The 2013 NFL draft will have several off-the-radar players sneak into the first round, just as it does every year.
Some could be players with whom fans are only vaguely familiar at this point. Some are players whose stocks are down now, but in whom interest will rise as the draft process progresses.
Of course, there are some obvious selections. In this mock draft, we look to dispel misconceptions about some under-the-radar players who are actually quite likely to find themselves drafted on the first day. (Remember that the NFL draft is now split into three days, with only Round 1 completed on the first day.)
1. Kansas City Chiefs—Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Chiefs, under brand-new head coach Andy Reid, had two players to choose from here—Smith or Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel. Reid was known for selecting linemen in his time in Philadelphia, so it’s not as if selecting Joeckel would have been shocking.
Yet Smith is clearly the best quarterback in a weak quarterback class, and Kansas City is beyond desperate to find an elite signal-caller. Remember, Reid did begin his Eagles’ tenure by selecting Donovan McNabb.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars—Bjorn Werner, DE, Florida State
The Jaguars are as desperate today for an elite pass-rusher as they were at any time in the Gene Smith-era. Smith constantly preached best player available, yet rarely got the right player. Though Werner doesn’t intrigue me, many draft analysts consider him the best defensive end and defensive player in this draft.
3. Oakland Raiders—Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has made a concerted effort to make smart football decisions, especially after the late CEO and general manager, Al Davis, had become known for his aggressive and often destructive personnel choices. McKenzie's best hire was his very first—tagging the youthful Dennis Allen as his head coach.
Allen has experience under Gregg Williams and John Fox, so from a defensive standpoint he has a balance of philosophies. Each would have instilled in him a desire to be physical and run the football. The Raiders have the best running back in the AFC West in Darren McFadden—when he is healthy.
Mike Goodson and Marcel Reese make for a nice three-headed monster of a backfield. Regardless of who takes the reins of the offense in Oakland, he is going to want to feature that trio. The player who can instantly make that work is Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel. Joeckel could easily be the No. 1 pick in this draft.
Placing Joeckel at left tackle from day one will allow the Raiders to continue to run the football effectively. It should also give Carson Palmer the time he needs to get the ball to his playmakers at receiver. In short, Joeckel seems like a win-win situation for Allen and McKenzie.
4. Philadelphia Eagles—Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Central Michigan standout offensive tackle is climbing up draft boards. He went from being considered a player who would be taken in the 20s, to a top-10 lock after Texas A&M right tackle Jake Matthews and Michigan OT Taylor Lewan announced they were returning for their senior seasons. The Eagles have a great need on the offensive line—especially if they’re going to make Chip Kelly’s elaborate offense work. Though many would consider this a reach, it is destined to happen.
5. Detroit Lions—Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Martin Mayhew has done a marvelous job of raising expectations in Detroit, due mostly to making tremendous strides in personnel he has drafted and brought to the Motor City. The team is facing a situation in which a plethora of big-name players will be hitting free agency. It will be hit hardest at defensive end. Drafting a perfect fit in LSU’s Barkevious Mingo to replace a departure makes too much sense not to happen.
6. Cleveland Browns—Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Damontre Moore is best-suited to fit in what is expected to be a 3-4 defense in Cleveland under new head coach Rob Chudzinski. He has the girth to play a five-technique defensive end spot. He will stop the run and help others create pressure on the quarterback.
7. Arizona Cardinals—Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
The eventual head coach in Arizona will need a guy capable of getting the football down the field to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. No one in this draft is better suited to doing exactly that than Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson.
8. Buffalo Bills—Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Much like Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson has benefited greatly from the two junior tackles (mentioned above) not declaring for the NFL Draft. Johnson will likely be a top-10 pick given the intense need many teams have along the offensive line. The Bills are a team that has no other natural fit at this spot, after wisely passing on the opportunity to reach for a quarterback.
9. New York Jets—Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Many scouts love the physical skills that Jarvis Jones brings to the table but are scared off by his neck condition. I am concerned about both factors but remain convinced the Jets would consider him here to create more pressure in their 3-4 defense.
10. Tennessee Titans—Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Sheldon Richardson is a top-five talent who will likely fall only because of the way quarterbacks and offensive tackles rise up draft boards on draft day. Richardson would be a perfect fit for what the Titans like to do in their 4-3 defense. He is the quintessential three-technique defensive tackle who has the potential to be a star.
11. San Diego Chargers—Dallas Thomas, OT, Tennessee
It could be said 100 times and would remain just as true the 101st time: Offensive tackles rise up draft boards. Dallas Thomas was considered a second-round player prior to the previously mentioned players electing to stay in school. But the Chargers are desperate for help along the offensive line to keep Philip Rivers from getting killed.
12. Miami Dolphins—Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
It’s hard to imagine the Dolphins being dumb enough to rid themselves of franchise left tackle Jake Long this offseason. It would make far more sense to allow Randy Starks to leave via free agency. They will be rewarded with a Utah senior who earned a top-five grade but is the victim of teams passing him up for players who fit their needs.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Few teams are stocked with the young talent that GM Mark Dominik has found for Tampa. Try searching for a spot in which the team is absolutely desperate on the depth chart—it’s hard to find one. The only conclusive statement that can be made is that the team will not invest more resources in young offensive linemen.
The defense struggled to stop the pass in Greg Schiano’s first season as head coach. It was regularly shredded by Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton (granted, so are most defenses). And it should be noted that the Bucs took Mark Barron from Alabama in last season’s draft to mark the future at one safety spot.
Drafting Dee Milliner here is more than just drafting based on need, it is drafting the best player available here. Milliner is another player who could have easily gone top-10. He fell because teams decided to draft with need in mind.
Tampa would be thrilled to reunite the two Crimson Tide secondary members. It would go a long way to sharpening the primary issue remaining in Tampa.
14. Carolina Panthers—John Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The Carolina Panthers’ defensive tackle depth chart is incredibly bare. The lack of talent at that spot is so remarkable it causes a double-take upon initial viewing. Not to worry, though, as John Hankins from Ohio State is the answer to much of the quandary faced at that position.
With head coach Ron Rivera gaining NFL coaching experience in both the 4-3 Tampa Two defense and 3-4, it is not unreasonable to think that he’d like to find a player as versatile as Hankins—who excelled at Ohio State lining up both as three-technique defensive tackle and then outside as a five-technique defensive end.
With one player addition, Rivera’s defense could begin a transformation to a multiple front line that can hold up against the run and still create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It will not instantly make Carolina’s defense elite, but it certainly would be a step in the right direction.
15. New Orleans Saints—Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida
Should this exact scenario actually play out, Saints GM Mickey Loomis would probably have a phone on each ear, desperate to flee the No. 15 spot in hopes of trading down to pick up an extra draft pick—which he lost as a result of the “Bounty” scandal.
There is not a player here who makes sense for the team and wouldn’t be a reach. All of the team’s top targets—Star Lotulelei, John Hankins, Barkevious Mingo and Eric Fisher—are off the board. The team is set up nicely for the future at the majority of the skill positions.
Cornerback, which is a moderate need, will be addressed by re-signing Rafael Bush (a safety with potential to play corner in a pinch) and veteran Elbert Mack, in addition to possibly taking an inexpensive veteran from another team.
Instead of going exclusively best-player-available, the next best option is taking the next defensive tackle on the board. That player is Shariff Floyd, who made an appearance at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in January while playing in the Sugar Bowl.
Floyd is a good athlete with plenty of girth. He just has the feel of the type of defensive tackle that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would like. It’s merely speculation, but it makes sense.
16. St. Louis Rams—Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Cordarelle Patterson is jumping up draft boards because of great size and freakish athleticism. Fans have been clamoring for the Rams to get an actual playmaker to whom quarterback Sam Bradford can throw the ball. The junior college transfer is most definitely a playmaker.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers—Keenan Allen, WR, California
Keenan Allen is a player the Steelers would love to add to their offense. With Todd Haley likely to remain as the offensive coordinator, he needs a guy who is great with the ball after the catch. Mike Wallace is questionable to return to Pittsburgh. And Allen would complement the rest of the Steelers receivers quite well.
18. Dallas Cowboys—Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
Zach Ertz is being drafted here to eventually replace Jason Witten. In the meantime, he gives Tony Romo another weapon to expose defenses via the pass. He is also an able blocker who can help open holes in the running game for Demarco Murray.
19. New York Giants—Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Few general managers adhere as strictly to the idea of best player available as Giants GM Jerry Reese. At this point that player is Chance Warmack, the Alabama offensive guard, who truthfully is better served being picked at No. 19 than at No. 9.
20. Chicago Bears—Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Never mind the recent negative press—which includes his poor play in the national championship game against Alabama—Te’o is the perfect fit to replace Brian Urlacher in Chicago. Urlacher is a free agent who has previously given indication that he may retire. The Bears would be wise to consider a player to replace Urlacher immediately.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The Bengals will likely allow free agent defensive end Geno Atkins to walk despite a career-high 10.5 sacks in 2012. He is likely to cost more than Cincinnati is willing to pay. Ansah is an explosive pass-rusher with a lot to learn and a great defensive mind in Mike Zimmer to teach him.
22. St. Louis Rams—Robert Woods, WR, USC
Would it be crazy if the Rams selected two receivers in Round 1 of the same draft? Ask Matt Millen (or don't, I'm not sure which is correct). Woods would complement Patterson well as the underneath receiver who excels with the ball in his hands, while Patterson can do those things but can also be a nice deep threat.
23. Minnesota Vikings—Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Vikings are one more offensive playmaker away from taking over the NFC North division, or at least becoming an annual contender in the NFC. Sure, Austin is remarkably similar to Percy Harvin, but that could be a good thing. Imagine if a defense has to try to figure out how to cover two of those guys on the same team. If I’m an opposing defensive coordinator, I’d simply throw my hands up.
24. Indianapolis Colts—Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
This is an ideal situation for the Colts, who struggled mightily throughout the season to cover teams that would even bother lining up one receiver against them. Despite making the playoffs in Year One of the Andrew Luck-era, the Colts were a significantly flawed football team with many holes. Rhodes is really the best player available being taken here.
25. Seattle Seahawks—John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
With Jason Jones and Alan Branch hitting the free-agent market this offseason, the Seahawks are likely to lose at least one rotation tackle. Jenkins is a player who fits the Over defense—which is basically a 3-4 but with four down linemen—that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll prefers. Jenkins moved around the 3-4 front a lot at Georgia.
26. Green Bay Packers—Barrett Jones, OC, Alabama
Though Barrett Jones is not truly good enough to be a first-round pick, Green Bay’s system fits his skill set probably better than any other in the entire league. Luckily for him, the Packers are desperate for a center. It is perfect timing, and a perfect fit.
27. Houston Texans—DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
What a perfect fit for Houston. Hopkins is a speedy and agile receiver. Houston needs one of those. Easy-breezy.
28. Denver Broncos—Kenny Vacarro, S, Texas
Draft analysts are split on who should be the top safety in this class. B/R’s Matt Miller is insistent that it is Kenny Vacarro, the Texas product. In my own observations, Vacarro is the lone guy I would trust in man-to-man coverage, but he is not physical enough for the position.
The Broncos likely would not care much about physicality after starting the exact opposite kind of player, Rahim Moore, this season.
Last Four Speculated Based on Predictions to Win Super Bowl
29. New England Patriots—Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
The Patriots took a similar player in the 2012 draft in Chandler Jones. Bill Belichick knows pass rushers are at a premium in today’s NFL. Jones seems to fit that billing.
30. Atlanta Falcons—Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Montgomery’s stock has fallen to the point where falling out of the first round is not out of the question. Atlanta remains a team desperate for a pass rusher. They’ve tried just about anything; why not try a guy with the potential ceiling of Montgomery?
31. Baltimore Ravens—Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
Ozzie Newsome prefers college production to anything else a prospect offers. Kevin Minter may have seemed like more of a fit based on that. The truth, though, is that Brown was more productive since he had less NFL talent around him at K-State.
32. San Francisco 49ers—Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Cooper is one of my favorite players in the entire 2013 draft class. He is incredibly physical, which obviously fits the 49ers well. He also possesses the quickness and skills to one day play center, though he was a pure guard at Carolina.