Connecting on a pick in Round 1 of the 2013 NFL draft won't be as risky compared to recent memory.
And plenty of it deals with the incredible depth of talent residing along the offensive and defensive lines.
With so many prospects offering similar capabilities, teams needing to improve control up front have numerous options. Combine this with an offense fielding five linemen and either three or four from a defense, well, that makes it even less of a risk: Meaning, more expendable.
There simply is not a vast amount of depth at quarterback, running back, receiver and cornerback by comparison. As a result, some prospects go sooner than expected while others slide back.
Note: Highlighted players in italics.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, Tackle (Texas A&M)
The Chiefs must stick to their strengths and keep the ground game dominant. This is sustained with Luke Joeckel, and the impact of Jamaal Charles hits another level. And courtesy of the stronger physical game, Kansas City's passing attack benefits thereafter.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Star Lotulelei, DT (Utah)
Joe Schad of ESPN.com reported last week that Star Lotulel was given the green light:
The NFL has been told "it is safe" for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei "to participate in professional athletics without restrictions," according to a letter provided to teams that was written by Dr. Josef Stehlik of University of Utah Cardiology.
So, Jacksonville addresses its dire need to stuff the run and find interior quarterback pressure. Lotulelei provides each, and the Jaguars pose as an underrated threat to the AFC South.
3. Oakland Raiders: Dee Milliner, CB (Alabama)
Presenting a No. 1 cornerback is a major necessity in today's pro football. And that is not limited to strictly coverage. The all-encompassed talent provided by Dee Milliner offers everything Oakland needs on one half of the field. Lacking in coverage through 2012, the Raiders need Milliner's speed to lock down one-on-one and help with edge run support.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher, Tackle (Central Michigan)
Philadelphia won't move the rock consistently without better pass protection. This is Eric Fisher's forte, because he provided excellent consistency while at Central Michigan.
Combined between 2011 and 2012, the Chippewas saw quarterback Ryan Radcliff only get sacked 30 times in 25 games played. Regardless of the level of competition, Fisher's level of dependability is what makes the most impact.
So, his addition obviously minimizes the number of sacks allowed and turnovers coughed up.
Fisher also anchored an offensive line that let main ball-carrier Zurlon Tipton average 5.9 yards per carry. Factor in the Eagles' explosive running backs, and Philly builds impressive balance and efficiency next season.
5. Detroit Lions: Bjoern Werner, DE (Florida State)
Featuring Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the inside of the defensive line, Detroit presenting Bjoern Werner on the outside inflates the Lions' output. His instincts and agility will bolster the pass rush, not to mention squeeze the edge against the run. Suh and Fairley then face fewer blockers to produce more effectively.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dion Jordan, DE (Oregon)
Instead of trading up for Milliner or trading back for another corner, the Browns do a favor for their secondary with Dion Jordan. Supplying the size and length to stretch running plays wide, Jordan's ability to close against the run helps Cleveland win on first and second down. In short, the pass rush then improves and the pass defense is given additional turnover opportunities.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Chance Warmack, Guard (Alabama)
Arizona's last-ranked rushing offense and pass protection requires Chance Warmack. He's a beast when run-blocking to push the line forward and will extend lanes to the second level. When pass-blocking, Warmack's balance and strength patch up anything attempting to blitz the interior.
8. Buffalo Bills: Geno Smith, QB (West Virginia)
Last season the Bills got excellent production from C.J. Spiller regarding per carry average (6.0).
Even though NFL defenses still resort to honoring the passing game more than the ground attack, hitting six yards a pop is extremely effective. And that's also without a consistent passing game to keep opponents from stacking the box.
Well, all that changes with Geno Smith. Buffalo gets a quarterback who tossed only 21 interceptions throughout his entire college career. For how many times Smith dropped back to survey, this decision-making and accuracy will grab the attention of any defender in coverage.
His quick release is an advantage on one- and three-step drops, not to mention Smith won't face many complex blitz schemes with Spiller carving up the front seven. Don't expect the Bills to challenge downfield that often, because establishing a fast pace prevents a defense from adjusting properly.
Include the threat of Spiller making plays out of the backfield, and Smith will develop nicely for Buffalo.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE (BYU)
Without a reliable pass rush and/or run defense the Jets won't sniff the postseason. Fortunately, Ezekiel Ansah offers this talent courtesy of explosive power to win against one-on-one and wreck the backfield.
10. Tennessee Titans: Xavier Rhodes, CB (Florida State)
Tennessee possesses the defensive front to get pressure and suffocate against the run. But its potential remains limited as the coverage lacked in 2012. Therefore, enter Xavier Rhodes who brings the size for jamming in Cover 1 and shelling in Cover 2. With Rhodes making plays in the secondary the Titans' blitzers then take advantage of extra rushing time.
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson, Tackle (Oklahoma)
The athleticism of Lane Johnson alone will immediately impact for San Diego. Philip Rivers has to get more dependable blindside protection, otherwise turnovers will continue to stall drives. Johnson easily assists in cutting back there, as well as helping establishing a tougher running game.
12. Miami Dolphins: Desmond Trufant, CB (Washington)
Miami upgraded its coverage with Brent Grimes—via Mike Garafolo of the USA Today. Still, the Dolphins complete their secondary with Desmond Trufant. Providing the acceleration and top gear to isolate man-to-man, Trufant also has the field instincts to redirect and generate turnovers.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sharrif Floyd, DT (Florida)
Part of the reason for Tampa Bay's No. 32 ranking in pass defense was the lackluster rush. The Buccaneers managed only 27 sacks. Drafting Sharrif Floyd, though, significantly enhances this aspect from the interior, which becomes an advantage given the pass-happy nature of the NFC South.
14. Carolina Panthers: Kenny Vaccaro, Safety (Texas)
Carolina is fortunate to have two reliable pass-rushers in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Putting another piece of its defensive puzzle together happens with Kenny Vaccaro. The Panthers gave up a 66.8 completion percentage last season, so fielding Vaccaro behind a strong rush will create an influx in the Cats' turnover ratio.
15. New Orleans Saints: Barkevious Mingo, LB (LSU)
No defense will help its offense by allowing 5.2 yards per rush and giving up a boatload of yards per game. At some point New Orleans has to stop opponents and give Drew Brees more possessions in better field position. This begins with Barkevious Mingo, as his instant jump at the snap will quickly close running lanes and applies quarterback pressure.
16. St. Louis Rams: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR (Tennessee)
St. Louis needs a playmaking receiver, and Cordarrelle Patterson provides just that. Combine the threat of burning deep against single coverage and accumulating yards after the catch, Patterson deflects the pressure back to the secondary. What unfolds is Patterson occupying the pass defense enough to set up the ground attack.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones, LB (Georgia)
Pittsburgh failed to remain in the postseason picture as it struggled to win the field position battle: A result of not generating turnovers. Well, Jarvis Jones has a way of fixing this with immense quarterback pressure. Whether it's causing fumbles or forcing ill-advised throws, his impact provides the offense with extra possessions.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper, Guard (North Carolina)
In late March, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reported the new contract for Tony Romo. And with the Cowboys sticking with Romo for a while longer, selecting Jonathan Cooper to boost the pass protection is needed. Mesh that with Cooper's powerful run-blocking skill set, and Dallas establishes consistent balance.
19. New York Giants: Sheldon Richardson, DT (Missouri)
When the Giants won their recent Super Bowls, Big Blue thrived on its pass rush and general ability to stomp ball-carriers in the trenches. This capability gets restored with Sheldon Richardson who will plug gaps inside. A by-product of that allows Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck to get favorable mismatches on the outside.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, LB (Georgia)
Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com reported last month of the Bears' acquisition of linebacker D.J. Williams. That said, Chicago keeps getting younger for the Monsters of the Midway with Alec Ogletree. Possessing the immediate burst to meet running backs at the line, Ogletree's athleticism also shields reliably well in coverage.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Matt Elam, Safety (Florida)
Cincinnati needs an explosive safety to roll down underneath and help with run support. Matt Elam is the perfect solution, because he reacts incredibly fast to the run and has the body control to redirect in coverage. Whether it's sitting back deep or blanketing a slot target one-on-one, Elam's nose for the ball will complement the Bengals' pass rush.
22. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Arthur Brown, LB (Kansas State)
St. Louis already fields one of pro football's top pass rushes. Just imagine that with an upgraded run defense and coverage at the intermediate level. This is exactly what Arthur Brown supplies, because his lateral quickness and coverage instincts will consistently make plays on the ball.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Tavon Austin, WR (West Virginia)
The departure of Percy Harvin to Seattle (via Jay Glazer of FOX Sports) left an opening for Tavon Austin in Minnesota's offense. As a dynamic receiver capable of racking up massive yards after the catch, Austin's greater impact is by gathering attention. Doing so simply prevents a defense from totally focusing on Adrian Peterson.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Damontre Moore, DE (Texas A&M)
Going from 2-14 to 11-5 and reaching the postseason was an immense turnaround for Indianapolis.
Andrew Luck has unlimited potential, and the Colts are capable of matching any explosive opponent. Pulling ahead and leaving those high-powered teams in the dust, however, warrants the selection of Damontre Moore.
To be straight forward, the Colts have to get defense this year to field a more complete team. Indy gave up 5.1 yards per carry in 2012 and allowed a 62.4 completion percentage. Also only 32 sacks were recorded.
Getting a rusher in Moore instantly presents a tougher front seven. He logged 26.5 sacks for Texas A&M in three seasons and forced eight fumbles. Count a total of 45 tackles for loss, and he will disrupt a backfield to assist Indy's upgraded pass defense.
Indy then enters AFC title contention territory.
25. Minnesota Vikings (via SEA): Kawann Short, DT (Purdue)
Per Jay Glazer, Minnesota also landed this selection from Seattle in the Harvin trade. And using it to get Kawann Short amplifies the pass rush and run defense. Considering that Kevin Williams turns 33 when 2013 kicks off, Short's tenacity to create turbulence behind the line acts as a strong complement to Jared Allen.
26. Green Bay Packers: Sylvester Williams, DT (North Carolina)
Sylvester Williams has the talent to fight through double-teams and cause pileups in the trenches. Green Bay fills this dire need with Williams, as it gave up 4.5 yards per rush last season. In addition, the guy can also menace a quarterback to help Clay Matthews in passing situations.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR (Clemson)
Even without a high-powered passing attack, the Texans are able to rely on Arian Foster. Pitting DeAndre Hopkins opposite of Andre Johnson, however, keeps a secondary back and consistently occupied. The end result is an even tougher ground game to stop, which in turn, sets up the deep ball.
28. Denver Broncos: Alex Okafor, DE (Texas)
Elvis Dumervil bolted from Denver to Baltimore late last month, so the Broncos replenish up front with Alex Okafor. Having the repertoire to constrict the outside versus the run and beat blocks at the snap, Okafor's potential allows Denver to keep aggressive on defense. We know Von Miller will produce, but he can't do it alone, and Okafor's initial explosiveness is a competitive advantage.
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen, WR (California)
It's time to get Tom Brady a young receiver that will constantly take advantage of man coverage. Keenan Allen not only has the size to stretch defenses, but he becomes a threat inside the red zone. By the same token, he'll benefit nicely with Danny Amendola—who signed via Adam Schefter—and Aaron Hernandez drawing attention.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Jesse Williams, DT (Alabama)
Atlanta did not get much from its pass rush in 2012. Nor did the run defense step up. But the Falcons are on the right track with Jesse Williams. A powerful force between the tackles, Williams will stalemate blockers from reaching linebackers and collapse the pocket against the pass.
31. San Francisco 49ers: John Cyprien, Safety (Florida International)
San Francisco's pass defense was vulnerable to the big play as we saw in Super Bowl XLVII. Solving this minute flaw, though, comes easy with the addition of John Cyprien. He reacts quickly to the ball in Cover 1 and possesses the size to roll down to the intermediate level. Ultimately, Cyprien's versatile usage for varying situations lets the 49ers blitz more often.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Manti Te’o, LB (Notre Dame)
Baltimore must find an interior playmaker to benefit from its relentless pass rush, and Manti Te'o fits perfectly.
For one, he won't need to venture out of the box with Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw making plays on the edge. The Ravens also added Elvis Dumervil (previously mentioned) and Chris Canty through free agency, which bolsters the defensive line.
Given Te'o's short-area quickness and instincts, he will take advantage of clear paths to the running back and not having to sit in coverage for longer periods of time. At the combine he clocked 4.27 seconds on the 20-yard shuttle and 7.13 on the three-cone drill.
This is why he was able to amass 437 career tackles and then develop in coverage. Add in a 4.69 40-yard dash at his pro day, and the explosive power was proven.
He'll produce efficiently well in the confines of Baltimore's front seven. Plus, the Ravens have to immediately fill this gaping void with a top inside linebacker prospect.
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