It is here. The NFL draft is here.
Christmas is cool and birthdays are fun, but no single day on the calendar stands above the first day of the NFL draft. My apologies to March Madness.
While the 2013 NFL draft may lack star power at the top, there's no shortage of uncertainty. And it's sure to be yet another exciting draft.
Let's take a look at a final first and second-round projection for the 2013 NFL draft.
At No. 1 overall, it's between Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher. Both players will likely be successful at the NFL level, but I think Joeckel winds up being the pick.
There are three tackles that could go in the top five, but all three are very different players. Rumors suggest some personnel guys within the Chiefs' organization prefer Fisher over Joeckel, so this could be a waiting game until they're at the podium with their pick.
It's hard to see through the smoke in the week leading up to the draft. But if you believe all the pre-draft rumors, then the Jaguars are seriously considering an offensive tackle with the second pick.
Considering they already have a solid left tackle in Eugene Monroe, I think new head coach Gus Bradley looks for a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. Dion Jordan is the best defender in the draft.
The Oakland Raiders should do everything in their power to move down, add some picks and still find an impact player with their first selection. But if they can't move back, they have to take Sharrif Floyd.
If I'm taking a defensive tackle in the top ten, I want a Warren Sapp-type player with some pass rush ability. Floyd has a much higher ceiling than Star Lotulelei.
It sounds like the Eagles have narrowed it down to an offensive tackle or Tavon Austin. While I think Austin could end up being the best offensive player from this draft, the No. 4 pick may be a little too high for a slot receiver.
If Eric Fisher slides to the fourth pick, he's a home run for the Eagles. Pairing Fisher with Jason Peters would allow Todd Herremans to kick inside to guard.
Which front line do the Lions address at No. 5? They could add a pass rusher like Ziggy Ansah to help fill the void left by Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, or they could bolster their offensive line by adding Lane Johnson or Eric Fisher.
Because they have invested so heavily into Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions simply need to improve their offensive line if they want to continue airing it out offensively.
This seems like a trade-down spot to me. If one of the top three offensive tackles is still on the board here, look for the Browns to trade with the San Diego Chargers, which would allow the Chargers to take Lane Johnson, and the Browns could take whoever slides to No. 11.
But if the Browns stay put at No. 6, Dee Milliner makes a lot of sense. But don't be surprised if this is where Geno Smith winds up; he's the wild card.
Arizona seems to be in no-man's land with this pick. They could use help on the offensive line, but the top three tackles are already off the board and No. 7 is too high for either of the top offensive guards.
So with their first pick, the Cardinals will look at the best player available, regardless of position. Ziggy Ansah is raw and inexperienced, but he could develop into a special pass-rushing talent.
I'm not convinced Nassib will go No. 8 overall, but I do think he'll be selected by the Bills as the first quarterback off the board. Look for Buffalo to try and move down to the mid-late first round and take Nassib at that point.
I've had Nassib and Geno Smith ranked closely throughout the draft process, but the fact that Doug Marrone coached Nassib at Syracuse makes all the difference. Nassib over Smith.
It's going to be interesting to see where Austin ends up; he's certainly one of the wild cards at the top of the draft. He's now getting buzz as high as No. 4 to the Philadelphia Eagles, but I think No. 9 to the Jets is a more likely spot for Austin.
The Jets could certainly go defense with this pick, but they are starving for offensive playmakers. Mark Sanchez's job would get a little easier with Austin in the slot.
Cornerback is certainly a need, but I'd be surprised if the Titans don't go offense with this pick. The team is fully committed to Chris Johnson and Jake Locker, so they need to do everything they can to build the team around those two players.
Johnathan Cooper and Chance Warmack will be considered here, but D.J. Fluker makes a lot of sense. Fluker could start at right guard this season and kick out to right tackle next year.
San Diego would love to land a left tackle with their first-round pick, considering Philip Rivers was sacked a career-high 49 times last season. But with Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson already off the board, the Chargers turn to the most versatile lineman available at this point in the draft.
Cooper could step in at guard as a rookie and could be the center of the future if/when the team moves on from Nick Hardwick.
If the board falls like this, things will get interesting. The Dolphins could use some help on the interior of the offensive line, but I think Cooper is a better scheme fit than Warmack, and Cooper went No. 11 in this mock draft.
Miami could look to land a cornerback here like Xavier Rhodes or D.J. Hayden, or they could make a surprise pick by adding Tank Carradine to the defensive line. This could be a surprise pick.
The Jets will consider a pass rusher at No. 9 overall, but they'll have a chance to grab a pass-rushing specialist at No. 13 as well. Chances are either Barkevious Mingo or Jarvis Jones will be available at this spot, and in this scenario, both guys are still on the board.
I'd take Mingo over Jones just because of the medical issues. The Jets traded Darrelle Revis, so what better way to mask the secondary than with a top-flight pass rusher?
Carolina stays put at No. 14 and lands a possible top 10 talent in Lotulelei. Incumbent starters Sione Fua and Dwan Edwards are decent players, but the Panthers have very little depth behind them.
Lotulelei would come in and compete for a starting spot as a rookie, and he'd certainly help improve the team's run defense. If he's off the board at this point, Sheldon Richardson is a logical pick.
The Saints get their wish and see a prototypical 3-4 rush linebacker fall to them at No. 15 overall. If Jones checks out with team doctors, he'd be a slam-dunk at this point. If not, they could grab the draft's top safety, Kenny Vaccaro, or perhaps grab the best available cornerback.
In any case, it'd be a shock if the Saints ignore their defensive woes and use their top pick on the offense.
Last offseason, the Rams went out of their way to bolster their group of cornerbacks. They signed Cortland Finnegan as a free agent before drafting Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
Now, they'll focus on adding a playmaking safety to the secondary. If the Rams have the chance to add Vaccaro, then that defense suddenly looks scary at every level.
After cutting ties with James Harrison, the Steelers would love to get their hands on Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo or any other first-round talent at outside linebacker.
But without any obvious pick on the board at this point, Pittsburgh looks to the offensive side of the ball and grabs Tyler Eifert. Incumbent starter Heath Miller is coming off a season-ending injury, so the team would be wise to try to get younger at the position.
It's hard to imagine Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro getting past the Cowboys at No. 18. If he's still available, expect the Cowboys to sprint to the podium with their pick. But without a safety on the board worth taking at this position, Dallas takes Chance Warmack.
The Cowboys need to add physical run blockers to the offensive line, and Warmack would certainly provide a boost to that department.
The Giants always seem to take the best player available. They didn't necessarily need a running back last year when they took Virginia Tech speedster David Wilson. They didn't need a cornerback a couple years ago when they took Prince Amukamara out of Nebraska.
The Giants already signed Cullen Jenkins this offseason in hopes of bolstering their interior pass rush, but Richardson is simply too good to pass up at No. 19 overall.
It's going to be an odd sight watching the Bears play without No. 54 in the middle of the defense. But with the 20th pick, the Bears will likely have a chance to add the top linebacker in the draft.
Arthur Brown is an animal, capable of playing inside or weak-side linebacker in Chicago's 3-4 scheme. No matter where he ends up, Brown is an early Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in my eyes.
The Bengals are extremely deep at cornerback with last year's first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick across from former first-round pick Leon Hall. Having veterans Terence Newman and Pacman Jones doesn't hurt, either.
But it's time to upgrade the safety position, and that's why they take the No. 2 safety in this year's class--Jonathan Cyprien. He'd be a massive upgrade over workout wonder Taylor Mays.
After landing the draft's top safety (Kenny Vaccaro) with their first pick, the Rams grab perhaps the top linebacker in the draft in Alec Ogletree.
If they add Ogletree, Rams should have a solid defense in 2013, boasting an athletic defensive line, a solid secondary and a trio of linebackers that can play sideline to sideline. Wide receiver is a need, but Ogletree may be too good to pass up.
Reports suggest that the Vikings want to address the wide receiver position early in the 2013 NFL draft. Now, "early" can mean a number of different things depending on who you talk to.
This is an extremely deep class at receiver, meaning the Vikings could probably land a starting-caliber receiver in the second or third round. By adding Jesse Williams to the defensive line, Minnesota's linebackers would be licking their chops.
When it's all said and done, I wouldn't be surprised if D.J. Hayden ends up being the best cornerback from this draft class. NFL Network's Mike Mayock ranks Hayden as his No. 1 player at the position, ahead of Dee Milliner and Xavier Rhodes.
With Vontae Davis already in the fold, Hayden would give the Colts a pair of shutdown man-to-man corners. This is also a potential landing spot for Datone Jones.
After passing on a wide receiver with their first pick, many will expect the Vikings to go that route with their second first-round pick. But considering the value at receiver on Day 2, I think the Vikings would look to address their immediate need at linebacker.
Manti Te'o may never be a star, but he'll likely be a longtime starter at the NFL level. Minnesota could plug him in as the starter next to Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson.
There's a lot of talent on the board for the Packers at No. 26. Under this scenario, I'm sure Ted Thompson will keep one ear on the phone in an attempt to move down. But if they can't move back 5-10 spots, Datone Jones makes a lot of sense if he's still available.
In a perfect world, the Packers' best option in Round 1 would be to add a starting safety at No. 26, but with Vaccaro and Cyprien off the board, they're better off waiting.
I'd be surprised if the Texans don't add a wide receiver early in the draft. Currently relying too heavily on Andre Johnson, the Texans would do well to add the best available receiver on their board.
If Cordarrelle Patterson falls to the end of Round 1, Houston could wind up being the landing spot. The biggest knock on Patterson is his immaturity and unpolished route-running skills, but he'd certainly benefit from playing with Johnson.
After losing Elvis Dumervil in extraordinary fashion, the Broncos will likely look to add a top-notch pass rusher relatively early in the draft. Once considered to be a borderline top-five pick, Bjoern Werner would be a great pick at the bottom of Round 1.
Denver is in win-now mode with Peyton Manning, so they'll try to add as many NFL-ready players as possible as they try to get to the Super Bowl.
As long as Tom Brady is still playing, the Patriots will be among the best teams in football. But in order to get back to their Super Bowl-winning ways, the defense needs to get back to playing at a high level.
Desmond Trufant is a top-15 talent who would be a great pick at No. 29 overall. Some consider Trufant to be the best cornerback in the draft, and the Patriots would do well to grab him with this pick.
Atlanta needs help at cornerback, and Jamar Taylor may be the best on the board. Taylor is a highly skilled man-to-man corner who would step in and fill the void left by departed corners Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes.
It really depends who the Falcons prefer here; it could be Taylor, Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant. It just depends who's available.
When Justin Smith suffered an injury late last season, outside linebacker Aldon Smith and the 49ers defense struggled to play at the same elite level.
Sylvester Williams is a skilled interior lineman capable of playing in either a 4-3 scheme as a defensive tackle or a 3-4 scheme as a defensive end.
Margus Hunt is also an option here, as I believe the 49ers will look to add a defensive lineman early in the draft.
Ray Lewis retired, and Dannell Ellerbe signed with the Miami Dolphins. In an effort to fill their shoes, the Ravens signed troubled linebacker Rolando McClain. But McClain has already found trouble with the law, and that experiment may expire relatively soon.
Kevin Minter plays like a shark and would step in and be an immediate starter for the Ravens. The rich get richer.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia (1st: OLB Jordan)
34. San Francisco 49ers: S Matt Elam, Florida (1st: DL S. Williams)
35. Philadelphia Eagles: QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State (1st: OT Fisher)
36. Detroit Lions: DE Alex Okafor, Texas (1st: OT Johnson)
37. Cincinnati Bengals: RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama (1st: S Cyprien)
38. Arizona Cardinals: OG Justin Pugh, Syracuse (1st: OLB Ansah)
39. New York Jets: TE Zach Ertz, Stanford (1st: WR Austin, OLB Mingo)
40. Tennessee Titans: CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State (1st: OT Fluker)
41. Buffalo Bills: WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee (1st: QB Nassib)
42. Miami Dolphins: RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (1st: DE Carradine)
43. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Kawann Short, Purdue
44. Carolina Panthers: WR Robert Woods, USC (1st: DT Lotulelei)
45. San Diego Chargers: OT Menelik Watson, Florida State (1st: OG Cooper)
46. St. Louis Rams: WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (1st: S Vaccaro, LB Ogletree)
47. Dallas Cowboys: DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (1st: OG Warmack)
48. Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State (1st: TE Eifert)
49. New York Giants: OT Kyle Long, Oregon (1st: DT Richardson)
50. Chicago Bears: OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas Pine-Bluff (1st: LB Brown)
51. Washington Redskins: S Eric Reid, LSU
52. Minnesota Vikings: WR Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (1st: LB Te'o, DT J. Williams)
53: Cincinnati Bengals: WR Keenan Allen, California (1st: S Cyprien, 2nd: RB Lacy)
*54: Kansas City Chiefs: DE Margus Hunt, Southern Methodist (1st: OT Joeckel)
55. Green Bay Packers: WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (1st: DL Jones)
56. Seattle Seahawks: LB Sio Moore, Connecticut
57. Houston Texans: CB David Amerson, CB North Carolina State (1st: WR Patterson)
58. Denver Broncos: S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (1st: DE Werner)
59. New England Patriots: DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State (1st: CB Trufant)
60. Atlanta Falcons: OLB Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (1st: CB Rhodes)
61. San Francisco 49ers: CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (1st: DL S. Williams, 2nd: S Elam)
62. Baltimore Ravens: S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (1st: LB Minter)
*Projected trade: Miami trades second-round pick (54 overall) to Kansas City for OT Branden Albert.