The NFL draft has become an event in and of itself, to the extent that it is one of the highlights of the entire NFL season. Even though not a single down of football will be played over these three days, it's safe to say that the draft, which begins tonight, is a critical component in determining what the 2013 NFL season will look like.
One of the most thrilling parts of draft watching is something that few fans will admit to enjoying: seeing top players plummet on the draft board. There's just something inherently pleasing about seeing these superhuman athletes who seem to have everything handed to them watch helplessly as team after team decides not to take them.
It's especially thrilling when the player in question is a "draft darling" that Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock hasn't been able to shut up about for the last few weeks. Or when the player is a combine warrior, who comes out of nowhere with a blazing 40-time and yet still does not attract the attention of an NFL team.
When it comes to disappointing prospects who will be drafted late, this year's draft class will not disappoint. Now top prospects such as Matt Barkley, Manti T'eo and Star Lotulelei will not attend the draft, meaning they will not face the uncomfortable prospect of an empty green room.
There will be 23 players who are attending the draft and also risking staying in the green room too long. It's almost a guarantee one or two will drop to the second round while others could go in the latter half of the first round as opposed to the top 10 they were hoping for.
Here's a look at my final mock draft with particular attention paid to the players attending the draft who will not be taken in the first round. Who knows, maybe this perceived slight will help to inspire one of the them to the top, as it did to an extent with Aaron Rodgers in 2005.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
For the first time since 2008, the first overall pick will not be a quarterback. Andy Reid needs someone to protect Alex Smith and with recent rumors that they want to trade Brandon Albert, that would leave no starting quality left tackles on the roster. Fisher gets the slight edge over Luke Joeckel because Fisher has more upside and better athleticism than Joeckel does.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Gus Bradley will want to start his time in Jacksonville by getting an impact player for a defense that was one of the NFL's worst last season. It especially needs new defensive ends because the Jags finished last in sacks in 2012. Jordan is the best defensive end in the draft and as a bonus, he also can play well in coverage.
3. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Strangely enough, it looks like this is the year that the Raiders finally do something predictable and make a safe pick. That pick would be Floyd, a pass-rushing defensive tackle who would fit in well in Dennis Allen's 4-3 scheme. Picking Floyd also would offset the losses of Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour this offseason.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Remember when the Eagles had what was supposed to be the best secondary in the NFL? Well, in actuality, this secondary was awful the last two seasons, resulting in the departures of Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. The Eagles do have a myriad of areas that need improvement, but that secondary is still vulnerable. I just don't think they can pass up Milliner, who is easily the draft's best corner.
5. Detroit Lions: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Lions' playoff run in 2011 showed just how good the Lions can play when Matthew Stafford isn't taking too many hits. Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus are gone, making the tackle position a major position of need. Upon seeing that Joeckel, arguably the top-rated prospect in the entire draft, is still available, the Lions will pounce on a player who should provide stability on their offensive line for years to come.
6. Cleveland Browns: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
The Browns still need to improve on the defensive side of the ball. Mingo can join Paul Kruger and help the Browns generate more of a pass rush.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The draft's three best offensive tackles are gone in the top seven with Johnson going to the Arizona desert. The Cardinals' offensive line woes have been well documented and for Carson Palmer to have any success whatsoever, he'll need more time than the Cardinals' four quarterbacks had at any point last season. Though not on the tier of Fisher or Joeckel, Johnson should be a excellent consolation prize as one of the more versatile offensive linemen in the draft.
8. Buffalo Bills: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
While the Bills have quarterback problems, there's no quarterbacks who are worthy of going this early. Instead the Bills can focus on giving whoever their starting quarterback is another weapon by making Eifert the third tight end taken in the top 10 since 2004. An athletic tight end who can do it all, it's not implausible that Eifert overtakes the oft-injured Scott Chandler to become the starter in his rookie season.
9. New York Jets: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
It's rare for a guard to get picked this high, but with Jordan and Mingo off the board, the Jets will choose to retool their offensive line. Cooper is an athletic guard, who is difficult to beat in pass protection and also is outstanding at jumping inside of tackles to seal off running lanes.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Unfortunately, Loutulelei's heart condition contributed to him falling to the 10th pick. The NFL's loss is the Titans' gain though as they land a top defensive prospect who excels at stopping the run and also provides a disruptive force alongside their defensive line.
11. San Diego Chargers: Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia
A slow 40-yard dash time and a spinal injury will contribute to Jones dropping outside the top 10. The Chargers will hope that he can overcome both issues and provide them with an elite pass rushing threat, something their current roster lacks.
12. Miami Dolphins: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The Dolphins are desperately trying to catch the Patriots in the AFC East and perhaps one of the best ways to do that is to create a fearsome pass rush that'll disrupt Tom Brady in their two games against them. Ansah, opposite Cameron Wake, gives the Dolphins that fearsome pass rush. Ansah has ridiculous upside, but there is definite risk considering that he only started playing football three years ago.
13. New York Jets: Tavon Austin, WR, WVU
The Darrelle Revis trade brings the Jets back on the clock just four picks after getting Cooper. This pick also will be on the offensive side of the ball and unlike with Cooper, it's an exciting pick. The Jets will grab Austin, an impact receiver who should get immediate playing time given the pathetic state of the Jets' wide receivers.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Their interior defensive line is quite weak so the Panthers need an impact player at the defensive tackle position. Richardson fits the bill as one of the few elite defensive linemen remaining at this point in the first round.
15. New Orleans Saints: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Saints' 7-9 record last season was largely due to poor play on the defensive side of the ball. Changes are going to need to be made and Werner could be the player to bring in as a pass-rusher in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense. A defensive end who also can play outside linebacker, Werner should provide the Saints with a reliable pass-rusher.
16. St. Louis Rams: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The departure of Steven Jackson in free agency now leaves the Rams with unproven Darryl Richardson as their current starter. Richardson can definitely still contribute, but the Rams would be wise for a feature back to take over in the tradition of Jackson because running the ball is a huge part of their offense. Lacy has a powerful downhill running style and great speed, which should give him an excellent opportunity to become the Rams' leading rusher.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The Steelers are not one to turn down extremely aggressive players such as Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes is a natural at physical press coverage, although he does need to improve his zone play.
18. Dallas Cowboys: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
With new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys will switch to a 4-3 defense. The 4-3 defense needs a defensive tackle for it to work, a position that Williams could definitely fill.
19. New York Giants: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Even with two recent Super Bowl victories, it's clear that the Giants have a weak secondary. Vaccaro could definitely help bring depth to the Giants' secondary as he excels playing at the line of scrimmage and also is flexible enough to play at the slot corner position.
20. Chicago Bears: Alec Ogletree, IL, Georgia
One of the top priorities for the Bears this draft will be replacing Brian Urlacher at linebacker. They will respond to this need by getting Ogletree, the first middle linebacker taken in the draft. Ogletree has the best range and athleticism of any linebacker in the draft and he will certainly help an older Chicago defense begin to get younger.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
With Vaccaro recently off the board, the Bengals will look for the best player available in the secondary. That would be Desmond Trufant, a corner who helps bring youth to a secondary with older players such as Adam Jones and Terrence Newman while last year's first pick, Dre Kirkpatrick, is coming off a serious injury. Trufant's two older brothers played corner in the NFL and he's got the physical ability needed to succeed at the pro level.
22. St. Louis Rams: Robert Woods, WR, USC
This draft is all about offense for the Rams, who suddenly find themselves in a division where the three other teams all have explosive offensive players. First, Lacy, now we see the second wide receiver come off the board in Robert Woods. Woods can replace the vacancy of Danny Amendola as he also has great hands and a explosive burst when hitting the open field.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Manti T'eo, IL, Notre Dame
The most publicized player in this year's draft, Manti Te'o still rates as one of the better middle linebacker prospects. Te'o gives the Vikings a threat in the middle of the field and he also would fit in with the growing number of former Notre Dame players on the Vikings roster.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Brian Schwenke, C, California
Brian Schwenke is one of the more mobile offensive linemen out there and that could work well for when the Colts are zone-blocking. Although he also could play guard, Schwenke projects to take over at center where he can effectively utilize his ability to beat defensive linemen off the snap.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Vikings are fortunate to have acquired Greg Jennings because besides him, their wide receiver depth chart is thin. After investing in the defense three picks ago, the Vikings go for offense and takes the freakishly athletic Patterson who finally gives them a legitimate deep threat.
26. Green Bay Packers: Damontre Moore, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
While Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers a chance of winning any game, their defense gives them just as much of a chancing at losing. In desperate need of playmakers on defense, the Pack can grab a pass-rusher here in Damontre Moore, who has dropped thanks to a poor combine showing.
27. Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
For years, the Texans have been looking for a legitimate No. 2 receiver to line up alongside Andre Johnson. DeAndre Hopkins is a big and fast receiver who can help to open up the deep passing game while also taking away coverage from Johnson.
28. Denver Broncos: Cornelius Carradine, DE, Florida State
Elvis Dumervil is gone now, leaving the Broncos in need of another pass rusher. Known by the nickname of "Tank," Cornelius Carradine has an enormously high ceiling if he can make a full recovery from his torn ACL suffered last fall.
29. New England Patriots: Jonthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
The Patriots are one of the most unpredictable teams when it comes to draft strategy. However, it is worth noting that for six straight years, they have gotten a defensive back with one of their first two picks. They can continue that trend by drafting Jonthan Banks, a physical corner who sticks with his receiver and often makes big plays.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
The Falcons missed out on a Super Bowl appearance after allowing a ferocious 49ers comeback in the second half of the NFC Championship. Poor defensive play was a key factor in allowing that comeback so to take that next step the Falcons will need to retool their defense. By adding Jamar Taylor to their secondary, the Falcons get a physical corner who excels in press coverage and has strong ball skills.
31. San Francisco 49ers: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina
The 49ers are undergoing transformations in their secondary as well with Dashon Goldson out the door and Nnmadi Asomugha in. D.J. Swearinger is a good pick here as he doesn't bite on play fakes and essentially would be like a younger Goldson with more upside.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter, IL, LSU
The Ravens are still looking for a successor to Ray Lewis, now that Rolando McClain has likely ended his chances of ever playing a down in Baltimore. In drafting Kevin Minter, the Ravens get a solid inside linebacker who showed leadership ability during his time to LSU. Also unlike Ogletree or T'eo, Minter does not have any off-field concerns that would scare teams away.
Which Players are Slipping?
You'll notice that this mock draft does not have a single quarterback being taken in the first round. This might be wishful thinking, but I think this is one of the worst quarterback classes in recent memory and hopefully there won't be any desperate teams throwing away the future by giving away too much for mediocre prospect.
Geno Smith and EJ Manuel will feel worried as the first round comes and goes without their names being called. Both should find their home in the second round though, maybe even to one of the teams that they would have been linked to in the first round.
Tackles D.J. Fluker and Menelik Watson also tumble out of the first round. Their stock will mostly suffer from the elite three tackles who will be off the board within the first seven picks. Teams will see that these three are gone and they will instead look elsewhere, making for a uncomfortable Thursday night for Fluker and Watson.
Fluker is also dealing with severe twitter allegations of getting paid by Alabama. The allegations have roundly been dismissed as online hacking, but the reality is that this close to the draft, people are going to notice this and let it affect their judgment.
The other two green room members not to be chosen in the first round are Eric Reid and Darius Slay. Both were expected to be late in the first round if at all, so they will be less worried unless they somehow are not chosen in the second round.