In a normal year, drafting a position of need that doesn’t present much value is a bad idea. This isn’t a normal year, and the immense depth at nearly every position makes overlooking value an absurdity.
Still, there are some teams with glaring holes to fill, and addressing those needs in free agency is a pricey venture. Given the realities of the salary cap, some franchises must look for the best-value pick at a position of extreme need.
Need and value sometimes meet in the form of the perfect draft pick, but it’s important to remember every organization’s talent evaluators rate players very differently. The “no-brainer” value pick may not be such a sure thing to every scout and general manager.
At this point in the process, predicting picks boils down to evaluating talent based on what we know and matching that talent with projections and need-based selections. We’ll take a look at how those variables all line up and highlight the teams that don’t have the luxury of overlooking positional needs in the first round.
*Note: Selections for teams making need-based picks are presented in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Kansas City can go one of two ways here: best available player or best available quarterback. Unfortunately, this isn’t the year those two options line up.
Andy Reid will want a quarterback he can develop in Kansas City, but Geno Smith isn’t the elite talent that justifies taking him with the first overall pick. Joeckel is immensely talented, and he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl left tackle for many years in the NFL.
Branden Albert may or may not re-sign with the Chiefs in free agency, but it would be hard to justify passing on the best player in the draft based on what Albert decides to do.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Jacksonville’s pass rush was atrocious in 2012. The Jaguars recorded just 20 sacks on the season, and without a strong edge-rushing presence, they won’t be much better in 2013.
Werner is one of the best pass-rushers in this draft class. He doesn’t impress in any one particular area, but he knows how to get to opposing quarterbacks.
3. Oakland Raiders: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Oakland has a lot of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball. They finished No. 31 in the league in sacks in 2012, and while there are plenty of pass-rushers available in this draft, Lotulelei is easily one of the best players available.
The Raiders would be smart to look for a trade partner and move back in the first round, but it’s nearly impossible to project trades, especially this early in the pre-draft process. As it stands, the Raiders should go with the safe pick and take the best defensive player on the board.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
The Eagles are in a transitional period. Andy Reid is out, Chip Kelly is in and a number of defensive players could be on the move.
Philadelphia probably won’t employ a wide-nine defensive front like former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo implemented, but it’s unclear what base defense they will run in 2013. New defensive coordinator Billy Davis wants the personnel to dictate the scheme, and Jones has the versatility to play in almost any defensive front (via CSNPhilly.com).
Jones is a complete linebacker who plays the run and pass equally well. He’s also a menace rushing off the edge, and he’s be a terrific fit at weakside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3.
5. Detroit Lions: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Lions released veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril may hit the free agent market should he not get an offer from Detroit that matches his salary demands. To make matters worse, Detroit’s pass rush wasn’t an especially solid unit in 2012.
The Lions need to address the cornerback, outside linebacker and defensive end positions this offseason, and with Moore on the board, they get the best available player at a position of extreme need.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Browns will be switching back to a 3-4 base defense in 2013, and they need an outside linebacker or two. Barkevious Mingo and Ezekiel Ansah are quality options, but both are still very raw, and neither will likely have the kind of immediate impact teams will be looking for at the top of the first round.
Cleveland really needs to address its porous secondary of a year ago. Buster Skrine showed flashes of talent in 2012, but he isn’t the answer to be starting opposite Joe Haden. Milliner is the best cornerback in this draft class, and he gives the Browns an opportunity to field one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL in the coming years.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Arizona would certainly have to consider Geno Smith should he be available at No. 7, but it doesn’t matter who the Cardinals put under center in 2013 if they don’t first address major needs on the offensive line.
Kevin Kolb missed 10 games last season, due in large part to the ineptitude of Arizona’s offensive line. The Cardinals simply must find some young talent to patch it up.
Fisher is the beneficiary of an offensive line class that would have been much stronger had Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan declared. Still, he impressed at the Senior Bowl and has solidified himself as the second-best left tackle prospect in this year’s class.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
New head coach Doug Marrone won’t want to hitch his wagon to Ryan Fitzpatrick going forward. Buffalo desperately needs a new franchise quarterback.
While Ryan Nassib and Mike Glennon stand to be likely candidates should Smith already be off the board, Kansas City, Oakland and Arizona pass on Smith in this scenario and he becomes an easy pick for the Bills at No. 8.
Smith doesn’t have the elite talent of some of the signal-callers we saw in last year’s draft class, but he’s still the best quarterback available. Buffalo could also consider a top-tier linebacker or wide receiver with this pick, but Smith makes much more sense.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU
The Jets found themselves in total disarray last season, led by terrible quarterback play and a non-existent pass rush. There aren’t any quarterbacks worth taking this high in the first round, though, and New York would be wise to address its second-biggest need.
Mingo is a very raw prospect, but the Jets will find a place for him. They employ a lot of exotic schemes at the front of their defense, and Mingo will have an opportunity to move around and use his incredible athleticism to be disruptive from multiple positions.
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG, Albama
When you have one of the league’s most electric runners in the backfield, building an offensive line that can block for him is critical.
Chris Johnson is Tennessee’s best offensive weapon, but inconsistent offensive line play slowed him in the beginning of the 2012 season. Adding a road grader of Warmack’s ability would immediately strengthen the Titans’ offensive line, and give Johnson a big, physical mauler behind which to run.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers will be very lucky to address one of their biggest needs with this pick.
San Diego needs to find a replacement for Marcus McNeill at left tackle, and Johnson fits the bill. A former quarterback and tight end, Johnson is one of the most athletic offensive linemen in this draft class.
Johnson projects well as a left tackle in the NFL. He has quick feet, solid hands and the athleticism to be a productive run-blocker when he gets to the second level. San Diego needs a left tackle, and Johnson is the only one still on the board who is worthy of a selection this high in the draft.
12. Miami Dolphins: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Free agency will have a big impact on what the Dolphins do with their first pick. If they choose to target a premier wide receiver on the free-agent market, the Dolphins could look to address other positional needs in April, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
If Miami doesn’t manage to secure a quality receiver in free agency, selecting Patterson with the No. 12 selection is the best option. He has as high a ceiling as any offensive player in this draft class, and there’s a good chance he won’t make it out of the top 10 in the draft.
Patterson is electric with the ball in his hands, and he gives the Dolphins a true X receiver they haven’t had since Brandon Marshall left town. Need meets value with this pick, and it’s a steal for the Dolphins.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
The Bucs would love for Dee Milliner to fall to them here, but he probably won’t make it this far down the board. Several other cornerbacks will be likely candidates for Tampa Bay here, but Vaccaro is an even better choice.
Vaccaro is an athletically gifted safety who can play all over the field. He has excellent cover skills, willingness to help in run support and the ball skills to make big plays in the middle of the field. Adding Vaccaro to play next to Mark Barron would be an absolutely deadly look for the Bucs in 2013.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
The Panthers desperately need an interior defensive lineman who can stop the run and be a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage.
Floyd is one of the best one-gap tackles in this draft class, and he fills a big need for the Panthers. He’s big enough to hold up against double teams at the line of scrimmage, but he’s also athletic enough to fire off the ball and shoot gaps to disrupt the flow of plays in the backfield.
The Panthers really don’t have a ton of holes to fill, but defensive tackle is a major need. With the depth at the position in this draft class, they should have no problem finding one to fit their system.
15. New Orleans Saints: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
The Saints have lacked true pass -ushers in recent years. Several are still on the board at this point in the first round, and they find a good one in Jordan.
Jordan is the kind of pass-rusher teams love to move around. He’s schematically versatile, and certainly athletic enough to line up standing up or with his hand in the dirt.
Ezekiel Ansah would also be an option here, but Jordan is a little more polished. He should make a considerable impact very early in his career.
16. St. Louis Rams: Keenan Allen, WR, California
The Rams focused heavily on defense in recent years, so this year’s draft should feature a few more picks on the offensive side of the ball, specifically at the wide receiver and offensive line positions.
Allen is the second-best receiver in this draft class (behind Patterson). He doesn’t possess blazing speed, but he has all the tools to be a very productive x receiver at the next level.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
The Steelers will be making some major changes this offseason. Age, injuries and a lack of production caused Pittsburgh to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs in 2012. Expect to see a lot of personnel changes in 2013.
Casey Hampton is nearing the end of his career, and the Steelers need to continue to load up on the defensive line. Hankins has the size and versatility to play any of the three defensive line positions for the Steelers, and he should be able to play a rotational role immediately.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
Dallas will have to address personnel needs on the defensive side of the ball with Monte Kiffin bringing his Tampa-2 to town, but some of those pieces can be found in free agency and later rounds in the draft.
The Cowboys struggled to run the football in 2012, and Tony Romo was constantly eluding A-Gap pressure created by opposing defensive tackles and inside linebackers. Dallas needs to beef up its interior offensive line, and Cooper is an immediate upgrade at any of the three interior line positions.
19. New York Giants: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Justin Tuck's production has fallen off in the last couple years, and Osi Umenyiora will be departing in free agency. Addressing the holes at defensive end is now a major concern.
The Giants could actually look to add two defensive ends in this draft class. They need a strongside end who can play the run, but they also need another pass-rushing end to line up opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. That’s where Ansah comes in.
Ansah is still very raw, but he has incredible athletic ability. He’s a pass-rushing specialist, and New York could put him in a position to get after opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis.
20. Chicago Bears: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Chicago can’t afford to pass on an offensive lineman in the first round.
The Bears’ pass-protection unit was one of the worst in the league in 2012, and nearly any offensive lineman they could add in the first round would be an immediate upgrade.
Fluker isn’t agile enough to play the left tackle position in the NFL, but he has the size to play right tackle or either of the guard positions. He’s a mauler who uses his massive frame to push people around, and he’s also a solid pass-blocker from the right tackle position.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Alec Ogletree or Kenny Vaccaro might be the better choice here, but Vaccaro is off the board and Ogletree has some character concerns that may push him out of the first round.
Cincinnati could use another edge-rusher, though, and Montgomery certainly has the ability to be a good one at the NFL level. He isn’t a pure pass-rusher by nature, but he’s a quality defensive end who could develop into the type of player the Bengals already possess in Michael Johnson.
Unfortunately, Johnson is set to become a free agent this offseason. If the Bengals can’t find a way to retain him, they would be wise to add a capable replacement like Montgomery.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Eric Reid, S, LSU
Offensive line is a bigger need here, but there aren’t any linemen worthy of a selection at this point in the first round. Reid offers a lot of value, though, and he fills a position of need for the Rams.
With needs at wide receiver already addressed with their initial first-round pick, the Rams can afford to shore up the backend of their defensive backfield and look for better offensive line value later in the draft.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
This is a terrific value pick for the Vikings. Richardson has the potential to be selected much higher in the first round, but the amount of quality defensive tackles in this draft class means someone is going to slide to the bottom of the first round.
Richardson is one of the more versatile defensive tackles in this draft class. He can play in a two-gap system, but he’s probably a better fit as a one-gap penetrator in a system like Minnesota’s. Richardson is a disruptive force on the interior defensive line, and he’ll likely earn some immediate playing time in a rotation with Kevin Williams.
24. Indianapolis Colts: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
The Colts transitioned to a 3-4 last season, but they didn’t have all of the pieces in place to field a quality front seven that could hold up against the run. This is the year Indianapolis should focus on finding the right pieces for the system.
Jenkins is one of the best nose tackle candidates in this draft class. At 6’3” and 358 pounds, he has the frame to command a double team and take up a lot of space on the defensive line. The Colts could also look to add an outside linebacker with this pick, but there aren’t any available that warrant a selection at this point in the round.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
With Chris Clemons recovering from an ACL tear, the Seahawks should look to add some depth at the defensive end position in April. They don’t have a lot of needs to address, and Okafor would be an excellent value pick.
Seattle could also look to add another receiving threat for Russell Wilson here, but the second round should be loaded with quality pass-catchers.
26. Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam, S, Florida
The Packers parted ways with Charles Woodson, who transitioned to safety for the 2012 season (via USA Today). While Morgan Burnett was terrific in 2012 and M.D. Jennings is a solid option at free safety, Green Bay would be wise to consider adding another quality safety early in the draft.
Elam is the best available safety, and he fills a position of relative need. The Packers’ secondary was exploited several times last year, especially in the playoffs against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Green Bay needs to get better at stopping the pass, and Elam would go a long way in shoring up the backend of its secondary.
27. Houston Texans: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Austin is electric in space, and he’s easily the most explosive wide receiver in this draft class. With Andre Johnson nearing the end of his career, it will be important to put some players around him who can take the pressure off.
Johnson can still produce at a high level, but opposing defenses had the luxury of blanketing him in coverage. Houston needs another offensive weapon, and Austin would be an excellent fit to line up in the slot and open up a wider variety of routes for Johnson.
28. Denver Broncos: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Champ Bailey’s age showed this season, especially in the playoffs against the Ravens. It’s time to start looking for a replacement for the future Hall of Famer.
Rhodes is one of several cornerbacks who will garner first-round attention in April. He’s a physical corner who plays well in both man and zone coverage, and he fills a major positional need for the Broncos at pick No. 28.
29. New England Patriots: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
New England should also take advantage of the talent available at the cornerback position. The Patriots’ pass defense was far too porous in 2012, especially in the playoffs.
With Aqib Talib due to become a free agent this offseason, New England would be wise to add another cornerback—even if Talib does choose to re-sign. The Patriots could also look to add a safety and move Devin McCourty back to the cornerback position, but Banks is a better option at the end of the first round.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The Falcons need to find a way to shore up their rush defense in 2013. Defensive end and defensive tackle should be priorities No. 1 and No. 2.
Jones is a 280-pound space-eater at the defensive end position. He isn’t a pass-rushing specialist, but he could fill the strongside end position and solidify a run defense that was exploited far too often last season.
31. San Francisco 49ers: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
It seems every team Baltimore faced in the playoffs was exposed at the cornerback position. San Francisco’s weaknesses certainly showed in the Super Bowl.
Carlos Rogers is past his prime, and both he and Chris Culliver looked completely overmatched at times in that game. The 49ers need to find a replacement for Rogers, and Trufant is their best option at the end of the first round.
Trufant really impressed at the Senior Bowl. He’s fast, agile and extremely smooth in coverage, and with coverage corners being such a need for the 49ers, he’s also their smartest pick.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame
Several inside linebackers warrant a first-round grade, including Kevin Minter, Arthur Brown and Manti Te’o. The Ravens certainly need to address the position this offseason.
Ray Lewis is retiring and Dannell Ellerbe will be a free agent. Josh Bynes has proved to be a quality option, but he’s not the kind of field general Baltimore will be looking for on the defensive side of the ball.
While Te’o’s weaknesses were exposed in the national championship game, he’s still a good fit in a 3-4 defense. Te’o is excellent in coverage, and he’s also a good run defender when he isn’t asked to constantly take on opposing offensive linemen.