NFL Mock Draft 2013: Final Predictions for Thursday Night's Opening Round
With just one day before 2013 NFL mock drafts are irrelevant forever (unless it's time to correct your mistakes, of course), all that's left for the 32 teams involved on Thursday night is to make their picks.
It's been a wild NFL offseason, complete with players changing teams to old rivals (Wes Welker, Elvis Dumervil, James Harrison), franchise tags that have surprised us all (Branden Albert) and draft analysis that hovers on the weak side when looking at the projected field.
Like many media personalties over the past three months, this mock draft will look nothing like the one that was done back when Geno Smith was a lock at No. 1 and the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings didn't have two first-rounders.
That being the case, it's still extremely difficult to peg how teams will respond to the board in the first round.
When prospects fall out of their projected spot and others go well higher than expected, it changes things considerably for the rest of the round. Don't believe me? Check out ESPN's 30 for 30 film, "Elway to Marino," which chronicles both the unpredictability and craziness of a draft with a look back at the 1983 selection process.
In 2013, we're all set to see teams make or break their futures with the right (or wrong) choices. With that in mind, here's a look at my final mock draft, and how I see the first round shaking out.
1. Kansas City Chiefs—OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
It's not the flashiest pick of all time, and certainly won't have fans clamoring for more decisions like this one from Andy Reid and new management.
However, with Alex Smith now under center and Reid's offense in need of a true playmaker at the left tackle position, this marriage has been one of safest picks Reid can make with respect to turning things around in Kansas City without taking a huge gamble on talent.
I still see the Chiefs being active in trade talks until the final timer sounds, but without a clear-cut favorite to grace this position I doubt a deal gets done. Expect Joeckel to be a Chief early on Thursday evening.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars—DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller sees Geno Smith being the choice for the Jaguars here, in large part because Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert aren't going to fill seats in Jacksonville next season—even if the new uniforms are a start (h/t ESPN).
That being said, there're few players that can have the defensive impact right away that Jordan will along the Jacksonville front seven, making him the clear choice here if the Jags want to attack the necessity of fixing some of the defensive woes.
Like Kansas City, the Jaguars will have a chance to trade down—especially to teams looking for offensive line help—but taking the best defensive player on their board is probably a better option, unless a trade is simply overwhelming.
3. Oakland Raiders—DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Yet again, we find ourselves with a trade-down target in the top three.
Let that tell you something about how evenly distributed the talent is in the 2013 NFL draft.
Still, the Raiders have a major hole to fill on their defensive line. The loss of two starters (Desmond Bryant and Richard Seymour) leaves Dennis Allen with a big hole right up front, as a former defensive coach in New Orleans he knows how important finding a quality DT is.
Enter Floyd, the Florida prospect capable of playing in the A-gap or sliding down and creating matchup problems for weaker guards and slower tackles in the B-gap. That kind of versatility is hard to pass up, making Floyd a smart choice for new general manager Reggie McKenzie.
4. Philadelphia Eagles—OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
With the first OT (Joeckel) off the board, teams are going to pay a premium to add the next one. That would be Eric Fisher, the four-year man from Central Michigan who has really come on since performing well at both the NFL combine and Senior Bowl.
Chip Kelly loves his QBs, but he also knows how vital it is to have an offensive line to win games. Watching game tape of Michael Vick getting torn apart like a rag doll during the 2012 season, Kelly confidently takes Fisher and inserts him at the blind-side spot to help curb some of that this year.
5. Detroit Lions—OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
In what will become known as the year of the offensive tackle, Lane Johnson of Oklahoma comes off the board next.
The Lions have a huge contract under center in Matthew Stafford, and protecting that investment is vital after he signed one of the last major rookie contracts as the No. 1 pick. While Detroit has a need in the secondary and another one trying to find a top pass-rusher, keeping the injury-prone Stafford healthy trumps the rest of the board at this pick.
6. Cleveland Browns—CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
Expect the Browns to seriously consider a trade here, most likely with the New York Jets or San Diego Chargers, both desperate to add the best player at a position of need before other teams can.
For the Jets, adding a guy like Milliner to replace the recently traded Darrelle Revis would be a good use of the No. 9 or 13 pick, while San Diego would part with No. 11 if it meant they could take one of the two top guards (Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper) here.
That being said, the Browns wouldn't hurt from an upgrade across from Joe Haden, and adding a fellow SEC prospect would give Cleveland the potential to have one of the best defenses in the AFC—its biggest crutch during a recent playoff dry streak.
The one red flag? A report from ESPN's Adam Schefter claiming Milliner has had five surgeries to repair various aspects of injuries that have bothered him since leaving Alabama. We'll see if that affects any team's thinking.
7. Arizona Cardinals—DE/OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
The Cardinals are in a bad spot here, largely because the offensive tackles that GM Steve Keim wants to select are all off the board at this point.
It's too early to draft D.J. Fluker, and to take a guard at No. 7 with the best available defensive tackle still on the board might be too much to ask of management.
In Ansah, the Cardinals would have an insurance policy for Sam Acho and Lorenzo Washington, and he would be able to use his potential as a 3-4 OLB to wreak havoc for a defense suddenly without long-time defensive coordinator Ray Horton (gone to Cleveland).
8. Buffalo Bills—QB Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
The first QB selected in the NFL draft—Ryan Nassib?
ESPN's Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and Jon Gruden all have Nassib as the top QB on their mock drafts (the last fact courtesy of Chris McPherson of PhiladelphiaEagles.com), and that makes the Bills the most likely team to take the young man when No. 8 rolls around.
A connection to his college coach—Doug Marrone, who is now the head coach at Buffalo—makes the Bills and Nassib seem like the right choice at this point in time.
9. New York Jets—DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
The heart condition that cost Lotulelei a workout at the combine and probably a top-five pick hasn't kept him out of the first round.
In fact, it won't keep him out of the top 10.
Cleared as a heart patient in the normal range earlier in the draft process (h/t Lya Wodraska of The Salt Lake Tribune), the Jets should have no problem scooping him up and inserting him in the middle of their defense. With two picks to play with, the Jets can afford to take a chance here, but by watching the game tape at Utah there isn't much of a chance with one of the best defensive players on the board.
10. Tennessee Titans—OG Chance Warmack, Tennessee
Chris Johnson needs a blocker in front of him to clear up some of the congestion that led to a 4.5 yards per carry average last year, and Warmack fits the bill.
In Tennesee's zone-blocking scheme, Warmack would be able to use his brute strength to command the line of scrimmage while also being able to knock out linebackers and downhill rushers just in time for Johnson to make one cut and go.
It's what makes the Titans offense work, and adding Warmack helps accomplish that end game.
11. San Diego Chargers—OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
San Diego might feel the need to trade up to get a player of the future in this draft, but there's a good chance it will have one if the choice at No. 11 is Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina.
There's been a clear back-and-forth between Cooper and Warmack as the top two guards in this class, and to be honest, both look poised to create holes for running backs and eliminate stunts in the middle of the offensive line.
San Diego certainly needs an upgrade both at tackle and guard, and after losing Louis Vasquez to the Broncos there's a spot to be claimed right away. Cooper or Warmack claim that spot when Roger Goodell announces the No. 11 pick.
12. Miami Dolphins—OT D.J. Fluker, Alabama
While it might be a little high, D.J. Fluker is a quality prospect who should help stabilize a line now absent of its best player (Jake Long, who bolted to St. Louis).
Some see the big right tackle as a mainstay at that position for years to come, while others love his big frame as a prototypical guard. Either way, putting together the best possible line in front of second-year pro Ryan Tannehill is a major key for the Dolphins when the draft is over.
13. New York Jets (via Tampa Bay)—QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
If you listen to NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah talk about Geno Smith, you won't get many answers.
If you enjoy a long pause during a phone call, ask any NFL executive to predict when Geno Smith is going to get drafted. #NoClue— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 21, 2013
That's how unpredictable this draft has been to try and predict, and that includes finding a home for a guy that was, at one time, the most stable lock at the top of the draft there was.
The Jets weren't able to unload Mark Sanchez to Tampa Bay in the Darrelle Revis trade, but that doesn't change the fact that the position was less than productive during the 2012 season. Rex Ryan can stand behind Sanchez all he wants—that won't save his job this year.
Making a splash with the second pick will. By taking Smith, the Jets can cut ties with Sanchez and Tim Tebow and allow Smith and Greg McElroy to duke it out for the starting job.
14. Carolina Panthers—DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Struggling to find a consistent force in the middle of its defense, Carolina really can't go wrong with Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson on draft night.
Like Joeckel, this isn't a flashy pick, but a guy with a Big 12 and now SEC pedigree who totaled over 70 tackles last season as a defensive lineman is hard to find. Much respect to the top-two tackles in this draft, but Richardson could wind up being a steal at No. 14.
15. New Orleans Saints—DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
The Saints need a game-changer on their defense.
With Rob Ryan in town and the move to the 3-4 defense expected to commence when minicamps begin this summer, New Orleans needs a guy it can let loose and get to the QB on the outside of the defense.
That's where Barkevious Mingo comes in.
One of the most feared pass-rushers in the SEC over the past two seasons, Mingo's length, athleticism and ability to get to the QB have him penciled in as a first-round lock (if there is such a thing this year). He's too talented to slip out of the first 32 picks, but is also a bit raw to play all three downs.
He won't have to in New Orleans, and Ryan gets a guy he can move all over the formation in his first year of installing this defense.
16. St. Louis Rams—WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
There's chatter that Austin may wind up well above the No. 16 spot, but it's hard to envision the Rams taking anyone other than the multitalented skill position player from West Virginia at this spot.
Just weeks removed from seeing Danny Amendola bolt for New England, St. Louis can add another dynamic player in the slot, on the outside and even in the backfield with Austin, who should have no problem doing everything in his first year with the Rams.
Additionally, it gives Sam Bradford a security blanket he's never really had during his first few years with the team.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers—OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Pittsburgh is a team that evaluates talent extremely well.
It's done so for years, and a great example of that was drafting David DeCastro last year in the 20s after many passed on the guard because of injury concerns. Heading into next season, DeCastro will be a starter at the position—maybe even for years to come.
Taking a similar risk in this draft, taking Jarvis Jones will be a tough decision. His career speaks for itself, and winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award generally makes you the top college defender on the planet, in most cases.
Adding Jones to the mix would be huge for Pittsburgh to avoid losing anymore talent on D, and also sets them up to address offensive positions of need (QB, WR, TE) in the next few rounds.
18. Dallas Cowboys—DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Dallas is in an interesting spot, particularly because the players that Jerry Jones should and will be targeting will likely all be gone by the time he picks at No. 18.
One of those players could be Williams, a solid DT from UNC who would provide Monte Kiffin with a bolster in the middle of the defense. Jay Ratliff is a question mark in terms of his position and Josh Brent isn't anywhere near the team right now (h/t ESPN Dallas).
That being said, the Cowboys are probably the team picking in this range that would benefit from trading back the most, in part because there are different holes (DT, S, OL, DE) to fill in this draft, and Dallas can't afford to miss if it wants to remain in contention in 2013.
19. New York Giants—CB Xavier Rhodes, Mississippi State
The Giants had a frustrating season in 2012, and there are looming questions on the offensive side of the ball (offensive line, signing Victor Cruz) that will have to be addressed before camp breaks.
That being said, secondary was a clear point of frustration last season, and affected the way the Giants played down the stretch, in large part because injuries riddled the unit.
By taking Rhodes with their first-round pick, the Giants can avoid any pitfall from reaching for a tackle that isn't ready or stretching the boundaries of which defensive end can help solve the pass-rushing woes. In addition, Rhodes has all the skills to contribute right away.
20. Chicago Bears—LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Chicago needs an impact player in the middle of its defense, and like New York, there's little need to reach on an offensive tackle when there are other holes that can be filled.
One of those holes is at linebacker, where the Bears suddenly became one of the oldest teams in the league at the position in 2012. Brian Urlacher is headed elsewhere, and that leaves the middle spot to be taken by someone else.
Enter Brown, who totaled over 200 tackles in his final two seasons under Bill Snyder, and has the sideline-to-sideline ability to chase ball-carriers down in the open field. He looks a little undersized on film, but his speed and instincts are bar-none.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—OT Menelik Watson, Florida State
Anticipating that Andre Smith heads for a new team after the draft is over, the Bengals can't afford to get flippant with their first-round pick.
That makes Watson, once regarded as a second-rounder, an option for the Bengals at No. 21, specifically because the gap at the tackle position might be enough to where you won't find a starter on Day 2 or 3.
If you're a team like the Bengals, expected to be the favorites in the AFC North when the season begins, you can't leave it up to chance.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins)—S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Vaccaro has been all over draft boards over the past few weeks, ranging from the top 15 and New Orleans all the way down to the New England Patriots in some mock drafts.
Splitting the difference between those two picks, the Rams take Vaccaro at No. 22, and make good on the trade from Washington a season earlier that netted the Redskins Robert Griffin III.
He might not be the most talented safety on the board, but he is one of the hardest hitters, and is a solid defender in coverage against bigger receivers. He helps the Rams in a division where big, physical receivers (Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Sidney Rice, Larry Fitzgerald) are all over the place.
23. Minnesota Vikings—CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
While it might be considered a free fall for some, Trufant winds up being available at No. 23 in this mock, and that makes the Vikings a happy team when looking at their secondary.
While I've maintained that the addition of Greg Jennings doesn't spell the end to Minnesota taking a receiver here, Trufant dropping this far is too hard to ignore. He helps the defense in a division where you see Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler two times a year, and you didn't have to trade up to get him.
Receiver is still a need, in my opinion, but Jennings, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson and the return of Greg Childs isn't a bad start. Throw in Kyle Rudolph, and maybe the Vikings can avoid a receiver until a later round, after all.
24. Indianapolis Colts—DE Tank Carradine, Florida State
When the draft process bega, Carradine's teammate, Bjoern Werner, gathered far more interest as a first-round pick than he did, in large part because of injury concerns while at Florida State.
Now, though, Carradine is a legit first-round candidate, ahead of Werner and has enough buzz around his pass-rushing abilities to be considered in the top 15 (h/t Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports):
With many pass rushers dropping, Tank Carradine still generating buzz from recent workout. Saints seem quite intrigued among others— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 22, 2013
That in mind, the Colts nab Carradine and put him where Dwight Freeney no longer hails from on the defensive line.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks)—LB Kevin Minter, LSU
Departing Jasper Brinkley leaves a hole in the middle of the Minnesota defense, one that Kevin Minter of LSU could fill immediately. Hailing from one of the best NFL defensive schools in the nation, Minter has the pedigree and coaching to make an immediate impact.
Again, Minnesota will take a look at the receiving corps. Cordarrelle Patterson has generated buzz as a WR the Vikings could take, as has Keenan Allen, but adding a starter on defense could help the Vikings in the playoffs more than a skill position player ever will.
26. Green Bay Packers—S Matt Elam, Florida
Green Bay decided to part ways with Charles Woodson during the offseason, and in doing so opened up the possibilities for this pick to a wide range of candidates.
Teetering back and forth with offensive line, running back and secondary, I've had the Packers taking different players throughout the draft process. Now, picking up a safety appears to be a position that flies with Ted Thompson.
Don't forget—the Packers have had no problem upgrading the offense around Aaron Rodgers through free agency and finding undrafted and late-round steals to fill major positions. On defense, the Packers need to bulk up after a poor performance against San Francisco in the NFC Divisional round, and Elam helps them do that.
27. Houston Texans—WR Keenan Allen, California
How Allen's reported fail drug tests at the combine effect his draft stock are unknown at this point (h/t Adam Schefter):
Keenan Allen, the No. 1-rated WR on some boards, was red-flagged for a drug test at scouting combine in Indy and retested this month.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 16, 2013
That in mind, Allen's injury concerns at California are also there, but he's a legit No. 1 WR candidate slipping down the board because of a few minor blips on his resume. If he interviewed well with the Texans and other teams, expect the early concerns to float away.
Houston is in the market for a top-line receiver in this draft. Allen fits the bill, and when paired with a healthy Andre Johnson, Houston's offense could take on a dimension extremely tough to stop next season.
28. Denver Broncos—DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Peyton Manning got all the help he needed on offense this season with Wes Welker, but the defense could use some bolstering after the Elvis Dumervil contract fiasco and the middle of the defense in need of a facelift.
One way to accomplish the run portion of the defensive scheming would be to add Hankins, one of the most immovable objects in the 2013 draft. He was a force at Ohio State, and made his presence felt on early downs.
He probably isn't a three-down option right away, but in terms of playing on first and second down and giving Denver linebackers free reign to run down running backs, there aren't many DTs better than Hankins at this spot in the draft.
29. New England Patriots—WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Randy Moss might not be hiding in this draft, but if he is, Justin Hunter is hiding as the one-time first-rounder as a junior from Tennessee.
As a downfield threat and athlete with an incredible talent for going up and getting the ball, Hunter would provide Tom Brady with relief as a downfield option while opening things up for Amendola and the two tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) in the middle of the field.
Hunter might not last to No. 29, but he's the kind of raw talent that the Patriots can turn into a star with the right QB. Luckily, the right QB wears No. 12 in New England.
30. Atlanta Falcons—DE Margus Hunt, SMU
Hailing from a different country entirely, Hunt's journey to the SMU track team and then on to the football field is really quite a story.
As a football prospect, there aren't many who had him pegged as a first-round prospect entering his senior season.
That's exactly what the 6'8" defensive end is at the bottom of the first round, and he could help the Falcons right away with the impending departure of John Abraham. From being a physical presence in the running game to being a J.J. Watt-like force in finding the ball in the air, Hunt could be a steal at the bottom of the first round.
31. San Francisco 49ers—S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
Cyprien might be the third safety taken in this mock, but he's a player that continues to impress scouts and draw buzz as the draft process winds down.
A smart player with a heady pedigree despite being at a smaller Florida school, Cyprien makes his presence felt in the box, and with the right coaching he could be a quality zone defender in the right scheme.
The 49ers on the short list of teams looking to upgrade the safety position, and Cyprien would be a gift at this spot after Elam and Vaccaro go off the board.
32. Baltimore Ravens—LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
And finally, we come to Manti Te'o.
Fluctuating up and down the board every week, Te'o was once a top-10 pick destined for NFL glory. While that path still affords itself to every player that gets selected in an April draft, Te'o's path to stardom does not include being a top-10 pick.
That might make no difference to his career outlook, especially when you consider how desperate Baltimore is for LB depth after watching Ray Lewis retire and signing Rolando McClain only to see the young former first-rounder get arrested earlier this week (h/t ESPN).
With the need for a star to help transition this defense into a new era, Ozzie Newsome has no problem taking the Notre Dame star and inserting him into the middle of the defense. It might not be where we expected Te'o to go, but it's a good place for his football career.
Unexpected seems to be the theme of this draft, so prepare for a wild Thursday night in New York City as the draft kicks off.
*Stay tuned to all the NFL draft action by keeping up with Bleacher Report during the three-day festival that is the draft.
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