OVERVIEW: As the days wind down to the draft, many of the picks are coming into clearer focus and, as the buzz builds around certain prospects and dips with others, one thing that is becoming clearer is that, without three of four “no-brainer” picks, the draft could go any of several directions. This year will be much more of a situation where teams fall in love with a specific player and make the moves necessary to get there to take him. The biggest change in this incarnation of our mock draft is the importance that is being placed on offensive tackle, where we now have three being taken in the top seven picks – the run starts and stops quickly. We see the first half of the first round being dominated by linemen, whether offensive or defensive, but anything could happen in this wild draft and nothing appears to be certain.
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 – Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon. This is the spot we (currently) believe Jordan will drop, but whether it’s Jacksonville that makes the pick or not is the bigger question. Jordan is the most impactful pass rusher in the draft. A few years ago, he would have been branded a positional ’tweener, but in the new-look NFL anyone who can harass a quarterback has a ton of value. His value in a 3-4 defense is such that a team like Cleveland, Arizona or the Jets (and his former college coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach in Philadelphia at No. 4) might move up to grab him as a quick-fix option – an expensive quick fix, but one that may well be worth the risk.
3. Oakland – Sharrif Floyd, DT. Florida. He was the No. 2 defensive tackle on the board prior to the Combine, when Utah’s Star Lotulelei drew concerns over the flow of blood out of a ventricle in his heart. Now Floyd seems almost married to Raiders. Oakland has always been known for making crazy draft day decisions, so you have to take this pick with a grain of salt. This is the same bunch that bought into JaMarcus Russell one pick before a grateful Detroit Lions, who happily selected Calvin Johnson, and six picks later, a giddy Minnesota fan base begrudgingly welcomed Adrian Peterson. Nothing is certain with Oakland, but this may be as close as you get.
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 if he is still on the board, but after letting the Dream Team cornerbacks go away, they need help and Milliner is a quick fix to a current problem.
5. Detroit – Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan. Whether or not Detroit makes this pick or not is up to speculation, but other teams interested in Fisher know this is the spot they have to get to if they want to land Fisher. While a case can be made that Detroit should use every one of their draft picks to help fix is a dismal defense, the retirement of Jeff Backus and the free agent loss of Gosder Cherilus has made offensive tackle a front-burner problem that needs to be addressed to make the investments in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson pay off. I still have some reservations because of his lack of elite competition during his college career, but landing a home-state kid to protect the most expensive Michigan investment (Stafford) may trump any trade offers they might receive.
6. Cleveland – Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah. Trust us on this one. Whether Lotulelei ends up in Cleveland, his stock is going to be on the rise despite concerns long-term about investing in a player with heart questions – not his willingness to play through pain, but literally his heart. While he didn’t play SEC-style competition, Lotulelei was dominant at his position and with the proper coaching could become a dominant NFL lane-clogger. The Cleveland defense isn’t that far away from being very good and Lotulelei could be the biggest piece of that puzzle. If the run on offensive tackles hits like we think it will, teams that need a left tackle may have to trade into this spot – or if they want to land Geno Smith. The Browns may get an offer they can’t refuse.
7. Arizona – Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma. The Cardinals still haven’t been able to get a good young QB to replace Kurt Warner after he retired and they’ve opted to go the old-school route (emphasis on “old”) by bringing in Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton and delaying the inevitable for another season. As far as the Class of 2013 goes, there are three blue-chip left tackles and the Cardinals do their part by locking down the last of the three. They might consider trading out, but they need a left tackle and Johnson could help make OLT a non-issue until 2020 or so.
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 and rental QB Kevin Kolb in the mix, Smith will still get every chance to win the job this year and, if he doesn't, will still likely have the job handed to him next year. 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 – Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU. The Jets have so many needs on both sides of the ball that they could just as likely trade down from this spot to acquire more picks or, if they stay here, could go in multiple directions on either side of the ball. However, one of the biggest weaknesses that hurt the Jets last year was an inconsistent and ineffective pass rush. Mingo can provide an upgrade to the front end of the defense and, depending on what the Jets do with Darrelle Revis, the options could only increase as the draft nears.
10. Tennessee – Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina. The Titans are an offense that runs through Chris Johnson and that’s not going to change, especially with the signing of Shonn Greene to give the backfield a 1-2 punch. This is historically a bit too high to take a guard, but many scouts envision Cooper as the type that of player that would be an ideal replacement for retired Steve Hutchinson and, with the Titans gearing up to be a ground and pound offense, Cooper is an ideal addition.
11. San Diego – Chance Warmack, G, Alabama. If Lane Johnson is still on the board, he will be the pick here, but that seems unlikely. The Chargers have a Swiss cheese offensive line and it wouldn’t be surprising if they use their first two picks on the line. San Diego needs help across the entire offensive line and landing a guard with Pro Bowl potential is a decent consolation prize for not getting in on the offensive tackle run.
12. Miami – Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU. Miami did a great job of addressing needs (and a more impressive job of spending money) at linebacker, wide receiver and tight end in free agency, so the Dolphins in a position to draft the best player available. Considering that defensive end is a pretty big need, Ansah is a perfect choice to address that need. He has a motor that runs hot and doesn’t stop until he drops a shoulder into the back of a quarterback. However, Miami’s offseason aggression is something to monitor because they have two picks in both the second and third round. If they want to get into the bidding for the top offensive tackles, they have the ammunition to move up and replace former Pro Bowler Jake Long, who left via free agency.
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. In recent days the Buccaneers have been linked to trading this pick to the Jets for Darrelle Revis. If that happens, this pick may still be Rhodes, but it will be New York making the selection.
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 – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia. The loss of Jermon Bushrod took a big toll on the offensive line, but the Saints are down too far in the pecking order to land one of the top offensive tackles. Without a second round pick due to the Bountygate scandal, the Saints will have only one pick in the first 74 selections. As much as any team, they need to hit a home run with that pick, and given the sorry state of the Saints defense (clearly there wasn’t a bounty last year or, if there was, nobody collected on the payment), Jones can give the woeful New Orleans defense a much-needed talent infusion. He is an active linebacker capable of handling himself in coverage and blitzing the QB.
16. St. Louis – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. Few players have their stock on the rise more than Austin. While Cordarrelle Patterson has the most upside, for the Sam Bradford offense, Austin has a chance to catch 80-100 passes right out of the gate and become Danny Amendola Version 2.0. This pick would seem to come down to two players – Austin and safety Kenny Vaccaro. There is a chance Vaccaro is still on the board at No. 22 with the pick acquired in the RG3 trade, but the fast-rising Austin won’t be there, somewhat forcing the Rams’ hand.
17. Pittsburgh – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee. I’ve been going back and forth on this one between Patterson and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro makes sense, but no organization in the NFL is dependent on draft picks becoming stars more than the Steelers. They don’t get involved in free agent bidding wars and the only players who get big contracts are their own players who have earned the big bucks. Patterson would come into an ideal situation with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders holding down the starting spots and him being given the time and the teaching to become the star so many scouts believe he can become. If there is an ideal landing spot for a big-play receiver, it’s being on the receiving end on bombs from Big Ben.
18. Dallas – Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas. The Cowboys have struggled defensively the last couple of seasons and one of the reasons has been inconsistent play in the secondary. Vaccaro makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, he is the clear-cut top safety in this year’s draft class. Second, as a member of the Longhorns, Cowboys fans are comfortable with him and he will help sell jerseys to the fan base. Nothing is guaranteed when Jerry Jones is on the clock, but this seems like an ideal marriage of talent, value and hometown considerations.
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 – D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama. The Chicago offensive line has been a mess for the last couple of years and remains a work in progress. The Bears would love to see one of the top left tackles drop to this spot, but they got scooped up quickly in the first half of the first round. Instead, Chicago opts to take the best run-blocking right tackle in the draft in hopes of solidifying that side of the line and hope to make things work until they can land a pure left tackle to finally put an end to the failed J’Marcus Webb experiment.
21. Cincinnati – Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington. This might seem a bit like overkill given that the Bengals already have Leon Hall and used one of their two first-round picks last year on Dre Kirkpatrick. However, the Bengals are in a position to take over the AFC North. With the Ravens losing a handful of starters following their Super Bowl win and the Steelers aging at key positions, the Bengals have quietly made the playoffs the last two seasons. Trufant is a playmaker who can play in the slot immediately and compete for a starting job sooner than later, giving the Bengals the potential to have the best secondary in the AFC if they’re willing to take the chance.
22. St. Louis (from Washington) – Matt Elam, S, Florida. This may be a little bit high for Elam by our rankings, but several teams have needs at safety between now and when the Rams pick again. After releasing one starter (Quintin Mikell) and losing the other (Craig Dahl) to free agency, the need exceeds the desire to stick to their own rankings. A glaring need can force players up the draft board and this is an example of need trumping “best player available.” After landing a playmaking wide receiver with their first pick, the Rams draft for need here. If not for the urgency to get young talent in at safety, I would have the Rams taking running back Eddie Lacy at this point. While I don’t think it will happen, I’m not discounting the possibility.
23. Minnesota – Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia. Ogletree is a big question mark in terms of off-field baggage, but so were Randy Moss and Percy Harvin and both of them were able to bring it on the field when they were drafted farther than their talent would indicate they should be drafted. This would be a dream scenario for the Vikings, who have the option of taking Ogletree here or passing on middle linebacker and selecting at another position, knowing that at No. 25 they could get a wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman they covet and still have the assurance that they could fall back on Manti Te’o or Kevin Minter, whichever they prefer. This is the first mock draft we’ve done with Ogletree available when the Vikings pick. Given G.M. Rick Spielman’s horizontal draft strategy, it’s hard to imagine there would be too many players that they have rated higher at different positions than they have Ogletree rated at their position of most dire need.
24. Indianapolis – Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State. I’m not a huge fan of this pick because Watson is a gamble on greatness who has played only one full season of D-1 football. There is no questioning his measurables, which are off the charts, but playing offensive tackle in the NFL is no picnic. Someone is going to take a leap of faith that they have the coaching staff that can polish this diamond and turn him into a solid pro, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Watson may not be a Day 1 starter, but could end up on the right side of the line at tackle or guard early on with the plan being to make him Andrew Luck’s blindside protector for the rest of the decade.
25. Minnesota (from Seattle) – Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina. This is a pick that took on a new sense of urgency when it was discovered that Kevin Williams had restructured his contract to make 2013 his last season under his current deal. Defensive tackle was a need already – even if there was the belief that “Ticket” would be around for two more years. With his blue-collar work ethic, versatility and strong showing at the Senior Bowl, he would seem to be a natural selection here. The only potential fly in the ointment is Rick Spielman’s tendency to “get cute” with draft picks. If a team like Miami is willing to give up their two second-round picks for this pick and a late-round throw-in, it wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows how Spielman operates to see the Vikings swing a trade to add more high-round talent to fill more gaps and needs.
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 – Keenan Allen, WR, Cal. The Texans would be ecstatic if Allen is still on the board at this point. Viewed by some as the best pure NFL-ready receiver in the draft, the Texans are desperately looking for someone to line up opposite Andre Johnson, with the intent of eventually replacing Johnson as the go-to receiver in the offense. Allen wouldn’t have a big learning curve, and with a team many believe is poised to make a Super Bowl run in 2013 Allen won’t be pushed into being the go-to guy and can develop naturally – which could end up making him the best value at WR in this year’s draft class two or three years down the line.
28. Denver – Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame. The Broncos aren’t that far away from being a legitimate Super Bowl team – you don’t pick No. 28 because you’re a stiff. One of the most decorated players in the history of college football isn’t lost on a former player like John Elway, who is the big-baller and shot-caller in the Broncos war room. He knows talent when he sees it and, girlfriend hoax or not, Te’o was so impressive that he was a Heisman Trophy finalist – a rarity for college linebackers. There is a growing sentiment that Te’o will be long gone by the 28th pick, but if he isn’t he doesn’t make it to No. 29 (and potential co-favorite in the AFC New England). The Broncos may take him just so Bill Belichick (or defending champion Baltimore at No. 32) doesn’t have the chance to make the call as to whether or not Te’o fits in their systems.
29. New England – D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston. Few prospects are making a late run in the world of positive buzz as much as Hayden. He is an intelligent player, which is a must when playing for New England. Bill Belichick will change things up completely from one week to the next, depending on opponent, and it requires athletic players able to adjust on the fly. Hayden is extremely athletic and agile and could make an immediate impact – making this a perfect landing spot for him, even if some of us believe he could be available early on Day 2. Given Belichick’s penchant for trading, nothing should be seen as surprising here (which is why we have New England making a phantom trade in the second round).
30. Atlanta – Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford. The Falcons convinced Tony Gonzalez to come back for another season, but it’s clear that he is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. Ertz is viewed by some as the best tight end in this year’s draft class and, with a year to learn from arguably the greatest tight end to ever play the game, the transition from Gonzo to Ertz could be a work in progress that will help Atlanta maintain one of the most potent passing attacks in the league. No team depends on its top two wide receivers and its tight end more than the Falcons, who had their Big 3 combine for 264 receptions (an average of 88 catches each). It may seem like overkill here, but, with the free agent signing of Osi Umenyiora, the glaring need at defensive end may take a back seat here.
31. San Francisco – Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State. Given that the Niners are loaded with picks throughout the draft (14 as of right now), if there is a player they really like, they have the ammunition to move up as high as they want to – having the second pick in the second round is plenty of ammo to move up into a borderline top 10 situation. If they stand pat, Werner would be an ideal addition because he was one of the most productive players in college football last year, but after having a sub-par Combine performance has been in free-fall. In February, he was a lottery pick in the top 10. For the NFC champs to land him would be a welcomed happy accident.
32. Baltimore – Kevin Minter, MLB, LSU. Perhaps no defending champion has been raided as hard as the Ravens. They have made some signings to offset some of the damage, but losing Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger and Danell Ellerbe in the span of a month is a lot to recover from. If Te’o is still on the board, I’m convinced he would be the pick here and would be an ideal replacement for the lost talent in the middle of the Ravens defense that has been a staple of the team for so long. Ozzie Newsome rarely hiccups on draft picks, so you can bet the player he takes here will be worthy of selection. As the last pick of the round, if anyone wants to get ahead of Jacksonville at the start of Draft Friday, this is their last chance, which could increase the asking price.
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.