17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Sheldon Richardson, DE, Missouri
The Steelers’ starting defensive ends, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood, are both ending the final seasons of their contracts. Keisel will be 35 at the end of next season, while Hood hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a first-round pick, which should have the Steelers thinking to the future at the position.
The Steelers could certainly use an upgrade who can bring more interior pass-rush pressure as a 5-technique defensive end, which is exactly what they would get in Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson. Richardson is an explosive athlete who can really bring pressure up the middle, and would add an immediate playmaker to an aging defensive front seven.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
As the Dallas Cowboys shift to a Tampa-2 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, they should also be looking to move on from troubled, declining defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, and find a defensive tackle who is quicker and more disruptive. That is exactly what they could get from Florida’s Sharrif Floyd.
Floyd is quick and explosive but also strong and powerful, making him a potential game-changer as both an interior pass-rusher and run stopper. He may not quite be Warren Sapp, but he would be the interior defensive line difference-maker that the Cowboys lack and need for their new defensive scheme.
19. New York Giants: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
LSU’s Kevin Minter is a very good all-around inside linebacker prospect who would be great value in the second half of the first round, and a terrific fit to fill the Giants’ need for a middle linebacker.
The Giants need to find a leader and playmaker for their linebacker corps, and they can get that from Minter. He is a very sound run-stopper in the middle, and makes plays all over the field from blitzing into the backfield to dropping into coverage.
20. Chicago Bears: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
Brian Urlacher is one of the best defensive players of his generation, but the standout middle linebacker may have played his final game with the Chicago Bears. Even if the Bears bring him back on a short-term deal, the time is now to find a replacement for the declining star.
Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o would be a great fit to replace him. Like Urlacher, Te’o is a big, physical run-stopping middle linebacker with great instincts and a sound all-around game.
The Bears could also address a need on the offensive line with Alabama lineman Barrett Jones or North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, but Te’o would be tough to pass up.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
Dion Jordan compares physically as a prospect is Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, who is an unrestricted free agent. But even if Johnson re-signs with the Bengals, Jordan would still make sense for the Bengals.
Johnson eventually settled at defensive end for the Bengals, but Jordan’s best fit may actually be at strongside linebacker, where the Bengals could really use Jordan’s athleticism and playmaking ability. Jordan lacks technique as a pass-rusher, but has the raw upside to be a very good player.
With the buzz Jordan has been getting recently, it seems likely that he will end up being a first-round pick. He could be a great addition to the Bengals’ defensive front seven with his positional versatility and athleticism.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The St. Louis Rams need to reinforce their offensive line, and with some great talent still available among offensive linemen in this scenario, they should take advantage with their second first-round pick.
Alabama’s Barrett Jones is the best offensive lineman available, but the better fit for the Rams may actually be his teammate, right tackle D.J. Fluker. The Rams have a major need for a right tackle, and Fluker is ready to start at the position right away.
Fluker is very solid as both a pass and run blocker on the right side, with great length, good feet and good strength. He would be an immediate upgrade at a position of need.
23. Minnesota Vikings: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The Minnesota Vikings desperately need to add downfield playmakers at wide receiver for Christian Ponder and their passing offense. Selecting the draft’s best wideout in Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins would be a very smart choice with the No. 23 overall pick.
Hopkins can give the Vikings a much-needed vertical threat on the outside of the field. Hopkins does a very good job tracking the ball in air, is a very good route-runner and is an explosive athlete with good speed and quickness. He could quickly emerge as a go-to offensive option for Ponder to pass to.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
With a desperate need to upgrade their interior offensive line, and two of the best players available on the board both being interior linemen, the only decision for the Colts with this pick should be deciding which one to take.
Either North Carolina guard Jon Cooper or Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones would be a terrific choice, given that the Colts need to upgrade at both center and guard. In this scenario, the Colts are projected to select Cooper, who could be an immediate upgrade at either guard spot.
Although selected 14 picks later in this mock draft, Cooper isn’t far behind Chance Warmack as a prospect. He has the best feet of any interior offensive lineman in the draft class, but also great size and strength.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Robert Woods, WR, USC
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: Barrett Jones, C/G, Alabama
The Green Bay Packers are in need of a center, a position at which the 2013 NFL Draft is horribly weak. Having Barrett Jones fall into their lap would be a dream scenario.
A versatile offensive lineman who can literally play any position on the line, Jones would be well worth an earlier selection, but could end up falling to this point because of the strong class of offensive linemen combined with the rarity of interior offensive linemen being early first-round pick.
Both an effective pass blocker and run blocker, Jones could be an immediate upgrade at center, but could also be an immediate fix at guard. His toughness and well-rounded game should be exactly what the Packers are looking for an interior offensive lineman.
27. Houston Texans: Eric Reid, FS, LSU
The Houston Texans’ late collapse at the end of a promising season centered much around the deep passing plays they gave up in the secondary late in the season. The Texans need to add a playmaker to their secondary, and could use an upgrade at free safety over unrestricted free agent Glover Quin.
Eric Reid’s stock is slipping after a subpar junior season, but he is still the most gifted safety in the draft class. Reid is a very good athlete who can both solidify and add a playmaker for the Texans in the secondary, especially in deep coverage. He is well worth a late first-round pick.
28. Denver Broncos: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Defensive tackle may be the strongest and deepest position at the top of the draft, and another prospect who could work his way into being a first-round pick is Purdue’s Kawann Short. The position is the Denver Broncos’ biggest need, and Short would be a solid choice late on Day 1.
Short is a big, powerful defensive lineman who can push the line of scrimmage and be a run-stopper, while he is also a good interior penetrator with the quickness to bring pressure up the middle. He could be a three-down player on the Broncos’ defensive line and play a big part in strengthening that unit.
29. New England Patriots: Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
Even if Wes Welker is re-signed and Brandon Lloyd is retained, the Patriots will still need to add another playmaker at wide receiver. Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton would be a perfect fit for the Patriots’ offense, regardless of which players come back next season.
An athletic receiver with great hands, body control and ball-tracking ability, Patton can be a dynamic receiver on the outside, but can also make plays inside in the slot. While he is not the speed burner that some of the class’ other receivers are, he is a great fit for the Patriots’ intermediate passing offense.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The Atlanta Falcons need to add another difference-maker to their defensive line. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah is a risky first-round selection, but the boom-or-bust pick could be exactly the difference-maker the Falcons need on their defensive front if he lives up to his potential.
With only three years of football experience, Ansah may still be scratching the surface of his potential. He has great length and athleticism, and can rush both outside and inside while he is a playmaker in run defense as well.
Ansah does not have a great first-step and lacks technique, but his upside would make him tough for the Falcons to pass up late in Round 1.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Xavier Rhodes, CB/S, Florida State
The Super Bowl only highlighted what had the San Francisco 49ers’ glaring weakness all season: their secondary giving up big passing plays. The 49ers need to upgrade in the secondary, especially at cornerback, so it makes sense for them to draft the best-available cornerback in the first round in Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes.
A physical man-to-man cover corner with great size, length and tackling ability, Rhodes is a good fit for the 49ers’ defense. He is not a great open-field runner for a cornerback, but his physicality and ball skills give him the potential to be a difference-maker, and he could spend time at safety as well, especially if the 49ers were to lose free safety Dashon Goldson as an unrestricted free agent.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
With a number of character red flags to his name including a recent DUI arrest, chances are very good that Georgia’s Alec Ogletree could take a steep fall down the draft board. But if the Baltimore Ravens are willing to take a chance on Ogletree and believe that they can get him in line to take advantage of his talent, he would be a great fit to replace Ray Lewis at inside linebacker.
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. He would be a good fit to start next to Dannell Ellerbe and be a playmaker on the Ravens defense — as long as he can keep himself on the field and out of trouble.