While the 2013 NFL draft features a few players with tremendous upside, general managers have to play it smart in the first round.
Guys like Ezekial Ansah and Cordarrelle Patterson are physical freaks who could become Pro Bowl players, but can a GM hang his hat on them in the top 10? The risk of taking a bust early on always looms for decision makers, making clean prospects like Luke Joeckel, Sharrif Floyd and Eric Fisher smart choices.
Here are the smart choices your team must make in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Alex Smith won't be the franchise quarterback in Kansas City, but there's no certainty that Geno Smith could be, either. Instead of putting their faith in a fringe first-round QB prospect, the Chiefs make the smart decision and re-load on the offensive line with Luke Joeckel.
A tremendous pass protector, the 6'6" former Aggie can be a mainstay on the blind side for the next decade and will keep Alex Smith clean in the pocket while opening holes for Jamaal Charles.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher is a popular choice at No. 2, but the Jaguars already have a very good left tackle in Eugene Monroe. What Jacksonville lacks is a big-time pass-rusher.
Oregon's Dion Jordan has to refine his technique, but the athletic upside is there for him to become one of the NFL's premier defenders. His addition would provide a significant upgrade to Jacksonville's front seven.
3. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
This one should be a no-brainer for the Raiders. Then again, they often draft like they have no brain.
Oakland's underachieving defensive line managed just 18.5 of the team's 25 sacks in 2012 and allowed 4.3 yards per carry and 18 rushing touchdowns.
For a team with one of the worst rosters in the league, snagging a Pro Bowl talent like Sharrif Floyd is an easy decision. The former Florida Gator has the size, explosion and effort to grow into one of the game's premier three-techniques and could help shore up a spotty front seven.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12): Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Chip Kelly's offense is all about timing and precision. Those two factors can only happen with solid protection up front, and the Eagles need to shore that up.
Fisher stands 6'7" and would be a great fit as a pass protector and run blocker in the Eagles' new high-tempo offense.
5. Detroit Lions (4-12): Ezekial Ansah, DE, BYU
The Lions would probably love to move back in this situation, but settle for the pass-rusher with the most upside. Ansah is a former track star who is still fairly new to the game. However, at 6'5", 272 pounds with 4.63 speed, he has the frame and athletic ability to develop into a star.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Browns have done well to solidify their front seven, but still need some help on the back end.
What better way to continue their defensive makeover than to add the draft's best corner? Pairing the rock-solid Milliner with Pro Bowler Joe Haden would give Cleveland an incredibly gifted pair of young corners.
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
There's a lot to like about Geno Smith's game. The 6'3" signal-caller is accurate, can make nearly every throw and has enough mobility to avoid the rush.
While he still needs some polish, he'd be a great addition to an Arizona offense that can barely get the ball to its best player, Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals have disrespected Fitz by having guys like John Skelton, Derek Anderson and Ryan Lindley throw him the ball, so adding a first-round talent in Smith could help keep Fitzgerald among the league's elite receivers.
8. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Bills fans may be clamoring for a quarterback, but the smart choice is to fortify the offensive line. The departure of Andy Levitre in free agency left behind a gaping hole at left guard. Adding Warmack—arguably the safest choice in the draft—would provide Buffalo with a road grader who has almost no flaws in his game.
9. New York Jets (6-10): Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
If the Jets hope to salvage anything from the Mark Sanchez wreckage, they need to surround him with skill players. When it comes to the wide receiver position, no prospect dazzles like Tavon Austin.
The former West Virginia star has vaulted himself into top-10 consideration with a great offseason and would be a huge boost to New York's pathetic offense.
10. Tennessee Titans (6-10): Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Although Tennessee has two quality starters in Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan, the depth behind them is nonexistent. Mingo is an ultra-athletic pass-rusher whose production didn't match his physical skill set.
As the third defensive end, he could be a sub-package rusher and learn to develop counter moves in order to take his game to the next level.
11. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The only way for the Chargers to resurrect Phillip Rivers' career is to protect him.
The days of Marcus McNeill are long gone, and nobody can trust Jared Gaither. Lane Johnson might be seen as a project, but the former quarterback turned left tackle has a ton of upside due to his size and quickness.
12. Miami Dolphins (7-9): Xavier Rhodes, CB, FSU
Miami has done a great job fortifying its offense, but has a glaring need at cornerback. While Rhodes isn't a first-round lock in all circles, he does have the size-speed package that teams covet.
The nearly 6'2" defensive back plays with great physicality and is a freak athlete. Adding Rhodes would fill a huge need for the Dolphins.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
If he checks out medically, Star Lotulelei should be a no-brainer pick for Mark Dominik. Tampa Bay already has a stud in Gerald McCoy, but needs a heftier body to take on blockers and make plays in the run game.
Lotulelei (6'3", 311 pounds) has the size, explosion and power to be a dominant defensive tackle for the Bucs.
14. Carolina Panthers (7-9): Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Defensive tackle has been an issue in Carolina for years, so adding Richardson would help shore up a major need. Though he's on the small side (6'3", 290 pounds), the former Tiger is arguably the best interior pass-rusher in the draft. Putting him on a defensive line that already features standouts Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson would give the Panthers a ferocious front.
15. New Orleans Saints (7-9): Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Safety might be the Saints' third-highest need behind pass-rusher and offensive tackle, but Vaccaro is the best player on the board. For a team that's more than one player away from getting back to Super Bowl contention, the safe bet is taking a sure thing.
Vaccaro is exactly what NFL teams are looking for in a modern day safety. He has the size and physicality to be a dominant run defender and the speed and coverage skills to match up against tight ends and slot receivers.
16. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1): Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Adding Jake Long and Jared Cook were two nice moves, so what better way to complete the offensive overhaul than with one of the best guard prospects of the past decade?
Cooper has the best feet of any guard prospect in quite some time and is still powerful enough to get plenty of push in the run game. He and Long would be two fantastic additions to the Rams' poor offensive line.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
If it was based purely on production, Jarvis Jones would easily be the top pick in the draft. Unfortunately, size and speed concerns have knocked Jones out of the top 10 and into the bottom half of the first round.
Despite a lackluster pro day, the 6'2", 245-pound pass-rusher is still one of the top defenders in the draft. While Jones ran just a 4.92 at his pro day, he plays faster on tape and put up great numbers in the SEC. He could prove to be a steal for one of the league's best drafting teams.
18. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): D.J. Fluker, T, Alabama
Jerry Jones loves big-name guys, and none come bigger—literally—than Fluker. The massive offensive lineman out of Alabama was a dominant right tackle and could probably be a Leonard Davis-type road grader at guard.
Either way, he'd fill a huge hole for Dallas, who needs to improve up front to take advantage of its skill players.
19. New York Giants (9-7): Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
For all the hype about Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, the tight end position has been a critical one for the Giants' offense. Whether it's been Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard or Martellus Bennett, Eli Manning has always had a reliable, if unspectacular, target to throw to.
With Bennett moving on to the Chicago Bears, the need and value is perfect for Jerry Reese to take Tyler Eifert. Notre Dame's top weapon is a premier receiving threat who uses his 6'6" frame to box out defenders in the red zone. He's also a solid blocker and would be a smart choice with the 19th pick.
20. Chicago Bears (10-6): Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Alec Ogletree would be the pick if not for character concerns, but the smart pick is Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. The former 5-star recruit spent two nondescript years at Miami before starring at K-State.
Undersized at 6'0", 241 pounds, Brown makes up for it with incredible playing speed and instincts. He'd be a great fit in Chicago's 4-3 system.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6): Matt Elam, S, Florida
This may be a little high for Elam, but the hard-hitting Gator would bring toughness and attitude to the Bengals' secondary. Though he's just 5'10", Elam weighs in at a rocked-up 202 pounds and simply makes plays.
22. St. Louis Rams (via Washington Redskins): Keenan Allen, WR, California
After adding Cooper six picks earlier, the Rams come back and get a polished wide receiver in Keenan Allen. He isn't a burner, but he has great size and hands and would give Sam Bradford another young, talented pass catcher to complement Brian Quick and Chris Givens.
23. Minnesota Vikings (10-6): Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Still considered a raw talent, one-year wonder Cordarrelle Patterson would be a fantastic pickup for the Vikings this late in the first round. Patterson is a top-10 talent physically, but he still has to learn the nuances of the position.
His size, speed and game-changing ability would be a smart addition to an offense that lost Percy Harvin.
24. Indianapolis Colts (11-5): Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Poor offseason workouts have caused Damontre Moore to slip out of the top half of the first round. However, he has plenty of quality film as both a 3-4 outside linebacker and 4-3 defensive end, making him a great fit for the Colts.
With Dwight Freeney gone and little else remaining outside of Robert Mathis, the Colts need a high-impact pass-rusher. Moore should be their guy.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via Seattle Seahawks): Bjoern Werner, DE, FSU
Once thought to be a top-10 lock, Werner's average combine performance has knocked him down in some scouting circles. Despite posting 23.5 career sacks for the Seminoles, the German native faces questions about whether he's athletic enough to play outside linebacker and big enough to stick as an every-down defensive end.
In Minnesota, he could start his career as the third defensive end behind Jared Allen and Brian Robison before taking over in a year or two. Getting a player of his caliber this late in the draft would be a shrewd move for Minnesota.
26. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
This would be an awesome pick for the Pack. Lacy is a workhorse who can carry the load and take some of the pressure off Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay was too one-dimensional last year, so infusing a potent offense with a No. 1 running back could help bring the Packers back to the Super Bowl.
27. Houston Texans (12-4): DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Houston has long needed a No. 2 option across from Andre Johnson. In Hopkins, the Texans would be adding an explosive, productive playmaker who could draw attention away from their top target.
Though he only ran a 4.57, Hopkins looks much faster on tape and averaged 17.1 yards per catch in 2012.
28. Denver Broncos (13-3): Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
There are still questions about where Ogletree fits best at the next level, but there's no questioning his frame and athleticism. A former safety turned 3-4 ILB, Ogletree has the skill set to play anywhere on a defense. In Denver, he could play middle linebacker and fill a huge need for the Broncos defense.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Cornellius (Tank) Carradine, DE, FSU
New England did well to re-sign cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington, but they need to continue to bolster their defensive line. Carradine actually outplayed Bjoern Werner for most of the season, but a torn ACL leaves his draft stock murky.
If healthy, Carradine would be a fantastic addition since he and 2012 first-round pick Chandler Jones could grow into a fearsome defensive end duo.
30. Atlanta Falcons (13-3): Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Atlanta needs more push along the interior. Short is a strong, explosive defensive tackle who could help give the Falcons the pass rush they sorely need.
31. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1): Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Joe Flacco exposed the 49ers' secondary in the Super Bowl, so cornerback or safety should be San Francisco's top need. Trufant is an ultra-athletic corner who boasts 47 career starts and isn't afraid of contact.
His competitive nature would fit in well with Jim Harbaugh's no-nonsense approach.
32. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
It's been a rough offseason for both Manti Te'o and the Baltimore Ravens. Te'o is barely getting any attention in the pre-draft process and the Ravens are losing members of their Super Bowl squad at a rapid pace.
Inside linebacker is Baltimore's top need after Ray Lewis' retirement and Dannell Ellerbe's departure via free agency. Though Te'o has to answer questions about his online relationship and even more on-field questions about his speed, the former Fighting Irish star would be a smart fit for Baltimore's defense. The natural leader and reliable tackler could help ease the loss of Lewis.
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