It’s time we take another look at how the first round of April’s draft may play out after a busy opening week to the NFL’s free agency season. As usual, there will be trades:
1. Kansas City Chiefs- Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
No changes here. I hear the rumblings about Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, but the Chiefs have spent three of their last five first round picks on defensive lineman and none of them had an immediate major impact (2008 top pick Glenn Dorsey signed with San Francisco this week). Eric Fisher has been gaining on Joeckel, but scouts have been raving about the Texas A&M product since 2011 and I see no reason why KC won’t take him even if it does mean playing him at right tackle for a year since they franchised Brandon Albert.
2. Buffalo Bills (projected trade with Jacksonville)- Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Bills general manager Buddy Nix said that it was time for Buffalo to trade up and draft a franchise quarterback in December. The Bills released Ryan Fitzpatrick this earlier this week and appear to be dead set on taking a quarterback in April barring a late move to acquire someone like Matt Flynn from Seattle. Geno Smith may not be Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but I think he’s done enough to establish himself as the best quarterback in this draft. Moreover, Bills head coach Doug Marrone is very familiar with Smith from his days coaching against West Virginia at Syracuse. In this scenario, Jacksonville is more than happy to slide down and pick up additional draft picks to rebuild their roster.
3. Oakland Raiders- Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
I’ve heard the rumors about them flirting with Geno Smith, but I don’t think they ultimately make a move for him because they still need to figure out exactly what they have in Terrelle Pryor since they spent a third-round pick on him. Instead, Oakland opts to take the player who some scouts have compared to J.J. Watt to help rebuild a defensive line that’s been decimated by free agent defections. Floyd could be an immediate impact player as a 3 technique defensive tackle in Dennis Allen’s 4-3 front.
4. Philadelphia Eagles- Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Anyone who watched Philly play last year knows that whoever was playing quarterback took a beating thanks to an offensive line that allowed 48 sacks. After using free agency to shore up their secondary and acquire a nose guard (Isaac Sopoaga) and an outside linebacker (Connor Barwin), I think Philly uses this pick to infuse talent into their offensive line. The Eagles will need athletic lineman to run Chip Kelly’s scheme, and Eric Fisher fits the mold. He compares favorably to 49ers’ offensive tackle Joe Staley.
5. Detroit Lions- Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, BYU
The Lions grab one of the draft’s most intriguing prospects here. After losing Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Lions hope that Ansah quickly develops into the kind of edge rusher that scouts envision while they drool over his measurables (6’5″, 270lbs).
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Cleveland via Buffalo)- Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Jacksonville’s gamble pays off as they’re able to select the player that they probably would have taken if they had stayed put at number two after moving up to Cleveland’s slot. Jordan is a big-time athlete who fits new Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s scheme perfectly. He’s blessed with rare size 6’6″, 245lbs and speed for his position and has the potential to be the kind of difference maker that Jacksonville needs to come away with in round one.
7. Arizona Cardinals- Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Arizona will most likely take a quarterback at some in the draft, but Geno Smith is the only quarterback in this class who merits consideration in the top ten. With that understanding, the Cardinals go for Alabama’s Chance Warmack. Even thought guards typically don’t go this high, Warmack is the rare player who could be a pro-bowler as a rookie and he’d offer a tremendous upgrade for Arizona’s interior offensive line.
8. Cleveland Browns- Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Browns are thrilled that Milliner is still on the board here. Cleveland has addressed the front end of their defense in free agency, but they still need help on the back-end. Milliner is easily the top cornerback prospect in this draft and he has the size (6’1″) and speed (4.37 40-yard dash) that NFL scouts covet. He would join Joe Haden to give Cleveland one of the league’s best young tandems at cornerback.
9. New York Jets- Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Jets need playmakers for their anemic offense, and Patterson is the most explosive wide receiver in this draft. I would expect boos to rain down from the audience at Radio City Music Hall if the Jets use this pick on another hybrid OLB/DE type. Patterson could be a nice weapon for New York if Mark Sanchez can get him the ball.
10. Tennessee Titans- Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The Titans affirmed their commitment to the ground game by signing ex-Jets running back Shonn Greene to pair with Chris Johnson in their offensive backfield. If Tennessee is going to pound opponents into submission with their running game, they’ll need to improve their interior blocking on the offensive line. Cooper is rated almost as highly as Warmack is by most scouts, and he should also be a day one starter in the NFL. He’s not a sexy pick, but he’d represent a very wise decision by Titans general manager Ruston Weber.
11. San Diego Chargers- Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers get this pick to the podium quickly after considering trading up when two offensive tackles went off of the board in the top five picks. Philip Rivers has been off his game the last couple of years and San Diego needs to protect him if they want to get him back on track. Lane Johnson had a great combine and he does a nice job in pass-protection. I think he’s the easy decision for the Chargers if the draft board falls like this in April.
12. Miami Dolphins- Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
After being one of the most active teams in free agency last week, Miami could still use some secondary help. Xavier Rhodes is moving quickly up draft boards and he’s the consensus pick as the second best corner in this draft after Dee Milliner.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Bucs add to their talented young defensive line with Richardson, a gap-shooting 3 technique tackle who’s quickly rising up draft boards. Richardson didn’t miss a beat in his first season playing against SEC competition last year, and he’s the kind of “Buccaneer man” that Greg Schiano will love.
14. Carolina Panthers- Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Carolina is primed to be a playoff contender next year after a strong finish to the 2012 season, and I think they’ll use this pick to give Cam Newton another weapon on offense. Austin is small, but he is a “touch the ball and score a touchdown” Percy Harvin-type athlete. I’m sure Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula would be able to find all kinds of ways to take advantage of Austin’s skills in Carolina’s wide open offense.
15. New Orleans Saints- Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The Saints watch the centerpiece of their new 3-4 defense fall into their laps when Star Lotulelei falls due to concerns about his heart condition. Some scouts have compared Lotulelei to Ravens’ defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, and he’s the kind of stout front line defender that the Saints need to anchor Rob Ryan’s defense.
16. St. Louis Rams- Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
St. Louis follows a strong 2012 draft by picking up the top safety in the 2013 class. Vaccaro is versatile enough to play strong or free safety, and could slide into the starting lineup as the final piece of an impressive Rams’ secondary.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers- Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Pittsburgh got one of the franchise’s most popular players from UGA when they drafted Hines Ward in 1995 and they go back to Athens to find James Harrison’s replacement under this scenario. Jones was a projected top five pick, but like Lotulelei he’ll drop a bit due to medical concerns. Jones has enough talent to be Defensive Player of The Year if his health holds up.
18. Dallas Cowboys- D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
After watching the player that they covet come off of the board at 16, the Cowboys turn their attention to the offensive line and take massive Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker. Fluker is surprisingly athletic for his size (6’5″, 340lbs), and he could replace Doug Free on the Cowboys’ right tackle.
19. New York Giants- Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Ogletree is a one of the most talented prospects in the draft and he figures to be a day one starter in the NFL at inside or outside linebacker. His pre-combine DUI will cause him to slip a bit, but the Giants will jump at the chance to add an athletic linebacker like him to their defense.
20. Chicago Bears- Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Chicago continues their offensive line makeover by drafting Watson, a raw prospect with tremendous potential. Watson (6’5″, 310lbs) hasn’t been playing football very long, but he was impressive during his time at Florida State. The Bears could play him at right tackle and slide Gabe Carimi inside to guard. Jermon Bushrod and Menelik Watson would represent a major upgrade in pass protection for Jay Cutler.
21. Cincinnati Bengals- Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Cincinnati gets another tall, athletic wide receiver from the SEC to pair with A.J. Green. Hunter had a strong combine, and the Bengals really need another playmaker on the outside.
22. St. Louis Rams- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
The Rams use the second of their two first-round picks to acquire a replacement for Danny Amendola. Hopkins outshined Sammy Watkins at Clemson last year, and he compares favorably to Falcons’ wide receiver Roddy White. He can play inside or outside and he’s not afraid to make the tough catches over the middle. Jeff Fisher will love him.
23. Minnesota Vikings- Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
The late round run on wide receivers continues as the Vikings get another weapon on the outside for Christian Ponder. Allen didn’t workout at the combine, but he did enough at Cal to show scouts that he’s worthy of a being a first-round pick. With Allen and Greg Jennings in tow, Minnesota’s passing game would be completely revamped.
24. Indianapolis Colts- Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
Mingo’s slide stops as the Colts get the 3-4 pass rusher that they desperately need. Mingo isn’t huge (240lbs), but at 6’4″ he’s long and athletic enough to be a disruptive force at the next level.
25. Minnesota Vikings- Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
The Vikings use the pick they acquired from Seattle to add another pass rusher to their defensive front. Moore was once thought of as a top ten pick, but his poor combine performance really hurt him. He’s a good fit for the Vikings because he wouldn’t have to start immediately and he could just be used as a spot rusher as a rookie.
26. Green Bay Packers- Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Green Bay will be tempted to go offense with this pick with Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz still on the board, but after what the 49ers did to them in the playoffs they’re going to have to use this pick to address their defense. Margus Hunt is an athletic freak and he ran a 4.6 at the combine. He’s an ideal 3-4 defensive end, and has been compared to J.J. Watt.
27. Houston Texans- Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Houston adds another weapon to their passing game after seeing the Patriots outscore them in two meetings last season. Eifert offers the best option at this slot under this scenario with the top five wide receivers off of the board. He’s athletic enough to split out wide, and Gary Kubiak could find plenty of ways to use him with Owen Daniels.
28. Denver Broncos- Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Denver didn’t get into the Steven Jackson sweepstakes and Lacy would give them a big back to help salt away games after Peyton Manning throws them ahead. Denver needs players who can help them win now, and Lacy won’t have to make a huge adjustment to the NFL.
29. New England Patriots- Matt Elam, S, Florida
The Patriots go to Gainesville and add a safety to shore up their pass coverage. Elam was arguably the most talented player on a stout Florida defense last season, and Bill Belichick has been known to like players from that program.
30. Atlanta Falcons- Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
The Falcons have to come away from the draft with a pass-rusher, and Werner is the best option on the board at this point. Like Lotulelei, Jones and Moore, he was originally thought to be a top five or top ten pick, but he lost some momentum at the combine. Still, Werner knows how to get to the quarterback, and the Falcons are elated to take him at 30.
31. San Francisco 49ers- Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
The 49ers get another big-bodied noseguard to replace Isaac Sopoaga in the middle of their defense. Williams is a powerful force against the run, and his style would fit right in out in San Francisco.
32. Baltimore Ravens- Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Baltimore takes the best player on the board at the back of the first round and adds a quality cover corner to their depleted secondary. Trufant’s impressive combine gets him into the first round.