17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
When a Twitter follower asked me prior to the BCS National Championship Game if I thought Manti Te’o could fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I told him it was unlikely the Notre Dame middle linebacker would make it outside of the top 5.
Three weeks later, following a very poor performance against Alabama and a girlfriend hoax that will certainly lead to intense questioning from NFL teams, it now seems plausible Te’o could still be available.
With Te’o still on the board, he is the best choice for the Steelers. He could fill the role James Farrior excelled in for years as a gap-filling, run-stopping inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons.
Larry Foote is a 32-year-old unrestricted free agent, and Te’o is the best player available in this scenario. Without a nose tackle or offensive tackle worth drafting at this point, Te’o looks like the best choice.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Tony Romo is a talented quarterback, but he is 32 years old, mistake-prone and has only led the Cowboys to one playoff appearance in the past five seasons. As Romo enters the final season of his contract, the 2013 NFL Draft would be a smart time to draft his heir apparent.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson isn’t projected to be the No. 1 overall pick this time around, but if he makes it to the second half of the first round, he is well worth taking a chance on. Wilson is the most polished downfield pocket passer in the draft class, and a year of development could have him ready to make a big impact as a starter in 2014.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones never shies from making a splash with personnel decisions. Drafting the franchise’s quarterback of the future from his alma mater would certainly do that.
19. New York Giants: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (Jr.)
The New York Giants need to upgrade across the linebacker corps. LSU’s Kevin Minter would be great value in the second half of the first round, and could be the perfect fit to fill a need at middle linebacker.
Minter is a playmaking middle linebacker who would give the Giants a truly consistent and sound run-stopping presence at the position. He is a very good lateral athlete who can make plays all over the field, and he is also very solid in coverage.
A need for reinforcements in the Giants’ defensive front seven started to show this season, and Minter’s value should not be passed upon here.
20. Chicago Bears: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
No offensive lineman on the Chicago Bears is good enough that his starting spot should be guaranteed going into next season. The Bears’ biggest need is to rebuild their offensive line, so drafting the best offensive lineman available would be a smart first-round strategy.
Alabama’s Barrett Jones is a perfect fit because of the versatility he brings to the offensive line. He excelled at every offensive line position for the Crimson Tide, and could be a potential upgrade at either guard spot, center or right tackle.
North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper would also be a great choice to improve their interior line, but Jones’ versatility gets the nod for a team that could also use him at any of four offensive line positions.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Eric Reid, FS, LSU (Jr.)
Eric Reid’s stock has slipped a bit after a disappointing junior season, but he is still the best safety prospect in the 2013 draft class. The Bengals need an upgrade at safety next to Reggie Nelson and should pounce on the LSU product if he is available.
Reid is a terrific athlete who covers deep effectively, and he is also a sound tackler and hard hitter who makes plays near the line of scrimmage. He has had some issues with inconsistency and penalties, but has huge talent and upside.
Nelson is capable of shifting to strong safety. Adding Reid could be a big step in solidifying the back end of the Bengals’ defense.
22. St. Louis Rams: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame (Jr.)
The Rams offense made positive strides this season, but should still be looking to add more weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford. While tight end is not truly a position of need for the Rams, Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert could give Bradford a go-to downfield receiving weapon in the middle of the field.
Eifert’s combination of size, athleticism and ball skills fit the modern “basketball player” prototype of tight ends that is all the rage in today’s NFL. In addition to giving the Rams a big downfield receiving threat, he is also a solid blocker who could contribute to the team’s run-blocking efforts.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (Jr.)
Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is one of the most quickly-rising players in the 2013 NFL draft class. He could come off the board much earlier than the No. 23 overall pick, but available in this scenario, the Minnesota Vikings should not pass him up.
The Vikings need an explosive penetrator at defensive tackle to start next to Kevin Williams. Richardson, who may be the best pass-rushing interior lineman in the draft class, would be a great fit.
The Vikings’ interior defense hasn’t been the same since Pat Williams’ departure broke up the “Williams Wall” at defensive tackle. The Vikings have an opportunity to restore that strength inside by selecting Richardson.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
This draft selection in this scenario should be a no-brainer. The Indianapolis Colts desperately need to improve their interior offensive line, and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper is a terrific guard prospect who stands out as the best player available.
Cooper has outstanding feet for a guard, combined with great size and power. For a team that gave up far too much interior pressure this past season, Cooper could be an immediate upgrade and potential star at either left or right guard.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Robert Woods, WR, USC (Jr.)
The Seattle Seahawks’ passing offense made incredible strides with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson this season. The Seahawks can make Wilson even better by adding a go-to option and playmaker at wide receiver.
Having recruited him while at USC, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll should know a thing or two about Robert Woods. He should know Woods is as good as any wide receiver in the draft class.
Woods is knocked for having subpar measurables, but he is an outstanding route-runner with great hands, open-field quickness and playmaking ability. He can line up outside and in the slot, and could quickly become Wilson’s most reliable and dynamic weapon.
26. Green Bay Packers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (Jr.)
The Green Bay Packers haven’t gotten much pass-rush production from their defensive linemen this season. To fix that, the Packers should be looking for a quick interior lineman who can line up alongside B.J. Raji or Jerel Worthy in their two-man base nickel defensive front and as a 5-technique defensive end in the 3-4 package.
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, an explosive interior defensive lineman with great athleticism and quickness, would fit that description. He is an effective interior pass-rusher and a good run-stopper.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson (Jr.)
The Houston Texans need to find a legitimate No. 2 threat at wide receiver to line up across from Andre Johnson. Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins is the best playmaker among wide receivers in this draft class and could be the missing piece to the Texans offense.
Hopkins is an athletic receiver who is good at tracking balls downfield, and he is a good route-runner with consistent hands. The addition of Hopkins could attract coverage away from Johnson and give quarterback Matt Schaub another reliable and explosive weapon.
28. Denver Broncos: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
The Denver Broncos need to upgrade at defensive tackle. Specifically, they need a big, powerful nose tackle who can improve their interior run defense.
Georgia’s John Jenkins, a massive 350-pound-plus nose tackle, would be a perfect fit. He has great quickness for his size and can contribute as a powerful run-stopper and an interior bull-rusher.
Stamina and consistency are issues for Jenkins to overcome, but he has the overall game to develop into a three-down force for the Broncos’ four-man front.
29. New England Patriots: Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas
The Patriots’ pass defense made significant strides this season with the trade for cornerback Aqib Talib and emergence of rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, but there is still a need for playmakers and depth on the back end of their defense.
Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro would be a very good fit. In coverage, Vaccaro would be an upgrade over Steve Gregory at strong safety, while he is also very solid against the run and has the versatility to play free safety and slot cornerback.
Vaccaro could be an upgrade at strong safety, while also giving them a pair of safeties who can both play cornerback if needed for depth reasons in Vaccaro and Devin McCourty.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Jr.)
The Atlanta Falcons have a number of great options who would be great fits for both value and need as late first-round picks available to them in this scenario. The best choice may be Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, the top running back in this year’s draft class.
Michael Turner is on the decline, leaving the Falcons looking for a new feature back. Lacy could be exactly what the Falcons need. He is a big and powerful between-the-tackles runner with good speed and open-field moves with the durability to hold up over a heavy load of carries.
31. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (Jr.)
Ray Lewis will have his chance to go out and top when the Baltimore Ravens play in Super Bowl XLVII, but that will be his final game before his retirement. The Ravens need to draft his replacement at inside linebacker to start next to Dannell Ellerbe, and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree would be a terrific fit.
Like Lewis, Ogletree has outstanding speed for a linebacker and is a big, hard-hitting tackler. A converted safety, Ogletree is effective in coverage and a solid run defender.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
As Justin Smith has battled a torn triceps down the stretch this season, it has exposed a lack of depth at defensive end on their three-man front. Their best backup defensive end, Ricky Jean-Francois, is an unrestricted free agent, so the 49ers need to find another player who can rotate in with Smith and Ray McDonald on the defensive front.
At the end of the first round, SMU’s Margus Hunt would be a player well worth taking a chance on. While he is a very raw talent and inconsistent performer, he has huge upside and an exceptional combination of length and athleticism.
Hunt will need to bulk up to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, but his 6’8” frame and inside pass-rush ability give him huge potential at the position. A player who is still very much developing, the 49ers could give him a perfect situation where he could start as a rotational player and gradually develop into an every-down player.