The 2013 NFL Draft is now just hours away, and make no mistake about it, today is a great day to be a football fan. It's even a greater day to be a draftnik! However, this year's draft is a different kind of draft than what we're used to seeing. It may not be a "sexy" draft with elite prospects like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (last year's two top picks), but it is a draft that promises to offer more drama than we've ever seen because absolutely nobody seems to know what direction these teams are going in. With that being said, I'm here to offer some insights and hopefully shed some light on this year's first round with the release of my final mock draft, which has become an annual staple of the TIMES NEWS for the past 13 years.
Finalizing this mock draft has been incredibly agonizing and frustrating (especially over the past 48 hours). It's almost like you're playing a game of chess with your draft board, in that when you move one or two pieces around, it directly affects three or four others. This is a "big boy" draft with the top players consisting of mainly offensive and defensive linemen. In fact, depending how the chips fall, you could very well see six of the top dozen picks being offensive linemen, which is unprecedented. Then, you have the quarterback position, which is a complete crap-shoot since everyone seems to have a difference of opinion on each of the top signal-callers. When the dust clears, I think you'll see one or two quarterbacks selected in the first round (although which ones are anyone's guess).
Then, as if trying to map out an accurate mock draft isn't hard enough, you have to factor in trades, which can completely change the entire landscape of the draft. I try not to predict trades in my mock draft, but you know they're bound to happen (and I have a feeling they're going to happen early and often this year). There are three teams with two first round picks this year (New York Jets, St. Louis and Minnesota), while there are five teams sitting without a second round pick (Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans and Oakland). Meanwhile, there are three teams with multiple second round picks (Cincinnati, Miami and San Francisco). So, what does this all mean? Well, it could give an indication of which teams are most likely to move up (those with multiple early round picks) and those teams wanting to possibly move down (those without a second round pick).
As in previous years, I will once again be represented in The Huddle Report's esteemed annual mock draft contest (www.thehuddlereport.com ). The contest scores the mock drafts of the most reputable and widely-published draft resources in the world. Last year, my mock draft finished 17th out of 107 scored publications; however, over the last five years, my mock drafts rank first for overall accuracy. For those keeping track, mock drafts are scored under the following criteria: 1 point for each player correctly placed in the first round and 2 points for players matched to the correct team that picks them.
So, without further adieu, here's how I see things shaking out:
1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan)
This pick has been narrowed down to one position (offensive tackle) and two players (Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher). Both players would certainly be worthy of the first overall selection, but there's mixed reports out there on which tackle the Chiefs actually prefer. Joeckel seemed to be the consensus pick all throughout the draft process, but Fisher began picking up steam in the final hours, which actually caused me to flip-flop Fisher and Joeckel at the last minute.
2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - Luke Joeckel (OT, Texas A&M)
What the Jaguars decide to do with this pick could ultimately cause a ripple-effect for the rest of the first round. I think they've narrowed it down to whichever tackle the Chiefs don't take and Dion Jordan (DE/OLB, Oregon). Jacksonville had the worst pass rush in the league last year (only 20 sacks) and Jordan's speed off the edge would clearly make the most sense from a need-based standpoint, but Joeckel is the best player on the board and is the "safe" pick in draft where there are few sure things.
3. OAKLAND RAIDERS - Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
Last year, the first trade came when Cleveland traded out of the third pick and I think this could be the first spot for a trade in this year's draft. If Joeckel and Fisher go 1-2, this will create a demand for Lane Johnson (the last of the remaining stud left tackles left on the board) or a pass rusher. Philadelphia, Detroit, Arizona, San Diego and Miami are all in the market for a bookend tackle, and Oakland (without a second round pick), would no doubt love to trade down. Floyd would seem to be an ideal pick for Oakland though, whether here or somewhere later in the top 10.
4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma)
The Eagles are the first big wild card for me, because I think they could go in a number of directions with this pick including Lane Johnson, Dion Jordan (DE/OLB, Oregon), Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah) or even a trade down. I think their preference is actually to trade down and with a switch to a 3-4 alignment, I've had Lotulelei mocked to the Eagles for the longest time; however, I just can't fathom Lane Johnson falling out of the top 5. He's the most mobile tackle of the bunch, which is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly's new offense.
5. DETROIT LIONS - Ziggy Ansah (DE, BYU)
Detroit's two most pressing needs are at offensive tackle and defensive end, so this pick could ultimately come down to Lane Johnson or Ziggy Ansah. I just don't know if the Lions are in love with Lane Johnson here, and with the two teams in front of them looking to trade out of their spots (presumably for someone to come up for Johnson), I think Detroit opts for Ansah, a player they know well from coaching him at this year's Senior Bowl.
6. CLEVELAND BROWNS - Dion Jordan (DE/OLB, Oregon)
With no second round selection, Cleveland is another team that would like nothing more than to move back a few picks, but I think the market will only be there if Lane Johnson where to fall to this pick. Most mock drafts have Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner going to the Browns and that would surely make for a dynamic cornerback tandem opposite Joe Haden. Quarterback Geno Smith is also very much in play here. However, new defensive coordinator Ray Horton loves to get after the passer and I think Dion Jordan is just what the doctor ordered.
7. ARIZONA CARDINALS - Jonathan Cooper (OG, North Carolina)
Unless the Cardinals want to get Carson Palmer killed in his first season in the desert, you would think this pick has to be an offensive lineman, right? With the top three tackles already off the board, Arizona will look to guards Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack. Some may say it's too early to draft a guard, and history has shown that guards typically get pushed down the draft board. However, Cooper and Warmack are both top 10 players, so I think you need to pull the trigger.
8. BUFFALO BILLS - Ryan Nassib (QB, Syracuse)
Last year with the eighth pick, the Dolphins reached for quarterback Ryan Tannehill in an effort to reunite him with former college coach Mike Sherman, who was the first-year offensive coordinator for the Dolphins. Could history repeat itself? It sure is looking that way, as the Bills will either reach for Nassib here or attempt to trade down to get him later in the first round in a move that will reunite the Syracuse gun-slinger with former college head coach Doug Marrone.
9. NEW YORK JETS - Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
With two picks in the top 13, the Jets are very much in a position to dictate how the rest of the first round will unfold. New York needs help at so many positions, but I think the three positions they zero in on early are pass rusher, offensive guard and "playmaker." There's no bigger "playmaker" in this draft than Tavon Austin, and while this may be more of a luxury pick, he can definitely help take some of the pressure off embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez.
10. TENNESSEE TITANS - Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
Tennessee needs to help Jake Locker and Chris Johnson and I've heard that one of the top guards (Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack) will certainly be in play with this pick. However, the Titans signed guard Andy Levitre in free agency, so how many resources can you really put into a non-premium position. If Dee Milliner (the top cornerback in the draft) somehow happens to fall, the Titans may just deem him too good to pass up.
11. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Chance Warmack (OG, Alabama)
Similar to Arizona, San Diego needs offensive line help badly. The only problem is that unless they trade up (which I think is a definite possibility), they'll have to settle for whoever falls to them. In this case, Warmack is the best remaining offensive lineman available and he will help fill the shoes of guard Louis Vasquez (last year's best offensive lineman), who bolted to Denver.
12. MIAMI DOLPHINS - D.J. Hayden (CB, Houston)
This pick will really be dependent on if the Dolphins are able to trade for Kansas City left tackle Brandon Albert (in exchange for a second round pick). If not, they could use that second round pick to move up for Lane Johnson. However, I'm going to figure a deal with Albert gets done, in which case, the Dolphins can look to fill their huge hole at cornerback after losing Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.
13. NEW YORK JETS (from Tampa Bay) - Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)
The Jets are apparently smitten with Mingo, and where there's smoke, there's fire. New York needs to get after the passer and Mingo can terrorize opponents off the edge, which should have head coach Rex Ryan licking his chops. Also, you can never rule out a trade down when a team has two first round picks. The Jets need so much help and have so many holes to fill that their best bet may be to move down and acquire even more picks.
14. CAROLINA PANTHERS - Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
It's no secret that the Panthers need defensive line help and to have Lotulelei fall this far in the first round would be an absolute steal. Wide receiver Steve Smith is lobbying for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from Missouri, but I just don't know if the Carolina front office feels the same way. Tavon Austin would also be given consideration if he was still on the board.
15. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - Jarvis Jones (OLB, Georgia)
The Saints need to find a disruptive playmaker, and that could be at any position on defense after an abysmal 2012 season. With no second round pick, the Saints need to make sure they secure an impact player that will help with the transition to their new 3-4 defensive alignment. Jarvis Jones can be that player, as finding an edge pass rusher is arguably their greatest need.
16. ST. LOUIS RAMS - Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas)
With the first of two first round picks, St. Louis should be on the lookout for a wide receiver, linebacker and safety. This pick should be determined by what happens ahead of them. If Kenny Vaccaro (the top safety in the draft) is still available, you get him here and take a wide receiver or linebacker six picks later. If Vaccaro is gone, or if Tavon Austin falls to the Rams, then they should take a wide receiver here and look for safety help later on.
17. PITTSBURGH STEELERS - Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
Rumor has it that if Jarvis Jones is still available when the Steelers are on the clock, they're going to take him. However, Tyler Eifert isn't a bad consolation prize. Aging tight end Heath Miller had major knee surgery late in the season and there's really no viable backup on the roster. Eifert is a safe pick and will give Big Ben another weapon to throw to on the field.
18. DALLAS COWBOYS - Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
The interior of the offensive line is a mess, but with most of the top offensive linemen already off the board, the Cowboys may have to turn their attention to the defensive line. With the switch to a 4-3 defense, Dallas needs to add pieces up front and get younger in the trenches. This pick will most likely come down to defensive tackle or possibly offensive tackle D.J. Fluker if he's still on the board.
19. NEW YORK GIANTS - D.J. Fluker (OT, Alabama)
If Fluker somehow fell to the Giants, I think they should run the card up to the podium. New York needs to infuse some youth into the right side of its offensive line and Fluker is a mountain of a man that will conjure up images of right tackle Kareem McKenzie from a decade ago. Defensive end or linebacker will also be considered here if all of the top offensive linemen are off the board.
20. CHICAGO BEARS - Manti Te'o (ILB, Notre Dame)
I think the Bears could be looking at two Notre Dame prospects with this pick in Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert. With Brian Urlacher not returning, Chicago has a pressing need at inside linebacker and Te'o is the best one available in this draft. Given his local ties, this may be a best-case scenario for Te'o, whose off-the-field concerns have been well publicized. Another inside linebacker candidate could be Georgia's Alec Ogletree (who has even more red flags than Te'o).
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS - Eric Reid (S, LSU)
The Bengals have done an outstanding job of drafting in recent years, and with three picks in the first two rounds, they'll look to continue that trend. This pick could hinge on if Cincinnati is able to re-sign starting right tackle Andre Smith prior to the draft, but I think a deal will eventually get done there. The Bengals biggest need is finding another starting safety and there are several in this draft to choose from. Eric Reid gets the nod over Matt Elam because of his size advantage and better mobility in the secondary.
22. ST. LOUIS RAMS (from Washington) - Alec Ogletree (ILB, Georgia)
This pick will be totally dependent on what the Rams do with their first selection. If they go safety, then I could see wide receiver or inside linebacker being their main targets. Ogletree's off-the-field reputation is rather brutal (which may even cause him to fall out of the first round), but Jeff Fisher never had a problem drafting players with character concerns before. St. Louis is also said to be very high on Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida St.)
The Vikings have two of the next three picks and four areas they need to concentrate on are cornerback, inside linebacker, defensive tackle and wide receiver. I think Manti Te'o would be an excellent fit for the Vikings here (especially given Minnesota's affinity for Notre Dame players), but cornerback has to be deemed a high priority after the release of Antoine Winfield and there's a few good ones available.
24. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS - Datone Jones (DE, UCLA)
The Colts lost Dwight Freeney and they don't have a second pass rusher other than Robert Mathis (and he's on the wrong side of 30). Two players that I think could help Indianapolis out here are defensive ends Datone Jones and Bjoern Werner. Chuck Pagano is installing a hybrid defense and Jones is versatile enough to line up anywhere in a 4-3 or 3-4 front, which makes for a perfect fit. Cornerback is also an area that can be upgraded.
25. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (from Seattle) - Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
This pick will all be dependent on what the Vikings do with their first selection. Aside from Greg Jennings, the cupboard is pretty bare at wide receiver and if they ever want to find out if Christian Ponder is the guy, they need to put more than one receiver around him. In my option, Patterson is the best available, but Tennessee teammate Justin Hunter is also a viable option.
26. GREEN BAY PACKERS - Justin Pugh (OT, Syracuse)
The Packers can ultimately go in a number of directions with this pick. GM Ted Thompson stressed the need to get tougher and more physical, so a hard-hitting safety like Matt Elam or a bruising running back like Eddie Lacy might be considered. However, I think the Packers also have to improve their offensive line and two guys they seem to like are Pugh (who can play any position on the O-Line) and tackle Menelik Watson.
27. HOUSTON TEXANS - Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
Andre Johnson isn't getting any younger and the Texans have needed a #2 wide receiver for years. Hunter provides the size and speed to stretch the field, just like Johnson when he first came into the league. Hunter will be able to take pressure off Johnson and Arian Foster, while also replacing Kevin Walter, who moved on to Tennessee.
28. DENVER BRONCOS - Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama)
With Peyton Manning at quarterback and three of the best wide receivers in the league (Welker, Thomas and Decker), Lacy would be the final piece needed to make the Denver offense an absolute powerhouse (and replace an aging Willis McGahee). There has been at least one running back drafted in the first round every year since 1963 so history is on Lacy's side. The popular pick here, however, might be defensive end with the loss of Elvis Dumervil, in which Bjoern Werner, Datone Jones, and Tank Carradine would all be possibilities.
29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida St.)
The Patriots have addressed most of their glaring needs in free agency so I think this pick will come down to either a cornerback or a defensive send. Whichever position represents the best value when the Patriots are on the clock will be the pick, unless Belichick opts to trade out of the first round, which he is accustomed to doing. Cornerback possibilities are Xavier Rhodes, D.J. Hayden, Desmond Trufant and Jamar Taylor.
30. ATLANTA FALCONS - Desmond Trufant (CB, Washington)
Rumor has it that the Falcons would love to trade up (much like they did when they acquired Julio Jones two years ago) and the positions on their radar seem to be cornerback and defensive end. Corner seems to be a major need with Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes both gone and Trufant was a star at the Senior Bowl and is a first round talent. Don't rule out that trade though.
31. SAN FRANCISCO 49'ERS - Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
San Francisco is another team looking to trade up and with 13 draft picks overall, they pretty much have the ammunition to move anywhere they want in the first round. If I was a betting man, I would think they would be targeting defensive lineman (an understudy for an aging Justin Smith) and Sylvester Williams makes a lot of sense. The 49'ers could also use help in the secondary and there should be some good safeties still available with this pick.
32. BALTIMORE RAVENS - Matt Elam (S, Florida)
The Ravens defense took a significant hit with all of the free agents and retired players that departed in the off-season, so upgrading that side of the ball has to be paramount. Manti Te'o or LSU's Kevin Minter could be options to replace Ray Lewis, while Matt Elam or Eric Reid could be Ed Reed's replacement.