner pocket to operate within.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Since Randy Starks and Paul Soliai are both free agents following the 2013 season, it couldn't hurt the Dolphins to fortify the interior of their defensive line. Richardson is extremely quick off the ball and takes great pursuit angles, which should help him see the field immediately as a rookie.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Remaining in the Sunshine State turns out to be wonderful for Rhodes, who will instantly start for the NFL's worst reigning pass defense. Getting pressure on the quarterback was a problem, but Rhodes' physicality and potential are too much to pass up here with plenty of DEs available in Round 2.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Some may argue that Patterson is too raw to go this high with just one year of experience with the Volunteers in the thick of SEC competition. But my, was it ever an impressive display.
Patterson is sensational in the open field, with strong hands, great speed and can also be a return threat. Concerns linger as to whether Patterson can pick up an NFL playbook adequately as a rookie, but he has too much talent not to be strongly considered here.
The Panthers need to alleviate some pressure on QB Cam Newton by giving him a valuable new weapon in this landmark season for head coach Ron Rivera. A playoff appearance is essentially a must. Otherwise, a regime change is likely to take place next offseason.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
One of the premier boom-or-bust prospects, it only makes sense that an aggressive man like Rob Ryan would get the chance to coach up Mingo in his 3-4 defense. Mingo's explosive first step and inside move give him instant double-digit sack potential, but his development could see him become so much more.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The 5'8" slot dynamo caught over 100 passes in his final two seasons with the Mountaineers, and should make life much easier for former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. The QB hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but Austin's projected dependability should help him get there.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Learning from the likes of Lamarr Woodley will be invaluable to Jones, and he could definitely fill in as an instant starter on the opposite outside linebacker position. There aren't many better franchises to develop within, and Dick LeBeau's defense is ideal for Jones' abilities.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Pairing up ex-Steeler Will Allen and Vaccaro would give the Cowboys the necessary viable safety tandem to play Monte Kiffin's 4-3, Tampa 2 defense effectively. Vaccaro is a hard hitter that can also play blanket coverage, making him a potential asset as an extra corner in nickel and dime packages.
19. New York Giants (9-7): D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
This is the final year of RT David Diehl's contract, and Fluker is extremely physical and went through a very strong program with the Crimson Tide. He will eventually fill in as a franchise right tackle, whether it's this year or in 2014.
20. Chicago Bears (10-6): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Ogletree played inside in college and has the playmaking ability to start immediately in the NFL. The former Bulldog started his career in Athens as a safety, and will be able to match up in man-to-man coverage because of that.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Matt Elam, S, Florida
There aren't many terribly pressing needs for Cincinnati, but an upgrade to the safety position would be ideal. Elam's ability to bring the wood and also play stellar coverage would be an improvement over either Reggie Nelson or Taylor Mays.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
So how about this: a wonderful secondary that features Cortland Finnegan (Samford), Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama) and Cyprien. Head coach Jeff Fisher was a former pro defensive back and seems to have a knack for molding small school players into Pro Bowl-caliber standouts.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
With Antoine Winfield officially gone, the Vikings should use one of their two first-round selections at cornerback. Trufant is the best prospect available at this juncture, and he'll be expected to do big things right away in an NFC North division featuring explosive passing attacks from all of Minnesota's opponents.
24. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Keenan Allen, WR, California
Giving Andrew Luck another weapon couldn't possibly hurt. Allen has the size to line up outside and be a viable red-zone target and can also be effective in the slot. Darrius Heyward-Bey is an intriguing free-agent pickup, but has never lived up to his billing as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks): Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Hunter is the second Volunteer receiver to be taken, and his 6'4", 200-pound frame gives Christian Ponder a big target on the outside. Although drops are somewhat of a concern, Hunter has the upside to be a No. 1 option, and has Greg Jennings opposite him to set up favorable matchups.
26. Green Bay Packers (12-4): Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Aaron Rodgers desperately needs a running game to provide balance to the Green Bay offense. The Packers don't have a true No. 1 back on the roster, and Lacy's power will give them an emphatic answer for that void.
27. Houston Texans (12-4): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Hopkins managed to outshine talented Tiger teammate Sammy Watkins this past season and could easily be a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Andre Johnson. That is a big part of what is keeping the Texans from taking the next step, and Johnson's health is always a bit of a concern.
28. Denver Broncos (13-3): Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
With the departure of Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos suddenly have a need for a pass-rusher. Werner presents wonderful value at this juncture of the draft, and his stout build and athleticism give him the chance to make an immediate impact.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Offense isn't the problem for the Patriots, so defense needs to be the focus of this draft. Williams would be a wonderful fit on the inside along with Vince Wilfork, and would open up edge-rushing opportunities for Rob Ninkovich and promising second-year DE Chandler Jones. The addition of veteran Tommy Kelly will also help accelerate Williams' development.
30. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez is coming back for one more year, but the Falcons eventually need to address this position. Considering the value of tight ends in NFL passing games in the modern era, nabbing Eifert at No. 30 is an absolute steal.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Adding depth to the defensive line should be GM Trent Baalke's top priority, with Justin Smith aging and Ricky Jean-Francois leaving in free agency. Hunt is a project player to be sure, but he's a physical specimen that can make an impression even as a pure bull-rusher in his maiden NFL campaign.
32. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
With Ray Lewis retired and Dannell Ellerbe gone, the Ravens could use some help in the heart of their 3-4 defense. Minter was a flat-out stud in his only season starting for the Tigers, and should be well-prepared for the jump to the pros. This adds instant insurance in the event that the short-term signing of Rolando McClain doesn't pan out well.