NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Updated March 1st
The draft picture looks a whole lot different after the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine than it did going in.
The projected No. 1 overall pick in last week’s mock draft, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, was red flagged at the combine for a heart condition, which caused him to drop from the top spot. Meanwhile, the potential for West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to take the top spot also became very unlikely when reports came forward Wednesday that the Kansas City Chiefs are trading their second-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers for quarterback Alex Smith.
How did those events, as well as all the players who made a bigger name for themselves at the combine, affect the picture in this mock draft, now less than two months away from the 2013 NFL draft? Read through the following pages to find out.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Sheldon Richardson, DE, Missouri
In the past week, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson has gone from a sleeper to be the No. 1 overall pick to a forefront candidate.
With the Chiefs reportedly having a deal in place to acquire Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers, a quarterback is highly unlikely be the pick at the top of the board. Meanwhile, the stock of Star Lotulelei, an outstanding defensive line talent who has a chance to be the first Utah player to go No. 1 overall since Smith, is up in the air after he was sent home from the combine due to a heart condition.
That could lead the Chiefs to Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, but that also becomes less likely if they re-sign unrestricted free agent Branden Albert. Still needing an upgrade at defensive end, the best draft pick may be Richardson. Richardson is a quick, explosive defensive lineman who projects well to playing the 5-technique position in a 3-4, and has as much upside as any prospect in the draft.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
If new head coach Gus Bradley is going to build up a great defense in Jacksonville like he did in Seattle, he needs to rebuild the personnel at all three levels. A great place to start would be on the defensive line, where the roster lacks a three-down difference-maker.
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd would be a great fit for Bradley’s hybrid leo scheme, in which Floyd would take on a role that encompasses playing from both the 3- and 5-technique on the defensive line. Floyd is a very well-rounded defensive tackle who is both an explosive interior pass-rusher and a powerful run-stopper, and could be a great piece to build around and improve the defense in both areas.
3. Oakland Raiders: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
With only 25 total sacks, the Oakland Raiders were one of the NFL’s worst pass-rushing teams last season. Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner could help fix that problem.
Werner is an explosive rusher off the edge with great speed, length and rush technique, but he is also strong at the point of attack and is good in space as a run defender. He is the best 4-3 defensive end in the draft class, and can be the premier pass-rusher the Raiders lack.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Philadelphia Eagles have greater needs than at left tackle, but if Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is still available at the No. 4 overall pick, he will be tough to pass upon.
Joeckel could be a franchise player to lead the Eagles’ offensive line for many years to come. For a unit that struggled with injuries and disappointing performances in 2012, the long, angular and athletic Joeckel could be a leader and star for the group going forward.
Jason Peters is one of the NFL’s best left tackles but is coming off multiple injuries to his Achilles tendon. If Peters returns to his All-Pro form, Joeckel could be an immediate upgrade at right tackle, which would allow the Eagles to fill a need at right guard by shifting Todd Herremans inside, all the while grooming Joeckel into their left tackle of the future.
If his health checks out, Utah’s Star Lotulelei would be an ideal choice who can play both defensive end and nose tackle in the Eagles’ new 3-4 defense, but until those questions are answered, Joeckel looks like the stronger choice here.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Detroit Lions are already very weak at cornerback, and their best cornerback, Chris Houston, is an unrestricted free agent.
Upgrading at the position is arguably their biggest need. Alabama’s Dee Milliner is an outstanding all-around cornerback prospect with great length and ball skills, coverage instincts, speed and physical play.
The importance of having a strong and deep secondary is increasing in importance every year, which makes a cornerback prospect like Milliner well worth a top-5 investment. Milliner can be an immediate upgrade at the position, and is among the best players available.
6. Cleveland Browns: Barkevious Mingo, OLB/DE, LSU
The Cleveland Browns’ greatest need is for an explosive hybrid pass-rusher to star on the edge in their new defensive scheme under coordinator Ray Horton. There is no pass-rusher in the draft class more explosive than LSU’s Barkevious Mingo.
Mingo is a boom-or-bust prospect, but has star potential and would be a good fit for Horton’s scheme, which will likely be based in the 3-4 defense. Mingo’s best position at the next level projects to be at outside linebacker, given his long, lean frame combined with outstanding athletic ability. That said, he has shown at LSU that he can also be a dynamic pass-rusher as a down lineman in a four-man front.
Mingo has some flaws in his game, but most of the top pass-rushers in this year’s draft class are high-risk, high-reward selections. Among those players, Mingo is the best suited to come in and immediately be an impact player for the Browns’ defense.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Arizona Cardinals have a major need at quarterback, but they also desperately need to rebuild their offensive line. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is very much in play at this selection as a potential franchise quarterback, but the better value would be to add a legitimate top-10 prospect and franchise left tackle talent in Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.
Rebuilding the line starts with improving pass protection, especially at left tackle. Fisher is an outstanding pass-protector with great length and quick feet. He can be an immediate starter.
8. Buffalo Bills: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Buffalo Bills need to upgrade at quarterback, but without any signal-callers who have proven themselves worthy of being a top-10 selection, the Bills may decide their best move is to add a much-needed linebacker in Round 1 and wait on a quarterback until later in the draft.
Although it is rumored by TFY Draft Insider that Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones could have a “DaQuan Bowers type drop” in this year’s draft due to concerns with his spinal stenosis, he is one of the draft’s best prospects and would be a good fit for the Bills’ defense.
A very talented all-around linebacker who can make plays all over the field and is an athletic pass-rusher off the edge, Jones fits the Bills’ new defensive scheme because he can play outside linebacker in any package. Injury risk aside, Jones is a very talented playmaker who could be the missing piece for the Bills’ defensive front seven.
9. New York Jets: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
After Mark Sanchez’s dismal 2012 campaign, it is quite clear the Jets need to find a new franchise quarterback. If West Virginia’s Geno Smith is still on the board at the No. 9 overall pick, it would come as a big surprise if the Jets pass him up.
Smith has flaws in his game — footwork, pocket presence, reads under pressure — that create concerns about him as a franchise quarterback, but it will still be a surprise if he falls outside of the top 10 picks. With a strong arm, great release and good athleticism, Smith has the most upside of any quarterback in the 2013 draft class.
Throwing Smith into the fire in New York is a dangerous premise, but with a handicapping Mark Sanchez contract that will likely stop them from adding another veteran quarterback, Smith may be their best option.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
If there are any long-term concerns about Star Lotulelei’s health as a result of the heart condition he was sent home from the combine for, he is likely to fall quite a bit in the draft. But unless the condition is viewed as potentially career-curtailing, his talent will outweigh potential risk at some point, and the Tennessee Titans could be the team to take that chance.
Defensive tackle isn’t necessarily among the Titans’ biggest needs, but they could use a three-down impact player like Lotulelei. He is an outstanding run stopper and penetrator who also offers interior pass-rush ability, and can be a real difference-maker on the Titans’ defensive front.
Lotulelei makes a strong case for being the draft class’ best prospect if healthy, and would be good value based on his talent at the end of the top 10.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
After an outstanding display of athleticism and footwork at this year’s combine, the stock of Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson continues to rise. If he makes it out of the top 10 draft picks, the Chargers should not hesitate to select him at No. 11 overall.
The Chargers need to upgrade badly at left tackle, and could get a potentially great one in Johnson. While he needs to gain upper-body strength and become more polished, his outstanding athletic ability, great lower-body strength and good length should all make him an immediate upgrade for the Chargers and a long-term star of their offensive line.
12. Miami Dolphins: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The stock of BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has been quickly on the rise. Although a raw player who needs significant development yet, the Ghanaian product is a boom-or-bust prospect with a great combination of size, length and athletic upside. The Dolphins are a team who could very well take a shot on Ansah.
The Dolphins should be in the market for an upgrade at defensive end, and if Ansah manages to live up to his potential, he could form a formidable duo at the position along with Cameron Wake. While Ansah isn’t quite the explosive pass-rusher Wake is, his inside rush ability and ability to break up passes at the line of scrimmage make him intriguing.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
If the Buccaneers make the decision to void the rest of Eric Wright’s contract and release him this offseason, they will be left without any sure starters at the cornerback position. The Buccaneers would be smart to upgrade at the position in the first round of this year’s draft, and could do that quickly with the addition of Missisippi State’s Johnthan Banks.
While Banks could slide down the board due to a disappointing combine performance, he is a very good cornerback worth a mid-first-round selection. A cornerback with great size and length, ball skills and who plays with physicality, Banks could immediately add much-needed stability to the Buccaneers’ secondary.
14. Carolina Panthers:Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The Carolina Panthers have a major need to upgrade at defensive tackle, and fortunately for them, there are many first-round talents available at the position in the 2013 NFL draft. The best choice among those still available is Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins, a massive nose tackle who is also deceptive quick and explosive.
The Panthers need to add a player with the strength and size to occupy blockers, while also being able to create more pressure on their interior defensive line. They could get that out of Hankins, which would enable players in the Panthers’ defensive front like Charles Johnson and Luke Kuechly to make more plays in the backfield.
15. New Orleans Saints: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon
As the New Orleans Saints transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme next season, they need to re-stock their roster at each level of their defense for better scheme fits. A logical area to address in Round 1 is at outside linebacker, where the Saints need to find a potential impact player to come off the edge.
That player could be Oregon’s Dion Jordan. As expected, Jordan stood out athletically in the combine. Although he is a raw player who needs to develop better pass-rush technique, he has huge upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Jordan has a rare combination of size and athleticism, and although still developing as a pass-rusher, he is also a good tackler in space and solid in coverage.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The St. Louis Rams added two young wide receivers last season with big upside in Brian Quick and Chris Givens, but they still have a lack of star playmakers to put around quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams could change that quickly by adding the most dynamic skill-position player in the 2013 draft class, Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson is a jack-of-all-trades who utilizes a rare combination of size, speed and open-field running ability to consistently make big plays. He has the potential to be a very good outside receiver at the next level, but can also be used as a runner and as a returner.
The Rams have bigger needs than wide receiver, but Patterson’s star potential could be tough to pass up in the middle of Round 1.