OVERVIEW: With the first week of free agency done, there has been a significant shift in the projections, especially as it relates to the Vikings. While our projections for the picks at Nos. 23 and 25 don’t change, the rationale of possibilities has taken a significant hit. Despite the signing of Greg Jennings, the Vikings are still likely to take a wide receiver with one of their two first-round picks, cashing in as much as they can to a fan base that remains a bit bewildered about the abrupt end to the Percy Harvin years with the Vikings. That projection is solidified by Miami now off the market for a receiver (not only re-signing Brian Hartline, but making the biggest free agent splash with the signing of Mike Wallace and backing that up by signing Brandon Gibson of the Rams). The first-round possibilities for wide receivers has taken a new path.
1. Kansas City – Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M. The best idea for the Chiefs may be to trade down a handful of spots and let someone else take the safest pick in the draft. Some might think putting the franchise tag on Branden Albert eliminates need, but with all the spending the Chiefs have done in free agency to add talent, Albert is only a one-year solution and there may not be enough money to sign him to a long-term deal at this point of drunken sailor-like spending.
2. Jacksonville – Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida. Floyd is an unselfish player who played several line positions for extended periods with the Gators to help out the team. The Jaguars need a lot of help up front – 20 sacks are not acceptable. He can be moved around to find his best fit on a D-line that needs a lot of upgrading. The automatic thought is that the Jags will take a defensive end and there are plenty of candidates that would fit in with what Jacksonville needs to improve, but Floyd is the safer option and the better pick here, since elite talent at DT will dry up quicker than at DE.
3. Oakland – Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah. He was my No. 1 overall pick before concerns over the blood flow in his heart raised eyebrows of decision-makers everywhere. The Raiders don’t play it safe, which is why two of their blue-chip picks over the last six years – JaMarcus Russell at No. 1 and Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7 – have cashed fat checks and been released. If Lotulelei makes it past Oakland, he could be on the board for a couple more hours before his name gets called. That’s how the Ray-duhs bounce.
4. Philadelphia – Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama. The Eagles spent a ton on Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and all they got was tired cutting big checks. Neither ever seemed to be an ideal fit in Philly. The Eagles got rid of both of them and now have a huge need here. Milliner is head and shoulders the best corner in this year’s draft. If Chip Kelly loves his former protégé Dion Jordan, he could endorse that pick, but after letting the Dream Team cornerbacks go away, they need help and Milliner is a quick fix to a current problem.
5. Detroit – Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU. The Lions lost Cliff Avril to free agency and cut Kyle Vanden Bosch after the season, so this is a big position of need for a defense that had trouble getting to the quarterback last year with their established guys. The Lions may use all of their picks on defense this year. This is an extremely deep defensive end crop, so the Lions may get enamored with another candidate, but defensive end is where this pick needs to be.
6. Cleveland – Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon. The Browns aren’t that many players away from having a very good defense. If Milliner is still on the board, he’s a no-brainer. He and Joe Haden could be a devastating tandem. But with Milliner gone by our projections, Jordan gives the Browns the most position flexibility. He went to the NFL Scouting Combine as a ’tweener. He left Indianapolis as a guy many scouts think could play DE or OLB at high level at the next level.
7. Arizona – Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan. QB Geno Smith makes sense here, but the Cardinals signed Drew Stanton with the belief he can be the starter. Still, the team has been a revolving door at QB since Kurt Warner retired so Smith remains a distinct possibility. My concern on Fisher is the level of competition he played. Central Michigan is not the SEC … not by a long shot. Some scouts think he could be the No. 2 pick. I still have my reservations and I think teams in the top five will, too.
8. Buffalo – Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Ryan Fitzpatrick was an expensive mistake and was cut in early March. With Tarvaris Jackson as the incumbent, Smith will get every chance to win the job. If Smith goes to Arizona, as I suspect will be the growing sentiment as we get closer to the draft, USC’s Matt Barkley is a possibility. However, I don’t grade Barkley out as a first-round talent, so the Bills could trade back and let someone else in on the action. Scroll down at the teams with picks remaining in the first round and find one that would use its first-round pick on Barkley. The Bills could drop a lot and still get him.
9. New York Jets – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia. The Jets went from a team that was a playoff regular and on the doorstep of a Super Bowl run to a team with a ton of holes on both sides of the ball and people jumping ship left and right. Some think Barkley is the pick, but the Jets have been burned by a USC system QB already. David Garrard is now Plan B, not Barkley. Jones is an athlete the defense needs badly. He has big-play skills that the Jets were sorely lacking last year and, after cutting Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, young blood is needed here.
10. Tennessee – Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU. The Titans plugged a couple of key offseason holes with the signing of guard Andy Levitre and running back Shonn Greene to be a change of pace for Chris Johnson, so they’re looking for the best athlete available. In need of a pass rusher, Mingo is an ideal pick. If Lotulelei is still on the board, he could garner prime consideration if his medical tests are favorable to the Titans medicos.
11. San Diego – Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma. Philip Rivers has dropped out of the conversation among the elite QBs in the NFL and much of the reason is that his O-line has been so porous he doesn’t have time to throw his patented shot-put passes. Johnson is an immediate and much-needed upgrade. The Chargers have identified offensive line as a need for the past three years – whether at tackle, guard or center – yet each year that follows, O-line remains a front-burner problem. This time, they get the job done and land a left tackle that they hope can man the position for the next decade.
12. Miami – Chance Warmack, G, Alabama. The Dolphins addressed most of their pressing needs in free agency, plugging gaps at wide receiver (Wallace and Gibson), linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler) and tight end (Dustin Keller). They would love for Fisher or Johnson to fall to this spot so they can replace Jake Long, but there isn’t an offensive tackle left at this point that warrants selection here. Warmack is an elite guard that can dominate at his position and give the O-line some immediate improvement. Trading down remains a very viable option – dropping a couple of spots, picking up a fourth-round pick, and taking Alabama’s D.J. Fluker.
13. Tampa Bay – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State. The Bucs have a proud tradition of strong secondary play, dating back to the arrival of Tony Dungy in 1999, but with the trade of Aqib Talib and the aging of Ronde Barber, both cornerback and safety became priority issues. The signing of 49er safety Dashon Goldson eased the problem there. Now it’s time to address cornerback and Rhodes can give the Buccaneers a player that can be put on an island. With six games against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, cornerback is a big priority.
14. Carolina – Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri. The Panthers used to be defined by their defensive line play. In recent years, they’ve stunk, especially up the middle. This is a need pick that matches up nicely with the “best player on the board” philosophy. If Lotulelei makes it past Oakland and Tennessee, he would be a value pick here and they will jump on him. Richardson isn’t a bad consolation prize for a team looking to toughen up the interior of its D-line.
15. New Orleans – D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama. The Saints have many defensive needs – clearly there were no bounties put out last year, or at least none that were paid off. But after losing Jermon Bushrod to the Bears in free agency, left tackle becomes an immediate need. As much as the Saints could use all of their draft picks on trying to improve one of the league’s most anemic defenses, protecting Drew Brees trumps any need on defense.
16. St. Louis – Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas. Offensive tackle and wide receiver are clear needs. Cordarrelle Patterson is a distinct possibility here, but safety has been a sore spot for a long time in St. Louis and Vaccaro is the best safety in this year’s draft. The receiver crop this year is deep and talent will be there when the Rams pick later in the round. The team cut starting strong safety Quintin Mikell and free safety Craig Dahl was inexplicably signed by the 49ers – a hiccup on their line in the sand as the big daddy of the NFC.
17. Pittsburgh – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. If Vaccaro is still on the board, he’s the pick because of age and injury history at the safety spot. Troy Polamalu can’t stay healthy given his reckless style of play over the last decade and Ryan Clark is 34 this year. If Vaccaro is still there, the Steelers would be idiots not to take him for obvious reasons. But, after losing Hines Ward and Mike Wallace over the last two years, restocking the WR shelf is an enormous need and Patterson is the class of the Class of 2013. He has the potential to be a Dwayne Bowe/Vincent Jackson type receiver that makes plays deep down the field and in the intermediate game. He’s a matchup nightmare, which has always intrigued the Steelers.
18. Dallas – Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina. The Cowboys tried a low-rent free agent solution at guard last year, signing pedestrian free agents Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Neither panned out as hoped, but, in hindsight, performed as expected. Cooper is a dominant mauling guard and will provide an immediate upgrade to a line in dire need of more talent. The Cowboys have enough weapons on offense to make a Super Bowl run, but games are won and lost in the trenches – especially in the NFC East. Center is also an issue – Ryan Cook was the starter last year – but there isn’t a center worthy of selection this early.
19. New York Giants – Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame. The Giants haven’t had a meaningful game-changer at tight end since they traded Jeremy Shockey to the Saints when his attitude wore thin on the front office. Eifert’s strong combine performance pushed him past Stanford’s Zach Ertz as the top TE in the draft. Despite signing Brandon Myers to a contract, the Giants did the exact same thing with Martellus Bennett last year. He had a good season and now he’s gone. Eifert gives the Giants a long-term solution to the tight end problem. Having Myers there gives Eli Manning a veteran move-the-chains tight end like he was for Carson Palmer in Oakland. Eifert is worth doubling down on if the Giants intend to make another Super Bowl run.
20. Chicago – Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia. Up until free agency, we had Chicago as locked and loaded on a position as any team in the draft. They were taking an offensive tackle. J’Marcus Webb was a human turnstile at left tackle and Jay Cutler looked droopy for a reason. He took too many shots. Yet, the Bears invested in New Orleans OT Jermon Bushrod. Now the priority turns to the glaring need to replace their linebacker corps – Lance Briggs may be the only one of the top five linebackers on the 2012 depth chart returning. Ogletree has significant off-field issues, which may explain why he’s still on the board at this point, but his talent, combined with Chicago’s need, makes this pick (relatively) easy.
21. Cincinnati – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State. Viewed as a top-10 talent before a very slow 40 time at the combine, the tape doesn’t lie. Werner is a difference-maker and, given the turnover in the AFC North, the Bengals are going to be viewed as a favorite by a lot of analysts. They’re a young team in a division where both the Ravens and Steelers have taken significant hits. A couple more defensive contributors could tip the scale in the favor of the Bengals. They’ve invested well offensively and have a team capable of scoring enough points to win shootouts. If Werner can look more like he did on film than at Indy, they’ve got another piece to the puzzle.
22. St. Louis (from Washington) – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. The Rams lost both Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson in the first days of free agency. It was a double gut-shot, because Amendola was a borderline No. 1 receiver and Gibson was a solid, but not outstanding, No. 3 guy. Sam Bradford needs weapons and Austin is the type of player that surfs on a lightning bolt. He’s been compared favorably to Percy Harvin, which the Rams would love to see with this pick. If they don’t make it, Minnesota probably will with the next selection.
23. Minnesota – Keenan Allen, WR, Cal. With Percy Harvin traded to Seattle, the Vikings will be targeting a receiver with one of their two first-round picks despite the Greg Jennings signing. Allen is the big target that can beat the jams as well as any rookie in the Class of 2013. In the end, for the same price that Harvin signed with Seattle, the Vikings can have Jennings and Allen – which eases the pain of losing one of the game’s most electrifying players. Two-for-one trades at the same position are rare, but this could end up essentially being one of them. If the Vikings weren’t concerned that the Colts would use their pick at wide receiver, they may look elsewhere, but, seeing as their next pick is just two away, if they really love a player, they’ll take him and hope Allen is still there at No. 25.
24. Indianapolis – Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State. The Colts have been very active in free agency, but for Andrew Luck to reach the next level he needs a solidified offensive line. Watson is versatile and can be plugged into multiple positions because he only has one year of tangible experience. He could start his career at guard but has the prototypical size to be a dominant left tackle. With the right coaching, he could be a star in the NFL and the Colts aren’t averse to taking chances on greatness. Watson has the ability to be one of those guys.
25. Minnesota (from Seattle) – Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina. The Williams Wall Version 2.0 could make its debut in 2013. The Vikings defensive line hasn’t been the same up the middle since Pat Williams headed back to the bayou. Kevin Williams isn’t getting any younger and the clock is ticking fast on the end of his NFL career, so the new-look Williams Wall likely won’t be together too long. But the Vikings need to prepare for life after Kevin more appropriately than they did for life after Big Pat. Manti Te’o could be a possibility here, too, because the Vikings lost Jasper Brinkley to free agency and have an opening at middle linebacker.
26. Green Bay – Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama. I don’t have a running back with a first-round grade, but enough is enough as it pertains to awful backfield play in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers has never had a running back behind him that can keep defenses honest since before Ahman Green hit the proverbial running back wall. Lacy is the best of the Class of 2013 and, while he may be a bit of a reach at this point in the draft, this is a forced pick because they’ve learned the hard way that they need a featured back with young legs. As much as the passing game dominates the NFL, the Packers have become the most one-dimensional team in the NFL. Rodgers is good enough to keep Green Bay competitive by ignoring the run game, but being a one-dimensional offense only gets you so far. The Packers can make the playoffs without a run game, but can’t win a Super Bowl. Lacy is a reach, but he is as valuable a need pick as any in this part of the draft.
27. Houston – Robert Woods, WR, USC. The Texans have tried to find a way to get more production out of their wide receiver position and Woods is an ideal candidate for that job. He’s smooth as silk. While not a speed burner or a guy who routinely hauls in 40- or 50-yard passes, he’s an ideal complement to Andre Johnson, who, at last check, isn’t getting any younger isn’t remotely a guarantee to stay healthy. The release of Kevin Walter makes this choice more obvious. The Texans are looking for a rookie wide receiver to be a No. 2 guy next to Andre 3000, but, given Johnson’s advancing age and growing injury history, they may need a rookie to become the No. 1 guy a lot sooner than the rest of the Class of ’13.
28. Denver – Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State. Starters Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson were pedestrian at best last year and both hit the free agent market. The Broncos re-signed Vickerson, but he isn’t the answer – long-term or short-term. Even if both are re-signed, an upgrade is needed. The Elvis Dumervil snafu (who still uses a fax machine in the electronic era?) could create a new need if he ends up signing with another team. Denver is amassing the troops for a Super Bowl run and need to improve the interior of the defensive front in order to get that done.
29. New England – Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington. Help is the secondary is needed. Things got so bad last year in the defensive backfield that CB Devin McCourty got moved to safety and the Patriots felt obliged to take on talented head case Aqib Talib in a midseason trade with Tampa Bay. Talib is back, but it is on just a one-year contract. As anyone who knows how the Patriots operate, Talib is not viewed as a long-term solution. Wild Bill Belichick has a plan (he always does) and the back end of the defense will get early attention. Trufant is the type of player that has excelled in this system.
30. Atlanta – Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M. The Falcons were so disappointed with Ray Edwards that they just cut him after he was a starter for a year and a half. That speaks volumes because the Falcons were riding high at the time and, rather than deal with a complainer on the bench, they just cut him. After releasing John Abraham prior to the start of free agency, they get a player in Moore who has been compared favorably to Abraham at this stage of his pro career. If he can come anywhere close to accomplishing what Abraham has, he will be viewed as a bargain.
31. San Francisco – Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State. The Niners have 15 draft picks and can move up as early or as often as they want. This could be their draft to build a franchise that will go a long way for several years to come. Expect to see the Niners being extremely active because they have a lot of picks, but, coming off a Super Bowl trip with a young team, realistically there aren’t a lot of rookies that will make this team. This is a luxury pick if they stand pat because Banks had ideal size/arm length to be a difference-maker, which is what the 49ers are looking for.
32. Baltimore – Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame. Prior to the BSC Championship Game and the girlfriend hoax, I saw Teo as a top-10 pick. The beating Alabama put on Te’o and Notre Dame has been forgotten by most fans other than those of the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide. Fans still harp on the fake girlfriend. Scouts couldn’t care less about the hoax; they’re more concerned about what they saw on the BCS tape. However, the Ravens had one of the league’s best linebacker corps last year, but with Ray Lewis retired, Paul Kruger in Cleveland and Dannell Ellerbe in Miami, the need in Baltimore to improve the linebacker position is stronger now than it has been in a long time. Hoax or no hoax, he’s still a talented player and, in the Ravens’ 3-4, he’s badly needed.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.