NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The first 24 picks in the NFL draft order are now set following the first round of the NFL playoffs, and with only one game remaining in bowl season as of Monday, the draft stocks of many prospects are much closer to set as well. As a result, we are in much better position than even one week ago to begin projecting who the top picks in the 2013 NFL draft will be.
The following mock draft includes projections for each pick in the first two rounds, with many new selections including a big change at the top of the draft.
Note: Underclassmen who have announced their intentions to declare for the draft and those who have not yet committed to returning to school as of Sunday are included.
Selections 25-32 are not yet set, and are based on playoff results projections.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
In Andy Reid’s first draft with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, they selected Donovan McNabb with the No. 2 overall pick. Reid is now the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach, and unless the Chiefs pursue a veteran quarterback via trade or free agency, his new team will likely take the same strategy in finding their next signal-caller.
Geno Smith is considered by most as the top quarterback in this class, but his stock could be about to fall, due to some serious flaws were exposed in his game over the second half of his senior season. While this class lacks an elite quarterback, the best choice as a No. 1 overall pick would be Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, who is the most sound all-around downfield pocket passer in the class.
Wilson has the tools to be a very solid starting quarterback at the next level, and looks like the best choice for a new Kansas City regime that must upgrade over Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn under center.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (Jr.) (SCOUTING REPORT)
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ biggest need is to improve their defense. They had one of the worst defenses in the NFL this past season, ranking 30th in total defense and 29th in scoring defense.
The Jaguars don’t have many playmakers on their defense, especially at the linebacker position, but would be smart to draft the best defensive player available at the No. 2 overall pick. That player is Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, an outstanding all-around talent who can be a terrific pass-rusher from any scheme and is also very good at getting out in space and making tackles as a run defense.
Jones would give the Jaguars versatility to use him as an outside linebacker on run downs, and as a pass-rushing defensive end on passing downs, in a role very similar to that of Von Miller with the Denver Broncos.
3. Oakland Raiders: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame (SCOUTING REPORT)
The Oakland Raiders need to find a new middle linebacker to replace Rolando McClain, who has been a disappointment and did not play in the final five games of the season after a falling-out with the organization. They need a leader for their defense and three-down playmaker at the position, and could get exactly that from Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.
Te’o is a terrific all-around linebacker who is a big, athletic run-stopper in the middle, and is also an effective playmaker in pass coverage. He could be an immediate fix and long-term standout in the middle of the Raiders’ defense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (Jr.)
Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is an outstanding left tackle who has made a strong case in his junior season for being the best prospect in the entire 2013 NFL draft class. Although the Eagles have an All-Pro left tackle expected to come back from injury next season in Jason Peters, they need to build up their offensive line long-term, and Joeckel is too good to pass up.
Nick Foles is expected to take over the Eagles’ starting quarterback next season, and especially considering he does not have the athletic ability of previous starter Michael Vick, the Eagles need to have a line in place that can successfully protect him when he drops back to pass. Joeckel is an elite pass-blocking left tackle who can be the building block of their offensive line for years to come.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State (Jr.) (SCOUTING REPORT)
Star defensive end Cliff Avril is expected to leave the Detroit Lions as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, leaving them in need of a new pass-rusher to replace him. Florida State’s Bjoern Werner is the best all-around defensive end in the draft class, and could be both a perfect replacement and a potential replacement.
Werner has terrific length and speed, is explosive off of the line of scrimmage and is both powerful against the run and athletic in space. He was consistently productive this season, and can be a difference-maker at the next level.
6. Cleveland Browns: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Jr.)
The Cleveland Browns could really use a premier pass-rushing defensive end, so using their first-round draft pick at one of the draft’s premium positions would make a lot of sense. Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore is an explosive athlete and highly-productive pass-rusher who could add a major difference-maker to the Browns’ defensive front seven.
Moore is a three-down lineman who is also strong against the run, but his strength is getting into opposing backfields to bring pressure and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (Jr.)
National Football Post’s Russ Lande tweeted Wednesday that a “good source” expects Texas A&M right tackle Jake Matthews to return for his senior season. This has yet to be confirmed, however, and if Matthews instead decides to enter the 2013 NFL draft, expect him to follow his teammate Luke Joeckel as the second offensive lineman selected off the board.
Matthews plays right tackle for the Aggies, but has the talent to play on either side of the line. Like Joeckel, Matthews is a long, athletic tackle who is terrific in pass protection, but is also a powerful run blocker.
Matthews projects well as a left tackle, but could start immediately at right tackle and likely be one of the league’s best in that spot from the beginning. The Arizona Cardinals’ biggest need is to revamp their offensive line, and he could be an asset at either spot.
8. Buffalo Bills: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (Jr.)
None of the top quarterbacks available are good fits to play in the cold weather of Buffalo, and the top prospects available are at defensive tackle, where the Bills do not have a need. There is no obvious choice, but linebacker is the team’s biggest need, and LSU’s Kevin Minter is an underappreciated prospect who is legitimately worth an early draft selection.
If Minter ends up a top-10 pick, that would be a surprise at this point, but it probably shouldn’t be. He can make plays all over the field with his athleticism, is a sound tackler and a big playmaker. For a team that lacks an impact player at linebacker, Minter could be precisely what they need.
Trading down might be the Bills’ best option in this scenario, but the best choice for a player who can really help them in this slot is Minter.
9. New York Jets: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia (SCOUTING REPORT)
A lot went wrong for the New York Jets this season, but the biggest problem was the play of quarterback Mark Sanchez. ESPNNewYork’s Rich Cimini reported the Jets will likely move on from both Sanchez and backup quarterback Tim Tebow next season, and their new yet-to-be-named general manager could opt to use the team’s first-round draft pick on a new signal-caller.
Following a disastrous performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, Geno Smith’s stock is sliding, but the West Virginia quarterback is still one of the top quarterbacks in the draft class. For a team who needs to rebuild their image and will look to find a new quarterback around which to do so, Smith could be a very good choice.
While Smith needs to work on his footwork and decision-making under pressure, he is a very skilled downfield passer with the potential to be the best quarterback from this draft class. The Jets desperately need to find a new quarterback, and Smith would be a solid choice late in the top 10.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (SCOUTING REPORT)
There is only one prospect still available on the board who absolutely shouldn’t fall outside of the top 10 picks, and that player is Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. While defensive tackle isn’t the Titans’ biggest need, they could certainly use a difference-maker on their defensive front, and the disruptive, massive Lotulelei would fit the bill.
Lotulelei is a 320-pound inside force who is both massive and strong, but is also very quick off the snap and is a good interior penetrator and pass-rusher. He can do it all as a defensive tackle, and would be a terrific value selection at this point.
11. San Diego Chargers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Jr.)
The San Diego Chargers have yet to hire a coach or general manager, but regardless of who is calling the shots in the 2013 NFL draft, a top priority should be upgrading at offensive tackle. If Michigan’s Taylor Lewan is available to fill their void at left tackle, the pick should be a no-brainer.
Lewan is a very good all-around offensive tackle with good run-blocking power and very good feet as a pass protector. He projects as a potential upgrade on either side of the line, but would likely take over immediately for Mike Harris at left tackle.
12. Miami Dolphins: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (Jr.)
Having traded Vontae Davis last offseason, the Miami Dolphins opened up a need for another cornerback to start across from Sean Smith in their secondary. They do not necessarily need to draft a cornerback in Round 1, but if Alabama’s Dee Milliner is still available, the top cornerback in the draft class would be very tough to pass up.
Milliner is a long, athletic cornerback who plays with physicality, tackles well and has very good ball skills. He became a shutdown cornerback this season against SEC competition, and could cement his status as the top cornerback in the draft class (assuming he declares) with a strong showing on Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game versus Notre Dame.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State (Jr.)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy, but fellow 2010 NFL draft pick Brian Price did not pan out, leaving the Buccaneers with a hole next to him inside. The Buccaneers could use a bigger, powerful nose tackle to line up next to the quick penetrator in McCoy, and they could get that from the best player available on the board, Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins.
Hankins is a massive run stopper at 320 pounds, but he also has very good quickness for his size and is a dynamic penetrator. While a strong case can be made for going with Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks at this pick, Hankins and McCoy could quickly become one of the league’s elite defensive tackle duos.
14. Carolina Panthers: Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
With a major need at defensive tackle, the prospect of Star Lotulelei and Johnathan Hankins both being off the board is a disappointing one. It shouldn’t be a disheartening one, however, as there are numerous other great first-round options available at defensive tackle, the best of which is Alabama’s Jesse Williams.
Williams is a powerful nose tackle who is very good at shutting down the run, and is quick off the snap and can bring pressure up the middle. Although an ideal fit to line up in the middle of a three-man front, he has the skills to be a very good nose tackle in the Panthers’ 4-3 defense as well.
15. New Orleans Saints: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The New Orleans Saints’ defense cost them many games this season, and one of the biggest reasons for their defensive struggles was their cornerback play. The Saints should be in the market for a potential No. 1 cornerback, and they could get that from Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks.
A big, athletic, physical and instinctive defensive back, Banks is one of the best players available on the board, and would address the Saints’ biggest need on a defense that needs to get better at all three levels.
16. St. Louis Rams: Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams dealt with injuries across their offensive line this past season, and should be looking to reinforce the line early. That could make Alabama’s Barrett Jones, a versatile offensive lineman with the blocking ability to start at any position on the offensive line, a perfect fit for the Rams.
Jones is best suited to be an interior offensive lineman, but has played all five spots on the line during his career career at Alabama, and is a two-time consecutive All-American at two different positions: left tackle and center. The Rams’ biggest need is at right tackle, but drafting Jones, the best available offensive lineman, would give them a player who could either fill that hole or be an upgrade inside.