NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The 2013 NFL Draft is officially less than a month away, and more than two weeks into NFL free agency, the pace of signings has slowed down considerably even though they are still some very significant veteran players available on the market.
The complexion of the draft’s picture, however, has continued to change as the draft becomes closer into sight. Notably, a fantastic pro day for Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, and a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Kansas City Chiefs are seeking a trade for left tackle Branden Albert, make it appear as though the No. 1 pick debate is back to where it was a few weeks ago: between Lotulelei and Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Whether the Chiefs will find a trade suitor for Albert, or whether they are actually interested in trading him at all, remains uncertain. But while it could be a smokescreen, Albert expressed to USA Today that he wants a long-term commitment, and there is no indication that the Chiefs plan to make that commitment to him.
As a result, Joeckel has re-emerged as the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick. He is the top prospect in the 2013 draft class, and has the footwork, technique, length and power to be one of the NFL’s best left tackles for many years to come.
While the Chiefs could certainly use defensive line help, Joeckel is a safer choice than any of the top defensive linemen, and drafting him allows the Chiefs to explore all options with Albert, including a trade or moving Albert to right tackle or inside to guard for the 2013 season.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Jacksonville Jaguars sent a full contingent of general manager David Caldwell, head coach Gus Bradley, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, director of player personnel Terry McDonough and vice president of technology and football analytics Tony Khan to West Virginia’s pro day, according to the Jaguars’ official Twitter account.
Considering that came just days into the start of NFL free agency, it would be hard to believe the Jaguars don’t have legitimate interest in drafting WVU quarterback Geno Smith at the No. 2 overall pick.
The best value choice for the Jaguars would be Star Lotulelei, who could be the disruptive force they lack at defensive tackle and a long-term cog for Bradley’s defense in Jacksonville. Quarterbacks, however, are consistently valued first and foremost, and if the Jaguars believe that Smith is the best quarterback for their franchise going forward, they will select him.
Caldwell previously said at the NFL Scouting Combine that the quarterback competition would be “wide-open” (per NFL.com), but as Blaine Gabbert has failed to prove himself as a worthy NFL starter in two seasons, that won’t preclude them from drafting a quarterback as early as the No. 2 overall pick.
3. Oakland Raiders: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Oakland Raiders have made a number of free-agent additions to their defensive front seven, but improving their pass-rush still persists as one of their most pressing needs. The Raiders would be smart to select the draft class’ best all-around defensive end, Bjoern Werner.
Werner may not be the athletic freak that Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan or Ezekiel Ansah is, but he is a much more well-rounded and polished football player. If the Raiders want to draft a player who can come in and immediately bolster their pass-rush while also being a three-down contributor who can make plays against the run, Werner is the right man for the selection.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Star Lotulelei, DT/DE, Utah
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted a very promising defensive lineman in Fletcher Cox with their first-round pick in last year’s draft, but they do not have much talent outside of him on their defensive line as they convert to a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Eagles could solve that problem quickly by drafting Utah’s Star Lotulelei.
Lotulelei’s stock had been falling after he was sent home early from the NFL Scouting Combine due to a heart issue. He is not out in the clear yet, but seemed to rule out it being a serious condition by participating fully in Utah’s pro day. Additionally, he boosted his stock back up by not only working out in his pro day, but completing an excellent workout, highlighted by 38 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Lotulelei projects to be a Haloti Ngata-type player in a 3-4 defensive scheme at the next level. He has the explosive quickness to be a terrific starting 5-technique defensive end, while he also has the size and power to kick inside to nose tackle. His versatility and ability to impact every play from the interior line makes him well worth a top-five pick if he checks out medically.
5. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Detroit Lions are going to have a new pair of starting offensive tackles next season. Longtime left tackle Jeff Backus retired, while right tackle Gosder Cherilus signed with the Indianapolis Colts. Drafting one of those offensive tackles with the No. 5 overall pick would be a very smart move for the Lions, and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is among the draft’s top talents.
Drafting Fisher would be the second consecutive first-round offensive tackle selected by the Lions, as they selected Iowa’s Riley Reiff with the No. 23 overall pick last season. Whether Reiff projects as the team’s long-term left tackle, however, is very much in question.
Fisher is a very good left tackle prospect who projects to be among the league’s top pass protectors for many years to come. By selecting Fisher, the Lions can keep Reiff at right tackle or inside at guard, while upgrading with a player who can come in immediately and lead the effort to keep Matt Stafford’s backside clean.
TRADE: The Miami Dolphins trade the No. 12 and No. 42 overall selections in the 2013 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns for the No. 6 and No. 139 overall selections.
6. Miami Dolphins (from Cleveland Browns): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
With two picks in both the second and third rounds, the Miami Dolphins have the ammunition to trade up from the No. 12 overall pick, while the Cleveland Browns will likely be looking to trade down given that they do not have a second round pick.
For the Dolphins, who need an offensive tackle to replace Jake Long, trading up for the opportunity to select the third of the top offensive tackle trio in the draft class would be a smart move, while the Browns can pick up the second-round pick they covet.
Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson is a high-upside prospect with prototypical length and athleticism for the left tackle position. He is not as polished of a player as either Joeckel or Fisher, but has the potential given his footwork, measurables and strength to be an elite player at his position.
If the Dolphins were to stay put at No. 12, Johnson would likely go off the board to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7 or if not, almost certainly to the San Diego Chargers at No. 11. With so much ammunition to work with in the early rounds, trading up to add Johnson would be a smart move that would pair Johnson and Jonathan Martin as one of the league’s most promising young offensive tackle duos.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
Considering the dire situations that the Arizona Cardinals have on their offensive line and at quarterback, it would seem the Cardinals would almost certainly address one of those positions with the No. 7 overall pick. But with the top three offensive tackles off the board, they could instead turn to the defensive side of the ball and address another need for a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
Oregon’s Dion Jordan is a boom-or-bust player, but projected to be an early selection based on his freakish athleticism and massive upside. An explosive athlete, he needs to become a more skilled pass-rusher, but could develop into the premier pass-rushing threat that the Cardinals lack at outside linebacker.
The Cardinals will likely draft a quarterback at some point, but having signed both Drew Stanton and Brian Hoyer to contracts in free agency, they seem to be angling away from drafting a signal-caller at No. 7. One of two guards, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack, would also be a great choice here, but it is extremely rare for guards to be top-10 overall selections.
TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline tweeted that the Cardinals hosted Jordan on an official visit, which indicates their interest in him. Offense may seem like the best route for the Cardinals’ first-round pick, but adding a defensive playmaker wouldn’t be a bad move either.
8. Buffalo Bills: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Following the release of incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, it is quite clear that the Buffalo Bills will be targeting a quarterback very early in the 2013 NFL draft.
USC’s Matt Barkley is one of the draft’s top quarterback prospects, and likely to be the second one selected after Geno Smith. If the Bills feel confident that Barkley can be a franchise quarterback ready to step in and lead their offense to increased success, expect them to take the opportunity to select him should he be available at the No. 8 overall pick.
Other quarterbacks could be in play here as well, if the Bills believe Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib or Florida State’s E.J. Manuel to be a franchise quarterback rather than Barkley. If the Bills decide to wait and draft one of those players in Round 2, Alabama guard Chance Warmack or LSU defensive end/linebacker Barkevious Mingo could be possibilities.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The New York Jets apparently coveted Bruce Irvin in last year’s draft, according to The Sports Xchange’s Len Pasquarelli, before Irvin went one pick earlier than their pick to the Seattle Seahawks. Now one year later, with the Jets desperately seeking a pass-rushing outside linebacker and their new general manager being John Idzik, who was with the Seahawks last year, they could get an even better version of Irvin in LSU’s Barkevious Mingo.
Like Irvin, Mingo is undersized and weak as a point-of-attack run defender, but is a terrific candidate to make a conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Like Irvin, Mingo is a gifted pass-rusher whose production dipped in his final collegiate season, but is an exceptional athlete with the potential to be an explosive sack machine.
10. Tennessee Titans: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young
The Tennessee Titans have a decent pair of starting defensive ends in Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, but lack a big-impact player at the position. With a number of free-agent signings at other positions that have addressed some of the team’s greater needs, the Titans seem to be angling themselves toward making a run at one of the draft’s premier pass-rushing prospects.
Of all the top defensive ends in the 2013 draft class, none has seemed to rise more over the course of the season than BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah has a very raw game that lacks solid technique, but he is a boom-or-bust prospect who flashes the athleticism and skill set to develop into a star.
Taking Ansah in the top 10 picks is a big risk, but it is appearing more and more likely he will be selected in that range of the draft, and the Tennessee Titans are a potential fit.
11. San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The San Diego Chargers’ greatest need is to revamp their offensive line, a need that has become even greater with the loss of guard Louis Vasquez to the Denver Broncos. With the top left tackles off the board, the Chargers should turn their sights to selecting one of the draft’s top two guards, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack.
Either is good value outside of the top 10 and both are fantastic prospects, but while Warmack has been hyped more, Cooper could end up being drafted ahead of him. Cooper has rare athleticism for a guard, but is also strong and powerful as a run blocker
A guard is not a sexy first-round pick, but Cooper would be an immediate upgrade on the interior offensive line with All-Pro potential. The Chargers need to rebuild their offensive line, and Cooper would be a great start.
12. Cleveland Browns (from Miami Dolphins): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Cleveland Browns have been active in addressing their need at cornerback this offseason, signing cornerbacks Chris Owens and Kevin Barnes and continuing to pursue free-agent cornerback Brent Grimes. Even so, Alabama’s Dee Milliner is likely to be their top target if they are unable to sign Grimes.
Having traded down, Milliner would be terrific value outside the top 10, and give the Browns an outstanding pair of cornerbacks with Milliner across from Joe Haden. The Browns are bringing in Milliner for an official visit, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Milliner is a long, athletic and physical cornerback who plays the ball well and has great coverage instincts. If the Browns miss out on Grimes, Milliner would be a great consolation choice in Round 1, especially if they first trade down.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
There is a lot of value on the board in this scenario at defensive tackle. The Buccaneers should take advantage of that value and add a top prospect to form a dynamic defensive tackle tandem with Gerald McCoy.
The best fit among them would be Alabama’s Jesse Williams. Williams, a big nose tackle with great quickness for his size, can be exactly the player they need to occupy blockers and free up McCoy and the Buccaneers’ linebackers to make more plays in the middle of the defense, while Williams is also a disruptive force on his own part.
Adding a true nose tackle like Williams next to a dynamic interior penetrator in McCoy could really form a presence in the heart of the Buccaneers’ defensive front.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Carolina Panthers are another team who should take advantage of the value on the board at defensive tackle. Florida’s Sharrif Floyd is a rising prospect who can greatly help the Panthers’ interior run presence, but is also an explosive penetrator who can improve their interior pass-rush.
Floyd is great value at the No. 14 overall pick, and can directly improve the Panthers at what is currently the weakest position on their roster. A terrific athlete who also has very good strength and fills well against the run, he can be an upgrade at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot.
15. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Richardson, DE, Missouri
The draft process will be important to the New Orleans Saints in rebuilding their defensive personnel to fit the 3-4 scheme. One of their biggest remaining needs is for a 5-technique defensive end to play opposite Cameron Jordan.
An explosive athlete and interior pass-rusher, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson is a great candidate to make the conversion to the 5-technique position at the next level. He is great value at the end of the top 15, and can immediately be an impact player on the Saints’ defensive front with his ability to shoot interior gaps, make plays in the backfield and draw double-teams.
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The St. Louis Rams have a pressing need at safety, with no legitimate starting options whatsoever following the release of Quintin Mikell and departure of Craig Dahl. The Rams would be smart to use one of their two first-round picks on securing a safety, and the most likely choice is Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro is an aggressive, hard-hitting safety who is effective in coverage, can play either safety spot and also line up in slot coverage. He is a versatile defender who can add another playmaker to the Rams’ secondary, and be a big upgrade in both pass coverage and run support at safety.