NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Less than two weeks until the 2013 NFL draft, we are in an unusual situation: the draft board has not gotten a whole lot clearer than it was a few weeks ago. That said, speculation is running more rampant than ever.
In this mock draft, I continued to look at how recent trades and free-agent signings have affected teams’ draft strategies, while projecting four possible first-round trades that shook up the draft order.
The New England Patriots are among the teams in a different situation in this mock draft. With the Patriots likely to be giving up their third-round draft pick for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, they would address their position of greatest need but also lose a valuable selection, leaving them without any picks in Rounds 3-6. With just two picks in the 2013 NFL draft before Round 7, the Patriots are among the teams who could make a deal before making any picks at all.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Less than two weeks away from the start for the 2013 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs’ left tackle picture has not gotten much clearer. That left tackle could be Branden Albert, who the Chiefs franchise tagged, but as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, they could also be looking to trade him.
Without a long-term commitment in place for Albert, the most likely selection at the No. 1 overall pick remains one of the draft’s top left tackles. If so, that pick should be Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, a left tackle with the footwork, technique, length and power to be one of the NFL’s best for many years to come.
If the Chiefs do end up sticking with Albert at left tackle, it appears their choice could end up being Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan.
Although Jordan would be a very risky No. 1 overall choice and does not address a position of immediate need for the Chiefs, they could be lured into drafting him on his athleticism and upside. Jeff Risdon of Detroit Lions Draft and Bleacher Report’s Ryan Riddle have both reported from sources that the Chiefs are currently leaning toward Jordan at the top of the board — but with nearly two weeks remaining, there remains plenty of time for that to change, especially if they receive any trade interest for Albert.
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 done a good job this offseason adding many veteran free-agent bargains to their defense, 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 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.
Lotulelei still faces some medical questions after being sent home early from the NFL Scouting Combine due to a heart issue, but he has been cleared by a heart specialist (per USA Today) and participated fully in Utah’s pro day since.
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.
PROJECTED 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.
The Dolphins are reportedly interested in Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson (per the Palm Beach Post’s Ben Volin) 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 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
The Arizona Cardinals should be in the market for offensive line upgrades early in the 2013 NFL draft, 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.
Considering that Dion Jordan is a potential selection at either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick, the Cardinals may find him tough to pass up at No. 7 overall. He is a boom-or-bust prospect, but a player with elite measurables with the potential to develop into a dynamic defensive playmaker.
The Cardinals have indicated possible interest in Jordan by hosting him for an official visit, per Revenge of the Birds.
PROJECTED TRADE: The Buffalo Bills trade the No. 8 and No. 71 overall selections to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the No. 13, No. 43 and No. 126 overall selections.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Buffalo Bills): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
With no quarterback worth a top-10 draft pick and no other clear-cut choice for the Buffalo Bills at No. 8 overall, there is good reason to believe they will be looking to trade down in Round 1. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers really need to add a playmaker and shutdown cornerback, which could make Alabama’s Dee Milliner worth trading up for.
Milliner is a big, athletic cornerback who plays with physicality, has great ball skills and good instincts. The missing piece in the Buccaneers secondary is a true No. 1 cornerback: Milliner could be that guy.
Given the cornerback depth in the draft class, the Buccaneers may prefer to stay put and draft a cornerback on Day 2 instead. That said, Milliner would be as good as any player they could add to their roster in this draft class, and would be worth making an aggressive move up the board to secure as the clear frontrunner of even a deep cornerback class.
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): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Having traded down, the Cleveland Browns would have more flexibility to draft a player they covet at a position of need and worry less about specific value. Nonetheless, a player who would make sense at No. 12 overall is Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro.
The Browns continue to need talent in the secondary, especially at the free safety position next to T.J. Ward. An all-around playmaker at the position with good cover skills and the versatility to also line up at slot cornerback, but who is also a ferocious hitter in run defense, Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro would be an upside pick who could bolster the Browns’ secondary.
Having traded down, Alabama’s Chance Warmack would also be a great choice for a guard upgrade at the No. 12 overall pick.
13. Buffalo Bills (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Matt Barkley, QB, USC
After trading down to get better value, drafting a first-round quarterback still seems like the right move for the Buffalo Bills, even having signed Kevin Kolb to a two-year contract. As explained well by Pro Football Talk, Kolb’s incentive-laden deal is built for him to have to compete for the starting quarterback job — and that competition should come in the form of a draft pick in addition to Tarvaris Jackson (who was in a similar situation in the three-way battle with Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn in Seattle last year).
That makes the two most likely first-round picks for the Buffalo Bills to be USC’s Matt Barkley and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, the two hottest names at the quarterback position in the 2013 draft class outside of Geno Smith.
That decision could easily go either way: Manuel has higher upside and more athleticism, but Barkley is a more efficient pocket passer who reads defenses better. The decision could come down to the Bills’ plan for 2013 and beyond: Barkley is the better choice if they are looking for an immediate rookie starter, but Manuel could get the nod if the Bills are content developing a rookie quarterback behind Kolb/Jackson for 2013.
14. Carolina Panthers: Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
With a great deal of value still on the board at defensive tackle, 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 has not gotten as much attention as some of the other defensive tackles still on the draft board, but he should be getting that attention. He is a massive and physical nose tackle who is terrific against the run, but he is also a very quick athlete for his size who can penetrate and play on all three downs.
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: 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.