With bowl season upon us and the 2012 NFL regular season coming to a close, the 2013 NFL draft has become the focus of all but 12 teams around the league.
While one could never accuse a team of throwing a contest, teams like the Chiefs and Jaguars didn't exactly have much incentive to win down the stretch—especially with the top-tier playmakers in this draft. Guys like Geno Smith and Manti Te'o have spent their 2012 seasons wowing perspective teams putting up both gaudy individual numbers and leading their team to on-field success.
Where will those guys go? Well, let's find out via everyone's favorite pre-April trope: a mock draft.
One thing of note before we begin: The draft pick order is projected, not based on teams' records right now. That means pick No. 32 will be the team I'm choosing to win the Super Bowl, and it will cascade on down with what I feel will happen in the playoffs.
With that caveat out of the way, here is a look at the latest mock draft, where we'll put a particular emphasis on top playmakers' destinations.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
While your mileage may vary on the Chiefs spending the top pick on a quarterback, it's hard to deny how dynamic Smith was this past season.
Throwing for 4,201 yards and 42 touchdowns against only six interceptions, the West Virginia star carved up his Big 12 counterparts on a weekly basis. Smith showed poise and accuracy in the pocket, completing 71.2 percent of his throws, and has a pretty strong right arm as well.
The only question is whether he can fully translate to the next level. While the NFL has adopted more of the collegiate spread system in years, Smith's particular offense took much of the decision-making out of his hands. Making pre-snap reads wasn't a responsibility with the Mountaineers, so that's something worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Nevertheless, even if he's not on the Andrew Luck level of guaranteed stars, history tells us that won't matter. Smith will go No. 1 in April, whether it's to Kansas City or not.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Jaguars stumbled into a quality edge pass-rusher midway through the season in Jason Babin, but it's unclear whether he'll be back in 2013. Even if Babin decides to stay around, nabbing Moore here could give Jacksonville a dynamic pass rush, something it's long been on the search for.
The Jaguars' history drafting defensive linemen isn't the best, but Moore could be the exception to that rule.
3. Oakland Raiders: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
If the Jaguars pass rush is the worst in the NFL, then the Raiders' isn't far behind. Oakland had only 25 sacks all season and consistently struggled to collapse the pocket.
Werner doesn't have the natural pass-rushing skills of Moore, but he has the potential to be better-rounded in the NFL. If he adds some bulk to his frame, Werner could even transition to a five-technique.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
This may be the biggest no-brainer in the first five picks. The Eagles line has been equal parts horrendous and injury-plagued this season, and Joeckel is one of the better left tackle prospects in recent memory.
With franchise-wide turnover coming in Philadelphia, Joeckel will be a nice building block.
5. Detroit Lions: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The worse the Lions' record gets, the happier Milliner should be. Detroit needs help at linebacker, particularly in pass rushing; however, corner was a glaring need spot for the team all season.
Milliner is pretty easily the top player at his position. He's not a physical marvel, but has elite instincts and ideal size. More importantly, he projects as an opening-week starter for the Lions in 2013.
It doesn't exactly hurt that he's spent his collegiate career being coached by Nick Saban, either.
6. Cleveland Browns: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
While he projects better as a 3-4 rushing outside linebacker in the pros, Jones' skill set is too much to pass on for the Browns. They're in desperate need of a marquee pass-rusher, and with a resume that speaks for itself, Jones should be able to step in as an instant starter.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Fans spent weeks upon weeks watching Ryan Lindley and John Skelton attempt to play quarterback. Even if Barkley isn't worthy of this high pick (and he's not), sometimes a general manager just needs to make a pick for the sanity of his franchise.
Unless Joe Flacco or another free-agent quarterback finds his way to Arizona, Barkley is the pick here.
8. Buffalo Bills: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Perhaps the most decorated defensive player in college football history, Te'o would come to Buffalo with superstar expectations. The former Irish great finished the 2012 regular season with 101 tackles, 1.5 sacks and seven interceptions, the latter statistic leading the nation among linebackers by far.
However, Te'o's statistical brilliance is only part of the appeal. As unquestionably the leader of the Notre Dame defense, Te'o led an attack that was the best scoring unit in the nation and almost single-handedly kept the team undefeated.
It was that over everything that led Heisman voters to make Te'o the highest finishing player in history for an exclusively defensive player.
In Buffalo, Te'o would have similarly lofty expectations. The Bills have been eviscerated by the run throughout 2012 and will need an inside linebacker who will step in and stop the bleeding.
9. New York Jets: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
While it would be quite the risk taking a playmaking wide receiver this early, the Jets have little choice. The team's offensive needs are widespread, starting with quarterback and going through just about every skill position.
With no quarterback worthy of taking in this spot, Hunter fills both a need and is worthy of the first-round pick. Many have fellow Vols star Cordarrelle Patterson or Cal's Keenan Allen at the top receiver, but workouts should become Hunter's best friend.
Look for him to separate himself from the pack and to be wearing green and white next fall.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Thrilled would be an understatement if the Titans were able to land Lotulelei at pick No. 10. Considered a contender for the No. 1 overall pick, the hulking defensive tackle has all the physical tools necessary to be an elite run-stuffer at the next level.
His overall production leaves a little to be desired, but when you watch him on tape, his raw physicality just jumps off the screen.
With Tennessee in desperate need of some toughness defensively, Lotulelei should be a great fit.
11. San Diego Chargers: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Sometimes, a draft pick makes so much sense that it barely needs explanation. Philip Rivers has spent much of the past two seasons getting rocked whenever he steps back in the pocket, and Lewan is the best offensive tackle available.
There really isn't much else to say about this pick.
12. Miami Dolphins: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Wide receiver is an intriguing option here, but there aren't any guarantees in this draft, and Miami's need for pass-rushing help makes Mingo a no-brainer. Truth be told, Mingo is kind of a bizzaro Hankins, meaning a guy whose skills translate to elite edge rushing but leave something to be desired against the run.
Considering the Dolphins have an otherwise stout run defense, drafting Mingo is a chance they would jump to take.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Montgomery may be the very definition of a "safe" pick. He's unlikely to ever make a Pro Bowl team, but is strong against both the run and pass and was of LSU's biggest emotional leaders.
Tampa needs help just about everywhere against the pass, so grabbing Montgomery would be a solid start.
14. Carolina Panthers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Going as high as No. 4 in some mock drafts, the Panthers somehow get a late Christmas present in this scenario. Hankins is another inside behemoth who can occupy multiple blockers against the run and is almost never overpowered.
He isn't an elite pass-rusher, but if the Panthers coaches can get him playing a more committed, lower style, Hankins has the chance to be great.
15. New Orleans Saints: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
In a normal draft, Jordan would be a guaranteed top 10 pick. Unfortunately for Jordan, this is the best defensive line draft in recent memory, and he'll be the player who will probably slide farthest come April.
16. St. Louis Rams: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
It's possible that Warmack is the best overall prospect in this entire draft. An exceptional blocker against the run and pass, the Alabama guard has been the best player on the team's line for the past two seasons.
Yes, that's on a line that includes Barrett Jones. Warmack plays a position regularly ignored on draft day, but the Rams should be happy to grab him midway through the first round.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Corey Lemonier, DE/LB, Auburn
The Steelers defense may still be solid statistically, but it's in desperate need of a playmaker. Pittsburgh had just 37 sacks this season, a figure that's awfully disconcerting considering the team's schematic aggressiveness
Taking Lemonier is certainly a risk this high. His production dipped in 2012, and definitely isn't a fully ready NFL pass rusher. Nonetheless, if Pittsburgh keeps him as just an edge rusher for his first season, there are few more aggressive players in this draft and he should fit into the Steel City's culture with a relentless work ethic..
18. Dallas Cowboys: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
If the Cowboys go with a "best player available" strategy, then Williams is a no-brainer. Lost a little bit in the shuffle among defensive linemen, the Tar Heels star is a dual threat against the run and pass.
Williams should be a nice piece as Dallas continues to rebuild its defense.
19. New York Giants: Johnathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
It's wholly possible that Banks goes to the Buccaneers way earlier if they pick him out of need. If not, this feels about the right spot. Banks isn't a particularly great athlete, but makes up for it with elite size for the position and a tenacious ability against the run.
He has some trouble in zone and won't be able to cover the league's shiftier receivers. Still, at No. 19, the Giants could do a whole lot worse trying to bolster their secondary.
20. Chicago Bears: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
The Bears would be remiss if they didn't consider Jake Matthews here, but Fisher projects better as a possible blind side protector. With the way Jay Cutler has been pummeled in recent years, drafting an offensive lineman is the least Chicago could do.
21. Minnesota Vikings: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Adrian Peterson's brilliance aside, the Vikings are in desperate need of a playmaker on offense. Percy Harvin's injury left the passing game listless, as the remainder of the receiving corps is a pretty motley crew.
Though not a guaranteed stud, Allen could be a great second receiver alongside Harvin. He doesn't have the physical skills of Patterson, but has years worth of production that the Tennessee star lacks.
22. Cincinnati Bengals: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Right tackle is a massive need spot, and if the Bengals don't advance past the first round, they would be thrilled to land Matthews. A smart kid who comes from a strong NFL bloodline, it's hard to see Matthews being anything less than a 10-year starter at the next level.
23. Indianapolis Colts: Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Truth be told, the Colts could go just about anywhere besides quarterback here. Jenkins is the pick here because he fits the biggest need (run defense) and is arguably the best player available at this point.
24. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
After nabbing Warmack with the first pick, St. Louis will likely jump on the top pass-catcher available with its next selection. Patterson lacks anything resembling a strong resume, but has the physical skills to be a star.
25. Baltimore Ravens: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Ed Reed has held the Ravens secondary together almost by his lonesome this season, but will turn 35 next season. With Baltimore's defense getting old as a whole, Vaccaro could inject some life into a struggling unit.
It also doesn't hurt that he's the best player left on the board, either.
26. Green Bay Packers: Dallas Thomas, OT, Tennessee
Thomas played left tackle before switching to guard this season, so he should be able to fit in about anywhere on the Packers offensive line. Based on what we've seen in 2012, Green Bay just might have a few holes worth filling.
27. Houston Texans: Robert Woods, WR, USC
Playing Marqise Lee's second fiddle this past season undoubtedly hurt Woods' draft stock. Heading into the 2012 season, Woods was considered an easy first-round pick and contender for the Biletnikoff Award.
Well, that trophy went to Lee, and now Woods is left dangling on the fringes of first-round contention. Still, with Houston needing a second receiver to go alongside Andre Johnson, Woods could be a perfect fit.
28. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Tony Gonzalez may be ageless, but there will come a time when he grows tired of dominating opposing defenses. Eifert is a strong tight end prospect who could become great with a season or two under Gonzalez in Atlanta.
29. Seattle Seahawks: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Ogletree is undoubtedly one of the more intriguing prospects in this year's draft. It was Ogletree, not Jarvis Jones, who was the team's most consistent playmaker down the stretch, and he averaged 11 tackles per game this season.
He's also an absolute physical specimen. Built with the strength and speed of an outside linebacker and toughness of an inside player, Ogletree could fit within both 3-4 and 4-3 systems in the NFL.
Granted, there are some character concerns. Ogletree failed a drug test this spring and was suspended and once in 2010 for a misdemeanor theft charge. Based on potential and versatility, though, Ogletree is a solid pick at this point.
30. Denver Broncos: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
This season saw Bernard scamper for 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns, his second consecutive season over 1,200 yards rushing and 10 scores. Even more impressive is the fact that the North Carolina star did it in only 10 games while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
All of that makes him a worthy NFL prospect. However, what makes him perfect for Manning's offense is his elite pass-catching ability. Catching screens and running routes out of the backfield, Bernard grabbed 47 passes for 490 yards and five touchdowns this season. With eight receptions in his bowl game (unlikely), Bernard could even hit triple digits over the past two years.
Manning has already made stars out of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. That means there should be little reason Bernard wouldn't excel from the opening snap in 2013.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Defensive line is one of the few needs Jim Harbaugh's squad has, and Richardson has the potential to fill an inside slot.
32. New England Patriots: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Patriots almost never draft based on need, and when they have, it's usually led to their worst results. Austin is the exact opposite of a need in New England, but is so dynamic that I have a hard time thinking Bill Belichick would let this opportunity slide by.
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