Things are only beginning to heat up. The next several days are going to get a little bumpy.
Everything we’ve heard about this year’s NFL draft will be turned on its head in the days leading up to the first round on Thursday night. While a lot of rumors and groupthink have already been accepted as facts, there’s really no telling what will happen when the selection process begins.
Potential trades, new information about prospects and hefty doses of misinformation will undoubtedly shake up the first several rounds of the draft. Cutting through the clutter to project the first round will be no easy task.
Still, there’s a lot of value in projecting where this year’s top talent will land. We may not have access to teams’ draft boards and selection plans, but there’s always inherent value in matching value, team needs and schematic fit to predict the perfect draft picks.
In this final-week mock draft, we’ll break down picks that incorporate all of those factors, highlighting some picks that may go against the grain of common draft beliefs. Let’s take a look at the latest projections for the first round.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT Texas A&M
The first pick has been one of the hardest to nail down this offseason, but Luke Joeckel now appears to be the most likely candidate to join Kansas City. Unless something massive surfaces before Thursday, Joeckel is the overwhelming favorite to be selected No. 1 overall.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
David Caldwell needs to be careful with this selection. Jacksonville hasn’t had a lot of success in the early rounds of the draft in recent years.
By selecting Oregon’s Dion Jordan, the Jaguars can get a high-upside player who also has the versatility to play multiple positions in multiple schemes. There’s very little potential for this to ultimately be a bad choice at No. 2.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Like Jacksonville, Oakland has struggled to make smart decisions in the first round of recent drafts. Reggie McKenzie is now at the helm, though, and he’ll be looking to add a player who can be an immediate starter and potential elite defender.
Sharrif Floyd is an ideal fit in a one-gap scheme as an interior pass-rusher. Given his size, strength and explosiveness off the snap, Floyd has the potential to be a major impact player on the interior of Oakland’s defensive line.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Eagles may consider Eric Fisher or Dee Milliner here (as well as a number of pass-rushers), but Star Lotulelei offers a ton of value and gives them a piece around which they can build in the transition to a 3-4 front.
Lotulelei can play in nearly any system, but he projects well as a two-gap lineman at either nose tackle or defensive end. That versatility will appeal to Billy Davis, who will likely employ multiple fronts with Philadelphia’s new-look defense.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
With Jeff Backus retiring and Gosder Cherilus signing with the Colts in free agency, the Lions have to solidify their offensive tackle positions. Detroit drafted Riley Reiff in the first round last year, but he hasn’t shown enough to be considered a lock to start at left tackle in 2013.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Cleveland is in prime position to trade back and acquire more draft picks here, but draft-day trades are never easy to predict. As it stands, Alabama’s Dee Milliner is the most logical selection.
The Browns shored up their pass rush in the offseason, but they still need a quality corner to play opposite Joe Haden. Milliner can be that guy, and he has the potential to be a lockdown defender at the NFL level.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Things will get a little dicey if Cleveland trades out of No. 6 (considering any team involved would likely be targeting Lane Johnson). Should the draft order remain unchanged to this point, Arizona would be wise to select Johnson and solidify the left end of an offensive line that was among the worst in the league in 2012.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Geno Smith’s landing spot is one of the most difficult to project at this point. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how valued the signal-caller is to teams selecting at the top of the draft.
If Smith is still available at No. 8, Buffalo has to seriously consider locking up the potential franchise quarterback. Kevin Kolb can be a stop-gap option to facilitate a smooth transition for Smith, but Kolb is by no means a long-term option in Buffalo.
9. New York Jets: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Jets’ pass-rush notched just 30 sacks in 2012, ranking it among the worst in the league in that department. With quarterback being an unlikely option here, New York would be wise to lock up one of the best pass-rushers in this class.
Jarvis Jones isn’t incredibly fast, but he has the pass-rushing ability, instincts and adequate cover skills to be a quality three-down linebacker. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and Barkevious Mingo could all be options here, but Jones makes the most sense at No. 9.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Tennessee added Andy Levitre in free agency, but Steve Hutchinson retired and it still needs to strengthen its interior offensive line. For Chris Johnson to shake the inconsistency that has plagued him in recent years, the Titans have to continue building in the trenches.
11. San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
San Diego should be considered a prime candidate to move up in the first round. Offensive line has to be a priority for Tom Telesco as he attempts to revitalize the Chargers offense, and there won’t be many (if any) top-tier linemen still on the board at No. 11.
Should Telesco stand pat and Jonathan Cooper is still on the board, it makes sense to lock down the North Carolina product. He has the talent and versatility to play multiple positions along the offensive line and solidify a unit that struggled in 2012.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
If the Dolphins don’t deal for an offensive tackle before the draft, they too may be likely players to move up in the first round.
Miami needs to continue adding to its secondary, though, and Xavier Rhodes would be a wise selection. If the Dolphins decide to remain at No. 12, expect the Florida State defender to be at the top of their draft board.
13. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Darrelle Revis saga is over, and Tampa Bay got its No. 1 cornerback. In doing so, the Bucs had to surrender their No. 1 pick this year, as reported by ESPN.
With an extra first-round pick, the Jets now have the option of drafting an elite offensive playmaker to take some pressure off Mark Sanchez in the passing game. Tavon Austin is a tremendous slot receiver who can turn a short pass into a big play, and he's exactly the type of receiver Sanchez needs to get the Jets offense back on track.
14. Carolina Panthers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Chris Gamble’s retirement leaves a big hole at cornerback. The Panthers will likely be considering a number of cornerbacks at No. 14. With Milliner and Rhodes already off the board, Desmond Trufant becomes the most likely option.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The Saints are transitioning to a 3-4 with Rob Ryan in town, and they need more pieces to make it work. Finding some quality pass-rushers has to be a big priority.
Barkevious Mingo has the athleticism to be a top-10 pick on Day 1, but he’s still incredibly raw. His potential outweighs his shortcomings, though, and a pick in the top 15 won’t surprise anyone. Mingo has the upside to be a tremendous outside linebacker in the NFL.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Sam Bradford needs some new targets, especially with Danny Amendola now in New England. Patterson will have to be an enticing option here.
The Tennessee product is still a little raw in his route-running abilities, but he has the size and speed to be a nightmare for NFL defenders. With a little polish, Patterson has the potential to be an elite receiver at the next level.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Steelers don’t typically throw their draft picks into the fire early in their careers. Dick LeBeau loves to develop his new defenders behind established starters, and Kenny Vaccaro could be the next first-round pick to see a backup role in Pittsburgh.
That’s not a bad thing, though. Vaccaro still needs a little polish, but he could easily see some playing time in 2013. Given the durability concerns of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, it makes sense the Steelers would look to add some depth at the safety position early in this draft.
18. Dallas Cowboys: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Dallas’ offensive line has been its weakest unit in recent years. If the Cowboys hope to solidify their running game and keep Tony Romo on his feet, they need to start addressing their offensive line in the early rounds. D.J. Fluker is the best available offensive lineman, and he has the versatility to play right tackle or either guard position almost immediately.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Ezekiel Ansah’s inexperience may force a bit of a slide on Day 1. He has the physical tools to be a top-10 pick, but it will take a lot of polish for the BYU product to be a plug-and-play starter.
Still, New York needs a pass-rushing defensive end to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul, and the value here is tremendous. Ansah likely won’t make it into the 20s on draft day.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
Brian Urlacher’s departure leaves a big hole at the middle linebacker position. If Alec Ogletree is still available at No. 20, there’s little reason for the Bears to look elsewhere.
A former safety, Ogletree has the cover skills to fit well in a Cover 2-heavy defensive scheme. He excels in drop-zone coverage and has the speed, athleticism and agility to also be a quality sideline-to-sideline defender.
If the Georgia product can add some bulk, he has the potential to be a tremendous middle linebacker in the Bears’ 4-3 defense.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Andre Smith is a free agent and there’s nothing to suggest Cincinnati will be willing to give him the money he expects from a new contract (per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer). If the Bengals let Smith walk, they will need to find a replacement in this draft.
Right tackles aren’t typically coveted early in the draft, but the Bengals don’t have a ton of holes to fill. In addition, Menelik Watson has the potential to slide to the left side in the future should Cincinnati need him at the position.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
With the wide receiver position already having been addressed (for now), the Rams can look to fill another of their big needs. St. Louis has vacancies at both safety positions, and Jonathan Cyprien has the range, speed and aggressiveness to fill either of them.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The Clemson product isn't especially big or fast, but he runs excellent routes and has the strong hands to go up in traffic and come down with the football. He'll be an excellent complement to Jennings at the Z-receiver position.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Ryan Grigson prefers the best-play-available approach to drafting, and he won't have to look very far to find that player at No. 24. Missouri's Sheldon Richardson is a tremendous talent who may slide a bit on draft day due to the depth of this draft class.
Richardson has the length and strong anchor to be a terrific two-gap defender. With the Colts now employing a 3-4 front, they need to find a couple pieces to fill in the holes. Richardson would be a great fit at defensive end, shoring up one of those positional needs.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle): Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
The Vikings have a lot of options with their two first-round picks. Wide receiver will be a priority with one of them, but they also need to fill some holes at linebacker and cornerback.
With the top three corners already off the board, Minnesota may be forced to wait until the second round to find a replacement for Antoine Winfield. Instead, the Vikings can select an immediate starter who can play either middle or weak-side linebacker.
26. Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Most of Green Bay’s needs lie on the defensive side of the ball. Safety, cornerback, outside linebacker and defensive end should all be in play here.
If Ted Thompson takes value into account, there aren’t many players more likely to be drafted here than Florida’s Matt Elam. He has the size, range and elite hitting ability to be an immediate impact player at the strong safety position.
27. Houston Texans: Keenan Allen, WR, California
Houston is without a second option next to Andre Johnson, and finding that receiving threat for Matt Schaub has to be a priority in Round 1.
Keenan Allen has some big question marks heading into the draft, but there will likely be a team willing to gamble on his talent. Despite his lack of elite straight-line speed, the California product runs exceptional routes and has all the polish NFL teams look for in a plug-and-play receiver.
28. Denver Broncos: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State
An ACL tear sustained in 2012 could potentially limit Tank Carradine’s draft stock, but there’s little chance he falls out of the first round. The Florida State defensive end is among the best pass-rushers in this draft class. Denver could certainly use one after losing Elvis Dumervil in free agency.
29. New England Patriots: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The Patriots lost out on Emmanuel Sanders when Pittsburgh matched his offer sheet, but that situation highlights New England’s desire to bolster its receiver corps this offseason.
If Bill Belichick is interested in finding a downfield weapon for Tom Brady, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter will have to be a strong possibility here. Allen is more refined, but Hunter has the speed and size to be a legitimate outside threat in the NFL.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Falcons did some house cleaning this offseason in releasing John Abraham, Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson. They added Osi Umenyiora in free agency, but the Falcons still need another pass-rushing option opposite him. If Werner falls this far in the first round (as some are predicting), Atlanta won't have to look very far for Abraham's replacement.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
With a slew of selections in this draft, the 49ers can add both depth and starting talent in the early rounds. Jesse Williams will provide both.
The Alabama defensive lineman played in a 3-4 under Nick Saban, and he has experience at both nose tackle and defensive end. San Francisco could use depth at both positions, and Williams also has the potential to earn a starting role in the very near future.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Reid, S, LSU
Baltimore has plenty of options with this pick, but it's hard to nail down which one it will choose. Safety, linebacker, receiver and cornerback could all be in play at the end of the first round.
There's a good chance the Ravens move back into the second round should the right offer present itself, but that's the kind of trade that would develop late on Day 1. As it stands, LSU's Eric Reid would have to be a strong consideration.