NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Final Update: 4/24, 11:30 p.m. ET
The day of the 2013 NFL Draft is finally here, when all the speculation will come to an end in a draft that is sure to be full of reaches, steals and surprise picks.
The actual draft is likely to destroy our mock drafts even more than usual this year. Less than 24 hours until the Kansas City Chiefs go on the clock, who they will select at the No. 1 overall pick remains uncertain, though Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher appear to be the most likely choices.
As a result, you should be able to find a wide variety of mock drafts not only here on NEPatriotsDraft, but throughout the NFL Draft Sites Network and the World Wide Web. Here’s my own, unique take on how the first three rounds of the draft could, hypothetically, play out.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
As the draft approaches closer, the most likely scenario for the Kansas City Chiefs appears to be that they will trade franchise-tagged left tackle Branden Albert, and draft his replacement with the No. 1 overall pick. According to USA Today’s Lindsay Jones, the Chiefs are currently negotiating with the Miami Dolphins for an Albert trade, which would open the door for the Chiefs’ selection to either be Joeckel or Fisher.
Both players are very well-rounded prospects who have the ability to be outstanding NFL left tackles, but in my opinion, the edge should go to Joeckel when the smokescreening comes to an end. He is as good as any prospect in the draft class, a skilled pass-protector with great size and length, who has great footwork in pass protection and who does a great job of kicking out and getting to the second level as a run blocker.
Fisher is a slightly better athlete with more power, while Joeckel is the more polished technician with proven dominance against SEC competition. Joeckel is most ready to step in from Day 1 and be an NFL left tackle, which should get him the nod here, but neither pick would come as a surprise.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
After months of being projected almost universally among the top draft picks, some draft prognosticators have started to drop West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in their late mock drafts. Yet although I personally think Smith should be a late first-round or early second-round pick, I don’t think he’ll be on the board for long.
Quarterbacks are consistently overdrafted because of need, and if the Jaguars believe Smith can be the franchise quarterback Blaine Gabbert has not proven to be — it’s unknown whether they do — they will likely select him at No. 2 overall (or trade down to select him if anyone will bite on moving up). The Jaguars have a new head coach in Gus Bradley and new general manager David Caldwell, both of whom attended Smith’s pro day, and could be looking for a new signal-caller to lead the roster they are trying to build.
If the Jaguars are going to look in another direction, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei would be the best choice as a disruptive defensive tackle who can be a cog for their defense and much-needed playmaker on their defensive line. It would come as no surprise, however, if the Jaguars look to Smith as an answer to their “wide-open” quarterback competition.
3. Oakland Raiders: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Oakland Raiders have made a major effort to improve their defense this offseason, signing a double-digit number of veteran free agents to compete for playing time in their defense next season. They don’t have many impact players in that group, however, especially on the defensive line.
The Raiders’ biggest need of their defense is to improve the pass-rush off the edge, but their best strategy would be to simply draft the highest-rated defensive player on their board. That player should be Utah’s Star Lotulelei, an outstanding defensive tackle who can play both the 1-technique nose tackle and 3-technique defensive tackle spots, and has the potential to be a truly dominant force.
Lotulelei has it all: explosive quickness, great strength and power, nose tackle size with 3-technique athleticism, and can both plug gaps and penetrate the line with his quickness. The Raiders need a star to build their defense around, and they could get that from Lotulelei, who has as much upside and ability as any prospect in the draft class.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The closer we get to the draft, the fewer picks it seems that Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher will still be on the board. But although offensive tackles have been rumored at both the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks, those rumors are likely coming from a place of smokescreening, as both teams could be looking to trade down, while neither team needs a left tackle.
The Eagles, on the other hand, look like a legitimate landing spot for Fisher. While they already have one of the NFL’s best left tackles in Jason Peters, he is coming off of a torn Achilles and is 31 years old. Even so, the Eagles could draft Fisher, install him at right tackle while moving Todd Herremans inside to right guard, strengthening their entire offensive line while grooming Fisher as their franchise left tackle of the future.
To run the quick offense that Chip Kelly will want to run in Philadelphia, a quick offensive line up front is a prerequisite. An athletic offensive tackle like Fisher, who is a great pass-blocker with ideal size and length but also has the power to be a very good lead run blocker at right tackle, would be a good fit in Philadelphia, especially with Star Lotulelei off the board.
5. Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young
Having lost both of their starting offensive tackles from last season, the ideal situation for the Detroit Lions is for Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher to fall into their spot at the No. 5 overall pick. With Fisher off the board, Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson becomes a good option himself, but another possibility for the Lions is to address a major need for a pass-rushing defensive end with Brigham Young’s Ezekiel Ansah.
A boom-or-bust prospect with limited football experience, Ansah is a very risky choice as a top-five overall pick, but the Lions could easily fall in love with his potential, especially after having the opportunity to work with him closely at the Senior Bowl, where the Lions’ coaching staff coached the South squad, which Ansah played on.
Ansah has a raw game and needs to improve his technique, but his size, athleticism and flashes of brilliance as both a pass-rusher and run defender have had him rising up draft boards throughout the pre-draft process. The Lions desperately need to find a new premier pass-rusher for their defensive line, and Ansah could very well be the guy.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Cleveland Browns have one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in Joe Haden, but they need an upgrade over the spot opposite him dubbed by some Browns fans as the “(Buster) Skrine door.” They can get that immediate upgrade by selecting Alabama’s Dee Milliner.
Milliner is a long, athletic and physical cornerback with great ball skills and No. 1 cornerback potential. In Cleveland, he could step in right away at the No. 2 spot opposite Haden, and quickly form one of the NFL’s best cornerback tandems.
As one of the best players available addressing a major area of need, Milliner — who TFY Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline reported to be the Browns’ No. 1 draft priority — makes perfect sense as the team’s first-round pick.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Simply put, upgrading the offensive line is an absolute must for the Arizona Cardinals in this year’s draft. The Cardinals gave up a league-high 58 sacks last year, and in an effort to improve their pass-protection, finding a franchise left tackle in Round 1 would be a great place to start.
If one of the draft class’ top three offensive tackles is still available at the No. 7 overall pick, the Cardinals should not pass up the opportunity to draft one of them. Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson is not quite as polished as Joeckel or Fisher, but may have the most upside of the trio, as a converted tight end with a truly rare and special combination of athleticism, length and strength for the left tackle position.
8. Buffalo Bills: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
The Buffalo Bills could certainly be in the market for a first-round quarterback, but that could change if Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan is still available at the No. 8 overall pick.
Rumored to be a possibility at both the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks, Jordan is one of the draft class’ hottest prospects. I expect him to fall a little farther, but if he is still available when the Bills are on the clock, they could be hard-pressed to pass upon his upside.
The Bills could use another hybrid pass-rusher, and Jordan’s length, athleticism and versatility not only give him star potential, but make him a very good fit to play in the Bills’ new “ameoba” defensive scheme. Although certainly a boom-or-bust prospect, it seems increasingly more likely that Jordan will be among the top selections in the 2013 NFL draft. The Bills, who brought Jordan in for an official visit earlier this month according to the team’s official website, are likely to have interest in him if he is available.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
After acquiring a second first-round pick in trading Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the possibilities for their first-round picks are now wide open. But if there is one position that the Jets should certainly address with one of the two picks, that should be finding a premier hybrid pass-rushing prospect.
LSU’s Barkevious Mingo would be a terrific fit if available at the No. 9 overall pick. Possibly the best conversion pass-rushing prospect for a 3-4 defense in the draft class, Mingo is an explosive athlete who compares favorably to Bruce Irvin, who the Jets targeted in last year’s draft according to The Sports Xchange’s Len Pasquarelli.
Like Irvin, Mingo is undersized and a weak point-of-attack run defender, but projects very well at outside linebacker given his sideline-to-sideline speed and ability to make plays in space.
10. Tennessee Titans: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
By addressing some of their more immediate needs in free agency, the Tennessee Titans have angled themselves toward taking a chance on a big-impact player, with a pass-rusher looking like a likely route. The Tennessee Titans have a decent pair of starting defensive ends in Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, but could be looking to spark that rotation with an explosive, high-upside player off the edge.
Florida State’s Bjoern Werner does not quite have the athletic upside that Ansah, Jordan and Mingo have, but he is a more polished pass-rusher and better all-around player than any of them.
Werner has great snap anticipation, explodes off the line of scrimmage and has very good pass-rushing technique. He is a three-down player who is also a strong run defender, and he has good size for the defensive end position. Werner is likely to be one of the best and most productive players from this draft, and he would be an upgrade and add an impact player to the Titans’ defensive line.
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 the draft’s top guard and best available player on the board, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper is a terrific all-around guard prospect, with truly outstanding footwork and rare athleticism for an interior offensive lineman, but also has great size and power. He is very skilled as both an interior pass-blocker and as a pull run blocker, but can drive defenders back in-line as well.
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, and even at a position where players are not usually top-20 draft picks, Cooper’s rare talent makes him very good value outside the top 10.
12. Miami Dolphins: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The Miami Dolphins’ first-round strategy will likely be shaped by whether they fill their need of an offensive tackle by trading for Kansas City Chiefs veteran Branden Albert. If that trade ends up happening, the possibilities could be wide open for the Dolphins at the No. 12 overall pick, who will still have four picks in the first three rounds even if they trade one of their second-round picks for Albert.
The Dolphins have done a good job this offseason of adding weapons for young quarterback Ryan Tannehill to work with, signing wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller to give the team more downfield playmakers. Keller, however, is only signed for a one-year contract, and the Dolphins have a chance to get a true star at the tight end position by selecting Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert.
With a terrific combination of size, athleticism and receiving ability, Eifert has the potential for greatness. While his blocking still leaves something to be desired, he can be a go-to receiving target in the middle of the field and is a big downfield playmaker who can stretch the field. He is one of the draft’s top talents, and would be a great addition to the Dolphins as they continue to rebuild their offense.
13. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The New York Jets received this selection in return for trading cornerback Darrelle Revis, which is leaving their secondary looking quite weak outside of Antonio Cromartie. Either a cornerback or safety would be a smart selection for the Jets with the No. 13 overall pick to add an impact player to the secondary and still building the defensive backfield back up.
Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro is projected to be a selection in the top half of Round 1, and he would make sense for the Jets here. He adds a much-needed impact playmaker at the safety position as a hard-hitting, athletic striker with good coverage skills, while he also has the ability to fill a need at slot corner situationally.
Taking a chance on a new franchise player by selecting a quarterback is also a possibility for the Jets, but with no sure-fire first-round quarterbacks on the board, they may be better off bolstering their secondary with Vaccaro.
14. Carolina Panthers: Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
With fantastic value still on the board at the defensive tackle position, the choice for the Carolina Panthers’ first-round pick should come down to which player at the position is the best fit for their defensive scheme. The Panthers have a major need at defensive tackle, but the best choice would be powerful and explosive nose tackle Jesse Williams of Alabama.
Williams is not the interior pass-rusher that Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson and Florida’s Sharrif Floyd are — and therefore, he hasn’t received as much attention as a draft prospect — but he is a massive lineman with the potential to be a fantastic run-stopper, not only due to his size and strength but also due to very good athleticism and quickness for his size.
Williams can be a three-down player for the Panthers, and though it would come as a shock to many if he is selected over both Richardson and Floyd, it shouldn’t. For a team in need of increasing their run-stopping presence up front, Williams is a terrific fit.
15. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Richardson, DE, Missouri
As the New Orleans Saints convert to a 3-4 defense, they need to reinforce their defensive front seven. An ideal first-round choice would be Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, an explosive athlete and interior pass-rusher who projects very well to playing 5-technique defensive end in a three-man front.
The Saints need an impact player on their defensive line, and they can get that from Richardson, who could form a very good defensive end tandem with Cameron Jordan, a great run-stopper. Richardson is great value at the end of the top 15, and has huge upside with his ability to shoot interior gaps, make plays in the backfield and draw double-teams.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
There has been a lot of talk about the Rams drafting West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, and with good reason. The Rams could use another playmaker at the wide receiver position, and Austin is as explosive as they come while a perfect fit to replace Danny Amendola in the slot.
Austin is small, but makes up for his lack of size with fantastic speed and agility. He is a threat to turn any play into a big play, while he is a clean route-runner with good hands, and can also be used as a running threat out of the backfield.
Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday that the Rams are likely to draft either Austin or Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins, and that favor would likely go toward Austin if both are available.