NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
With just one week remaining in the regular season, the draft order — at least for the top 20 — is becoming more clear.
While the NFL draft is still four months away, meaning there is still much time for players’ draft stocks to rise and fall, these are the latest projections based upon the newest projected draft order.
Note: The draft order is based upon projected Week 17 and postseason results.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (SCOUTING REPORT)
When the Kansas City Chiefs’ nightmarish season comes to an end on Sunday, a complete rebuilding effort should commence. That rebuilding effort must begin at the quarterback position, and even though there are no elite quarterback prospect in the 2013 draft class, the draft is where the Chiefs are most likely to find their new signal-caller.
The best bet to be a franchise quarterback from this draft class is West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who has the skill set to be a very good starter at the next level. With a strong arm, a great release and good accuracy and mobility, Smith is a very skilled passer who would be a very good choice for the Chiefs to rebuild their team around.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (Jr.) (SCOUTING REPORT)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have some talented players on their defense, but they don’t have many “do-it-all” talents. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones excels in every aspect of defensive play — rushing the passer, getting out in space to play the run and dropping into coverage — and he can be a much-needed difference-maker on the Jaguars defense.
The only major concern with Jones is a condition he has, spinal stenosis, which places him at higher risk for significant injuries over his career. It hasn’t affected over the past two seasons at Georgia, however, and his talent makes him the closest thing this draft class has to a truly elite prospect.
3. Oakland Raiders: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame (SCOUTING REPORT)
Rolando McClain hasn’t seen the field since his falling-out with the Oakland Raiders in late November, making it pretty obvious that the Raiders need to find a replacement for the disappointing former top-10 pick at middle linebacker.
The Raiders should be looking for a player who can be a much-needed difference-maker in their defensive front seven, while also being a safe bet not to bust with high character, making Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o the perfect pick for them.
Te’o is a tremendous all-around middle linebacker who is both a very good run-stopper and a skilled coverage linebacker with a nose for making plays on the football. Additionally, his intelligence, leadership and model behavior are exactly what the Raiders need in a player expected to be a cornerstone piece of their franchise.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (Jr.) (SCOUTING REPORT)
If Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is available when the Philadelphia Eagles are on the clock, they will be hard-pressed to pass him up. Joeckel is an outstanding all-around left tackle prospect who can be the building block of an NFL offensive line for many years to come.
The Eagles’ offensive line has struggled plenty this season, and adding more young talent up front to better protect young quarterback Nick Foles should be among their draft priorities. Even if All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters returns healthy and strong next season from a torn Achilles, drafting the best offensive lineman in the draft class would be a great investment.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (Jr.)
With star defensive end likely to leave Cliff Avril as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Lions will likely be in need of a new pass-rusher to replace him. Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner would be a perfect choice.
With a terrific combination of length, athleticism, burst off the line of scrimmage and tackling ability, Werner is both an excellent pass-rusher and a very good run defender, making him the top defensive end prospect in the 2013 draft class.
6. Cleveland Browns: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Jr.) (SCOUTING REPORT)
The Cleveland Browns’ defense has gotten significantly better this season, but they still lack a premier pass-rushing defensive end.
Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore is an athletic playmaker with a great ability to get into opposing backfields, and he would give the Browns a real difference-maker to lead their defensive line. The Browns need to bring more pressure against opposing quarterbacks, and they can get that from Moore, who is also very solid against the run.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Jr.)
The Arizona Cardinals may desperately need a new quarterback, but if they are going to invest in a new signal-caller, they need to rebuild their offensive line. That starts with finding a premier pass protector to line up at left tackle, which they can get with Michigan’s Taylor Lewan.
Lewan is a well-rounded left tackle who plays with a combination of strength, footwork, leverage and technique that make him a good fit to lead a line at the next level. He could be an immediate upgrade to an offensive line that has allowed a league-high 56 sacks this season.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (Jr.)
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded Aqib Talib to the New England Patriots, they moved on from their No. 1 cornerback. Add in the fact that the Buccaneers could release Eric Wright after a suspension that voids future guaranteed money in his contract, and it is likely the Buccaneers will draft a cornerback early in the 2013 draft.
Alabama’s Dee Milliner is a big, athletic, instinctive and physical cornerback good enough to be a top-10 pick, and would be very tough for the Buccaneers to pass up given their need at the position. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could also be a very tempting choice, as he would give the Buccaneers an elite defensive tackle pairing with Gerald McCoy, but Milliner is well worth a top-10 pick and would address the team’s biggest position of need.
9. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC (SCOUTING REPORT)
Geno Smith is the only quarterback in this draft class who should be going as a top-10 pick (and even he would be a bit of a reach in a stronger draft class), but quarterbacks are consistently overdrafted. One team likely to be looking for a new quarterback in the first round of the 2013 draft are the Buffalo Bills, who are unlikely to make the next step to playoff contention without upgrading from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
USC’s Matt Barkley has had his stock take a massive hit from being the projected No. 1 overall pick coming into the season, but he is still enticing enough to be a top-10 pick. While his senior year has been a disappointment, he has the tools to be a very good NFL starting quarterback, and is the signal-caller most worth taking a chance on in this scenario.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (SCOUTING REPORT)
Utah nose tackle Star Lotulelei is a disruptive force who makes a strong case to be considered the top overall prospect in the draft class. His value would be tough for the Tennessee Titans to pass up at the end of the top 10.
While defensive tackle isn’t among the Titans’ biggest needs, they don’t have any real difference-makers on their defensive line. Lotulelei is not just a massive body at the position, but a player with both great power and explosive quickness, making him a dominant run-stopper and also an effective interior pass-rusher.
11. New York Jets: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
The New York Jets’ starting quarterback next season is almost certainly not a player currently on the roster. Multiple outlets, including the Associated Press and New York Daily News, reported that according to sources, the Jets could trade or release both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow this offseason.
That makes it very likely that if one of the draft’s top three quarterback prospects is still on the board when the Jets are on the clock, they will draft their next signal-caller. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson is a reach as a top-15 draft pick, but he is a skilled pocket passer with a strong arm, and has the potential to be a very good starter.
12. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State (Jr.)
The Carolina Panthers’ biggest need to improve their run defense is to add a difference-maker at defensive tackle. They could get that player in Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins.
While Hankins isn’t quite the dominant and consistent disruptor that Star Lotulelei is, he is massive like Lotulelei and has explosive quickness. Hankins has the potential to be an elite defensive tackle in the NFL, especially in terms of stopping the run.
13. San Diego Chargers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (Jr.) (SCOUTING REPORT)
Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews has the potential to be excellent as either a left or right tackle at the next level, both positions of need for the Chargers. Matthews is a standout right tackle at A&M, but if it wasn’t for Luke Joeckel on the left side, he would likely be dominant at that position as well.
Matthews is a very skilled pass blocker with great length and athleticism for an offensive tackle, and could be an upgrade at left tackle over Mike Harris or at right tackle over Jeromey Clary.
14. Miami Dolphins: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Having traded Vontae Davis prior to the start of this season, the Miami Dolphins need another cornerback to start across from Sean Smith. Drafting one in the first round would make sense in this scenario, as Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is a very good all-around cornerback prospect and good value in the middle of the first round.
Banks has the size, athleticism, instincts and physicality to match up with the NFL’s best wide receivers. He could give the Dolphins a formidable duo at the position for years to come.
15. St. Louis Rams: Eric Reid, FS, LSU (Jr.)
The Rams need to add a playmaker at safety, especially one with great coverage skills. LSU’s Eric Reid, an athletic and hard-hitting safety who excels in both pass coverage and run support, would fit the bill.
With two first-round picks, value should be at a premium with the Rams’ first choice, and they could fill a need with Reid while also drafting one of the best values on the board in this scenario.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
The Pittsburgh Steelers need reinforcement at the nose tackle position. 35-year-old nose tackle Casey Hampton’s best years are behind him, and his heir apparent, Alameda Ta’amu, was cut earlier this season after being arrested on felony charges.
Alabama’s Jesse Williams is a strong, powerful and explosive defensive lineman who is a perfect fit to anchor the Steelers’ three-man defensive front as its next nose tackle.