Pre-free agency NFL mock draft
By Jeff Saukaitis, Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Kansas City Chiefs have been on the clock for more than two months now, so it's time to hop on board and unveil a first 2013 NFL mock draft.
Before the draft takes place from April 25-27, many of these players will be working out for scouts at pro days. Areas of need will change for numerous teams after they fill some of their holes during free agency, which begins Tuesday.
This draft is said to be long on depth but short on top-level talent, so many teams will be trying to trade down. They will only be successful, however, if they can find partners willing to move up. That could prove to be difficult.
If trades happen, it could be the result of teams attempting to move into the bottom of the first round to snag quarterbacks. This mock will be updated a few days prior to the draft. For now, this is one take on what we might expect:
1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: LUKE JOECKEL, OT, TEXAS A&M
During the past few seasons, at least the No. 1 overall pick was fairly predictable by mid-March. That's not the case this year. The Chiefs last week franchised left tackle Branden Albert, so it looked like all those mocks projecting Joeckel to go first could be thrown out.
A couple of days later, though, right tackle Eric Winston was released, so taking an offensive tackle again seems to be a possibility. That would still make Joeckel the favorite to be selected here.
2. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: SHARRIF FLOYD, DT, FLORIDA
A pure pass rusher is probably more in demand, but Jacksonville has many needs. It would certainly help to go out and get a player who appears to be a sure thing at defensive tackle. Floyd's stock has been on the rise in recent weeks, and he would be a centerpiece upon which to rebuild the defense.
3. OAKLAND RAIDERS: STAR LOTULELEI, DT, UTAH
This looks like an extremely risky pick right now, but teams in the next few weeks will learn more about Lotulelei's apparent heart issue that was discovered during the NFL Combine. If the Raiders' team doctors clear the former Utah standout, he'd fill an obvious need in Oakland.
Oakland's current depth chart has unheralded Christo Bilukidi and overpaid Tommy Kelly as the starting defensive tackles. Clearly, the Raiders would do well to replace either one of them with a Star.
4. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: ERIC FISHER, OT, CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Switching to a 3-4 defense, Philadelphia has plenty of holes to fill on that side of the ball, such as the entire secondary. The Eagles also will need to start searching for their quarterback of the future to run Chip Kelly's unique offense.
Arguably, though, offensive line is still the Eagles' biggest need. Fisher has a chance to be drafted higher than this. If he's still available, he could easily be the pick.
5. DETROIT LIONS: DEE MILLINER, CB, ALABAMA
The Lions have big needs at both defensive end and cornerback. Whichever position the team doesn't address here will likely be addressed in the second round.
The guess is that Milliner will be the selection because he's the clear-cut No. 1 guy at his position. He's closer to being can't-miss than any of the defensive ends.
6. CLEVELAND BROWNS: EZEKIEL ANSAH, OLB, BRIGHAM YOUNG
At 6-foot-5, 271 pounds, Ansah could be targeted either by 4-3 defensive teams as an end or 3-4 teams as a rush linebacker. He's a freakishly gifted athlete in the mold of Jason Pierre-Paul, and he'll give new Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton a potentially elite playmaker for what he hopes will be an attacking unit.
7. ARIZONA CARDINALS: GENO SMITH, QB, WEST VIRGINIA
NFL personnel people are all over the board when it comes to evaluating the Class of 2013 quarterbacks. Smith was generally regarded as the highest-rated one before the Combine, although apparently many teams did not put a first- round grade on any of the signal-callers.
Last week, the popular scuttlebutt was that Southern Cal's Matt Barkley had surpassed Smith on several teams' draft boards. If the Cardinals pick a quarterback, though, Smith would seem to be a better fit for Bruce Arians' preferred vertical attack. Barkley would work more effectively in a West Coast offense.
8. BUFFALO BILLS: DION JORDAN, OLB, OREGON
While new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will probably run multiple fronts like he did in his previous job with the New York Jets, the 3-4 will likely be his primary base defense. That creates an even bigger emphasis on finding linebackers to help overhaul a defensive unit that was disappointing last year.
Pass-rushing outside linebackers appear abundant in this draft, but picking the guys who will prove to be the best ones at the next level will be the challenge. Following an impressive performance at the NFL Combine, Jordan looks like a good bet to be one of them.
9. NEW YORK JETS: JARVIS JONES, OLB, GEORGIA
Where Jones will be drafted will mostly depend on teams' medical staffs. Diagnosed with spinal stenosis after the 2009 season at Southern Cal, Jones eventually transferred to Georgia and became arguably the nation's most accomplished pass rusher.
The Jets' needs and Jones' immense talent would make this a logical pick, but it will depend on New York's doctors. This is just a guess that he'll pass their medical evaluation.
10. TENNESSEE TITANS: CHANCE WARMACK, G, ALABAMA
Warmack is considered by some to be the best overall prospect in this draft, but spending a high pick on a guard is usually frowned upon by pro personnel people.
Selecting a guy who projects to be a mauling run blocker would probably bring a smile to Titans running back Chris Johnson, however, and taking a guard in the top 10 is no longer as big an issue because of the rookie wage scale.
11. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: LANE JOHNSON, OT, OKLAHOMA
Quarterback Philip Rivers has slipped a bit during the past two seasons, primarily because he's been turning the ball over more often. The biggest factor has been a weakening offensive line that could really use a major facelift.
Johnson hasn't received the same pre-draft hype as Joeckel and Fisher, but he's incredibly athletic and well worth the investment at No. 11.
12. MIAMI DOLPHINS: CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, WR, TENNESSEE
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a promising rookie season. It compared favorably to John Elway's, for instance, but he didn't get as much attention because of the truly remarkable NFL debuts of fellow rookie signal-callers Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
Tannehill could take a major step forward merely by getting elite receivers to work with in Miami. If the No. 1 receiving prospect is still on the board here, it will be tough for Miami to pass on him, even after they likely add Mike Wallace through free agency.
13. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: XAVIER RHODES, CB, FLORIDA STATE
He's 6-2, 210 pounds and runs 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Rhodes has all the measurables, and Tampa Bay desperately needs to upgrade its pass defense.
With a number of pass rushers still on the board, Tampa Bay could instead go that route. As for the Bucs' other needs, it's probably too early to justify taking a tight end, and the safety class is deep enough that the position could be addressed in the later rounds.
14. CAROLINA PANTHERS: SHELDON RICHARDSON, DT, MISSOURI
Defensive tackle is the team's biggest need, and Richardson would be an excellent get for Carolina. The only concern would be whether he's still available at No. 14. Defensive tackles as explosive as the former Missouri star tend to be coveted on draft day. Teams that play a 3-4 base defense also will target Richardson as an end.
15. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: BARKEVIOUS MINGO, OLB, LOUISIANA STATE
Transitioning to a 3-4 defense with new coordinator Rob Ryan on hand, the Saints could really use a pass rushing presence at outside linebacker. Mingo, a hometown favorite, would be a popular pick.
Mingo didn't have a great 2012 season at LSU, and he'd have to transition from college end to pro outside linebacker. He has perfect speed and size, though, and he could prove to be a steal in the middle of the first round.
16. ST. LOUIS RAMS: JONATHAN COOPER, G, NORTH CAROLINA
Several teams have reportedly ranked Cooper ahead of Warmack at the guard position. It's not known whether the Rams are one of those teams, but they'd be pleased to see Cooper still on the board here.
They could opt for a safety or a wide receiver, but those positions are fairly deep in this draft, and St. Louis has two more picks in the top 46.
17. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: KENNY VACCARO, S, TEXAS
With Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on the roster, Pittsburgh is pretty solid at safety. At the start of the 2013 campaign, however, Polamalu will be 32 and Clark 33. Also, Clark will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Pittsburgh's philosophy has usually been to take the best player available. The Steelers could use a pass-rushing outside linebacker, but some of the best ones will be off the board by this pick.
18. DALLAS COWBOYS: SYLVESTER WILLIAMS, DT, NORTH CAROLINA
Dallas clearly needs help on both the offensive and defensive lines. The guess here is that they'll go with defense, since the top three offensive tackles and top two offensive guards could be gone by No. 18.
Defensive end Anthony Spencer has been tagged as the Cowboys' franchise player, so tackle has become the defense's biggest need. Williams is still a developing player, but he could eventually become a real difference maker in the interior line with his size and speed combination.
19. NEW YORK GIANTS: BJOERN WERNER, DE, FLORIDA STATE
The Giants need an inside linebacker, and they could end up with the pick of the litter at that position. The guess, however, is that if the board falls this way, New York will find it hard to pass up on Werner, based on its propensity to take pass rushers with its top picks.
Talent evaluators have a difference of opinion on Werner. Some believe he is the top pass rusher in the draft. Others originally thought he'd best fit as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but his 4.83 clocking in the 40-yard dash at the Combine hurt his stock in that regard.
20. CHICAGO BEARS: TYLER EIFERT, TE, NOTRE DAME
The Bears got just 19 catches from starting tight end Kellen Davis last year, so an upgrade is badly needed. Eifert would probably be the best fit, and he could immediately emerge as Jay Cutler's No. 2 target, behind only Brandon Marshall.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: ALEC OGLETREE, ILB, GEORGIA
Inside linebacker figures to be a major emphasis for Cincinnati in this draft, and Ogletree is probably the most physically gifted player the team could draft at the position.
There are plenty of off-the-field concerns with the former Georgia standout, though, and they could possibly prevent him from being selected in the first round. Over the years, however, Cincinnati has not shied away from taking players with a checkered past. Maybe the Bengals will give Ogletree a shot.
22. ST. LOUIS RAMS: KEENAN ALLEN, WR, CALIFORNIA
There's no question the Rams need to get more weapons for promising quarterback Sam Bradford, and that need will only be accentuated if the team fails to retain free agent Danny Amendola.
Allen didn't participate in Combine drills because he is recovering from a torn left posterior cruciate ligament. If he runs a strong 40-yard dash time at his pro day next month, he would be a solid pick here.
23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: JESSE WILLIAMS, DT, ALABAMA
Remember the Williams Wall in Minnesota? Pat Williams and Kevin Williams were the Vikings' defensive tackle tandem from 2005-10, combining to give Minnesota two of the league's finest run stoppers.
Provided Kevin Williams returns for the 2013 season (which might require a restructured contract), the Vikings could have another version of the Williams Wall by drafting Jesse Williams. The 323-pounder would help shore up a major weakness and bring much-needed youth to the defensive line rotation.
24: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: JOHNATHAN HANKINS, DT, OHIO STATE
The Colts were probably the NFL's most improved team last year, but they only ranked 29th in run defense. That has to change.
This draft is deep at defensive tackle, and Hankins could be the pick here because he possesses as much upside and versatility as any of the tackles that figure to still be on the board.
25: MINNESOTA VIKINGS (FROM SEATTLE): TAVON AUSTIN, WR, WEST VIRGINIA
After running a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, Austin probably catapulted into the first round despite his 5-9, 174-pound frame. For a team that traded Percy Harvin, Austin would be a replacement with an almost identical skill set.
26: GREEN BAY PACKERS: D.J. FLUKER, OT, ALABAMA
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy is a popular mock selection for the Packers here, and that certainly could happen because it would patch a huge hole.
However, there's plenty of running back depth to be had in the middle rounds, while the tackle pool drops off a bit behind Fluker.
27: HOUSTON TEXANS: KEVIN MINTER, ILB, LOUISIANA STATE
Houston could use a wide receiver to start opposite Andre Johnson, but its biggest need on defense is at inside linebacker. If Ogletree is off the board, the Texans' top options would be Minter or Notre Dame's highly publicized Manti Te'o.
Taking Minter would be the safer option. He's a lunch-pail, high-effort guy who should make a solid transition to the pros.
28. DENVER BRONCOS: DESMOND TRUFANT, CB, WASHINGTON
The secondary let Denver down in the playoffs, so the Broncos would probably be giddy if Trufant is available to them at No. 28. He ran a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine and has probably had the best offseason of any cornerback prospect.
29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: MATT ELAM, S, FLORIDA
New England needs to revamp its secondary, and this would be a good place to start. There's a rumor the Patriots are interested in bringing free agent Ed Reed aboard. If they opt to go in another direction, though, Elam would be able to provide big-play capability like Reed has for Baltimore.
30. ATLANTA FALCONS: DATONE JONES, DE, UCLA
The Falcons could use help in the secondary, and they might need a tight end, too, if they can't talk future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez out of retirement. Perhaps their biggest need could be finding a replacement for former ace pass rusher John Abraham.
Jones won't be the pure pass rusher that Abraham was, but he will be a three- down, high-effort end who will make his share of impact plays.
31: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: JOHNTHAN BANKS, CB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
Banks was more highly regarded before the Combine, where he ran just a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash. This is just a hunch that the 49ers, who have drafted brilliantly in recent seasons, will rely more on game tape than stopwatches for their evaluation and grab this productive player.
32: BALTIMORE RAVENS: DAMONTRE MOORE, DE/OLB, TEXAS A&M
Moore's stock took a nosedive at the Combine. He was thought to be a potential top-five pick, but his 40-yard dash time of 4.95 seconds probably removed him from first-round consideration from any team that operates in a 3-4 defense.
Moore, however, was highly productive in college, and that should be enough to convince someone to take a chance on him in the latter portion of the first round.
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sports writer since 1985.
03/12 10:21:12 ET